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Orders Of The Day

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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Bees Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.27 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

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

I am quite clear that the subject matter of this Bill may give rise to much merriment, and no doubt will, but it is extremely important to those who keep bees and for the maintenance of a healthy bee population.

The bee population is important not only for the production of honey but for the efficient pollination of agricultural and horticultural crops in Great Britain. The keeping of bees provides a livelihood or a hobby to many thousands of people. The threat to the health of British bees by imported diseases, and particularly infestation with the mite varroa Jacobsoni, has in recent years been of concern to many hon. Members. Bee-keeping trade associations and the National Farmers Union have expressed great anxiety about the possibility of the disease being introduced here. They have represented to us that the present legislation controlling imports of bees into Great Britain no longer gives adequate protection. The powers we are now seeking will give much greater flexibility in operating the controls and consequently much better protection.

The bee disease which has brought about the concern is termed varroasis. This occurs when a bee colony becomes infested by the parasitic mite varroa Jacobsoni which preys both on adult bees and on the brood. Mites attach themselves to the bodies of bees and feed on their blood. This weakens, cripples or causes early death of the bees. The initial infestation involves few bees and few mites. Two of these tiny crab-like creatures would fit on the head of a pin, so early detection is somewhat difficult. However, an infestation can completely destroy a colony in up to five years.

What makes this disease so serious is that at present there is no known cure. In countries where it has become established varroa has caused great losses in the bee population. It has spread to many countries of the world, so far all countries from which we do not normally import bees. However, it is now spreading into Western Europe. West Germany is infested, and it is feared that the mite may spread into France and Italy, both major suppliers of bees to Great Britain. We have the good fortune to have the natural protection of the English Channel, and the only way that varroa is likely to spread into Great Britain is through imports of bees.

Hon. Members may wonder why it is necessary for us to import bees at all. I should perhaps explain that imports usually take the form of queen bees attended by a few—six to 12—worker bees who look after her on the journey. Imported queen bees are needed in order to maintain stocks and to introduce desirable genetic material. For this purpose we look to countries with a more favourable climate than ours to breed bees. The import trade in bees is small—a tiny fraction of the British bee population annually. The total number of colonies of honey bees in Britain in 1978 is estimated at about 240,000, whereas imports numbered 6,000 queen bees, or 2·5 per cent, of queen bees. The fundamental deficiency of the existing legislation is that our frontiers are either open or shut to bees from particular countries. There is no means of adapting the rules so as to regulate imports according to the disease situation prevailing at any particular time. Nor do the present measures allow for the necessary very quick reaction to changes in the disease situation in exporting countries.

It may assist the House if I explain in slightly greater detail how the present controls operate, how they are deficient in dealing with the new situation and how the proposed import licensing system embodied in the Bill would overcome the disadvantages. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954 allows provision to be made by order to control imports in the following way. First, imports from particular countries or parts of countries may be prohibited. Second, imports not accompanied by a specified health certificate may be prohibited. Third, imports which in some other way do not comply with the provisions of an order—in particular as regards the containers used for importation—may be prohibited. These are the basic safeguards now available.

A major deficiency is the necessity to specify by order each and every country from which we wish to prohibit imports on account of a disease there. The Importation of Bees (Prohibition) Order 1979, made last May, prohibited imports from specified countries known to have varroa at that time. However, each time a disease is confirmed in an additional country it would be necessary to make a fresh order. There would inevitably be delay between confirmation of the disease and the coming into force of the order. Furthermore, it is the opinion of my legal advisers that the existing legislation would not support a complete ban on imports which might in future become necessary or desirable.

A further deficiency of the existing legislation is that, under the 1954 Act, imports may be allowed subject only to being accompanied by a health certificate. Since 1955, orders under the Act have required imported bees to be certified free from major bee diseases—brood diseases, acarine, nosema, amoeba and apimyasis. These diseases are relatively easy to detect through microscopic examination. Even so, examination of samples of imported bees sent voluntarily to the Ministry have sometimes revealed disease. In 1978 varroasis was added to the list of diseases against which certification was required. In the case of this disease little faith can be placed in such certification because the mite can be present at a very low level—a few bees in many thousands—and can be exceedingly difficult if not impossible to detect. It needs only one gravid female to start an infestation. For the benefit of hon. Members who are not qualified in zoology, "gravid" means pregnant. The powers that we are seeking would not be so entirely dependent on health certification.

The further main provisions of the 1954 Act on bees include examination of bees on importation and destruction without compensation for diseased bees or illegal imports. These provisions are incorporated in the Bill. We are considering carefully representations only recently received about compensation where unaffected bees might possibly have to be destroyed to create a cordon sanitaire round an outbreak of the disease.

Finally, the maximum penalty for an illegal importation of bees under the 1954 Act is a mere £20. This very small sum is out of all proportion when we consider the serious damage that could be done to the bee population by one diseased importation. We are therefore proposing to raise the amount to a maximum of £1,000, which is now the standard maximum amount for summary offences.

I do not want to mislead the House about our disease situation. We are not entirely free of bee diseases in this country. The most serious are American foul brood and European foul brood. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1941, section 11, provides for the control, by means of orders, of bee diseases within England and Wales. Such controls are exercised by the Foul Brood Disease of Bees Order 1967.

In Scotland, control of disease is at present on a voluntary basis. Examination of bees is carried out by the colleges of agriculture at the request of beekeepers. Should varroa ever enter Great Britain, despite the improved frontier controls in the Bill, similar controls to those for existing endemic diseases would be needed for all parts of the country. It is therefore proposed that the provisions of the 1941 Act should be extended to Scotland against such an eventuality.

The penalty for contravening an order under the 1941 Act is as out of date as that under the 1954 Act. We propose to increase the existing sum from £50 to £1,000. We are taking the opportunity of incorporating all the previous provisions of the 1941 Act in the present Bill so that all the legislation on control of bee diseases will be in one Act in future.

I come now to the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 grants to Ministers the power to make orders, subject to negative resolution procedure, for the purpose of preventing the introduction into or spreading within Great Britain of pests and diseases affecting bees. The regulatory controls relate not only to bees but to combs, bee products, hives, containers, appliances and other things associated with the bees. These miscellaneous items are covered because they might be potential disease risks as well as bees themselves.

Orders may make provision with respect to any of the matters specified in the schedule to the Bill. The schedule is therefore an important part of the Bill. It lists types of control that have been found indispensable in the past both in combating bee diseases within this country and in dealing with imported bees. It allows for the securing of information about bees and bee diseases, for the marking of hives or containers for identification, for treatment of bees and for cleansing and disinfection. It provides for definition of time of importation, for recovery of costs and for incidental and supplementary matters. Most importantly, it provides for an import licensing system to be set up.

We intend to have a general prohibition on the import of bees except when they have been granted an import licence. Such licences could be general or specific, conditional or unconditional. They would be issued by the appropriate Minister or a specially authorised person. It is envisaged that general licences—the contents of which would be widely publicised—might be granted for imports from countries which we believe to be free from varroa and which are unlikely to become infested because of their geographical situation and their own stringent import laws. Specific licences might be issued for other importations on individual application, based on the prevailing health condition—which could be investigated at the time if necessary—in the country of origin. If a country were infested with varroa, no such import licence would be issued. Import licences could be modified or revoked at short notice whenever changes in health status demanded it. The vast majority of imports would come in under the general licences, and we do not see these measures as placing heavy additional burdens on bee importers. Consultations are taking place with the bee keepers' associations and the NFU on the detailed measures for inclusion in the importation order and the licences to be issued under it.

I should also mention that clause 1 allows for different provision to be made for different areas. The control of endemic diseases within the country is dealt with differently in Scotland at present. It is not proposed to change this unless a serious disease situation, such as varroa invasion, demands it. Subsections (3) to (6), which largely repeat the provisions of the present legislation, give an authorised person power to examine and take samples of bees and other things subject to an order and to destroy them or cause them to be destroyed if they are infected or have been exposed to infection. He may also destroy or cause to be destroyed any illegally imported bees. These are all necessary measures for preventing the spread of disease. As in the present legislation, no compensation is to be paid for bees thus destroyed.

Subsection (7) provides for penalties for offences. As I have explained, these are now to be set at a level more appropriate for today.

Subsection (8) provides for Ministers' expenses to be defrayed out of money provided by Parliament.

Clause 2 gives an authorised person power to enter, on production of his authority, if required, anywhere where he has reasonable grounds for supposing there are or have been bees subject to control under an order. This power of entry is not a new one except in so far as it applies to imports. Bee keepers generally recognise the importance of keeping clear of disease and are very willing to co-operate by allowing inspection of their bees.

Customs and Excise is our first line of defence against illegal imports, but the powers may be needed to follow up imports which have passed through Customs and which are considered a disease risk. A penalty of £200 is provided for obstructing an authorised person.

The only further explanation that I need to give the House concerns the definition of bees. Hon. Members will have noticed that there is no definition given in the Bill. In the legislation in force at present, bees are defined as honey bees—apis mellifera—which are the type of bee kept commercially in this country and in many others. However, bee diseases, including varroa, can be carried by other types of bee, so although imports of other types may be a very rare occurrence, we thought it prudent not to restrict the scope of the Bill to honey bees but to allow it to cover all types of bee.

Finally, clause 5 gives the title—the Bees Act 1979. If this it not quite the shortest Bill of the season, at least we claim it has the shortest title.

British bees have so far escaped the threat from varroa. It is our job to see that they continue to do so and I believe that this Bill will provide the necessary controls, with the necessary flexibility, to enable this to be done. If varroa spreads to France, one of our main suppliers of bees, we still have the English Channel to protect us.

I should like to ask the Minister, who has already spoken about the English Channel as a boundary difficult for bees accidentally to cross, whether he has considered the Republic of Ireland, and whether the same sort of control exists in the Republic. If not, is there not a danger of bees imported into the Republic of Ireland flying across the boundary into Northern Ireland and then being imported into this country?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that my ever vigilant Department has already thought of that. If he studies the Bill in detail, he will find that the provisions relating to Northern Ireland are slightly different and are dealt with separately. The truth is that bees have no respect for boundaries. If the disease spreads to Southern Ireland and steps are not taken, however many laws we pass, there is a great danger of infestation in Ulster. But let us hope that our Irish partners in the Community will take note of what we have done and adopt similar measures.

I was on the point of saying that if varroa were to spread we would still have the English Channel to protect us, whereas France, of course, would be unprotected from the disease if it were to come from West Germany. We do not believe that we should rely entirely on our natural advantage in this matter; we think that we should reinforce control by ensuring that our import legislation is as effective as possible in protecting our bee population. I know that that view is shared by our bee keepers, farmers and growers who rely on bees to pollinate their crops and orchards. Indeed, bee keepers' associations have demanded that the strongest possible protective measures are taken at the frontiers to safeguard their bees. The strength of feeling is such that some have even demanded a complete import ban. I do not think that such stringent measures are justified in the present situation, but we shall continue to be vigilant.

I commend the Bill to the House in the confidence that the provisions will meet bee keepers' wishes for considerably strengthened controls against new bee disease being introduced here and against adding to the stock of endemic disease.

4.45 p.m.

As the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated, the Bill is of immense importance to bee keepers throughout the United Kingdom—but the House will agree that it is not one that should take up a great deal of time. It would be more appropriate and effective for us to probe some of the contents of the Bill in Committee.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the people who keep bees do so for recreational reasons, if I may use that phrase. Taking 40 hives as the break point, there are only about 500 commercial bee keepers, as opposed to the total of 45,000 bee keepers for Great Britain.

The Parliamentary Secretary has explained the severity of the disease known as varroasis. It is lethal, and in the course of about three years it can wipe out a hive completely. I commend to the House an excellent little booklet produced by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, outlining the nature of varroasis.

I hope that, whatever cuts the Parliamentary Secretary and his colleagues are to make in the Ministry's support for the industry, they will not cut the efficacy of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service or the research work carried out in this country. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), when he was Minister of Agriculture, did enormous damage to the National Agricultural Advisory Service, as it was at that time. I hope that that mistake will not be repeated by the Ministry, because it took the advisory services about five years to recover from that terrible survey of the last Conservative Government.

The Parliamentary Secretary has adequately explained the reason for the Bill—that we have import controls but that they are not satisfactory and that it is necessary to have a new system. It may be necessary to have a complete ban on the import of bees. Certainly it will be necessary to specify the countries from which we import them, as opposed to the countries from which we do not import them. I understand that we have power at present only in the latter respect.

There is an important Community aspect, as there always is when we are talking of restricting imports into the United Kingdom. I am advised that bees are animals classified under article 36 of the Treaty of Rome. Since there is no regime for bees, there is, of course, no need to be concerned about any EEC edicts—if I may use the somewhat unfortunate phrase of the Prime Minister. There is no need, therefore, for any consultation. We can simply go ahead and enact the measure.

Without wanting to be too presumptuous, I should like to give a piece of advice to the Parliamentary Secretary. Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome is the article that enables us to introduce measures, within the Community, to restrict the importation of animals—bees in this case—for disease reasons. All sorts of livestock are involved. Indeed, we are able to make similar restrictions for plants. My experience is that there are times when we are under pressure from the Community to have somewhat less stringent import controls in these matters than we would be inclined to have ourselves.

I am not suggesting that successive British Governments have been totally blameless, but our record is better than that of the other Governments, and certainly better than that of a close neighbour. Some of these Governments have on occasion used measures of import control apparently for disease when really they have been commercially motivated. We must not allow ourselves to be bullied. The last Government were very firm on this, and we always won at the end of the day. We must never allow ourselves to be moved from our judgment of what is the right decision in relation to these import controls.

The reason for that, and the reason why we win these arguments, is that it is an asset to the Community, and not just to us in Britain, to have a zone which is disease-free. Therefore, even in the context of bees, we shall be doing the Community a service if we can maintain our bees free from disease. As the Parliamentary Secretary has explained, it is largely because of the situation in West Germany that the Government—the last Government supported this—are bringing forward this measure.

In that context I think that the question put by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), was well judged. The Government should go somewhat further than the Parliamentary Secretary indicated and have discussions with the Irish Republic. Let us make Great Britain and Ireland, North and South, disease-free zones to ensure that we can keep them disease-free for the benefit of the Community as a whole. One does not know, but it may well be that one day France and Italy may have occasion to import queen bees from the United Kingdom.

In conclusion, the Opposition support the Bill and wish the Government good speed. We shall facilitate the Bill's implementation at the earliest opportunity.

4.50 p.m.

I declare an interest as I am the proud owner of one fairly inadequate and idle hive which produced about 20 lbs. of honey this year.

I believe that all bee keepers will welcome this Bill. It is excellent and necessary. As Tories, however, we are frightened because of the introduction of more and more "nanny" legislation of various kinds. I do not believe that this is exactly the sort of legislation that would have gladdened the heart of my predecessor, Mr. Disraeli. At a time when we see swingeing cuts up and down the country in matters that are dear to the hearts to many of us, it seems unfortunate that the expenses incurred by any of the Ministers will be defrayed by Parliament—that is, any that the Ministers do not pay themselves. Indeed, they might have flowers in their offices at their own expense.

To be serious about this important Bill, the Parliamentary Secretary said that the English Channel was our natural safeguard and protection against this new disease. However, we in Kent are in the premier fruit-growing area. To us, bees are of particular importance for pollination. If this disease spreads down through Germany into Belgium and the French coast, will we in Kent be at risk from these bees coming in on the wing, as opposed to coming in a package? What will happen then?

Although I made a caustic remark about "nanny" legislation, I am perturbed about clause 1(2), which says that these authorised people "may prohibit"—I extract certain words—
"movement within Great Britain of bees"
that "may have been exposed". Who is to say what may have happened? It is very imponderable and imprecise.

I am a bee keeper in West Kent. There are many people around me with large orchards who have hives moved in and around their orchards. Indeed, bee keepers are often paid by fruit growers to bring their hives to the orchards. If there are to be vague prohibitions about movements because the bees may have been affected, that is too imprecise by half.

In welcoming the Bill I have two anxieties. The first is the vagueness of clause 1(2), and the second concerns the statement that there is to be no compensation. I believe that that is unfortunate. Although the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) pointed out that there were perhaps only 40 serious commercial bee keepers in the country, the fact remains that if one of them has a large number of hives compulsorily destroyed, he would get no compensation. A man who sees a great herd destroyed because of foot and mouth disease gets compensation. Why should a person who has a great colony of bees destroyed not have compensation if it is his sole livelihood?

4.54 p.m.

Members on both sides of the House should support the Bill this afternoon. I honestly believe that bee keepers throughout Great Britain are in favour of the Bill. It is a step in the right direction.

The increasing popularity of bee keeping as a hobby—I am not one of them—or as a part-time or full-time occupation, is evident from the letters that I have received in support of the Bill from various parts of Wales. I understand—it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells)—that the association of bee farmers has protested about the element in the Bill which provides for the destruction of bees without the provision of compensation to the bee keeper. I have been told by the Department that this aspect of the Bill is simply a continuation of the status quo. I hope that when the Minister winds up he will clarify the position.

Many bee keepers are particularly afraid at the moment that the pest varroa Jacobsoni may reach the United Kingdom and that a large number of bees may have to be destroyed. They hold the view that they should receive compensation in the same way as do farmers whose herds are compulsorily destroyed because of foot and mouth and any other disease that may come into this country. As I understand it, the Government's position is that the bees would eventually be destroyed by the pest in any case. I think it would help if the Minister clarified the position.

It would help bee keepers to know whether in the future there is any way in which the bees can be saved, or whether they will be destroyed in any case. I hope that the Minister will clarify the position and put the minds of bee keepers at ease. As I said earlier, I believe that we should give our wholehearted support to the Second Reading of the Bill, and give it a free passage through the House.

4.57 p.m.

Following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) said—one may now describe him as the "Kent bee keeper"—I am anxious about the fact that this is a fairly hefty piece of legislation for a relatively simple purpose. My impression is that by enacting this Bill, even if we do it with the assistance of the Opposition today, we would change nothing. Could the Minister confirm that that would be the position, and that nothing would happen unless he laid an order to implement one or other of the powers which the Bill gives him?

In that connection, I am concerned that there does not appear, even now, to be any powers in the hands of the Minister to prevent the importation of bees if he felt that it were necessary. I should like to believe that there were at least plans afoot for taking the earliest opportunity provided by the Bill to give the Minister those powers, and that we will not simply be asked to put the Bill through and then have nothing at all happen Finally, in this brief intervention, I welcome the intention of the Bill and, in all fairness, the recognition by the Opposition of its value. We want to get the Bill through as quickly as possible.

5 p.m.

I must first declare an interest as a bee keeper. One of the difficulties facing us is that it is easy to mock a Bill of this sort coming to the Floor of the House on a Thursday. When I listened to the intervention of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) earlier, I was moved irreverently to consider the problems of hot pursuit of a swarm of bees across the Irish border. Equally irreverently, I was moved to consider the problem of what we now call the B Specials, should that organisaton be recreated. Opportunities for such thoughts on the Bill are limitless. For instance, one could say that it is a "hiving off" Bill, or that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the freedom of movement of capital must be balanced by the introduction of the first phase of the alternate economic strategy, much beloved by the Tribune group, for selective import controls.

