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Commons Chamber

Volume 972: debated on Monday 29 October 1979

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House Of Commons

Monday 29 October 1979

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Energy

Gas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his policy on gas collection and flaring.

I refer the hon. Member to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 5 July about a feasibility and design study being made by the British Gas Corporation and Mobil North Sea Limited of a new gas gathering system. Restrictions on gas flaring are kept under review in the light of all relevant factors including the oil supply situation. In the case of the Brent field, the gas flaring consent for the next three months will restrict oil production by up to 1 million tonnes in order to reduce the level of gas flaring.

I congratulate the Minister on the decision to curtail oil production in the Brent field in order to save gas. Is he aware that through the failure of the previous Administration to face the international oil companies in respect of wastage about £1,000 million worth of natural gas has been wasted? Will he explain the Government's proposals for gas collection by way of other pipelines to make sure that gas is available not only for the national grid but for petrochemical developments to ease the employment situation in Scotland?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. Until the result of the survey being carried out by the BGC and Mobil is known it is difficult to elaborate further. However, flaring this year is running at an average daily rate of 668 million cu. ft., which represents about 15 per cent. of gas supplied by the BGC annually. In oil equivalent terms, it is equal to about 7·5 per cent. of United Kingdom production in the first eight months of this year. It is a serious situation and the Government are monitoring it carefully.

Can the Minister explain how such a situation has been allowed to arise? The fact that 7½ per cent. of our total North Sea output is being burnt sounds a scandal beyond description.

The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the line is narrow. If the Government had decided to impose restrictions on flaring at an earlier date, there would have been a danger that the oil supply situation would be adversely affected.

My hon. Friend is aware that 17 per cent. of the gas available from the North Sea is flared. He referred to the Mobil pipeline. When that has been completed, what will the figure be reduced to? If that line is not built, will he make the gas available to third parties who may be able to use it?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that until the result of the survey is known it is difficult to make positive predictions. However. I assure him that when the result is published the Government will consider carefully what is the best course to follow.

Does the Minister agree that the present situation may be a good deal worse than he has suggested? Can he confirm that the amount of gas flared in recent weeks has been the equivalent of about one-third of total gas consumption inland? In view of that serious evidence of profligacy, may we have a far firmer and clearer assurance from the Minister, and far firmer and more decisive action to stop this frittering away of essential assets?

The hon. Gentleman is hardly being fair. The Government have taken positive steps at every opportunity to deal with the situation, and it will be watched on a continuing basis.

Imports

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will consider an overall strategy for reducing energy imports.

The Government's review of overall energy strategy will include the question of the optimum balance between imports and indigenous energy supplies.

What action is proposed on the NCB's request for investment in the phurnacite plants in Aberamon in Aberdare to produce smokeless fuels for the Ancid process? Would it not be ridiculous to import smokeless fuel when we can produce it ourselves? Has the Secretary of State received representations from the NUM in South Wales about the large imports of coking coal into South Wales, where 15,000 to 17,000 tons are being stockpiled each week?

I am satisfied that the NCB has submitted a report to my Department. That is being studied. I cannot say more at the moment. I recognise the concern on coking coal. The British Steel Corporation and the NCB have been asked to engage in close discussion about their mutual requirements, and this they are now doing. They are reaching a view which I hope will be to the benefit and interest of both industries. When they have reached that view they will put it to the Government. We shall look with open minds at the needs that arise from their proposals.

Can the Secretary of State say why, when Britain has the most developed coal industry in Western Europe, we are having to import coal to sell to the Central Electricity Generating Board? Is it true that productivity is being damaged by the fact that machine time underground is reduced by 30 per cent. because of mechanical failure?

On the last point, that is not entirely so. Face productivity is up sharply—I think by 8 per cent.—on the year. There were some component shortages arising from the engineering strike last month, but I think that the picture that my hon. Friend paints is not entirely fair. On the question of overall imports, we have had a very cold winter, and we need all the coal that we can get—all the coal mined in Britain. There is also bound to be a need for some imports. We had a cold winter, and we are bound to need all the coal that is available.

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that the output from British mines is higher than ever before, considering the number of men working in them? Output per manshift is increasing. We have never produced so much coal as we are doing at present, taking into consideration the manpower level. Will the Secretary of State consider the ridiculous situation that he mentioned, namely, that British Steel is importing subsidised coking coal into this country, to the detriment of the mining industry? Does he not consider that we should subsidise our coking coal, as the Europeans are doing?

I have explained the position on coking coal to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend. I do not think that I have anything to add. With regard to the overall performance of the industry, we want to see a new coal industry built out of the old. That is our need for the future. It must, however, be on a competitive basis, as I am sure everyone in the industry recognises.

Fuel Supplies

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent representations he has received from the National Farmers Union about the energy crisis.

I received a number of approaches during July and August from the National Farmers Union and its branches stressing the importance of ensuring that adequate fuel supplies were available for harvesting.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but will he confirm that there were hiccups, particularly in my part of the country, during harvest time? Will there be adequate consultation between his Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the energy crisis that we experienced earlier this year should be repeated?

I confirm to my hon. Friend that at that time there was the closest co-operation between the Department of Energy and the Ministry of Agriculture. I also confirm that, although there may have been a number of local shortages, the situation was kept carefully under control and there were no serious shortages during the harvest.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the grave concern in rural Wales and in other parts of Britain that half of the petrol stations in the rural areas would close if the oil companies' rationalisation programme were implemented. What plan has the Minister to make sure that petrol filling stations will not close?

This matter has caused my Department considerable concern. We have had meetings with the companies about it. My Department has received assurances from the oil companies that, for the time being, they will continue to supply existing outlets which wish them to do so while they look for alternative sources of supply. This should help to safeguard the supply position in rural areas. The two leading companies concerned have also given my Department an assurance that, if local stations continue to find difficulty in obtaining supplies, where there is no alternative filling station within a reasonable distance they will enter into further talks with the stations concerned to try to overcome the problem.

Is the Minister aware of the difficulties experienced by farmers in the East Midlands area in obtaining agricultural fuel? Is he satisfied with his Department's arrangements to assist them? Does he propose any immediate changes?

No immediate changes are proposed. The arrangements made by the Department of Energy during the harvest proved satisfactory. The Government are continuing to have consultations with the companies on the whole question of the supply situation. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the situation, so far as we can assess it in the meantime, is satisfactory.

Pressurised Water Reactors

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has concluded its investigation into the safety aspects of the pressurised water reactor; and if he will make a statement.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive has completed a generic safety review of the PWR system. Any proposal to construct and operate a commercial PWR in this country will be subject to detailed consideration by the inspectorate, which will be carried out in the light of the generic review. The Health and Safety Executive would not grant a licence for a PWR unless it was satisfied that the reactor could be operated safely.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us who support the steady expansion of the British nuclear industry are alarmed at the apparent conversion of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the American pressurised water reactor? Is he aware that those of us who support the British nuclear industry, based on British technology, would campaign against the massive introduction of PWRs into this country? Will he publish the report?

The position on the choice of reactor system is as it was before. We have the further advanced gas-cooled reactors to build, and licensing arrangements for the PWR are still being actively explored and pursued by the parties concerned, mainly the CEGB. Nothing has been finally settled. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the report. If he is referring to the generic safety review, which was a report to his right hon. Friend in July 1977, I understand that a short version has been published. A slightly longer version is available on request from the Health and Safety Executive.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House deplore the Little Englander attitude adopted by those on the Labour side over the AGR? We would welcome a decision by the CEGB to make a series order for PWR reactors.

I note my hon. Friend's view. I think that we have to await the views of the main customer, the CEGB. and also the SSEB. When they come forward with their views it will be possible to make a decision.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most important priority is to ensure that the AGRs that have already been ordered are constructed to time and cost, and that all this uncertainty and press speculation about the PWR does not help the AGR? Will he reassure the House that, if any decision is taken to go for PWR, this will be subject to a wide-ranging public inquiry, in which the whole issue of a comparison between AGR and PWR could be brought out, and not simply to a limited planning inquiry?

It is immensely important to get on with the present programme of the advanced gas-cooled reactor. That is one reason why there is a need, after some neglect in the past, to strengthen the nuclear construction industry in this country. As to the future, it is premature to take a view on what the choice of reactor will be. I have explained that nothing has been settled. When a choice is made, and if the CEGB wishes to build a nuclear reactor, there will have to be full consents, licensing and planning inquiries. All that will follow.

But will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the generic report on the PWR reached me in 1977, that since then we have had the Three Mile Island episode with a PWR, that there are now widespread reports of cracks in the PWR pressure vessels in France—confirming everything that Sir Alan Cottrell said—and that there has been a major leak at Windscale, on which we are still awaiting a full report, in which 20,000 gallons of unconcentrated high toxic waste were released into the ground? Before any major statement is made will the right hon. Gentleman disclose all the documents relating to those three episodes, so that the House and the country can determine whether an accelerated programme is desirable at all, and particularly whether the PWR is safe?

I cannot comment on what the right hon. Gentleman calls the "widespread reports" about matters in France, because those are matters for the French Government. As to the American situation, the Kemeny report to the President is about to appear. When that appears, I am extremely anxious to see that all relevant reports and all discussions and analyses of the Harrisburg incident are set before the House and the public, so that there can be full discussion. I fully recognise the need for that. As for the Windscale leak, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is still conducting its inquiry into that matter.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the British public have great confidence in the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, which is probably more advanced and more definitive in its requirements than any form of nuclear inspectorate in the world? Secondly, will he ensure that in any negotiations for a PWR—if that should be approved and be the wish of the Government—the Government will ensure that there are no restrictions in any licence granted to this country about British production for export, and that if we were to produce PWRs we would be able to go into the export market with them in order to obtain greater work from overseas for our nuclear industry?

The second point is looking rather far ahead and assuming that decisions will be taken which have not yet been settled. However, we have everything to be proud of in regard to safety and the record of the NII. These are standards that have been maintained, and must and will be maintained in future. Of course safety is paramount without a doubt.

With respect to the proposal to build a further nuclear reactor on Severnside, is the Minister aware that last Friday night in my constituency there was a well-attended meeting which expressed wholehearted opposition to this project on environmental and safety grounds? Will he try to ensure that the Government change their nuclear strategy, especially in the light of the abundance of coal in this country?

No proposal has been put to me about building a nuclear power station on this site, so it would not be right for me to comment on the matter.

