Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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

House Of Commons

Thursday 25 October 1979

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

University College London Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Tuesday next at Seven o'clock.

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Security

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on developments in security during the past three months.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with present security arrangements.

The Government's first—and overriding—duty in Northern Ireland is, and will be, to defend its people against terrorism from whatever source it comes. We shall not be satisfied until it has been totally suppressed. Ninety-one people have been killed this year as a result of terrorist activity. There have also been 487 bomb attacks. Since the end of August there has been some rise in inter-sectarian tension, mainly in the Belfast area, resulting in four deaths.

The Provisional IRA has continued to concentrate its attacks on the security forces and prison officers. I am sure the House would wish to pay tribute to the extraordinary dedication and bravery of all the men and women in the RUC, the Army and the prison service.

Their efforts are by no means without result. Five hundred and fifty charges have been brought for terrorist offences this year, 36 of them for murder and 29 for attempted murder. In the same period, 647 people have been convicted of terrorist crimes: 53 of these of murder and 16 of attempted murder.

During the recess I announced measures taken to strengthen our hand—an increase of 1,000 in the establishment of the RUC and the appointment of a new joint staff under Sir Maurice Oldfield to assist me in improving the co-ordination and effectiveness of the fight against terrorism. Most recently, I have held discussions with Ministers of the Irish Republic which are leading to substantial improvements in the anti-terrorist efforts of our respective security forces.

The tragic events of recent weeks have shown yet again what the terrorist threat means, and the Government fully recognise the concern that is alive in Northern Ireland today. I take this first opportunity to re-affirm to the House, as I have already done in Northern Ireland, that we neither underestimate the gravity of that threat nor shall we weaken in our determination to overcome it, so that the people of Northern Ireland can enjoy the fundamental human right to live at peace under the rule of law. With the support of the community itself, and the resolve of the security forces, I am confident that we shall succeed.

In view of the alarming statistics of death and destruction in Northern Ireland that the Secretary of State has given, how confident can he be that the measures he has outlined will have any telling impact in the war against terrorists? Will the Secretary of State give an assurance to the House that, if the measures he has outlined do not have the effect that he hopes for, he will change his security policy to one that is more penetrating and effective?

I said in my original answer that with the measures we have introduced and are continuing, and with the resolve of the security forces and the support of the community, I am confident that we shall succeed, although I am afraid that it is bound to take time. In answer to the second part of the hon. Member's question, we constantly look at the direction and thrust of our effort to meet changing circumstances, and shall continue to do so.

In view of the apparent inability of the Dublin Government to deliver what little may have been promised in the way of co-operation, will the Secretary of State now take effective measures to ensure that the land frontier of the United Kingdom is absolutely secure?

There is a later question on the Order Paper about my discussions with the Dublin Government. If I may say so, I think that the hon. Gentleman is premature in saying that the Government of the Republic are not delivering the goods. I shall return to this in due course. The hon. Gentleman suggests that the border should be made secure. Frankly, if by that he means that it should be sealed off, I must remind him and the House that the border is more than 300 miles long and that to close it altogether would require a dramatic increase in the number of security forces that would have to patrol it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that while security must be maintained—and we must express our gratitude to and respect for the services involved—the extent and cost of that commitment, and the level of economic engagement in Ulster, should, at least to some extent, be made dependent upon the response to the political initiatives that are now so necessary?

I think the whole House recognises that to seek to defend citizens of the United Kingdom against the kind of attack to which the people of Northern Ireland are subjected is a costly business. At the same time, I do not believe that this House would begrudge the cost of seeking to defend our fellow citizens against this kind of evil.

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that after the tragic Mountbatten murders he went on record as saying that he would insist that the RUC would be permitted to question, in Gardia stations across the border, those who had been arrested by the Gardia for acts of terrorism within Northern Ireland? Does he also recall that he talked about hot pursuit across the border, as well as coming to grips with extradition? Can he tell the House whether, on any of these grounds, he has had any satisfaction from the Irish Republic Government in view of the strong statement made yesterday by the Premier of the Republic that no such steps would be taken?

There is a later question on the Order Paper about my discussions with the Government of the Irish Republic, and I think that it would be more appropriate if I left the answer to that point until then.

Does the Secretary of State recall that when he was first appointed he was described by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) as

"a strong law and order man"?
When does the right hon. Gentleman hope to fulfil those expectations?

I trust that the House is is no doubt about the resolve of the Government and I to use the most effective means of suppressing terrorism. Since we came into office, we have adjusted the way in which we are tackling terrorism to take account of the new circumstances. In my original answer I described a number of the steps that we have taken. When further steps need to be taken which seem to the Government to be appropriate, we shall take them.

May I press on the Secretary of State one particular case, namely, the one in which an unfortunate gentleman was not only shot during the day but was further shot during the evening while he was a patient in hospital? May I suggest that one of the constructive steps that he could take is to ensure that hospitals and other such institutions are more conscious of security and the danger to patients than they are at the moment?

This was a most distressing case which showed up a weakness in hospital security arrangements. I immediately issued instructions that security in hospitals should be reviewed in an effort to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

Political Situation

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, if he detects any signs of political movement in Ulster.

I ask my hon. Friend to await the statement which I shall be making later this afternoon.

Oldpark Road, North Belfast

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the redevelopment of the Oldpark Road area of North Belfast.

A development scheme for the southern part of redevelopment area 2, south of Louisa Street, has been published, proposing that a site of approximately 18 acres should be developed for industrial use. Housing development is proceeding in redevelopment area 3, close to the junction of Oldpark Road and Manor Street. In addition, the Housing Executive intends redeveloping and rehabilitating housing in the Torrens/Heathfield area.

Is it not a fact that for the 576 houses demolished in redevelopment area 3 the Housing Executive is building only 129? How does the hon. Gentleman think that such a policy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—will solve the housing shortage for the people of Oldpark, who deserve to be rehoused in their own area? If the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) would like to go outside I shall speak to him afterwards.

Order. Instead of going outside perhaps the hon. Gentleman will come and have a cup of tea with me afterwards.

In the constituency of the hon, gallant and formidable Member the Housing Executive and the housing associations have contracts in existence or about to be let that cost roughly £12½ million. That constitutes a massive programme by any standards.

Coal

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further discussions he has had with interested bodies about the continued use of coal in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Commerce maintains regular contact with the National Coal Board, the Northern Ireland coal importers' association and other interested bodies. In discussions which have taken place since the Government's statement of 23 July on energy policy in Northern Ireland, both the Coal Board and the Northern Ireland coal trade have assured the Department that all necessary steps are being taken to ensure that any increase in demand for coal from the Province will be met.

In the light of what the Minister said, it is not a scandal to hear that the Northern Ireland energy market has been supplemented by the largest ever consignment of American coal at a time when, as reported today on the tape, British miners have produced an extra 1 million tons during the past six months? If we are to exhort the British miners to produce more coal and engage in greater productivity efforts, we must secure the markets and be able to use British coal in Northern Ireland rather than the American coal which was imported recently.

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. If he were able to persuade the National Coal Board to produce more coal for Northern Ireland we would be able to fulfil all our obligations by importations from Great Britain. The fact remains that in this instance the NCB, which supplies nearly all the coal required for the Province, was unable to make available the tonnages required and a small amount of coal from the United States was imported. I would further suggest that it is vitally important for me to ensure that coal consumers in the Province have all that is required before the winter.

Does not the Minister agree that a policy of generating electricity in the Province based solely upon oil as the generating agent is holding Northern Ireland's economic future to hostage? Will the hon. Gentleman therefore initiate discussions to ensure that phases three and four of the Kilroot power station are dual-fired, with coal and oil, so that in future we shall be able to take advantage of the comparative cheapness of coal as compared with oil?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that those discussions have already taken place and that a review of the possibility of having coal firing for stages three and four of the Kilroot power station is well under way. I expect to have a report within a matter of weeks.

Since the United States Government have put an embargo on arms to the RUC, should not the hon. Gentleman put an embargo on American coal and ensure that we get British coal in Northern Ireland? The hon. Gentleman should play them at their own game.

