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Orders Of The Day

Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 18 December 1979

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Consolidated Fund Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Textile Industry

9.2 pm

I make no apology for being responsible for another debate on textiles, but it is the first one for some time intended to spotlight the problems of the industry in West Yorkshire. There is no alternative for West Yorkshire Members of Parliament but to stress continually to the Government and the civil servants that we cannot allow our area to become depopulated, deprived and a wasteland because of the sickness or death of the textile industry.

There are rapidly growing fears in the industry about what the future holds. The progress, or lack of it, in the textile industry is taking place against the backcloth of a terrifying and growing de-industrialisation in Britan, which itself proceeds in the face of a stupendous long-term complacency and inertia by successive Governments and the population at large.

It was reported at the International Wool Textile Organisation conference in London in June that a worldwide shift in textile production was occurring, whereby the Northern Hemisphere is no longer the prime producing area. It was a similar shift that led to the decline of the cotton textile industry in Lancashire. There is anxiety that the Government will trade off the textile industry, a little at a time, for concessions and benefits in respect of sophisticated goods in order to do deals with China and other countries.

Job losses are becoming not only more frequent but are now running at avalanche proportions. Within five months between May and October of this year, in West Yorkshire alone there were over 2,000 redundancies, including five factory closures. It is estimated that in West Yorkshire there are likely to be 25,000 jobs lost to the industry between 1977 and 1980.

The chairman of the wool textile delegation, Mr. Hibbert, said on 16 October this year that the industry's technical and economic base was being seriously undermined. The county council of West Yorkshire has gone on record as saying that it is increasingly concerned at the poor job prospects in textile areas.

Effluent charges effective from 1 April this year are already having a serious effect on the viability of the combing and re-combing sections of the industry. The CBI and NEDO document published in August, "Trends in Textile and Clothing", indicated an extremely gloomy outlook, with export prospects plunging. The high level of sterling and the prohibitive cost of borrowing are also both unhelpful.

The sectors most likely to suffer from these trends are heavily represented in West Yorkshire. Therefore, the outlook for the textile and clothing industries is seen to be increasingly precarious. The scenario for the carpet manufacturing industry includes a 50 per cent. reduction of its work force within 10 years. During a recent seminar the West Yorkshire county council stated that it felt that little sympathy was being shown by the United Kingdom Government to the severe problems of the West Yorkshire textile and clothing industries.

The textile industry is relatively well equipped. If it is given fair competition, it should be able to compete fairly successfully. Wages are not high by Western European standards, and by British standards there is a good industrial relations record in most factories.

I shall identify a few of the problems and suggest remedies. First, the conduct of retail distribution groups in Britain is one of the reasons why the textile industry needs more money from the Government by means of the Bill. There are 14 groups controlling more than 50 per cent. of over-the-counter sales in Britain. With the honourable exception of Marks and Spencer, which manages to buy more than 80 per cent. of its textile goods from British sources, the rest of the companies seem to be doing enormous damage to Britain and the textile industry.

Last week the Telegraph and Argus carried out a survey in Bradford shops. Bradford is the heart of the woollen textile industry in Britain. It concluded that
"Cheap foreign clothing imports are gradually killing off the British textile industry as mill after mill closes."
It acquitted Marks and Spencer, which was found to be an honourable exception. The survey included British Home Stores, Little woods and C & A. There is a feeling that these large retail distribution chains treat the United Kingdom industry as an emergency supplier when others cannot deliver. If a British company cannot deliver at short notice, the retail distribution chains complain that it is not delivering on time.

It would assist if retail distribution chains were less shortsighted. It should occur to them that if they destroy the livelihoods of their customers there will be no purchasing power to buy their goods. They are putting people out of work in textile factories as plainly as if they were handing out the dismissal notices.

The dual pricing policy of the United States is wreaking havoc in the textile industry. Oil and feedstock go cheap to domestic manufacturers in the United States. That gives them a substantial price advantage. Every time the world price of oil increases, the advantage of United States producers grows. The textile lobby in the United States is most effective. Imports of polyester textile yarn from the United States have increased from 7½ per cent. last autumn to 29 per cent. now. Those are the latest figures from the Man-made Fibres Federation. They will increase month by month if something is not done.

The unions in the North-East and the influence of the Southern States of the United States have the Government there all tied up. The textile lobby there did a deal with the United States Government in February of this year. It was agreed that in return for abandoning opposition to the Tokyo round the Government would back the United States textile industry in a great way. Of course, President Carter dare not antagonise the textile vote. The Department of Commerce in the United States has commissioned the prestigious firm of Kurt Salmon to prepare reports on textile industries in 47 countries on how to deal with those industries, and to produce a list of the retail buying groups in the United Kingdom and the person to contact in each group.

The first report was on the United Kingdom. That indicates the degree of pressure that we can expect from the United States by means of its unfair pricing policy. There is no hope that the United States will voluntarily change that policy. On 3 April of this year, after the United Kingdom had put its complaint and evidence to the Commission, the Council of Ministers gave an undertaking that in the event of artificial pricing for energy leading to the threat of disruption to the Community market the Community would have recourse, without delay, to immediate action under the GATT. However, nothing has happened, although import figures show that that threat has become a grisly reality.

Confronted with that gruesome reality, the EEC hesitates to take any action and has reneged on its promise to take action without delay, although it was satisfied about the artificial pricing policy of the United States Government in April of this year. On 20 November the Council of Ministers agreed to negotiate with the United States, but on 14 December, when it met United States representatives, those representatives filibustered, as one would expect. It is absurd to think that they would take action against their own textile lobby. Britain must therefore stop the Community from shilly-shallying, and it can do that by acting alone, properly and legally, within the rules of the Community, despite the view of our own Department of Trade.

A codified regulation on import control was published on 8 May of this year by the Community. Article 12 of that codified regulation said that a country could take restraint action on its own in two circumstances.

Where the imports of a product disrupt or threaten disruption of the Community market for that product and, secondly, where the imports of that product are based on costs or conditions that disrupt or threaten disruption, the Community can take restraining action. But then, according to article 14, those Community powers are transferred from the Community to the single member State.

If a member State decides to take action on its own to stop unfair imports, it must first give five clear days' notice to the Commission and, secondly, it must present to the Commission reasons and justification for, and details of, the action that it proposes to take, and within five days the Commission is required to summon a committee of representatives of the various member States.

The applicant country—that is to say, the United Kingdom in this case—is required to listen to the views of the committee, over which it has no power of veto. If the committee is convinced, it can take action itself, but first it has to obtain the approval of the Council of Ministers. That involves a delay, and the applicant country, as an interim measure, can take its own action to stop the abuse. If the committee of the EEC is not convinced, the United Kingdom can appeal to the Council of Ministers, and pending that appeal it can also take unilateral action. As a result, by invoking the procedures that the Community lays down, Britain is in a position to impose a complete embargo, within a week or two, on all United States textile imports that contain this inbuilt and found to be unfair advantage, pending action by the Council of Ministers.

In my view, such an embargo is essential. Although it will not last long—perhaps only a month until the Council of Ministers decides what to do—it will have the effect of jerking the Community into action. The French have done it, as one might expect. In 1977, worried by what they regarded as an unfair import system, they announced that they would take action, and the result was that within six weeks the Commission had alerted the Council of Ministers and the matter had been dealt with.

What we want from our Government now is unilateral action, operating not on a permanent basis but for a month in order to jerk the Community into taking the required action to stop these unfair American imports which are doing such enormous damage throughout the British textile industry, and especially in West Yorkshire.

What action should the Council of Ministers take? Britain must press for an immediate increase of at least 20 per cent. in the Community tariff against United States textile imports, covering in addition products such as tufted carpets and other downstream products. In other words, Britain, operating within the EEC rules, can achieve its results by courageous and strong action.

The United States has a tariff of 45 per cent. against our textiles. Our tariff varies but is about 23 per cent. It is absurd that such a rich country should have a higher tariff against our textiles than we, a poorer nation, have against theirs. This cannot go on, and, since the United States Government will not deprive their own people of the advantage which they now enjoy through that unfair policy, it is up to Britain and the EEC, together or separately, to take the appropriate action.

The United States has kindly agreed to reduce its tariff over a period of eight years from 1982. I do not know how much of the United Kingdom textile industry will be left by 1982—and certainly by 1990, the year by which the United States has promised to reduce its tariff to about 33 per cent. The United Kingdom must, therefore, take action to force the palsied hands of the civil servants in the Community.

I turn now to unfair competition, which is another aspect of the same matter. The British taxpayer has to give grants to the industry—under the current provisions, £2,800,000, which is inadequate in the circumstances—simply because the industry staggers under the various inequities which prevail, unfair competition being one of them.

The example of Korea is a blatant case in point. Korea has an 80 per cent. tariff barrier against our textiles, when it permits any textiles in at all. For our woven woollen cloth we have to overcome an 80 per cent. barrier, yet Korea plans to become the world's largest textile and clothing exporter within five years from now, that is, by 1985.

In September 1979 the authoritative and prestigious textile magazine Textile Asia declared that the Koreans were being encouraged to export to the hilt and to make up losses on export sales by increasing domestic prices. That is a straight invitation to dumping by the Korean Government, and Britain cannot allow it to continue. We must ask for closer parity.

Brazil has tariffs against our textiles of up to 205 per cent. The situation in Prato in Italy is well known. The Italian industry of Prato, by means, it is suspected, of hidden subsidies and low social security payments to its workers, has eliminated the woollen weaving industries in Holland, Belgium and West Germany, and now it is the turn of France and the United Kingdom.

I do not for a moment imagine that France will allow its industry to be eliminated by anyone, and I hope that the British Government will take a similar view. France itself has export rebates and freight subsidies for its woollen producers which we do not have here.

It is obvious that something is wrong. There is here no question of, as it were, penalising underdeveloped countries. One has only to look at what is coming from Eastern Europe. Suits made predominantly of wool are coming from Hungary at £14·20, from Czechoslovakia at £12·50, and from East Germany at £15·30. For man-made fibres the prices are: Hungary £14·30; Poland £15·30 and East Germany £11·10. Those very prices from those European countries indicate that there must be an element of loss and State subsidy.

What the Government and the EEC ought to do is to reverse the burden of proof on dumping and put the onus on those who are charged with dumping to prove that they are not doing so. Furthermore, there must be pressure by the Government on those in the EEC who are investigating the Prato industry to get on with it. They have been doing so since January without result, and it simply is not good enough. The EEC must be pressurised by our Government to adopt speedier arrangements for the investigation of unfair trading practices—including misleading labelling—breaches of quotas and breaches of bilateral agreements. We need methods of quick and thorough investigation and tough reaction to remedy the wrongs that are found. In future agreements we need a social clause to ensure that those who are given concessions treat their own workers properly and pay them decently.

I have today received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, as I am sure other hon. Members have, saying that the Government are not prepared to assist at all with the unit costs for treating wool scouring effluent. The Government will not do anything, despite the fact that costs in this country are double those in France; and in Italy and Belgium there are no charges at all. The argument is that to do so would infringe the Water Act, but the Government could assist from a different standpoint. The multi-fibre arrangement is something the industry needs, and we need a commitment from the Government to improve and strengthen it for 1981, when it will, we hope, be renewed. Furthermore, we need the strictest controls on outward processing. We need a commitment from the Government and the EEC that they will not trade away the textile industry for other advantages internationally in negotiations with other countries. Finally, we need to dispel rumours that the EEC foresees the end of the textile industry and its transfer somewhere else.

Those are the matters that I wanted to raise. I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate. My reason for applying for this debate was the importance of the subject and the fact that I know that there are hon. Members on both sides who feel equally strongly about it. Living in or visiting their constituencies regularly, they are in a position to know how desperate is the situation. It is because they know it is desperate and because they feel worried that they are not managing to convey how urgent the situation is that a debate of this kind is so worth while.

The general secretary of the dyers' and bleachers' union is in the Gallery this evening. That union itself is quite rightly pressing Members of Parliament in West Yorkshire very hard to get stronger action from the Government, because the textile workers' union in West Yorkshire is almost disappearing before one's eyes with all these redundancies. It is no good for Britain, it is no good for the industry and it is no good for West Yorkshire unless the present position is reversed. We must have the opportunity to compete on equal terms and not under heavy disadvantages, as is the case now.

9.25 pm

We are very grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) for having introduced this debate on textiles. I am particularly grateful to him because I had drawn No. 8 for my subject and the fact that mine linked with his has saved me from a very late night.

In intervening on what is possibly a Yorkshire occasion, I must say that in north-east Essex, in my constituency there are three thriving small textile industries. Naturally I am concerned about the dangers they face from unfair competition, especially from Eastern Europe and the connection with the Community.

We know that the industry can face fair competition within the Community. I am speaking particularly of menswear. However, it cannot face the competition and malpractices of Eastern European countries, especially when carried out in association with our partners in the EEC.

Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I understand the position of illegal and unfair imports and dumping, especially from Romania, Eastern Germany and Eastern Europe. Recently we saw the closure of five well-known companies, with cutbacks and short-time working in others. We heard strong words from the hon. and learned Gentleman about the position in Yorkshire. There is also short-time working in north-east Essex. One manufacturer of men's outer wear said today that, unless something was done to stop unfair imports, the whole industry could disappear within two years. Indeed, if that is the price we must pay for illegal and unfair imports, it is certainly unacceptable to me, and, I am sure, to the House.

At present we are witnessing cheap imports. However, if we are not careful we shall be in danger of importing unemployment as well. We must all carefully consider that factor. The textile industry has good labour relations. It is a labour-intensive industry and makes a great contribution to the standard of living of any country. That is why I am especially glad to intervene in the debate.

People working in the textile industry say that if the industry goes to the wall there could come the moment when the Armed Services must purchase their uniforms from Eastern Europe. Indeed, some Service uniforms are made in my constituency, at Harwich. We used to make police uniforms there. However, as a result of Community regulations, the police contracts have gone to Germany. I should like the Community tendering system to be reconsidered. Although it may be fair, nevertheless there may be some method of altering it after careful consideration. Again, I ask whether we are up against fair competition.

All that underlines the need for action to ensure that there is fair competition. From what I have heard, I am not sure about that. A number of factors contribute to the situation. One is the alarming increase in unfair and illegal trading practices. By that I mean the various forms of dumping that were mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman, origin fraud as a means of quota evasion, State intervention in breach of EEC competition law, notably in Italy and Holland, and the evasion of duty through the abuse of preferential schemes. Dumping is extremely difficult to prove, especially in inflationary times when prices change so quickly.

Although anti-dumping procedures have been revised to facilitate action, they are still unsatisfactory since the onus of proof is on the importing country. Are we trying to change this? The Government must examine the anti-dumping procedures to ascertain whether certain rules and regulations should be changed.

Can action be taken against the importation of Romanian suits under our MFA bilateral agreements? The best example of origin fraud is Germany, though Italy is also a source of such fraud. Special East-West German relations make it difficult to police EEC origin regulations, and those relations provide an ideal cover for what the industry believes is large-scale illegal traffic. Our industry claims that well-tailored, 100 per cent. pure wool suits being offered by a West German firm at an ex-factory price of £16 are made in East Germany or Bulgaria with Korean cloth. These suits do not carry an origin label.

Are this practice and similar practices which the industry has notified to the Department of Trade being investigated? The effects of such practices on the MFA regime are obviously devastating. I was in Brussels the week before last and could tell that the Commission was not adequately staffed to deal with this problem. It did not surprise me to find that the staff of the Commission responsible for enforcing the origin regulations consisted—on their own admission—of one and a half people. Surely, something should be done about that.

We have agreed to become part of a trading community and have seen what happens with the CAP. In a labour-intensive industry such as our textile industry, we now find that there are insufficient staff to enforce the regulations. That is one of the reasons why I raise the subject tonight.

Apart from the need for more effective certification of origin and stricter enforcement of the origin regulations, the industry is pressing for origin labelling—as mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West—to be made compulsory. There is much to be said for that and I am sure that it is right, but in order to stop unco-ordinated action by member States it would be far better to press for an EEC regulation to deal with the problem comprehensively.

Urgent talks should take place with the EEC. I welcome the fact that the reason why my hon. Friend the Minister of State is unable to reply to this debate is that he is in Brussels probably dealing at the moment with this critical problem for the textile industry.

A further problem, not mentioned by the hon. and learned Member, is the extent of State intervention in the clothing industry. I do not wish to make a party political point, but in Italy the underwriting of losses by the State is practised on a formidable scale. That means that the firms concerned are able to operate outside normal market forces. That is a blatant transgression of EEC competition law. The Dutch Government, it is claimed, are also heavily subsidising their clothing manufacturers. This calls for quick action by the Government.

Preferential schemes have not so far been mentioned in the debate. It is claimed that cloth from the Far East is temporarily imported duty-free into such countries as Kenya for processing and then re-exported to the United Kingdom without duty being paid. That can mean a price difference of about 20 per cent. The textile industry needs much tighter control on imports from preferential areas.

There is no doubt that unless the Government are determined to deal immediately and effectively with the problems of the clothing industry we face a serious crisis. I have been doing many other things, but when I saw that industries in my constituency were in difficulty I examined the problems. I was appalled at the practices against the textile industry in the Community. It is vital to take up this matter with the Community in Brussels at once, not only through our Members of the European Parliament but with the Council of Ministers.

We have talked about the common agricultural policy protecting the small farmers, but the textile industry also needs protection. I am a free trader. I believe in fair competition, but the present practices are not fair competition. For that reason, I felt that it was right to raise this issue in the House.

When in Dublin, the Prime Minister was right to draw to the Community's attention our fears about the budget. There are fears about the CAP and about the textile industry. Action is necessary. I hope that the Government will examine the detail of what is happening. Only by correcting that detail can we ensure that the textile industry in particular does not suffer gravely in the next two years. I trust that this debate will draw to the attention of the House and the country what is happening in this important industry.

9.37 pm

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) on being fortunate in the ballot and on choosing to debate the West Yorkshire textile industry, particularly the wool textile industry—the backbone of life in West Yorkshire. That has been so since the Industrial Revolution and before. The House last debated this subject exactly five weeks ago. On that occasion many hon. Members impressed upon the Government the serious risk involved in the decline in the textile industry. We emphasised that that decline had become even more serious in the last six months.

I pointed out that between May and October this year 23 textile firms in West Yorkshire had closed. Those closures involved 2,013 redundancies. If those redundancies had taken place in one factory, there would have been a national outcry. However, because they were spread throughout West Yorkshire they did not invite the concern of the Government or the public that they deserve.

What has happened in West Yorkshire since that debate? The steady decline continues. Yesterday in the Yorkshire Post, which I do not usually read, a most prominent advertisement appeared across the top of a page. It consisted of a large notice which stated:
"Reorganisation of Woollen Company.
The Dirctors of a West Yorkshire Woollen Company wish to reorganise the Company's business by substantially reducing the scale of its manufacturing operations. This will involve reorganising the Company's work force and disposing of surplus assets. Applications are invited from persons suitably qualified and experienced who are interested in undertaking this assignment."
It is a tragic sign of the times that a large woollen company in West Yorkshire has to reorganise its work force, which may lead to short-time working, redundancies and a reduction in the scale of its manufacturing operations. There is no sign there of any improvement since the debate five weeks ago.

There is in my constituency a world-famous carpet company called Crossley and Kosset, better known as Crossley's Carpets. It has twice received the Queen's Award for Exports, and it has an international reputation. Its record of achievement and success is one of the best, if not the best, of all the carpet firms in the country.

I learnt yesterday that short-time working started there at the beginning of the month. An average of a three-day week is now being worked throughout the factory, and redundancies are a possibility. At one time exports from that factory were 17 per cent. to 20 per cent. of the total output. Today they are only 8 per cent. to 9 per cent.

I asked a managing director what points I should stress in today's debate. He said that the greatest single problem is the threat from the United States. The implications of that were well put earlier by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West.

The Minister is today attending a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers to receive a report on the Commission's consultations with the United States. Surely, while we are waiting for those discussions to come to a head, the Gov- ernment should take interim action to stop the flood of imports from America.

The Council of Ministers will take months to reach any decision. The matter was considered under the previous Government. During the last debate on the matter in the House we were told that we would hear the result of those discussions later in November. At Question Time yesterday we were told that we might hear today that a decision had been taken and that consequently the Government would be able to act.

The Minister should make a statement when the House returns after the Christmas Recess about the action the Government propose to take. It is no good waiting for endless discussions while the jots and livelihoods of people in West Yorkshire are at stake. Not only have jobs already been lost, but those who are still working in the textile industry are under constant threat. What steps are the Government taking to find alternative employment for those made redundant?

I asked the Minister a question about the possibility of training services division support for retraining of redundant weaving over lookers in West Yorkshire. The Minister said that support could not be justified at present because of the lack of employment opportunities in the industry on completion of training. This reply is not only negative but demonstrates the Government's regrettable lack of confidence in the future of the industry as well as their refusal to provide positive assistance. They clearly think that there is no point in retraining if there are not employment opportunities in the industry on completion of training.

I come to another possibility—the provision of alternative jobs, if necessary outside the textile industry. This is a regrettable alternative, but the people in West Yorkshire must have jobs. If they are being made redundant in the wool and textile industries, they must look elsewhere.

The latest employment figures were announced today. Nationally, they show a rise. These are mirrored in the local figures for my constituency, which also came out today and which show an increase in the unemployed. The number of vacancies is reduced. We are told that this is not only a seasonal picture. It is not simply a winter figure. The prospects are not good anywhere, but in West Yorkshire in particular they are certainly not good. We are being changed from an assisted to a non-assisted area. Therefore, the small firms which stood to gain from this assistance—usually the textile firms—will be hit in that way as well. The prospects in machine tools are not good. We certainly do not have a flood of new industries in West Yorkshire to which people can go.

I ask the Government again in this debate—as I did in the last debate, when I received no reply—to state their response to the report on the scheme for textile area regeneration. I should like to know from the Minister what is his attitude to that report and what are the Government's proposals. So much for help with jobs.

We have heard from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West that another totally negative and disappointing reply was received from the Government to pleas for help from the Yorkshire wool scouring industry concerning the trade effluent charges made by the Yorkshire water authority. Here is another barrier or another insuperable difficulty facing the wool textile industry, with no positive help forthcoming.

The Minister, in replying to the Supply day debate on regional aid, after a series of speeches from each side of the House, still did not appear to appreciate the gravity of the problem. He said:
"I discovered not a dying industry"—
this was when he went to look at some mills—
but one that has carried out massive restructuring over recent years".
But is the Minister still unaware that, as I pointed out in the debate, it is not only the old satanic mills that are closing but also many of the modernised ones of which he is so proud? Why are the modernised ones closing? The crisis is hitting the whole industry, yet the Government appear to be extremely complacent about it.

The Minister also told the House that the industry is
"dominated by small firms needing advice and counselling on how to improve their production methods. The small firms division of the Department of Industry has a nation-wide system of counselling which is always at the service of the industry."—[Official Report, 13 November 1979; Vol. 973, c. 1229–31.]
I am sure that we were all pleased to hear that, but the Minister must surely realise that at the moment the industry needs more than advice and counselling to solve its problems. It needs practical, tangible assistance, not words. That is what we are asking for tonight. In the face of the facts which have been stated. the Government's attitude to the wool textile industry should be to offer practical assistance.

In a recent debate on the subject, several policy proposals were suggested, but I shall not go through all of them this evening. However, as this is a debate on the Consolidated Fund, we should emphasise the urgent need for increased selective financial assistance to the industry, particularly as virtually the whole of West Yorkshire—with some exceptions such as Bradford—has been reduced from an assisted to a non-assisted area. We should like that assistance in the form of loans, grants or in any other way possible.

Ministers keep stressing that the wool textile industry is a cyclical industry. That makes it essential that, if it is to survive during times of depression, it should receive increased Government support. If the Government really believe that the West Yorkshire textile industry should not be allowed to decline, they must support that belief with urgent practical help.

9.51 pm

We have debated this issue on many occasions and at some considerable length. I suppose that some might claim that we were in danger of repeating ourselves, but, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry is very much aware, there are strong feelings among those of us who come from the West Yorkshire area as well as among those who work in the industry that it must not be allowed to die. It is one of our oldest industries, which goes back many centuries, and it would be a tragedy to those working in it, as well as to the country as a whole, if it were lost.

We live in a period of change. I believe that the industry accepts the inevitability of change within it. There must inevitably he some contraction, and that would have taken place come what may. There have been changes in fashion to man-made fibres. Even with fair competition, I do not think that anyone can deny that some contraction in the industry would have taken place.

The industry also accepts that poorer nations will want to develop their own industries. What it objects to is the use of unfair methods by relatively well-off nations. We have in this country relatively well-organised, highly developed distribution networks. Those countries which practise unfair methods of trade have those systems of distribution wide open to them and, therefore, find it very easy to enter our markets compared with most other markets in the world.

The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) referred to the Italian industry. I am sure that most of us would agree that the Italian industry benefits from the relaxed approach to tax and social security benefits. That could be regarded, and ought to be regarded, as a hidden subsidy. We must look to the Commission of the European Community to use its muscle with regard to this matter.

There are only two possibilities—either the Commission has not got the will to do anything about it, or it does not have the resources to deal with it. If it does not have the will, Ministers must make their voices heard far more stridently in defence of our interests and in defence of the industry than they have until today. As we have already heard, the Secretary of State for Trade is today taking part in a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, and we shall all be interested to hear the outcome of that meeting.

If the Commission lacks the resources, as has already been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), there should be a strengthening of the agencies concerned with monitoring fair trade and ensuring that it takes place. Many people in this country feel that the Commission seems to be very good at imposing controls that people do not want. Perhaps, without imposing any further bureaucracy, it might be possible to transfer some of the resources that are used to impose controls that people do not want to controls that are absolutely necessary and for which everyone is crying out. We should admit that the industry has some faults. It is sometimes slow to point out individual cases of abuse that could be dealt with. On the other hand, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich has pointed out, there is great difficulty in producing proof of unfair practices. I agree that there is a good case for changing the procedure so that the burden of proof rests on the industry to prove that it is not dumping or using unfair trade practices.

The all-party group within the House has been working on a united basis. It is good that on this issue we have been able to put aside most of our party differences and fight for the industry, with which we are all concerned. I do not deny that there are one or two differences—perhaps I should not gloss over those. Conservative Members do not want special subsidies for industry. Unless the industry is capable of surviving on its own feet, it is not worth proceeding with it. There is little point in pumping in money unless it is to alleviate a short-term problem. Therefore, it is better to concentrate on dealing with basic structural problems. We cannot hide those by pumping in money. That will only drag out the procedure, and we must get to grips with the real problem.

In this industry and in most others relatively little would be gained from import controls. In a moment, I shall say why I believe that the imposition of import controls could adversely affect the carpet industry in West Yorkshire. We are a country that lives by its trade. If we start on that path, we shall be the losers in the long term.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) referred to the question of restoring regional grants. I agree that there is a case for refining the system. Few would argue that there are not places within Kirklees or Calderdale—which have textile industries—which are worse off in many ways than places in Bradford, which benefit and will continue to benefit from the regional grant system. The system is a blunt weapon which contains many anomalies. Under the previous system, 40 per cent. of the country took advantage of the grants and relatively few people were any better off. That was a blunter instrument and one that we do not wish to see again.

I have spoken of the differences that divide the House. On the whole, we agree on far more. I see that the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) is in the Chamber. When this matter was last debated in the House, we heard an impressive speech from the hon. Gentleman. He referred to nine developments that he believed would help the industry. Conservative Members would agree with most of those proposals. Today, I also received the letter from my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that has been referred to in the debate. We recognise his problems, but I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues when I say that the letter was a cause of considerable disappointment.

We should like a clear statement of intent about preliminary negotiations on the multi-fibre arrangement. We have been told that that desire is premature, but most of us feel that the industry looks to the Government for an indication of their determination to renegotiate the munlti-fibre arrangement. We often hear the plea from the Government that they cannot give a firm statement, and it is difficult to understand why that commitment cannot be entered into.

I refer to the contraction that has taken place in the industry. In my constituency of Brighouse and Spenborough, we are relatively fortunate in that it has taken place over a much longer period than in many other parts of West Yorkshire. Looking at photographs of the industrial scenery 20 or 30 years ago, one sees Brighouse, Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike alive with mill chimneys. Most of those have now gone and we are left with relatively few firms in that industry, many of which are in the carpet trade. Several of those old buildings are used by engineering firms and entrepreneurs have set up small companies, seven or eight of which frequently occupy space that would have been taken up by one textile company. It is an excellent example of redeployment. These firms are providing employment, and we should not fight such changes.

Last weekend I visited one such firm and was interested to hear that, in spite of the present depressing outlook, this firm, like many others, has more business than it can cope with. I welcome the fact that so many small businesses are stepping into the breach, but I am afraid that they could not span the enormous gap that would be left by the total loss of this industry, which is gravely threatened at present.

The textile industry can be compared to an animal. It is not just one industry but many, which can be taken to be the limbs of the animal. There are two ways in which it can die. It can be wounded again and again, until, through loss of blood, it simply collapses, or the total loss of certain limbs might completely cripple the whole creature—and that is more likely at present. The activities—the limbs—within the textile industry are closely interrelated. I have already referred to the loss of scouring, and that would bring about inevitable reactions in other areas of the textile world.

I wish to conclude with one or two detailed words about the carpet industry, which, as I explained, is important for my constituency. It will be looking closely at the results of the meetings held in Europe today. We have heard reference to dual pricing and imports from the United States. United States manufacturers of tufted carpets can buy their raw materials for 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. less than our producers. They have a further advantage in that, because of economies of scale—the sort of yardage with which they are dealing—their labour unit costs are low. Even after paying import duties to Britain, they are able to export carpets to this country at £1 a square yard less than the price at which our manufacturers can produce carpets. If the Americans are not prepared to change their tune, I hope that the European Community will take a firm line and that countervailing duties will be imposed.

Today I spoke to the director of a long-established company—Firth Carpets—in my constituency. He explained to me that whereas in the past at this time of year there has been an upturn in the industry, this year, almost for the first time, there has not. That is very much the message coming from other carpet manufacturers. Profits are down and a large part of the industry is not working full-time, or is shedding labour.

It is interesting to note that the more expensive part of the carpet industry, the Wilton and Axminster trade, is doing far better than the cheaper, tufted carpets. This, again, points to the dangers represented by American imports. People working in the industry are well aware of how other home markets have been overcome by imports—I think here of the motor industry—which gradually increase until eventually the home industry is threatened.

There is a danger to the carpet industry from import controls. The carpet industry depends on imports of continuous filament nylon. If we were to take unilateral action against, say, American imports of raw materials, which can be obtained 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. cheaper than from home producers, it could be the death blow to tufted, synthetic carpets in Britain. If such imports were stopped, it would be detrimental to the industry. We must take a broad view before rushing into precipitate action here.

I have listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) and concur with what he said up to the present. I did not follow his last point. Is he saying that the purpose of import controls would be to increase the price of imported raw materials and that that would inevitably damage the domestic market? If that is so, that does not seem to follow.

I believe that if our home manufacturers had to pay an even higher price for raw materials they would be in a poorer position to compete. That is one reason, among many others, why I would prefer joint action with our European partners rather than unilateral action on our own behalf, which might, in the long run, be more damaging.

President Carter recently told the American people that the United States textile industry was not negotiable and that under no circumstances would that industry be allowed to die. The most encouraging news that our industry could receive would be an unequivocal statement from one of our Ministers—preferably the Prime Minister—that the same applies here. We need to be told that in 10, 20 or 30 years we shall still have a viable textile industry. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, I hope that we shall hear some news that indicates that we are at least pointing in the right direction.


I congratulate the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who were successful in initiating this debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Certainly the textile industry and illegal and unfair imports go together. I apologise for not having been present all evening. Indeed, after my contribution I shall have to return to the Standing Committee on the British Aerospace Bill. I apologise to the Minister for that, but I shall read his comments with interest.

It appears to me that we have been here before. I entered the House in October 1974 and in almost every debate on textiles since then I have managed to make a contribution. The same problems exist, despite assurances and statements of good intentions.

I take issue with the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller), who spoke about the unnecessary proposition of putting money into the industry. If he went back to his constituency and talked to management, unions and men, he would learn that the one thing they would gladly welcome back would be the Labour Party's temporary employment subsidy. That subsidy was given during a period of depression in the textile industry. When we had the temporary employment subsidy, we could at least see an end to the recession and some light at the end of the tunnel, but the present mood of the industry is one of utter dejection.

Since August this year, there have been 6,250 redundancies in the spinning and weaving industries. In addition, about 2,000 workers are engaged in short-time working. We are experiencing severe problems caused by imports from America—imports arising from the dual pricing policies which subsidise energy and feed-stock, which are used to produce synthetic fibres and other products.

In my constituency, only this month Kirklees mill, in Tottington—a mill that had fought off South Korean, Japanese, Hong Kong and Taiwan imports and, indeed, those from everywhere east of Wigan—announced that it would close. Why? It is because over the hill comes John Wayne and the cowboys. As a result, this mill has served 90 days' notice that it will close and the workers will be made redundant.

On 19 November, the EEC Council of Ministers decided to hold formal discussions with the United States to talk about these damaging effects. This does not go far enough. The case has been proved and the Community should act now by imposing an immediate countervailing levy. Discussions take too long; action is required. To put it the American way, we do not want to be short on action and long on discussions.

A further problem facing the industry is that of outward processing—the export of cloth to an underdeveloped country to be made up. It is then reimported into the EEC. This is damaging and must not be allowed to continue into 1980. It is a straight export of jobs from the United Kingdom.

We in the all-party group urge the Government to give a firm commitment to renegotiate the multi-fibre arrangement during 1982 on more stringent terms. If the Minister would give us a statement along those lines tonight, it would do as much as anything to restore a degree of confidence to the industry. Under the current MFA, provision is made for a 6 per cent. growth in the volume of imports each year. We all know that at present domestic consumption is increasing at a much lower rate than 6 per cent. This has the net effect of simply increasing import penetration.

The new MFA should have a recession clause incorporated in its terms. That would allow the importing country to suspend or reduce quota allocations. It is absolutely hypocritical and preposterous to expect a depressed home market to accept increasing numbers of imports of foreign goods, disproportionate to the home market consumption.

I believe also that the new MFA should include a social clause under which it would be a condition of the exporting country that it should provide decent terms and conditions of employment for its workpeople. How can we compete when textile operatives in some Third world countries are earning only £6 a week for a 50-hour week and working 51 weeks a year? We cannot possibly compete with those labour costs. Let us make it quite clear that no one in the North-West or in Yorkshire would deny workers in the underprivileged countries the right of a decent wage. When the American civil war was raging, the Lancashire spinners refused to spin slave-picked cotton.

During the civil disturbances in India, Gandhi banned Indian cotton exports and put our people out of work. But the textile workers of Lancashire lined the streets and clapped when he came to Lancashire. Our record of humanitarianism for Third world countries goes back generations. We believe that if we are really concerned about passing some of our prosperity and maybe some of our jobs to some under-privileged people, it is not only jobs but the conditions, the environment and the working wage that should go to them as well and not simply to a few textile barons.

Between now and the next MFA, the Commission must stop retreating from principles which are incorporated in the present arrangement. It must be prepared to act decisively against unfair trading. Hon. Members could cite many examples of quotas which have been exceeded. The United Kingdom Government and the Commission should consider imposing sanctions in the form of cancelling quotas from those countries when these abuses have been deliberate.

There must also be greater control on free circulation. As hon. Members know, this is the way in which low-cost imports are able to pass from one EEC country to another. The Government should support the argument that imports from Mediterranean countries should be subject to controls on free circulation despite any possible argument by the Commission that such action would not be legal.

A disturbing event took place when the EEC reached agreement with China in July this year which brought about breaches in the global ceilings of seven of the eight most sensitive categories of imports. It appears that China plans to double its textile output by the 1990s. It will be looking for a market for these goods in exchange for capital equipment. Assurances are needed that the textile industry of this country will not be sacrificed further to take an increased share of Chinese textiles in return for capital goods exported to that country.

A matter of great concern is the Mediterranean associate countries. Restraint agreements have been reached with Malta and Cyprus in breach of the global ceilings on the most sensitive products. The agreements are at the highest level of penetration yet achieved. Portugal has been allowed to increase its shipments in 1979. In addition, Greece and Spain have been given authority to export larger quantities than have been agreed.

An example of how reluctant is the Community to act is the case of Turkish cotton yarn. The ceiling for Turkey was 2,940 tonnes, yet by September of this year imports of cotton yarn from Turkey were 4,835 tonnes. It took the Commission six months to act on the matter despite assurances given in April this year that it would act promptly to avoid disruption. What is the definition of disruption? Twenty-four factories have closed down since April. I have mentioned that over 6,000 jobs have been lost.

Last week in my constituency, the Mule Spinners Union, a union that had been operating for 150 years, closed down. It closed because there were only 14 spinning mules left in Lancashire. They were being exported to a museum in Belgium. I accept that technology has done away with the mule and made it redundant, but the men who last week closed down those mules were no nearer to seeing a future for the industry than were their 50,000 colleagues who in 1918 came back from the bloody trenches of the Somme and Ypres and started the Lancashire mules in 1918 to spin a land fit for heroes. Less than 30 per cent. of that industry is now left. Those people last week were no nearer seeing a future for the textile industry than were their predecessors in 1918. "We shall avoid disruption"! Deeds are not matching words. These are hollow words from hollow men who apparently buy their suits in Taiwan.

