House Of Commons
Thursday 20 November 1979
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
British Railways (No 2) Bill
Lords amendments agreed to.
West Midlands County Council Bill Lords (By Order)
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [ 28 June] ,
That the Bill be now considered.
Debate further adjourned till Monday 21 January at Seven o'clock.
Tyne And Wear Bill Lords (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon 17 January.
Oral Answers To Questions
Security Forces (Co-Operation)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he is satisfied with the level of co-operation between the security forces.
Co-operation between the security forces is good, but I am always looking for ways to improve it. That is the reason for the organisational changes that I announced in this area at the beginning of October.
Is there not scope for improvement in the operational integration of elements of the security forces to provide greater flexibility in counterterrorist activity in local areas? Will the Secretary of State seek to make greater use of local knowledge and experience?
There is always scope for improving our reaction and the way we operate. That is what the security co-ordinator is charged with doing. I also take on board the point made by the hon. Gentleman about local knowledge being extremely important.
In view of the escalation in the number of murders of prison officers committed by the IRA, and the tragic killing on Monday of another prison officer, which was a carbon copy of a killing a few weeks ago in the same area, is the Secretary of State satisfied that the security co-operation is effective, since it seems that these killings in similar circumstances continue?
As I said in my original answer, we are always trying to improve the co-operation and effectiveness of the security forces. As regards the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, relating to a particular killing, there is a later question on the Order Paper about that and I ask him to await my answer to it.
As the Secretary of State accepts that local knowledge is all-important, will he ensure greater deployment of the Ulster Defence Regiment, and allow it to work in co-operation with the Army whenever possible?
Yes, Sir. The precise deployment of units of the Ulster Defence Regiment is a matter for the GOC. However, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to make as much use as we can of that regiment's special skills and knowledge. I have discussed this with the GOC on many occasions and I shall continue to do so.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which parties have now indicated to him that they intend to participate in the conference on Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he is satisfied with the progress of all-party talks in Northern Ireland; and what action he now proposes in the matter.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the proposed conference on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made with the discussion of his consultation document; and what response he has had from Northern Ireland political parties and other interested groups.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the latest situation regarding acceptances and rejections for attendance at the expected conference on Northern Ireland and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a further statement on his proposed constitutional discussions with political parties in the Province.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his conference with political parties.
I have recently had further contacts with the leaders of the four main political parties in Northern Ireland. The leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Alliance Party have now indicated their readiness to attend the conference. Its purpose will be to consider how powers of government could be transferred to locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland on a basis that is acceptable to both sides of the community there. I have now written to the three party leaders informing them that the conference will begin on Monday 7January at Parliament Buildings, Belfast. I have also written similarly to the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) in the hope that, before the conference opens, his party will, after all, decide to attend.I do not underestimate the task that faces the conference. But there is a general desire in the Province for progress. We must now turn it to good account.
Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. I am sure that many hon. Members will welcome the attendance of the Social Democratic and Labour Party at the conference. It was consistently advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). Will the Secretary of State agree that, sooner or later, the whole question of the Irish dimension must be discussed?
Yes. As I indicated to the House on 29 November, the Irish dimension, which is a phrase which means exactly what one wants it to mean, has a part to play. The relationship between any elected body which is in control of the affairs of Northern Ireland and the authorities in the Republic of Ireland will be a matter for that body to decide. There are a great many areas in which co-operation between the North and South is extremely important. We all want to develop those.
Does the Secretary of State agree that enshrining minority rights in any new constitutional arrangement for Northern Ireland will perpetuate the divisions between the communities? Would it not be far more positive for Northern Ireland to be entirely integrated within the United Kingdom, with a system of county councils similar to that in England? Does he agree that, in that way, people would get together and there would be a process of gradual assimilation?
One of the purposes of the conference will be to discuss and seek agreement on points such as those my hon. Friend makes. There are a variety of ways in which we can do what the Government are determined to try to do—to transfer to locally elected representatives responsibility for affairs in the Province. My hon. Friend has suggested one particular way forward. Other people have other ways. That is what the conference will be all about.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not possible for the British Government to stand back and wait for an agreement reached around the conference table by the parties concerned? Is it not true that sooner or later the British Government must take a part in these negotiations and produce proposals to this Parliament?
Yes, I hope that I have made that clear. The responsibility ultimately is for the Government to decide what to suggest to Parliament and bring those proposals to Parliament, and then for Parliament to decide whether to let them go forward. This stage in the proceedings is simply an attempt to get representatives of the people of Northern Ireland together around a discussion table to see what level of agreement we can find. If we can find a reasonably high level of agreement, the House would wish to know this when it decides what to do.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a certain amount of confusion about the scope of the conference? Will he confirm the remarks that he made to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), to the effect that the agenda and consultative document are still unchanged? Will he outline what action he will take if the taboo subjects outlined in paragraph 4 of the document are raised?
Yes. It is quite clear that the working paper, Cmnd. 7763, which the House debated on 29 November, is the basis for the conference. In my speech on that day I made it clear to all parties that they would be free to put forward papers containing their own proposals. I have gone one stage further, and I have said that I shall invite those parties to introduce those papers orally at the conference. But, as is made clear in paragraph 4 of the White Paper, I shall not invite the conference to discuss a certain range of subjects.
Will the Minister agree that the polarisation of the voting in the two general elections was an indication of the developing intensity of the struggle in Northern Ireland, as evidenced by the recent increase in bombing? Does he not agree that the time has come for all sides to talk? Would it not be much better, now that the SDLP has agreed to come to the conference, for the Official Unionists to do the same? Is he aware that it will not be a proper conference, with any real hope, unless the Official Unionists see it in that way? I am convinced that the ordinary supporters of the Official Unionists want them to attend.
Of course I hope that the four parties will come and discuss ways of making progress. I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong to link that with the level of violence in Northern Ireland. Un-happily, the situation in the Province at present is that the Provisional IRA has no interest whatever in political developments. In fact, I do not believe that it wants to see any political development. Its only concern is to seek to destroy democratic institutions, both in the North and South, as it has said. Therefore, while I am sure that it is the wish of people in the Province that we should make political progress, we must not be under any illusion that this will reduce the level of violence. I am afraid that it will not.
If the Official Unionists do not come to the conference, will not the actual result be, whether desirable or not, that, both on this side of the water and possibly on the other side as well, people will regard the party led by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley, as speaking for the vast majority?
:I do not think that that is for me to say. I hope very much that the four main parties will come to the conference. We are seeking agreement among the political parties on how to progress. It is not only the Government who need to know this, but the House as well. In the end, the House will make the decisions. We all want to make decisions for the future of Northern Ireland which we believe will be acceptable to the people and have a chance of lasting. Therefore, the greater the level of agreement we can get, the better.
