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Commons Chamber

Volume 963: debated on Tuesday 6 March 1979

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 6 March 1979

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

CITY OF LONDON (VARIOUS POWERS)
[MONEY]

Queen's Recommendation having been signified—

Resolved,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to empower the Conservators of Epping Forest to grant to the Secretary of State interests or rights in land for road purposes it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State—

  • (a) in reinstating certain lands which form part of the subject matter of the said grant on completion of the purpose for which they are temporarily occupied by the Secretary of State;
  • (b) in laying out and providing a new cricket ground and pavilion and other conveniences for the Epping Foresters Cricket Club;
  • (c) in reimbursing the Conservators such proportion of the costs, charges and expenses reasonably incurred and properly paid by them in connection with the preparation, obtaining and passing of the said Act as is attributable to the provisions of that Act relating to the said grant; and
  • (d) in indemnifying the Conservators against actions, costs, claims and demands brought or made against or incurred by the Conservators which are caused by or arise out of the said grant and which are not attributable to the wrongful act, neglect or default of the Conservators or their contractors, agents, workmen or servants.—[Mr. Jim Marshall.]
  • Oral Answers To Questions

    Social Services

    Retirement Age

    1.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received about the inequalities in pension ages between men and women.

    Following the publication of our discussion document "A Happier Old Age", we have received a number of representations and comments on the question of pension age. These are being considered, but at present no clear consensus is emerging as to the most suitable way of dealing with the matter.

    Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the inequality in pension ages between men and women makes a mockery of the sex discrimination legislation? Will he use his considerable influence to ensure that in the Labour Party manifesto for the next general election there is a firm commitment to reduce the pensionable age of men to 60?

    I think that perhaps my hon. Friend has as much influence as I in regard to the manifesto. The question of equalisation was, and is, one of the choices which we put into the document. I appreciate the pressure for a reduction in retirement age. However, before we can come to any decision the Government need to examine all possibilities exhaustively.

    Is not the real answer to introduce flexibility into retirement ages for both men and women so that each has the opportunity to retire at any age between, for example, 60 and 70, with proportionately reduced or increased pension entitlement? Is it not a fact that the Government have no real indication of how many men would wish to retire before 65, or how many women would wish to go on working after 60? Would not the Government's best contribution be to embark upon a study so that we could have more to work on in future?

    I agree with the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) that equalisation is one aspect that we must study very carefully. We have done some work on this, and some of the views that are coming in to the Department, both on equalisation and flexibility, are options which the Government must consider.

    Was not my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) absolutely correct when he suggested that the present situation is in conflict with sex equality legislation? Does it not also apply to the different treatment of widows and widowers? Has the Department any firm plans to combat the situation?

    I agree with my hon. Friend. This is one of the aspects that the Equal Opportunities Commission dealt with in regard to equalisation. But my hon. Friend will understand that other organisations—not least the TUC—are much opposed to the proposal as it is at present.

    Will the Minister accept how sorry we are not to see the Secretary of State in his place today? We all wish him a speedy recovery. What further discussions have the Government had on the EEC directive on equalisation of pension ages, and how do current Government plans fit in with the implementation dates that are set in that directive?

    I thank the hon. Lady for her comments in regard to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We all hope to see him back very soon. As to the EEC directive, as the hon. Lady knows, there is a period of six years for the phasing in of certain aspects of this document. Obviously during that period we shall have to take into account the question of retirement age.

    Nurses (Pay)

    2.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the hourly rate for a night nurse on a hospital ward and her pay for one week of night duty.

    Nurses' hourly rates are enhanced by one-quarter for night duty and one-half for work done on Sundays and public holidays. Night duty on a general ward by a registered nurse as a staff nurse, at the maximum of the staff nurse scale, attracts hourly rates of £2·03 Monday to Saturday, and £2·43 Sunday and public holidays. Pay at these rates for one week of night duty, 40 hours in four shifts which includes a Sunday or public holiday, would total £85·20.

    Does not my right hon. Friend accept that the staff nurse wages he has mentioned are deplorable? Does not this show that the nurses are not just a special case but an exceptional case, in which unsocial hours and a number of other things should be taken into consideration?

    As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not be at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday, will my right hon. Friend the Minister of State be there? If so, will he press the nurses' case? Time is of the essence. The year that has been lost should now be made up and the phasing of any settlement should start in April and August of this year and not April and August of next year.

    My hon. Friend should have noticed that there is a question on the Order Paper about nurses' pay in general. I think that I ought to reserve my answer until them. However, I can confirm that my right hon. Friend will be at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday in order to deal with any matters affecting my Department.

    There is a matter which does arise out of that. Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that of all the many claimes for special consideration that there have been in recent weeks, the one that commands a vast amount of public support and sympathy is that of the nurses? Is he aware that figures that he has just given show that many hospital porters and some kitchen staff who are on strike are receiving more money than nurses who are not on strike and who have said that they never will strike? How can he possibly justify that?

    I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for further public expenditure for the NHS. I draw his attention to the fact that there is a later question on the Order Paper dealing with nurses' pay as opposed to enhancements for special work. I shall deal with the question of the nurses' pay claim then.

    8.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Service when he expects to announce the Government decision on the 1978 pay award to nurses.

    17.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement regarding nurses' pay.

    Yesterday, we saw representatives of the management and staff sides of the Nurses and Midwives Whitley Council, when my right hon. Friend informed them of the Government's decisions on nurses' pay. For the April 1979 settlement, the proposal is for an increase of 9 per cent. on the pay bill. In addition, we have proposed a comparability study, with results to be implemented in two equal stages, in August 1979 and April 1980, with an advance payment of £1 a week from April 1979 for all staff working 35 hours a week or more, to be offset against the first stage comparability payments.

    We had an exploratory discussion and agreed to meet again on Friday with a view to reaching an agreement with the Whitley Council.

    Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the nurses are showing commendable restraint, unlike some other health workers, in refusing to strike? Will the Government recognise that by publicly appreciating it? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a basis for a successful settlement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading".]—exists in negotiating with the nurses firm guarantees on pay in return for a no-strike agreement? If he does so agree, will he use that process of negotiation?

    I am grateful for the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman has given me to refer to the nurses' vote to oppose strike action. I much appreciate that decision. It is upon the ability of the nurses to carry out their role that the maintenance of the Health Service depends in times of trouble. We are not asking for a no-strike guarantee from the nurses. We are offering a guarantee of their position in relationship to society from the present forward. The comparability study may be taken up by the Standing Commission on Public Service Pay for suceeding years as well as the present.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that nurses, like other low-paid workers in the National Health Service, can hardly be accused of fanning the flames of inflation? However, it appears that some the adjustments that may be made for them will not be as good as adjustments that have been made for those in the industrial sector. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the role of the nurses in our hospitals—a role that touches almost every family in the land—deserves generous treatment? Will he ensure that on Friday there is an improvement in the offer in the immediate term and that that may be added to later when the other part of the agreement comes into force?

    I cannot make any promises about the immediate offer. I agree that the nurses deserve generous treatment. I understand that they claim that they have fallen behind other groups over the past two or three years. If they accept the main part of the Government's offer, their problems will be substantially solved. Contrary to what happened in 1970 and 1975, they will be protected from falling back again.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to guarantee to the nurses that their determination not to strike, which has won terrific public respect, will receive greater cash recognition than the claims made by other groups who have used the strike weapon? Has not the time come for him to disprove the widespread belief that militancy pays?

    We have offered the nurses a large part of what they are asking for. Their case is that they have fallen behind. If they accept the comparability study, their position will be restored. That will apply for the current year and their position in society will be held in relationship with that of other groups from this year forward.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of those who support incomes policy, such as myself, do so on the understanding that it is a basic concept that the lower paid and those in special categories should receive priority when discussions are taking place? Apart from those in the police force and the Armed Forces, do not the nurses come into the special category? Does he accept that if he made concessions at this stage, and not for next year or the year after, the public would believe not that we were breaking the incomes policy but that we were merely giving the nurses that to which they are entitled?

    I should stress that the Government's incomes policy makes provision for special categories and for the lower-paid. We firmly believe that the nurses fall within the special category. That is why we have made this offer to them. I believe that this will lead substantially to what they want.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has studiously avoided answering the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the comparability of the offers made to the nurses and to the ancillary workers? Will not his commendation of the nurses' refusal to strike sound very hollow when it is apparent that they have been given exactly the same offer in spite of their undertaking not to strike that has been given to unions, some of which have been doing their damnedest to smash up the Health Service?

    If the right hon. Gentleman takes the trouble to study the offer, he will see that we are proceeding to the nurses' comparability study as quickly as is humanly possible. After all, we are ensuring that the first phase of the staging payments will come into operation after a mere three or four months' work by the standing commission. In practice, that is about as fast as it can work.

    Termination Of Pregnancy (Day Care Facilities)

    3.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress he has made with setting up day care clinics for early termination of pregnancy.

    In planning guidelines issued in March last year, health authorities were asked to review National Health Service provision for women seeking termination of pregnancy, and in particular to develop day care facilities. This was followed up at the end of the year with a request to each regional health authority for details of existing day care abortion facilities and plans to establish new facilities over the next three years. When this information is complete, my Department will consider what further discussions with health authorities would be appropriate. The position regarding day care abortion treatment in private nursing homes was set out in my reply to the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) on 29 January.

    I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that full reply. Is he aware that the latest statistics indicate that 50 per cent. of women receiving legal abortions under the Act still have to find the resources and the money to go into the private sector? Is he aware that in the West Midlands we still have the lowest figure of terminations carried out on the NHS, and that this is a matter of very great concern throughout the region? Will he please give special attention to this area?

    I can confirm that I shall give special attention to the West Midlands area. Indeed, my officials have been in touch with the regional health authority with a view to taking action in the exercise that I described. I regret that I have to confirm that about 50 per cent. of abortions are at present taking place outside the NHS. As the desire for more abortions on the NHS was the one issue which united the Standing Committee that considered the Bill of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) about two years ago, it is obviously an issue upon which the House is united and we shall do our best to meet it.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what steps he has taken to point out to women the serious psychological and physical results of an abortion wherever, or by whatever method, it may be undertaken?

    That is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the doctor who is advising the woman concerned.

    Birmingham Area Health Authority

    4.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he intends next to meet the chairman of Birmingham area health authority.

    I expect to see him on Thursday during my visit to South-East Staffordshire and North Birmingham. May I say that that answer was written before my right hon. Friend went into hospital, and it is not to be taken as gospel truth.

    When the Minister meets Mr. John Bettinson, will he discuss with him ways of reducing the five-year waiting list for non-emergency, but nevertheless essential, operations in the East Birmingham hospital? Is he satisfied that Birmingham, as the second largest city in the country, with a large and increasing catchment area, is getting its fair share of funds allocated by his Department for the NHS?

    Allocations to the Birmingham area health authority take place on the Resource Allocation Working Party formula, which is the same for the whole of the country. In addition to the provision which I indicated in my answer to the hon. Gentleman on 30 January was being instituted in Birmingham, I am pleased to be able to tell him that detailed planning will shortly commence for the development of the so-called "carcase block" at Queen Elizabeth hospital to provide facilities for renal dialysis, transplants, radiotherapy and cardiac surgery. Of course, the proposal will be subject to approval in the context of the strategic plans of the health authorities concerned.

    Does the Minister really support the proposals to encourage Dutch nurses to come to this country to fill vacancies in the West Midlands and Birmingham area when the shortage of nurses is largely due to the cut-back in training that was instituted by the Government and the inflexible methods of part-time nursing?

    The hon. Gentleman is misinformed. In fact, in the first nine months of this year the recruitment for nurse training was substantially in excess of the numbers recruited for nurse training in the equivalent nine months of the preceding year. Therefore, I do not think that the question arises.

    Retirement Pensions

    5.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what would be the administrative cost of making a cash payment to all pensioners to cover the annual amount by which the November 1978 pension increase falls short of the increase in average earnings.

    The administrative cost of making a single payment of the same amount to all pensioners would be about £3 million, but such a payment could not be varied to cover each individual case. The Government think it more appropriate to take the shortfall into account, together with the general economic prospects, when the time comes to decide the new rates of benefit which will take effect from next November.

    Will my right hon. Friend reconsider that answer? Does he not accept that some action should be taken to recompense pensioners for the lower than justified pension increase that they received in November due to the miscalculations of his Department? Does he accept that the higher than expected increase in earnings has boosted the national insurance funds and that some way ought to be found to return this money to national insurance beneficiaries?

    I take my hon. Friend's point. As I have already said, the Government will take this into account when we look at the next uprating. I should like to draw to the attention of the House the fact that because earnings were higher than prices—by 3·3 per cent. last year—pensioners received an increase in real terms.

    Would it not save a certain amount of Government expenditure if pension increases were made at the same time as the Budget so that the new pension rate could equate almost exactly with the new tax allowances in the Budget? Would not that save a lot of work for the tax inspector and the collector of taxes?

    That sounds an attractive idea, but the administrative problems would be immense. We have now moved to a November uprating. We need about five to six months' forecast because of the tremendous amount of work that has to be done in making adjustments to the pensions. We are dealing with over 9 million pensioners, and it is a very big task indeed.

