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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 7 February 1980

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

Northern Ireland

Persons On Remand

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many persons in Northern Ireland are currently on remand awaiting trial.

Apart from those on bail, there were on 27 January 353 persons held either on remand or awaiting trial.

Does the Minister agree that some of these have been in gaol, awaiting trial for a long time? Given that some of them at least are bound to be innocent, will he consider the possibility of ensuring that the trials are speeded up?

We are doing our best to speed up the trials. Indeed, we have managed to reduce the numbers of those on remand, or awaiting trial, from 600 two years ago, through 500 last year, down to 353 this year.

Will the Minister tell the House what is the longest period for which a person has been on remandin Northern Ireland?

The answer is more than two years, but in special circumstances in one unique case. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman giving him specific information.

Is not the average length of time spent on remand or awaiting trial between six and nine months? Ought not that to be shortened, became delay in itself can prejudice the fairness of a trial by blurring memories? Does not the Minister feel that more judges ought to be appointed urgently, so as to reduce the waiting list?

We have been considering every possible way of hastening the process. I think I am right in saying that the average is 40 weeks, which is a long time. However, the average figure is itself somewhat misleading in reality.

The real trouble, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates this, is that the sorts of cases that we are confronted with—often multiple murders, other litigants involved, other criminal charges involved—the shortage of detectives and the pressure on the judicial and criminal system in the Province, make it difficult to get things done as quickly as we would like.

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate from the answer that I gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), we have succeeded in reducing quite dramatically the length of time and the numbers involved.

Security

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made by Her Majesty's Government in defeating Irish Republican Army terrorism.

7.

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

9.

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

14.

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

Since I last answered questions on 20 December, 12 persons have been charged with murder, including one person charged with a murder committed as long ago as 1973. The House will be glad to note that the law continues to reach into the past in such matters. During the same period 11 persons have been charged with attempted murder, and 58 persons have been charged with other terrorist-type offences. The House will also have noted with satisfaction a number of recent successes by the Army in preventing major explosive attacks, and by the security forces of the Irish Republic in seizing terrorist arms and explosives.

I regret to say, however, that the IRA has continued its senseless campaign of violence. Considerable damage was caused to buildings in Armagh, Aughnacloy and Kilrea on 15 January and to the Auction Rooms in Belfast on Monday 4 February. Twenty buses were destroyed or damaged by terrorist devices in the Falls Road bus depot on 1 February. On 17 January a bomb exploded on a train killing not only the IRA terrorist carrying it but two totally innocent passengers. In all, 17 people have died as a result of terrorist action since 20 December, nine civilians, seven members of the security forces and one member of the prison service.

As I stressed to the House on 20 December, this catalogue of outrages demonstrates that the terrorists have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland, except destruction and division.

The security forces will continue their intensive operations to counter terrorist activity through the law and bring criminals to justice.

Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

In view of the appalling catalogue of security statistics which the Secretary of State has outlined, does he feel that it is time for the review that he promised he would undertake if the situation continued as it was? In particular, can he tell us what measures he intends to take following his review of security on public transport?

As I told the House in my statement a few Fridays ago, we have reviewed security on public transport and have taken a number of steps. I do not think that it would be in the public interest to detail those steps, but we have intensified the security precautions on public transport in a way which, I hope, will prevent further outrages on trains, such as happened the other day. We are continuing to review the method of operation of the security forces. Week after week we study how best we can counter the activities of the terrorists, who know no law. We must abide by the law and use our forces in the best way that we can.

As a result of my right hon. Friend's discussions with Ministers of the Republic on co-operation on security across the border, can he tell the House how many arrests and arms finds have been made in both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland?

I cannot give the House the specific figures for which my hon. Friend has asked. What I can say is that co-operation between the security forces of Northern Ireland and those of the Republic is extremely valuable. I am happy to say that it is working well and is producing results. Of course, the individual forces of both Northern Ireland and the Republic will continue to do everything that they can in their own areas, but the co-operation between them is something that we value very much, and it is producing results.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Provisional IRA is both drilling and parading in Republican areas? What action does he intend to take to stop it?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, and everyone else, will co-operate with the security forces. The moment that they hear of any illegal parades taking place, the security forces will take immediate action. I hope that everyone will co-operate, because these kinds of parades and activities are distasteful to everyone, and are illegal, which is the main point.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the strength of the Ulster Defence Regiment, particularly in the border areas? In view of a recent statement that the regiment could do with 500 more part-time members, will the right hon. Gentleman consider increasing the bounty provided to the regiment, to bring it into line with the Territorial Army?

