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Commons Chamber

Volume 969: debated on Monday 25 June 1979

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House Of Commons

Monday 25 June 1979

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Industry

Small Businesses

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what proposals he has to encourage the development of small businesses.

We shall make risk-taking more worth while—for instance, by the measures we have taken in the Budget—and we shall prune unnecessary constraints to enterprise.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is now common agreement that higher output and an increase in the number of new jobs will come from the small and medium-sized business sector? Is he also aware that in inner- city areas the biggest inhibiting factor on small businesses is the high level of rents? Will he give what encouragement and assistance he can to those operations in the private sector, such as Clerkenwell Workshops, which seek to provide premises for small businesses at attractive commercial rates?

Will the Secretary of State explain how he thinks the recent Budget helps small businesses? For example, does he think that the recent increase in interest rates will help them? What is the right hon. Gentleman doing about the 15 recommendations on small businesses made by the Wilson committee, including a guarantee scheme?

The increase in interest rates was a necessary response to the legacy we inherited from the last Government and will, I hope, be temporary. We are consulting widely about the recommendations of the Wilson committee.

Insac And Inmos

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what are his plans with respect to the future of Insac and Inmos Limited.

My right hon. Friend expects to make a statement in due course about all the National Enterprise Board's operations.

Will my hon. Friend give some indication whether it is the long-term strategy of the Government to continue to support either or both of those organisations?

I should like to give my hon. Friend such an indication, but he will have to await the statement which my right hon. Friend will make in due course.

Consett And Stanley (New Industries)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what measures he is taking to assist the development of new industries in Consett and Stanley, Co. Durham.

The measures announced in the Budget will help to stimulate industry throughout the country. Regional industrial policy is currently being reviewed.

Is the Minister aware that there is the gravest concern in my constituency about the future of the steel industry? Is he further aware that, notwithstanding what he has just said, the only proven way of stimulating new industry in the area is, as it has been, by active Government intervention, the continuance of which is supported by, amongst others, the northern regional council of the Confederation of British Industry?

The problems of unemployment in that area form part of the regional policy review. It is not necessarily a matter for Government assistance only. The work of Enterprise North will be known to the hon. Gentleman. The study commissioned by the British Steel Corporation into the scope of the future industrial development concept will also receive our attention.

Is the Minister aware that, without a strong regional policy over the years, areas such as the Northern region, which are so dependent on traditional heavy industries and which have suffered job losses, will be disaster areas? Therefore, any withdrawal of regional grants and incentives would cause devastation in the Northern region. Will the Minister also bear in mind that there are special areas such as West Durham, represented by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins), which need special incentives so that we may work towards the prosperity enjoyed by the rest of the country?

In the course of our review of regional policy we shall take into account the points made by the right hon. Gentleman. I was in Durham last Wednesday, hearing about and learning about the problems at first hand and I have reported back on them.

British Leyland

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when next he will meet the chairman of British Leyland.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he plans to meet the chairman of British Leyland

I see the chairman of British Leyland as frequently as is necessary.

When the Secretary of State meets the chairman of British Leyland, will he discuss with him the joint venture with Honda, particularly in relation to component manufacturers, who are obviously concerned to see that they have a fair share in the whole deal?

It is not my policy to interfere with the management of British Leyland, but I shall certainly make sure that the chairman sees the comment of my hon. Friend.

Is it the Government's clear intention to continue their support of British Leyland, in view of the impact this will have on the West Midlands, and Coventry in particular?

The future of British Leyland depends upon the combined efforts of its management and work force.

May I first offer the Secretary of State my congratulations on his appointment. I should like to press him further on the answer that he has just given. As British Leyland is the largest overseas currency earner in the United Kingdom, and the jobs of nearly 1 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon its success, will he reconsider his answer and assure the House that the investment programme which obtained under the Labour Government will continue in the future?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy. He and I have crossed swords before, and I am sure that we shall have lively exchanges during this Parliament. I do not see that there is any need for me to qualify my answer. After all, it is the answer which the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friends have given in the past, and we intend to adhere to it.

Shipbuilding Industry (Clydeside)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will now make a statement setting out how the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde will be affected by British Shipbuilders' corporate plan and the Government's attitude to this.

My right hon. Friend will be making a policy statement about shipbuilding as soon as possible.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm or deny the report in The Daily Telegraph on 19 June that he specifically asked for estimates of the cost of closing yards? If that is so, and any closures are contemplated, will he make sure that the costs are made public and published so that we can all judge the need for any particular closure? Does he also accept that there is now great anxiety on Clydeside about the future of the industry, and that that has not been allayed by the visit of the Secretary of State, which was compared in industrial terms by one of my constituents with the passing of the Angel of Death?

We recognise that there is anxiety in the shipbuilding industry about the future because of the gravity of the situation. That is why we hope to make a statement as soon as we can. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am sure that, like me, he does not believe every word which he reads in newspapers. The Government have asked British Shipbuilders to review the options which it put to the previous Administration, which lay on the table for a number of months. Circumstances have changed. We are looking at the facts, and when we have examined them and carried out various other consultations we shall be in a position to make a statement.

Does the Minister accept that there is also worry and anxiety on the east coast of Scotland about the future of the shipbuilding industry, largely because of the shortage of orders and the lack of any sign that orders are coming forward? Will he indicate why, in view of those facts, he was not prepared to give help in order to bring to Scotland the Shell-Esso contract for the multipurpose vessel, which would have provided the employment that is badly needed? The view is forming that it is the Government's intention to assassinate the industry.

The circumstances surrounding the decision about the Shell-Esso vessel have received a certain amount of publicity. It is not for me to comment on the detail that was published. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the degree of subsidy required of Government was not justified in the circumstances.

When my hon. Friend the Minister is considering the submissions with regard to the future of British shipbuilding, will he bear in mind the necessity for the covered facility at Barrow, which is a very profitable yard—

Order. I ought to have stopped the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson). This question relates to shipbuilding on the Clyde. If there are questions about other parts of the United Kingdom, they ought to go on the Order Paper.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, if too much money goes to the Clyde, too little will go to Barrow. That is why I raised the matter. May I therefore continue? I have not finished my question—

Order. I am quite sure that the hon. Lady has not finished. I do not like crossing swords with a lady, but the hon. Lady will realise that this question is about industry on the Clyde. It is unfair to others if we extend it to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Will not the hon. Gentleman now give an unequivocal assurance that it is the Government's intention to maintain a viable British shipbuilding industry?

The Government would like to see a viable merchant shipbuilding industry, if that is possible. But I am sure the hon. Gentleman is as aware as I am of the shortage of orders and the seriousness of the situation in the yards. It is exactly those circumstances, and others, that we must take into account.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on his visit to the shipyards on Clydeside.

My right hon. Friend will make a policy statement about shipbuilding as soon as possible.

We all want to maintain the maximum number of jobs on Clydeside and to modernise Clydeside. There is fierce competition from other shipyards. Can we be sure even at this stage that the right hon. Gentleman has not ruled out the possibility of a reasonable intervention fund to help?

When I arrived in the Department the intervention fund had lapsed by some weeks. One of my first actions was to try to arrange a transition period until a new intervention fund could be established. I hope that that will happen very shortly.