However, it would ill become the House if we allowed the Bill to go through on that sort of frivolous level. At the basis of the Bill lies one of the problems that has been discussed by the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament for the last four years, and it has been a constant difficulty. It is that those measures of animal health control and veterinary inspection that are wholly appropriate and proper to continental Europe are equally inappropriate and improper given our island situation.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) raised the Community dimension, because it is quite clear that in this Bill the Government propose something that is wholly within the terms of our current Community obligations. We are not trying to stretch the Treaty of Rome or anything like that. It is essential that we retain this power over animal and bee health, whatever our Continental colleagues may wish to do. It would be wholly wrong for us not to be given that right in the pursuit of animal health just because it is inappropriate to do something between France and Germany or Italy and France.

I differ from the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) in that I believe that there is a difficulty in respect of destruction of associated hives. If, over the winter, one has 10, 15 or 20 hives in close proximity, with the risk of inter-infestation, and one moves four or five hives into an orchard to assist with pollination, unless one gives to the inspectors the power to follow the hives from their original long-term site one may reduce their powers unnecessarily. The same occurs in respect of the heather flow later in the summer.

This is clearly a Committee point, but it is necessary to grant the original power and to make certain in Committee that the wording is not so obstructive as to destroy the original purpose. Equally, I give warning to the Minister that in Committee I shall closely probe the position of such products as propolis and how far the accidental presence of propolis in imported bee products is covered by the schedule. My understanding is that it may not be covered adequately, but I may be wrong.

Secondly, where one has comb honey in a jar with other honey, how far is that a manufactured product and how far is it a pure product? I may have read the schedule defectively, but I am not certain that we have the wording right. I should be grateful if that matter could be dealt with.

When the Minister replies, perhaps he will inform the House whether "authorised persons" are the same persons who are already overworked and who investigate the possibility of American foul brood in existing hives. Will a different group of persons be authorised? How does one qualify them? If they suspect, what is the time scale between the suspicion of this particular condition and the decision to destroy both the particular hive and associated hive? With foul brood it is fairly simple, one put's one's nose over the hive and one can smell the darned thing. But with varroasis it is not that easy. Perhaps the Minister can give his attention to the time scale between suspecting the disease, analysing its detailed presence and authorising destruction and compensation. We wholeheartedly welcome the Bill, but this is the sort of thing that if we get wrong we do a mischief.

5.6 p.m.

I am particularly concerned, because this matter affects my constituency. Although there are few commercial bee farms as such, one of the largest in the country happens to be in East Perthshire. The Bill is important, because we are concerned not only with the bees but also with employment prospects in an area where employment is difficult to find.

I think of the situation that could occur, because if this particular bee farm was instructed to destroy all the bees in the many hives that are located throughout the Highlands and elsewhere it could have an enormous effect on the economy north of Blairgowrie. The effect would be fairly dramatic and in that part of the country we are concerned that we look carefully and in detail at the numbers involved and the kind of compensation that would be required if such an order were carried out. I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind, because although bee keeping tends to be very much a part-time hobby, when it is carried on a commercial basis, as it is in East Perth-shire, it becomes important to the area in employment terms.

That is a matter that I would like looked at carefully. We in Perthshire welcome the principle in the Bill. We think that it is a step in the right direction, because there is great concern at the effect that this disease could have in that part of East Perthshire. Therefore, we welcome the Bill and trust that the matters to which I have referred will be borne in mind.

5.8 p.m.

I rise to speak as an ex-bee keeper who had to give it up because I became allergic to the stings of the creatures. I also speak because, apparently, it is intended in due course to extend the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland, where legislation is in some respects different from what it is in Great Britain. It is different in that the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1941 in Great Britain gave the Minister power by order to write for information, whereas the 1944 Act covering Northern Ireland made bee diseases notifiable. I wonder whether powers will be taken to make this a notifiable disease in the United Kingdom in the future.

Of course, imports of bees are not covered in either of those earlier Acts, but the point was covered in the corresponding Acts of 1954 and 1955 relating to Great Britain and Northern Ireland respectively. The Bill appears to go further in a number of ways. For the first time it seems to give the Minister power to control the import of honey on the ground of bee diseases. This seems to be a very sweeping power and I wonder how it is intended that it will be exercised. The Bill says, in effect, that the Minister can do anything that he considers necessary, without paying compensation. I am not fully aware of the situation in England, Wales and Scotland in relation to compensation, but I know that at one time when there was a register of bee keepers in Northern Ireland, compensation was payable for the destruction of diseased bees and it was paid out in many cases.

If compensation is being totally discarded for this new disease, is the Minister saying that the onus is entirely on the owner of the bee to insure his stock so that if he loses a few colonies he will not suffer grave financial loss? In passing, I must add that it is a reflection upon the changed value of money that a fine of £20 was sufficient in the early 1940s and it now takes £1,000 to ram the point home.

I turn to the particular problems that will concern us in Northern Ireland in our relations with the Irish Republic. Over the years there has been a very happy relationship with the Republic in matters of animal health. Have any approaches been made to the Irish Government on these matters, particularly top try to resolve problems which might arise if similar legislation is not enacted in the Republic?

No doubt the Minister has had consultations with bee keepers, but if he is still having such consultations will he tell us who represents the bee keepers? Does he accept only the bee keeping associations as representing bee keepers or does he accept representations from individuals? I am particularly curious, because sometimes in the past money has come to bee keepers in the United Kingdom from EEC sources. It has been channelled to the various bee keeping associations and not all bee keepers belong to such associations. Therefore, they have not benefited. If such money should become available in the future will the Minister ensure that individuals can make applications for such funds rather than just the associations of bee keepers. The same might apply to funds made available, should this House think fit to pay compensation under this Bill.

I return to Northern Ireland's problems. Can the Minister tell the House how the Bill will fit into the existing provisions in Northern Ireland? How does it differ from the existing legislation there? I understand that the existing legislation in Northern Ireland is different and, indeed, much tighter than that for Great Britain. Can the Minister give us some information on the changes that will be needed in Northern Ireland law, and also tell us when the provisions of this Bill will be extended to Northern Ireland and whether any existing enactment will be repealed and replaced by its provisions?

5.14 p.m.

With the leave of the House, I shall deal with some of the points that have been raised in this debate. I am grateful to hon. Members for universally welcoming the Bill. As a cynic I shall look at it doubly carefully in order to make sure that we are doing the right thing because there seems to be such unanimous agreement on its merits.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) can be assured that the Government intend to maintain the very high health standards for which this country is world renowned. We have no plans whatsoever for making economies in this vital field.

On the question of the Irish Republic which he and one or two other hon. Members raised, we are in close touch with the Irish Government and we understand that the bee keepers of Southern Ireland are just as concerned about importation of diseases as the bee keepers of England, Scotland and Wales. Therefore, the Irish Government are under considerable pressure internally to carry out similar measures. In that way we hope that that problem will be resolved

My hon. Friend the Member for Maid-stone (Mr. Wells) referred to the Minister's expenses. I can assure him that the Public Accounts Committee will see that any expenses that I might be allowed to incur under this legislation are strictly confined to my activities in relation to the pursuit of the mite varroa Jacobsoni.

A number of hon. Members mentioned the question of compensation. I shall give this question a few moments' attention because it is clearly worrying hon. Members. Compensation is not made available under this legislation, because it is considered that bees with a serious disease are, of themselves, clearly valueless. If they are not destroyed under the legislation, they will almost certainly die, anyway. The point about not paying compensation for illegal imports is reasonable. Obviously it is up to the importer to see that he has proper licences. There must be a proper penalty in the form of a fine to deter importers from importing illegally. We do offer the possible option of re-export unless the diseases of the bees preclude that. Of course each case will be treated on its merits.

The destruction of diseased or illegally imported bees is unlikely to affect seriously the livelihood of the owner. Normally the disease only affects a small proportion of bees and an even smaller proportion is affected by the import provisions. Although small bee keepers may suffer a proportionately larger loss, the people concerned normally do not rely on bee keeping for their livelihood.

The question of whether we intend to destroy hives of bees that have been associated with infected hives is under investigation. Although this Bill was published in July, we have received these representations only within the last few days. We shall look at this matter, because we are not certain whether it is even necessary. But having established that, the question of compensation will be given some thought.

The point was made that there is a special organisation—Bee Diseases Insurance—which runs a scheme to insure bee keepers against their bees being compulsorily destroyed. That might be the best way of dealing with the problem.

The question of movement across the Channel was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. I have been informed that bees cannot fly that distance, but there is always a possibility of them getting across accidentally on a ship. That is why we are taking these powers to deal with any problem that may arise in this respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) asked about the necessity for the legislation. Under present legislation every country concerned requires an order. This Bill requires orders to implement it and we hope to make one in time for the next bee-importing season next March.

Finally, the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) raised the question of frivolity in discussing these matters. It it astonishing to find the number of terms in the English language relating to bees and bee keeping. It occurred to me in an irrelevant moment that I, too, am a worker looking after a queen bee. Perhaps at that point we could have an armistice on such puns.

Has the Minister at any stage recommended the services of a commercial insurance company to the bee keepers of this country? If so, that is a dangerous course. I should be a little disturbed if the Minister specified a particular insurance company as having his ministerial blessing. I hone that I have misunderstood him, but I ask that he should check carefully what he said.

However proper the cover that that company may offer, we must be careful that a Minister should not recommend the services of a private commercial insurance company to those for whom he has ministerial responsibility. I hope that the Minister will check what he has said.

If my words could be interpreted as a recommendation, I accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures. I pointed out the existence of a specal private company to deal with insurance for bee diseases. I suspect that most hon. Members are not aware of the existence of that company. I hope that my remarks were not taken as a special recommendation. That would be wrong. I was speaking in the context of a solution to deal with the problem of compensation.

I am told that the company does not set out to make a profit. It has been set up specially as a co-operative insurance company for the bee keeping associations. I am not recommending the company, but merely stating its existence. I hope that the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) is happy with that.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) mentioned EEC aid, but that is outside the parameters of the Bill. My Department will keep an eye on the matter, but we shall not be discussing it in the context of the Bill.

When the Bill was being discussed, I urged upon the lawyers involved that we should include Northern Ireland in the measure, but apparently that is not the way that Northern Ireland legislation is dealt with. I understand that it is the intention of my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Department to ensure that the appropriate orders are enacted so that similar protection against the disease is given to the bee keepers of Ulster. However, I am not directly responsible for that aspect of the matter.

I hope that the Bill will achieve speedy progress. We have got off to a good start and I am grateful to the Opposition for their co-operation. I hope that we shall be able to implement the provisions of the Bill in time for the next bee importing season, beginning in the spring of 1980.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

Bees Money

Queen's Recommendation having been signified


That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make new provision for the control of pests and diseases affecting bees, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred in consequence of that Act by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or by the Secretary of State—[Mr. Wiggin.]

Bail Etc (Scotland) Bill

As amended ( in the Standing Commmittee), considered.

Clause 1

Release On Conditions

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 27 at end insert—

'(5) In this section and sections 2 to 4 of this Act, references to an accused and to appearance at a diet shall include references respectively to an appellant and to appearance at the court on the day fixed for the hearing of an appeal.'

With this we are to take Government amendments Nos. 7 and 24.

The amendments are essentially drafting amendments and introduce no new question of principle into the legislation. Their purpose is to ensure that in clause 1, as well as in clauses 2 to 4, a reference to an accused should also include a reference to an appellant. Clearly that is a sensible drafting amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2

Provisions Supplementary To S1

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 31 after 'Kingdom', insert

('being the accused's normal place of residence or such other place as the court may, on cause shown, direct)'.
The amendment makes an alteration in the provisions of clause 2 as to what address shall be given by an accused person. For a long time, many people have rightly regarded it as wrong that an accused person could hide under the anonymity of an address that merely said "Care of the sheriff clerk's office". That resulted sometimes in persons who were not accused being confused with a person of the same name who was an accused person. While neither the victim nor the witnesses had the benefit of such anonymity, the accused did.

The matter was canvassed in Committee and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) tabled an amendment then and for the Report stage that would have had the effect of excluding the sheriff clerk's office but would not have excluded an address that gave the same anonymity. The hon. Gentleman is unable to be here tonight, but he has spoken to me and has agreed that the Government amendment covers the purpose of his amendment and does so more effectively.

If someone had grassed on others and it was desirable that his address should not be known or if a person did not live in this country or have a normal place of residence here, that could be explained to the court and such a person would be permitted to give an address other than his normal place of residence. The amendment is a great improvement on the present situation and I commend it to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 7, in page 3, line I, leave out subsection (4).—[ The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]

Clause 3

Breach Of Conditions

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 13, leave out 'in any case'.

With this we are to take Government amendments Nos. 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 21 and 22.

The amendments seem to be a substantial introduction into the legislation, but they all centre around a fairly straightforward change that was canvassed in Committee and which the Government undertook to consider.

Under present legislation, if an accused person breaks a condition of bail, the court may impose a sentence of imprisonment only if it is imposing or has imposed a sentence of imprisonment in connection with the original offence with which the accused was charged and for which bail was granted.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties pointed out that in some respects that was an unfair part of the legislation since the appropriate sentence for breach of a bail condition should depend on the seriousness of the breach and not on the sentence that the court might think appropriate in relation to the original offence. A breach of a bail condition might be extremely serious while the original offence was fairly trivial. Alternatively, the breach may be minor while the offence of which the accused is convicted is serious.

The amendments seek to remove that potential anomaly and provide that the question whether imprisonment should be an appropriate sentence for breach of a bail condition should not depend on, or be connected with, the sentence that the court has imposed or is imposing in relation to the original offence.

I am not sure whether when the SCCL raised the point it was aware that if its recommendation were accepted imprisonment would be made more available than it would otherwise have been. Before the amendment was introduced imprisonment could be imposed for breaches of a bail condition only if it was to be imposed for the original offence. The direct consequence of the views of the SCCL and the hon. Member for Garscadden is that the Bill has been toughened up. While the Government are willing to accept their views. I hope that the hon. Member is not too disappointed that the eloquence of his arguments has succeeded on this occasion.

5.30 p.m.

I have been provoked to my feet literally for 30 seconds by the Minister. I cannot speak for the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties. I imagine that the Council was well aware of what it was doing in making this recommendation. I certainly did. I would like to thank the Minister for looking at the problem and coming up with what seem eminently sound solutions. A simple point is involved. It was an extraordinary arrangement in the original Bill. I could not understand the reason for it. It seems a perfectly sound principle that an offence should be looked at on its merits and should not depend on the powers available to the court in relation to what may have happened on a totally different matter—namely the original offence for which the offender was placed on bail. I recognise that a wider discretion is opened for sheriffs. That is a matter that individuals may regret. I still think that it is the right legal principle. I am glad that the Government have gone along with it.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) in thanking the Minister for the consideration that has been given to this point. It would be a pity if, arising from this debate, the impression was given that the reason for the change in the Bill was to make imprisonment for breach of bail conditions more freely available. I do not think that this is the intention of the Minister or of the Bill. I think that the whole purpose of the change is to separate a breach of bail condition from the actual offence on which the accused person has been charged. I hope that sheriffs will feel that this discretion they have been given can be used with discretion and that they therefore need not have regard to the offence of which the accused has been charged when disposing of breach of bail conditions.

I thank the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) for his remarks. It is an indisputable fact that imprisonment will be more available than it would otherwise have been as a result of this amendment. This is a simple matter of fact. I am happy to emphasise that the Government would not wish to see imprisonment used more frequently than might be suitable because this provision has been introduced. Its purpose is solely to remove the anomaly that would otherwise have existed. I accept that it was on that basis that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) raised the matter in the first place. It is certainly on that basis that the Government have been willing to make this amendment and the various other amendments which seek to achieve the same purpose in other clauses of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 9, in page 3, line 14, leave out from '( b)' to end of line 20 and insert:

'imprisonment for a period—
  • (i) where conviction is in the district court, not exceedinp 60 days; or
  • (ii) where conviction is in the sheriff court or in the High Court, not exceeding 3 months.'.—[Mr. Rifkind]
  • I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 3, line 27, leave out 'an unlimited' and insert 'a'.

    This is a very minor amendment. It removes the words "an unlimited" before the word "fine". The amendment has the excellent characteristic of shortening the statute by removing two unnecessary words. No statute should have unnecessary words. The words "a fine" in terms of other legislation mean an unlimited fine. There is perhaps the added advantage in removing those words that, if they remained, they would tend to suggest that fines should be large. If they are removed, the fine is not given any emotive suggestion. It is, therefore, I think, more likely to be appropriate.

    I welcome the amendment if only because we have at last found a lawyer in the person of the Solicitor-General for Scotland who is in favour of using fewer words. I always understood that advocates and lawyers charged their clients according to the number of words they used. I have a funny feeling that his own profession will complain bitterly about using fewer words.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 11, in page 3, line 28, leave out from '( b)' to 'imprisonment' in line 30.

    Clause 7

    Interim Liberation By Constable Of Person Charged With Offence Against A Person Under 17 Years

    Amendments made: No. 13, in page 6, line 41, leave out 'in any case'.

    No. 14, in page 6, line 42, leave out from '( b)' to 'imprisonment' in line 1, page 7.

    No. 16, in page 7, line 32, leave out 'in any case'.

    No. 17, in page 7, line 33, leave out from '( b)' to end of line 40 and insert:

    'imprisonment for a period—
  • (i) where conviction is in the district court, not exceeding 60 days; or
  • (ii) where conviction is in the sheriff court, not exceeding 3 months.'.—[The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
  • Clause 8

    Interim Liberation By Officer In Charge Of Police Station

    I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 8, line 12, leave out 'If a person who' and insert 'Where a person'.

    I will be as brief as possible.

    I welcome the remarks and the compliments paid to me by the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing). I have always prided myself on my brevity in court. I have never addressed a jury for more than 55 minutes even in the more lengthy cases. I only wish that there were more English Members, or some English Members, in the Chamber who would understand that 55 minutes is probably as long as a jury can listen to a lawyer rather than three days, three weeks or three months, which appears to be the southern tradition.

    The amendment has the effect of making clauses 7 and 8 equivalent. There is a power under clause 7 for a policeman to liberate a person accused of an offence against a person under 17 on condition that he will come to court when cited to do so. In clause 8 hitherto, the power was only to liberate a person to appear at a specific court at a specific time. That meant that a person could not be released from custody until the date and time of the court appearance had been fixed. That might have meant that it was not possible to invoke the liberality of these provisions immediately. These provisions make clauses 7 and 8 identical and give the power to a police officer to liberate, even when the time and place of the hearing in court has yet to be fixed.

    We are grateful to the Solicitor-General for Scotland for the further consideration that has been given to this matter. Obviously, a great deal of thought has been given to the matter during the Summer Recess. I suspect also that some representations have been made on these issues. These are obviously improvements in the Bill. We are grateful to the Solicitor-General for Scotland for the way he has propounded the amendments. For our part we accept them.

    I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. We are grateful for his co-operation.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 20, in page 8, line 13, leave out from 'summarily' to end of line 18 and insert:

    "the officer in charge of a police station may—
  • (a) liberate him upon a written undertaking, signed by him and certified by the said officer, in terms of which that person undertakes to appear at a specified court at a specified time; or
  • (b) liberate him without any such undertaking; or
  • (c) refuse to liberate him, and such refusal and the detention of that person until his case is tried in the usual form shall not subject the officer to any claim whatsoever.'.
  • No. 21, in page 8, line 23, leave out 'in any case'.

    No. 22, in page 8, line 24, leave out from '( b)' to end of line 31 and insert:

    'imprisonment for a period—
  • (i) where conviction is in the district court, not exceeding 60 days; or
  • (ii) where conviction is in the sheriff court, not exceeding 3 months.'.—[The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
  • Schedule 1

    Consequential Amendments

    Amendment made: No. 24, in page 12, line 21, after 'accused', insert 'or an appellant'. [ The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]

    5.38 p.m.