We were seven minutes on that question. We shall have to take less time on the rest.

Fuel Supplies

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement regarding the supply of fuels for the coming winter.

Given average weather and no external interruptions in production or supply I do not foresee any general difficulty in meeting our fuel requirements this winter. However, the need for exercising the maximum restraint in our energy consumption remains as important as ever.

Does the Minister realise that that answer will be looked on by the public as somewhat complacent, in that we are once again in the hands of the weather? The answer implied that Britain's energy requirements will be on a knife edge again in the forthcoming winter. Has his right hon. Friend done what the Secretary of State for Industry has done—written to those chairmen of nationalised industries for whom he has a responsibility on the subject of wage restraint? If not, how does the hon. Gentleman expect to overcome some of the problems that could happen in the coming winter, given the nature of our close balance of energy requirements?

Happy though I am to think that everything happy happened on 3 May, total control of the weather was not one of those things. However, the weather, as happened under the previous Administration, has an impact on fuel supplies. My Department, in common with other Departments, has excellent relations with the nationalised industries.

Is my hon. Friend aware that for many people living in rural areas the supply of petrol for their cars is threatened by the aim of some of the major oil companies to close rural petrol stations? Is he aware that some of us think that the oil companies are abusing their powerful position by doing this? Will he tell them that if they want the Government's co-operation it would be helpful if they would at least understand this view, which many of us express on behalf of our constituents?

Although one can appreciate people's concern, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the earlier remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister of State about the specific assurances that have been received from the oil companies on this important issue.

Can the Minister assure us that although supplies might be adequate now they will not suddenly dry up in the first week of December before the OPEC meeting so that those who are sitting on the stocks can make a killing, as they did last June? If they do that again, what action will he take?

It does not help people's concerns and worries about supplies of fuel this winter when, as in any winter, the weather cannot be guaranteed in advance, to encourage fear on the subject. Fuel supplies are adequate to meet the conditions which one could normally expect this winter.

National Union Of Mineworkers

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects next to meet the president of the National Union of Mineworkers.

No date has been fixed for my next meeting with Mr. Gormley, but I should be glad to see him at any time.

When Arthur Scargill speaks of us having sufficient coal to last for 1,000 years, compared with the usual estimate of 200 or 300 years, does that mean that he has discovered fresh deposits that were previously unknown or that he foresees a much lower rate of depletion than at present? What prospects can the president of the NUM himself offer for the production of coal reaching target levels in the immediate future?

We should recognise the enormous deposits of coal that we have and the extremely good job that the mining industry—both union members and the NCB—has done, especially this winter, to ensure that massive movement of coal has taken place, in adidtion to the coal being produced. Consumption for the 29 weeks to 21 October was 44·08 million tons, as opposed to 39·61 million tons for the same period last year—a massive improvement and an indication of the size and quality of our coal resources.

Will the Minister take into account the fact that we still have 300 years' supply of coal? Will he bear it in mind that the Government's policy, which evidently is for a tremendous increase in nuclear power, should not interfere with the future of the mining industry?

We must not forget that coal is underground and we need to produce it profitably. That is in the interests of all parts of the industry. Government policy on energy strategy relies on a successful coal industry as well as a successful nuclear and conservation policy.

Departmental Organisation

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what specific steps he has taken in the six months since he assumed office to eliminate waste in his Department.

My Department is participating fully in the various economy exercises which the Government have initiated. These include identifying options for reducing staff and related costs, contributing a study for Sir Derek Rayner's current exercise, and an examination of the councils and committees advising my Department, as well as a continuous inspection programme of existing staff posts.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. What does BNOC actually do that taxation of the oil companies could not do? As part of his attempts to identify costs, will my right hon. Friend give the approximate administrative cost of keeping in existence this brainchild of the previous Secretary of State?

To set out the full range of duties and activities of the British National Oil Corporation, Mr. Speaker, would trespass too much on your patience. However, the Government have described their plans for the future of BNOC. They include the attraction of private capital into the support of the corporation, which to that extent must reduce the burden of public funds. As to the administrative details of the corporation, I ask my hon. Friend to refer to the chairman of BNOC. As he knows, a new appointment has just been made to that post. I am very pleased indeed to have Mr. Ronald Utiger as the new transitional chairman for a period during the months ahead, when we shall be putting the BNOC on a new and more constructive footing to meet our requirements.

Commissioner Brunner

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects next to meet Commissioner Brunner.

I expect to meet Commissioner Brunner at the next meeting of the EEC Energy Ministers, which is expected to take place in December.

Will the Minister explain why, pre-tax, premium petrol is 65p per gallon in Britain, 48·5p in Italy, 57·5p in France and 60p in the Federal Republic of Germany? Why should there be those differences?

The hon. Gentleman has quoted from a recent answer given by my Department, but prices are changing all the time and the differences are considerable within the different countries. If he considers the position after tax, he will find that at the pumps in the forecourts—and this is what matters to consumers—our prices are now among the lowest in Europe.

Does the Minister agree that it is part of his responsibilities to ensure that there is not an undue degree of profitability? In the summer, when prices were raised to exhorbitant figures, was there not a 27 per cent. decrease in Italy for regular petrol and a 12 per cent. decrease, on average, in other Community countries for premium petrol? Does not that totally justify our allegation that there was an unfair rip-off of prices both by the oil companies and the dealers? Can the Minister justify the substantial differences between the United Kingdom and the other EEC countries?

He does not need to justify any such thing. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman does any motoring. If he had been out and about he would have noticed that prices are being cut in some garages as competition does its work. Competition is the best protector of the customer and is helping him at present.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I hope to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Paraffin

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will state his estimate of the rise in the price of paraffin following the removal of price controls.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement about the price and supply of paraffin, with regard to the effects on elderly people and others on low incomes.

Following decontrol in July, premium paraffin prices have risen by 25 to 30 per cent. to reflect crude oil price increases and to restore retail margins. I am assured that the overall supply position is adequate to meet normal demand this winter.

Is the Minister aware that even the conservative estimate that he gave well exceeds the average rate of inflation and the proposed increase in welfare benefits for this winter? Now that, as a result of a happy accident, the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to reflect on his policy on this matter, will he take note of the point made in last week's debate that a large number of elderly and disabled are dependent upon paraffin for their heating? Will he at least give them a transitional period in which to adjust before he brings back the order that was responsible for the increase?

The events of last Wednesday were the result of procedural confusion. I do not believe that they truly and fairly reflected the will of the House. The Government accordingly propose to give the House a further opportunity to consider paraffin price control. An announcement will be made in due course.

Is the Minister aware that thousands of tenants are trapped in high-fuel-cost dwellings, with no fireplaces? Their only solution in the past was to use paraffin. Now that the Government are taking that away as a cheap fuel, will the Minister make available a programme to put fireplaces back into these dwellings so that people may burn wood or anything else that they can scrounge if they are disconnected by the gas or electricity boards? Or is he determined to disconnect all fuel from those houses?

The important point that has escaped the attention of the hon. Gentleman is that if these measures had not been taken there would have been a serious danger that the number of suppliers would have dwindled so rapidly that no paraffin would have been available for those who needed it.

Is the Minister aware that as a result of the confusion several hundred retailers and small business men are liable to a fine of £400 under the energy legislation? May we press him further on what he intends to do about the situation? Will he have second thoughts and bring in some form of subsidy or control giving a reasonable profit to retailers, without leaving the matter to the free market?

The hon. Gentleman has a weakness for trying to create trouble where trouble does not exist. The significance of last Wednesday's vote is that the Government are obliged to revoke by order the Paraffin (Maximum Retail Prices) (Revocation Order) 1979. That will be done at the earliest opportunity. Until then paraffin prices will not be controlled.

Given the Minister's incompetence the other night in failing to confirm the paraffin price rise, would it not be a good idea, for the protection of the British people against inflation, if he were put in charge of price increases?

Oil And Gas Exploration

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the current level of oil and gas exploration activity in United Kingdom waters.

The Government were not satisfied with the position they inherited and have begun the task of recreating the conditions which will encourage drilling. They have removed certain arrangements introduced by the previous Administration which discouraged exploration. We are confident that the industry will respond to those initiatives. Indeed, there have been encouraging signs in recent months of growing interest in drilling activity.

I congratulate the Government on the success of their policies in encouraging exploration, which I believe is about 65 per cent. up this year on 1978. Does my hon. Friend recognise that this accelerates a much bigger problem—that of facing up to the measuring out of precious oil and gas resources? At the present rate, when will oil and gas production start to decline? Are the Government satisfied with that? If not, what will they do about it?

On present estimates, we should be self-sufficient and, indeed, a net exporter, throughout the 1980s. The Government are continuing to monitor the situation. The question of depletion is very much in the mind of the Government. We are examining the question. Indeed, the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) at the beginning of Question Time today was significant on the question of the serious attitude that we take on the subject.

Is the Minister giving the House an assurance that we shall continue to produce oil throughout the 1980s at a rate in excess of 2 million barrels a day? Is he aware that if we accelerate the exploration rate there will be a serious deficiency in Britain's oil drilling capacity? That will produce a situation in which we shall be paying American companies across the exchanges. When will the Government ensure that there is a British drilling company with muscle in operation in the North Sea?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises that there has been a decided upturn of interest in drilling. Exploration wells drilled over the past four months numbered 13, compared with only seven in the corresponding period last year. The Government are aware of the present situation and are having talks from time to time with those who might be interested. However, these are matters for commercial judgment in which the Government do not wish to interfere.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Wood Mackenzie report supports his analysis, and that due to the higher price of oil and the more favourable terms for licences more work is likely to be done in the North Sea?

I accept what my hon. Friend says. The Government have set up a committee to examine the question of the marginal fields. That could be beneficial in the long term.

Is the Minister aware that an oil depletion policy is becoming increasingly important? The problem is that it is becoming more realistic to keep part of that oil under the North Sea than to allow it to boost our foreign exchange earnings and create the disadvantage of our becoming a petro-currency, to the disadvantage of British industry and the exports that we expect from it?

The Government are fully aware of that situation and are taking steps to overcome the problem. It is amazing to hear from a Treasury Minister in the previous Government that they took such a long time to realise that.

Coal Industry

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what has been the increase in labour productivity in the coal mining industry over the most recent 12-month period for which figures are available.

Productivity measured in terms of overall output per man shift was 2·27 tonnes in September 1979 compared with 2·18 tonnes in September 1978, an increase of 4 per cent.