Is it true that British Aerospace positively steered the order for the new Shell-Esso offshore support vessel to Finland as part of a counterpart trade deal for the purchase of aircraft by Finland? Was that done with the Department's knowledge?

If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier during Question Time he would have heard that question asked and the answer.

Is not the hon. Gentleman being less than straight with the House? Had not the previous Administration already announced their intention to re-establish the intervention fund at £85 million? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government will comply with that?

It is correct that a statement was made by the previous Administration about the future of the interven- tion fund. The fund had lapsed and I had to negotiate immediately for a transitional arrangement—at least—with the Commissioner.

British Aerospace

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement about the future of British Aerospace.

The Government are still reviewing the position on British Aerospace. No decisions have yet been taken, but my right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement as soon as possible.

In drawing up the proposal for British Aerospace, are the Government looking for a partial sale of equity in the corporation or are they seeking total denationalisation? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the need for a measure of stability in aerospace, in view of the convulsions caused by the unnecessary nationalisation by the last Government?

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to a truth, which is that one must start from the position as one finds it. There are various options before Ministers. We shall make a statement on policy as soon as we are in a position to do so.

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the report in two reputable newspapers that the award of the shipbuilding contract to the Finnish yard resulted from the intervention of British Aerospace, which wanted to do a package deal in the sale of aircraft?

As I have already indicated, the decision on the vessel to which the right hon. Gentleman refers was taken on the grounds that the subsidy which was needed was excessive in the circumstances. With regard to British Aerospace, I understand that there is a possibility of an offset arrangement.

In considering the future of British Aerospace before making a statement, has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked for reports on the future of the HS 146 project?

When we carry out our review, all the projects with which the corporation is occupied inevitably come under review, particularly those which involve, or may involve, the use of public money. To that extent, I can tell my hon. Friend that the HS 146, along with other projects, forms part of that review.

Can the Minister give the House an assurance that before any decisions whatever are taken about the future of British Aerospace there will be discussions with the trade unions concerned, particularly in view of what his right hon. Friend said a few minutes ago about British Leyland? It is absolutely essential that the trade unions should be brought into discussions on the future of the industry in which so many of their members work.

The right hon. Gentleman will find that this Government will consult the employees concerned in any industry over which they have responsibility.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have regular meetings with the shop stewards of British Aerospace at Christchurch, many of whom express views about the Government's proposals somewhat different from those put forward by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) as well as those put forward officially as the political view of the trade unions concerned? Will he therefore ensure that he does not speak only to the same old union hacks when he carries out this consultation with those who work in the industry?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will make certain that I get a cross-section of views from the employees.

As there would be no civil aircraft projects now without nationalisation, will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that none of the shares will go back to those who failed the industry in the past?

National Giro (Bootle)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will give assurances that his policy towards National Giro will not mean any reduction in its activities or its potential for employment in Bootle.

The Government expect the National Girobank to compete on equal terms with other bodies offering similar services. Subject to that, the level of Girobank employment in Bootle is a matter for the Post Office Board.

Will the Minister please go further than that reply, if possible, to reassure the 3,500 people who are employed by Giro in Bootle, and will he state publicly that Giro is a good example of public ownership which is effective and profitable? Also, will he give an assurance that he will look at the possibility of expanding Giro to make it the banker of the nationalised industries and to give it the Paymaster General's work? Will he also consider amalgamating Giro with the National Savings Bank and expanding Giro to create a State bank?

To the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question I can certainly answer "No, Sir". In order to be helpful—and I recognise the concern of the hon. Gentleman and of his predecessor as Member for Bootle—I can say in answer to the first part that as far as we are aware the Post Office Board has no proposals to reduce employment in Bootle.

Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be an expansion of Giro activities, given that these bring a great deal of work not only to Bootle but to all other parts of Merseyside, including my constituency? In view of the high levels of unemployment, it would be absolutely disastrous if we did not have a clear policy of expansion for Giro.

The Government's attitude towards the expansion of Giro is that if Giro is competing on fair and equal terms it has every opportunity, but that is distinctly a matter between Giro and the Post Office Board in the future.

Fairey Engineering (Stockport)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement about the National Enterprise Board and Fairey Engineering Limited in Stockport.

My right hon. Friend expects to make a statement in due course about all the NEB's operations.

Does the Minister appreciate how much disappointment that statement will cause in Stockport, where the continuing uncertainty is causing much concern? Will he give an assurance to the work force there that they will be able to get on with the job, as they fought hard to become part of the NEB and would like to remain part of it?

At this stage it would be not only invidious but positively unhelpful to comment on individual cases within the review which is now taking place.

Does my hon. Friend recall that when the NEB used a large amount of taxpayers' money to buy the Fairey organisation several commercial companies in the free enterprise sector put in bids but were outbid by the NEB? Will he bear that very much in mind when it comes to returning the company to private ownership?

I am grateful for being reminded of those facts. They will be looked at within the overall review.

Industrial Decline (West Midlands)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what study he has made of fundamental industrial decline in the West Midlands; and what plans he has for counteracting this decline.

The Government are promoting industrial development by restoring personal incentives, encouraging efficiency and creating a climate in which industry and commerce can flourish.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that by almost any criterion the rate of industrial decline in the West Midlands over the last decade is probably greater than that which has occurred in most other parts of the country? Does not he agree that if we are to see economic recovery it is vital that the Government stimulate the development of growth industries in the West Midlands?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his condemnation of the record of the previous Government. I assure him that it is the present Government's policy to pursue policies which will stimulate growth and job creation.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to help the West Midlands is to improve the general economic climate of the whole country, to reduce the subsidies which are given to other areas, and not to think up new subsidies for the West Midlands?

The whole matter of regional policy is currently under review. My hon. Friend's comments will be borne in mind by my right hon. Friend during the review.

When shall we see the results of the Government's policies in the West Midlands—this year or next?

A start on the policies of encouraging incentive, enterprise and growth was made with the Budget. To some extent we shall see those coming through during this year. More will follow later.

Will my hon. Friend consider the possibility that the undoubted decline in the West Midlands is a direct result of the massive amount of taxpayers' money which has been poured into other regions?

Following the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), I assure my hon. Friend that that is one of the points that we shall be bearing in mind.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his replies so far have given scant comfort to anyone representing a West Midlands constituency? Is he further aware that because of actions by the previous Labour Government some 250,000 jobs in the West Midlands were either saved or rescued?

Is the Minister further aware that in the West Midlands alone at least 120,000 jobs depend on the future of the NEB? Will he look into the possibility of making a statement as soon as possible, in view of the great concern that his replies so far have caused?

My answers so far will have given considerable encouragement to those in industry and commerce who are concerned about the real long-term creation of jobs and the growth of businesses. Indeed, the hon. Member will know that, looking around the country's economy as a whole, one finds that the impact of the general economic situation on the regions is the largest single cause for change and hope for the future.

Employment (South Yorkshire)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what consideration he is now giving to providing more jobs in the South Yorkshire area, especially for those districts where unemployment is well above the national average; and if he will make a statement.

It is not the role of the Government to provide jobs, but rather to create the conditions in which viable industry and commerce can do so. The Government are currently reviewing the assistance at present available to industry in South Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that that is a most deplorable answer, the sort that we shall always expect from a Tory Government? Has he seen the report on the front page of the Yorkshire Post today of a recent survey which shows that 1,226 big firms, when asked what they would be doing about providing jobs after the Budget, said that they had decided not to provide jobs? What jobs will come out of the Budget that will benefit South Yorkshire? Does the hon. Gentleman intend to carry on as the previous Tory Government did, and not to provide jobs at all but to allow people to sink into unemployment?

