House Of Commons
Thursday 28 February 1980
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Dartmoor Commons Bill Lords (By Order)
Tyne And Wear Bill Lords (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second Time upon Thursday 6 March.
Oral Answers To Questions
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.
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.
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.
I will make a statement to the House before Easter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I shall look into that matter and write to my hon. Friend.
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.
What about mentally disordered offenders?
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.
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.
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.
asked the Prime Minister whether she is satisfied with the present proportion of the gross domestic product which is spent by the State.
No, Sir. Our aim is to reduce it.
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.
What did the Prime Minister learn from Professor Friedman last night?
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.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier.
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.
I have no plans to do so.
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.
Business Of The House
Will the Leader of the House please state the business for next week?
The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 3 MARCH—Completion of remaining stages of the Companies Bill [Lords].Motion relating to the Road Traffic Accidents (Payments for Treatment) (England and Wales) Order 1980. TUESDAY 4 MARCH—Motions on Members' secretarial and research allowances. Proceedings on the Highlands and Islands Air Services (Scotland) Bill. Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order. WEDNESDAY 5 MARCH—Supply [12th Allotted Day]: Debate on an Opposition motion on the damaging effect of Government cuts in employment and training opportunities when unemployment is rising steeply. Proceedings on the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Bill [Lords], and remaining stages of the Reserve Forces Bill [Lords], which are both consolidation measures. THURSDAY 6 MARcH—Second Reading of the New Hebrides Bill. Proceedings on the Consular Fees Bill and on the Police Negotiating Board Bill [Lords]. FRIDAY 7 MARCH—Private Members' Bills. MONDAY 10 MARCH—Supply [13th Allotted Day]: Subject for debate to be announced.
First, has the Leader of the House given further consideration to the allocation of time for the debate on the immigration rules, which have undoubtedly attracted the attention of a great number of hon. Members?Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate that in due course the Government will be prepared to have a debate on the report of the Brandt Commission, not only because of its impact on Third world countries but because of the impact that it will have on our industrial future?
With regard to a further opportunity for debate on the immigration rules, as I told the House when the matter was last raised, any alterations in the rules have arisen from representations that were made when the matter was fully debated in the House.I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman about the Brandt Commission report. It is a most important report but it has not yet, as I understand, been published in Britain. The matter is being considered by my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary.
I return to the question of the immigration rules because I did not gather what the Leader of the House said. Is he not aware that a large number of hon. Members have signed a motion asking for a debate on the matter, despite the fact that in his view a debate would merely be a repetition of an earlier one? As Leader of the House will he please give consideration to this request?
There is an opportunity to pray against these regulations, and there would also be an opportunity—if the right hon. Gentleman feels strongly about it—to raise the matter on a Supply day. The matter has been fully debated in the House.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the textile and textile machinery industries in Britain continue to face grotesque and unfair competition? Is he further aware that this year at least one mill has closed every week in the North-West? Will he arrange for an early debate on the problems facing the textile industry, so that those hon. Members who represent constituencies with a considerable number of employees in the industry can present to the House the sort of action that we believe this Government and previous Governments should have taken in order to protect the industry from unfair competition?
I share my hon. Friend's concern about the future of the British textile industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade has recently made a statement, and there have been opportunities to debate the position of the textile industry. Therefore, I cannot promise a further early debate.
In view of the fact that the Government issued a D notice last week to prevent further discussion by the press of the New Statesman series on telephone tapping, may we have a debate on the issue, in order to demonstrate the Government's commitment to open government and a free democratic society?
We cannot have a debate on telephone tapping next week, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given the House an assurance that he will make a statement on the matter.
Will my right hon. Friend give the House some indication of what his attitude will be should the Education Bill, which is now in another place, be altered, especially in respect of clause 23, relating to school transport? Will he assure the House that should the Bill come back in an altered state, removing or substantially amending clause 23, the Government will not tamper with it further?
That is a hypothetical question. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, by tabling an amendment to clause 23, has met many, if not all, of the objections that were raised.