Does my hon. Friend expect productivity in the coal industry to continue to increase in the next 12 months? If so, will he give an estimate of by how much?

It is difficult to give figures for the next 12 months. I am happy to say that over the past 13 weeks, for the period ending 13 October, overall output per man shift increased by 3 per cent. The industry should be commended for that increase. Beyond that I should draw a distinction between face and overall output per man shift productivity. Face productivity over the past full year increased excellently—by 7·8 per cent.

Does the Minister agree that if there is to be increased productivity there must be increased investment in the industry? Is it not true that Britain is lagging behind France, Belgium and West Germany? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that West Germany is investing over £1 billion in privately owned industry in Germany, whereas we have invested only £100 million by way of subsidy?

I agree entirely with the proposition that the coal industry needs a great amount of long-term capital investment. I am delighted to say that that has occurred in the past. We expect it to occur in future. I take issue with the contention that our industry is under-invested compared with the industries of other European countries. The British industry is unique in enjoying a commitment on both sides of the House, and from previous Governments and the present Government, to long-term expansion and investment.

As productivity is allied to safety, and as the hon. Gentleman is the sponsoring Minister for the coal industry, may I ask what representations have been made to him about the Golborne disaster inquiry report? Is he aware that the inquiry was handled in such a way that the men became so incensed that the colliery suffered a complete stoppage for one day? Further, is the hon. Gentleman aware that Sid Vincent, the general Secretary of the North-Western area, has sent a letter of protest to the chairman of the Health and Safety Executive? Why was a press conference held two days before the coroner's inquest and — [Interruption.] This is a question of safety, and it is extremely important. Will the hon. Gentleman carry out an investigation? A proud record of union co-operation and safety has been damaged by apparent bureaucracy.

I share the hon. Gentleman's legitimate concern with safety, which is associated with long-term productivity in the industry. I take note of what he says and, as the sponsoring Minister, I shall be more than happy to investigate it.

Energy Policy

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will publish a White Paper setting out the energy policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Our energy strategy has been set out in a number of statements and speeches. I shall continue to expound the Government's thinking on the necessary policies to meet our energy problems. We shall keep under review the best way in which these can be presented most effectively to Parliament and the public.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it has been suggested in some quarters that the energy policy of the present Administration is not to have one? Is that comment accurate or otherwise?

I sometimes think that there is a tendency to confuse energy policy with merely writing down in hope a great many targets and figures for the future and imagining that one thereby has a strategy to meet them. That is not so. Our energy strategy consists of tackling vigorously, by a number of means, all the problems relating to energy matters, in a way that does not seem to have been done with much vigour in recent years.

Although it may not be necessary to have another White Paper at this stage, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is necessary to push forward with conservation measures to the greatest possible extent? Will he assure both sides of the House that the watchwords are still "Save it" rather than "Shelve it"?

I agree that conservation has a central part in our strategy. It is not the Government alone who can bring about the necessary conservation. As a nation we shall have to learn to make the most of energy and to maintain, and possibly to improve, our high living standards with a smaller growth in the supply of oil. That is the reality, to which all minds, including those of the Government and industry, must be directed.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a good deal of confusion in industry about his energy policy, especially the supply of gas to industry? Is he further aware that industry in my constituency and in others is being delayed because of the refusal by the British Gas Corporation to supply gas? That, in turn, is preventing jobs from being created.

As a result of doubts about oil there has been a considerable growth of interest in and demands for gas connections. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has a problem in his constituency, involving an industrial estate. I understand that the developer gave undertakings that there would be gas connections and then found that the gas could not be supplied at short notice. That is inevitable. It is a problem for the developer, which in the instance to which I refer was the local authority.

Organisation Of Petroleum Exporting Countries

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will seek to attend the next Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House why the United Kingdom is not eligible, if it is not, to become a full member of OPEC? If the United Kingdom could become a member, would not that be helpful, bearing in mind that we are now exporting certain grades of oil? Is my right hon. Friend aware that OPEC membership would enable us to take part in discussing future pricing policies with other OPEC countries?

The rules of OPEC are that applicants must not only be substantial net exporters of crude petroleum—which we are not—but have fundamentally similar interests to those of existing members. We do not satisfy either of those criteria. I recognise the argument that my hon. Friend is advancing, which is that we must have constructive discussions with OPEC members. As both a major producer of oil and a consumer, we are in a position to do that. I have attended a number of functions at which OPEC members have been present. I have had constructive and useful discussions with them. I intend to do more of that.

House Of Commons

Sub Judice Rule

30.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will refer the issue of sub judice to a Select Committee on Procedure.

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

When a Select Committee on Procedure is next appointed this matter will be within its scope.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to refer the matter to the Committee? Is he aware that litigation on important issues of public policy should not be allowed to gag the House? Does he appreciate, for example, that the aftermath of the SPG action in Southall and the Blair Peach inquest prevent the House from discussing a range of issues that it should be able to discuss? There will be problems until the issue is finally solved. It is an issue which the recent Select Committee on Privileges, to whose sittings the right hon. Gentleman made such a notable contribution, failed to solve.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his latter remark. I am not unsympathetic to the important matter that he has raised. It is generally best to leave a Select Committee to decide its own priorities and programme of work. I have noted the hon. Gentleman's concern, and I shall ensure that any Committee is aware of it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on the whole, the sub judice rule should be confined to criminal cases which attract juries and the very few civil cases which also attract juries?

I do not wish to define exactly the scope of the sub judice rule, which has extremely complex ramifications. Unlike my hon. Friend, I am not a practising lawyer but a retired academic lawyer.

Procedure

31.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he proposes to bring forward a further motion implementing further recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure.

34.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proposals for reform he plans to introduce to the House of Commons.

37.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he expects to announce the groups of recommendations which he expects to place before the House pursuant to the proposals in the report of the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Parliament.

There will be a debate next Wednesday on the Select Committee's recommendations on the organisation of Sessions and sittings and certain of those relating to Public Bill procedure, together with the outstanding reports of the Sessional Committees on Procedure.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he tell the House when he proposes to bring forward a motion supporting recommendation No. 71 of the Select Committee on Procedure, which is that on opposed specified business 200 Members must vote to suspend the Ten o'clock rule if a Division is called? As an increasing number of Select Committees will be meeting in the mornings, is not that recommendation especially important for those who are members of Select Committees? If they are to do their job properly, they will have to be bright and alert, and not up at all hours for four nights previously.

I do not wish to anticipate next Wednesday's debate. However, it is not the Government's intention to introduce such a motion. It is an issue that will have to be decided by the will of the House.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Does he agree that the form of the motions tabled for Wednesday might, with advantage, be adjusted? Has he specific plans for other groups of recommendations that he will bring before the House? Is he able to give us any indication when they might arrive?

The procedure that we have followed may not be ideal, but it was the procedure that we tried when the previous debate took place before the recess. It seemed to work satisfactorily on that occasion. As for further batches of measures, it is my intention, having had consultations with hon. Members on both sides of the House, to make further progress. In the few months that we have been in office we have proceeded with as much haste as could reasonably be required.

Did the right hon. Gentleman adopt the customary practice of consulting the Department of the Clerk of the House over the drafting of his motions? If he did not, is it accidental or intentional that two of them contradict each other?

I cannot answer the second part of the question, but of course I consulted the Clerk of the House on the drafting of the motions. All those who are customarily consulted on these matters were consulted, and the hon. Gentleman—who is an institution on procedure—while not being consulted on the drafting, was consulted on the issue.

Now that there are more Privy Councillors in the House than ever before, and since their number will dramatically increase as occupants of the present Treasury Bench are tested for competence and acceptability, would it not be appropriate for the Select Committee to consider or to clear up finally the question of Privy Councillors' privileges in this House?

As a comparatively new member of the Privy Council, I am not an enthusiastic advocate of cutting down whatever privileges they may have, but I understand that any position they may have in this House is a matter purely of convention and is not a rule of this House as such. As to the increase of Privy Councillors, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that some are gathered, while others are left behind.

Is it not a cause of concern to the Leader of the House that when we have our debate on Wednesday and come to a conclusion, there will be many right hon. and hon. Members who will not, on the vitally important issue of the procedure of the House, be allowed a free vote? Does he not think that disgraceful in this Mother of free Parliaments?

As I understand the position, it is clear that Members of the House will have a free vote. But if Government propositions are put down, one would expect that members of the Government would support them.

Parliamentary Papers (Printing)

32.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will revive his earlier decision to continue the printing of the Official Report and the Order Paper and Notices of Motions by Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

In consultation with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, I keep under continuous review the service provided by Her Majesty's Stationery Office. There are no plans at the present for any changes in the existing arrangements.

I regret that my right hon. Friend has not found it possible to give a different answer. Is he aware that in another place their noble Lordships charter out to private enterprise the responsibility for producing their papers? Will my right hon. Friend accept that total inconvenience can be caused to this House through reliance on a monopoly service that could so easily be given out to private enterprise?

No one is better aware than myself of the difficulties in which we are placed by this matter, but it would, I think, be premature to take such a radical decision as my hon. Friend suggests.

Scottish Select Committee

35.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress has been made in the establishment of a Scottish Select Committee.

The hon. Member will have seen the motion which is now on the Order Paper.

Is the right hon Gentleman aware that in the course of the debate on Wednesday the opportunities for Scottish Members to put their points of view are likely to be restricted? Does he recognise that Scottish Members feel very strongly, for instance, that the size of the Scottish Select Committee should be much larger than is proposed by the Government and that its terms of reference should be much broader? In the circumstances, does he agree that it would be preferable to have a full-scale debate on this matter in the Scottish Grand Committee?

I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I understand that it is the desire of the vast majority of Scottish Members that rapid progress should be made in this matter. The number is basically the same as for the other Select Committees.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the proceedings of the Scottish Select Committee will be broadcast and televised, whether the meetings take place here or elsewhere?

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer? Much more important than speed is to get the right decisions. It is totally inadequate, is it not, for a Department covering about nine equivalent United Kingdom Departments to have a Committee of only 11? We would expect at least 21, and I would compromise on 17.

In all these matters I am in the hands of the House, but one has to start somewhere. If this number does not prove satisfactory, no doubt representations can be made for a change. I am also considering, in the inter-party talks on Scotland which are taking place, all kinds of reforms in procedure.

Information Services

38.

asked the Paymaster General if he will make a statement on the working of the Government information services.