Coming from an hon. Gentleman who supported the previous Government, under whom unemployment nearly trebled, that comment seems to take the biscuit for audacity. I assure the hon. Gentleman that every Conservative Government since the war have ended up with unemployment figures lower than they were when they came into office, and the policies we are now pursuing are likely to lead to the same end.

Will the Minister do something practical and refer to the NEB for active consideration the availability of good sites in the Doncaster area of South Yorkshire for the establishment of the microchip development proposed by Inmos Limited?

No decision has been taken yet on that matter. The hon. Gentleman's comment will be borne in mind.

Mostek Project

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will hold an inquiry into the role of his Department in considering the Mostek project which eventually went to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

Does the Minister accept that that is one of the most scandalous replies given in the House for a long time? Does not he realise that the blame for the loss of the Mostek plant to the Republic of Ireland was widely laid at the door of his Department, even under its previous ownership, on the grounds of its incompetence, undue delay and unwillingness to vary regional incentives? How does he account for the fact that the Republic of Ireland is advertising for skilled workers in the West of Scotland largely because of the failure of United Kingdom Governments to do anything about the Scottish economy?

The hon. Gentleman's comment about the previous Government's behaviour in connection with the Scottish economy is not a matter for me. However, the transfer to Ireland in April of this year of the particular project with which he is concerned is not thought to be a direct result of the inadequacy or otherwise of the regional aids available from the Department of Industry.

Manufacturing Industry (Production)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what was the index of production in manufacturing industry in the most recent month for which figures are available; and what was the figure in the same month in 1974.

The latest available figure for the index of production in manufacturing industry is the provisional estimate for April this year of 106·8. The index for April 1974 stood at 108·3.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fall in manufacturing output during the period that the last Government were in power showed clearly how their industrial strategy had failed? What steps does my hon. Friend intend to take to ensure that manufacturing output rises during the term of this Government?

Under the last Government the problem with industry was that incentives were so small that it was like trying to run a Rolls-Royce on one-star petrol. The changes that we have started to introduce, beginning with the Budget, are designed to restore incentives and make it possible for business men in companies of all sizes to seek extra business and to expand.

Does the index have any real meaning, and why do we have to have it?

To answer that I should need prior notice of a wholly different question.

What machinery is the Minister establishing to monitor any relationship that there may be between the so-called incentives introduced in the Budget and growth in manufacturing output?

The index to which I have referred is one of those indices that we shall use in considering the results.

Will my hon. Friend not lose sight of the importance of the service sector in generating new jobs and wealth in the community?

It is a feature of more advanced industrial societies that service industries provide an increasing proportion of jobs.

Post Office

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he intends to meet the chairman of the Post Office corporation.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects next to meet the chairman of the Post Office.

I have had two full discussions with the chairman of the Post Office and shall continue to meet him as the need arises.

Will my right hon. Friend tell Sir William Barlow as soon as possible that delays in the postal services are growing worse? There is much public concern about that. Will he ask Sir William what the Post Office intends to do about it?

I agree that there is great scope for increased efficiency in the postal business. I was dismayed that the members of the Union of Post Office Workers rejected, in return for higher pay, measures approved by their union leadership required to improve efficiency. As I have said, I am having talks with the chairman of the Post Office about how efficiency and service to the customer might be improved.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report of the Post Office Users National Council? It makes a devastating criticism of the Post Office, pointing out that the consumer is being asked to pay higher prices for lower standards of service. Does my right hon. Friend agree that poor postal deliveries represent a drag to industrial and commercial performance? In particular, what action is being taken to secure a return to second working day delivery of second-class mail?

These matters, including the report of the committee to which my hon. Friend referred, are for the chairman of the Post Office. I deplore the current bad service not only to commerce and industry but to domestic customers.

In the light of the closure of the Pye-TMC factory at Winston and various difficulties that have been expressed to this Government by, for example, Philips, does the Secretary of State think it right to have a serious discussion on the Post Office's long-term investment programme so that industry at least can be warned of its intentions earlier than has been the recent practice?

In view of the evidence that I have from my constituents that the Post Office is no longer capable of moving the mails, will my right hon. Friend support me if I introduce a one-clause Bill to abolish the Post Office statutory monopoly?

I have no plans at present for such an initiative or response, but I should not like to rule it out. I am sure that the House would agree that it is unacceptable for any nationalised industry to use its monopoly to cloak inefficiency.

Japan (Common Industrial Development)

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what talks he proposes to have with the Japanese Government to increase common industrial development.

I met Japan's Minister for International Trade and Industry last month. I hope for further contacts at ministerial and official discussions on common industrial issues.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a clear indication by Japanese industrialists that they wish to develop general projects with British companies? In view of that, will he urgently seek a meeting with the Japanese Embassy staff in London, the TUC and the CBI to discuss what kind of projects can be developed, in particular such developments as the silicon chip?

We are aware of the possible increase in Japanese inward investment and the general atmosphere. In case the hon. Gentleman has anything new to say, I invite him to discuss it with me.

Will my right hon. Friend undertake that this Government will not follow the bad example of the previous one in seeking to dissuade inward investment by the Japanese, particularly in the north of England?

Will the right hon. Gentleman look carefully at inward investment? There is no point in projects that consist entirely of buying in Japanese parts and using the cover of a British firm. That creates unemployment for British workers.

That is not the sort of project that the Japanese would regard as desirable. They are as anxious for a continuing welcome here as our firms would be in Japan.

Industrial Development (East Midlands)

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will take steps to promote industrial development in the East Midlands.

The Government are reviewing the assistance at present available to industry. Our policies are, however, designed to create a proper climate in which commerce and industry can flourish, and this will encourage industrial development in the East Midlands, as well as the rest of the country.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that some of the staple industries of the East Midlands are suffering considerably? Will he take steps to assist them in any way that he can?

The industrial structure and inherent local industries in the regions will be borne in mind during our current review of regional policy.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a great deal of industry in the East Midlands is extremely buoyant? As long as our staple industries can have fair competition, that part of the country does not need special Government help.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as British and overseas capital holders have failed to invest in the regions, in spite of incentives from different Governments, they are hardly likely to invest if those incentives are discontinued?

The incentives given under the previous Government and the depressing effect of taxation have perhaps inhibited the sort of investment needed to secure growth.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, despite what his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) said, many firms in the East Midlands benefited from the Industry Act section 8 schemes administered by the last Government? Is he aware that there is a need to continue many of these schemes? They were effective, especially in the East Midlands. Will he make a clear and concise statement, in contrast to the general statements that he has so far given?

The whole matter of regional and selective assistance is under review. As soon as that review is completed, announcements will be made to the House. The hon. Gentleman can, I hope, take satisfaction from that. It is not vague.

Industrial Subsidies

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he has any plans to alter the State subsidy arrangements available to certain sectors of British industry facing acute international competition.

We are carefully considering the whole question of Government assistance to industry, including those sectors facing acute international competition. My right hon. Friend will announce our decisions in due course.

