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Home Department

Volume 979: debated on Thursday 28 February 1980

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Welsh Language Broadcasting


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding allocating the fourth television channel in Wales to the Welsh language.

We have received some 165 letters about the Government's proposals for Welsh language broadcasting. Most of these were in favour of a concentration of all Welsh language television broadcasting on the fourth channel in Wales.

As all the political parties in Wales have said that the fourth channel should be allocated to the Welsh language, as the Conservative Party said that in its manifesto, and as all the letters which the Government have received advocate that being done, will the Government reconsider their attitude and revert to their view which they held before the election?

No. Sir, we will not do that. We have looked at this matter care fully, and we are firmly of the view that the fastest, most efficient and most economical way of increasing the amount of broadcasting in Welsh is the way suggested in the Bill.

Does my hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the policy that he is putting forward is by far the best that is possible, that there is no way in which everybody in Wales can be pleased or satisfied on this matter, that what is proposed is generous to the Welsh language, and that any alternative would arouse considerable opposition? Opposition to this policy arises either from those who are opposed to the use of the English language or from opponents of the Welsh language itself.

I am grateful to my hon. friend for his support. I am not surprised that opinion is much further in the direction in which the Government are moving than the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) would have us believe. That is not surprising when one takes into account that under the proposals the IBA will increase the amount of Welsh broadcasting on the channels that it controls, from seven to 12 hours. That is a considerable increase.

In view of what the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) said in reply to a question that I asked during the Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill, why cannot the hon. and learned Gentleman's Department leave the broadcasting authorities in Wales to decide where it is best to concentrate their programmes?

I believe that the proposal that we have come up with for the distribution of Welsh language programmes, as described during the debate on that Bill, combined with the machinery for consultation to avoid any scheduling difficulties, provide a fair solution to what I concede is not an easy problem.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the desperate struggle for survival which the language faces under modern conditions? Does he not realise that throughout Wales there is a feeling that the Government shortchanged the language after the General Election?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's second observation. The difference between us is not whether we should take steps to foster and help the Welsh language, but over how to go about it. I believe that these proposals, which will enable a substantial increase to take place in the Welsh language broadcasting, present an optimistic opportunity for those who wish to further the cause of the Welsh language.

Was it not the height of cynicism to fight the election on 3 May on a commitment to provide a Welsh language fourth channel in Wales and then 12 days later, deliberately—as the Home Secretary indicated during the debate on broadcasting—to weasel-word the relevant section of the Queen's Speech to enable the Government to wriggle out of that commitment? What happened in those 12 days to change the Government's mind?

By the words which the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to use he has indicated that he is quite an expert in the use of weasel words. What was said in the Queen's Speech was that we would seek an early start for Welsh language broadcasting on the fourth channel. However, it is right to say that, compared with the manifesto, a decision was taken to approach the matter in a different way. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, have both made that absolutely clear. I believe that the change is justified.



asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will review the provisions for obtaining licences for firearms.

I have nearly completed a review of firearms matters generally, and hope to be able to make a statement shortly.

In view of the frequent use of shotguns in crimes of violence and the comparative ease with which a shotgun certificate can be obtained, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure, as a matter of urgency, that the regulations for obtaining shotguns are as stringent as those for obtaining other firearms?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the issuing of firearms certificates is a matter for chief officers of police. It is one of the matters which I am considering and discussing with them.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of introducing regulations for the control of the crossbow, which is an extremely dangerous weapon, not least because of its silence?

My hon. Friend will be the first to appreciate that a weapon such as the crossbow is not a firearm, by definition. I am advised that the police consider that they have adequate powers to deal with this matter, but I shall, of course, consider the position.

When reviewing the use of firearms, will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the growing problem of the use of air weapons, especially by youngsters under 17 years of age? Will he give an assurance that in that review he will consider the issue in detail and see whether there is some way of bringing a growing social problem under control?

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about air weapons. It is an issue which I shall have in mind.

When my right hon. Friend is considering this procedure, will he consider whether he can make sensible economies in the issuing of shotgun and firearms certificates, perhaps by extending the life of the certificates?

I shall naturally consider that proposal. The cost of issuing the certificates and the charge that is made have to be considered at the same time.

Television Licences (Sale)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consideration has been given by Sir Derek Rayner to the agency agreement between his Department and the Post Office for the issue of television licences through sub-post offices.