40.

asked the Paymaster General if he is satisfied with the performance of the Government's information services.

It is the role of information divisions in Government Departments to provide a service of factual information and policy explanation to the media and to the public. In addition, they are responsible for the preparation and publication of a very wide range of official reports, together with leaflets and other publicity material, informing the public of the services available to them. With the help of the specialist divisions in the Central Office of Information, they also organise publicity campaigns on a number of issues such as road safety and energy conservation. The COI produces material to support the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Overseas Trade Board in projecting British policies and British industry overseas. As to the quality of performance, I hope that I should never be completely satisfied with any institution which is capable of improvement. Of course there is room for improvement, and consultation with my ministerial colleagues and their officials is already producing results, but I am satisfied that the Government information services perform a difficult task with considerable skill and provide a helpful service.

Order. I am not sure whether the answers are getting longer or just seem to be longer.

I shall not attempt to match the length of the answer. On the first part of my right hon. Friend's answer, has he listened recently to BBC radio and heard the regular lurid accounts of the effects of the Government's so-called cuts, and noticed that there is never any attempt, apparently, to give the reasons why it is necessary to equate national expenditure with national income? Will my right hon. Friend either boost the information that he is sending out, or possibly make a couple of telephone calls to ensure that the facts do not just stop when they leave his office?

The question of who appears on BBC television or radio is a matter for the BBC. Representations are made to try to ensure that the balance is kept. Departments do everything possible to ensure that the information gets through.

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that his Department is winning or losing the battle to con people into thinking that public expenditure cuts will not hurt millions of people?

I am certain that the public are beginning to understand what the Labour Party and the previous Government tried to conceal, namely, that if we are to control inflation it is necessary to control public expenditure.

In view of the considerable contribution made by the external services of the BBC in disseminating Government information, will my right hon. Friend say whether he is for or against the proposed cuts in those services?

That question should be addressed to Ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Because it is not my departmental responsibility. It is the responsibility of my noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. It would therefore be improper for me to pre-empt it.

Press (Meetings)

39.

asked the Paymaster General when he intends to meet the press in his official capacity.

I do of course, as all Ministers do, frequently meet representatives of the media. Since it is my responsibility to ensure that the Government's information services provide the best possible service to the media and public, I am always open to approaches from any representatives who believe the service could be improved. But it is not part of my job to convene formal press conferences or hold briefing meetings myself.

In this matter of communication between the Government and the press, will the right hon. Gentleman and the Foreign Secretary review the arrangements at the Lancaster House talks and the propaganda effort that the Government are making in the media? Is he aware that it is quite unusual to use faceless civil servants to put forward the Government's point of view after each session of the conference? That is not the way in which things are normally done. According to our constitution, Ministers are meant to take responsibility for their actions. Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that, in press releases and appearances on radio and the television, Ministers defend their actions rather than hand that responsibility over to people who are not available for scrutiny by this House?

I do not accept that it has always been the case that Ministers should conduct all press conferences and briefings. This has never been so. Foreign Office Ministers are always ready to explain their policies and what is happening at the conference. Inevitably, while they are occupied at the conference, some press briefings must be handled by information officers.

Questions To Ministers

Before I call the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) on a point of order, I remind the House that supplementary questions are once again being used as the means of advocating an argument rather than asking a question. It is in the interests of the House that Question Time be Question Time and not be used to advance a case.

Education (No 2) Bill

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The matter that I wish to raise concerns the Education (No. 2) Bill. I do this on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), who, as the House knows, is not available. I do not wish to discuss the merits of the Bill but the contents show how important it is. It deals with school government, admissions to schools, the establishment, discontinuance and alteration of schools, scholarships and awards, including assisted places at independent schools, grants for education in Welsh, school meals and transport and recoupment and sharing of expenditure. Though the Bill deals mainly with England and Wales, it contains important elements affecting Scotland as well.

The importance of the Bill is proved by its financial aspects. There is £5 million allocated for the election of school governors, about £1 million for industrial scholarships and a small though important sum of £500,000 for Wales. There is about £55 million—a lot of money when cuts are the norm—for assisted places in independent schools. There is a saving of £220 million listed which will be the result of cuts in school meals and school transport in the rural areas.

The Bill is to be debated next Monday. It is a convention of this House—and I have looked very carefully at the debate of two years ago on the Renton report—that there should be at least two full weekends before a Bill is debated on the Floor of the House. This is particularly important if it is a major Bill. We on the Labour Benches did not object when the European Communities (Greek Accession) Bill and the Shipbuilding Bill were debated at short notice; we waived the convention then because, in our view, it was right to do so. This Bill, however, is extremely important.

Hon. and right hon. Members could not get copies of the Bill on Friday last. Late in the day a handful of copies—12—were available, which was not enough to supply the needs of the House. The Leader of the House and his Department realised that they were in error and sent a copy of the Bill to every Member of this House. Many of those copies did not arrive until this morning and many hon. Members who represent constituencies a long way from Westminster and who do not get to their homes until Sunday evening tell me that they have not received copies of the Bill.

I would like the opportunity to discuss the Bill as it affects my area. The assisted places issue will not affect my constituency, but the cuts will. The convention should be maintained that an important Bill should be in the hands of hon. Members for two full weekends. I ask the Leader of the House—whose party commands a majority of 70 and can afford to be magnanimous—to let the Bill come before the House not next Monday but the week after.

That is not a point of order for me. It is not my responsibility. Does the Leader of the House wish to speak?

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, which has quite properly been raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), I express the good wishes of hon. Members on the Government side for a speedy return to this House of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot).

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the concern that hon. Members have expressed about the delay in supplying copies of the Education (No. 2) Bill to the Vote Office on Friday last. I express my regret to the House for any inconvenience which hon. Members may have experienced. I understand that a small number of copies of the Bill were available at the Vote Office shortly after the House met on Friday but copies were not available for all hon. Members until about 1 o'clock, shortly after the House had risen.

The Lower Vote Office, at my request, remained open until mid-afternoon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), the Government Chief Whip, arranged for it to be made known that copies of the Bill were available there. I also arranged, in view of these circumstances and the importance of the Bill, for personal copies to be sent that afternoon, by first-class post, to as many hon. Members as possible. Further copies were dispatched on Saturday through the normal machinery of the Vote Office. I think we did all that we could reasonably be asked to do to remedy a situation which had arisen from circumstances beyond our control.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What the Leader of the House has said, with the greatest respect to you, misleads you and the House in many important respects. Last Thursday afternoon, during the exchanges on the Business Statement, the Leader of the House recorded his feelings on this matter. He said that he acknowledged the need for

"giving the customary two weekends for consideration by hon. Members of a major Bill."
If such a major Bill is published after midday on Friday, if the intention is to provide time for the Second Reading of a Bill a week the following Monday and if copies of that Bill are not available to more than 12 Members until half-past one on the Friday afternoon, when the House has risen at 20 minutes past 12 o'clock, how can the right hon. Gentleman fulfil his duties to the House and how can hon. Members fulfil their duties as scrutineers of legislation if they receive such short notice of Bills? That is an important right, which must be preserved.

There were further instances in the course of Thursday's business. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, in an Adjournment debate, when questioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), repeatedly referred to the fact that the House could expect to have the Bill in
"another 12 or 13 hours"
and
"All will then be revealed to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends".—[Official Report, 25 October 1979; Vol. 972, cc. 638–765.]
Indeed, all has been revealed about the incompetence of the Government. The Government attempted to cover their tracks by posting a copy of the Bill to each Member at the House of Commons, but very few Members could be expected to be there on a Saturday morning as they would normally be in their constituencies. That is a signed confession of the incompetence and arrogance of the Government in this matter.

The convention is well established. The committee chaired by Sir David Renton, now the noble Lord Renton, recommended that two clear weekends should be given. Governments who introduce Bills at the very last second of a week of business and expect such Bills to be debated at the very first point of the week following the next week of business are in difficulty in many instances, especially when contentious matters are involved. But Governments who introduce Bills an hour after the end of the business of a week and still expect those Bills to be debated properly on Second Reading by the beginning of the week after the next week are in even more difficulty.

I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, like the rest of the House, will find such action utterly intolerable. I appeal to you, as the defender of minorities in the House, to give consideration to this matter, to follow the recommendation of the Renton committee and to give a ruling that, certainly in the case of contentious Bills, two full weekends shall be given and that the two weekends shall run from the end of business in the one week to the beginning of business in the next week but one, so that we can avoid the possibility of this kind of confusion and misleading of the House in future.

If the Second Reading of the Education (No. 2) Bill had not been arranged for a week today—if it were to be, for example, the Wednesday or Thursday of next week—the Opposition, in their customary co-operative manner, would not be making such a fuss. Twice in part of a Session which is now only a week old, my right hon. Friends have informed the Government that they would not seek to impede or delay the Government's business on the accession of Greece Bill and the Shipbuilding Bill. That has become an established custom. In the same way, the Government, when in opposition, did not impede my right hon. Friends when they introduced non-contentious matters.

I have parliamentary answers which indicate that a substantial number of Bills did not conform to the criteria laid down by the Renton committee, but they were non-contentious matters, as evidenced by the fact that not once throughout the duration of the Labour Government did the Conservative Opposition have to make protests or appeals to you, Mr. Speaker, of the kind that we are having to make today. I shall be interested to hear your response to the manner in which the Government have approached the matter, which is, I feel, a most irresponsible and cavalier manner, disregarding the rights of the Opposition and the well-established convention of the House.

Order. I shall take three more points of order and then answer all of them together, if necessary.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that I was the last but one Member who tried to obtain and eventually obtained a copy of the Education (No. 2) Bill. I was asked by the man in the Vote Office who I was. Having ascertained that I was a Member, he then said that there were two copies left, one of which I could have. Incidentally, the House had not risen at that stage; it was about to rise. The chap in the Vote Office said that there were two copies left, that I could have one and that another Member who was with me could have the other. There were no more copies then. That was just before the House rose. The Adjournment debate did not proceed because the hon. Member concerned was not present.

Last Thursday the Leader of the House said that we ought to have two full weekends to discuss the Bill. I have always regarded the right hon. Gentleman as a very honourable Member of this House, whose word I have always accepted, though not necessarily agreed with. I put it to him that, on the basis of his own statement, he ought now to accept that we should not proceed with the debate on the Bill today week. In fact, it should be put back for at least a week in order that hon. Members may properly read the Bill and make up their minds how they should proceed with respect to it.

