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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 980: debated on Thursday 6 March 1980

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Northern Ireland

Constitutional Conference

1.

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

6.

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

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the constitutional conference currently being held at Stormont.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made with the talks on the future administration of Northern Ireland.

Since I last reported to the House the conference has met on 11 occasions, making a total of 28 half-day sessions to date. The conference has been engaged in detailed discussion of matters central to its task. It has completed a careful examination of how a devolved administration might operate and has discussed the crucial question of the role of minorities within a new system. There remains a substantial amount of ground to cover and it is too early to indicate when the conference will conclude its work or what level of agreement will materialise. I have gained a deeper understanding of the viewpoints of the parties at the conference and they have similarly gained a better understanding of each other's point of view. All the participants have continued to demonstrate their commitment to the task of the conference, and I remain convinced that it will contribute to political advance in Northern Ireland.

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

Despite the non cooperation of the Official Unionist Party and the die-hard weekend speeches of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will the Secretary of State give a categoric assurance that any form of devolved assembly for Northern Ireland will not simply be a resurrection of the old Stormont system which helped to cause many of the injustices in Northern Ireland, which in turn helped to bring about the emergence of violence in Northern Ireland?

Without commenting on the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's observation I can give the categoric assurance he asks for. It is clearly spelt out in paragraph (4) of the Government's working paper which the conference is discussing that the Government are not contemplating a return to the arrangements which prevailed before 1972.

While nobody would expect particularly rapid progress on a matter that has been going on since the reign of King Henry II—let alone more controversial monarchs of the seventeenth century—will my right hon. Friend say that sooner or later this matter will have to be brought to a conclusion and that a full statement will be made to the House of Commons?

Yes, Sir. We are engaged in the process of seeking agreement about how to proceed. It is the firm belief of the Government that we ought to proceed and that the existing arrangements are not satisfactory. We wish to advance. Of course the House of Commons will be brought into the consideration of these matters at every stage because in the end it is Parliament that will decide the future arrangements in Northern Ireland.

A number of people who are not part of the constitutional conference have made suggestions about the future of Northern Ireland. What would be the attitude of the Secretary of State should any of the parties to the conference wish to invite someone to come along and speak to a proposal that had been made?

Among the people who have produced ideas for the considera- tion of the conference is my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) and I and the other parties to the conference are grateful to him for the trouble that he has taken and for the paper that he has submitted. As he requested, his paper has been placed before the conference but the conference has not so far thought it necessary or right to invite people to come and speak to their papers. This is something that the conference will be considering during the next few weeks.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he still has the good will of Liberal Members who hope that the talks will be a success? Is he further aware that I agree with the article on qualified majority by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) which appeared in The Guardian? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government do not intend to continue with direct rule for longer than necessary?

The answer to the last question is "Yes, Sir." I am grateful for the continued support of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). I agree that the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) is valuable.

During the Secretary of State's long periods of boredom and frustration as he presides over the time-wasting conference will he find time to reflect that for the protection of minorities and for the securing of powersharing no instrument has been devised which compares with the House of Commons?

The right hon. Member is wrong in thinking that the conference is time-wasting. It is far from time-wasting. It is addressing itself seriously to difficult questions. I note the right hon. Gentleman's view about the way in which we operate here. I hope that he will come to the conference table and argue that view.

The Secretary of State has given an assurance to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) about paragraph (4) of the working paper. Will he assure the House that a revival of the system which obtained in the first five months of 1974 is not under consideration by the Government nor being discussed at the conference?

Yes, Sir. Paragraph (4) of the paper contains that assurance. I remind the hon. Gentleman of paragraph (5) of the working paper which states that arrangements must be acceptable to both sides of the community.

While I totally reject the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) may I ask the Secretary of State to accept that many people of good will in Northern Ireland and in the House of Commons have deliberately refrained from making any comment on the conference on the ground that that might jeopardise the result? Does he agree that everyone in Northern Ireland recognises that to continue the conference is nothing more than a charade? Is it not evident that no agreement will be reached at the conference? Does he agree that the sooner the House has an opportunity to debate what has or what has not happened the better so that we can inform the people of the United Kingdom what a charade the conference is?