We continually seek to increase the strength of the UDR. Indeed, a recruiting campaign is under way which I hope will produce an accretion to its strength. The UDR does not play quite the same front role in the border areas as it does in 11 of the other police districts. However, its activities are extremely valuable and the more recruits, that we can get, the better. The question of the bounty is one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and I know that he is examining it urgently.

Does the Secretary of State agree that vindictive accusations against the security forces are treated as an incitement to murder Army, UDR and RUC personnel? Does he further agree that those who engage in such vile propaganda are every bit as guilty as those who pull the trigger?

The security forces, be they Regular Army or policemen, are the front line of defence for the ordinary citizen of Northern Ireland. What I have repeatedly said, and say again, is that it is in the interests of every peace-loving citizen of the Province to support the security forces. Attacks on the forces have been mounted consistently over a period of years, and they do nothing but undermine the peace and security of the Province.

In his more reflective moments, does the Secretary of State think that in his efforts to counter the IRA it was altogether wise to spurn the offers of help—for such they were—from Governor Carey, Congressman O'Neill and other Americans?

The greatest help that Governor Carey, Congressman O'Neill and other Americans can give, and have given, is to seek to stem the flow of money from the United States to the IRA. For that we are all extremely grateful. I shall do everything that I can to ensure that people in the United States understand what is happening in Northern Ireland, and any help that can be given will be extremely welcome.

As the Provisional IRA is still claiming the lives of many innocent people, including that of the boy who was burnt to death on the train, surely even the right hon. Gentleman must realise that new and stronger measures must be taken against these psychopathic killers. Will he seriously consider summoning the Northern Ireland Committee to meet at Stormont, if necessary in camera, to debate security and to call before it anyone connected with protecting the lives of people in Northern Ireland, so that at least we can see some progress?

When and where the Northern Ireland Committee meets is not a matter for me, but I note what the hon. Gentleman says.

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to reconsider the Government's disagreement with the civilian searchers? This dedicated band of people are responsible for keeping open the commercial life of Belfast's city centre, but they have no power of arrest. Surely civilian searchers should be accompanied by someone, be he soldier or policeman, who has that power of arrest, so that if they apprehend a malefactor he can be arrested immediately.

I and other Ministers met the civilian searchers and their representatives in Belfast before we altered the arrangements. I am happy to say that the civilian searchers are continuing their duties. I stressed to them, as did members of the security forces, that the arrangements that we have made to provide protection for them in no way reduced their safety. They have power to search, but they do not have powers of arrest. However, the security forces are within reach and can be summoned to arrest people with whom there are difficulties. I am happy to say that the civilian search unit is still operating just as efficiently as ever it was.

The right hon. Gentleman evades the real point. The civilian searchers are certainly working normally, and that is a great tribute to them, but in no way do they feel persuaded by the adequacy of the present arrangements. How on earth are they to detain people while they go out to look for someone to arrest them? That is the crucial problem that has not yet been answered.

Let me put the hon. Gentleman right. Civilian searchers do not go out to look for someone. There are arrangements whereby they can summon assistance within seconds or minutes if there are difficulties. I hope that they are satisfied with these arrangements. I believe that they are, because as I have said, they are working just as efficiently as ever.

Constitutional Conference

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the constitutional conference including the parallel talks with political parties.

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the progress of his constitutional talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland.

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has considered any final date for the ending of the conference on Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the constitutional conference and other talks taking place on Northern Ireland; and what is their cost to date.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the progress made during the present conference on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the progress of the constitutional conference on Northern Ireland.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the progress of his constitutional discussions with political leaders in the Province.

The conference opened on Monday 7 January in Parliament Buildings, Stormont, under my chairmanship. It is attended by representatives of the Alliance, Ulster Democratic Unionist, and Social Democratic and Labour parties. The invitation extended to the Official Unionist Party was declined.

The object of the conference is to identify the highest level of agreement on the transfer to locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland of some of the powers of government. The conference has so far held 17 sessions. It meets again the week after next.