I believe the right hon. Gentleman to be an honest Member and that his word—[Interruption.] We are all honest Members, but the right hon. Gentleman is a particularly honourable Member. I put it to him that, on the basis of his own statement, he should be prepared to accede—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not able to put anything to the Leader of the House. He is raising a point of order which must be directed to me. I indicated earlier that I was prepared to take further points of order as long as they were points of order and not arguments whether the Bill should go on.

I accept that, Mr. Speaker. However, through you, may I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that, in view of his own statement, he should accede to the request that I have made.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. After the rising of the House on Friday, I attempted to obtain a copy of the Bill and was unsuccessful. It is fair to say that I obtained a copy later in the day and another one through the post, so I now have two copies of the Bill. However, it is within my knowledge that some hon. Members had to leave before copies became available later in the day in the Vote Office. Therefore, on any showing, they were not available to those hon. Members over the weekend. Is not the purpose of presenting a Bill not only that two full weekends should elapse before Second Reading but that copies should be available to hon. Members?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the last 18 minutes I have heard two matters asserted. The first was that the Leader of the House said that the Bill was available at one o'clock on Friday. The second was that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) asserted that such Bills should be available at the end of business of one week and should not be debated before the business in the week following the week after that. It would seem that on this occasion Opposition Members had copies of the Bill made available to them three and a half hours earlier than normal. Will you please explain what is at issue in this matter?

May I seek your advice, Mr. Speaker? With regard to the Bill, which I have not yet been able to see, in your experience of this House, when we are still at the beginning of October and likely to run through to next August, would one week's delay be a disastrous consequence for any Government?

As a Business Statement will be made on Thursday which will cover the following Monday, could not my right hon. Friend think about this and give an answer then?

The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), has a point and I recognised that by the action that I took. However, with respect to the hon. Gentleman, he has rather exaggerated the point. If I thought for a moment that hon. Members would be substantially deprived by a delay of a few hours in the Bill's being available, I would take action at once, but I am not convinced.

The hon. Member for Bedwellty answered his own case when he asked you, Mr. Speaker, to make a ruling on this matter. When speaking during business questions on Thursday, I said that it was a custom that two weekends should be available. It is not a rule or a convention of the House. The idea is that a reasonable time should be made available. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), the former Solicitor-General, said when in office that the House should appreciate that, while the report of the Renton committee should be considered,
"there are bound to be some occasions when these intervals would not be practicable."—[Official Report, 3 November 1975; Vol. 918, c. 120.]
I do not believe that there is substance in the point made by the Opposition, but I shall certainly reflect upon the matter, if necessary.

I hope you share my conviction, Mr. Speaker, that the right hon. Gentleman is playing with words. The House is run on custom and understands its proceedings when customs are conformed to. On matters of great contention, such as this Bill, surely the only way in which we maintain a civilised relationship in the House is when customs are scrupulously conformed to and not twisted to suit the convenience of the Treasury Bench. Custom in the House assumes greater importance—and, indeed, greater credibility and a greater measure of universal support—because it is generally adhered to. On those occasions when it is significantly departed from—as on this occasion—we need your protection, Mr. Speaker, to save us from the consequences of having what the Conservative Lord Chancellor has called an elective dictatorship. In some respects that is what the Government are saying.

The right hon. Gentleman accuses me of exaggeration, but where shall we draw the line? Shall we draw the line at 9 o'clock, midday or half-past one on a Friday, or, indeed, when the House rises—whether that be at 4.30 pm, as is customary, or at 12.20 pm, as was the case last week? If Governments can bend their consideration of time, and the appropriateness of the presentation of a Bill, whether it inconveniences the House or not, and then shuffle behind an apology—which I am sure is genuinely given—that is not sufficient protection for minorities in the House to secure their rights and the rights of their constituents. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will acknowledge the force of that argument.

We have had 13 weeks in recess. We are filling up the early weeks of this part of the Session with various matters lacking in contention. I do not object to that. But if we can have 13 weeks off and then have two items of uncontentious business, what is the hurry about getting the Education (No. 2) Bill in, especially when it is accomplished by gross incompetence on the part of the Government by not providing hon. Members with the Bill well beforehand?

First, let me make my own position absolutely clear. I understand that this is an agreement between both sides of the House, a convention between parties. It is not a matter which Mr Speaker has ever been called to rule upon. Therefore, I advise the House that I am not able to help further on any points of order about when the Bill will be debated. That is not a matter for me. [Interruption]. Order. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) indicated to me privately that he has a very different point of order, which I shall hear. I shall not pursue points of order about the matter that has already been raised. I have given the House a very good run on what was not a genuine point of order.

Parliamentary Printers

What I said to you privately, Mr. Speaker, was that my point of order was directed at you; I did not say that it was a very different point of order.

I should like to ask you, Sir, as Chairman of the House of Commons Commission, whether you will exercise your powers to convene that Commission—which includes the Leader of the House—and ask it to exercise its powers to include the parliamentary printers in the category of Officers and servants of the House. The Leader of the House will realise—as you certainly will, Mr. Speaker—that many difficulties have been caused to at least three previous Governments because the printers and warehousemen are responsible to Governments who are not necessarily competent. I suggest that if these people were Officers and servants of the House, as the trade unions concerned wish, we might be better served on these occasions.

I shall consider what the hon. Member has said.

On a different point of order, Mr. Nigel Spearing.

Education (No 2) Bill

I regret having to raise this matter, Mr. Speaker, but we are in some difficulty. You told us in what you considered to be your concluding remarks, immediately before my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) stood up, that this was not a point of order. For my guidance, if well-established customs are not scrupulously observed by the Government, and as the strength of the Government is sufficient to allow them to dictate to the Commons unless the House is protected, could you tell me how matters can be raised and discussed in the House as a matter of urgency if not on a point of order?

The answer to that is quite clear. There are issues which are conventions between the parties and which are no concern of the Chair. Pairing is a very good example where there is an understanding between both sides. I cannot hear any further argument on this question. I have given my ruling. Mr. Nigel Spearing, on a different point of order.

Order. I am not pursuing this matter. I have called Mr. Nigel Spearing on another point of order.

Procedure Debate, 31 October

I seek your advice, Mr. Speaker, on a matter that it was possible to bring forward only today.

Last Thursday the Leader of the House announced that he would put on the Order Paper motions for the procedure debate on Wednesday next, and they appeared on Friday. I believe that the House would agree that in your capacity as protector of the interests of all Members, particularly Back Benchers, clarity of proceedings on Questions is part of our tradition.

The motions consist, first, of an omnibus motion asking the House to assent to no fewer than 13 propositions on one Question. They are followed by eight consequential motions, some of which might fall as a result of amendments to the first, followed by three further motions on Scottish business. Of those 13 propositions, some are for note and are not matters of great controversy. However, six of them are controversial. They deal with time limits for certain speeches, the abolition of the recess Adjournment debates, changes in timings for Friday sittings, procedure for the hat during Divisions, voting on Supply motions and a major revision of Standing Order No. 9—all of which would have major effects upon the rights of Back Benchers.

The taking of 13 propositions within a single motion is not likely to lead to orderly debate, particularly if amendments are tabled to some or all of those 13 matters. Even if a motion for the abolition of the 10 o'clock rule were moved—as I expect it will—at 10 o'clock on Wednesday, there could be a muddle and disagreement which could lead to misunderstandings.

If the House is to retain its reputation for proper procedure, it would be for the convenience of everybody in the House and lead to disadvantage to none if each of those 13 propositions—some of which are complex in themselves—were the subject of a distinct and different motion to which amendments might be tabled and Questions put unequivocally on each. We must try to avoid a procedural muddle. We have not done too well so far this Session in that regard. My suggestion is the only way to protect the interests of Back Benchers.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who gave me notice in writing that he would raise this subject. I always appreciate that courtesy on the part of any hon. Member.

The House itself will decide whether it will discuss all the matters together. The hon. Member will recall a previous occasion when we dealt with a number of motions—on, I think, Members' pay. At 10 o'clock the House had the opportunity to vote on all the matters separately. It is for the House to decide and it will have its opportunity.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are faced with a real difficulty because of the way that the motion has been drafted by the Leader of the House. It will be difficult for any hon. Member who wishes slightly to amend a proposal in the main motion to table an amendment in a manner which will enable the House to know what it is doing.

It would be more satisfactory if the Leader of the House examined again the main motion—I do not refer to the other motions which are specific and separate. He should consider whether he can divide the individual and component parts of the main motion into separate motions linked to the specific motions which follow. If he did that, we should all be in an easier position. If that is not done, there will be utter chaos at 10 o'clock on Wednesday.

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that those prognostications will not be fulfilled. Of course, my concern is to enable the House to come to a decision on these matters, some of which have been hovering about for three or four years. If there is some difficulty because of the way in which the first motion is drafted, we shall re-examine it. Everyone agrees that the House should have an opportunity to come to a conclusion on these issues.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that the Leader of the House has undertaken to look at this matter again. He has also assured us that he will examine the question of the Education (No. 2) Bill. We shall now wait to see what the Leader of the House comes up with.

Order. The Leader of the House has undertaken to look at these matters and I was hoping that hon. Members would not seek to pursue them. Mr. Hooley, if he feels he must.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to pursue a specific point.

I am not sure why there is an inconsistency in three of the recommendations. The Leader of the House has spelt out what the recommendations mean in respect of paragraphs 2:9, 2:10 and 9:16, but he has not spelt out the implications of paragraphs 9:27 in terms of the Standing Order, which could alter the sitting time on Fridays. I fail to see how the House can alter its sitting time on Fridays unless a specific motion to amend the Standing Order is tabled.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are all in a difficulty because of the timing of the debate. For example, the first motion asks us to agree with a particular recommendation in paragraph 2:9 of the Procedure Committee's report from the 1977–78 Session. If we did that, we could not discuss the motion for short speeches to which that paragraph relates because the motion on short speeches does not carry out the recommendation of the Procedure Committee. Clearly we cannot agree to two contradictory propositions.

If the Leader of the House is to amend the motion and we are asked to table our amendments by tomorrow, they will be starred amendments and you, Mr. Speaker, will refuse to call them. Would you kindly get us out of this difficulty?

I can help a little by saying that I shall exercise some sympathy, without giving any firm undertakings about specific amendments.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you please help a humble Back Bencher? What is the Question before the House on which debate has taken place for over half an hour?