In the course of his consideration, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pay due attention to the example of Denmark, where for a number of years since the war a very successful economic and trading policy has been pursued? This has been done without recourse to restrictionist trade policies but with generous long-term unemployment benefits and adequate resources for retraining.

We share the concern about the need for fostering change and flexibility. In view of what my hon. Friend said about the work being done in Denmark, we shall ask officials to look into this practice for us.

What advice will the Minister give successful industrialists who face increasing difficulty in maintaining their export achievements, not merely because of the threat of the removal of State support, but because of the present value of sterling, which has been maintained by very high interest rates, and which may further increase? This in itself is a profound disadvantage, and a future cause of unemployment.

The facts that the hon. Member has mentioned are central to the many economic problems facing the country. We have inherited an economic situation—the money supply and the like—which has led us inevitably to increase the minimum lending rate. We are disappointed at having to do so, and we emphasise that this will not be a permanent feature. However, the tax reductions which were made to restore incentives will be a permanent feature.

British Steel Corporation

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects next to meet the chairman of the British Steel Corporation.

My right hon. Friend has frequent contact with the chairman on a wide range of matters affecting the corporation.

In view of the Secretary of State's concern to reduce public expenditure, will he when he next meets the chairman ask for an explanation of the disgracefully profligate expenditure undertaken by the corporation at the official opening ceremony of the Hunters-ton complex, which has no productive value at present?

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman, he will hope to hear that this fine new terminal is in operation and that the disputes that are preventing its operation have come to an end.

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what will be the capital expenditure of the British Steel Corporation in 1979 –80 and 1980 –81.

The latest estimate for 1979 –80 is £325 million. Expenditure for 1980 –81 is currently under consideration.

Has the Minister noted the outstanding success of the Shepcote Lane stainless steel complex, which is now regaining markets which were badly neglected under private ownership? Does he realise that the future success of the BSC depends on a high and sustained level of capital investment? Will he take this into account when he works out the figures for 1980–81?

I recognise that there is something in what the hon. Member says about stainless steel, which the House will welcome, but I do not think that he can expect to hear any detailed figures today. We are very concerned to ensure that the successful parts of the corporation continue to thrive—for example, in Sheffield—and we shall continue to bear this in mind.

National Enterprise Board

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what recent discussions he has had with the chairman of the National Enterprise Board; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend expects to make a statement in due course about all the NEB's operations.

When the Secretary of State makes a statement, will he make it clear that there is no intention to sell off the enterprises that the NEB has made successful after taking them over from less successful private enterprise? Will he also indicate that the NEB can play a positive role in developing industry and employment in areas such as Merseyside which have high levels of unemployment and need that type of investment?

The hon. Member will have to await the statement. I fear that in regard to the first part of his question he may be disappointed.

As the NEB has played an important part in rescuing large failures of private enterprise, will he ensure that now that they have been secured for the benefit of the people of this country they will not be handed back to private enterprise to end up in possible failure again?

The hon. Member knows that it is our firm and confident belief that there will be more jobs both in the long and short term from the restoration of these firms to private enterprise.

If that is so, will the Minister explain the statement of the Secretary of State for Employment in the House a few days ago that he expects unemployment to increase by the end of the year? Is "by the end of the year" in the short term or the long term in the hon. Gentleman's opinion?

The answer to that was given in reply to the previous question. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment made it quite clear that the situation was due in part at least to our inheritance from the previous Administration.

Is it not a fact that one of the inheritances was 250,000 jobs that were saved by the NEB? Is the Minister now giving us first warning that the Government propose to end those jobs?

The right hon. Gentleman must not have heard the reply that I gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) a few moments ago.

Assisted Areas

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied that the present classification and determination of assisted areas corresponds to the economic and social needs of the areas concerned.

My right hon. Friend is currently reviewing regional industrial policy and a statement will be made in due course.

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that in carrying out this review my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will pay close attention not only to existing unemployment figures but to the possible unemployment figures should very large industrial changes that are contemplated take place?

That is one of the factors that my right hon. Friend is taking into account.

Before the review, can the Minister give an assurance that Merseyside will remain a special development area, with all the assistance that is necessary to create employment in that area?

It would be quite wrong to pre-empt the decisions in one particular area before the results of the whole survey were announced.

Is it not apparent to my hon. Friend, from supplementary questions put to him on this question and on previous questions, that industrial subsidies, like other forms of political bribery with the taxpayers' money, fail to satisfy those who receive them and cause grave dissatisfaction to those who do not? Will my hon. Friend draw the appropriate conclusion when he announces the results of the review?

May I return to the question of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about special development area status for Merseyside? When does the Minister expect to give a decision? It is fair to say that in an area with 11 per cent. unemployment this is a burning issue.

It would be wrong of us to complete the review without visiting the areas concerned. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have visited the area, and all these matters will be taken into account as soon as the review is completed. I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish us to complete a review without consulting those in the areas concerned. As soon as the review is completed an announcement will be made.

Consent To Prosecutions

37.

asked the Attorney-General if he will list those kinds of prosecutions for which his consent is required.

My consent to criminal proceedings is required under 41 statutes. The full list is given in a booklet entitled "The Prosecution of Offences Regulations 1978" published by the Director of Public Prosecutions. A copy has been laid in the Library of the House.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that the time has come to extend the area of prosecu- tions in which his consent is required to cover those in which important matters of public policy arise, such as those which arose in the case of Mr. Thorpe, where a witness has any financial stake in the outcome of the proceedings? In such a case the Attorney-General should be answerable for the institution of the prosecution, so that he is answerable to this House.

It is not always easy to identify cases in which inducements may have been offered. The first reason why my predecessor did not take part in any decision in the case to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred was that the case involved a colleague in the House. Secondly, it had serious political significance. Whichever way my predecessor had decided, he would have been open to criticism that he was influenced by political motives. He agreed to leave the matter with the Director of Public Prosecutions. I support his decision entirely.

Speaking generally, when the Attorney-General considers whether his consent is necessary in a particular case, will he consider the question whether contingency fees have been offered to the chief witnesses? Does he agree that this is a deplorable practice and that the payment appears to be dependent upon a conviction? Will he take immediate steps either to ban the practice or, if necessary, to prosecute under the existing law for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice?

If the evidence supports either contempt or an attempt to pervert the course of justice, the matter will be considered. At the moment there is insufficient evidence in the case to which we have referred to ask the Director to give further consideration to that. The evidence in that case has come from what the judge described as very tainted sources.

Nevertheless, will the Attorney-General confirm that it is his function to decide when immunities should be granted to witnesses in respect of prosecution? Does he consider, in the case referred to, that, looking back, it is a pity that his predecessor did not intervene and that the matter was left to the Director of Public Prosecutions? It is now admitted by the newspaper concerned that it cancelled the contract on the ground that the witness concerned told untruths.

The case that we are speaking about is quite exceptional. The Director of Public Prosecutions asked the Attorney-General whether he wished to be consulted and the Attorney-General took the view—which I have already said I agree with entirely—that it would be quite wrong for him to have to take that decision. Fortunately, we have a skilled, experienced and competent Director of Public Prosecutions who, in the comparatively short time that he has been in office, has done his job with great ability. Most hon. Members would support me in saying that the difficult decision that my predecessor took was the correct one.