    Bearing in mind the large heating bills that many pensioners are facing this winter and, indeed, the increase in television licence fees, would not my right hon. Friend accept that pensioners are owed about £20 and that a lump sum payment of that order would be extremely useful to many pensioners in meeting these bills?

    I accept what my hon. Friend says. But if we were to make a lump sum payment, some people would get more than they were entitled to and some would get less. It would be a very difficult operation. The safest way to deal with this would be for the Government to take into account in the uprating. I emphasise that the pensioners have not lost this year. In fact, they have gained quite substantially.

    Does not everything that the right hon. Gentleman said indicate that he is conceding that once again, for the second time in three years, the Government have missed the target that they set themselves in the 1975 Act? Was the Secretary of State correctly reported when, in "Pensioners' Voice", he was reported as saying that there was a statutory requirement to take these things into account but no statutory requirement to get it right? Does not that strike the right hon. Gentleman as a rather cynical approach to this statutory obligation?

    I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the forecast which my right hon. Friend made last summer is the best that is available. There is no statutory obligation, as a recent court case proved, to carry that out. Obviously a Government would want to take this into account. The right hon. Gentleman reminded me about the 1975 Act. In that Act, this Government put the uprating of pensions in line with either earnings or prices. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman's party will stick to that if, unfortunately, it came into office.

    7.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he can now announce arrangements for retirement pensions to be paid on request direct into pensioners' bank accounts.

    The findings of a joint working party of representatives of the banks and my Department are being studied and I will make an announcement as soon as possible.

    As such an arrangement would save 40 per cent. of retirement pensioners with bank accounts from going out to collect their pensions in bad weather, and as there would be a considerable saving to public funds, why do not the Government get on with it? It is now 18 months since I raised the matter with the Minister. What is the reason for the delay?

    I am expecting a report by the end of the month. There is a great deal of work to be done. As I have said, we are dealing with nearly 9 million pensioners. I am much in favour of the principle, and the introduction of such an arrangement would cover child benefit as well as retirement pensions. There are certain snags and administrative problems to be overcome, but I hope to make some progress in the near future.

    Geriatric Care

    6.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals he has to allocate a higher proportion of available resources to geriatric care, whether provided at home or in hospitals or through other community provision.

    In the planning guidelines issued to health and local authorities, I have asked them to give high priority to the improvement of geriatric and other services for the elderly, including domiciliary and residential provision. As indicated in the recently published public expenditure White Paper, further developments in services for the elderly will continue to be a high priority in the use of any additional funds which become available to the NHS.

    As, thank God, our people are living longer and are healthier, is it not plain that there will be a tremendous strain on resources over the next 20 years? Have the Government undertaken any long-term planning—not the public expenditure White Paper projections but long-term planning—on the future level of resources over that period merely to maintain existing standards, let alone increase them?

    The elderly population has increased, is increasing and will continue to increase. My Department's overall planning norm of 10 geriatric beds per 1,000 persons aged 65 years or over is being reviewed in the light of changes in demography and patterns of service. We are treating the subject extremely seriously. We are not merely sloganising about community care for the elderly. On the contrary, we put our money where our principles lie. For example, the amount of National Health Service resources set aside for the joint financing scheme increased from £8 million in 1976–77 to £21 million in 1977–78 and £34·5 million this year.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that very often when a person goes into a geriatric ward there is the feeling "Abandon hope all ye who enter here"? Is he aware of the wonderful work that is being done in geriatric re-habilitation? Will he please allocate resources to allow the elderly who go into geriatric wards to be given the opportunity to get out of them? Will he please give that top priority?

    There are many competing priorities. I agree that geriatric re-habitation is extremely important. I shall take carefully into account all that my hon. Friend has said. I know that he agrees that community care for the elderly is also extremely important.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps now to stimulate an increased amount of attention by voluntary bodies to help those families who care for their own elderly in the community? Will he persuade local authorities to organise relief care to a greater extent than is now possible for those families that spend so much of their time looking after their elderly but who cannot do so for 52 weeks a year?

    I keep closely in touch with voluntary organisations. I am especially concerned to do so with a view to improving care for the elderly. The Government's introduction of the invalid care allowance has done much to help those who are looking after elderly and disabled relatives. I shall take very much into account the point that the hon Lady makes about local authorities.

    Young Persons (Subsequent Offences)

    9.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the percentage of cases where those made subject to a care order under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 subsequently commit offences which in the case of an adult would be punishable by imprisonment.

    Does not the Minister agree that his answer shows the urgent need for a great deal more information on this subject to be made available to the House and to the public? Does he not also agree that such information as we do possess suggests strongly that there is an urgent need, in the interests of the public, society and young people themselves, for the Government to turn their backs on the outdated, trendy, psychological theories of the 1960s and seek an amendment of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 on the lines frequently proposed on this side of the House?

    I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman feels that there is an urgent need for information, since he is therefore proposing substantial legislative action on the basis of not having information. I would have thought that a very foolish action. I do not agree that the 1969 Act is outdated. In so far as we have statistics relating to its performance, it seems to have had more effect on the level of juvenile crime than the system which preceded it.

    Will my right hon. Friend resist the introduction of the ill-founded, punitive measures frequently proposed by the Conservatives? Does he recognise that many of the ill-founded criticisms of the 1969 Act have their origin in the fact that successive Governments of both parties have failed to provide the resources so that the spirit and the intention of that Act can be properly implemented? Will he give an assurance that sufficient resources will be provided, particularly to enable more care to be taken of children within the community?

    I agree that the proposal made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) in his Private Member's Bill should be resisted. In fact, I did so the other Friday with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and others. On the question of resources, we are taking fairly substantial action to ensure that there is more secure accommodation. By 1980, we should have approximately 350 places. We are also retaining borstal for girls and boys aged 15 and over and detention centres for boys aged 14 or over. The Criminal Law Act 1977, by raising levels of fines which can be imposed on juveniles and providing means of enforcing payments, in some cases through parents, has also helped. Special requirements can be inserted into supervision orders, and sanctions can be imposed if they are not observed. The Department has increased the number of places available for junior attendance sentences—

    Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but the length of answers is getting most unfair.

    Will the Minister bear in mind that the victims of these offences also have their rights? In the light of his admission that there is a grave shortage of secure accommodation, does he not think that it is an error of judgment for the Government to press on with the implementation of the transitional provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act at this time?

    We are consulting local authorities on that point. We will reach our conclusion as a result of those consultations.

    National Health Service (Industrial Relations)

    10.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the current state of industrial relations in the National Health Service.

    11.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the current state of industrial relations in the National Health Service.

    15.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the latest state of industrial relations in the National Health Service.

    I assume that these questions relate to the current industrial action by ancillary workers and ambulance men in the National Health Service. Balloting is still taking place by members of the unions concerned but the outcome should be known before the end of this week. I greatly regret the fact that Health Service workers feel it necessary to take industrial action which inevitably threatens the welfare of the patients. Services in all regions have been affected, some more seriously than others. I wish to pay tribute to the efforts and devotion of the vast majority of staff—managers, doctors, nurses and others—who have succeeded in maintaining services to patients and the community at large in the face of very great difficulties.

    Does the Minister accept that industrial relations within the Health Service reached a new low yesterday when members of NUPE announced that they would take control of the number of blood donors who supply blood to London hospitals? Will not even this Government take a lead on this matter?

    This matter was settled locally. The unions and management have agreed to meet all emergency requirements. They have also agreed machinery for continuous monitoring of the effect. I am sure that if these matters are left to local solutions, local solutions will be achieved.

    In view of the nurses' humane decision not to strike, does the Minister think that it is fair to make them much the same offer as he has made to the ancillary workers who have done their best to disrupt the Service?

    In the interests of brevity, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers I have already given on this subject.

    In view of the role of the Government as employer within the Health Service, does not the Minister think that there is a direct conflict of interest in the right hon. Gentleman being Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security and also a sponsored member of NUPE? Would there not have been an uproar in this House if the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) had sought to remain as Secretary of State for Trade while becoming chairman of a merchant bank? Should not the Minister make up his mind which job he wants and get rid of one of them?

    The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. Ministers are not employers in the National Health Service. Health authorities are employers in the National Health Service. On the question of sponsorship, my connections with the National Union of Public Employees and my membership of the Government put me in a unique position to understand both sides of this dispute. I would not wish to change it.

    Does not the Minister agree that industrial relations in the National Health Service and in the public sector generally would be improved if we could revert to the old system whereby the level of wage settlements was decided in any one year, with this sector following on behind. That system was broken by Selwyn Lloyd. It would do a lot to help the nurses and all public service workers if we returned to that principle, backdated if necessary.

    My hon. Friend has drawn attention to a provision in the agreement recently reached between the Government and the Trades Union Congress. There is much to be said for it.

    Does not my right hon. Friend agree that present negotiations in the Health Service with nurses and other employees are difficult and delicately poised? Will he have a word with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and advise him that the statement that he made yesterday expressing bleeding-hearted sympathy for the unfortunate speculators in gilt-edged securities, who recently made a killing, is both offensive and damaging to these negotiations?

    I am sure that my right hon. Friend will note the remarks made by my hon. Friend.

    Does the Minister realise that his answer over the blocking of blood supplies was completely unsatisfactory? This kind of industrial action is uncivilised and inhuman. Will he say what action he proposes to take to ensure that it does not occur again?

    We shall monitor all these arrangements and we shall make sure that the inadequate service to the public caused by such actions is drawn to the attention of those concerned. The experience throughout the industrial action has been that, when that is done, there is a speedy restoration of an essential service.

    Motability

    12.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will report on the progress of the Motability scheme.

    24.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will report on the progress of the Motability scheme.

    Motability was established as an independent and voluntary organisation, but with Government support, a little over a year ago. Since then it has made considerable progress, particularly with the introduction of its scheme for the leasing of cars on favourable terms to disabled people with the mobility allowance. Motability also hopes, before long, to introduce a hire-purchase scheme that will be of further help to beneficiaries of the allowance.

    Will the Minister take note of the RSVP scheme and report to the House as soon as he can on the question of an alternative vehicle? Will he, further, let the House know what the Government intend to do about the removal of vehicle excise duty and the consequent need for an uprating of the mobility allowance to compensate?

    "RSVP" stands for replacement specialised vehicle project. I am aware of the campaign which the organisation has recently launched, and I shall be keeping in close touch with it.

    The problem about any quest for a single replacement specialised vehicle is the assumption that disabled people are standard people. There is no identikit disabled person. It may be that we need to encourage a great many projects in this field. I take fully into account the point made about the uprating of the mobility allowance. We shall have in mind all that the hon. Lady has said.

    Does the Minister agree that there really is continuing very great anxiety about whether the mobility allowance in conjunction with the Motability scheme will allow people who had Invacars to replace those vehicles at all? Has he given any thought to the problem of the double value added tax charge, on the vehicle and the lease, which is one of the points of concern, and has he made any representations to the Chancellor about this?

    The point about VAT is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The point that the hon. Gentleman has made will be noted.

    I must point out that the mobility allowance has represented a tremendous advance for disabled people. Even at the current level of the allowance, by next year we shall have put about £75 million a year in the hands of beneficiaries to spend with Motability if they so wish. We shall try to build on our achievements as soon as we can.

    Will the Minister study the Salamander car for the disabled and their wheelchairs? It will be coming on the roads this spring. Is he aware that six of these cars per week, specially designed by Manchester polytechnic and financed by Salford council, will be provided for local residents? However, as there are 25,000 eligible disabled people throughout the country, will the Government interest themselves in the vital question of providing mobility for the disabled?

    In Britain there are some 3½ million people who are disabled in one form or another. I am taking a very keen interest in this prototype. My officials have given direct advice to the development team. In addition, the project has benefited from public funds. I shall be continuing to take the closest possible interest in developments.

    Drugs (Evaluation)

    13.

    asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals he has for evaluating old and new drugs.

    I shall maintain and, subject to the availability of resources, seek to develop the existing systems for evaluating new and old drugs, in which the expert advisory committees set up under section 4 of the Medicines Act play an invaluable part.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that some people in the drug industry want to adopt a double standard for testing drugs for those people with rare diseases? Will he, therefore, categorically reject double standards of drug testing for people with rare diseases and promise that the Government will intervene if the drug industry threatens to withdraw from providing special drugs for the treatment of rare diseases?

    I am sure that I am against double standards on any occasion. I shall certainly draw the attention of the Medicines Commission and the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, and their associated committees, to the point that my hon. Friend makes.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will be grateful to him for seeking to get a code of practice on post-product licensed clinical trials in general practice, where many drug companies have been seeking to promote their drugs through trials rather than actually doing scientific work to evaluate them? What will he do in the interim, as some companies are still using bogus trials, and deluding general practitioners into participating in them, when such trials have no scientific merit and are simply designed to promote the drug?

    I hope that the interim will not be sufficiently long to require major action, because the Committee on the Safety of Medicines is currently reviewing the situation and is hoping to report this summer, when we shall be in a position to take action.

    Luxembourg

    Q1.

    asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to pay an official visit to Luxembourg.

    I have at present no plans to visit Luxembourg.