In view of the problem of Scottish school holiday dates, about which the Leader of the House knows, can he give an assurance that the House will not sit during the month of August? I have no direct interest in the matter, but I am speaking on behalf of my constituent, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who cannot speak for himself because he is a Whip.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no direct interest in the matter, either. However, I have previously expressed my sympathy with Scottish Members with families who want to spend part of their vacation with their children. I shall do my best to ensure that the House does not sit into August, but if I am to achieve that end I need some help from hon. Members.
Following the request by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on immigration rules, does my right hon. Friend recollect that when the Labour Party was in power, whenever Conservative Members asked for a debate on immigration the right hon Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) said that we could use a Supply day? Could not the Opposition use a Supply day to debate this important issue?
I have made that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. It is not a matter for me to decide; it is a matter for the Opposition.
Has the attention of the House been drawn to motion 459 concerning the future of Westminster Hospital, the proposals in relation to which would virtually lead to the decimation of that great hospital?
[ That this House, conscious of the great service provided by the Westminster Hospital to the citizens of Westminster, its great medical achievements with a worldwide reputation in teaching and research and the quality of service provided for many years to Members of both Houses of Parliament, expresses its deep concern at the proposals published by the London Health Planning Consortium which propose the closure of 410 of the 510 beds at the Westminster Hospital, thus reducing it to a small support hospital without facilities for teaching or research; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Social Services to give an early assurance that Westminster Hospital will continue.]
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate, not simply on the motion but on the Flowers report and the report of the London health planning consortium?
The last document to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is a discussion document. With regard to the Flowers report, as I understand it, that is an internal matter for the University of London. It has not come before Ministers. However, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is watching closely those recommendations. It would be premature to suggest a debate at this stage.
In view of the continuing intransigence of the European Community concerning our contribution to the budget, particularly the report today that we are to be obliged to increase public spending to match the various grants and projects that are alleged to offset the liability, might it not be an idea to have a debate on the subject so that the views of the House of Commons can be learned?
My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal is making continual statements on this matter. There are plenty of opportunities for hon. Members who are interested in the subject to raise the matter. Some press reports of European affairs should be taken with a large pinch of salt.
In view of that reply, is it not time for a balance sheet to be drawn up of the advantages and disadvantages of our membership of the Community? Is it not time that the general issue was debated?
That balance sheet was audited by the electorate and the decision was final.
I should like to press the Leader of the House once again on the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals). Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the morale in hospitals will be greatly undermined unless there is a speedy announcement by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services? The early-day motion has received the support of all sections of the House.
I am well aware of the anxiety that is felt. I have tried to allay it by pointing out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is concerning himself with the matter. Until discussions have taken place on both documents referred to, a debate in the House would be premature.
Will my right hon. Friend find time in the next month or two for the House to debate the Finniston report on engineering? It is a most important document for the future of British manufacturing.
I agree about the importance of the Finniston report. I read with interest the debate that took place in another place yesterday and the important contribution that was made by Lord Scanlon on the subject. The report is relevant to a number of matters concerning industrial affairs but I cannot promise an early debate on the report alone.
In view of the high level of unemployment on Merseyside and the growing problems there, which have become far worse over the last nine months, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate when there will be a debate on Merseyside? If it is not held on the Floor of the House, could we not resuscitate the regional committees to debate these serious problems?
I shall certainly look at the question of the regional committees. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to raise some of the matters concerning Merseyside when the debate on unemployment takes place on Wednesday.
Will my right hon. Friend say when he expects to find time for a debate on the Williams report on obscenity?
Not immediately, I think.
Is the Leader of the House aware that most of our great medical institutions have a high proportion of overseas students but that they spend most of their time doing research and not teaching? Is he further aware that as a result of the Government's policy to cut funds proportionate to the numbers of overseas students our medical institutions will be damaged or destroyed. When will we have a debate on that subject?
I cannot promise a debate on the subject but I hope that with the changes announced in the fees for overseas students there will be a better balance between the needs of home and overseas students.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that for the last three Fridays—and this will apply to tomorrow—the House has discussed matters that have raised the expectations of people outside, if not misled them, while many hon. Members knew that nothing would come of the debates? Is there anything that he can do to change that situation?
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is wide-spread opinion in the House that it would be a good thing if the matter could be disposed of tomorrow. It is a matter for the House to decide.
