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Commons Chamber

Volume 976: debated on Friday 21 December 1979

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House Of Commons

Friday 21 December 1979

The House met at Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Petition

Kenneth Edward Holmes

I wish to present to Parliament a petition on behalf of my constituent, Kenneth Edward Holmes, of Kingston upon Hull, at present detained at Her Majesty's pleasure in Leyhill Prison, Gloucester. The petition reads:

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
The Humble Petition of Kenneth Edward Holmes
SHOWETH
  • (1) That the Petitioner was convicted of rape and indecent assault at York Assizes in 1955 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment;
  • (2) That on appeal against conviction and sentence the application for leave to appeal against conviction was refused, and on the appeal against sentence being heard the Petitioner was presumed in judgment to be mentally unstable….
  • (3) That the Petitioner was given no opportunity of rebutting any such presumption….
  • (4) That the Petitioner was released in February 1964 and recalled to prison in July 1964….
  • (5) That the Petitioner was then kept imprisoned further until April 1966, when he was released;
  • (6) That the Petitioner gave notice to the Home Office in February 1967 of his having been threatened by named police officers who stated their intention of securing the revocation of the licence….
  • (7) That the police by whom the Petitioner had complained of being threatened then issued a warrant against the Petitioner on 16 August 1967, and the then Minister of Defence ordered revocation of the life licence on that same day;
  • (8) That the Petitioner was returned from the Republic of Ireland under an Order of Extradition….
  • (9) That on his being taken to Leeds prison in January 1968 the Petitioner was immediately imprisoned under the life sentence….
  • (10) That at trial for the indecent assault specified in the indictment, it was alleged that the Petitioner had touched the clothing of a youth of fifteen years of age at the Petitioner's place of business on a date on August 1967….
  • (11) That it was found by Mr. Justice Lawton that there would be no case to answer but for the police evidence; that there was no medical cause for the offence charged; that the facts did not disclose any serious offence of its kind; that he saw no reason to take any action in regard to any other matter; and that the Petitioner would go to prison for nine months;
  • (12) That the Petitioner's release was refused in August 1968 when Mr. Home Secretary Callaghan stated that it would not be consistent with his duty to the public to order the Petitioner's release….
  • (13) That the Petitioner has continually made applications for his release in and since 1968, but all such applications have been refused by the Home Secretary;
  • (14) That the Petitioner made successive applications to take legal advice and to institute proceedings in the courts but these applications were all refused by the Home Secretary until the judgment of the European Court of Justice in 1975 vouchsafed the Petitioner's right so to take advice and to proceed in the courts;
  • (15) That the Petitioner requested permission to institute proceedings for conspiracy under the Indictment Act, but this application was refused by the Home Secretary;
  • (16) That the Petitioner made application to be produced in the High Court for the purpose of making application under Rule 53 of the Rules of the Supreme Court for an order to the parole board and for a judicial review of his case, but these applications made to the Home Secretary in and since 1977 have all been refused….
  • (17) That the Minister of State for the Home Department has given assurances to the Honourable Member for Hull West that the medical reports did not justify any action being taken in the Petitioner's case….
  • (18) That the medical reports have at all times certified that the Petitioner is not and has not been in any way disordered, and in particular there is found no change to personality, nor anything of a psychopathic nature, nor any medical or psychiatric reason to justify the Petitioner's continuing confinement in prison….
  • Wherefore your Petitioner humbly prays that your Honourable House will do all in its power to urge the Home Secretary

  • (1) to order the release to the Petitioner of the evidence concealed by the Director of Public Prosecutions at his trial in 1955;
  • (2) to enquire into the use at this trial of an account given by the Complainant which was not the account given when first seen by the police or for a week thereafter;
  • (3) to remedy the error of the Court of Criminal Appeal in the wrongful presumption of the Petitioner being mentally unstable, and to nullify or mitigate the consequences of that error; and
  • (4) to secure to the Petitioner his unbounden right to make applications in the courts and for the purposes of justice. And your Petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.
  • To lie upon the Table.

    Statutory Instruments, &C

    In order to save the time of the House, I propose to put together the Questions on the seven motions to approve statutory instruments.

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A ( Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)

    Northern Ireland

    That the draft Theatres (Northern Ireland) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 11 December, be approved.

    Hosiery And Knitwear Industry

    That the draft Hosiery and Knitwear Industry (Scientific Research Levy) (Amendment) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 19 November, be approved.

    Agriculture

    That the draft Hill Livestock (Compensatory Allowances) Regulations 1979, which were laid before this House on 29 November, be approved.

    Weights And Measures

    That the draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Milk) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 29 November, be approved.

    That the draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Solid Fuel) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 29 November, be approved.

    Cinematographs And Cinematograph Films

    That the draft Cinematograph Films (Distribution of Levy) (Amendment) Regulations 1979, which were laid before this House on 29 November, be approved.

    That the draft Cinematograph (Collection of Levy) (Amendment No. 7) Regulations 1979, which were laid before this House on 29 November, be approved.—[ Mr. Le Marchant.]

    Question agreed to.

    Drug Addiction

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

    11.12 am

    Until recently there was a widespread impression in Britain that the dreadful toll of ruined lives and premature deaths caused by narcotic drug abuse on the decline. That, I regret to say, is not so.

    On 30 October, Lord Denbigh, chairman of the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse, drew the attention of the other place to the fact that there had been a 20 per cent. increase in drug abuse in 1978 and a further escalation in the first six months of this year.

    According to the latest Home Office figures, there are now 4,000 registered addicts, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The official figures refer only to cases of addiction known to the Home Office, that is to say, cases registered at drug addiction clinics. Narcotics agents in the field and drug experts put the figure nearer to 50,000, which would make Britain second only to West Germany as the main European market for illicit drugs. If that is so, God help us.

    Drug addiction has been recognised in this country for many years as a cause of concern. But in the past, when addressing themselves to the problem, successive Governments have invariably seen it as one of dependants who have become addicted through the prescribing of drugs for therapeutic reasons, or over-prescribing by doctors, usually for profit, as we saw in the 1960s. The Government's response then was to cater for this group principally through maintenance prescribing at regional centres attached to district hospitals.

    This policy, although seeking to control the spread of addiction, did not foresee and take into account the large-scale illegal importation of drugs that we are now witnessing. As a consequence, the drug addiction clinics find themselves dealing with only a minor part of the addict population. The majority are therefore wholly dependent upon the street market for their supplies.

    It goes without saying that the majority of these unfortunates sooner or later turn to crime—even to violent crime—in order to find the means of buying the drugs they need. We are beginning to see the consequences. One is the deterioration of the quality of life in our inner city areas. We do not need to go to New York or to Rome to see the squalor or the degradation caused by drug abuse; it is on view here in our capital city. Another is the increasing fatality rate, and the disturbing fact here is that this is affecting all sections of society. If people from well-known families, coming from materially secure backgrounds, are falling victims to chronic drug taking, what chance is there for the disadvantaged in our society who are caught in the same net?

    Where do we start to find a solution? The United Nations premise that we cannot control supply without controlling demand is correct. Supply and demand support one another in the development and maintenance of drug abuse and we can agree that drug control policies which exclude measures to reduce demand are doomed to failure.

    It is ironic, therefore, that as drug abuse increases in this country the treatment services are coming under threat. Mr. David Turner, co-ordinator of the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse, said recently that the non-statutory residential services are beginning to face acute financial difficulty. Whatever the reason for that—I am not going into it now—society really must make up its mind how it wants to tackle the problem, by care and education or by punishment. There is no doubt as to which is the more expensive. The cost of residential rehabilitation is on average £56 a week. The cost of imprisonment is £115 a week.

    All this would be serious enough if drug abuse were purely a British phenomenon, but of course it is not. Because of our geographical position and ease of communication, we are peculiarly vulnerable to the development of the illicit drug traffic. It is imperative, therefore, that we recognise that all Western nations—ourselves in particular—are now facing a threat the like of which we have never faced before, and that we understand its implications. It is a threat that we ignore at our peril.

    Consider the warning that was uttered by Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the United States Senate sub-committee on criminal justice, at a recent meeting in Washington of the NATO committee on challenges of Western society. He said:
    "The abuse of narcotic drugs, especially heroin, which for many years has plagued the United States, is reaching epidemic proportions in Western Europe. A flood of opium, morphine and heroin is pouring out of the unpoliced tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan into the Western world, so much so that those areas have replaced the fabled Golden Triangle' of South-East Asia as the major source of the world-wide illegal drug traffic. It is a flood that threatens to overwhelm us all, unless we find the means of dealing with it, and find them soon."
    Senator Biden went on to say:
    "Nothing threatens the internal security and social fabric of any nation as directly as the prospect of massive heroin addiction and the related crime and violence it breeds."
    He was speaking as an elected politician with full knowledge of what the heroin epidemic had cost his own country in the 1960s. He said:
    "To our misfortune, we led the world with a spiralling addict population and an accelerating crime rate. In 1970, the greatest cause of death among our youth was not the automobile, nor even the war in Vietnam. In 1970 in New York City there were 1,000 deaths from heroin overdose, a rate that had grown five-fold in 10 years. Addicts who had developed $30 to $100 a day drug habits turned to shoplifting, mugging, burglary and armed robbery to pay for heroin. Perhaps as many as 800,000 addicts were committing at least $2 billion a year in crimes against property, which often included crimes against persons to support the high cost of their addiction. The crime rate went through the roof, with an impact on the morale of law-abiding citizens, from which we have not yet recovered."
    As a result, the American authorities were obliged to mount a massive and costly campaign to treat these addicts and to reduce the demand for drugs. Their programmes eventually cost them $3½ billion and they are still spending today $300 million a year on treatment of addicts.

    At the same time, the Americans stepped up their domestic and international law enforcement efforts. That alone has cost them $2 billion since 1969, and they are currently spending $500 million a year.

    They quickly saw that none of this would have much effect unless they could reduce the production of opium at source, and so they offered financial assistance to countries willing to join in a combined effort. It was, on the whole, a success story. With the co-operation of France, Turkey, Mexico and the United Nations, supplies from overseas were reduced and, for the first time in 10 years, the number of heroin addicts in the United States declined, dropping by more than 100,000 in the past few years. The death rate from heroin overdose fell quite dramatically.

    Now the scene has darkened again. With the breakdown of authority in Afghanistan and Iran, efforts in those countries to end opium production have been badly disrupted, law enforcement has been gravely weakened and, as a result, heroin supplies are now flooding into Western Europe in ever-increasing quantities.

    American experts believe that the scale of opium production in this area dwarfs anything that we have ever known before. They estimate that it will provide the base for 80 tons of heroin a year—well over 10 times the current American consumption. That excess is now seeking and finding its market in Western Europe.

    Deaths from heroin overdose in West Germany alone have increased massively and are now exceeding those in the United States. The death rate in Italy is rising. Senator Biden told the NATO meeting:
    "We are finding high rates of addiction among American servicemen in Europe. In some of our military units there, routine heroin use may be as high as 20 per cent. We have no reliable statistics on the rate among other NATO forces."
    Last month an American Congressional team visited West Germany, took evidence from army personnel and concluded that 20 per cent. of American service men were taking hard drugs and that 90 per cent. were regularly taking soft drugs. Leaving aside the defence implications of this staggering revelation, I must ask the Minister of State whether this infection is spreading to other NATO forces in Germany and, if so, what is being done about it. I gave him notice that I would ask that question.

    The Americans fear that this new wave of drug taking in Europe will spread and reinfect the United States, despite their prodigious investment in trying to contain the problem over the past decade. Similar fears have been voiced in this country. Mr. David Turner, to whom I have already referred, was reported in The Daily Telegraph of 20 July as saying:
    "I believe Britain could be on the brink of a heroin epidemic."
    It is crystal clear that we are confronted with a problem that no single country can solve by itself. We can each contribute by curbing domestic demand and by tightening up our own law enforcement, but, without a truly international effort directed primarily towards stopping the production of drugs at source, we shall make little progress. We need a global strategy for a global problem..

    In his address to the NATO committee, Senator Biden argued correctly that the production of opium was closely and inevitably related to rural poverty in the Third World. He made the point that, while the opium poppy is attractive as a cash crop to Third World farmers, the rewards are not so great at the field level. The major profits are made much further down the distribution line. His view was that it would not be inordinately difficult to persuade those farmers to turn to alternative crops.

    Those of us who have studied developmental problems in the Third World would not wholly agree. Whatever the return, cultivation of the poppy gives a far higher yield than rice or other crops. But basically the senator is right to recognise that a switch is possible only if we accept that in the economic development of the Third World lies the ultimate solution. He was absolutely right to urge that the development assistance committee of the OECD should include narcotics control as a factor of bilateral and multilateral assistance programmes by insisting on the exclusion of opium production from the irrigation and agricultural projects that it sponsors. He was right, too, in saying that additional assistance should be given to the United Nations fund for drug abuse, which has played a most useful role in traditional law enforcement, crop substitution and research in South Asia and other opium producing areas.

    It follows that these multilateral efforts should be supplemented by the bilateral arrangements that each NATO member makes with producing countries. I hope that my remarks on this subject will be duly noted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is now responsible for our aid programme.

    The first requirement of any global strategy is that individual nations should recognise that they have a mutuality of interest in this matter. We all stand to gain wherever the production of opium is stopped, wherever the evil trade of narcotics is frustrated, and wherever the spread of addiction is checked.

    The second requirement, however, is more difficult, namely, that we should act in unison and match our contributions to the scale of the problem. Here there is some cause for anxiety.

    The decision by the Americans to withdraw their excellent drugs enforcement administration in Paris as an economy measure and to relocate it in Washington has caused alarm to law enforcement agencies in Western Europe. As far as I am aware, the Government have not expressed any concern on this matter. In their view, no doubt, this is a matter for the United States authorities However, there is concern among the police and customs officials and those engaged in combating this dreadful scourge. They genuinely believe that it will hamper the collection of vital intelligence and the co-ordination of effort in suppressing the traffic. Certainly no other agency is so well equipped to carry out this crucial role.

    The Americans, on the other hand, have been critical of the Foreign Office refusal last June to discuss an American plan for buying out opium producers. I am not saying whether there is a case for that or not, but there must be greater co-operation among the major Powers engaged in this work.

    Again, there are discordant voices on western attitudes to soft drugs. At a recent conference held by the United Nations international narcotics control board in Geneva, the representatives of 17 Asian countries, struggling manfully to control the drug traffic at source, took a combined stand against the trend in some parts of Europe and North America to legalise cannabis, which they see as providing opportunities for the pushing of the hard drugs that they are desperately trying to suppress.

    There is no room for sloppy permissiveness and divided effort in what should be a concerted world-wide campaign to stamp out this evil trade. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that there is a basis here for co-operation not merely between Western nations and the producing nations in Asia and elsewhere, but right across the ideological gulf. I noticed with great interest that in The Times of 10 December there was a report that a Western diplomat in Hong Kong had said that the Soviet Union was doing its best to stifle opium production in areas where it had some influence and seemed to be meeting with some success. That is encouraging news.

    Narcotic drug abuse poses a common threat to all nations, irrespective of their ideological stance or grouping. It is a threat to established order everywhere. It feeds criminality; it ruins young lives; it kills and maims. Therefore, if we are genuinely concerned to stamp it out, I hope and trust that Britain will take a lead in promoting the widest possible international co-operation and will not shrink from making its contribution to the resources that such an effort requires.

    11.30 am

    The whole House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) for the concern that he has expressed and the force, vigour and passion which have enlightened his speech. That concern is echoed throughout the world. The parents of many youngsters will have been a little heartened by the fact that the House shares their concern in their private tragedy by trying to do something through the channels open to us.

    The hon. Member for Essex, South-East has clearly demonstrated that this terrible scourge knows no frontiers; it is a worldwide problem. I echo his appeal that more should be done to combine operations to prevent the spread of the disease, to spread knowledge about what should be done when treatment is required, and to share the knowledge coming from the various committees which are at present studying this problem.

    One of the great failings is that a multiplicity of different disciplines is involved. Is the Minister of State satisfied that there is sufficient co-ordination in his co-ordination committee? The hon. Member for Essex, South-East rightly addressed himself mainly to the responsibility of the Home Office under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the various international means that are available for combating the drug problem. As the House is aware, my concern is mainly with health matters and I address myself to that subject.

    The problem of heroin is a great danger. I remind the House that last year in the United Kingdom the misuse of barbiturates was the greatest cause of death and hospitalisation among young drug abusers. The use of barbiturates is widespread. I could have given the House the exact figures, but for the moment I do not have them with me. However, the number of barbiturates swallowed annually runs into millions.

    The second important question for the Minister of State is when does he propose to put forward a Bill to amend the regulations that cover barbiturates in the same way that other drugs are covered? All general practitioners are waiting for some sort of legislation, because they have to prescribe these drugs.

    Despite the difficulties we have had with illegal sources of drugs, a bigger problem is the legal source of supply. As a former member of the North-West regional hospital board, I tried for four years to persuade a firm to stop producing amphetamines. They used to be known as purple hearts, but the name was changed to Paris blues. On the hospital board, within the vicinity of that company, one of the first things that we had to do was install a drug addiction clinic. I ask the Minister of State, therefore, to address himself to the problem of the escalation of barbiturates. We need to control them and we need amending legislation to do so.

    It is generally understood that amphetamines are no longer in the armoury of medicine. There is only one real complaint, which is narcolepsy, for which barbiturates are of any value and all other treatment of patients can now be done by other drugs which do not have the same properties as amphetamines.

    I commend to the House the action of the Ipswich doctors who formed the organisation CURB. That is an attempt by doctors to stop prescribing barbiturates and amphetamines. I hope that the British Medical Association will give more publicity to the efforts doctors are making to deal with this problem.

    Pharmacists also have a problem because of the number of prescriptions that they receive from certain general practitioners. This is where co-ordination with the Department of Health and Social Security could be of value.

    I recently had the honour to attend a conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. That conference was equally seized of the problems that were outlined so urgently by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East. In our discussions we were concerned that what the hon. Member said was happening in the United States and in Europe was also occurring in Canada and New Zealand. In New Zealand every day in the national newspapers there is a full-page story about the problems of drug abuse faced by that country. One thing that emerged from that conference was an agreement that heroin abuse was continuing to spread and that the popularity of the use of cocaine was growing in America and Western Europe. We also agreed that there was a continuing rise in non-barbiturate sedative hypnotics, such as methaqualone and amphetamine-type drugs. The only ray of sunlight in this terrible catalogue that was received from delegates from all over the Commonwealth was that the use of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, was decreasing. That is at least one change over the last 10 years.

    It is the multi-injection of several drugs in combination with alcohol that is leading to so much of the illness and death among our young people. The tragedy is that it is not the unintelligent or those who are socially or economically deprived who are involved. Often the most intelligent youngsters who are rebelling against society take drugs as a form of protest. That is a natural period through which most young people go.

    One of the difficulties for the Minister of State is that often the consequences of drug taking are not a deterrent to the rebellious youngster, but a challenge. Therefore the Minister has to find ways not just to put out the right educational background on the consequences of drug abuse but to reach the youngster psychologically.

    Will thes hon. Member for Brent, South(Mr. Pavitt) give the House his view on what sort of deterrent will help to reduce the number of pushers of hard drugs?

    It is very difficult to answer that question, because it is a combined operation. It is a matter of dealing not just with the pedlar on the street but with an organisation, and often only the man on the street is penalised. I am sure that the Minister will give consideration to this when he replies.

    The combined operations required are inadequate unless the Minister can tell us what has happened since the Wootton report. What has happened over the last five years, when a whole series of medical reports—I refer particularly to those under Professor Paton—have been available to the DHSS and the Home Office? This problem does not stand still. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East made that quite clear.

    The problem is progressing. However, alongside that progression there is an increasing knowledge, which is of assistance. I hope that the Minister of State and his Department are informed of what is taking place so that they can make the necessary changes in the attempts both to stem addiction and to deal with the rehabilitation to save those who are half-damned from being completely damned.

    There is so much more I could say, but this is a short debate. I wonder whether the House will forgive me, as this is the festive season, if I say that, although I should have liked to see someone from the DHSS on the Frent Bench, I welcome the Minister of State. I would be most grateful if he would convey to his officials the gratitude of Members such as myself who have inner city immigration problems for all that the Department does on helping to deal with five or six cases a week throughout the year. We are most grateful for the way in which these problems are dealt with. In that spirit I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to the debate.

    11.39 am

    I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) on the usual astute way in which he has detected the evils in our society and has sought to expose them to the light of day in this Chamber.

    The time has surely come when we in Britain must urgently consider the now alarming evidence, not only from statistics but from accounts of experts throughout the world, of the spread of the epidemic of drug abuse.

    My hon. Friend mentioned the flood of opium, morphine and heroin from the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the "golden triangle" in South-East Asia. This problem has now been aggravated by the breakdown in law and order in Iran, which, of course, acts as a corridor in that part of the world.

    The United States agencies are alarmed as never before. The European agencies are alarmed and extremely concerned. I think that it is time that we began to put aside our attitude of complacency towards this problem.

    The courts are hearing more and more about the spread of drugs, particularly barbiturates, and, unfortunately, in the past we have tended to be complacent. The Braine committee—nothing to do with my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East—which reported in 1961 concluded that there was little reason to fear an increase in addiction. In a short time that committee was forced to eat its words to such an extent that it reconvened in 1965 and produced a second report to show that there had been a substantial increase in cocaine and heroin addiction, and that the main source of supply was over-prescribing by a small number of doctors. Action was taken, principally by the establishment of certain tightly controlled treatment centres.

    The spread of drug abuse has continued at an alarming rate. There was a 20 per cent. increase last year over the previous year in the number of registered drug addicts. Yet it is not registered addiction that matters; it is the illicit use of drugs. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East was probably not wrong to conclude that there were a terrifying 50,000 possible drug addicts in this country.