I am afraid that points of order are before the House. I have tried to deal with them, and I think that we should move on to the statutory instrument motion.

Order. I shall hear no further points of order about the Education (No. 2) Bill.

If it is a different matter, I shall hear it. If the hon. Member seeks to raise the subject with which we dealt earlier, I shall ask him to resume his seat.

I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise an entirely different point of order connected with the Education (No. 2) Bill.

Order. I shall not allow further points of order on that matter this afternoon. The Bill is not before the House. I have dealt with the question of procedure, and I propose to move on unless there is a point of order on a different subject.

European Community (Energy And Fuel Supplies Debate)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This has nothing to do with the Education (No. 2) Bill; it is to do with tonight's business. I recognise that it may be impossible to change the length of time allowed for consideration of the EEC documents. It is clear that a substantial number of hon. Members will wish to speak in the debate this evening and we shall probably be allowed only one and a half hours. Is it possible for a degree of flexibility to be applied to energy documents so that, if necessary, at short notice an additional period may be allocated?

I allowed the hon. Member to make his point of order. It is not really a matter for me but I exercised my discretion.

Members' Rights And Privileges

I wish to raise a point of order on a general matter, Mr. Speaker. In your rulings earlier you made it clear that the customs and practices of the House are not matters for you. Many of your predecessors went to the Tower or, indeed, were beheaded because of the way in which they defended the rights and privileges of this House, mainly against the Crown. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to reflect on how you may defend the rights and privileges of Back Benchers against the Executive, and on whether this is a matter that ought to be discussed by you. I make this—

Order. The hon. Gentle must not put words into my mouth. I did not say that the customs of this House are not my concern. I said that a convention between the two parties is not my concern. I hope that I have registered the fact that I have tried to defend the rights of hon. Members. I must tell the House that I am not prepared to use up its time any more on points of order that are not points of order, especially when there is a long list of hon. Members who wish to speak on the business before the House and who may be denied their chance to speak.

Later

Earlier you interrupted me, Mr. Speaker, quite rightly, in the middle of my point of order and said that it was not a point of order. I do not seek to trespass on your generosity by pursuing the matter further. However, I should like to make it clear that in no circumstances was I seeking to put words into your mouth. I was trying to describe how I thought your ruling was given and how I thought the usual practices between Government and Front Bench were interpreted. I hope that you will take that as an apology.

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It is very easy for us to misunderstand each other when the House is a little heated, as it has been. However, I am pleased to say that the temperature appears to be coming down.

Scottish Legislation

On another point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am conscious of the difficulties of the House and I am conscious of your own difficulty. I seek guidance in a general way on the statement about legislation affecting Scottish Members. For example, if parts of a Bill that was generally applicable to England and Wales were to include several clauses relating exclusively to Scottish matters, is it not the case that such a Bill would be sent to a United Kingdom Committee on which, at most, there would be only one or two Scottish Members on each side? If the matter under discussion were of supreme importance in Scotland, either because of the social background or because matters of social services, health or education were entirely different from those in England and Wales, how then would Scottish Members be placed in pursuing these matters in Committee? Would it be possible to extract such clauses from such a Bill so that they could be put to a separate Scottish Committee for discussion, or put before the Scottish Grand Committee for a debate in principle? These are the matters which concern us. I am not referring to the fact that there may be a case in point.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the arrangement of business is not a matter for the Chair. I shall look into the points that he has raised and write to him if I feel that there is anything that I ought to add.

Members' Mail

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for my earlier intervention. My point or order concerns Government interference in the post office. It has come to my attention that for whatever reason certain Government spokesmen on Friday tried to delay the departure of the 6.30 pm mail from the House of Commons in order that certain envelopes could be taken from the House of Commons post office. I understand that post office officials at the House of Commons, quite rightly, declined to participate in this squalid manoeuvre—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—but I also understand that a special post office van had to come to the House of Commons some time between 7.20 pm and 7.30 pm on Friday. As the guardian of the rights of hon. Members, and also of the House of Commons as a whole, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you are prepared to accept that the Government of the day, of whatever political colour, should interfere in the activities of a quasi-independent public corporation? I feel that this is a matter of great public concern.

I shall look into the matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised and write to him.

Education (No 2) Bill

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? If any hon. Member makes a statement that misleads the House, as I think the Leader of the House did last Thursday, what right do hon. Members have to seek to obtain a statement from the right hon. Gentleman to put the record straight? Last Thursday, the right hon. Gentleman said that there should be two full weekends for every hon. Member to obtain a copy of the Education Bill, look at it and discuss it, before debating it. That is not now possible. I think that the right hon. Gentleman misled the House. Are we to expect a statement from him tomorrow in relation to this matter? What exactly can we do?

I think that the hon. Gentleman was told by Mr. Deputy Speaker last week that he is a very experienced Member of the House—and so he is. He or she is a fortunate Member of this House who never has cause to complain that some people do not agree with what he or she has said.

Statutory Instruments, &C

Ordered,

That the Highlands and Islands Development Board Area Extension Order 1979 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]

Royal Commission On Gambling

Before the Secretary of State for the Home Department speaks, I should like to point out that there are two matters that are sub judice to which right hon, and hon. Members might seek to refer. The question of the Victoria Sporting Club and the question of Ladbroke are sub judice and I hope that right hon, and hon. Members will avoid mentioning them.

Perhaps you will clarify that statement, Mr. Speaker. You talked about Ladbroke. Will you confirm that you are referring to its casino licences and not to any other matters that might be raised?

I shall enlarge upon it. I was referring to the appeal by Ladbroke's against the decision of the Westminster licensing justices that they are not fit and proper persons to run casinos.

4.16 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the Report of the Royal Commission on Gambling (Command Paper No. 7200).
I am glad that the House has this opportunity to debate the report of the Royal Commission on gambling. The Royal Commission, under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild, was appointed in February 1976. It took evidence and received assistance from the numerous individuals and organisations listed in the appendices to the report. The report was published in July 1978. It runs to two volumes and covers 581 pages. It contains 303 recommendations. Since then, the Home Office has received comments on the Royal Commission's proposals from a great variety of bodies. For these we are most grateful.

I should first like to pay tribute to Lord Rothschild, his fellow Commissioners and their staff. They have performed a notable service. Not only have they discussed the subject in detail, but they have made specific proposals to deal with the problems that arise in each sector of the gambling industry. It is a vast industry. As the Commission shows in the introduction, more than £7,000 million was staked in 1976 on all forms of gambling in Great Britain, of which about £6,300 million was returned in winnings. The Commission has also gone to great trouble to provide the fullest possible information for the punters on the odds at roulette, the rate of return to be expected when they put a coin into a one-armed bandit, and so on.

The Royal Commission reviewed developments since the report of the previous Royal Commission nearly 30 years ago and endorsed the attitude taken by the previous Commission, which it summarised as follows. It was first:
"to interfere as little as possible with individual liberty to take part in the various forms of gambling but to recommend the imposition or continuance of such restrictions as are desirable and practicable to discourage socially damaging excesses and to prevent the incursion of crime into gambling."
Secondly, it was:
"to support broadly the principle that the facilities offered should respond only to un-stimulated demand."
Since those principles were first enunciated, we have had Lord Butler's legislation in the early 1960s which, amongst other things, legalised off-course cash betting, and those provisions have remained virtually unchanged for nearly 20 years. We have had the Gaming Act 1968, taken through this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, which gave us the Gaming Board and brought casino gambling under control. We have had the lotteries legislation introduced in 1975 by the previous Government, which is a rather less effective measure that has not, in the event, proved adequate to deal with recent developments in the lotteries field and was strongly criticised by the Royal Commission on that account.

Our aim should be to build on the existing legislation and bring it up to date in the light of changed circumstances. The vast amount of money that changes hands, and the possibilities that that provides for exploiting human weakness, are such that firm controls are needed to reduce the scope for crime and, while not encouraging the growth of gambling, we must try to ensure that those who indulge in it get a fair deal.

The main object should be to provide effective statutory provisions and regulations. In addition, some direct supervision and monitoring of gambling activities by the Government is required. However, the resources for that, as for other Government functions, are and must be limited.

The Gaming Board already keeps under review, as required by the 1968 Act, the extent, character and location of gaming facilities. It is important to bear in mind that the board's costs are covered by the fees charged to the industry. The Royal Commission, however, went further and proposed that the Home Office should be
"a central agency, actively concerned with the supervision of all forms of gambling".
The Commission also recommended that the Home Office should fund a gambling research unit
"to monitor and study the incidence, sociology and psychology of gambling".
I make it clear that I do not believe that we should be justified in providing the additional resources needed to enable the Home Office to be actively concerned with the supervision of all forms of gambling, nor do I consider that a sufficient case has been made out for the Home Office to fund a new research unit to study the sociology and psychology of gambling. The collection of information about the incidence of gambling is another matter. That information is at present scattered among a number of different publications, such as the annual reports of the Gaming Board and statistics produced by various Government Departments, and that makes it difficult for Parliament and the public to obtain a clear picture of the whole field. My Department is therefore preparing a new publication, the first edition of which should be available early next year. It collects together in one place statistical information about the various forms of gambling.

When, nearly 20 years ago, off-course cash betting was legalised and betting shops began to be set up which were likely to reduce attendance at race meetings, a bargain was struck with the bookmakers under which they agreed to contribute towards horse racing out of the proceeds of betting; hence the establishment of the Horserace Betting Levy Board that comprises representatives of the Jockey Club, the Tote and bookmakers, under an independent chairman and two other members appointed by the Home Secretary.

The money raised from the Tote and the bookmakers through the levy is required by statute to be devoted to the improvement of breeds of horses, the advancement or encouragement of veterinary science or education and the improvement of horse racing. The levy has increased from under £2 million in 1962–63 to over £12 million in 1978–79, and most of that money goes towards racing, particularly towards prize money and the improvement of race horses.

The Royal Commission examined the principle underlying the betting levy. It was satisfied that British racing and its associated activities needed financial assistance, and concluded that:
"the levy on betting is a satisfactory method of collecting money to subsidise racing which is probably more in accordance with the wishes of punters than any other system".
The Commission, however, made certain criticisms of present arrangements. As the levy is now, in effect, paid by the punters, the Commission saw no need for the continuance of the bookmakers' committee, which each year negotiates the levy scheme with the Levy Board. Secondly, it considered that the division of authority between the Levy Board and the Jockey Club led to duplication and inefficiency. Thirdly, it took the view that the Jockey Club does not represent a sufficiently wide range of interests to enable it to act effectively as an administrative authority for the racing industry as a whole.