After general policy papers had been presented by the parties, an order of business was agreed, based on the questions in the Government's working paper, Cmnd 7763. Because the separate agenda items interlock, the conference, after preliminary discussion of them, is likely to return to them at a later stage. The conference is at present engaged in a detailed consideration of how a devolved administration would work in practice and of the role of the minority in it.

While, of course, there are major differences of view among participants, the conference discussions have been serious and businesslike. I take this opportunity on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to thank all participants. I shall, in due course, report to the House the outcome of the conference. As there is still much work to be done, I cannot set a final date for the conference.

As regards parallel talks, these are with Northern Ireland political leaders on matters outside the scope of the conference, but relevant to the relationship between Her Majesty's Government and any new elected body in Northern Ireland. I met leading members of the SDLP on Wednesday 30 January, when they set out their views on matters relating to security. There will be further meetings on this and other subjects.

The extra cost to public funds of the conference up to 1 February is estimated at £23,000.

Order. I propose to call first the seven hon. Members whose questions are being answered. I then hope to give a fair run to the House.

Since it is alleged by the SDLP that Unionist-majority district councils cannot be trusted to treat the minority fairly, will my right hon. Friend appoint what might be called a little Macrory inquiry to ascertain what structure of regional and local bodies can best prevent that?

I know that allegations of this kind have been made. There is statutory machinery for considering these matters—the Commissioner for Complaints, the Fair Employment Agency, and so on. But these, admittedly, are somewhat cumbersome bodies and rather slow to act. I think that the purposes of the conference include what my hon. Friend suggests. It is essential that government in Northern Ireland, whether at district council or higher level not only works properly but is seen to work properly and takes account of the interests of everyone. That is what the conference is about. It is a matter to which we are giving close attention.

It has been suggested that the holding of a constitutional conference does not have the support of the people of Northern Ireland. Can my right hon. Friend make any estimate of the degree of support that there is, or is not, for his patient efforts at reconciliation?

This is a difficult thing to do. All of us in the House claim that we do not rely on public opinion polls. Nor do we. But there was a poll before the conference started in Northern Ireland, which indicated—[Interruption.] I do not rely on the poll, but it said that 84 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland thought that the conference was a good idea. I do not know whether that is true, but my understanding is that a considerable majority of people in Northern Ireland think that it is right, at this time, for the political leaders of the Province to sit down with Her Majesty's Government to see whether we can find a way by which power can be transferred to elected representatives in Northern Ireland. That is what we are doing.

Is it not a fact that a sense of helplessness and hopelessness pervades the vast majority of the people of the Republic and of the United Kingdom, most of whom are not even watching this conference? Is not this engendered by certain powerful sections, particularly the Official Unionists, who refuse even to talk to the other side? Are not there ultimately bound to be conversations and discussions between the various groupings? Is not the time fast approaching when our people will demand, in the interests of democracy, that all those concerned come together and thrash out how they can cross the sectrian divide and arrive at some conclusion by which peace can be achieved?

I do not think that it would be wise for me to comment on the hon. Gentleman's observations about the Official Unionist Party. I shall not do so. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is wrong in referring to a sense of hopelessness. I detect exactly the opposite. I detect in Northern Ireland a feeling among ordinary people that here is an opportunity by which the British Government are genuinely seeking ways to return democracy to the Province and asking the political leaders whom the people chose—we did not choose them—to come together and see how best this can be done. Rather than the sense of hopelessness mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, I would say the opposite is true. I believe that there is an air of expectancy and hopefulness.

Will my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet give equal attention and weight to the discussions and outcome of the Mark II conference with the SDLP on the Irish dimension as they will to the Mark I conference?

The discussions that I am having with political parties outside the conference proper are extremely important. They relate to matters of great concern to the people of Northern Ireland—the security situation, the economy and other matters that are not strictly for discussion at the conference, but about which people have determined and important views. They also affect the relationship that will exist between Her Majesty's Government and any newly elected body in the Province.

I regard these discussions as important. I have suggested that they should take place with a number of parties, but it is for the parties to decide whether they wish to do that. So far, I have had discussions with the SDLP, and I am looking forward to having discussions with other parties.