    The Home Office figures could give us the position. I have asked for these to be updated but this has not yet been done. I urge the Minister of State to give us today the latest figures—the numbers of seizures of drugs, convictions of drug addicts and pushers, and the number of registered drug addicts. Are these numbers increasing, and if so by how much? Are the figures worse than those of last year?

    My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East quoted the conclusion of David Turner, of the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse. Mr. Turner went on to say:
    "The panic about drugs in the 1960's was over 750 addicts. We now have over 4,100 officially, yet we are told that everything is under control."
    Is the present figure more than 4,100? If so, how much greater is it? Are we still to be to told that everything is under control?

    Certainly the police must be congratulated on their quite brilliant successes, particularly Operation Julie, and we must be grateful that organised crime has not been conspicuous on the drug scene in this country. If Kemp and Todd could have made such large sums of money by amateurish use of the drug market, what on earth would happen if the big gangs got in on the scene? Will the Government now recognise the danger of an epidemic and keep the facts and figures constantly before the British public?

    What international activities are we engaged in to check the spread of drug abuse and what co-ordination is there among us and other countries of Europe, and Europe and America? The British public are entitled to know the protective measures that are being taken by the Government.

    Has the time not come to end the sociological mythology that cannabis does not lead to hard drugs? It may be a medical fact that there is no link between the two, but psychologically and in practice there is quite blatantly a link. In the number of years that I have been practising at the criminal Bar I have defended a number of people who have been addicted to drugs. I do not ever recall an occasion on which such a person did not tell me that he had started on cannabis or other soft drugs. We must bring this fact home to young people. They must realise that there is a link, whether it is psychological or medical.

    We are concerned for the very fabric of our society. Nothing will destroy that fabric more effectively than undermining the morale of our young people. Nothing undermines that morale more than the spread of drug addiction and the crime that follows. We must look to the future, and even if drug abuse in this country has not reached the epidemic proportions of the United States and some other European countries, we must act to stop it now. We must show a determination to keep the threat of abuse in check. The British people are entitled to that. They are entitled to know that their Parliament debates these matters and that their Government will show no complacency about the dangers and act to protect everyone in this country.

    11.45 am

    I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who has a flair for grasping the quieter opportunities in this House and bringing up matters of great importance. There is no doubt that this is what he has done this morning, and I am grateful to him.

    I was very touched by the kind words of the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) about the officials of my Department and the way in which they handle difficult immigration cases. I assure him that his words will be passed on.

    This has been a useful if short debate, and I shall try to answer as many points as I can in the next 15 minutes. There is absolutely no doubt about the importance of the subject and I fully understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East presented such a grave picture of what is happening in the world today.

    I do not need to dwell on the human degradation that contained drug abuse entails, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that control is essentially an international problem. He used the term "a global problem" and he was right to do so.

    The recognition of the need for international co-operation in this field goes back many years. Beginning in 1909, when the first international conference was convened in Shanghai to consider the opium problem, countries have increasingly come together in the common attempt to stamp out the illicit trade not only in opium and its derivatives but in the many other drugs that, over the years, have come to be recognised as dangerous, or at least very harmful.

    International effort in this field is directed and co-ordinated by the United Nations commission on narcotic drugs, in which the United Kingdom plays a full part. Some 109 countries are parties to the United Nations single convention on narcotic drugs 1961. Therefore, we recognise that this is very much an international picture.

    The report of the 26th session of the United Nations commission, held earlier this year, paints a gloomy picture of the trends in drug abuse from one country to another. It mentions, among other things, a continuing spread of heroin abuse, as well as abuse of other apiates, such as morphine and synthetic narcotics; a further rise in the popularity of cocaine abuse in the Americas and Western Europe; a continuing rise, except in certain countries, in the abuse of non-barbiturate sedative hypnotics such as methaqualone and, to a lesser extent, tranquilisers, such a valium. Amphetamine-type substances are increasingly being abused and this abuse is reaching serious proportions in several countries. There is a continuing widespread abuse of cannabis and a further accentuated tendency towards multiple drug abuse, frequently in combination with alcohol.

    The United Kingdom is certainly not isolated from these trends. There is a substantial, if unquantifiable, demand for inject able drugs and some unwelcome signs that sophisticated professional criminals, not previously involved in the drugs scene, are now moving into drugs trafficking. The number of drug seizures by the law enforcement agencies has been increasing, as has the quantity of heroin and cocaine seized.

    At the end of last year about 2,400 people in the United Kingdom were receiving treatment as notified narcotic drug addicts. This was an increase of 400 over the previous year's figure and the first substantial increase for three years. Part of this is accounted for by improved notification, because the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security took special steps during 1978 to remind doctors of their statutory obligation to notify.

    Provisional figures for 1979 will, I hope, be available early in the new year so that we can begin to assess better whether there is indeed a rising trend of notified addiction. However, the figures of noti- fied addicts need to be interpreted with caution. Their scope is clearly limited. They do not include those whom doctors have failed to notify, or addicts receiving drugs wholly from illicit sources, or addicts of non-notifiable drugs such as the barbiturates which are not yet controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. I shall return to barbiturates in a moment.

    I fully appreciate that the statistics do not provide an answer to the question of how many persons may be addicted to narcotic drugs but who manage to maintain their addiction by resort to the illicit market, and whom we therefore do not know about. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East reported an overall figure of 50,000, which has been quoted by some of those who work in this area. I doubt whether that is a realistic figure. Perhaps the most scientific indication that we have had of the possible size of this unknown grey area of narcotic addiction is contained in studies carried out by Dr. Hamid Ghodes into the drug problems that were dealt with by 62 London accident and emergency departments. Dr Ghodes suggests that possibly there are as many persons who are addicted to a narcotic drug, and who are not notified to the Home Office, as there are notified. On that basis, the Home Office figures should be doubled to arrive at a realistic figure of the total incidence of narcotic addiction.

    Therefore, even if we base our conclusions on the figure of 4,100 quoted in the press, which we do not regard as altogether valid, the total numbers of narcotic addicts fall considerably short of 10,000. However, that is bad enough. More significant as a warning light are the quantities of heroin that are seized by customs and police, which more than doubled in 1978. The trend is clearly demonstrated by the fact that in 1976, customs staff seized 16.65 kilos of heroin; in 1978, 58.40 kilos and so far in 1979, 37.636 kilos. Moreover, while as much as 90 per cent. of that seized in the earlier years was destined for onward transmission to other countries, the majority of this year's seizures seemed to have been destined for United Kingdom markets. This applies especially to the high purity heroin coming—as my hon. Friend said—from or at least via Iranian and other Middle Eastern sources. This has coincided with the period of abnormal unrest and instability in Iran, and that is a worrying factor.

    I do not think that the facts entirely support the more alarmist reports in the press, but they give us cause for concern. However, we can be thankful that we have so far managed to avoid a heroin problem of the proportions that are now being experienced in Germany. The first line of defence against this threat is vigorous action by the law enforcement authorities, and they are making tremendous efforts. I am sure that hon. Members will be aware, from newspaper reports, of the recent crop of drug hauls, which have included large seizures in dangerous circumstances. Hardly a week goes by without a notable seizure being reported.

    Only last week a group of 24 people were arrested, including Germans, Austrians and Iranians as well as Britons, who are alleged to be involved in the smuggling of substantial quantities of heroin. The German authorities have also arrested four people in connection with the same network. Seven people, including Turkish nationals, were recently arrested on charges involving the smuggling of heroin through Harwich. In both cases the drugs were deeply concealed.

    The operations involve a great deal of intelligence gathering and co-operation between the police and customs and the central drugs intelligence unit in this country and the law enforcement agencies of other countries. If there were time, I could give many other examples of what has been happening, including a very good example of excellent co-operation which resulted in the finding of very large quantities of cannabis in a boat off the Cornish coast only a few months ago.

    One of the difficulties is that the criminal organisers are usually careful to create barriers between themselves and the couriers which make it difficult for the law enforcement agencies to do more than catch the small fry. However, it is clear that our agencies are having some success, and I say again that that owes a great deal to co-operation with other countries.

    The customs and the police have our full support in this work. Liaison with other countries is very close, and is improving all the time. United Kingdom representatives on the United Nations commission on narcotic drugs recently encouraged an initiative to set up a regional conference on law enforcement issues relating to Middle East heroin, and representatives of our police and customs played a leading role in that conference, which took place in Geneva earlier this year and produced useful results. We also play a full part in Interpol and the Customs Co-operation Council. In addition, there was recently a ministerial conference in Stockholm in which my noble Friend Lord Belstead, took part on behalf of this country.

    The international aspect of this matter is what is really crucial. I have seen at first hand the excellent forensic intelligence work that is carried out at the Home Office laboratory at Aldermaston, which has an important international dimension. Co-operation involves not merely exchanging samples, data and results, but certain countries agreeing to specialise in particular aspects of drug-related research. Much sophisticated work is taking place with other countries aimed at things such as the identification of the origin of seized drugs and the monitoring of trends in the distribution of illicit drugs, which assists with the early spotting of a new trafficking route and, in some cases, sources.

    The United Kingdom also contributes to the United Nations fund for drug abuse control, which support both short-term practical law enforcement effort and longer-term crop substitution programmes in opium-producing countries. That issue was raised during the debate, and from having talked to Ministers from countries such as Thailand, I know that they well realise how important this matter is.

    So far, I have concentrated on narcotic drug addiction, but, as we know, the problem goes wider than that. The abuse of certain barbiturates, as the hon. Member for Brent, South said—often in combination with other drugs and alcohol—is probably a numerically larger problem in the United Kingdom than that of heroin. Barbiturates are undoubtedly addictive, and both misuse and withdrawal can be highly dangerous. On the recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Government have decided that they should be brought within the controls of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

    Those hon. Members who follow this subject will know that we intend to bring forward appropriate measures when we have resolved certain difficulties concerning the capacity of the forensic science service to play its part in these controls. The problem relates to the difficulty of proving that a seized substance is a particular barbiturate, as distinct from a member of a generic class of barbiturates. The costs of providing resources to meet the recommendations of the advisory council are substantial—at least £1 million initially, including manpower costs—and we have therefore asked the advisory council to consider the possibility of a generic control formula. This has also involved reference back to the bodies representing the medical and pharmaceutical professions, but I hope that this matter will be finally resolved when the advisory council meets again in mid-January. In the meanwhile, I should like to say that we have appreciated the work of CURB.

    LSD is a very important source of drug abuse. Do the Government have any proposals to place restrictions upon the importation of some of the chemicals that are essential to the manufacture of that drug?

    I shall write to my hon. Friend about that. The question of cannabis was also raised, and in some ways this is the most controversial issue. Earlier this year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs produced a report on the matter. It examined the question of the future control of the drug in this country and made certain recommendations for downgrading the penalties for cannabis offences. We are now considering these proposals, but I should add that we have no plans to legalise cannabis.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East also referred to the risk of drug addiction among the armed forces. We believe that our armed forces are fortunate, in that they do not have a significant drugs problem. The rate of drug offences in the armed forces is well below one in 1,000 Service men annually, and I understand that the trend is one of decline. The majority of such offences concern soft drugs and there is no evidence of active drug pushers among Service men. That at least is reasonably encouraging.

    The hon. Member for Brent, South concentrated on treatment, as one would expect him to do with his deep interest in health matters. As he knows, this is primarily for the DHSS, and I am afraid that time precludes me from saying very much about it. Of course we understand the great importance of that. My colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Security believe that this is an area of great concern. There is an experimental community-based project for young poly-drug misusers funded by the DHSS and the London Boroughs Association, and I intend to look at that centre early in the new year and see what is going on. The Standing Conference on Drug Addiction is doing valuable work.

    When the advisory council considers barbiturates and treatment, will amphetamines be included?

    I shall look into that. It is specifically looking at the question of barbiturates, as it is following up its report and how to implement it effectively. The advisory council has always been very much aware of the amphetamine problem.

    I hope that I have made clear the Government's regard for the problem. It is a serious one, and we shall continue to give our fullest support to the law enforcement agencies. We are watching this problem closely and, above all, we are playing a full part in the international campaign against drug trafficking. The Government are far from complacent.

    On a more cheerful note, I wish you. Mr. Speaker, a very happy Christmas and I wish the House a happy Christmas. Perhaps the gold, myrrh and frankincense are more welcome presents from the East than the heroin that we have been discussing.

    Ship Repairs (Thames)

    12.1 pm

    I am pleased to be able to draw the attention of the House to the present and future position of ship repair in the Thames. Perhaps I should not say "pleased", because in a few weeks the comprehensive service of ship repair along the River Thames will end.

    At present, only one firm provides such a service—River Thames Ship repairers Ltd. When that firm was acquired by British Shipbuilders a few years ago its employees numbered 1,600. At the beginning of this year those employees numbered 800 and today there are about 62. In a few weeks' time there will be virtually no employees left. That brings to the end perhaps a thousand years or more of the comprehensive organisation of skills and management along the River Thames. Those facilities were capable of building ships of any size or of giving a comprehensive repair service in dry docks.

    That sad state of affairs can teach us all some lessons, and perhaps it indicates that we should be concerned about some of the de-industrialisation problems that now beset our nation. Those mechanisms have either not been properly identified or have not been properly publicised. My remarks this morning will largely be of a non-partisan character, although I think that the Minister will understand the few partisan references that I make and will reply to them.

    I am concerned that we all—especially those hon. Members representing London constituencies—learn the lessons of the past and apply them to the serious problems that face the nation now. The port of London has many problems. The House will know that the Government's support of the Port of London Authority was consequent upon a good number of changes in the function of that port, and upon technical changes in shipping.

    We tend to forget that London is still the biggest port in the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom is still a major maritime nation. I am not sure that the City of London, which lies adjacent to these activities, takes that sufficiently into account.

    At present, there are two dry docks in the Port of London of 750 feet in length, one of 500 feet and a number of smaller dry docks providing services for dry-docking. There are workshops alongside, together with the necessary machinery and headquarters for the management and skills required for repairs.

    The port of London has a long history. The naval dockyards were at Deptford and Woolwich, and London was the pre- mier shipbuilding town in the nineteenth century, producing, among other vessels, HMS "Warrior", fortunately still afloat and a marvel of nineteenth century ingenuity. As late as 1912 a dreadnought called the "Thunderer" was launched in my constituency. The Thames ironworks was the father of West Ham football team. That team was called "the Hammers" in a double sense, and the club still bears the emblem of a hammer today.

    Ship repair is an exacting task. In many ways it is more difficult than shipbuilding. Each job is a one-off job, requiring different skills and management tasks. Ship repairs entail bidding against competition anywhere in North-West Europe and, as a ship is by nature mobile, competition is found all over the world. Unhappily, the nineteenth century customs of shipbuilding and dock work, and some of the customs of management and men, have over spilled into the twentieth century. However, unlike dockwork—that is happily now reaching the end of its controversial stage—ship repair became decasualised only recently. Men had the habit of going from job to job and from firm to firm in order to get what they could. There was an inbuilt mechanism of money on the nail. The ship was there, the shipowner wanted the repair, and at that time there was an available supply of management and men.

    The ship repair industry in London was publicly acquired in 1977. The firms of R. and H. Green and Silley Weir Ltd. and the London Graving Dock Company Ltd. were combined. They had workshops adjacent to dry docks that were owned by the Port of London Authority. The division of facilities must be borne in mind when looking to the future. Having been acquired by the nation, the skills of these men and the physical assets of London became a national and local asset. They should have been treated as such, and efforts have been made in that direction. Hon Members representing the port of London areas, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald)—where the River Thames shipbuilders have a large plant—have been very active in that respect.

    The first that we knew of the cessation of the River Thames Shiprepairers was a scant press notice. The notice was terse, to say the least. So terse was it that it did not even refer to a plant that was to be left in the West India Dock, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar. Unlike the situation at Tilbury, sufficient men with sufficient skills have volunteered to stay to do the work that would arise. Pressure has been put on British Shipbuilders by Governments of both complexions, and it has taken certain steps to achieve viability in areas where viability did not formerly exist.

    It is easy to say that we must balance the books, but there is one sure way of doing that if it cannot be done in any other way, and that is to close down the operation. That is what has happened, but the organisation that has closed down the operation does not have to take account of any indirect effects upon the viability and importance of the port of London as a whole, or of the economic and industrial impact on East London.

    My hon. Friend will recall that he and I visited River Thames Shiprepairers at the Albert Dock a few months ago. We discussed with the management the implications of its statement of 18 May. One of the things that we find most disturbing is the sudden change of plan. We were aware then that it was planning to halve the ship repairing capacity on the Thames. However, there was no proposal totally to deny the Thames such a facility. It was proposed to concentrate on the River Thames Shiprepairers facilities in Tilbury and to retain a small but useful facility in the West India Dock. I do not understand this dramatic change of plan in less than six months. None of us has been informed of any adverse developments in the discussions that were taking place.

    My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the major implications for the ship repairing industry as a whole on the Thames, but as dockland Members we also have to consider the implications of a closure of this kind—it will involve nearly 1,000 jobs—on our effort to revive employment and industry in dockland areas. It is, after all, one of the seven partnership areas formed by the last Government between central and local government—areas of special need for employment and upon which every effort was supposed to be made—certainly during my day as chairman of the dockland partnership—to introduce new work and retain existing jobs.

    I hope, therefore, that the point will come over very strongly that we are dealing here not only with the end of the ship repairing industry but with a further blow to the prospect for employment in our already hard-pressed areas.

    I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for endorsing and underlining, from his wide experience, the points that I have made. I pay tribute to the efforts that he made about six months ago, when all London port members were trying to ensure that there would be a continuation of a comprehensive ship repair facility. We wanted to see the important, very specialised and historic skills involved retained in a core of facility, however small that might be. I think that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock will wish me to mention the name of the former director of the firm, Mr. James Ekins, who in his time made considerable efforts in that direction.

    The problem at that time, however, was in resolving difficulties arising from working practices. Alas, for reasons that have sometimes not been clear, it was not possible to do so in the economic climate of those times. On occasion it was hard to find out where the difficulties lay.

    It would be wrong for me to omit a factor in the situation—it may be anecdotal or it may be rumour—that British Shipbuilders, in wishing to achieve overall viability or a minimum loss in ship repairing, would be glad to see activities on the Thames diminished or changed so that its interests on the Tyne and at Southampton could reduce their losses, or perhaps even become viable. Such suspicions are not provable, but I would put on record that they were undoubtedly an element in the atmosphere in which the negotiations were conducted and, possibly, in the choice of some workers in the industry to accept payment to become redundant.

    Six months ago there was a plan to cut down facilities and leave the extensive plant in my constituency in the Royal Albert Dock which had suffered extensive closure under Harland and Wolff about 10 years ago. That was controversial enough. But the plan was also to concentrate the skills in the West India Dock and at Tilbury. In order to do that, there had to be a large number of redundancies. Quite properly, redundancy payments were available. The problem for the management and some of the employees was whether to go to Tilbury many miles away and forgo the cash payment or to stay with the firm, the long-term future of which was uncertain.

    It would take too long to go into all the factors involved in the national scene, but the fact that skilled men over the age of 40 could receive relatively large amounts of redundancy payment undoubtedly played some part in the difficulties that arose. Of course, it was difficult for those who were under 40, because they were covered by nothing more than normal notice. So rapid was the closure of plant in the West India Dock that one of my constituents who came to see me last Saturday told me that he had been paid off only the day before. He was under 40 and did not have the option of redundancy pay that was open to his older colleagues.

    So we are told that the need to negotiate more flexible working practices—a feature of the period when Mr. Ekins was director—and the possibility of redundancy payments together conspired in various ways to deprive River Thames ship repairers of sufficient numbers of skilled workers. It was on that basis that British Shipbuilders decided that there was no future for any of the operations, and that resulted in the terse press notice that we received on 7 December after having read the news that morning in the press.

    That gives rise to a number of points. It may not have been possible for a smaller operation than had been envisaged to keep going. Naturally the corporation would have had to cover its overheads, including the lease of the workshop from the PLA, the employment of office staff, and so on. However, should the relatively small sums that would be involved in such an operation be allowed to cause the complete collapse of a comprehensive ship repairing service in the Thames? I put that to the Minister in the context of national policy and maritime policy. I question whether that mechanism was justified on a national basis, however much it may appear to have been justified by the state of the accounts of British Shipbuilders or in the light of pressures that I suspect the Government were putting on British Shipbuilders to achieve greater viability—greater pressures than the previous Government exerted. That is the philosophy of the Government, and British Shipbuilders understands that.

    The other point that arises from what I might call account book attitudes is the general approach of the Government and the City to the nitty-gritty of industrial operations in general. In East London an important national industry has disappeared through lack of appreciation of detailed matters just as in West London the capital seems to have lost its bus industry when it had full order books. It appears that London is now unable to build buses or repair ships when demand for both services is certainly buoyant. The reason for our arrival at that position must be considered as a matter of national priority.

    In London there are dry docks owned by the PLA. Next to them are workshops full of machinery. Some of them have had to be closed, and I reluctantly concede that those in my constituency may well have to be disposed of and the machinery sold off. But it is no longer possible to withdraw a propeller shaft from a ship in a London dry dock and take it into an adjacent machine shop for repair, for milling, or for turning on a lathe. That cannot be done with any of the machinery on the ship, either. Any so-called voyage repairs have to be made while the ship is afloat.

    There is at least one small firm, with under 100 employees. I expect that small firms will now spring into existence, no doubt as a result of the small business philosophy of the Government. However, they will not have access to the machinery and facilities immediately adjacent to the dry docks owned by the PLA unles it makes them available or comes to an arrangement to lease them. However, no small firm can afford the overheads involved in leasing such equipment. Therefore, there is a vicious circle, which the Government have a responsibility to consider.

    The Government insistence on account-book profitability and the liability of losses is likely to strip the nation of its national assets. We cannot consider the matter in isolation. These skills are still available in London. Ironically, the men who have taken redundancy will be available for employment, if they so wish, by a new firm. River Thames Shiprepairers Ltd. is going into liquidation. However, other small firms will not be able to use the facilities that are lying, idle and going rusty.