I suggest that the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is a matter for my right hon. Friend. Secondly, I must insist on obtaining coal for the people in the Province from whatever sources I can to ensure that their demand is legitimately met.

If, as has been suggested, the NCB has increased its output, is the Minister confident that Northern Ireland is getting its fair share of that increased output? If the Government cannot ensure that the NCB meets its obligations in this respect, how does he expect us to make it do so?

The hon. Gentleman will surely be aware that after last year's protracted cold winter, stocks of coal have been at an all-time low. It is, therefore, inevitable that a long period of buildup is required. With regard to Northern Ireland, we are now satisfied that we shall have adequate stocks for meeting the winter.

Law (Conformity)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will cause to be compiled and published a list of those parts of the law in Northern Ireland which in the opinion of the Government it is expedient in due course to bring into conformity with the law in Great Britain or England and Wales, as the case may be, showing the respective enactments in parallel columns.

No. Legislation is introduced for Northern Ireland to meet the particular needs of the Province and not simply to bring Northern Ireland law into conformity with that of Great Britain. An exhaustive survey of the differences between the law in Northern Ireland and that in England and Wales, quite apart from the separate legislative and legal system in Scotland, would be an enormous task of doubtful utility.

Are the Government aware that my hon. Friends and I warmly support the steps taken already to assimilate the law in Northern Ireland with that in the rest of the United Kingdom, or that of England and Wales as the case may be, even where that may be most conveniently achieved by Order in Council, which we otherwise find objectionable? Is it not most unsatisfactory that these measures should be produced, as it were, haphazardly in the course of the session without it being possible to gain any idea of the priorities and to be assured that we are tackling the most serious discrepancies first?

At present there are, of course, a number of orders before Ministers by which it is intended to enact similar provisions to those already in existence in Great Britain. This is a continuing process. If it would help the right hon. Member and his hon. Friends I would be perfectly happy to let him see a list of those orders which are before Ministers, or have them placed in the Library.

Royal Ulster Constabulary (Arms Supply)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the purchase of arms for the Royal Ulster Constabulary from the United States of America.

The United States Administration are reviewing their policy on the issue of licences for the export of arms for use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has made our views on this matter unmistakably clear. I understand that the Administration have decided not to process further applications for export licences pending the outcome of the review. They have been left in no doubt of the RUC's needs. The British Government therefore hope and expect that the review will be completed soon; and that no restraints will be placed on the export of arms by United States manufacturers for use by a legally constituted police force in the United Kingdom.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is a disgraceful situation in which a friendly power is refusing to supply arms to the legal police force of another friendly power? Is it not a fact that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is being greatly inconvenienced and that arrangements made for training in this particular firearm have been cancelled? Is he prepared to shop elsewhere to get over this inconvenience?

The RUC is not yet seriously inconvenienced by the fact that the orders have not come. It is still using the Walther 9 mm semi-automatic pistol which it has had for 10 years. The RUC believes that the replacement Ruger pistol from America is a superior weapon. I will not disguise the fact that if the issue of licences is not forthcoming in the reasonably near future there will be difficulties. I hope very much that the United States Administration will complete its review quickly and authorise the manufacturers to export the remaining part of our order so that the RUC will get the weapons it needs when it needs them.

Why on earth was a police force ever armed with an automatic pistol in the first place? Even if these American weapons are made available, is the Secretary of State satisfied that there will be a satisfactory supply of spare parts and necessary ammunition?

I do not know why the RUC chose the Walther semi-automatic 10 years ago. However, it did and it believes that those weapons have been useful. But it believes that the Ruger is even better. The question of spare parts is closely tied up with the supply of the weapons because the order is not solely for weapons; it is for ammunition and spare parts as well. We hope that the whole order will be authorised by the United States Government shortly.

Is not this evenhandedness between law and murder unworthy and uncharacteristic of a great country that was once known as the arsenal of democracy? Will the Government do everything possible to change this attitude speedily?

Yes. There can be no question of being even-handed between a legally constituted police force and terrorists. The United States Administration are entitled to be even-handed or to stand back from discussions about political aspiration, but I am certain that they are not in that position as regards arming a legally constituted police force to defend itself against the evil of terrorism, which is all too damaging.

Extradition

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends to raise with the Government of the Irish Republic the question of extradition of persons from the United Kingdom now residing in the Irish Republic for whom the Royal Ulster Constabulary has issued warrants of arrest.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made with obtaining the extradition of alleged terrorists from the Republic of Ireland; and what resort has been had to the criminal jurisdiction legislation.

I have frequently made clear—most recently in my discussions on 5 October with Ministers of the Irish Republic—the Government's concern that those who commit terrorist crimes in Northern Ireland and flee to the Republic should be brought to justice. Extradition procedures have, in practice proved ineffective because the Irish High Court has found cause not to grant extradition for offences which are claimed to be political or to be associated with political offences.

Evidence gathered by the RUC concerning persons who are alleged to have committed terrorist offences in Northern Ireland, but who are now known to be in the Irish Republic, has recently been made available to the Garda. We hope this will enable the Garda to bring prosecutions under the extra-territorial criminal jurisdiction legislation, which allows terrorist suspects to be brought to trial in one jurisdiction for specified offences committed in the other after 1 June 1976.

It is solely for the responsible authorities in the Republic to determine whether charges should be brought, as would be the case in this country in similar circumstances. However, I remind hon. Members that I agreed with Irish Ministers on 5 October on the importance of making further use of the extra-territorial legislation.

Does the Secretary of State really expect this legislation to be effective? If he does, no one in Northern Ireland would agree with him. Is he aware that there is no provision in international law which prohibits extradition of such persons from the Irish Republic? The fault lies entirely with the Irish Republic. What effective steps does he now intend to take after his recent failure to bring these people to justice?

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the decisions taken by the courts of another country, but I must say that I think the legislation will prove effective. The Irish Ministers whom I met on 5 October, including the Minister of Justice, agreed that the fuller use of the extra-territorial legislation was a step forward of which we should make better use.

Since the Irish Foreign Minister himself asserted when in Opposition, in line with the erudite article in The Daily Telegraph, that there is no constitutional objection to extradition, does my right hon. Friend not agree that consistency in this matter would be as welcome as the progress made in cross-border co-operation? Does he expect the Dublin Government to sign the European Convention?

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I should be in even greater difficulty if I were to involve myself in legal arguments. On the second part, I understand that the Dublin Government have indicated that they wish to sign the European protocol and I hope that they will.

The Minister will be aware that the Criminal Jurisdiction Act is the last remnant of the Sunningdale agreement and that it has been an Act of Parliament in Britain and Ireland since 1975. Why is it that it is only recently that the RUC in Northern Ireland has made evidence available to the Garda? Why did it not do so in 1976, 1977, last year and earlier this year? How many people in the Republic does the RUC wish to apprehend?

I referred to recent cases in which evidence has been gathered and sent to the Republic. They are not isolated. It has been done before. I mentioned those cases because, following our meeting and the collection of the evidence, we are asking the Irish authorities to proceed with prosecutions. I hope that we shall succeed. Without notice, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the number of people thought to be in the Irish Republic who are wanted by the RUC.

Will the Secretary of State accept that extradition is consequential on firm evidence being provided to the Eire courts and that the Act to which he has referred does not allow policemen to go in person to the courts to provide that evidence? Will he demand that the RUC should be admitted to the Eire courts and that the criminals who are indicted there should be extradited to Northern Ireland? If he does not agree to press for those measures, we shall have no alternative but to ask the Prime Minister to assume responsibility for security.

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right in stating that witnesses, whether police officers or anyone else, are not allowed to attend courts in the Republic. I believe that to be an incorrect statement. If the hon. Gentleman can give me evidence that I am wrong, I shall take up the matter.

Has my right hon. Friend had any discussions with the Eire Government about the possibility of security forces in Ulster entering the territory of southern Ireland when it is clear to those security forces that a terrorist has been on Northern Ireland territory and has subsequently escaped to southern Ireland territory?

