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Commons Chamber

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 7 February 1980

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House Of Commons

Thursday 7 February 1980

The House met at haf-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

WEST MIDLANDS COUNTY COUNCIL BILL [ Lords]

Order for consideration of Lords reason for disagreeing to one of the Commons amendments, read.

To be considered upon Thursday 14 February.

COUNTY OF MERSEYSIDE BILL [ Lords] ( By Order)

Order for consideration of Bill as amended, read.

To be considered upon Thursday 21 February.

Later

May I make a personal statement to the House? At the time of Private Business this afternoon I intended to appoint Thursday next at 7 o'clock for the County of Merseyside Bill. By a slip of the tongue I said Thursday 21 February. I hope that the House will forgive me and allow the Bill to be put down at 7 o'clock on Thursday next.

Order. It takes a very good right hon. Member at the end of Prime Minister's questions to unite the House.

TYNE AND WEAR BILL [ Lords] ( By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 21 February.

Oral Answers To Questions

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.

Business Of The House

Will the Leader of the House please state the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 11 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the British Aerospace Bill.

TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY and WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Education (No. 2) Bill.

At the end of the debate on Tuesday: Second Reading of the Consular Fees Bill.

THURSDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Debate on a motion on European Community documents on Community fisheries policy. The relevant numbers will appear in the Official Report.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

FRIDAY 15 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 18 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill.

( The following are the European Community documents on fisheries:

R/107/78 Commons Fisheries Policy.

R/232/78 Fishing Plans.

S/365/78 Norway Fisheries.

R/3012/78 Supervisory Measures.

R/3044/78 Conservation Measures.

R/3045/78 CFP Development.

5877/79 Fishery Resources: by catches.

6276/79 Fishery Resources: by catches.

7348/79 Fishery Resources: by catches.

8392/79 Fisheries NW Atlantic.

8608/79 Fisheries: salmon protection/Baltic Sea.

9912/79 Swedish Salmon: permits.

10285/79 1st Report Scientific/Technical Committee for Fisheries.

11035/79 Fishery Conservation/Management objectives.

10966/79 ( TAC) Certain Fish Stocks ( 1980).

11104/79 Conservation/Fishery resources.

11292/79 Fishery conservation/Norway/Sweden/Faroe Islands.

4096/80 Total catch information/fishing operations.

4481/80 Total Catch Quotas for 1980.

The relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee are the 12th, 15th and 18th Reports of Session 1977–78, the 6th Report of Session 1978–79, and the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 18th Reports of Session 1979–80.

HC 29-XII ( 1977–78) , paragraph 1; HC 29-XV ( 1977–78) paragraph 3; HC 29-X VIII ( 1977–78) , paragraph 2; HC 10-VI ( 1978–79) , paragraph 2; HC 159-II ( 1979–80) , paragraph 2; HC 159-III ( 1979–80) , paragraph 15; HC 159-V ( 1979–80) , paragraphs 6 and 7; HC 159-IX ( 1979–80) , paragraph 5; HC 159-XI ( 1979–80) , paragraph 5; HC 59-XIII ( 1979–80) , paragraph 3; HC 159-XV ( 1979–80) , paragraphs 2, 3 and 4; HC 159-XVI ( 1979–80) , paragraphs 1 and 12; HC 158-X VIII, paragraph.

The 18th Report of Session 1979–80 has not yet been published; typescript copies of the relevant paragraph are available in the Vote Office.)

In view of the growing unemployment in Scotland and the industrial distress that is being caused there, will the right hon. Gentleman consider providing a day in Government time to discuss Scottish affairs? Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the proposal that has been brought forward in connection with the remaining stages of the Education (No. 2) Bill to remove the obligation to provide nursery education for the first time since it appeared in the Education Act 1944? The right hon. Gentleman is treating the House in an unworthy manner by bringing forward at this late stage—when the timetable motion has been agreed and the business has been allocated—an important issue of this sort.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) and I have been pressing for a statement for three months. It has come at the very last moment. Instead of trying to sneak it through in this way, will the right hon. Gentleman please consider giving extra time for consideration of this important matter and, if necessary, recall the Business Committee?