Sir Derek Rayner has not been asked to include this agreement in his reviews.

Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that television licence holders, especially pensioners, the handicapped and the aged, will continue to be able to renew their licences at sub-post offices and to purchase tickets to assist them so to do?

I hope so. It is our desire to have as many outlets as possible for the sale of television licences.

Remand Facilities


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with prison remand facilities in North-West England.

No, Sir. There is a shortage of suitable accommodation. Plans for affording permanent relief to Risley remand centre, which serves the North-Western courts, are under urgent consideration, as my right hon. Friend made clear in his answer to a quesion by the hon. Gentleman on 15 February. For the longer term, we are considering the recommendations of the May committee in respect of the building programme and the facilities available to remand prisoners.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that solving the overcrowding problems at Risley in my constituency will not be helped by remanding people to Strangeways gaol at Manchester? Will he concede that the only true solution to the problems in the North-West is the provision of a new remand centre as quickly as possible?

That question will have to be considered in the general review of prison building arising from the May report. I do not agree with the preamble to the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. If it were possible to move a substantial number of prisoners from Risley to Manchester prison, and to move some of the prisoners now at Manchester to the developing prison at Wymott, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is currently being planned and negotiated, that would make an important contribution to an urgent problem.

Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise that everyone is apparently in favour of more prisons, provided that they are not build in his constituency or adjacent to it?

I accept my hon. Friend's point. I hope that everyone who asks for further prison facilities to be provided will take that on board when any plans are made.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that there are about 6,000 men, women and school children on remand at any one time, and that over 50 per cent. of them are eventually found not guilty or given non-custodial sentences? Will he also bear in mind that all of them have, in effect, served a prison sentence? A not insignificant number of men, women and' children serve a sentence on remand that is longer than the sentence that they could have been given if convicted of the alleged offence. Will he take urgent steps to reduce overcrowding by reducing the number on remand and the time that they spend on remand?

The issue of the facilities at Risley and the wider questions which the hon. Gentleman raises are related, but they are not the same. I agree that action is needed on both scores.

Telephone Tapping


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has completed his review of the law on telephone tapping.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he anticipates making a statement on telephone tapping following completion of his review.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to complete his review of the law on telephone tapping.

Does the Minister realise that there is grave disquiet and considerable unease now that it is known that up to 1,000 telephones can be tapped at any moment by one device? Does he realise that there is a sense of urgency in a wide section of the community? Will he give an assurance that his review of the law will come out as soon as possible?

I do not accept some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I realise that there is considerable interest in this matter. That is why I promised the House that I would make a statement before Easter.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that there is continuing public concern and unease that this issue is being swept under the carpet by the issue of D notices on the recent New Statesman articles? There is concern that only one warrant is being used for a multipicity of tappings. Before assessing the Malone position, will he make a statement on his intentions as soon as possible, preferably next week?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's first supplementary question. I turn to the broader issue. I think it right that I should make a full statement dealing with the Malone position and with all the other matters that arise at the same time. I have promised to make a statement before Easter. Bearing in mind all the complicated circumstances, that is a reasonable way of dealing with a matter of urgency.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is necessary not only for there to be a full statement but for the Government to provide time for a full debate?

I have promised a statement before Easter, and that is where I shall remain for the moment.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the use of telephone tapping by Customs and Excise as part of its investigation of VAT evasion represents a dangerous sledgehammer that is being applied to a comparatively small nut in our free society?

If I were to respond to my hon. Friend I should tresspass on what I said I will not do before my statement. I wish to rest on the fact that I shall make a statement before Easter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition are glad that he is to make a statement? As has already been said, we hope that he will announce that there will be an inquiry. Many allegations are made which I cannot deny or agree with, and it is important that the matter is cleared up.

The right hon. Gentleman has considerable knowledge of these matters, and I take careful note of what he has said.

Association Of Chief Police Officers


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to meet representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

I met the president and representatives of the association on 20 February. I have no immediate plans for another meeting, but I frequently have occasion to meet individual chief officers.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the chief constables, who yesterday told the employment Select Committee that they consider that the scope of the existing law on picketing is adequate?

The chief constables are totally independent, and I think that I must leave them to speak for themselves. If I start to comment on what they say to Select Committees I shall be in trouble with the chief constables and with the Select Committees. I think that that would be unwise.