Identifying tainted cases is difficult, because a defendant knows a great deal more about witnesses, who may be close friends, than does the Crown. I agree with those who deplore what happened concerning contingent payments being offered to witnesses. I shall examine the matter and, as I said yesterday on the radio, it may be that the body concerned would be better off putting its own house in order by giving the Press Council more power to deal with breaches as obvious as those.

I welcome the fact that the Attorney-General is to look into the issue of contingent payments. Whatever the Press Council does, there is widespread public concern about the matter. If necessary, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider whether legislation is required to eradicate at its root this fungus of payment by results?

It is a matter that I am considering. The evil is two-fold, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. First, a man may be prepared to lie in order to receive the much larger payment and it may never be known to the jury that that offer exists. On the other side of the coin, a man may tell the truth and maintain that throughout his evidence but, because there is a contingent offer to him, the jury may take no account of his evidence. Either way, it is a pernicious practice and I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, by one method or another, it should be stopped.

Director Of Public Prosecutions

38.

asked the Attorney-General when he intends next to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions.

When the Attorney-General meets the Director, will he discuss cheque-book journalism with him with a view to legislating and not leaving the matter with the Press Council? The Council has no teeth and its pronouncements never have any effect. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many newspapers and periodicals did a good job in investigating the recent case without resorting to cheque-book journalism? Those—Tory, I may say—newspapers which did resort to this practice thereby uncovered no new information. However, they polluted not only the whole judicial process but the journalistic profession as well.

When my right hon. and learned Friend consults the Director of Public Prosecutions, will he discuss with him the wisdom of amending the present law on committals in order to give to committing magistrates the right to decide whether there shall be publicity in cases where there are two or more defendants and one defendant seeks publicity and the others do not?

This is one of the matters which is under consideration. It arose on a Private Member's Bill in the last Parliament. I should like to see the present law maintained for the benefit of exceptional cases where, for example, alibi evidence might become available only by reason of the publicity at a committal. If that has to go, I believe that it should be all or nothing—in other words, all defendants should agree to publicity and if one does not want it and the others do it should not apply. However, consideration should be given to the occasion when one man wants publicity for a genuine reason which he can satisfy the magistrates is a good one—for example, the case of a man in a motorway café at 11 am at the time when the offence is alleged to have been committed. At the table next to him a young child is with a family and that child is sick all over the defendant's shoes. The defendant does not know the family but it is an occasion that would be remembered by them. If that fact comes out on committal, it is likely that the family will remember the occasion and provide the defendant with a good defence or alibi which would otherwise be denied to him. That is the sort of exceptional case in which the magistrates may grant publicity.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the public disquiet and grave concern that is felt about the matter? Many people would find it unacceptable that the Press Council should initiate an inquiry. They believe that if an inquiry is to be held it should be held under the auspices of Government if that is the only method by which the matter can be brought to public notice.

In certain cases it is clear that the matter amounts to contempt of court or an attempt to pervert the course of justice. There will also be halfway houses in which it might be better to leave the matter to the Press Council and to journalists generally to put their own house in order. If they fail to do so—and there are other examples—it may be necessary to consider legislation. I remind the House that in the first two cases—contempt, and attempts to pervert the course of justice—if such evidence is available, those concerned can be prosecuted under the existing law.

Will the Attorney-General discuss with the DPP another long-standing and urgent defect in the working of our criminal system, namely, the requirement that before cases are heard in magistrates' courts the prosecution should provide the defence with a summary of the prosecution case?

This is another matter that is before the Royal Commission. I would rather wait until that body has published its report—although, as my hon. Friend knows, some years ago I advocated this point strongly, and still regard it as a good idea.

Does the Attorney-General agree that matters which entail simply the assessment of evidence and not public interest factors are usually better left to the DPP? Has he yet encountered the many hundreds of run-of-the-mill cases which purely for historic reasons require a Law Officer's consent? Has he discovered that many hours of ministerial time are consumed to no purpose, time which could be better spent dealing with other matters?

I believe that too many of the 41 cases that require a Law Officer's consent need not be dealt with by that officer and take up a great deal of time. On the other hand, a number of other cases, particularly concerning corruption, are better left with the Law Officers.

Questions To Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do not today's proceedings supply further evidence of the inadequacy of the time accorded to oral answers by the Attorney-General? Of nine oral questions tabled for answer by him today, only two have been answered. Both those questions dealt basically with the same point, a point of admittedly great public importance and interest, but I am sure that you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that two out of nine questions are a small measure when the opportunity to ask such questions arises so rarely. Since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) are present, I hope that this matter can be suitably considered.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noted that my question was among those that were not reached. This is one of the rare occasions when I wish to endorse the comments of an hon. Member on the Government Benches. Occasionally there is a sensational case before the Houser and the time is swallowed up very quickly because of the number of points put to the Attorney-General. However, there are many other important but perhaps more routine matters connected with company reports, which deeply affect our economic system and deserve detailed and lengthy answers and comments. I urge this point upon you, Mr. Speaker, and also on the other people who deal with these matters in the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since this is a House of Commons matter, I wish to emphasise that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel very strongly on this point. The number of questions tabled to the Attorney-General has been rising steadily in the past few years and a period of 10 minutes is not long enough to deal with them, especially since Law Officers are not the speediest of answerers to questions. Perhaps they need a little more time than do other Ministers to give their answers.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I shall be happy to investigate the point raised by hon. Members.

I wish to say, in passing, that there were a number of hon. Members still on their feet when I moved on in each case. Secondly, I must point out that the questioners are equally long-winded.

Business Of The House

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement.

The motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering) Order announced for consideration today will now instead be taken at the end of the business already announced for Wednesday.

Nazim Akhtar (Immigration Procedure)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the removal of Nazim Akhtar, and the refusal of the Home Secretary to listen to representations from the hon. Member for York before her removal".
The merits of the case are sufficient in themselves to argue the case for this Adjournment, but there is also an issue to be examined relating to the way in which the Home Office dealt with my representations on this subject which the House should consider.

This matter arises because a Pakistani lady appeared at London airport last week with the intention of coming into England as the fiancée of a man who is already married but who is in the course of obtaining a divorce. That man is a constituent of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Because that lady is a female fiancée she does not need an entry certificate and therefore she could have been admitted to the country there and then. Nevertheless, the immigration service at Heathrow took the view that she would not be allowed to come into the country until she had gone back to Pakistan and applied for an entry certificate. The authorities took that decision because the man whom the lady intended to marry had not yet got a divorce and would take another couple of months to get it. However, that man, within the rules, could have married the lady within three months.

The man in question, having arranged the marriage, returned from Pakistan earlier this year, but the lady came to this country on her own because she had become pregnant—indeed, she was already some months pregnant. It was clear that there were good grounds for her to be admitted on purely compassionate considerations. Therefore, the decision to send the lady back to Pakistan meant a considerable toll on that woman who was so far advanced in pregnancy.

Nevertheless, I would not have detained the House with a case which I am afraid is too common in immigration practice to bring before the House on a Standing Order No. 9 application if it had not been for the reception I received from the office of the Minister of State, Home Office, who is now present on the Government Front Bench.

I was told that because the right hon. Member for Worcester had telephoned his ministerial colleague's office and had been reassured by what he had learned, and therefore was not proposing to make representations, I was not entitled to make representations, and indeed that, if I were to do so, those representations would not be considered and the lady would be removed before my representations were heard.