New clauses are considered first by the Education Committee. The proposal is not really a great change in practice. When I was at the Department of Education and Science there was a strong body of opinion within the Department that there was not an obligation. This is a clarifying amendment, rather than a basic change of principle.

With regard to the point about Scotland, I am happy to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I hope to accede to his request in the very near future. We have a debate on Welsh affairs, and we should have a debate on Scottish affairs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that engineering is more important than broadcasting? When will he stage a debate on the Finniston report?

I do not wish to make a judgment of Solomon between those two matters. They are both of very great importance. I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's point in mind. Perhaps it is a subject that can be fitted in to another general debate.

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed early-day motion 361 on the virginity test case, which is of concern to hon. Members from all parties? [That this House is concerned that an excessive delay has occurred in the consideration of a request for compensation on behalf of Mrs. Kaker, the woman who suffered the humiliation of the so-called 'virginity test' at Heathrow airport a year ago; and urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department to resolve the matter in order to demonstrate sympathy for this distressed woman and her husband.]

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot arrange an early debate, will he put pressure on his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look seriously at this case and to reach a conclusion, and not cause lawyers to have to drag this woman into the courts?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has had consultations on the matter with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. There seem to have been various changes of mind on the question whether proceedings should be brought or not, and the position of Mrs. Kakar in relation to those exchanges is unclear. It is because of that that the matter has become unavoidably protracted. I shall certainly discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

However much the right hon. Gentleman may wish to allow his Tory friends in Oxfordshire to abolish nursery education, he must give the House an opportunity to debate such a major issue at some length. Does he realise that if he does not do that it will be debated at considerable length in another place? Does he plan to introduce a timetable there also?

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating the point beyond all recognition. There is no question of abolishing nursery education. This is a clarifying amendment.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the arbitrary action of the printers in cutting off the printing of Hansardhalf-way through the afternoon has ceased to become an unfortunate lapse, and is now a very nasty habit—so much so that we did not get last Monday's questions and answers until Wednesday? The report of the debate was issued in two separate parts. Will my right hon. Friend take steps—since it has never happened previously, until recent weeks—to stop that happening?

I have every sympathy with my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members on that point. We are faced with a shortage of staff. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do something about it."] It is all very well to say "Do something about it." If I were to set the type myself it would result in chaos. The newly proposed Hansard Press, under the auspices of the Stationery Office, will shortly be in operation, and I hope that the situation will then improve. I understand that more people are being recruited.

The answer given to the Liberal spokesman is totally unsatisfactory. In our view, and in the view of most people, the Education (No. 2) Bill removes an obligation that has existed since 1944, and that has been understood to exist since 1944, on local education authorities to provide nursery education. There is a difference of view about that, but no one can deny that it has stood for 36 years and that it is regarded as being fundamentally important. Why is the proposal being introduced at this late stage, when the timetable motion and the clauses to be considered have been fixed? I must press the right hon. Gentleman to give time for the House to consider this important principle. If he does not do so, I fear that there will be trouble. He cannot sneak it through in this way and expect co-operation on other matters.

I believe that the right hon Gentleman is exaggerating the issue. Although the provision may have been in the Education Act, there is no example of any effort being made to enforce that principle against an education authority. As I understand it, it is a clarifying amendment.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no proposals will be brought forward at present to alter the composition of the House of Lords?

I can give my hon. Friend an undertaking that that is not the first priority of the Government.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is Leader of the whole House? If the shift contained in the Secretary of State for Education's new clause is so marginal from the 1944 position, why was it necessary to take the advice of the Attorney-General a month ago? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the matter is being introduced at this late stage in the Bill because there is need to grant immunity to the county of Oxfordshire, which is bent on virtually abolishing education for the rising-fives in defiance of what has been understood to be the law throughout the entire country since 1944?