Will the Secretary of State clarify the phrase "Irish dimension"? Has there not always been, and must there not always be, business-like cross-border co-operation? To remove false hopes on one side and dangerous fears on the other, will my right hon. Friend make clear that his interpretation of the phrase "Irish dimension" does not affect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I readily make that point clear. The difficulty about the phrase "Irish dimension" is that it seems to me to mean exactly what one wants it to mean. It is quite clear that there are a number of matters of common interest to people who live in Ireland, whether it be north or south of the border, and there are matters which are discussed between the North and South at present which will continue to be discussed in future. We must avoid the temptation to put ourselves in the position of saying that we either can or cannot discuss the Irish dimension. It is there; it is a fact of life, or at least a fact of geography. Of course it will be discussed, but in the end the progress that is made in the political field depends on the will of Parliament.
So that this House may be absolutely clear about the answer of the Secretary of State to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), are we to understand that what was agreed in the exchange of letters was that the subject of Irish unity may be raised in a memorandum, but will not be discussed at the conference? Or will there be a discussion as well as the introduction of the memorandum? Have the Government ruled out any sort of association of other elected representatives in the Province with these talks?
On the question of Irish unity, I repeat what I said before. In the first place, I have invited any party attending the conference or any other party or individual to submit to the conference whatever proposals they please, without any limit. Secondly, when the conference meets I shall invite the parties to introduce their papers orally. Thirdly, I shall not invite the conference to discuss the matters set out in paragraph 4 of the White Paper which include Irish unity. Equally, when dealing with paragraph 5, I shall not invite the conference to discuss the control of security. The Government are not prepared to recommend to the House that that should be transferred.That is the limit of my remarks. I do not think that there is anything more that I can usefully say. There are those who have aspirations about Irish unity, for example, and that is all right. It is what the conference discusses that matters, because the whole purpose of the conference is to seek to make an advance, even if it is a comparatively limited one. We should be wrong to spend time discussing a range of subjects on which we know perfectly well there will be no agreement. Political parties or individuals not represented at the conference will be invited to submit their views in writing. In a recent debate it was suggested that there should be an arrangement by which I could, at the same time, consult the House. I am ready to do that and to consider means of doing it effectively.
Does the Secretary of State not yet realise that the Official Unionist Party is as much opposed as the Provisional IRA—but for different reasons—to the creation or re-creation of a devolved Stormont Parliament? So that the Ulster people have full representation at the conference, will he invite all Ulster Members of Parliament who are willing to attend, so that there can be full and proper discussions on the future of Ulster?
It is right to confine the conference to the four main political parties, although I am ready to seek ways of taking into account the views, on a continuing basis, of other hon. Members. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should expect me to answer for anything other than Her Majesty's Government.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is still much confusion and controversy about what can and what cannot be discussed at the conference? Will he tell the House, now, whether paragraph 4 lays down the broad parameters of discussion? Will he tell the House what would happen if one of the parties at the conference were to put forward proposals that contravened paragraph 4? Would the Secretary of State rule any discussion of such proposals out of order?
Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the White Paper set the limits of the discussions that I am prepared to invite the conference to follow. Any party is able to put forward any ideas in writing. The parties at the conference will be invited by me, as the chairman, to introduce their papers orally.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he now plans to introduce new measures to combat terrorism in Northern Ireland.
As I stated in the House on 11 December, there have already been a number of important developments, including new measures to enhance cross-border security, a large increase in the establishment of the RUC, and a programme of re-equipment for the police. There have also been other measures of a more specifically operational nature, on which the House will not expect me to go into detail.
Is the Secretary of State aware that since he took office there has been a considerable increase in the number of people murdered as compared with the corresponding period last year, culminating in seven murders last weekend? Will he agree that the measures that he has taken hitherto have not been successful? Will he take more effective measures to defeat the IRA?
The House debated that issue a week ago. At that time I explained the actions of the Government. The hon. Gentleman put forward his point of view, as did many other hon. Members. The continuance of the emergency powers and the way that the Government should operate them, were approved on a Division at the end of the debate.
Does my right hon. Friend have anything to tell the House about cross-border security arrangements following the change of Prime Minister in the Republic?
There is a later question on the Order Paper relating to that, and I ask my hon. Friend to await my answer.
Is the Secretary of State aware that reports in the press this morning indicated that the army of the Republic of Ireland has acquired anti-aircraft guided missiles to combat aerial attacks by the IRA? If that is a real threat in the Irish Republic, will the Secretary of State tell the House whether it has been discussed at the cross-border security meetings? If it has been discussed, will he assure the House that the army in Northern Ireland has similar weapons available, and, more important, has authority to use them if necessary?
Over many years I have learnt not to believe everything that I read in the newspapers.
As the IRA is now carrying out attacks in areas hitherto not attacked, is the Secretary of State satisfied that his arrangements are really counteracting IRA terrorism?
The Government's arrangements for controlling the activities of the IRA can never be said to be operating wholly satisfactorily as long as the IRA is able to launch attacks on innocent individuals, members of the security forces and business premises. I am continually seeking ways of improving our actions in dealing with the IRA.
May I ask the Secretary of State questions on three matters of anxiety arising from recent incidents. First, if the Army is to use deserted farm houses as observation points, should it not have some means of guarding against intruders gaining access and mining the farmhouses, as occurred last weekend? Secondly, as new units seem to be singled out for attack fairly early in their tour, is he satisfied with the training for the new units? Thirdly, as motorised patrols are singled out for attack, will he consider pressing for more helicopters to be made available for operations in Northern Ireland, both independently and in conjunction with the motorised patrols?
The detailed implementation of security policy is left to the commanders of the security forces. The circumstances vary in each case. Nevertheless, I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are brought to the attention of the GOC and the Chief Constable.New army units arriving in the Province are given intensive and elaborate training and preparation for the circumstances that they might face on arrival. I do not know how much more we can do, although I am ready to discuss that with the GOC. There is no conclusive evidence that new units are being attacked rather than other units, but I shall consider that. I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the use of helicopters. The helicopter is a valuable weapon in our armoury against the terrorist. It is not an exclusive weapon and we must maintain the rest of our activities against the terrorists. I am studying the deployment and use of helicopters because they are useful weapons against the enemy.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the content, administration and interpretation at local level of the Building Regulations (Northern Ireland) Orders 1972 and 1978.
The building regulations in Northern Ireland operate in a generally satisfactory manner but we are constantly looking at means of simplifying and streamlining their content and administration.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State next considers amendments to the Northern Ireland building regulations, will he consider whether they can be simplified without in any way compromising safety, as many people consider possible? If he thinks that there is merit in the building regulations being uniform throughout the United Kingdom, instead of having the present four different sets, is he prepared to consult his right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and the Environment to consider whether that can be brought about?
I am aware of the review recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I intend to study his conclusions carefully to ascertain whether they may be applied to Northern Ireland.
Will the Minister accept that if he finds a way of meeting the wishes of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) by simplifying the building regulations without weakening safety requirements, he will receive the Opposition's full support? Will he take this opportunity of congratulating the six building control officers in Northern Ireland who, by their efforts, have made the interpretation of regulations that much easier to understand in Northern Ireland?