As I have tried to illustrate, and as other hon. Members will further illustrate, 1979 has been a year of contraction in the textile industry—lost jobs, lost factories, lost opportunities. That is not because we are uncompetitive. The majority of the industry that remains is highly invested and productive and it has excellent industrial relations. Carrington Vyella has a spinning unit in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) and a weaving unit in my constituency. Those two units are the most efficient and modern in Europe and in terms of output can rival the world. That is no exaggeration. Yet those two units are under pressure.

What other industry in the past 10 years has lost 263,000 jobs? It has negotiated and faced with fortitude and resolution the reform of the industry to meet the challenge of Third world countries. We do not deny any country the right to become industrialised and to develop a textile industry. All we ask is that the Government define what the British textile industry should be in size and volume and give it some support. We ask not for money but for action.

The next decade had better be better than the 1970s for the textile industry, otherwise there will be no industry left. The 1980s were prophesied to be the decade of the microchip. Chips will not clothe people. If we support the textile industry, it will do so.

10.22 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) on his good fortune in being drawn in the ballot and instigating this debate. I am grateful to him for leaving the wording of the subject in the terms of the textile industry instead of the woollen textile industry, because it allows me to speak about cotton, as the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) has done.

I think that I can claim a slightly closer relationship with West Yorkshire than my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), because from the borders of my constituency I can see the barbed wire that divides Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Many of my constituents cross that barbed wire on occasions to work in West Yorkshire, and people from West Yorkshire cross it to work in Rosendale.

In this cross-party debate, many hon. Members have made clear that there is great dissatisfaction in the textile industry. The Secretary of State for Industry, the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and the Secretary of State for Trade and his junior Ministers could hardly be unaware of the fact, because there have been several lobbies and they have already met several delegations and undoubtedly had thousands of letters from all over the country from people who are concerned about the future of the industry.

In a sense, I am a little sad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry will be responding to the debate—I said that five weeks ago in the textile debate—because much of what has been raised in this debate concerns trade, not specifically industry. But, having said that, and as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows that I have a high regard for him, I welcome the fact that he is to reply to the debate, because he has great knowledge of the textile industry. Indeed, he visited my constituency recently, so he is familiar with the problems that we face.

I refer to the reluctance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and his hon. Friend the Minister for Trade in seemingly not wishing to mention that horrifying term "multi-fibre arrangement". I thought that we had overcome that problem in the debate on textiles five weeks ago, but seemingly that is not so. Yesterday, in answer to my parliamentary question, we heard reference to orderly marketing procedures. It is not good enough because, psychologically, the use of the term "orderly marketing" instead of "multi-fibre arrangement" is having a drastic effect on the cotton and wool industries. Those industries believe that there is something sinister in the way that my right hon. Friend is avoiding using that term. I hope that we can clear the matter once and for all when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry replies.

I listened carefully to the point that was made yesterday at Question Time by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). He asked whether the Minister for Trade was aware that, as the multi-fibre arrangement had to be renegotiated in 1981 and the bilaterals the year after, and as we were so near to the beginning of 1980, we had better start weaving immediately. That is probably the most opportune word that I could use in the debate. Work should begin on 1 January 1980, because time is running out.

Seemingly, however, my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade does not accept that there is great urgency in the matter. In his reply to my question, he referred to today's meeting—which is the reason why he is not in the Chamber this evening—and said:
"I will be attending the Council, and will ensure that our interests are taken into account in the discussions on the action to be taken."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 21.]
All hon. Members know very well that my hon. Friend is a good politician by any standard. If he had really written the answer to that question and it was his and his alone, he would have said that he would fight for our interests and not merely take them into account. That is what the House is asking for in the debate—a more aggressive attitude on the part of Government spokesmen when they bang the drum or table when speaking to the Council of Ministers in Brussels or wherever. I, like other hon. Members, will be interested to see what has transpired at the meeting that my hon. Friend has attended today.

I was genuinely sorry that my hon. Friend was pilloried during Question Time yesterday by questions from both sides of the House. I say that quite genuinely, because I hold him in high esteem and have great respect for him. Even though he must have felt discomforted, that would be nothing compared to the discomfort that will be felt by the work force in my constituency and other constituencies throughout West Yorkshire if many more people are laid off. People will be laid off in my constituency who work for the Loveclough Printing Company, whose workers are represented by the general secretary of the Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers Union. That will be a sad day indeed.

My hon. Friend should be congratulated on the many things that he has done. First, he has implemented the basket extractor mechanism—which has not been mentioned so far in the debate—no fewer than 11 times. I understand that at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on20 November he was effective in banging the table. He made it perfectly clear that under GATT the European Commission was not prepared to put up with the unfair import competition through the dual pricing policy as propounded by the United States. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) gave me that fact. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, his press relations for meetings of that sort could be better. I do not blame him for this. However, I blame someone within his Department. The information is not filtering through. Hon. Members should not have to go to enormous lengths to obtain it.

On previous occasions I have referred to the unfair import competition that is coming from America. It is a relatively new factor. In the past we have thought of unfair competition as coming from Third world countries and underdeveloped countries. We are now facing dual pricing. I cannot imagine that there has ever been a time when the textile industry has been so threatened. Probably that is why so many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

United States dual pricing means that there are artificially low prices. The EEC now accepts the textile industry's case that there is a breach of international trade rules, but, as the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West said, from 20 November to today nothing has been done. There has to be a greater sense of urgency. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade reads the report of the debate when he returns—he is responsible for many of the negotiations—he will realise that the situation is extremely serious.

There is a feeling in the textile industry that the future is uncertain. For as long as that feeling prevails, no one in his right mind, whether in West Yorkshire, Lancashire or elsewhere, will apply for a job in the industry. No one in his right mind will take a job in which there is no security. Today my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has the opportunity to give us all the confidence that we need. He has the opportunity of injecting confidence into the industry as a whole. I sincerely hope that he does just that.

10.33 pm

The debate is formally about industry assistance schemes. One of the remarkable features was the good value for money that we obtained from the wool textile industry schemes. For a mere £30 million, an additional £100 million was invested in the wool textile industry. If other industries that have sought and seek Government assistance could ask for only £30 million and provide the export and productivity performance of the wool tex- tile industry, we should all be extremely pleased.

One of the reasons why we are debating the wool textile trade is that, despite the industry schemes and the hopes that were expressed when the schemes were introduced, optimism has proved to be misplaced. I shall quote what was said two years ago, when the wool textile industry scheme was being evaluated. It was said:
"Though market conditions have been un favourable in the recent past, despite this there are clear signs that modernisation has enabled companies to widen their markets and to compete in higher quality markets and so on."
It was hoped and expected that the multi-fibre arrangement would
"help to stabilise import penetration into the United Kingdom."
The truth, as many hon. Members have said, is that those hopes of a mere two years ago have proved ill founded.

We had a period of stability in 1977–78, but since then we have seen a considerable decline. In West Yorkshire, when the industry was reviewed thoroughly in 1969, the report of the review—the Atkins report—was reporting on an industry which had more than 140,000 workers. Today, the industry in my county has fewer than 60,000 employed. That is a reduction of more than 70,000 employees in one industry in one county.

If such a reduction were suggested today—as it has been, to my great regret, in the steel industry—there would be up-roar and concern in the nation. But in West Yorkshire the industry has suffered a halving of employment in each decade over the past 20 years.

Our problems come from all quarters. It has been said tonight that we have a fine all-party approach in the Chamber. and with my colleagues from Bradford I agree that such an all-party approach should be followed as far as possible. But I am bound to say that when that all-party approach fails to penetrate the Front Benches, sooner or later it will be increasingly difficult to attempt to pursue what I believe always to be the right and reasonable course.

The serious job loss which is occurring is causing intense worry and now, I believe, a feeling of betrayal and frustration among the workers in the industry. I appreciate that hon. Members know this to be so, but it cannot be said too often that, whatever might be thought of another redundancy or another closure resulting from another month of getting nowhere in negotiations, each redundancy means another worker on the dole. If we ourselves were being put out of work because the EEC Commission ground very slowly, we should be extremely angry.

I pay tribute to the trade union leaders and to some of the leaders of the industry for the work which they are trying to do. The workersinvolved—who, after all, are the ones who bear the brunt of redundancies—often do not know of the efforts being made on their behalf, and I think that tribute should always be paid for work which we know is being done. That having been said, however, hard work and perseverance are no substitute for action, as has already been said.

One of the remarkable features of events over the past few months has been the willingness in West Yorkshire of all parties in the industry—the employers and trade unions, the clothing side and the woollen textile side—the local authorities, the Members of Parliament and the European Members of Parliament to come together and work together for the good of the industry.

In Bradford today, what I believe to be a unique meeting has taken place. Representatives of all those bodies and interests—both sides of industry, local government, British government and European government—have met in what is called the Wool Textile and Clothing Action Committee to consider a united front in the West Yorkshire area in the interests of the wool and clothing industries. I shall come later to one or two of the matters which are most immediately in their minds.

I turn, first, to some of the issues which we raised only a few weeks ago and on which we seem to be getting no further. As regards the carpet industry, I shall not go into detail because it has been touched on already, but what is clear to the workers in the industry is that talks in Britain, talks in Brussels and now talks between Brussels and Washington are no good at all if carpet factories are closing week by week.

The West Yorkshire carpet factories are closing or declaring redundancies weekly. If no action is taken, very soon there will be no carpet industry left. We are now down to a few thousand workers. If nothing is done soon, that industry will no longer be there to protect. I understand that TUC officials are meeting Common Market officials on Friday. My suspicion is that they will get no further than the Minister did in his discussions today.

I refer next to the Prato affair. After many months—indeed, years—of argument, the Government referred the matter to the Commission in January or February this year Since then, the investigations have been grinding their usual slow progress through what I assume must be the usual channels. Officials from the EEC eventually visited Bradford last week. It took from January or February until December for the EEC Commission actually to come to my county to see what we were talking about. In that time further redundancies have taken place. Those officials will return to Brussels and report back. That will take a bit longer. They will then consider what to do and eventually report to the Ministers, who will discuss the matter. In the absence of a ministerial assurance, I know that it will be many months before a decision is taken. I shall return to the implications of that.

There have been complaints about Italian wool competition. Wool scouring was referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller). Here is another disappointment. The previous Government investigated the matter and came to the same conclusion. One section of the letter we received said that the EEC did not regard it as its duty to comment or intervene on different charging practices for trade effluent. In other words, the Commission was prepared to sanction unfair competition when it suited the EEC. But when we talk about unfair competition as it affects us, the EEC Commission appears to be unwilling to take action.

Next I come to the question of outward processing, which is a serious matter. If we export the making of cloth to third countries, eventually the cloth production will go there. Then the spinning will go there. We shall be left with no industry. I refer to employers' hypocrisy over discussions and negotiations. Many producers are setting up assembly operations in third countries. Some employers in the EEC, especially in our country, are exporting jobs to other countries. They are able to retain their profits. It does not matter to a business man whether he makes his profits in Brazil or in Yorkshire, but it makes a difference to the workers in my constituency. Outward processing means a loss of jobs to Britain. It does not mean a loss of jobs to the producers, who are getting their cake and eating it. It is the workers who are affected.

The same is true in terms of imports of suits. Many importing firms are the erstwhile producers of suits. The greatest difficulty in the discussions is to persuade some of our producers to clamp down on the imports of cheap cloth and suits from other countries, because those producers are engaged in the trade. I shall come to Portugal and Greece later. It is well known and understood that in Portugal there is heavy investment in the wool textile trade. There is machinery there ready to produce at considerable capacity, and those products will be ready to come into the EEC market.

Who is investing the capital in those units? It is the textile producers within the EEC. We must, and do, recognise in this House that there is always likely to be a conflict of interest between producers and workers in the industry in any country. I am concerned that on occasions the producers and the employers are somewhat divided on the merits and demerits of particular policies.

We heard earlier that carpet producers favour the import of cheap materials but want a ban on the importation of cheap carpets. The spinners, of course, do not want cheap materials imported. Some employers and producers want protection for their section of the industry but would deny protection to other parts of the industry. From the workers' point of view, it is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

When the Minister replies, I should like him to touch on a specific matter—that is, the question of the control of import documentation procedures as they apply in this country. In my discussions with the chamber of commerce and industry in Leeds, I find that it has examined the matter in considerable detail. In its report, which I shall be forwarding to the Minister, it set out as clearly as possible, bearing in mind the unwillingness of people to reveal the names of who is doing precisely what, that the controls of import documentation as to certificate of origin are simply not being applied on imports from the EEC.

It is widely rumoured and, I suggest, widely known in the industry that textile goods are coming into the EEC from outside the Community and getting into this country by free circulation as a way round quota regulations. The practice is said in the trade to be so widespread that, unless the trade is foolish and does not know what it is talking about—I do not believe that the Minister would suggest that that is so in this case of any sensible, hard-headed business man—the matter should be investigated.

The Leeds chamber of commerce went as far as to say—and in this time of cutting back on the work of bureaucrats and civil servants it is a remarkable thing to have said:
"Chambers of commerce believe in the reduction of documentation required for overseas trade. It would go against the grain for them to argue for the introduction of proof of origin for imports into the United Kingdom from EEC sources. Nevertheless the Chamber of commerce want more bureaucrats. They actually want more people for this work."
I ask the Minister to indicate a view on this issue when he replies. The Irish, the French and the Italians have increased the number of bureaucrats for textile products, and the chamber of commerce believes that this country has no choice but to follow suit if a true picture of import penetration is to be built up and action taken when agreed levels of imports are raised.

Is the Minister prepared to ensure that our import regulations, in terms of certification of origin, are fully and properly put into operation? Is there a proper unit in the Departments of Industry and Trade to monitor and control unfair import penetration from within the EEC? I ask that because the feeling in Yorkshire is that, whether we are dealing with the MFA, carpets, wool scouring or Prato, it is not good enough that Britain should continually have to say that the issue is stuck in Brussels. Time and time again we are told that the British Government would like to take action but that they cannot do so because the matter has been referred to Brussels and agreement is required throughout the EEC.

Everybody else ignores the rules while we play the game by the rules. Some months ago, I said that we played by the rules of cricket while everyone else played the game by rugby league rules. I think that we are playing by croquet rules while everybody else is playing by rugby league rules. We should use the same ingenuity to find ways of protecting jobs and creating real productive wealth as is used in the City of London for tax avoidance and the creation of paper fortunes.

Incredible ingenuity is involved in creating fortunes through abstruse schemes to drive wedges through tax legislation and take advantage of loopholes. The Germans, French and Italians use the same ingenuity in the EEC for their industries. We play by the rules of the game with a straight bat and a stiff lip while our industry goes down the drain.

Will there be a renewal of the MFA on no less favourable terms than at present? If the Minister will not give that assurance, we must have a clear explanation. Will he please say that consultations will begin on the new MFA in January? If he will not give that assurance, will he say why not? He was asked by the TUC's textile, clothing and footwear industries committee on 29 October for that assurance. That was two months ago.

May we also have an assurance that the short-time working compensation scheme will be continued after 31 March, when it is due to expire? It has been said that we want not money but action. I suggest that unless the scheme is continued after 31 March many more thousands of workers will lose their jobs. In West Yorkshire, between 7,000 and 10,000 more workers could lose their jobs. An early statement should be made.

It is neither fair nor reasonable for employers and workers to be kept waiting until the last week or month before they know whether the scheme is to continue. If we were all officially on short-time, ready to be declared redundant in March, we would be demanding to know now whether the scheme will be retained.

The foreign exchange rate for sterling is a real problem. It is not enough for us in this Chamber to complain about the problem of a 20 per cent. difference in American feedstock prices and the drastic effect that that has on the carpet industry if we then pretend that a 20 per cent. change in the exchange rate has no effect. Of course, it is having an effect. The high value of sterling—bolstered largely not by our manufacturing competitiveness but by the hoped-for value of North Sea oil—is causing severe problems for manufacturing industry. It is common sense that a 15 to 20 per cent. improvement in the value of sterling must have an effect upon the import and export competitiveness of our industry. It is of paramount importance to our manufacturing industry that the exchange rate of sterling should, in a controlled manner, be brought to a level that reflects our manufacturing industry's competitiveness and not our North Sea reserves.

The minimum lending rate is causing severe problems. Having listened to everything that has been said in the debate so far, I have been extremely surprised not to hear Conservative Members complain about the 17 per cent. minimum lending rate and the borrowing rate of over 20 per cent. for industry. In the textile trade credit is very important, and this high rate is causing severe problems concerning working capital for financing the movement of materials and also in terms of investment.

My discussions with industry generally have indicated that a widespread postponement of investment decisions is now occurring and that there will be a significant slump in investment in manufacturing industry in two or three months' time as the figures come through. Minimum lending rate must be brought down, and brought down quickly. As always, it is the small firms which are getting squeezed.

The industry requires two things. First, there should be a statement from the Government on what they see as the future of the industry. We cannot go on from hand to mouth from week to week, from month to month and from year to year without knowing whether the Government of the day have faith in the future of the industry.

Second, and most immediately, we need not only to talk about multi-fibre arrangements, wool scouring, carpets and so on. We would all be more than satisfied if we were told by the Minister in his reply tonight that he and his colleagues are determined to act in the next few weeks in the interests of our British industry and to find regulations which can be used in our interests, as suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) and by the trade unions in the industry.

I am sure that there are all kinds of clauses in the MFA, the EEC regulations and GATT which, if there were the will to identify them, could be used in the interests of our British industry and our British workers. We should like to have a clear statement from the Government tonight that, operating within the rules of international agreements, they will seek to use those rules speedily in our interests, in weeks and not in months and years. We ask them to try to find the loopholes to protect our industry. If they would do that, I accept that it would be perfectly reasonable for the Government to come back in a month or two and explain to us how those loopholes and regulations can be used in our interest. I should like a statement as to whether the Government are examining the treaties to find the methods whereby, perfectly legally, we can protect our industry.

This is an important debate. In my county area, the industry accounts for between 50,000 and 60,000 jobs. Less than 10 years ago, that figure was 70,000. No one wants to come here in 10 years' time and say that yet more mills have gone and that, in effect, communities have been swept aside in the name of EEC diplomacy that has sold the textile trade down the river for the sake of wider Common Market designs on political influence throughout the world.

11.1 pm

I shall not repeat many of the points that have been made so ably from both sides of the House. However, I reserve the right to cobble my answers to correspondence and for press releases from those speeches.

Last week, some of my constituents in Sowerby lost their jobs when a textile firm closed, and others are on short time. Let no one minimise the tragedy of events such as that, but I should like to pay my respect to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the help that he has given, and is currently giving me, with various textile problems in Sowerby.

Not all those problems are problems of recession. It is only fair to say that many textile firms are buoyant and expanding. Many textile firms are exporting well and are busy. Many cannot find skilled machinists to take on the work that is flowing into their factories. We in this House ought not to delight in talking down this great industry, because many people in the industry are frightened that we shall talk it into a decline.

Other hon. Members have spoken, as I did on 13 November, about unfair competition. They have spoken about things such as outward processing, a problem that was well pinpointed by Lord Rhodes in another place and by the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) tonight, when they both described it as "exporting jobs". Many hon. Members—this will be my main point, and almost my only point—have called for a renegotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement. They forget the history of that arrangement. They forget that it was negotiated in 1974 under the GATT framework in an optimistic spirit. Then, we were looking for consensus and ont confrontation.

To my mind, the key point of that arrangement was the 6 per cent. increase per annum of imports into this country. That is not what we want now. At that rate, by 1990 there will be no textile industry in this country. We do not simply want 10 years in which to wind up. The MFA is an importer's dream. Its renegotiation during 1977 was based on a series of hasty, bilateral arrangements and always depended on what the Commission in those days called "a hyper-sophisticated, statistical set-up".

That set-up, even now, does not exist. The Minister must do better than the present MFA. We have at least 25 separate agreements with different countries of various degrees of effectiveness. Surely a better marketing policy is what we are looking for, not a renegotiation of the same leaky net which allows to Portugal, Greece and others the unfair competition about which we have heard against this country.

We want another set of agreements that make, for instance, the Eastern bloc responsible for its own dumping. The Minister has told us that he is seeking orderly marketing arrangements. Perhaps he should take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) said and call it "MFA Mark II". Then, at least, there would be some confidence.

The agreements will be welcomed by my constituents who live by exporting, especially those who do not export textiles. Many of those people fear a purely protectionist lobby. They also fear the renewed threat of their jobs being stolen by other regions in the country where industries are in steep decline. Too often in the past, their jobs have been stolen and taken, dare I say, to Wales, New-castle and Liverpool when West Yorkshire should have been expanding. They fear that public expenditure will not be cut back far enough to allow industry to breathe. West Yorkshire is still strong, but it must receive fair play. It looks to the Government for that fair play.

Before I call the next hon. Member, I should tell the House that some hon. Members who are now serving on a Standing Committee have indicated to me that they will seek to catch my eye in the debate. I say that in case hon. Members feel that it is unfair when an hon. Member walks into the Chamber and is called to speak shortly after his arrival.

11.6 pm

There has been so much worthwhile comment and expertise in the Chamber tonight, not only on the broad sweep of the canvas but also on the minutiae and detail of the problems that face the textile industry, that I cannot hope to go over the ground that many hon. Members have covered with so much knowledge and understanding.

However, I should like to put a different slant on the debate by trying to look at the textile industry as part of the total economic picture of the country. To do so is realistic. The textile industry does not exist of itself but exists within the national economy. We must understand its general as well as its specific problems. There is tremendous pressure on all our manufacturing industry.

I believe that the House is becoming perilously close to the breakdown of any all-party agreement on the textile industry because of the Government's attitude on the broad industrial strategies which they are pursuing. Those strategies hurt, harm, injure and destroy many industries—whether they are steel or textile industries. The Government's beliefs and philosophy mean that for many areas Government aid for industry no longer exists. Regional policies have been swept away and there is no positive side to industrial strategy. There is merely the negative belief that all industry must look after itself and compete in a free enterprise system.

The Government believe that all industries must decline inevitably and that if they decline they deserve no help. In the West Riding or in South Wales—which, Mr. Speaker, I know that you hold close to your heart—industries have declined and towns have been destroyed overnight in terms of future prospects and the lives of individuals on the dramatic scale that we have seen in Corby and Shotton. I believe that the Government's attitude will have the same effect on the textile industry, only a little more slowly.

When Conservative Members talk about industry, they appear to take a negative attitude that we do not understand. The policies of the Labour Government were positive and gave management and workers a belief in the future of industrial production in this country.

The steel industry is a parallel example. The Labour Government would not countenance closures in the steel industry at Ebbw Vale unless they were previously agreed between management and workers. That is quite different from the closures introduced by this Government. We accepted closures only when there was agreement, and, as part of positive government, we then introduced investment at a high level in the infrastructure of Ebbw Vale and other areas affected. At Ebbw Vale the figure was £40 million.

The hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that we should support declining industries indefinitely. If he is saying that, the implications are that money that should be spent on new investment in industries that can prosper and develop is being thrown away in propping up declining industries. I do not believe that the textile industry should be put in that category, but the hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that we should prop up any declining industry ad infinitum.

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands my point. We should not support declining industries for ever and a day, but we should have compassion and look to the future. We should help to transform declining industries and towns so that they grow again. Government is about compassion and the representation of citizens in need, in both the long and short terms.

I have given the more dramatic example of the steel industry to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the textile industry faces similar problems. We all understand the decline that has taken place since 1945 and perhaps before. On this side of the House, we believe that the Government must act positively to help to tackle the problems and not merely offer consolation.

A careful analysis of the reasons for the decline of the textile industry must concentrate on purchasing patterns. When considering the present purchasing patterns in this country, I am reminded of what I think of as that very poor novel "The Tribe that Lost its Head". I do not believe in compulsory import controls introduced by a Government in a heavy-handed manner.

I believe that our colleagues in France, Belgium and Germany understand our position when they look at our consumption patterns, which are so different from those in our competitor countries. It is about time that we realized that the consumption patterns of our fellow countrymen pay little regard to the long-term interests of us all.

One of my constituents came to see me recently and expressed great concern that his daughter could not find work. It is no comfort to a 16-year-old lass leaving school to have no prospect of employment. This is one aspect of employment in Huddersfield that is on my mind: unemployment among young girls is twice as high as among young men. The reason for this is the declining textile industry, which has traditionally provided jobs for girls leaving school. Many have gone into the mending side of the industry, but now, in order to cut costs, many producers are sending mending out to out-workers, who do it at cheap rates.

It is not only the textile industry that is declining. Large shops are employing fewer people. The youth employment ser- vice reminded me last week of a local shop which once employed 25 young girls as shop assistants. Now, it employs only three supervisors full-time. Everyone else works part-time. So, once again, there are no jobs there for school leavers.

The gentleman who came to see me about his daughter had parked a V-registration Japanese car outside. I pointed out to him that there was something that we could do about our own consumption patterns; there was a relationship between that car standing outside and the problems facing his daughter and other youngsters in the job market. We sometimes underrate the fact that many of our competitors have considerable national concern. It was once called nationalism—the identity one feels in belonging to a nation. That kind of latent nationalism, which once manifested itself in an abhorrent way during the war, now lingers on in the form of consumption patterns. It is very difficult to sell British goods in Japan, France or Germany, but it is easy to sell foreign goods in our stores. Many hon. Members might care to stroll down Oxford Street—if they can stroll in this pre-Christmas shopping bonanza—and they would see the great stores where the counters are crowded with buyers eager for foreign goods.

Most hon. Members have discussed detailed figures and the problems of import control. I should like to stress that the purchasing patterns pursued by British folk are a great danger to our future. You are aware, Mr. Speaker, that a cloud lies over the steel towns of Llanwern and Port Talbot. Those great steelworks produce castings. But this country now produces so few cars that communities hundreds of miles away from car manufacturing plants are feeling the cold wind of unemployment and a bleak future.

I do not wish to adopt a jingoist approach or to suggest that by rushing around the country and saying that if one follows the flag and buys British all will be well. But it is the responsibility of hon. Members on both sides of the House to lead and educate public opinion. It is our duty to emphasise that faith in products manufactured by our own people is vitally important.

I should like to turn to what I term the Consumers Association syndrome. Hon. Members representing textile areas have been annoyed by a recent publication of the Consumers Association which suggested that consumers would be even better off without such guarantees as the multi-fibre arrangement or the agreement reached in terms of complex international trade with the rest of the world. The association argues naively that the British man and woman would have a better deal if there were no controls and if imports were allowed of as many cheap, dumped products as we could lay our hands on. I shall not use the language that I had intended. I merely observe that it is an armchair critic's attitude to consumption that one looks around the market, investigates, reads the best journals and takes the best buy regardless of where the product is made and regardless of those who gain employment by the purchase.

It worries me a great deal that we take less notice of the effect of our consumption on the jobs of our fellows than we take of the argument that only buying the best will teach British manufacturers to be more efficient and more competitive and that in the end all of us will be better off. That is false logic. It is logic that will destroy the British textile industry and the British car industry and at the end of the day make all of us poorer.

Many hon. Members represent constituencies such as mine. My predecessor said that those living in Huddersfield worked in chemicals, textiles and engineering. Those were the three main employers. Now, we also have the administrative and service industries. They do not produce anything. That is unusual in my constituency. It is a relatively new growth area. People in service industries do not produce anything for their fellow citizens to consume or for people abroad to buy.

Huddersfield and West Yorkshire are exporting communities. That is the message that I hope the Government Front Bench will get tonight. First and foremost, we are exporting and manufacturing communities. Secondly, we have our share of service industries. In a sense, people in service industries live parasitically on the manufacturers—those who make the cars, the steel and the textiles. It worries me that such people can sit in their armchairs and say "We are going to buy whatever is best, whether it be from Japan, Belgium or Hong Kong." If we do not provide each other with jobs, a bleak future will face all of us, whether in the manufacturing industries or not.

I agree with many of my hon. Friends who have talked about the weakness of import control of another kind. Last week I was talking to an Italian manufacturer about the EEC regulations on slaughterhouses. That matter has cropped up in my constituency. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know that the EEC regulations on slaughterhouses are causing the closing down of many small slaughterhouses, both municipal and private. The industry now feels that, having invested a vast amount of capital to update slaughterhouses, it cannot compete. The Italian said "What interests me is that the British take EEC regulations seriously. We have not even started to take note of EEC regulations on slaughterhouse updating and control."

I should like to emphasise that point in the context of the textile industry and the control of imports. I believe that our fellow members of the Common Market approach the various EEC regulations in a very different spirit from us. I refer specifically to the way in which imports are controlled informally even within the European Community. I can give instances of the ways in which imports into Italy, Germany and France are subject to informal controls. A marvellous import control is to look at and investigate every bale of cloth. A good way of slowing down textile imports is to have very few ports through which such imports can come into the country.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) that we are still playing croquet or cricket when our competitors are playing rugby league football. We should investigate the informal mechanisms which are at work within Europe. A dramatic example of the difficulty of selling British goods abroad is Japan. There we face not only resistance to buying foreign goods but a sophisticated structure of informal controls preventing our goods appearing in Japanese markets. I suggest that we shall have to learn to play in a more professional way. We must cease to be gentlemen if we are to compete with some of our rugged competitors in international trade.

May I assist with an illustration of how clever the French are in dealing with the EEC? They have help of about £5 million and no one raises an eyebrow, whereas if one asks for £50 million there is a close investigation. They have arranged for Martinique and Guadelope, their associated territories, to apply under EEC regulations for sums of £2 million or £3 million, with the effect that at the end of the day no one seems to notice what is happening. Every inhabitant of Martinique and Guadalope receives £1,500 a year from EEC funds, built up gradually. It is a miraculous piece of sleight of hand operated by the French, and virtually no one knows that it is happening. That is the way to deal with EEC regulations and the system.

I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend's intervention, which gives a specific example of the way in which our competitors play by a different set of rules.

I turn to another aspect of concern in the debate. With the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller), I believe that realism has to be injected into any debate on textiles. I do not wish to deny that there is some area for improvement in design and marketing. We should be better and more responsive in design and quicker to learn what the French, German and American consumers require. We should be quicker to learn that traditional products will not suffice and that our marketing must be more aggressive. I have great doubts about the efficacy of our representation abroad in our embassies, trade delegations and so on in helping the textile and other industries to be effective.

It may strike a chord with hon. Friends and other hon. Members that I have a special interest in the quality of management that we are bringing into the industry. Many speakers have talked of the problem that once an industry ceases to expand and be dynamic, a natural corollary is that the industry ceases to attract talent on the shop floor, in the mills—the spinners and the weavers—and ceases to produce the right calibre of management.

Management has always been a problem in the textile industry, possibly because genetically, as we know, bright fathers, do not always produce bright sons. They may send them into Parliament and they may be successful parlia- mentarians, but they do not make successful entrepreneurs or successful managers. Let us be honest and admit that the textile industry has suffered from dull sons going into positions that they could not hold successfully.

In a more modern society, any Government should be in the business of producing good management. As someone who has had many years as a university teacher, I saw at first hand that we produced too many theoreticians in our universities and not enough good managers for the textile industry, the chemical industry and others. The country does not need a smaller higher education sector but one that is larger and more relevant. The work being done in the universities and polytechnics in West Yorkshire is an example to the rest of higher education in its relevance and in its building up of expertise—for example, in the Huddersfield polytechnic—in textiles. So we need a great deal more initiative and development in design and marketing.

The importance of the industry in this country leads me to consider how it is seen by the Government. If the industry were to fail, it would be a serious blow to current Conservative philosophy. The industry seems to satisfy all the criteria that the Government could possibly lay down. It is composed mainly of small competing firms. It has shown an amazing readiness to rationalise, modernise and adapt. It is a remarkable example of free enterprise. There is very little State control. It has excellent industrial relations, as anyone who knows the industry will bear witness. But although the industry, which is a model industry in so many senses, scores extremely well on all those criteria, it still has difficulties.

I notice that the hon. Gentleman has been giving us the benefit of his wisdom for over half an hour. Is he trying to reach the 9 a.m. deadline single-handed? If he is, I can assure him that there are plenty of Conservative Members who would be glad to help him out.

Order. Have mercy on the rest of us. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 31 minutes.

There was a great demand for me to take my time this evening. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) should be unable to control his impatience. He will no doubt be called to speak at some future time.

I wish to deal with the responsibility of the Government to ensure the future of the textile industry, whether wool or cotton. We have stressed the urgency of the position. When we debated the industry five weeks ago and during questions yesterday, we heard a voice from the Government Front Bench that did not convince us that the Government have a satisfactory commitment to the future of the industry. If the Government do not abandon their negative attitude to the industry, it will decline catastrophically as the steel industry has done. When I said that during. questions yesterday, I was accused by the Government of making an irresponsible comment.

I do not believe that the maintenance of a facade of all-party agreement on the future of the industry is worth allowing the Government to think that it is not desperate for our workers and the industry's future that we have a different sort of debate in future weeks. I still just cling to the agreement across the House of trying to find common ground in the interests of the industry, but I find it difficult to continue to do so.

The crux of the matter is the Government's attitude to the Common Market. The EEC makes it easier for international capital to flow where it wishes. There is no longer much patriotism in capital, whether in West Yorkshire or South Wales. There was more patriotism 50 years ago.

The Common Market is an instrument to avoid control and to prevent the ability to retain employment and industry in our own country and to aid an industry in temporary trouble. The Common Market is at the root of the present troubles of the textile industry. A stronger line on the Common Market and a more effective policy in respect of our fellow partners is essential if the textile industry is to survive.

What we want in West Yorkshire and Lancashire is fair competition and Government action rather than words. We also want to be convinced that the Government are willing to take a positive step towards safeguarding the textile industry if there is a demand from both sides of the House that we should maintain some form of temporary employment subsidy in the short term so that in the longer-term perspective, until we have renegotiated the MFA, we can have a new structure for the industry that will give heart to the manufacturers and the employees and will make sure that this vital exporting industry, which employs men and women doing the useful job of making things that people want at home and abroad, can survive.

11.43 pm

I came into the Chamber to listen to the debate and not to participate, but I have become motivated to take part by some of the comments of the past couple of hours, particularly on import protection.

Five weeks ago, hon. Members on both sides of the House pressed the Minister who was replying to a textile debate to be more specific about his intentions for the renegotiation of the MFA. We said that it should start to be renegotiated forthwith, that the new agreement should be much more in Britain's interests than is the existing agreement and that there should be a greater sense of commitment and urgency.

The Minister was reluctant to commit himself, at least in public, to the assurances that would have satisfied hon. Members. I wonder why he should have been so reluctant. I suppose that he might have been mindful of many of the normal arguments against the general concept of import protection. I guess that somebody in the Minister's Department said to him "If we say now that we shall be much tougher with the next MFA, we can expect retaliation from the countries that export their textiles to us."

With great respect, I ask the Minister to consider that argument with the greatest scepticism. The majority of countries that export cheap textiles to Britain do not import a great deal from us. The one exception is the United States. It imports a great deal from us, but at present its import tariffs on our exports are considerably higher than the MFA arrangements against its exports to us.

Someone in the Minister's Department might have said "If you go further in the direction of the MFA, you will remove choice in the shops and increase consumer prices." The textile industry that we still have continues to have the capacity to provide as much choice as is reasonably needed. I cheerfully concede that domestic prices would be slightly higher if we were to have a tougher MFA. The increase in consumer prices would be but a small price to pay for the jobs that could thereby be saved.

I suppose that somebody in my hon. Friend's Department might have said "if we bring in a tougher MFA and protect our textile industry, they will merely use that to keep in being machines that should already have been thrown out of the window, and keep in operation restrictive practices that are basically at the heart of our uncompetitivity in the world." There are many industries to which that general argument could be applied, but with great respect I do not think that it can be applied to the textile industry. By and large, the machinery in the textile industry is modern. Restrictive practices in the industry exist, but they are nowhere near as prevalent as in other industries.

I am bound to conclude that it was a general fear in my hon. Friend's mind that by renegotiating the MFA in a way more beneficial immediately to the United Kingdom he would be moving us further down the road towards import protection. That general suspicion and fear prevented him five weeks ago, and in answers to questions subsequently, from giving us the assurance that we require. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend and everyone at the Department of Trade will say to themselves "We are a trading nation. We are over-populated. We cannot feed ourselves. To survive, we need to import, and to import we need to export to raise revenue." In the long term, how can anyone in the Chamber disagree with that general concept?

However, I submit that in 1979 we have practically ceased to be a trading nation. We are self-sufficient in energy but we still have a chronic balance of payments deficit. Many of our industrial competitors have to import virtually all their own oil and some of their other energy raw materials. In spite of that immense burden, they are able to run a balance of payments surplus.

The manner of existence by which we have lived for the past 150 years—selling overseas the benefits of our industrial technology—has come to an end. I hope that that is a temporary cessation. If that is so, we must institute policies that will lead to the regeneration of British industry, so that before this century comes to an end we can once again pay our way in the world.

I do not disagree in any real way with the Government's policies, but I wonder whether we shall regenerate British industry as long as we have the minimum lending rate so high, as long as we have a currency based upon the existence of North Sea oil, which is, therefore, overvalued, and as long as we have a level of domestic demand which, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) explained, is all too easily satisfied by overseas suppliers. That leads me to think that probably an additional economic ingredient is required. Should not the leaders of the Government, especially in the Department of Trade, occasionally drop their blinkers to the concept of import protection?

To regenerate British industry we need, first, to restore the dominance that we once had in the management of the marketing function and the production planning function. I do not think that we shall do that with the present climate.