    The Government must understand that the nineteenth century attitude of splitting spoils is one of the historic millstones around the neck of this industry. If that attitude is revived in the twentieth century we are unlikely to find a solution. In fact, we are likely to strip off industry after industry.

    Formerly ship owners had to have repairs carried out in the port of London because the ship docked there. Today ships can sail away anywhere. It is difficult to define where spoils end and genuine profits start. Much of the Government's attitude encourages spoils rather than profits. Therefore, the spoils attitude cannot take account of today's circumstances.

    I should like to ask one or two questions. If the Under-Secretary cannot reply now, I hope that he will cogitate on and consider them and answer later, although perhaps he will be able to answer some now.

    Will the Minister consider the way in which redundancy payments are used when there is almost a national self-stripping of our assets, which I described, and which is being applied to ship repairs? This means that the skills and unquantifiable assets of firms are dispersed for good. We cannot quantify the value of a management team that has worked together for years, the value of experience that is locked up in the family tradition and the minds and hands of men who have perhaps worked in an industry all their lives. Once that tradition has gone, it is virtually impossible to get it back. I am not saying that it is impossible to recreate a viable ship repair industry on the Thames, but I do say that it will be very difficult. That is the first point, but it relates to a much wider canvas.

    Secondly, will the Minister consider the future of ship repairs on the Thames as an issue and take it up with the PLA and potential port users? It would seem incredible and wrong that a Government should not take responsibility for considering the facilities for ship repair in Britain's biggest port, especially as Britain is an historic and current maritime nation.

    The City knows all about money, banking, commerce, pension funds and developments of various kinds. However, it is extraordinary that it does not understand its own backyard. Future historians may well look back at this nation in 1979and marvel at the way in which we appear to put energies, skills and educational opportunities and assumptions into these matters of paper money, although in our own dockyard—the heart blood of the nation—there is something that resembles an almost medieval Mediterranean port, which is ignored either by deliberate choice or because of our educational and social structure.

    Thirdly, will the Minister consider the whole witches' brew that has contributed to what I regard as the rapid decline in basic national assets, of which ship repairing on the Thames is an example? If he requires a definition of a cure, I suggest that the ingredients are the maintenance of skills under new, competitive conditions. Our decline is one of the elements of the industrial pot that now confronts the nation.

    The next ingredient is the system of industrial relations, which is based on a system of spoils. When that system disappears—as it did in terms of dock work, the ordinary port work of the Thames and ship repairs—what can we do to ensure that there is a new, more realistic system of industrial relations before the negotiations take place for asset stripping, redundancies and splitting up firms or closures? Unless we reform the industrial relations situation before that position arrives, we may end up doing ourselves mortal harm in industry after industry. We can learn some lessons from the ship repair position.

    Will the Minister consider the international competitive position in terms of subsidies to EEC ports and ship repairing abroad? It is easy for British ship owners to send their ships to any port in the world for repairs. They move them around. If the Minister insists that British ship repair interests should be viable—and if repairs can be carried out more cheaply abroad, either through port subsidies or cheaper labour—there will be no British ship repairers left. I put it to the Minister that, even on the basis of defence capacity, that is not a wise policy. That is putting the matter at its lowest. I put it much higher.

    I next refer to redundancy payments, which are quite proper, and which I support as a means of compensation for loss of jobs although leading to increased production in some cases. That was the origin of such payments. They are now being used, understandably, as a lubricant to industrial oblivion. That is what happened with River Thames Shiprepairers. I suggest that it is happening in other industries, of which I do not have expert knowledge. The use of the original system of redundancy payments is now leading us in an almost suicidal direction. There is the question of the Government's attitude to laissez-faire. The industrial habits, practices and attitudes of mind of the London ship repairers were based on the circumstances of the nineteenth century and indeed, up to fairly recently, applied to a port at which ships needing repairs had to dock. That situation has now disappeared. The Government's attitude is now one of strict account-book profitability. It is as inappropriate in British conditions today as the spoils system of profitability was fundamentally appropriate to the nineteenth century.

    I hope that the Minister can draw the appropriate lessons from the sad story of ship repairing on the River Thames and that in due course we shall regain the capacity of Britain's biggest port.

    12.29 pm

    I also want to discuss ship repairing on the Thames, particularly in Tilbury. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I am concerned at the suddenness of the announcement by British Shipbuilders that its subsidiary River Thames Shiprepairers was to be closed down almost entirely, with the consequent loss of jobs in Tilbury and neighbouring constituencies.

    I know that negotiations were under way both to improve working practices in an attempt to find greater flexibility and to improve the levels of pay there. We all appreciate the difficulties of such negotiations, but we are concerned that the company should so abruptly try to close the firm and that, having read in our newspapers the announcement of the closure of River Thames Shiprepairers, we should get a short letter and press statement from British Shipbuilders telling us, as the constituency Members involved, the nature of its decision.

    I should like the Minister to comment on the reasons for the difficulty in obtaining agreement over changing working practices and to discuss the comments which British Shipbuilders has made in a letter to constituency Members. The company said:
    "We have tried hard since acquiring the company to make it viable and this has involved us in heavy costs. These continuing losses can no longer be supported and BS Shiprepairing on the river will have to cease."
    Can the Minister tell us the costs involved in trying to make the company viable and what the continuing losses amount to?

    I should like to raise two other issues, particularly as regards Tilbury. The aim was to concentrate RTS there and to ask for volunteers to work in Tilbury. The notional capacity of Tilbury was tied to a particular category of tradesmen. Fitters were chosen as the basis. It appears that RTS was unable to persuade enough fitters to go to Tilbury, but it need not have concentrated on that one category. Other categories, such as boilermakers, would have done just as well.

    I can understand the unwillingness of older men to move from the East End down to Tilbury to start work but, after all, Tilbury docks has existed for a long time. Surely younger people could have been recruited and trained there. The fact that that was not done, that no effort was made to find new recruits and take on apprentices is a matter of concern. Unemployment, although it is by no means the highest in the country, is higher in Thurrock than the national average. Many youngsters leaving school would have appreciated the opportunity of apprenticeships or training facilities so that new people could have been brought in and the firm tided over a difficult period.

    I further understand that at Blundell's, one of the small privately owned ship repairing firms, a number of men were likely to be made redundant. They could easily have filled the vacancies.

    I am concerned because insufficient effort was made to get enough recruits to make the Tilbury ship repairing facilities viable. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South, I can understand why older people would not want to change their jobs but would prefer to take redundancy pay. After all, many of those currently working for RTS started work at 13, 14 or 15. Now in their late 50s, they have behind them a hard working life which depended on casual labour. The offer of several thousand pounds as redundancy pay must seem attractive after a lifetime of hard work.

    But simply buying people off in that way, and ruining an important industry and an important Thames facility in the process, is characteristic, I fear, of this Government's attitude to industry—that of thinking in the short term, being prepared to sell off the seed corn for a quick profit, or to cut losses without a thought for the future, either in terms of providing jobs locally or in terms of providing the necessary facility there.

    As my hon. Friend has rightly said, it is sheer madness that such a large port, particularly such a large containerised docks as Tilbury, should be without a proper ship repairing facility. It will do nothing to help the port of London's competitiveness with ports such as Rotterdam and Dunkirk. We are at a considerable disadvantage if we cannot offer ship repairing.

    I am further concerned because there will now be no emergency repair facility. What does the Minister think can be offered to shipping companies in the way of a service—and a rather expensive service: the PLA's charges are high? What does he think can be offered as an attractive proposition if a ship knows that when it enters the Port of London Authority area its chances of getting a quick and essential repair at Tilbury are nil? Why does he think that we can allow the PLA, and Tilbury docks in particular, to continue in this manner without being able to offer a proper, necessary and full range of services?

    What will happen to the dry docks and equipment available in Tilbury? I understand that some private companies have applied to re-enter the closed docks at Tilbury, including the ex-owner of one of the companies which was formerly there and which went bankrupt. That is why it was taken over by British Shipbuilders under the last Government. Will the dry docks and the equipment just lie fallow or will private firms be allowed to re-enter and try to make a going concern of ship repairing there, bearing in mind their apparent inability to do so in the past?

    Those are my questions for the Minister. I agree entirely with the questions also put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South. Our overriding anxiety is about the lack of a proper ship repairing facility in Tilbury and in other parts of the Port of London. The port will be unable to offer proper services; it will be denuded of something essential.

    12.38 pm

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for raising this important issue and for his usual courtesy in giving me advance notice of some of the points that he wished to raise. I appreciate the tenor of his speech and the fact that he said that he would feel obliged to include a little party political element. That is understandable, although I shall try not to follow him too far down that path. I am sure that he will accept that the whole House will be unhappy to see the closure of River Thames Ship-repairers. It is a tragedy for his constituency and for the whole country. It is distressing to see a long-standing business disappear from our industrial scene.

    I appreciate also the way in which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) asked her questions and I shall try to deal with some of them. I know that the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), who intervened briefly, has to go to the Lancaster House conference. We appreciate his interest also.

    Before I turn to the four questions of the hon. Member for Newham, South I should like to discuss the general ship repair situation, which must be viewed in a wider sense than purely the Thames area. Ship repair has been suffering from over-capacity. The average age of ships has declined, bringing about reduction in the need for repairs. The composition of the British fleets has changed towards fewer and larger vessels. Modern ships with better anti-corrosion finishing obviously need less attention. We have also seen over-capacity resulting in very sharp competition from all over Europe for work which can be done in Europe.

    Simultaneously, there has been a worldwide expansion—in the Far East and South-East Asia and in countries bordering the Mediterranean. Therefore, we cannot divorce the ship repair problem from the general problem of our shipping industry. We are seeing a smaller, more modern shipping industry requiring less repair work which is tending naturally to shop around the world by the very nature of the competition that I have described.

    When the hon. Gentleman spoke of the "spoil" system, he was being rather tactful, but I think that he recognises that there have been substantial industrial relations and productivity problems in a number of ship repairers—and not confined to RTS.

    The general background is of an industry under great pressure. However, it must be said that some companies have continued to be profitable. It must also be said that this Government have sought to help by the Shipbuilding Act which has just received the Royal Assent and which extends the home credit scheme to conversions and alterations by owners in United Kingdom yards. In the broader parameter, I hope that there is scope still to see some resurgence in the ship repair industry in general.

    I turn to the specific problems of RTS. The hon. Gentleman described how the company came into being following a statement by the then Secretary of State for Industry on 2 March 1977. It is right to say that RTS and Falmouth are the two main ship repairers within British Shipbuilders which have been the problem areas. They have a history of long-standing difficulties, and this probably influenced the private owners to sell at the time. British Shipbuilders hoped that these problems would be resolved. Over time it has become apparent that these problems have increased rather than decreased.

    In an effort to find solutions, BS decided to explore the possibility of concentrating at Tilbury. At that time, I suppose it was made clear that the concentration at Tilbury would depend on two factors. The first was that the work force would accept improved working practices and flexibility. The second was that, given the balance of trade, sufficient men should volunteer to transfer from London to Tilbury.

    Both the hon. Member for Thurrock and the hon. Member for Newham, South referred to what is a national problem which we find in all parts of our industry. There is considerable difficulty in having mobility of labour. There is no doubt that this has been a factor here. However, the background to this is that the acquisition by BS gave RTS a two-year grace period for the companies to persuade BS that repair work could be attracted back to the Thames and that there was a reasonable prospect of viability. After four consultations with the unions, BS concluded that the cost of restructuring at Tilbury could not be justified.

    The hon. Member for Newham, South asked the Government to intervene on the ground that RTS was essential to the port of London. I fear that the Government cannot step in. This is a matter for BS and has to be looked at in the wider context of what BS regards as an appropriate ship-repairing capacity for the whole country. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, after a full review, BS feels that Vospers and the river Tyne offer the best prospects of a return to viability.

    The hon. Member for Thurrock talked about destroying the seed corn. However, the size of the ship repairing industry has to be a matter for the skilled judgment of BS—plus, of course, the private sector, which still exists. On that score, it would not be right to end a debate of this kind without drawing one hopeful conclusion out of this. There are still some 20 private firms engaged in various forms of ship repair and general marine engineering along the Thames. I note that the eight largest of those employ more than 600 employees. Therefore, I hope very much that the future opportunities for those ship repairers, given the rationalisation that has taken place—hard though it is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency—will see some growth in those sectors and some absorption of the skills of the employees whose views the hon. Gentleman represents.

    Perhaps I might again put this in a wider context of the viability of British Shipbuilders itself. The hon. Gentleman sought to imply that there was some kind of balance sheet approach which resulted in additional pressure on British Shipbuilders. I have to reject that. BS is tackling a very difficult job. It is given every support by the Government: an example is the way in which the intervention fund has been renewed as one of this Government's first acts, and the way in which it has been extended to ship repairing. In ways such as this we have shown our interest in the matter. British ship repair interests, however, sadly lost £16 million last year on a turnover of £68 million. That is a rate which cannot be sustained.

    We have to consider some of the problems which underlie that. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the difficulties of the economic climate in the early years from 1977 onwards. I have to remind him that pay policy was not at all helpful. I am sure also that the hon. Lady recognises that the problem of mobility of labour was partly bedevilled by the fact that payment for skills was not made any easier at a time when pay policies applied.

    In terms of the basic problem of what is to happen to these facilities, again I do not wish to strike a totally gloomy note. If there are those interested in acquiring facilities at RTS, perhaps it is useful to put on record that my understanding is that initial approaches on that matter should be made to British Shipbuilders, which thereafter will consult the PLA. If the hon. Gentleman has ideas which might facilitate that process, I am sure that BS and the Government will be pleased to see them implemented.

    I am grateful to the Minister for what he has just said. However, does he agree that the 800 men who are now employed in a number of small concerns do not form a coherent service of the sort that I described? Although he has the right to say that he will not intervene in the activities of BS, does he agree that the Government have some responsibility to ensure that the facilities which he mentioned, together with the skills of the 800 men to whom he referred, can be organised in such a way as to provide maximum assistance to Britain's biggest port?

    I accept what the hon. Gentleman said. He raised a wide and difficult question, and I cannot off the top of my head give him a fair answer. We have to look at the facilities required for Britain's biggest port. My instinctive reaction must be that British Shipbuilders' concentration on the Tyne and at Vospers suggests that we are moving into an era where we look for greater mobility in ship repairing than has been the case in the past. Given the more limited activities, this may be part of the problem.

    However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is no one among the private firms comparable with RTS. Nevertheless, who is to say that those companies are not capable of expansion if the market is there? That is why I urge the hon. Gentleman, if he feels that there are ways in which he can use his influence, to look at the matter in this way, and certainly I shall pass on what he said today.

    I think that that covers the general question of what is to happen about the future of ship repair on the Thames. However, the hon. Gentleman raises a wide and important question when he refers to redundancy payments, and I am sure that the whole House will want to reflect on what he said.

    I recall that in times past the hon. Gentleman has been amongst the most fervent to argue about the need for good levels of redundancy pay. If he is saying that we are reaching the position where redundancy pay is having a counter-productive effect in industrial terms, that is a matter which all hon. Members will need to reflect on carefully. But I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that the redundancy payments which have been agreed already have been set at a very high rate, and they seem to have found wide acceptance with many of those who worked in RTS. The decline in national assets—the skills—is understood. It brings us to an area in which British Shipbuilders has a direct responsibility.

    The hon. Gentleman and I have crossed swords on many occasions on the EEC argument. I hope that he, perhaps more than anyone, appreciates that, while there is no provision for a financial contribution from Community funds towards the cost of redundancy payments, there is an opportunity to seek assistance for retraining and the transfer of redundant employees. An application for such assistance under the social fund has already been submitted. We are by no means unhopeful that that will be of assistance to us. To the extent that there are further opportunities for retraining and transfer of redundant employees, we shall endeavour to help as much as possible.

    I bring the House up to date with the present position on redundancy. The hon. Gentleman has been in touch with River Thames Shiprepairers, and he may be aware that, presently, some 86 per cent. of the hourly paid workers who have received notice of redundancy have volunteered to be made redundant, and of these some 80 per cent. should have left employment by the end of today. Therefore, the vast majority have volunteered for redundancy and the matter has moved forward quickly. It is important to put the question before us today in that perspective.

    I turn to another aspect that concerns the hon. Gentleman. Without in any way seeking to be complacent, I believe that it is something that he would wish to feed into the argument, namely, the future of dockland as a whole. Like a number of my hon. Friends, I have had a recent opportunity to visit dockland and to see the problems that are manifest to anyone who looks at what is happening on the ground. The way forward, not only for ship repairing but for the whole industrial position, is an issue that must concern any Government. I take the opportunity of telling the hon. Gentleman and the House that, in the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill, which is shortly to be introduced to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Government will be taking powers to establish urban development corporations in the dockland areas of London and Merseyside.

    The overall objective of the urban development corporations will be to secure the physical and economic regeneration of these disused and, in part, derelict areas. Subject to parliamentary approval, individual urban development corporations will be designated by order towards the end of 1980. The potential powers available to such corporations should be modelled on those available to new town development corporations.

    It is part of the Government's hope that the formation of an urban development corporation in the London dockland will help to provide a viable future for the area and for those who live there. In that sense, the sort of restructuring arguments about what capacity is required within the part of dockland that concerns the hon. Gentleman is a matter that should come to the fore in the thinking of such corporations.

    I have tried to speak on a slightly more hopeful note as we reach the season of good will and good cheer. I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock have raised these matters. The hon. Gentleman said, and I agree with him, that there are lessons for all to learn in that sort of industrial tragedy. I hope that those lessons will be learnt, not only within industry, but within the House and on both sides of the House.

    Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston

    12.56 pm

    I am grateful for the opportunity of raising in this short debate the question of health and safety at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, in my constituency.

    My reasons for raising the subject spring from the investigations carried out by Sir Edward Pochin into radiological health and safety at the establishment at the end of 1978, following the discovery that 12 of those working at the establishment appeared to have accumulated plutonium in their lungs in excess of the level recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

    That discovery caused considerable anxiety among those working at the establishment. It also caused the closure of three active areas at the plant. Sir Edward Pochin in producing his report in two months said he had acted as promptly as he did because he wished to allay those anxieties as quickly as he could. Broadly, his report vindicated the health and safety measures that had been used at Aldermaston for many years. In paragraph 59 of the report, Sir Edward wrote:
    "In identifying the defects in radiation protection at Aldermaston it is important to emphasise the generally high quality of the industrial safety record…and the good record also in the prevention of major radiation exposures."
    Although Sir Edward was able to write that, his report expressed concern about a number of deficiencies and made a number of recommendations that I wish to touch on in the course of my speech. The AWRE was set up in the 1950s to handle Britain's nuclear weapons programme. Presently, it is involved in the design and development of warheads for strategic and tactical nuclear weapons to maintain the effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent, including responsibility for the warheads of our Polaris fleet.

    As the brochure for the establishment says, the AWRE is a town-sized complex of purpose-built laboratories, workshops and offices. It is a place where many hundreds of my constituents work. It is also a top secret base, as I know to my cost. Some years ago I sought permission from the Ministry of Defence to visit the establishment and was told that, as Members of Parliament were not positively vetted, I would not be allowed in.

    That disappointed me greatly, but at last my chance came in June of this year. Her Majesty the Queen visited the establishment and the authorities decided to ask a large number to come and see for themselves what went on behind the barbed wire fence. I welcomed that opportunity and found the whole day of the greatest possible value.

    In the afternoon, I looked round an open exhibition that illustrated much of what went on at the plant. I remember stopping by one of the stands that had a diagram of an atomic plant. It included all the various sorts of safety equipment and procedures that are followed at atomic plants. I asked the official whether that diagram was, broadly, a model of Aldermaston, and whether he could say that those safety measures and equipment were installed at Aldermaston.

    When he said that, alas, he could not, I was rather surprised. Indeed, his comment has remained with me since last June, when it struck me as strange that, after the Pochin report with all its recommendations, the AWRE—the only atomic weapons research establishment in the United Kingdom, a plant working on vital defence tasks and crucial to the viability of our independent nuclear deterrent—could not claim to have the most up-to-date health and safety equipment or the most up-to-date procedures.

    For all the reasons that are implicit in the statement, that Aldermaston cannot make that claim, I found myself returning to the Pochin report, especially the comments of the then Secretary of State when it was published:
    "A programme of action to implement his recommendations, both for the immediate and for the longer term, is being put in hand."—[Official Report, 21 November 1978; Vol. 958, c. 529]
    Why has the programme of action referred to by the right hon Gentleman in his parliamentary answer announcing the report had not been implemented in totality, although a year at least has passed since Sir Edward Pochin considered the problems at the base? I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will recall the words that are to be found on page 22 ber that Sir Edward said:
    "Certain serious deficiencies in staffing seem likely to contribute, not only to an undue frequency of minor contamination, but also to a potential risk of larger discharges."
    In view of those words about the need for increased staffing—an issue that Sir Edward made a great deal of in his report—I shall begin my questions to my hon. Friend by asking him whether the increases in the health physics staff, which were stressed in the report, have come about. He will recall that Sir Edward observed that the size of the health physics staff had declined from 59 in 1960 to 43 in 1978. He may remember that Sir Edward said
    "there clearly are not enough qualified staff to carry out the work which the staff themselves consider to be important".
    Sir Edward emphasised the need for more training for the health physics staff. Is the increase in the health physics staff taking place? Will my hon. Friend give the latest figure? Will he say something about the additional training that Sir Edward thought so vital?

    My hon. Friend may have seen an article that appeared in the New Scientist in August of this year. It suggested that recruitment of health physics staff had proved difficult because of the pay being offered. If that is so, will my hon. Friend say whether the establishment budget is sufficient or whether extra funds are being made available to implement the Pochin recommendations? Surely the health physics staff is of overriding importance if those working at the establishment are to be satisfied that their health is being properly cared for. That being so, I would have thought that an increase in expenditure would be vital if the establishment does not have sufficient funds to recruit the staff required.