It really has nothing to do with the situation in Oxfordshire. The fact that the Attorney-General was called in to advise supports the point that I am making. As the Leader of the Opposition suggested, there were two points of view, but there is no example of the principle having been enforced on a local education authority.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman a simple question. Will he accept that there is great feeling about the matter? He may be right. We think that he is wrong. Will he give adequate time now for that principle to be discussed on the Floor of the House? When the timetable motion was arranged, there was clearly no intention of that taking place. The Secretary of State for Education has introduced a new and important issue. Will the right hon. Gentleman give extra time to discuss that? It is a simple request and he should concede it.

I shall certainly consider it. I cannot give an undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman in those terms. However, as he has raised the issue I shall discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

Has my right hon. Friend re-read the terms of early-day motion 345 on the impact of micro-computers and silicon chips?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to provide time for an early debate on the progress and widening application of micro-computer technology in view of its likely impact on industry and society and the investment being made from all sources in the production of silicon chips.]

Bearing in mind the hysterical observations outside the House that these devices might bring about mass unemployment or mass leisure, neither of which is true, will my right hon. Friend give the House an opportunity to debate their political, social and economic impact?

I am aware that the Department of Industry is proceeding with a comprehensive programme to encourage the application and development of microelectronics through the microprocessor application product and the microelectronics industry support programme. It is an important issue, but I am afraid that I cannot hold out promise of an early debate.

Does the Leader of the House recognise that an element in parliamentary democracy rests on the single-Member constituency? If so, will he give time to debate the conduct of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) in not only challenging the decisions of Sandwell local authority, which is quite outside her area, but also in referring those decisions to what the hon. Lady calls "the highest possible level?" Will the right hon. Gentleman give time for a debate on the fundamentals of the democratic process, so that the hon. Lady may be informed of how to uphold and not abuse that process?

I would be the last person to interfere in a quarrel between ladies.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that any intervention that I may have made in matters that cut across another hon. Member's constituency occurred because those matters have a direct bearing on my constituency? Will he further accept that the matter to which the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) refers concerns to some degree a community school in my constituency? I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that I am well aware of the rules of the House, and that there is no need whatsoever for a debate.

I thank my hon. Friend for throwing new light on the question and for having stated her case so cogently. I can add nothing whatsoever to it.

Will the Leader of the House find time for at least a short debate on the facilities available for members of the public when they come here on a mass lobby or on an individual basis? Will he accept that the two large lobbies in the past two weeks have demonstrated the inadequacy of the facilities available for people who come to the House to consult their Members of Parliament? Many hon. Members have had to resort to meeting constituents in the park. May we have a debate in the near future?

I do not believe that we can have a debate on the matter, although I appreciate the difficulties that some constituents may have. I ask the hon. Gentleman to also consider the great strain placed on the staff of this House by mass lobbies. May I also tell him that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Stradling Thomas) and the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) have devoted a great deal of time to trying to make the problems more manageable? This week they have been working particularly hard.

In view of the disappointing outcome of this week's Common Market discussions on the yarn processing industry, will my right hon. Friend find time for a statement by the Secretary of State for Trade?

I shall pass my hon. Friend's request for a statement to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Will the Leader of the House go further than that? Is he aware that there was a clear impression that the Secretary of State may be making a statement in the House this week, follow- ing those negotiations? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the failure of the Secretary of State to reach agreement on action against cheap American imports is viewed with great dismay in textile areas, especially in West Yorkshire, where the carpet industry is under disastrous pressure? May I urge the Leader of the House to find time for the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House?

I agree that it is an extremely important commercial matter. It is of concern to all parts of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. As I have said, I shall pass the request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and tell him of the anxiety in the House.

Has the right hon. Gentleman given further consideration to the problem of Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Overseas Development Agency questions, which was discussed with him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and myself?

Yes, I have. I am pleased to tell the right hon. Lady that agreement has been reached between all the interested parties on a scheme that will increase the time spent on general Foreign Office questions by 25 per cent. and, at the same time, free hon. Members to ask questions on general Foreign Office matters and overseas development in close proximity.