In this House we have a practice in which hon. Members do not intervene in matters affecting fellow hon. Members. One recognises that that practice applies in most cases, but throughout the years in the Home Office there has been a long tradition as a result of which people have been entitled to raise immigration issues, largely because the subject attached to no particular Member of Parliament. Therefore, in the Home Office cases are heard on behalf of Members from various areas of the country and frequently the same case is heard several times over. It has always been the practice in the Home Office that it never removes anybody while representations are pending from a Member of the House.

I wish to ensure that there is no change in that practice. I am chairman of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service and I often consider cases which have been brought to the attention of other hon. Members. I rarely intervene, because of our agreement as fellow Members of the House, but sometimes, if, as in this case, there is an issue of principle which seems to have been overlooked, I feel that it is right to take up that matter on behalf of the individual member of Parliament. I know from my experience as a former Minister that other hon. Members also adopt that course.

I hope that there will not be any repetition of Ministers seeking to remove a person without an hon. Member's representations having been considered. You, Mr. Speaker, carried out my job long before I did, and you will know that in your time that was always the procedure followed by the Home Office. I recognise that this matter may not necessarily be debatable under Standing Order No. 9 procedure, but I hope that I have made my point.

The hon. Member gave me notice this morning that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believed should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the removal of Nazim Akhtar and the refusal of the Home Secretary to listen to representations from the hon. Member for York before her removal".
I listened with care to the hon. Gentleman. Personal cases always give me extra cause for consideration but, as the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors sot out in the Order but to give no reasons for my decision.

I have to rule that the hon. Gentleman's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.

Business Of The House

Ordered,

That, at this day's sitting, the Motions relating to the Select Committees related to Government Departments, Expenditure Committee and Nomination of Select Committees may be proceeded with, though opposed, until One o'clock and that if proceedings on the Motions have not been disposed of by that hour, any Amendments to the first Motion, which have been selected by Mr. Speaker, may be moved, the Questions thereon shall be put forthwith, and Mr. Speaker shall then proceed to put forthwith the Question upon the said Motion and any Questions necessary to dispose of the other Motions and of any Amendments moved thereto which have been selected by him.—[Mr. MacGregor.]

Select Committees

Before I call upon the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster it may be convenient if I explain to the House the course that we should follow, in view of the business motion to which the House has just agreed. During the course of the debate it will be open to any hon. Member to discuss the various amendments that stand on the Order Paper and I think it will be to the advantage of the House if all the amendments are taken under general discussion during the debate.

When the debate comes to a conclusion I shall call on hon. Members in succession to move formally the first of each group of amendments shown on the selection list that has been published. When the last of these amendments has been

That—
5(1) Select committees shall be appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments set out in paragraph (2) of this Order and associated public bodies, and similar matters within the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
(2) The committees appointed under paragraph 1 of this Order, the principal departments of Government with which they are concerned, the maximum numbers of each committee and the quorum in each case shall be as follows:

10

Name of committee

Principal government departments concerned

Maximum numbers of Members

Quorum

1. AgricultureMinistry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food93
2. DefenceMinistry of Defence103
153. Education, Science and ArtsDepartment of Education and Science93
4. EmploymentDepartment of Employment93
5. EnergyDepartment of Energy103
6. EnvironmentDepartment of the Environment103
207. Foreign AffairsForeign and Commonwealth Office113
8. Home AffairsHome Office113
9. Industry and Trade.Department of Industry, Department of Trade.113
2510. Social ServicesDepartment of Health and Social Security.93
11. TransportDepartment of Transport103
12. Treasury and Civil Service.Treasury, Civil Service department, Board of Inland Revenue, Board of Customs and Excise.113

30(3) There shall in addition be a select committee to examine the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and of the Health Services Commissioners for England, Scotland and Wales which are laid before this House, and matters in connection therewith; and the committee shall consist of eight Members, of whom the quorum shall be three.
35(4) The Foreign Affairs Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Treasury and Civil Service Committee shall each have the power to appoint one sub-committee.
(5) There may be a sub-committee, drawn from the membership of two or more of the Energy, Environment, Industry and Trade, Transport and Treasury and Civil Service Committees, set up from time to time to consider any matter affecting two or more nationalised industries.
40(6) Select committees appointed under this Order shall have power—
(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report from time to time;
45(b) to appoint persons with technical knowledge either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee's order of reference; and
(c) to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before sub-committees; and the sub-committees appointed under this Order shall have power to send for persons

disposed of I shall put the main Question, or the main Question, as amended. I shall then call on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to move, successively, the two other motions relating to the Expenditure Committee and nomination of Select Committees, and the amendment to the latter will be dealt with in the same way.

If any of the amendments that I have selected for Division is agreed to I shall call the Member concerned to move the necessary consequential amendments within the group in the order in which they appear on the Paper.

3.45 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

I beg to move,

papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to adjourn from place to place, and shall have a quorum of three.
50(7) Unless the House otherwise orders, all Members nominated to a committee appointed under this Order shall continue to be members of that committee for the remainder of the Parliament.
That this Order be a Standing Order of the House

I start by welcoming the former Home Secretary the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) to the Front Bench as Opposition spokesman on procedure. When I was Shadow Leader of the House I had to mark two Ministers and I take it as a compliment that when the shadow has been turned into substance the Opposition need two spokesman to keep a check on one.

Today is, I believe, a crucial day in the life of the House of Commons. After years of discussion and debate, we are embarking upon a series of changes that could constitute the most important parliamentary reforms of the century. Parliament may not, for the moment, stand at the zenith of public esteem. There are tides of fashion that rise and fall as there are tides of opinion that move. We should not be too concerned about that. One truth abides and that is that parliamentary government has been one of the great contributions of the British nation to the world's civilisation, and we would do well to remember that. Great nations fail only when they cease to comprehend the institutions that they themselves have created.

That is not to say that I believe that Parliament is impeccable. The greatness of Parliament and the reason why it has survived for 700 years is that it has always been ready to reform itself. It has found the will to put matters right when they have gone wrong and to renew itself when it has discerned the signs of the times.

Let me say at the outset that the phrase "parliamentary government" is a misnomer. At no time in its long history, save for a brief and disastrous interlude, has Parliament governed or made any claim to do so. Parliament's function has been a different one. It has been to subject the Executive to limitations and control; to protect the liberties of the individual citizen; to defend him against the arbitrary use of power; to focus the mind of the nation on the great issues of the day by the maintenance of continuous dialogue and discussion; and, by remaining at the centre of the stage, to impose parliamentary conventions or manners on the whole political system.

I believe that Parliament is successful in the last two aims. It is on the two first ones that public and professional anxiety has focused and constellated. It has been increasingly felt that the twentieth century Parliament is not effectively supervising the Executive, and that while the power and effectiveness of Whitehall has grown that of Westminster has diminished.

The proposals that the Government are placing before the House are intended to redress the balance of power to enable the House of Commons to do more effectively the job it has been elected to do. In doing this the Government are redeeming a pledge in their election manifesto, which was repeated in the Gracious Speech, that the House should have an early opportunity to amend our procedures, particularly as they relate to the scrutiny of government. These proposals are based on the report of a Select Committee on Procedure appointed in 1976 which reported two years later.