My hon. Friend may have seen that the discussions that I had with Ministers of the Republic on 5 October resulted in a communiqué issued by both Governments in which we confirmed that we have made a number of arrangements which we believe will considerably increase the effectiveness of our joint effort against terrorism. However, we agreed at the same time that we would not make those arrangements public. The House will readily understand why we are not making public precisely what we are doing. Anybody, including the Provisional IRA, can buy Hansard. I shall, therefore, not go into details in the House.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House how many cases under the Act have been passed to the Government of the Irish Republic, and to report to the House when the results of that action—and whether the requests resulted in prosecution—come to hand? Since the major obstacle to extradition is the ability of those against whom extradition is sought to raise a political defence, does not the answer lie in the ratification by the Irish Republic Government of the European convention on terrorism?

The hon. Gentleman is right on the latter point. If the Irish Government were to ratify that convention, as we have done, the difficulties would disappear. I canot tell the hon. Gentleman how many applications for extradition have been made recently unless he accepts the period since 1971 as being recent enough. In that time, 75 warrants have been sent to the Republic for people who are suspected of committing terrorist offences and only one person has been returned to Northern Ireland. In the same period, 152 warrants have been sent to the Republic for the extradition of persons suspected of non-terrorist offences and 52 people have been returned to the Province.

Terrorism

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many terrorist incidents have been recorded in police divisions H, J, K, L, M, N, O and P during the first nine months of 1979 in which the terrorists involved either operated from the Republic of Ireland or sought sanctuary there after committing their crimes; and how many people died in these incidents.

Between 1 January and 30 September 1979 the Royal Ulster Constabulary recorded 63 terrorist incidents in those police divisions which required contact with the Garda in view of possible use of the border by those responsible. In the course of those incidents, 35 people died.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while the figures, particularly those relating to deaths, are shocking, they will not surprise the people who live along the border? Does he agree that the figures nail once and for all the Jack Lynch lie that less than 3 per cent. of terrorism in Northern Ireland emanates from the Republic? What the Secretary of State has said today sounds for all the world like the blarney he must have heard in Dublin. When will he do something to prevent another 30 or 40 people from being killed in Northern Ireland?

On the question of the 3 per cent. figure, there has been a different method of calculating about border incidents. The matter is no longer discussed between us on that basis. The hon. Gentleman calls for stronger measures. We have been seeking to get agreement with the Republic that we should make a better joint effort on both sides of the border. I stress the word "joint", which was stressed in the communiqués issued after my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met Mr. Lynch in September and after I met the Irish Ministers in October. The communiqués said that it was agreed between us that we have to make a joint effort in a common cause.

The hon. Gentleman's constituency is particularly affected since one end of it is on the border. It is the belief of myself and the Government of the Republic that what we have set in motion will be a considerable help in inhibiting the movement of terrorists, stopping people escaping from justice, stopping the supply of weapons coming through and the like. We have the agreement and we must do our utmost to make it work as effectively as possible. I believe that it will be effective.

May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the question that I put earlier, which he said he would answer more fully later in Question Time? On the questions of extradition—which the right hon. Gentleman said was necessary after the Lord Mountbatten murders—hot pursuit, which he has also said is necessary, and the RUC having the opportunity to question suspects arrested on the other side of the border for crimes committed in Northern Ireland, we have to ask what progress the right hon. Gentleman has made, bearing in mind that Jack Lynch said yesterday that there will be no hot pursuit and that none of the matters to which I have referred will be taken care of.

On the question of hot pursuit, I said that it was very frustrating for security forces pursuing a suspect towards the border to have to stop and allow the suspect to escape unpursued over the border. There are various ways of pursuing suspects. I shall not go into detail, but I am satisfied that the apprehension of terrorists in either jurisdiction will be easier and more effective than before. The hon. Gentleman said that I was going to demand that members of the RUC should be able to interrogate people in the Republic of Ireland. I assure him that the obtaining of evidence against suspects in the Republic will now be a great deal easier.

De Lorean Project

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the further progress of the De Lorean project.

Construction of the factory buildings is well advanced. Recruitment of hourly-paid workers has begun and there is now a total of 155 persons on the payroll. Development work on the DMC12 car is being satisfactorily carried out by Lotus Cars Limited and two prototypes are currently undergoing road trials.

I very much welcome the provision of jobs in West Belfast, but does not the Minister think that the cost so far of providing 150 jobs is rather high at £53 million? Does he not feel that there ought to be more rapid developments in this private enterprise venture which is being so lavishly supported by the taxpayer? Is the hon. Gentleman also satisfied that the venture should be supported by such a vast amount of design and development work by Lotus? Is he satisfied that he has sufficient scrutiny of the project and sufficient Government intervention or is he just handing over the money and letting private enterprise do the rest?

The hon. Gentleman could well have addressed, and probably did address, those questions to the Government of which he was once a member. The fact remains that so far as the investment is concerned, we are satisfied that we can monitor progress effectively, that we are carrying out the arrangements entered into by the previous Administration and that, regarding development, the operation with Lotus Cars is going through smoothly. On the taxpayers' commitment, I would suggest that we have got, through our membership on the De Lorean company and through our monitoring of the NIDA operation, adequate control of how taxpayers' money is being spent. I accept that this is a major part of the Government's responsibility.

Since we discussed these matters in July, has my hon. Friend had any success in establishing whether this remarkably fortunate American person has succeeded in his efforts to obtain a franchise for Alfa Romeo in North America, in direct competition with this car, as a means of hedging his bets?

My latest information is that arrangements which have been under discussion between De Lorean and the Alfa Romeo company have not been concluded and I cannot therefore comment on the generality. But, on the information available to me, I am satisfied that the proposal was not in direct competition with the De Lorean car.

Will the Minister accept from me that the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) are his own and not those of Her Majesty's Opposition? Most of us on the Opposition side of the House supported the previous Government in the De Lorean project, bringing jobs to Belfast where they are much needed. We shall continue to support this Government in that objective.

I recognise the force of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. I have always believed that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), thank goodness, is unique.

Government Policy (Information)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he is taking to propagate the Government's view of the Northern Ireland situation within the Irish-American community; how this is divided between formal and informal agencies; how much money is being spent; and what are the publications being produced.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied that the Government's policy regarding Northern Ireland is adequately expounded in North America.

Her Majesty's representatives in the United States receive regular briefing on Northern Ireland, on general and specific issues. They are active in advising suitable British visitors on how they can help to propagate the facts and dispel misunderstanding. Hon. Members themselves and leading members of the local community are also briefed by my Department before visiting the United States.

We shall continue to give a high priority to such work, especially in those parts of the country where ignorance and misconception are most rife. I am conscious that, while the effort being put in is considerable, there is still a lot to be done. Questions about the operation of our overseas information services are a matter for my right hon. Friend, the Lord Privy Seal.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the people of the United States that he is confident about the success of his policies and convinced that Northern Ireland will always want to be, and will therefore always remain, part of the United Kingdom and that anyone in the United States who want to raise money for terrorist organisations in the North of Ireland is wasting his time and will be causing death, havoc and destruction among innocent people?

I am glad to hear what my hon. Friend has said. I have no doubt that it will be heard in the United States. If, with the approval of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, my hon. Friend is able to go to the United States, I hope that he will say that there. We wish to lose no opportunity of informing the Irish-American people of the true state of affairs in Northern Ireland, and wishes of the people there, and the evil that is done with money which, I fear, is subscribed, in many cases, in good faith.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not so much enemy propaganda as the appalling ignorance in America of the facts of Northern Ireland which is to blame? Is it not the case that the image of a colonialist regime backed by British troops, springs all too easily into American minds? Will he make certain that our information services in North America have all the resources and funds they need in order to give the facts?

I agree that ignorance persists at all levels in the Irish-American community and that there is an unfortunate tendency to offer advice from that rather shaky base. Of course, most Irish-American leaders are motivated by a genuine desire to see a peaceful resolution of the political situation in Northern Ireland. But there remains a great deal to be done at all levels in the Irish-American community. I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the point that my hon. Friend makes about the provision of the necessary funds.