The next time that my right hon. Friend meets the chief police officers, will he tell them that the enforcement of law is as important as public order, as opposed to a statement attributed to a police officer yesterday that first he had to have public order and then, if he could do so, he would enforce the law? They are as important as each other.

I accept what my hon. Friend says. However, in recent months the police have had to face difficult problems in difficult situations. The House should be extremely grateful to the chief officers of police, and to all those in the various forces concerned, for the way in which they have been determined impartially to uphold the law.

Bearing in mind the close association, nationwide, which Home Office reports indicate between a large number of complaints against the police alleging assault in different police areas per 10,000 arrests and the number of deaths in custody, and bearing in mind that of the 26 complaints to the Director of Public Prosecutions following deaths in custody, in 20 cases the complaint was assault causing death or police maltreatment, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Home Office evidence shows clearly that police maltreatment is at least one factor, among others, in deaths in custody, and as such there is a need for a full public inquiry to establish all the causes and remedies?

I do not wish to take refuge behind the Select Committee, but, it is conducting an inquiry into deaths in police custody. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that I have responded Cully to many of his questions. I shall write to him again. I do not think that I can accept all of his statistics, because I am not quick enough on my feet to take into account all the implications of all the figures that he has given to me. Nevertheless, we should await the report of the Select Committee on the matter which he is pursuing.

I accept what my right hon. Friend has said about the difficulties faced by chief constables in maintaining law and order on the picket lines, but is it not a fact that if—as appears to be the case from the pronouncements of certain chief constables—they do not intend to enforce the criminal law as rigorously on the picket lines as they do in disturbances in public houses or outside football grounds, it becomes difficult to resist the public argument that there should be a new law on picketing?

I do not think that I obtained that interpretation from the evidence given by chief constables. It is for them to speak for themselves. I wish to rest on what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), that in a difficult position each chief constable must judge the best way in which he can deal with the matter in the interests of the public and of society as a whole. In making those judgments, the chief constables deserve considerable gratitude from the House.

Does the Secretary of State recollect that on Monday of this week the Attorney-General told the House that in June of last year, through the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office was assured that the guidelines on jury vetting were being adhered to in all police forces? Is it the practice of the Home Office, when it is aware that there is doubt about such a fact in one police force, to make its inquiries and accept assurances through the ACPO rather than to deal direct with the police force concerned? Will the Secretary of State tell us what is happening about the flagrant breach by the Northamptonshire police of the guidelines on jury vetting?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is is considering the matter, and he mentioned it on Monday. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is normally the case that the Home Office deals with the Association of Chief Police Officers on these matters. We have its assurance. I realise that there has been a mistake, and I am personally looking into the matter.

Television Programmes


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now make further funds available for improving reception and choice for viewers of independent television programmes.

No, Sir. The Government have no plans to alter the existing arrangements under which the IBA provides the ITV service at no cost to public funds. We believe that the IBA's engineering resources and the very limited UHF frequency channels should be used to extend UHF television cover to those parts of the United Kingdom which are as yet without it and to provide for a service on the fourth channel rather than to provide some areas with a choice of service from two or more ITV companies.

Is the Minister aware that I regard that as an unsatisfactory reply? Is he aware also that my constituents in Swindon are utterly dissatisfied with the service that they receive from the Midlands-based ATV company, which is notorious for its bad service to peripheral areas? Can he do nothing at all to satisfy the overwhelming demand by my constituents that they remain in the South-West and receive a service covering the town from the Bristol based South-West service?

I expected the hon. Gentleman to be a little disappointed with my reply. I recognise that many living in Swindon might prefer to receive HTV programmes. However, I can find no ground for making an exception to the general policy in their favour. I believe that the sense of priorities that I have stated is right.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is desirable, on social grounds, that independent television and radio programmes should be receivable, as far as possible, in all parts of the country? In that context, will he undertake to give special consideration to the plans for independent local radio in South-West Scotland?

I understand my hon. Friends point, but his request about radio programmes in South-West Scotland does not arise on this question.

In view of the widening choice and facilities in radio, is citizens band radio coming nearer?

I must ask my hon. Friend to await a statement from the Government on that matter.

Juvenile Offenders


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what response his Department has made to the proposals in so far as they refer to his responsibilities of the report "In Whose Best Interests" published by the Cobden Trust and MIND, a copy of which has been supplied to him.