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

    I am sure that both sides of the House agree that this Bill, a short and for the most part uncontroversial measure, will improve the law of Scotland in a way that will be in the interests of the general public. One part of the Bill removes the compulsory requirements for Saturday morning sittings of the sheriff courts although it will still be possible for sheriff courts to sit on a Saturday morning if there are special circumstances justifying that requirement.

    The more important part of the Bill is the general reform of the whole concept of bail, removing money bail almost completely and replacing it by a system of bail on conditions. The Government hope that one of the consequences of the reform will be that substantial numbers of people who are admitted to prison in Scotland because of inability or unwillingness to meet money bail requirements will in future not have to suffer that misfortune. Conditions imposed by the court will, by definition, be reasonable conditions. If they are not reasonable, they can be appealed against. There will, therefore, be no monetary reason why in the vast majority of cases the accused person or the appellant should not, if he wishes, meet the conditions imposed upon him. This will be a significant improvement. We are conscious of the great problems that have arisen in Scotland because of the necessity, through non-payment or non-provision of bail money, of admitting significant numbers of people to prisons in the course of any one year.

    The Bail Bill is an introductory phase of the Government's general intentions regarding criminal law reform. It is our intention during this Session to introduce a major Criminal Justice Bill. The reason for introducing this Bill so quickly was to deal with the specific and urgent problem of Saturday morning sittings of the sheriff court. It is on that basis that I commend the Bill to the House.

    5.41 p.m.

    The Bill has been generally welcomed from these Benches. The fact that it was in Committee for only two sittings shows that our intention in that regard was honoured. There was no obstruction by the Opposition. However, it is somewhat cauld kale, because the main provisions were included in the Labour Government's Criminal Justice Bill.

    This is also a first instalment in the grand design for criminal justice on which the Solicitor-General for Scotland has been brooding these long years. We all wait with some fascination for the new restyled law of Scotland "à la Fordell" when it is officially unveiled.

    One thing that worries us a little is when the next part of the grand design will be unveiled. The Under-Secretary of State will be stuck on the Housing Bill, which I suspect will be in Committee for a very long time. As presumably we cannot turn to criminal justice until he is relieved from that somewhat dishonourable occupation, it may be well into next year before we get the Criminal Justice Bill.

    I have continuing worries. I accept the spirit and intention of the Bill in the main. It is helpful that the prisons will not be cluttered up as they are now with a large number of people for short periods because bail has been set at a nominal amount but still cannot be found by those with big family commitments and comparatively modest weekly benefits. Once these people no longer end up in prison, the system will be welcomed by the prison service.

    I also hope that Ministers' intentions will be realised and that the police will be encouraged not to hold people overnight unless there is a good reason of public safety. At the moment, as anyone with any connection with the courts will testify, a large number of people are appearing bedraggled from the cells at 10 o'clock in the morning, having been held overnight for no good or apparent reason. I hope that the abolition of money bail—most of these people are released on payment of some comparatively nominal sum—will encourage the police to hold fewer people overnight.

    Having given that general welcome, I turn to my worries. The first is that we have a weaker measure than that which formed part of the last Government's Criminal Justice Bill. Money bail has been retained in tandem with the new system. Ministers went to great lengths to explain that it was not expected that money bail would be imposed on any broad spectrum of cases, that it was retained with an eye to the big company fraudster, the specialist criminal, of whom substantial sums could be demanded to ensure that he did not skip the country but whom it was not necessary to have "in jug".

    Those specialist cases are a small number, but the number of occasions on which money bail is imposed may be much larger. Without going over ground that was well ploughed in Committee, I would say that sheriffs are men of independent mind, who, to use an old Scottish phrase, are often gae thrawn and will gang their own gait. On some occasions, some will say "Whatever the Solicitor-General's fine words in Committee and whatever the intention of Parliament, I have the power to impose money bail and I will do so".

    Those of us who are still in contact with the sheriff courts—in my case at one remove—will be watching with great interest to see whether money bail is really dead except in that small number of specialist cases, or whether, as I suspect, it will live on, perhaps intermittently but still to the disadvantage of the public because certain sheriffs do not take the message of Ministers.

    Clause 10 has not been debated today, although it was discussed in Committee, when we tried to convince Ministers that the Saturday courts should not be abolished. We have often been exposed to the oratory of the Solicitor-General to the effect that justice is very special and that the quality of justice cannot be weighed in terms of administrative convenience. Sometimes he rather overdoes that, but it is a fault on the right side. I am sorry that he has had to be connected with a Bill which somewhat damages the quality of justice purely for administrative convenience.

    The only argument for abolishing Saturday courts is that they cost money and are unpopular with staff. In the context of some things which the Solicitor-General said—I will not embarrass him with direct quotations—about the attitudes of court servants who put expediency, in his view, above the administration of justice at the time of their industrial action, it is rather sad that we are making a significant inroad into individual liberties by ensuring that some people arrested on Friday night will now be held until Monday without the normal right to appear the next day before a sheriff to get bail if that is possible. It is a shame that that has been introduced into the law of Scotland.

    I know that this provision was also in the Labour Government's Bill, so my strictures apply to my Front Bench as well, but I let them lie. I can do nothing but record my protest. However, we on the Back Benches will watch carefully to see whether Ministers' instructions to chief constables to ensure that fewer people are held over the weekend are effective.

    I have already put down questions on this matter—for instance, one in July about the June figures—and I intend to keep putting down questions to discover the figures for the 10 sheriff courts. If there is not a significant diminution—I will not say that Ministers have promised this, because they cannot necessarily deliver—and if their influence is ineffectual and their hopes unjustified, we shall return to this matter in the months and perhaps the year or so that lies ahead.

    I hope that the influence of Ministers will be effective and that there will be a decrease in the number of those held in custody not just on Friday but throughout the weekend. If they wished to, the police could considerably reduce the number of people that it is necessary—I use that word in the fullest sense—to hold in these circumstances.

    In general, we welcome the Bill. We gave it a fair wind. However, it leaves residual worries and we shall monitor one or two points of real principle in the months ahead.

    5.49 p.m.

    I congratulate Ministers on this important addition to the criminal law of Scotland. However, the Bill, in its passage through the House, has not been greeted totally uncritically and on some points there were reservations on both sides of the House. Those points have now been largely met, particularly with the assurance that the Crown Office will remember that in introducing the Bill we are not slavishly following any English model. I hope that in considering how the Bill operates we shall not look simply at the English experience but will ensure that there is an independent and careful assessment of how this legislation works in Scotland.

    I hope that the Crown Office will pay regard to the conditions attached to bail now—in particular that condition relating to an offence being committed during the period of bail. I also draw attention to clause 3 relating to the circumstances in which the power of arrest may be operated.

    The misgivings that were expressed earlier may be set aside for the moment, but I trust that in the years ahead those problems will be looked at carefully by the Crown Office. This may be the Solicitor-General's first movement of his magnum opus, but if the Bill is not working I hope he will be prepared to score out a note here and there.

    5.51 p.m.

    It is not the intention of the Opposition to divide the House on the Bill. I am anxious to see the Bill on its way to another place as soon as possible and to have it on the statute book. This Bill will become famous for a number of reasons. I have been following a story in the Sunday Mail recently and I understand that this is the first piece of legal work in which the Solicitor-General has been involved when he has not had to send for Beltrami. For that reason, the Bill will be a showpiece for several years.

    I also have reservations about the retention of money bail. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has said, the Bill is a direct lift from the Labour Government's Criminal Justice Bill. In that Bill there was no intention to retain money bail. I suspect that sheriffs will not change quickly from money bail to a series of release conditions as people find it difficult to change their ways. Sheriffs are no exception to that rule, and are often very set in their ways. I shall be delighted if I am wrong. I hope that the Minister is right—that money bail is not used extensively and that the number of people finding themselves in prison because they cannot meet it will be reduced drastically.

    The prison service will be aided if the number of people in prison is reduced, as it is bogged down in the paperwork involved in receiving people in custody and releasing them again. There will be difficulty with money bail and we shall want to monitor it. I am sure that neither the Solicitor-General nor the Minister will object to that as it may prove helpful.

    The question of the sheriff courts not sitting on Saturdays was contained in the previous Labour Government's Criminal Justice Bill. I accept the reservations that have been voiced, although I am prepared to give the question of not sitting on Saturday a fair trial. I do not, however, accept that a short period would provide a fair trail. An extended period is required before we would be able to assess whether it had had any ill or good effect. We must be fair, and wait for an extended period before considering the impact of that charge.

    We support the Bill. We are grateful to the Minister and to the Solicitor-General for the further thought they have given to it during the recess and for the amendments they have brought in on Report. It is seldom that a former Government Minister has an opportunity to pay tribute to a civil servant. I take that opportunity because the civil servant to whom I wish to pay tribute has now left the service. I refer to Mr. Norman Shanks, who worked on the Bill when I was a Minister and when the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) was a Minister. Mr. Shanks has now left the Scottish Office and is following a new career at the College of Divinity, with the intention of becoming a Minister in the Church of Scotland. I am sure the House joins me in wishing Mr. Norman Shanks well in his chosen career. I thank him and all those civil servants for the work they do in non-political matters—I am sure the Bill is better for that. With those words, I welcome the Bill.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

    Cystic Fibrosis (Prescription Charges)

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

    5.58 p.m.

    I am grateful to the efficient managers of Government business for showing concern for the urgency of my subject and rushing it on four hours ahead of the scheduled time. I am fortunate in that it has nothing to do with paraffin. I am also grateful to Mr. Speaker—as I know thousands of people in Britain will be—for his kindness in personally selecting this subject for debate.

    I ask the Government to say that the time has now come to add cystic fibrosis to the list of medical conditions in respect of which sufferers are exempt from paying prescription charges when they reach the age of 16, until they qualify for exemption at the age of 65. I declare an interest. I speak on behalf of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust, the organisation that represents sufferers from cystic fibrosis and their parents. It is a reputable body adorned with the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Mrs. Angus Ogilvie. The charity is dedicated to raising money in order to fund medical and scientific research projects into cystic fibrosis, its causes and treatments, and hopefully one day, its cure. The charity has done wonderful work in the area of disablement without State aid.

    Through the efforts of that charity, comfort, education and morale-lifting support are given in an ever-increasing way to those whose suffering is often greater than that of the children, namely, their parents. Apart from the physical burden of caring for disabled children, parents have to live with the knowledge that cystic fibrosis being a genetic disease is passed to the children from the parents.

    I receive no payment from the trust, which is too well run a charity to pay anyone for something that it can get for nothing, I have an 11-year-old-daughter who suffers from cystic fibrosis and therefore I would be eligible for any financial relief the Government may give for as long after the age of 16 as my daughter depends upon me.

    If cystic fibrosis is not diagnosed and treated early it kills babies and children. Both parents are carriers of the recessive gene. It is thought that one in 20 of the population is a carrier, that there is a 1 in 625 chance of carriers marrying, and a 1 in 4 chance chance of any child they may produce suffering from the disease. The disease primarily affects two areas of the body. The pancreas does not function properly—or at all—and proteins and fats are not properly digested. The treatment for that malfunction is for the child to follow an expensive high protein diet and to swallow several capsules of powdered pig's pancreas with every snack or meal. That more or less does the work that the human pancreas should have done.

    Secondly, the lungs are affected. The illness produces a thick mucus, which seals bacterial and viral infections into the bronchial tubes, causing progressive deterioration leading to lung failure. Treatment is in the form of physiotherapy for 20 minutes, twice a day, antibiotics, and occasionally the use of artificial aids such as decoagulating atomisers, and even mist tents. The burden of care and extra responsibility upon parents to keep their child alive and enjoying as near normal a life as possible is very great. If they could be relieved of the worry of ever-inflating regular prescription payments, that would be the wish of most hon. Members in this civilised House.

    I concede that the position has been much improved by the introduction of the prepayment certificate—the season ticket—which can be bought for £4.50 for six months and £8 for one year, and parents on very low incomes can be exempted altogether. Nevertheless, hardship is being caused and ought, if possible, to cease. Is it possible?

    The case that I am seeking to advance is strong, for two reasons. First, the cost would be small. I know authoritatively and confidently that that is so. My hon. Friend the Minister said as much in a written answer on Tuesday 23 October. The reason is that there are fewer than 1,000 sufferers from cystic fibrosis who have now reached the age of 16.

    Secondly, I am not asking the Government to change any rules in order to accommodate cystic fibrosis on the exemption list; I am merely asking them to apply the existing rules. I asked the Minister in a parliamentary question what were the criteria on which a decision may be taken to exempt the sufferers from certain illnesses who are over the age of 16 years from the liability to pay prescription charges. The list includes diabetes, Addison's disease, epilepsy and illnesses of the thyroid, pituitary and adrenalin glands. My hon. Friend replied that these
    "have always been that it should be a permanent and clearly identifiable condition requiring continuous medication".—[Official Report, 23 October 1979; Vol. 972, c. 152.]
    He added that the general medical services committee must be consulted and agree that a condition satisfies those criteria.

    It cannot now be denied that cystic fibrosis is permanent, is a clearly identifiable condition, and requires continuous medication of the kind that I have described. One must then ask why it is not already on the exempted list.

    The answer is partly that it was difficult to diagnose the disease with certainty in the 1960s. Insufficient knowledge of the illness existed, but also quite simply, when the list of exemptions was drawn up in 1968, comparatively few sufferers were known to have survived past the age of 16. There was no demand for that measure.

    When my daughter was born in 1968, we were told that there was an 80 per cent. mortality rate. Few general practitioners who needed to diagnose the illness soon after birth in order to stop the immediate deterioration of the lungs had ever heard of it, let alone ever knowingly seen a case. Since that time, thanks largely to the work of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust and a few dedicated doctors and medical workers in the field, the disease has become more widely recognised, sufferers are mostly identified in time, effective treatments are given and there is every hope that most children born with cystic fibrosis will not only live past 16 but enjoy reasonably normal, full and long lives.

    I am not asking the Minister to look again at an old set facts oft considered and reconsidered. I am asking him to reconsider the matter in the light of a wholly changed situation.

    I make the plea not only on behalf of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust and the thousands of parents it represents, but with the support of such senior consultant paediatricians as Mr. R. D. G. Creery, of the Gloucestershire health authority and a large number of my parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House.

    In particular, the following colleagues have taken the trouble to write personally and tell me of their support: my hon. Friends the Members for Belper (Mrs. Faith) and Stretford (Mr. Churchill), the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) and Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), my hon. Friends the Members for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon), Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall), Wells (Mr. Boscawen), Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), Bath (Mr. Patten), Westonsuper-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), Rugby (Mr. Pawsey), Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), Winchester (Mr. Browne), Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) and Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), my hon. Friends the Members for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison), Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) and the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). I am confident that there are a number of other letters held up in the post. Furthermore, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) is anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    With such support and strength to my case, and in the cause of disablement, a subject that has always been of particular concern to the Minister, I am confident that my plea will fall on receptive ears and that the Government will continue to pursue their policy of taking speedy action when action is called for.

    6.5 p.m.

    I am grateful for an opportunity to address the House in this timely debate on a matter of considerable concern to all involved with this tragic illness.

    After the election I was approached by the Scottish council of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust with a view to speaking on its behalf. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) for putting so forcefully and cogently the case for exempting sufferers from prescription charges. I merely add that the Scottish council of the trust is also extremely active and deserves admiration for the good work that it does in the North. Perhaps in his reply the Minister will bear in mind that this illness respects no frontiers and causes as much anxiety in Scotland as it does south of the border.

    6.6 p.m.

    I have responded to a number of Adjournment debates in my short career as a Minister, but none at five past six in the evening. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on procuring a debate at this early hour. I also congratulate him on a fine and sensitive speech on behalf of sufferers from cystic fibrosis. He has made out a persuasive case for exempting these people from the need to pay prescription charges for the drugs that they require. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) was a worthy seconder.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Burton read out an impressive list of support. I hope that he will not mind if I say that it sounded rather like a British Rail announcement.

    I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust for the work that it carries out on behalf of cystic fibrosis sufferers and for the active campaign that it has fought on the issue of exemption. I have read with interest some of the literature that it has distributed and have learnt most of what I know from it.

    Cystic fibrosis is a truly dreadful condition that must cause a great deal of heartbreak not only to those suffering from the condition but also to the relatives and friends who strive to help. The main feature of the condition, as I understand it, is that the mucus glands secrete abnormal types of mucus. Because of this the lungs can become damaged through the clogging of the bronchial tubes and the digestion system can be seriously impaired through the mucus preventing the flow of digestive enzymes. From that one can readily understand how a cystic fibrosis sufferer can fall prey to bronchitis, pneumonia and other lung and chest infections.

    Cystic fibrosis is a genetically determined condition and, though there is no known cure, work is going on to try to pinpoint the exact deficiency or error with a view to finding effective methods of treatment. Again, as I understand it, there are particular problems not the least of which is the fact that because CF affects only humans the condition cannot be studied in animals. The patients themselves have to become the subjects for study.

    Cystic fibrosis affects thousands of infants, children and young adults in the United Kingdom. It is a sad fact that until fairly recently very few sufferers survived into adult life. The debate, however, is taking place because with the advances made in treating and caring for patients a greater number of them are surviving to adulthood. We believe that there could be up to 1,000 young adults of whom many, in spite of great difficulties, are employed and are trying to live a nearly normal life. I say "nearly normal life" deliberately as I have read some case histories sent to me and I marvel at the courage and determination shown by these young people. One patient I read about takes approximately 50 tablets and pills per day plus a special diet and physiotherapy twice a day. Another young lady spent most of her holidays in hospital getting fit to attend college during the term.

    In addition, there is the courage and patience shown by parents and relatives in caring for young people who do not always wish to adhere to the essential treatment requirements. There are also the people who assist with the daily physiotherapy, which is an essential part of the treatment.

    It is clear to me that in this area of treatment and caring the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust has played a very important part. This body, which was founded in 1964 to finance research to find a complete cure for cystic fibrosis, and meantime seeks to improve current methods of treatment, has a network of branches and groups throughout the country. Through this network it provides helpful advice to parents coping with a child or young adult suffering from cystic fibrosis. In addition, it is supporting research into the condition at many universities and hospitals in the United Kingdom. I am grateful that such an organisation exists, and I feel that great credit is due to it for stimulating interest in the condition and organising help and advice for the patients and their relatives.

    The list of specified medical conditions, to which my hon. Friend referred, originated in 1968 when prescription charges were reintroduced. The list was drawn up as a means of exempting the chronic sick from prescription charges. Such a scheme could operate only with the full co-operation of the medical profession, and their representatives made it clear that they could agree to exemption only for readily identifiable medical conditions which called automatically for continuous lifelong medication, in most cases replacement therapy. This list of specified medical conditions which attract exemption has been reviewed by successive Governments, in consultation with the medical profession. The last discussion of the list with the general medical services committee of the BMA was in 1976 and cystic fibrosis was among the conditions mentioned on that occasion. However, it was not possible to reach agreement on any extension of the list. I can well understand the profession's insistence that only conditions about whose diagnosis, lifelong character and need for continuous medication there can be no doubt should be included. No doctor would wish to enter into an argument with a patient about whether his condition was severe or permanent enough to attract exemption, and yet such arguments would be inevitable if ill-defined or complex diseases were added to the list, or conditions so variable in their prognosis and treatment that exemption would not always be justified. The doctor would have to make, and defend, difficult judgments between two patients at different stages of the same disease, and this could put at risk his whole relationship with his patient.