Second, we need to ensure that greater capital investment takes place. I am not talking here so much of the textile industry—indeed, I almost except the textile industry—as of British industry generally. Many elements in the CBI are now calling for a more specific kind of import protection. Surely, if we could put on the table the possibility that such protection might temporarily be granted to them, it would not be too much to ask that in return they should give some guarantees about capital investment.

Finally, there is the question of restrictive practices. We on these Benches are fond of talking about Britain's industrial relations problem, and we seem to speak of it as though the principal problem is strikes. I do not believe that it is. Our strike record is in fact—perhaps somewhat amazingly—rather better than that of some of our competitors. Where our industrial relations record is worse is simply in the number of people we find necessary to produce a given quantity of goods.

In the stated policies of the trade union movement and many trade unions, it is normally said that they would prefer a greater measure of import protection, and at the same time they resist attempts to reduce over manning in British industry. The Conservative Party over the past 20 or 25 years has usually said that it believes in free trade and at the same time it believes in the dismantling of such restrictive practices.

Surely there is here, fundamentally, scope for a larger deal for British industry whereby we on these Benches could say "We are prepared temporarily to give you the protected economy which you have wanted for so long. Will you, in return, give some kind of guarantees that retrictive practices and overmanning can at last be dismantled?"

If we do those things, there is, I believe, at least a sporting chance that within the next 20 or 25 years we shall reestablish our competitiveness in the world. If we do not adopt that approach, then, frankly, I see little opportunity for our doing so.

I recognise that the views that I am expressing are at present profoundly unfashionable in most spheres of politics. I acknowledge that, but I believe that they are becoming the prevailing idea. I believe that the long summer of world free trade is drawing to an end. We are now entering upon an autumn of more restricted world trade. The first leaves of that autumn we see in the French attitude towards our lamb and the Japanese unspoken attitude towards all imports. We see it even in our own Government's attitude to the Common Market in Dublin, and certainly we see it in the nature of the presidential campaign now taking place in the United States.

I believe that that, motivated by world high interest rates and a world energy shortage, will be the direction of the next five or 10 years. Perhaps we can go on burying our heads in the sand and saying that our interests do not lie in that direction. I believe that if we adopt that attitude we shall in 25 years be in an even worse state than we are now. But if we can recognise that that is the direction in which matters are moving and that we must at least be part of it, perhaps generations in the next century will say that in the 1980s at last the British people realised what the problem was and did something about it.

11.54 pm

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak in this debate, and I am pleased at the choice of subject by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West(Mr. Lyons). He is to be congratulated because it gives those of us who were not called in the last textile debate, alas, the chance to make some of the points which might then have been made and give them, perhaps, a certain freshness.

Last Friday, I attended a meeting of about 50 people in Liversedge. This was a fairly remarkable occasion in any event' today, but it was called by the Labour Party there and the purpose was to discuss the position of the textile industry. The concern of the people of the West Riding is indicated in that such a meeting was called with such a subject, since the textile industry has been an all-pervading part of the background of the West Riding about which people did not expect anything dramatic to happen or to see any quick changes. Yet that meeting took place, it was held on a rotten night, when the rain was extremely heavy, and people turned up at a distant school to attend it. That is an indication of their concern.

Their concern is also indicated by the fact that about three weeks ago Bradford district council and the West Yorkshire metropolitan county council, which, although of the same political hue, do not normally talk in terribly affectionate terms of each other, had a joint meeting. At that meeting there was at least one representative from the Department of Trade and one from the Department of Industry. It was decided to form a textile action committee to consider what could be done amout pressing the Government to take action to preserve the West Riding wool textile industry.

The wool textile scheme, which was introduced in 1973, produced, although not entirely, a largely modernised industry with a high level of investment. It is a pity that in the post-war period our textile machinery industry has not produced a sufficiently high level of innovation and design development. Most of the £70-odd million spent on the scheme was not spent in the United Kingdom but went abroad. However, that is water under the bridge.

We have seen an alarming decline in the textile engineering industry. We are concerned to ensure that the manufacturing industry does not follow suit. The modernisation scheme did not, as the Yorkshire Post industry corespondent, Mr. Robin Morgan, suggested on Tuesday, 14 November, result in a crisis in the industry. The Department of Industry carefully monitored that scheme and produced a report. The scheme saved and preserved jobs because the quality of output was improved and the quantity was increased. There was a slight increase in the numbers of people employed in the industry following the extensive implementation of the scheme. That is not the cause of the problem. I wanted to make that clear in view of the misleading comment that the Yorkshire Post contained as recently as 14 November.

The industry depends on the temporary short-time working scheme. In Keighley about 350 jobs, although not exclusively in the textile industry, are dependent on the temporary short-time working scheme. I know that the Minister can say only that he will bring my words to the attention of the Department of Employment. Will he make sure that he does that? I am pretty sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned to ensure that the temporary short-time working scheme should be continued after 1980, when it is planned to end.

That would meet the request of the Conservative-controlled West Yorkshire metropolitan county council, which said in "Economic Trends No. 13" in September this year:
"Wool Textile firms are particularly dependent on the Government's temporary employment schemes. Earlier this year some 79 applications (out of 102), made by firms under the Temporary Employment Subsidy and Short-time Working Compensation Scheme, had been approved over the previous 12 months. A further 21 applications were still being considered. It might be expected, in the context of a deteriorating world market, aggravated by a stronger Sterling exchange rate, that employment will decline still further (and faster) in the remainder of 1979."
That emphasises that, in view of the difficulties facing the textile industry, the wool textile industry is particularly dependent on the Government's temporary employment scheme. I emphasise the importance of continuing this scheme.

I deeply regret the Government's decision to downgrade only one section of the Bradford metropolitan district area—that of Keighley. At the moment, Keighley has intermediate area status. As the Minister should know, it is dependent to a significant degree on textiles. Tonight we are talking about the difficulties of the textile industry. Yet, concomitant with an acknowledged difficulty, the Secretary of State for Industry has downgraded Keighley, although very sensibly keeping intermediate area status for the rest of Bradford. We say that he should reverse that decision and retain the whole of Bradford as an intermediate area, especially in the face of the textile industry's difficulties.

I mention the EEC briefly and I quote a criticism to the Minister because it is relevant:
"There is concern about the effectiveness of the EEC anti-dumping mechanism. It is relatively new and traditions on the Continent for tackling dumped imports emanating from outside the Community are rather different from our own. We will, of course, insist that the EEC anti-dumping section is properly staffed and equipped to handle applications without delay. There remains a continuing need to strengthen and speed up the procedures in this field. A particular problem exists with the COMECON countries—and other State trading nations which indulge in 'political' pricing. I have spoken on earlier occasions of our attitude to trade with the Communist bloc countries but it seems to me that this is a particular area where a shift in Government attitudes is required".
That expression of concern about the EEC and the products from the COMECON countries came from the present Secretary of State for Trade as quoted in a Conservative Party briefing for the last textile industry debate.

In case any Conservative Members wonder why the Secretary of State, or the Minister, expressed reservations about import controls, let me say that it is because their manifesto stated:
"Just as we reject nationalisation, so we are opposed to the other Socialist panacea—import controls."
That really is nonsense, and most Conservative Back Benchers readily recognise that. The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) certainly did.

What we on the Labour benches are asking—and, I suspect, some Conservative Members are asking with some force—is that the Government should put force and pressure on the EEC Commission to carry out the MFA to the letter of the agreement. That pressure is needed to ensure that quotas are observed, to ensure that the basket extractor mechanism is enforced and that the circumventing of the MFA by member States of the EEC through devices such as outward processing and subsidies to the Prato district of Italy is brought to an end.

I know that the Government are in difficulty about this because they are one stage removed from the problem. It is not the Government acting as a Government; it is the Government pressuring another body to carry out the terms of the Treaty. All I ask is that the Government press as hard as they can with consistent determination. Believe me, they will need it. Pressing the EEC Commission is like pressing a wet sponge into a particular shape. The Commission never wants to go the way it should.

During the referendum, the employers in the textile industry took advertisements in the local press urging people to vote "Yes". Mr. Tom Hibbert, chairman of the wool textile delegation, has now expressed strong reservations about the EEC because he sees the failure of the EEC to carry out the obligations which were negotiated in good faith by the last Labour Government.

What will the Government do about renewing the MFA? The weasel words which the Government have used and the statement that we shall need some kind of organised trading in the future are not exclusive to this country. When statements are made in this Parliament, they are read in Brussels. The EEC can see a lack of resolve and determination by the Government as a chink in the door through which it can push to make sure that the MFA is not renewed.

The MFA was renewed largely at the insistence of the Labour Government. The Minister may not accept that; he may think that it is partisan. I am partisan. I can assure him that the Labour Government used their utmost strength and determination to ensure that the MFA was a reasonably tough undertaking by the EEC Commission. Commissioner Davignon suddenly broke off negotiations to insist on the tough mandate required by the British Government.

We tried as hard as we could to ensure that the EEC carried out its obligations. At that stage it was clear in our minds that the EEC was lacklustre and lukewarm about a tough MFA. It had the backing of such countries as West Germany. If the EEC hears lacklustre words from the Government, the Commissioners will use that as a pretext for saying that the present Government have not the spirit of the last Labour Government and that, therefore, they can allow the issue to slip.

I hope that there will be a clear statement from the "PUSS-Ind"—the Under-Secretary of State for Industry—to use a technical term. I hope that he has a message from the Secretary of State for Trade and that he has approval from No. 10 to make a hard statement. If he cannot do that, he must know that pressure will continue in the Chamber from both sides for that firm statement. Jobs are at risk. We are determined to protect jobs in the textile industry.

I turn to the question of a social clause in future negotiations. The wool textile industry claims that it can deal with fair competition. That is probably right. Indeed, the British Textile Confederation has demonstrated that by and large production costs in the United Kingdom are lower than in any other European country. There has been modernisation and innovation to a degree, and the industry is reasonably modern. The industry has employment protection—what is left of it—health and safety legislation and decent working conditions negotiated by a trade union which can exist freely. That is not so in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Hong Kong applies about 26 of the International Labour Organisation articles whereas we apply 79. We should use the desire of certain countries to enter a wealthy and important market to urge them to improve the standards of their workers and reduce exploitation, so that they are more in parity. The Government have the power to do this because such countries want to be part of our wealthy market.

When I talk of improving and tightening the quota control, I do not mean that we should put up huge barriers. I am talking about the enormous import penetration of textiles and garments. I do not want to reduce consumer choice. More control would leave a proportion of the market for United Kingdom manufacturers so that they could continue to exist and so retain jobs. I am talking about a combination of imports and United Kingdom manufacture. That is all that the industry seeks. We seek simply that the industry should not be wiped out by cheap imports.

The Government are having talks with China about selling Harriers and other hardware. May we be assured that there will be no barter deals under which the Government exchange an enhanced aerospace industry—which they are busy selling off to private enterprise—at the expense of the textile industry by negotiating a deal with China under which China may export large quantities of textiles to us? That must be watched carefully.

I am also receiving reports of certificates of origin being available in European countries purporting to guarantee that goods are of British origin when they are not. I cannot give the Minister any more details at the moment, but this has been brought to my attention by a constituent and I am writing to Germany for authentication of the claims which are made. I hope that the Minister will be able to do something about it.

I hope that the Minister will draw to the attention of the Minister for Consumer Affairs the need for better marking of garments. If anyone says "You were in office for five years, why did you not do something about it?", I shall agree that this is something we should have done. We did some good things and there were also some omissions. We should have made better arrangements for the clear labelling of United Kingdom origin.

People in Bradford are able to buy garments on which the labels are tucked inside the pockets. Only a week ago my wife bought a pair of gloves. She looked for the label and could not find it. When she got home she turned the gloves inside out and found, deep inside, a label reading "Made in Taiwan", after being assured that they were United Kingdom goods. That is not good enough. The labelling should be quite clear and distinct. The Government could usefully deal with that matter.

I shall not pursue the question of wool scouring to any great extent. It is a knotty problem. There are 2,000 jobs involved in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The import of tops from France has in- creased enormously over the past few months. The French industry is receiving a considerable subsidy. As usual, the EEC Commission has turned down the possibility of giving a subsidy to the wool scouring industry to make it equal to its competitors. I am not sure which body shows the greater enthusiasm—the Commission which turns us down or the civil servants who go to the Commission and encourage it to do so in the first place.

We should look at our own system of charging, and I hope that the Minister will bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment the need for the National Water Council to make up its mind. The council has been reviewing charges for probably 12 months. It is one of those constant reviews in which Governments seem to be constantly immersed. Whenever Governments are asked about anything, they always say that they are reviewing the position. Certainly the National Water Council has been reviewing the question of water charges for too long.

The Minister concerned in the last Labour Administration received a delegation in, I think, March this year and promised to bring pressure to bear on the council. There has been a general election since then. Will the Government apply a little pressure so that the effluent treatment charges in the wool scouring industry can be made a little more bearable, enabling that industry to be retained as an integral part of the West Riding woollen industry?

I hope that after these few remarks the Minister has got the message. If it has sent him off to the Box to consult his civil servants, I suppose that that is an indication of something worth while being done. But the very loud and clear message is that the West Riding textile industry is a worthwhile industry in its own right. It is also worth while because, at a time of a diminishing number of jobs, there are too many people being put on the dole. It is all right people talking about rationalisation schemes, and so on. Let us have the jobs in the West Riding before there are any more mill closures. Keep people in employment. Keep an important and valuable traditional manufacturing industry which has been modernised. Give people in the West Riding some confidence. That is the message from the Labour Benches of the House of Commons. We shall continue the pressure until we get results.

12.14 am

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). He has made a very useful contribution to the debate. I just regret that from time to time he made a few intemperate comments about Ministers of the Crown which I believe to be unjustified. As history unfolds in the next year or so, I think that the hon. Member will find some of his criticisms of my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade to have been very unfounded indeed. But I find myself in agreement with most of the points made to the Minister this evening by the hon. Member.

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), on achieving the number one spot in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. I am sure that a number of hon. Members will think that this debate has gone on long enough, but, as the hon. Member for Keighley highlighted, we are talking about people's jobs and about the standard of living of a large number of people in important areas of the United Kingdom, not least the North-West as well as West Yorkshire. We are also talking about the industrial base of this country.

I hope that when he replies my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will pay some attention to the way in which the industrial base of this country has been severely reduced in recent years. I was privileged to meet and have a very full discussion with the trades council in Macclesfield on Friday evening. That meeting lasted well over two hours, and we covered a great deal of ground. Labour Members may be surprised to hear that there was a great deal of common ground between what the trades council thought and the views that I expressed about various vital industries in my constituency.

My own constituency's manufacturing base has been reduced because of the decline in textiles, paper and board, so that now only about 35 per cent. of those who work in the constituency are employed in manufacturing industry. To a great extent, manufacturing industry has been replaced by service industry. I believe, however, that there is a limit to the extent to which we can allow our manufacturing base to contract and be replaced by services without its being detrimental to our economic performance and our long-term prosperity. When he replies to the debate, I hope that my hon. Friend will turn his attention to that matter, which I believe is of great importance indeed.

Letme say straight away that I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is as determined as anyone—certainly as determined as I am—to ensure that there is a successor to the multi-fibre arrangement, and that when the arrangement comes up for renewal there will be another positive system of orderly marketing in textiles to ensure the future of this vital and strategic industry.

I should like to be specific for a moment. I am gravely concerned about the way in which, under the existing MFA, the global ceilings appear to be breached time and time again. I want to relate my remarks initially directly to the woollen textile industry, which is so important to the West Yorkshire area of our country.

Let us look at several statistics to see exactly where we are going. Is my hon. Friend aware that in the first nine months of this year Hong Kong sent to the United Kingdom 213,440 woven suits, compared with only 61,996 in the comparable period of 1978? That is a "ginormous" increase. In the case of the Philippines, the number of woven suits from there rose from 3,000 in the first nine months of 1978 to 28,710 in the first nine months of this year. The State trading countries such as Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia have also substantially increased their suit exports to Britain.

That will have a direct impact upon the work force in this country and the viability of industries, which in the long term will inevitably affect employment. Between January and September of this year, Britain imported from the State trading countries that I have mentioned 482,626 woven suits compared with 380,885 in the same period in 1978. That substantial increase must damage the potential of firms in West Yorkshire and elsewhere. Such firms have been in receipt—rightly so—of funds from the Government in order to improve their equipment and to rationalise.

The industry, with its responsible work force, has co-operated with successive Governments in seeking rationalisation so that it can compete with other countries. The position is not, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) described in his long contribution, like that of the British car industry. That industry has a shocking record of industrial relations, often because we have been unable to produce cars of the quality that people overseas want in the numbers that are required. The textile industry does not suffer from that problem, but it suffers from unfair competition. The British car industry suffers from self-inflicted wounds. Therefore, to equate it with the textile industry is unfair to the 750,000 who work in the various sectors of the textile industry.

The Mediterranean low-cost countries are posing a serious threat to the British textile industry. Portugal has stepped up its exports of suits to Britain from 60,269 in the first nine months of last year to 183,994 in the first nine months of 1979. Cyprus recorded a 112 per cent. increase in its exports of woven suits to this country over the same period—from 10,248 to 21,742.The situation is serious and it relates directly to the subject which has been chosen for debate by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West, who represents an area of the country that is famous for its wool industry.

The Clothing Manufacturers' Federation, which liaises closely with all hon. Members, has noted with great concern the increase in imports from Common Market countries which are not of genuine EEC origin. The garments are being offered in the country at what I can only describe as unusually low prices. A considerable quantity of suits from West Germany are manufactured in East Germany under the outward-processing system. I mentioned that fact five weeks ago in the House but I did not receive the sort of reply that I would have wished. I do not seek to cover the same ground, but I hope that the problems that are occurring are appreciated by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

A prominent member of the Clothing Manufacturers' Federation has advised me and other hon. Members that his firm was offered by a West German firm a well-made woollen suit for the small sum of £16. That compares with the factory-gate price of about £27 for a similar British suit. That shows the unfair competition faced by the clothing industry in this country. The Government must deal quickly with the problem.

I was interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr: Watson). He and I do not agree on many issues, although we sit on the same side of the House. However, I found myself in agreement with his argument. Precedents have been set by previous Conservative Governments that limited import controls—not general or widespread controls—can be of great benefit not only to our balance of payments but to the regeneration of industry in the country.

I am particularly concerned that an industry such as the textile industry, which has sought to co-operate with successive Governments and to rationalise and, as hon. Members on both sides of the House clearly stated, has a fine record of investment and industrial relations, should be allowed to be destroyed by unfair competition. The Government have a responsibility to ensure that this industry is given the climate of fair competition to invest and expand. It would then help to save on our balance of payments and provide jobs in areas where it is the traditional large employer. If it disappeared from those areas, the problems of unemployment would reach grotesque proportions.

Italian export tactics are also of grave concern to the Clothing Manufacturers' Federation and the British textile industry. Three-piece suits from Italy are currently offered for sale in this country for less than £20. The Clothing Manufacturers' Federation has discovered that these suits were made in Romania and exported to Italy at a landed price of only £8. The Italians re-export these suits to the United Kingdom, taking advantage of the Common Market regulations permitting free circulation. I also raised the subject in the debate some five weeks ago. Grave problems can result as there is no firm regulation agreed by the EEC on free circulation, and because of that these suits do not count against Romania's quota to this country. That is causing grave disruption, the closure of mills and the loss of jobs.

I should now like to change tack and come closer to home, to Lancashire and Cheshire, where we are much more involved with shirts and spinning and weaving than with suits and the woollen side of the textile industry. I support the views expressed by the hon. Member for Keighley. It is important that we do not exchange employment and orders for the aerospace industry for the many thousands of jobs in the textile industry.

I want to see British Aerospace sell the Harrier jump-jet to the People's Republic of China, but I do not want a barter to be set up in exchange and for the People's Republic of China to flood this country with textiles. If that happened, the exchange would be unfair. Although temporarily the aerospace industry would benefit, the manufacturing base and the economy of this country would suffer immensely.

The People's Republic of China is emerging as a great threat to the industry. In the first nine months of this year, Britain imported 369,027 woven shirts from China compared with 225,009 in the comparable period last year, which is a jump of some 64 per cent. I have a number of shirt manufacturers in my constituency, and there are many more in Greater Manchester, Lancashire, North Wales, which has also suffered from the closure of the Shotton steelworks, and Scotland, where they will take their share of the problems of British Steel. How can that jump be explained under the multi-fibre arrangement if there is genuinely a system of orderly marketing in this country?

However, 64 per cent. is nowhere near the highest percentage increase for woven shirts. The Philippines tops the league of low-cost exporters in percentage terms. From January to September of this year, 545,857 woven shirts were imported from the Philippines as against a mere 20,988 in the same period of 1978. That represents a staggering rise of 2,501 per cent. This is a grave problem. The MFA is doing a job, but it is not a good enough job. Whatever system replaces it must be much more effective if the textile industry, which is so important to this country, is to survive.

I acknowledge that my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and the Minister for Trade are doing a good job in trying to protect the interests of the British textile industry and to guarantee it fair competition in future.

I now refer briefly to the United States. There is no doubt that there are concern, frustration and anger on both sides of the House that the EEC has not acted more quickly against the dual pricing policy of the United States which has placed thousands of people out of work in this country, particularly in the wool and carpet sectors of the textile industry. At the same time, we must realise that we are inhibited in the way in which we can act.

I am pleased that the Council of Ministers has decided to introduce anti-dumping duties against the United States in the case of acrylic fibres. Although it is a bit late in the day, the decision taken by the Council of Ministers on 20 November is welcome. I am confident that the Prime Minister, in her discussions with President Carter, will persuade the United States Administration to remove this system of assisting their industry. If they do not, the EEC will be forced to erect tariffs of between 8 per cent. and 25 per cent. which will enable our industry to compete fairly with the United States. Unless the United States acts quickly to reduce the disparity, these tariffs will be erected some time in February.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade in particular. I have found it necessary to be in regular touch with him in my capacity as chairman of the all-party group for cotton and allied textiles. He and others in his Department have been ready to assist me and to talk to me at any time. I am convinced that he is working as hard as any of the hon. Members on both sides of the House who are desperately keen to ensure a good future for the British textile industry. I believe that he is fighting to get the best possible arrangements for the successor to the MFA and that he will ensure that the new MFA will be effective and do the job that the people of this country demand. We are talking about human lives and a responsible industry. I believe that this Government will stand by them and do what is right.

12.35 am

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). His knowledge of the textile industry is great. The hon. Gentleman has great expertise. He covers a wide canvas. This means that one can shorten one's own speech. I had intended to make a short speech, but I am happy to inform the House that it will be even shorter as a result of the hon. Gentleman's interesting contribution.

The hon. Gentleman covered unfair competition from China and from the United States. He gave important figures and evidence about unfair competition and breaches of the quota arrangements by countries all over the world. I do not intend to try to match his statistical knowledge except to say that the Minister should have no illusions about the seriousness of the crisis facing the Lancashire and Yorkshire textile industries.

There has been debate after debate in the House over the years on the crisis facing the Lancashire textile industry. That is a tragedy. As the hon. Member for Macclesfield has stated, the textile industry has done a great deal to help itself. It has modernised. It has rationalised. It has shed labour. The industry has responded to most of the demands made upon it. Yet, in 1979, it faces one of the most gloomy prospects ever. I would not wish the Minister, who is not a man given to wild statements, to imagine that this is an alarmist view of my own. It is the view of trade unions and of employers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) and the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) have covered the prime points that I am sure are now well established in the Minister's mind. The hon. Gentleman is Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Industry. I should like him to know that one of the problems that faces the industry is the removal of regional aids from North-East Lancashire. My constituency of Accrington and other areas of North-East Lancashire had the benefit of intermediate area status.

I do not expect any firm assurances tonight. But the Minister will know that North-East Lancashire is most concerned about the diminution of regional aid because it affects the textile industry so severely. It is likely to add to the burdens that have been outlined by speaker after speaker in this debate. So great is the concern that this point is top of the agenda at a meeting on Friday of the North-East Lancashire Development Association. I feel sure that the Minister will take the matter seriously. Hon. Members have dealt with the issue of import penetration. I should, however, like an assurance that the Government recognises the importance of negotiating a tough new multi-fibre arrangement in 1981. I am not sure whether that is the Government's intention.

The present multi-fibre arrangement is the strongest that there has been, but it is abused repeatedly. Country after country ignores the arrangement. Speaker after speaker in the debate has given examples of quotas being exceeded over and over again. If the Minister is to negotiate a new multi-fibre arrangement, he must have the will to ensure that it is properly monitored and enforced, otherwise it will be mere verbiage. It will be another arrangement that the EEC and contracting countries do not take seriously.

It would be wrong of me at this time in the morning to delay the House any further, because all the points have adequately been made. However, I assure the Minister that the Lancashire textile industry is facing a most serious problem. I am not saying that it is the fault of the Government. It is not. It is an accumulation of problems. But the Government's policies have not helped. Certainly high interest rates, the overvalued pound and the undervalued dollar have not helped either. The immediate problem is that of import penetration. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House on that problem and give me a particularly favourable reply as I have been so brief in my observations.

12.41 am

The debate was started by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who was indeed fortunate to have secured a place in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. Clearly, he opened up the opportunity for many hon. Members to contribute, and that is an indication of the widespread nature of the unease that is felt about the situation facing the textile industry.

Among those who contributed were the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), my hon. Friends the Members for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) and Rossendale (Mr. Trippier)—I understand better the problems of the industry since my hon. Friend took me to see a number of mills in Rossendale—the hon. Members for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White), Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) and Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby Mr. Thompson), who was characteristically and straightforwardly outspoken about the problems of the industry as he saw them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) is to be congratulated on having persuaded the initiator of this debate to allow him to attach his position in the batting order for the Consolidated Fund to the first debate. He would probably be here at 7 o'clock this morning were he not so fortunate.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), the hon. and learned Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) also contributed to the debate. The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford), who is chairman of the all-party wool committee, has listened to the proceedings but has not spoken.

It is clear that there is all-party concern about the state of the textile industry and the number of redundancies and closures. "Redundancy" is a hard statistical word, but the reality is that the way of life for a whole village, valley or community may be suddenly and totally disrupted. In Committee recently an Opposition Member said "You have read your brief. Now speak from the heart". I think that all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have spoken from the heart about how they see the realities of the consequences of decline in the textile industry. However, I disagree with one hon. Gentleman who suggested that a closure did not hurt employers. I think that everyone in the industry is affected. A closure is a tragedy for all concerned, and I have no illusions about it.

A massive number of issues have been raised. I shall endeavour to cover all of them. If I miss any, I hope that hon. Members will write to me. As the hon. Member for Halifax has joined us again, I shall mention that I have referred to her contribution to the debate and that the hon. Member for Bradford, North—although he has not spoken—has been in the Chamber throughout the debate as chairman of the all-party wool committee.

The issues raised have covered the minimum lending rate, the level of sterling, the current and future state and size of the industry, unfair United States competition in the tufted carpet market, unilateral action suggested against the United States, illegal and unfair competition of outer wear, Romanian imports, imports from Romania via Italy, alleged fraud from East Germany, mislabelling, the Prato arrangements, the scouring industry, the social clause and the future of the MFA. I shall endeavour, even at this late hour, to deal with as much of that as I can. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if at a quarter to one o'clock there are a few matters that I slide over quickly.

The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe talked about the last 14 mules left working in the Lancashire industry, which stopped last week and were taken straight out of the factory to be exported to a museum. I should not like that to be the picture carried away from the debate as the state of the industry, but rather the hon. Gentleman's reference to firms able to compete anywhere in the world. He asks the Government to determine the size and shape of the industry for the next decade.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough asked for an unequivocal statement that we should always have a viable and prosperous industry. I regret to say that I am unable to give that assurance. It is not that I have no crystal ball, not because I am not united with hon. Members on both sides in their objective but because the Government's job is to hold the ring and to see that there is fair opportunity and fair competition. It is up to the men and the management to produce at a price that customers are prepared to pay. It is not only a matter for the Government.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East likened the position in the industry to that in the British steel industry and said that it was in trouble partly because British people were buying foreign cars. He sggested that we ought to take more notice of the effect of our purchasers on jobs in this country. I sympathise with that view, and as the hon. Member was speaking I pulled out my tie to see where it was made. To my consternation, I found that it was not made in this country Like so many others, I buy what seems to be the best value for money. I am afraid that that will have to be the basis upon which this industry and all other industries earn their daily bread. While one may achieve a marginal benefit from a desire for British people to buy British goods, it can never be any substitute for the best value obtainable.

I turn to the question of the tufted carpet industry, which was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West in his opening speech. A number of other hon. Members have also spoken on this issue. In the carpet section of the trade there is excess capacity, and there are a number of factories involved in that. There has been some weakness in marketing. Undoubtedly some United States companies are more market-orientated than we are in Britain. Our productivity levels are below those of a number of other countries in the EEC, and I shall return to that later.

The factor which has dominated this debate has been the rising level of imports. That is partly and considerably because of a distortion of competition caused by the artificial level of oil prices in the United States. To the extent that that factor is responsible, we are pressing the EEC for action and the United States for export restraint. In keeping up that pressure, my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is in Brussels. He asked me to convey his apologies to the House for his being unable to participate in the debate.

The difficulty here is that, although my hon. Friend has been seeking to raise these matters in Brussels, our initial soundings have shown that we do not have as much support from other EEC members as we would wish. I have a message to go to them which I think the House will join me in sending. When the United States starts rolling, we in the United Kingdom may be the first to be hit by the waves. We are the easiest market for the United States—we speak a similar language. But do not let anyone in Europe misunderstand that the second wave will strike there.

Does the Minister accept that Britain is entitled, within the letter of the EEC regulations, to take unilateral action to stop those imports? He seems to be suggesting that unless the EEC agrees nothing can be done. If that is the view of the hon. Gentleman's Department, it is wrong.

I have every intention of dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point. I hope that I shall succeed in covering all the points that have been made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton referred to restrictive practices and their effect. It is right to return to the question of productivity and other factors. It is possible for us to get out of proportion the question of the United States' advantage on artificial oil pricing. It may be uncomfortable, but in the first half of 1979 United States exports of tufted carpets to this country went up by 1·5 million square metres. But Benelux and Denmark increased their sales to this country by 1 million square metres. They did not have the artificial oil price advantage enjoyed by the United States. So there are factors other than that advantage, on which we are united in wanting to act, which have led to increased imports.

When the rest of the EEC has a higher level of wages than we have, we ought to be able to compete. We must look to our productivity to ensure that it reaches EEC levels.

The hon. Member for Halifax said that neither the country nor the House was sufficiently concerned. Both sides of the House and the Government are concerned, however. It is untrue that there is any sense of satisfaction, certainly on the Conservative Benches, about the current situation.

The hon. Lady called for unilateral action against the United States, as did the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West. We want, if we can, to reach a Community solution to protect us against United States retaliation. The Commission's consultations with the Americans are not complete, and I ask hon. Members not to overlook the potential damage that may result from unilateral action. It is far better to seek to secure our first objective of effective Community action.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich spoke about illegal and unfair imports of outer wear. He was right to draw attention to his fear that malpractices may exist in Romania and East Germany. My hon. Friend is an effective representative of Harwich. I was surprised that he raised the matter, because I did not realise that he had a textile industry in his constituency, but he made clear that he is involved with firms in his constituency that are part of the United Kingdom garment industry and have been manufacturers of uniforms for many years.

The problems facing that part of the industry include the change in fashion that affects demand—towards scruffy jeans instead of jacket and worsted flannels. There are some productivity problems, and it is our policy to ensure fair competition.

Let us look at the matters raised by my hon. Friend indicating unfair competition. I start with Romania, which has access, as arranged under the import quota agreement of 1977, which was negotiated when the previous Government were in office and has a life of five years. My hon. Friends the Members for Harwich and for Macclesfield asked whether dumping is taking place. Is Romania selling to the United Kingdom at below the cost of production? If so, an anti-dumping duty can be introduced, subject to proof, but that is not an easy or swift procedure.

Happily, we have another weapon—the price clause in the EEC bilateral MFA agreement—and we are currently collecting a dossier on the allegation. We shall ask the EEC to consult as quickly and effectively as possible. We anticipate that discussions will be opened before the House reassembles after the Christmas Recess. I hope that the House will feel that that is an effective step.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield also referred to Romanian suits entering the United Kingdom via Italy. That has been happening, but the numbers are small. A great deal of understandable heat has been created by that practice, but only 45,000 suits have come in to a United Kingdom market of 6 million suits a year. We have approached the Commission—we did so at the end of November—to seek to put a stop to the abuse of free circulation. Unfortunately, the EEC has not accepted that sufficient numbers are yet involved. We shall keep the matter under review. I hope that hon. Members will ensure that we are informed if there are any further developments.

I have heard this evening for the first time that Hungarian suits are entering the United Kingdom unfairly. If hon. Members give us the necessary information—we must have evidence—we shall pursue the matter as we have done with Romanian suits.

An allegation of fraud concerning East Germany has been made. East German suits are said to be coming into Britain. There is the obvious temptation presented to West German traders to take advantage of importing goods from East Germany free of duties and quota controls and re-exporting them to the rest of the Community. Unfortunately, no firm evidence has yet been presented to us. When it is, we shall be ready to take effective action, as we have taken it in other areas.

It has been revealed in the debate that a trader in Britain has falsely declared East German goods to be of Community origin. That is linked with mislabelling. The local authority trading standards officer—whom older hon. Members will know as the weights and measures inspector—has power to bring a prosecution if fraud is taking place. I hope that none will hesitate to give evidence to ensure that that takes place.

Is it not the case that under EEC regulations as we operate them there is no independent certificate of origin for many of the goods that the Minister is considering? We leave it to the exporter to indicate the origin of the products. In practice, our Customs staff are not checking that properly. The country of consignment is shown and not the country of origin.

Will the Minister follow the lead of Ireland, France and Italy and insist on an independent certificate of origin through the chambers of commerce and industry so that we have a clear, independent certificate of origin for goods from the EEC, which are now being used as a means of exploiting free circulation? That is an important issue that has been raised with me by chambers of commerce in West Yorkshire. They have stressed that there is a system that we can apply if we wish to do so.

I should like to consider that possibility. There is a danger that it might make matters worse if we were not satisfied about the authenticity and authority of those issuing the certificates. It is something that I should want to follow through. If a case is found where there is a claim that goods are of EEC origin and they are not, a prosecution can follow. In addition, the goods can be seized. We would like to have evidence to enable Customs and Excise to operate in that way.

Will the Minister satisfy himself, by whatever procedures he can adopt—for example, spot checks or whatever he feels is necessary—that the Customs officers are checking on documentation in a way that satisfies him? If the checks on certificates of origin and declarations of origin are loose and casual, that is because, as I understand it, Customs staff feel that the Minister's Department is not regarding the matter as one of concern or priority. I suggest that he will not get the evidence if that feeling is present. Will he give me an assurance that he will carry out spot checks in the next few weeks to satisfy himself that Customs staff are checking on the country of origin?

The hon. Gentleman has made a useful suggestion. I am not familiar with the precise mechanism by which the system operates at the port of entry. I shall make it my business to find out.

The Italians and Prato have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough, the hon. Member for Batley and Morley and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield. The Government have been concerned about imports of low-cost woollen and mixture fabrics from Prato, where, it is held, hidden subsidies operate, in addition, it should be said, to a very efficient industry with 24-hour shift working on machinery.

We wish to see fair conditions of competition. We pressed the EEC Commission for some action in this matter, and last week officials from the Commission spent two days in West Yorkshire visiting woollen mills and holding discussions with manufacturers. The visit was intended to let the Commission officials see the modernisation which has taken place in the wool textile industry and to examine with the industry's own experts the comparative cost information which had been sent to the Commission in February last.

I am informed that the visit went well and that the Commission officials were impressed both by the modernised mills which they visited and by the detailed work which had been done for them on comparative costs. Before returning to Brussels, they indicated that they would be going to the Italian Government on the points made, and they would expect to be in touch with the Department of Industry within weeks.

It is clear that the Commission is fully aware of the nature of the problem, and the questions posed about price must be answered. Of course, I am not complacent about this timetable. The Commission's investigations have taken longer than the industry or the Government would like. I remain determined to see that the matter is conducted as rapidly as possible.

I do not pretend that we are in any way satisfied with the rate of progress in Brussels. Sometimes, as in the negotiating of the present MFA bilateral agreements in the autumn of 1977, one can pay tribute to the speed with which the Commission has acted, but sometimes, as in the case of our complaint against Prato, I can only agree that the Commission has been deplorably slow. But I assure the House that the Government will continue to press this country's interests on Brussels just as hard and as often as we feel will be useful.

I turn now to wool scouring. I appreciate that the wool scouring sector has felt the pinch of increased charges for treatment of its effluent. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and I met a deputation from West Yorkshire on 24 October to discuss this matter. One result was that it was agreed that my hon. Friend would have direct discussions with the water authority concerned. These have already taken place, and he has written today, I believe, to hon. Members who were involved with that deputation.

I have not had the opportunity to discuss that letter with my hon. Friend, and I hope, therefore, that the House will recognise that it is a matter on which I cannot comment in depth now. What I noticed that they can apply for financial can say is that most, if not all, of the scouring takes place in Bradford, which will remain an intermediate area under the assisted area status scheme and thus may qualify for project assistance under the revised guidelines for section 7 of the Industry Act announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry on 17 July.

I come now to the question of a social clause, to which the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe and others have referred. I have to say that the MFA is a negotiated agreement under GATT auspices. Other signatories would resist inclusion of a social clause as an interference in their internal affairs, and if we accepted it others, such as the United States, could argue that low wages in the United Kingdom amounted to unfair competition. I think that the House ought to take on board that this is a double-edged weapon and we must be careful how we seek to use it.