I do so most readily.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will pursue the issue of extradition with the Government of the Republic of Ireland as one of the methods of improving security in Northern Ireland.
We are determined that those who commit terrorist crimes in Northern Ireland and then flee to the Republic should be brought to justice. Since extradition procedures have proved ineffective in such cases, for reasons that I explained to the House on 25 October, I have agreed with Irish Ministers that it is important to make greater use of the extra-territorial legislation in both countries.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the extra-territorial jurisdiction legislation is of no use in dealing with border security? Will he press the new Taoiseach to treat extradition seriously? Does he accept that few Southern politicians believe that the opposition to extradition can be upheld on the basis of a constitutional argument?
I take note of the hon. Gentleman's remark about the attitude of Southern politicians. Her Majesty's Government have made it clear to the Government of the Republic, and will do so again, that in their view extradition is the best answer. We operate it and we hope that they will do the same.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the extra-territorial jurisdiction legislation is a sorry remnant of the ill-fated Sunningdale agreement? Will he consider extradition with a view to ensuring that those who commit crimes in Northern Ireland are brought to Northern Ireland, placed before the courts, and sentenced?
The hon. Gentleman refers to the extra-territorial legislation as a sorry remnant. That is a reference to something that has gone by. I remind him that the Government of the Republic have recently signed the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. That does not take us very far forward, because the convention is much the same as the extra-territorial legislation. However, I suggest that that act on the part of the Republic should be regarded as evidence that the Government of the Republic will use the extra-territorial legislation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the extra-territorial legislation was freely entered into by the British Government and the Government of the Irish Republic, who are failing to implement that legislation? Is it not a fact that the security forces in Northern Ireland have not attempted to get the legislation implemented, and that, without their co-operation, or their requests for its use, it is impossible for the Government of the Republic of Ireland to take any action?
It is largely a matter of evidence. Since 1971–75 arrest warrants for persons suspected of terrorist offences have been sent to the Republic. It is not always easy to obtain the necessary evidence. It is not a lack of will on the part of the authorities in the United Kingdom that prevents the legislation being used. Requests are currently being considered.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is incorrect in saying that the Republic has signed the European convention on the suppression of terrorism? Is it not a fact that, at the end of the Dublin summit, a protocol was signed which had the effect of applying the extra-territorial legislation to the Republic and to the members of the Community? It added nothing to relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic. Is it not the case that no improvement can be made until the Republic accedes to the convention?
My understanding is that the Government of the Republic have signed an agreement on the application of the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. I understand that that agreement does not come into force until three months after all member States have ratified it. I do not think that they have done that yet, so I cannot say when it will start.
What practical effect will the signing of a protocol have?
Not very much. It merely confirms the arrangements that the Republic entered into with us over the extra- territorial legislation. I mentioned that the Government of the Republic signed and agreed the document because the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) indicated that the extra-territorial legislation was—he did not say that it was a dead duck, but that is what he meant—ahangover from something that he did not like very much. I suggest that the evidence that the Government of the Republic have recently signed an agreement is an indication that they will do that which the discussions that we have had with them indicate they wish to do.
Irish Republic (Collaboration)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to what extent he expects that the arrangements made with the Irish Re-public during the last five months for mutual collaboration against terrorism will be affected by the recent change of Government in that country.
The new Taoiseach has made quite clear his un- equivocal condemnation of the Provisional IRA and all its activities, and has said that the security arrangements which are in existence will be maintained. I am, therefore, confident that our co-operation in the fight against our common enemy will continue unabated.
What quid pro quo did Her Majesty's Government offer to the Government of the Republic in return for an arrangement on the part of the Republic which proved to be politically sensitive and difficult?
Despite what may or may not have happened 10 years ago, is not the new Taoiseach a man who may be expected, having a keen sense of the interests of his country, vigorously to prosecute the campaign against the common enemy?
I do not have the pleasure of knowing the new Taoiseach. Therefore, the original answer that I gave to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was based on what the Taoiseach has said since assuming office.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, even if collaboration were engaged in to perfection, its impact on the situation in Northern Ireland would be minimal? In reality it is a political problem; it is not merely a problem of terrorism. Does he agree that, no matter how much we improve security, the underlying political reasons for the struggle are still present, and that the Official Unionists should come to the conference to try to solve them?
The hon. Gentleman is slightly out of date. The Provisional IRA has made it clear, in published statements, that its prime aim is, first, to overthrow the Government of Northern Ireland and, having done that, to overthrow the Government of the South. In both cases its intention is to use force and not democratic means. There is no political advance that can meet that ambition. As I have said, I am certain that it is right that we should make a political advance, but I do not think that it will have any effect on the Provisional IRA.
How can the right hon. Gentleman be so dogmatic that the new Premier of the Republic will help him in his fight against the common enemy when the Leader of the Opposition in the Dail said that for nine years the same gentleman never opened his mouth to utter one word of condemnation of the Irish Republican Army?
The Leader of the Opposition in this place is occasionally rude about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. However, I know that she will do what she says she will do.
Should it not be a rule of the House that we await the actions of new Prime Ministers before commenting upon them, rather than condemn them in advance? Will not the Taoiseach be judged by the way in which he discharges the duties or sentiments that he has already expressed in response to the killings of last weekend?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I think that we are entitled to take some encouragement from his published statements to the effect that the arrangements entered into by his predecessors with us will stand.
When the Secretary of State was last in Dublin did he raise with the Government there the question of the large number of people from Nor- thern Ireland now resident in the Republic whom the RUC wishes to interview in connection with terrorist crimes? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the number of such persons?
I cannot give the figure without notice. In my discussions with Ministers of the Republic I have raised these matters.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what criteria are adopted when releasing prisoners on parole.
Northern Ireland does not have a parole scheme on the model of Great Britain. Prisoners, other than those serving very short terms, may be granted short periods of home leave near the end of their sentences. This is normally granted to those applying for it unless, because of a prisoner's behaviour in custody, it appears that it should be withheld in the public interest.
Will the Minister get together with the Home Secretary to ensure that, when the Northern Ireland authorities grant home leave to prisoners near the end of a sentence, those prisoners are not arrested and detained in prison when they reach Great Britain, without experiencing home leave, and sent straight back to the prison from which they have come? This is grossly unfair, entirely unjust and should be brought to an end. Will the hon. Gentleman have discussions with the Home Secretary about the matter?
I am aware of the case to which the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr.Cryer) is referring. The prison from which the prisoner in question was released for home leave did inform the West Yorkshire police that he was going home. The hon. Gentleman will understand that, even then, there can be no certainty that the chief officer of police in West Yorkshire can himself decide what action to take without looking at a particular case and interviewing the prisoner himself. It was, however, a case without precedent. We are seeking, in collaboration with the Home Office, to see whether this kind of incident can be avoided in the future.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security of the Province.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.