Under that plan, general Foreign Office questions will go on on the usual day until 3.10 pm. European Community questions will proceed until 3.30 pm. Overseas development questions will be taken for the same 10 minutes as now, but I have transferred them to Monday, when Trade questions are first on the Order Paper. I stress that that in no way reflects on the integral position of ODA within the Foreign Office, which will continue. Church Commission questions will be taken on the appropriate Monday at 3.10 pm, before arts questions.

A revised question roster will be issued lo take effect from the beginning of March. I hope that the right hon. Lady will agree that I have tried in a difficult matter to reach a more satisfactory arrangement.

May I, on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself, welcome the efforts that the right hon. Gentleman has made, without in the least sharing his definition of the differential role of FCO and ODA? We hope that those arrangements will prove more satisfactory.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no doubt that the split printing of Hansard is causing a great deal of difficulty, as is the occasional shortage of other Government papers? Therefore, following true Tory principle, if the Government themselves, through Her Majesty's Stationery Office, cannot get the printing right, can my right hon. Friend put it out to public tender, so that we can have some competition?

I am reluctant to do that. However, if these troubles continue we shall have to explore a number of other possibilities. The difficulty is the shortage of staff in the typesetting area. I have inquired into these matters and have been informed that that is now being remedied. I am distressed about this, but it is a difficult situation, Tory or any other principles notwithstanding.

I welcome the Minister's decision on overseas aid, but does he accept that his decision to transfer those questions to the Monday when trade questions are considered is wholly unacceptable, since he has already cut down the amount of time available for questioning the Government on prices by incorporating the responsibility for prices and consumer protection within the Department of Trade? This is an abuse that will not protect the Government from continuing attack on the prices front.

I was not considering prices here. I was trying to meet the representations that have been made to me by the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and hon. Members on the Government Benches who are all very interested in foreign affairs.

As 150 men from South Wales are trying to stop people working at Sheerness, in Kent, 100 people from South Yorkshire and Corby are trying to close the pressed steel factory in Birmingham, and police officers have been injured in both cases, will my right hon. Friend consider, with the Home Secretary, the need for a statement being made by the Minister in this House next week about the implications for public order?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is keeping in daily touch with the situation over picketing but I shall certainly convey to him what my hon. Friend said.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which shows that as consumers we pay £2,200 million a year to the European Economic Community? Has he seen the statements today that say that the price of butter is to increase by 13p and the New Zealand imports to this country are to be reduced to 90,000 tons a year if the EEC has its way? Is it not about time that the House reconsidered its position in relation to the EEC, and that we had a full-scale debate about it?

In view of the expression of will by the nation in the referendum supporting our membership of the EEC, I do not think it right that we should revise the whole matter.

I have read the report of the Institute of Fiscal Studies. I understand that the figure of £2,200 million has been challenged and is not accepted. Of course, if we are buying food in a world with high market prices we would expect to pay a certain premium on that food for a guaranteed supply. A steady supply of food is more important than the actual price.

What is the reason for the delay in laying the new immigration rules before the House?

There is no delay. It is an important matter, and my right hon. Friend is going into it with his customary thoroughness.

Has the Leader of the House seen the various early-day motions from all parts of the House about the possible closure of sub-post offices as a result of possible changes in payment of benefits?

[ That this House calls on the Government to consider the threat to the viability of small sub-post offices which would result from implementing the Rayner proposals on the payment of social security benefits and to recognise that any further decline in the number of village post offices would be a disaster for country dwellers in general and the elderly in particular.]

[ That this House calls on the Government to reject the proposals for social security payments and pensions to be made at longer intervals than one week, believing that it would cause hardship to many who are already under stress and result in the closure of many sub-post offices which are a valuable asset to old people and young families, in particular, both in rural and heavily trafficked urban areas.]

[ That this House takes careful note of the proposals made by Sir Derek Rayner on the payment of welfare benefits and rejects any changes which would undermine the network of sub-post offices which are essential to community life in town and country.]

[ That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to support the concept of the rural sub-post office as the most logical and economic way to make benefit payments to those who have neither transport, bank account nor any understanding of credit transfer systems.]