Many people will sympathise with the view of the Official Unionists that their attendance at the multilateral talks is a waste of time. But the parallel talks, I understand, are bilateral in nature and may be of even greater importance than the main conference. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that an invitation has gone to the Official Unionists to participate in the bilateral talks and that if any significant development comes out of the bilateral talks with the other parties they will be told about it?

Yes, Sir. The Official Unionist Party has been invited to this other series of talks. I hope very much that I can meet the leaders of the Official Unionist Party to talk about these important matters.

Bearing in mind that one of the first actions of the Tory Government was to repeal the Scotland Act, against the wishes of the majority who voted in the referendum, will the Secretary of State say whether the Government have any plans to use a referendum to test the acceptability of any devolution proposals for Northern Ireland; and, if so, whether they will resort to any devious tricks, such as the 40 per cent. rule, which was meant to sabotage the Scottish referendum?

The basis of what the Government are doing is to seek a way forward which is acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland. There are a variety of ways in which one can test acceptability. A referendum is one. We have not ruled it out.

As the Official Unionists apparently do not wish to take part in the conference, or even to take part in questions today, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the offer remains open should wiser counsels prevail.

Yes, Sir. I regard it as important that the views of the Official Unionist Party should be taken fully into account by Her Majesty's Government when deciding how to proceed. The offer is open, and remains open, and I hope that in due course it will be taken up.

Is any official record being kept of the conference? What steps can the Secretary of State take to make available to hon. Members and, through us, to the public, details of the progress that is being made, or not being made?

No official record, such as Hansard, is being kept of the conference. We agree on a statement to the press. It is the wish of the participants that the conference and the discussions there should be conducted round the table rather than on television. The conference, at the suggestion of its participants—it was not my suggestion—adopted what I might call a self-denying ordinance, which means that the participants do not go out immediately afterwards and on the radio and television, and in the newspapers, tell everyone what has happened. This has the advantage that the discussions can be entered upon in the knowledge that they will not be read about in the press the next day.

I emphasise that the conference is only the first step along a road which goes a great deal further than that. The purpose is to find what level of agreement exists between the parties which are there. Thereafter the Government will have to decide how to proceed. They will have to consult people who are not at the conference, they will obviously have to consult the House, and then they will have to make up their mind. This is an important step, but it is only the first.

During the conference, has the Secretary of State had discussions with the participants on the question of the reunification of Ireland? If not, when will the conference get round to considering that question?

If the hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of reading the working paper, he will see from paragraph 4 that this is specifically not a matter which the conference is invited to discuss.

In his original answer the Secretary of State made what was, for him, a revealing statement when he said that the purpose of the conference was to find the highest level of agreement among the parties at the conference. Since the majority of Unionists throughout Northern Ireland are not represented at the conference and are represented by only a minority Unionist party, will he give an assurance that when the conference formally ends—because it is dead already—he will not introduce legislation based on the majority decisions or judgement of that conference?

The statement that I made was not revealing, because I have been saying it all the time. The purpose of the conference is to seek the highest level of agreement among the people who come to it. I am sorry that the conference is missing one party. I am equally well aware that there are other parties—old and new—which are not at the conference, and it is obviously the business of Her Majesty's Government to hear the views of those people. That we shall seek to do. There can be no question of our relying entirely upon what we achieve at the conference. We shall have a lot more consultation to do in London, naturally, and consultation with this House.

The hon. Gentleman said that he thought the conference was dead. If he were to talk to those who have been there, he would find that it is very much alive.

Has the right hon. Gentleman heard statements that, in the event of failure of the conference, the Government may despair of ever reaching agreement and impose a solution upon Northern Ireland? Will he take this opportunity to deny that and give an undertaking to resist that temptation, however strong it may be?

The hon. Gentleman and the House, I hope, know me well enough to know that I do not despair very easily. I do not for a moment believe that we shall not find any level of agreement; I am sure that we shall. How high that level will be I cannot tell the House as yet, but I shall report regularly to the House. Clearly, when the conference has concluded its useful work the Government will have to consider how best to proceed. They will have to consult other parties and people in the Province, and this House, before deciding on what to ask this House to approve. As the House knows very well, in the end it is Parliament that will decide.

Is it intended during the course of the conference or the parallel consultations to study the development of possible anti-poverty programmes, on a comprehensive basis, for inner city and other areas of the Province?