    Is the Prime Minister aware that I really intend to ask a question about the EEC and not about a subject beginning with "D"?

    Now that the differences between Germany and France, and this country, on agricultural policy payments appear to be being resolved and the European monetary system looks set fair to start fairly soon, will the Prime Minister now reconsider the Government's decision not to join the EMS, and join forthwith?

    I hope that differences between France and Germany on this issue can be resolved, so that the decision that was taken at the last European Council can be implemented. But I hope that no attempt will be made to resolve those difficulties in a way which would worsen Britain's position in relation to agricultural product prices. We must insist, for our part, that agricultural prices should not be increased to the point where surpluses continue to mount or, indeed, are maintained.

    Has the Prime Minister noted that the Prime Minister of Luxembourg intends to hold a general election in his country on the same day as the direct elections to the European Assembly? Without putting any thoughts into the right hon. Gentleman's mind, may I ask whether that does not remind him that we have yet to discuss in this House the regulations for the conduct of those elections? In view of the debacle of the referendum, is it not wise that we should do so earlier rather than later?

    I understand that some indication of when we shall be discussing these matters may be given, perhaps in the Business Statement that will come on Thursday.

    As regards M. Thorn's other proposals, I am quite sure that I shall be as successful as M. Thorn has been in these matters in previous years, and I expect to be here as long as he has been where he is.

    Is the Prime Minister aware that the British people are crying out for a leader—[Interruption.]—who, unlike the Leader of the Opposition with her European party, will stand up against the wiles and the wishes of the Common Market? Is he aware that it is now costing every man, woman and child in Britain £20 per year to be a member of this very expensive club? He would do well in an election campaign to campaign against the Common Market, especially against the recent decision to introduce the tachograph in Britain, which will mean raising prices for the people of this country and everyone else who has to buy things from the Common Market.

    My hon. Friend has derived a considerable amount of his information about the cost of the Common Market from figures that I have myself given. He need be in no doubt that we shall continue to press this matter. However, that is a far different thing, in view of the decision of this country, from saying that we intend to leave the Common Market. The Government have no proposals to do that. Indeed, the best way in which we can ensure that there is a prosperous and free Europe is to work with the other countries in Europe in order to ensure that.

    Prime Minister (Engagements)

    Q2.

    asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 6 March.

    This morning I met the Japanese import promotion mission. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

    Later on in the day, when the Prime Minister comes round to thinking about the votes that took place in Scotland and Wales in the referendum last week, will he bear in mind that the people of the country are now anxiously awaiting the announcement of the date on which the repeal orders to the Scotland and Wales Acts will be introduced? Will he assure the House that there will be no unnecessary delays?

    Yes. I am aware that there is a responsibility laid upon the Government and upon the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales to bring forward these orders. They will, of course, do so.

    Will my right hon. Friend find the opportunity today to convey appreciation to the Soviet Union for its restraint and responsibility during the conflict between China and Vietnam?

    I have noted that in view of the Soviet Union's support of Vietnam Mr. Brezhnev's statements on this matter have been restrained. I am very glad—and I am sure that the whole House is glad—that the Soviet Union has been restrained on this matter. I have no doubt that this will lead China more easily to withdraw from Vietnam, and, I hope, Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia.

    May I press the Prime Minister a little further on his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer)? Since the Prime Minister accepts that the Government have a duty under the Scotland and Wales Acts to lay draft orders, will he say whether those will be laid and the House given the time to debate them and to reach a decision upon them before the end of the month?

    I cannot give an answer at present—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because the Government have not yet considered the dates for discussion of these matters. But when we have done so of course the right hon. Lady will be informed.

    The Prime Minister accepts that he must lay the draft orders and that there is a strict duty upon him to do so. Will he go ahead with that fairly quickly and then we can properly raise with the Lord President the matter of when it should be debated?

    I understand that. There have been some suggestions that the Government might seek not to lay the orders, but, of course, that is not true. The Government will lay them. How far and when we should discuss these matters is a matter for further consideration by the Government. I understand that the Opposition also wish to consider the matter further. I think that we both need some time.

    I suggest to the House seriously that, although the 40 per cent. requirement that Parliament inserted was not achieved, the House in its consideration of these matters should take care not to offend the 1¼ million people—a majority—who voted in favour.

    There is a serious constitutional issue if we want to keep both Scotland and the United Kingdom united. That is why I think that we should all have a little time for reflection.

    Will my right hon. Friend report to the House when he expects the institutional arrangements envisaged in the agreement between the Government and the trade unions to come into being?

    I am making progress on the proposals for a standing commission on the subject of comparability between the various groupings in the community, especially in the public service, but not only in the public service. I am making progress with Ministers and in consultation with the TUC and the CBI. In spite of the slight derision from some Opposition Members, I hope that we shall be able to make rapid progress in setting up such an institution.

    In view of the fact that a Scottish Assembly was the Goverment's manifesto commitment in 1974 and that there was a clear "Yes" majority in the referendum on 1 March, will the Prime Minister say whether he will call upon his own supporters in the Government to back their own policy?

    The Government have a very good record in the sense that we have, despite great difficulties in the House, pursued this matter for over two years. We have certainly fulfilled the commitments that we gave to the people of Scotland. But I am not to be tempted any further today on what will happen after a period of reflection.

    Tuc And Cbi

    Q3.

    asked the Prime Minister when last he met the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry.

    I meet representatives of the TUC and CBI from time to time at the National Economic Development Council and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree, notwithstanding the recent industrial disputes which involved only 1 per cent. of the entire industrial working force, that the working people, via their trade unions, have made a massive contribution to the fight against inflation? Does he agree that this is still the primary threat to the country on which the Government must concentrate? Will the Prime Minister therefore urge the CBI to take a lesson from the trade union movement and the working people and to make its contribution through prices to the fight against inflation?

    There is no doubt that the attitude taken by organised workers in the country in relation to their pay and earnings in the last three years has assisted us materially in reducing inflation from heights which were undermining the fabric of many institutions to the present level. That is why the Government have taken a firm line, so far as they can in a democratic society, on the question of pay for the present year.

    On the attitude that is taken by the employers, I must tell my hon. Friend that the nationalised industries have as good a record as anybody in holding prices. Their price increases have been below those of a number of firms in private industry. They have made an important contribution in that way.

    Will the Prime Minister, as First Lord of the Treasury, before he next meets the CBI or the TUC, give instructions that no further public funds are to be expended on providing facilities for the Scottish or Welsh Assemblies?

    I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to look into that matter. I should have thought that at the moment it would automatically follow that not much money would be spent on either of those projects.

    When my right hon. Friend next meets the CBI and the TUC will he discuss with them the rationalisation of United Kingdom-based industries which appear to be cutting off their excess capacity in areas of high unemployment such as the North-West and in particular Merseyside? Is he aware that on a number of occasions recently United Kingdom-based firms have rationalised in areas of high unemployment and that industries are closing down at an unacceptable rate?

    Certainly, companies are closing down or making workers redundant when there is no demand, when they are not proving to be competitive or are not able to supply the goods that other countries require. That is happening. Therefore, the task of Government is twofold, as I see it. First, we must try to ease that transition by means of protecting employment for a period of time and by ensuring that there are good redundancy payments. Secondly, we must ensure that new technologies and new jobs are introduced. That is why the Government have put so much money behind the National Enterprise Board, the new microprocessing work and in other directions.

    Why is it considered to be right and proper for the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) to give up his Government position when he accepts a job in the City and yet not right, necessary or relevant for the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), for example, to give up his sponsorship of NUPE while retaining his job in the Government? Is there not—

    When the Prime Minister meets his friends at the TUC council, will he tell them on behalf of all hon. Members that stopping blood donors from giving blood and preventing patients from receiving it is repugnant to all civilised people in the country?

    My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security has answered questions on this matter this afternoon and I prefer to leave that to him. It is not good practice or principle for the Prime Minister to intervene and express opinions on such matters where a Minister has already given an answer.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I respectfully ask that you reconsider your ruling? I was raising a question relating to hon. Members who are sponsored by TUC-affiliated unions or companies and other organisations that may be members of the CBI. I understand that the Prime Minister may not want to answer the question, but it was perfectly proper and in order.

    Business Of The House

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

    With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement about the Supply day on Thursday.

    The subject for debate chosen by the Opposition will be the working of the Employment Protection Acts, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

    Northern Ireland Committee

    Ordered,

    That the matter of rates and rating in Northern Ireland, being a matter relating exclusively to Northern Ireland, be referred to the Northern Ireland Committee.—[ Mr. Foot.]

    Protection Of Prostitutes

    3.32 p.m.

    I beg to move,

    That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959; to provide for the better protection of prostitutes from exploitation and victimisation; and for connected purposes.
    In seeking leave to present a Bill for the protection of prostitutes, I am aware that it will not be a popular issue in the House in a general election year, but I am convinced that it is a reforming issue that the House should no longer overlook. The Bill seeks to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959 and to provide for prostitutes better protection from exploitation and victimisation.

    The present laws, which are over 20 years old, have not attacked prostitution; they have merely been an invitation to treat all prostitute women unjustly. They have attacked their civil liberties and lost them many human rights. I do not hide the fact that I believe that all prostitution laws must be abolished, but the amendments are an attempt at this stage to put injustices right quickly and to jog the memory of the House about the bad legislation that was introduced in the post-Wolfenden era. The amendments should also ensure that the law applies equally to men and women.

    Prostitution has grown since the 1959 Act. With the best intentions, and wishing to deter prostitution, Parliament at that time introduced this appalling legislation, which has prevented women, once convicted, from getting away from prostitution. It has given a woman the stigma "common prostitute" for the rest of her life, and forced her back on to the streets to pay the ever-increasing fines. The amendment will abolish prison sentences. Women should not be imprisoned for soliciting. That view is supported by probation officers, lawyers, social workers and even the Police Federation.

    The Bill will establish one simple offence to cover all persistent street nuisances, not only soliciting, and evidence from the person or persons annoyed will be an absolute requirement. The offence will include kerb-crawling, persistent salesmen, drunks and members of religious sects who attempt to sell people records on the street. I emphasise that it is only the peculiar sexual hypocrisy of the British that would single out prostitution or soliciting as an offence.

    The Street Offences Act 1959, which deals with soliciting, was a mistake. It is wrong that a woman can be in danger of a prison sentence without a shred of evidence being produced in court that anyone has been affronted by her actions. Moreover, the present laws ensure that the incompetent prostitute, the working-class girl, is the one who gets into trouble. Successful and competent prostitutes operate within the law; it is the immature, inexperienced, ageing or socially inadequate women who are the victims. These women, during a period of police observation, do not succeed in picking up a man, and they are arrested. That is usually followed by a caution or charge, fines and returning to the game to pay them.

    It is a totally unjust system that a woman can be twice cautioned on the evidence of a single police officer. On a third occasion, still on the evidence of a single and often the same police officer, she can be charged with loitering with intent for the purposes of prostitution. If she pleads not guilty before the court, the same police officer reads out the evidence of his two cautions. Before any offence has been proved, a person innocent in the eyes of the law can be labelled as a common prostitute. There will be provision in the Bill to abolish the term "common prostitute".

    The Sexual Offences Act 1956 will be amended to delete that part which classifies more than two women living together as a brothel. That law has forced prostitutes into the hands of organised crime, making them totally dependent upon ponces and pimps and part of a terrifying mafia. They must be able to live together to protect one another. The sooner that that happens, the better for the women concerned.

    Finally, I emphasise that prostitutes and prostitution are not a menace. I have spoken with many eminent psychiatrists who say that it is accepted in their profession that prostitutes have great therapeutic value in society. In this country the Reichian school of psychiatrists uses sex therapy. Many psychiatrists accept that prostitutes are the oldest therapists in the world and are practitioners of professional therapy. Indeed, they help people deprived of sex to sort out their problems. Prostitutes deal primarily with all the sexual things that have gone wrong.

    The first people to whom men go when they have sexual inadequacies and problems are prostitutes. Therefore, to some people in society there is great respectability in and acceptance of prostitution and its social and therapeutic value. It is time that the degradation, the harassment, imprisonment and fining of these women was stopped.

    To sum up, this short amending Bill to existing Acts seeks to abolish prison sentences for soliciting, establish one offence to cover all persistent street nuisances with evidence from the persons annoyed, abolish the term "common prostitute" and delete that part of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 which classifies more than two women living together as "a brothel". I hope that the Bill will have the support of the House.

    3.41 p.m.

    I rise to oppose the bringing in of this Bill. I do so because I believe in the sanctity of our womenfolk. I believe that that view is widely shared in all parts of the House. I do not believe that any person or party is in a sole position to claim that he or it alone stands for this belief. In all parts of this House and in all sections of the community there is concern that the standards that have made this nation and protected its womenfolk in the past are in serious jeopardy.

    There is an awareness that in the wake of what has been called "the permissive society" there has been a moral delinquency which has affected every part of our society.

    I make it clear that no one in this House has any right to point a finger of judgment or condemnation—

    I am well aware that the founder of Christianity himself, when confronted with a woman who had lost her virtue, said:

    " He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
    Today in this House I want to stand for the protection of all womenfolk—

    Having run the risk of being an Ulster politician for the past 10 years, I think that I shall survive even the threats of the womenfolk on the other side of this House.