    Speaking as a layman I have a great deal of sympathy with the call to add cystic fibrosis to the list, and I would hope that the medical profession, if it were asked, would agree that it seems to satisfy the normal criteria for inclusion.

    I am bound to say that it would not cost a great deal to grant exemption. What I have had to ponder over is whether I should ask the doctors to add cystic fibrosis to the list and I have seriously considered doing so, as I personally think that if as many CF patients had survived to adulthood when the list was originally drawn up, that condition might well have been included. I think that there is little disagreement between myself and my hon. Friend on that point.

    However, I must take a broader view. When I look at the present list, though I can understand the reasons for limiting the types of conditions that are included, I find the present arrangements hard to defend from the point of view of the patient. My Department is constantly asked to explain why the list of exempt conditions discriminates against patients suffering from various other complaints and many examples are cited of how unfair the system appears to a particular patient.

    Let me give one such example. Patient A has his thyroid removed but requires the modest replacement treatment of a thyroid tablet twice a day for the rest of his life. If later he develops a heart condition, arthritis or any other illness he will receive all necessary medicines without paying prescription charges and is in effect exempt for life. By contrast, patient B may have a congenital heart disease from childhood and be kept alive by the drugs he is prescribed—yet once he is an adult he has to pay. I have to ask myself, if sufferers from cystic fibrosis are to be exempt why not those who have phenylketonuria, or coeliac disease? Why should patients suffering from a readily identifiable condition be exempt, but patients needing the same, or even greater, amount of drug therapy have to pay simply because their condition is less clearly defined—or merely more complex. I say "have to pay", but at this point I should remind hon. Members that a scheme already exists whereby patients can limit their outlay on medicines.

    I refer to the arrangements by which patients can purchase a pre-payment certificate. These certificates were introduced in 1968 because it was recognised that the list of specified medical conditions excludes many conditions which might require numerous prescriptions. The certificates are like season tickets. They currently cost £450 for six months, or £8 for 12 months. They entitle the holder to obtain as many items on prescription as he needs during those periods of six or 12 months without further charge. The £8 annual certificate represents an outlay of just over 15p per week.

    By this means no cystic fibrosis sufferers, or for that matter anyone else, need pay more than the cost of 10 prescriptions in six months or approximately 17 prescriptions in a year. In addition, of course, there is exemption from prescription charges on low-income grounds for anyone, 16 years or over, whose income is not much above supplementary benefit level.

    Since some confusion exists about entitlement to low income exemption, I should like to stress that for young people of 16 years and over, whether or not they are working, it is their own income which is taken into account for the purposes of exemption, not that of their parents.

    I know that the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust is aware of the pre-payment certificate arrangements, but I wish further to publicise their availability and that of low income exemption which might be of benefit to the young people we are discussing tonight.

    Before my hon. Friend moves on to another aspect of the problem, does he not consider it irrelevant to the question I am asking him to apply his mind to that there are other illnesses which might also be included on the exempt list? There is no reason to say "No" to cystic fibrosis merely because there are other illnesses which might also have a good claim to be on the list.

    If the Minister considers that cystic fibrosis should be on the list, and I think that that is what he is saying, is it not his duty to make sure that it goes on the list? Is he saying that the only thing standing in the way of that now is the general medical services committee of the BMA?

    I think that my hon. Friend will get a response to the last part of his question in a few minutes' time. Basically, wherever one draws the boundary people will be upset. If one advanced the boundary a little further to include cystic fibrosis, one would also in justice have to conduct a more general review of the whole scheme, and probably put in those who have phenylketonuria or coeliac disease. Therefore, one has to take a slightly broader view of the exemptions than my hon. Friend would like.

    I have given this problem a great deal of sympathetic consideration. However, I find myself having to face the realities of the situation in human and financial terms. If I seek to add this condition to the list, can I really defend not going further? Should not I consider whether the list of exempt conditions is the best way of helping the chronic sick, and is it right to go on trying to improve the list as my hon. Friend would wish in a rather piecemeal way, instead of seeking an alternative, within the resource constraints imposed by our present financial circumstances, to help more of the chronic sick? Instead of exempting some and leaving others to pay might it not be better to make the pre-payment certificate available on more favourable terms because that would help everyone upon whom the need for frequent prescriptions imposes a heavy burden?

    I accept that this would mean that some of those who now pay nothing for the drugs they need would in future have to find the cost of a pre-payment certificate, and that is not an easy choice.

    I have exposed my thoughts on this matter in order that the House may understand why it is not a simple matter to take the course that sympathy demands and add cystic fibrosis to the list of exempt conditions. If I have decided to make no approach to the representatives of the medical profession at present it is because I feel that we must first see whether it is possible to work out some fairer way within our present financial constraints to help all the chronic sick with the costs of the drugs they need than this present method of listing specified medical conditions.

    If we conclude that there is no better way than the present, I will return again to the request of my hon. Friend that we should consider, with the representatives of the medical profession, whether the list is fully up to date and whether there is a case for adding cystic fibrosis to it and perhaps some other similar conditions. I hope that the House will understand why I have had to give a reply which is not as favourable as hon. Members might have expected. I hope that I have explained the reasons why I am unable to do this. Over the next few months my hon. Friends and I will bear in mind what has been said and see how we can best meet the problems which my hon. Friend has described so graphically.

    We are on the Adjournment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and as I understand it, under our rules of order, it is permissible to raise any subject on the Adjournment. While the Minister is here I would like, before I start on the subject of the assisted places scheme in education, to put the point very fairly. I understand that it is in order—

    Before the hon. Gentleman proceeds, may I say that he was good enough to indicate to me that he intended to follow this procedure. I remind him that Mr. Speaker has deprecated, in very strong terms, the raising of Adjournment debates without due notice. The hon. Gentleman has a right to do what he is doing, but rights also carry obligations. This Chamber cannot run unless people remind themselves of their obligations. May I, in supporting what Mr. Speaker has said in the past, ask the hon. Gentleman, though he is within his rights to do what he is doing, to consider whether he is being completely fair to ask a Minister to reply to something about which he has not been warned and could not have been aware. Perhaps I could ask him if he would consider leaving this until later to see whether the necessary arrangements can be made for him to raise his Adjournment debate when the necessary formalities have been proceeded with.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Assuming we are on a point of order now, I think that the suggestion you have made might well be a sensible way to proceed, in the end. I understand that Mr. Speaker has deprecated the use of Adjournment time when the relevant Minister for that debate is not present. However, I and my hon. Friends have many times deprecated the way in which, increasingly, the Civil Service, the private office and Ministers treat this House. I gave the Department of Education and Science substantial notice that I intended to raise this subject. I also gave Mr. Speaker's Secretary notice that I would raise it.

    I think that a protest needs to be made that the tradition, which used to obtain, under which there was always a Minister on duty in every Department who could come to the House at short notice and respond to the clear desire of Members to raise a point, when a rare and unusual event in this House took place, ought to be brought back. We should use opportunities of this kind to remind Ministers that their first duty is to this House, when an indication is given to them that Adjournment time which has arisen at short notice is desired to be used for discussion on the Floor of the House, and that that takes precedence over any other meeting outside this House that they have arranged.

    I see a Government Whip on the edge of his seat. If I could get some indication, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the Government Benches where two Ministers of the Crown are sitting—indeed, the House is suddenly full of them—I should be prepared—

    Order. I made a suggestion to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman can accept that suggestion and proceed later, but I do not intend him to proceed now and ask Ministers questions. He either accepts my suggestion or not.

    If I may continue for one moment, the Adjournment debate began early tonight because it was obvious that busines was collapsing. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are not due to start private business until 7 o'clock. The Chair thought that it was for the convenience of the House that the Adjournment debate should start earlier. Because it was known who was to speak in the Adjournment debate and who was to reply, it was possible to arrange it at a few moments' notice. It was not until a few moments before, however, that it was possible to know that it would take place. Knowing the hon. Gentleman, I am sure that he would wish, having made his point, to leave the matter until later in the evening.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you know, I sat through proceedings on the Bail Etc. (Scotland) Bill and subsequently through the very interesting debate on cystic fibrosis, in the hope that there would be some time before private business for other issues to be raised. It would seem appropriate that when we do have the time in the House we should take the opportunity of debating an issue which is of concern not just to my colleagues south of the border but also to us in Scotland. I would appreciate an indication either that an appropriate Minister can be brought to the House to answer the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), myself and anyone else who wishes to participate in this debate, or else that we have a clear indication that at some time later tonight there will be a structured debate when we will get that opportunity.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that there is an easy way out of this dilemma. That would be for the Ministers who are present to indicate that the appropriate Minister will be in the House later this evening so that my hon. Friend can have the debate of which he has given notice. It would have been a different situation had my hon. Friend not been in contact with the Department of Education and Science earlier this evening and had he not given the Department an indication that he intended to raise this subject.

    If this is not done and no indication is given that a Minister will be present later, I think that my hon. Friend might well feel that the subject of the assisted places scheme and the money to be spent on it is a matter that is relevant to the DHSS because it means that its budget will be so much the less.

    Concerning those last points of order, hon. Members have the right to raise those matters if they so wish. I want to make that point quite clear. What I wished to point out—indeed, I thought I had pointed it out—was that Mr. Speaker strongly deprecated the raising of Adjournment debates at very short notice when it was not possible to get Ministers to answer. It is not for me to answer for Ministers. I have made the point. Hon. Members have their rights and I will make sure that their rights are protected, but I, too, deprecate hon. Members raising Adjournment debates and expecting Ministers suddenly to appear in the House. It is not for me to answer for them. I have made the point and I call the hon. Gentleman again.

    Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to go against Mr. Speaker's deprecation by purporting at this time to be speaking on an Adjournment debate. I fully accept that your suggestion that these matters should be left now and pursued at 10 o'clock is the correct way to proceed. At this moment there are two Ministers of the Crown who, simply by getting up and indicating that Government Ministers do have respect for the House of Commons and are not just going to hide their heads and stay away because they are frightened to answer debates of this nature, could answer that question.

    The situation we find ourselves in, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the result of the absolute refusal of this new Government to accord with what have been traditional practices when business has collapsed in the past. Because of that, we are having to pursue the matter through points of order to try to obtain some indication from the Government Benches of how they wish to proceed at 10 o'clock when there will be half an hour left for an Adjournment debate. We might have such a debate earlier because the GLC Bill might collapse. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) also has very crucial matters to discuss.

    It costs a lot of money to run this House and we want to give the public value for money. If every time business collapses we merely pack up and go home, leaving a great empty swathe of Benches, when there are hundreds of crucial issues still to be discussed, and if the public see that the House is so unaware of the thousands of problems in the country which need discussing, the standing of Parliament may fall even lower. It is up to Ministers to respond to this situation and indicate, rather than sitting there like stuffed dummies, how they intend to proceed at 10 o'clock.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) is abusing the procedure of the point of order in a typical way. However, those who have heard him will hardly have been surprised. Surely the point at issue is not whether he can raise a point of order so as to make a hysterical partisan harangue but whether the business of this House can be ordered in the best possible way. As far as his synthetic concern goes, I understand that he wants to talk about education, on which, no doubt, he will make a long and boring speech on the Second Reading of the Education (No. 2) Bill during the week after next. Of course, if he goes on now, he may not catch your eye on that occasion, and that would be a blessing to us all. But why does he not shut up on his bogus point of order now and let us get on with something else?

    I have listened to what the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) has said. In the past, Mr. Speaker has deprecated the raising of Adjournment topics at such short notice because he and others feel that it is unreasonable to expect a Minister to attend at a moment's notice. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to stand up and speak. It was my intention to suspend the sitting, and it would still be within my right to do so, until seven o'clock. But that would be depriving the hon. Gentleman of a right, and therefore I do not intend to do it if he still persists in wishing to speak. But Mr. Speaker has made it quite clear that hon. Members cannot necessarily expect a Minister to be here to answer at such short notice. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make his speech whether the Minister is here or not, that has nothing to do with the Chair. If he wishes to make his speech, I will call him.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that, contrary to what you said earlier, advance notice was given to the appropriate Minister, and for some reason, about which we can only speculate, he has chosen not to be present. As my hon. Friend speculated, the Minister is not prepared to answer on this crucial issue—

    Order. The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to say that a Minister is not prepared to answer unless he has some justification for saying so. I do not know whether the Minister is prepared to answer or not. What I am saying is that the Chair deprecates attempts to initiate Adjournment debates at short notice because it is unreasonable to expect a Minister suddenly to appear in the House.

    If I may continue, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It would be simple, as my hon. Friend has already indicated, if the Ministers now present were to indicate that it was within their responsibility to enable us to have a Minister of the appropriate Department here at a later stage to deal with this debate. That would solve our problem. You would be able to suspend the sitting and private business could start at seven o'clock. We would know that later in the day we would have a debate on this subject. Otherwise, I think that there is no alternative but for my hon. Friend to continue with the subject in the hope that some member of the Government will be able to answer the points raised.

    Order. I have made the point. If the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) wishes to proceed, he may do so. I do not think that Ministers present are in a position to say whether colleagues or anyone else will be here. If the hon. Member for Lewisham, West accepts what I have suggested, I am sure that everyone will be satisfied. He will able able to make his speech and get a reply as well. I doubt whether he will get a reply if he proceeds now.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I live in hope that those doors will open at any second and a Minister from the Department of Education and Science will issue forth. It has been stated a number of times that I did not give the Department notice. That is contrary to the truth. I gave the Department quite adequate notice to get the Minister who is on duty to come to the House and answer this debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I gave quite adequate notice. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] At about 10 minutes to six.

    Order. I do not intend to listen to any further points of order on this matter. I am calling the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to address the House on the Adjournment.

    I regret that I am not able to pursue the point of order on this matter because it is not a party matter. It is a matter very deep at the heart of our procedures and the answerability and accountability of Ministers to the House of Commons. I am sad that the Ministers present are not willing to give any indication. I have had an assurance from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope that I can accept that, as a result of your assurance from the Chair—

    Order. I have given no assurance whatever. I said that the hon. Gentleman can raise the subject at 10 o'clock on the Adjournment if he so wishes. I cannot say whether a Minister will be here then. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not proceed on this matter. If he wishes to make a speech now on the Adjournment, will he please make it?

    I withdraw the word "assurance", Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have had a suggestion from you. I do not consider the situation satisfactory, but, rather than proceed without a Minister in face of Mr. Speaker's deprecation, I hope to raise the matter at 10 o'clock, and I desist from speaking now.

    6.36 p.m.

    Sitting suspended.

    On resuming

    It being Seven o'clock, and there being private business set down by The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking private business), further proceeding stood postponed.

    7.0 p.m.

    Before the House proceeds to debate the three Private Bills set down for consideration this evening, it might be helpful for me to remind hon. Members that the debate on the consideration stage of Private Bills is restricted to the matters contained in the Bill and may not extend to general policy questions or to particular matters not included in the Bill.

    Greater London Council (Money) Bill (By Order)

    Order for consideration, as amended, read.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

    I intend to be brief.

    This money Bill follows the familiar pattern to which we have become accustomed over the years and is broadly noncontroversial. I have no wish to restrict or inhibit debate upon it. I should like to impress upon the House the importance to the Greater London Council of the Bill's making progress tonight. A money Bill usually receives its Royal Assent prior to the Summer Recess but this year, because of the general election, the usual timetable was delayed. Therefore there is an urgent need for the various financial provisions in the Bill which are referred to in more detail in the schedules.

    Last year's money Act expired on 30 September this year. Any rejection or further delay of the Bill tonight would mean that the Greater London Council would have no power to meet expediture on capital account on any of the wide range of important services mentioned in the Bill or to lend money to the various persons and public bodies referred to in the schedule.

    Rather than go into any great detail on the provisions of the Bill, the House might find it more convenient to dispose quickly of this money Bill and then move on to our main debate on the general powers Bill, which is to follow and about which some hon. Members wish to raise constituency points. If that is the wish of the House I shall resume my seat at this stage and allow the debate to proceed in that way.

    I shall address my remarks primarily to the money Bill and try to relate them to the statement issued on 14 September by the Secretary of State for the Environment when he said that he wanted to see the inner cities once again full of hustle and bustle on a human scale.

    The trouble is that the Secretary of State and the Government on the one hand, and the Conservative-controlled Greater London Council on the other, do not come anywhere near to living up to the Secretary of State's own typically extravagant words. The various actions of the Government will ensure that the steady progress that we were making in inner London generally—I want to mention Islington in particular—will not merely be halted but wrecked.

    The Bill illustrates very well the approach of the Government's County Hall lap-dogs, lying at their feet, with scarcely a peep of protest as they see the wreckage beginning to pile up.

    The GLC's own memorandum to the Bill makes it clear that the council has tailored its capital estimates closely to the Government's apparent requirements. Its budget is broadly in line with housing investment, transport policies and locally-determined sector allocations. There is no attempt to fight the case for London and to argue for a better deal. We find that in real terms the total spending is £27 million less than in the 1978 money Act. I do not know—perhaps the Minister will be able to help—what rate of inflation is allowed for in the year which the Bill will cover. However, anything less than 20 per cent. will be totally unrealistic.

    The Bill deals with the provision of housing. I want to address most of my brief remarks to that point. This is an area of activity where the hypocrisy of the GLC at present reaches perhaps its giddiest heights. Its current approach has very little to do with providing houses—but it has everything to do with how to get out of the task and how to rat on its housing responsibilities.

    I ask the House to look at the position in Islington, my own borough, where week after week families come to see me at my advice bureau and describe their wretched housing conditions. They must do so despite a massive effort by the Labour-controlled borough council between 1972 and 1978 in which 6,600 new homes and 3,500 rehabilitated homes were completed. That is a proud but costly record, but a very worthwhile one. I do not think anyone can say that that is not needed when there are 7,000 substandard homes in the borough, a desperate need to modernise old estates, a considerable shortage of homes, 10,000-plus on the waiting list, and new applications rolling in at the rate of about 100 a week. We may then see what the GLC's current contribution is, as represented not least in what it is prepared to spend on housing provision.

    Further, the GLC deliberately held property empty while planning to sell it off. I am not against the sale of council houses in areas of surplus, but this is an area of desperate housing need. I wonder what I should tell the families who come to me each week. I must say that if the Government and the GLC follow this policy, and if the borough council, as seems to be the case, is to be compelled to follow suit, the prospect of these families having a council home will have receded further into the distance. The pool of council homes will be steadily reduced in what will be nothing more or less than an unprincipled give-away of public assets.

    Then there is the question of the transfer of GLC estates to the borough. Only this week the Islington borough council rejected the GLC proposals—this is where we come right back to money—because the cost to Islington rent and rate payers, on the basis of the GLC proposals, would be about £600,000 in the first year, increasing in following years. There is the problem that GLC rents are far higher than those charged by the borough council. The borough rents must either be brought into line by being raised unacceptably or there must be a cutback in GLC rents, with a substantial loss to the borough.

    The borough council has not taken a hard line against the transferring principle. I am glad about that, as I should prefer to see housing management brought nearer. The GLC housing management is in so many cases much too remote.

    On this issue County Hall is trying to take the borough for a ride. That is just not on. While the haggling over this goes on, the GLC's northern district housing office is allowed to run at an inadequate staff level and its service to tenants seems to be deteriorating considerably, especially in terms of repairs and maintenance.

    The sale of council houses and transfers to the boroughs will affect mobility and the position of people wanting to move from one borough to another. That will affect employment. The sales will inevitably cause a blockage. The transfer to the boroughs will also cause a blockage unless the arrangements prove effective. I want to see the arrangements monitored closely.