The Government are all the time seeking ways to improve the economic life of the Province. It is not the purpose of the conference to discuss that. This is a conference about political structures and political institutions. It may be that in the end the Government will recommend to the House that power over these matters should be transferred to somebody in Northern Ireland, but I cannot tell yet. These matters continue to engage our close attention, but they are not the subject of discussion round the table.

Suspected Terrorists (Interrogation)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he proposes to take to make more effective the procedures for the interrogation of terrorist suspects.

The operational procedures for detaining and interviewing suspected terrorists are determined by the Chief Constable and promulgated by him in force orders. He is well aware of the need to ensure that interrogation procedures are both effective and observe the proper standards of treatment.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House which of the main recommendations of the Bennett report have been introduced and, since they have been introduced, what the effect has been on the flow of intelligence and information from interrogation? If, as some people believe, that flow of information has been reduced significantly, what proposals has he to restore the level of intelligence to what it was before?

I am able to tell the House that all the recommendations of the Bennett committee that were accepted by the Government have been put into effect. As to their outcome, it is early yet to give a precise figure, but I am able to tell the House that there is virtually no difference between the percentage of people charged after arrest and questioning within the last few months compared with a year ago.

I hesitate to draw the conclusion that there has been no change at all, but the indications are encouraging. I should perhaps remind the House that the Bennett committee made many recommendations. One was that members of the RUC involved in interrogation should undergo a course of training to make them more efficient.

Does the Secretary of State recall that the publication of the Bennett report aroused a good deal of controversy, hostility and tension because of the clear implications contained in that report that undue pressure had been used by the police in an effort to get convictions? Is he aware that since the publication of the Bennett report a mass of cases have arisen—there is one before the courts now in relation to the La Mon tragedy, and that many of the people before the courts have said that they were beaten, that confessions were extracted from them, and that they did not make confessions willingly? In those circumstances, does the Secretary of State agree that it is of the utmost importance that the police are seen to be adhering strictly to the law in their efforts to get convictions before the courts?

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman is wrong in one respect. It was not so much the Bennett report as the Amnesty International report that said that. The Bennett report went into the allegations in the Amnesty report in great detail and showed that of the 3,000 cases that had been mentioned, in only a small handful could there be any justification for accusing the police of ill-treating suspects. Nevertheless, the Government accepted all the recommendations of the Bennett report intended to ensure that suspects were properly treated—which it is our business to do—and to protect the police against this kind of ill-informed attack.

I know of no case, since we have accepted and put into operation the recommendations of the Bennett report, in which allegations of cruelty against the police have been substantiated in the courts. I am sure that they will be made. It is in the interests of people opposed to law and order in Northern Ireland to make them, and they will go on doing it. But they are not substantiated, and I believe that with the methods under which the police now operate they will not be.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is a ploy of IRA people, when they are arrested and charged, to make these allegations, and that many of the allegations, when brought into court, have been proved to be groundless?

I would go further than the hon. Gentleman and say that not "many" but most of them have been found to be groundless. I am convinced that this is because the Royal Ulster Constabulary operates in a most efficient and respectable manner, if I may use that word. It is not in the interests of the RUC to use dubious means to extract confessions, and it does not do so. It is an extremely efficient police force.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there are many people, including myself, who do not believe that a democratic State is best defended by tilting the balance of the law heavily against an accused person whose freedom is at stake? Will he therefore ignore those who urge further erosion of the rights of the accused?

It is the object of Government policy—as it was the object of the policy of the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member—to restore the normal rules of civilised law and order to the Province. We are making considerable progress, albeit slowly, in that direction, but that is the target at which the whole House would wish the Government to aim.

Computer Services

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will encourage the security forces to review arrangements for sharing computer facilities.

The requirements for computer services for both the police and the Army in Northern Ireland are being reviewed.

In that case does the Minister agree that operational units of the RUC should be provided with direct linkage to the central computer, in the same way as the equivalent Army units?

I wholly agree with what the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I would rather not make any comment on the operational aspects of the use of computers by the security forces.

De Lorean Motor Company Limited

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement with regard to the progress of the De Lorean Motor Company.

8.

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

Construction of the assembly building is almost complete and the other buildings are well advanced. The number on the payroll is approximately 250. Pilot production is expected to start in the second quarter of this year.