In view of the growing crisis in our prisons and the risks to the lives of prisoners and prison officers and their general welfare, will the Leader of the House guarantee a debate on the May committee report before the end of April, at the latest?
The date of the debate on the May report will depend on the termination of the discussion that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is having with various interested parties at this moment about the conclusions of that extremely important report.
As my right hon. Friend attaches so much importance to Foreign Affairs Question Time as a medium for expressing the views of all hon. Members on the subject will he tell the House how soon he proposes to implement the new extended foreign affairs timetable?
The reforms will increase the amount of time devoted to foreign affairs by a considerable percentage. I am glad to say that they will be implemented within the next few weeks.
In view of the widespread concern in Scotland and other assisted areas throughout the United Kingdom about the location of the Inmos production unit, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that if the Secretary of State for Industry makes a decision to allow the NEB to break its commitment to site the production unit in an assisted area, not only will the Secretary of State make a statement to the House but the Government will make time available for a debate on on this important matter?
We have not reached that point yet, but I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.
As we have just heard that the European budget is costing the country £100 million a month —and rising—would not a cut in that figure be the most effective and welcome cut in Government expenditure to the people of this country? Will my right hon. Friend take account of the hon. Members on both sides of the House who would like to have a debate on the issue to express our support to the Prime Minister in her determined and valiant effort to secure justice for the British people?
My hon. Friend has made his point clear. With that expression of whole hearted support we hardly need a further debate.
I should like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 417 which points to the deteriorating position of pensioners in our society and suggests remedies.
[ That this House, mindful of the present state of inflation and its impact on retired persons, therefore calls upon the Government immediately to increase the State retirement pension by £3 per week for a married couple with a proportionate increase for single persons; and shall in future review the level of pension on a six monthly basis.]
Bearing in mind that the high level of inflation, increased fuel costs, and so on, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that it is necessary to have an early debate on the matter?
It is extremely important that the interests of retirement pensioners and other pensioners should be safeguarded. Under the provision of the Social Security Act 1975 my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has a duty to review the rates of retirement pensions and other benefits before the end of the present tax year. He will announce the proposed new rates shortly after that review.
I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 460, which deals with violence against children.
[ That this House calls upon the Government to act to dispel the growing concern which is being expressed by the public in the matter of the number of cases where children are being subjected to violence and death in the home environment, and to look into the recruitment. training and management of social workers.]
In view of the growing concern on the matter inside and outside the House, when will there be an opportunity for an early debate?
This matter was examined by a Select Committee in the 1976–77 Session. The Government are gravely concerned at the numbers of cases of child abuse that have occurred recently and they are urgently considering what more can be done, particularly with training, to tackle the disturbing problem. When conclusions have been reached the decisions will be made known.
Does the Leader of the House recollect that three weeks ago I raised the possibility of a debate on the first report of the Select Committee on Members' interests? I pointed out then that it was unfair that five hon. Members were refusing to declare their interests when every other hon. Member had done so. That position cannot be altered, because the Select Committee is leaving the matter to the House. Until a debate is initiated no action will be taken. Will the Leader of the House do something to initiate an urgent debate on the report?
I have raised the question with the Chairman of that Select Committee. I am waiting to see what suggestions are forthcoming. It is right that the recommendations of that Committee and its decisions on the register should be implemented.
Order. If the four hon. Members who rose just now will cooperate, I shall call all of them—if they will be brief.
May I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and give the House an assurance that there will be an early debate on the serious unemployment and economic prob lems of Merseyside so that we may have an explanation from the Government about the thousands of redundancies there, all of which are directly attributable to the Goverment's economic policy?
I am afraid that I can only repeat what I have said. There will be an opportunity, subject to Mr. Speaker's rulings, to raise a number of these matters in an early debate, namely, next Wednesday.
The Leader of the House promised last week that he would consider my argument that with the Select Committee report coming out there should be time for discussion of that report. Could we not combine the two and have a full day's debate on the immigration rules and the report of the Select Committee?
In response to the prompting of the hon. Member, I investigated the situation about the report of the Select Committee. The position is that no date has been given for its publication. Until the report is published we cannot possibly debate it.