We shall take account of this report, and of other published material on the treatment of juvenile offenders, in preparing our own proposals for amendment of the law.

Is the Minister aware of the serious position now obtaining, in that there are twice the number of children in institutions of different sorts as there are adult prisoners? Does he realise that tranquillisers are being used to control children in some of the institutions and homes? Does he accept that the rehabilitation record of borstals and detention centres is not exactly high?

Why is not the Minister acting on the report of the Select Committee on Expenditure on the working of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, and caring for very many more children in community and foster homes? Will he take that on board and ensure that reasonable rates are given to foster parents?

I accept the importance of children being treated in the community. I take on board many of the points made by the hon. Lady. I do not accept the general condemnations that seemed to be implied in the first part of the question. They are the sorts of points that we shall take into account in our review of these matters.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that statistics are now collected of the amounts of psychotropic drugs that are administered in prisons, while they are not collected for the amounts of psychotropic drugs used in institutions under the control of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services? Will he consult his right hon. Friend so that statistics about drug intake are collected even-handedly between his Department and the Department of Health and Social Security?

I shall be happy to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Children And Young Persons Act 1969


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he proposes to introduce legislation to amend the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.

We hope to inform the House of our proposals in the course of this Session, and to introduce the necessary legislation as soon as practicable thereafter.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the widespread concern being expressed by magistrates who sit in juvenile courts because they cannot ensure that, in appropriate cases, children are placed in community homes? Will he tell the House what progress is being made towards implementing our manifesto commitment to introduce a residential care order?

I am aware of the concern felt in this respect not only by magistrates but by others. I share that concern. The proposals on which we are working concentrate on a form of residential care order which will give courts the powers that they need to ensure that juveniles who continue to commit offences are not allowed to remain at home.

When will the Minister implement that part of the 1969 Act which requires the phasing out of borstal institutions? If he is not to do that, will he at least close down the only closed borstal for girls in the country, Bullwood Hall, because of its inaccessibility? Is he aware that about 40 per cent. of the girls who left that institution last year did not receive a visit from their relatives their probation officers or social workers? Would it not be more appropriate to have a series of smaller institutions in every part of the country?

It might be more appropriate to do that, and it is something that we shall consider. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will take into account the expenditure implications of such a change. On the general question of the future of borstals, that is something that will be considered in the course of our review of the treatment of young offenders.

Bearing in mind the Government's concern that, wherever possible, executive powers on sentencing should be diminished, and judicial powers increased, would it not be sensible to make the care order a determinate sentence? When is my hon. and learned Friend proposing to introduce such a change?

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's suggestion. It is one of the points that we are considering in our review.

A moment ago the Minister explained to the House that within a matter of days of taking office he changed his mind on a manifesto commitment about the fourth channel. Why are the Government sticking to the Conservative manifesto pledge to give magistrates the power to send children direct into some form of custodial care, when he must know that, compared with 10 years ago, the number of special units is now 300? Is he aware that that number is growing rapidly and that without any new moves the problem for magistrates becomes less and less every day?

I do not accept that the problem for magistrates gets less and less every day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) pointed out, there is considerable feeling among magistrates that, in appropriate circumstances, they ought to have the right to make a determination of the kind that I have described. That is something to which we gave expression in our manifesto and which we shall implement in the proposals which we shall put before the House in due course.

Prison Service (May Report)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what response he has had so far from organisations representing people affected by the May report; and if he will make a statement.

I have received a number of representations from such organisations, and I recently met the Prison Officers' Association to discuss issues arising from the May report.

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Is he aware of the serious concern that has been expressed by prison officers at Armley prison, Leeds, which is in my constituency, over the serious overcrowding there, which is resulting in the incarceration of prisoners for almost 24 hours a day? That has resulted in a potentially dangerous situation between the staff and the inmates. When can we expect some relief in overcrowded prisons such as that?

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in what he says. It is a serious matter, and one which has existed for a considerable time. When the May report was published I promised the House that the Home Office would undertake a substantial reorganisation of the prison service. That we are doing, and I hope to announce the results of that as soon as possible—I trust very soon after Easter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the urgency of the problem? Prisons throughout the country are grossly overcrowded—Wandsworth prison in my constituency is just one example—and there is a crisis in our prison system. It is urgent that action is taken quickly to consider the May report and to act on its conclusions.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. This is a problem which has plagued successive Home Secretaries. I do not put any blame on them or on anyone else. It is something which the community as a whole must face. I intend to put forward proposals soon after Easter, when I believe that we must make a substantial change in many of our prison arrangements. Indeed, some of the people who are in prison should not be there.