    Has there been further recruitment of maintenance workers? I am told that there is a shortage of such people. If that is so, will my hon. Friend say to what extent, if at all, programmes at the establishment are being hindered by staff shortages generally?

    I have talked briefly about the health physics staff because its members are the monitors of the health of those working at Aldermaston. The health of all those at the establishment is of paramount importance if it is to be able to do its job as effectively as it should, bearing in mind its great importance to the defence of the United Kingdom.

    I now address my remarks to the buildings. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there are adequate resources for refurbishing the existing facilities where that is required, and for getting rid of obsolete and contaminated facilities? He will be aware that the waste disposal plant needs rebuilding. Has that work started? If not, why not? He will recall that under the heading "Sorting and Packing Active Waste", Sir Edward stated:
    "The Plant is not appropriate for the work in its present state; the system of work is not good; the ventilation is unsatisfactory."
    I want to move away from the narrow subject of health and safety to another matter. Will my hon. Friend comment on the assertion that none of the three buildings in the active areas which were closed at the time of the Pochin inquiry has been brought back into full operation even though more than a year has elapsed since the inquiry?

    Will he comment on the statement that I read that the provision of the special uranium fuel for the reactors of our nuclear submarines has been seriously affected as its manufacture takes place in one of the active areas? My hon. Friend may have seen a newspaper report recently to the effect that some of our Polaris submarines are being refurbished in the United States. Will he give an assurance that the refurbishing is being carried out in the United States for reasons other than the shortage of the special uranium fuel that comes from Aldermaston?

    Even if the active areas are not all in full production, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that there is no shortage of either that fuel or of that which may be required for the warheads of Polaris?

    In this brief speech I have sought to pinpoint three areas of concern relating to the Atomic Weapon Research Establishment at Aldermaston. When Sir Edward Pochin published his report in November 1978, there was a tendency for everyone to claim that it vindicated the health and safety procedures that had been followed at the establishment. Having re-read it, I am not so sure.

    There are some who believe that after 1973, when Aldermaston left the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, its administration did not keep pace with other nuclear plants. I understand that it is now the responsibility of the Civil Service. I suspect that there are those who believe that the Civil Service does not have the deep expertise possessed by the Authority. In safety terms—Sir Edward underlined this—Aldermaston has not had some of the simpler monitoring devices that have been installed elsewhere. It was among the last of the atomic plants to install personal air samplers. At the time of the Pochin report it had no whole body monitor. I am not even sure whether the equipment that is being installed is as yet operational.

    No one doubts the importance of the establishment to our defence capability. At a time when our nation is more concerned about its defences than for many years in the past, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the need for all the recommendations in the Pochin report to be implemented as soon as possible is a national priority, and that our only atomic weapon research establishment should have health and safety procedures and adequate staff at a level that is second to none in any plant in the United Kingdom.

    1.8 pm

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for raising an important issue. I recognise his particular and continued interest in it. I begin by giving my hon. Friend the general assurance for which he asked in his closing words about the need for the highest standards of safety at the Atomic Weapon Research Establishment.

    My hon. Friend referred to the Pochin report. I shall remind the House of the main thrust of the report. Sir Edward was asked in August 1978 to carry out a full investigation into radiological safety at AWRE. He concluded that the standard of health protection was good, that releases of radioactivity from the buildings were low and that AWRE's industrial safety record was of high quality. I am glad that my hon. Friend referred specifically to paragraph 59 of the report. Generally, it is a reassuring paragraph in terms of general standards of safety. However, Sir Edward's report produced evidence to suggest that levels of plutonium contamination in air in part of some buildings exceeded the recommended limits. The report made a number of constructive suggestions for improving safety standards by modifying facilities and procedures and by increasing safety staff.

    It is important that the suggestions in the report are seen in a proper overall perspective, which the report provides. The suggestions cover an extremely wide span in terms of complexity, scope and significance. I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that they range from proposals concerned with tightening up normal management procedures and aims, such as better communications with the staff, to recommendations concerning major capital modifications and improvements that must inevitably take many years to plan and implement. As my hon. Friend recognised, some of the facilities at Aldermaston are 20 to 25 years old. It will take time, resources and manpower to improve these facilities so that they match the standards of those that are now being built. In a developing industry such as the nuclear energy industry, that is inevitable.

    As a result, the report does not readily give rise to a short list of identifiable actions which can be quickly ticked off. It implies a steady and continuing programme on many fronts, embracing all kinds of management action to improve still further the health and safety standards at the establishment.

    A special group has been set up at Aldermaston, headed by a senior scientist, a deputy chief scientific officer, to push ahead with the programme. The senior scientist has direct access to the director of the establishment. That is an indication of the importance attached to the recommendations in the Pochin report.

    It is in the light of that background that the establishment has set about implementing the report. One of its first actions was to press ahead with the purchase and installation of a whole-body monitor. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury referred to that matter. The monitor is now installed and is in the process of being commissioned. The process involves calibrating the machine by testing the results secured from 200 volunteers who have not worked with radioactive material. The commissioning should be completed in time to have the monitor available for routine measurements of staff working in the active areas at Aldermaston by March 1980. Meanwhile, the staff concerned can be tested by using whole-body monitoring equipment at other establishments. Those procedures will continue until the facilities at Aldermaston are able to take over.

    A second whole-body monitor has also been authorised. Work on the extension of a building to house it has begun, and some of the equipment has been ordered. The date for the planned commissioning for the second whole-body monitor is 1981.

    The method by which whole-body monitoring is carried out is not a precise and exact way of dealing with the matter. It is a highly complicated matter requiring long testing times, and there is a statistical probability about the result. There are difficulties in definition and in measurement of some of the qualities.

    Another aspect touched upon by my hon. Friend was the need for new training and working procedures. Technical training at AWRE has been reorganised, and a revised programme of training has been put into operation for all new entrants into the active areas, and for staff transferred into the active areas from other work within the establishment. Everyone working in the active areas now has to qualify for a certificate by training and/or experience. On working procedures, an early action was to hammer out with the staff side and the trade union representatives a framework of safety procedures. That was agreed with them, and work is proceeding within its ambit. There has been good co-operation by representatives of staff associations and trade unions with the management in the whole area of safety.

    Sir Edward Pochin attached particular importance to the recruitment of more staff for the health physics section. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury made specific reference to that matter. We have been successful in raising the numbers of supervisors and surveyors from 43, identified by Sir Edward as being below what was required, to the present level of 88,which is a significant improvement. That means that we have more than recovered the ground which was shown by Pochin to have been lost from the staffing levels of the early 1960s.

    There are training problems associated with the increase. They are being tackled with urgency. The more highly skilled professional safety staff are still in short supply. We have a recruiting programme in hand, but that will take time. A strenuous recruiting programme is now reaching the point where we expect to make a number of new appointments in the next month or two. Those additions represent a substantial training task at a time when we are trying to build up the strength of other safety staff.

    My hon. Friend will know that within the Civil Service and in public services generally there have been considerable restraints upon recruiting staff, and in some areas a total ban. I assure him that that ban and those restraints do not apply to any of the staff who are needed at Aldermaston for implementing the Pochin recommendations.

    As my hon. Friend knows, work on the capital building side is a long-term process. The new buildings and their equipment must be right. A programme of remedial capital work is in hand. Its prosecution will be a continuing process over many years as AWRE updates and improves its facilities.

    A reasonably satisfactory picture is emerging, following the publication of the Pochin report, that shows how the health and safety environment at Aldermaston is being improved. I am advised that at least part of the process was under way before the Pochin report was published. The report gave those measures added emphasis, perspective and direction. I am satisfied that, with its continuing implementation, AWRE provides and will continue to provide high standards for its work force.

    There are problems and difficulties in carrying out remedial work and in providing more facilities for training. More staff are needed in departments other than the health physics department. In particular, a major factor—though not directly related to safety—in determining the speed with which Aldermaston can carry out its programme is it ability to recruit and train skilled craftsmen. We are tackling that problem as vigorously as possible. We have over 200 vacancies—we are nearly 30 per cent. short—for skilled craftsmen. AWRE has an active recruitment and advertising campaign, and the better pay and increased allowances now being offered make the prospects of filling the vacancies better than for some time.

    My hon. Friend properly queried the effect of that on AWRE's output. Rightly, his first emphasis was on the safety of the people working there, which must be of concern to them and their families. As for output, one of the main buildings in the active area is fully operational, and a second building is in preparation for a resumption of work. Several other buildings are still not operational.

    We have a programme to acquire equipment, recruit staff, agree improved practices and for cleaning and monitoring of facilities, including the introduction of essential safety and remedial measures. We then move into a resumed production programme, alongside the continued further safety improvements. We are pushing ahead as fast as circumstances allow. I do not want to guess the pace of future events. It depends on further recruitment, and the prospects are uncertain.

    Where buildings are not in use—for example, in the waste management area, to which my hon. Friend referred, in the laundry—other arrangements have been made to preserve the continuity of operations until the alterations are done and the replacements are made.

    Naturally, there have been delays in AWRE's normal work, but I give my hon. Friend the assurance that I think he sought, that is, that the operational effectiveness of the British nuclear deterrent has not been and is not being affected. He referred to newspaper reports about the refurbishment of our Polaris submarines in the United States. These are, as far as I am aware, sheer speculation and have no foundation in reality.

    When the conclusions of the Pochin report were announced to the House in November 1978, the hope was then expressed that Aldermaston could proceed to an orderly resumption of work, with improved protection for its staff. In the past year, real progress towards this goal has been made, but it has not always been as smooth and as easy as all of us would have liked, frequently for reasons unconnected with health and safety. But a great deal has been done, and this reflects to the credit of the management and the staff at AWRE.

    My hon. Friend referred to the change which had occurred in 1973, in that AWRE then ceased to be a part of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and came fully into the Ministry of Defence. The advice and information available to me would not lead one to the belief that this in any way could have an effect upon safety at that establishment. I tell my hon. Friend that very close liaison exists, particularly on health and safety matters, between the staff of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and that of the Ministry of Defence in general, and in particular those concerned with safety at Aldermaston.

    I end by thanking my hon. Friend for raising an important matter of considerable significance to those working and living close to Aldermaston and their families. I hope that the assurances I have been able to give will be generally welcomed.

    Associated Weavers (International) Limited, Bradford

    1.22 pm

    Today I want to raise the question of a very important carpet factory in my constituency which is probably the largest manufacturer of tufted carpets in Europe. To the ordinary man in the street, tufted carpets mean nylon carpets. Printed tufted carpets are very widely in use now on the floors of the people of our nation.

    The factory employs about 1,600 people. It is a modern, very efficient and well run factory. It is certainly not in the list of "lame ducks". Over the years it has produced many thousands of yards of carpets for the homes of British people. It has also exported carpets.

    The factory was taken over by the Americans a few years ago, and the only reason why it is to close is that the Americans have decided that they want their money out. They want to liquidate. They believe that they can do far better by selling the land, the buildings and the machinery than by carrying on the business.

    I qualify my statement about the viability of this firm by making clear that the whole of the British carpet industry is going through an extremely bad patch at this very moment. I do not agree with a letter that has been sent by the Secretary of State for Industry to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) in which he talks of minimising the effect of unfair foreign competition in the carpet industry as a whole and in Associated Weavers in particular, because it is an established fact that the Americans are exporting carpet to Britain at a far cheaper rate than that at which we can produce it, either at Associated Weavers or at any other carpet factory in Britain. I most emphatically contradict any suggestion that this has only a minimal effect on the viability not only of Associated Weavers but of the rest of our carpet industry.

    It is a well-known fact—I think that it is admitted by the Government—that American oil is supplied to the American tufted carpet industry at a special price, whereas our own carpet industry has to seek its oil at the full market price that we all pay for oil in this country.

    It may sound strange, but oil plays a vital part in the manufacture of tufted or nylon carpets, and the price of it effects the price that we are able to charge. It also affects how competitive we are with foreign countries exporting carpets to this country.

    That is the major reason why Associated Weavers has gone through a bad patch in the last year or two, but I reiterate most strongly that Associated Weavers is not a lame duck. It is a viable part—possibly the most viable part—of the carpet industry in this country, and some action ought to be taken to save this factory.

    Incidentally, it has had pretty good industrial relations over the years with the trade union concerned. The National Union of Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers is renowned throughout the hard-pressed textile industry of West Yorkshire as a very responsible organisation, both in its wage negotiations and in its lack of desire to create industrial unrest or to strike. That is another reason why the Government should not desert this very important section of the textile and carpet industry.

    Why am I here today? I have sought over the past three or four weeks to secure an interview with the Secretary of State for Industry. After some weeks of discussion with his private office the Secretary of State, in his wisdom, refused to see me. He wished to pass me on to the Under-Secretary of State, who is on the Government Front Bench for the purpose of replying to this Adjournment debate. I say without any disrespect to the Under-Secretary of State that he would not have any power to do what I want to be done about Associated Weavers. Only the Secretary of State could take the action that I believe needs to be taken to save this very viable factory in my constituency—and, moreover, to save the jobs of 1,600 people who are either my constituents or the constituents of my two hon. Friends.

    I know that the Under-Secretary of State will make sympathetic noises, but he does not have the authority to do what needs to be done. That is why I refused an interview with him when I was refused one by the Secretary of State.

    The Americans who own this establishment have no other carpet interest in America. They have a completely different interest. They want to get out of the carpet industry and they want their money. They argue that they can secure more capital back by going into liquidation and selling the buildings, the land, the machinery and so on than by selling the factory as a going concern.

    I suggest to the Government and the Secretary of State, through the Under-Secretary of State, that £15 million is not a great sum of money, but that is the sum being talked about to save Associated Weavers. That is the sum that the Americans expect to get from the sale that they are contemplating.

    Inquiries have been made in the private enterprise market, but £15 million cannot be raised by selling the factory as a going concern. I should like the Government, as financiers, to take over this establishment and in turn to allow British private enterprise management, under its able Bradford an chairman, to carry on the business on a rental basis with the State owning the buildings, machinery and so on. I make that suggestion to save this large, important section of the carpet industry and to save the jobs of 1,600 workers who will be thrown on the labour market in a city where unemployment is already above the national average.

    Dogma will not help. It is no use saying "We will not interfere in private enterprise and private industry." We must face the facts and try to save these jobs. The carpet industry in Bradford is only part of the wider textile industry. Brad ford's main industry is textiles. Therefore, if the Secretary of State does not take some effective action, he may as well lose his job as Secretary of State for Industry and perhaps become the Secretary of State for unemployment. I see Bradford drifting, like the Shottons and the Corbys. I appeal to the Under-Secretary of State to try to impress upon his right hon. Friend the need to take action of the kind that I have suggested to save this vital factory.

    1.34 pm

    I should like to express my gratitude and that of all Bradford people to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) for obtaining a debate on this vital subject and I appreciate his allowing me some of his time to address the House.

    This is a sad day, because we are witnessing the demise of the finest and most efficient tufted carpet manufacturing plant in Britain. If someone in Whitehall had the power to decide that certain firms should close because of over-capacity in the industry, Associated Weavers would be the last in Britain to be closed by that supremo.

    For a little over a year Associated Weavers has had a printing machine—unique in Europe—that cost £3 million. That machine has only recently begun to work at top efficiency. Associated Weavers' Belgian carpet subsidiary has good machines, but those machines produce only 17 linear metres of tufted printed carpet a minute compared with this machine which produces 25 to 27 linear metres a minute. That machine has been the subject of no offer from anyone since the announcement that Associated Weavers was to be closed. So the finest printer in Britain will be of no further use. It is going out of production because the American company, Champion, has decided to leave the carpet industry.

    Champion bought Associated Weavers in 1973 for £40 million. It borrowed £30 million on the market. In 1976, when Associated Weavers made a profit of £5 million, the balance sheet showed a loss of £8 million. That was because the company was servicing the £30 million loan shown in the balance sheet. It is a dollar-based loan so, when there are currency fluctuations between sterling and the dollar, there are further losses.

    The closing of the factory has nothing to do with the company not being viable. It is true that losses are shown for last year and this year. But the real losses, as opposed to the money for servicing the loan which was raised to purchase the company in the first place, are caused by the streamlining and modernisation that has gone on and by making redundancy payments.

    Michael Abrahams, the chairman and chief executive, was the darling of the Stock Exchange. Champion bought Asso- ciated Weavers because of his proven record as a brilliant industrialist, which he then was and still is. That man and his fellow directors are being thrown out of the carpet industry. The most successful carpet manufacturing entrepreneur in Britain is out of a job and a trained and efficient labour force is being decimated by this move. That cannot be right.

    It is false to suggest that this company is not viable. The Government say "We must stand to one side and watch how things go, because that is free enterprise". But it is nonsense in this instance, because we are to lose our best carpet manufacturing company. Some of the other companies are in a poor way. As a result of the closure of the tufted carpet department of Associated Weavers, those companies will be able to stagger on rather longer, but they will go down just the same. The difference is that Associated Weavers could survive. The factory is being closed, not because it is not viable, but because Champion can get £9 million for the factory buildings for use as warehousing and another £6 million by selling off the plant and machinery and the Axminster section as a going concern. That is the tragedy.

    The Belgian subsidiary has made £1·8 million profit this year. We are closing down a major asset for Britain. The royal part of the tufted carpet industry, as it were, is being closed down because an American company has decided that it does not want to be bothered with carpets and can use the money better in other directions. That should not be of paramount consideration for the Government. A fully effective National Enterprise Board would have done something about this matter.

    I repeat that I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to make these remarks. What is happening is a disaster not only for Bradford, but for Britain, and it is a terrifying lack of perception on the part of the Government to allow our best factory in this industry to be closed.

    1.40 pm

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) on securing the opportunity in the Adjournment debate to draw attention to a serious matter affecting Bradford and his constituents. I am well aware of the personal problems and difficulties that will be caused to those who lose their jobs because of this closure.

    The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) has once more come into the debate, as he did during the week when we were debating the problems of the textile industry. It has been known since 1977 that Champion International wished to dispose of Associated Weavers in Bradford. Its desire to do so is scarcely surprising, as it purchased the company in 1973, at the cost of about £40 million, when trading conditions in the carpet industry were very favourable with a long period of growth. A few years later this favourable trading position had changed very dramatically.

    We are all too familiar with the events of 1974 and 1975, which led to a recession, for me to describe them here today. The carpet industry came through the period surprisingly well and there was some growth through to 1976.

    The hon. Member for Bradford, South said that the only reason why the United States owners of this company wanted to close it was that they "wanted to get their money out". I have to tell the hon. Member that the fortunes of Associated Weavers have, unfortunately, declined, and in 1978 that company had a loss of no less than £372,000, with even worse prospects for 1979. I do not think that it would be fair to disregard that.

    During the year 1978 demand in the United Kingdom markets for carpets was buoyant, with sales up by about 6 per cent. Imports, however, which had been traditionally low, rose to more than 10 per cent. of the home market. At the same time exporting was becoming more difficult, and exports in 1978 were down in volume by about 20 per cent. During 1978 it became clear that imports of carpets from the United States, which had been less than 0·1 per cent. of the United Kingdom market, had started to increase and it is likely that by the end of 1979 imports from the United States will have taken 4 per cent. of the United Kingdom market and imports as a whole about 14 per cent.

    There is excess capacity in the carpet industry, and there has been since the first recession of 1974–75. This is the result of the substantial investment in the early 1970s, leading to a rapid growth of installed capacity for tufted carpets followed by a fall in demand and increased market penetration. To a company such as Champion International the outlook must seem uncertain, and the generally low level of profitability in carpet manufacturing can serve only to confirm its decision to withdraw.

    I would have preferred to see the company sold as a going concern. In that I share the view of the hon. Member for Bradford, South. But I understand that it is the intention to dispose of the plant and buildings of the tufted carpet plant as soon as possible and to keep the weaving plant operating for about a year, and it may be possible for the company to sell that part of the plant as a going concern. If the company has reached the conclusion that this is the best way to safeguard its financial position after making losses over a number of years. I am in no position to challenge its commercial and financial judgment.

    I do not see that there is anything that the Government can now do to protect the jobs that may be lost, although I join with the hon. Member in my considerable concern about the problem facing those who will lose their jobs. The number is likely to be about 900, but as Bradford remains an intermediate area, assistance under the Industry Act, within the revised guidelines, will be available to any purchaser.

    Although imports of carpets from the United States are less than 5 per cent. of the market, I recognise that the United States manufacturers benefit from the low cost of oil and gas. That was referred to by the hon. Member for Bradford, South, and, indeed, by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West, during the debate on Tuesday night. American manufacturers benefit from artificially low-priced oil and gas, and the Government have been pressing, within the Community, for a solution to be found to the problem of imports of American synthetic fibres. My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade emphasised—

    Will the Minister deal with the points that I made about the possibility of a State takeover, even if it were on a lease-lend basis to the existing and efficient management, to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) referred? Will he also take into account that the loss that that company had for one year is not such a huge loss, when consideration is given to the viability of this factory and the excellent ability of its chairman, Michael Abrahams? Can the Minister give us any hope that he will be able to talk to his right hon. Friend with a view to consideration being given to the viability of this factory? If the Government can achieve some improvement on imports from America through the EEC, this factory could become profitable within a short time.

    The hon. Gentleman has anticipated the point that I was about to make, but I shall deal with it immediately. What he is asking for is £15 million of taxpayers' money to be put into this factory, in an industry that has been losing money. What the Government are being asked to do is to spend taxpayers' money to keep additional capacity in production, at a time when there is excess capacity within the industry. I shall come back to that.

    If someone comes forward who wants to take over the running of the plant, I hope that he will approach our regional office with the proposition. However, no such approach has been made to us so far. It may well be that some of those with whom the hon. Member is in touch will wish to make such an approach, in which case I am sure that he will inform us.

    I am sorry, I have given way already. The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West had a crack of the whip on a number of occasions during the debate the other night. If I deal with the point raised by his hon. Friend I think that that will be fair.