Will the Secretary of State recognise that there is also appalling ignorance in many parts of the United Kingdom about what is happening in Northern Ireland? Will he not be too enthusiastic about having confidence in his own proposals for Northern Ireland? We have had troubles in Northern Ireland since 1968, if not since the inception of the State. Will he recognise that not all Americans are anti-British and that some Irish-Americans are very sincere, honest and concerned in trying to bring about a resolution of the conflict? It is unfair to try to discredit every Irish-American who tries to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are many well-informed and well-disposed people in the United States. Unfortunately, there is ignorance there, too. I do not deny that there is ignorance in many other parts of the world. We must do our best to dispel it.

European Parliament

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister what arrangements she has made for regular meetings with the leader of the European Conservative Members of Parliament.

My right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will maintain regular contacts with the leader of the European Democratic group and his colleagues.

Will my right hon. Friend advise the leader of the European group that, when she is in Dublin to meet the Heads of State, she will advise member States that under no circumstances does she intend to permit the British Government to pay £915 million more to EEC funds than we receive in assistance, which is much more than that paid by Germany?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The present contributions and those proposed for next year are absolutely intolerable. We have been saying so. It is our object at Dublin to get the amount reduced generally to a broad balance between what we put in and what we get out.

Will the right hon. Lady clarify the position to members of her party in the European Parliament? Will she make clear what she means? She has been blowing hot and cold. First, we had the tough talk; then, last Tuesday, the soft talk. Will she make clear to her colleagues that she intends to withhold the contribution unless it is made fair?

I am not aware that I have ever talked softly about this matter. The present battle has to be joined at Dublin on the European budget. What general would reveal his tactics before the battle has even begun?

Will my right hon. Friend include in any sage counsel and wise guidance she is minded to give to the chairman of the group an exhortation that the work of some Members in the previous Parliament be continued and reinforced in seeking to ensure that the scope of Commission directives and regulations does not exceed that contemplated by the Treaty and the securing of the principle of no harmonisation for harmonisation's sake?

I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend and praise his work in the last Parliament. The Commission is not there to standardise for the sake of standardisation but only where it is necessary to enable the objectives of the Treaty, namely the free movement of capital, goods and people, to be attained.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that, since we initially raised this question, when there was not quite so much enthusiasm on the Conservative side and we were told that if only we would be good Europeans it would all come well, we now give her the full support that we wish she had given us earlier? She can go to Dublin knowing that there is a united House of Commons which wishes to see a successful conclusion to this matter? Is she also aware that, although we do not press now to know her tactics in the event of a refusal, we shall be very interested after the meeting has taken place?

That I totally accept. I trust that I shall be successful in negotiating a corrective mechanism at Dublin.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her engagements for Thursday 25 October.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be visiting the Young People's Parliament, organised under the auspices of the International Year of the Child. Later today I shall be meeting the Prime Minister of Egypt.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to reflect on the fact that, in spite of her protestations of concern for the poor, as a result of her first Budget the numbers of families caught in the trap of paying more tax and losing benefits for every extra pound they earn will reach an all-time high of 90,000 this year and that her Government are trying to conceal this fact by refusing to publish the figures?

The hon. Lady knows that the budget for health and personal social services this year is greater than it was last year and that next year it will be greater than it is this year. We have, therefore, given some priority to that. We have to learn to live within the nation's means; the more people are able to produce the more we shall be able to spend on desirable social services.

Would my right hon. Friend, later in the day—one does not necessarily want her to give an answer now to the substantive point—ask those whose responsibility it is to make it clear whether it is the intention actually to repeal the Exchange Control Act 1947?

As there is no intention of retaining exchange control, I believe that it can be repealed by order. Would my hon. Friend please ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose task it is to answer accurately on the subject?

Will the right hon. Lady spare a moment today to congratulate the area health authority concerned on its decision not to close the child development centre at Charing Cross Hospital? Does she agree that it would have been an act of vandalism to close that important centre for handicapped children for a saving of £100,000?

I believe that a number of closures and threats of closures are being made which need not be made on a budget which is basically increased. I hope that people will not consider closing these very sensitive hospitals.

On this anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, will my right hon. Friend attempt to rally the great mass of trade unionists in a campaign for higher productivity and increased production? Otherwise, will not the loss of more working days through strikes this year than in any year since the General Strike of 1926 look like an attempt at industrial suicide?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Unless we can get higher productivity and lower unit costs, we shall not get the increased prosperity which we all want to see. That is precisely why we gave such priority to income tax reductions as incentives in the Budget.

Does not the right hon. Lady accept that it is the greatest irony that she should be visiting the Young People's Parliament arranged during the International Year of the Child at a time when her Government are cutting services to children who are deprived, who go to day nurseries and who attend school?

The money being spent on the health and personal social services is actually increasing. What the hon. Gentleman's Government intended to do was to spend £4,000 million which they did not have. It is neither honourable nor moral to spend money over and above the standard of living which one can earn.

Will my right hon. Friend today make a statement about immigration policy? In particular, will she take the opportunity to deny the widespread leaks and rumours to the effect that the Government are about to go back upon their specific manifesto promises in respect of immigration? Does she agree with me that if such a retreat were to be effected, many people who voted Tory at the last election would feel disappointed and that others might even feel deceived?

I confirm that the Government are not about to go back on their manifesto commitments. There will shortly be a White Paper laid before this House by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Cabinet (Composition)

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she plans to announce any changes in the Cabinet.

Has the Prime Minister not been informed of what happened in the House last night, when her Energy Ministers managed to score an own goal by defeating the Governmen on the question of paraffin prices? When will the Prime Minister go and see Her Majesty and present a Humble Address so that our pensioners may once again get cheaper paraffin?

I understand that, to put it mildly, there was something of a mix-up. That is an occupational hazard of Chief Whips on both sides of the House. I made it clear that those who got us into this mess must get us out of it.

Will my right hon. Friend nevertheless reflect with gratitude, to return to the question, that, unlike her predecessor, she is at least in the happy position of being able to make changes from time to time if she wants to without being subject to outside poltical pressures?

I do not have any particular personnel changes in mind at the moment.

Will the right hon. Lady ask her Cabinet colleagues to explain, since she and they keep reiterating that public expenditure is not to be reduced, why so many hospital wards, hospitals, children's homes, old people's homes, community centres and day centres are being closed in the biggest act of Tory vandalism for decades?

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would now and then look at the articles written by the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which pointed out that, when more money is taken out on pay, there is less to spend on other things.

Planning Regions (Employment)

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will estimate the number of jobs lost in each planning region of the United Kingdom as a result of the policies of Her Majesty's Government.

The number of unemployed, seasonally adjusted and excluding school leavers, has in fact declined by 24,000 since this Government took office.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that instead of answering the question she has evaded the issue? Is she aware that her attitude towards unemployment is both complacent and fainthearted? Is she further aware that her regional policy will result in a greater concentration of industry in the so-called "golden triangle" of the EEC and that the removal of exchange controls this week will further exacerbate that position?

The greatest threat to jobs in this country is extravagant pay claims which go beyond what is warranted by increased productivity. When that happens, costs and prices go up and jobs will disappear.

Will my right hon. Friend seek to encourage Labour Members from the regions to explain in the regions that only by increased productivity and moderated wage demands can we solve our unemployment problems?

I cannot emphasise this too much. We shall get increased prosperity only through increased productivity. We shall avoid higher inflation and higher unemployment only with wage demands which are related to output.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the extravagant wage claims that she talks about are caused by the policies of her and her Government and the attitude that they took towards the last Government, beginning with the Ford claim?

No, Sir. Pay claims that go beyond productivity can be allowed only at the expense of others, and those others are such people as old age pensioners, who cannot use industrial muscle on the same scale.

Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of the country on three consecutive reductions in the unemployment figures? Will she further accept that part of the reason is that the Government have taken such a robust attitude on regional policy?

We shall achieve genuine improvements in the job position only when we have increasing numbers of small businesses expanding. Our policies and strategies are directed to that end.

Northern Ireland (Government)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about the government of Northern Ireland.