    The person who has been caught up in prostitution through exploitation, victimisation, or by her own choice, has lost the greatest thing in life—the purpose for which she came into the world. She has lost her goal. All of us here today remember our own mothers, and thank God for them. We all remember the sanctity of the family and the joy and peace which flows from family life. We must also remember that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun), who asked leave to introduce the Bill, made it clear that her objective in the end was to abolish all laws on this matter. This is only the beginning of a

    Division No. 83]

    AYES

    [3.47 p.m.

    Abse, LeoGow, Ian (Eastbourne)Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
    Aitken, JonathanGraham, TedNewens, Stanley
    Allaun, FrankGrant, George (Morpeth)Newton, Tony
    Ashton, JoeGrimond, Rt Hon J.Noble, Mike
    Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Grocott, BruceOgden, Eric
    Bates, AlfHayman, Mrs HeleneOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHeffer, Eric S.Pardoe, John
    Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Parker, John
    Bidwell, SydneyHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Parry, Robert
    Blenkinsop, ArthurHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Pavitt, Laurie
    Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Penhaligon, David
    Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Perry, Ernest
    Carmichael, NeilIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Rathbone, Tim
    Carter-Jones, LewisJeger, Mrs LenaReid, George
    Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Richardson, Miss Jo
    Cockcroft, JohnJohnson, Walter (Derby S)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
    Colquhoun, Ms MaureenKerr, RussellRoderick, Caerwyn
    Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Kilroy-Silk, RobertRooker, J. W.
    Cormack, PatrickKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Royle, Sir Anthony
    Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Kinnock, NeilSt. John-Stevas, Norman
    Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lamond, JamesSandelson, Neville
    Dalyell, TamLangford-Holt, Sir JohnSedgemore, Brian
    Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Latham, Arthur (Paddington)Selby, Harry
    Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Lawrence, IvanShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
    Dormand, J. D.Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
    Drayson, BurnabyLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Silvester, Fred
    Dykes, HughLitterick, TomSkinner, Dennis
    Ellis, John (Brig & Scun)Loyden, EddieSpeed, Keith
    English, MichaelMcDonald, Dr OonaghStallard, A. W.
    Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)McGuire, Michael (Ince)Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
    Evans, John (Newton)MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)Stott, Roger
    Fairgrieve, RussellMadden, MaxStrauss, Rt Hon G. R.
    Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Magee, BryanTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
    Flannery, MartinMallalieu, J. P. W.Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
    Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Maynard, Miss JoanThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMeyer, Sir AnthonyThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
    Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Tilley, John
    Freud, ClementMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Tinn, James
    Gardiner, George (Reigate)Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.Tuck, Raphael
    Garrett, John (Norwich S)Morris, Michael (Northampton S)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
    Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Morton, GeorgeWatkinson, John

    scheme to undermine what lies at the very heart of the moral fabric of our society.

    If this Bill is bought into the House it will be a sad reflection on our nation. It will be a green light to many people—[ Interruption] Of course those who are laughing now know the colour of prostitution, but I must plead ignorance.

    There is one phrase from the Bible that I want to leave with the House today. It is that "Her ways are the ways of death." I believe that the exploiters and the exploited, the victims and those who make them so, those who pay and those who are paid, will find one day the eternal wisdom of the eternal Book. I call upon all hon. Members to vote out this proposal today.

    Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

    The House divided: Ayes 130, Noes 50.

    Weetch, KenWilson, William (Coventry SE)TELLERS FOR THF AYES
    White, Frank R. (Bury)Wise, Mrs AudreyMr. George Rodgers and
    Whitehead, PhillipWrigglesworth, IanMr. Stan Thorne.
    Wigley, DafyddYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)

    NOES

    Alison, MichaelHunter, AdamRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
    Belth, A. J.Jessel, TobyRoss, William (Londonderry)
    Benyon, W.Kilfedder, JamesSainsbury, Tim
    Burden, F. A.McCusker, H.Sims, Roger
    Cant, R. B.Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
    Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Mather, CarolStoddart, David
    Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Mills, PeterStokes, John
    Coleman, DonaldMoate, RogerTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
    Cope, JohnMolloy, WilliamTebbit, Norman
    Dean, Paul (N Somerset)Molyneaux, JamesTemple-Morris, Peter
    Dempsey, JamesMudd, DavidWaddington, David
    Evans, loan (Aberdare)Neubert, MichaelWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
    Farr, JohnPage, Richard (Workington)Wells, John
    Fisher, Sir NigelPattie, GeoffreyWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
    Gray, HamishPercival, Ian
    Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Powell, Rt Hon J. EnochTELLERS FOR THE NOES
    Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Rifkind, MalcolmRev. Ian Paisley and
    Harrison, Rt Hon WalterRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Maureen Colquhoun, Mr. Ian Mikardo, Miss Jo Richardson, Mr. Martin Flannery, Mr. Christopher Price, Mr. John Garrett, Mr. Sydney Bidwell, Mr. Arthur Latham, Mr. Tom Litterick, Miss Joan Lestor, Mr. Stan Thorne, and Mr. George Rodgers.

    PROTECTION OF PROSTITUTES

    Ms Maureen Colquhoun accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959; to provide for the better protection of prostitutes from exploitation and victimisation; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18 May and to be printed. [Bill 100.]

    Orders Of The Day

    Independent Broadcasting Authority Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    4 p.m.

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

    The purpose of this Bill is to enable the Independent Broadcasting Authority to incur expenditure in equipping itself to transmit television broadcasts on the fourth channel. The Bill will enable the Authority to apply any of the current surpluses on its appropriate reserves up to a total of £10 million. It will also enable the Authority to borrow from the Government, if it should need to do so, up to a total of £18 million.

    In the White Paper on broadcasting the Government indicated their agreement with the Annan committee that in order to keep the cost to a minimum and to avoid unnecessary delay the IBA should be responsible for engineering the fourth channel and for transmitting the fourth channel service. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with this. As envisaged in the White Paper, we began immediate discussions with the IBA about the engineering work for the fourth channel. The Authority indicated that whilst it wished to proceed urgently it did not consider that it had adequate statutory powers to do so under the existing legislation. I, of course, have accepted this view and hence have introduced this Bill to make the necessary statutory provision.

    I should like to make it clear at once that the purpose of this Bill—to enable the Authority to incur expenditure on engineering the fourth channel—is quite independent of the service ultimately to be transmitted over it. Whatever authority eventually provides and supervises the television service on the fourth channel, the preliminary engineering work needs to be done and to be started quickly.

    The White Paper on broadcasting stated the Government's intention to establish an Open Broadcasting Authority to provide the service on the fourth channel. The establishment of that Authority will be dealt with in major broadcasting legislation which will be introduced later. This Bill does not anticipate that legislation, and, indeed, if any other arrangements should be made for the provision of the service, the engineering work which flows from this Bill will be equally appropriate.

    I know that many hon. Members have a special interest in what will happen in Wales. The Government have indicated their intention to introduce the fourth channel in Wales, giving priority to a service in the Welsh language, in the autumn of 1982. To achieve this it is essential that work on engineering the service should start as soon as possible. The IBA has already indicated that it will give priority to engineering the fourth channel in Wales.

    In the short term, however, we intend that there should be an increase in Welsh language programmes. The television licence fee increases that I announced last November took account of the cost of additional BBC Welsh language programmes, and the BBC has indicated its intention to provide these additional programmes by next autumn. HTV Wales, the independent television programme contractor, has also announced its intention to increase the amount of its Welsh language children's programmes. Thus, both the BBC and independent television are going to contribute to more programmes in the Welsh language in the Welsh language in the near future.

    Will the engineering of the transmitters take until 1982, or will it be completed earlier?

    It will be finished by the autumn of 1982. It is a long job. That is why I thought that we should have the Bill. Irrespective of the Welsh problem, and whatever is decided ultimately, there is no disagreement between us that we want the fourth channel. Therefore, it is not jumping the gun on what the formal programme will be.

    Some of us are anxious about this matter. Will the Minister dispel our fears? Those of us who are anxious that the ITV should not get the fourth channel will feel that by engineering the service it will establish a position from which it will be difficult to shift it. Will the Minister give us an assurance on that point?

    I can give an assurance. What we said in the White Paper, following the Annan report, which was eminently sensible, was that the IBA had the know-how to do the engineering. It makes good sense for it to do the work. It would not have been wise for the OBA to do that.

    It was our idea, when the Bill came forward, that the IBA should also do the transmission work. I am sure that that is right. I am not pre-empting the decision. The fact that the IBA is doing this agrees with our original intention in the White Paper.

    Is the Secretary of State in a position to say how many extra hours will be given to Welsh programmes on BBC and ITV in the next three years?

    I am speaking out of the top of my head. It is about two hours a day. May I check on that? My hon. Friend will mention it when he makes his winding-up speech.

    I apologise for interrupting, but these points are important. The Minister mentioned that further important legislation would be introduced. Will he say when that important legislation, establishing the OBA, is likely to be introduced? What will be the effect if, by any chance, it is not introduced?

    The straight answer to that is that this is a long Bill. We know the political situation in the House. There is no point in my disguising that. Very shortly, in any event, I must do something about the charter of the BBC. That is a separate issue. We may discuss wider issues on that occasion. The Government's view is clear. Just as I said quite properly to the Opposition that I am not trying to pre-empt the situation, in no way am I weakening the resolve of the Government on the matter of the OBA, which I believe is the right way forward. However, the timing of the Bill these days is not just a matter of having a Bill ready. There are other considerations to take into account.

    Does the Home Secretary agree that there are many remote parts of Scotland where people can receive only one channel? I refer to communities of 500 people. Surely, amid all this engineering work, priority should be given to engineering decent services for those people as well.

    I am sympathetic to that aspect both in Scotland and other places. This will be engineering for the fourth channel. I see the point that if money is to be spent on this, the BBC and the IBA should consider the existing channels. I shall ask my hon. Friend to make inquiries on that point. I do not think that the two matters are linked. However, I take the point. I shall see what information we can give at the end of the debate.

    May I say one word more on the subject of the Welsh language? It is clear—I speak as an expatriate Welshman—that just as there are people who want he Welsh language channel—I agree with that, for the culture of Wales—there are equally large numbers of people in South Wales and in South-East Wales in particular who do not want Welsh language channels. Indeed, this proposal will help in that respect.

    I remind the House that in the longer term our proposals envisage a Welsh Language Television Council, which will consist of representatives of BBC Wales, the Welsh independent television contractor, the IBA and the OBA. Since, under our proposals, the OBA will be responsible for the fourth channel as a whole, we propose that one member of that Authority should be appointed to be chairman of the council. If the fourth channel as a whole is brought into operation in any other way—which is the Opposition's proposal—it would be necessary to reconsider how to arrange the Welsh programming, but as much as I should not want it that way I have no doubt that the necessary arrangements could be made. I stress once again that nothing in this Bill—which is directed to the engineering and financing of the fourth channel—will in any way prejudice the eventual constitutional matters which the House will determine when we bring foward our major broadcasting bill.

    As the money for the setting up of the transmitting facilities will come from the IBA, can the Minister give any assurance that it will get the money back?

    I am coming to that section. It is a fair enough question. Indeed, the next heading deals with the cost of engineering the fourth channel. The question was well timed. We estimate that the total cost of engineering the fourth channel throughout the United Kingdom to cover just over 99 per cent. of the population will be about £28 million. The Bill accordingly provides for the full cost to be met. The importance of the Bill, however, lies in enabling the IBA to make a start, as I have said, and to incur a relatively modest part of this expenditure in the near future.

    The reserve funds presently available to the IBA are sufficient to meet this initial cost and, indeed, a good deal more. The borrowing powers provided in the Bill would be necessary only at a later stage. In any event, the Authority has indicated that it will not need to use the borrowing powers in the financial year 1979–80.

    The Bill empowers the IBA to engineer the fourth channel. Before the Authority commits its resources to that project, it obviously wants to be clear about the financial arrangements. I have already referred to the Bill's flexibility with regard to the service to be transmitted. I have said that nothing in the Bill will prejudice an eventual decision about the OBA or the IBA to run the fourth channel. If, as the Government firmly intend, the OBA is set up, the IBA must be able to charge the OBA for the money that it has expended and for interest and depreciation. This could be done by way of an annual rental or by way of capital repayments.

    It would be inappropriate at this stage to attempt to determine the method of repayment in detail. The exact terms would be a matter for discussion between the IBA, the Government and the OBA at the relevant time. This is a financial consideration that the Government will take into account when the structure of the new broadcasting authority is being determined, and the Government will wish to honour their obligation to the IBA on fair terms.

    If, at the end of the day, Parliament did not authorise the use by any organisation of the facilities being provided, the House would need to reconsider what means should then be adopted for the repayment to the IBA of the money that it has expended under the Bill. The Authority has, quite rightly, made clear that it could not properly proceed to incur expenditure under the Bill without an explicit assurance that in these unlikely—I hope—circumstances, the Government would come to Parliament to seek to ensure the means of repayment to the Authority of the money that it has expended. I am glad to give this assurance. The Opposition might like to do exactly the same.