I cannot agree that the conference is a charade. It is nothing of the kind. I note the request for a debate in the House. I shall ensure that the attention of the Leader of the House is drawn to it. There is still a certain amount to do in the conference. We have not yet completed our agenda. Many important matters have still to be considered. It would not be right to bring the conference to an end now.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the growing concern and anger in Northern Ireland because the promised security initiative is being deliberately held up by the Government as a result of the constitutional conference, which has been dead for a considerable time? Does he agree that it is time that the Government did something to destroy the Provisional IRA, which the Prime Minister promised to do on her two visits to Northern Ireland?

There is a question about security later on the Order Paper and I shall answer that question then. The conference is not dead. Those who attend it are very much alive.

I shall call one more hon. Member from either side to ask a supplementary question before calling the Front Bench spokesman.

Although the vast majority of the ordinary people in Northern Ireland want peace and an agreement of some kind that will make their lives bearable, is it not the case that the conference has been rendered useless by the Official Unionist Party, which has openly mocked the conference, and by the DUP's intransigent attitude? May we have a debate in the House because we all know that the conference will produce no useful results?

I shall draw the request for a debate to the attention of the Leader of the House. The conference discussions on Northern Ireland, are not easy. Nobody ever expected them to be. I did not expect a solution to be found quickly or for the problems to be solved in the twinkling of an eye. That is no reason not to explore possible ways of advancing politically with the political leaders in the Province.

What other important matters has the conference not yet discussed? What timetable does the Secretary of State have in mind for the extent of the conference and for the Government's deliberations on what may or may not come out of it?

We have yet to discuss how we determine the acceptability of arrangements which may be agreed. We must also discuss a number of financial arrangements. One newspaper thought that that involved how much members of a new assembly would be paid. That is not correct. That item covers how the financial arrangements of the Province might be dealt with by a new assembly. A number of other items of importance remain to be discussed.

We have never been definite about a timetable. I am not definite now. In January I said that by Easter it might be appropriate to reflect on everything that has happened. I am not sure that we shall meet that target. However, since there is no fixed timetable, that does not matter. We want to discuss among ourselves the important matters as long as it is useful to do so—but no longer.

Will the Secretary of State use the opportunity to consult more widely in the Province on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in order to involve some bodies which are not participating in the talks? Will he report to the House before the Government's hard proposals are known and when the proposals still have green edges? Will he report to the House on the basis of maximum information about what has happened at the conference?

It is important for the House to be brought into the discussion. I am not sure that the phrase "green edges" will go down well with everybody. However, I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says in a parliamentary sense. I am anxious to take the House with us on this issue. The hon. Member asked about wider consultation. I have already held meetings with people who were not invited to the conference. It is important to include more than the four invited parties.

Elderly Persons

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has future plans to increase the number of geriatric beds and places in old people's homes in Belfast.

Yes, Sir. Plans are in hand to increase the number both of hospital beds and of residential places for the care of the elderly in Belfast.

I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging answer. Does he accept that, whatever other section of the Northern Ireland community is affected by the Government's financial cuts, those who are geriatric or disoriented and who cannot advance their own cause should not be affected? Will the Minister consider using Malone Place hospital—which used to be a gynaecological unit—for geriatric patients?

In the next year or two we plan to increase substantially the number of beds available to that category of patient. I shall reflect upon what the hon. Gentleman says.

Does the Minister accept that the problem involves not only the number of beds but adequate staff and facilities? While I congratulate the Minister on his small announcement, may I ask him to explain to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) that the consequence of supporting the Government on the vote of confidence recently has been precisely to limit the amount of help that can be given to the elderly in Northern Ireland?

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) was very wise to support the Government in the vote the other night. The Government's intentions and plans do not incorporate any cuts in the provisions of health services in Northern Ireland.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that many people will be grateful to him for his answer. Could he be a little more specific and give us an indication of the number of extra beds he has planned and say whether there are any planned for East Belfast?