The Queen's Speech declared that the Government's intention was:
"to seek an acceptable way of restoring to the people of Northern Ireland more control over their own affairs".
Since taking office in May I have for that purpose had wide-ranging discussions in the Province and a series of private meetings with leaders of the main Northern Ireland political parties represented in this House. My discussions and meetings have confirmed the Government's view that it is right to transfer back to locally elected representatives some at least of the powers of government at present exercised from Westminster. The political parties in Northern Ireland in their election manifesto asked for that, and there is widespread support for it in the Province. There is, moreover, an awareness that such a restoration of political responsibility can be brought about in Northern Ireland only by all parts of the community recognising and respecting the interests of others.

It will in due course be a matter for Parliament to decide, on proposals put to it by the Government, what kind of powers and responsibilities are to be transferred to elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland and through what kind of institutions they are to be exercised. The Government wish, however, to put forward proposals that, so far as possible, have the agreement of the people of Northern Ireland.

We intend therefore to convene a conference of the principal political parties in Northern Ireland to seek the highest level of agreement that we can on proposals for a transfer of responsibility, which the Government might put before this House in due course. We are, for that purpose, preparing a consultative document, which will be laid before Parliament, to serve as the basis of the conference.

The document will set out the range of powers and responsibilities that the Government, for their part would be prepared to see transferred from Westminster. It will set out as options for consideration by the conference a number of ways in which the transferred powers might be exercised, and in each case state what the Government would regard as reasonable and appropriate arrangements to take account of the interests of the minority.

Responsibility for law and order in the Province, which as I indicated in reply to questions earlier today, remains the Government's overriding priority in Northern Ireland, would not be transferred.

I shall shortly be approaching the party leaders concerned to discuss with them the arrangements for a conference to be convened as soon as possible—I would hope, by the end of November.

Our aim will be to secure from the conference, drawing on suggestions in the consultative document, workable and acceptable arrangements for restoring to the people of Northern Ireland greater responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, which we can then recommend to this House in fulfilment of our commitment in the Queen's Speech.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we on the Labour Benches feel that it is time for decisions rather than discussions? Nevertheless, if the Government judge that such a conference is a possible means of progress we shall not seek to obstruct or discourage it. I caution the right hon. Gentleman however, that further delaying decisions until the new year will make the intervening period fraught with danger.

May I put four points? First, what soundings have been taken, from those likely to be invited, on the acceptability of the proposals? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman wishes for acceptance from all parties concerned, but what are the contingency plans if one or more of them refuse to attend?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that any discussion document that is issued promotes flexibility and does not harden attitudes? If it encouraged participants to hold out for the option that may be their ultimate ambition rather than what is acceptable and possible today, it would be detrimental.

Thirdly, reports will appear in the newspapers of the progress of the talks. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore not merely report to Parliament at the end of the talks but keep us informed of progress during the talks?

The success of such talks is closely bound up with the security position in Northern Ireland. Not only is that position causing grave anxiety; there is deep concern and widespread criticism of the control, or apparent lack of control, of security policy. The appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield has not yet yielded any apparent benefits. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that appointment has blurred or clarified the control?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman reiterate to the House that responsibility for security rests where it always must—on an elected Secretary of State responsible to this House for the discharge of his duties?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming our move. I agree that the time is coming for decision, but the Government wish to put proposals before Parliament with the knowledge that we have the agreement of the people to whom they will apply. That cannot be done without discussion. I have had a series of discussions throughout the summer and the moment has arrived for those discussions to become more formalised and for the parties to sit down together.

We shall certainly be flexible. The proposals that we shall put before the conference and before Parliament will contain a wide variety of suggestions for ways in which we might move forward. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that a high degree of flexibility, within certain limits, is essential, and we shall seek to ensure that.

I am prepared to report to Parliament whenever Parliament wishes me to do so on the progress of the conference and, I hope, before too long, on the conclusions.

Every political party in the Province less than six months ago said that it wanted to make progress in the political field, and I feel sure that that is so today. The conference is a way of making progress that I believe will commend itself to the House, and it stands the best chance of enabling the Government to establish the highest level of acceptance.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that the security situation is in no way satisfactory. Whatever takes place at the conference, the present security position will remain unaltered. We do not intend to invite the House to approve arrangements to transfer responsibility for security away from this Government.

Does the Secretary of State recall that I have constantly made clear to him, privately and publicly, that the Ulster Unionist Party will not engage in time-wasting exercises and window dressing of that type? Is he also aware that we shall, however, carefully and reasonably consider, in the Northern Ireland Committee or on the Floor of the House, any proposals brought forward to give effect to the specific suggestions and commitments in the Conservative Party manifesto?

The proposal is not time-wasting but is designed to secure agreement as early as possible. A variety of suggestions will be put before the conference and before the House—suggestions that should be discussed by the people who will be most affected, namely, the political parties in Northern Ireland.

We clearly have to discuss together how we can move forward. I know that the hon. Gentleman is anxious to move in a broad direction, and naturally that will be one of the directions that we shall discuss and upon which we shall seek the agreement of everyone who wants it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman enlarge upon what he means by a conference of principal political parties? Does he mean all the political parties in Northern Ireland? How many will he invite to the conference? Will he give us the timing of the document? Will the House be able to debate the document first? Will the Northern Ireland Committee be able to debate the document first? After the House has given its opinion, the Committee having deliberated upon it and given its opinion, should we then be able to proceed? Why cannot we have a conference of elected representatives so that people can come with a mandate from the people to speak for the people. Is the Secretary of State aware that for 50 years there was a devolved Government in Northern Ireland which did far better in terms of security than this House has done?

It would be my intention to invite to the conference representatives of the four main political parties in Northern Ireland—the hon. Gentleman's party, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and the Alliance Party, which represent between them over four out of every five voters. I hope to be able to place the document before the House within two weeks. Of course, if the House wishes to debate it either on the Floor or in Committee that would be a matter to be decided. I should be most happy to deal with it and I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be happy to listen to any representations.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the findings of the Cameron report in relation to the onset of the present troubles, wherein it was proved conclusively that local authorities in Northern Ireland were responsible, to a great extent, for the onset of the present troubles? Is he further aware that the minority population in Northern Ireland appears very suspicious about any talks, undertaken in any circumstances, about restoring powers to local authorities, that it feels that the last Government increased the number of parliamentary seats, and that the present Government will restore a Unionist ascendancy by returning powers to the local authorities? Will the Secretary of State consult the Prime Minister and say clearly whether there is any truth in the statements that they have been put about by the Leader of the Official Unionist Party and his colleagues that they have been given an undertaking that under no circumstances would there be a devolved Government in Northern Ireland during the lifetime of the present Parliament?

Where does the right hon. Gentleman get the confidence that enables him to say that there is widespread support for a measure of this kind? Does he not recognise that on Tuesday last week a resolution was circulated throughout district councils that he had to contradict? Is he aware that the wording of that resolution was to the effect that there is no hope of finding any agreement to restore local authority powers to Northern Ireland?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating. He says that there is no hope. I believe that there is hope. I say that for two reasons. First, as I said in my statement, every political party fought the last election on the basis that it wanted to see political advance. Secondly, I am glad that I have detected an awareness among the people with whom I have talked that such a move must be an advance—that we cannot go backwards to systems that have been tried and have failed before. They believe that any advance means respecting the point of view of people with whom one does not necessarily agree on everything.

If there is that spirit, as I believe there is—I have detected it—it seems to me right that Her Majesty's Government, in pursuance of their objectives, should take advantage of it, and that we should call the parties together and seek the highest level of agreement about how we can advance and what we can recommend to the House.

I warmly welcome the proposals for talks to try to bring the parties together. However, will my right hon. Friend take a leaf out of the book of my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and so organise the conduct of this conference that those whose contribution to it is purely negative—people who are purely against a coming together in any way—cannot wreck it by these tactics?

I do not believe that responsible political leaders in the Province want to wreck an opportunity to make an advance that they all say they wish to see. Therefore, I have every reason to hope that the parties will come together under my chairmanship and will engage in constructive discussions to see how far we can get agreement and how Her Majesty's Government can best recommend proposals to this House.