    I should like to touch briefly on certain issues, the first of which is the construction and improvement of metropolitan roads. If, as I suspect, that means that more money is to be earmarked to allow huge juggernauts to roll through the centre of my constituency, I warn the GLC and the Government that they are heading for major resistance. Indeed, it is about time that I had a reply from the Minister of Transport, with whom on 4 September I raised the matter of the Archway inquiry and the possible reopening of that inquiry. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will draw his right hon. Friend's attention to that matter.

    Public health is also mentioned in the schedule. Why, in view of its concern about this area of public health, has the Tory GLC not seen fit to issue any real protest about the crucial issue of the devastation of the National Health Service in inner London? Any protest that has been made has been decidedly muted. There is an appalling situation in Islington with the closure of the Royal Northern hospital's accident and emergency department. The effects of that closure could lead to the outright closure of this hospital, which is a valuable asset to the borough.

    Where does the GLC stand in relation to the report of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service, which showed that the service in inner London is under-financed, under-staffed and badly organised? I understand that there is talk at County Hall of taking over as a regional health authority. That may affect some future money Bill. However, under the present management, I should have no confidence in that arrangement. We should be out of the frying pan and into the fire.

    I turn now to loans to help regenerate industry and employment. I am certainly not opposing that proposition, but it is rank hypocrisy, when the Islington borough council has tried to tread the same path of aid to employment, to find a rate support grant package recommended by the London Boroughs Association that would give Islington a relatively worse settlement than any other London borough on top of the radical overall cut in RSG that the central Government intend to impose with devastating effects in an area which is recognised as one of the most needy in the country. The partnership allocation for this year has already been hacked away. No one is fooled by the prospects for next year, which, in that respect, are grim.

    The Secretary of State, in his statement in September, talked about the main programmes providing major resources for the inner cities, but we all know that the Department of Industry is cutting help to industry generally. The Department of Employment has told the Manpower Services Commission that on top of this year's cut it must provide up to £150 million of cuts in its annual spending over the next three years. Therefore, it is clear that those in inner city areas will not escape from those consequences, including the disabled, who face a bleak employment prospect. Yet we have the GLC making its annual statutory whimper and at the same time talking about the need to aid inner city employment.

    The Labour Government, the previous Labour GLC and the Labour-controlled inner London boroughs, made some headway, albeit too slowly, in curing many of London's problems. Even so, the question for too many Londoners is not when did civilisation begin, but when will it begin? I do not think that people will need to put their clocks back this autumn. The Government are clearly doing it for them—perhaps their one act, of gleeful interventionism.

    Far from the hustle and bustle mentioned by the Secretary of State, inner London is heading for unparalleled economic and social vandalism imposed by an uncaring and doctrinaire Government at Westminster, aided and abetted wherever possible by their poodles across the river at County Hall. This puny Bill serves only to underline that situation by its omissions and inadequacy.

    7.15 p.m.

    First, I should like to echo and support all the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant). Our two constituencies share the same problems and often the same streets. We certainly suffer particularly from the threat of juggernauts passing through those streets. It is high time that the GLC, in its strategic London planning capacity, took more account of the needs of such areas.

    I have risen to speak in this debate to dwell particularly on the subject of housing, but only briefly, and housing management.

    I recollect three or four years ago speaking from the other side of the House and treating it to an account of the sufferings that many of my constituents who are tenants of the GLC underwent as a result of what could only be described as absolutely incompetent housing management by the GLC. One of the incidents that I used to illustrate this contention related to a block in my constituency called Stranraer Way. I described how the sewage came bubbling up through the kitchen sinks months and indeed years after the fault had been noticed and reported to the GLC. It is no surprise to me—and it should not be any surprise to anyone who is familiar with the GLC—to know that in some of those maisonettes the sewage is still bubbling up through the sinks three years after it was first revealed in this House. It must now be two to three months since I last wrote to the GLC housing department on that matter. I can say that for a long period of time there was no response to the subject, and certainly the matter has still not been put right.

    That is just one example of the kind of thing which any Member of Parliament and any GLC councillor trying to look after the interests of his constituents has to put up with if he has a large amount of GLC accommodation in his area. I could go on till 9 o'clock with incidents of that kind.

    It so happens that even the GLC finally decided that the incompetence of its northern district office was so bad that it should investigate it. Those of us involved have recently had a copy of the report of that investigation—and an appalling story it tells of what can only be called simple administrative incompetence. They are things which anybody who knows how to run an office ought to be able to get right: letters not answered; repairs notified but not seen to; repairs done but botched with the result that they have to be done again, the cost of them being badly done and done again and so on being pushed on to the tenants on each occasion. I imagine that report came as some surprise to many members of the GLC in the depth of administrative incompetence which it revealed, but it did not come as any surprise to me.

    There is in my constituency a block called Grimthorpe House—and it is well called that. Probably half the tenants in Grimthorpe House have been to me on one occasion or another complaining of the condition in which the place is kept.

    In April I asked that the GLC should go from one end of it to the other working out what needed to be done and seeing if it could be put right. It took many months for me even to get a reply to the letter. That was no surprise at all, because that is standard practice for the GLC housing department. The job of going through from one end to the other has not happened. I should not have expected that in six months. Indeed, I should not really expect it to happen in the coming year. But, since it does not happen, I insist on stating the fact on the Floor of the House of Commons when the GLC is asking us to approve many millions of pounds for its support.

    Recently the borough of Islington environmental health department has had to use its legal powers against the GLC to do work which the GLC failed to carry out and to send the bill to the GLC as statute permits it to do. We have had the Islington health department serving legal orders on the GLC, telling it to do things.

    There was a sewage overflow—I have great trouble with the GLC over sewage in Islington—outside a block of flats in Copenhagen Street. It was put right, but it was not all cleaned up. It was reported, but nothing happened. It was reported again and nothing happened. It was further reported several times and nothing happened. Ultimately I had to get on to the borough authority, which has the right to order the GLC to do it, or to do the work in default, and the authority did the job in default.

    The GLC welcomes people to County Hall. It asks them to come and see the largest and best local authority in the world. It is shameful that the GLC cannot even clear up the sewage before it is instructed to do so on legal orders from a borough authority in London.

    I could cite other similar cases of garbage piled up on the stairs and in the drying rooms of Newland Court. It went on for weeks and weeks, and again the borough authority had to use its legal powers either to do it in default or to instruct the GLC to do it. I could go on until 9 o'clock with similar examples.

    I could mention cases of faults in standard household equipment, such as the lavatory cistern of Mr. Wicks in Campion House. It was reported as being faulty. The GLC did nothing. Ultimately someone was sent to put it right. He did not; he broke the lavatory cistern. Previously it was working badly; now it was not working at all. That did not surprise me. The family had to wait for three months for something to be done. During that time, including Christmas of last year, they had to flush the lavatory with a bucket. It happened within five miles of this majestic House of Commons, in the area of the greatest and certainly the largest local authority in the world.

    Eventually the GLC mended the cistern. Anyone acquainted with plumbing matters will know that there is not much that can be done wrongly in putting in a new cistern, but the GLC, with its ingenuity, discovered something. It is possible to leave a hole in the cistern. It is supposed to be plugged with a little plastic thing which can be bought for 5p in any plumber's shop. The GLC, having found the hole, left it open. When the cistern overflows, as it does frequently in that block, the water not only goes out of the overflow pipe and down the wall outside, making things damp and unsightly; it also goes on to the lavatory floor.

    I shall stop there with my examples of these atrocities arising from administrative incompetence, but that sort of experience is regular, week in and week out. It is the experience of myself and of GLC councillors. I am sure that it is the experience of every MP and of every GLC councillor in London with a lot of GLC accommodation in his area.

    Some people say that the GLC cannot be efficient at housing management because it is too big. I do not agree. The GLC is not inefficient because it is big. It is inefficient because it is inefficient. One person does not supervise his immediate subordinate, that person does not supervise his subordinate, and so it goes on. Everyone is permitted to get away with making a botch of things, without any proper hierarchical control. Consequently, when recently I had an on-site meeting with the district officer in my area to look into a certain matter, it was no surprise to me that he turned up 35 minutes late for a meeting with the Member of Parliament. How late he turns up when he has meetings with tenants' associations, God alone knows. I despair. I do not know what can be the solution to this kind of thing.

    I should like to see one of the London evening papers, the Evening Standard or the Evening News, offering an award, with perhaps a modest prize of about £20, to the GLC tenant bringing forward the worst horror story of administrative incompetence in the previous three months. Only constant public exposure of these inefficiencies is likely to have any effect on the GLC. I hereby invite the London evening newspapers to consider that proposal and to join in the almost hopeless task of trying to make GLC housing management a little better than it is now.

    With the leave of the House, may I reply briefly to the two speeches that have been made in the debate?

    I say to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) that those of us who have attended these GLC debates over the years are very familiar with the saga of sewage and garbage with which he has regaled us tonight. I am sure that he will be the first to concede that his speech has been made by him with equal vehemence against the Labour predecessors at the GLC.

    There is nothing new, therefore, in what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I am sure that many of us are disturbed to hear that things are just as bad today in Islington as they were when he first raised these kinds of issue on the Floor of the House. His remarks will be noted by the GLC and I am sure that it will follow them up. Indeed, I am sure that he will take steps to ensure that that is done. At least his views are on the record, and they will serve a useful purpose in that respect.

    I should like also to reply briefy to the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant). I have heard Sir Horace Cutler called many things over the years but I have never heard him described as anyone's poodle. Those who know him would regard it as a very unfair and inaccurate description of the leader of the Greater London Council.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to the provision for housing in the money Bill. Admittedly, it shows a decrease of about £9 million as compared with the previous Act, but, as the schedule shows, the GLC is still spending £133,800,000 on the acquisition of property, the erection of dwellings and other purposes. That is a substantial sum by any standard. The reduction to which I have referred relates specifically to the decision taken by the GLC to concentrate its housing resources on areas such as inner London and Thamesmead. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would not necessarily quarrel with that, in the sense that it should be of some assistance to his area. Admittedly, it implies that the GLC is not now pursuing the development policy of its predecessors in the outer London boroughs. There are undoubtedly varying views in the House on that matter.

    I have always taken the view that it makes much greater sense to revive and regenerate the inner parts of our city before looking, as the previous GLC did with such greedy eyes, on the outer London areas, where development of the kind that was envisaged, and to some extent carried out, by the previous administration has eaten up some areas of the green belt and has been undesirable in many ways. It is much more preferable for the housing development to be concentrated in inner London. The present GLC administration is doing that.

    The planned expenditure of £57 million in the money Bill on roads and public transport represents an increase of about £10 million over the 1978 measure. That represents an increase of about £6 million in real terms. Against the background of the present financial difficulties of the country, I should have thought that that was a significant increase for the GLC to make.

    The money is being spent primarily—as the hon. Member for Islington, Central said—on road construction and the provision of new rolling stock for the London Transport Underground service. Anyone who uses that service will know that at the moment there is great variation between the new lines, with their modern rolling stock and equipment, and some of the older, more neglected lines. It must be a welcome development that those older, neglected lines will be brought up to a higher standard.

    7.30 p.m.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to the problem of juggernauts, with which we are all familiar. Every constituency in Greater London is plagued by these monsters, but I do not think that the corollary of that is to argue against new road development. The problem of juggernauts can be dealt with in various ways, such as imposing width and other restrictions that have been contemplated from time to time. Most residents in London who see our traffic grinding to a halt on so many occasions will welcome the fact that the GLC is grappling with the problem and proposing to spend this additional money.

    The hon. Gentleman knows that I have the good fortune to live in his constituency. He says that all London Members know about the problem, but in his constituency they do not have a clue about the problem in my constituency of Islington, Central, which must be one of the worst affected—if not the worst affected—in London by this particular problem.

    I would not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that I am sure that Islington has a greater problem in this respect than Bromley has. However, there are parts of my constituency where juggernauts are a great problem, though perhaps not in the road in which the hon. Member for Islington, Central lives. I know that that is a very quiet and unspoilt area. There are other parts of the borough where juggernauts present a problem. The hon. Member can look at my mailbag as proof of that.

    I was about to say that for the GLC simply to hold up its hands in despair and say that because of juggernauts it can and will do nothing about the problem would be a total abdication of its responsibilities. Therefore, I believe that most reasonable people will welcome the fact that this adidtional money is to be spent. I do not think that the question of juggernauts really relates to this money Bill. On that note, I hope that the House will allow the Bill to proceed and allow the GLC to have its money.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.

    Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill (By Order)

    Order for consideration, as amended, read.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

    7.33 p.m.

    It is with great pleasure that I present for consideration of the House the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill.

    Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), I do not propose to speak for a long time, for various reasons, the first of which is that we had the Second Reading of this Bill on 12 June. I counted the columns in Hansard. which I have with me, and I am glad to say that hon. Gentlemen and my hon. Friends, the London Members of Parliament, and I managed to fill about 56 columns during that Second Reading debate. Indeed, I contributed about 30 minutes to that debate and covered many aspects of the Bill. The second reason is that one has a slight feeling of déja vu because last Tuesday we had a debate on London. I see the faces of some here again this evening of those who contributed to that debate. It is a pleasure to have already heard a reference to Sir Horace Cutler. I was pleased and impressed by the obsession that Opposition Members appear to have with Sir Horace. That helps to raise him in my esteem, as I said last Tuesday.

    We had an unopposed Second Reading of the Bill in June and various hon. Members, for their own reasons, have put a stop on the Bill, which is why we are debating it tonight. I confess that on various occasions in the past, when in opposition, I and my colleagues acted similarly. It always seemed to us to be one of the few ways that we could achieve a debate on London.

    As the House knows, there will probably be an opportunity to discuss London affairs next Friday. I am sure that we all welcome that and congratulate the Government on their perspicacity.

    I propose to explain briefly the present status of the Bill after its Committee stage. Clause 3, which is the first clause of substance, is unchanged. It is the same clause as that which we debated on Second Reading and it deals with the licensing of public entertainment in London. Hon. Members will remember that this clause creates separate offences and separate fines for each breach of the licensing provisions.

    At present, any number of provisions can be breached and only one fine can be levied. That has meant that in certain cases, such as pop festivals, it has perhaps been beneficial for the organiser to breach all the provisions and pay one fine. He will now have to pay a multiplicity of fines, one for each breach, and the fine has been increased from £200 to a maximum of £500.

    Clause 4 is again unchanged. The House will remember that this clause permits the council to pay the chairman of the London Transport Passengers' Committee an annual stipend instead of attendance and financial cost allowances.

    There is no change to clause 5. This clause authorises councils to erect advertisements in the streets—for instance, those rather attractive maps and advertising drums in Oxford Street, with the names of companies, or whatever it is, around the border.

    Hon. Members may say that these advertisements have already been erected, but perhaps it is not quite certain whether they have been erected with statutory authority. Clause 5 will give councils the authority they need.

    Clause 6 is merely a tidying-up clause and is unchanged.

    As regards clause 7, the situation has changed. Hon. Members will find clause 7 in the amended Bill—which no doubt they have with them—to be exactly as it was in the previous Bill. It will be seen that this clause purports to withdraw the powers of boroughs to regulate parking on grass verges, footpaths, pavements, and so on.

    The reason for this clause is that it was the intention of the Government to implement similar powers nationally under the power they have in the Road Traffic Act 1974. It was felt, quite properly, that it could lead to confusion if boroughs had a set of powers similar in almost every respect to those for which the Government were to legislate nationally. Therefore, clause 7 was introduced to withdraw the powers from boroughs so that there would not be, at any time, the danger of a conflict of powers.

    The Government have announced their intention not to proceed to implement the powers under the Road Traffic Act 1974 on a national basis. I understand that the reason is the cost that would be involved. I am aware that a good many representations were made to the Government after our Second Reading debate in June, to the effect that implementation of these powers would impose considerable additional burdens on police and traffic wardens, with considerable additional costs.

    Therefore, the Government have said that they will not implement this power. Quite understandably, the boroughs have now asked "Please, can we keep the power that we have at present?" Therefore, although clause 7 remains in the Bill, should the measure get a fair wind tonight the intention is that there will be a request, perhaps in another place, for the clause to be removed so that the powers can remain with the boroughs to be used as they see fit and, indeed, to be used as they are used at the moment.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for informing the House about that. However, does that mean that the 1980 date about which we talked on Second Reading will be met by the boroughs themselves? When we discussed this we were told that it was not certain that the 1980 date would be met. Can we now take it that 1980 will be the operative date?

    I think the answer must be that this will lie with the individual boroughs. That is my understanding of the intention. But it is not for this House to say how the boroughs will use that power. At present, the power rests with the boroughs. The clause would have replaced that power by national powers, but now the national powers will not be granted, so the boroughs will retain that power. It is really up to the boroughs to decide how and when that should be implemented.

    There is no change in clause 8. This is the clause which creates a staff commission to ease the transfer of staff consequent upon the transfer of certain GLC estates to the boroughs. I know that this is a controversial matter, but I trust that the clause will not be controversial. If the transfer is to take place, and if the power is to rest with the GLC and the boroughs, there must be a staff commission. I understand that the trade unions have been consulted and do not oppose the creation of this commission. It is generally understood that it will be essential to deal with matters such as appeals procedures, reorganisation of posts, recruitment and so on. Perhaps the House already knows that the intention was for the transfer to take place on 1 January 1980. I am now authorised to say that it will take place on 1 April 1980.

    Perhaps it will take place after 12 noon. I am told that this will now take place on 1 April to fit in better with the financial year.

    7.45 p.m.

    Can the hon. Gentleman explain the reference to the independent staff commission which will be required to safeguard staff interests? If clause 8 is passed, will the London advisory committee become the staff commission? Can we have an assurance that those transferred will have equal wages and conditions, including London weighting?

    The London housing staff advisory committee was set up on 22 August as a forerunner to the staff commission which will be authorised by clause 8. Indeed, at the present time the committee is dealing with interim recruitment. I understand that it is merely a forerunner of the staff commission. When the staff commission, which is the statutory body, comes into being, the staff advisory committee will cease to exist. Its role will be superseded by the staff commission.

    As to an assurance about the parity of London weighting and salaries, I can only suppose that this will be so, but I cannot give any assurance on behalf of the staff commission, which will operate within its own terms of conduct. However, I should be very surprised if what I have said is not so. I do not think that it is realistic for this House to ask for that assurance because we are setting up a statutory body to which powers will be given to negotiate with the unions and staff.

    But clause 8 would transform the forerunner into the independent staff commission as a statutory body. Would that be the effect?

    That is not the effect of clause 8. Its effect is to establish a staff commission. Whether it merely transforms the staff advisory committee into the staff commission must be a matter for decision by those who set up the staff commission. That may well be the case, but as I understand it that is not the statutory effect of clause 8. The staff advisory committee is not a statutory body, and it may or may not become the staff commission, but that is not within the definition of this legislation.

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a rather vague situation which is not entirely satisfactory?

    I think that the hon. Gentleman is being a little unreasonable. The intention is for the staff commission to be set up. How it is formed is laid down in some outline, and I see no compulsion at all upon anyone that the present advisory body should be transferred en bloc into the new staff commission. I understand that that is not the nature of this specific legislation. My guess is that it probably will be, but I do not think that it is for us to say that it must be. I am sure that the staff commission will do a satisfactory job and will be in existence for a considerable time.