These criticisms led the Royal Commission to recommend the establishment of an entirely new body, a British horse racing authority that would include representatives of all the main interests of the industry—the owners, breeders, stable staff and racecourses, as well as the Jockey Club, the Levy Board, the Tote and the bookmakers. The Commission proposed that the new authority should take over most of the standing functions of the Levy Board, which would have its membership reduced to a chairman and two independent members, and would be serviced by the Home Office.

When we came to office in May, I knew that there was a great deal of opposition in the racing industry to the Royal Commission's proposals. I found that the industry was giving serious thought to ways of achieving by simpler means the Commission's objective of enabling the various interested parties to make their views known before decisions are taken on how the proceeds of the levy are spent.

After consulting the Levy Board, the Jockey Club, representatives of the all-party racing committee, and my hon. Friend who has responsibility for sport, I announced on 19 July, in reply to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson), that I had reached the conclusion that a British horse racing authority was not needed at present but that I welcomed the steps being taken by the racing industry to establish a consultative body, representative of all sectors of the industry, which would advise the Horserace Betting Levy Board.

Since then, I am glad to say that progress has been made by the industry in formulating proposals for a horse racing advisory council, broadly representative of all the interests concerned, which would act as an advisory body to the Levy Board. The constitution of that body has been under consideration by the Levy Board and the stewards of the Jockey Club. I understand that there are one or two matters still to be settled, but the intention is that the chairman of the new body should occupy one of the Jockey Club's three seats on the Levy Board.

I emphasise that the horse racing advisory council will not be a Government body. It is the result of initiatives taken by the racing industry, and all the appointments to the council will be made by the industry. My responsibility will be limited to approving the payment of expenses out of the proceeds of the levy. This I shall be very ready to do as soon as the arrangements for appointing the council have been settled. Legislation is not required to enable it to function. The intention is that it should come into being on 1 January 1980. I am sure that without the stimulus provided by the Royal Commission's more radical proposals we should never have reached this stage. The Royal Commission went to great lengths to analyse the industry's problems in depth, and it was in no doubt that a representative body was needed. The industry has accepted the need and has worked harmoniously to devise a simpler solution which builds on the existing arrangements and has the support of all the principal bodies concerned. I wish it every success.

Apart from the addition of the chairman of the racing advisory council to membership of the Levy Board in place of one of the Jockey Club members, I do not envisage any major changes in the present arrangements or the levy. The Royal Commission drew attention to certain difficulties in the machinery for assessing and collecting the levy which could lead to levy avoidance on a substantial scale. I know that the Levy Board is most concerned about this. In the past few weeks my officials have been in close consultation with the board's staff about ways and means of overcoming the problem. In so far as amending legislation may be required to deal with it, I must tell the House that I see no prospect of Government time for a Bill this Session, but my Department will do everything in its power to assist the Levy Board to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

As I understand it, only a very small amendment would be required. It would almost certainly be non-contentious and it could be introduced by the Government at any time they wished—even late in the evening. Certainly, this would make an enormous difference to the Levy Board in enabling it to get money from the undoubtedly unscrupulous types in that industry who are working right outside the law, and avoiding a sum of £1,500,000 to £2 million. Having said all the decent things that the Home Secretary has said about the Levy Board so far, what does he mean by saying that he cannot find time? A Government can find time for anything if they want.

The right hon. Gentleman is a very old hand, as I am, at meeting requests for Government time in the House. I am very anxious to see progress on this front. It is right to have the consultations first. I would be very ready to help a Private Member's Bill of this kind. Indeed, I would go even further. If I could be absolutely assured that a very simple Bill could be provided and that it would have the full support of all those concerned and of the House and that it would get through very quickly, I would be ready to move. But I have had great experience of this House, and the assurances of one or two right hon. or hon. Members—even those of the greatest eminence—has never been quite enough for me. I need the utmost assurance before I will act.

When we see the colour of the Home Secretary's money, we will decide whether an assurance can be given from this side of the House.

If the usual channels—and the Home Secretary was a great expert in this erea—mean anything at all, this is the ideal opportunity to test them. If he would initiate an amending Bill I think that he could be pretty sure of the good will of the House. I am sure that we could get this very tiny amendment which represents a difference of nearly £2 million.

I must respond to both right hon. Gentlemen. I do not quite understand the reference to the colour of my money. In this instance the colour of my money would in fact be the taxpayers' money and I hope that that money would go to racing as the result of our actions. In reply to the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), I will look at this, but I must be very much assured because I have no authority in these matters. I have no authority to speak for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

I turn to the question of the Tote. The Royal Commission devoted a chapter of its report to the Tote. In effect, it recommended no change in the present arrangements. I see no reason to dissent from that. I would add only two things. First, in the period that has elapsed since the Commission considered the matter, the Tote has shown substantially increased profits and now there is no doubt at all that it is making a significant contribution to racing. Secondly, just before the House rose for the Summer Recess I appointed Mr. Francis Aglionby, a recorder of the Crown Court, to hold an inquiry into the Tote's procedures for the inclusion in the on-course pools of bets made off the course. The inquiry is in progress and its findings will be published. Until then I shall say no more on that subject.

When there is an opportunity to legislate, it is clear to me from the Royal Commission's report and the comments that we have received on it, that we shall need to make a number of changes in the law relating to such matters as the procedure for obtaining bookmakers' permits and the signs that may be displayed in or outside betting shops. The Royal Commission also recommended that the Office of Fair Trading should promote a voluntary code of conduct to provide protection for the betting office punter. I understand that the Office of Fair Trading is in touch with the bookmakers associations about this.

I turn now to greyhound racing. It is clear from the comments that my Department has received that many of those who are concerned with this sport are disappointed that the Royal Commission did not recommend a greyhound racing levy. I note that the industry has suffered considerably from the introduction of off-course cash betting, but I regret to say that I agree with the Commission that a case for a levy is not made out. On the other hand, I also concur in the Royal Commission's proposals for some modest increases in the permitted number of races per meeting and in the number of meetings allowed each year. I understand that these increases should help significantly the profitability of the sport, but these improvements also will have to await the opportunity for legislation.

Before leaving the subject of betting I should mention another proposal made by the Royal Commission. This is the recommendation that bookmaking on tracks should be confined to the sport taking place on the track on that day. The betting legislation defines a track as
"premises on which races of any description, athletic sports or other sporting events take place."
The Royal Commission had in mind the situation in which, for example, full on-course betting facilities had been provided at cricket matches and bets were taken by certain bookmakers on horse races, greyhound races and other activities as well as cricket. There are two possible objections to such arrangements. First, a monopoly may be created if those who control the cricket ground provide facilities only for one bookmaker. Secondly, the licensing procedure is circumvented as the betting tents at cricket grounds and elsewhere are not subject to the controls that apply to betting shops. For these reasons, the Royal Commission made its recommendation which would allow a bookmaker at, say, York racecourse, to take bets on horse races at that course and also at Newbury but not on cricket, tennis, football or any other sport. Similarly, bookmakers at cricket grounds would be confined to bets on cricket matches. I have an open mind on this proposal, and I shall welcome the views of the House.

Nor do I blame myself.

When the Royal Commission report was published in July 1978, the subject that hit the headlines was lotteries. This was not surprising in view of what the Commission said about lotteries in the spring of 1978 when it looked into this matter. I quote from its conclusions in chapter 12, paragraph 134:
"Despite the good work being achieved through many lotteries, the situation we have discovered is scandalous. There is wholesale disregard of the law which is inadequate and confused, commercial exploitation to a totally unacceptable degree, gross lack of security and, we strongly suspect, a good deal of plain dishonesty."
The Commission had in mind the legislation which was introduced by the previous Government in 1975 and which permitted local authorities to run lotteries for the first time and greatly increased their maximum turnover from £750 to £40,000. The subject has changed a great deal since the Royal Commission reported. Lotteries are not as popular as they were. Moreover, examination of the Commission's 65 recommendations on the subject has led us to the conclusion that some of them are unnecessary, impracticable or could not be implemented without unacceptably large increases in staff.

Nevertheless, there remains cause for considerable concern about the way in which some lotteries are run. I am not concerned with small lotteries that are incidental to fetes, dinners, dances and sporting events. Such lotteries often form a very enjoyable part of those occasions. As the Royal Commission indicated, as regards the larger lotteries, there are three main matters to be dealt with if the system is to be reformed: prevention of commercial exploitation, improved control of lotteries and control of lottery tickets.

There is not much that can be done to improve control over lotteries without substantive legislation. I regret that there is no prospect of Government legislation on the topic in this Sesison. However, I have power to make regulations. Last week, my Department sent a consultative document to the local authority associations and other bodies concerned. That document contained proposals for new regulations which would go some way towards achieving the objectives to which I refer. Copies of the document have been placed in the Library of the House.

In particular, the proposals for the new regulations seek to ensure that the tickets and advertisements for lotteries do not make it appear that the lotteries are being promoted by commercial firms. Parliament intended the lotteries to be promoted either by local authorities or on behalf of societies that are established for charitable, sporting or cultural purposes.

In this respect, our proposals do not go as far as the Royal Commission recommended. The Commission recommended that societies and local authorities should be prohibited from employing what it refers to as "external lottery managers"—in other words, agents who take over the complete running of a lottery, hoping to make a profit out of it. Having considered the Commission's arguments and the comments made on them, I believe that local authorities and societies which are promoting lotteries should be free to employ agents to manage their lotteries if, in their judgment, that is the most effective way to run the lottery. However, it should be made clear that, as the law requires, the lottery is being promoted by the local authority or on behalf of the society concerned because those bodies are ultimately responsible for all the arrangements—particularly for ensuring that lotteries are properly conducted.

The Royal Commission proposed the establishment of a national lotteries board consisting of about 10 members appointed by the Home Secretary. That board would run a national lottery for good causes. However, I have grave doubts about the matter and not only because that would involve the establishment of another quango. I recognise the attractions of the proposal as outlined by the Royal Commission in that a national lottery:
"could provide in our society a source of money to be allocated to deserving causes unfettered by short-term political and public pressures, meeting, as the Government can scarcely do, the need for large-scale benefaction of particular types."
However eminent and impartial the members of a national lotteries board might be, it might experience grave difficulty in deciding on the proper allocation of tens of millions of pounds a year in such a way as to satisfy Parliament and the public. Moreover, we need to consider the effect of a national lottery on the existing lotteries and on the income which local authorities, charities and others derive from the lotteries. The Government have reached no conclusion on the proposal. Again, I would welcome the views of the House on the matter.