I have quite a collection of figures here. I believe that it would be more convenient if I were to set them out either in a written answer, if the hon. Gentleman cares to table a question, or write to him about this. However, two 72-bed geriatric units of the Ulster hospital will be completed this year.

I feel that I have been here before. The statement made by the Minister has been made regularly—

Order. That may well be so. I know that the hon. Gentleman is about to come to the question, but we are in a hurry.

Is the Minister aware that statements of that kind on provision for the elderly have been made regularly in the House by successive Conservative Governments? Is the Minister being truthful in what he is saying, bearing in mind what has been said and what has happened?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the answer I have given is very truthful. If he will come to the House again I shall be able to inform him of the actual completion of the units that we are talking about.

De Lorean Company

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the purpose and amount of additional financial assistance currently sought by the De Lorean Company from public funds; and if he will take steps to ensure that no such request is approved without the prior approval of Parliament.

Under the terms of the agreement between the Department of Commerce and the company, entered into by the previous Administration in August 1978, the company is required to approach the Department about any additional funding needed for reasons outside the company's control. Accordingly, the De Lorean company has approached the Government and, although for reasons of commercial confidentiality I cannot disclose details of the request, I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall examine this application most rigorously and critically before a decision is taken.

Is not my hon. Friend aware that there are many Government Members and, I suspect, one or two Opposition Members, who had lived in hope that one of the first actions of the Secretary of State would have been to demolish this piece of masonry from the foundations upwards? Before we lay on any extra saunas, sun-parlours, or anythink else, for this extraordinary affair, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that up to now responsibility has rested soley with the Labour Party? We should not contemplate landing ourselves with some measure of responsibility for it. May the House have an opportunity to discuss this matter before any further funds are committed?

As my hon. Friend knows, and as I have told the House on several occasions, the Government inherited an agreement and an arrangement which they now have a duty to honour. There can be no other way of proceeding with an industrial development policy, which is of such critical importance to Northern Ireland, than on the basis of the truthful acceptance of the situation as laid down in a binding agreement. I fully understand my hon. Friend's anxiety, but we have no intention of, as he puts it, dem- olishing this enterprise. It is our firm conviction that with effort and good will on all sides, we shall make the operation successful.

Could the Minister add just one sentence? What is the rate of unemployment in the area where this factory will be situated?

As the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) will know, the rate of unemployment in the Belfast area is now about 11·6 per cent. If this project is completed we hope that about 2,000 jobs will be created.

Will the Minister take it from me that, no matter what criticisms have been made of this project, it would be in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland for it to succeed? Will he confirm that this application is not for any advance in the project but is prompted by inflation rates? Is the amount in question in the region of £5·6 million, which is the amount to which I drew the Minister's attention at our last Question Time?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and the support that he gives to this project. As he will understand, I am not prepared to disclose the amount for which application has been made. However, I can affirm that under the terms of the agreement, matters of costs outside the Company's control include both inflation and currency fluctuations.

Will the Minister accept that one of the main reasons why the previous Government undertook to involve themselves with this company was the terrible scourge of unemployment in the immediate area surrounding West Belfast? Undertakings were given that the Government would set up training procedures so that people who had suffered longterm unemployment could acquire the necessary skills to enable them to find employment in this establishment. Is he further aware that there is a great deal of disquiet about the fact—this is confirmed in a letter I received last week from the Minister—that it is to be the policy of this company to employ people who already have skills, which means that the long-term unemployed will have no chance of obtaining employment?

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has received a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister of State about the unemployment problems in that area. I wish only to confirm that the policy of the company is to seek workers who are fitted for the employment that is offered. There are substantial training facilities available and everybody from the West Belfast area, or any other area, should apply as jobs are being advertised currently.