    In short, although it has not been necessary to include in the Bill specific provisions about the later reimbursement to the IBA of the money that it expends under the Bill, the matter has been discussed with it. The Government fully recognise that the Authority must be satisfied about its ability to secure repayment before proceeding with the development of the fourth channel. I expect that the assurances that I have given, together with discussions that we shall be having with it about details, will so satisfy the Authority. I also make clear that what I have said about expenditure by the Authority from its own resources would apply to any expenditure from any loans that it might receive from the Exchequer under the Bill.

    I turn now to the detailed contents of the Bill. Clause 1 is concerned mainly with enabling the IBA to incur expenditure in providing the necessary transmitting equipment, but it also provides for the construction of certain necessary associated premises. The clause ensures that the continuing programme of expenditure upon which the Authority will embark under the Bill will not be inhibited by the fact that, under present legislation, the functions of the Authority cease on 31 December 1981. Subsequent legislation will deal with the extension of the Authority's function in due course. Although the Government do not intend that the Authority will provide—as distinct from transmit—the service, the clause does not specifically exclude this possibility. I think that that is right, bearing in mind that the basic Bill has not gone through the House.

    Will my right hon. Friend say why clause I takes that view and the first paragraph of the explanatory and financial memorandum specifically precludes the IBA from providing a service?

    At the moment, no decision has been taken on that. That is the basic point, and that is for further legislation. In no way am I trying in the Bill to pre-empt the position that the House has not yet decided whether it should be the OBA or the IBA. I think that answers my hon. Friend's question.

    In no way am I havering on this. The Government's view is that the OBA shall do the programming and the IBA the transmission. That is what was in the White Paper originally. There is no havering on it. I hope that my hon. Friend will not impute anything in that respect, because that is fundamentally wrong, and there is no need for him to put it in that way.

    My hon. Friend seems to think that he has a pre-emptive right to speak on every occasion. There are occations on which other people wish to speak.

    Clause 2 deals with the method of financing the proposed expenditure by the IBA on the fourth channel in two ways. It enables the Authority to apply any of its current surpluses on its television account reserves, up to a total limit of £10 million. It also enables the Authority to borrow up to a total limit of £18 million from the Government for the same purpose. These figures meet the anticipated total expenditure of £28 million. The extent of the Authority's commitment from its own resources has been set at a level that will still leave an adequate balance in its reserves to cover its existing television service.

    The clause also deals with the arrangements for the repayment to the Government by the IBA of borrowed money and the payment of interest. These arrangements are in accordance with normal procedures.

    Clause 3, as with other broadcasting legislation, applies the Bill to Northern Ireland and enables it to be applied to the Isle of Man and to any of the Channel Islands. It is intended that the fourth channel will ultimately have similar coverage to the existing BBC and ITV services.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify a point concerning the £18 million? Is that figure at 1978–79 prices, or is it at the prices ruling at the time when the Annan committee reported?

    Will the Secretary of State say how long the delay will be before the fourth channel is available in Northern Ireland?

    It would be exactly the same as in any other part of the United Kingdom. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there would be no difference in that respect. He may be aware of other problems but I am not aware of any. There is no intention to differentiate in this respect.

    I commend this modest Bill to the House. The only reason why I have brought it forward is that when I published the White Paper we had thought that the IBA could do the engineering without any further legislation. On subsequent legal advice, which I accept, the view of the IBA is that it could not do it without a Bill of this nature. That is the only reason for the Bill coming forward at this moment.

    4.17 p.m.

    This Bill is the first harbinger of spring. It is a snowdrop of a Bill. It is, after all, five years since Lord Annan was resurrected by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). Annan reported in 1977 and we had a debate in this House in the summer of 1977. Since then we have been obliged to wait and wait for the White Paper, which was finally published in the summer of 1978 and is still to be debated by this House. Since then we have been waiting for a 64-clause broadcasting Bill, but of that there is neither sight nor sound, nor will there be this side of a general election.

    The future of broadcasting has been frozen by the Government. We know now that, were the Labour Party to be returned to power at an election later this year, we would be offered the Open Broadcasting Authority for the fourth channel. But were the Conservative Party to be returned the fourth channel would be awarded to the IBA along the lines of its submission relating to ITV2. This mini-Bill allows the IBA to start work on the engineering necessary for a fourth channel, although, as the Home Secretary said, we shall have to wait upon the result of the next election before we know of what kind that fourth channel is to be.

    Were the Bill to be passed, it would enable the IBA to equip itself with the installations and services needed to provide a fourth channel, and to spend money on such equipment or to borrow money for the purpose. As we have seen, it may spend up to £10 million from its reserves, and it may borrow up to £18 million from the funds of the public for that purpose. The Bill estimates that the IBA would need a maximum increase of 60 in staff.

    The Opposition have no quarrel with these provisions. They will enable whomsoever is elected this year to get the fourth channel quickly on the air—and not before time. We Conservatives want a fourth channel and we believe it should carry minority programmes—not minority programmes of the educational, improving or experimental sort favoured, for example, by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), the father of the OBA. We have no wish to see an Islamic republic declared on the fourth channel. We want the programmes to appeal to a wide range of people, regarding the channel as one of a series of equal choices. We favour ITV2 because the relationship between the two ITV channels would be similar to the relationship between BBC1 and BBC2. We believe that ITV can finance and launch the new channel more economically than can any other new proprietor.

    My hon. Friend said that the relationship would be the same. Does he mean that the two channels would be in the same ownership?

    Yes, indeed they would, because the existing companies would be able to extend their services from ITV1 into ITV2 and, therefore, we would have equality of broadcasting between the two major broadcasting institutions.

    Is my hon. Friend saying that there are no other companies that could put togther a viable service of independent television? Is he aware that there are many people who believe that they could put forward programmes, not identical to those of the present ITV but extremely viable? At the very least, as the party that believes in competition, the Conservative Party should keep an open mind on this before going into the general election.

    We certainly believe in competition, but we do not worship it. The question whether any new company might be introduced is for the IBA to decide and not for the House of Commons.

    In making up our minds, we Conservatives have taken into account two fundamental matters. We do not want a third broadcasting authority, although the OBA would be an authority in name only because it would be dependent upon the moneys that it would have to get from the Government. Secondly, we do not favour any solution that would be a burden upon the Revenue.

    It is worth examining briefly how the OBA might be financed because, without any doubt, this is the weakest part of the OBA suggestion. Whereas ITV2, at 1978 figures, would cost between £40 million and £50 million, the OBA would cost between £60 and £70 million, and we should ask how this money will be raised. First, it will be raised out of the Revenue. Socialism, or so Mr. Aneurin Bevan used to say, is the language of priorities. Is the hon. Member for Derby, North really prepared to go to the PLP to argue that his pet scheme is more worthy of Exchequer funds than is any other? Respected as he no doubt is on the Labour Benches, I feel that he would get a short answer were he to try to do so. But then it could be that, not being a Socialist, I am not a good judge of how the PLP would react. But the Revenue would pay its whack.

    The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) knows enough about the history of this recommendation to know that the idea of the OBA was not just my idea or that of the chairman but also of the former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and the former head of the Conservative research department.

    I have a great admiration for Mrs. Sara Morrison, as I have for all the Morrisons in the Conservative Party. But the hon. Member for Derby, North is certainly father of the OBA, and Mr. Anthony Smith is conceivably the other father of that arrangement. We are not here to debate the antecedents of the OBA, but the hon. Gentleman has played a large part in foisting that unfortunate idea on an unwilling Home Secretary and a reluctant Civil Service.

    The Revenue, clearly, would pay its whack. Over and above the contribution of the Revenue we are now told that moneys would be raised by sponsorship, block advertising and spot advertising. I do not know what the Fabian Society makes of that. Sponsors will not sponsor unless the audiences are large enough. Block advertising went out years ago with those awful magazine television programmes, while spot advertising, were that to be successful, would start the battle of the rating between OBA, BBC and ITV. Would that raise the standard that we would like to see?

    The OBA is an abortion. It has been foisted upon an unwilling Home Secretary. There is already a conflict between the royalists of the Independent Society of British Advertisers, that is, the advertisers, who would strive to turn the OBA into a fully competitive fourth channel, and the roundheads of the Fabian Society to whom the smaller and more unrepresentative the audience the better. One or the other of these strange bedfellows is bound to be disappointed.

    ITV2 would cost the Revenue nothing. Indeed, the Revenue would gain. ITV2 would give scope for the regional and smaller ITV companies. On its programme planning board to be overseen by the IBA would sit representatives of the independent producers and educational interests. The major companies, which at the moment contribute more than half of the programmes of ITV1, would make a contribution smaller than that to the second channel. The regional companies should make a contribution at least half as much again to the second channel as they do to the first. Eventually, say 15 per cent. of ITV2 would be devoted to educational programmes, and there would be room for the independents. ITV2 is much the best of the three choices.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am enjoying the speech of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), but I am puzzled about its relevance to the Bill.

    ITV2 is much the best of the three choices. It is the cheapest. It would be able to cater for minority programmes and would avoid the twin horrors of the ISBA solution, which would Americanise our television, and the OBA, which would institutionalise—

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not think the House heard your reply.

    Willingly I will give a reply. By tradition, Second Reading debates are allowed to go fairly wide.

    It would avoid the twin horrors of the ISBA solution, which would Americanise our television, and the OBA, which would institutionalise ennui by showing programmes few would watch and all of us would be obliged to pay for.

    The Home Secretary has had much on his mind recently, but he should pay more attention to the problems of broadcasting. This little Bill is welcome, but one swallow does not make a summer. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that a White Paper published last summer has yet to be debated in Parliament, the 64-clause broadcasting Bill has got lost somewhere in the Home Office, and no indication has yet been given as to when the Home Secretary will apply for a supplementary Royal charter for the BBC, an institution that for electoral advantage he is driving still further into debt. Will the Home Secretary start watching Mr. Harry Worth and stop acting like him?

    4.28 p.m.

    We have all listened with interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). It was difficult to understand its strict relevance to the Bill. No doubt he felt that he was contributing to the deliberations of the House in a useful way. I would be the last seriously to criticise him, particularly as we have a wide debate on these occasions.

    I propose to confine myself strictly to the purpose of the Bill, which is to empower the Independent Broadcasting Authority to equip itself for transmitting a television broadcasting service additional to the present services. I stand here on the side of the angels, and on the side of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. What prompts me to do this is that in the East Midlands—and my constituency is in the East Midlands—there is considerable dissatisfaction with the service provided by ATV. I am sure that the East Midlands area is not unique in this respect and that there are many areas in the United Kingdom—more localised areas—which are dissatisfied with the productions of regional television organisations.

    We should analyse this dissatisfaction. Mostly it is expressed by councillors, local authorities, leaders of public opinion and even right hon. and hon. Members. If one analyses the objections, they seem largely based on the fact that there is not sufficiently localised coverage of news and current affairs. This certainly is so in the East Midlands and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) agrees with me on this. We want to ensure that this kind of grievance is put right.

    However, there are other considerations and there has been considerable debate in the Midlands generally and in the East Midlands particularly. These debates culminated in a public meeting in my constituency last Friday. Three possibilities were put to the meeting: first, to leave things entirely alone; secondly, to split up the East Midlands; and, thirdly, drastically to reform ATV's coverage. I suggest that these three alternatives probably apply to other independent broadcasting corporations, and the House should consider this.

    The first consideration is that there is much more to television than news, news coverage and current affairs. There are entertainment, drama, sports coverage, religion and education.

    I am glad that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has drawn my attention to the importance of sticking strictly to the Bill, because the importance of changing transmitting facilities so as to cover these points is the whole purpose of my speech.

    It seems to me important that the regional organisations should produce much better programmes of a more localised nature, and that involves changing the transmitting facilities. It also involves the question of boundaries.

    At the meeting in my constituency the general feeling was in favour of the third possibility—that of improving the performance of ATV. I am sure that if one takes the question nationally this would probably be the answer rather than splitting up the television regions. I should have thought that there was some danger in any independent television region giving way too easily to localised political pressures. That could produce fragmentation of the whole of independent television, which I am sure would have a deleterious effect on the quality of performance. Independent television is competing with the BBC, and if it was further fragmented its competition would be greatly impaired.

    One thing which is absolutely certain is that in terms of resources—not merely financial, but human—it is important that television should be broadly based. I suggest, therefore, that there is no real need for splitting up the large regions of independent television but that there is a case for greatly improving their performance in order to satisfy more localised areas. The way to do this is clearly by building up more substations—in other words, improving transmitting facilities.

    ATV has already started a news and information centre in Nottingham, but this has been only partially operative on account of trade union difficulties. Many right hon. and hon. Members are probably familiar with the feeling that is created by trade union difficulties at present. I should have thought that there was a very good case for demand being met by substations which can give localised coverage of news and current affairs in the various parts of the region.

    A new innovation which probably makes this even more desirable is electronic news gathering—ENG. This again would be a tremendous help in improving transmissions, although at present ENG is also beset by trade union difficulties.