    The second point that the hon. Member for Bradford, South raised concerned the European Economic Community and dealing with unfair competition from the United States. My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade emphasised the need for urgency at the Council of Ministers' meeting in Brussels on Tuesday. The Commission will continue its discussion with the Americans under GATT and will report back to the Council on 4 February or5 February with its proposals. By that time discussions with the Americans will have been completed and the results of those discussions analysed, and the proposals should have been brought forward. What the exact proposals will be is a matter for the Commission in the light of its assessment of the position.

    The hon. Member for Bradford, South has drawn attention to a problem that goes wider than the company that he mentioned. I notice that the hon. Member nods his agreement. There are pressures that affect the whole of this industry—pressures that are associated with excess capacity. There is some weakness in marketing. That is true of the tufted carpet industry in this country. It is also true that some American companies are much more sales oriented than our own.

    Is not the reason for the closure of Associated Weavers nothing at all to do with excess capacity? Has it not everything to do with the fact that an owning company finds that the properties are worth more to it than running the business as a going concern or even as a profit-making concern, because I am told by the chairman that the company is back in profit again and has a full order book? Is the Minister aware that the market capitalisation of the top three British carpet manufacturing companies is only £15 million? Is it the Government's attitude that if Carpets International, the biggest British company, with a market capitalisation of only £7 million, can sell off its properties for £8 million, it should close tomorrow? Is it the policy of this Government that where one can get more money from buildings one should close down the factory, viable or not? This has nothing to do with over-capacity.

    With great respect to the hon. and learned Member, he has made that point before. He must accept that, even if he does not like my answer, I can only repeat that we are dealing with an industry with a surplus capacity. He is seeking to add to that surplus. If such a surplus continues, someone must go out of business. Naturally, he wants to protect this company. But if we put in public and taxpayers' money to protect this company and keep it in business, thus adding to the surplus capacity, a host of hon. Members on both sides of the House will seek to protect their local firms and industries from the unfair competition that comes about from taxpayers' money being injected on the scale of £15 million for one major competitor.

    That is not the whole story. Productivity in this industry in the United Kingdom is below the levels in the EEC. The point has been made about the rising level of imports from the United States. I agree that there is a distortion because of the artificial price of United States oil, and we have been pressing for action on this front. We have not had as much support as we should have liked from other EEC countries in seeking to stem this degree of unfair competition.

    In the course of the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on Tuesday I said that the message that should go out to the EEC was that when the United States starts rolling, the first wave hits the United Kingdom. Americans come here first because of the language, which is perhaps not the same but somewhat similar. The second wave hits Europe, and if other members of the EEC think that they can sit back and wait and watch the effect on the British industry, and wash their hands of it, they will deeply regret it, because shortly afterwards they will find that the wave rolls on to hit their industry as well.

    Unfair competition from the United States is not the whole story; we also suffer from a substantial increase in imports from the Continent. Whereas the United States has increased its exports by 1½ million square metres, Benelux and Denmark have increased theirs by 1 million square metres, and they do not have the advantage of artificially reduced prices for their feed stock. Therefore, one must take account of the fact that one is dealing with something that is broader than simply the United States' artificial advantage. We are seeking to tackle that, but I do not wish to persuade the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is the only factor involved in isolation. We must have higher productivity in the British industry as well.

    Finally, there are grave problems in seeking to suggest that we should put taxpayers' money into sustaining a firm in the industry where that industry already has over-capacity at present. If there are those who see in this the prospect of creating a viable profit-making industry. I hope that they will come forward and seek to do what the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to have done—take on the future running of the business. There are the financial markets of the City and there is the regional office of the Department, which is available for advice as well. Until we have an approach from those who actually believe that at a time of excess capacity in the industry it would be a viable proposition—and not a loss-making one, as has been the case in the past year in this firm—I fear that there is nothing more that we can do. I hope, as does the hon. and learned Gentleman, that there will be those who will take a confident view and will believe that they can create something where the existing company cannot.

    Tax Inspectors (Powers Of Entry)

    1.57 pm

    My hon. and learned Friend, the Minister of State, Treasury, will appreciate that this debate today is, in many ways, a logical follow-up to the last occasion on which I was fortunate enough to take part in an Adjournment debate—on 25 May this year. At that time I referred to the unhappy and, as it proved, unnecessary experiences imposed upon a constituent of mine, Mr. Bedward, of the Crooked Beams restaurant, Christchurch, at the hands of Customs and Excise inspectors in pursuit of their investigation of a VAT assessment. In reply, my hon. and learned Friend referred to the difficult task that this House had placed on tax officers in establishing the true liability when faced with an apparent under-declaration of tax. He reminded the House that in the last resort complaints can be submitted to the Ombudsman for investigation. I was glad to hear from him then his confirmation of the Government's commitment to undertake a thorough review of enforcement procedures of the customs and excise and of the Inland Revenue.

    Today, six months later, I look forward to hearing from him the progress of that review and to learning when we can expect it to be completed. Since then there have occurred or come to light further such disturbing instances, notably the Rossminster case which Lord Denning referred to as
    "an illegal and excessive abuse of power on the part of the Inland Revenue".
    Such details were in a recent revealing report of the way in which State officials exercised their right of entry into private homes and business premises. In my view, that constitutes the hallmarks of totalitarianism and will remain the residue of Socialism in this country until such time as the law is amended and a code of conduct—which I am urging today—is practised.

    The Inland Revenue searched the Rossminster premises under powers conferred upon them by section 20 which was written into the Conservative Government's Taxes Management Act 1970, as a result of section 57 of the last Socialist Government's Finance Act 1976.

    In a recent article entitled "Growing Power of the Revenue", the journal Accountancy Age said that this considerable extension of the taxman's powers enabled him
    "to go into premises unannounced and take virtually anything he thinks may be connected with a tax fraud (and not just papers)."
    And so it has proved. In simultaneous dawn raids on the premises of the Rossminster finance group and the private homes of its personnel in July of this year, tax inspectors seized huge quantities of private documents including a child's school report, a cross country team report, and personal letters, without one word of explanation and with no receipt given. The Court of Appeal unanimously decided in August that the general warrant authorising these raids should be quashed because it did not specify the offence suspected. It ordered the Inland Revenue to return the documents which had been seized. However, as we know, last week that decision was overturned in the other place on the grounds that the requirement of the 1970 Act had been met, even though the powers conferred upon the Inland Revenue by the 1976 Act were, to quote the concern of their Lordships:
    "a breath-taking inroad upon the individual's right to privacy and right of property."
    Clearly, the law is confusing and confused, and needs to be rewritten. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will today tell the House of the Government's intention to amend section 20, following consultations with interested groups, so that it shall at least reflect article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states:
    "everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence."
    Rossminster had the courage of its convictions, the expertise and, presumably, the finance to take the Inland Revenue to appeal. My particular concern is for the small business man who is part of the vast majority that has had to register for the purposes of VAT. I might tell the House that my constituency has twice the national average of self-employed small business men, amounting to 14 per cent. of the total work force. They do not have the means to stand up to the "Big Brother" State in the guise of tax inspectors. They are more likely to be forced to choose the soft option of paying up to avoid the time-consuming exercise and effort of challenge and appeal, even though they believe right to be on their side. Their plight has been starkly described in the recent report published jointly by the National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses and the Adam Smith Institute entitled "An inspector at the door".

    That report, together with the replies to the many parliamentary questions that I have tabled on the subject, identifies 252 different rights of entry given to 201 different types of inspector. More are being discovered and revealed every week. The report refers to a number of alarming instances that have been reported in the national and local press of methods and tactics employed by VAT and Inland Revenue inspectors which one would never expect to be applied in Britain, even after five years of Socialism.

    The Daily Mail reported in May 1977 that a hotel owner said:
    "They interrogated me, my wife and my staff for hours and when I say 'Interrogated', I know what I am talking about as a former policeman."
    A publican, whose story recently appeared in The Daily Telegraph, was also paid a visit by VAT men. He declared that they
    "make the Gestapo look like amateurs".
    He described the scene, and said:
    "They turned out my mother's handbag. She was staying with us after a major operation, and we had to have the doctor in … They went through things that had no possible connection with VAT, like my kid sister's diary".
    A Cornish business man spoke of a Gestapo-type interrogation and said:
    "the only difference was that the investigator did not pull out my fingernails".
    According to the Western Morning News, during that investigation he was not allowed to speak to his wife or go to the toilet by himself. Indeed, officials stood one on each side while he used the toilet.

    VAT seems to be the worst offender in these instances. When several officers come together, raids can be very frightening indeed. A hairdresser, quoted in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, said:
    "These people came round like storm troopers and frightened my staff with their questions."
    In 1978, the trade magazine, The Fish Trader reported that one fish fryer had committed suicide after continuous harassment by VAT officers concerning an outstanding tax bill.

    Another flagrant violation of privacy highlighted by the report to which I have referred, which should, and I hope will, be of concern to the House is the deployment by the Post Office of about 600 people to listen in to about ⅓million telephone calls every year, to check the system and to make sure that illicit equipment is not being used—they say. When I attempted to table a parliamentary question asking whether private and business telephones were tapped by Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue as part of their investigations, I was told that such questions do not receive an answer. Instead, I was referred to the report of the Birkett committee—Cmnd. 283—of 22 years ago. That is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

    Action needs to be taken, and I was delighted when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote to me 10 days ago to tell me that she is asking her colleagues to look into the numbers of inspectors and their powers of entry for which Ministers are responsible. In the light of the experiences that I have described, it seems to me that there exist some basic principles that need to be codified, which apply in particular to Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue inspectors with powers of entry, search, seizure and surveillance.

    I suggest that these are as follows: first, all visits should be made by appointment with the business proprietor or householder, unless the inspector concerned feels that the element of surprise is a major factor in his investigation.

    Secondly, inspectors must at all times be polite—I fear that this is not always the case—and show due consideration towards the business proprietor or householder being Visited.

    Thirdly, visits, particularly to business premises, must be made at a reasonable time and every effort must be made to arrange visits so as not to interfere with the normal running of the business.

    Fourthly, inspectors should explain clearly and precisely, and preferably in writing, to the business proprietor or householder being visited the following points: first, the Act of Parliament under which the visit is being made; secondly, the specific rights of the inspector; thirdly, the specific rights of the business proprietor or householder; and, fourthly, the purpose of the visit.

    Fifthly, inspectors should always, unless it would prejudice their investigation, explain to the person being visited whether it is a routine visit or a special visit prompted by information received by the inspector.

    Sixthly, inspectors should identify themselves clearly to the business proprietor or householder as soon as they arrive at the premises in question. Only in exceptional circumstances should an inspector indulge in any form of subterfuge or disguise.

    Seventhly, business proprietors and householders should be informed as quickly as possible after an inspection whether arty further action is to be taken.

    Eighthly, if the investigation is a lengthy one, the proprietor or householder must receive regular notification from the inspector on the status of the investigation.

    Ninthly, questioning of staff on business premises should never take place in front of customers, and neither should the proprietor be questioned in front of staff or customers unless he so wishes. The proprietor should normally be present during any questioning of his staff.

    Tenthly, if any documents are taken away, the proprietor or householder must be allowed reasonable access to them and they must be returned as soon as possible.

    Of course, I accept the need for tax inspectors to investigate abuse and evasion. However, they can and should be held in the same respect and regard as the police by the taxpayers whom they are supposed to serve. That is not generally the case today. The adoption of such a code of practice will go a long way towards restoring that respect from which the entire economy stands to gain.

    2.10 pm

    My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) has established a consistent and important interest in this field. He has reminded the House very properly of the last occasion when he and I had occasion to debate the principles at stake during another Adjournment debate. He raised the case of his constituent, Mr. Bedward, on 25 May, and the problems of test eating. I took very much to heart the observations that he made then.

    On this occasion he has widened the scope of his speech and has raised the subject of the powers of entry of the Customs and Excise and of Inland Revenue inspectors. Those are matters of considerable importance and concern to the Government. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that this Government fully intend to carry out their manifesto commitment to review the powers of the Customs and Exise and Inland Revenue.

    As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, perhaps this is an appropriate moment for the debate, and for us to consider what form the inquiry should take, as my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the Rossminster appeal. That appeal was only an interlocutory appeal, as it were, but what the court said on that occasion will no doubt be studied both inside and outside the House, and certainly by the Government. Appropriate lessons will be drawn.

    My hon. Friend and, indeed, the House, will not expect me to comment on the facts of any particular case. My hon. Friend knows the conventions that apply. However, it is appropriate—although my hon. Friend has no doubt studied the judgments very carefully—to draw the attention of the House to the words of Lord Wilberforce, in the leading judgment in the House of Lords. He gave the leading judgment in favour of the Inland Revenue. Perhaps that gives his observations added force. He said:
    "The integrity and privacy of a man's home, and of his pla business, an important human right has, since the Second World War, been eroded by a number of statutes passed by Parliament in the belief, presumably, that this right of privacy ought in some cases to be overriden by the interest which the public has in preventing evasions of the law. Some of these powers of search are reflections of dirigisme and of heavy taxation, others of changes in mores. Examples of them are to be found in the Exchange Control Act 1947,"
    —my hon. Friend will realise that, happily, we have moved a certain distance since 1947 in that area at least—
    "the Finance Act 1972 (in relation to VAT) and in statutes about gaming or the use of drugs. A formidable number of officials now have powers to enter people's premises and to take property away, and these powers are frequently exercised, sometimes on a large scale. Many people, as well as the respondents, think that this process has gone too far; this is an issue to be debated in Parliament and in the press."
    I am sure that the whole House will agree that my hon. Friend should be congratulated on taking the earliest opportunity to respond to their lordships' invitation on that point.

    My hon. Friend referred to codes of practice and to the booklet produced jointly by the Adam Smith Institute and the national federation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has commented that the booklet is valuable and that it should be taken very seriously. I reassure my hon. Friend and the House that I have asked for a report on all the individual cases referred to in the booklet. There are nine cases, one case being mentioned twice. Two of those cases were referred to the Ombudsman. The Customs and Excise was found, in some respects, to beat fault.

    Although the other cases reflect the need for an inquiry, I am not certain that the terms in which they were described were an accurate reflection of what really happened. We take the general tenor of criticism very seriously. Any case that is referred to me by an hon. Member or by an individual is immediately given a full and thorough report. I am sure that previous Administrations took the same action.

    In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander), on 6 December, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that all the Departments concerned were being asked to review their statutory powers and to consider whether any further measures were needed to publicise the rights and duties of inspectors. The main thrust of my hon. Friend's speech was to present a case for a code of practice. I have taken careful note of his points and I am sure that the House, the relevant Departments, and many members of the public would find them unexceptionable. However, I do not wish to anticipate what any inquiry might throw up. It touches upon a subject that any inquiry would have to look at and make recommendations on.

    I remind my hon. Friend that the Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise already operate under codes of practice. Although this may sound a contradiction in terms, they are the provisions of law that have been enacted by the House. My hon. Friend referred to the provisions of the Finance Act 1976. Both he and my colleagues will recall that when those provisions were debated we had considerable reservations about them. I think that I am right in saying that the Rossminster case provided the first occasion when the courts were asked to pronounce on their application.

    The code of practice for VAT is enshrined in the Finance Act 1972. At the end of the day it is probably better that, as far as possible, the framework within which a Department operates should be laid down in law, so that it can be tested with precision by an individual taxpayer in the courts. That would be preferable to rather nebulous canons being introduced. However, that is a matter for debate. No doubt the inquiry that we contemplate setting up will be asked to consider that.

    There might be difficulty in devising a single code of practice for VAT and Inland Revenue inspectors, because there are some differences in the legal provisions governing the two Departments. Perhaps there is a case for trying to harmonise those legal provisions, but that is a detailed technical matter and I shall not express any general views today.

    Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the so-called Leeds experiment, where the Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise shared information, is an exception and will not become the rule in terms of harmonisation?

    I cannot give that assurance. I recognise my hon. Friend's legitimate concern, but the Leeds experiment is, as its name implies, an experiment, and we wish to draw some conclusions from it. We shall want to reach a firm conclusion in the light of the inquiry into the far wider area described by my hon. Friend.

    There are differences in the approaches of Departments and in their respective legal frameworks. There are also differences in the sort of problems that they investigate. I therefore cannot give an assurance today, although I take my hon. Friend's point on the question whether a uniform code can be evolved. It is a difficult and technical field, but we shall approach it with an open mind.

    I want to emphasise that any hon. Member may call on the Ombudsman to adjudicate on what he or his constituent regards as maladministration or a malpractice. To put these problems in their true perspective, I emphasise also that in the review of VAT that was presented to Parliament a year ago by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise it was pointed out that out of 400,000 visits in a year to traders' premises, only 150 complaints had been made about the behaviour of the officers. After careful examination, only 29 were found to be wholly or partially justified.

    I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is fair minded, will recognise that it is easy to pick out the exceptional cases, but we must not convey to the country at large the impression that the whole system is entirely defective. It is therefore right to give these figures, which I am sure my hon. Friend, with his knowledge of these matters, will confirm.

    Does my hon. and learned Friend not accept that the majority of people—I suppose that this is a British characteristic—hold back rather than complain, and that as often as not the number of complaints that have been made do not reflect the number of complaints that ought to have been made?

    I do not know whether I want to offer any general observations on the British character. I take my hon. Friend's point, but, knowing the assiduity of most hon. Gentlemen and their accessibility to their constituents, I suggest that probably a fair proportion of these matters are filtered through, and rightly so. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that they are very carefully and thoroughly investigated by the two Revenue departments concerned, and that most of them end up on a Minister's desk and have the critical eye of a Minister put upon them.

    I can therefore assure my hon. Friend that I fully share his concern that the procedures and practices of the two Revenue departments and the framework of law in which they operate should not be a cause for concern to legitimate businessmen, traders or taxpayers in general. Equally, I am sure that my hon. Friend accepts that the commissioners of the two Departments have a responsibility to ensure that the proper tax is collected and that the honest majority of taxpayers are protected from the activities of the dishonest minority. It is not always easy to strike a proper balance between the economic and efficient collection of tax and the legitimate interests and privacy of the taxpayer.

    My hon. Friend has made another valuable contribution today, and I can assure him that the review, to which the Government are fully committed, will take every account of the comments that he has made.

    Alcohol Misuse (Scotland)

    2.22 pm

    I wish to turn to another kind of vat—that concerned with the drink industry in Scotland. It is a very seasonal debate in the sense that at this time of the year there is likely to be a substantial increase in the number of accidents on the roads consequent on drunken driving. I wish to direct my attention to the question of alcohol abuse.

    It is commonly agreed that this is one of the most worrying social problems in Scotland. Although not a teetotaller, I approach the subject with a degree of care because I do not want to appear to be moralising in any sense. Alcohol abuse is a disease rather than an evil, though it is probably a combination of both. If those who make and sell alcoholic liquor had to rely solely on the patronage of people like me, they would quickly be bankrupt. But like other drugs and poisons—we have earlier today had a debate on drug addiction—the consumption of alcohol in moderation can be a pleasant and harmless social habit, but, consumed in excessive quantities, can have serious and even fatal effects in terms of health and in other ways.

    The results of excess consumption are reasonably well known and are publicised in various documents. The 1976 annual report of the Scottish Council on Alcoholism and the 1976 survey conducted by Mr. S. Dight for the Scottish Office entitled "Scottish Drinking Habits" indicate a problem of disquieting proportions.

    I want to refer particularly to the document "Responding to Alcohol-Related Problems in Scotland—The Development of Services" by the Scottish Council on Alcoholism. It gives some illuminating and frightening facts on the matter. I should express publicly my thanks for the diligence of the council in presenting its case in moderation. It is a very constructive case which I hope the Scottish Office will study carefully so as later to present, in the form of a White Paper or in some other way, its considered view on how it will deal with the council's recommendations.

    The report emphasises that the available statistics are not comprehensive enough and that, in so far as they are available, they are likely to underestimate the problem. Many people—and some of us know some of them—will tend to conceal their illness, or their disease or whatever one calls it, out of a sense of shame or a feeling that a moral stigma attaches to it.

    Many of the consequences of abuse are very difficult to quantify. For example, one cannot quantify the amount of human suffering within the family and, still less, within the nation. The economic cost to the family and to the nation are also impossible to quantify accurately. The social cost—the increased demands on local and national health services, on other social services, on the police, on the district nurse and the GP, all of whom are involved—is also impossible to quantify.

    Before any of those costs can be quantified, it is essential to define the problem. One starts with a difficulty: how is alcoholism defined? I do not know what the Under-Secretary's alcoholic intake is. I guess that a couple of doubles would see him on his back. The definition in the 1978 DHSS report entitled "The Pattern and Range of Services for Problem Drinkers" is
    "any person who experiences social, psychological or physical problems as a consequence of his or her own repeated drinking of alcohol".
    In trying to quantify the problem, the Scottish Council on Alcoholism, in its report, estimates that in 1975 between 75,000 and 112,000 of the adult population of Scotland—that is a very wide range—were problem drinkers, the great majority of them being males.

    On 12 November my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland a question which resulted in a written answer which appeared in columns 472 and 473 of the Official Report of that date. It referred to the difficulties of definition, but the figures given were derived from the number of deaths from cirrhosis of the liver adjusted to take account of the proportion of such deaths not derived from alcohol. On that basis it was estimated that the number of alcoholics in Scotland in 1957 was 81,000 and in 1977 110,000. That is roughly a 36 per cent. increase in the past 20 years.

    In a written answer on 31 October 1979 relating to England and Wales, it was estimated that 740,000 people had a serious drink problem, although it was impossible to say how many of them should be regarded as alcoholics, however defined. It can be fairly confidently asserted that the seriousness of the problem is greater north of the border than south of it.

    The Scottish council also showed that there were regional variations. This is an interesting factor. In a distilling area 10 per cent. of the working population aged from 18 to 65 had a problem of alcoholism. The report discusses various facets of the problem. For instance, in 1975, of the acute male medical admissions to hospital as a whole, in Glasgow 25 per cent. had an alcohol problem, and in 19 per cent. of the cases the admission was either directly or indirectly due to alcohol or its effects.