I turn now to the multi-fibre arrangement. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale seeks a new form of words. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough raised the question also, as did the hon. Member for Keighley. It is, however, too soon to enter into commitments. The precise arrangements will be a matter for decision not only by the Governments of the member States of the Community closer to the time but also by others, such as the United States and low-cost suppliers. The MFA is a multilateral agreement and not something which is within the Government's gift.

Perhaps I can go a little further and say that in talking about an orderly marketing arrangement to succeed the present MFA the Government are not trying to hide anything. It is simply a recognition that as regards the framework for continuing restraints all options are still open. We entirely accept that the industry will continue to need effective protection after the present agreements expire.

Does my hon. Friend accept that he could not substitute an orderly marketing arrangement for the MFA within 12 months? As the MFA structure is already established, and as it has to be agreed by so many countries, it must be established on the same lines as the existing MFA.

My hon. Friend will recognise that the prime responsibility for this matter rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. I shall convey to him my hon. Friend's point.

My hon. Friend would appear not to be answering the point that I associated with the requirement to renegotiate a replacement to the current MFA for orderly marketing in textiles. As this is within the scope of my hon. Friend's responsibility, are his Department, the Government and himself prepared to do their utmost to ensure that the manufacturing base of this country is not further eroded? A replacement MFA is vital if that is not to occur.

I understand my hon. Friend's point. He will equally understand that I am not in a position to give the commitment he seeks. It is a matter for the Department of Trade. Already the Department is carefully preparing the way in which it will negotiate what is to follow. However, it would not be right for me to seek to answer on behalf of my right hon. Friend.

It is within the scope of my hon. Friend's responsibility in the Department of Industry to ensure that the manufacturing base of this country is not further eroded. Will he give an assurance that in so far as he has responsibility in this area he will do his utmost in his representations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade?

Is the Minister aware that we are constantly frustrated when raising this issue by Ministers with responsibility for industry who do not have, or who appear not to have, sufficient interest in industry to give a single answer on behalf of the Departments of Industry and Trade? The workers and employers in industry cannot understand why we cannot hear a single voice from the Government Front Bench. Does the Minister recognise that we understand why the Secretary of State is not here? However, hon. Members on both sides of the House expect the hon. Gentleman to give an answer, having, we assume, consulted his right hon. Friend. Is he saying that he has not had sufficient discussions with his right hon. and hon. Friends to be able to give us an assurance on behalf of the Departments of Industry and Trade?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that I endeavoured to answer all 14 major questions that were posed. I have already detained the House for a considerable time at this early hour of the morning.

I should like to be able to answer for my right hon. Friend. However, it is not for an Under-Secretary of State for Industry to answer at this Dispatch Box for the Secretary of State for Trade. I am sure that my hon. Friends would not expect me to do that. Were I to do so, I might find that I was not given any similar opportunity on a future occasion. The House will understand the division of responsibility in the matter.

May I question the Minister about one matter for which he has responsibility? I refer to regional aid. Will he say something about the matter that I put to him and whether he considered restoring intermediate area status to North-East Lancashire or, at least, phasing it out over a longer period?

The hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to an area which is moving from intermediate to non-assisted status, and we have afforded it a very long phasing-out period. The intermediate status will remain until 1982, which means a much longer period of transition than had been recorded before. The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall the 10 days' notice given for the ending of the regional employment premium. That concerned a far bigger sum than is involved in this case. He will also recall the much shorter period of notice given for the ending of the regional development grant for the mining industry.

What may comfort the hon. and learned Gentleman is the fact that, during the whole of the transition period until 1982, section 7 assistance under the Industry Act will be available in what are now intermediate areas. If by 1982 we find that there is a change in the relative position of any travel-to-work area which is affected by the changes in assisted area status, we shall be prepared to look again at that particular travel-to-work area. I hope that on that basis—

As we are discussing the Consolidated Fund Bill, we are concerned with money and assistance from the Government. Can the Government see their way to giving any selective assistance to this industry, which, after all, is what the Vote in the Consolidated Fund and in the Estimates covers? That is what this debate is about.

I understand what the hon. Lady says in alliance with her hon. and learned Friend the Member for Accrington. I cannot say more than I have said to him except that perhaps I could embroider the point by repeating that section 7 assistance under the Industry Act as set out by my right hon. Friend in his statement to the House in July will continue to be available throughout the three years. That means that this industry—as any other industry—can put forward schemes from which individual firms in the industry can benefit, provided that they come within the criteria laid down by the Secretary of State where section 7 assistance is applicable. That involves additionality and the various other criteria.

I have given way many times. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that he shall be the last since he was the first—the first shall be last—I give way to him.

I am grateful. I was interested to hear the Minister say that there was a possibility of money forthcoming under the Industry Act in respect of effluent charges. Will he elaborate on that, because that is perhaps the most promising thing he has said so far? It is a matter of great importance in the textile industry.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will wait until tomorrow to see Hansard, I think he will find that I have phrased what I had to say very carefully and that I have covered the point that he wishes me to cover.

The House has had a lengthy debate and I have endeavoured to answer all the main points raised. If I have failed to answer particular points, I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will write to me and draw my attention to them. To sum up, there is in the textile industry, among its Members of Parliament, its employers, its workers and the Government a unity of purpose and a determination to have an industry which stands on its own feet and holds its own in fair competition.

Health Services (Finance)

1.20 am

After the long debate on the textile industry, I return the attention of the House to Class XI, Vote 1 of the Supplementary Estimates, which deals with the financial resources of the health and personal social services. On many occasions I have drawn the attention of the House to the desperate situation in the National Health Service, particularly in my constituency. I offer no apology for taking the time of the House to highlight the deplorable situation which faces my constituents.

The principal factor is the failure to provide sufficient funding to maintain an adequate service commensurate with changing needs. The Department has failed to appreciate the shifting age pattern in the population, particularly in areas such as mine. The changing pattern is imposing a great demand on the National Health Service. If there were a planned growth in the money available, it would be possible to attempt to match the demand, but the money available in real terms has, at best, stood still. In many cases it has been reduced.

It is no good the Government wringing their hands and saying that they appreciate the problem but that it is up to the health authorities to decide their own prorities. The health authorities have little choice. When the Government strangle the money supply, the authorities can only reduce the share of resources given to acute medicine and transfer money to geriatric services.

How can the Government justify a choice between the desperately sick person and the elderly geriatric patient? The Health Services Bill, which is due to be debated shortly, proposes to redress the balance by providing that those who can pay for their sickness will be able to apply for treatment. Where does that leave the bulk of my constituents who are at the lower end of the income bracket? According to the Government, they are expendable.

In a letter to me, the Prime Minister said:
"I am especially conscious that some health authorities, particularly those in central London, need to make some reduction in service in addition to those economies possible through good housekeeping."
However, under clauses 7, 8 and 9 of the Health Services Bill it will be possible to buy better treatment. That will mean good health for the lucky people with money but a knacker's yard for the rest. What chance will there be of developing services for the mentally ill and mentally handicapped? How can the primary health services be developed and strengthened to provide preventative medicine—a cost-effective process?

The Prime Minister continued in her letter:
"The RHA Chairman has stressed to you his concern for the NHS and his Authority's intentions to provide the best service possible within the present financial constraints. I appreciate the efforts the City and East London AHA(T) are making in what is an invidious though necessary task. I understand that the decisions taken represent what, in the Authority's view, were the necessary temporary adjustments in the level of services provided which will have the least impact on patient care."
If we translate that into actions, it means closing every hospital in my constituency. Two hospitals have gone already, one is in the process of closure and a fourth is planned. That is happening in the full knowledge that the primary care service is almost non-existent and that the general practice service is chronically sick.

If we combine all that with the effects of inflation, plus the 15 per cent. VAT and the pay awards, none of which had been fully met by the Department of Health and Social Security—and which together will probably cost the North-East Thames regional health authority somewhere in the region of £8 million to £9 million—it is easy for the House to appreciate why I speak of the total destruction of the Health Service in my constituency.

The area health authority is totally lacking in ability to cope with the problems. To give them credit, the chairman of the AHA and the equally hapless chairman of the regional health authority decided at long last to make representations to the Minister, but my view is that they had no credibility left. It would be of great advantage if both these chairmen were put out to grass and fresh chairmen were appointed to grapple with the problem—chairmen who are sensitive to the needs of the people and who believe in consultation.

I will give an example of the area health authority's view of consultation. Together with some of my constituents, I attended the area health authority's meeting last week. At that meeting some very profound decisions were being made which, according to the district administrator, would be a catastrophe for my constituents. There we were in the public gallery, trying to follow these important decisions. I was trying to see how they would affect my constituents. We did not even have an agenda. We sat there with no papers of any description, listening to the proceedings at a meeting which had obviously started in private in the morning.

I thought that the objects of area health authorities were such that they would meet in public. The authority had obviously met earlier in private, and was dealing with these matters publicly in a shorthand way in the afternoon, with the public—including the local Member of Parliament—unable to follow the proceedings. Yet decisions were being taken which were of profound importance to my constituents.

I can understand now why the area health authority should want to play it like that. The area administrator was kind enough to let me have a copy of the agenda. There was one item that I failed to understand when it was being debated, but when I received the agenda I could understand it. It was about a project that began life less than two years ago and of which, at the end of last year, the projected cost was about £230,000. Moneys were made available for that project, and at that meeting last week it was apparently being reported that this very same project, which less than a year before was to cost £230,000, was now to cost £630,000. Following in that document is a most trite comment by the officials of the way in which this appalling mismanagement came about

What is even more important is how the authority is intending to recoup the money. From that agenda I discovered that the authority is to take money that was identified by the Minister's predecessor in the last Administration and which that Minister gave me a categorical assurance in this House would be spent on St. Leonard's hospital. The authority is taking that money and giving it to this appallingly managed project and closing St. Leonard's hospital instead.

It seems to me that there are no medical factors involved in the closure of these hospitals. In effect, it is all due to bad management and financial jiggery-pokery. Let me illustrate how a hospital is closed without any consultation. We start off, as the Prime Minister put it in a letter to me, with the concept that it is a "temporary closure". I now read from the documents of the area health authority itself. I do not get many of them, but when I do I read them carefully, and they are useful. It begins by stating:
"The four general surgical wards at St. Leonard's Hospital have been selected for temporary closure."
By saying that, it means that there is no consultation. All consultation is wiped out, and it is done. The next paragraph states that
"The problems arising from the temporary closures affect two activities in particular—orthopaedic surgery and Accident and Emergency services".
Having closed the four general wards temporarily, the health authority now says that
"Without facilities and staff in general surgery it is dangerous to allow ambulance cases into the hospital. This cuts off the supply of trauma cases to the orthopaedic department who are now left with their elective cases, mostly joint replacements. These patients may prove insufficient to fill the orthopaedic wards and the DMT may have to consider closing one of them rather than staff and service an unoccupied ward".
Therefore, one begins by closing four wards temporarily, so that the matter is not discussed, yet before that takes place another ward is already closed. The health authority goes on to say that
"Other problems which may arise in orthopaedics are a loss of staff. Although other orthopaedics hospitals…are recognised for training it is possible that the College of Surgeons recognition may be withdrawn from the registrar post in orthopaedics at St. Leonard's."
Therefore, a whole department will be closed because it will not be recognised. What began as the closure of four wards without consultation ends with the elimination of an orthopaedics department, first because it is not worth while continuing it and, secondly, because the College of Surgeons will withdraw recognition.

We then come to the accident and emergency service. The document goes on to say that
"Once general surgery ceases it becomes dangerous not only to admit ambulance cases but also to operate a 'walk-in' service after normal working hours. At night time there is a real danger that there will not be available a doctor with the experience needed to diagnose serious illness. It is important for the safety of the local residents that they be diverted to Bart's or Hackney and not be deluded into thinking that St. Leonard's offers a satisfactory alternative".
All that stems from an allegation that four wards are to be closed temporarily and that as soon as the economy picks up and the money becomes available all will be well. But the hospital has now been closed, and terminology such as the word "temporary" is fraudulent.

The authority went on to discuss the hours of closing and argued that it should be between 8 o'clock in the morning to 8 o'clock at night. The ink on the paper was not even dry before it had changed that. It will now be between 9 o'clock and 5 o'clock. All that stems from an argument that the ward closures will be temporary and that it will be put right some time in the future.

The Minister for Health was kind enough to visit my constituency, and he will confirm all that I have said, but I should like an assurance tonight that the business of temporary closure, in the way that I have described St. Leonard's hospital, is regarded as a disgrace and that the Minister will intervene to stop it.

I know that the Secretary of State has seen the chairmen of the area and regional health authorities. Nevertheless, there is a gap in communication. The same words are used by us and by those gentlemen yet they appear to have different meanings. The Secretary of State is aware that the disgraceful situation cannot be maintained. I understand that a Mr. J. C. C. Smith, the permanent secretary with particular responsibility for London, was asked by the Secretary of State to explain the Department's policy. That is egalitarian if anything is—for a Minister to ask a civil servant to explain his policy. Mr. Smith confirmed that it was the Government's intention in April 1980 to make good the deficits in the 1979–80 cash limits caused by inflation, increases in VAT and oil prices and that the Government proposed a real growth of the NHS of 0·5 per cent.

Why has that intention not been stated publicly? Why has the hospital been destroyed on the basis that the district is overspending? Permanent closure will result, yet, in April—three months from now—more than sufficient money, between £8 million and £9 million, will be available. What is the sense of that? We are playing not with bricks and mortar but with sick people. The Government know that they will fund the enormous under-funding that has been experienced in the district, yet the statement is made privately. The two gentlemen to whom the statement was made have ensured that my constituents will suffer badly because of a decision that was taken on the spurious argument that insufficient money was available.

The Minister should make a statement today about his proposals to ensure that the area health authority will be stopped from making the closures. The reasons for the closures are spurious and cheating. The closures are called temporary when it is well known that they are permanent. The authority should be brought to the Department and asked to explain why it is causing chaos on the argument that there is insufficient money when it knows there will be full funding which will cover all the under-funding that existed in the past year.

I have criticised the authority's draft district plans, which were issued in August and October. The district's financial position for 1979–80 is clearly stated in the October plan:
"unless current expenditure patterns are curtailed, the City and East London Area Health Authority forecasts an overspending of some £3,983,000, of which some £1,133,000 is required to be a permanent saving arising as it does from the under-funding of wage awards".
How can that position be stated when the assurance of the Minister's permanent secretary has been given that the under-funding will not persist and that, on the contrary, within three months it will be covered? The document continues:
"a brought forward overspending from 1978–9 in the sum of £675,000. The balance of £2,850,000 is made up of a shortfall in the funding for inflation on non-pay items (£1,200,000), the increased cost of VAT announced in the budget (£950,000), and the rise in fuel prices (£700,000)."
The Minister has already indicated from his meetings with the chairmen that he would fund it, but, notwithstanding that assurance from the Government, they go ahead and continue to destroy the health services in my constituency.

I believe that the matter has gone too far. These gentlemen should be asked to resign immediately. I ask the hon. Gentleman if he will today make a categorical statement that all this under-funding in the area will, in accordance with the statement of his right hon. Friend's permanent secretary, be reinstated by April 1980.

I know, and the Minister knows, that a ½per cent. growth means a step backwards. We are both London Members, and know that in any other Thames authority a minimum growth of 1 per cent. is necessary to stand still. Nevertheless, the refunding of the other moneys, which has fallen heavily on the inner city areas, will be of great importance, as the Minister's right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly said. The burden falling on central London is very heavy indeed, and I hope that the Minister is in a position to give an assurance tonight that the authority will be instructed to change this behavioural pattern.

I turn now to another matter that is causing concern. I have a letter from Mr. Birnstingl, an eminent surgeon in my constituency, who operates at St. Bartholomew's hospital. He drew to my attention his experience with a constituent of mine. The document that begins the issue is an inter-office communication from a patient services officer to Mr. Birnstingl, which says:
"When the above named presented with a doctor's letter for a Surgical outpatient appointment I was not happy about her eligibility for NHS treatment. I contacted, therefore, the DHSS who in turn have obtained the following information from the Home Office. I did, in the meantime, ask the Appointments Department to make her an appointment but told Miss X that I would check and let her know our decision. She is due to attend your OPD on Monday 19 November."
Information was then telephoned through from the DHSS that this Miss X had arrived in the United Kingdom in 1974, had been given extensions for temporary stay until September 1975, and had then been told to return to her country of origin. She appealed against the decision, but the appeal was dismissed and she was told to embark by 7 August 1979.

The patient services officer was told that the DHSS had alerted the immigration authorities to the fact that Miss X was still here, and the Department gave her authority to tell Miss X that she could not be treated, although if Mr. Birnstingl considered her condition to be an emergency she could be treated on a paying patient basis only. The patient services officer went on:
"whichever way I am to alert the DHSS. Presumably if she does require emergency treatment it is intended that she return to"—
her country of origin—
"as soon as it is physically possible. Can you please let me know whether you are prepared to see her initially."
As Mr. Birnstingl said, since when have the National Health Service and its employees been used as policemen on behalf of the Home Office? What has happened to confidentiality between a person and his or her doctor? I think that it is a scandal that the Health Service is being used in this way. Within one hour of a telephone call from the appointments section of the hospital, the DHSS was apparently able to interrogate the Home Office computer in order to ascertain the facts affecting this person. The DHSS did not bother to argue whether the person concerned was fitted for treatment; it was more concerned that she should be apprehended.

The fact that the appointments clerk did not seem to see that what she was doing was wrong is not relevant in itself. Rather, Mr. Birnstingl feels that the serious breach of confidence in an entirely medical matter is likely to lead to poorer medical care, because people will now be very careful about going for treatment. This whole incident needs to be examined most carefully. I asked Mr. Birnstingl whether he minded my mentioning this case on his behalf today, and he replied that he felt that it was important so to do.

St. Bartholomew's hospital is under threat from the area health authority, which is now closing beds. It is closing the out-patient department as well. One of the arguments for closing St. Leonard's hospital was that the patients could be redirected to Bart's. Yet one of the arguments put forward only last week was that Bart's can now claim that it has reduced substantially the number of its out-patients. That means that my constituents who are being redirected there obviously cannot get in, because the number of out-patients is being reduced.

Thus we have three fraudulent claims. The first is that the hospital is being closed temporarily when its own documents confirm that that is not the case, and the spin-off from that will make it permanent. The second is that when people go from that hospital to Bart's they will be unable to get in because the out-patient department is being run down as a matter of cost saving. The third is the assurance given by the Minister that the money obtained from the sale of the Metropolitan hospital would be directed towards St. Leonard's hospital. That was supposed to be an important factor in the decision to close the Metropolitan hospital. Yet the money has been used for some other purpose.

It is no good the Minister giving a platitudinous reply tonight about the difficulties involved and the fact that it is not his Government's fault. I am not interested in party politics, I am talking about the health and welfare of my constituents. I do not want any claptrap about who is responsible. I challenge whether the Minister has the right to continue to agree to the absurdity of the resource allocation working party. We have given up £1 million to Essex. Therefore, my constituency has less and less money for more and more patients, while Essex has more and more money for the same number of patients.

I am told that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was rather concerned that one of his constituents had to travel to hospital in London because the peripatetic consultants who normally travelled out to Essex had stopped doing so as part of the Government's savings programme. I understand that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was rather annoyed and that he wrote to the Secretary of State for Social Services, who has been in touch with the regional health authority to discover what is happening. This is an extraordinary situation. The Secretary of State starts the exercise and forces a contraction of services but the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster then wants to know why his constituent is suffering because a consultant is not travelling out to Essex to provide a service.

On one hand, the Government are closing a hospital in my constituency and my constituents are unable to get service. On the other hand, they want sums of money provided to allow peripatetic consultants to travel out to Essex for the convenience of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Secretary of State should get together to explain that one of the spin-offs of this appalling progress is that people get hurt.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is right to take up the case of his constituent. I am taking up the case of my constituents. I hope for an assurance from the Minister that will enable me to tell my constituents that the National Health Service will continue to operate in Hackney.

1.51 am

I shall not detain the House for long. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) on raising this subject and casting it in such wide and generous terms. It would be valuable for the Minister and my hon. Friend to hear about the position elsewhere in the country.

I must tell my hon. Friend that complaints about London by Londoners, although no doubt justified in London terms, sometimes look different viewed from one of the under-funded regions of the country. Those of us who live in the Trent Valley, in the region of the Trent regional health authority, think that there is considerable difference between the Thames Valley and the Trent Valley. On funding, the previous Government and, so far as I know, the present Government became committed to the idea of a progressive and slow transfer of resources to the under-funded regions. Among those principally affected was the Trent region.

It is the question of resources for the Trent RHA and, particularly, the Derbyshire area health authority that I wish to raise with the Minister. I shall be as brief and explicit as possible.

Three issues concern us in the East Midlands and within the area of the Trent RHA. There is the question of the scaling down of medical skills available in some hospitals. There is the question of the waiting lists, a matter to which my hon. Friend has already referred so eloquently. There is the question of the severe. drastic and immediate hospital closures—a large number of them.

In the city of Derby, part of which I have the honour to represent, the Derbyshire Royal infirmary is threatened with the loss of a number of facilities, including its facilities for neurology and neurosurgery. The idea is that these facilities might be rationalised within Nottingham hospitals. If that happened, I must inform the Minister that it would be hard to maintain the standards of treatment and the range of skills that have existed at the Derbyshire Royal infirmary. That is part of the problem with which we were dealing under the previous Labour Government.

On the issue of radiotherapy, we got several concessions from the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), but there appears now to be an additional threat. I mention this because it is one of the sources of neurosis and demoralisation spreading across the entire hospital service in Derbyshire and because the Minister knows of my interest in some of the areas that I shall be discussing.

In Derbyshire and in the Trent region, there is now as serious and chronic a shortage of beds—a problem of waiting lists—asanywhere in the country, certainly as bad as anywhere in London. The Minister knows that the national figures are in excess of 850,000 and rising. The position is so bad in some parts of Derbyshire that patients have to wait years for critical operations.

A constituent of mine has a young teenage daughter who has severe curvature of the spine. That condition needs an operation in adolescence if it is to be successful. She had to wait not months but years for that operation. After the intervention of the Department and the RHA, the operation was finally carried out—we pray successfully—on 14 November. For critical operations of that kind it should not be necessary to have to approach the Member of Parliament and the DHSS to get satisfactory surgical treatment within the National Health Service.

For non-critical operations the position is much worse. The Minister will probably have seen one of the cases quoted in the Sunday Mirror last weekend. I refer to the North Derbyshire district, again within the Derbyshire AHA. Dr. McConachie, the chairman of the local medical advisory committee, told that newspaper that
"The area is the worst in the country. If you need surgery for some minor operation, varicose veins for instance, you could wait up to 30 years."
That is an appalling indictment of our National Health Service. I do not want to play party politics. These matters have long been coming to the boil. They are a disgrace to any country that pretends to have a comprehensive National Health Service.

The position in Derbyshire will be made still worse by the progressive closures of hospitals upon which the area health authority has now embarked. This is a fairly narrow point, relating to Derbyshire, but it may be appropriate to make it in this debate rather than attempt to make it on the wider issues tomorrow when the hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) hopes to raise the case of one hospital on the Adjournment. We can then go into even more detail.

The Derbyshire area health authority, being now £.1½ million overspent, proposes to close not just one but seven hospitals within the county—almost all of the smaller, well-established, highly regarded hospitals that deal with recuperative treatment and non-acute cases.

The Minister knows of my interest in, for example, multiple sclerosis. The only place to which someone can go for rehabilitative treatment for multiple sclerosis, if he lives in the city of Derby, with the enormous pressure on beds for operations and post-operative cases in the Derbyshire Royal infirmary and the City hospital, is one of the small hospitals on the outskirts of Derby, such as Etwall or Draycott. If one goes to the Etwall hospital, as I frequently do, to see multiple sclerosis patients and others, one sees the remarkable treatment that these patients have been getting from highly skilled staff.

There is no question of these hospitals being out of date, incompetent or degenerating in themselves, but we are now told that they are all to be closed. It may be that they are to be closed only temporarily, but "temporarily" in the first instance means until 1981, and that may mean for ever. The record of the AHA reopening hospitals is not good. That would mean, inevitably, that the waiting lists would be longer and some people would not receive hospital treatment at all.

For many, the difference between resuming some sort of active life and a helpless vegetable existence at home comes from the recuperative treatment in the smaller hospital, where there is not the rush and throughput of a larger hospital that is mostly concerned with postoperative cases. That has been the position of the smaller hospitals in Derbyshire. All who have had relatives treated in those hospitals, as I have, have reason to be grateful. Now, the person who has a stroke or amputation or is suffering from a degenerative disease and who has been greatly helped by the smaller hospitals in the past will have nowhere to turn. It would not be possible, within the National Health Service, to receive the treatment that that person needs.

We are not talking simply of some facilities being closed down or the long waiting lists within existing hospitals. We are talking of the whole problem being made more acute by the closures of the seven hospitals to which I have referred. I should like to hear tonight from the DHSS an assurance that it will look at the problem in terms of the first charge upon it being that of patient care and the maintenance of the hospital services that we have every right to expect and for which we have paid our taxes. Does the DHSS accept that the Trent AHA, over the years, has been under-funded and that there should have been a progressive transfer of resources to health authorities of that sort? Does it accept that it is a foolish and short-sighted step to close hospitals in such a wanton fashion? Does it further accept that the under-funding of the AHA—it is a general under-funding, not incompetence or extravagance in other areas on the part of the AHA—can be remedied only by an infusion of additional money? More funds are needed, especially for the Derbyshire AHA.

I hope that the Minister does not tell the House that it will all be solved by the axing of the AHAs. It may well be. I thought in the past that a layer of bureaucracy should be removed. However, the eventual overall saving from the axing of the AHAs would be about £30 million at its most optimistic, and that would be spread over 60 or more authorities. Clearly, that would not mean much, even in terms of the one year's over-spending in Derbyshire.

One of the issues of the Bill is that the very hospitals that are to be emptied will become establishments for private practice. The funds are being set out to allow private practice to take place, and those who are able to afford treatment will continue to receive it, while my constituents are unable to afford it.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The partisan note that he has injected is one that I must echo If one drives out of Derby, one passes the site of a new luxury hospital being built with private cash by a consortium of consultants and financial friends. It will offer a great range of recuperative services, if one is prepared to pay large sums to receive them.

I am concerned that we should even consider reaching a position in which the patient is told that if he needs a non-urgent operation or recuperative treatment he must go to the private sector. It is clear that many people will not be in a position to afford that. It is absolutely clear, for example, that many elderly people, stricken down with disease, a stroke, or something of that sort, will not be able to go to the luxury hospitals set up in the private sector and buy the treatment they need.

The principle of the National Health Service, set out by its founding fathers—Dr. Stark Murray, and people like that—was that we should have a comprehensive service from the cradle to the grave. Well, we do not have it from the cradle to the grave, and people get to the grave a good deal earlier without the service that they need. Many people will meet an untimely end and many more will be condemned to a period of misery and immobility as a result of the kind of closures of which we are talking.

The Minister is a compassionate man. I want from him a commitment to the principle of a National Health Service for all—for the non-acute as well as the acute cases, and for the recuperative as well as the operative cases. I want him to say loud and clear that the Department will look at the closures now being proposed in Derbyshire and will consider the alternatives, both in terms of the funding that the authority already has and the funding that we contend it ought to have in order to maintain the level of patient care in the region that we believe any well-intentioned and properly funded Health Service should provide.

2.6 am

This has been an interesting debate. I think that the contributions by the hon. Members for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) and Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) have counterbalanced each other. The first hon. Member spoke on behalf of an "over-provided" London area. His contribution was balanced by that of his hon. Friend, who was speaking for an "under-provided" area outside London. They have posed very well the problem that faces the Government in allocating resources to the National Health Service.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch has a deep interest in and knowledge of the National Health Service, but his language was Somewhat extravagant. When he reads his words in the cold light of dawn, I hope that he will agree to moderate his remarks. He said that we were embarking upon "the total destruction of health services" in his constituency. That is an emotive and hysterical remark, which bears no relation to what is happening in his constituency. As a member of a regional health authority, he knows that.

He and his hon. Friend trespassed to some extent on a debate that will take place in just over 12 hours' time on the Health Services Bill. I do not want also to trespass on that territory. The hon. Member spoke of closures. His Government's record was hardly one to inspire confidence. During their period in office about 280 hospitals were closed or approved for closure. On 31 March this year proposals were made for the closure of a further 31 hospitals.

The hon. Member began by saying that there was a shifting age pattern in his constituency, and he is right The RAWP formula, as set out in the document "Sharing resources for health in England" makes it quite clear that age is one of the factors that has to be taken into account. Paragraph 2.4 relates to the need for measuring the demand for non-psychiatric inpatient services to take account of age and sex. The same point is made in paragraph 1.7, which considers the population make-up. I concede what the hon. Gentleman says. The formula for allocating resources should take that into account. But on pages 132 and 128 of the document, bearing in mind the contrast between the region in which the constituency of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch is located and that in which the constituency of the hon. Member for Derby, North is located, one can see a tremendous discrepancy in the amount of resources per head. On page 128 the document states that
"The North East Thames Region has £13·54 excess over the average per head of weighted population whereas the Trent Region has a shortfall of £7·72."
That is an example of the disparity in provision which this Government and our predecessors have been determined to do something about.

Only 15 per cent.—two years ago it was 13 per cent.—of the people using St. Bartholomew's, the teaching hospital in my constituency, come from my constituency. The rest come from other parts of the country, including the Trent region.

The hon. Gentleman is right, but this comprehensive document indicates that part of the formula takes account of the fact that people move from one region to another and that some regions have a teaching responsibility that others do not.

The hon. Gentleman raised detailed points about St. Leonard's hospital. I should like to look into them. The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to have at my finger-tips the agenda of the meeting that took place recently, though I hope the the members of the authority who are taking the decisions have the agenda and relevant papers. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman after looking into the matters that he has raised.

On consultation, the hon. Gentleman may not know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Health has recently given fresh guidance to health authorities on the procedure for consultation, particularly where temporary closures are proposed. If the hon. Gentleman has not seen that guidance, I shall certainly send him a copy.

Claiming that the term "temporary closure" is fraudulent is another exaggeration.

Last week I answered an Adjournment debate initiated by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) about the temporary closure of a hospital—a closure that was clearly a temporary one. A working party had been set up to make plans available for bringing the hospital back into action. I do not accept what the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch says about the use of the term "temporary closure" being fraudulent.

The hon. Member for Derby, North made a much more reasoned contribution. I assure him that we have a commitment to the NHS. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making that even clearer in his speech later today. I also confirm that the hon. Gentleman's region is under-funded and that there ought to be a switch towards it.

The hon. Gentleman said that there are seven proposed closures in his region, and he added that some are only temporary. There is a procedure that must be gone through before permanent closures can take place. There is to be another debate today on problems in Derbyshire. I shall look in more detail at the problems raised by the hon. Gentleman and write to him. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's conclusion that it is hospital closures that will add to waiting lists. The problem is one of resources rather than closures. The waiting list in December 1974 was 517,000 and in March this year it was 752,422. There is not much in the record of the previous Administration that affords comfort there.

I know the deep concern of the hon. Member for Derby, North about problems in Derbyshire. I shall consider what he has said and will write to him. I do not think that he would expect me to have at my finger-tips hte answers to all the matters that he raised.

I turn to what the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said about Mr. Birnstingl. The Minister for Health issued a press statement a few days ago rebutting the allegations made in some national papers. No information was given to the Home Office that it did not already have. My Department does not pass information on to the Home Office to enable it to chase illegal immigrants. It has a responsibility to see that the NHS is not abused, and we try to minimise gate-crashers. I see the hon. Gentleman nodding in assent. That is the extent of our responsibility, and we do not pass to the Home Office confidential information that it may need for a totally different purpose.

Behind the remarks of both hon. Members is the debate about redistributing resources. It is important to understand that redistributing resources on a more equitable basis is a long-term strategy. The aim is one that has existed from the birth of the National Health Service and has been part of its basic philosophy, but it is only in recent years that an objective measure has been developed and applied to effect and monitor the process.

The first step was the development of the formula that was applied from 1971–72 to non-teaching hospital services. After the 1974 reorganisation, this was refined and developed for application to the hospital and community health services as a whole, in the shape of the resource allocation working party recommendations published in 1976. This process is colloquially known as RAWP.

The working party's formula for assessing target allocations takes account of age and sex structure of the population and other selected indicators of need for health care such as standardised mortality ratios, which are included as a proxy for morbidity. Account is also taken of the numbers of in-patients that cross administrative boundaries, of London weighting payments and of the additional costs that arise from the provision of facilities for undergraduate medical education.

Even before these yardsticks had been developed, however, successive Governments had gone some way to reducing the gross inequities that the National Health Service had inherited in the provision of health care across the country. But the actual process of shifting resources relied mainly on building new hospitals where they were judged to be most needed and providing the necessary resources to run them. There are obvious dangers in such a haphazard approach. Special pleading and other subjective considerations are likely to have an undue influence, hence the strong advantage of the sort of objective measure that RAWP provides.

However, even with a formula to guide us, equity cannot be achieved overnight. RAWP can help on what share of available resources a region ought to have, but how quickly that target can he achieved is still amatter of political judgment. The overriding regulator will always be the additional resources available nationally in any one year coupled with the judgment of Ministers about the maximum restraint that can realistically be imposed on the relatively better-off regions, such as North-East Thames.

It has always been an unenviable task to have to decide the fairest way of allocating new resources, particularly, as in present times, when they are so scarce. Not only is it impossible to satisfy everyone; it is scarcely possible to satisfy anyone. It has come as no surprise to hear of the difficulties of the better-off regions in making ends meet from a position of virtually nil growth in the past, and from the less well-endowed regions about the need from their point of view for a much faster redistribution of resources.

For next year, the recent White Paper gives only½per cent. growth nationally for the health services—the level of growth planned by the previous Administration—after restoring what has been lost in this year's squeeze on resources. That is what we allocate to the National Health Service as a whole. It has to be redistributed among the regional health authorities, from them to the area health authorities, and from them to the districts. It does not follow that each area health authority will get an additional ½ per cent.

Much play has been made of the effects of cash limits on health authorities. There has been a considerable effect. Health authorities' revenue allocations have been squeezed by about 3 per cent.—between £125 million and £130 million—and the effects of such a reduction are bound to be considerable. We have discussed this matter during two Supply day debates and on a number of Adjournment debates. I do not want to belittle either those effects or the concern felt by hon. Members. However, we must set the record straight. The Labour Government set cash limits at a woefully low level. They were guilty of setting cash limits at the level that they would have liked to see for pay and prices rather than taking realistic account of what was likely. When the limits were announced in April, they were already far too low.

Health authorities were told that there would be no increases for excess inflation and that the first £23·4 million of excess pay costs would not be met. There was the undertaking to pay the excess costs of approved pay settlements above £23·4 million, but no financial provision was made for that. This was a classic postdated cheque drawn on somebody else's bank account. We have honoured that undertaking and we have increased the cash limits by £250 million-plus as a consequence. One more major sum remains to be added for the costs of the Clegg Commission award to nurses. By the time that we have honoured the commitment on that award, the increase in the cash limits is likely to be in excess of £300 million, or about 8 per cent. above the original cash limit.

I do not detract from the squeeze that has taken place, but it is important to recognise that, at a time when the Government's fiscal and economic policies demand a reduction in public spending and that the PSBR be held down, we have nevertheless found for the NHS substantial sums previously unbudgeted for.

The effects of the squeeze that have occurred this year have attracted much attention. The hon. Gentleman himself mentioned this. The Government believe that the NHS should do everything in its power to absorb the effects of the squeeze as far as possible without cutting or harming direct patient services. We have been heartened by the way in which authorities generally have set about this task. I am sure that they will continue to tackle it well. A good treasurer knows of many ways of cutting corners which do not affect patients, and I pay tribute to the treasurers who have done all in their power. But in some places economies of this sort have not been enough, and cuts in the planned levels of services have had to happen—new developments have had to be delayed and existing hospitals and wards have had to be closed, some of them temporarily.

I regret each and every one of these decisions, and I appreciate the impact that they have had on the patients who would have used those services and the dedicated staff who would have worked there, but in the last resort the necessity of those measures has to be recognised. I do not for a moment suppose that it was any easier for the authorities concerned to decide on those measures than it was for those of us seeing them from a greater distance. The plain fact is that this country can have only the services—education, housing and personal social services, as well as the NHS—which our economy can sustain.

Finally, I shall say a word about next year's cash limits. It will be some time before the cash limits themselves can be announced, although we have set out in the White Paper our general expectations. But I can say that we have no intention of repeating our predecessors' error. We shall be setting cash limits that we judge to be realistic, and we shall stick to them. Health authorities will be able to plan with more certainty and to be arbiters of their own fates.

Polaris Missiles

2.22 am

I approach this debate with contradictory sentiments. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has come himself to reply when it would have been so easy for him—as I expected him to do—to farm out the responsibility to one of his junior Ministers. It is therefore with regret that I have drawn him here at this time.

I regret even more that an issue of such magnitude and historic importance for this country, probably until way into the next century, should have been taken, or is about to be taken, without any significant public debate, and certainly, so it appears, without any real parliamentary debate. It is therefore a matter for sadness that only as a result of an end-of-term raffle is there any likelihood of debate in the House prior to a decision being made on the replacement of Polaris.