    The clause 9 which existed in the Bill that we debated in June no longer exists. In fact, it was struck out in Committee. That was the clause which enabled councils to guarantee loans made by banks or finance houses for the construction, extension or improvement of industrial or commercial buildings. Hon. Members may recall that on Second Reading it was pointed out that councils had the power to make loans but did not have the power to guarantee loans. It was felt, rightly or wrongly, that this could well be a cheaper way—guranteeing a loan rather than making the loan itself.

    However, in its wisdom the Committee decided to strike out this clause. The reason, which one must acknowledge and accept, is that the Government are at present reviewing their own levels of assistance to industry. It was therefore felt on reflection that it was difficult for local authorities to take new powers in this same area. In addition, there is the old difficulty that this could well distort regional priorities. As a result, hon. Members will find a clause 9 in the present Bill, but it is not the clause 9 that we debated on Second Reading.

    In the same way, clauses 10 to 21 of the old Bill are not included in the new Bill. They were withdrawn in Committee, and hon. Members who remember the Second Reading debate may recall that I said at the time that they would be withdrawn. They dealt with the powers of local authorities to license and regulate hostels because, as I explained then, there has been a certain amount of abuse connected with hostels in London, especially in summer. Some operators will rent a hostel for a month or two for a lump sum and then fill it, quite indefensibly, with a vast number of unfortunate students or tourists. They take a levy from each one and make a great deal of money, to the detriment of the hostel and the area.

    It was felt by the Department of the Environment that, although this problem was well recognised, a revised drafting probably would better fit the overcrowding provisions of the Housing Act. This new drafting will be in the next Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, which—I was slightly taken aback to hear this—will be presented next month.

    As a result, the present Bill is very much shorter than the one we debated in June because we have lost clause 9 and clauses 10 to 21 as well.

    The new clause 9 is our old friend and it remains unchanged. It deals with the brown-tail moth. Its Latin name is Euproctis Chrysorrhoea. This brown-tail moth is spreading westward from Canvey Island, which seems to have been the point of infection. It has advanced as far as Tower Hamlets and is now infecting one-third of London local authorities. It kills trees and shrubs by stripping their leaves and roots. It has a second effect which perhaps I can best explain to the House by reading from the brief—
    "Contact with undergarments which have previously been exposed to the windblown hairs of the caterpillar can cause skin irritation and a subsequent rash."
    I am sure that we wish to spare our constituents any subsequent rashes. This clause will permit the borough to serve a notice on those in whose garden this beast is lurking, calling on them to destroy it. Should they not destroy it, the council is empowered to do so, and no doubt charge the person concerned.

    Finally, clause 10, which was clause 23, is unchanged. This is not a matter of great importance, but it permits boroughs to authorise tables and chairs on footpaths. If I may quote once again from the brief, one object is—
    "to make attractive and lively improvements to the street scene."
    I am sure that none of us would argue with that.

    This is a slimmer measure and, I hope, a non-controversial one. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) raised a point on clause 8 and I will consult on this matter. If it is appropriate and if it is the wish of the House I shall come back later this evening and say a few words about it, should I have been mistaken in my interpretation. I ask the House to give a fair wind to the Bill this evening.

    The points that I want to raise on this Bill are very closely related to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) about clause 8 and its relation to the establishment of a staff commission to deal with those members of Greater London Council staff who will be transferred, along with the housing powers of the GLC and its housing staff, to the London boroughs.

    I have a non-financial interest in this matter as a member of the National Union of Public Employees. I am sponsored by that union. Many of its members are involved in this area of GLC activities, as both manual and non-manual workers. The real reason why the staff commission has been proposed at all is that the Tories at the GLC want to dismantle the strategic housing role of the council. It would be quite remiss of Members on the Opposition Benches if we were not to criticise the GLC for that policy. The reality behind that policy is an attempt to cut the number of houses under construction by the GLC, in the GLC area, from 6,000 a year—which was the case in the last year of the Labour administration at County Hall—to nothing. Next year we shall see a significant rundown of GLC house-building activities. About 90 per cent. of the GLC's total housing construction and activities next year will be concentrated on Thamesmead, with the rest of London getting virtually nothing.

    When we discuss clause 8 of this Bill we are discussing the effective dismantling of the powers of the GLC to build houses in the capital. We are also talking about the transfer of the existing stock to the boroughs, many of which will have housing indigestion if they actually take on board all the GLC stock in their areas.

    My argument about clause 8 is straightforward. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) will know that discussions have been taking place between the GLC and the relevant trade unions for some time concerning the impact on trade union members of the proposed transfer of housing stock to the boroughs. Although agreement has been reached in part on transfer arrangements, no final agreement has been reached on the precise terms and conditions under which the transfer will take place. I address myself particularly to that problem in relation to clause 8(3)(b), which refers to the Secretary of State's power to refer to that staff commission particular items of relevance and importance which confront people who are transferred from the London boroughs.

    The role of the staff commission will be absolutely undermined if the Secretary of State does not refer to the commission the whole question of absolute protection of wages and salaries and of conditions of service, as well as items such as conditioned overtime for manual workers currently employed by the GLC in jobs such as housing caretakers and other housing-related functions. Such overtime is a very important part of overall average earnings in that industry. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that in the discussions that have taken place so far the GLC has accepted, as have the London boroughs, that a new contract of employment for the people who are transferred from the London boroughs will be given three months after the operative date of transfer.

    That is all very well. It may be that the legal requirements for the new contract of employment should be entered into at that early stage, but in practice it will mean that the GLC rates of pay and conditions of service will apply to those who are transferred for only a maximum period of three months unless specific provisions are incorporated in the agreement between the trade unions, the GLC and the London boroughs to extend such protection beyond the date on which the new contracts of employment come into operation.

    8 p.m.

    The principal problem is not likely to be caused by the GLC manual workers. It will lie with the white collar workers, because they enjoy substantially better pay and conditions than do those working for London boroughs. The GLC white collar workers have two negotiating bodies. A GLC negotiating body deals with the terms and conditions of employment of staff employed by the GLC and negotiates their rates of pay, London weighting and number of hours worked. Those conditions and wages are substantially in advance of what is enjoyed by those working for London boroughs, whose wages and conditions are determined by the national joint council for local authority administrative, professional, technical and clerical staff who have a national agreement. It is important that the terms and conditions of employment of existing GLC staff are preserved and perpetuated beyond the time when the contract of employment is introduced by the London borough that takes responsibility for employing a present member of the GLC staff.

    I should like an assurance from the hon. Member for Streatham that the Secretary of State will refer that matter to the staff commission. If he does not do so, the trade unions the GLC and the London boroughs will find it difficult to reconcile their differences.

    It is clear that transferring 4,000 or 5,000 workers to the London boroughs will gravely affect the promotion prospects of those who continue to be employed by the GLC. If they lose promotion prospects that they might have enjoyed under the existing GLC network, with, for example, the possibility of promotion to the GLC's northern district office, that will have a serious effect. I hope that the question of promotions to the London boroughs and within the GLC will also be referred to the staff commission. Only then can proper arrangements be made for transferability of jobs between the London boroughs and the GLC.

    Another distressing aspect is the GLC's decision to break up the direct labour organisation. We shall lose skilled workers who are needed, because all over London there are housing estates where private contractors have gone broke and houses are waiting to be built. There will be no direct labour organisation to pick up that work.

    My hon. Friend is right. The destruction of the direct labour organisations in London will mean that skilled operatives will be lost permanently to the industry. Many will either never work again or work only intermittently. The production of houses in London, where we still have a major housing shortage, will be gravely affected. In my own London borough of Haringey the numbers on the housing waiting list have shot up dramatically to more than 10,000 in the past few months.

    The dismantling of the GLC's strategic housing role and the Government's deliberate policy, announced in the Budget, to cut housing spending by £300 million will have a direct effect on Londoners. The innocuous looking clause 8 is a direct product of the lunacy of the Government in dealing with the housing problems of inner London and of the outer London boroughs that have similar problems.

    Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that many GLC tenants, including, I am sure, many in his constituency, will welcome the fact that, having been transferred to the boroughs, they will have a housing department that is local and much more accessible?

    That remains to be seen. Whether tenants will welcome being transferred from the GLC to a London borough depends on a number of factors, including the amount of money that the borough has available to carry out necessary repairs. The GLC is deliberately keeping empty scores of houses on the White Hart Lane estate, in my constituency, because the council wants to sell, homestead or let those houses. That is disgraceful, especially since at my Friday surgeries I have scores of people wanting new accommodation. Clause 8 is the direct outcome of the GLC's wish to divest itself of important strategic powers and to place all the responsibility for dealing with the problems on the boroughs that are least capable of solving them.

    The difficulty facing boroughs such as Haringey, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets is that they do not have the financial, manpower or administrative resources to deal with problems of the size of those with which they will be confronted.

    The old London County Council and the present GLC were given a strategic role because it was accepted by everyone in politics that the only way to solve housing problems was to have an authority with global responsibility rather than to leave the boroughs to look after themselves.

    Clause 8 is the outcome of policy decisions taken without the approval of Londoners and directly against the interests of Londoners who are looking for housing and of GLC tenants. It is clear that if a London borough accepts a large number of GLC houses it will have housing indigestion. The council will try to deal with repairs and other problems, but it is unlikely to be able to do so. That is why many local authorities in London have refused to accept the transfer of GLC houses and flats in their areas.

    My hon. Friend mentioned Newham. It has been said of a property on Pier Estate, in North Woolwich in my constituency, that if it were offered free to the borough, the borough would hesitate to take it because of its architectural condition. Is not the selling-off of council homes, say, in Dagenham, to private owners, by the will of County Hall and Conservative Members in this House, depriving tower block families throughout London, particularly mothers with young children, of a reasonable home and driving them to drugs and possibly worse?

    I accept that much of what my hon. Friend says is correct. Many GLC estates are in a deplorable condition. They have been allowed to run down in a deplorable fashion. I can give a precise example of the way in which the GLC homesteading scheme has undermined the prospects of council tenants getting a house. I was approached by two constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Butt, who formerly lived in Cranbrook Park, Wood Green N.22, who told me that they had been offered a house on the GLC estate at White Hart Lane in my constituency and had accepted. They were later told by the GLC that they could not have the house because it had already been sold to homesteaders. That is a precise example of the way in which a house was taken from council tenants and given to homesteaders over the heads of the prospective council tenants. That is what happens under a policy for selling off council homes so preventing people moving out of less desirable tower blocks or older estates into newer and better accommodation.

    This Bill tries to give effect to the GLC's desire to get rid of its strategic housing role. I hope that the House will be aware of that fact when it discusses the question later tonight. I hope that we can have from the hon. Member for Streatham the assurances for which I asked about wages, conditions and promotion.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a rumour that the proposed staff commission has been working and that money has been spent and incurred. Would my hon. Friend like to comment on the fact that, if true, it will be ultra vires payment? This Bill and the money Bill are the two authorities for the establishment of the commission. If the commission has been sitting and operating in past months, it is time that action was taken by the auditor to inform GLC members that they should be surcharged.

    My hon. Friend has raised the interesting question of surcharging Sir Horace Cutler. That might be welcomed by some hon. Members on the Labour Benches if what my hon. Friend says is correct. I hope that we will hear assurances on the question of staff transfer. It is a serious matter for the 4,000 to 5,000 employees of the GLC who will be transferred to the London boroughs.

    I shall concentrate my remarks on part 3, clause 8. This is the part of the Bill most affecting London boroughs. I am thinking particularly of my own area, the London borough of Hammersmith. The constituency of North Hammersmith contains a very large GLC estate known as White City. After the war, that was a very popular estate. However, the introduction of modern domestic methods such as washing machines and spin dryers started its decline. The kitchens and bathrooms were too small for the machines to be installed. The usual problem of decay of an estate took place. It is now a very unpopular estate as a place to live. Major attempts are being made to refurbish it and bring it up to standard. If an estate of that nature is to be transferred to a local authority, one needs to be sure that the local authority has the resources to deal with it.

    These are issues that dramatically affect people in North Hammersmith and, I am sure, most London boroughs. Will the GLC give sufficient resources in terms of staff and money to the boroughs to maintain housing at a good standard? Another important question is whether the tenants of the GLC and also the boroughs will be kept informed of the progress of negotiations. I am sure that other hon. Members have shared my experience of having numerous people coming to one's surgery asking what is happening and whether the transfer is to take place. They are anxious about repairs, where they will go to pursue their complaints and whether the local office will still be available. It is sometimes forgotten that the GLC provides local offices.

    8.15 p.m.

    I was amazed to hear recently that the Conservative chairman of the housing committee of the Conservative-controlled London borough of Hammersmith is experiencing difficulty in getting information from the Conservative-controlled GLC. I have heard a statement along the lines that there have been some problems in obtaining all the necessary information from the GLC. The information may not be available. It may be available only in some incomprehensible form, or there may be some concern about secrecy, which often occurs in this country. I am willing to concede that the GLC is unlikely to be planning an intercontinental ballistic missile base in the middle of Hammersmith. I therefore attribute the situation to lack of knowledge. What are the tenants to be told? Initially they were told that they would be transferred in January. Now it is April. What is to happen next.

    It may be October and then perhaps the following year. How will the tenants be convinced that the new landlords will be able to carry out the task given to them. If the Conservative-controlled London borough of Hammersmith is anxious about its ability to maintain standards, is it not reasonable that the tenants also should be anxious? I know that I would kick up a stink if my tenancy was transferred without consultation or discussion. I understand well the anger of the tenants. It is significant that the tenants have decided to hold a meeting of residents living on the estate, numbering thousands of people. I shall attend that meeting. I shall listen with interest to what the London borough of Hammersmith and the GLC have to say.

    The trouble is that the London borough of Hammersmith accepts the principle of transfer but wants the minimum extra cost over and above the compensation for the GLC. That is an interesting statement in its own right. It means that the London borough of Hammersmith will have to find extra money when it is already enthusiastically administering cuts in public services. If the authorities pursue this policy—a policy with which I fundamentaly disagree because it is an assault on the quality of life of people in the area—they have to find more money. Where is that money to come from? Without increases in the rates, it will mean more cuts. This has a domino effect. One cannot ignore the effect on other services. We have the absurd situation where a housing committee is trying to hold on to its budget while the social services committee, controlled by a Liberal to the Right of the Conservative Party, is willing to implement cuts. He ends up cutting a children's home by January next year and dispersing children who have been at that home for many years. It is not a matter of moving the children en bloc as a family. It is a matter of dispersing them. I shall be taking up the matter in the House because it involves bad child care. Regardless of what one thinks about cuts, it is a case of unacceptable standards of child care. Yet that is what happens when a council tries to hold the rates down and extra burdens are put upon it which it cannot meet.

    If the Bill is to go through in its present form, the people of Hammersmith, particularly the White City tenants and those living in other GLC properties, and I will want to know where the resources are coming from. Are they equal to, and preferably more than, what they possess already? Will they be kept fully informed? At the moment, they are not. There is total uncertainty, which leads to rumours and to fears which in housing matters are understandable.

    When the GLC pursues its policy of council house sales, extra resources are required from the GLC as well. I could also give examples of people who have had to be pushed down the housing list because houses have been kept empty for sale. In Hammersmith and immediately around it houses are being kept empty, the hope being to sell them. It is a common experience when I write to the GLC to get the answer "Sorry, there are no more GLC houses available of the kind that we are talking about in the western area. Please ask your constituent if he is prepared to move out of London or to the north or the east of London." The domino effect is particularly important here. There is no way that Hammersmith can carry this burden unless it receives the money—and in a big way.

    It is not just a question of transferring staff, though that is important enough in its own right. It is a question of making sure that they have the money available to give people a standard of housing to which they are entitled so that we can finally bury the idea that council house tenants are in some way second-class citizens.

    It may help the House if I intervene briefly now to cover one or two issues. First, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) must not perpetuate the myth that the Government have cut housing expenditure by £300 million. If he would bother to read the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State yesterday, he would see in columns 464 and 465 of Hansard that all we have done is reduce a paper spending figure which was not going to be achieved this year, as it was not achieved last year. Those are the facts.

    The transfer of GLC estates is not, as the hon. Gentleman implied, a party political matter. The previous Secretary of State is on record as saying that he supports the principle of transfers. The authorities wishing to take housing stock include councils controlled by both of the main parties—46 of them to date—and this all stems from the 1963 Act.

    Much work has already been done in preparation for these transfers. The GLC and the 46 authorities are anxious that they should take place as soon as possible. It is in no one's interest that there should be any undue delay or uncertainty—least of all the staff. However, all parties want the hand-over to take place as smoothly and efficiently as possible, with the minimum of inconvenience to the staff affected and with no disruption of the service to the tenants.

    A number of authorities which had been planning to take housing stock on 2 January, particularly those taking the largest amounts, have become doubtful as to whether a smooth transition could be achieved by that date. Moreover, the staff associations involved have asked for more time to complete their negotiations on the detailed terms for staff transfer.

    There are three precedents for the creation of staff commissions and they have all worked most smoothly. One dealt with the reorganisation of London local government in 1965, one dealt with the reorganisation of English local government in 1974 and the third has been looking into the transfer of staffs from new town corporations to the appropriate district councils. I expect no new problems to arise in the case of London.

    Does my hon. Friend not agree that the staff commissions established previously—to deal with the consequences of the 1972 Local Government Act in particular—deal with situations in which individual employees have been transferred from authority to authority on the same nationally negotiated pay rates between those authorities? Was it not the case that individual problems arose about how a particular employee could be slotted into the new scales as they applied in his new local authority employer?

    Is not the case of the GLC and the London boroughs different, in that there is separate negotiating machinery for the GLC, with separate rates of pay and conditions of service, so that the terms of employment of those employed by the GLC are separate and distinct from the terms of employment of those employed by the London boroughs?

    Is it not therefore true that the problem is not an individual one relating to particular employees but one relating to the total number of employees being transferred, the generality, which is quite separate from the previous commissions on staff transfer? Is it not therefore reasonable to ask for the kind of assurances that I have been seeking this evening?

    I do not think that they are all that different. The hon. Gentleman must recall that this is not the first batch of housing to be transferred by the GLC to the boroughs: it is the second. He must also recall that there is separate negotiating machinery for the new towns as opposed to the district councils, so the precedents are there, and there have been no problems. The hon. Gentleman will see from the last report of the new towns staff commission how the work has gone satisfactorily. I believe that there is not the sort of problem that he expects.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) said, it is in response to representations from the London Boroughs Association and the Association of District Councils that the Leader of the GLC housing policy committee has now recommended that there should be one round of transfers to take place on 1 April 1980 instead of the two which were previously envisaged.

    From the conversations that I have had with various representatives of staff at County Hall in particular, I am certain that this is a sensible decision which will give all concerned plenty of time to complete the necessary arrangements before transfers take place.

    As hon. Members know, a shadow staff commission has already been set up but it cannot have the statutory status it needs until the Bill becomes law. Moreover, the staff transfer and protection order which is urgently needed to allow proper preparatory work to proceed cannot be made until the statutory staff commission is in being, because that order must refer to the staff commission and its role in appeals.

    Any further delay that this Bill encounters is only delaying the proper working of the machinery that we propose to set up to protect staff interests. It is not fair to the staff or to the people who employ them to leave this area of uncertainty as the transfer date approaches.

    I should tell the hon. Member for Wood Green that the cost of staff commissions has always been met by the central Government. Therefore, he will not have the joy of trying to surcharge Sir Horace Cutler or anyone else.

    Is it not true—this is not a party point—that there is no way that the GLC or the Government can pay these people to carry out the sort of work they have been doing until the Bill is passed by the House?