[ That this House, concerned about the threat to rural post offices from the recent Rayner proposals, is grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security for her undertaking to consider carefully the social and other consequences of such a change and very much hopes that after such consideration, she will regard any possible cost savings as being outweighed by their detrimental effects upon pensioners, upon recipients of other social benefits and upon rural life in general.]

Will the leader of the House make time for a debate on sub-post offices, if not next week, say, on 20 February?

I am aware of the concern about the future of sub-post offices in relation to the payment of social security benefits, and I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Will my right hon. Friend give fresh consideration during the coming weeks to the problems that have been caused for a long time now in trying to secure debates in the House on important Royal Commission and other reports? Very often there are delays and often these debates do not take place at all. Specifically, will my right hon. Friend direct his attention to the import Lindop report on data protection which this House has still not debated?

Yes, I will. But I am afraid that there is a limited amount of time for debate. All these matters are important to individual Members but we cannot debate them all at once.

I am sure that the Leader of the House is well aware of the fact that many hon. Members are worried about the future of the common agricultural policy. Unless it is reformed in the next two years it will disintegrate within five years. In view of the seriousness of the tone of the Prime Minister's answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) this afternoon, will the right hon. Gentleman give us time to make suggestions on and debate the CAP on the Floor of the House? I believe that it would be beneficial to our Minister in Brussels if he were able to express the opinion of hon. Members in future deliberations.

I am afraid that I cannot promise an early debate, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is championing British interests in this regard with skill and determination.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of a serious development, which has gone largely unremarked this week, in that the Secretary of State for the Environment has announced and clearly confirmed that he proposes to monitor the speeches of local government representatives before he decides upon the disbursement of central support for local government? Does the right hon. Gentleman, with his record, not regard that as a serious matter, was he aware of it, and does he not agree that it is such an important development that it should be discussed by the House as a matter of urgency?

I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I am sure that if he is going to monitor these speeches there must be an important reason for doing so.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that unemployment in Scotland is such that we cannot accept his answer that there will be a debate soon? Will he give us a guarantee that there will be a debate, if not next week, the week after? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement in the House next week on the serious allegations being made about widespread bugging of embassies, trade union offices and the delegation to the recent conference at Lancaster House, as he must be alarmed at what appears to be the growing lack of control of the security services, which brings us far nearer the police State than we care to imagine?

I am concerned—as I think all hon. Members are—about bugging. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that he will make a statement in the House within a reasonable time. As to the debate on Scotland, I have gone as far as I can in indicating my determination to have an early debate on this matter. It would be foolish for me to commit myself to a precise date when I have just made a statement about next week's business.

Is there not a need to debate in the near future the disturbing and repeated allegations about telephone tapping—many of which seen to be unauthorised—and similar operations by the security services? Is it not important for the House of Commons to have a debate to make sure that there is effective political control over the security services?

Yes, I agree that the responsibility for the security services must ultimately rest with the political authority. But on the subject of telephone tapping, I remind the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that he will make a statement on this important matter reasonably soon.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade receives the full, clear and strong message from the House that there was an understanding that, following the EEC discussions about American manmade fibre imports, he would make a statement in the House? Does he realise that every week mills are closing in the textile industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire and that a mill closure was announced in my constituency only this week? To give the industry confidence it is urgent and important that the Secretary of State makes a statement as soon as possible.

Lastly, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Secretary of State for the Environment will not be using electronic surveillance equipment to monitor local councillors' speeches?

With regard to the question of a statement, the hon. Gentleman's argument reinforces the plea that has been made already on that point.

With regard to surveillance of the speeches of local government dignitaries, I should have thought that it might be better to do it through electronic equipment rather than personally.

Order. I shall call the the hon. Gentlemen who have been rising if they will co-operate with me and be brief.

As the Leader of the House recognises that the textile question is so important, does he not think it quite wrong that hon. Members have been fobbed off today with a written statement by the Secretary of State, rather than having the advantage of an oral statement? Will he undertake, because of the mill closures not only in West Yorkshire, which are very serious, but also in Lancashire, to ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the question in the House tomorrow, given the breakdown in negotiations it appears to have occurred this week in Brussels?