    It is suggested by the figures that in 1974 182 male and 124 female alcoholics committed suicide. In the same year between 395 and 1,087 discharges from hospital were due to cirrhosis of the liver. Other statistics show a close co-relation between alcoholism and the incidence of road accidents and accidents in the home and place of work. Indeed, in this morning's newspaper there is a report of a speech made by the Minister of Transport indicating that every year 1,200 people die on the roads in car accidents directly as a result of excessive drinking. One in five of all road deaths is due to this cause.

    Blood alcohol levels in excess of the legally permissible limit were found in over 40 per cent. of the patients admitted with head injuries to the Western infirmary in 1974. The prosecutions for drinking and driving in Scotland in 1975 were 798 per 100,000 vehicles licensed compared with an average of 372 in Great Britain as a whole.

    I turn to another facet of the problem—crimes of murder. The Minister is a lawyer and he will know these cases inside out. The crimes of murder are a small part numerically of Scotland's crime, but they receive great attention. They are extremely costly to investigate and prosecute through the due processes of law. In the study of 400 persons charged with murder in West Scotland between 1953 and 1974, it was found that 58 per cent. of the male accused and 30 per cent. of the female accused were intoxicated at the time of the offence. Nor is the role of alcohol limited to the assailant. It was concluded by the Scottish council that alcohol was the cause of the crime in 54 per cent. of the victims of male accused and 32 per cent. of the victims of the female accused.

    Here I should like to make a political point. The facts to which I referred put into perspective the rather squalid campaign conducted especially by the former Member for Glasgow, Cathcart for the return of capital punishment as an effective deterrent to the crime of murder. The Minister must know what a nonsense that was in the context of alcohol. If one is drunk when one commits, or is a victim of, a murder, it is no deterrent.

    I now turn to the harm caused within the family by excessive drinking. Maternal alcoholism, for instance, is literally a mortal danger. The children of chronic alcoholic women have a perinatal mortality rate of 17 per cent. compared with 2 per cent. in non-alcoholics. In addition, a further 26 per cent. of alcoholic women give birth to children with the foetal alcoholic syndrome characterised by abnormalities of the development of the brain and heart, retarded post-natal growth and many other developmental abnormalities. Thus complications occur in 43 per cent. of pregnancies of alcoholic women. Some years ago I chaired a Select Committee on battered wives. It is well known that battered children and battered wives are often the direct consequence of excessive alcohol consumption.

    I now turn to the broader costs of alcoholism in Scotland. The Scottish council estimated that the average alcoholic employee cost his company £600 a year in terms of substandard work performance. It gave a rather startling figure, which I think is probably grossly exaggerated. I do not know how the council obtained the figure. It said that the bill for the whole of Scottish industry could be as much as £35,000 million to £50,000 million in lost production per year. I find that incomprehensible. I looked up the figure for the total GNP for the whole country. I find that it is about £163,000 million. The Scottish proportion of that would be about one-tenth, or £16,000 million. I find it difficult to associate that figure with the figure quoted in the council document.

    However, the cost must be substantial and must be eliminated. By any standard the cost of living with this problem and tolerating it is horrendous, exceeding many times over, I suspect, the total cost of the entire National Health Service in Scotland and getting near, in the United Kingdom context, to exceeding the total cost of the national defence bill. Yet the amount spent on combating the problem is ludicruously small.

    I hope that the Minister will give us an indication of the public expenditure on combinating this problem—I appreciate the difficulties—so that we may contrast it with the figures and facts that I quoted. I should also like to contrast it with what the Exchequer draws in tax on alcoholic liquor. In 1975–76 the Exchequer took in duty on liquor £1,561 million. Last year, 1978–79, the figure was £2,339 million. The Government have an enormous vested interest in the drink trade. I speak of all Governments. They receive such an enormous amount of revenue from it that they shrink from doing much to damp down the demand for alcohol. There are powerful vested interests at work in this area. The drink trade spends far more on advertising its wares than probably any other industry. The advertisements are romanticised; they connect drink with the young. It is time that the Government pursued much more vigorous policies against this kind of pernicious advertising.

    The Government are exercising their minds on related subjects. According to press statements this morning, they intend to tackle football vandalism and hooliganism and vandalism in a wider context. Many of those problems are related to excessive drinking, especially among young people. Unless we tackle the problem at the root, the results will not be adequate.

    The problem is vast, and little has been done by successive Governments to resolve it. As the Scottish council points out, the services for alcoholics have grown up in a haphazard fashion, unplanned and largely as the result of the zeal of voluntary bodies with inadeqate resources. I hope that the Minister will spell out what is being done and what the Government intend to do in schools and youth clubs, and how they will encourage local authorities to mount a campaign to root out the problem. What will be done in concert with the churches? What will the Government do to extend the use of television films and radio talks? A massive poster campaign, for instance, could be initiated by the Government to spell out the evils and the dangers of this habit. They should clamp down in a negative way on the advertisements allowed to the drink trade all over the country.

    Nothing less than a Royal Commission is required to deal with all aspects of this problem, which is costing us dearly as a nation in terms of human misery, vast losses of national wealth and countless unnecessary deaths. If we cannot have a Royal Commission, the new Select Committee on Scottish Affairs might set up a Sub-Committee to prepare a report and ascertain the scale of the problem and its human and economic cost.

    I did not initiate this debate in a moralising spirit and I hope that I have not taken that tone. However, no one can derive much pleasure from citing a few facts of a tragic state of affairs. If it only incites the Government a little to show greater willingness and determination to tackle the problem, the purpose of the debate will have been well served. It is in the wider national interest that it should be tackled with much more vigour and determination than have been shown up to now.

    2.42 pm

    The whole House should thank the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) for raising this subject, particularly at this time. Obviously, as he said, with the onset of Christmas and new year, it is probable that the consumption of alcohol will substantially increase, which on past experience means that the related problems will increase.

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is right to use this opportunity, and any opportunity, to urge people in Scotland and elsewhere to recognise that, while there is no objection to the normal responsible consumption of alcohol, they should whenever possible ensure that their consumption, particularly at this time of the year, is sufficiently limited to avoid serious problems. In particular, alcohol consumption by those who intend to drive should if possible be completely constrained. At least, the problem is one of stomach ache: at worst, it is one of heartache, not only for those injured but for their families and the whole of the community. One cannot emphasise too strongly the need for restraint.

    The hon. Member rightly stressed that he was concerned with the problem not only at this time but throughout the year. Such evidence as we have suggests that the problem is, if anything, more serious in Scotland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. No one wishes to dispute or disagree with the right of members of the public to consume alcohol in a social way. Like the hon. Member, I have occasionally done so, to almost the same extent as he is prepared to admit to.

    No one suggests that that is anything but a natural part of social intercourse. But the hon. Gentleman is also right when he says that the problem over the past 20 years has seriously deteriorated. What is particularly alarming is that the problems of excessive alcohol consumption have got worse among young people.

    The hon. Gentleman mentioned the reply to a recent parliamentary question which estimated that the number of alcoholics in Scotland increased between 1957 and 1977 from 81,000 to 110,000. A sad and difficult aspect of the problem is that, however one approaches it, the statistics are not encouraging. From 1965 to 1976, the numbers admitted to hospital for alcoholism or alcoholic psychosis rose by 102 per cent. Deaths from cirrhosis in the same period rose by 45 per cent. and established deaths from alcoholism in Scotland rose eightfold. That is serious evidence, particularly when one considers that the number of drunkenness offences and drink and driving offences recorded over the same period were also on the increase.

    This problem is not peculiar to Scotland. There have been equally distressing increase elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in Europe, behind the Iron Curtain and in the Third world—but that can be of little comfort to those concerned with the problem in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman referred to the report of the Scottish Council on Alcoholism published only in November, which is under active consideration by the Scottish Office. It was a generally useful and responsible report, which has highlighted a number of the serious difficulties.

    In one respect, even at this stage, one can make a slight criticism of the fact that the report perhaps did not adequately describe some of the useful and important work which is already being done in Scotland. One can approach this matter under three headings—prevention, treatment and education. Prevention in the Scottish Office is essentially the responsibility of the Scottish Health Education Unit, which has for some time been pursuing objectives similar to those proposed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in its report on alcohol and alcoholism. The unit has published a self-monitoring scheme to promote responsible attitudes to drinking by encouraging the public to monitor their own drinking levels and recognise where such drinking is causing problems.

    The aptly named "dying Scotsman" cartoons in the daily press draw attention to the type of problems created by excessive drinking. Some recent television advertisements have been carefully researched and designed to attack the cultural image of drink which was referred to by the hon. Member.

    The Scottish Health Education Unit has also sponsored a great deal of research into the development of attitudes among children aged between 6 and 17 in order to try to identify in what way education, particularly health education, in schools could be geared to warning youngsters of these dangers.

    When it comes to training, it is perhaps sad that the report of the Scottish Council on Alcoholism did not mention one of the most interesting new developments—the opening of an alcohol studies centre at Paisley college of technology financed by the Scottish Home and Health Department. That is not only an innovation in Scotland; it is also probably unique in Europe. The centre's main aim is to provide advanced multi-disciplinary courses for those who come into contact with problem drinkers—social workers, nurses, doctors, policemen, clergymen, prison officers and others.

    The first yearly course attracted 10 applicants from a good range of disciplines and next year's course is already well subscribed. The course has been approved by the Central Council for the Education and Training of Social Workers as a postgraduate training course. The alcohol studies centre also has it in mind to provide short courses of varied duration for those who in the course of their work must deal with problems arising from the misuse of alcohol—such people as doctors, nurses and others involved in accident work.

    I want also to pay tribute to the Scottish Council on Alcoholism itself. Over the years it has played an important part in providing counselling through its 23 local councils and in all the manifest good work that it does to try to concentrate the public's attention on this problem.

    Treatment is essentially a problem undertaken in the National Health Service, either in psychiatric hospitals or in special units in general hospitals. At present there are three units with a total of 54 beds identified as alcohol treatment units. However, I do not suggest that that is the total amount of activity in respect of people with these problems. The vast majority of them are dealt with in the general wards of hospitals, and one can see from the statistics an indication that, in 1976, 4,096 persons were admitted for alcoholism or alcoholic psychosis to the various hospitals.

    Tribute should also be paid to the very important and useful work done in the voluntary sector. The Salvation Army, the Cyrenians and the Talbot Association have for many years put in a great deal of work which quite often has not been realised by the vast majority of the public. There are 23 residential homes in Scotland for recovering alcoholics, with 270 places. All but one of these have been provided by voluntary organisations. There has been a great deal of excellent work which we should recognise.

    The Scottish Council on Alcoholism indicated in paragraph 5.8 of its report that a first step had not in its view been taken by most social work departments. It suggested that social work departments were not properly recognising the extent of the problem and responding to it. In some ways, this is an unfair charge to level against the local authorities. I have before me copies of very detailed and comprehensive reports prepared by Lothian regional council and Strathclyde regional council, the two largest regional authorities in Scotland, which deal with alcohol related problems and seek to promote useful solutions to deal with them. Strathclyde regional council has set up an officer-member working group which has reported on ways of implementing many of these proposals. The regional council recently appointed a principal social worker whose sole responsibility is the problem of addiction. That indicates the attention which local authorities are paying to the difficulties.

    The hon. Gentleman raised the very important issue of the overall cost of alcoholism to the community. He said that very substantial sums of money were involved. He referred to the estimate in the report of the Scottish Council on Alcoholism which pointed out its view of approximately £600 per worker and then went on to speculate that the total cost to the community was between £35,000 million and £50,000 million. I think that the hon. Gentleman may rest assured that that must be a typing mistake. My own modest arithmetical exercise suggests that if the figure was correct it would imply that there were at least 58 million alcoholics in Scotland. That amounts to about 12 times the total population, and I think that it is a suggestion which can be dismissed easily. Clearly, it is a typing mistake. However, one should not jest too much, because the sums involved are very substantial.

    In England and Wales an estimate has been made of a cost resulting from alcoholism of between £430 million and £650 million. This covers four main areas of cost—lost output, the cost to the Health Service, material damage, and police, prison and administrative costs. Taking Scotland's share of the overall population of the United Kingdom, it can be seen that the sums for Scotland are equally large in terms of money and resources which the community cannot afford to lose.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to the link between alcohol and crime. He is right to suggest that a very substantial amount of crime, especially amongst young offenders, is linked to problems of alcoholism. He will be aware that in the Criminal Justice Bill, published this year, the Government put forward specific proposals dealing with football hooliganism, a very high proportion of which is linked with alcohol which is taken on to the terraces and consumed, resulting in antisocial and other forms of undesirable behaviour. The Government's proposals resulting from the work done by the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) have been put forward as a serious attempt to ensure that this aspect of the problem is at least improved. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will feel able to support the Government on this.

    The hon. Gentleman also commented on the extent of the dependence of all Governments on alcohol as a source of revenue. Clearly, this is a problem. It also creates a slight paradox. The hon. Gentleman might not be aware of it, but, if anything, alcohol is relatively cheaper today than it was 15 years ago. Over the period from 1964 to 1979, the retail price index has gone up by 280 per cent. However, the cost of whisky has gone up by 141 per cent. Relatively speaking, therefore, it is 37 per cent. cheaper today than it was 15 years ago. Beer has gone up by 240 per cent. and, therefore, is 10 per cent. relatively cheaper than it was then.

    Is the Minister undertaking, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will put that right in April?

    This is exactly my point. The hon. Gentleman said how unfortunate and perhaps how unsatisfactory it was that the Government should be able to rely so heavily on the taxation of alcohol and, therefore, that the more alcohol was consumed, the more revenue they received. However, simply to put up rates of tax on alcohol makes the Government, if anything, even more dependent on that source of income in years to come. Obviously, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to come to his decision, and it is not an issue in which I am privy to his views. But it is a serious problem, and it is not perhaps widely realised that, relatively speaking, alcohol is cheaper today than it was 15 years ago. This may be one reason why consumption has increased over that period.

    The hon. Gentleman referred finally to advertising. This is a problem about which the Government are concerned. Such evidence as we have from Scandinavia, for example, does not suggest in any firm way that restrictions on advertising have a significant effect on the amount of sales. The hon. Gentleman will remember that Scottish Television was on strike for 11weeks and that there was no advertising of any kind on television during that period. So far as we are aware, that had no significant effect on the level of sales in Scotland during that period. For some time there has been a voluntary ban on the advertising of spirits on television. As yet there is no clear evidence of what effect that is having on sales by those who sell these products. However, the Government accept that we cannot be complacent. It is a matter which is kept under constant review. Both the IBA and the Advertising Standards Authority have codes of practice on these matters. The codes have been strengthened recently, and that is to be welcomed.

    The hon. Gentleman did not refer to it, but I am sure that he will not mind my saying that the problems of drinking and driving are also of serious import. The Blennerhassett committee which reported in 1976 put forward a series of recommendations. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that yesterday a consultative document was published by my right on. Friend the Minister of Transport. We hope that that will be responded to by the various interested bodies and lead to useful changes.

    In conclusion, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. I emphasise that it is an issue that the Government consider to be of supreme importance, especially in Scotland where the problem is greater than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Much of great value is being done at present. The recommendations in the report contain a number of additional proposals. They are being considered by the Scottish Office, and we hope to be able to indicate which of the proposals can be translated into action in as short a time as possible.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels reassured that we recognise the problem. We hope to build on the work that has been done by previous Governments over the years.

    Aircraft Noise (London)

    3.1 pm

    I am pleased to have the opportunity of bringing the subject of aircraft noise in West London to the attention of the House. It is 40 years since Winston Churchill lamented the passing of man's greatest friend, the horse. He said that it was greatly to be regretted that man had parted company in workaday terms from his greatest and most faithful friend, the horse, and resorted to the infernal—which he corrected to the internal—combustion engine. We have lived with the combustion engine more closely since those days, to the point that while it brings major benefactions it brings also major hazards, worries and disturbances.

    The quality of life in our land is, in many areas, unequal, and that is to be expected. In the area of aircraft noise I look for greater equity in the way that matters are handled. In West London in general, and especially Ealing, the lives of many are disturbed and disrupted every 30 seconds by a cacophony of aircraft noise. Some become used to it and say that they can live with it. Others never become used to it. They are, perhaps, forced by economic circumstances, or because they work in the area, to live in such areas, but are unable to adjust to the new hazard to their lives. I submit that aircraft noise is an issue that we must face and do something about.

    During the summer I was in the gardens of some of my constituents. I heard aircraft passing overhead every 30 seconds, and sometimes more frequently. The effect was that it was quite impossible to hold a civilised conversation. However closely one stands to people—and there are limits on how close one can stand—conversation was drowned. It is not possible to live a civilised life on that basis.

    If the wind is in the wrong direction or the cloud is low, resulting in aircraft having to fly low, the noise is even worse. I stress that aspect because it affects my constituents. The drowning noise of overhead aircraft upon conversation—whether outside or inside the home—makes life impossible. The noise overrides the sound of the television, and the picture can be disrupted, although that is not as likely. What about the blind? They need the sound from their radios, but it is totally disrupted. Others are in need of the comfort of radios and televisions, or the chat of a pleasant neighbour.

    I am stressing mainly the importance of aircraft noise, but there is another aspect that I wish to mention, namely, the fumes given off by aircraft. It is a little outside the terms of the debate, but I mention it in passing in the hope that the Minister can give some attention to the effect on the area of pollution from fumes from over flying aircraft.

    I welcome the Government's recent statement on airport policy. I am glad that we are not to have a fifth terminal at Heathrow, and pleased to note the Government's policy for spreading air traffic. It is inevitable that a fourth terminal will bring more aircraft traffic and passengers into Heathrow. The position will not ease in terms of aircraft passing overhead and passengers coming into Heathrow, which is the centre from which the aircraft leave and fly over Ealing.

    If there are to be more aircraft and passengers, it follows that there will be more noise. We shall have interruptions of lives, not only every 30 seconds but more frequently. That will have an intolerable effect upon the way people live.

    I do not ask for Heathrow to be closed. That would be a Utopian request and absurd. I shall make one or two specific suggestions that are designed to be helpful. After some thought, and having spoken to a number of experts and citizens who are affected, I feel that my suggestions could be put into effect and that results would be achieved within a fairly short time.

    A solution needs to be found so that residents living near to airports and under flight paths are relieved of noise. Minimum noise routes and the shifting of flight paths are no solutions. I could not support a policy that consisted of shifting noise from one constituency to another. There would be a certain immorality about that. Such a policy would be as inequitable as the present situation.

    First, the Government should phase out all aircraft movements at Heathrow between 23.00 hours and 06.30 hours. I ask my hon. Friend to consider whether that could be done. The absence of movements between those hours would allow comfortable sleeping time. If a person's life is disrupted by noise during the day, he is entitled to peace at night. In all civilised establishments it is normally expected that residents shall have peace after 11 o'clock at night. I regard the homes and dwellings in my constituency as one collective establishment. I ask that they be noise-free from 11 o'clock at night till 6.30 in the morning.

    I ask that that be done over a period—for example, five years—to enable airport authorities, airlines and users, both passengers and cargo operators, to adjust to the new policy without undue dislocation. I think that five years would be reasonable. That would give reasonable notice and would enable those concerned to prepare policies accordingly and to put suitable research in hand where it is needed.

    Aberdeen airport is shut between 21.50 hours and 07.00 hours. The income of that airport has increased by 40 per cent. since those hours were introduced. That information comes from the British Airports Authority's annual report of 1978–79. It is telling information.

    New noise regulations should be introduced to lower the maximum perceived noise decibel level of 110 during the day and 102 at night. Those are high levels. They should be reduced to 85 perceived noise decibels. For instance, 92decibels has the effect of an alarm clock ringing at a distance of 2 ft, while 88 decibels is the sound of a telephone ringing 9 ft away. Those comparisons give some measure of the level for which I am asking. Regulations should be introduced and rigorously policed. Infringements should be subject to severe penalties. They will have to be severe. There will have to be a tough approach. There is every reason why there should be. The United States of America and Japan take that approach—why cannot the United Kingdom?

    I suggest that hush kits be fitted to all aircraft currently flying to bring them within the new regulations. Hush kits are fitted to BAC 111s to enable them to come within the maximum permitted levels in the United States and Japan.

    Manufacturers of aircraft engines should be encouraged to produce quieter engines for new aircraft that are being planned and developed and for aircraft currently flying so that they are less obtrusive on take-off and landing.

    In an age in which we produce aircraft which can fly at twice the speed of sound, and even faster, it is beyond my comprehension, as a non-scientific person, to understand why we have not made better progress towards totally silent engines. The same amount of research should be carried out into producing silent engines as into developing other aspects of new aircraft. It is crucial to our way of life and comfort.

    Larger compensation payments should be made to residents who consistently experience aircraft noise of, say 95 perceived noise decibels and above until the new noise control regulations are introduced and enforced. That payment should provide fully for insulation against noise.

    I remind the House that there was a major campaign against atmospheric pollution in the 1950s and 1960s. It was largely successful, and has contributed substantially to a more acceptable, happy, comfortable, and healthy way of life. Why should there not be similar drives against aircraft and other noise in the 1980s, or are vested interests to be victorious? I do not say that meanly.

    I ask for aid in installing double glazing of homes and schools. In saying that I do not want to let go of my ultimate aim, which is that there should be noise-free aircraft. I realise that there will be noise from any vehicle travelling through the atmosphere. Nothing can be done about that noise, but engine noise can and must be tackled.

    We may succeed in achieving double-glazed homes, schools and other public buildings, but that is no solution for people who have to live in houses with windows permanently shut against noise. People need to be able to open their windows and enjoy fresh air, particularly on summer days.

    The situation is inequitable, and damaging to people's nerves and health. That is demonstrated in letters which I receive from people who have been driven to distraction by a barrage of noise from aircraft over several minutes, or even a two or three-hour period. They ask me to bring the matter to the attention of Parliament, and to try to get something done to stop it.

    The argument that people continue to live in air noise areas, and that property values can be high, is irrelevant. People have to live somewhere. That is a false argument and is unacceptable and unfair. I draw the Minister's attention to that argument, and I hope that he, too, regards it as unfair.