    I suggest that it is important that ATV in the Midlands—it represents quite a large part of transmission in Great Britain, because it stretches from Oxford to Nottingham—should introduce a system of changed relay transmitters, particularly in the East Midlands, with direct links to substations and with ENG units giving the news and current affairs.

    I shall truncate my speech, because I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. It is most important that there should be no fragmentation of the large regions. They need resources, both financial and human, on a massive scale. Any improvements that can be made in terms of satisfying the aspirations of small areas—and I regard my own constituency as a small area—could most easily be achieved by substations giving localised news. At the same time, I suggest that to have a really effective news and television service, in terms of the splendid television coverage that can be obtained, the answer is to have large regions and to ensure that those large regions, while looking after the aspirations of local areas, have the financial and human resources to maintain television of the highest standard.

    4.37 p.m.

    The Home Secretary said that this was a modest Bill, and I do not think that any one will dissent from that. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) called it a snowdrop of a Bill, which is perhaps a more picturesque description of it. However, it is quite clear that its immediate object is of a fairly technical nature, because it is designed to clear the way for preliminary work on the transmitters that will be needed for the fourth channel.

    I remind the House that the initial antagonism to the whole concept of the fourth channel—whether it was engendered on a too parental basis by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) or whether it was the strong heart of the Conservative Party line for ITV2—and certainly the main objection of many people, including some of my constituents, was "Let us get the existing three channels right before we spend money and time on having a fourth."

    In many ways I think that people will not welcome the expenditure of £28 million to do preparatory work for a fourth channel which may be allocated to one or other authority. It seems to me that the normal practice in Westminster, as elsewhere, is to take a decision and then approve the means of carrying it out. What the Bill seeks to do is the reverse. The Bill is carrying out exploratory engineering work prior to taking any decision.

    I listened with great care to what the Home Secretary said, and I know that he has given outline consent to this work, but, irrespective of what is done with the £28 million over the next three years, it is essential that all the options remain open. For example, if there is to be an OBA, we do not yet know whether it will be centralised or decentralised.

    I want to make it clear that this is not exploratory engineering work. It is the engineering work for a fourth channel, whoever should provide the channel.

    I speak as someone who was on the Select Committee and who has come to listen to the debate. Surely someone must undertake this engineering work. Everyone is agreed that there will be another channel whether it is under the auspices of the OBA, IBA or BBC. The engineering work must be done. Anyone who knows something of this matter cannot but agree that those organisations have the technical expertise to undertake this work. It has been done before, and I believe it is a fair point that must be taken into consideration.

    I totally accept the intervention of the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). Every television set has four channel buttons, so for heaven's sake let us one day be able to press them and get something out of them. But, if it is to take three or four years to have transmitters that are roughly ready for the fourth channel, can we not also look at some of the misery that is caused by poor transmission in many of the regions? Is that really so far removed from the work that has been done for what will be the fourth channel? In my own constituency, Radios 2 and 3, which appear to have been allocated to Albania, are exceedingly unsatisfactory. We have thought of moving to Tirana, where presumably we shall get what we used to get for Radio 3 with very much more volume and clarity.

    I ask the Home Secretary about this massive sum of money. I say "massive" because a few weeks ago, when I introduced the Official Information Bill and estimated that it would cost £4¼ million, the right hon. Gentleman said "Not from my budget will this money come", as if £4¼ million was a great fortune. But today he is giving away £28 million.

    I should like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that Radio Albania, as heard through BBC Radio 2 and 3, is not confined to his part of England. It can also be heard, albeit very roughly, in Sussex.

    I am glad that we have so much in common. I shall detain the House no longer, except to say that although I am pleased to have had the Home Secretary's assurance, this seems to be a cart-before-the-horse situation. I think that the beast would like to know roughly in what direction he will be pushed.

    4.43 p.m.

    I am glad to find that, as always, the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) was able to give the House one piece of information. I am delighted to hear that the awful noise that we hear coming from BBC Radio 1 is in the Albanian language. That has cleared up a mystery, and obviously there is now some empirical research to back up the hon. Gentleman's argument. I have never been able to understand Radio 1 since its inception.

    On a more serious note, I have never been able to understand the unconscionable delay that there has been in implementing the proposals of the committee on the future of broadcasting. It is two years to the week since the Annan committee reported. We are today implementing one of the 174 recommendations—if my memory serves me correctly, it is recommendation 100. There are 173 to go. At the pace of one recommendation every two years, there will be quite a long time to go before we bring about even a modest change in the broadcasting system.

    I welcome the Bill as far as it goes. In saying that, I must enter the caveat that I do not think it goes far enough. It goes along the appropriate road on its own. No one suggests that any other organisation than the IBA, which has the transmitters and the skills, is prepared to do it and has already introduced a good deal of the preliminary engineering works, should be responsible for this task. But I would take a better earnest of the Government's intentions in this matter if we were to have some clearer indication than my right hon. Friend has yet given about the timing of the introduction of the big Bill—the OBA Bill—to which in a sense this Bill is an appendix. The appendix before the body, like the cart before the horse, is an unwieldy way of carrying through legislation.

    In fact, we ought now to hear where the main Bill will come from. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) referred to it as a 64-clause Bill. He may be more privileged than I am in knowing what is in it. During this debate I hope to hear that the Bill exists, because its state of readiness or gestation—whoever fathered and mothered it—really conditions the kind and warmth of welcome that we should give to this subsidiary Bill concerned with the engineering works.

    The hon. Gentleman must realise that in this Parliament there is not much opportunity of getting a 64-clause Bill through. In any case, the decision that he is asking to be made had best wait until we know which Government will make it.

    Obviously, the longer time goes on, the more force there will be in that argument. That stands to reason. This Parliament can run only until the end of the summer. That is one reason why I personally regret that this Bill was not introduced in the previous year.

    However, there is still time for a great deal to happen in the course of this Parliament. For example, there is time to discuss, and perhaps vote on, the recommendations of the Procedure Committee with regard to our own affairs. There is certainly time for us to consider, give a Second Reading to, and hear the arguments for and the voice of Parliament concerning the committee of inquiry recommendations, as well as the Government's proposals in the White Paper, on the important matter of the fourth channel. I want to see that sooner rather than later.

    Since the hon. Member for Aldershot was judged to be within the rules of order, perhaps I shall be permitted to make a brief reply to some of his elegant witticisms. I have heard them before, but I do not intend to make the same reply to them that I have made on previous occasions. At any rate, one can vary the riposte.

    When the hon. Gentleman says, as he did today, that this is a kind of kooky scheme, which by some weird accident happens to have carried the committee of inquiry unanimously, has cleared the Cabinet, has come before us in the White Paper and will lead to a sort of Islamic republic of broadcasting, there speaks the unreconstructed, immovable Pahlevi on the Opposition Front Bench. If only the hon. Gentleman would look behind him, as Mohammed Reza Shah should perhaps have done as well, he will see how many of his hon. Friends are reluctant to follow this long march into the last ditch which he seems to be inflicting on his party.

    A number of members of the committee were distinguished Conservatives. There were a former Member of this House, Sir Marcus Worsley, a distinguished industrialist, Mr. Parkes, a former vice-chairman of the party, Mrs. Morrison, and a former Conservative candidate and director of the Conservative research centre, Mr. Goldman. They all signed these recommendations. Need I go on? Were all those people bamboozled by the Islamic republicans? I very much doubt it.

    In that case, how many apart from himself—the honourable Ayatollah—were experienced in the television industry?

    Quite a number were in one way or another. That is something that distinguished this committee from its predecessor.

    No, there were more than that. Sir Marcus Worsley himself had been a distinguished BBC Radio producer, although that was rather before my time in the days when the BBC enjoyed a monopoly. I shall come on to the virtues and disadvantages of monopoly in a moment.

    The position of my hon. Friend is well known and understood. We know that if these proposals had been discussed in the House, the Opposition could have counted on one extra vote—that of my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend is, or was, associated with ITV. He sees a lot of opportunities in ITV and would like to give all of this to ITV. Borrowing the words of Geoffrey Chaucer, I would say to him
    " Let Austin have his swink to him reserved ".
    He can go on swinking away for ITV as long as he wishes, but every other member of the Labour Party would like to see a new departure. The reason why we have misgivings about this Bill is that we see the road left open for a departure in the old direction rather than in the new one.

    In further and final reply to the hon. Member for Aldershot on the remarks that he chose to make about this Bill, I would just say that a number of other people have come out in support of the OBA, for reasons that I think further strengthen my argument that the OBA Bill—if we may call it that—should have accompanied this Bill today.

    During a speech that the hon. Member last made at the recent conference—a speech that we have heard yet again to-day—the first person who challenged him from the floor was a life-long member of the Conservative Party, Miss Revel Guest, who runs an independent film company. She argued—as do most of the independent film people—that the OBA was the right choice to make.

    Like myself, I do not think that the hon. Member was able to stay until the end; we both had to leave. Had we stayed, we would have heard the advertisers come out in favour, together with the sponsors, saying that perhaps in the first year of operation of the OBA it would be possible to put about £8·5 million into the system by sponsorship alone. I shall not go on; if I were to do so, I think it would be beyond the rules of order. I merely say that we have sufficient evidence of support for practical and profitable reasons, and for reasons of principle, I believe, within the country and in what are broadly speaking called Conservative circles, for the notion of the OBA, for it not to be a purely political argument between Left and Right, as the hon. Member seeks to make it. It is quite different.

    When I think that we are entrusting one half of the duopoly with the engineering works of what ought to be a new service, it does slightly concern me that we have not further limited the degree to which it might be responsible for the provision of that service, other than what is said in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. In other words, we are making too many nervous gestures towards the Opposition's present declared intention of bringing in an ITV2.

    A great many people have said—as the hon. Member has said and, no doubt, my hon. Friend, the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will say if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that the fourth channel button is there to be used, that it has to be the cheapest and most practical choice, and that really that should mean ITV. This Bill will be seen by them as a means of giving the IBA the opportunity of doing the groundwork for what they always intended to be ITV2. Such people depress me rather when they use the kind of examples that we heard at the conference which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot and I attended the other day. When speaking for the association of the companies—ITCA—Mr. Brown, from Scottish Television, said that it would be much more economic to do it in this way. He said that a fourth channel would be operated more economically by ITV than
    " by a new body artificially created to fulfil a broadcasting role of which it has not had previous experience."
    What was the then ITA, when it first came in, but a broadcasting body that had no previous experience in the field?

    One of the great tragedies of broadcasting in this country is how little those who control the real estate of broadcasting are prepared to allow other people into the act. That is the problem. That is why we do not get genuine broadcasting pluralism in this country. That is what I think is wrong. Recently, I had to look at the fourth volume of the "History of Broadcasting in Britain" by Lord Briggs. In it he outlines all the plans that the BBC put forward to try to stop the monopoly being broken by ITV in the early 'fifties. There was only one thing wrong with all those plans: there were six of them, and every one entailed the BBC's retaining the monopoly in some way or another—at one remove, perhaps, but keeping the monopoly.

    Those arguments were shot down with contempt, quite rightly, by the Government of the day. It was right to break the monopoly, and I think it is right to break the duopoly now. If we are therefore going on to a system in which there will really be three broadcasting organisations, as I believe we are, we should also say to the IBA that it is not merely being asked to do this engineering work for a fourth channel with which it will have nothing thereafter to do, but it is being asked to do it as part of the contribution that, quite properly, independent television should make to the coming of the new service.

    Simultaneously we should say to the IBA—and here I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin)—that there are many opportunities for creative innovation, an increase of competition and a better grass roots service within the ITV franchises themselves.

    As we are discussing engineering works here in this Bill, I presume it is in order to say, referring back again to the parent Act of 1973, that we shall have to discuss—it may be relevant to discuss it in Committee—the degree to which re-engineering will be necessary if the IBA, in proper time, is to introduce, as I think it should, changes in the franchise areas before the next round of contracts. I am very strongly in favour of having a separation of the present ATV area in the Midlands, where I live, to give the East Midlands area a genuine regional service of its own in addition to the service put out by ATV for the West Midlands and for a vast area around the West Midlands.

    The case that my hon. Friend makes out is a very compelling one. It would be a tragedy, would he not agree, if we just stuck another broadcasting facility on the existing transmitters that would produce more of the same thing? Would that not be the danger, whether it was the BBC, the IBA or anything that is more of the same thing?

    On the engineering side, it is necessary, does he not agree, that they have some regard to that when they do this work so that there is maximum opportunity to change districts and areas, to make them bigger or smaller, in any way that is required?

    I absolutely agree. It has been said that the local regions in broadcasting terms were invented by engineers in this country. To some degree, engineers still dictate what is practicable.

    If we are talking about the East Midlands—and we have an almost exclusively East Midlands contingent in the House at this moment—I think that we can say that the major re-engineering would have to be done to the Nottinghamshire transmitter. That in itself would probably not be enough for the kind of East Midlands region of which I am thinking.

    My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that one wants to keep transmitter engineering as flexible and versatile as possible, in order to allow a number of options. These options are not simply a question of the OBA if the Labour Party stay in or of ITV2 if the Conservatives get in; they are options about local service and variations within the region, on which surely we can all agree. We can say to the IBA in this matter "For heaven's sake be courageous, give us variety, and you will have a lead from Parliament in these matters, a clear indication of what people in the regions concerned would like."