There is the special area of football. Some of my hon. Friends and I believe that the money for football lotteries should go directly to those who make football possible, the professional clubs and others. Is that matter to be considered in the Goverment's overall thinking?

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate in his reply to that question whether he will go on to deal with the proposals for the football board and the whole question of football pools?

I shall deal with some of these matters. Those that I do not deal with will be covered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who has special responsibility for sport, when he winds up the debate. I am conscious that my speech will be long, but he will deal with the matters to which I do not refer.

I turn to the Pool Competitions Act 1971. I know that some hon. Members are concerned about the future of the deserving causes which now benefit from the Act. It deals with competitions where the distribution of prizes depends on the outcome of sporting events, usually football matches. The Act was introduced following a decision by the House of Lords that a particular competition did not constitute lawful pool betting, as had been supposed, but was an unlawful lottery. The Act allows only the promoters of pool competitions in existence before it was passed to continue for the time being to run these competitions, subject to licences issued by the Gaming Board.

The competitions are run in aid of charities which support spastics, research into cancer and polio and in support of football and cricket clubs. The Act was intended as a temporary measure to run for five years until 1976, with the provision that it may be extended for a year at a time. Before Parliament rose for the Summer Recess, it was extended for a further year until July 1980. The Royal Commission recommended that the Act should be allowed to expire, primarily on the grounds that special exemptions from the law on lotteries should not be given indefinitely to a limited number of organisations.

The seven organisations which run these competitions have a greater turnover than is permitted under the lotteries law. Clearly, that special arrangement should not continue indefinitely. I hope that the House agrees that the best way to deal with the matter is to allow the Act to continue in force until Parliament has decided what changes should be made in the law on lotteries.

I turn to gaming. In a sense, that is the most serious aspect of the whole gambling business. It is in this way that the risk of invasion by criminals into the gambling scene is probably the greatest. One of the principal purposes of establishing the Gaming Board in 1968 was to prevent that invasion. That was a task the Royal Commission recognised the board had accomplished with considerable success. Much of the credit for that achievement should go to the first chairman, Sir Stanley Raymond, who retired in 1977. He was succeeded by Lord Allen of Abbeydale, the permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office at the time of the introduction of the Gaming Act.

There has been much improvement since 1968, but the need for constant vigilance remains. Unfortunately, it cannot be said that the gambling scene in this country is free from all criminal elements. The increasingly international nature of the industry adds to the risks. That emphasises the importance of exchanging intelligence with other countries and of establishing good working relationships with the gaining authorities in this country. That is one of the many functions of the Gaming Board which it will, I am sure, continue to discharge as effectively as lies within its power.

While the Commission made a number of detailed suggestions for improving the supervision of gaming, it took the view that few radical departures from the existing systems of control were needed. It accepted the present pattern of about 120 casino clubs in Great Britain—more than 20 in London which account for about 75 per cent, of the business—catering primarily for the resident population. It rejected, rightly in my view, proposals that the rule requiring members to wait 48 hours before taking part in the gaming should be relaxed in favour of overseas visitors.

The Commission found that the regulations specifying the areas in which casinos are permitted have become out of date—as indeed they have—largely because of local government reorganisation. However, I find it difficult to accept the Commission's proposal that the regulations should be revoked and not replaced, leaving it to the licensing justices to have regard to a circular that the Commission proposes that the Gaming Board should issue listing areas as suitable or unsuitable for casinos. I shall be interested to hear the views of the House, but I doubt whether it would be right to allow any significant addition to the number of casinos already operating in this country.

The Commission examined in some detail the current arrangements for taxation of casinos and made far-reaching recommendations for changes in the system which it hoped would result in a substantial increase in the yield from casino taxation.

The House will not be surprised to hear me say that those recommendations, which are obviously a matter of considerable concern to the industry, are for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider and it would not be appropriate for me to say anything about them today. However, I can say that the Commission's recommenations for changes in the law relating to cheques and the provision of credit for gaming in casinos are acceptable and we shall be prepared to implement them when there is an opportunity for legislation.

There are other changes recommended by the Commission that need to be brought into effect as soon as the law can be amended. Casinos should be required to provide the Gaming Board with audited accounts at regular intervals and that requirement should apply also to bingo clubs.

The board should also be notified of changes of control in companies operating gaming establishments. As the Commission put it:
"the Gaming Board should in our opinion have power to penetrate the companies' corporate veil, discover who is really in control and take the necessary steps to exclude undesirables".
Another recommendation, which would benefit the industry as well as the Gaming Board, would allow applications for gaming licences to be made at any time of the year.

The Royal Commission formed a generally favourable view of licensed bingo clubs, which it considered to fulfil a valuable social function in relieving loneliness and boredom. There are about 1,700 bingo clubs scattered throughout Great Britain. Nearly 85 per cent, of the members are women, mostly middle-aged or older.

The Gaming Act 1968 made certain concessions to bingo clubs, as compared with casinos, on the ground that bingo was a neighbourly form of gaming for modest prizes and could be dealt with differently from other forms of commercial gaming.

I hope that it will be agreed that the distinction between bingo and what is sometimes referred to as "hard" gaming should continue, provided that the prizes remain modest and that firm control is maintained over any developments that lead to stakes being increased or the rate of play being speeded up.

Of course, that does not rule out increases in the limits being made from time to time to keep pace with inflation. The House may have noticed that the Government raised no objection to a Bill introduced by Lord Birkett in another place before the recess to implement the Royal Commission's recommendation that the Home Secretary should have power to vary by regulation the maximum prize in games of linked bingo, provided that the power was not used to make up all the ground lost since 1968.

The Commission devoted a considerable part of its report to gaming machines. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the topic, I should say that there are two main types of gaming machine—amusements with prizes machines in which not more than 5p can be inserted at a time and the maximum prize is 50p in cash or £1 in kind and jackpot machines in which a 10p stake can produce a prize of up to £100.

There are more than 80,000 AWP machines, of which about 60,000 are in public houses and the rest in such places as amusement arcades and transport cafés. There are about 36,000 jackpot machines in licensed casinos and bingo clubs, with most being in registered members' clubs.

The main problem with AWP machines concerns amusement arcades. The police and the local authority associations proposed to the Royal Commission that controls exercised over such places by local authorities should be strengthened, primarily on the ground that amusement arcades tend to become the haunts of undesirables and that young people can be at risk.

The Commission made a number of recommendations for that purpose which are supported by the local authority associations, although the trade objects to some of them. I find most of the Commission's proposals acceptable, with the possible exception of the recommendation that the police and local authorities should have power to enter amusement arcades at any time. That requires further thought.

The control of gaming machines is a complicated business. The manufacture of the machine is, I am told, an area in which technology has made great strides in recent years. New developments are constantly being introduced.

At present the suppliers and maintainers of gaming machines need a certificate from the Gaming Board. The Commission recommended that that requirement should be extended to those who manufacture, import or adapt the machines and that the Gaming Board's inspectors and the police should have power to enter premises at any reasonable time. The purpose of those proposals, which have, not unnaturally, aroused some opposition, is to protect the public and we shall consider them carefully with that in mind.

With the same end in view, the Commission proposed that the law should make it mandatory for a player to know the true rate of return of a gaming machine. It suggested that no jackpot machine should be permitted unless it has prominently displayed on it a statement telling the skilled and unskilled player the machine's rate of return.

The Commission also recommended that all jackpot machines should contain within them, hidden from the player, a meter recording specified information and that all such machines, wherever located, should be available for examination by a Gaming Board inspector.

Those proposals have far-reaching implications and need to be considered in the light of the additional cost that would be involved for the Gaming Board and, hence, for the industry. A considerable number of staff would be needed, assuming that suitable people could be found to inspect every one of the 36,000 jackpot machines once a year. I do not believe that such a bureaucracy would be justified.

A particularly difficult problem in this area relates to gaming in members' clubs. Gaming in those clubs, of which there are about 19,000—compared with only 120 casinos and 1,700 bingo clubs—takes place on a large scale. The Royal Commission estimated the amount staked in the clubs at not much less than £400 million a year. All this gaming is largely outside the control of the Gaming Board or the police.

The Royal Commission was very concerned about allegations of fiddling in these clubs, particularly in the playing of bingo and slot machines. The Commission rejected, rightly in my view, a proposal that the police and Gaming Board inspectors should have a right of entry without a warrant. It recommended instead a form of self-policing under which regulations would be made requiring clubs to keep certain records and disclose them to their membership. We shall consider these proposals in consultation with the organisations representing the clubs and the National Council of Social Service which are, I understand, concerned particularly about the burden that the Commission's proposals might impose on small-scale gaming in community centres and old people's clubs. We shall need to be careful to strike the right balance between taking steps to reduce the scope for fraud and intervening in matters that should properly be left to the membership of the clubs.

On these and other matters the Government have not yet reached any decision. We look forward to consultation with those concerned before firm proposals are made for legislation. I realise that in the time available to me I have not been able to do full justice to the great variety of subjects dealt with by the Royal Commission and its many proposals for action. In particular, I have not referred to the football pools. This and other topics will, I know, be covered by my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport in winding up the debate. In the meantime, I look forward with interest to hearing the views of right hon. and hon. Members, and I undertake that these will be carefully taken into account when the Government frame the substantial legislation that is so obviously necessary.

5.1 p.m.

Most weekends since the general election I have sat back and rather enjoyed the fact that mountains of paper would not be descending upon me on my return from the North. As I sat down this weekend by myself and without much advice, except at family lunchtime, about the Royal Commission's report, I could have wished that I had some advice to find my way through a complicated and valuable series of documents. None of us expected the Home Secretary to cover all the ground and all the problems that arise. I congratulate him on raising the most important ones for today's take-note debate.

I should like to concentrate on how we proceed further. I cannot set myself up as an expert on the various matters that have arisen. I had never previously been addicted to one-armed bandits, but during the last few months, in preparation for the debate, I have played well nigh every machine on the M1 and M4 as I go about my duties. I can confirm that the law of averages does not work. If there was some indication on these machines showing one's chances, I suspect that I would not have put in 10p at all.

I bow to one of the few people in this House who is an expert in these matters.