It is a thorough, authoritative and lucid report. I pay tribute to all the hon. Members who served on the Procedure Committee and who spent so many hours producing the report. I pay particular tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), who, as Chairman of the Committee, presided over it and brought it, by his devotion and diligence, to such a successful conclusion. It is with his name that I trust the report will always be associated.

The report contains 76 recommendations in six main sections. It is clearly impossible to implement them all at once. This is intended as the first instalment of the implementation and I hope that it will answer my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) who broadcast this morning. He did not awaken me, because I am an early riser. He expressed the hope that there would be further commitments from the Government on this matter. We must proceed, however, in an orderly manner, and it is in accordance with the recommendations of the Procedure Committee that a high priority should be given to the recommendations on Select Committees.

As an earnest of the Government's good intentions, I add straight away that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer shares the view, reflected in the Procedure Committee's report and in recommendations from the Expenditure Committee, and endorsed by the Comptroller and Auditor General, that a fundamental review of the Exchequer and Audit Departments leading to proposals for new legislation is now needed. He has given instructions for the work on the review, announced by the previous Government on 18 January, to be pressed forward with vigour.

Yes, but I have a number of things to say, and I hope that hon. Members will make their points not during my speech but during the hours when they have the Floor to themselves.

I do not intend to try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, but I was a member of the Select Committee and I shall be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman can tell us whether his remarks about the comments of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) are an undertaking by the Government that they will proceed to all the other five groups of recommendations that were in a special report of the Select Committee to the former Government. May we take it that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are an undertaking to proceed in measurable time to all those five sections?

I do not think that my remarks will bear the full weight of the hon. Gentleman's exegesis. I stand by what I said. We regard our proposals as a first instalment in the reform of the proceedings of the House.

I cannot give way constantly. I must press on to explain these important proposals.

The debate on procedure may be a dull subject. After all, Parliament is not, thank Heavens, all thunder and fury—I had enough of that last week—but to say that we can be dull is not to say that the matter is unimportant. After all, procedure is the best constitution that we have.

Our proposals follow those of the Procedure Committee in providing for the appointment of a total of 12 department ally related Committees. Their coverage departs from the Committee's proposals in only two respects. One is that we are proposing a single Committee to cover the Departments of Industry and Trade, and a separate Committee to cover the Department of Employment. We are doing that because we consider it to be a more logical association of Departments, and one that will prove more convenient for the Committees.

The Departments of Industry and Trade are closely linked, both in their organisation and in their functions, since they are largely concerned with manufacturers, trades and exports. The work of the Department of Employment impinges in important respects on the Department of Industry, but it covers the whole range of employment matters and would more appropriately be a subject for a separate Committee.

The second point of departure is that we have excluded the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Law Officers' Department from the scope of the proposed Select Committee on Home Affairs. I am sure that the House will agree that the new Committees should not be allowed to threaten either the independence of the judiciary or the judicial process.

In the Government's view, there would be a real danger of that if a Select Committee were to investigate such matters as the appointment and conduct of the judiciary and its part in legal administration, or matters such as confidential communications between the judiciary and the Lord Chancellor and the responsibility of the Law Officers with regard to prosecutions and civil proceedings.

The Law Officers have no administrative functions and the legal advice given by them to Government Departments is confidential and, by definition, is not disclosed outside the Government. The Lord Chancellor's functions are all deeply interwoven with judicial matters.

For those reasons, the Government consider that the most appropriate course is to exclude those two small Departments from scrutiny by the new Select Committees. There will, however, be no change in the existing answerability of the Law Officers to the House, both for themselves and on behalf of the Lord Chancellor.

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain by what logic the Home Office's jurisdiction over the reform of the criminal law is included, and the Lord Chancellor's jurisdiction over reform of the civil law is excluded? Can he also explain by what logic the Public Record Office falls within anything that he has said?

That is a valid point. The reason for the exclusion is that the civil law administration is, in this context, a minor part of the work of those departments.

In a minute. I must press on. I turn now to various parts of the United Kingdom.

Order. The Minister has made it clear that he wishes to advance the case to the House. Since he is not giving way, he must be allowed to continue.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the situation in Scotland is basically different. Does what he has said cover any jurisdiction that a Scottish Committee may have over the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General for Scotland? If the right hon. Gentleman says that he will look at the matter, I will accept that.

I was just coming to the position in Scotland. The proposals that I am making may answer the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I can be only tentative in my comments, because what I have to say about Scotland is tentative.

I turn to the various parts of the United Kingdom—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—some of which have been the subject of amendments. I wish to inform the House of the Government's intentions.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland indicated in the debate on the order to repeal the Scotland Act last Wednesday, the Government do not wish to pre-empt any of the possibilities that may be raised in the forth coming all-party talks to establish common ground as to the scope and direction of improvement in the government of Scotland.

I assure the House that the Government are ready to agree in principle that there should be a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, but we consider that the arrangements for setting up that Committee should be discussed as part of the all-party talks. We shall, however, be ready to put forward detailed proposals for the Committee at the appropriate stage.

Our Welsh manifesto included a proposal for a Welsh Select Committee, and that is a possibility that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will ask the House to consider in tomorrow's debate. If it is the wish of the House, a separate Welsh Committee could be established quickly. In anticipation of that possibility, we have not provided for the Committees proposed in the motion to cover Welsh affairs.

On Northern Ireland, our intention is that many of the matters for which, under direct rule, the Secretary of State is responsible to the House should, in due course, be subject to scrutiny by elected representatives in Northern Ireland. Until that situation can be achieved, we have thought it right to provide that they should be within the scope of the new Select Committees at Westminster.

Are we to take it from what the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government do not propose to re-establish the Northern Ireland Committee as it existed in the previous Parliament, or will that Committee still be re-established, while these Committees deal with Northern Ireland aspects of the subjects to which the respective Select Committees will be directed?

It is not the Government's intention to establish a special Select Committee for Northern Ireland.

I apologise for intervening again. Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me, as it were, a supplementary question? The Northern Ireland Committee in the previous Parliament was not, technically, a Select Committee. I wonder, therefore, whether the right hon. Gentleman would consider the matter and deal with it again when he winds up, because the Northern Ireland Committee, as it existed in the previous Parliament, proved useful and would in no way conflict with the work of the Select Committees proposed in his motion, even in so far as they cover Northern Ireland matters.

As I understand it, it is not the Government's intention to set up that Committee. I will give a fuller reply to the right hon. Gentleman if I am allowed to speak again, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, at the end of the debate.

In addition to providing for the 12 departmentally related Committees, our motion would retain the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Although the Procedure Committee recommended differently, it acknowledged that a case could be made for its retention. We believe that case to be a strong one. A Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration can keep the system as a whole under review, and can consider individual cases of maladministration on the basis of principles common to every Department. The Government believe that this work would be a valuable complement to the work of the departmentally related Committees in relation to their own Departments.

I turn to the matter of the existing Committees. I acknowledge and endorse the need, represented to me by a number of hon. Members, to carry forward the important work done by existing Committees that would be replaced under these proposals. Much of the work can be taken over by the new Committee directly. The various Committees con- cerned with nationalised industries may wish to follow up the Procedure Committee's own proposal that they should appoint a joint Sub-Committee to consider matters common to those industries of the kind considered in the past by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. Our motion makes provision for that to be done.

Is it the Government's intention to allow the Committees that could make up the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries to increase its numbers from the figures put down in the proposals?