I am not blaming the Secretary of State. He has said on several occasions that he would like a debate, but, as his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote to me on 14 November:
"I hope this will be possible"
—that is, a debate—
"but it is a question of finding time in what is a very full parliamentary programme."
In the light of the Bills that are being introduced, not all of them essential, I argue, to the welfare of our country, that time could be found. One of these often largely contentious Bills could be temporarily shelved in order to allow the House of Commons to debate an issue of momentous significance. A short debate of this kind is not seen by anyone, I hope, as a substitute for the full debate that I hope will take place in the not-too-distant future.

A decision has been taken on the issue of theatre nuclear weapons. A decision has either been taken or will shortly be taken on replacing Polaris. We in the House of Commons have had minimal input into the decision-making process. I believe that Parliament has a right to be consulted and that that consultation should be a prelude to decision-making, whereas, if we are lucky, we shall be able to talk about it only after the decision has been made. I am reminded that Frederick the Great said "My people and I have a wonderful arrangement. I let them say exactly what they like, and they let me do exactly as I like." At least, the Prussians perhaps had an advantage over us in that they were able to debate.

The public have a right to be consulted, for the reason that was well put in the "Panorama" programme last week, on which the Secretary of State appeared. The commentator told the public:
"It is your bomb. You paid for it. If missiles are ever fired, it will be in your name."
As members of the public are affected by the decisions that have been, or are about to be, taken, I should like to see a more meaningful debate. Maybe public debates are irritating. Perhaps there are troughs and peaks of interest, but certainly something of this importance should not be a monopoly of a handful of people. If we contrast the debate abroad on theatre nuclear weapons with what passed for a debate in the country and the House, I regard that comparison with some embarrassment.

Let us consider the debate taking place in the United States on SALT—not just in Congress but in public. When I was recently in the United States, I took part in the debate with an official from the State Department. I was most impressed by the voluminous documentation produced informing the public of every aspect of SALT. However, I am not certain what impact the numerous press officers in the Ministry of Defence have on public attitudes. I feel that we could learn a great deal from the United States about the dissemination of information. If members of the public are involved in the decision-making process, when a decision is made the fact that they took part and approved acts as a cement. If a decision is taken without genuine public consultation, future discontent is built up.

Turning to the question of dissemination of defence information, we may read the United States Department of Defence annual report, which contains 340 pages. The German equivalent contains 293 pages, even in an English edition. Our own expurgated version contains about 90 pages. That neatly summarises the attitudes taken by Governments in this country towards informing the public.

To take these historic decisions in such a hole-in-the-corner way is to invite a deluge of criticism. That is one more example of the unholy alliance between a small, secretive and mostly faceless defence elite and the inexorable power of bureaucratic momentum.

The decision to replace Polaris was not sudden. An Admiral of the Fleet recently said that the Ministry of Defence had been considering the options for a successor to Polaris
"for at least 10 years."
Certainly the House has not made any significant input into considering the options.

Perhaps the Secretary of State will reiterate the words of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who, in a recent letter to me, said:
"I believe the House already has ample information at its disposal"
to make a decision on a Polaris replacement. I am wondering where the information is. Is it the four and a half pages produced by the previous Government in their submission to the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee? I do not consider that to be sufficiently informing this House or the public. The overwhelming contribution to that document came from outside organisations. The contribution by the Ministry of Defence informing this House and the Sub-Committee of the options available in the replacement of Polaris I regard as being rather insignificant and inconsequential.

A debate should take place on the basis of a great deal more information than we have been given hitherto. Are we in the House to be excluded from decision-making because we are not qualified, or is it because we are not to be trusted?

I recall articles that appeared in a number of newspapers recently, following, presumably, a press release from the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), saying that the Labour members of the new defence Select Committee should be positively vetted, and somehow seemingly suggesting that we were defence risks. I do not wish to be malicious to the hon. Gentleman, but somehow he suggested that the Labour members of the Select Committee were less reliable.

In her letter to me, the Prime Minister said:
"However the actual choice of a successor system will inevitably depend on highly sensitive, technical and operational judgments which could not be made public without damaging our vital security interests."
I believe that the scope allowed to the House of Commons for debate on this issue by Governments is too narrow. I do not want information that is excessively sensitive and that, if it fell into the wrong hands, would be injurious to our national interests, but I believe that the parameters of debate could be widened considerably without jeopardy to national security.

My criticisms are directed not exclusively to the Secretary of State but to Governments in general. There is a mania for secrecy. If we are to believe reports in The Times, the last Labour Government adopted a secretive approach to the issue of a Polaris replacement.

I recall an article about Sir Winston Churchill when he became Prime Minister in 1951. He was surprised that the previous Government had spent £100 million on an atomic energy project about which the incoming Tory Government were totally oblivious. Secrecy is by no means a monopoly of this Government. It is true of Governments generally. A strong case could be made for changing that.

Underlining all discussion of nuclear weapons is the notion of uncertainty. There is our uncertainty about the intentions of our enemies and their capability to overwhelm us. There is the uncertainty that we seek to instil in the enemy regarding our own capabilities and intentions. There is also the uncertainty about our response to differing levels of attack on us or on our allies.

Added to this general uncertainty, one must mention the uncertainty over the replacement of Polaris. That means uncertainty over the cost, the timing of a decision, the usefulness of a deterrent and the type of replacement that would be most advantageous, given a decision to replace Polaris. There would also be the uncertainty about the role that Parliament would play in the process.

In a subject so clouded with uncertainty, there is one element of certainty. That is that Parliament has been blatantly ignored. On Monday the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) wrote in The Guardian
"We have been told nothing, and we have been in no way encouraged to examine the alternatives. It is not for us to reason why."
It is not my intention to do and die. I and some hon. Gentleman on the Conservative Benches have said that we make decisions in the wrong way.

There is an element of gross uncertainty about the cost of replacement. The Government have not been as forthcoming as they should have been on cost. If Governments play their cards close to their chests, they have only themselves to blame if there is rumour and speculation, with figures quoted that may be grossly inflated. One way of undermining this kind of speculation and rumour is for Governments to be far more forthcoming with information.

Some quotes have emerged that suggest that a Polaris replacement will cost about £3,000 million. I have seen a maximum figure—there maybe higher maxima—of £8,000 million. Ian Smart, in his paper for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, estimates that
"a system consisting of five submarines and associated missiles would cost £2,500 millions to £3,250 millions at 1977 prices".
A "Panorama" team recently argued that a fleet of five submarines and their missiles would cost £5,000 million at today's prices. Farooq Hussain, formerly of the IISS and now at Stanford University, estimated in the October edition of New Scientist that
"the total cost of a Trident fleet of four submarines would be about £6,000 million to £8,000 million".
These escalating estimates bring a shudder to anyone who remembers the debacle of Blue Streak. They bring to mind two more recent procurement headaches—Concorde and Tornado. There is obviously a high degree of inaccuracy in predicting the development and production costs of any advanced technology system. That does not excuse the Government for not sharing their estimates with Parliament. Not only must we know what the Government think about what a Polaris replacement will cost; we must know where the money will come from.

A 10-year programme of, say, £5,000 million represents, on average, a yearly increase of 7 per cent. on the defence bill. That is a high percentage of the procurement bill. Where will that money come from? If the £5,000 million is to be found within the current defence spending plans, what projects will be scrapped? Something must give. May we be assured that the main battle tank, for instance, will not suffer; that the Tornado programme will continue; that the Navy's attack submarine programme is secure?

There are also uncertainties about the repercussions that could be caused by the building of Britain's new ballistic missile submarines. Of the two yards that produce Polaris—Vickers at Barrow and Cammell Laird at Birkenhead—only Barrow is now available. Will facilities at Barrow be expanded to handle the new construction programme, or will work on our attack submarines be sacrificed in favour of the new boats? Alternatively, will the new submarines be built elsewhere?

There is uncertainty about timing. There has been much talk about the urgency of a decision. The hurried nature of what is happening in the Cabinet and in Washington is an indication of the desire to speed up decision-making. On Thursday the Secretary of State said that a decision would be taken within the next few months. Some informed sources argue that a decision has already been taken. I am not in a position to certify that. However, evidence suggests that we need not rush to make a judgment.

Some of my colleagues may argue that we can postpone a decision for 10 years, or indefinitely. I do not say that, but there is no earthly reason why we should take a decision in the next few months. Last January the then Prime Minister said that a decision would have to be taken in the next two years. The then Secretary of State for Defence agreed with that when giving evidence to the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee. We must assume that its sources were reasonably authoritative.

In testimony to the same Committee, Ian Smart said that a decision had to be taken by 1980. More recently, Dr. John Simpson, of Southampton university, said that a programme using United States missiles would probably have to commence by mid-1983. Even more recently, Farooq Hussain said that there was
"no need for a decision to be taken before 1985 at the earliest."
The original estimates of when a decision had to be taken were based on a submarine hull life of 20 years. This estimate was later increased to 25 years. I have heard from a source that I regard highly that the hull life is probably as long as 35 or 40 years. In January 1978 Farooq Hussain, while at the IISS, wrote:
"based on the estimated hull life of the submarines alone, it can reasonably be assumed that the UK SSBN fleet can be maintained throughout this century."
That was in a memorandum submitted to the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee.

It has also been argued that, in addition to hull life, two further controlling factors are the shelf life of the Polaris missile propellant and the irradiation of the submarine hull. However, it has been shown that the shelf life can be extended by keeping the propellant cool and that there are no signs of hull damage due to irradiation.

Some would maintain that there is a fourth controlling factor—the United States presidential election. The argument that I have heard is that there is a need to speed things up now, as there could later be somebody in the White House who was perhaps less friendly, or the unless a decision is made very soon President Carter is likely to be otherwise engaged in his own campaigning.

I believe that this type of thinking could be outdated. The Polaris deal at Nassau was an Executive-controlled decision on the part of the United States as well as the United Kingdom, but the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive in the United States has changed so considerably that there is now in my view no certainty that any presidential decision would automatically receive congressional approval. Indeed, one source has said that the United States Congress could be less sympathetic to British ambitions than a Conservative Administrative would desire.

It is argued that the United States Congress could insist that the political price for Trident for Britain could be tight United States control of the missiles, perhaps even to the extent of making them dual key, as are German nuclear weapons acquired from the United States. Britain could then be in rather an embarrassing position.

There are, in my view, many advantages in waiting and not rushing into a decision. One advantage, surely, would be that the public could take part in a debate. This would reinforce the eventual decision. It is not automatic, surely, that just because there is a public debate the public will vote against. If the arguments are put sensibly, there is every likelihood that the public will come out in support.

If we postpone a decision for a few years, there could, by the mid-1980s, be better options available to us. Press reports of the Secretary of State's visit to Belgium last week indicate that he and Mr. Brown, of the United States Defence Department, lectured the allies on the need to upgrade conventional weapons. One advantage in postponing a decision is that we could surely upgrade our conventional weapons without the financial millstone that Polaris replacement would pose. We could re-equip, which would be to our advantage.

A further uncertainty about the position is that of the concept of deterrence. In addition to the uncertainties that I mentioned earlier in my speech, there is the question whether deterrence actually works. As Dr. Groom, of the university of Kent, neatly summarised the argument,
"while deterrence can be shown to have failed, it can never be shown to have worked."
The Secretary of State, clearly, is committed to the theology of deterrence, but in the "Panorama" programme that I have mentioned several times, in which he participated, Paul Warnke, a former director of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, said that he saw no strategic value in Britain's deterrence and could not envisage a situation in which it would be used. In the same programme, Vice-Admiral Charles Griffiths, the United States Commander-in-Chief of Submarine Warfare, quite openly said that NATO does not need Britain's deterrent.

Lord Carver was also on hand to say that he could not visualise a situation in which Britain's deterrent would be used. In a letter to the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, Lord Carver clearly stated the problem. He categorised Britain's deterrent as
"a form of insurance policy against the withdrawal of United States support for the defence of Western Europe, including Britain."
He felt that this was
"very unlikely and would mean the end of NATO".
He went on to say that a decision for a Polaris replacement was
"a judgment as to whether or not it is worth paying the premium to meet a risk which is so unlikely to arise."
We are not talking about people who are pacifists opposing Polaris replacement with Trident; we are talking of people with considerable authority on defence matters. In reality, Britain's nuclear deterrent is considered by many people not to be a major part of NATO's overall deterrent strategy. That is a point over which we must ponder.

One gets the impression that the role of Polaris has not been completely thought out. Doctor Simpson, of Southampton university, has written:
"In comparison with the literature on the United States, USSR and French nuclear deterrent doctrines, little has been written on the roles the British Polaris force is designed to perform, the scenarios in which it would be relevant and the mechanisms through which its deterrent effect would operate".
An argument that is frequently used is that one of the reasons for maintaining Polaris or its successor is that it would guarantee us a place at the highest tables. But that has been criticised. Peter Hill-Norton, although clearly in favour of Polaris replacement, has said:
"The argument that possession of nuclear weapons secures a seat at the top table is of doubtful validity. Britain has not participated in the SALT discussions; a majority of the participants in summit meetings such as those at Guadeloupe and Tokyo have been non-nuclear".
He clearly sees the advantage of replacing Polaris with Trident, but the argument that it does not secure a top-table seat is one that has significance.

Even if one accepts that in the final analysis, and despite the considerable evidence to the contrary, Britain needs a deterrent of its own, it is still not clear which one it should be. The consensus in favour of Trident is not as complete as many would wish it to be. There have been serious arguments in favour of Cruise missiles mounted on conventionally powered submarines—an option which many argue is cheaper than Trident. Another option favoured would be a Cruise missile fired from the torpedo tubes of our existing nuclear attack submarines. That has been sensibly argued. There are also those who favour a system consisting of existing Polaris A3 missiles in new submarines.

I do not want to talk at length about the Polaris improvement programme, but I am not satisfied with the information that has been given. I have seen an article published by the hon. Member for Alder-shot arguing another alternative, namely, collaboration with France in some form of military Concorde project. However, I understand from a recent article in The Guardian that perhaps the hon. Gentleman's views have somewhat changed.

There is another argument in terms of options to be considered—not one put forward by a pacifist—that one should get out of the nuclear league. One of the very few things that Lord Chalfont said recently with which I agree was when he argued:
"It would seem perverse, therefore, that Britain should choose to expend on a new nuclear weapons programme money and other resources which would be more usefully devoted to strengthening our conventional forces in Europe, and to building up military defences which would enable NATO to meet an attack without being obliged to resort immediately to the suicidal use of nuclear weapons".
Those are the many options that ought to be discussed. I hope that I have pointed out sufficient complications to merit a fuller and more public debate.

In both of the Secretary of State's major appearances, he has pointed out the impossibility of reaching the Russian people with the arguments. I hope that he is satisfied that the British public has been fully reached with the arguments. His boss has argued that her speeches help towards this debate, but a debate is a two-way street. Mindless sloganising, or the exploitation of fears, is not conducive to any rationality of argument.

I relate my final points to the role that Parliament ought to be playing in defence decision-making. Perhaps, through the creation of Select Committees, we have a chance to allow hon. Members to play a much more significant role. That can come about only if the Ministry of Defence is prepared to give information. It will come about only if we are given proper research assistance, and that means strengthening the Library and providing the Committee with adequate advice.

I believe that during its nine years the old Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee had just over 350 days of expert advice. I do not say that the reports were inadequate, but a Committee of 11 part-timers aided by part-time advisers is no match for the Ministry of Defence.

The people have the right to know on what assumption the Government work. If the assumption is known, the Government's policies will have more chance of being accepted. If there is insufficient authoritative information, it is rumoured—if the Government allow the new Select Committees to play a useful role—that the Committees will inquire, pry, disagree, demand and generally be a nuisance to Whitehall. That is how it should be. The primary basis of our Government structure must be democracy and not order, simplicity and administrative convenience. The House stands at a crossroads. Will the new Select Committees be the beginning of a meaningful parliamentary reform or will they provide yet another blind alley and non-event? The latter answer would be totally inexcusable.

I apologise for talking at greater length than I originally anticipated. However, it is an important debate and I am grateful for the Secretary of State's attendance. I look forward earnestly to listening to his comments when the time comes.

2.51 am

The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) has done the House a great service. Although he confessed to feeling contradictory sentiments, one message was clearer than any other—he advocated delay in a decision on the replacement of Polaris. I sympathise with his feelings, because in 1978 the former Secretary of State in the previous Administration, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), said that the Labour Government had no plans to develop the Cruise missile or a successor to Polaris. I am pleased, however, that the present Administration are now looking seriously at the question of nuclear strategy. A positive approach is right. I do not believe that it is sensible to delay a decision on the position of Britain's strategic deterrent any longer. The sixth report of the Expenditure Committee spelt out a clear warning in its sixth paragraph, which is a quotation from Mr. Ian Smart of the Royal Institute of International Affairs:

"The planning assumption must be that the existing British force"—
the British Polaris—
"will cease to constitute a reliable deterrent at a date which, for technical reasons, is likely to occur in about 1993. It may seem that 1993 is far away from the point of view of the British deterrent, however, it is very close indeed.…
Britain, if it were to develop and produce the new deterrent force itself, would need up to 13 years to complete the process. When it comes to deciding whether or not to prepare a replacement for the Polaris force, therefore, 1993 is no further away than 1980."
We are on the threshold of 1980 and we know that the hull life of some of the Polaris boats will expire at the end of the next decade. Therefore, if we are to adopt a sea-launched strategic deterrent it is imperative to make an early decision.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South also postulated an increase in the conventional capability of the United Kingdom. That would be welcomed by everybody. However, I do not believe that over a period of 10 to 15 years the modernisation of Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent need preclude reasonable improvements in our conventional capability. For example, by better use of reserve forces we could get better value for money; by more rational European procurement we could reduce our equipment costs; and, perhaps, by a more rational assignment of roles within the Alliance as a whole there could also be savings.

Finally, the hon. Member asked whether deterrence works. One thing that I do know is that in the areas of the world where aggression could have been met by a nuclear response there has, on the whole, been peace, and in the peripheral areas, where the super-Powers have sought political advantage by proxy and where no risk of nuclear exchange has ensued, there has been suffering, misery and war. One has only to look at Cambodia, South-East Asia, Afghanistan and Ethiopia.

I believe that the doctrines of the late Sir John Slessor and others, who advocated a strategic deterrent role for this country, were right. They have ensured our peace in the past and we should now address ourselves seriously to the modernisation of our strategic deterrent.

I believe that strategic deterrence is important for this country, first, because we cannot assume in an era of nuclear parity that the Soviet Union will not use its growing strategic nuclear strength to exert political pressure and nuclear blackmail on other countries. We can never be certain of that, and as members of NATO it is reasonable and right that we should make our own contribution to the overall strategic deterrents of the Western Alliance.

Secondly, we cannot be sure that the interests of the United Kingdom and those of our great friends the United States will be totally identical for ever. Looking ahead over the life of the new strategic nuclear delivery system, it seems possible that in a generation or so there may be different perspectives between us on political issues and on security matters that are of great importance to the people of this country and Western Europe. That in no way diminishes or places a lesser emphasis on the crucial importance to the future of freedom and peace in the Western world as a whole of the relationship between the United States and the European members of the Alliance. However, the strength of the Alliance as a whole is enhanced if both the Europeans and the Americans play their full part, and that includes the strategic nuclear field.

Particularly at this time, we would do well to consider the implications of the United States nuclear guarantee. We all quite rightly welcome the decision that the NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers have taken to enhance the theatre nuclear capability of the Alliance, which is wholly admirable. However, in this country we are conscious of the fact that ultimately the decision whether to use these weapons, after due process of Alliance consultation, will rest with the United States. The great and paramount merit of having a strategic nuclear deterrent in British hands is that ultimately it will be a British Prime Minister who will decide.

Lord Hill-Norton, in his first-class article in The Economist on 15 September, entitled "After Polaris", put the issure more clearly than ever I could. He said:
"The value of Britain's missile submarines to the alliance lies not in their numbers but in the fact that they are a nuclear force committed to the alliance (as yet France's nuclear forces are not yet) with the centre of decision about their use elsewhere than in the hands of an American president.
This increases the uncertainty that would face a Russian leader in deciding whether he could take the risk of using his nuclear weapons either operationally or as an instrument of political threat."
It is this element of uncertainty that is at the heart of the whole concept of deterrence. By making a credible contribution ourselves, we increase the element of uncertainty in the minds of the Soviet policy makers.

I turn to the relative merits of the different systems. I do not claim to be an expert, nor do I decry as vociferously as does the hon. Member for Walsall, South the evidence available to Members of this House. I think that the report of the External Affairs Sub-Committee is an admirable document. There is much in it that merits close study. I do not think that within the constraints of security we could have expected anything better.

I am much taken with the fact that three-quarters of the globe is ocean. I am also conscious of the fact that, for a deterrent to have the maximum effect, one must increase the target able area of a potential adversary. Again, Lord Hill-Norton produced a telling statistic when he said that at a range of 2,500 miles—the range of the existing A3 Polaris missile—an extra mile in range brought an extra 15,000 square miles of target able area. Nor are ballistic missile submarines especially vulnerable. Of course, anti-submarine warfare techniques will improve. But antisubmarine warfare techniques will mean that attack submarines will be just as vulnerable as Poseidon and Trident boats. My view is that the Trident missile constitutes the most cost-effective strategic nuclear weapon for this country.

We could go for intermediate range ballistic missiles, but for an island that is highly populated and has only a small area, and with our potential adversaries in the Warsaw Pact already having a great intermediate range ballistic missile capability of their own in their growing SS20 deployment, I do not think that this would be wise.

I suppose one could look at an air-launched system. But there is no replacement for the V-bomber force as such in the strategic deterrent role. Again, there is merit in looking at the total spectrum of deterrence and nuclear capability. There is merit, too, in ensuring that the Tornado force, which the Royal Air Force will have in the strike role, should be equipped with air-launched Cruise missiles. As Lord Hill-Norton made clear in his article, this is by no means beyond the technical capabilities of the United Kingdom. The French are apparently engaged in a Cruise missile programme of their own, and perhaps we could well consider this project as a joint co-operative one.

What about the cost? I believe that for the Trident force to be effective the United Kingdom must have a minimum of five boats. That would provide two boats permanently on station. Ian Smart, of Chatham House, says that the cost would be between £3,000 million and £4,000 million. I shall not argue over the figures, but I feel that this is a very small insurance to pay for the security of this country well into the next century.

If one looks at the annual cost of BAOR at more than £1,000 million, and the cost of local administrative and communication services in the defence budget of more than £500 million, one realises that the running costs of the present four-boat Polaris force, at £126 million, seem very reasonable. It is a maximum of 2 per cent. of the total defence budget. That is a very reasonable insurance premium. One must recognise that the cost of modernising the British strategic nuclear deterrent will be spread out over a considerable number of years.

I must again turn to Lord Hill-Norton, because his is a classic document of clarity and concise and logical argument. He writes:
"Although these estimates are probably conservative, when spread over a period of 10 to 12 years they average only 4 to 6 per cent. of defence budget of the present order of £8 billion. Even so"—
he rightly admits—
"these are considerable sums, which at the peak of the programme might rise to some 6 to 8 per cent. of the total defence budget."
That is true. But we spend £19,000 million per annum on social security, and the figure is rising. We also spend about £3,000 million per annum on servicing the Government's debt. In other words, it costs us as much to pay for our past profligacy as it would cost over the next eight to 10 years to pay for our future security. It ill behoves this country to have a set of priorities that puts past profligacy before future security.

These are most urgent and important matters. The1957 White Paper on defence marked a turning point in British defence strategy. It was the point at which we consciously decided to move from a system of conscription to a system of all-Regular volunteer forces and, as a concomitant of those, to a posture of deterrence. We were to become for the next generation a strategic nuclear Power. The first stage was the V-bomber force, the Valiant, the Vulcan and the Victor, followed by Polaris.

With hindsight, I do not believe that the decision was wrong. It meant that we assumed, on behalf of the Alliance and on behalf of the people of this country, a responsibility in nuclear matters that other European members of the Alliance, except the French, did not assume. That was a special position that we undertook.

I do not believe that this is an appropriate time for us, either consciously or by refusing to take decisions to make the necessary financial sacrifices, to become the first strategic nuclear Power to opt out of the business of strategic nuclear deterrence, particularly in the increasingly dangerous and uncertain world in which we have to live.

3.7 am

I listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). Like all his speeches on these subjects, it was well researched and thoughtful. I seek only to tackle one aspect, namely, his call for greater public discussion and a wider forum of debate on the replacement of our nuclear deterrent.

It may be unpopular for me to say that I believe that this is a singularly inappropriate subject for the House of Commons to discuss. There are two levels at which the matter could be discussed. The general level is the question whether we should or should not have a successor as an independent nuclear deterrent. The more detailed level is the question of the form that the deterrent should take and the rival merits of the different weapons systems on offer.

The hon. Gentleman cited examples of where discussion has taken place in great depth, namely, in the United States and parts of the European Continent. It seems to me that, if anything, the effect has been to muddy the waters, delay decisions and probably retard the whole process, with no benefit to the defence capabilities of the countries where these discussions have taken place. It is easy to see why. Following an election, primary defence decisions are entrusted to the Cabinet of the party that wins the election, it being assumed, as invariably happens, that during the election that party has made clear its attitude to defence and that the electorate has decided that that party shall form the Government for the next five years.

If we throw these decisions open in general terms to this Chamber or to other for a of discussion, we are open to every kind of pressure group, publicity seeker, amateur strategist or half-professional journalist who gets hold of some facts, not all, and presents a picture biased in one direction or another. The public, whom the hon. Member for Walsall, South seeks to enlighten, are more likely to have their faculties blurred by the plethora of conflicting evidence of the differing pressure groups, cries of conscience, expediency, and so on, to which they will be subjected. That is at the general level.

Questions of detail are outside the ken of the House. A large proportion of them are covered by security matters. The best parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech were those in which he quoted from the Prime Minister's letter in reply to him.

The technical details that we would have to master if we were to apply ourselves rationally and productively to the appropriate successor system would not, for security reasons, be at our disposal. Therefore, we must accept that, following an election, the Government of the day make these decisions in conference with whatever expert evidence they summon, and that is that.

I know that the "Panorama" programme, much cited by the hon. Gentleman and others, is threshing around and citing literally half-baked evidence. It must be half-baked, because it cannot get its cake into the oven. Even if it could, it would not know how to operate the dials. Of course, that can sometimes make people think that they are obtaining a mastery of a subject that, in my view, is outside their grasp.

At the end, the hon. Gentleman gave the show away, because, although he presented his argument in depth and very well, we all know that he is opposed to the concept of our having an independent nuclear deterrent. I have heard him on this subject from time to time in the Chamber. He is always lucid and, by his lights, reasonably persuasive, but we know that he is opposed to it. Even if we had the capacity to debate this matter on the scale that he would like, I doubt whether many people would find that their opinions were altered at the end of the day.

The hon. Gentleman has fully earned the title of the hon. Member for the ancien regime, which I read in one newspaper. That is not meant maliciously. In that article your argument was incredibly elitist and you were, in effect, saying that neither the House nor the public has the competence to assimilate the arguments. As regards the argument that you entrust a Government with power to make decisions, looking at the Conservative Party's manifesto, I see no indication—

Order. In an intervention the hon. Gentleman should address to the hon. Member who has the Floor some comment that requires an answer.

Are you being elitist, or over-elitist, in assuming that only a few people have the competence to make this decision?

I had in fact concluded my speech and had not meant to detain the House longer. However, I am prepared to treat that as an intervention. The hon. Gentleman was asking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I assume he meant to ask me whether I was an elitist. Of course I am an elitist, and I am glad to admit to being an elitist.

3.15 am

The House is glad to have had the opportunity of the debate. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) for introducing the issue, and for the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark).

The drift of the hon. Gentleman's speech was the need for debate in the House on the whole subject. He knows that, in principle, I agree with that and wish to have such a debate. His speech was also concerned with the principle of the strategic deterrent rather than the cost of it, which was the advertised subject for the debate. I make no complaint about that, but that was the drift of his speech. He spoke a great deal about uncertainty—I will deal with that in a moment—and that is important. He went out of his way to air every possible doubt and to fan uncertainty. He quoted various press articles and programmes, and he presented to the House a case that was at least tendentious, if not misleading. He did not mean necessarily to do that, but that was its effect.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood said, the hon. Gentleman raised the whole question of nuclear strategy. I am not sure, at this hour of night and in these circumstances, that it is the appropriate moment to deploy the entire case, as it is an extremely important issue. That strategy, supported as it has been by Governments of both parties, has worked, in the sense that it has prevented war and preserved peace in Europe—at any rate, it has played its part in contributing to that, although it is not the sole reason for preserving peace in Europe. I would certainly say, and I think the House would be of the opinion, that it was a major contributory factor.

Against that background, and in the context of the knowledge that Polaris, our present strategic deterrent, will come to the end of its useful life in the 1990s, surely it is entirely right that the Government should give its future and continuance the most careful and profound consideration, which is what we are doing. My hon. Friend for Ruislip-Northwood used the phrase "he total spectrum of deterrent capability". That is precisely what I and the Government have been deeply concerned with following our election in May.

Listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech, I had some regret in having been so forthcoming and frank about the consideration that we are giving to the matter. I think that I have the agreement of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton in saying that. I am here tonight, rather unusually for a Secretary of State, precisely because I mind about the argument and precisely because it is an important matter, which affects the lives not only of British citizens but of those who live in the countries of our allies.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of a mania for secrecy. On the contrary, I have tried to lead the argument from in front for the last two or three months. Every week I have made a substantial speech about the thinking behind nuclear strategy, whatever view one takes about it, in order to try to create a public debate.

I know that the hon. Gentleman would disagree, but I think that on the whole there is abroad acceptance of the argument underlying the nuclear strategic argument in the United Kingdom. We have lived with it for a long time. I certainly do not find the public debate irritating, as the hon. Gentleman suggested—quite the contrary. I have tried to lead it from in front. I might have said nothing for three months and waited for people to come back at me, but far from doing that I have tried to present the reasoning in a positive way. I should have liked a parliamentary debate. I still hope that we shall have one. There has been nothing hole-and-corner about my attitude to the matter, and it is no less than fair that that should be said.

There has been a greater deal of public information. I have tried to help the discussion about the modernisation of theatre nuclear forces which occurred last week. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have said many times that we are considering profoundly what the future of our strategic system will be.

The hon. Member alleged that the uncertainty exists. Of course, a decision on this matter will end uncertainty. Until that decision is taken, there will be uncertainty. The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. He referred to timing and cost. In trying to excite a public debate and deploy the arguments, one, in a sense, increases the uncertainty. The way to end uncertainty is not to have a public debate but to take a decision and end the uncertainty. I have tried not to do that, because it matters to carry not only this House but the British people with us. That is why I have sought to present the arguments, whether or not people agree with them.

There is no timetable. These are very big issues. The 1990s are over 10 years away. We have to make a judgment. We have thought it right, as a Government, not to rush in suddenly but to examine the various possible options with the utmost care and to form our views, in time, of course, for the consequences of any decision that we take to enable whatever system we decide to use to be produced in time, but, subject only to that, to examine the options with the greatest care. If we were to postpone that process, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, we should be continuing the very uncertainty of which he complains. So we are attempting, in a sensible and civilised way, to look at all the options most carefully before we come to a decision.

The hon. Member was frank in ackknowledging that it would be wrong to ask this or any other Government to put upon the table any matters or information that could be regarded as secret and relevant to national security. I am grateful for his acknowledgment of that fact. But, subject to that, I want the greatest possible discussion about the matter. We shall take our decision in the next few months, which is a fairly vague phrase but is indicative of the sort of time scale that we have in mind. It will enable us to assess the relative and comparative issues about the options available to us.

That brings me to the question of cost. That is clearly a major factor in the decision that we have to take. Equally clearly, the cost will vary according to which option is chosen. There is inevitably, at the moment, a high degree of inaccuracy about the relative figures, because the programmes that have to be costed must be examined very carefully. But we must remember that of all the major weapons systems that have been put into service with the British Forces, the one that has varied least from its estimated cost before it was embarked upon has been Polaris, because it was an existing system. Whether that will apply to its successor remains to be seen. It depends on the option.

It is extremely unhelpful and misleading to give currency to wild figures, such as 7 per cent. of the defence budget, when no decision has been taken. Even if some of the figures bandied about—whether £4 billion or £5 billion—for the total capital cost are true, and those figures are not wildly wrong, whatever the option, they are not so enormous when seen as a proportion of the total defence budget. Obviously it is an enormous sum of money, but it is not uniquely expensive for a defence project. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood referred to the Tornado programme. That is more expensive.

One needs to keep the matter in proportion. As any major weapons system is spread over a number of years, so was Polaris and so will be its successor system. So far, Polaris has cost less than 5 per cent. of the defence budget per annum over its life. Its current expenditure—its running costs—is l½ per cent. of the defence budget. Its capital cost has been paid for. I cannot predict whether the successor will be more or less, but it will be of the order of one-twentieth of the defence budget.

We must also remember that expenditure on strategic nuclear forces has been a permanent regular part of our defence spending for 30 years. It is not new. Every major weapons system, with its replacement, has been a regular part of defence spending—and that will be true of the successor to the Polaris system. The proportion of the budget that we spend on a successor is likely to be much smaller than the proportion of the defence budget allocated to the V-bomber force when that was introduced in the 1950s. One must get these matters in perspective.

In terms of the addition to deterrents, the Polaris force has represented good value for money and has made its contribution to the preservation of peace. It is the Government's view that the same will be true of the successor. There will not be total reliance on it, because the nuclear threshold must not be lowered. That is the importance of our conventional strengths. We must not allow the Alliance to lower its nuclear threshold, because the object of the exercise is never to use the deterrent but to let it represent a threat of such a magnitude that no potential aggressor would be prepared to enter an argument in the first place.

That is probably as much as it is appropriate to say at this hour of the morning, but I hope that I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised in the debate.

The right hon. Gentleman is not going to say—is he—that because the debate has taken place with only a thin attendance the House should therefore not debate the issues? Will he take the opportunity to make clear that as soon as we come back from the recess there will be a major debate?

The hon. Gentleman is one of the most assiduous attenders of all hon. Members. However, had he been present at the beginning of my remarks he would have heard me say that I did not take that view. He knows that I have taken such a view from the outset. I acknowledge the problems that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has had. I have not made anything remotely like a major speech on the strategic argument, but I have tried to take up some of the issues that have properly been raised by the hon. Member for Walsall, South. I am here in person because I think that the whole issue matters so much.

I hope that in the fullness of time—at the end of what I hope the House will come to recognise as a most careful and thorough appreciation of all the problems—there will be a sound conclusion in the recommendation, whatever it is. I have no idea what it will be. I have no idea when it will come to a recommendation. I assure the House that the utmost care and trouble is being taken by us to try to reach what is, in our judgment, in the national interest and the best for the nation, neither making too much of it nor minimising it.

I shall deploy the arguments when I get the opportunity in the House. In the fullness of time I shall announce our decision. Naturally, when that is done the matter will be fully debated.

Fishing Industry

3.32 am

Even at this late or early hour, I welcome the opportunity that the debate provides to discuss some of the many problems currently facing the fishing industry. We have not had a comprehensive debate on the fishing industry for almost six months. My memory tells me that the last debate of that description took place on 26 July. It is a good thing for the House, for the Minister and for the industry that at intervals no more widely spaced than six months we have a chance to discuss in a general way what is happening to the industry and what we would like to see the Government do to improve its current prospects.

I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member or Banff (Mr. Myles) in the Chamber to give his support. I am also pleased to see in their places the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). I hope that the presence of the hon. Member for Grimsby betokens the fact that the long-established bipartisan policy on these matters is to be continued. If we had problems with the support of individuals, we would have insoluble problems with a fragmented House.

Everyone in the House is well aware that the fishing industry is in an extremely gloomy position. Unfortunately, that is not recognised by everybody outside the Chamber. It is the view of some hon. Members that it is facing an apocalypse. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West (Mr. Johnson) made an interesting contribution to a debate in Committee. He thought that fishing in Hull might be finished within 12 months. That may be an over-gloomy view but it indicates the gravity that those who know a great deal about the industry attach to their consideration of it.

There has been a substantial loss of waters off Faroes, Iceland and Norway. In the past five years we have seen about 45,000 jobs lost to the fishing industry on the sea and on the land. We have had to endure the confusion and turmoil of the common fisheries policy, or the lack of a satisfactory policy. There is also the tremendous and tragic reduction in the size of the fleet.

Perhaps I can exemplify what I mean when I speak of the reduction in the size of the fleet by describing the situation in Aberdeen. About 10 years ago there were about 140 vessels that belong to members of the Aberdeen Fishing Vessel Owners Association. In January this year the total had shrunk to 69, and since January it has shrunk further, to 42. That decline from 140 to about 40 vessels within less than 10 years is in itself a graphic indication of the decline of the industry.

I need say no more in sketching out the gravity of the situation, and I make one reference now to the common fisheries policy. On this, perhaps the only occasion when the issue of the common fisheries policy is not done to death in debate, I would say that we are extremely glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made absolutely clear before the Dublin summit that there was no way in which the fishing industry would be traded off against any reductions in our net contribution to the European Community.

We are glad about that. We welcome the stand which, very early on, my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friends took, but perhaps he could quieten the fears now being expressed that, that stand having been taken at the Dublin summit and it being reported that at the Dublin summit and subsequently the Germans and others have been saying that oil should be thrown into the next negotiations over the Community budget, per- haps fish also would be thrown into them, after the firm stand taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Will my hon. Friend make absolutely clear that the pledge that was given about any trade-off of the fishing industry applies not just to the Dublin summit but to the next and any subsequent summits, our case on Britain's part in the common fisheries policy being one of simple justice, not to be bargained away for anything else?