No doubt the project is up to date. Can the Minister say anything about the EEC contribution to it and what can be expected in terms of further work and any spin-offs that might flow from this?

The project has now been brought up to date. There was some slippage in construction, but that has now been rectified. As far as the EEC subvention is concerned, £7½ million has been put into the De Lorean project, and this will abate the liability for public sector payment. The first indication of spin-off is the establishment of the Chamberlain Phipps trim plant in West Belfast, where 450 jobs could well be created.

As there is substantial over-capacity in the vehicle industry, both in the United Kingdom and worldwide, who is expected to buy these cars, and in substitution for what?

The car is primarily for markets in the United States, and it is my expectation that the sales—two years' production has already been sold into the trade—will largely be there. There will be competition, but I am confident that the car will meet it.

Does the Under-Secretary of State recall that when the De Lorean project was announced it was welcomed by thousands of people who had been on the unemployment register for years in West Belfast? They believed that they would be given sufficient skills and be trained by the Department to enable them to take up employment with De Lorean. Can the Minister say how many people have been trained and can expect to be given jobs in the De Lorean project?

As I have said, 250 employees have so far been recruited largely on the management side. Let me assure the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) that adequate training facilities will be available. I shall look into any difficulties which he cares to bring to my attention.

Will the Minister confirm that the De Lorean company has made an application for another £5 million from NIDA?

Mr Patrick O'hagan

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has yet had consultations regarding the position of Mr. Patrick O'Hagan.

Yes, Sir. We have agreed with the Home Office that when it is known that a prisoner in Northern Ireland is likely to travel to Great Britain on leave or on the completion of his sentence, the chief constable of the area to be visited will be consulted.

I wonder whether the Northern Ireland Office has made any representations about this case to see whether the exclusion order can be withdrawn, bearing in mind that the arrest and detention of Patrick O'Hagan whilst on leave from prison—duly authorised and informed to the police—was without precedent, and in the belief that it was unjust that the Home Office and the West Yorkshire police should so act?

The merits or otherwise of making exclusion orders in Great Britain do not fall to my righthon. Friends or to myself to decide. We were simply concerned with the mechanics of the travel incident involved. As I told the hon. Gentleman, we have considered the procedures, and they are being revised?

ANALYSIS OF STAFF* IN THE GRADE OF HIGHER EXECUTIVE OFFICER† AND

ABOVE SERVING IN THE NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE IN THE YEAR SHOWN

Permanent staff

Seconded

NICS

UKCS‡

staff

Parent Department of seconded staff

1 January 19761794353Ministry of Defence (14)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (10)
Home Office (9)
Other (20)§
1 January 19772024248Ministry of Defence (18)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (8)
Home Office (7)
Other (15)
1 January 19782355333Ministry of Defence (9)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (7)
Home Office (6)
Other (11)
1 January 19792505424Ministry of Defence (5)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (5)
Home Office (6)
Other (8)
1 January 19802695726Ministry of Defence (6)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (5)
Home Office (5)
Other (10)

* Of the Northern Ireland Civil service, the united Kingdom civil service and the Diplomatic service.

† The grade of assistant principal was abolished in 1969: higher executive officer is the nearest

equivalent.

‡ A number of these civil servants came originally from other Government Departments but have transferred to

the permanent staff of the Northern Ireland Office.

§ Other Departments include: Department of Industry, Customs and Excise, Department of Health and Social

Security, Department of Employment, Civil Service Department, Inland Revenue, Natural Environment Research Council,

Metropolitan Police Office, Land Registry, Treasury, Lord Chancellor's Department.

Department Officials

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the normal period of service of officials of the rank of assistant principal and above in his department; and if he will publish in the Official Report an analysis of the Department in which such officials had previously served, for the last convenient five-year period.

Ninety-three per cent. of civil servants of the rank of higher executive officer and above in the Northern Ireland Office are serving permanently in the office on a normal career to retirement age. Seven per cent. are serving on secondment from 10 other Government Departments for periods of two to three years. An analysis such as the right hon. Gentleman has asked for is being published in the Official Report.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for publishing the analysis. Does he agree that it is especially desirable that his senior advisers should have a depth of experience and knowledge of the Province, which can only be acquired by long service there?