I gave the House a full analysis of the security situation in Northern Ireland during last week's debate on the order renewing the Emergency Provisions Act. Since I last answered questions on 22 November, nine people have died as a result of terrorist action, one of them a civilian, five of them members of the security forces, and three of them members of the prison service. Last Sunday, 16 December, brought home to us all once again the ruthless, callous and mindless nature of Provisional IRA terrorism when five soldiers of the Regular Army and an innocent civilian, retired from the Ulster Defence Regiment, were murdered in Dungannon, Forkill and Omagh. There was a series of co-ordinated car bomb and incendiary attacks on 26 November in which 10 people were injured and damage caused in a number of towns.On 5 December, and again yesterday, car bombs caused damage in London-derry as did an attack in Lisburn on 6 December. The RUC and the army have continued with their intensive operations to counter terrorist activity and to bring those responsible to justice. Twelve of the incendiary devices used on 26 November were neutralised by the security forces, but for which the casualties and damage caused would have been a good deal more severe. Since 22 November, 60 charges have been brought for terrorist offences, including four for murder and five for attempted murder. Three of them relate to the murder of a prison wages clerk in Belfast on 7 November. In addition, 19 weapons and 4,755 rounds of ammunition have been found. The RUC also played its part, along with other police forces, in the events leading up to the arrest of a number of people in Great Britain recently, and the charging of nine of them with terrorist offences the day before yesterday. While they do not tell the whole story, these figures illustrate the degree of effort which the security forces, with the full backing of the Government, are continuing to make in the fight against terrorism.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the answer, the first part of which will have saddened the House. Bearing in mind the time of year and the fact that most, if not all, our soldiers in Northern Ireland will be separated from their families next week, will my right hon. Friend agree, on behalf of the House, to convey to the commanding officers of all the regiments in Northern Ireland and to the Chief Constable of the RUC the deep gratitude of this House and the British people for the magnificent job they have done during this year?
I shall do that most willingly. I shall also record the enthusiasm with which my hon. Friend's suggestion was received by the House.
Do not the statistics of death and destruction that the Secretary of State has given show that the security situation is deteriorating? As we end this decade of terror and violence in Northern Ireland, what words of encouragement can the Secretary of State give to the people of Northern Ireland that they will not have to endure another 10 years of this activity?
The figures that I have given are, of course, deplorable. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman heard the figures for the successes of the security forces. There is no doubt that those whose business it is to defend us are becoming all the time more skilled and effective. I hope very much, and I believe, that as the years progress and as people in Northern Ireland can agree more and more with each other about how they want that part of the United Kingdom to develop, the terrorists will find there is no place for them in Northern Ireland, that there is no haven for them and that their activities will be circumscribed to such a point that they will not trouble us in the way that they have done.
Helsinki Final Act
asked the Prime Minister if she is satisfied with the progress made by all parties in implementing the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act.
While the implementation of these provisions is generally satisfactory, the record of the Soviet Union and a number of Eastern European countries has got somewhat worse in the course of this year.
Will the Prime Minister give an absolute guarantee that her Government's plans on immigration will not result in the United Kingdom being in breach of either the letter or the spirit of the Helsinki Final Act, particularly that part of the Act dealing with the reunification of families?
We have looked at this matter. We believe that the obligations of Her Majesty's Government under the various international conventions and agreements are compatible with the recent White Paper on immigration.
Following her comments on the failure of the Soviet Union to implement the provisions of the Helsinki treaty, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in her view, present activities in Afghanistan—creating yet another appalling refugee problem—are among the worst examples of not merely failing to act in accord with the Helsinki treaty but acting directly counter to it?
I am aware that it appears that there may have been further troop movements into Afghanistan. We shall be looking at all these matters in preparation for the conference in Madrid, next year, which I believe will he extremely important.
Since the right hon. Lady is always so ready to spring to the assistance of dissidents everywhere, may I ask whether she has given any thought to the case of Professor HansKÜng in West Germany, who has been deprived of his livelihood as a teacher by the Roman Catholic Church because of his religious beliefs? Or, perhaps a little nearer home, is she prepared to help Derek Robinson, the shop steward at British Leyland, who has been dismissed from his employment because he expressed views that were not acceptable to the management?
I am not responsible for either of those cases. In the latter case, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have consistently said that we leave the management of these matters to the management of British Leyland. I believe that, at the moment, the management of British Leyland is in excellent hands.
Will my right hon. Friend give her considerable support to any representations that can be made by other of my right hon. Friends in respect of Soviet Jews who ask, under the Helsinki agreement, for permission to leave Soviet Russia? Will she particularly bear in mind people such as Ida Nudel and Mende Leevich, whose cases have attracted the sympathy of the entire world?
I most certainly will do so. There are six particular cases which have been pursued vigorously in this country and the world over and on which we made representations during the month of October. My hon. Friend asked about applications by Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union. There have been slightly increasing numbers leaving, but a smaller proportion, I believe, of the very much bigger number of applications. We shall, of course, continue to make representations on this vital matter.
asked the Prime Minister when she next intends to visit Washington DC.
I visited Washington DC on Monday for talks with President Carter. I have no immediate plans for a further visit.
When the Prime Minister sees President Carter again, will she make the position regarding the installation of cruise missiles in this country absolutely clear? Is she aware that there is a considerable body of opinion against the siting of cruise missiles in this country and against those decisions being reached without any debate in a free assembly in Parliament here?—[interruption.]—Does she realise that there is objection to missiles being placed on the soil of this country in the sole control of the Americans when this country could be turned into a radioactive cinder heap by accident, as the incident at Colorado Springs demonstrated—[interruption.]—Does she accept—
Order. I know that there is a lot of noise, but it is a very long question.
Does the Prime Minister accept that cuts in public expenditure and increases in defence expenditure will mean a miserable Christmas for many people this year?
I am not quite sure which of those half dozen questions to answer. I believe that the vast majority of people in this country are well behind this Government's attitude to defence and our determination to deter the Soviet Union at all levels, whether it be the strategic level, the level of theatre nuclear forces or the level of conventional weapons.With regard to one particular matter which I thought I heard the hon. Gentleman mention in his speech—in his series of questions—the control of these weapons is the same as the control of atomic weapons has been under successive Governments.
Will the Prime Minister congratulate the Foreign Secretary, and will she accept the congratulations of the House, in that, for the first time for 16 years, Rhodesia is likely to face Christmas and the prospect of peace with her self and with the international community? Was not my right hon. Friend's reception in Washington a tribute to the work that she has done in this regard?
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. I shall gladly convey his message to the Foreign Secretary, and also to the Lord Privy Seal. It is the best possible Christmas present that the people of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia could have and the best possible Christmas present for anyone who is interested in the future of democracy in central Africa.
Did the Prime Minister discuss with President Carter the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station? Is she entirely satisfied that the Government are being responsible in planning to build similar power stations in this country?