I come now to some of the problems that we face in Aberdeen. I recognise that on one of them my hon. Friend the Minister of State does not have direct responsibility, it being a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I hope that he will pass on any points that he feels he cannot deal with now.

One difficulty in Aberdeen is the extent to which the fishing industry is competing with the oil industry. The fact that this matter has been aired in the House before does not mean that it is not a continuing problem. It is twofold. First, it concerns wages. Before oil came to Aberdeen, wages there were below the national average. Since oil came they have been above the national average. In many ways that is excellent, but it puts considerable problems on the fishing industry.

The other major difficulty which oil has brought is that the marine back-up service which the fishing industry expects is not there in the way it was. There are delays because oil vessels or oil needs are being cared for and, what is more, the cost, reacting to the money which the oil industry can afford, is much greater. So the oil industry, boon and blessing as it has been, on balance, has nevertheless brought substantial problems to the fishing industry.

I come now to a matter properly for the Secretary of State for Scotland, namely, the question of Aberdeen receiving the same or similar aid to that given in 1978 to Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood. The authorities in Aberdeen put in a very reasoned submission to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland but have not yet received an affirmative response. I hear that Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood are thinking of applying for more aid, before Aberdeen has received any aid. Perhaps the hon. Member for Grimsby will confirm that. The Secretary of State should confirm that Aberdeen will receive aid on the same basis as that given to Hull, Fleetwood and Grimsby.

The third point to which I shall briefly refer—it could be elaborated at much greater length on another occasion—is the effect upon Aberdeen of the dock labour scheme. Aberdeen is the only port in Scotland that feels the effects of the scheme. Whatever the scheme's merits, it works to the detriment of the fishing industry in Aberdeen. I accept that fishing is not the only factor in the perspective. This weekend I was told of a skipper who landed at Peter head and paid £17 for the labour that he needed to land his fish. He worked out that that same labour would have cost £350 in Aberdeen. That is the differential. That is why everybody in Aberdeen to whom I have spoken about this matter agrees that substantial amounts of fishing trade have left Aberdeen. The Government must reconsider the effect upon the fishing industry in Aberdeen of the workings of the dock labour scheme.

If the only way to mitigate the ill effects is to have voluntary redundancies, I hope that the Government can help with that matter. This is a considerable financial matter, as each redundancy is likely to cost between £5,000 and £7,000.

The fourth point is not confined to Aberdeen. I refer to the cost of fuel, which at the moment is about £120 a ton. It is likely to go up by another £20 or £30 next month. That adds an enormous burden to an industry that is already crippled by the effects of the oil industry upon wages and the much lower throughput of fish at the port, the dock labour scheme and the lack of aid to Aberdeen, although aid has been given to other ports in the United Kingdom. The fact that we must pay high prices for our fuel is especially galling when we read reports of the French Government subsidising the French fishing industry by allowing it to obtain its fuel at enormously reduced prices. I have heard £40 a ton quoted. There is no way in which we can pay three times as much as the French fishing industry and still hope to remain competitive.

I mentioned four points—the problems of the oil industry; the aid that Hull. Fleetwood and Grimsby receive; the dock labour scheme; and the cost of fuel—which add up to a strong case for Aberdeen's having a special needs allowance to help her through this extremely difficult period.

I hope that it will be possible to set up an early meeting between representatives of the industry in Aberdeen, the Department responsible and the Scottish Office.

One other general point that is much discussed at the moment is the question of restructuring of the fleet. Proposals were made to the previous and present Governments. So far we have had little reaction from either Government. The Government's normal answer is "We must wait until the common fisheries policy is settled. We can decide nothing until that is settled."

Up to a point, of course, we all accept that nothing can be decided finally until we know what the potential of the fleet will be, but, having said that, it is a fact that other Common Market countries that will also be affected by the outcome of the common fisheries policy renegotiations are already restructuring their fleets. They are injecting confidence and boosting the morale of their fishermen. That boost comes from the realisation by their Governments that there is a serious problem about what the size and the shape of the industry should be in future.

Other fleets are getting this morale booster, while our fleet is not. Although we are not consciously restructuring the fleet, it is being restructured by default. I quote the decline in the number of vessels in Aberdeen alone, from 140 to 40within nine or 10 years. That shows that the fleet is being restructured. I hope that the Government will not delay until the common fisheries policy is settled before doing something further.

We hope that the policy will be settled by next July, August or September, but we have all heard the story many times before. Many in the fishing industry would not be surprised—though they would be disappointed, certainly—if the common fisheries policy were not finally settled next year. We cannot go on putting off the restructuring of the fleet. At least the initial discussions between the Government and the industry on proposals already put forward should not be put off any longer.

I turn to the issue of cheap foreign imports and particularly their relationship to subsidies on foreign—especially Common Market—fleets. I have never had a satisfactory answer to my questions about the situation that obtained in Aberdeen until October—it may start up again—whereby fish landed in Dutch ports from Dutch vessels were taken to the South of England and then transported by lorry to Aberdeen to be offered there at a cheaper price than fish landed from our own vessels. That argues a considerable system of subsidy by the Dutch Government.

When I have put forward arguments about the subsidy for French fuel and, by implication, for Dutch fish, my hon. Friend has previously said very fairly—I do not quibble—that the fishing industry should find out exactly what was going on. However, we cannot expect Aberdeen fishermen to find out what the German or Dutch Governments are doing to subsidise their fleets. Our fishermen may occasionally be able to find out what French fuel costs are. There may be one or two things that they can find out but it must be up to the Government and their representatives overseas to find out exactly what is happening.

Perhaps we will never compare with the £100 million a year subsidy that, I understand, the Norwegian Government give to their fishing industry. The French Government, I understand, will increase their subsidy to the fishing industry next year by 37 per cent. I am not even sure that that does not exclude the subsidy on fuel. I understand that it is mainly a subsidy for the 100 vessels concerned, the fish marketing organisations, and the various incentives for building and scrapping.

In West Germany it appears—I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend says about this—that the Government make special payments for what are euphemistically called unfamiliar species in unfamiliar grounds. It is widely believed in the British fishing industry that although those payments are given for unfamiliar species in unfamiliar grounds the fish concerned are familiar species from familiar grounds. Those payments are really operating subsidies to the German fishing industry.

The Germans have scrapping premiums, which we do not have. The Netherlands have scrapping premiums and laying-up premiums. The Danes have laying-up premiums and give rebates on the interest on loans to fishermen. That adds up to a substantial if hard to pin down web of subsidies for our competitors. The fishing industry in Aberdeen does not ask for anything more than is available in the rest of the United Kingdom. Similarly, the United Kingdom industry does not ask for more than our competitors get.

We simply ask that within the Common Market the level of subsidy be eradicated, because it represents unfair competition. Let us have the same facilities. Let us compete on all fours. The fishing industry does not want any unfair or special help. It wants justice in order to overcome its considerable problems.

3.51 am

We have had many fisheries debates, some of which have taken place during the day, some at midnight, and some at an even later hour than this. The characters do not change much. There are changes in personnel, but the major parts are played by the same people. We have tried hard to change the person who plays the character of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), but we have never quite succeeded. Perhaps that is one cheerful prospect to which I can look forward at this time in the morning.

It is difficult to be other than gloomy about the fishing industry. We are not to be compared with the little boy who cried "Wolf". Everything that we have said about the difficulties facing the fishing fleets has come true. We find that their plight has become worse each time we discuss this matter. The statistics on the decline of the trawling fleet in Aberdeen make grim reading.

My figures and those quoted by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South may not tally, because vessels other than those that he mentioned sail out of Aberdeen. Currently, 53 trawlers sail from the port, compared to 80 at the beginning of the year and 115 in 1975. Currently, 520 crewing jobs are available. At the beginning of the year there were 850 and in 1975 1,200 crewing jobs. Those figures represent a considerable loss of jobs for the people who sail our trawlers.

Aberdeen is said not to have many unemployment problems compared with the rest of the country, but there is still a substantial loss of jobs. Currently, 6,112 fishing industry jobs are available compared with 8,606 four years ago. That is a big drop, although perhaps not as big a drop as might be expected, given the fall in the size of the fleet and the fewer jobs available.

Much of the shortfall has been met by imported fish.

However, imported fish does not provide all the answers for the processors and those with jobs on land. Severe problems face the industry. Sometimes one must remember why the industry faces such difficulties. The British trawling industry newsheet of 3 December this year referred specifically to the major problems—loss of fishing grounds and catching capacity, and a reduction in potential.

It stated that
"Iceland was lost three years ago, although the Belgians still fish there and the EEC gives the Icelanders very generous tariff concessions to exploit the Community market (which is mostly the UK); Canadian waters provide scarcely enough for one trawler trip (although the EEC has gained much better treatment for the French and the Germans); Greenland is closed for (legal) cod fishing; the Faroes are unfishable, despite an EEC Agreement (out of which the French and the Germans have done very nicely), due to moves ranging from unilateral closures of key fishing areas to outright gunboat harassment, leaving the port of Aberdeen struggling for survival and the Faroes laughing at the fact that the British have been able to catch less than 4 per cent. of the fish taken by Faroese vessels in UK waters."
That highlights very clearly the unfortunate way in which the whole Faroes agreement has been reached, in that we are quite unable to take the catch we are allowed because of a number of restrictions on mesh size, the areas where we can catch, different closures, and so forth.

The matter has caused great concern over a broad spectrum of opinion that normally would not coalesce into any sort of unified or similar view. Indeed, a meeting was held in Aberdeen on 23 November which was initiated by the City of Aberdeen district council, at which it was decided that a meeting with the Secretary of State for Scotland should be sought and that the issue of the difficulties of fishing and what can be done to improve the situation should be raised with the Prime Minister and, indeed, with the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Apart from the City of Aberdeen district council, there were representatives of the Aberdeen Fishing Vessel Owners Association Limited, the Aberdeen Fish Curers and Merchants Association Limited, the White Fish Authority, the Aberdeen Inshore Fish Selling Company Limited, the Aberdeen Trawl Officers Guild, the Aberdeen Harbour Board, the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, the Aberdeen Trades Council, the Aberdeen Ice Company Limited, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, the Scottish White Fish Producers Association and the General and Municipal Workers' Union. Here we see a broad coalition of industry, of commerce and of those employed in the fishing industry coming together to express their serious concern.

One of the main concerns is where exactly we are going in relation to the common fisheries policy. People often refer to a lack of a common fisheries policy, but we have to emphasise continually that there is a common fisheries policy. It may not be in a operation to the full extent, but the EEC has a common fisheries policy. It is a fisheries policy that was cobbled together only days before we joined the EEC, with one aim in view. That aim has been adhered to rigidly by the people that we call our partners in the EEC. That single aim was to get maximum access to fish in United Kingdom waters. That is what it was all about. It was nothing to do with conservation. It was nothing to do with having rational fishing arrangements. It was nothing to do with marketing. It was nothing to do with the consumer. It was simply to allow those nations—which by their predatory fishing methods had ruined their own grounds—to gain access to the fish that swim in our waters. That was its sole purpose.

Over the many years that we have tried to renegotiate the common fisheries policy, we have met at all times rigid refusal to understand how important fishing is to certain parts of Britain. It is true that the fishing industry is a small part of the totality of our industry. We must accept that. It may be small in comparison with the farming industry—the other industry which produces food for the consumer—but it is a very important part of industry in Aberdeen and the North-East of Scotland.

I know that if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will be able to tell you how important fishing is to his part of the world. It plays a very important part indeed. We have to stand up and tell our partners in the EEC that we shall not give way on any of the requirements essential to satisfy our needs.

I would not go so far as to say that the Minister of State is in a unique historic position, but very few people in history have had the opportunity to redeem themselves in the way in which he has. The hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the Scottish Office at the time when we joined the EEC—at the time when this agreement was cobbled together—and he accepted the assurances that were given then that our partners were amenable to change, and they gave assurances that between then and 1982 changes in the arrangements would be made to suit us. Had that really been the purpose, this agreement need not have been cobbled together. The Minister of State is now in the position of being able to redeem himself.

I do not want at any time of the morning to disturb the bipartisan relationship that we have had in the House over the years. It has at times been a bit shaky. There were times when my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) was challenged for being too robust. I do not think that one could ever accuse the Minister of State of being too robust. However, he and his right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland must stiffen their resolve with regard to their approach.

They must get tough. It is no use being charming and saying "We shall work it out nice and friendly." We must get tough, because it is quite clear that no assurances have been met. Unless we really say that we mean business, we shall get nowhere. We must be very quick about that, because that is where the difficulties of the CFP become more urgent as time goes on. 1982 is not all that far away. It is only 13 or 14 months before we could be faced with the full rigours of the CFP.

I hope that the Minister of State will say that there will be no going back on the assurances that were given to the fishing industry by successive Governments. I cannot recall whether the hon. Gentleman was a signatory, but I hope that he will remember the famous—or infamous, depending on one's point of view—telegram that was sent out about two days before the general election, when Conservatives in and around the North-East of Scotland began to panic. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South feared that he would not hold his seat, and others were frightened that they would not regain their seats from the Scottish National Party. They sent a sudden telegram to the then Leader of the Opposition stating that the Conservative Party must have a fisheries policy. We have been told all these years that it has had one, but the only one it ever had was ours, and that was to stand up for our interests in the Common Market. However, I hope that the Minister will remember the pledges that were given to the fishing industry about the CFP.

In some senses, the most immediate problem facing us is the question of access to the Faroes. The Minister of State will recall that I wrote to him on 5 November, when I raised a number of points, especially with regard to access to the Faroes and the way in which the Faroese, by insisting on very large mesh sizes, were making it most difficult, if not impossible, for us to take up the quota that was agreed.

The Minister replied to me on 23 November, when he said:
"We have made clear to the Faroese and to the EEC Commission, who are responsible for conducting negotiations with third countries, that unless conditions of fishing at Faroe are substantially eased in 1980 we shall not be prepared to countenance anything approaching the present scale of Faroese fishing in British waters".
That was a very strong statement indeed. It was even stronger than the assurances that I was given in April, 1978 by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), who was then the Scottish Office Minister responsible for agriculture. Yet a report in the Preston Journal of 11 December appeared some days later under the heading "Little progress at EEC talks" and saying that
"A Scottish Office spokesman admitted yesterday that 'little progress' was made at Friday's talks aimed at working out a reciprocal fishing deal with the EEC for next year and a question mark now clearly hangs over participation by Aberdeen and other UK trawlers in the Farces grounds next year…The feeling is that Friday's talks stayed far away from specifics and the UK trawling industry will now have to consider carefully their next move as the Faroese representatives made it so 'abundantly clear' that there would be no improved access conditions for Aberdeen and other UK trawlers next year."
Is that accurate? If so, it means that the strong words used by the Minister in the letter to me of 23 November have been passed by and washed over.

The report continues:
"However, what might influence Faroese opinion is the possibility of reduced access to UK mackerel stocks because of a poor reciprocal deal for the UK fleet, as the Faroese have a strong interest in the mackerel shoals."
I am not sure that restriction of such access will have a big influence with the Faroese. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has issued restrictive licensing arrangements for mackerel fishing off the South Coast. Do the Faroese fish there? Is any attempt to be made to restrict their access? It is no use saying that the November meeting was talked off and the likelihood is that the February meeting will be talked off and the matter will be passed over. Urgent action is required.

I am astonished every time I hear the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South crying out for the fishing industry—especially since I know that many of his friends in the industry share his political views. Every time I meet them they complain bitterly about the amount of money used for State subsidy and intervention. However, when it comes to the fishing industry they all want it. I have said that privately and I have no objection to saying it publicly. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South is in danger of catching schizophrenia. He bawls and shouts about people getting money for nothing and he is against aid for industry, yet there are certain times when he makes a powerful case—with which I agree—for aid for the fishing industry. He does his case no good by his inconsistency.

The problems of the fishing industry in Aberdeen will not be reduced by the union-bashing that the hon. Gentleman displayed tonight. It is grossly unfair to say that one of Abredeen's big problems is the dock labour scheme and that there must be voluntary redundancies. There will be no improvement in landings if there are redundancies of any sort. The hon. Member should know the volatile nature of the fishing industry. He should know that people have gone through periods of depression. If he does not understand the problems of docklands, he should not drag—this was not meant to be a dreadful pun but I now realise that it is—red herrings into the matter Let us have no talk about redundancies if they can be avoided. Landing difficulties will not be removed by withdrawing the dock labour scheme or by the threat of compulsory voluntary redundancies.

I wish to raise one other matter with the Minister, although I know that he has it very much in mind, as we have spoken of it on other occasions. We must remain optimistic that we shall achieve a common fisheries policy that takes our needs into account. When that happens, it will need to be policed. When are we likely to have a decision on the new mark II offshore patrol vessel, designed by Paul Russell and Company, a shipyard in my constituency? How many vessels do the Government have in mind, how soon do they want them, and, most importantly, when will the decision be taken on the design so that orders can proceed? I know that certain problems have to be resolved, so I do not press the Minister too hard tonight, but I believe that in this debate I should give him a gentle prod and remind him that we should move ahead as quickly as possible.

The fishing industry will never return to its former glory, with large numbers of vessels going to sea and large numbers of men employed. That way of life has been destroyed by the passage of time and changing conditions, and not by Government action, but we must try to preserve what remains. The industry provides employment for the men who go to sea and those who process the fish once they are landed.

The need to restructure the industry is bedevilled by the common fisheries policy. On a number of occasions I raised with the previous Government the need for a White Paper on the industry so that we could see the options and plan ahead, which would enable us, even in these days of uncertainty, at least to have some idea where we were going. It was said that that was not possible because it would display our negotiating hand and make it difficult for us to drive a hard bargain.

I hope that we shall drive a hard bargain. I also hope that serious discussion is taking place in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Whitehall, so that as soon as the matter is settled plans for restructuring the industry can be announced. We need to know what assistance there will be for building, so that we can give a boost to the industry.

It will not be good enough, when a common fisheries policy is achieved, for the Government to sit back and relax. It should be a time of maximum vigilance and the industry will need the maximum boost to become profitable, not just for the owners—in some respects they are of secondary importance—but to provide jobs at decent rates of pay for all connected with it.

In fishing ports we sometimes say this almost as an aside, but it is also important to have an industry that provides fish for people to eat at a price that they can afford. There is no point in catching fish if they cannot be sold to consumers to enjoy, and that is of vital concern to us all.

4.13 am

I rise with a feeling of added responsibility after the tragic events of last week, which were highlighted in the question answered yesterday.

The fishing industry is one that hitherto I knew little about, although I have twice been out on a fishing boat—on one occasion for almost a week, when I experienced a force 8 gale—so I feel that I know something about the subject.

I enjoyed the bipartisan asides of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). I feel that I have responsibility for the smaller fishing ports of Scotland, such as Buckie, Macduff, White mills and other communities along the Moray coast, such as Port Gordon, Cullen, Portsoy and Portessie. One of my predecessors, Sir William Duthie, came from Portessie. I feel responsible for the men who fish out of Peterhead and Fraserburgh and follow the shoals around to the West Coast and possibly down to Cornwall.

There is much that concerns these hardy, independent men at present. They understand the need for conservation of stocks and they realise that there must be discipline. They welcome the discipline of the pout box. However, fishermen alone must not be required to bear the burden of conservation. The fish-eating public must realise that the law of supply and demand applies in this case. If decreasing quotas are applied, the price of fish must rise to spread the load and ensure that the fishermen can meet the ever-increasing costs of their gear, oil and interest charges.

If the market is distorted by imports flooding in from countries that are not so concerned about conservation, there is no way in which the fishermen can meet their commitments and pay off their debts. Imports have increased massively this year. I dug out a few details with the help of a Library assistant. Cod imports were up from 37,561 tons in 1973 to 49,025 tons this year—an increase of 30 per cent. Haddock imports were up from 4,572 tons in 1978 to 8,266 tons in 1979—an increase of 80 per cent. We must not push our fishermen too hard. I hope that that is not what happened to the young skipper and crew of the ill-fated "Ocean Monarch".

The Government's ideas for fish quotas in the North Sea for 1980 are 12 cwt. each of whiting and haddock per man per week, and no restriction initially on cod. On the West Coast the quotas are 18 cwt. for haddock and 12 cwt. for whiting, and, once again, no restriction on cod landings. I have talked to fishermen who believe that the quotas should be more than that and that they should be the same for both sectors. At present fishermen are landing, on the West Coast, whiting that presumably come from the North Sea. This is distorting the figures on which the scientists base their findings. It is not giving a true picture of the whiting stocks in the North Sea.

If the proposed Government quotas and the differentials of 18 cwt from the West Coast and 12 cwt from the North Sea were imposed, everyone would be landing haddock, saying that they had been caught in the West when they may have been caught in the North Sea.

The other control that fishermen feel strongly should be imposed is that quotas should be imposed for a fortnight, with no back catch or forward catch transfers or allowances. It should be noted that the fishermen themselves are suggesting controls, regulations, quotas and conservation. They feel that there could be a fortnight, from Saturday to Saturday. A boat could go out and catch its full quota in a day, but it would then have to tie up for the rest of the fortnight. The boat could not go on fishing and transfer the catch to a forward period, or transfer it to a back period.

The fishermen also believe that the Government should pay attention to the majority view rather than keeping regulations that suit a minority but are detrimental to fisheries as a whole. The majority will not accept voluntary catch control if that control is not imposed for a minority section.

The white fish catchers are concerned that the big boats will come from the South and perhaps catch all the cod by pair trawling before August. There could be no cod quota left. The Government would have to impose a quota because the total allowable catch would have been taken, leaving no cod for the white fish catchers after August, when the southern boats depart. The fishermen feel, in other words, that a cod quota should be imposed from the start. There is a feeling that boats with larger engines should perhaps be allowed a larger quota. I accept that this would be difficult to introduce.

There must be a tightening up of "ashore" crews. Every crew member for whom a catch quota is allocated must have been to sea and sailed with the boat. This can be checked through the officers who pay the men. Only men who are paid on a voyage should be taken into account for a catch quota.

If all those tightening-up restrictions were implemented, fishermen believe that the quotas proposed by the Government could be substantially raised. They also feel that for the first three months, anyway, there should be a combined quota of haddock and whiting, so that fishermen catch what is in the net and not, as at present, catch perhaps 30boxes of whiting in order to get six boxes of haddock and then have to throw the whiting back. They believe that this is neither conservation nor common sense and that it is doing no good for the fisheries.

The fishermen are a little concerned about the transfer of fish from one boat to another, whereby boxes are transferred between a boat that has not caught its quota and its neighbour that has over-caught, the money then being transferred back to the actual catcher. This anomaly should be removed.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State will require the wisdom of Solomon to find solutions. I ask only that he thinks on those things.

4.25 am

I welcome this debate on the fishing industry, but my feelings about the hour at which it is taking place—4.25 am—are possibly unprintable. The hour may be symbolic of the status of fishing, particularly as regards debates in the House.

The weakness of the fishing industry looms large in a few places. Nationally, it is a comparatively small industry, making a comparatively small contribution to our gross national product. The result is that Members of Parliament representing constituencies with fishing interests tend to become voices crying in the wilderness—or in the early hours of the morning. Indeed, I feel somewhat like a reversed somnambulist talking in other people's sleep. "Somnambulist" is not the right word, perhaps, but I will leave that image.

I share the prevailing concern of previous speakers about the future of the industry, yet there are bright aspects to the picture. One is the success of the port of Grimsby in fighting back from the disasters that hit the port a few years ago and maintaining itself as a vigorous and effective fishing port. It has been a major success in the face of serious body blows. The loss of fishing in Icelandic waters was the most tragic blow. The curtailment of catches in Norwegian and Russian waters, and now in Faroese waters, was another serious blow. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) noted that we are allowed to take from their waters only 4 per cent. of the catches that they are taking from our waters. That situation must be rectified by the exclusion of Faroese catches in our waters.

The loss of catches in distant waters was more or less inevitable as nations extended their fishing waters to 200 miles. Our tragedy was not so much the loss of catches in those distant waters—it was going to happen sooner or later—as the fact that we were prevented from following suit by our membership of the Common Market. Faced with the loss of distant water fishing off Iceland and with curtailment of catches off Norway, our alternative should have been to declare our own 200-mile limit, to develop it, and to build within it, as we had the potential to do, a bigger, richer and more effective industry, fishing our own waters instead of the distant waters on which ports such as Hull and, to a lesser extent, Grimsby depended. We could probably have caught more, even in our 50-mile limit, than we were catching in our home waters plus the distant waters, but we were not able to do that.

Despite that, Grimsby has had great success in pulling the industry up by its own boot straps and changing it from an industry that was 50 per cent. based on distant waters to one entirely based on near waters—particularly the North Sea. The few big boats, particularly the freezers, have now been replaced by about 200 seine netters.

The industry has had to get on or get out, because the maintenance of the dock facilities, the labour force and the distribution network could not be continued with dwindling catches. Grimsby has managed to avoid that danger. It has kept the catches, supplemented by imports, at a sufficient level to maintain an effective distribution network.

I do not dissent from the prevailing criticism of imports. If ports such as Grimsby cannot be kept going as fishing ports, they must turn to imports to make up for what the local industry cannot catch, partly because of the EEC and the loss of distant water fishing. Imports will be necessary to fill that gap. If there are restrictions, they should not be imposed on wet fish imports, which provide jobs and fulfil an important role in keeping the industry going. They should be imposed on frozen fish imports, because they are imports with the jobs taken away and performed in the country that originally caught and processed the fish.

Imports helped to maintain the port and its facilities and made a major contribution to the boot-strap operation of pulling up the port by its own efforts. In many ways, that produced a more democratic industry. The big owners, whose main contribution to fishing had been to take money out and not put money back, not to invest, not to re-equip and maintain their fleets, or pay their fishermen adequately, became less important because the smaller units were more democratic and effective.

A new industry developed—an industry that relied upon smaller landings with higher prices. Though that is, for Grimsby, a success story that cannot be told for many other ports in England, all is clearly not well. We still face the problem of the remaining distant water fleets, with fewer places left in which to fish. If fishing continues at its present rate the mackerel will he threatened.

I was glad to hear the Minister's announcement that the industry has been too cautious in seeking alternatives. In the summer I visited New Zealand, where they have a 200-mile limit, and that is the fourth biggest economic zone in the world. I received a chorus of complaints about the British fishing industry. From the start the New Zealanders were anxious to develop joint ventures with British firms, using British trawlers and expertise and bringing them into joint partnership.

The story was a unanimous one of opportunities being offered to British firms and being fairly uniformly rejected. Those offers had been snapped up by Japanese, German and Korean firms, and even, in one joint venture, by a Russian organisation. The British let the whole opportunity slide. I am afraid that that has been all too typical of the industry's search for alternatives. Our distant water industry is under threat and needs to develop alternatives. Some of these might come from New Zealand or from the South Atlantic, and Government finance is needed to seek out those alternatives.

For the rest of the industry—the rather more important and dynamic part of the industry—the main problem is simply that of over-fishing in the North Sea. There is a concentration of catching power in the waters round our coast, which are now seriously threatened, in which the quotas are fixed by the Common Market. They are fixed not on the basis of a scientific evaluation of the stocks but on the basis of a political haggle—which is the basis of decision-making in most matters relating to the Common Market. Those quotas are far too large and are totally unsuitable as a means of policing conservation. The general assumption is that everybody cheats on quotas. Our assumption is that while there might be some element of cheating on quotas by British fishermen it is far more common and difficult to control in the Common Market countries with which we are competing.

Given that assumption, quotas are totally useless as an adequate means of conservation. The industry is right to reject the quotas allocated to it. They have been pathetic. The most that we have been offered is 24 per cent. of the catch. We bring to the Common Market pool two-thirds of the waters and probably over 70 per cent. of the stocks, given that our waters are probably the most prolific and the richest fishing grounds in the world. They are certainly the richest in the Common Market.

Unless the EEC can adequately police quotas, it is asking for power without responsibility. It doles the quotas out with no adequate means of seeing that nations observe them or that the port authorities enforce them. The quota system is producing a tragedy in the North Sea—a tragedy of over fishing and of decimation of the stock. It is at times depressing to go down to the docks and see some of the landings, particularly at the start of the season. Small and immature fish that should have been left in the water to complete the cycle have been caught. This industry is catching its own future if it is being forced by competition to catch young stock in that fashion.

The desperate need is for conservation. The best and most effective method is national conservation. Only a nation can be the real guarantor of its own stocks. Only a nation can police conservation, and only a nation has the vital interest in those stocks. Grimsby's future is in those fishing stocks. Our direct interest is in fishing and conserving those stocks properly. That does not go for many of our competitors, who engage in a massive fishing operation and do not have the same concern about maintaining the stocks. We therefore need proper conservation and an effective increase in the mesh size. That is one of the most effective ways of guaranteeing conservation.

Grimsby has tried to give a lead here, and the British industry has generally been seeking an increase in mesh sizes. The great delay has been forced upon us by the Common Market. We need the one-net rule to stop people opportunistically switching nets, and we must be able to police effectively the increased mesh sizes. We need to stop industrial fishing. The by-catches are very difficult to police. There certainly needs to be far stricter control of by-catches of edible species. The situation is now so desperate that it would be better to stop industrial fishing and, with it, to stop beam trawling, with its destructive effects on the sea bed and the stocks.

Above all, we need to control the numbers fishing by some form of licensing arrangement that will put a limit on fishing effort. Limitation of effort and of the numbers of fishing provides the only means of securing what quotas cannot—proper conservation. But that brings up a major problem for the British industry generally and Grimsby in particular. If the sort of limitation that I have described were accepted, we would have to determine what level of limitation was acceptable for this country. We face the problem of a political compromise in which justice is astranger and has little bearing on the decisions. It is a compromise in a situation of power politics.

It must be emphasised that this country has suffered drastic losses in its catch and that they have to be taken into account in any determination of future catching potential. A port such as Grimsby, which has effectively fought back, expanded its fleet, with small seine netters, and, I hope, will go on expanding the fleet—there is scope for more vessels—needs to be protected against limitation of effort, which will produce hard decisions between ports in this country as well as between countries within the Common Market.

The claims of the vigorous ports that have done their best to adjust to the new situation cannot be ignored. That would force us back into the situation in which a dwindling catch might endanger the facilities of the market, the landing force, the distribution system, and so on, which need to be run at a certain level. That must be a prime consideration for a port such as Grimsby in any limitation of effort.

The conservation crisis is the prime reason why the Government must not compromise in the Common Market negotiations. I fear the pressures for compromises that are building up—not only the emollient voice of the Foreign Office, which always speaks to our competitors in obsequious tones, but the situation produced by the confrontation on the budgetary contribution.

Any Government faced by such a confrontation would look round for a compromise. The Prime Minister came away from the Dublin summit saying that she was prepared to compromise. The longstanding haggle over fisheries is, we fear, one ground on which an unspoken compromise may he forced on the industry. There have already been forecasts of a settlement next year. Taking that with the haggle over the budget, I become alarmed. The industry and the Government have kept each other going in a conspiracy of optimism. The industry has stated its demands and the Government have replied "We cannot get those, but we will do our best." Both sides have hoped for the best, but any settlement dictated by the sort of pressure that we are under will sadly disillusion the industry.

I fear that the only way out is unilateral action. I see no salvation for the industry within the EEC, given the pressure for compromise and the facts that our claims have been neglected and we are one of a larger number, all of whom have a vested interest in maintaining a status quo that we want changed so that it is more favourable to us. I see little prospect of a successful outcome of the negotiations, and my instinct is to impose more unilateral conservation measures to show the seriousness of our concern to conserve stocks and to end the Fishery Limits Act 1976, so that the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972 do not apply to that legislation. We must be able to enforce our own limits.

A settlement that does not give us a 12-mile exclusive zone, a dominant share of the catch and a stake in the increased catch by means of proper conservation in the waters up to 50 miles, and the power to impose national conservation measures within 200 miles, bodes ill for the industry. Such a settlement would be a major blow to an industry that in some respects is on the turn and in other respects is threatened by the conservation crisis.

There is a pressing need in the industry for new investment and re-equipment. There is need for a national plan for fishing. That should provide domestically that which the EEC has failed to provide for the industry. The industry's argument is that the negotiations have gone on for too long, the industry has been allowed to remain in the doldrums for too long, and it is time to take action internally to permit re-equipment, reinvestment and the replacement of vessels. There is a need not to build up the fleet but to replace and modernise, so that the subsidiary industries connected with fishing may be kept going at a reasonable level.

The industry argues that it needs a settlement that will give it a certain future and knowledge of that for which it is investing. Secondly, it says that it is waiting for Common Market cash. However, we know the basic outline of the industry in future. It will be an industry that operates within our own waters. The prospect of Common market money has been held out with the purpose, perhaps, of pressing us to settle with the Common Market. The need is now, and we should prepare to meet the need with a national plan.

Such a plan would mean Government investment. Grants from the White Fish Authority are heavily over-subscribed. There is almost deadlock. There is a need for a new stimulus for the industry. Other countries are putting money into their industries. We do little for our industry. In the next few years it will be in a trough, because of conservation problems. However, it has a viable long-term future. With proper conservation we can build up our stocks.

The threat to the industry has had one good effect, namely, to bring the various parts of the industry together. Rivalry between port and port is less important. Rivalry of interest against interest is less important. The rivalry of distant water fishermen versus inshore fishermen is far less important. However, the industry will be in a trough for the next few years. Bearing in mind the prolonged uncertainty of the Common Market negotiations, we must try nationally to provide for a better future by investment and by providing through Government action the type of stimulus that industries in competitive countries receive from their Governments.

I see a future for fishing that is much more akin to the way in which farming has developed over the years. I believe that it will become a self-regulatory, highly organised and, to some extent, subsidised industry. It will be based on heavy capitalisation and highly trained and skilled manpower. Training is another element that has been neglected in the period of uncertainty. We must provide a skilled work force for fishing. That will be vital in the industry's brighter future. It will be organised in the disciplined and effective manner of farming. It will be a better-run and better-organised industry. If it can evolve on those lines, with the Government stepping in to provide what the Common Market is not now providing, it will become a much better industry. It will survive the vicissitudes of the next few years and serve Britain.

4.50 am

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on securing this debate. His chosen subject is of considerable importance not only to the constituencies of those hon. Members who have spoken but to the United Kingdom as a whole, and I thank my hon. Friend for the constructive and helpful way in which he opened the debate.

I wish, in a sense, to turn the debate somewhat round the other way because, although my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South and Banff (Mr. Myles) and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) have rightly drawn attention to the problems facing the industry—problems that I do not seek to minimise and that the Government are concerned to tackle in the coming weeks and months—the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), especially in the early part of his speech, adopted an approach somewhat in contrast to what had been said by others.

While acknowledging many of the problems, the hon. Member for Grimsby expressed a certain optimism. If I may say so, I share that optimism. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visited Grimsby in the summer—unfortunately, when he was away in New Zealand, as he said—and I certainly found considerable optimism there. The port of Grimsby was originally based largely on the deep sea industry, but a considerable amount of adaptation has taken place there through the efforts of the industry itself. There is also a significant partnership between what one may call the traditional fishing company and the share fishermen more associated with the Scottish scene familiar to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff.

Although there are difficulties in Grimsby—I was certainly told of them, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was—they were seen more as a challenge to be met and overcome. I think that what the Hon. Gentleman put to the House is typical. I spent a lot of time this summer visiting different fishing ports around the coast of England and Wales, and I have constantly felt that, although there are problems, what makes the fishing industry so worth while to work for is that people are prepared to do things for themselves and, whatever the obstacles—this is true of all the ports—to try to get on with the job and do it well. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Grimsby for the tone of his remarks.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North that we are very much aware of the serious situation in Aberdeen today. My noble Friend the Minister of State at the Scottish Office is closely in touch with matters in Aberdeen, and I understand that he is arranging to meet representatives of the industry in Aberdeen early in January, when they will have the opportunity to put their views directly to him.

I also am much concerned about Aberdeen, since part of my constituency covers a small portion of the city and I am in personal contact with many of the people there.

Is the meeting with Lord Mansfield in response to the request from the joint meeting on 23 November seeking a meeting with the Secretary of State? If so, will the hon. Gentleman pass on to his noble Friend that both the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and I have been asked to associate ourselves with that meeting? May we be told as soon as possible when the meeting will be?

I shall pass on that message to my noble Friend. I shall also draw his attention to any points about Aberdeen that I did not answer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South raised the question of the aid given to Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood. The situation is being considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the light of representations made to him. There was a difference between the situation in Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood and that of Aberdeen. They were not strictly comparable. The ports to which aid was given were obliged to meet particular obligations in respect of landing dues which were calculated on a tonnage basis and which created difficulties of a different character from those of Aberdeen. I appreciate that Aberdeen is facing difficulties. My right hon. and noble Friends will also discuss those matters.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of the dock labour scheme. I am aware of the concern in the Aberdeen industry about the effects of the scheme. I understand that representatives of the Aberdeen industry have been in touch with the Department of Employment. The Fisheries Department will give any help that may be necessary to explore whether there is any way in which the situation may be eased or helped.