    There is a clear indication, too, from the last time round. I see that the hon. Gentleman who is a director of Granada Television is here; the division of the Granada area into Granada and Yorkshire certainly did not damage Granada, I think, and it gave more competition and variety within the network system of ITV. We should like to see that done again—not of course down to the level of the absolute minimum, but in those regions where a proper local service could be given.

    I would like to end on this note. It is 10 years now since I and many other people have been working for changes in broadcasting that would lead to a greater pluralisation. My children, my friends and everyone else ask me what I have been doing in those 10 years. We had a 10-year reunion the other day of an organisation called the 76 Group, which was set up to campaign for an inquiry into broadcasting, to report in 1976. We got the inquiry, and it reported only one year late. Ten years later all of those people met, a little sadder, perhaps a little wiser, and asked themselves the question: "What do you think has happened? What have you done in that time?" We did not ask for any revolutionary changes. We said that we would go through the "consensus" way; we would call for committees of inquiry; we would argue and persuade the committee of inquiry and obtain our unanimous verdict from it and bring the matter before Parliament; we would have it debated in the public arena and then it would be passed into legislation.

    As I said to my right hon. Friend today, it would be an absolute tragedy if this Parliament were to come to an end without the Bill being brought forward. We know the disadvantages that he has in the Home Office; we know that some of the people there do not like it; there are all kinds of reasons—it is perfectly true; my hon. Friend need not shake his head—and we know what are those disadvantages. We do not need anybody to argue for the disadvantages. The disadvantages argue for themselves.

    Whatever happens at the end of the debate and during the present Parliament, one of the ways in which the Home Office will be judged during my right hon. Friend's tenure is the degree of willingness that it has shown to embrace the modest changes—organic reform rather than revolutionary change—brought forward by the committee of inquiry and endorsed in the White Paper. When the Government spokesman replies, I want to hear it stated that the Bill will pass through Committee concurrently with an announcement of the date when the OBA Bill is to be brought before the House. That is the least that the Government can do.

    5.1 p.m.

    I am happy to take up some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) as I agree with so much of what he has suggested for East Midlands television. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). I respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman made the correct analysis but drew the wrong conclusion. I fail to see what help it would be for a major television company to establish additional studios similar to the unused one at Nottingham to further the interests of the region.

    We all welcome new technology. However, that will be brought about only through the operation of a new company that is established on the basis of setting new standards of genuine technological competition.

    I welcome the proposals in the Bill as far as they go. Apart from establishing the fourth channel, the engineering money could be wisely used at the same time to take into account the East Midlands. I am sure that the Home Secretary will hear many more voices this afternoon to that effect. The 33 East Midlands Members on both sides of the House are overwhelmingly in favour of establishing a new franchise that reflects the needs of the area. That concept is supported by all the district councils in the region and the county councils. I am sure that in the forthcoming exercise to be undertaken by the IBA of public participation in the new franchises there will be discovered overwhelming grass roots support.

    Both the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) have listened carefully to representations made by hon. Members. The essential criteria that need to be established have so far been met. Social cohesion is the first criterion. East Midlands and West Midlands Members know very well that the East Midlands stands on its own as a region. The second criterion is the financial consideration. It is already established that an East Midlands television company would be viable in that sense.

    The real difficulty—it was made clear at the public meeting called by the BBC—is the technical problem. Without wasting the time of the House reiterating the details of transmitters covering the East Midlands, I tell the Home Secretary forcefully, in support of what other hon. Members have said, that wisdom suggests that planning provision should be made, along with other IBA procedures, provided that all other criteria are satisfied in the establishment of East Midlands television, to use part of the £28 million to ensure that the technical issue will not be produced at the end to frustrate the genuine will of the people of the East Midlands.

    I shall welcome assurances on the issues to which I have referred and I hope that they will be borne in mind by the IBA and throughout the Bill's passage in Committee.

    5.5 p.m.

    I welcome the Bill, although it may be the cart before the horse. It is the first positive step after months of delay. I do not blame the Government for the long delay, I blame the Annan committee. The committee—this applies especially to its representative who is a Member of this place—seems to have taken up an idea that is attractive to a small number of intellectually motivated men. I say "intellectually motivated" because they certainly were not practically motivated men. Surely it is not practical to erect a beautiful theoretical concept that is about as useful and as comprehensible as the Chaucerian quote with which I was belaboured by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), to my bemused incomprehension.

    The Annan committee erected the road block of the Open Broadcasting Authority. That has effectively blocked all progress towards not only the fourth channel but the fifth and sixth channels that we should have. That is what we should be talking about in this channel-starved country.

    The Annan committee has stopped progress in that direction, to the harm of an industry that desperately needs expansion and the boost that would come from a new channel that would be an opening for new ideas and new talent. That is the boost which ITV provided in the 1950s, which BBC2 provided in the early 1960s and which the reshuffling of the contracts provided in the late 1960s. That boost has not been provided in the 1970s.

    The Annan committee has blocked progress, to the harm of the viewer. The viewer is not getting a wider choice. He is not getting the leaven to the stale mix of programmes consisting of endless repeats and repetition of the same safe formula with which the viewer is now belaboured as I am belaboured with Chaucerian quotations.

    My welcome for the Bill would be pure and unalloyed if it were not for the weasel words "to transmit" rather than "to provide" a fourth channel. Progress has been speeded, but as long as that premise remains it is progress down a dead-end street towards the OBA.

    The basic motive behind the OBA is a good one. It is an attempt to bring diversity and variation to British television. However, the unfortunate fact is that in taking up the idea of the OBA the Annan committee has latched on to an alien concept of publishing that has no place in the experience of the television industry. We do not achieve pluralism in one channel. Pluralism in one channel is about as likely as Socialism in one country. We achieve pluralism through a diversity of channels and not by creating a dustbin channel into which anything can be shoved ad lib that is not related to the preceding or following programmes in any way. Pluralism will not be achieved by using another channel as a relegation hole for a diversity of programmes that should be spread over a series of channels.

    The Annan committee and the White Paper on broadcasting put the OBA in an impossible position. It has been designated specifically as a channel that will be used to appeal to minority tastes. That is its designation in the White Paper. However, it will be dependent on advertising. That means that it will have to compete for audiences with the two popular channels; that means that it will have to reduce itself to their level and their sorts of programme to achieve the mass audience that the advertisers will need, or it will have to be a ghetto channel, a fretwork network, with a smaller audience than BBC2.

    The BBC2 audience seems to average about 8 per cent. of the viewing public. That is its audience after 15 years of cross-promotion on BBC1, the popular channel. BBC1 attempts to recruit viewers for BBC2. If the OBA is to be a minority channel and is to be on its own, its position is bound to be even worse than that of BBC2, which has the advantage of cross-promotion. If it has an audience that is smaller than that of BBC2, it will not be attractive to advertisers. That means that it will be dependent on public money.

    The criticism is realistic. There will be a continuous chorus of complaints about public money being used to fund an inherently profitable medium to provide programmes for minority tastes. That in turn will make the Government more niggardly than they should be and television deserves. That will handicap the OBA, the fourth channel, from the start.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that no one has ever suggested that the OBA should be a channel on which only minority programmes will qualify to be shown? He is trying to persuade the House that either the programmes will be too popular or that they will not be popular enough. Has he ever heard of programme controllers who strike a balance between the two extremes?

    The fourth channel will either have to compete by broadcasting popular programmes or become a minority channel. If it is to be a minority channel, its position will be even weaker than that of BBC2 as it will not have the advantage of complementary programmes and cross-promotion. The only way to provide a real choice and an escape from the ghetto is complementary programming and genuine choice, namely, channels providing programmes that are different.

    The real challenge of television is not the provision of minority programmes appealing to minority tastes. That is the easiest part of television. It might be expensive, but it is easy to do. The challenge is to take minority subjects for minority tastes, perhaps, and make them appealing and interesting to a wider audience. To undertake that task it is necessary to fulfil certain requirements. It is necessary to have a popular channel with a reasonable amount of audience loyalty to that channel. Secondly, one needs producers with a populist flair for making subjects interesting but not trivial. A ghetto Open Broadcasting Authority seems to have neither of those two advantages.

    A further argument for the OBA is that independent production houses will be stimulated. "Let a hundred production houses blossom" is a slogan with which I have every sympathy. But there are not many independent production houses and it will probably take a long time for them to develop contacts with the fourth channel. The need now is to provide a new outlet for the talent, enthusiasm and ability in the existing production companies. This is the more pressing need. Ideas grow and develop from continuous progress of production and not in abstract isolation in an independent production house. One programme idea flows from another and from continuous work within a production company.

    Finally, it comes from regional roots—from companies which are based in the regions and drawing strength from those regions. All too often, companies are run from London and manned by people who see their first job as getting back to London as quickly as possible. The companies must be those serving the regions and genuinely rooted in the regions, which is how the idea of independent television started and still has a long way to go towards its fulfilment. The need is for regions that are manageable which a company can serve and where it can take roots. For instance, ATV seems too large at the moment, as the assembly of East Midlands MPs, who seem to be dominating the debate, have pointed out. Delenda est ATV is not my concern because I have not the same vested commercial interest in this operation as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said that he had not the same vested interest. So far as I know, no Member representing the East Midlands, either Labour or Conservative, has any vested interest whatever in the desire to create a separate television service for that region.

    Would my hon. Friend accept that I have no interest in any consortium in the Midlands or anywhere else, and never have had?

    Certainly, I would accept that.

    The point is that the splitting of ATV is one example of the creation of regions that can be served by companies genuinely and firmly rooted in those regions which will provide lively centres of ideas outside London. This is one of my dominant interests in the debate. The Annan committee does not seem to have taken sufficient cognisance of this "outside London" dimension. The only effective production houses on any scale of any ability outside London are regional ITV companies which need to fulfil the regional commitment of ITV but can provide the nucleus for expansion.

    Setting up a fourth channel is bound to mean drawing up a set of fine balances. There is a need to be complementary to ITV but not to be dominated by the moguls of the production companies. There is a need to be independent but not to be publicly financed or a pale imitation of the BBC or ITV.

    That points to either a channel controlled by the IBA or by an authority twinned with the IBA and either drawing up its programme schedule in consultation with the IBA or submitting it to the IBA. This is the only way we can secure the advantage of complementary programming and promotion by another channel that will build up the audience and provide diversity for the ITV audience. It would be a channel in which the companies would sell advertising which gives them a vested interest in the success of the channel but also financed by the levy on ITV out of which the companies secure rebates for programmes produced for the fourth channel. In other words, there will be an incentive to produce for the fourth channel and an incentive to push the fourth channel in the regions. There will be an incentive to make it complementary and functioning genuinely with ITV.

    I hope that the opportunity provided—it is the only justification for the delay that has occurred—will be taken to think along these directions as the scheme is developed. Otherwise, the provision that we are making today for a transmitter framework for the fourth channel will be largely unnecessary because of the smallness of the audience for which that channel will be catering.

    If the OBA scheme proceeds as outlined in the White Paper, it should only do so with the proviso that occurred over devolution, requiring an Order in Council unless that fourth channel gets 40 per cent. of the potential audience and proves that it is an effective, attractive channel which will gain and provide for the needs of a large audience.

    5.15 p.m.

    The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) described this as a cart-before-the-horse Bill. I believe that it is rather a case of finding the cart and then having to place wheels under it and finding a horse to drag it.

    The IBA told the working party on the Welsh television fourth channel project published simultaneously with the White Paper that it could, if authorised, go ahead immediately with the construction of transmitters required for the fourth channel service. It is a matter for some regret that neither the Home Office nor the legal advisers to the IBA seem to have found out in time that our debate today and this mini-Bill would be required before they could carry out the commitment in paragraph 7.14 of the report of that working party. The report states in paragraph 7.15:
    " The IBA tells us that it has sufficient staft to carry out the necessary fourth channel construction programme in Wales in much the same order as the existing HTV Wales UHF service was provided without any detrimental effect to the continuation of the engineering work mentioned in the previous paragraph."
    That referred to increasing the amount of coverage available in the rest of Wales on the UHF service.

    I wish that we had received earlier indication from the IBA's legal advisers that the Bill would be required. This is a piece of broadcasting legislation which was first not required. When it emerged that it was required, it seems to have become the only broadcasting Bill that is likely to emerge from this Government. The proposal for the fourth television channel in Wales to be allocated mainly to Welsh language television programmes was incorporated in the report of the Crawford committee which reported on broadcasting coverage in the United Kingdom in November 1974.

    One of my first activities as an MP was giving evidence to that committee. The committee reported that the service for Wales should start as soon as possible and that the decision should be taken for Wales ahead of the implementation of the fourth channel in the rest of the United Kingdom. That position was accepted by the then Home Secretary. Roy Jenkins, but no action was taken. According to the Government, it was because there were financial constraints on public expenditure at that time.

    It seems that we have made very little progress on that original acceptance by the Government of the Crawford committee recommendations on the fourth channel in Wales. We have since then had working parties. There was originally the Siberry working party and then the Annan committee report and Littler working party. We also have the Government's own White Paper.