The right hon. Gentleman appears to be going back on firm commitments that he has already given to this House about future debates. Is he aware that a fortnight ago he gave a firm commitment to me that the Finniston report would be debated? Is he further aware that the Prime Minister gave a firm commitment on Tuesday that the Flowers report would be debated? This is not an internal private matter for the right hon. Gentleman's Department. It is a matter of great concern both to the public and to the medical profession.
I think that the commitment that I made to the hon. Lady was not that there would be an early debate but that it was relevant to a number of subjects. I agree with her that the Finniston report is extremely important. It would be quite premature to have a debate on the Flowers report when the university itself has not considered the matter.
In view of the fact that the Prime Minister, on the television programme "Weekend World", stated that she anticipated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would cut public expenditure by £2 billion, that £1 billion of that would come from our reduced EEC contribution, and that there has already been a £1 billion cut in housing expenditure, are we to have a statement before the Budget on the success of the Government in reducing the Prime Minister's target of a £1 billion cut in our EEC contribution?
The Government have been extraordinarily successful in reducing the weight of public expenditure and I have every faith in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that she will have equal success in reducing the unfair burden that the EEC budget places upon this country.
In the light of the strong feeling among local authorities throughout the country and in the national parks at their being required to sell council properties, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that we can have a debate on this matter, inasmuch as there is unanimity among all hon. Members that this problem must be resolved to protect the housing stock of local authorities within the national parks?
I do not think that I can promise an early debate, but I will pursue the point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Lambeth, Southwark And Lewisham Area Health Authority
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, of the precedent that I have notified to you privately that is the nearest in point to this case. In July of the 1943–44 Session the then Herbert Morrison, having created a national fire service illegally, came to the House on a Wednesday and made a statement confessing his mistake, as did the right hon. Gentleman in this case. Two days later, Mr. Morrison laid a Bill of indemnity covering himself and all the persons who had acted illegally in accordance with his instructions. In a very short time the Bill was passed through both Houses of Parliament, thus rectifying the situation. You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that paragraph (4) of the Standing Order states:"the actions taken by the Secretary of State for Social Services and persons acting under him during the period in which the administration of the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham area health authority was being conducted illegally".
Like you, Mr. Speaker, I had assumed that this precedent would have been followed. It is now two days since the right hon. Gentleman's statement. However, it seems clear from that statement that the right hon. Gentleman's Department was as incapable of realising that this precedent existed as it was incapable of advising him correctly as to the law. Therefore, I suggest that, two days having elapsed, the precedent having been broken and no Bill of indemnity having been laid, we have the impossible situation that two hospitals were illegally closed and that the people who were working there are no longer working there. That is due to illegal orders having been given. They do not know whether they should, in order to comply with the law, go back to their former employment. There is no question but that there could be actions for civil damages and it is possible that criminal offences have been committed. The only way in which this situation can properly be corrected is by an Act of Parliament, which was the solution adopted on the previous occasion. The first sentence of para. (4) of the Standing Order states:"In determining whether a matter is urgent Mr. Speaker shall have regard to the probability of the matter being brought before the House in time by other means."
What could concern us more than that a court has determined that the Secretary of State has acted illegally? The position is now totally in limbo until it is corrected by this House."In determining whether a matter is proper to be discussed Mr. Speaker shall have regard to the extent to which it concerns the administrative responsibilities of Ministers of the Crown."
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) gave me notice before 12 o'clock of his desire to make an application under Standing Order No. 9—though in different language from that which he read out to the House. That being the case, I will be pleased to have a copy of his remarks.The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
First, the hon. Gentleman was quite wrong to allege that I had said that I was expecting a statement. It was quite wrong to say that. I never expect anything other than which turns up. The hon. Gentleman has raised an important question, to which obviously the whole House has listened with concern. I am expected, and instructed by the House, to take into account the several factors set out in the Order—to some of which the hon. Gentleman referred. But the House has specifically asked me not to give reasons for my decision. I have given careful consideration to the representations of the hon. Gentleman, but I have to rule that they do not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House."the actions taken by the Secretary of State for Social Services and persons acting under him during the period in which the administration of the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham area health authority was being conducted illegally".
Her Majesty's Government (Economic And Industrial Policies)