Will the Minister go further and join me in congratulating De Lorean on overcoming many of its initial problems and obtaining 42,000 advance orders? Nevertheless, and following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said, will the Minister reaffirm the commitment of successive Governments that one of the prime objectives of the project is to mitigate the high level of unemployment in West Belfast? Will the Minister declare that there will be no backsliding on this issue and so inform the House now? Will the Minister also join me in requesting that the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) should take a holiday from his characteristically unhelpful criticism of this project? Thirdly, will the Minister agree that when the Prime Minister described the hon. Member for Knutsford as potential Cabinet material she was merely making one more serious miscalculation?

Order. I must remind the House that supplementary questions are getting longer and longer. There were three or four supplementary questions there.

I obviously applaud the efforts made by the De Lorean company to make this project succeed. I recognise that the company will draw substantially on labour from West Belfast. We have been as good as our word by bringing to West Belfast several important new investment projects in recent months, including 450 potential jobs in a trim company with which De Lorean will be associated. As regards my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), the hon. Member for Pudsey is willing to take very fast rising balls outside the off stump any day of the week.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the nature of my hon. Friend's replies, I shall raise this matter again on every possible opportunity.

I gather that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) wants to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Taoiseach (Meeting)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when next he expects to meet the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends next to meet the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins : I have no plans to do so.

I welcome that answer from the Secretary of State. Despite Mr. Haughey's decision to postpone his threat to use his diplomatic services to blackmail Her Majesty's Government, will the Secretary of State assert that the internal affairs of the United Kingdom are the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government alone and are subject to no external influence?

I repeat what I have said many times before. The affairs of Northern Ireland are for Her Majesty's Government, the House and the people of Northern Ireland alone.

Is it correct that Mr. Haughey informed the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister of the contents of the speech that he delivered recently to his party conference before he made that speech? Do the Government intend to counter the rabid publicity and propaganda campaign that Mr. Haughey has announced and ensure that British embassies throughout the world expose the hypocrisy of the Republic, which refuses to extradite wanted men to the United Kingdom?

I do not know about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but Mr. Haughey did not tell me about his speech. The hon. Gentleman speaks of a publicity effort. It is the business of embassies and our representation abroad to do their best to present the true facts about the United Kingdom, including the Province of Northern Ireland, and this they do, I hope, successfully.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his plans and seek an early meeting with the Prime Minister of the Republic to discuss a possible extension of the areas of common interest that exist between the two parts of the island of Ireland—I have in mind interests such as transport, water supply, electricity, tourism, sport, agriculture and culture—and perhaps move some way towards reconciliation between the two parts?

I do not need to involve the Taoiseach in that. There is well established machinery for dealing with such matters. There are consultative committees and groups that meet to discuss matters of common interest that have a cross-border connotation. That work has been going on for many years and it continues. If it is necessary to invoke the assistance of the Government of the Republic to make it go better and faster, I shall do so.

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the Prime Minister the welcome that was given in Northern Ireland to her retort to Mr. Haughey's claim of jurisdiction over Northern Ireland and her assertion that that would not be changed without the consent of the majority of the people of Ulster?

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to convey that personally in about 15 minutes.

Extradition

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on how many occasions during the last five years the Royal Ulster Constabulary has sought the extradition of persons from the Irish Republic in connection with explosions, murders and attempted murders in Northern Ireland: and on how many occasions these extradition requests have been granted.

Between 1 January 1975 and 31 December 1979 the RUC sent a total of 17 warrants to the Garda seeking the extradition of persons for the offences in question. Two of these persons have been extradited.

Are there not many more persons now resident in the Republic whom the RUC would like to interview? Is it a fact that the RUC has not made extradition requests in all cases where it was possible to do so? Why has it not done so, since the failure of the South to extradite murderers would expose it to public ridicule, which it richly deserves?

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are a number of reasons why extradition might not be sought. One reason is uncertainty about where the wanted man might be. It is not always certain that he is to be found in the Republic. There are occasions when the known practice of the Government in the Republic, in the light of their own High Court procedures, makes it obviously pointless even to try to secure extradition.