Will the Minister make it clear whether he will go ahead with the conference regardless of the success or failure of his talks with the parties? Are the two things to be put in train at the same time, or are the talks with the parties to determine the agenda and the timing of the conference? When does the Minister hope the conference will meet?

I said in my statement that I hoped that the conference would meet about the end of November. That is a matter that I wish to discuss with those who will be there along with the arrangements about where it will meet, and so forth. I hope to be able to publish and put before Parliament in just over two weeks the discussion document that will form the basis of the conference and give the parties time to study and consider it, with a meeting perhaps a week later, which would bring us to about the end of November. That is the time scale that I have in mind, although I am putting no definite date upon it until I have discussed with those who will be there what would be the most convenient date for everyone.

In view of the attitude of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) who represents the SDLP, will my right hon. Friend consider two points? Will he consider a time limit on the consultations on his document within which some agreement ought to be reached, or, failing that, at least for making a start on devolving the powers to area boards of elected representatives?

Since the conference will be about ways of devolving powers—of returning powers to the people of Northern Ireland—I think that it would be a mistake to do anything in advance of the conference. It would not be helpful to put a time limit on the conference before it has even begun. Naturally the Government believe the quicker the better, but to put a terminal date would be less helpful rather than more.

Order. I will call the Front Bench again when I have given a fair hearing to Back Benchers.

The Secretary of State said that he was prepared to consider anything that was acceptable to both communities in Northern Ireland. Is he aware that there is one subject upon which the opinion polls show a majority of both communities to be in agreement, although their leadership may not necessarily be so? Is he prepared, apart from this, to consider the question of desegregating education in Northern Ireland?

I think that the hon. Gentleman misheard me. I did not say, nor could I possibly say, that we will be prepared to consider everything that is acceptable to the parties in Northern Ireland, because in the end it is for Parliament to give its approval to what the Government may put before it. The ultimate decision on what is done and how rests here. Therefore it is clearly not only right that Her Majesty's Government should seek to find agreement between the parties but should seek to prepare proposals which they believe the House will accept. It cannot, therefore, be limitless.

Will my right hon. Friend be putting forward a favoured proposal to the conference? Will he give an assurance that the manifesto's proposal for a regional council, arrived at after so much heart searching and hard thinking, has not been left out of his thoughts?

The answer to the first part is "No, Sir", and to the second part, I think, "No, Sir", as well, although that rather depends on how my hon. Friend has worded it. In other words, that proposal will certainly be among those considered.

Will the Secretary of State accept that many of us hope that any political initiative, no matter how small, will bear fruit? Will he, however, accept that the polarisation of voting recently could have caused more intransigence among certain people in Northern Ireland? When the Secretary of State talks about political advances, does he agree that certain people believe that political advance is the ability to fasten the yoke around the necks of the minority community even more firmly? That was the cause of the trouble last time. Will he therefore ensure that the conference gives further hope to the minority community and does not maintain a situation which makes their already low spirits even more desperate?

I recognise—I said so in my statement—that the people of the Province recognise that there will be no political advance unless people are prepared to respect and recognise the interests of other people. The proposals that we shall put before this House, and the conference, will do just that. He is quite right. The Government cannot, and will not, put forward for the consideration of the House any proposals of the kind that he described, which would give total dominance by one part of the community over another. Of course we would not do that.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his statement today will be a disappointment to a great many people? Does he recognise that there is an increasing number of people who feel that the determination of successive Governments to have talks, and talks about talks, is understood by many to be a rationale for doing nothing, or, even worse, a reason for not knowing what to do? Will he accept that there is increasing unhappiness among the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—particularly Northern Ireland—that successive Governments gave vetoes to Northern Ireland politicians over the action of Her Majesty's Government, even though those politicians are known to be not the most flexible men in this House? Would the Secretary of State accept that the problem of Northern Ireland is one for the United Kingdom and that the Government since May have shown great determination in governing in other areas? A similar determination to govern Northern Ireland would be greatly welcomed.

I do not think that many people will be disappointed with a proposal to call together the political leaders of Northern Ireland to seek ways, by agreement, of advancing in a direction in which not only they but the Government and this House wish to go. It seems to me that this is the course most likely to produce a answer satisfactory, not only in Northern Ireland but to this House. I emphasise again that it is Parliament which has the final say about what is done in Northern Ireland. I am anxious to recommend to Parliament measures which, I believe, have a high degree of acceptance in Northern Ireland.

As a member of one of the parties that have not yet been consulted, it is difficult for me to discuss these proposals. Does the Secretary of State not accept, in view of the opinions already expressed following his summer talks, coupled with the expressions that we have heard today from three out of four of the parties concerned, that the conference is doomed to fail even before it starts unless he has in mind some kind of Lancaster House type conference. Does he seriously believe that he is doing the situation in Northern Ireland any good by holding a conference that seems doomed to failure from the very start?

What a gloomy fellow the hon. Gentleman is. Why should he assume that the conference is doomed to failure straight away? Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that all the political parties concerned have expressly said that they want to make a political advance? This is a way of seeking how best to do that. I cannot believe that if that is what they really want to do—and I believe it is so—they will turn down this opportunity.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that at no stage will the consultations be broadened to incorporate the leaders of any political party who give support to any kind of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland?

Under no circumstances will people who engage in, or support, terrorism be consulted.

Is it the intention of the Secretary of State to allow those parties who will attend the conference to select their representatives? If that is so, is he aware that that could result in the conference being composed of people who not only have no mandate from the people of Northern Ireland but have been specifically rejected by the people of Northern Ireland during the past few months?

This is one of the matters about which I intend to consult with the leaders of the parties immediately. We shall have to settle how many people come to the conference and where it happens. All those details must be gone into now.

Will the Secretary of State indicate to the House that should this conference ever arrive at a result, that result will be put to the people by way of a referendum?

That is a matter which we can consider. I do not rule it out. It depends upon the measure of agreement reached and the popular support for it. If it seems necessary to judge popular support for it we will consider that course. In the end the decision as to what is done—what powers are devolved, and how, to Northern Ireland—is taken here.

Order. I propose to call four more hon. Members. One of them has been rising continually.

I have two questions for the Secretary of State. First, what does he mean by the "minority community"? Everyone knows that the fundamental problem in Northern Ireland is that there are two political philosophies which are irreconcilable. If by "minority community" the Secretary of State means a minority in terms of political philosophy he is trying to reconcile the irreconcilable and the conference would be a waste of time.

Secondly, will the Provisional Sinn Fein be involved in the conference? That is a registered political party and is the equivalent of the Patriotic Front in Northern Ireland.

The answer to the last part of the question is "No, Sir". In answer to the first part of the question, I was using a colloquial term to describe that part of the population which by history, politics or religion—or whatever it may be—forms part of what is generally thought to be the minority.

I welcome any initiative by the Secretary of State to move away from merely discussing the violence and get down to discussing some of the causes of that violence. I also welcome his view that we will not make political advance while old attitudes remain. Does the Secretary of State see any change in those political attitudes, and does he not agree that it has never been possible to maintain the present state of Northern Ireland except by various repressive laws? Will he consider widening the discussions to bring in the Government of Southern Ireland? I make this point since we are speaking about a political advance. There can be no political advance for the minority community while it is kept within the boundary of the present Northern Ireland State. It is, in effect, made into a political minority in Northern Ireland, whereas it would be in the political majority in the country as a whole.

The future arrangements for governing Northern Ireland are a matter for the people of the Province, for the United Kingdom, and for Parliament; they are not the responsibility of the Dublin Government. Of course, the Dublin Government are interested and no doubt they will keep a close watch on what goes on. But there can be no question of their engaging in these discussions.

As for the hon. Lady's point about security, I must tell the House that political advance—or even the prospect of it—will not solve the security question, because those who are responsible for the violence in Northern Ireland will, if anything, feel that this move is a threat to them. They will not, I fear, relax their efforts to disrupt society in Northern Ireland. We must be just as resolute in seeking to control violence and bring terrorism down from its present level. I do not hold out to the House any hope that the security situation will be solved by the proposal that I have put before the House.