When the right hon. Gentleman puts forward his proposals, will he do so either in a debate on the May report, as we have repeatedly requested, or in a White Paper, so that all the many recommendations in that extremely valuable report can be fully discussed by the House and we can be made aware of the Government's proposals on each of those recommendations?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. The question of a debate is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I should greatly welcome it. I should be prepared to discuss, both through the usual channels and with the House as a whole, whether it would be more suitable for me to make a statement first, to be followed by the debate, or for me to make a statement in the debate. I should be open to doing either—whichever suited the House best.

When my right hon. Friend investigates the May report, will he bear in mind the necessity to decant the families of prison officers who are at present compelled to live within the prison grounds and integrate them within towns, such as Peterhead in my constituency, where a prison is situated? The families would be far happier living among ordinary citizens of that town instead of being restricted to the area of the prison grounds.

My hon. Friend will be the first to appreciate that I must not trespass on Scottish ground, but I realise that this is a major problem. At the same time, major expenditure problems are involved in carrying out such a suggestion.

Kidney Transplants


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with guidelines to coroners on the circumstances in which they allow hospital authorities to take kidneys for purposes of transplant.

Yes, Sir. The code of practice recently issued by the Department of Health and Social Security was circulated to coroners on 18 December 1979, and the opportunity was taken to remind them of the guidelines set out in the Home Office letter of 29 April 1977. Copies of both these circulars have been placed in the Library of the House.

Is not there substantial evidence of the fact that as the practice varies between coroners in different parts of the country, that inhibits many doctors who might otherwise set in motion procedures for transplants?.

There is some variation in practice between coroners in different parts of the country. The hon. Gentleman should remember that the coroner is an independent judicial officer. I believe that most coroners arrange a perfectly satisfactory procedure with their local hospital.

What action does my hon. Friend intend to take to preserve the anonymity of donors? Recently, we have had to put up with some distasteful reports in the press.

Prison Population


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to set up an interdepartmental working party with instructions to report urgently on ways of reducing the prison population.

I can assure the hon. Member that the recommendations on reducing the prison population put forward in the fifteenth report of the Expenditure Committee and the May committee's report are already being examined by the Home Office and other Departments concerned.

If the Minister accepts that prison overcrowding is at crisis levels, should not we take more radical action and look at ways of reducing the length of sentences, and in some cases not sentence people to prison when imprisonment does not work?

It is a question not so much of evolving new alternatives to custody but of encouraging the use of existing alternatives to custody, which we certainly favour doing in appropriate cases. As my right hon. Friend and I have made clear on many occasions, both in the House and elsewhere, except in cases of violent crimes, which require long custodial sentences, we recognise that the deterrent effect that is required can often be achieved by shorter prison sentences than are sometimes imposed.

I am anxious to remove as many of them as possible from the prison system. My right hon. Friend is doing what he can in that respect. We are engaged in consultations with the Department of Health and Social Security in order to get as many such prisoners as possible out of prison and into the appropriate accommodation.

As we have one of the largest prison populations in Europe, and as it costs more than £100 a week for each prisoner, will the hon. and learned Gentleman look at some of the experiments that have been carried out in some of the Scandinavian countries which are aimed at reducing the number of people who are kept in prison?.

Naturally, as we are responsible for running, financing and maintaining so large a prison system, we are anxious to consider all ways of reducing the strain that at present exists. Any proposals that come forward, whether from Scandinavia or from climes further south, will be most carefully considered on their merits.

British Broadcasting Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will secure the future of the BBC by agreeing with it the future level of the licensing fee over the next five years.

When I announced the increase in the television licence fees on 23 November 1979 I made it clear that the new fees should last for at least two years. I also published a paper on the BBC's forward planning which contained proposals for dealing with the BBC's expenditure over a four-year period.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of reports that regional broadcasting is to be cut disproportionately by the BBC because of the present financial situation? Is he further aware that in the Northern region, regional television and radio programmes make a vital contribution to the life of the region and, indeed, that many of those programmes more than match the quality of networked programmes? Will he therefore make immediate representations to the BBC to ensure that regional broadcasting is expanded rather than reduced?.