Although it is second-best to extradition, will my hon. Friend tell the House what progress is being made with cases brought under the criminal jurisdiction legislation?

We have successfully brought two prosecutions under the so-called extra-territorial legislation. My hon. Friend will know that that can apply only to cases relating to offences committed after 1 June 1976.

The Secretary of State recently said that three more cases were being taken under that legislation. What is the position in those cases? When are the prosecutions likely to be brought?

All the facts and papers have been sent to the authorities in the Republic. I cannot say when the cases will come forward. We have no reason to believe that there will be any untoward delay in the cases being brought to trial.

Unemployment

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will state the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland on 1 March 1980.

The level of unemployment in Northern Ireland on 14 February 1980, the latest date for which information is available, was 11·6 per cent.

Will the Minister confirm that the unemployment level is the worst since 1930? Does he agree that if a Unionist Administration at Stormont were presiding over these figures it would be the butt of ridicule from both sides of the Chamber? What does the hon. Gentleman intend to do over the next few months to rectify the situation?

They are not the worst figures since 1930, but they are still unacceptably high. The hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a gradual and consistent increase in unemployment since 1974—when there were about 27,000 unemployed—to 64,000 in 1978. Unemployment was stabilised in 1979. Since then there has been an increase which we find unacceptable. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been working hard in inducing considerable new investment to come into the Province. Some 14 new firms have come to the Province in the past year or so, providing about 4,600 new manufacturing jobs in 1979. Recently 2,825 jobs were announced for this year. LEDU has established 1,330 jobs in small firms.

Will the Minister recognise that, according to figures quoted to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras North (Mr. Stallard) in early February, during the previous Question Time devoted to Northern Ireland, the statistics have risen in some areas to 23 to 26 per cent? In view of the high and growing rate of unemployment in the Province, does he agree that there is an even greater need to embark upon the functional co-operation on economic matters to which attention has already been drawn? Does he accept that there is a need to get together with the Republic to ascertain what investment may be jointly undertaken in terms of development projects between the two countries?

The right hon. Gentleman is right. There are some small pockets of extremely high unemployment. In Cookstown, for example, the level is 24·1 per cent. That is the highest level at present. It is a level that we find unacceptable. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that discussions on economic matters are proceeding the whole time with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to ascertain what joint effort can do to improve the unemployment figures. However, we are being successful in bringing in new industry by consistently employing in Northern Ireland the highest incentives that exist in the United Kingdom.

The Minister has quoted the job attraction figures, but he has not said that 4,600 redundancies have occurred within the past two months. Job attraction spreads over a much longer period. What does he intend to do to counter that loss? Is he aware that it is said by one economic analyst in the Province that if the loss is extrapolated it will lead to a minimum unemployment rate of 14 per cent. within the next year?

The redundancy figures have remained constant annually for the past three years. However, there was an increase in total jobs of 10,000 from June 1978 until June 1979. The problem is the increase in the size of the labour force. Bearing in mind the security problem in Northern Ireland, it becomes more and more difficult, even with great financial incentives, to attract new investments into the Province.

Terrorism (Propaganda)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he proposes to take to control Irish Republican Army propaganda; and what estimate he has made of the value of propaganda by terrorist organisations.

In a democratic society the free expression of views by individuals or groups is a fundamental freedom. The Government do not believe in censorship and we shall continue to rely on the responsibility and sensitivity of the media in the reporting of events.

The value of propaganda by terrorist or other organisations is very difficult if not impossible to assess. But deeds speak louder than words, and the vast majority of Northern Ireland citizens, whatever their background, reject and abhor the methods of murder and violence which the terrorists use and seek to justify by means of propaganda.

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that when the IRA claims responsibility for a particularly barbarous and brutal act, it likes to hear it reported over the radio that it has claimed responsibility because it gives it almost a legitimacy and respectability as an organisation, as opposed to the band of murderers and thugs that it is?

I disagree with my hon. Friend on that point. To be identified publicly with an event such as the La Mon massacre is to be identified with the worst possible type of rejection of humanity and the worst possible type of bestial brutality. It does that group far more harm than good.