While commending the intention to hold the conference—whose chances of success do not seem very high, judging by the exchanges today—may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he accepts that there is a clear limit to the patience of the people in Great Britain towards the whole Northern Ireland situation?

The hon. Gentleman must speak for himself. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It is our business to seek to protect the people of the United Kingdom wherever they may be, and to ensure that the way in which they control their affairs is satisfactory from everyone's point of view.

Notwithstanding recent history, one assumes that one of the issues before the conference will be some kind of elected assembly or council. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that in spelling out such a proposal he will link with it firmly some kind of proportional representation system of election?

That will be one of the matters that it would be proper to discuss at the conference. As the House knows, most elections in Northern Ireland—not all—are held under a system of proportional representation. It is a matter that I would wish to discuss with those concerned.

May I return to the question of the consultative document and serve notice that it will be the wish of the Opposition and, I think, of many other hon. Members, that it should be debated on the Floor of the House before it is put to the parties in Northern Ireland?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. So does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, whose concern it principally is.

Business Of The House

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 29 OCTOBER—Debate on a motion to take note of the report of the Royal Commission on gambling. Cmnd. 7200, under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild.

Motion on EEC documents 7577/79, and the updated memorandum of 23 October on oil purchases: 5666/79, 7662/79, 7721/79 and 7722/79 on energy; and 7855/79 on coal.

TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the European Communities (Greek Accession) Bill.

At Seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Motion on the Ministry of Overseas Development (Dissolution) Order.

WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER—Debate on procedure.

Motion on the Family Income Supplements (Computation) (No. 2) Regulations.

THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Shipbuilding Bill.

Motion on the EEC (Definition of Treaties) (International Wheat Agreement) Order.

FRIDAY 2 NOVEMBER—Debate on London, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 5 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Education (No. 2) Bill.

I gather that the Education (No. 2) Bill has not yet been published. The right hon. Gentleman will run it very fine unless the Bill is published very soon, because it is a big and important measure. Will it be published in time to allow us proper consideration of it before Second Reading?

Secondly, I understand that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is going to Brussels next week to discuss the question of fisheries. Will the Leader of the House convey to him that he will have our support if there is no weakening of the present stand in relation to the 12-mile limit, and that we expect him to maintain that stand? Will the Leader of the House also ask the Minister to report to the House on his consultations as soon as he returns?

Thirdly, while the debate on procedure on Wednesday is a matter for the House as a whole, there is certainly one controversial issue—there may be more, but this one has been put to me by hon. Members. If the right hon. Gentleman is producing a series of proposals, will he indicate that they will not include a proposal to change the nature of the Adjournment debate? I understand that that would cause considerable upset. Can he indicate that he does not intend to do that?

The Education (No. 2) Bill will be published tomorrow, thus giving the customary two weekends for consideration by hon. Members of a major Bill. I am fully aware of the need for hon. Members to have Bills in good time.

Secondly, I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the messages of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and I am sure that he will be extremely grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. I am sure that the report will be a positive one in view of the support that is being given.

Thirdly, on Wednesday it is my intention to have a general debate on procedure and then table motions on a number of matters concerning Sessions and sittings. One of those motions will probably include proposals on the Adjournment arrangements as recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure, but of course it will be up to the House to decide whether to accept them, amend them or reject them.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that before the recess he gave a hopeful response to a request for a debate on the tenth report of the Expenditure Committee—made as long ago as 1975—on the Charity Commissioners and their responsibilities, and the related Goodman report of a year later? Is it not quite wrong that the House should have had to wait all this time for an opportunity to debate the law on charities, which most certainly causes widespread concern both inside and outside the House? Can my right hon. Friend arrange a debate, if not next week at least before Christmas?

I sympathise With my right hon. Friend over the delay in debating these reports, but for the vast majority of that period I held no responsibility. I remain hopeful that the House will have an opportunity within a reasonable time to debate those two important reports.

By what machinery does the right hon. Gentleman propose the renewal of sanctions against Rhodesia? During the procedure debate on Wednesday, will the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of his views on the appointment of the Scottish Select Committee and whether we shall have full time to debate that matter very soon?

With regard to the sanctions against Rhodesia, I cannot add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal to the House earlier this week.

Secondly, I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that a motion will be tabled later today on the terms of reference for the Scottish Select Committee.

May we be assured that during the visit to Brussels of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food there will not be any horse trading of fish for lamb? Equally, will the statement to be made make clear the position on the French attitude towards apple imports into this country?

Without following my hon. Friend into that mixed metaphor, I am sure that all the interests that he has mentioned will be well represented by my right hon. Friend.

In view of the considerable public disquiet about the question of jury vetting, which is also causing tremendous concern not only in the press but, I believe, among all Members of the House in terms of the infringement of the liberties of individual jurors who might be asked to serve—it might even cause such confusion that they might not want to serve—does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that we should have a debate on the matter?

I agree with the hon. Lady. It is a very important and serious matter. I do not know that I can promise an early debate, but I will raise the matter with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.

I thank my right hon. Friend for finding time to debate procedure. Following his answer to the Leader of the Opposition, I understand that the debate will mainly be concerned with Sessions and sittings, matters that are important in themselves, as we all recognise. If we do not get round to discussing two important matters that the Select Committee on Procedure dealt with, namely, the scrutiny of European legislation by the House—which many people think to be imperfect and on which there are considerable recommendations by the Select Committee—and a Public Bill procedure which would allow Standing Committees to take evidence for up to three sittings, will my right hon. Friend find time in the new year to discuss these issues?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his encouraging remarks. I am anxious to make progress on all the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure. As for the Public Bill procedure and the changes proposed, and the proposals on scrutiny, I need to consult widely among hon. Members to ascertain the view of the House. We now have many new hon. Members, and there was not the clear view in favour of the Public Bill procedure changes that there was on Select Committees. I want to have full discussions on Public Bill procedure and on the proposals for European legislation. At the same time, I am anxious to maintain the momentum of progress. It is right that there will be motions on Sessions and sittings. I hope to dispose of the eight reports of the Sessional Select Committee on Procedure, which have been hanging around for years. In that way we shall make a major step forward in rendering the procedures of the House more effective.

Did the right hon. Gentleman hear the Prime Minister at Question Time, when the right hon. Lady said that those who got the Government into a mess last night had to get them out of it? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that because of the decision taken last night hundreds of small corner shop retailers who are selling paraffin at 75p a gallon instead of 53p face a fine of £400? What will he do to clear up the chaos?

I heard what the Prime Minister said, as I was sitting next to her. My right hon. Friend was speaking quite distinctly. I took it that her remarks were addressed to the Patronage Secretary. I agree that the hon. Gentleman has raised a serious matter. There is confusion about the exact state of law. We intend to put it right at the earliest opportunity. That will occur when there is a Privy Council next week, when there will be a new order. That will be signed by the Secretary of State and laid before the House.

Will my right hon. Friend advise me when the Government propose to bring forward changes in the law on industrial relations? As our chief shop steward in the House, will he impress upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment the fact that many of us consider this to be an urgent matter?

I am grateful for the trade union encomium from my hon. Friend. We hope to produce a Bill on trade union matters before Christmas.

Is it the intention that the Education (No. 2) Bill should cover the whole of the United Kingdom, or is it the intention to introduce a separate Scottish Bill? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take account of the fact that it is only in the past two weeks that the circular asking for consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been issued. If it is the intention to include Scotland in the Bill that is to be published tomorrow, the Bill must have been drafted before the consultations were held.

The Bill's main provisions will cover England and Wales but it will include some provisions concerning Scotland. I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

My right hon. Friend said that there will be a debate on London a week tomorrow. I ask that a Minister make a statement on the future of the third London airport. There are six sites in the South-East that are on the short list. That is causing not only planning blight but immense distress to those who live near the sites. May we have an early statement? Bedfordshire is affected and so, I gather, is Chelmsford.

I share a constituency interest with my hon. Friend. It would be desirable for a statement to be made soon, but it is important that all interests are consulted and the controversial issues examined thoroughly before any definitive statement is made by the Government.