I understand that the proposals which have been put forward are still a matter for discussion within the BBC. How the financial targets are met must be a matter for the BBC governors themselves.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although BBC licence fees were substantially increased last year, it is reported today that the BBC intends to cut out five orchestras? As Britain is one of the musical capitals of the world, is not the BBC cutting the wrong things?.

I must repeat that I understand that these proposals are still a matter for discussion within the BBC. What the BBC decides to do within its own financial targets, and with the money that it receives from the licence fee given by this House, must be a matter for the governors of the BBC.

Is the Home Secretary aware that the director-general of the BBC has made a statement today indicating that there will be substantial cuts in regional broadcasting? Will he undertake to make a statement to the House about these cuts?.

No, for the perfectly simple reason that these proposals are still a matter for discussion within the BBC, and anyway they are entirely a matter within the discretion of the governors of the BBC.

Before my right hon. Friend agrees to any further increase in the licence fees, will he inform the BBC that he expects the corporation to negotiate with the unions reductions in the excessive manning levels in force in the production of television programmes?

As I have said, keeping within financial targets is a matter for the governors. Manning levels in the BBC are also the concern of the governors.

While those discussions are taking place will the Home Secretary remind the director general, in no uncertain terms, that viewers and listeners in the Northern region pay exactly the same licence fees? Will he tell him also that we very much resent the savage cuts which are now proposed in regional broadcasting? The quality of broadcasting in the North—meaning Newcastle, not Manchester—is greatly superior to the more costly London-based programmes.

I represent a constituency in the Northern region. I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he is entitled to make representations to the director-general. I am entitled to make representations to the director-general as a Member of Parliament for a Northern constituency, but not as Home Secretary.

Civil Defence


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consideration he is giving to recreating a civil defence organisation.

The current review of home defence arrangements is examining how volunteer effort can best support the plans of local authorities.

We are not persuaded that a new national organisation is required.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a credible national defence posture requires a strong civil defence organisation? Does he agree also that whether one is thinking of a war-time situation or of a national emergency, an organisation is required to meet such a contingency?

I agree that the credibility of our general defence arrangements involves having adequate civil defence arrangements. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary initiated the review that is currently taking place. However, there is more than one view about the precise form that the arrangements should take and the precise way in which volunteer efforts should be mobilised.

Is it not true that the reality of nuclear warfare is that stirrup pumps and whitewashed windows are no defence against the horror of mass extermination? Is it not true also that that underpins the basic strategy of NATO and of nuclear weapons? Is it not also the case that the BBC banned the film "War Game", which showed civil defence in action, because it was thought that the population would become even more fearful?.

I do not accept any of the hon. Gentleman's assumptions or conclusions. The object of our defence posture is to avoid war. It would do no service to the community simply to say that if war came we could do nothing to mitigate the consequences. We recognise that any responsible Government must do what they can. As a result, a review of civil defence is taking place.

I note my hon. and learned Friend's great realism. Does he agree that if American rockets are to be stationed in Britain there will be great demand for a proper civil defence organisation as part of that deterrent?

As I have indicated, the Government accept that the existing civil defence arrangements need review. That review is taking place. As I said during the Adjournment debate last week, my right hon. Friend will announce the outcome of that review shortly.

As civil defence is closely related to military defence, will the Minister say what consultations the Government are having with the Nato civil defence committee in the course of drawng up the review? Britain is a member of the Nato civil defence committee.

Naturally, the international dimension is being considered. However, it would not be right to describe in detail the nature of the consultations.

"Athina B"


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state the nationalities of all members of the Greek-owned motor vessel "Athina B", which ran aground at Brighton on 21 January; what steps were taken to return seamen to their countries of origin; and what other action was taken concerning them.

The crew comprised 13 Greeks, I German, I Egyptian, I Portuguese and 5 Indians. Also on board were the British wife and children of the captain and 1 French passenger. Tickets were provided by the owners of the ship to enable the crew to leave the United Kingdom. As to the other action taken, I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to a question by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) on 19 February.