I did not discuss that accident with President Carter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been a full report about it. I believe that my right hon. Friend made a statement about the possibility of PWR reactors in this country. What is of paramount consideration is the clearance of that system for safety under our rules and regulations.
Will the Prime Minister refrain from visiting the American capital again so long as the United States maintains its unfriendly ban on the supply of weapons to a police force in the United Kingdom?
It is not as yet a ban. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, 3,000 Ruger revolvers were delivered for use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, because we wished wholly to re-equip that force with those weapons, which are the best for the purpose. There is another order for 3,000 such weapons. That order has neither been accepted nor rejected. I made it perfectly clear that, if that order were rejected, it would be not only wrong, but a propaganda victory for the IRA.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 20 December.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and later I attended the memorial service at St. Paul's Cathedral for Earl Mountbatten and those who died with him. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.
At this festive season and on the eve of the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Joseph Stalin, what message can my right hon. Friend send to the moderates in the Bristol, South-East Labour Party who, according to the Daily Mail today, are anxious to divest themselves of the Marxists in their midst?
All I can say to them is
"Keep right on to the end of the road"
Will the Prime Minister reconsider the decision to proceed with missiles before they are deployed? Apart from entangling America in the defence of Europe, will not they have exactly the converse effect, of further entangling Europe in the defence of America?
The answer is "No, Sir" Weakness has never been a defence for any country.
Now that the Attorney-General has told the House that there are to be no criminal proceedings arising from the Bingham report, when will the Cabinet come to a conclusion about what to do concerning the decision of the House in February, on a free vote, that there should be a special inquiry into these matters?
It is not our intention to go ahead with any further inquiry. We believe that now, on the eve of signing the Rhodesia ceasefire, it is a time of reconciliation.
Will my right hon. Friend some time today read the leader in the Daily Mail about the extravagances of London Transport? Will she take every possible occasion to instruct people in the public service industries that they have a duty to be prudent with the taxpayers' money?
I have seen reports in the press about some alleged extravagances. I am quite certain that the present leadership of the GLC will root them out, if there are any, and will take rapid measures to see that London Transport becomes both economical and efficient.
Will the Prime Minister resist the pressure to block Iran's funds in the United Kingdom? Is she aware that it is acceptable to take such action as a result of a decision by the United Nations Security Council, or of action in the courts in this country, but that it would do great harm to Britain's financial position if we were to block Iran's deposits in this country and prevent it from obtaining its money which is held here on deposit in banks?
As I have replied in the House before, I am advised that the law at present would not permit us to block Iranian assets in this country for a political purpose.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, answering the Leader of the Liberal Party, the Prime Minister referred to a decision of Cabinet about an inquiry into the circumstances in which the Bingham report came about, an inquiry into the conduct of Ministers and civil servants. That decision is a reversal of a decision of this House and surely it merits a statement to the House to enable us to question the Prime Minister about the circumstances of the decision.
:The hon. Gentleman has long experience. He knows that that is not a matter for me and that it is not a point of order.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 20 December.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier.
Bearing in mind that the majority of people in the country, in the trade unions and in the Labour Party, support the Government's proposals on employment, does my right hon. Friend agree that the hysterical reaction of some union bosses to these proposals is a denial of the leadership that they claim to offer?
I believe that the vast majority of people in this country, including the vast majority of trade unionists, support the Government's measures that were brought forward in the recent Employment Bill. I believe that there is a new, healthy attitude prevailing, which augurs well for the future.
If the right hon. Lady believes that the people of this country support her policies, may I ask whether she has looked recently at the fact that prices are going up faster than ever before and faster than earnings? Has she considered that unemployment is rising again? Does she know that mortgage interest rates are at a record level? Does she understand that we are to be told that those who are out of jobs are, from now on, to have their sick pay taxed and their unemployment benefit cut? Will she please tell me where all that is to be found in the Conservative Party manifesto?
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would care to read the analyses of some of these factors in some of today's publications. The Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin points out that any recession which may now be in prospect stems largely from causes lying well back in the past.
If the right hon. Lady cannot answer the last question will she tell us where she proposed in her manifesto that rail fares were to be increased and that prescription charges were to go up by 250 per cent.? Does she not now feel that she is responsible for grossly misleading the British people?
If I may respectfully say so, that hardly seems a strong question. I hardly think that the right hon. Gentleman included in his previous manifesto that his Government would preside over a record rise in the retail price index, record levels of unemployment and record borrowing.
Order. Before I wish the House a merry Christmas, I remind hon. Members that I have called the Leader of the Opposition.
We are beginning to understand that the right hon. Lady does not like answering these questions. If she looks at the record—since she is referring to it in her attempt to evade answering my last question—she will see that inflation was 7·4 per cent. just over a year ago. It is now 17·4 per cent. She will also see that unemployment went down by 100,000 during the last year of the Labour Government. It has gone up by 30,000 in the last three months, and under her Administration the British people can look forward to a pretty miserable 1980.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that during the first six months of the last Labour Government the standard rate of income tax rose from 30 per cent. to 33 per cent. and that the top rate was increased from 75 per cent.—[Interruption.]—to 83 per cent.
Order. Everyone has a right to be heard in this House.
During the first six months of the Conservative Government income tax was reduced from 33p to 30p in the pound and the top rate of income tax was reduced from—[Interruption.]—83 per cent. to 60 per cent.
Order. Right hon. and hon. Members must remember where they are. The very basis of our House is that an hon. Member has the right to say something that other people do not want to hear.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he started with 600,000 unemployed and he jolly well nearly doubled or trebled that figure. Finally, Mr. Speaker, may I wish you "glad tidings of comfort and joy".
Order. I am entitled to the same greetings from both sides of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I was rising to offer you, from this side of the House, good tidings and greetings, which is much more than the British people can expect from the Government.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Business Of The House
May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the Christmas Adjournment?
The business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:
MONDAY 14 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Tenants Rights etc. (Scotland) Bill.
Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order, and on the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Orders.
TUESDAY 15 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Housing Bill.
Remaining stages of the Petroleum Revenue Tax Bill.
Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Bail etc. (Scotland) Bill.
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY—Motions On the rate support grant orders for Eng land and Wales.
Motion on the Value Added Tax (International Services) (No. 2) Order.
THURSDAY 17 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Competition Bill.
Motions on the Southern Rhodesia orders.
FRIDAY 18 JANUARY—Private Members' motions.
I take it that the business is to some extent provisional, in view of the serious situation that may develop in the steel industry and the over-spill that may affect the coal industry and elsewhere if there should be a strike. We hope that there will not be a strike, but in the circumstances I take it that the Leader of the House would rearrange the business so that the House could discuss what could be a catastrophe.I am disappointed that we have not yet had the debate on defence. It has been half-promised by the Leader of the House. The Secretary of State for Defence clearly wishes to have a debate and we have asked for one. What is there in the business for Thursday that would prevent its being put back to the following week, so that we could achieve what is, apparently, the desire of the Government and is certainly the desire of the Opposition?