    I have tried to describe the problem, and to present to the House the conditions under which people live not far from this building. The same applies to people living in other parts of the country, but not to the same extent.

    There is a very special case for the people of West London to have relief from this form of noise pollution. I hope—indeed, I have every confidence—that the Minister and the Government will bend a sympathetic ear to what I have said, in the interests of justice, of fairness and of the welfare of the people in this country. We need to keep people on an even keel, with a proper sense of integration and well-being, if they are to live fulfilled lives and, as a result, put their utmost into our community, as individuals and collectively. It is in that spirit that I make my submissions to the Minister.

    3.15 pm

    I should like first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on raising this issue on behalf of his constituents. He is one of the newer Members for the West London area, but since he has been here he has been one of the most active Members in coming to me to discuss the problems of noise which affect his constituents in Ealing. Certainly they are real problems. But, if I may say so, even in the day of the late Winston Churchill's horses, there were pollution problems in London. I am given to understand that there were those who were becoming increasingly worried about the scale of those problems as London's population increased and it was still dependent upon horse-drawn transport. There were major problems then; there are major problems now.

    The one thing of which we can be sure is that in 20, 30 or 50 years' time there will still be major problems. They will be different ones, no doubt, but I am certain that people will then look back to some of the present-day problems and think that 1979 was part of the good old days of this century. That does not mean that I underestimate the problems which affect us now, but there are one or two things that I have to say about the importance of Heathrow and the importance of the air transport industry.

    As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out earlier this week, the United Kingdom airlines in 1978 had total operating revenues of nearly £2,000 million. Air transport produced a net addition to this country's invisible earnings of about £350 million, and over 18 per cent. by value of our international trade was carried through our airports in 1978. The United Kingdom airlines employed about 70,000 people at the end of 1978, and 23,000—excluding the airline employees—were employed at the British Airports Authority's airports, including Heathrow.

    I know that some of those at least will be my hon. Friend's constituents and I know that they, like him, fully appreciate the importance of the industry. But it is useful to spell out just how substantial an industry it is. In days when growth industries are hard to come by, it is still a growth industry, so it deserves consideration to see how we can let it both grow and be a good neighbour.

    The statement about airports policy that my right hon. Friend made earlier this week contained much that was of the greatest importance to people living near Heathrow. We entirely accept that there are more people affected by noise at Heathrow than at any other airport in the United Kingdom; therefore we pay particular attention to its problems. Indeed, that is why we have decided that the proposed fifth terminal at Heathrow should not go ahead and, indeed, why, beyond that, we have imposed a limit of 275,000 air transport movements a year at Heathrow. That movement limit takes account of the extra passenger capacity created by the fourth terminal.

    My hon. Friend may be aware that this year an estimated 265,000 movements will take place. Therefore, the limit is very little above what is currently happening. It is not right to believe that there is no limit on what will happen at Heathrow or that the building of the fourth terminal will cause a great increase in the number of movements.

    I accept the implication of what I think my hon. Friend is about to say. My point is that we are already at breaking point. There is a little further to go, and we shall only just manage that, but it will be very hard to take. The Government are to be congratulated on putting the damper on the limit now, but we could not possibly go any further.

    Secondly, I should like to refer to a paradox, if my hon. Friend agrees that it is a paradox. There is implied prosperity and more fun for everybody with more aircraft, more people going on holiday, more freight, more trade, and so on. However, the paradox is that it creates misery for others. That is one of the paradoxes of life of which I want everyone to be aware. I hope that my hon. Friend does not mind having that point brought out at this juncture.

    Not at all. That is one of the paradoxes of life.

    I recollect that at one time I had a neighbour whose son thought that the nicest way of spending Sunday mornings was to mow the lawn with a motor driven lawnmower with a transistor radio hanging from it and turned up sufficiently loudly for him to hear pop music. It gave him a great deal of pleasure, but I confess that it did not give me much pleasure. I take the point about the pleasure given to those who travel from Heathrow—that is, once they have got out of the place—and the pain that it gives to others living in the area.

    What can we do about it? I have said that we have imposed a limit on the total number of movements. It is difficult for airlines to operate up to a limit of that kind. Almost certainly they will fall slightly short of it because of the consequences of trying to schedule to the limit. Things may go wrong and operations may be impaired. I hope that my hon. Friend will find that the number of aircraft movements will not greatly increase.

    Above all, my hon. Friend was right to say that we must concentrate more strongly on the source of noise—the aeroplane. He suggested that further noise limits should be imposed and proposed some very low noise limits which he thought would be reasonable. I do not believe that those noise limits could be reached with the technical abilities that we have in the immediate vicinity of the airport—that is, at the standard noise measuring areas just outside the airport boundaries. However quietly we try to do it, providing the power to move 350 tons of aeroplane and to accelerate it to a speed of 150 or 250 m.p.h. is bound to be a noisy process. My hon. Friend suggested a limit of 92 decibels, which he likened to an alarm clock, and 88 decibels, which is equivalent to a telephone ringing at a distance of 9 ft.

    In the study on aircraft noise carried out by the Civil Aviation Authority in the summer of 1977, measurements were made of the noise caused 14 km away from Heathrow at Ealing. The noise from some aircraft—here I mention that old baddy which is mentioned in all these debates, the Trident—was pretty bad. The average was 101.5 perceived noise decibels. In contrast, the sample—a relatively small one, I agree—that was taken from the A300 airbus, the DC10 and the Lockheed Tristar, turned in an average figure of 87.8, measured outdoors. So the noise outside that type of aircraft was much the same as that of a telephone ringing 9 ft. away.

    The background noise that was measured was between 60 and 75 DBA. I am sorry that this measurement is not in the same unit, but to convert from one to the other I would have to add about 12 to that figure, which would mean that we would be talking about a figure of 72 to 87. There we have an example of the progress that we can expect in reducing the level of noise through technical developments that have already been achieved.

    I am happy to be able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North that not only are the older, noisier airliners to be banned from use by British airlines at the end of 1985, but, as a result of the meeting of the Transport Ministers' Council of the European Community which I attended a week or two ago, it was agreed that there should be a directive requiring all member States to ban the use of such aircraft by 1988. So in the foreseeable future we shall rid ourselves of the noisy aircraft, and though there will still be some aircraft that are noisier than the DC10, the A300 airbus and the Tristar, the worst of the problem will have gone.

    To insist on hush-kitting aircraft is misplaced. It would pose a considerable financial burden on the airlines. It might also slow down their re-equipment programmes, and I could not assure my hon. Friend that the effect he desires would be achieved. I do not believe that it would achieve a noticeable reduction of the noise level in areas such as Ealing.

    My hon. Friend also suggested that we should phase out all night movements at Heathrow over perhaps the next five years. My hon. Friend referred to the airport at Aberdeen. I think he would agree that the two are not comparable. Aberdeen airfield is heavily dependent on oil-related traffic and not through traffic. Heathrow not only has aircraft that start and finish there but accepts transit aircraft. It is almost inevitable that some of those transit aircraft will require to pass through Heathrow during the night hours. It would not be right totally to rule out the possibility of night operations at Heathrow.

    What we are doing is to maintain the level of the number of movements and to make a steady shift from the non-noise certificated aircraft to noise-certificated aircraft. Therefore, although the number of movements will not be decreased, the amount of noise both aircraft make will be decreased.

    In my view, the prospect of further noise reduction beyond what we are achieving with aircraft such as those I have mentioned is slim. We have reached a plateau of technical development at present and I do not believe that we shall make further progress in the near future.

    We have recently agreed with the British Airports Authority a new programme for noise insulation grants which will be directed at houses nearest Heathrow as opposed to those further away. I hope that it will be announced by the BAA very shortly.

    I do not believe that it would be right to institute noise compensation payments. After all, this would open the way for compensation payments to those who live near motorways and even railways. We are right to move towards throttling the noise at source—in the aeroplane—and we are doing that.

    Public Services (Sandwell)

    3.30 pm

    We are embarking on a period when the politician's expression "cuts in public expenditure" will be translated for millions of people into events that they understand. For the housebound, such cuts will mean fewer visits from the district nurse; for the handicapped child, the loss of a remedial teacher; for the council tenant, a longer wait for his dream home. At such a time each will mourn his own, but today I wish to tell the House about the impact of the cuts on one community, partly because it may help to bring home what is really entailed in the statistics that we have been debating.

    Sand well is a borough in the West Midlands covering much of the industrial Black Country. Twenty years ago it consisted of six small boroughs with ancient names, representing separate communities. In 1966 the two parts of what is now Sandwell were brought together into Warley and an extended West Bromwich. The measure was resisted virtually unanimously by those who were charged with making it work but at least those two boroughs were multi-purpose, single-tier authorities with all the powers necessary for a vigorous assault on local problems.

    In 1974 the gentlemen in London once again knew better than local people and the two authorities were unceremoniously bundled together in a shotgun marriage. But this time they lost many of their powers and the ability to take decisions was given to the West Midlands county council. The planning of roads, for example, on which so many other decisions depended, had to start all over again and precious years were lost.

    Sandwell is not an inner city area, by reason of the historic accident that it had no one population or commercial centre which, in former times, might have claimed city status. But one cannot say much about the problems of inner cities which is not reflected in Sandwell.

    The 1971 census shows that those socio-economic groups which the statisticians number 1, 2, 3, 4 and 13—employers, managers and professional workers—form only 7·4 per cent. of the population, as against 13·8 per cent. in the West Midlands as a whole, which is, in turn, below the national average. This is by far the lowest proportion in the region, with the exception of two districts in Birmingham, one of which adjoins Sandwell. The proportion of unskilled manual workers is the highest in the region, again with the exception of two districts in Birmingham. These figures give cause for no surprise.

    There are, indeed, some who could move away but prefer to live in Sandwell. But most of those who are able to live in the green belt, even if they continue to work in Sandwell, leave the area. Doc- tors, teachers and other professional people who come to work in the area usually live outside. So, with the exceptions which always prove the rule, it is the richer who move out leaving the poorer behind; the younger who move out leaving the older behind; the second generation immigrants who move out leaving the first generation behind.

    That brings us to another factor. Now, of course, there is virtually no primary immigration. But there is a high proportion of first-generation immigrants who came in former years. It would be quite wrong to speak of them as "a problem". As with any other group, it takes all sorts to make a community but for the greater part these people are as hard working, thrifty, friendly and no less law abiding than the indigenous population. But some children still have a problem with English, which is not spoken at home, so the education authority must provide special classes. There is an imaginative provision for teaching about ethnic minority cultures. Then, a great deal of valuable work is done by the Community Relations Council, so the local authority is understandably being pressed to make larger subventions for this work.

    Sandwell's industry consists chiefly of engineering and iron foundries. It goes back to the Industrial Revolution, and it depends upon skills that have been passed on through the generations. Unhappily, there have been a disturbing number of closures in recent years and the word "redundancy" forms part of too many conversations. A very high percentage of the work is dependent upon British Leyland and, indeed, many of the people who live in Sandwell are employed at Long bridge. So the priniciples that are so logical and clear to the Secretary of State for Industry have a more practical and emotive quality for the people of Sandwell.

    Still, for the present, most people are busy, but wage rates are not high, so the council and its predecessors have traditionally been concerned to keep rates low—sometimes at the expense of those amenities which higher rates might have bought. As there are so many industrial premises, the resources element in rate support grant is calculated on the basis of high rateable resources. But what is left out of account is that the industry which provides those resources creates the very problems which absorb the resources—air pollution, noise, derelict land and heavy vehicles breaking up the roads.

    In the last few years, the problems of areas such as Sandwell have been taken into account in the formula for calculating rate support grant, but this year there has been a swing back in favour of rural areas—only marginally, but Sandwell councillors are wondering whether that means that their problems are now regarded less sympathetically. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies.

    The end of the war found us with a high percentage of slums. Most of them have now been cleared, but the process absorbed a large proportion of the energy and resources which in other areas went to provide other amenities. There is little incentive for private developers to build property for letting at high rents, so Sandwell has by far the highest percentage of council tenants in the region—514 per 1,000. As with rates, there has always been pressure to keep rents low. Rents that would appear normal elsewhere are regarded in Sandwell as outrageous. But that policy was pursued in the past at the expense of maintenance and repairs. At every surgery held by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and me we meet people living in flats who are sustained by the dream that one day they will move to a house with a garden. If the Government compel the council to sell off its council houses, the first to go will no doubt be the better houses with gardens, and those people will wait for many years more, if not for ever.

    There is an urgent need for an increased house building programme to provide for the 7,000 families now on the list awaiting accommodation and for those who dream of moving to better accommodation. But if the Government insist on cutting the housing investment programme, the council will have to make an agonising choice between that and a desperately needed improvement and modernisation programme. At the moment the council does not know, because one of the consequences of the Secretary of State's boasted reduction in the numbers of civil servants is that the de- cision promised for October has now been delayed until January.

    If the Government impose severe cuts, the families on that list will have nothing to hope for. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether, when the council applies for loan sanction to build houses, the Government will bear in mind all those families who, whenever they see a Member of Parliament or a councillor, begin the conversation with the word "When"?

    The Minister believes that people should be encouraged to buy their own houses. So do I, provided that they are houses built for the private market and not at the expense of people waiting in the queue for council houses. Sandwell has by far the lowest proportion of owner-occupiers in the region—381 per 1,000. But for many young couples, ownership can begin only by purchasing an older property with a 95 per cent. or 100 per cent. mortgage. Their only prospect of obtaining one is from the council but already this year funds have run out. I recently met a young man who had a house—his first, and modest enough—lined up. He had been virtually promised a 95 per cent. mortgage. Now he is being told that he will obtain a decision in April, yet by April the bargain that he has made will be a thing of the past.

    There is no greater comfort to be had with regard to the health services. General practitioners are not readily attracted to the area. Lists are long, and if a patient is crossed off his GP's list, for whatever reason, he will have great difficulty in finding his way on to another.

    Sandwell residents are not usually in the financial league that can pay for private medicine. They are not impressed by Tory slogans about freedom of choice. Most of them would settle for one hospital place, and one consultant to perform that long-awaited operation. I have known a number of elderly people whose lives have been changed by a hip operation. From depressed, withdrawn cripples they have virtually come back from the dead, but they have lost precious years of their lives waiting.

    Now, after years of dreaming, and what seemed like interminable delays, we have the new Sandwell general hospital in West Bromwich. If it is to work, it will require resources to run it. The regional health authority has approved, in principle, additional revenue of £500,000. But on the basis of the 3 per cent. growth allowed for in the White Paper, and after deducting the 2½ per cent. which will be absorbed by reinstating the National Health Service contribution to the cost of pay awards, and considering the burden of high prices that are likely to operate, the West Midlands region is likely to have £2,400,000 additional revenue to meet commitments of £4,400,000. So while we live in hopes, there is some apprehension that the revenue necessary will undergo a process of surgery before it materialises. Having obtained the hospital, we may not be able to make full use of it.

    That is in West Bromwich. But that is a long and difficult journey for people living in Rowley Regis. Many of our hospital patients have been travelling instead to Dudley. It was hoped that work would begin in 1982 for a community hospital in Rowley Regis itself. We would have our own hospital, like people elsewhere. It would contain 100 beds, and would be staffed by general practitioners, many of whom had been discouraged from coming to the area precisely because we lacked those facilities. Now we are worried. Can the Minister assure us that, as far as his influence extends, that hospital and those who need it so desperately will not fall victim to the cuts?

    I have spoken of the ageing population. There are 45,000 pensioners in an adult population of 250,000. When my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), who is unavoidably absent today, spoke in the debate on public expenditure on 5 December she told the House that we had 1,000 people in residential homes. Since there is room only for emergency cases, it is thought futile to keep a waiting list.

    That is where the council's social services department and the NHS interact. If there were more hospital beds for geriatric cases, the pressure on residential homes would be eased. Now that the new general hospital is open, the old hospital building is vacant, and it is hoped to provide there a 50-place day hospital, and 76 beds for the elderly mentally infirm. Can we be assured that there will be no pressure to switch capital allocation to revenue and so deprive elderly people—people who are in need of full- time nursing—of a comfortable and dignified evening for their lives, and deprive their families of the resulting relief?

    May I offer a further statistic? In 1978 Sandwell had a perinatal mortality rate of 20·1 per 1,000, as against a rate in the West Bromwich region of 17·3, and a national rate of 15·5. It is hoped to spend £1·2 million on improving the overcrowded and dilapidated maternity unit and antenatal unit. Will that sum still be available? Because there are insufficient beds in hospitals and residential homes, many people are living at home but are dependent upon community and domiciliary services. Many elderly and handicapped people are dependent upon social workers, health visitors and district nurses, not only for their physical well being but for advice, conversation and a lifeline to the outside world.

    Is it the case that if these workers claim a pay increase greater than the limit imposed, despite an inflation rate that is likely to be substantially higher, there will be a cut in their numbers, so that they will be condemning the housebound to a desert island existence? If so, that is moral blackmail of the most cowardly kind. The Government should at least have the guts to accept responsibility for their own decisions.

    Finally, in the time left to me I turn to the education services. With its obsession with statistics about examination results, the Department of Education and Science recently published figures indicating that in the academic year 1976–77, only 72 per cent. of school leavers in Sandwell achieved what the Department call a "graded" examination result—"E" level or better in O- or A-levels, or a "5" in GCE. That compares with a national average of 81 per cent.

    There is no evidence that children in Sandwell are less intelligent than else-were, or that their teachers are less able or less dedicated. But child psychologists are telling us what we already knew, that children who are talked to and stimulated in their early years are likely to learn more quickly than those who are not. In a low-wage area many mothers have perforce to go to work. The remedy is to provide more nursery school places, and in recent years efforts have been made to expand them. Sandwell has three nursery schools, and 38 primary schools have a nursery unit. But if the number of teachers employed nationally is to be reduced by 21,000, does the Minister have reason to believe that nursery school teachers can be shielded from the effects, except at the expense of staffing ratios in primary and secondary schools?

    In an area with many disadvantaged pupils there is a greater than average need for remedial teachers, speech therapists and teachers concerned with the languages and cultures of ethnic minorities. If there is to be a drastic reduction in teaching staff, does the Minister believe that it will be possible to retain a high proportion of these specialist teachers?

    The authority spends £450,000 on school transport. The figure is so high partly because of the numbers in remedial and special schools and partly because playing fields and other facilities are not always available at the school itself. But there are also many families who, for perfectly proper reasons, wish their children to attend schools associated with their religious faith or other schools of a particular kind. For them, the vaunted freedom of choice in education depends upon transport. Even if the Government impose their threat to remove from local authorities the obligation of providing transport, I do not believe that Sandwell council will readily discontinue a service so fundamental to people's need and rights. But if to that proposal there is added an insupportable strain on resources, it is not surprising that there is great anxiety in the area.

    So, in a hundred ways the slogans and figures will affect the daily lives and the prospects of families who are in no position to provide their own solutions. There has been no time to mention the impact on the mentally handicapped, the rehabilitation services, the arts, sports facilities and all the other materials that go to make up human life. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East is hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and to say something of his own anxieties. My hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and for West Bromwich, West would have wished to contribute to the debate, but they have engagements elsewhere.

    In the time left to us I shall understand if the Minister cannot give a detailed answer to all the questions that I have raised. I am content that if there is anything more that he wishes to say he will write to me.

    It was not my intention today to initiate a debate on the need for the cuts, or their scale. The House has already discussed these issues. However, the admitted purpose of the cuts is to pay for tax reductions that will chiefly benefit the higher income groups and to increase the freedom of choice in education and the health services for those who can pay. Any moderate and fair-minded person will be driven to conclude that there is something wrong with those priorities. The whole test of a political faith is what, when the chips are down, are the values that we protect and the human needs that prevail.

    3.47 pm

    This House is a frustrating and infuriating place unless one happens to be a Minister. The great compensation for most of us is the satisfaction of one's work as a parish priest in a constituency one loves. As the House knows, my constituency is Warley, East. It used to be Smethwick which stood in the Domesday Book as a village—a long time ago now—and is one of the four constituencies in Sandwell. That is why I am so grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) for giving me the opportunity to say a few words in addition to his admirable speech on the problems of the area we both represent.

    There is a concentration of problems in Sandwell which give it all the problems of an inner city area but which do not allow it, for the historic reasons my right hon. and learned Friend has explained, to be assessed or accepted as such. The problems of Sandwell are those of an urban area working hard to shake off the legacy of its past. It consists of a number of population centres formerly separate towns, as my right hon. and learned Friend explained, each of which has the characteristics of the inner city area.

    Those who can are moving out to more attractive residential areas, leaving behind—the point that my right hon. and learned Friend made—the less affluent the less securely employed, the larger families, the older people and the first generation immigrants. Each of these areas in Sandwell affects the adjoining areas so that the outward movement is spreading through an increasing proportion of Sandwell. Industrial and residential premises are crowded cheek by jowl, and it is proving a long process to separate the district into residential and industrial areas. This gives rise to problems of pollution, overcrowded roads, parking problems and derelict sites. It also means that the area is unattractive to professional people such as doctors and teachers. The educational attainment throughout the area is said to be the lowest in Britain. I think that we can both vouch for that.

    Industry is, for the greater part, narrowly based, and in these days perhaps unfortunately based, mainly on the automobile industry. Attempts are being made to introduce more varied industry, but this, too, is not easy in an area which executives do not find attractive residentially and where available sites are likely to give rise to complaints of pollution.

    Sandwell, to date, has not been assessed by successive Governments as an area of serious need in terms of inner area problems. The authority has not received the additional financial support in the form of loan sanction or grant which has been made available to comparable authorities.

    It is this manifest injustice to the people whom we represent that needs the attention and correction of the Minister. I urge him, as does my right hon. and learned Friend, to do the fair and right thing, even in these stringent days, and to recognise Sandwell as an area and community badly needing inner city area treatment, with the consequent financial support of loan sanction and grant. I pray that he listens to our concerted pleas. Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat—but not for people in our area.