Does the Minister accept that that "other action" meant that three Indian nationals in the crew were put cells for two or three days before removal to Harmondsworth, and ultimately to India, via Athens? Is not that disgraceful in view of the fact that these seamen had been through a traumatic experience and had been tossed about in the Channel before beaching at Brighton? Will the Minister give an assurance that in future there will be no such discrimination against shipwrecked mariners who reach the shores of Britain, which has a rich history in succouring such people?

The three Indians were not regarded as professional seamen. The rest of the crew, including two other Indians, were considered to be regular seamen. There is a significant risk of desertion in United Kingdom ports by persons who are not regular seamen. They are scrutinised closely to prevent that. Those considered likely to desert are refused entry. They are usually kept on board until their vessel departs, under arrangements made by the ship's master. If that is not possible, as in this case, they are kept in secure accommodation on shore. However, in the light of this incident, I am considering whether instructions to immigration officers in respect of nonprofessional seamen require amendment.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 28 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.

Despite her busy schedule, will the Prime Minister find time to spare a few moments' thought for the forthcoming Moscow Olympics? Does she feel that Mr. Brezhnev's reported interest in declaring Afghanistan a neutral State will enable British athletes to travel to Moscow? Will not that get the Prime Minister off the ridiculous hook on which she has hung herself?

We are naturally very pleased if Soviet Russia is considering making Afghanistan into a neutral State. However, we shall require more than words as evidence of its good intentions. We shall require the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Will my right hon. Friend find an opportunity today to congratulate those British Service men and policemen in Rhodesia who are having such success in ensuring a good turnout at the elections?

I shall gladly do so. Indeed, I shall congratulate all those concerned with administering the elections. I am happy to report that they seem to be going extremely well at the moment.

In view of President Carter's fine example in inviting the victorious American ice-hockey team to dinner in the White House, will the Prime Minister emulate that by asking Mr. Robin Cousins to have tea at No. 10 Downing Street?

I rather thought that he deserved more than that. Is the hon. Gentleman fishing for an invitation?

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Leader of the Opposition today to use his influence with the TUC in order to persuade it to reverse its outrageous decision to boycott the financing of State-financed secret ballots?

I do not know that I have very much influence over the Leader of the Opposition. I shall gladly join my hon. Friend in requesting the TUC to withdraw that advice. It seems that most people would wish to take advantage of postal ballots that are paid for by the Government. In that way the TUC can ascertain the views of its members in a truly democratic way.

As No. 10 Downing Street appears to have been turned into a temporary ashram for the maharishi of monetarism, did the Prime Minister and her fellow disciples ask Professor Friedman yesterday what he meant by his statement that she has the right ideas but that she is not putting them properly into practice? Can it be that he wishes her to move towards the perfect Friedmanite state that is found in the military dictatorship of Chile?

If I may say so, I believe that the hon. Gentleman can do greater justice to himself than that. We had a very interesting meeting, which I was able to attend only briefly. On the Conservative Benches, we have an open mind on these matters.

Public Expenditure


asked the Prime Minister whether she is satisfied with the present proportion of the gross domestic product which is spent by the State.

I totally agree with my right hon. Friend, but may I ask for her assurance that the Government will now be bolder in cutting public expenditure? Does she agree that they could perhaps even emulate the previous Labour Government, particularly the performance of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1976 and 1978? The right hon. Gentleman reduced public expenditure by £6,000 million, which amounted to 8·5 per cent. Does my right hon. Friend agree also that the right hon. Gentleman did that not out of political conviction but because he had brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to cut public expenditure further, and there will be another White Paper at or about the time of the Budget. I totally agree that if we are to restore the private sector we must stop draining money from that wealth-creating sector into the public sector.

How does the right hon. Lady respond to the suggestion in the House and in the country that increasing numbers of Conservative Members are publicly dissociating themselves from the policies which she and her Government are pursuing, certainly with regard to the steel industry? Will she now in the national interest intervene in the dispute to bring it to an end?

With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, perhaps he will await the result of the Division tonight. I believe that he will find that, as usual in this House, the majority will be right. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that I should intervene in settling the steel dispute, as he knows full well, the word "intervention" usually means that the Government will provide more taxpayers' money. That I cannot do.

When considering reducing public expenditure, particularly local authority spending, will my right hon. Friend have regard to cutting bureaucracy rather than services? Will she and her right hon. Friends look carefully at whether local authorities plan to cut services rather than administration costs?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is a source of great concern that sometimes local authorities seem to find it easier to cut services to the public than to cut administration, which could often easily be cut without reducing the standard of services. We shall draw that point to the attention of all our local authorities.