Does the Minister take seriously the suggestion that terrorist organisations have infiltrated certain elements of the press and broadcasting services? Is it not reflected in the recording?

I cannot answer such a question without more solid evidence than can be adduced in a question and answer period in the House. However, if the hon. Gentleman wishes privately to give me some factual evidence which can be added to the routine investigations that the security forces undertake in all areas of sensitivity we shall consider it carefully.

Security

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he considers that there has been any improvement since 3 May of last year.

14.

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

Since I last addressed the House on 7 February, 38 people have been charged with terrorist-type offences, including nine with murder and three with attempted murder. Of these, four persons have been charged in connection with the attempt to bomb a Belfast bank on 15 February, and three persons have been charged with the murder of a man in Belfast last Friday. During that period the security forces also seized 2,508 rounds of ammunition and 14 weapons. Two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were killed in Rosslea on 11 February. Three civilians have been shot dead since 7 February, one of them following a cold-blooded kidnapping; and a young boy has died after being struck by a missile during the stoning of an Army vehicle by a crowd of youths. During last weekend 44 buses were destroyed or damaged in terrorist attacks on bus depots in Belfast and Newry, and on Monday, 8 explosive devices exploded outside business premises in the main street of Maghera, causing extensive damage to two premises. In addition, I regret to tell the House that about two hours ago the body of a man was found in County Armagh, near the border. Full details are not yet available. I am waiting for a detailed report.

As for the second part of the question put by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) the number of deaths sustained as a result of terrorist activity in the period from last May to February this year has increased. On the other hand, there has been a substantial reduction in the level of injuries, and in the number of explosions. But statistics give a very partial picture. The IRA is more isolated than ever from the sympathy, let alone the support, of ordinary people. I do not pretend that the end of terrorism is in sight, but I believe that we are making progress.

Does the Secretary of State not agree that those details are totally unacceptable? Does he further agree that, if anything, they point solely to the fact that his whole security policy must be reviewed? Does he remember that when he spoke to the House on 7 February, he gave an undertaking that he was reviewing security policy in relation to public transport? In his statement he said that considerable damage has been done in that sphere. Will he review the security arrangements for public transport once again?

The Government's security policy was the subject of debate just before Christmas. It was supported by the House. It is, of course, under continual review. We are constantly seeking ways of making it more effective. A review takes place not once a month, but all the time.

As regards public transport, at that time we were discussing three deaths that had occurred on a train. Although I very much regret, as we all do, that buses have been damaged and destroyed in a bus depot, it is some comfort that no one was killed.

I have read with interest the recent speeches of the GOC and the Chief Constable. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the level of cooperation between the Army and the RUC?

Yes, Sir. The Chief Constable and the GOC work closely together. As my hon. Friend has said, each of them made a speech about a fortnight ago. I think that the GOC used the phrase:

"the Chief Constable's and my mind work as one".
That can be only beneficial.

Will the Secretary of State accept that the body lying at the border today is that of Mr. Harry Livingstone? He was a decent, hardworking young man. He was a pillar of the local community and a former member of the UDR. No doubt he was murdered by the IRA. His murderer is probably now celebrating in a pub in the Republic. Will the right hon. Gentleman also accept that Mr. Livingstone was a personal friend of mine? It is typical of the situation in which he lived, that when I last talked to him he was attending the funeral of one of his colleagues who had been murdered in similar circumstances. How can political progress, or any other progress, be made in Northern Ireland if those people have to live in such circumstances, and have to meet their deaths whenever the IRA so chooses?

I am very sad that the man who has been killed was a friend of the hon. Gentleman. I think that he has more information than me at his disposal. He knows more about the identity and history of the man. He knows more also about his killers. I do not have that information at the moment. Naturally, we shall follow up the incident with the greatest care. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information.