    The Government are paying for this, as they have in the past. On the last occasion that we debated this matter, the hon. Gentleman asked for the total amount, and I gave him then an estimate of about £80,000. I am glad to be able to tell him that it looks as though it will come to £60,000. I think that he will get value for money and that the staff will get the benefits they want.

    All the authorities involved in these discussions have made great efforts to comment on the draft order in good time. I had hoped to give the House this evening a firm indication of when the order will be laid, but I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it would be undesirable, if that can be avoided, to lay an order covering only half the story and leaving out the most important element. I think that all hon. Members would accept—certainly I firmly accept, as a former parliamentary adviser to NALGO—that the role of the staff commission in appeals must be in that order.

    Until the Bill receives the Royal Assent we shall not be laying the order. I hope that I can soon allow the order to be laid, so that the staff can get the protection they want. The most important thing is to end the uncertainty. I hope that the House will endorse that point of view.

    8.30 p.m.

    I wish to deal with that part of the Bill which relates to the fire brigade services and the arrangements under GLC powers for permitting vehicular access to the highway.

    Although I have no fundamental objection to that part of the Bill, which has a width of application and discretion, none the less in certain instances the ambulance service and the fire brigade have to use the highways as much as they have done in the past. Those services fear a cutback in manpower and appliances as a result of the helter-skelter path taken towards public expenditure cuts. The position of the fire brigade was brought to my attention by the Ealing branch of the Fire Brigades Union. That branch pointed out to me that the service is seriously under threat.

    We shall be debating matters concerning London next Friday, and I am grateful that that facility has been afforded. A good debate on London in general and the powers of the GLC and borough councils is overdue, and we shall take ample opportunity to ventilate our points of view. Therefore, this debate comes as a precursor to the other. It is admitted by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) that it has become a stop-gap Bill and has been changed in some respects in order not to obstruct the Government's plans as regards public expenditure.

    When I read all the documents that had been issued, I was forced to take part in the debate and to deplore the amended part of the Bill. When it came before the House for Second Reading it contained a clause that enabled London borough councils to guarantee the repayment of loans made to persons who wished to extend or improve industrial and commercial buildings. The idea behind that was to assist employment within London. The growth of unemployment in London is worrying. The general depopulation of London has led to many problems, such as the position of schools.

    Any Government would have been forced to accept some resulting reorganisation of capital expenditure. I concede to the central Government, who have to impose such reorganisation on the Greater London Council, that perhaps the situation had become lax. However, they seem to be going from the ridiculous to the "gorblimey".

    The Bill comes at a time of considerable anxiety about the level of public expenditure cuts. There is a political regime—the Conservative Party—in control of the Greater London Council and many of the boroughs which does not pay sufficient attention to the way those services are run down.

    Much emphasis has been laid on the question of housing. I accept the point made by the Under-Secretary that the transfer of GLC housing stock to the boroughs is not a party political matter. There has been discussion about it, and I was a member of the executive of the London Labour Party when some of the Labour-controlled boroughs were in favour of accepting the transfer of GLC housing stock. I entirely accept that it is a non-party issue. Many Labour-controlled authorities would have been pleased to take the new publicly owned housing stock under their wing.

    The Bill, however, is introduced at a time when we have a Government who are making a fetish of selling council housing stock. For the majority of those on low incomes in the London area that is tantamount to giving away that housing. Through the attitude of the Conservative-controlled boroughs and the Conservative-controlled GLC the ability of people to transfer from one type of dwelling to another has been impeded. That has aggravated the anxiety of young mothers in tower blocks that they will never have a house with a garden.

    We have never believed that there are no circumstances in which local authority housing stock should be sold. From my studies of race relations in Bedford I learnt that that authority had built houses with the intention of selling them. That is acceptable. However, GLC, borough council and housing association stock has been the subject of public discussion. Hard-working people on local authorities, including the GLC, have over the years worked out what they consider to be a balanced allocation of local authority housing in the total housing stock. It is wrong to impose an artificial policy to disturb that balance.

    I have been in the House for 14 years and I ask the many Tory Members whom I know to re-think that policy. The doctrinaire attitudes of the people in Tory Central Office cannot be carried through. Their policies are creating a situation where there are far too many empty houses in the GLC housing stock. That mocks the homeless and the young women in trying to bring up their children in inadequate housing.

    In my constituency, unlike the general trend in London, there is no reduction in population. It is increasing. We have the largest community of Asian origin, and they are now in the third generation—the babies of the babies. They belong to this country and were born here. They are looking for employment. There is no question of sending them back to where their fathers or grandfathers came from, and both major parties accept that. We must consider the future housing prospects of these people.

    On the question of local authority stalling, I bow to the superior knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race), who has a strong trade union background. His involvement with this House is limited, however. If it were not he would not have made the mistake of calling the Under-Secretary his hon. Friend. However, in spite of that, my hon. Friend will find that there are certain limited friendships across the Floor of the House. Who am I to complain about such attitudes of friendship when I say that there should be two-party consensus on race relations so that the subject is taken out of the cockpit of party political wrangling?

    I urge the GLC to get on with the job of transferring the housing stock and not to leave any impediment. I appeal to it for God's sake not to leave any of it empty under its policies because that housing is desperately needed.

    I wish to concentrate my attention on clause 8, and especially the provision

    "for the transfer of staff consequent upon the transfer of housing accommodation or land"
    "for the purpose of the management of housing accommodation or land".
    Hon. Members have already expressed clear concerns about staffing, and I wish to deal with the role that will be given to the staff concerned in respect of key housing and related employment needs in the area. It is not clear that those who will be called upon to undertake new responsibilities will be part of the best structure possible to fulfil them. Because of the overall strategy of the GLC, in the context of the clause, and because of the policy of council house sales and the sale of land in which this staff will be engaged, a chronic crisis has broken out in my constituency.

    In practice, Lambeth has about 1,400 homeless people apart from its waiting list. In addition there are several hundred single homeless people in the area. In effect, because of the GLC policy of council house sales the door has been slammed on the exit from this inner city area to outer areas. I am not saying that people want to move away from Vauxhall, but we have grave problems because the GLC is not appropriately allocating staff to analyse the mass of social and economic problems from which the area suffers.

    For instance, there is a public inquiry on the Coin Street site, a well enough known site by the South Bank theatre, on which planning permission is being sought by various companies in respect of the equivalent of 11½ Centre Point buildings.

    Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the sale of council houses and that sort of thing. His comments in that respect would be in order in a general debate, but not on this Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that he was relating his comments to the clause dealing with the commission on the transfer of the council's housing staff.

    Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I am concerned that the GLC is not making the kind of allocation of staff which, if it wishes to go ahead with this transfer, is necessary. The council is effectively failing in its responsibility to ensure that adequate staff are allocated to take account of an increasing problem in the area.

    8.45 p.m.

    What is the definition of housing staff? Is it those employed at administrative level or as housing officers responsible for housing allocation? Is it, in a wider sense, the responsibility of the GLC to ensure that housing needs will be adequately met while the needs and the skills of the staffs concerned are adequately fulfilled?

    There are major problems of inadequate housing versus office speculation in the north of my borough, and I submit that the council should be making provision to increase staff in my constituency, though I appreciate that this view is not completely shared by my colleagues. There is considerable concern that in this transfer the GLC is dumping unwanted estates on Lambeth.

    These estates are in real crisis. The Brandon estate is an example. I received a letter from Sir Horace Cutler this week concerning a problem in Fitzalan Street. That street could be anywhere but it happens to be in my constituency—in an area where the GLC has failed for years to find alternative accommodation for those who wish to live in that street. That is despite the fact that Sir Horace Cutler has admitted to me that it is responsibility of the GLC, which scheduled the houses for demolition.

    We are in a no man's land of relative authority and responsibility where the buck is being passed by the GLC. We are in a situation where, among other things, it is claimed that the submissions made by Members of Parliament on behalf of tenants living in appalling conditions cannot be met in a climate of economic cuts. Even though some of those tenants suffer from rats, are living in chronic damp and have collapsing ceilings in their homes, we are told that there are not enough staff available to be able to deal appropriately with these problems. Under the terms of this Bill, in this sense, the GLC is passing the buck.

    What is even more disastrous is that the GLC has already run down the construction branch from 1,200 to 600 operatives in advance of the transfer. That means that the quality of the properties transferred is deplorable because the GLC did not have sufficient staff to keep those properties in good order. That was a deliberate decision by the GLC.

    I am grateful for that comment. On the Ethelred estate in my constituency we have a chronic housing problem precisely because the GLC did not allocate enough staff for the supervision of some of the estates under its control. On that estate, one of the densest in London, which was built not by direct labour but by a private contractor of the kind who should have been a model for publicity for "CABIN" during the general election campaign, the concrete floors were not of the specification required and are now turning to powder. Various attempts to correct this fault are not working. As a result we may have to evacuate whole buildings on that estate if the transfer takes place to Lambeth Council. We will have to find alternative accommodation for the people concerned precisely because there were not enough staff to supervise that estate. This is in a situation where Lambeth council, in difficulty, can hardly cope with its current housing problems, and where hardly anyone is able to move off the transfer list.

    Not only can people not move to outer London, as they could before the GLC sale of council homes, but within Lambeth itself we are now having to allocate virtually all our housing resources for repairs and maintenance. A high proportion of this repair and maintenance work is on GLC estates. It is shocking that the GLC is seriously asking this House to accept the transfer of these estates under the conditions from which many of them at present suffer.

    The question of employment is very relevant. It arises in the direct employment of the staff, and that issue is certainly of direct concern to the debate. But we do not need in itself a transfer of staff, nor in itself less staff. We actually need more GLC and local council staff to be able to analyse some of the chronic problems of job loss in the inner city area.

    Let us take again, for example, the question of GLC backed office development versus housing, as on the Coin Street site. We are in a ridiculous situation. Virtually every serious study, whether it be the recent Norant report in France, the Siemen study in Germany, or the Manpower Services Commission report, predicts that a vast surplus of office accommodation will follow from the loss of clerical jobs in the next 10 to 15 years through the application of word processing and data processing machines. In what serious sense can one think that we can simply tolerate the transfer of the existing rundown functions by the GLC to the other boroughs when the GLC is not facing its own overall responsibilities in the question of housing versus offices?

    I gave evidence about the Coin Street site last week. No analysis has been done by the GLC staff of the indirect social costs of putting up office development rather than housing. Virtually every other country has extensive social cost-benefit analysis of these costs, and the GLC has not undertaken such an analysis of these costs. A lawyer's brief is simply put for a property company's case which is effectively fronted by the GLC. That is the essence of the submission on that count.

    In this context, I regret that the original clause 9 of the Bill, concerning the creation of employment, the guarantee of loans for local authorities and the guarantee of loans by the GLC to give financial assistance to industry, has been withdrawn. It is clear that in practice there can be no serious expectation of the regeneration of the inner city following the withdrawal of that clause and no serious expectation of reversing the massive—

    Order. The hon. Gentleman must understand that this is the consideration stage and not the Second Reading of the Bill. He must relate his remarks to what is in the Bill and not to what he would like to see in it.

    In the context of what is being transferred for the purpose of the management of housing accommodation, and of such staffing problems as arise in consequence—for example, under clause 8(3)(b) the problems that will arise for the staff concerned in going to the local council because of the way in which the GLC has not properly fulfilled its responsibilities before the transfer—we have no adequate assurance about the terms and conditions on which those staff will be employed. The GLC is not addressing itself to the kind of work on which they should be employed, and which is directly relevant to the major housing problem and the major employment problem in London. In these respects, this is a thoroughly inadequate Bill. It does not face up to the real issues in inner London today.

    By leave of the House, I should like to answer some of the very pertinent questions put during the debate.

    The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) asked me when the boroughs would use their powers with reference to parking on footpaths. I said that this was a matter for the individual boroughs. Indeed that is so. Nevertheless, the power has to be brought into force by the GLC. There are negotiations taking place at the moment between the boroughs and the GLC to reach a measure of agreement. A conclusion has not yet been reached, and I do not think that any assurance can be given about 1980. It is a matter for the GLC to accept, and presumably it will accept the advice of the boroughs.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information. Will he, through the promoters of the Bill, make it clear to the GLC that the London boroughs are desperate? As we stressed on Second Reading, we cannot get the police to operate unless we have the provision. I hope that the GLC and the boroughs will not argue the matter out. We would like October 1980 as the latest date for implementation.

    I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's observations and add my voice to his. I am aware of the same problems in my constituency.

    Most of the burden of the debate centred on clause 8—the staff commission. I hoped, as it turned out vainly, that it would be non-controversial. However, I agree and accept that it trails a fairly controversial cloak behind it. The hon. Members for Wood Green (Mr. Race), Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), and others had much to say. With their permission, I shall not comment at this stage about the transfer of houses as that is outside the terms of the debate and it has been debated many times.

    I shall try to give some brief and specific answers to some of the questions that have been raised. I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. His remarks were very helpful and went some way to answer some of the questions. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch asked how the money had been spent. The answer is that it was spent by the Government, as is normally the case, and for the London housing staff advisory committee. I find it extraordinarily difficult to pronounce the name of that committee. The money was spent properly by the Government.

    The obsession about Sir Horace Cutler showed itself every now and again. I did not keep score of the number of times the hon. Gentleman mentioned Sir Horace, but when I next speak to him I shall congratulate him on having scored at least a few more hits.

    The hon. Member for Wood Green asked whether the staff commission would, should, or could replace the advisory committee, if I may call it the advisory committee rather than the London housing staff advisory committee. It is a decision for the Secretary of State and does not come within this measure. If one can go by precedent, the answer is probably "Yes". The staff commission will probably replace the present advisory committee according to precedent.

    What powers will be given to the staff commission? I understand the concern of those involved that proper account should be taken, and I can give an encouraging reply. I understand that negotiations are proceeding satisfactorily and are moving towards a satisfactory conclusion between the boroughs, the GLC, the advisory committee and the trade unions involved.

    9 p.m.

    I hope that the conclusion of the consultations will be agreement on a code of practice in the not too far distant future. It is for the Secretary of State to decide what should be referred under clause 8(3) (b) to the staff commission. If we judge by precedent and assume that he will take advice, it is probable that the code of practice will be used by the staff commission in reaching its decisions and making its recommendations. The code of practice will cover most, if not all, of the various matters raised. I am glad to give the assurance that there is already a great measure of agreement and goodwill. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, in other instances not too dissimilar matters have proceeded without too much difficulty and without too many problems.

    I was asked by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North how tenants are being kept informed. They are kept informed in a variety of ways, but principally by meetings that are being arranged by the Greater London Council and by the boroughs where appropriate.

    The hon. Gentleman said that some of his constituents have not been kept informed. Is the hon. Gentleman unaware that the borough of Hammersmith is one of the few boroughs that have not yet decided whether to accept transfer from the GLC? That being so, it is not surprising that there have been no tenants' meetings. The borough happens to be Conservative-controlled. That reinforces the remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that the issue is not party-political.

    I quote from a letter from the Hammersmith council, which states:

    "you will already be aware that the council has agreed in principle to accept the GLC properties."
    It is the feeling of the tenants that they are not being kept fully informed. Much more important in a sense in terms of the hon. Gentleman's argument, although not in terms of mine, is that the London borough of Hammersmith feels that the information is not forthcoming. That is a major problem. I ask the hon. Gentleman to guarantee that he will put all the pressure he can on the GLC to abandon its obsession with secrecy and ensure that full and frank information is available to the borough and the tenants. There is an agreement in principle. There is no reason to say that information should not be forthcoming.

    If there is an agreement, I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I was informed that an agreement was expected shortly but that it had not yet been ratified. I shall convey the argument that he has advanced. I assure him that the GLC will be in close touch and communication with the London borough of Hammersmith.

    I have been asked about London weighting and whether that will be honoured. The answer is that it will be protected. "Protected" means that in certain instances the employees may be given the option of having the weighting bought out by a capital sum. That will be a part of the code of practice, and it is a matter that is now under discussion. The answer is "Most certainly, yes".

    I have been asked whether the resources will be equal if the boroughs take housing stock from the GLC that require considerable expenditure. This is a matter of concern to many boroughs. It has been discussed and ventilated in Lambeth, which decided not to take GLC housing stock.

    Some remarks have been made this evening about the standards of the GLC. If they were lower, surely it was better for that stock to be transferred to the boroughs. Nevertheless, provided that the rents and standards are equal, the GLC gives the assurance that it will continue to provide as much finance as at present for the maintenance of the stock—what a wretched phrase that is—of houses and flats until they show a surplus. Any major modernisation schemes for the houses and flats that are transferred will also be paid for by the GLC until they, too, show a surplus on account. Should there be any appalling problems such as there were with the high alumina concrete in high-rise flats, the GLC would pay for the repairs on the same terms and the same qualifications.

    The issue is not that simple. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was serious when he said that if the standards were lower it would be better to give the housing stock to the boroughs. It depends whether the boroughs have the real resources with which to manage the stock effectively. I am sceptical about whether the GLC will be in a position to transfer stock with provision for moderinsation, improvement or maintenance until the properties show a surplus. In what way can it possibly know what further cuts the Government have in the pipeline?

    Yesterday, the Secretary of State for the Environment referred to the simple arithmetic of cuts. He said that 2½ per cent. only a few years ago added to 2½ per cent. now was no worse than 2½ per cent. previously. All the same, it is still 5 per cent. If the cuts are continued there will be a problem. This is not just a matter of cash. We cannot clear our estates in Lambeth to undertake the modernisation and repairs that are needed. Nor will we be able to do so with GLC stock if we do not have the properties to which we may decant the people. The GLC slammed the door on us by not making it possible for us to move the same number of people out of the inner London area at the same time.

    It will be with some reluctance that I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman the next time he asks. At least I am speaking for the second time with the leave of the House. I had hoped that by my not giving way previously the hon. Gentleman would find in what I intended to say the answer to his question.

    The answer is this. The GLC will pay for what needs to be done within the qualifications I gave. That is eminently satisfactory and sensible.

    I understand the divergence of views about the transfer of stock. It is not a party political matter. It was envisaged in the original Act under which the GLC was set up. It was given a fair wind by the previous Government. My view of the GLC has always been that it should be a statutory authority. However, we are not discussing that tonight. Even in saying that, I have digressed. We are discussing setting up a staff commission, which is urgently needed to help those whom hon. Members on both sides represent. They need the staff commission. It would be unfortunate if, for reasons attached to the staff commission, the House took a different view of the Bill. I ask the House to give the Bill a fair wind and to send it on its way with our blessing.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.

    City Of London (Various Powers) Bill (By Order)

    Order for consideration, as amended, read.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

    9.11 p.m.

    I shall not need to detain the House very long. First, I should explain that I am speaking because my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), who has been in charge of the Bill and has conducted it so effectively throughout the year, has been translated to the post of Government Whip, a position in which we are pleased to see him. Nevertheless, this year, being the Master of the Guild of Freemen of the City of London, I am delighted to stand humbly in his place.

    The Bill received a Second Reading on 6 March when it was fully and seriously debated by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Having read the debate, but not having taken part in it, I can say that we had a most helpful discussion in every way. The Bill received an unopposed Second Reading. No doubt that was because of the admirably lucid speech by my hon. Friend—a speech which was praised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

    The Bill then went into Committee where again it was carefully considered. The detail of the Bill was investigated throughout the six days of the Committee stage. However, apart from some drafting amendments, the Bill emerged from the Committee's scrutiny virtually intact. The Committee complimented the petitioners on the way in which the Bill had been presented and in particular on the way in which ecological interests, which concerned a number of hon. Members, had been safeguarded.