When one is announcing business this far in advance there must always be an element of the provisional, and it is subject to review in the light of various developments. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the defence debate. We should have a debate very soon after we return. The right hon. Gentleman says that I have half-promised the debate. May I now go three-quarters of the way and say that I hope to have the debate in the following week?
The Leader of the House will have heard the exchanges a few minutes ago. Does he not believe that there is an obligation on the Government, when they decide to overturn a decision of the House, to say so by means of a clear statement and be subject to cross-examination on it? Will the Leader of the House arrange for such a statement?
I cannot agree to that, because it is a clear constitutional doctrine that no Parliament can bind its successor Parliaments. Every decision that is taken by a Parliament binds that Parliament, but not its successors. The Conservative Party's attitude has been consistent, both in Opposition and in office. We feel that no good is to be served by raking over those almost dead coals.
Order. In last night's important debate many hon. Members were not called when they wished to be called. The same will happen tonight if hon. Members take up too much time on business questions. A statement is to follow. I ask hon. Members to be as brief as possible.
Does the Leader of the House recall that some time ago he expressed the hope that we should be able to debate the Select Committee report and the Goodman report on charities before Christmas? Could he arrange for such a debate early in the new year?
I am most anxious to make progress in this matter. We are waiting for a reply from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. When that is given, the House can proceed.
Will the Leader of the House reconsider the strange constitutional doctrine that he is propounding, that the decision of one Parliament can be overruled by the veto of a Cabinet? The Leader of the House has not brought the issue to the House so that the House can reconsider the question. If he really wants to respond to his constitutional doctrine should he not give the House the opportunity to reconsider in the light of the changed circumstances?
A resolution of the House is not in the same category as legislation, because legislation, of course, binds successive Parliaments until it is repealed. The Government's attitude has been consistent. That attitude is even stronger and more justified today. What possible good can be served, when peace is in sight in Rhodesia, by raking up this stuff all over again?
Since a Foreign Office Minister recently visited Israel, does my right hon. Friend envisage that a statement will be made on that mission or, alternatively, may we have a debate on the Middle East? We wish to be assured that there is no change in Government policy.
I can assure the House that there is no change in Government policy towards the Middle East. Our policy is to bring peace to that troubled part of the world. Whether we can have a debate on foreign affairs after the recess must remain to be seen when the House returns.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that he has had, or is about to have, talks with the supporters of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill about the availability of Government time for its remaining stages? Will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that such time will not be given?
I have had no talks with anybody about the granting of Government time for the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. However, an abortion Bill was introduced when the Labour Party was in power, and the Government gave time for the Bill to be discussed so that the House could reach a decision.
Will my right hon. Friend take note that enthusiasm for an early defence debate is not confined to the Opposition but that we are all looking forward keenly to such a debate, with a Division at the end, so that we can see where all Opposition Members stand on this issue?
My hon. Friend's observation confirms me in what I said to the Leader of the Opposition—that we hope to have the debate soon after we return. I am seven-eighths of the way to meeting the Leader of the Opposition.
Yesterday the House debated the Health Services Bill. We have not yet had time to discuss the Royal Commission on the National Health Service. Does the Leader of the House agree that we are debating these matters in the wrong order and that we should have discussed the Royal Commission report before giving a Second Reading to a Bill the provisions of which may be influenced by that report? May we have an early debate on the two other outstanding reports—the May report and the report on legal services?
In an ideal world the hon. Gentleman would be right. It would have been better to have a debate on the report first. Unfortunately, such a debate could not be fitted in. However, I shall try to fit in that debate as early as possible after we return from the recess.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate without too much delay on the Government's sensible and popular proposals, disclosed last week in the Daily Mirror, whereby people who are on strike should be deemed to be receiving strike pay before they receive State assistance?
The Daily Mirror is a stimulating and interesting paper but it is not a reliable source of Cabinet decisions before they are announced.
May I revert to the unsatisfactory answer that the Leader of the House gave to the Leader of the Liberal Party and to my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) on the casual announcement this afternoon of an important Government policy? I refer to the general Government decision not to proceed with the prosecution of British companies that have broken British law.Throughout our debates on the Zimbabwe Bill it was plain that the amnesty then proposed was an intra-Rhodesian amnesty designed to bring about conciliation between the parties to the dispute. The general question of our public position in the rest of the world—whether we mean what we say, and our reputation for fair dealing—is at stake in Bingham. It is not good enough to dismiss this matter in such a cursory way.
The right hon. Gentleman is confusing two different issues. The first issue is the question of the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to proceed with prosecutions. That is a matter not for me but for the DPP. The second issue involves an inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman's opinion is that an inquiry would be useful. That is not the Government's opinion. We believe that an inquiry of this nature is unnecessary and untimely and would be liable to damage Britain's reputation and cause embarrassment at a time when peace is, thank goodness coming to Rhodesia.
Since the Common Market Commission is stalling in its prosecution of the French Government for failing to allow British lamb into France, will the Government provide time so that the House can demonstrate its contempt for the French action and for the Common Market Commission?
It is most important that the law should be obeyed, whether it is domestic law or international law. I shall exert what influence I have over the French President in order to persuade him to comply with that request.
Is the Leader of the House aware that if the predicted steel strike takes place early in the new year many of my hon. Friends who represent coal and steel communities and heavy industry areas will feel that it is necessary to come back to Parliament a week early to take the opportunity to educate the Tories into ending their lunatic policy of allowing imported coal into Britain? Is he aware that that policy is shutting down pits in South Wales and elsewhere? The Government should establish a decent wage, at least in line with the cost of living, for the many thousands of steel workers.
Of course I agree that there is a serious situation in the steel industry. I understand that a meeting is taking place tomorrow. We must all hope that there will be a reasonable settlement to the dispute.
I am sure that the Minister is considering the possibility of a debate on the consultative document on the structure and management of the National Health Service in Scotland. While he is doing that, will he consider the remarkable statement that was made yesterday at Scottish Question Time by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who said of that document, which is still not in the Vote Office:
Will the Leader of the House reflect that his Scottish colleagues are increasingly running the Scottish Office by press release from Edinburgh rather than through the House?"However, there is no question of a consultative document of that nature being put in the Vote Office."—[Official Report, 19 December 1979: Vol. 976, c. 603.]
The document to which the hon. Gentleman referred was published by the Stationery Office. It was not a White Paper, nor was it a Parliamentary Paper. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the normal procedure is to make such copies available to the Library. That should have been done. I regret that it was not.
Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—[HON MEMBERS: "Ah."] Well, if I were in a trench I would sooner have my hon. Friend with me than some Conservative Members.
Order. Hon. Members are getting very excited. I know that we rise tomorrow, but we must deal with today's business first.