    3.52 pm

    The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and his hon. Friend the Member for Warley East (Mr. Faulds) made a very understanding case of the problems of Sandwell. Clearly in the nine minutes left to me there is no way in which I can reply to all the points they raised. However, I shall certainly ensure that those who posed the ques- tions receive answers. There are two points that I should like to make before putting this matter into general context.

    First, the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about the rate support grant and was somewhat worried. It is fair to say that Sandwell got on pretty well in the 1980–81 rate support grant settlement. It had an increase in its needs element entitlement of over £500,000 in real terms, which is equivalent to a 1·1p rate. That is better than the average metropolitan district, which had a gain of 0·7p. The gain continued the overall trend between 1974–75 and 1979–80 when Sandwell's share of the needs element increased by 11 per cent. as against the metropolitan districts' overall increase of 6 per cent. over the same period.

    The right hon. and learned Gentleman also specifically spoke about the problems of those who wished to purchase their own homes and the running out of the council's mortgage scheme. Sandwell has chosen to maintain its level of house building by using funds originally earmarked for mortgage lending. That was its own decision. The council is responsible for the consequences. It cannot expect us to help it out at the expense of other local authorities. However, we said that it was our intention in next year's allocations to have one block rather than the existing three blocks. It will then be even more for a local authority to decide what it wants to do.

    As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, a great deal has been said in these past weeks about the effect of expenditure cuts on local services. Much of this has been hysterical exaggeration, which takes no account of reality, but it has naturally concerned many who feel that they will be affected by the wholesale destruction of public services predicted by the sensationalists. I take this opportunity to dispel those misconceptions, as the reality is very different.

    As a Government we have said firmly that we are totally committed to improving the standard of public services. But that can be achieved only with a strong economy. The simple truth is that over the years public spending has been planned on assumptions about economic growth that have not been achieved. It is now at a level that the economy cannot support. High taxes and high levels of Government borrowing have combined to reduce incentives, to fuel inflation, and to discourage investment. In short, public expenditure is stifling economic growth.

    So our first task is to increase the country's resources through higher output. The growth in public expenditure must first be halted and then reversed, until public spending falls to a level that the economy can afford. The alternative is continued economic decline and serious long-term damage to the public services as our ability to finance them diminishes still further. We will not follow that course. That is what lies behind our policies—not, I make it clear, the taxation picture that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, uncharacteristically unfairly, painted.

    The greatest misconceptions and the direst predictions have come from our planned reduction in local authority spending. I must put these cuts firmly in perspective. We are asking local authorities in England and Wales to reduce their current expenditure in volume terms by 1½per cent. this year below what they actually spent in 1978–9 and by a further 1 per cent. next year. That will bring them back to the same level of spending as in 1977–78. That scale of reductions is rather less than the 2 per cent. in one year imposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government in 1976.

    Put in terms that we can all understand, those cuts are not all that large. For every £100 spent by local authorities last year, we are asking them to spend £2.50 less next year. I do not pretend that that will not cause difficulties, but I do say that it is not an attack on the fabric of the public services.

    The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the sale of council houses and about the ambitions of people to move to what I think he said were better houses with gardens. I understand that argument, which has been put many times before, but it is not accurate. If he will, with his well-known fairness, consider the national statistics—I venture to say that the statistics for Sandwell are not all that different—he will find that the number of council tenants who move in a year is between 4 per cent. and 6 per cent. The substantial and overwhelming majority of the tenants who want to buy their homes will have lived there for 10, 20 or 30 years. There is no prospect of their moving from those homes anyhow. It is therefore a fallacy to say that, because we intend to make it easier for local authorities to sell houses and for tenants to buy them, we shall in any way deprive people of the better homes. I suggest that he should have a more careful look at the figures for turnover before he makes that premise.

    The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned housing investment programmes and loan sanctions. I appreciate that we have been somewhat late in giving any figures this year, but there was a general election which rather complicated the issue—for the better, I believe. When we make the HIP allocations we shall take into account the real needs of local authorities. The right hon. and learned Gentleman need have no fear—if Sandwell has put up a good case it will be considered on its merits when we make the decisions.

    The problems of ethnic minorities are not confined to Warley. I have such problems in my constituency. However, I am pleased to see that the local authority appointed a careers officer earlier this year to deal with the problem. I congratulate the local authority on that.

    As for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mention of the elderly mentally infirm, I am informed that works are to begin next year, for completion in 1982, on the upgrading of 76 beds in the vacant West Bromwich district general hospital, that 50 day places will also be available for the elderly severely mentally infirm. Those are the present plans.

    If local authorities will decide the level of services that they believe that their local economy and the national economy can support, rather than what they think is desirable, we shall all be able to recover more swiftly from the difficulties that we have been allowed to drift into than if we all go on saying that every public service must be expanded and that there is no room for cuts.

    The choice in the end as to the priority on expenditure within the limits allocated via the generous rate support grant are for the local authority itself to decide. It must decide whether it wants to reduce a given service, staff or administration. That is for the local authority and not for the Government to decide.

    It being Four o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

    Nuclear Waste Disposal (Loch Doon)

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

    4 pm

    Speaking at this hour of the day, on this day of the week, in this week of the year, and especially on this subject, it occurs to me that this could well be called the Adjournment debate to end them all.

    The need to find a safe method for the disposal of nuclear waste is obviously now an even more urgent preoccupation of the Government following the announcement on Tuesday of the development of a major nuclear programme.

    Incidentally, on that matter I ask the Minister to explain why the Government have broken their promise, given to me, among others, in the Minister's letter of 30 October, that a full public debate would precede any commitment to a major nuclear programme. No such debate has been announced. It is this kind of duplicity which results in the understandable scepticism amongst my constituents, and others in Scotland, about the likelihood of getting a fair hearing on the question of nuclear waste.

    This question would not arise if, instead of a headlong rush into nuclear power generation, substantial resources were now put into research and development of alternative means of energy production from the unlimited sources such as solar, wind and wave power, which are no longer fanciful but show great practical potential.

    It would not arise if we put substantial resources into the conservation of energy and accepted that, with Scotland's current energy overcapacity of about 70 per cent. predictions about energy gaps are wild and speculative. It would not arise if greater investment were put into developing the vast reserves of coal which lie beneath the United Kingdom, especially Scotland, from which we can now produce petroleum and other products.

    Instead, the commercial pressures from profit seekers have pushed the Government down a very dangerous path, while the lessons of the Three Mile Island accident have resulted in caution elsewhere, where the cost and dangers of decommissioning reactors within only a few decades have not been taken account of and, above all, where there is no guarantee of being able to dispose of the highly radioactive and dangerous waste.

    If we have nuclear power generation, I accept that there will be nuclear waste, but it must be either destroyed or isolated from man's environment, for it is highly radioactive. The most direct hazard is from gamma radiation which can both cause cancer and induce genetic defects in future generations. Bernard L. Cohen, in Scientific American of June 1977, says of the effects of the waste that, if the United States energy programme were totally produced by nuclear generation and the source of radiation were to be distributed over the entire land surface of the USA,
    "The number of fatal cancers per year induced could be as high as many millions".
    Of course, this is an unlikely scenario, but it gives us some idea of the danger of the substance that we are dealing with.

    So far, there is no prospect of being able either to neutralise or to destroy the waste, so the major effort is being put into looking for some way of removing it from man's environment. In the United Kingdom, as the Secretary of State for the Environment announced, work is being undertaken by the UKAEA as part of an EEC funded programme, and the United Kingdom effort is into the possibility of depositing nuclear waste in deep geological strata, principally of the granitic type.

    We have been asked by the Government to accept that these are purely "scientific research studies" dealing with the type of rock, and not the specific area in question, and that it will be at least 10 years before the second stage of a "demonstration facility" is envisaged, and a further decade before an actual disposal facility is planned. I can say categorically that many of my constituents consider that this is a deliberately mis- leading impression. I share that view and will give the reasons why.

    First, on Monday in Ayr, the reporter did not talk of scientific research, but said that no one was making any pretence of the purpose of the application by the Atomic Energy Authority to bore in the hills near Loch Doon. It was, he said, to determine the suitability of putting atomic waste there. The Government are still making a pretence, as the Minister's letter to me of 14 December confirms.

    Secondly, if the Minister refers to the letter from the EEC Commission to the Council of Ministers dated 5 March 1979, proposing the next five-year programme, he will see that it proposes a major increase in expenditure on the radioactive waste management programme. It says that that increase can be accounted for by the rise in costs on moving from the research stage to the pilot installation phase in the next five years and moving from the use of equipment under non-active conditions to its use in the presence of radioactivity. It says also that the results obtained so far under the first programme are giving more and more evidence that geological formations are suitable for the disposal concept.

    It appears that the EEC expects to move on to the next stage within the next five years, and that the favoured site is in the United Kingdom. Since the planning procedure on the other sites in the United Kingdom has not been pushed by the Atomic Energy Authority, there is a widespread belief that it is determined that the Loch Doon site will be exploited at all costs. Can we really be asked to believe that, if Loch Doon is successful in the research phase, there will be a swift move on to a demonstration facility, and subsequently to a final disposal site at Loch Doon?

    This country is not a dictatorship, and I had thought that our procedures provided that the will of the people should prevail. In the saga of Loch Doon, so far, that has not been the case. The Atomic Energy Authority made application to bore at Loch Doon to the local planning authority—Kyle and Carrick district council. The AEA said that it would accept the decision of the district council.

    The district council carried out an extensive exercise in local democracy with a well-publicised and well-attended meeting to consider all aspects of the application with the AEA on the one side and the objectors on the other, both being extensively heard. After careful consideration, the local, democratically elected authority overwhelmingly rejected the application.

    In spite of its previous promise to accept the local decision, the AEA appealed against it. In May of this year, the Secretary of State set up a public inquiry. Such an inquiry, however, is already being shown to be entirely inappropriate for a matter of national importance—for that is what it is—with such technical and scientific aspects as it is having to consider.

    Despite my pleas, and those of many others, the Secretary of State has steadfastly refused to widen the terms of the inquiry or to provide financial help to objectors, who now face the prospect of three separate inquiries—first, on the present application, then on any subsequent application for the demonstration facility, and finally for the disposal site, if that were to go ahead. All of that is entirely beyond the means of the relatively poor mining community in the Doon Valley, while the AEA has seemingly unlimited resources and has already engaged not one but two advocates for the coming inquiry.

    To add difficulty upon difficulty for objectors, due apparently to bungling in the Scottish Office, some of the objectors were not even informed of the pre-inquiry meeting that the reporter held in Ayr on Monday. As a result, he had to arrange a second meeting in the new year.

    In the light of that, and of the major debates on nuclear energy that are going to take place now, in spite of the Government, and of the likelihood of severe weather in Ayrshire and Galloway in February, my first question to the Minister is to ask him whether it would now be wise to postpone the inquiry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer that question today.

    I have two further questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer. First, in the light of the evidence that I have given to him today, especially that from the EEC, in the light of the reporter's admission that the application is the first part of a continual programme which could result in the eventual deposit of waste at Loch Doon, and in the light of the fact that we were told on Monday that at the enquiry a Government representative will be giving evidence of the waste management policy of the Government, will the Minister accept, as the reporter accepted on Monday, that objectors may give evidence on the wider aspects of the application, and that the evidence will be considered to be material by not merely the reporter but the Secretary of State when he considers the reporter's findings?

    Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, if the reporter finds against the Atomic Energy Authority and supports the view of the elected district council and the people of Ayrshire, the Secretary of State will not bow to pressures from above and overturn the recommendation? I shall be grateful to have that assurance in advance. It will give some encouragement to those who are facing the prospect of the inquiry.

    The Minister and the Government should not be deceived by the moderate tone of my presentation today. I assure them that I shall be fighting alongside the people of South Ayrshire to stop the plan for Loch Doon to become the nuclear waste dump for Europe. We shall do everything within our means to ensure that the will of the people prevails.

    That is all that I have to say on the subject. As the last Labour Member to speak in the Chamber in 1979, it would be remiss of me if I did not extend to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the compliments of the season. I thank you for your courtesy during my few months in this Chamber. On this occasion I extend the compliments of the season to the Minister, who on this occasion I can describeas "my hon. and learned Friend".

    4.12 pm

    I begin by echoing the sentiments of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes). I extend to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the compliments of the season. I reciprocate those that the hon. Gentleman directed to me. Any hon. Member who chooses to raise a debate on the Adjournment of the House, and on the final Adjournment debate before the House rises for Christmas, cannot be criticised for neglect by his constituents. I am happy to pay that tribute to the hon. Gentleman.

    I recognise the concern of the hon. Gentleman and that of his constituents about the planning inquiry in the Loch Doon area. It is legitimate and appropriate that he should ventilate the issue in the House. I hope that what I have to say will reassure the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that many of the concerns that he has expressed are not substantial in practice and need not lead to the problems that he has indicated.

    There has been considerable misunderstanding about the whole inquiry. I regret to say that the title of the debate adds to the misrepresentation, although I am sure that that was not done deliberately by the hon. Gentleman. Contrary to the title of the debate, no public inquiry into nuclear waste disposal is to be held. That applies to the one that has been determined on Loch Doon and to others in the foreseeable future. The public inquiry to which the hon. Gentleman referred is of a limited nature. It will be bound by the terms of reference that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has determined. As my right hon. Friend indicated in his recent speech to the Ayr Conservative Association, the terms of reference of the inquiry are specifically limited to test boring and the siting of several portable caravans. It is important to emphasise that on every available opportunity.

    As my right hon. Friend indicated, irrespective of the result of the inquiry, there is no question of nuclear waste disposal in the Loch Doon area or in any other part of Scotland or of the United Kingdom. That applies to projects that are now going ahead and to future projects for many years to come. In the Government's view, it will be at least 10 years before any question of a repository for nuclear waste of a purely demonstration type can be considered, even on the assumption that the Government want to establish one. It will be beyond the turn of the century before any question of the permanent establishment of nuclear waste is considered, even if the Government are to come to that conclusion.

    How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that statement with the evidence that I have produced from the European Commission?

    I shall be coming to that in the course of my remarks.

    Irrespective of the results of the inquiry, the question of nuclear waste disposal is completely open. It is an issue on which the Government have no view at present. The Government are completely neutral about the inquiry and the wider subject to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to the procedure meeting that was held at Ayr on 17 December. He suggested that the meeting was unsatisfactory. That I cannot accept. It was carried out normally.

    The decision of the reporter to hold a second meeting on 4 January was not unprecedented. There have been other occasions on which two meetings of this kind have been considered to be appropriate. I should indicate that the meeting on 4 January will be advertised, and therefore there will be no difficulty for those who wish to attend it to do so. It is important to emphasise that the procedures which are being applied to the inquiry are the same as those which have been applied to many other inquiries. That is right and proper.

    The hon. Member for South Ayrshire made a strong plea for the public inquiry, which has been fixed for 19 February, to be delayed. I cannot support that suggestion. The Secretary of State had originally hoped that the inquiry could be held in November this year. He was anxious that a decision should be made in order to dispel the uncertainty which will inevitably continue until the matter has been resolved.

    In the light of representations made by the parties, particularly the district council, it was decided to delay that inquiry. The date of 19 February was agreed by the Kyle and Carrick district council and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Nothing that has happened since then has indicated either to the Government or to the reporter that the date is inappropriate.

    The hon. Member for South Ayrshire suggested that the reporter took a different view. That is not the case. I emphasise that the reporter has not indicated on any occasion that be believes that the date is inappropriate. The hon. Member indicated that weather conditions in February might make it difficult for persons to attend the inquiry. The reporter has the discretion to adjourn the inquiry if, on the day in question, it is clear, because of weather conditions, that important personalities have not been able to attend the inquiry. It is matter which is entirely within the discretion of the reporter.

    The hon. Member also—unintentionally, I am sure—misrepresented the reporter in suggesting that he considered the inquiry to go beyond the question of test boring as part of the process to deal with nuclear waste. As the hon. Member will appreciate, and as the reporter is well aware, the reporter's remit is determined by the terms of reference laid down by the Secretary of State. The terms of reference are well known and I shall not repeat them.

    The documents before the inquiry will be fourfold. There will be the application for planning permission from the Atomic Energy Authority, the certificate of refusal of planning permission, stating the grounds of refusal, the appeal against that refusal, stating grounds of appeal, and the observations by the planning authority on the grounds of appeal.

    The question of atomic dumping will not be relevant, because it is not within the terms of reference laid down by the Secretary of State. Irrespective of the results of the inquiry, the question of atomic dumping will not be resolved for many years. There will be many other opportunities for inquiries and consideration of that matter.

    The hon. Member rightly expressed concern about the costs for potential objectors. For that reason, the Secretary of State is anxious to emphasise to all those interested in the matter that they should not seek to incur substantial costs. The matter to be determined by the inquiry is a minor matter compared with the overall issue. The issue that will be determined as a result of the inquiry is test boring for geological research and the siting of several caravans. It would be unwise for members of the public or anyone else to incur substantial costs. I hope that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire will make that clear to his constituents.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that there will be a representative from the Scottish Office at the inquiry. I emphasise that the purpose of that representative will not be, as he indicated, to give evidence on the Government's policy on nuclear waste. A document will have been circulated before the inquiry stating Government policy on the geological research programme, of which the Loch Doon planning application forms part. The document will cover such matters as geological research activities elsewhere in Britain, including England and Wales, as well as in Scotland. The document will not cover nuclear dumping. At present there is no proposal involving the use of radioactive waste, nor is there likely to be for at least 10 years.

    The senior official from the Scottish Office who will be present at the inquiry will be there to give evidence on any factual matters which relate to the document that has been circulated, and it is hoped that this will be to the assistance of the reporter and other parties. He will not be there to enter into a debate either about Government policy as a whole or about any matter that is not directly relevant to the planning inquiry.

    There are two very serious discrepancies between what the Minister says today and what the reporter said on Monday. The first is that the reporter said quite clearly that he would be able to take a much wider view because he saw that as the first part of a process which could—not would but could—involve the eventual dumping of nuclear waste in Loch Doon. He also made clear that the representative from the Scottish Office would be talking not just about the geological study that was taking place but also what followed on from that and the reason behind it. That is sensible, because one cannot talk about pure geological studies without discussing what those studies are for. It would be helpful if the Minister were to check these discrepancies. I can assure him—and I think that anyone who was at the meeting on Monday will assure him—that the reporter said something quite different from what he appears to be saying to the Minister.

    I have studied the report of the meeting to which the hon. Member refers, and I think that he has misunder- stood what the reporter has said. I am in a position to indicate what the representative of the Scottish Office will be saying and, indeed, what the contents of the document that he will be circulating will refer to. It will be precisely on the issues that I have already indicated.

    The evidence that the reporter will be prepared to consider is a matter entirely for him. We have given no instructions to the reporter as to what evidence should be considered admissible or inadmissible. It is for the reporter to decide whether the evidence submitted to him is relevant to the matters on which he has been asked to report. As in every other inquiry—and there is no distinction in this case—the reporter is the master of the situation at the time of the inquiry and will be able to determine whether evidence is irrelevant. I ask the hon. Member to accept that.

    The hon. Member also referred to the question of the EEC's policy and asked whether any decisions or reports by the Community affected the matter in issue. The Community's second five-year programme on radioactive waste management is an indirect action programme which takes the form of agreed national research projects in which duplication of effort can be avoided and some EEC financial support provided. I emphasise that the EEC programme does not in any way commit the United Kingdom—or, for that matter, any other national Government—on the timing of either research work or any fur her developments that might arise out of that research work.

    Other member States may, if they wish, consider establishing demonstration repositories within a shorter period than the United Kingdom. I have no evidence to suggest that they ask to do so, but if they do it is entirely for them. The time scale for the United Kingdom is the time scale that I have indicated today. It is the time scale that has been indicated on previous occasions by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Energy. I ask the hon. Member to accept that.

    The EEC support for research carried absolutely no implications whatever for the disposal of radioactive waste, which remains entirely a matter for national Governments. I hope that the hon. Member will accept this.

    The hon. Member referred to the letter that I wrote to him on 30 October 1979 and suggested that it was inconsistent with the decision that has been announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. It is not inconsistent. The hon. Member may recollect that my letter of 30 October was the latest in a series of letters. If he will look at the earlier letter of 26 September that I sent to him, he will find that it was quite clear that the matter of a public debate referred to any question of the Government beginning a policy of commitment to a fast breeder reactor. That was the particular recommendation of the Flowers Commission—that there should not be any commitment to the fast breeder reactor without a public debate. It was on that matter that he and I were corresponding at the time and, indeed, no decision that the Government have announced at this stage involves any commitment whatever to a fast breeder reactor system. There is, therefore, nothing inconsistent, and I am sure that if the hon. Member will check the correspondence, he will come to the same conclusion.

    Geological research, if it takes place, is a matter of great public interest. The Government accept that the results of that research—if and wherever it takes place—should be published so that all who are interested may come to a useful and sensible conclusion on the direction in which we might have to go. We hope that the information, when published, will be expressed not simply in scientific jargon—inexplicable and incomprehensible to 99·9 per cent. of the population, including my- self and, I am sure, the hon. Gentleman—but in such terms that members of the community can make their own intelligent assessment and contribution to the resolution of this issue.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is influential in South Ayrshire, will not say or do anything to cause needless alarm among local residents. Nothing that has been decided at this stage, nor that will be decided as a result of the inquiry, will in any way commit anyone to nuclear waste dumping. It would be unfair, unfortunate and undesirable that people in Ayrshire, or in any other part of the United Kingdom, should be needlessly alarmed on that basis about proposals that have no substance and no justification.

    I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. He was right to do so. I hope that the points that I have made today will reassure him and, more importantly, his constituents about the consequences of present policy.

    Before adjourning the House, I should like to thank both the Minister and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) for their kind remarks. I wish them, the whole House and the staff of the House, who serve us so well, my best wishes for a very happy Christmas.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Four o'clock till Monday 14 January pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 18 December.