    I do not need to go over the purposes of the Bill because they have already been fully debated. I would make only two observations which are of great interest to me. The first is that the Bill helps among other things tourism which is immensely important for this country in general and for London in particular. Therefore, it is supported by the London Tourist Board.

    The other observation concerns a matter which was stoutly debated—the development of the M25. We all have our own views about the M25, but I think that I am entitled to claim that its development is necessary. Therefore, the Bill, which has a small contribution to make to it, affects areas beyond the boundaries of the City of London.

    For example, Harrow has great traffic problems. I asked the Minister of Transport in the Labour Government what effect the development and building of the M25 would have on the flow of traffic in the town of Harrow. I was told authoritatively by my right hon. Friend's predecessor that it would reduce the traffic flow in Harrow by 10 per cent. That is one example showing why the M25 is important and the Bill make a vital, though small, contribution to it.

    I need do no more than commend the Bill and ask that it be considered.

    I want to raise two matters concerning the Bill. First, I should like an assurance on clause 12 relating to the development of the new Billingsgate market which is to move to West Ham. My concern is to ensure that the site of the old Billingsgate market is not developed until the archaeological community has had the opportunity of digging the site on a proper basis for a good length of time.

    I say that for a very specific reason. The site is regarded by the archaeological community as possibly holding within it very important Roman and medieval buildings which underlie the existing Billingsgate market. It is quite clear that, if development is allowed to take place furiously once the existing market is transferred, without archaeological investigation taking place, we may lose very considerable finds of international interest that might otherwise be discovered.

    I hope that we can have an assurance from the sponsors of the Bill that no such rapid development is intended, and that, if there is the opportunity for achaeological digging on the site, it will be carried out properly through the department of urban archaeology at the Museum of London, because I believe that that is the best way for it to be done.

    Clause 18 relates to museum charges. I should like to know whether the provisions in the clause relate to the operation of general museum charges in the City of London, as distinct from charges for particular exhibitions of note held from time to time at museums in the City of London. I would be greatly concerned—as would many Labour Members—if it appeared that private legislation was being used to introduce into the museums on a general basis the principle of admission charges.

    That proposition has been resisted by Labour Members for a good many years. It was resisted when the Conservative Government introduced it in 1971. It would be tragic if we were to accept the Bill this evening on the basis that clause 18 related simply to particular exhibitions when in fact it related to the generality of museum charges. If that were to be the case, Labour Members would take a quite different view of the Bill as a whole, and might wish to reconsider their position. I hope, therefore, that we shall have a really specific and firm assurance from the sponsors of the Bill that that is not intended.

    The Bill deals with a number of issues with which I do not wish to concern myself at any great length this evening. I agree with both points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race). It is important for us, living in a country in which we have the good fortune to have a great archaeological heritage, that we should take every possible step to see that it is not in any way destroyed. Proper opportunity should be given for a full examination to be made before any development takes place on a site as important as Billingsgate Market.

    I also agree with what my hon. Friend said about museum charges. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and I raised the very same issue on Second Reading. Accordingly, I would like to add my voice to the remarks made by my hon. Friend on charges.

    The real reason why I have risen to my feet this evening is that I am still concerned about part II of the Bill, which deals with Epping Forest. This section arises from the proposals for the construction of the M25 motorway through the forest. This inevitably means that part of this unique area will be buried under road works. The decision to construct the M25 over this particular terrain must cause great concern to those who have a love for the forest.

    We discussed this issue at an earlier stage and hon. Members expressed their views. As was pointed out then, the forest was saved for posterity only as a result of a great battle which was mounted by a number of Victorians and the corporation of the City of London. During the twentieth century the forest might well have died the death of a thousand cuts as a result of the many proposals for housing and road schemes put forward, even since the end of the second world war.

    It is extremely important that all who have a love for the forest should lose no opportunity to emphasise the need carefully to scrutinise all further proposals for road works, housing or any other form of development which may encroach upon it. For this reason, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking and I objected to the Bill at an earlier stage, as a result of which it had a Second Reading debate and hon. Members were able at that stage to express their points of view on the matter.

    Since that time the Bill has been carefully considered by the Committee. I understand that in Committee it was suggested that no further road-works should be permitted within the forest. I believe that I am correct in saying that the Nature Conservancy Council has also expressed its view on this matter. Some observers of the Committee stage thought that the opinion was being expressed that all further road works would be prevented from encroaching on the forest. Since that time, however, it has become clear that the corporation interprets this view as applying only to road works connected with the M25 motorway.

    I have great respect for the position that has been adopted by the corporation over the years in seeking to preserve the forest, and I have expressed my view on this matter on more than one occasion in the House. Once again, I say that the corporation has a very honourable record. None the less, it is important that we should again press very strongly for clarification on this issue. Does the corporation consider that further road works unconnected with the M25 motorway could be favourably considered?

    I recognise that there may be small works which require to be carried out from time to time. But if at any time in the near or distant future road works of a magnitude comparable with those now proposed in connection with the M25 motorway were put forward, that would be a great blow to the forest. If road-works of considerable magnitude are proposed and accepted in the future the forest will be in danger of being destroyed or changed beyond recognition.

    I accept that there is a need for roads. All of us use roads, and it is somewhat hypocritical to suggest that those roads ought to go elsewhere. I appreciate that there is a serious problem here. However, we must ask what the corporation's attitude is likely to be in the event of future proposals for extensive road works within the terrain of the forest. I very must hope that we shall be reassured on this issue.

    Much of the forest has gone under concrete over the last few years. Although other areas of land have in certain cases been added in compensation, any further road works would constitute very serious damage indeed. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) will reply to this point. I trust we shall have some reassurances. Whether or not it is possible to be reassured on this occasion, I want to place on record the fact that there are many hon. Members on both sides who would feel betrayed if, following the construction of the M25, other road works were proposed in a few years' time which destroyed anything like the same area which will be destroyed by the M25.

    I hope that those who may consider these matters in the future will recognise that if roads or other developments are proposed some way must be found of meeting the needs they seek to serve outside Epping Forest if this unique area is to be preserved—for posterity, for recreational and other purposes—in the manner in which our predecessors in the nineteenth century intended. Many of us believe that their attitude represented considerable wisdom on their part.

    I intervene very briefly. I confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) said. At one point I was a little worried because I thought he might ask me to stop supporting the M25. As someone who has lived in my area for a long time, he knows the problems that we face in trying to get rid of the juggernauts that pass through the area.

    When I saw the Minister arrive I thought that we had gone back to Tuesday night. I chided him then for failing to intervene in the row in which I am involved between the GLC, the Hackney borough council and the City of London corporation over the decision to close Tower Bridge to juggernauts, which has resulted in Graham Road in my constituency becoming a thoroughfare for lorries 24 hours a day.

    I intervene now to say "Thank you" to the officials of the City of London corporation who were kind enough to meet me today. I am sure that they found me a most abrasive and unhappy sort of fellow, but they discussed the matter with great care and patience. As a result, a meeting has been arranged for next week, and I should like to place on record the fact that they were most kind and immediately responded to my invitation to discuss whether there was any way in which we could find a solution. I hope that next Wednesday's meeting will perhaps result in some sort of solution.

    I know that the Minister said that he could not be involved, but I believe that a number of issues will arise at that meeting in respect of which his help may be needed. The GLC has willingly agreed to attend that meeting together with the City corporation and the Hackney borough council as well as the police forces of both the Metropolitan Police and the City of London. Therefore, we should have a meeting of some standing which may arrive at some decision. However, if we do get a little bogged down, perhaps the Minister will consider meeting a deputation in order to iron out some of the problems that may arise.

    I am a little concerned about clause 21. I am not in favour of the City of London police—that force has so many policemen per square inch that it is quite impossible. Perhaps the Minister would consider introducing a loan scheme for Hackney where we have an insufficient number of policemen. Perhaps a twinning between the City police and the Hackney police might get something done. The City of London has managed to stop all parking in the city and now we have a hell of a job in Hackney because people are parking there. Perhaps the City police could help us to achieve what they have already achieved in one square mile.

    9.30 p.m.

    I rise to give the view of the Government on this Bill, and particularly that of my own Department. This means that I shall not, on this occasion, debate museum charges. I shall leave that to the sponsor of the Bill. I shall also leave the matter of the police in the City and in Hackney to the Home Secretary and the sponsor.

    My Department's interest is in part II of the Bill which is being put forward in order to enable the completion of part of the M25. The Government are grateful to the sponsors of the Bill, my hon. Friends the Members for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) and for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), for having promoted it and assisted its passage. The powers contained in the measure will enable the completion of a fairly vital part of the M25 orbital route around London.

    I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central and other Members who have a constituency interest in the M25 that it remains the highest priority in the Government's road programme and we intend to continue it as quickly as possible. It will be an orbital route around London which will enable traffic, particularly from the Midlands and the North, to find a way around London to Tilbury or the Channel ports on the south coast without adding further to the complications in the centre of the capital. It will also act as a general distributor road linking up the various radial routes out of London and enabling motorists to choose routes which avoid the centre. Perhaps the most important aspect is that it will provide relief for local roads that are particularly congested on the outskirts of London.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central stressed the importance of this road to his constituency and, looking around the Chamber, I would say that my hon. Friends the Members for Bexley-heath (Mr. Townsend) and Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) and the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) can look forward to a reduction in heavy traffic of about 10 per cent. in most cases.

    It is the heavy lorry traffic in particular that we expect to be diverted on to the M25. Although in the past I have declined to become involved in the arguments about the local road programmes in Graham Road and Dalston Lane, because they are not the responsibility of the Ministry, the construction of the M25 is expected to reduce the traffic in that locality by between 5 and 10 per cent.

    My hon. Friend's predecessor also pointed out that this M25 was a priority road. Yet for years and years minority groups have successfully held up its construction. Can he really assure us that something is about to happen and that this time it will be completed?

    It is quite right that we should go through the proper procedures. I am not at all anxious to start shortening or avoiding the process of public inquiries which allow people with particular points to make about the route to put their case. Nevertheless, the Government's position is that we wish to get on with this road, subject to statutory procedures, as quickly as possible. Substantial advances are being made. However, this Bill illustrates one of the difficulties. I would not describe the constituents of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) as a minority group. Nor would I say that those who are concerned with Epping Forest should not raise a query. They are in the surprising position, because of the position of the forest, of being able to challenge a private Bill. But it is quite right that the matter should have been examined in this way and that the Committee should take a careful look at what happened.

    I shall give way in just a moment. I should like to point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath that progress with the M25 is now very good and we expect that fairly dramatic lengths of it will be under construction in the next year or two.

    At present, 23 miles of the road in five separate sections is open to traffic and 24 miles of road is under construction. The route has been fixed for a further 40 miles, which means that we have finished the statutory procedures, planning is under way on the remaining 33 miles and the latest public inquiry into a 13-mile stretch from the Heathrow airport spur to the M40 at Denham opened on 23 October.

    The position should soon be that very long stretches will be under construction and all but the north-west section of the road should be completed, subject to statutory procedures and the availability of funds during 1984, with the whole road being finished perhaps by the end of 1985.

    Of course, that is subject to statutory procedures—objectors must have a right to come forward—and to resources because there are public expenditure constraints. However, the M25 is under no public expenditure constraints because we are giving it the highest priority in the programme. It is unlikely that any public expenditure considerations applying to the roads programme as a whole will be so severe that they affect progress on the M25.

    The Minister referred to my views on behalf of my constituents. I should like to point out that I was not speaking only for my constituents. There are large numbers of people in East London, as well as in west Essex—East London was my home and has been the home of my family for many generations—who are deeply concerned about the preservation of the forest, not merely from the point of view of those living in the vicinity but for those living in urban areas. I hope that it will not be thought that I was speaking on behalf of only a narrow group of constituents.

    I accept that entirely. I was not seeking to narrow the hon. Gentleman's interest and I said that those concerned about the forest are not a small minority group. There is widespread concern and I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) is indicating that he did not have Epping Forest in mind. It is obviously in south London that the groups to which he referred are active at some points along the M25 route.

    Every effort has been made to minimise the impact on the forest. I have stressed the importance of the road, and it appeared that it would not be possible to take a wide route that completely avoided the area of the forest. It would be longer and it would be most uneconomic to take such a wide orbital route. Indeed, the total land take, although outside the forest, would be considerably more. That is why agreement was reached with the conservators on a route that did the least harm to the forest.

    The whole matter has been extensively examined and concessions have been made at various points to try to minimise the environmental impact. The conservators will transfer 14½ acres of forest land so that the road may be constructed. Some of that land is detached from the main body of the forest and is in small strips. In exchange for that, my Department will buy and give the conservators a similar area of land directly adjacent to the forest. There will be no net reduction in the size of the forest.

    Of the land that we are taking, 5½ acres will be required only temporarily while the road is being constructed and that will be returned to the conservators in due course. Another nine acres will be held permanently by my Department, but six acres of that land will be open for public use.

    The major incursion into the main body of the forest occurs at Bell Common and in order to preserve the forest the Department will put the road at that point in a cut and cover tunnel. We have entered into undertakings that are recorded in the Bill not only to cover that section of the road but to restore the land to its existing use, which is a cricket pitch.

    I shall not go through all the precautions that are being taken to protect the forest, but one of the accommodation bridges is to be built wider than normal in order to encourage deer to use it to get across the road. A culvert will also be provided especially in order to enable deer to cross under the road—that will be for those deer that prefer to go under the traffic rather than over the top. Chain link fencing will be erected along the road to prevent deer from straying on to it.

    Landscaping and tree planting will be carried out in order to minimise the ultimate effect on the appearance of the forest. All these matters were carefully considered by the Select Committee which sat on the Bill. There were petitioners against the Bill, obviously motivated by concern for protection of the forest. But the Select Committee has accepted that what has been done is necessary in the national and public interest and that everything possible has been done to preserve the environment of the forest. I hope that view will commend itself to hon. Members.

    The hon. Member for Harlow asked about other road schemes that might affect Epping Forest. I have no idea what the sponsor and those promoting the Bill want to say on the matter. I will be frank. There are one or two places where my Department might contemplate road schemes that would involve encroachment again on to Epping Forest land. Before the hon. Gentleman becomes extremely alarmed, let me say that they are inconsequential compared with the M25. I am not aware of any major road scheme planned for the area and the possibilities—they are possibilities only that I am talking about—involve only roadside slivers where existing roads might be widened. Any proposal of that kind would have to be considered with the conservators and would be undertaken only following full public consultation when we had taken time to weigh every reaction to any proposals.

    I am not, therefore, able to give an absolute guarantee from my Department of the sort for which the hon. Gentleman asked. I would merely say that the matters we are contemplating are very modest. They are only slivers of land. Nothing will be proceeded with until we have had a chance to weigh up public reaction and to consider whether what is proposed is worth while.

    The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and I resumed our discussions of two days ago on the question of Graham Road and Dalston Lane and the area between in his constituency. I share his delight that since that time he has made considerable progress. I am reluctant to enter directly, or have my Department enter directly, into discussions about a local road. The Ministry of Transport is responsible for the trunk road network of the country. This involves a very small proportion of the total road length. Decisions about local roads, particularly traffic management decisions, are much better taken by the local authority directly answerable to the local electorate that is most concerned.

    I will nevertheless follow the hon. Gentleman's discussions with the City of London that he has arranged as part of the discussions connected with the Bill. I hope that those discussions reach a successful conclusion and that there is no need to take the matter further. But if he wishes to write to me putting points on which he feels the Ministry can helpfully intervene, I will consider whether this is an exceptional case in which we could take some part. Subject to that, I have made clear that we are in favour of the Bill and commend it to the House. We thank the sponsors for promoting and persevering with it.

    I will be brief. I find myself in the peculiar circumstances of feeling sorry for the City corporation when I refer to clause 18 dealing with charges at the Museum of London. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) has already raised one aspect of this matter. As an opponent of museum charges of any sort, I feel perturbed that although the City corporation was prepared to include wording in its explanatory statement making clear that it did not intend to levy any charges at the London Museum

    "at times when the premises are ordinarily open to the public for the purpose of viewing displays of a kind ordinarily provided at the premises "
    this was not accepted as an amendment when the Bill was in Committee. I would like from the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) an undertaking on behalf of the City corporation that, whatever the law may state, it will act within the spirit of those words which it proposed should be included in the Act.

    9.45 p.m.

    By leave of the House, perhaps I may reply. I am grateful to hon. Members, who have all raised serious and important points. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown) paid handsome tribute to the promoters in his meetings with them. I am sure that they appreciate what he said and recognise that this is the most civilised way of dealing with these matters. I am sure that they are happy to co-operate with him.

    The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) raised an interesting point, new to me, about the need to safeguard archaeological sites. The City is rich in history. I am fascinated by archaeological discoveries; my enthusiasm is exceeded only by that of the City fathers themselves. They are tremendously keen to preserve this heritage. Some people say that they are too enthusiastic, but the hon. Gentleman has only to look at what has happened in the past, starting with the excavation of the Temple of Mithras when Bucklersbury House was being built—my office was nearby—to recognise the concern that the City has for preserving these sites. I am told that those concerned will do everything possible in this direction. They believe that their powers to do so will be enhanced by the Bill, and there will certainly be no impediment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured by that.

    The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) raised the important question of museum charges under clause 18. This matter had a curious career. It is true that the Bill not only gives powers to the board of governors to charge for admission to specialised exhibitions and other events but permits them to impose a general charge for entrance to the museum. This has caused some anxiety, although it is permitted under other law.

    In Committee, it was sought to restrain this power, and the promoters had no objection. They had no objection to an amendment which would have added the words:
    "Provided that no charge shall be made under this section for admission, at times when the premises are ordinarily open to the public, for the purpose of viewing displays of a kind ordinarily provided at the premises."
    However, in its wisdom the Committee decided not to accept that amendment, so we are back to square one.

    Perhaps I may reassure the hon. Gentleman. First of all, it is always possible that in another place, where the Bill has to be considered, an amendment will be made. If it is, there will be no obstruction from the promoters. Secondly, in any event, from a practical point of view, I can assure the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the promoters that they intend to operate within the spirit of this provision. It is certainly their intention to deal with charges only for specialised exhibitions and such things.

    The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) has a justifiable concern for Epping Forest. We all do. I love the place, as does everybody in the City. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that throughout the discussions the corporation has maintained strong opposition to any route which materially affected forest land and has been concerned to secure such arrangements for the construction of the road as would ensure that the chosen route would cause the least damage to the natural aspect of the forest.

    Although I am not authorised to give any specific undertakings, I have tried to demonstrate the City's view. This was thrashed out in Committee for six days, when not only the promoters were heard but the Upshire Village Preservation Society, which was congratulated on the way in which it put its case. The Committee finally approved the provisions of part II on the understanding that no further road development should take place in the forest and that the recommendations of the Nature Conservancy Council for safeguarding ecological interests would be implemented as far as practicable. That is acceptable to the promoters.

    We all understand the dilemma we face in any development of this kind, which always involves pain and suffering somewhere. But the philosophy here was best expressed on Second Reading by the then Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam). Talking of the need to take a small stretch of Epping Forest, he said:
    "I regret that as much as other hon. Members. We have gone to great lengths to protect the amenities of the forest … Failure to complete this road would leave unsolved acute problems of congestion, noise, pollution and danger which would far outweigh its adverse effects."—[Official Report. 6 March 1979; Vol. 963, c. 1211.]
    That is the balance which we have to consider, and I know that the promoters have taken on board the points naturally and understandably put by the hon. Member for Harlow.

    I believe that the right course is to allow the Bill to be considered.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.