I am very sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman but I was present only right at the beginning of the meeting. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, I had rather a lot of other matters to prepare for today.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

During the course of her busy day, will my right hon. Friend take time to reflect on the TUC's proposal to call a one-day national strke on 14 May, bearing in mind the damage that that will do to our economy and the disruption that will ensue in our daily lives? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the TUC leadership would do well to listen to the chorus of opinion that is growing daily among its members and their wives, who wish to express their right to work rather than blindly obey the diktats of Congress House?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I totally agree with him that such a day of action would do no good to British trade unionism, British industry or the reputation and standing of British goods and services abroad.

Will the right hon. Lady find time today to instruct the Governor of Southern Rhodesia that, after the elections are declared, he must summon to form the Government of Zimbabwe the man who has won the most seats?

No, Sir, because that it not quite the constitutional position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!".] That is not quite the constitutional position, unless one party wins a clear majority. If a party does not win a clear majority, the constitution requires the Governor to appoint whoever, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of the majority. It is for the leaders of the parties, and not the Governor, to decide what coalitions to form. That is the constitutional position.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the plight of the people of Cambodia? Is she aware that for a nation of 42 million people there are only 56 doctors in the entire country, and that all outside assistance has been refused by the authorities in Pnom Penh, apart from a 10-man Soviet team, which is but a drop in the ocean? Is she further aware that the International Committee of the Red Cross says that up to the end of last year, of the 40,000 tonnes of relief supplies that it delivered to Pnom Penh, only 2 per cent. were distributed? Will she make representations to the United Nations and also the Soviet Government, who are financing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia to the tune of $2½ million per day?

I shall, of course, look further into the matters revealed by my lion. Friend. I thought that the relief operation through this country and the EEC was going well. In view of the new points that my hon. Friend raises, I shall look at the matter again.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Social Services said that the Government had taken no decision about changing the method of paying social security benefits? Will the right hon. Lady take the opportunity categorically to deny that the Government have any intention of changing the system?

I believe that what the hon. Lady is asking is that, if they wish, retirement pensioners can continue to have their pensions paid weekly through a post office. I agree that that is right. However, if others want theirs paid through a bank at, say, fortnightly intervals or at periods less than quarterly, they, too, should be able to make that choice.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Treasury answer which shows that in this calendar year our net contribution to the EEC budget will not be the often-quoted £1 billion, but £1·3 billion? In her efforts to secure a broad balance, will my right hon. Friend ignore the faint-hearted, wherever they may be, and recognise that she will have the full-hearted consent of the people in whatever action is necessary to secure her objective?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is true that unless we get a settlement of the budget problem, our net contribution looks like rising. That is why it is so important not only to get a settlement for next year, but a formula that will affect future years.



asked the Prime Minister whether she plans to meet the Governor of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in Salisbury.

In the light of today's reports that a request may be made for the Governor to continue in Salisbury to help the new Administration achieve stability, will the Prime Minister indicate the Government's attitude to that suggestion and what legislative and other steps would be necessary if it were adopted?

One would naturally not expect the Governor to leave before independence, but we would not expect him to stay very much after that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is heartening that the first steps have been taken to merge the various armed forces in Rhodesia, and that the Governor and others involved deserve considerable congratulation?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is extremely heartening. When I think of the number of complaints and criticisms that we have had over this difficult period, I believe that the Governor deserves our congratulations even more on the way that he has brought Rhodesia to a state where the country can have free and fair elections.

Will the Prime Minister tell us where her constitutional advice comes from? Does she accept that the constitutional practice is always that, where the leader of the party with the largest number of seats in any Parliament is in a position to begin negotiations, he should be called on first to decide whether he can form a coalition? Only if he cannot is someone else called upon.

I am advised that the Governor has to judge who is the person most likely to be able to form a government. Forming coalitions is a matter for the parties themselves. If, of course, there is a majority, the question does not arise.

If my right hon. Friend goes to Salisbury there will be two members of the Cabinet there. If there were a nuclear war, and if there were 17 command centres with one Minister for each, who would be the three Ministers to draw the short straw?

My hon. Friend may rest assured that those matters are always thought about and that there are always a number of Ministers present in Britain to deal with any emergency that may arise.