In the context of aid to industry, my hon. Friend raised the question of other interim measures by which we may give aid. In the past few weeks we announced a measure that was welcomed. I refer to the sum of £443,000 that we are making available for exploratory voyages. The industry expressed thanks for the measure. I hope that it will help in the short term by making resources available to the industry and, much more important, provide some evidence of the opportunities to exploit species that are not currently exploited and therefore provide future opportunities for our fishing fleet. When the announcement was made, we emphasised that the results of these exploratory voyages would be made freely available to the fishing industry. It can make its own assessment. If it feels that there is an opportunity to participate in what is revealed, it may make its own decision to do so.

My hon. Friend raised the question whether imports were undercutting our fish or were being dumped as a result of help given to the fishing industries of other countries. I am aware of concern about this problem. We shall continue to watch carefully the position of imports. However, from 1 January the new EEC withdrawal prices come into effect. Although the actual prices have been only marginally increased, there will be a greater increase as a result of the two devaluations of the green pound that took place in the past year. The reference price, which is calculated on that basis, will have an effect on imports.

I share the concern about subsidies given in other EEC countries. In the past few months we have examined this matter with the assistance of our embassies and attachés in these countries. We are about to start another exercise to update the information received. If we have evidence of unfair competition, we shall certainly draw it to the attention of those involved and the Commission. I agree that it is important that competition should be fair.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North raised specifically the question of the Faroese fisheries. As he knows, and as he acknowledged as a result of the letter that I wrote to him and from which he quoted, we are concerned about the unsatisfactory situation in the Faroes. I confirm that we have made it clear that unless the Faroese improve the conditions under which we have to fish in the Faroes we must insist on a substantial reduction in the amount of fishing which they enjoy in our waters.

The hon. Gentleman quibbled slightly over the negotiations that have taken place. The results are a consequence of the hard line that we are taking. In negotiations of this kind one does not necessarily reach the desired goal in one step. The fact that we have had difficult negotiations so far is a consequence of our insistence on better conditions for our fishermen in Faroese waters.

As I indicated earlier, we have refused to allow the Faroese to continue fishing pending the resumption of negotiations. To that extent we have made it clear to them how strongly we feel about the issue.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of fishery protection, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby in a wider context. I cannot make any dramatic announcement tonight about this, much as I would like to do so. As a result of discussions, I am wholly seized of the urgent need for a decision on the replacement of the "Ton" class minesweeper, on which our coastal protection is largely based.

Detailed discussions are taking place among my Department, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland and the Ministry of Defence on the question of replacement. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we hope to come to a decision as soon as possible and that that decision will ensure that we have adequate protection forces for the future. The hon. Member for Grimsby quite rightly said that conservation agreements were not worth the paper they were written on unless we had the resources to police them and back them up.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff raised a number of points. I express my personal regrets at the loss of the "Ocean Monarch". I have worked closely with the fishing industry over the years, and I know the hazards faced not only by the fishermen but more particularly by their wives and families. I associate myself with the expressions of sympathy voiced in the House earlier this week and I hope that my hon. Friend will convey my sympathy when he returns to his constituency at the end of this week.

My hon. Friend spoke of imports and raised the important question of quotas for1980. I appreciate his point that in any effective conservation policy, and in reference to any quotas that we decide are essential to that policy, we must make sure that quotas are applied in a sensible and practical way.

If they are sensible and practical quotas, and if they are understood by the fishing industry, they are much more likely to be effective because they will be observed. We hope by that means to avoid such activities as the dumping of unwanted fish in the sea. I assure my hon. Friend that we will look seriously at the views put forward by the industry about the way in which these quotas should be worked out for 1980.

I turn to the general points raised by the hon. Member for Grimsby. I share his concern about opportunities further a field. It is sad in some respects that we appear—I use the word "appear"advisedly—to have stood aside when opportunities from New Zealand, for example, emerged. We must put this in perspective. One company in particular became involved in an Australian venture. Unfortunately, for many reasons, that company was unsuccessful. Because of early lack of success, the industry naturally has been cautious about ventures elsewhere.

I have had discussions with representatives of the New Zealand Government. If that Government make definite proposals or offer other opportunities to develop elsewhere, I shall be ready to use my offices in whatever way I can to try to bring together all those who may be interested. We must look further than round our own coast.

Hon Members also mentioned the more immediate problems of over-fishing and political haggling over quotas. That is why, in negotiations on the common fisheries policy, we sought to base our case on scientific advice. That is the most objective base, and it should be common to all industries and Governments in the Common Market.

I welcome what the hon. Member for Grimsby said about the increase in mesh sizes. In the short term, that could cause hardship, not only in terms of limited catches but because of the expense of providing new nets. To its credit, the British fishing industry has co-operated in that respect. Only in that way can we preserve the opportunities for fishing.

I am grateful for the welcome given to my announcement yesterday about the introduction of a restricted licensing scheme for mackerel fishing. That applies to the mackerel fishery off the West Coast and not simply off the South-West Coast. We believe that that scheme is necessary. With the new vessels, particularly in view of the methods now used, we shall not achieve effective conservation unless we are prepared to control the overall effort devoted to this fishery.

Those involved in that fishery will understand the quotas better and be more prepared to observe them if an overall limit is imposed. I understand that my announcement has been welcomed as a sensible measure. Many people would like us to go much further, with a general, comprehensive licensing scheme. This is a deep and important subject. Great difficulties are involved. If we are to have a flexible and organic industry, we must have a flexible and organic scheme. Too rigid a scheme will not necessarily benefit the industry as a whole. For that reason, we decided to introduce effective licensing where the pressure is greatest—in the mackerel fisheries. We have a totally open mind about whether what we learn from the mackerel fishery should be extended to other fisheries or whether we should adopt a more general comprehensive scheme later.

If, as a result of our proposal for the mackerel fishery, there is a diversion of effort to other fisheries, we shall not hesitate to take further measures to ensure that our conservation and management policies are effective and not made void because of inadequate control.

Finally, I should like to return to the point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South opened and on which every contributor to the debate has asked for assurances. What is important is to repeat yet again—and I do so with all the sincerity that I have stated it before—that Britain's fishing industry is not up for trading in the Common Market renegotiations. My right hon. Friend demonstrated this in Dublin. I believe that the mere fact that after Dublin, at the first Fisheries Council, we were prepared to talk constructively about some of the measures that were necessary for an effective common fisheries policy demonstrated to our partners in Europe that we did not see the fishing negotiations as part of the Dublin negotiations. They thought that we would take pique over fishing, because of Dublin. The fact that we were able to talk about fishing was proof that we wanted to deal with fishing and intended to continue to deal with the subject on its merits.

It is on that note that I finish tonight. I thank those who have contributed to the debate. I repeat yet again that the fishing industry is a most important industry. The livelihood of those who work in it—and the well-being of their families—is important to the Govern- ment. I thank the House for the fact that in our renegotiation of the common fisheries policy my right hon. Friend and I have had the support of all parties in the House in pursuing the objective of ensuring a proper future for our fishermen.

Joint Centrifuge Project, Almelo

5.12 am

Remembering Alan Nunn May, Bruno Pontecorvo, the Rosenbergs and even Klaus Fuchs, with his overall grasp of the concept of the physics of the atom bomb, it is arguable whether any of them, or, indeed, all of them together, jeopardised world peace to a greater extent than the activities, in the second half of the 1970s, of Dr. Abel Qader Khan.

Certainly the effect of anything that Anthony Blunt may have done pales into trivial insignificance compared with the probable results of Dr. Khan's handiwork.

We now have the real threat of regional nuclear confrontation in Asia or the Arab world, laying a powder trail to a possible world holocaust.

So-called vertical proliferation is one thing. More nuclear weapons in the same hands do not necessarily increase the likelihood of nuclear war.

Horizontal proliferation—the acquisition of nuclear warheads by nations that previously had none at all—is quite a different matter.

That is why, even at 10 minutes past 5 o'clock in the morning, I do not apologise to an Under-Secretary, who has been very good-tempered and had to wait a long time for this Consolidated Fund debate, for keeping him out of his well-deserved bed and rest.

The subject that I raise is the security arrangements at the Joint Centrifuge Project at Almelo, in the light of the Khan espionage affair—Class IV, Vote 25.

At this hour in the morning I feel somewhat in the position of the Member of Parliament who dreamt—proverbially, at any rate—that he was speaking in the House of Commons, and woke up to find that he actually was. Be that as it may, the real point of the debate is the prospect of a Pakistani bomb and, related to that, a bomb in the hands of Colonel Gadaffi, who helps to finance Pakistan, or an ayatollah given a bomb for the sake of Islamic solidarity. This is a spine-chilling prospect—a dream of nightmare proportions.

The stark facts are hardly in dispute. But if my version is inaccurate the Minister will doubtless say so, since on this occasion I have submitted the guts of my speech to the Department of Energy on the ground that it would be unreasonable to expect any Minister to reply on so complex a subject to questions that were fired at him for the first time in the early hours of the morning.

The gut facts of the case as I see it are, first, that Abel Qader Khan came to Europe as a bona fide research worker and a student of metallurgy.

Secondly, at some point in the mid-1970s he was persuaded to devote himself to gaining access to theoretical but, more important, industrial information that would allow his native Pakistan to build and operate a nuclear weapon capacity of its own.

Thirdly, as a result of mind-boggling inefficiency or naivety—wholly uncharacteristic of the Dutch as a nation, in most things among the most competent of people on this planet—or connivance by people in certain key positions—I must make it clear that I have no evidence of connivance, but clearly that is a question that must be asked—Dr. Khan was able to acquire, first, theoretical information on centrifuge and enrichment concepts: secondly, information about metallurgical techniques crucial to nuclear weapons capacity; and, thirdly, and possibly most important, commercial knowledge of where a country such as Pakistan, with a tiny industrial base, could acquire "parts" for making atomic weapons which could not themselves conceivably be made in Pakistan.

Fourthly—here I go on with the guts of the case—for four long years key people in the Netherlands, in positions of great responsibility, maybe or maybe not inside the Dutch Government, apparently did not see fit to reveal to their West German and British colleagues that they knew that a security breach involving Dr. Khan had taken place.

Fifthly, according to the remarkable Observer investigators, Colin Smith and Shyam Bhatia, Dr. Khan is now living in the leafy suburbs of Islamabad, guarded by tough men ready to take on inquisitive journalists from the Financial Times or relatives of the French Ambassador who may innocently or otherwise be displaying uncalled-for curiosity into the Pakistan nuclear effort.

If the Minister wishes to add to or subtract from my deployment of the facts, doubtless he will do so in his reply. Indeed, frankly I feel that he ought to do so, as the Department and the Government have had two months' notice of my intense interest in this topic.

For the sake of those hon. Members who are not here but who displayed an interest in this topic, and for the sake of clarity, I must go over some of the questions that have been put, otherwise if one were to read the debate it would be incoherent and incomplete.

On 29 October I
"asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the review by Urenco, promised in June, of its detailed security arrangements; just what action the Governments of Great Britain, Holland and West Germany, as partners in the centrifuge project are taking to strengthen the tripartite arrangements; and if he will make a statement.'
The Secretary of State replied:
"As requested by the Joint Committee of the three Governments at their meeting in June, Urenco have reviewed their security procedures and have made a number of recommendations. In addition the implementation of existing Troika security procedures in the United Kingdom has been reviewed and an assurance given to the Joint Committee that they are being fully observed.
The Joint Committee considered the Urenco report at its meeting on 19 September. The Joint Committee concluded that the existing tripartite security rules and procedures were in principle adequate, but agreed on a number of detailed points on which improvements needed to be considered. It has been arranged for these to be studied urgently by security experts of the three Governments."
I am not fool enough to suppose that the House of Commons is the place to deploy details of those particular security arrangements. All I ask is that the promise made on 29 October is fulfilled.
"The Joint Committee also noted that effective security depended on the thorough and continued application of the present tripartite rules and procedures. It agreed to reinforce the arrangements for monitoring the application of these rules, and for the submission to the Joint Committee of regular reports by the appropriate security authorities of the three countries of the results of such monitoring."
The answer continued: I should like to have a clear undertaking that, unlike what occurred when Dr. Khan pursued his activities, the Government are party to that monitoring. The Secretary of State continued:
"A report from the Netherlands authorities on their investigation of the Khan incident was not available to the Joint Committee at its last meeting. The Joint Committee is due to meet again on Friday, 16 November and will again review Urenco security in the light of any further information then available."—[Official Report, 29 October 1979; Vol. 972, c. 382–3.]
Understandably, on reading that reply I wondered why on earth the report from the Netherlands authorities on their investigation was not available to the joint committee or to the Department. It creates something of a smell about the affair. I should have thought that at least a clean breast would have been made of the affair by the Netherlands authorities. Throughout the argument—as I said at Question Time today—the strand runs: why, for four long years, did not the Netherlands authorities tell their British and West German partners?

The next parliamentary step was on Wednesday 28 November. I asked the Prime Minister what discussions she had had on the security risks involved in the Khan incident at the nuclear centrifuge establishment at Urenco, Almelo, Holland, and the right hon. Lady replied:
"I have had no discussions with the Dutch on this matter, but our concern about the Khan incident has been made very clear to our partners".—[Official Report, 28 November 1979; Vol. 947 c. 647.]
At that time I thought it was a matter worthy of Prime Ministerial attention and I felt that the right hon. Lady should have contacted the Dutch Prime Minister.

On 29 November I asked the Prime Minister
"whether she will order a review of British involvement in joint European projects in so far as matters of nuclear security are concerned, in the light of the Khan incident at Urenco."
The Home Secretary—replying because the Prime Minister was at the Dublin conference—said:
"The Government attach importance to continued participation in the collaboration on centrifuge enrichment. Our concern about the Khan incident in the Netherlands has been made very clear to our partners, and action has already been taken to reinforce the arrangements for monitoring the implementation of existing tripartite security rules and procedures. Security is being kept under close review by the joint committee of the three Governments in the light of the report by the Netherlands Government of their investigation of the Khan incident.
No other joint European projects in the civil nuclear field currently involve the transfer of classified information but all are kept under continuous review for security and other implications."
I asked the natural question:
"Since the issue is nuclear proliferation in Asia, are the Government saying that they are satisfied with the Dutch proposals put forward at the joint committee on 16 November?"
The Home Secretary replied:
"I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's close interest in this matter. It is extremely important. He had the courtesy to make clear what he wished to ask in putting down his question. It is perhaps difficult always to be satisfied, but we shall do everything possible through diplomatic channels to impress upon our partners the vital importance of these security arrangements."
We all have great affection for the Home Secretary, but, if I may say so, that was a vintage Home Secretary reply on a subject on which he had little intention of giving a substantive answer. It is charming, but it does not get to the root of the matter. I still ask what happened about the proposals that were supposed to come forward on 16 November.

I ought to add that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) then asked a highly revelant question:
"What steps are being taken to make sure that nationals of countries that are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaties, such as Israel and South Africa, do not have access to the techniques covered by Urenco?"
The Home Secretary replied:
"These are matters relating to arrangements on security reached between the Governments concerned. I shall make sure that they are brought to the attention of those concerned."—[Official Report, 29 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 1479–80.]
This is not the first time that there has been a question of stolen technology. Although it is not the subject of this debate, as my hon. Friend's question raised the matter of Israel I should point out that the Department of Energy knows the whole saga of the Plumbat affair, of the ship "Scheersberg" and, indeed, of the establishment of a nuclear capacity at Dimona, so this is not an entirely new situation in relation to espionage. My hon. Friend put a good question that was not fully answered.

On 28 November I asked the Prime Minister
"what discussions she has had with the Government of Holland on the security risks involved in the Khan incident at the nuclear centrifuge establishment at Urenco, Almelo, Holland."
The right hon. Lady replied:
"I have had no discussions with the Dutch on this matter, but our concern about the Khan incident has been made very clear to our partners."—[Official Report, 28 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 647.]
I come back to the point that, on a matter of such global importance, surely the Prime Minister should have at least talked to the Dutch Prime Minister to get some explanation. It is a matter that should have been handled at Heads-of Government level.

On 6 December I had the opportunity to ask the right hon. Lady:
"Will the Prime Minister undertake to ask the Dutch Prime Minister about a leak that was infinitely more far reaching than any leak of Cabinet papers? I refer to the leak of crucial nuclear secrets from the centrifuge project at Almelo. Will the right hon. Lady ask the Dutch Prime Minister how that situation occurred, since it is arguably more damaging to peace in the world than anything done by the Rosenbergs or any other atom spies?"
The right hon. Lady replied:
"The hon. Genteman knows that we have already made protests about this matter, which involved a person who had been working at that plant of Urenco on enriched uranium and the centrifuge process and then went to work in Pakistan, where we are trying to see that there is not proliferation of production of nuclear materials or any nuclear weapons. The matter is not on the agenda, but I shall reinforce the protest that we have already made."—[Official Report, 6 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 611.]
I must say that I find it extraordinary that even at this stage the matter was not on the agenda. Part of my complaint is that, although they wrung their hands in public, I doubt whether senior Ministers have tumbled, even now, to the enormity of what is involved. I do not think that they realise the implications of an Islamic bomb, with all the consequences that flow from that.

On 11 December I raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker and asked whether, in view of the urgency, the Prime Minister would make a statement on Urenco. I had put down a question for oral answer, and it was No. 5 on the Order Paper. Normally question No. 5 is reached, but it was not on this occasion, and the Prime Minister's written reply was:
"I raised this matter with the Netherlands Prime Minister, Mr. van Agt, at my meeting with him on 6 December 1979. He agreed that this was a matter of most serious concern and assured me that everything possible was being done to prevent a repetition."—[Official Report, 11 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 531.]
It would be a little trivial and rude to say that that was a bland reply. After all, it was a written answer, and possibly I could not expect anything more. But I am not being rude if I say that it was an incomplete reply.

On 17 December I asked the Prime Minister if she would
"approach Chancellor Schmidt with a view to setting up a joint German-British inquiry into the reasons why the British and German Governments were not informed by the Dutch Government of security breaches at the joint centrifuge project by Dr. A. Q. Khan, and the effects of his activities on Western security."
The right hon. Lady replied:
"No. I have already expressed my concern to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands about the Khan incident. All three Governments of the centrifuge partnership attach importance to ensuring that incidents of this kind are not repeated and appropriate action has been put in hand."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 8.]
I can imagine no matter more urgent on which the Prime Minister should talk to Chancellor Schmidt than security and the consequential events in Islam.

Today I had question No. Q.1 to the Prime Minister, and it was answered by the Home Secretary. He said:
"We raised the Khan incident with our partners earlier this year. At the joint committee in June it was agreed that security procedures should be reviewed and, as the hon. Member knows, appropriate follow-up action has since been taken."
Well, actually, I do not know what follow-up action has been taken. If the Home Secretary had promised that it had been taken but refused to tell me exactly what had been done, I would have understood. But, after all that has been said and written, he may wish to go further. He added in his reply that
"The issue is being kept under close review by the Joint Committee."—[Official Report, 18 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 278.]
That can mean anything. Is it simply a question of crying over spilt milk, with a pious promise to avoid repetition? Is it a case of saying" Well, it is too bad that the Pakistanis have atomic weapons. They will probably give the information to the Libyans, who have given them a lot of money, and, who knows, in the name of Islamic solidarity they could hand over nuclear weapons to an array of ayatollahs, free Palestinians and heaven knows who in Islam?"

I think that the concept of an Islamic bomb is more spine-chilling than the whole nuclear armament in the hands of the men in the Kremlin and in Washington. Great Governments, such as those of the Soviet Union or the United States, can be counted upon to act with deliberation. One can sleep fairly easily in one's bed at night without fearing a nuclear holocaust. But the bad dream come true of a Gadaffi bomb or an ayatollah bomb is altogether different.

It may be said that the knowledge of theoretical physics is such in the world that any country should have the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons and, therefore, why should anyone worry about breaches of security? Proliferation, it may be argued, is bound to take place anyway. Were that true, what is the point of having nuclear security anywhere? Were that the case, we might as well forget the whole paraphernalia of secrecy and security.

But while it is true that the theoretical physics of a nuclear explosion are now widely understood by anyone reading the nuclear journals, the short cut by which a relatively poor country lacking an industrial base can actually make a bomb and nuclear weapons is not widely known. This is where Dr. Khan comes in. His value to Pakistan lies in the nuts and bolts of the metallurgy and engineering required to produce nuclear weapons.

I come now to the central purpose of raising the issue in the House. It may, for all I know, be too late. The proverbial birds may have flown. On the other hand, even if at this late stage certain key parts can be denied to Pakistan and other countries with a small industrial base, it may not be too late to do some- thing about the spine-chilling proliferation of nuclear weapons.

My first and possibly most important question is to ask what exactly is the so-called London group of 15 countries. What is its relationship with Governments in an effort to prevent countries without an industrial base from getting hardware crucial to the manufacture of nuclear weapons? If there is anything that I want from the Government this evening, it is the promise that they will do all that they can to give muscle to the London group. There have been inconsistent policies in the supply of nuclear materials by those who are in a position to be suppliers of these materials.

My other questions reflect concern about whether there could be any repetition at Urenco, Almelo. It is somewhat a matter of deja vu with reference to what the Israelis did in relation to the "Scheersberg", the Plumbat affair and the development at Dimona.

What explanation did Mr. van Agt give to the British Prime Minister of why the Dutch authorities had not informed their British and West German partners in the Urenco consortium of their knowledge of the breach of security operations? Certain people in Holland, we understand, had known precisely what Dr. Khan was up to for four long years before the West Germans and the British were told.

I intersperse at this stage a question that I was asked to put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), the former Secretary of State for Energy, who is deeply interested in this matter. My right hon. Friend wanted to know when British Ministers were first told about this affair. He said frankly that his own recollections were vague. I pass on that question because I, too, am interested in the answer.

Had the Dutch made a clean breast of it as soon as they knew what Dr. Khan had done, is it not possible that, for example, the British authorities would have ticked on more readily why Pakistan should want specialised high frequency inverters? Had Dr. Khan's activities been fully known to the British and West German authorities, is it not at least more likely that Pakistan would have been denied the industrial requisities for a bomb? When, and in what circumstances, have export controls been introduced for inverters?

Export controls might have been introduced very much earlier and more effectively had the British Government known what the Dutch authorities apparently knew and what the Dutch Government may or may not have known, namely, that Dr. Khan had been operating in a highly sensitive area on behalf of Pakistan.

Again—and I have given notice of these questions to the Department and to the Minister—what and whose authority is needed to get inside the Almelo plant? Is it true that, simply because he was supposed to know something about hydrogen corrosion, Dr. Khan was invited in for 10 days?

Does Urenco feel obliged to help anyone who writes "I am a research student under the distinguished professor X. I should like information on Y"? It seems that what Dr. Khan did in the first place, fantastic though it may sound, was to write letters along the lines "I am a research student under the distinguished Professor Delaye of the Catholic university in Brussels. Can I have information?" Apparently he was easily given highly sensitive information.

If that is the way in which the Almelo project proceeds, the time has come, has it not, to review the whole matter? If that is its style of behaviour, either it is naivety or it results from something else.

Members of the House will understand if I say that there is a great contrast between Britain and Holland. From my experience in the European Parliament I came to know the extent to which Dutch politicians were obsessed by, or at least interested in, nuclear matters. Whereas the House of Commons can hardly get a major debate on Cruise missiles—at any rate, before Christmas—Governments in Holland can fall or stand according to their nuclear policies. The Dutch are intensely interested in the nuclear debate.

The supposition or guess is that certain people in Holland would have found it so politically embarrassing to reveal that the Dutch, above all others, had been responsible for creating the conditions for nuclear proliferation that they sat on the secret. That may or may not be the explanation, but it is a possibility.

I come back to the question: in that case, who is or is not entitled to information in Urenco? Remembering that Dr. Khan was not, as I understand it, at any time a direct employee of Urenco—he was an employee of the FDO—whether he was vetted by that organisation or by the Dutch security service is open to question. The Minister may wish to comment on that matter. I do not press it too greatly. I am concerned about our involvement henceforth in relation to the security aspect.

What investigations, if any, are being made into the alleged dummy company, Wear gate Ltd., of Swansea in Wales, which allegedly bought inverters from Emerson Electric Controls in Swindon and sent them to Pakistan? Has any attempt been made to trace the owners of Weargate Ltd.—Mr. and Mrs. Abdus Salaam? Are the Government discussing with other highly developed technological nations the sale of such items as high vacuum valves and glass rotors?

The Minister may say that keeping tabs on such items is unreal and impractical. If that is what the Government believe, they should say so. If it is really impossible for the London group of nations—given the nature of a complex industrial society—to operate, it should be admitted and made plain.

I make no apology for taking half an hour, even at this time of the morning, to go through these matters. Nuclear proliferation, especially nuclear proliferation in Asia, is far more dangerous in the opinion of many than all the discussion and talk about fear of nuclear radiation and the possible safety, or lack of safety—according to taste—of the PWRs. The subject that we are discussing at this time of the morning is far more important in terms of danger to the human race than the various doubts and worries that were raised during questions to the Secretary of State for Energy when he produced astatement on the PWR and related nuclear matters some 14 hours ago.

That is the context in which I put the matter, and I make no excuse for detaining the House and keeping the Minister up at this time of the morning. I thank him for his good nature and look forward to his reply.

5.47 am

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) certainly need not apologise in any way for keeping the House up at this late hour. He had raised an extremely serious matter. I assure him that the Government share the concern that he has expressed today. We consider that the consequences of what has happened are potentially very far-reaching.

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me a copy of his speech—or what he called the guts of his speech—in advance. I hope to deal in detail with some of the important questions that he raised. He will appreciate, however, that the matter is delicate. Although I wish to reply to the points that he raised, it would not be appropriate or possible for me to go into every detail that arises in the issue.

I wish to put on record that I do understand that the matter is delicate.

I am grateful for that assurance.

In addition, some of the detailed questions that the hon. Member raised have been the subject of a thorough investigation by the Netherlands Government. A report on this investigation has been produced by an interdepartmental working party of the Netherlands Government, and follow-up action is currently being considered in Holland by the Netherlands Government. A copy of the report has not yet been passed to the Netherlands Parliament. I cannot reveal the detailed findings of the report.

It may be helpful to the hon. Gentleman if I begin—and I am anxious to help him—by outlining a few of the facts of the case.

We understand that in 1972 Dr. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist, was recruited by a Netherlands subcontractor to Ultra Centrifuge Nederland. UCN is the Netherlands industrial partner in the centrifuge project. Dr. Khan worked for the subcontractor for about three years. During that time he was seconded to Almelo for a short period as a translator. He may well have been in a position to gain access to confidential information about the centrifuge process. He returned to Pakistan in 1975.

The hon. Member asked, quite rightly, "Why was the United Kingdom not informed?" It is a question that we have been asking the Netherlands authorities. To date, we have received no satisfactory explanation.

I should like to outline the steps that have been taken to investigate the Khan incident: to review security procedures within the uranium enrichment collaboration and, most important, to tighten up on their implementation.

The collaboration with the Germans and Dutch was set up in 1970 by the Treaty of Almelo. A joint committee of the three Governments is responsible under the treaty for providing effective supervision of the collaboration. The committee normally meets, at official level, about four times a year, or more frequently if necessary. The chairmanship rotates; next year the United Kingdom will be in the chair.

Annex II to the treaty deals with security procedures and classification. Principles and minimum standards on security were agreed between the three Governments, but the responsibility for their implementation lies with each individual country.

The rules are designed to ensure that access to sensitive information is tightly controlled, the three Governments having recognised from the outset that their nonproliferation objectives demanded such control. In particular, it has been absolutely clear since the beginning of the collaboration that nationals of fourth countries could be permitted access to confidential information only with the express agreement of the joint committee. No such clearance was sought in the case of Dr. Khan, nor was his departure to Pakistan in 1975 notified to the joint committee. Nor, as required by the Treaty of Almelo, was the apparent breach of security reported to the joint committee until long after it occurred.

Our concern about the affair—which is very considerable—has been made clear to the Netherlands Government, and it was underlined recently by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at her meeting with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Is not this the most flagrant and mind-boggling let-down? What do the Dutch think they are playing at? They have broken every agreement, have they not?

If the hon. Gentleman will let me proceed, I shall outline what representations have been made, what actions have been taken and what investigations are being conducted.

In April 1979 the United Kingdom asked for a full report to be made to the joint committee of the centrifuge collaboration on the allegations then appearing in the press about Dr. Khan's activities in Holland. Questions were also asked in the Netherlands Parliament. The Netherlands Government told the joint committee at its meeting on 16 June 1979 that they had set up an internal investigation into the circumstances of the Khan incident, and they then made an interim report on its findings.

The United Kingdom and German representatives at the meeting emphasised the gravity of the allegations that had been appearing in the press and stressed that investigation by the appropriate authorities in the Netherlands should be full and thorough so that appropriate follow-up action could be taken. All three Governments agreed that Urenco should be asked urgently to review the security arrangements to be followed by all three industrial partners so that necessary steps to prevent a repetition could be pursued.

After the meeting—and this answers the point that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) asked the hon. Member for West Lothian to raise—United Kingdom Ministers were informed of the interim findings of the inquiry by the Netherlands Government, and a review of the implementation of existing tripartite security rules and procedures in the United Kingdom was started. I can assure the hon. Member that the tripartite security rules and procedures are being fully observed in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member quoted the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to the effect that the Urenco report on the review of security was considered by the joint committee at its meeting in September. The committee concluded that the existing tripartite security rules and procedures were, in principle, adequate, but agreed on a number of detailed points on which improvements needed to be considered by security experts. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is happening.

The joint committee also noted that effective security depended on the thorough and continued application of the present tripartite rules and procedures. It agreed to reinforce the arrangements for monitoring the application of these rules and for submission to the joint committee of regular reports by the appropriate security authorities of the three countries of the results of such monitoring.

The implementation of security procedures is essentially a matter for national Governments, but enforcement of the arrangements for monitoring is, of course, of concern to all three Governments and is being kept under close review by the joint committee.

It was also agreed at the meeting of the joint committee that the matter should be considered again when the report of the Netherlands authorities on the Khan incident was available. The report by the Netherlands Government was received in confidence by the British Government in October. Its implications for future security, throughout the collaboration, including security at Almelo, were discussed, and agreement was reached on appropriate action at a further meeting of the joint committee in November.

We have made clear to the Netherlands Government, through diplomatic channels and meetings of the joint committee, that we attach considerable importance to ensuring that there are no repetitions. That concern was firmly underlined by the Prime Minister at her recent meeting with the Netherlands Prime Minister, Mr. van Agt. He assured the Prime Minister that everything possible was being done to achieve that.

The hon. Gentleman implied that United Kingdom Ministers were not seized of the seriousness of the affair until he pressed the Prime Minister earlier this month. I do not think that that is the case. The Department of Energy Ministers and the Prime Minister were alerted as soon as the full facts of the case emerged—that is, when the full report from the Netherlands authorities was received in London during October.

The tripartite Urenco security rules and procedures were drawn up with the objective of minimising the risks of proliferation. I cannot go into details, but we believe that, provided that the rules and procedures are applied thoroughly throughout the collaboration, sensitive nuclear information can, and will, be properly protected.

I turn to some of the particular matters raised by the hon. Gentleman. He referred to and asked about the London group of countries. This consists of 15 main nuclear supplier States, including the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union and Japan. It is more commonly known as the nuclear suppliers group. The member States have undertaken, when considering the export of nuclear material, equipment and technology, to act in accordance with certain principles. Before any supplier member State exports any of the items listed in what are known as "the guidelines", assurances are required from the recipient country's Government regarding peaceful non-explosive use, coverage by international safeguards, and adequate physical protection and retransfers.

The United Kingdom has played a leading role in the nuclear suppliers group, and through frequent bilateral exchanges is working for more effective export controls, internationally, on sensitive nuclear items, including the kind referred to by the hon. Gentleman. This is consistent with our goal of enabling countries to reap the full benefits of nuclear power while minimising the serious dangers of nuclear proliferation.

The United Kingdom exercises careful control over the export of all materials and components specially designed for nuclear facilities. These are subject to licences under the Export of Goods (Control) Order.

The controls that we and others operate play an important part in furthering our non-proliferation objectives. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have been taking all the necessary steps to ensure effective and comprehensive implementation of the order and will continue to do so.

I do not accuse the Minister of being complacent, but we had the example of Weargate Ltd., the dummy company. To what extent was Emerson Electrical Controls subject to that sort of order? Possibly the hon. Gentleman is coming to that.

It is not normal practice to discuss the activities of individual companies, and I cannot do so. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is nothing illegal in exporting from the United Kingdom general purpose items that do not require a licence and may be widely available throughout the world. Provided that a company is not exporting something that is not illegal, no action can be taken against it. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that specially designed items for use in nuclear facilities are subject to export controls. Applications for an export licence for such items are given the closest scrutiny, and I am satisfied that these controls are stringently applied. Furthermore, the scope of the controls is kept under constant review.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the introduction of export controls on inverters, which are known also as frequency changers. He should be aware—and I am sure that he is—that inverters have many uses. These are items which can be used in both nuclear and industrial applications; for example, in spinning equipment. Following a review of the possibility of United Kingdom manufactured frequency changers being supplied for use overseas in nuclear applications, it was decided to impose export control on those inverters capable of a multi-phase electrical output of between 600 and 2000Hz. An amendment to the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1978 was accordingly made on 19 October 1978, with effect from 9 November 1978.

It was further amended in February and March this year to cover components of frequency changers and equipment essential for the manufacture of centrifuge parts and components. Discussions have also been held with other leading supplier countries, some of which have since brought frequency changers within the ambit of their export control procedures. That illustrates the way in which leading supplier countries are co-operating urgently on these matters. As the hon. Gentleman has said, there are other equally important steps that have to be taken to discourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A decision to build nuclear weapons is, in the final analysis, a political decision. We need to promote a wider political commitment to non-proliferation.

The United Kingdom has been playing a full part in international discussions on measures to achieve that end, including the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation. The United Kingdom is a depository Power of the non-proliferation treaty, to which there are now 111 parties. We are working continuously to make the treaty as universal as possible in its application.

The Pakistan authorities have consistently stressed the peaceful nature of their nuclear programme. We have noted these assurances, but we have made clear our concern at the development in Pakistan of unsafe guarded nuclear facilities. It is a matter that we should view with seriousness in any non-nuclear weapons State.

We have made clear to all parties in the sub-continent our support in principle for arrangements which could be agreed between them to include the sub-continent in a nuclear weapons-free zone. The Government attach the highest importance to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. We should view very seriously indications that any non-nuclear weapons State was setting out to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and to share that with others.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the obvious care that he has taken over his reply, but may I express a certain incredulity—I am sure that he would put it more tactfully than I would—about the Pakistan assurances? After all, we have the case of the correspondent of the Financial Times and the relative of the French Ambassador being beaten up, and there are some of us who just do not think that Pakistan is not trying to get nuclear weapons.

Director General Of Fair Trading

6.6 am

I am happy, even at this hour, to have the opportunity to raise a matter concerning the salary of the Director General of Fair Trading and thereby to consider the possibilities for the protection of the consumer that are available to that distinguished gentleman in his work and through the efforts of his Department.

Although I am using the parliamentary procedure of considering the salary of the Director General, I am not to be taken as criticising either the existence or the amount of that salary. Nor am I attacking the efforts of this gentleman or of his staff—nor, indeed, those of his predecessor, the founder, as it were, of that office, when he was acting in that role.

I invite the Minister to tell the House how the work of the Director General of Fair Trading is to be strengthened, with especial reference to certain crucial aspects of that work. Although the Director General is an independent person running his own operation independently of the Department, the Minister may none the less be able, either here or through other channels, to inform the House and the country of the prospects of further advance. In other words, what is in the pipeline?

If the Minister finds that, because of the exigencies of the hour and the nature of the debate, he cannot inform the House in this way, I hope that he will make arrangements to do so as fully as possible by way of letter or otherwise. It is important that the House and the public should know exactly what is to be done and what the Director General and his office are to produce in the foreseeable future.

As the Director General of Fair Trading is in charge of what may be described as a quasi-quango, and as the Government are known for their quango-hunting activities, I believe that the House and the country would like an assurance that there is no intention to destroy the work of this Office or to hack away at its effectiveness by cutting its basic costs.

I hope that the Minister will give an assurance on behalf of the Government and that this will not be one of the occasions on which he says that we should ask the Director General himself. This is the responsibility of the Government, as the Director General of Fair Trading is the creation of a previous incarnation of Conservative misrule. Indeed, it has been said that he is one of the few useful products of an otherwise wretched regime. I have heard it said that the production of consumer legislation by previous Conservative Governments represented moments of lucidity in an otherwise crazy effort. I criticise neither the Fair Trading Act nor the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act, which a previous Conservative Government created and on the basis of which one would have hoped that the Government would move forward. Therefore, I hope to receive an assurance that the Director General of Fair Trading and his Department can look forward to the support of their creators and that the Government do not intend to ruin that which they are trying to do.

This concern has a particular impact in view of the announcement from the Department of Trade that the advisory service for consumers is to lose the funds that it needs. That will be a terrible blow to the public and to those local authorities which have come to rely on this service being provided to their citizens. It will deprive the Director General and his department of one of the main sources of their information. Citizens' complaints are well handled and considered at those centres and are processed so that they may be fed back into the consumer protection machinery operated by the Director General.

I was appalled to find that the right hon. Lady who now has responsibility for this Department, which the unfortunate Minister has been dragged from his couch to defend, was one of the creators of that which she is in the process of destroying. I have a photostat copy of a most handsome document described as "Square Deal for Consumers", which was put out by an organisation which is not unknown to the Minister. I refer to the Conservative Political Centre. The document sets out in clear terms why the consumer advice centres are necessary. One of the progenitors of this excellent document is none other than the lady then described as "Mrs. Sally Oppenheim, MP."