    I should like to refer to what the Home Secretary, in the absence of progress on the fourth channel proposals, said about the interim expansion in Welsh language children's programmes. I should like to compliment him on the progress that he has been able to make over the use of licence fee money by the BBC for this purpose and also on the discussions that have taken place between his Department, the BBC and the IBA and, indirectly, the commercial company, HTV, operating in Wales, about the increase in programmes for children. This is the only development that I can welcome in the context of these proposals.

    We are now entering a situation in which the commitment for Wales is once again in danger of disappearing. Whereas that commitment had priority in the original view of the Crawford committee and in the subsequent view accepted by the Government, that priority is now disappearing. The proposal for the fourth channel in Wales as a Welsh language channel is under severe threat because of the Government's failure to legislate on the OBA concept. It is quite clear that, without the framework of the OBA for the whole of Britain, the concept of a national service for Wales giving priority to Welsh language broadcasting on the fourth channel is threatened.

    In paragraph 66 and succeeding paragraphs of the White Paper on broadcasting the Government dealt with the Welsh language service. It is significant that no reference at all was made to this service when the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) spoke on the subject today, despite the reference by the Home Secretary. I look forward to some response to what I have to say now from the Conservative spokesman who winds up the debate for the Opposition, because the House and the country of Wales have a right to know how the Conservative Party would, if elected to Government, implement the policy of the fourth channel in Wales.

    In paragraph 68 of the White Paper the Government made it clear that the scheme of the fourth channel in Wales under the OBA would be a national service for Wales, to which the three broadcasting organisations could contribute. That is severely threatened by the ITV2 proposal. Looking at the discussion in the report of the working party on the Welsh television fourth channel project, chaired by Mrs. Littler, we see discussion at length on what the report describes as
    " Option 2—the implications for Wales of an ITV2-type service on the fourth channel in the United Kingdom ".
    This was a joint working party, with membership from the Home Office, the Welsh Office and the broadcasting authorities. The conclusions of the working party, at paragraph 6.23 of the report, are these:
    " We judge that such a situation "—
    an ITV2-type service for the whole of the United Kingdom—
    " would have serious implications for the BBC Wales and HTV Wales joint Welsh language programme service."
    The report makes it clear that if there were an ITV2 service for the whole of the United Kingdom it would not be possible to move ahead with the kind of national Welsh language priority service which the fourth channel should be, according to the Crawford, Annan and subsequent recommendations.

    Therefore, it seems clear that the cooperation which could have emerged under an OBA system between the BBC and the present or a future contractor for ITV in Wales cannot find any place in an ITV2 system. We have already had references from the hon. Member for Aldershot about minority audiences not being a burden on the Revenue. With all due respect, I say to him that the Government have already made a commitment in the broadcasting White Paper and through the working party—carefully studied concerning funding—that there has to be either a grant-in-aid from the Government or some alternative form of public funding through the OBA buying Welsh language programmes from an existing or future independent contractor in Wales and BBC Wales in order to ensure that there is cross-funding for what would be a minority audience of some 500,000 Welsh speakers as a potential audience for that channel.

    The funding for Welsh language programmes must come from public expenditure. It cannot come from advertising because, except for public service advertising, there is no such commercial advertising on HTV Wales in the Welsh language, and it is not conceivable that there would be massive advertising revenue accruing with an audience of 500,000.

    Therefore, I think that we have a right to know how the Conservative Opposition intend to honour any commitment that has been made about the extension of Welsh language programmes and to know whether there will be any clear statement from the Conservative Opposition tonight of their intentions concerning the fourth television channel in Wales.

    As regards the separation of languages in broadcasting in Wales, the problem has very deep implications for the way in which the media in Wales are organised. I do not want to go into a long and detailed explanation, which would be out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the result of the recent referendum which took place in Wales, but certainly one of the factors in the referendum must have been the fact that at least 30 per cent. of the estimated number of viewers of television in Wales view from transmitters based outside Wales. As a result, in no way could they participate in the general referendum debate. That might appear to be a benefit or a disbenefit, but certainly the way in which the Welsh television media are organised means that at present some 30 per cent. of potential viewers of Welsh programmes turn their aerials towards transmitters outside Wales.

    Therefore, the creation of a separate Welsh language television channel would enable the present slots which are filled by Welsh language programmes on the existing ITV and BBC channels to be filled by English language programmes generated for a Welsh audience and providing a Welsh cultural content as contrasted with a Welsh language and cultural content, thereby enabling us to speak to ourselves in a far more adequate and fair way.

    The Conservative Party must grasp this problem. However, from the contributions that we have heard so far this evening it appears to me that the Conservatives have entirely failed to do that. The hon. Member for Aldershot, or one of his hon. Friends, should seek the immediate assistance of the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) in trying to formulate some kind of reply as to what the Conservative Party intends to do.

    I have been unable so far to provoke any interventions from the hon. Member for Aldershot. Therefore, I move rapidly on to refer to one particular issue which concerns me as we look to the future of television provision in Wales. That is the abysmal failure of the broadcasting authorities and, indeed, the education authorities in Wales to mount any kind of training programme for the expansion of Welsh language television. It was estimated in the original Siberry working party report that the expanded service on the fourth channel in Wales would require some 400 additional staff with wide-ranging technical skills. But it seems clear from correspondence, which has been published, between Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg—the Welsh Language Society's mass media group—and the BBC and HTV that there has been no move towards internal training programmes in Cardiff by either HTV or BBC to cope with the obvious need to expand the numbers that will be employed with the required skills on the fourth channel.

    The delay that we have experienced since 1974 in implementing the Government's commitment has led to the cynical view among broadcasters in Wales and among administrators in both broadcasting organisations that there is no point in preparing for the fourth channel in Welsh language programmes because it appears that such a channel is not likely to go ahead in any event. The delay has, therefore, demoralised broadcasters in the Principality. They are no longer able to look forward to development. The delay has created deepening frustration.

    I speak as one who has tried to play some constructive part in this whole broadcasting debate over the last five years. I have to warn the House that if the Government do not honour their commitment there will be—however regrettable it may be from the point of view of those who seek democratic constitutional changes in politics—an increase in activism by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, which is committed to the establishment of this fourth channel and some of whose members have been involved in various forms of illegal activity in constituencies within and outside Wales. At the moment two leading members of the society, Wynford James and Rhodri Williams, are imprisoned in Swansea for a conspiracy offence connected with interference with broadcasting installations.

    It seems that there is a necessity for the Government as well as the Opposition to understand the motives of the people in Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, who resort to illegal forms of direct acting against broadcasting property because they are frustrated at the continual delay in implementing Government commitments. It is one thing to argue with a Government who refuse to meet a demand or refuse to change a policy. It is something else to have to argue with a Government who accept a policy but will not implement it.

    It will be abundantly clear that the reason for this Bill, which will make provision to get the engineering done early, is the impossibility of the IBA doing it. There is nothing here or in the Bill which has not yet been introduced which reneges on any commitment. In no way can the activities of members of the Welsh Language Society be accepted in this House—I am not referring to cases which are sub judice—as justification for what they are doing. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not doing that, because if their motives are prompted by what they see as commitments being broken they are wrong. One of the things that emerged last week was the bitterness that has arisen as a result of the activities of the Welsh Language Society.

    The Home Secretary refers to bitterness. That bitterness exists when a minority is unable to obtain what it sees as its rights. In this case the right of communication is involved and the political system is not prepared to concede those rights.

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that viewers often feel that they are suffering from vested interests which dominate them? The hon. Gentleman's case involves the cause of the Welsh language. That is not so in the East Midlands. There we are dominated by programmes from Thames Valley or Birmingham.

    I agree with that entirely, and the regionalisation of the reflection of cultural identity, and the cultural pluralism, referred to by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), is the whole basis of my argument. People in various cultural regions should have the opportunity to communicate with one another without interference. In Wales, this means the provision in the Welsh language for the half million of us who speak Welsh as a first language and who want to be part of a lively popular mass culture in that language. We want those who speak English as a first and only language to have a popular Welsh culture disseminated to them through the medium of English. That can be achieved only if and when the commitment on the fourth television channel goes ahead in Wales, so that we can have both services, with resources devoted to both.

    All the frustration and bitterness which have been created in Wales arise from a failure of the political system in this place. That failure is compounded by the official Opposition in their lack of a statement so far. The failure of the system in this place is a failure to meet the legitimate demands of both cultural groups in Wales. I would not, in this place or outside it, defend the use in this context of illegal tactics to achieve policy changes, but it would be a foolish and blind Administration which did not recognise the motive behind the actions of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg. The motive is to ensure control of the media in Wales by the two cultural groups there.

    I hope that the assurances given by the Home Secretary mean that there is to be no reneging and no moving back. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Home Secretary, since I have discussed these issues with him at great length over the last three years. But it appears increasingly in Wales that commitments made to us are not being honoured because of a failure by the Government to organise their own policies in the context of the United Kingdom.

    Policies for Wales which were supposed to have priority over the rest of the United Kingdom in the original commitment by the Government then became part of the overall post-Annan framework for the United Kingdom. It now appears that the famous 64-clause Bill for the United Kingdom organisation of broadcasting is not to be produced in this Session, or it is certainly not to be enacted in this Session.

    That means therefore that the commitment for Wales will be lost with the failure to enact a policy for the whole of the United Kingdom. That is not surprising, because throughout the history of Welsh politics commitments made to Wales have been lost in this House because of a failure in radicalism on the part of successive Labour Governments. It is a matter of bitter regret to me that the Home Secretary and the Government have not been able to produce a United Kingdom framework that will enable the fourth channel project in Wales to go ahead.

    It is equally and abysmally clear that the Conservative Opposition have no proposals for Wales whatever. Therefore we shall have to consider the failures of the Labour Government and balance them alongside the absence of policies from the Conservative Opposition when we decide in any future event how we may have to vote in the House.

    5.37 p.m.

    I want to make a brief contribution because I am concerned that this apparently trivial piece of legislation should be introduced at this time. There seems to be no real reason for it and I wonder how it happened. I should be interested if my right hon. Friend would explain it. Perhaps the Secretary of State took the initiative and said, one day, when he arrived at the Home Office, "We should innovate and we must get this legislation through". Or perhaps it was a minute prepared by a civil servant who suggested that this initiative should be taken. I do not take the view that civil servants are neutral and isolated. I take the view that they are a tightly knit group of politically motivated people.

    It is possible that they decided that this was a facility which should be passed in the last few months of a Labour Government. We are bound to have an election some time this year and perhaps they felt that they should, as a safeguard, have this bit of legislation on the statute book. Otherwise, it simply does not make sense, because there are a number of things about the major broadcasting legislation which we would like to examine. This should be done in conjunction with this legislation and not in isolation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that this Bill does not exclude the possibility of the IBA transmitting a service. Of course it does not.

    If by some fluke the Conservatives win the general election—and it would be a fluke—they have made it clear that they will hand over this fourth channel to ITV2. They will increase the power of the existing companies. Since that is the case, and since this legislation amends the 1973 Act, we should examine what type of control the IBA has exercised in the years between the passage of the Act and today. There seems to be a little too much cosy consensus that the IBA is doing a first-rate job. That simply is not correct.

    What startles me is that the merchants on the Conservative Benches who are always calling for a greater emphasis on law and order do not follow closely the 1973 Independent Broadcasting Authority Act. I refer to schedule 2 to the Act, "Rules as to Advertisements". One of the reasons why I should like the major legislation to be introduced is, as the White Paper suggests in paragraph 21, that the OBA would be subject to the same advertising rules. This House ought to have a very close look at these advertising rules. We said, in "Labour's Programme 1973":
    " In television, the dependence of the independent companies upon advertising revenue has tended to be the enemy of innovation, or of programmes for minority tastes and has encouraged those made according to safe formulae. Through the fight for ratings, the same influence has been extended to the BBC ".
    We said, therefore, that the influence of advertising shaped the position. What has the IBA done? Schedule 2(3) to the 1973 Act states:
    " The amount of time given to advertising in the programmes shall not be so great as to detract from the value of the programmes as a medium of information, education and entertainment."
    I wonder whether the IBA has exercised tight control over that aspect. I wonder whether it has given sufficient attention to schedule 2(4), which states:
    " Advertisements shall not be inserted otherwise than at the beginning or end of the programme or in natural breaks therein."
    The controversy about natural breaks seems to have died down. Natural breaks are part of the routine and yet programmes which were deliberately designed to be shown continuously are broken night after night on ITV.

    The controlling body, the IBA, is to be given additional powers in this Bill, although it has shown itself to be incapable of applying existing legislation. I refer to the showing of feature films or plays on ITV. Those plays and films were never designed, except in one or two isolated cases, to be shown with breaks.

    When breaks occurred in feature films we used to shout "Put a penny in the gas". Films are designed to be shown continuously. The writers, directors and producers make a great effort to produce a worthwhile film. What happens when such films are shown by the IBA? I do not know who selects the natural breaks, but most feature films are torn to shreds by so-called natural breaks and the intrusion of advertising. That means that feature films—some of which are puerile but others of which are important artistic efforts—are subjugated to the commercial needs of advertiisng.

    Mr. Michael Morris