I have seen the written answer that is being given today. It will be published this afternoon. But as I have said, I shall indicate the concern felt in the House about this matter.

I welcome the decision to hold a debate on fisheries. However, will the Leader of the House accept, first, that there is a very large number of documents involved in this debate and, secondly, given the present difficulties associated with the fishing industry, about 40 or 50 hon. Members will wish to be involved, and restricting the debate to the period between 4 o'clock and 7 o'clock next. Thursday will place an intolerable burden on Mr. Speaker? Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether he could extend the debate?

I was most anxious to have an early debate because of the matters that were raised in the House last week. With regard to the duration of the debate, I am aware of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak and the number of documents concerned. The debate can be resumed after 10 o'clock; it can be extended until 11.30.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his agreement to have further discussions through the usual channels about further time for the Report stage of the Education (No. 2) Bill. On reflection, does he not think that to discuss before 10 o'clock on the first guillotine day 17 clauses, including a whole new assisted places scheme and a whole new school allocation scheme, and, on top of that, a completely new change, which allows local authorities to abolish nursery education, is an abuse of the procedures of this House, even under the guillotine procedure? When he has his discussions will he bear all those matters in mind and try to find some more time?

When are we likely to get a debate on the Boyle report on research assistants' and secretaries' salaries, especially as the Leader of the House has had the report on his desk since December? When are we to expect a statement on this matter from the Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the delay in making such a statement? Could it be that the Cabinet are divided on this crucial question?

I have been proceeding very quickly on this matter. The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I did not have the document on my desk before Christmas. The Prime Minister received it on 15 January. I received it from her on 16 January. Since then I have been proceeding very swiftly in these matters, and I hope that it will be possible to make a statement next week.

Will the Leader of the House go a little further than just reconsidering the amout of time for the Report stage of the Education (No. 2) Bill? Will he also reconsider taking it next week? Does he not realise that with five pages of new amendments on the Amendment Paper today, particularly the amendments on nursery education, it is grossly unfair to all the interested groups outside the House, who have virtually no time to read them, to consider their implication and to make representations to hon. Members? If the Government proceed in this way, it means that interested groups will have to make their representations to their Lordships, and that will prolong debate in the other place. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the decision to start next Tuesday, as well as giving us more time?

It is a matter for the Business Committee rather than myself. I regret any curtailment of discussion, but I do not think that I could have a guillotine debate all over again.

Questions To Ministers

Yesterday, the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) raised with me a point of order on the application of the rules for questions. He submitted that the refusal by the Home Secretary at Question Time on 31 January to make any further comments on the subject of telephone tapping should not be allowed to prevent further questions being asked, since on the following day the Prime Minister had sent a letter to another hon. Member, which had created a new situation.

I have looked very carefully into this matter, since it is most important that the rights of hon. Members to question Ministers in this Chamber should be upheld to the utmost—within the rules, of course, that the House itself has imposed. However, I am satisfied that the letter to which the hon. Member referred did not add any new material information to that already given by the Home Secretary to the House, and that the further questions that the hon. Member sought to table were, therefore, properly refused in accordance with the rules confirmed by the House in December 1972.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the consideration that you have given to the statement and for endorsing the important principle that the rights of Back Benchers to question Ministers within the rules of the House should be upheld to the utmost. However, may I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that the rules of the House are very narrow on this point and merit re-examination? The best way for this to be undertaken would be for you, Mr. Speaker, to examine, as you say, the rights of Back Benchers to question Ministers, and make a report to the House, or to establish a Speaker's Conference to make a report as quickly as possible, so that we may look at the matter afresh, particularly in view of the fact that we are getting information from a weekly magazine, the New Statesman, about new techniques.

The question of debates is entirely in the Government's hands, and Back Benchers look to you, Mr. Speaker, for the protection of their rights and, as you say, it is important that they should be upheld.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I think that the House is aware that I take seriously the question of protecting the rights of hon. Members, but the other proposals that the hon. Gentleman has made will have to be followed up by someone other than myself. The initiative lies elsewhere.