Christmas is breaking out all over. I want to follow up my hon. Friend's question, because the Opposition have been considering how to use parliamentary procedures in order to get a debate on the serious situation into which we seem to be drifting in coal and steel. We have not forced this issue, because we understand from the Leader of the House that negotiations are going on, and we do not wish to prejudice them. I am sure that the Leader of the House understands that if there were a steel strike and consequences flowed from that, it could be the biggest catastrophe since 1926. I am sure that that is being borne in mind by the negotiators. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that in the event of such a strike on 2 January he will consult the Prime Minister in order to ask Mr. Speaker to recall the House at an earlier date?
As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, I appreciate the importance of saying nothing at this stage that could exacerbate the situation. The Government are always watching to see whether such a recall of Parliament is necessary. However, it would be inappropriate to give the right hon. Gentleman such an undertaking.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the best way to meet the Leader of the Opposition's request is for the general secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to accept the considerable body of opinion that is now hardening within his union, and within my constituency, against the strike? This morning I received more than 500 signatures from members of that union expressing opposition to a strike. Does my right hon. Friend accept that perhaps there is no feeling for a strike among members of that union?
This matter is under negotiation, but I am sure that we would all agree that a strike should be used as a weapon of last resort, after every other effort to secure conciliation and peace has failed.
Are not the handling of the Blunt case and now the abandonment of the Bingham report and the proceedings arising from it, concerning the breaking of oil sanctions—which prolonged the rebellion in Southern Rhodesia and the civil war, with a consequent increase in loss of life and damage to neighbouring countries—both further evidence of a decline in the standards of Government conduct? Should the House not have an early opportunity to debate that damaging decline in standards?
There has been no decline in standards of conduct, although there has recently been a decline in standards of acting.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I point out to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that even those of us who care for him are becoming tired of his quips and quiddities when serious matters are being discussed?
Order. The Leader of the Opposition said that Christmas was breaking out, but it is breaking out in patches. In the interests of the House, I shall call four more hon. Members and I shall then move on to the statement.
The business that the right hon. Gentleman has set down for Monday 14 January is unacceptable to the majority of Scottish Members. Bearing in mind that he has put down three of the most controversial pieces of legislation—a tenant's rights Bill, a rate support grant order and a housing support grant order—all of which are exceptionally controversial—would it not be more sensible if he postponed the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order to another day? We all want to discuss it at length.
I have been under great pressure to have those subjects debated. There will be a general debate on those issues, and there will be an opportunity to debate and vote on the orders. We have had discussions through the usual channels, and if the right hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) objects to that arrangement, he should raise his objections through the usual channels.
Tonight we shall discuss whether Ministers should be allowed to attend an hour and a half later than Back Benchers on Fridays. Has the promise of the Leader of the House, made on 31 October, been carried out? He said then that the decision of the House could not be implemented immediately, because he would have to undertake consultations about the effect on staff, and so on. However, rumours are going round that no such consultations have been held and, indeed, that they have been deferred until February. Will the Leader of the House tell us now, so that we can debate the subject sensibly tonight, what consultations have been held with the staff on these premises concerning the effect of sitting from 9.30 am to 3 pm on Fridays?
That is a question not only for myself but for the Commission. There have been consultations, but we have not yet passed the motion. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that further consultations should take place, of course we shall carry them out.
Will the Leader of the House undertake to find time for a debate, before any decision is made, on the outrageous proposal that Members of the European Parliament should have facilities within the precincts of West-minster? Is he aware that trade unions and other responsible bodies are unable to book rooms, and that hon. Members are forced to use rooms outside the precincts? Is he further aware that although many of us will not join my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Bols-over (Mr. Skinner) in the same trench, we may well be forced to share a squat?
It is not outrageous that consideration should be given to the question whether there should be some form of limited access—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—to the House by Members of the European Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman has a different view. I am entitled to my view, just as he is entitled to his. That decision will eventually have to be taken by the House, and it is up to the House to decide on these allied matters.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to reports that appeared in the newspapers this morning, and the exchanges in the House yesterday, concerning the allegations made by nurses at Broadmoor hospital about the ill-treatment of patients there? Can he give an assurance that there will be a very early debate on this subject, given the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State for Social Services to this House for the running and organisation of special hospitals?
I have seen the somewhat distressing reports to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I can not promise a debate, but I shall certainly draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the British Leyland 1980 corporate plan. In reviewing the plan, the Government have borne very much in mind their responsibilities to the taxpayer as well as to all those concerned with the future of BL. I am bound to say that the situation is not encouraging. The company continues to be in a poor financial state and faces strong competitive pressures in the 1980s. Only with very substantial improvements in BL's all round performance will the company survive. Success cannot by any means be guaranteed.Details of BL's recent performance and of the plan are contained in a report by the staff of the National Enterprise Board, which I have today placed in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office. The plan offers, in the BL board's view, the only feasible strategy which could give BL the chance of being viable. The chairman has writen to assure me that, if the Government decide to support the plan, the board and management will pursue it with the utmost vigour. However, in the same letter—which I am publishing in the Official Report—the chairman states clearly that if there is a significant shortfall in cash flow whether due to major disruptions through internal or external strikes, or to delays in any of its programmes for investment and launch of new products, restructuring and redundancies or for improving productivity and working practices, or to any other cause internal or external, the board will abandon the plan. The plan envisages a requirement for £297 million of public funds in 1980, with a further £133 million between 1981 and 1983. These two sums together represent the £225 million balance of the original Ryder £1,000 million, plus £205 million to meet the cost of redundancies and closures under the management's restructuring programme. The company seeks approval at this stage for only its 1980 requirements. In the light of the chairman's letter, the Government have decided to fund the plan up to the end of 1980–81 by the provision of £150 million in equity form, with an additional facility on which BL would be entitled to draw on evidence of need up to a maximum of a further £150 million. In addition, we accept the BL board's request for conversion to equity of the £150 million loans provided in 1977. The Government will also be looking to BL to contribute to funding needs from its internal resources, including the disposal of assets where this makes commercial sense. To the extent that the plan calls for funds going beyond the Ryder £1,000 million, clearance from the Common Market Commission will be necessary. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides will join with me in wishing the BL board, management and work force success in the task that lies ahead.
The Secretary of State said that success cannot be guaranteed. Does he agree that the key to BL's future lies in the new model programme? As a new model takes about four years to reach fruition, and as his plans end in 1980–81, how does he propose to guarantee that the new model programme, should it be the right one, is able to continue?Secondly, as the statement implies—as I believe that it does—that there will be significant sale of commercial assets, which assets does he believe, or has BL told him, it would make commercial sense to sell? Finally, as France and Germany in particular find it necessary to invest at least double the amount about which BL is now talking, how much more of our domestic market does the right hon. Gentleman feel that he is able to see disappear to our foreign competitors without himself being willing to provide the investment funds?