Following are the details:

Ethiopia And Southern Yemen

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will raise in the United Nations as a threat to world peace the involvement of Soviet civilian and military personnel in the internal affairs of Ethiopia and South Yemen.

We are concerned at the scale and nature of Soviet involvement, and that of their surrogates, in Ethiopia and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. However, I do not consider it would be effective to raise the matter at the United Nations.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this region and these countries are of crucial strategic importance? At present, 17,500 Cubans and 2,200 East German and Russian advisers pose a grave threat to Western interests in the area.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the region is of crucial importance and that there is a grave threat in that area. We are considering with our Allies the whole question of the defence of the Gulf. We recognise what my hon. Friend has said.

Is not part of the unpalatable truth that the West is reaping the whirlwind for having endorsed, with military aid, despotic regimes in the Yemen and Ethiopia in the past? Given the deep resentment among the Baluchis in Pakistan, will that lesson be drawn in relation to Pakistan?

I do not wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis, but we are very much aware of the dangers in the area, and very much aware, too, of the extent to which the Soviet Union has its surrogates not only there but throughout Africa. There are 45,000 Cuban troops in Africa as a whole. We are trying to learn from the lessons of the past.

In view of the staunch support rightly given by my right hon. Friend to President Carter in relation to Soviet aggression and imperialism in Asia, and because of the importance of Southern Africa, would not some solidarity from the United States over Zimbabwe-Rhodesia be welcome?

Southern Africa is undoubtedly of great strategic importance. I think that my hon. Friend is possibly referring to the motion passed in the Security Council on Zimbabwe Rhodesia the other day, and perhaps to some of the votes. May I draw his attention to some of the explanations of vote in particular, as he refers to that of the United States. The speech that the United States representative made in the Security Council contained this phrase:

"Those of us who are not parties to this difficult agreement should exhibit forbearance in our criticism. In particular, we doubt that the British need lectures on the conduct of free and fair elections from some who obviously have no experience with such elections."

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 7 February.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Will the Prime Minister take time off today to look at reports in the press earlier this week that Britain is now the second most active foreign industrial investor in the United States economy? When will she ask her right hon. Friend to alter the economic policies of the Government so as to improve investment at home and bring jobs back to areas such as mine, which are running into high rates of unemployment?

I think that it is probably advisable for Britain to undertake a good deal of overseas investment. After all, we need the income from it. Unless we get income from overseas investment we shall not have the money to pay the interest on the vast amounts of overseas investment in this country. I am also happy to see that there is a great deal of overseas investment by those who run the pension fund for the National Coal Board. They, too have taken advantage of the relaxation of exchange control to make property investments overseas.

Is it not time to bring domestic credit expansion under more effective control by issuing directives to the banks and other main lending institutions to reduce their lending to within the declared Government monetary limits?

If that of itself would work, we would be prepared to consider it. But there has been an enormous so-called explosion in financial technology, which means there are various ways of getting around lending by banks. Of course, that means that any such directive to the banks would largely be inoperative, because the lending would be transferred to other financial institututions.

Has the Prime Minister seen the article in today's Daily Star by Mr. David Buchan? When the right hon. Lady next meets the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will she explain to him why a party which believes in market forces is now allowing oil to be sold so cheaply that this nation is losing at least £700 million a year at the present rate? In the next two or three years this loss is expected to run to £2,000 million. Do the Government still believe in market forces.

The Government certainly believe in market forces. I believe that the hon. Member's question relates to the price of North Sea oil. We have certainly been trying to keep down the price increase in oil—rightly so—and for the month of January we were not prepared to allow the price to go higher than $29.75, which was the price being charged for a comparable grade of oil in Nigeria. Unfortunately, world prices of the same grade are rising, particulary in Libya, Algeria and Nigeria, and the price of ours will go up too.

Doer, my right hon. Friend agree that the best price that we can get for our oil internationally is the best price that we can get? Good luck to us. Does she agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) about domestic credit expansion through credit cards, hire purchase, and so on? Does she agree also that the time has come for the Bank of England to issue an instruction?

I think that it needs something more effective than an instruction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a statement and there will be a consultative document coming out soon about the possibility of a different method of controlling the money supply by a monetary base. That would be very much fiercer than anything we have at present.