Sixth Standing Committee On Statutory Instruments

I wish to raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you notice.

In page 2394 of the Order Paper for today's business, under the title "Memorandum", it is stated in paragraph 2 that
"The Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., will meet on Wednesday 20th November at half-past Ten o'clock to consider the draft Sea Fish Industry Act 1970 (Increase in Rate of Levy) Order 1980."
It is true that 20 November is a Thursday, and I would be very happy to welcome this increased levy order being postponed until November, especially in view of the very severe crisis in the fishing industry. But there are other complications which require your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

In my mail this morning I received an intimation from the Committee of Selection to the effect that the Committee had nominated me as a member of the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments in respect of the draft Sea Fish Industry Act 1970 (Increase in Rate of Levy) Order 1980, and that the Committee would meet on Wednesday 20 February 1980 at half-past Ten o'clock. But added to this confusion is the fact that on page 2396, under "Orders of the Day and Notice of Motions" for today's business, under item 12 the House is being asked to approve
"the draft Sea Fish Industry Act 1970 (Increase in Rate of Levy) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 28th January."
Is there any point in the Committee of Selection appointing a Committee—regardless of the date on which it may meet, be it February or November—to discuss a matter which the House is being asked to approve? I should like to have your ruling on these very confusing matters, Mr. Speaker.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice this morning. I understood that he would also be asking me what he should do—and I came prepared to tell him.

The date "20 November" should be 20 February. There has been a human error, and it will be put right. I remind the House that those who serve us as printers are under great pressure at the moment. They produce a great deal of very accurate work. It is only the occasional slip that comes to our attention. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the necessary corrections will be made.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Monday 25 February

Members successful in the ballot were:

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith.

Mr. Graham Bright.

Mr. K. Harvey Proctor.

Bill Presented Optical Charges (Exemption) (Scotland)

Mr. Alfred Morris presented a Bill supported by Mr. George Robertson, Mr. Jack Ashley, Mr. John Hannam, Mr. Harry Ewing, Mr. James Dempsey, Mr. Richard Body, Mr. James Craigen, Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones, Mr. Donald Stewart, Mr. A. J. Beith and Mr. Robert Litherland, to amend section 70 of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 so as to empower the Secretary of State to provide for the exemption of registered partially sighted persons from charges for optical devices provided under the National Health Service: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 22 February and to be printed [Bill 143].

Orders Of The Day

Industry Bill

Not amended ( in the Standing Committee), further considered.

Clause 13

Regional Development Grants

4.13 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 21, in page 7, leave out from beginning of line 14 to end of line 20 on page 8.

No. 22, in page 7, leave out line 41, and insert—

'(i) Work on the asset is commenced before the passing of this Act and completed before 1st August 1981.'

No. 24, in page 8, line 17, at end insert—

'(4)—(1) In section 1(1) of the Industry Act 1972, after the words "The Secretary of State may" there shall be inserted the words "subject to the provisions of subsection (5)(a) below."

(2) At the end of subsection (5) of section 1 of the Industry Act 1972 there shall be inserted the following words:

"(5)(a) Grant shall only be payable in all cases where the ratio of grant to permanent additional employment estimated to be created by the qualifying capital investment exceeds £10,000 per job where prior approval of Parliament has been expressed by affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament".'.

The purpose of the amendment is to debate issues surrounding regional policy. Regional policy is important to the Opposition. That is demonstrated by the number of occasions on which we have chosen to debate it on Supply days, through Private Members' motions or in similar circumstances. The importance of regional policy is also indicated by the number of occasions upon which issues affecting steel, shipbuilding, coal, engineering and textile industries have been raised at Question Time. Indeed, such questions were raised today during business questions to the Leader of the House.

Scotland, Wales, the North and the North-West are heavily represented by Opposition Members. That is no political or historical accident. Policy towards those regions since the Second World War, and in some respects since the First World War, has varied according to the Administration in power. However, there has been a common thread running through regional policy throughout that period. We recognise that regional policy cannot solve our problems if the economy is in difficulty. I do not think that we shall argue about that today. Persistent changes in regional policy have rendered it less effective than it might have been.