The plan goes up to 1985, but the only finance requested by the BL board is for 1980. It is true that new models are an essential part of the plan. It is intended that one new car model will be launched in 1980, and new truck models will also emerge during that year. Therefore, to some extent, they are imminent. However, while new models are vital, they are not the only component of success. There are also pro- ductivity and quality. As to disposals, the judgment on them is for the management.
While entirely understanding the political logic of what my right hon. Friend has just announced, may I ask him whether he will contemplate the possibility that a trickle system of support for this industry must be open to question on commercial grounds, and that there must be at least an argument for saying that the time has come to appoint a receiver with the obligation of obtaining the maximum financial resource for this business as a going commercial concern to the extent that it can be made such? Can he assure the House that we shall be given an early opportunity to vote on this matter so that hon. Members may register their responsibilities to their constituents as taxpayers for what decisions are taken in their name?
When my hon. Friend studies the letter that I am publishing in the Official Report, I think that he will find that the attitude of the BL board to the performance required to fulfil this plan is a realistic one and is not consistent with his description—which I well understand from past occasions—of trickle finance. Moreover, there have been just enough changes in performance, both in management and in some parts of the work force, to justify what the Government have decided.I shall have a word with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the possibility of a debate on the subject.
How much money must BL find from internal sources? Do not the present stock levels show that the real BL problem is a sales problem and not a production problem?
The details about the internal resources depreciation provision will be found in the document that is now available in the Vote Office. Certainly there is a sales problem for some BL products, but for others there is a queue.
In view of the long and continuing indebtedness of BL to the tax-payer, and in view of my right hon. Friend's obvious confidence in the management, what possible point can there be in the continued intervention of the National Enterprise Board in this affair? Will my right hon. Friend now consider bringing BL under the direct control of his Department?
:I said to the House that if the BL board repeated its wish to be transferred from the NEB I would study its arguments; I did not say that its case was on all fours with that of Rolls-Royce. That still remains the position.
Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement mean, in effect, that if there is a substantial strike by British Steel the Government will close BL?
That raises a number of hypothetical questions. In my statement I set out the position as seen by the BL board and by the Government.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, with BL admittedly in a poor financial state, it would make sense if the Government assisted by the use of selective import controls—in addition to advancing money—as that would also ensure continuing demand for British steel? Does he not think that that is an important factor?Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that some Opposition Members are concerned about the strong threats that are attached to the advance of money? Does he accept that the workers have a contribution to make, and that if they differ from the management, that should be no reason for the board to abandon this plan? For example, 14 months ago the BL management threatened to sack workers for refusing to work a night shift at the Rover plant in Solihull, which is now on a four-day week. What would the right hon. Gentleman say to critics who describe the situation as being very much like corporate Fascism?
Import controls are not the answer. BL is a large exporter and the way for it to recover its share of the market and to prosper is by being competitive, not by being protected. Of course the workers have a contribution to make. There is some evidence that they recognise that fact more and more.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that recent events at BL justify his confidence in the continued existence of the company under the management of Sir Michael Edwardes? While there are modest signs of hope for the success of the general support, does he regard the statement that he made today as being in the nature of BL's last chance?
I associate myself with my hon. Friend's commendation of and tribute to Sir Michael Edwardes. However, I do not wish to dilute or qualify the balanced picture which I tried to present in my statement. There is enough evidence to justify the Government's proposals. Future success is up to the management and work force of BL.
Since the people that the Secretary of State referred to as those who are concerned with the future of BL include the present and future population of the West Midlands, and since the Government are ensuring that the West Midlands economic development council is not available for consultation, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that no decisions affecting the future of BL will be taken without the fullest consultation with the trade unions, the local authorities and the hon. Members who represent that region?
The Government try to keep themselves aware of the opinions of all who are concerned, including those whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned.
While I thank my right hon. Friend for the encouragement that he has given to all those who work in BL and for giving the lie to those who put it about that the Government would not support this British industry—[Interruption.] Oh, yes; in my constituency many such rumours were put about.
The hon. Gentleman is enjoying himself.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the money is intended for investment in new models and that it is not for the support of working capital? Therefore, in a real sense, it is up to the workers to make a success of the plan.
I agree with the last part of my hon. Friend's question. However, part—not a substantial part—of the money will be for working capital, the larger part will be for investment, and some will be to meet closure and redundancy payments.
First, is the Secretary of State satisfied that the proposed contraction will not lead to further contraction? There is a danger that Sir Michael Edwardes may have gone too far. Secondly, what opportunities will there be for British components manufacturers to tender for the BL-Honda and the other models for which, so far, they have not had the opportunity to tender? Thirdly, what consideration has been given to the use of plants due for closure as industrial estates? Will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the provision of finance so that new Jaguar, Rover and Triumph models may be brought forward before 1985?
The answer to the first two questions is that the Government have confidence in the management of BL. Both matters are for the management to decide. The possible use of plant that is closed is for the market and the authorities concerned to consider in each case.
If my right hon. Friend is right that BL is in a poor financial state, is it not odd to pour £400 million more down its throat? Is not the solution, as he suggested some months ago before the election, to insist that BL finds money from its own resources by returning some or part of the business to the private sector? The one thing that BL does not need is more money poured down its throat. It needs more productivity and more sales and then it will have enough money without having to call on the taxpayer.
My hon. Friend is quite right in his latter points. However, I hope that he will recognise that there are costs to the taxpayer, whatever may be the decision of the Government. Disposals are a matter for the board. We look to it to make disposals where they would make commercial sense. There are already negotiations in progress on at least one disposal.
In view of the answer that the right hon. Gentleman has just given and the nagging speculation in the Scottish press, will he give a cast-iron assurance that the Government will do nothing to encourage the sale of commercial assets in the truck and tractor division in plants such as Bathgate and Albion?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot give any such assurance about a management decision. The management needs my approval for disposals.
But what about the right hon. Gentleman's encouragement?
I have to plead guilty to the hon. Gentleman—we are encouraging the management to pursue disposals where they make commercial sense.
Has my right hon. Friend, through the NEB management, received the assurance that he sought at one time that improved labour relations and productivity could be confirmed by Sir Michael Edwardes? When my right hon. Friend talks about the 1980 new models, we can only hope that, once again, BL does not create a black market in new models because the production line is unable to keep up with demand. If my right hon. Friend can tell the House that he has been assured on those points, I will support him throughout in this matter.
There was an improvement in labour relations, so far as that can be measured by the number of disputes in BL in the last 12 months. There has also been some evidence of an improvement in productivity. However, both have been obscured and offset by the effect on BL of two external strikes—the transport drivers' strike and the CSEU dispute.
Is the Secretary of State aware that no interpretation can be put on Sir Michael Edwardes's letter other than that, if the steel strike goes ahead and there is a shortage of steel for BL, it will abandon the plan? That is not a hypothetical question, as he told the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). Will he state categorically here and now whether there has been any meeting by any Minister or civil servant in his Department with a representative from Renault about the possible purchase of any part of BL?
At any time?