May I revert to the question raised by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker)? The House will understand the right hon. Gentleman's reluctance to move on Public Bill procedure at this stage in the Session, but will he enlarge on his discussions about EEC scrutiny? Is he aware that there has been widespread dissatisfaction with the procedures for many years and that the Select Committee on Procedure drafted model new Standing Orders? Will he tell the House whom he is consulting and when his consultations will be finished? Is he aware that there will continue to be 20 or more Labour Members rising to speak on various orders until the procedure of the Scrutiny Committee is improved?

I am anxious to make reasonably fast progress on these matters. However, I want to see how the procedure debate proceeds next Wednesday. Immediately after that I shall begin consultations on the other matters through the usual channels. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in view of his interest in European affairs and his constructive efforts to improve matters he will be one of the first to be consulted.

There is some uncertainty. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House how he proposes to conduct next Wednesday's debate. Will he put forward a series of propositions for decision next Wednesday? Will there be a series of debates, or one general debate without decision? What is the proposition?

I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the method of proceeding. The method that we used last time was quite satisfactory. There will be a general debate in which hon. Members may range widely over the subject matter. That will be followed at 10 o'clock by Government motions on a number of positive proposals. That will mean that the debate will not evaporate and that something will come at the end of it. It is my intention to lay tonight a number of proposals concerning the sessional reports and the recommendations of the Procedure Committee on Sessions and sittings so that hon. Members will have an opportunity to study them. Those matters will be voted on at 10 o'clock and onwards. Hon. Members will be free to table amendments to the motions.

In view of the acute crisis of confidence facing the hill farming sector of the farming industry, especially in the North-East of Scotland, will my right hon. Friend please arrange for an early debate in the House on its anxious and pressing problems?

May we have an assurance that the Scottish Select Committee will have far more than 11 members properly to scrutinise the diversity of Scottish Office functions? As the Labour Party had 44 of the 71 Scottish constituencies and a majority of the 86 seats on the Scottish Grand Committee, is not entitled by election and by precedent to a majority of the seats on the Scottish Select Committee?

The hon. Gentleman raises matters that will be discussed through the usual channels. I imagine that the size of the Committee will follow the pattern of the other Select Committees. I shall never make the mistake of judging the contribution of Scottish Members by their quantity rather than by their quality.

Order. I propose to call four of the hon. Members who are rising to ask questions of the Leader of the House. As I did yesterday for the Government side of the House, I shall call them from the Labour Benches.

In view of the widespread concern about factory farming methods, will the right hon. Gentleman make time available for an early debate on the subject?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern personally on the issue that he raises. I do not think that I can guarantee an early separate debate, but the issue may form part of the debate on agriculture.

May I press the Leader of the House on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson)? Will he give an undertaking that he will report back to the House on the consultations that he has promised he will have with the Lord Chancellor on the procedure for selecting juries? The House is maintaining a silence on the issue and there is doubt among citizens about the procedures of the jury service and what jurors are required to do. It will bring the law into disrepute if citizens start objecting to serving on juries.

I do not know whet her I have the means of reporting back to the House as such, but I shall consult the Lord Chancellor. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to table a question to me following my consultation, I shall be happy to answer it.

Will the debate on Wednesday embrace the Select Committee on Members' interests and its composition? The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have taken a specific and sustained interest. If not, is he arranging for the matter to be debated in the near future?

As the right hon. Gentleman has already brought forward a debate on London, will he consider bringing forward in the early future a debate on West Yorkshire, especially a debate on the wool and textile industry, which has lost 6,000 jobs since January and is a matter of grave and serious urgency?

There is a limit to the amount of time that can be set aside for these matters, but I shall certainly consider both the region mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and the industry. We have not had a general debate on London for some time, and it is due.

I do not know that the Committee on Members' interests will be specifically included within the terms of reference of the debate, but I am anxious to make progress on it. I have tabled a motion for the appointment of the Committee. If the hon. Gentleman could moderate the keen interest he takes in the matter perhaps we could make some progress.

If we cannot have the early debate called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), can we not at least have an early Government statement on the deplorable practice of jury vetting, which the right hon. Gentleman accepted as a serious subject, especially in view of the fact that it would not be surprising—it would be quite reasonable—if potential jurors, subject to the threat of being snooped upon by the police or private detectives, refused to serve on juries? That would be a serious situation and have calamitous consequences for our jury and judicial systems. Can we not have an early statement from the Government showing clearly and unequivocally that there will be an end to jury vetting?

I am afraid that I cannot do that, as I do not have the departmental responsibility to go as far as the hon. Gentleman wishes. However, I shall pursue these conversations urgently with the Lord Chancellor. Indeed, other Law Officers will be consulted.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House said that he would pursue the issue with the Lord Chancellor. You will recollect, Mr. Speaker, that the Lord Chancellor somewhat misused his position in Cabinet to have his own subject—unlike that of any other Minister—excluded from the jurisdiction of the Select Committees of the House. He does not want matters relating to the civil law to be discussed in Committee. Could it also be made plain that as matters relating to the criminal law are the responsibility of the Home Secretary, and within the jurisdiction of our home affairs Committee the Leader of the House will do two things: he will consult the Home Secretary and he will tell the Lord Chancellor to keep quiet?

Members' Interests (Declaration)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek to raise with you a point of order of which I have given notice both to yourself and to the Leader of the House. Owing to the late publication of the Official Report of our Sittings in July, this is almost the earliest opportunity of doing so. As long ago as 2 July the Leader of the House, in a written answer, said that the need for a declaration of financial interests when any hon. Member is asking a question at Question Time

"is best left to the discretion of hon. Members."—[Official Report, 2 July 1979; Vol. 969, c. 395.]
That statement could be interpreted as being at variance with what many other hon. Members and I understood to be the consistent ruling of the Chair, namely, that the declaration of financial interests is not required by the rules of the House when asking a question at Question Time.

You may consider, Mr. Speaker, that for the protection of all hon. Members, a ruling might be given which places this matter beyond doubt.

The right hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy of notifying me in writing that he was going to raise a point of order. I am armed with a reply. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen to my reply and consider where we go from there.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his customary courtesy in this matter. He is entirely correct in his belief that no declaration of interest is necessary in the circumstances that he described. This is not merely the result of rulings which have been made by my predecessors and myself. It stems from a resolution of the House of 12 June 1975 by which the House agreed that in relation to the disclosure of interests during any proceeding of the House, the term "proceeding" shall be deemed not to include the giving of any written notice, such as a question, or the asking of a supplementary question. Hon. Members are therefore under no obligation whatsoever to declare any interest during the course of Question Time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not aware of the point of order being raised, but as a member of the first Select Committee on Members' interests, which drew up the codes and made recommendations to the House, would I be correct in recalling that the endorsement of the House's view by that Select Committee was on the assumption that all hon. Members would complete the return of interests and send it to the Registrar so that it should be published?

I, too, must express my gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy of sending me a copy of his letter to you, Mr. Speaker. Indeed, he went beyond the bounds of courtesy because he turned me into the Lord President in doing so.

I listened to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, with the grestest interest, and studied it. I see nothing inconsistent between what I said and what you said, Mr. Speaker, although of course you expressed it so much better than I could.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for your ruling, as I imagine is the House.

It could, as you understand, be taken that if a matter is left to the discretion of individual hon. Members—and that is the current ruling on the matter—that would have the effect of annulling the decision of the House, as you reminded us, that at Question Time the declaration of interests is not required.

The position is quite clear now. There is no requirement upon hon. Members to announce their interests at Question Time.

Bills Presented

Education (No 2)

Mr. Secretary Carlisle, supported by Mr. Secretary Younger, Mr. Secretary Edwards, Mr. Norman St. John Stevas. Mr. Nigel Lawson, Dr. Rhodes Boyson and Mr. Neil Macfarlane, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to education: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed [Bill 57].

Consular Fees

Sir Ian Gilmour, supported by, Mr. Leon Brittan, Mr. Adam Butler and Mr. Richard Luce, presented a Bill to re-enact with amendments so much of the Consular Salaries and Fees Act 1891 as relates to consular fees together with certain enactments amending that Act: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed [Bill 56].

Orders Of The Day

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.