Industrial managers prefer a stable environment when making decisions about industrial policy and investment. I think that all hon. Members will agree with that. Stability should be one of the foundation stones of our approach to regional and industrial policy. We must bring stability and consistency to regional policy. I do not mean that there should not be any changes. Obviously, if policies are clearly ineffective, they must be changed, reviewed and in some cases abandoned. During the past 30 years, too many changes have gone to the heart of regional policy. They have affected basic areas such as that of investment grants. Investment grants were changed to tax incentives. We have now returned to investment grants. Investment grants are a good example of such changes. Decisions on planning and the control of industrial development certificates provide yet another good example.

It may be accepted that there is some effective direction of industrial development. However, if industrialists believe in the likelihood of change and further change, it will cause only hesitation and anxiety about the location of industry. Hesitation will arise because some people may not wish to be directed. I understand that. Anxiety may arise because those who accept the policy might become anxious if competitors were not forced to accept the same considerations. Changes can have only a deleterious effect on regional policy as a whole.

Successive Conservative Governments, such as the Macmillan Government, the Heath Administration and that of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), have also made changes. The record shows that change inevitably causes a hiatus in terms of investment in the regions, of industrial development and of new industrial locations. At best there is a pause, at worst a falling-off in industrial development and employment opportunities. I hope that hon. Members will accept that point, as there are many statistics which confirm it. I shall not bore the House by giving details of those statistics.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of those changes are induced not only by changes in Government policy but by changes in economic circumstances? Such changes force alterations in regional policy.

I agree. We cannot stick our heads in the sand. Economic circumstances cause changes whether or not there has been a change in regional policy. However, if the hon. Member is saying that Governments must of necessity change regional policy as a result of adverse economic circumstances, I would disagree. I contend that the worst time to jeopardise investment in the regions or to weaken incentives is during a recession. That is the very time when the regions need more protection or assistance than other sectors of the economy.

It is that aspect of the Bill more than any other that causes deep resentment and anger among those in the regions and their representatives. I feel very angry about what is happening in the Northern region, part of which I represent. As a result of changes and their consequential effect on other policies—including educational and training opportunities—young people in particular will be denied the opportunity to work, develop their character, gain employment and contribute to the economy for many years ahead.

Will the hon. Gentleman at some stage deal with the message that he would like to give to Wolverhampton and other areas of the Black Country which were once very prosperous and which have been severely impoverished, at least to some extent as the result of the success of the regional policies which he is advocating?

Yes, it is my intention to deal with that point, as the hon. Gentleman will discover. I recognise at least some truth in what he says, but I do not concede for a moment that the structural problems of industry in the Midlands can be laid solely at the door of regional policy. As long as the hon. Gentleman accepts that, there is some common ground between us. What he says has wide implications for the development of the British economy as a whole. Whatever else we want to do in advocating regional policy, we do not want to disadvantage communities and workers in those parts of the United Kingdom which are not beneficiaries.

No, it is not the object of the exercise. I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman's point.

To give a comparative advantage to one area is to give a comparative disadvantage to another. It is a matter of logic.

I accept that, but if the hon. Gentleman says that it is our intention to do that in such a way as not simply to want to solve problems in areas where they are long-standing and deep-seated but also to want to damage and disadvantage other areas, that I do not accept.

I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman's point. He is intervening at the beginning of my speech. I hope that he will let me proceed. Whether or not I half agree with the hon. Gentleman, he has made two interventions on which I have given way and several more from a sedentary position, repeating his performance in yesterday's debate, after which he disappeared for long periods. If he wants to be treated seriously and to participate in the debate, I suggest he stays and lets me put my argument, and I will come to the point he raised.

Is the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) seriously maintaining that he will treat properly only the interventions of hon. Members who stay throughout the debate? His hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) yesterday made a great denunciation of Government policy but when I turned to face him courteously in my speech to answer his points he was no longer in the Chamber.

I think the right hon. Gentleman and I are in some agreement on this. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) will reply for himself.