The numbers put down have been carefully thought out. They should be ample to cover the proposed Sub-Committees and the work it is intended that they should do.

The Select Committees on Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs will take over the interest in overseas development and in race relations and immigration respectively that were hitherto the province of separate Select Committees on those subjects. They may wish to appoint Sub-Committees so that they can more effectively maintain continuity.

I hope that all the new Committees will pay special attention to scientific and technological issues within their fields of interest and that in that way they can continue the excellent work of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I hope that the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts will take particular interest in scientific research and development.

What is to happen to the outstanding reports and inquiries that are only half completed? Is provision to be made for these works to be taken on?

I ought to tell the House that I have an extremely long list of right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House. Although the debate is due to go on until one o'clock, I think that some of them will be very lucky to be called. Therefore, the fewer interventions there are the better progress we can make.

I know of the work that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) has carried out in these areas. I hope that that is precisely the sort of work that will be done, taken up and continued where appropriate by the proposed new Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts.

I pay tribute to the excellent work done by all these Committees over the years. I am confident that their work can be carried forward under the new structure and that those hon. Members, like the hon. Gentleman, who have served on Committees with such distinction will be able to make an equal contribution as members of the new Committees. Where work is left unfinished, means will be found to ensure that it will be carried to a conclusion.

I must make it clear that the Government's view is that the existing subject Committees cannot continue in parallel with a new structure of departmentally related Committees without creating unacceptable confusion, duplication of effort and unnecessary cost. The abolition of the existing Committees must be a necessary corollary to the acceptance of the new structure.

Even with the abolition of the old Committees, we must not underestimate the effort that the new structure will involve. That is why the Government are proposing a closer restriction than the Procedure Committee had in mind on the powers of Select Committees to appoint investigative Sub-Committees.

Our motion provides for the appointment of a joint Sub-Committee on the nationalised industries. We recognise that the Select Committees on Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and the Treasury and Civil Service all have a wide field to cover. They may find it convenient to appoint Sub-Committees to deal with particular subjects, such as overseas development and race relations and immigration, or with the Civil Service Department. But, of course, the Committees themselves will decide the allocation of their resources. We propose that the powers to appoint Sub-Committees of the Foreign Affairs, the Home Affairs and the Treasury and Civil Service Committees should be limited to a single Sub-Committee of each Committee rather than two.

The objective of the new Committee structure will be to strengthen the accountability of Ministers to the House for the discharge of their responsibilities. Each Committee will be able to examine the whole range of activity for which its Minister or Ministers have direct responsibility. The Government also accept the Procedure Committee's view that the Committees must be able to look at the activities of some public bodies that exercise authority of their own and over which Ministers do not have the same direct authority as they have over their own Departments. The test in every case will be whether there is a significant degree of ministerial responsibility for the body concerned.

Does that mean that the Committees established will be able to call not only the civil servants but Ministers without their being able to avoid appearing before the Committee for interrogation and discussion?

The responsibility of the Committees and their capacity to call Ministers, civil servants, and members of those bodies are not mutually exclusive. It will be within the scope of the Committees to call before them members of these bodies.

I come to the question of powers. The Procedure Committee recommended that Select Committees should be empowered to order the attendance of Ministers to give evidence, and to order the production of papers and records by Ministers. In the event of a refusal by a Minister to produce papers and records, the Committee should be empowered to claim precedence over public business for a debate on a motion for an address or for an order for the return of papers, unless time is provided by the Government by the sixth day after the first appearance of the motion.

I have two comments to make. First, the power to order any Member of the House to attend before a Select Committee, be he a Minister or not, is a power that constitutionally strictly belongs to the House and not to a Committee. Secondly, the Procedure Committee itself concedes that formal powers on these matters have had to be exercised only on rare occasions.

There are some specific criticisms of the Select Committee's proposals in this regard. First, it is not appropriate for a Select Committee to order about Members of the House. A Minister must be free to decline if he is not the Minister responsible for the matter that is to be discussed, or if it is clear that he will not be able to answer questions put to him.

Secondly, we do not consider that a Select Committee should be entitled to claim automatic precedence for a debate on a failure to produce information unless the matter has been shown to be one that is of general concern to the House as a whole.

More generally, however, we are concerned here with matters that will be essentially questions of judgment. Inevitably there will be occasions when Ministers will have to decide that it would not be in the public interest to answer certain questions or to disclose information. There are conventions governing these matters that the House has accepted over a long period and that the Government will respect. They are dealt with in the Procedure Committee's report, and the Committee for the most part was satisfied with them.

The Government will make available to Select Committees as much information as possible, including confidential information for which, of course, protection may have to be sought by means of the sidelining procedure. There may also from time to time be issues on which a Minister does not feel able to give a Select Committee as much information as it would like. But on these occasions Ministers will explain the reasons for which information has to be withheld. There need be no fear that departmental Ministers will refuse to attend Committees to answer questions about their Departments or that they will not make every effort to ensure that the fullest possible information is made available to them.

I give the House the pledge on the part of the Government that every Minister from the most senior Cabinet Minister to the most junior Under-Secretary will do all in his or her power to co-operate with the new system of Committees and to make it a success. I believe that declaration of intent to be a better guaran- tee than formal provisions laid down in Standing Orders.

Is my right hon. Friend saying that an undertaking given from the Dispatch Box by, dare I say, a finite Minister on behalf of a Government whom I wish to go on for ever but who may not is of equal value to a provision enshrined in legislation or the procedures of this House? I cannot believe that an affirmation from the Dispatch Box resembles even remotely the authority of a decision of this House.

That is why the right hon. Gentleman is doing it.

That remark is not worthy of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I am saying that in these matters the practice of the House and the attitude of the Government are as important as and possibly more important than any formal guarantee. I might add to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that, finite or infinite, temporal or eternal, it is the intention of this Government during their period of office to co-operate with these Committees. I believe that if a practice of that kind is established it will endure beyond the limited life of a Government.

If a Committee found itself in difficulty and if that difficulty became a matter of serious concern to the House as a whole, it would be the Government's wish that the House should have an early opportunity to debate it on the Floor, and I am sure that the Minister concerned would welcome that opportunity as a means of explaining his position and of seeking the co-operation of the House in resolving the difficulty and avoiding its recurrence. That again is a pledge that goes further than any pledge given on this matter from this Dispatch Box.

I throw in for good measure that it experience shows that more formal powers are needed for Committees to enforce their wishes—if the worst fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds are fulfilled—the question of additional powers can be considered at that stage. But we do not consider that the case has so far been established.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman saying by what he has just told the House that he is dismantling a system that has worked and has had the authority to work through Standing Orders and, by claiming to widen it, he is offering a wider shadow for a genuine substance?

I do not think that that is a fair, logical or accurate analysis of the proposals. The Committees that are set up will have the same powers as existing Committees, and they will be exercising them over a wider range of matters.

I believe that it is right to claim that the Government have acted with remarkable speed in a matter where the predecessor Government hung back. Within seven weeks of the General Election, we are putting this package of proposals before the House. They constitute a major change, although that change is of an evolutionary and not a revolutionary kind. To those right hon. and hon. Members who fear that the Chamber will be prejudiced. I say that Committees will supplement this Chamber. They will complement this Chamber. They will not supplant it. I yield to no one—