As members of the Cabinet seem to be tumbling over themselves to tell the press where they stand on the Employment Bill—[Hon. Members: "Shabby"] and in view of the obvious difficulties, in the Cabinet in reaching agreement on this matter, will the Prime Minister consider dropping this proposal for the moment, in order to call in the TUC to discuss how agreement can be reached on the satisfactory limitation of secondary action? As, the right hon. Lady will find that the law will never operate satisfactorily is this area, would it not be far better for her to try to get voluntary agreement?

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I note in the papers that members of previous Cabinets have been tumbling over themselves to write their memoirs. Secondly, we will not withdraw the Employment Bill. There is a great deal in that Bill that would deal with secondary picketing that is going on and which we believe should not be. Certainly we must press ahead with that Bill as soon as possible and get out a consultation document to deal with the latest House of Lords' judgment.

If the Prime Minister refutes to learn from experience, may I put another point to her? Obviously it is not a simple matter—if it were, there would not be all these divisions in the Cabinet. It is not a fact that what is needed is a permanent solution to the problem? That will not be done on the basis of decisions in the Cabinet, which are then ironed over.

If, despite all experience in this matter, the Prime Minister persists and goes ahead with the new proposals on secondary action, will she give an undertaking that this, issue will not be sent upstairs to 24 members of the Committee, but will be brought before the whole House for full discussion here so that we can examine the proposals and take the decision?

On the first point about the law on picketing, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that some of the troubles that we have today have been caused by the immunity and the secondary action permitted under the law, which is drawn too widely. They need to be drawn more narrowly by the law. That will be the object of the consultation document. Certainly, if there are major changes to be made to the Employment Bill upstairs, arising out of that consultation document, we will follow previous precedents and discuss them on the Floor of the House, before they are committed to the Standing Committee.

Has the Prime Minister heard the news from the Council of Agriculture Ministers this morning about the sale of butter to the Russians at 23p a pound, when it looks as if our pensioners will have to pay more than 83p a pound for the same butter? Will she consider printing commodity vouchers in pension books so that the benefit of this cheap butter may go to our own needy people?

I have heard various news about the common agricultural policy and Europe this morning, and I must confess that I did not like any of it. The Government are fiercely against selling subsidised butter to the Russians. We shall put that as strenuously as we can in all councils.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there have been far too many innocent victims of industrial warfare in the last year? Is it not time to introduce the equivalent of a Geneva Convention, under which our collective bargaining processes which end up in industrial struggle are limited?

We shall carry out the pledges in our manifesto and ensure that the protection of the law is available to those not affected by a dispute but who are at present suffering severely from secondary action. That was a pledge in the manifesto, and we shall carry it out. A good deal of it will be implemented in the Employment Bill when it becomes law. I beg my hon. Friends to remember that the present position would have been very much better if the Employment Bill had been passed into law by now.

St Abbs, Berwickshire

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will visit St. Abbs, Berwickshire.

I am sorry to hear that. I think that many people would like to talk to the Prime Minister about the village school which is about to close. Is the Prime Minister aware of the mounting fury in all Scottish fishing ports about the flood of black market, imported fish which is coming into the country and ruining the livelihood of our fishermen? Will she take immediate steps to control the over-fishing of the North Sea and if necessary, impose a levy on imported fish?

The hon. Member knows, or will soon know, that there will soon be a debate on fish. I am very much aware of the strong feeling that a large amount of fish is being landed in Scottish ports in competition with our fish. I am closely in touch with my right hon. Friend on this matter.

Family Life

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister what discussions she has had concerning the measures to support family life.

Much of my work, and the work of other Ministers, on economic and social policies is aimed at improving the position of families.

Does the right hon. Lady recall that under the previous Labour Government low-paid working families received rent rebates, electricity discounts, free school meals and transport, and occasionally clothing allowances from the local education authority? Is she aware that those benefits have disappeared under her Government and that she is making low-paid families bear the brunt of her policies? Will she at least give an assurance to the House that she will ensure that the next Budget contains a substantial increase in child benefit?

With regard to the hon. Lady's first point, she will be aware that it was my right hon. Friend who introduced family income supplement as a supplement to low-paid families. That carries title to a number of other allowances, such as rent rebates, or particular consideration with regard to school transport and school meals. With regard to family benefit, I must ask the hon. Lady to await the Budget.