The document gave great strength to the Consumers Association in its efforts to spread the consumer advice centre idea. I pay tribute—as I am sure that the Minister would like to do—to the Consumers Association for the tremendous work that it is doing in so many areas. I hope that the Minister will understand the nature of the destruction which the Government propose when they remove the grants at the end of this financial year, saying, as the Minister for Consumer Affairs did, that they do not believe the centres to be "cost effective"—whatever that may mean.

I can only tell the Minister that in the city of Leicester the centre does sterling work. It helps ordinary people with ordinary problems, and the information that is fed back through that centre to the Director General of Fair Trading is, I am sure, of great importance to him when tied in with the information from all the other centres.

The Leicestershire county council, in so far as it has any dealings with consumers, will no doubt co-operate fully with the Government in destroying what has been built, but the city authority, now run by very energetic Labour colleagues of mine, are distraught at the cuts being made and at the removal of much help that is available to ordinary people.

Assuming that the consumers' advice centres are to be destroyed, the question for the Minister—it is not one that can be left to the Director General—is what will be put in their place? How is the Director General to get his information, and how is the consumer to receive his help? What will be done by the Department of Trade to strengthen the work of the Director General of Fair Trading and his department in these circumstances?

I refer to three specific issues which are of deep importance to consumers and which I understand the Director General of Fair Trading together with the Department of Trade has in his sights. The first is quite a short point. There has been, through the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973 and later through the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, an attempt to deal with exclusion clauses to make them void in contracts for the supply of goods. They are, in general, also void in other contracts under the Unfair Contract Terms Act in so far as they do not "satisfy the test of reasonableness".

In each case we are referring to exclusion clauses in contracts for the sale of goods where the contract incorporates an implied term that the goods will be of merchantable quality. This term was originally contained in the Sale of Goods Act 1893. It is now incorporated in the Sale of Goods Act 1979, which received the Royal Assent last week.

There is great disquiet about the meaning of the word "merchantability". I know that this matter was dealt with in a written answer only yesterday, but, of necessity, written answers are less loquacious than their oral sisters. I trust that the Minister will be able to give us more information about this matter. What is his view of the definition of "merchantability"? Is he satisfied with the definition as it stands?

If he is not satisfied that sufficient protection is given through the current definition, what does he propose to do about it? If his answer is that we must wait and see what the Law Commission says because the Government will need to take that into account, can he say when he expects the Commission's report to be made and when can we expect action? In the meantime, is the Minister liaising with the Director General of Fair Trading on the protection of people? What is being done about the question of "merchantability"? We recognise the importance of the reports of Law Commissions. I hope that the Minister will take note of the reports and take action on them.

I hope that the Minister's answer on "merchantability" will not be that the Government are waiting for some action, or inaction, to be decided by our European partners. The answer "We are waiting for Europe" is beloved by those who wish to take no action. I paid tribute to the work of the Department when it was run by my colleagues. Unfortunately, that Department gave the same answer when responding to the next problem which I shall raise, that of product liability.

The Director General of Fair Trading appears to have almost an open brief under the Act when dealing with activities detrimental to consumers. He can take steps by making regulations or by leaning on those connected with the manufacture of a product. The Minister may feel that the Director General's powers are not strong enough and that he should have greater opportunity to take further steps. The Director General cannot, on his own, impose strict liability on producers of goods. The courts can do that. The courts in the United States have done so, as to some extent have the legislatures in France and Germany.

Will the Minister take steps to ensure that people such as those who suffered so dreadfully from thalidomide are protected by our law, or does he intend to leave such matters to the Director General of Fair Trading until the European Parliament, Commission or some other European body decides to take action?

I implore the Minister not to wait. We have had reports from the Scottish, English and Welsh Law Commissions recommending that we should introduce laws on product liability similar to those which operate in the United States. When the Commissions agree, there is at least a prima facie case.

The famous Pearson Commission on civil liability recommended the same action. Why should we wait for Europe before taking away from the Director General of Fair Trading an overall discretion of powers and giving direct power to the consumer to take action on his own behalf? That power is sadly lacking. It is necessary because the courts are so weak. Justice in this country is available through legal aid to those who have no money. Justice is available to the rich who can afford to pay for legal help. But justice is not available to a large section of our people—the middle income groups—because they cannot afford the justice that they require. As a judge said many years ago "The courts are like the Waldorf hotel—open to all."

The Government propose to remove the grants that enable ordinary citizens to obtain help from consumer advice centres. Even that avenue is to be removed. More responsibility is to be piled on to the Director General and his staff. I ask for an assurance that the Director General and his organisation will not be starved of the assistance and money that they need to do the work that has become increasingly important to the public.

The final area to which I must refer is that of the ordinary shopper and his protection—how the Director General of Fair Trading and his Department are able to help, and the limits on the help that they are able to give. I believe that a Department such as that of the Director General—indeed like a Department of State—is only as effective as its public relations allow it to be, and it is vital that the Director General should be encouraged to inform the public, with the help of the Department, of the limits as well as the powers that he possesses.

I shall take two specific examples of the way in which the public are deceived by the very existence of legislation that is much weaker than people consider it to be. First, the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 has a most unfortunate title. People believe that this Act protects them against unfair contracts, and that if they make a contract that is unfair they can go to some great officer of State, whether it be the Minister or the Director General of Fair Trading, who will be able to flap his wings and produce a remedy.

All of us in this House know that the Unfair Contract Terms Act is extremely limited in its application. It helps enormously where there are unfair exclusion clauses in contracts. What it does not do is protect the shopper against unfair bargains: nor does it give to the Director General or the Minister any powers to protect people against overpayment, against making bad bargains, or against buying goods in shops which they could buy much cheaper somewhere else. Particularly at this time, when people are out doing their Christmas shopping, they ought to be warned by the Director General, or by the Minister on the Director General's behalf, of the risks that they run and of the limits of the powers of authority to protect them, even today, against their own bad bargains.

The old rule used to be caveat emptor—let the buyer beware. It is sometimes said that it has now been changed to caveat vendor—let the seller beware. But in fact the balance is somewhere between the two, and the buyer must still note the limits on the powers of others to help her in her shopping. I say help "her" because, after all, it is the wife who generally does the shopping. It is the wife who shops around. It is the wife who gets berated by her husband if she pays too much. It is the wife who bears the burdens of the purchases physically, and very often it is the wife today who works and earns the money to pay for that shopping.

I ask the Minister, at this Christmas time, to warn shoppers of the dangers of over-confidence in the powers of the law. At the same time, I hope that the Minister will regard it as part of the job of the Director General—a power that ought to be strengthened—to ask shoppers to make use of the powers that they have through the law at this Christmas time. If, for example, they find that goods are offered elsewhere at a price lower than that at which the shopkeeper is prepared to sell them, they should not just pay the higher price and make no complaint. They should tell the local consumer protection people, the local weights and measures people, the local fair trading people, and so on, of the way in which they have been treated, because that is their right. Whether or not the local authority chooses to call in the fair trading officers to protect the public, they are, nevertheless, part of the overall protection provided by successive Governments, of which the Director General of Fair Trading and his staff form such an important part.

I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to strengthen the work of the Director General in that way, and to use this opportunity to warn people who are thronging the shops during this last week before Christmas to take care, to protect themselves against bad bargains and to use their strength to ensure that the law as it stands is enforced.

I hope that the Minister can give the assurance that the steps that have been taken regarding exclusion clauses in contracts will also be enforced. Indeed, the Minister will know from what was said at Question Time recently, including on answer to a question from myself, that it is an offence for manufacturers to include in the contracts that they put forward to consumers exclusion clauses that are unenforceable and void and that steps could be taken to deal with people who behave in that way.

I should like to ask two questions in that regard. First, can the Minister answer the question that I put to the Minister for Consumer Affairs? How many people have been prosecuted for behaving in this unlawful manner? If he feels that that is an unfair question to ask at 6.30 in the morning and that he would require at least until 7.30 to get the answer I accept that. However, I hope that he will ensure that the answer is sent to me as soon as possible, because the public are entitled to know how that rule is being enforced.

Secondly, can he say whether the Director General of Fair Trading, in the exercise of his powers, is leaning on manufacturers, by other routes, to stop the pernicious practice of including in documents exclusion clauses that are not permissible and are unlawful? What is he doing to warn the public that they should take no notice of exclusion clauses in contracts for the supply of goods, when those clauses purport to take away a right which the ordinary person has under the Sale of Goods Act, such as rights to goods that are not defective and rights to goods that are "suitable for the purpose supplied"?

There is one area in which the Director General has no powers, and presumably can have no powers. However, it is an area in which he should share in the responsibility for informing the public. At this time of the year not only are there just a few shopping days left to Christmas; there are also only a few shoplifting days to Christmas, and the thieves are very busy.

None of us in the House has the least sympathy for a person who goes thieving. If he is caught, he deserves the punishment that he should get. We all pay for the activities of those people by an increase in the price of the goods that are sold. All prices take into account what is sometimes referred to as "shrinkage". We know that the law should be enforced in that area and that consumers are entitled to be protected against those who force up prices by stealing. Shoplifting is stealing by another and no more acceptable name.

On the other hand, I hope that the Director General of Fair Trading will have turned his sights on to the unfortunate, forgetful shopper, who in these days of self-service operations is so likely to be wrongly charged with shoplifting. Can any of us say that we have never left a shop with something in our hands for which we have not paid? It is so easy to take goods off the counter and walk out forgetfully or to put goods into a bag and forget to pay for them.

I know of a recent case of a woman in a supermarket doing her Christmas shopping who had goods in her arms and who suddenly remembered that she had not put any money in the parking meter. She rushed out, with her arms still full of goods unpaid for. When she arrived at the car there was a tap on her shoulder and the store detective said "Madam, have you paid for these goods?" She replied "Oh, I am so sorry." If that woman is prosecuted, that statement makes her chances of being acquitted slight.

Over 50 per cent. of those charged with shoplifting and who plead not guilty are acquitted. Perhaps some should have been convicted, but some of those who are convicted should have been found not guilty. While a shoplifter takes the prosecution and the punishment that follows as part of the hazards of his unpleasant trade, the innocent person is often broken in mind, spirit and heart before the case comes up for trial. It is no answer to let the court decide. Long before the case reaches court the person may be ruined—as we in the House know from the experience of colleagues and friends who have been caught in the dreadful net of misery.

Perhaps the Director General could lean on supermarkets to try to persuade them to provide bag parks, such as those in supermarkets in the United States. At least people should be warned at Christmas time that if they take goods off counters those goods should be placed into the wire baskets that are provided and not into their bags until they have been paid for. I advise people, when there are no wire baskets available, to hold the goods above their heads. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) laughs, but if people hold goods above their heads at least it cannot be said in court that the defendant "furtively held the goods above his head".

I have often seen the great sadness of these cases. Ordinary people are caught in a way that destroys their whole being. Those of us who have been trying to get convictions for shoplifters and avoid the prosecution of innocent people ask the Minister to press the Director General to come up with an answer.

It is all too rare that one turns to Scotland for advice and guidance, but I pay tribute to the Scottish legal system, under which there are no private prose- cutions. Prosecutions are brought by the police. In this country it is often left to the shopkeeper to decide whether he will prosecute or not. In many areas of London, for instance, the decision is left to the owner of the shop. I believe that the decision should be taken on behalf of the public by people who are answerable to the public. It is no answer to say that if the court acquits the person gets off. If one is innocent one may be acquitted, but the scars of the court experience never go.

It does not matter whether the individual is a Member of Parliament or an ordinary housewife or citizen; he can be totally ruined by what happens. The good name of the ordinary private citizen is just as much damaged when it appears in the local press that he or she—and probably she—has been charged with shoplifting as is the reputation of a great public figure who is charged with an offence of which, in due course, he is acquitted.

As we approach this Christmas season, and as this is the last opportunity for private Members to raise matters on the Consolidated Fund, I ask the Minister to exercise a spirit of genial kindness. Even at this late hour in this miserable year of the Government's office, when all other than the wealthiest are to suffer, I ask him at least to throw some crumbs to ordinary buyers.

The Government should say "We will not deprive the Director General of Fair Trading and his staff of their powers by cutting their money. We will think again about consumer advice centres and the work that they do for ordinary people and the information that they feed through to the Director General. We will try to protect people more against goods that are not of merchantable quality and give rights this coming year, through the Director General or otherwise, to those who suffer death or injury through defects in produce. In the meantime, we will inform Christmas shoppers of their rights and help them obtain and enforce those rights, whether it be directly through the Direct General or through the powers that the Minister and his Department exercise themselves"

6.41 a.m

I thank the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) for his kind reference to the Director General and the way in which he discharges his duties.

Looking at a list of the functions of the Director General and the Office of Fair Trading, one realises the extent of those responsibilities. Under the Fair Trading Act 1973, which established the Office of the Director General of Fair Trading, the Director General was given wide-ranging responsibilities in the area of competition policy and general consumer protection. These duties have since been extended by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and the Estate Agents Act 1979, and will be further extended by the Competition Bill.

The main responsibilities of the Director General include taking action under the restrictive practices legislation, including keeping a register of such practices, advising on and implementing the monopolies and mergers policy, advising the Secretary of State on consumer policy, making proposals for outlawing business practices that are harmful to consumers, taking action against traders who persistently breach the criminal law or neglect their civil obligations to the detriment of consumers, implementing controls on consumer credit, including administering the licensing system, operating the negative licensing procedures under the Estate Agents Act, negotiating voluntary codes of practice with trade associations and providing consumers with information and advice. That list illustrates the wide range of duties covered.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asks me to say how this work can be strengthened. The Director General decides his priorities for future action, and I know that he will be glad to indicate to the hon. and learned Gentleman—and write to him, if he so requests—the priorities that will govern his actions over this wide range of matters during the coming year.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Office of Fair Trading as a quango-like organisation and he asked about the resources allocated to the Office As he knows, the resources allocated to all Government Departments and their associated agencies are under review. I can certainly assure him that the Office of Fair Trading will continue in being, and it will continue to discharge its im- portant functions. Like all agencies and Government Departments, it must review its functions in the present stringent economic conditions.

The hon. and learned Member referred to some matters which came within the budget of the Director General and certain others which did not. He quoted the recent statement of the Minister of State in my Department about consumer advice centres. I was happy to note his comments on the work done by the Leicester centre. I know he realises that, because of the limitation that I have mentioned, it would not be appropriate for me to talk at length about policy on advice centres on this occasion. But the Minister of State is anxious to put extra emphasis on the work of the citizens advice bureaux. These agencies have also done good work in the area of consumer advice.

The hon. and learned Member then raised the subject of product liability. I must emphasise that the Department of Trade has consulted large numbers of representative bodies about the latest draft of the EEC product liability directive. It is expected that the EEC working party will begin detailed examination of that directive next year. The United Kingdom delegation will playa full part in these discussions, and it is hoped that agreement will be reached on a text which will provide fair protection for injured consumers without imposing unacceptable burdens on industry.

I make it clear that the Director General has no power to propose a change in the law on product liability, and it would be inappropriate for the United Kingdom to act unilaterally. It is necessary for us to act in parallel with other countries.

Can the Minister explain why it is inappropriate for this country to act unilaterally? Already there are product liability laws in France and West Germany, both of which are members of the EEC. Also, there are much stronger existing laws in most American states. Therefore, why should we not take action now and let the EEC follow us for a change?

I should like to debate this important matter in great detail, but this responsibility falls strictly on the Department of Trade; it is not part of the duties of the Director General. I must not stray too far out of order on this occasion, much as I should like to follow the points made by the hon. and learned Member.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977. This is a part of our civil, not criminal, law. It prevents the supplier of goods from depriving the consumer of certain basic rights, including those under the Sale of Goods Act 1893, by rendering void any conditions of sale that purport to exclude liability for negligence resulting in death or personal injury and by enabling the courts to test the reasonableness of exclusion and indemnity clauses in a wide variety of other circumstances. It also provides in a similar way that the supplier cannot deprive the consumer of his rights under earlier legislation in relation to the fitness, quality and description of goods under contracts for hire, contracts for exchange and contracts for work and materials.

Since the 1977 Act is part of the civil law, it does not create any offences. A retailer, for example, who purports to exclude his liability for negligence in respect of death or personal injury will fail to achieve his object since the Act provides that this is an inalienable right. He will not, however, commit an offence under the 1977 Act and cannot be prosecuted under that Act. Although the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 does not create an offence, it is open to the Director General of Fair Trading and the Secretary of State to act against specific consumer trade practices that adversely affect the economic interests of consumers.

If, therefore, the Director General felt that the economic interests of consumers were prejudiced by retailers purporting to alienate consumer rights contrary to the 1977 Act, he could, under section 14 of the Fair Trading Act 1973, refer the practice to the Consumer Protection Advisory Committee indicating that he proposed to recommend that the Secretary of State should exercise his powers under the Act to prohibit the practice. If the committee agrees that the practice is detrimental to the economic interests of consumers and that it should be prohibited, the Secretary of State can then make an order under section 22 of the Fair Trading Act prohibiting the practice.

These procedures were followed in the case of certain practices contrary to the spirit of the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973. As a result, the Consumers Transactions (Restrictions on Statements) Order 1976 made it illegal for retailers to display notices that purport to deprive consumers of certain inalienable rights.

The Director General has already shown, therefore, that he is prepared to invoke these procedures to make it illegal for those involved to mislead consumers about other rights. In July 1978, he issued a very strong warning to shopkeepers and traders to stop displaying notices in their premises or using terms in contracts that could confuse or mislead consumers about their rights. If the Director General's further inquiries showed that consumers were being misled on a large scale, he could use his powers under the Fair Trading Act to propose that the use of such clauses should be made a criminal offence.

However, the Director General has not so far obtained sufficient evidence of abuse to justify his referring the matter to the Consumer Protection Advisory Committee.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred rightly to Christmas and the January sales, which is clearly the time when consumer expenditure is at its height. He fairly cautioned shoppers about the limitations on powers of others to protect them in all circumstances. I thought that he used some wise words. Undoubtedly, the position of consumers has been strengthened as a result of the measures that I have mentioned. The benefit of those measures applies at Christmas just as much as it applies throughout the year.

I agree, nevertheless, that advice should be given to those customers about to buy some apparent bargain that they should think before they buy. If the customer sees any notice disclaiming responsibility for defects in the goods, advice should be given to think twice before he buys. If, however, he buys goods and subsequently they prove to be unsatisfactory, he ought to consider whether the exclusion clause is void as a result of the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973 or the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977. In that respect, if he wants advice or help, he should approach his local citizens advice bureau or the trading standards officers, who are often helpful.

The Minister said that the buyer should consider whether the clause is void. The average buyer does not know anything about the clauses or where to go. His only hope is to go to the consumer advice centre. That is why I urgently request the Minister to speak to his right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs to consider whether in the circumstances the question of the protection of shoppers by these centres can be reconsidered. It is no use telling the shopper what he or she should consider. The average shopper has not a clue. I hope that at the very least the Minister will tell the shopper what his or her rights are as against the shop, not the manufacturer.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to indicate that these are technical matters and that advice is necessary. I have emphasised the importance of the citizens advice bureau and of trading standards officers in that respect. I note what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about the consumer advice centres. They are not spread evenly throughout the country. They exist in some towns. Indeed, the hon. and learned Gentleman has been complimentary about the service that has been provided in Leicester. The citizens advice bureau provides a more widely spread service than the consumer advice centre.

I noted carefully the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments on shoplifting. I realise that what he said came from his wide professional experience in dealing with it. I had sympathy with some of the examples that he gave of hard cases in that respect. But the Director General of Fair Trading does not have responsibility in matters involving the criminal law. I know that a great deal of thought has been given to the definition of offences in this respect and that the hon. and learned Gentleman understands the complexity of these matters, but this is a Home Office responsibility; it does not come within the direct responsibility of the Director General of Fair Trading.

Again, I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his complimentary references to the Director General of Fair Trading and to the work of the Office of Fair Trading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House; immediately considered in Committee pursuant to order this day; reported without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 93 ( Consolidated Fund Bills) , and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Agricultural Chemicals

Motion made, and Question proposedThat this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Brooke.]

7.1 a.m.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for coming to the House at this extraordinary time of day to reply to the debate on what I believe to be an important subject. I hope, for his sake, that he has had slightly more sleep than I have had during the course of the night.

As far as I know, both he and I have had practical experience of farming. We both know that it is not the peaceful, healthy idyllic existence that it is reputed to be in certain quarters. On the contrary, farm work can be underpaid, unhealthy, and dangerous. Agriculture is the third most dangerous industry in the United Kingdom, after construction and mining.

Accidents in agriculture occur in a number of ways, including from machinery and livestock, especially bulls. Many workers suffer from the long-term effects of the working conditions under which they operate, such as noisy machinery, dust which causes farmers' lung, and brucellosis, which can be contracted from contact with animals.

I concentrate my remarks on a relatively new hazard, namely, agricultural chemicals. Probably the best known and notorious agricultural chemical is Paraquat. Handled properly, it is a perfectly safe and non-persistent herbicide. Every year there is an incident. Someone is left with an odd pint of the chemical, puts it into a lemonade bottle, and someone else takes a mouthful of it and is thereby condemned to death—in my opinion, as a result of criminal negligence. That is an example of an abuse of a material that would otherwise be perfectly safe.

Other chemical products can cause acute or chronic afflictions to those handling them, or to members of the public, if they are not used in the proper manner. I do not wish to exaggerate the problem. A whiff of spray drift will not hurt anyone. However, frequent or heavy doses of some chemicals can cause skin complaints, eye irritation, digestive complaints and even nervous disorders. These are risks that must be faced because we are talking of poisons. All agro-chemicals, whether they are organo chlorines, organo mercuries or whatever, are, by definition, biologically active materials, otherwise they would not be of any use as agricultural chemicals.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, in 1976 there were 10 cases only of poisoning reported on farms. In 1977 there were 27, and last year there were 32. That is the tip of the iceberg. There are many more cases that are neither reported nor detected because the effects of small doses are extremely difficult to diagnose. They could be cumulative in effect and may appear only years later. The problem is far bigger than is indicated by the published statistics, largely because the agrochemical industry is a major growth industry in this country.

In 1944 there were only 65 approved chemicals for farmers and growers, and at that time relatively few farmers were using them. Now there are approaching 1,000 products available on the market. It is true to say that virtually every arable acre in Britain, at some stage during the year, is treated with some sort of chemical.

I do not wish to give the impression of being paranoiac about agro-chemicals. As a farmer I know that they serve extremely useful purposes, that relatively few of them are persistent, and that most are selective in their effects. They are economically vital to the industry. They contribute to our efficiency and to the increased production of agriculture. They have eliminated crop diseases which in the past had disastrous effects, and they have overcome certain parasitic diseases of animals which at one time caused serious suffering to livestock. But, inevitably, with the rapid increase in the use of chemicals by those who have not necessarily had specialised training, and in an industry where proper in-service training is almost impossible, problems are bound to arise, and these fall into four main areas.

The first question is whether the correct chemical is being used. I have made a mistake in that respect. I sprayed the wrong chemical on a field and it cost me a certain amount of money, as the Minister can imagine. The second question is whether the chemical is being applied correctly. It is worth bearing in mind the confusion that is caused by the limbo we are in between the metric and imperial systems. Chemicals are sold in metric packs and are applied through sprayers calibrated in imperial measurements.

The third question is whether the machinery is properly maintained, whether it is safe and accurate. I do not know how many times I have seen a driver climb off his tractor when he has a choked nozzle on a spray boom, take the nozzle off and blow through it to clear the obstruction. That is very foolish. Goodness knows what chemicals people are getting into their mouths in that way. There is also the problem of spray drift. With high pressure spraying it would be interesting to know what proportion of the chemical lands on the crop. A great deal probably blows away.

The fourth question is whether a tractor man knows all that he should about the material that he is using, whether it is possible for him to handle it safely, whether he has protective clothing available to him or washing facilities, and, if so, whether he is using them.

The Royal Commission on environmental pollution, which has produced useful and practical recommendations, emphasises the need for better practices on farms and in forests, and also the need to improve the official machinery which is supposed to control and monitor the development, marketing and use of agricultural chemicals.

I should like to press the Minister on one or two specific recommendations. The first refers to a helpful booklet entitled "Approved Products for Farmers and Growers", which contains more than 290 pages and costs £2·25. It is published annually by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is a useful agricultural chemicals bible for people engaged in farming and forestry. It is written in layman's terms and explains what products should be used for what purposes and w hat precautions should be taken.

But the problem which the Royal Commission and I have discovered, highlighted in a reply from the Minister on 27 November, is that only 12,000 copies of the book have been sold. If we assume that 10,000 of them have been sold to farmers, we should bear in mind that there are 258,000 agricultural holdings in the United Kingdom. That means that only one farmer in 25 has a copy. If only that number of farmers have copies, what chance has the tractor driver of getting the necessary information on whether a chemical is approved and what precautions he should be taking when handling it? It is not good enough to rely on chemical salesmen to disseminate this sort of information, and I hope that the Minister will say something constructive when he replies to the debate.

The Royal Commission also called for better co-ordination of research and development in the agricultural chemicals business. I realise that interference in industry is out of fashion these days, but the Parliamentary Secretary and, come to that, the Minister do not have reputations as hard liners in this area, and I hope that they will see fit to make exceptions.

The existing pesticides safety precautions scheme is entirely voluntary. As such, it does not provide a satisfactory framework within which to monitor developments in such a large and controversial industry. Under the scheme, new products are submitted for approval to the advisory committee on pesticides. I am not particularly happy about that committee either. I understand that it consists of 10 academics and 15 civil servants—a mixture of boffins and bureaucrats. No doubt they are all clever, but I doubt whether any of them has had the practical problem of, for example, having to mix a supposedly soluble chemical in precise quantities into cold water while balancing on a ladder leaning against a sprayer in the corner of a muddy field. Have they ever had to eat a sandwich meal in a tractor cab with their hands covered in DDT and miles from the nearest tap, let alone proper washing facilities? Have they had to try to dispose safely of a large quantity of contaminated empty five-gallon spray drums?

Those specialists can probably work out the mathematical improbability of accidents occurring, but the problem with boffins is that they have a bad habit of discounting Murphy's excellent law that what can happen sooner or later will happen. I hope that the Minister will consider appointing a few Murphys to the committee and will bring some practical expertise into its deliberations by including representatives of the NFU, farm workers and foresters.

The Royal Commission also recommends that the committee on pesticides should liaise with the United States environmental protection agency about the risks posed by the herbicide 2,4,5-T, which has rightly had a great deal of publicity recently. I do not want to start scare mongering. In practical terms. 2,4,5-T is excellent. I have used it to clear brambles, ivy and the regrowth of tree stumps.

A report by the advisory committee on pesticides to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) in March claimed that 2,4,5-T was safe. I accept that. But the problem is not just 2,4,5,-T. The problem is an impurity which is, apparently, invariably present in 2,4,5-T, namely, TCDD, which is better known as dioxin. That is an extremely dangerous chemical. The advisory committee says that it is one of the most toxic chemicals known. In fairly small doses it can be lethal and in smaller doses it can cause cancer, abortions or miscarriages.

The trouble appears to be that there is no satisfactory way of analysing how much dioxin is present in any given sample of 2,4,5-T. That is borne out by American authorities and by our advisory committee, which said in its report in March:
"The Advisory Committee is not however satisfied that a reliable analytical method yet exists for the determination of such very low levels of TCDD in formulated products, given that these contain a number of other substances which interfere to a considerable extent with some analyses. The Advisory Committee therefore recommends to Government departments that experimental work be carried out to provide a method for the determination of TCDD in formulations and thus to allow it to set a workable standard."
That is not good enough. There are too many "ifs" and "buts". It is clear that we cannot analyse every batch of 2,4,5,-T, and even if we could there is no foolproof way of determining how much dioxin is present. Meanwhile, large quantities of the material are being sprayed, sometimes from the air, into forestry plantations, and it can drift in the wind. There is considerable and reasonable doubt about the safety of the material.

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

Did the hon. Gentleman say that he thought that 2,4,5-T was sprayed from the air?

I understand that the formulated product can be sprayed from the air and is sprayed by the Forestry Commission on to conifer plantations. I am concerned that the Ministry is apparently refusing to take any action until it gets conclusive evidence that excessive quantities of dioxin are present in 2,4,5-T. In other words, it probably will not do anything until someone suffers diagnosable dioxin poisoning.

As the Minister knows, the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers has already advised its members not to handle 2, 4, 5-T. The Governments of the United States of America, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy have all decided that the circumstantial evidence against it is strong enough to justify banning the material until such time as it can be proved safe. That attitude has been taken because of the dioxin factor.

There is no need for me to go into all the scare stories—for example, the defoliation programme and the contamination with dioxin in Vietnam, and the dioxin leak at Seveso in Italy. The stories are not strictly relevant to 2,4,5-T as used in Britain. However, recent evidence of miscarriages suffered by women in Oregon is relevant. I sincerely hope that the Minister will consider suspending the use of 2,4, 5-T in the United Kingdom, especially as safer alternatives are available to the industry.

I conclude my remarks by referring to the penultimate recommendation of the Royal Commission's report, which advocates that the initiative for action to deal with pollution caused by agricultural practices should rest with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to reply to some of the matters that the Royal Commission and I have raised. I hope that he will refer in particular to 2, 4, 5-T.

7.18 am

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) for initiating the debate. I am glad that he chose to adopt a broad approach by considering the important topic of pesticides as a whole instead of confining himself to 2, 4, 5-T. He may be interested to learn that it accounts for 0·005 per cent. of active ingredient used in crop protection in the United Kingdom. It seems that parts of the media devote 10 per cent. of their attention to it. The hon. Gentleman was wise to discount much of the concern expressed in public that is based on stories from Vietnam and Seveso.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments about Paraquat. It is tragic that some of the accidents involving that important pesticide result from sheer carelessness. However, in some instances there is deliberate use of it for suicide. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that.

The hon. Gentleman said that it is important not to be paranoiac about agricultural chemicals. I entirely endorse that view. His attention to matters such as labelling, reading instructions and using the correct quantities is something that I endorse. Care must be taken when using any weapon against the enemies of agriculture. We are dealing with powerful items.

It may be of interest to the hon. Gentleman if I deal with 2,4,5-T. I discovered that "Agent Orange" in Vietnam contains 450 times as much dioxin as any product that is permitted to be used in Britain. Therefore, any comparison between the two is to a large extent irrelevant.

We require the dioxin impurity not to exceed the 0·1 milligrams per kilogram safety limit set by the World Health Organisation. As this very small quantity drops, so the difficulties of analysis become greater, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, but at that figure it is, I understand, fairly accurately measured.

May I seek to put the matter in perspective by pointing out that at the highest rate that 2,4,5-T is used in this country, mostly in forestry, the amount of dioxin distributed is the equivalent of one grain of sugar spread over a football pitch, and if one put together all the dioxin in all the 2,4,5-T formulations used every year in this country it would not fill a salt spoon.

The hon. Gentleman and I as he said, share personal and constituency interests in agriculture, which give us common cause in promoting efficient food production and in ensuring that farmers continue to have access to the safe pesticides needed to protect their crops.

There are reputable calculations that without the use of pesticides the yield of cereals in this country would fall by 45 per cent. in three years. We must not forget, either, that pesticides earn valuable export revenue, bringing in some £130 million in 1978.

The hon. Member and I have a common interest also in ensuring that the use of these products does not put users, bystanders, the environment, domestic animals or wild life at avoidable risk. This is precisely what the pesticides safety precautions scheme was set up to achieve nearly a quarter of a century ago. Under the scheme, which is a formally negotiated agreement between the Government and the trade associations representing the pesticides industry, manufacturers submit all the data necessary for the Government to judge whether a pesticide product should be allowed on the market and, if so, what warnings and restrictions to ensure safety in use should appear on its label.

The success of this scheme owes much to its skilled supervision by the advisory committee on pesticides, which has given good counsel on pesticides safety to successive Administrations—the present Government are no exception—ever since 1954. As the hon. Gentleman said, the committee consists of 10 independent medical and other specialists who are among the most eminent in their profession. They have no emotional or commercial axes to grind, and they are working alongside experts from 14 Government Departments on a body which commands immense international respect.

I should need very substantial evidence that there was a case for altering that committee in any way. It seems to me—I confess to being relatively new to this task—that the committee has performed an excellent job. It is above reproach in every respect. It is constantly on the alert for any new information about any product.

In that connection, I think that the hon. Gentleman was a little unfair on the booklet "Approved Products for Farmers and Growers". It is a fairly technical book, as he knows, and I do not think that even if I were to arrange to give everyone in agriculture a copy it would in fact make any difference. The importance of safety lies in labelling, in making things clear to the chap who is actually using the chemical, and I believe that, as a practical farmer, the hon. Gentleman understands that to tell farmers all the technical implications of every chemical they use would be an impossible and overburdening task.

For whatever reasons, over the years there have been long organised campaigns against 2,4,5-T herbicides both in this country and abroad. No doubt this was why the previous Government asked the advisory committee to prepare a reference document on the subject so that there would be
"an authoritative medical and scientific appreciation to set beside any assessments or opinions from other sources".
That document was published last March, and it explains why the advisory committee believes those brushkillers to be safe provided that they are used in the recommended way. Like their predecessors, the present Government have accepted that advice.

In his capacity as Minister, has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to see the evidence which led the various overseas Governments to whom I referred to ban the use of 2,4,5-T? I think here of the United States in particular. What do they know that we do not know?

Perhaps I could just deal with four commonly quoted cases against the chemical and the point raised.

First, the United States authorities have suspended certain uses of 2,4,5-T following the release of a report which purported to show that the use of the chemical was linked with miscarriage rates in Oregon. The advisory committee has reviewed the report and, as I told the House on 26 July, the committee, like similar expert bodies in Australia and New Zealand, found the report wanting in material respects. So I was not surprised to see that America's own advisory committee has since reported in reassuring terms, which I quote:
"After extensive review of the data we find no evidence of an immediate or substantial hazard to human health or to the environment associated with the use of 245-T or Sorbex on rice, rangeland, orchards, sugar cane and the non-crop uses specified in the decision documents."
That is a quotation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency document. The agency there is having second thoughts. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

In the second case, press reports have alleged that 2,4,5-T spraying by the Forestry Commission in North Wales caused a woman to have a miscarriage. This incident has been investigated by medical staff of the Welsh Office health department, which found no evidence to link 2,4,5-T with the miscarriage. I might add that a miscarriage, distressing as it may be to the individual concerned, is a common event and has many causes. One in five pregnancies ends in this way. In the same area press reports have also referred to the dumping of unwanted pesticide drums in an old mine shaft. This had been investigated by the local environmental health officer and the Welsh water authority. They were both satisfied that there was no danger of contamination from this dump.

Thirdly, we have examined some sensational material, on which an organisation sponsored by the Church of Scientology elected to hold a press conference, about reported lamb losses in Somerset caused by an alleged spraying incident. As my noble Friend stated in another place, we received no evidence whatever to connect these reported losses with herbicide spraying. In fact, there is a welter of published scientific data which call those allegations into question. The motives behind the interest of the Church of Scientology is not a matter on which I should like to speculate this morning.

At the time of its review in March, the advisory committee on pesticides recorded in paragraph 7 that
"a recent review by the Royal Swedish Academy of Scientists has concluded that carcinogen city studies so far completed have not provided evidence of any carcinogenic effect of 2,4,5-T".
That is the latest authoritative statement on the subject from Sweden. Since this, there have been some studies in Sweden, none of which has yet been evaluated by the Swedish authorities, concerning people who were exposed to various dioxins in various chemicals, including 2,4,5-T. A published account of some of the work reveals that the research workers themselves, who sought to establish a link between the use of various chemicals and the incidence of a rare form of cancer, have not been able to attribute this to the use of any specific chemical. I understand that the relevant data and the official evaluation by the Swedish authorites will not be available until about February or March, but when we have these data they will be immediately examined by the advisory committee on pesticides.

The 2,4,5-T brushkillers have been in use in this country for 35 years; and our advisory committee has yet to receive any data or allegations which, on investigations, argue a case for withdrawing them. On this and all other questions concerning safe use of pesticides, the Government and the advisory committee prefer to rely on scientific data rather than Scientologists' dogma, and upon medical evidence rather than upon emotional headlines.

Thirdly, and not least because of its, potential for sensational publicity, we are mindful that the campaign against 2,4,5-T will doubtless continue here and abroad, but The Lancet—that most authoritative document—said last month:
"It is a waste of effort, resources and credibility to cry 'wolf' about 2,4,5-T when there is no wolf."
In any event, the advisory committee will immediately inquire into any further evidence that is received about this or any other pesticide, including allegations where these are supported by hard evidence.

The Government are deeply concerned that the public should be reassured. We are dealing here not with children's toys but with powerful chemicals, which can be good friends if properly used.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Royal Commission on environmental pollution. Among other things, the Royal Commission was quoted as saying that the United Kingdom had an impressive safety record in this sector. It addressed itself to other matters such as the safety of individual products and the safeguards attending their use. It pointed out that attention to these matters had perhaps diverted some of the observations on overall use. We shall consider this matter immediately. The Royal Commission refers to the need to keep in touch with the United States Environmental Protection Agency on the question of 2,4,5-T. This is, of course, routine to the advisory committee, and on a much wider basis. It is of interest that the chairman will soon be having discussions with the Australian authorities.

The pesticides safety precautions scheme is one of the United Kingdom's real success stories, and we intend to keep it so.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Seven o'clock am