Any death by terrorist activity is one too many. We continually strive to reduce the number of deaths. I know that the hon. Gentleman realises that it is impossible to provide round-the-clock protection for everyone in Northern Ireland. I know that the efforts that we are making will bring about a gradual decrease in terrorist activity. I hope that one day those activities will be reduced to such a level that they will no longer be a menace to anyone.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 6 March.

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. This evening I shall give a reception for representatives of British industry.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to comment on the dismal performance of Sir Denis Follows yesterday before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs? Will she consider in particular his comment to the effect that he could better judge the interests of the British people than their Parliament? On the day when Afghanistan faces further savage repression will my right hon. Friend remind us of how many other countries have agreed to boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow this summer?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I read the reports in the press. I was astonished at what Sir Denis Follows is reported to have said. As regards his remark about Parliament, I think that we are the best judges of that. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will find time for a debate so that our views may be made known.

Secondly, I expressed my views to Sir Denis Follows in no uncertain way in a letter that I wrote to him. That letter has been published. I told him that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan meant that:
"for British athletes to take part in the Games in Moscow this summer would be for them to seem to condone an international crime."— [Official Report, 21 February 1980; Vol. 979, col. 274.]
Thirdly, an increasing number of countries think that it would be totally inappropriate for their athletes to attend the Moscow Games.

During the day will the Prime Minister have a word with her right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning his forthcoming Budget? Will she remind him that, unless he takes serious action to assist the plight of the lowly-paid, her Government may face a winter of discontent that will make the last one look like a vicarage tea-party?

Whatever problems we may have had this winter, they have been but a pale shadow of those that were faced last winter. Of course my right hon. and learned Friend is closely considering the Budget. He is receiving many representations and no doubt he will take the hon. Gentleman's suggestion into account.

Will my right hon. Friend find time during her busy day to reflect on the present sad state of Anglo-French relations? Does she accept that whatever difficulties individual departmental Ministers may have in resolving their problems with the French, she has responsibility for maintaining and asserting the fundamental identity of interest between this country and France in all those things that really matter, such as foreign affairs and defence?

With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that I would fully accept the premise that underlies his question. Relations between us are good. There is a disagreement about budget contributions. We think that we should not pay as much to the European budget as the French pay. Certainly we are paying a lot more at present. There is also disagreement over the sheepmeat issue. However, apart from those two matters, we still work in close co-operation within the European framework and bilateral relations.

Will the right hon. Lady reflect further on the progressive developments in Zimbabwe? Is she aware of the press reports that there may be up to 60,000 white people leaving Rhodesia to come to this country in consequence of developments? Will she prevail on the Governor, Lord Soames, to persuade the white population to stay put and give a chance to a multi-racial society in that part of the world to make progress?

With respect, it is far too soon to make any further comments on what is happening in Zimbabwe. As far as I can see, reports coming out about the formation of a Government, which would include the other wing of the Patriotic Front and representatives of the white community, are good. I have every hope and reason to believe that the arrangements will go ahead in a spirit of reconciliation and hope for the future.

May I draw the Prime Minister's attention to a small but significant harbinger of industrial spring? Is she aware that a firm in my constituency, Lewmar Marine, operating in one of the world's most competitive environments, has achieved the unique distinction of supplying its winches to both the British and American contender for the America Cup? Does she agree that that presents a refreshing contrast to the administrative disruption threatened by the Society of Civil and Public Servants this morning?

I am delighted to hear of the success of the firm in my hon. Friend's constituency. Had I known of it, I would have invited members of that firm to join us for a drink this evening.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she list her official engagements for Thursday 6 March.

Does the right hon. Lady have time today to see her Fisheries Ministers? Is she aware that the industry has been led by them to expect that the Government will act soon over the crisis that the industry faces through subsidised competition, high oil prices and the Common Market fisheries policy? Will she take the opportunity soon to make an announcement, for the industrys benefit.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. and hon. Friends are constantly in touch with the fishing industry. They are doing their best to reach agreement both in Europe and with the fishing industry on the best way forward. We have every sympathy with the fishermen in the difficulties that they face.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the addition of 850,000 employees to local government payrolls over the past 20 years has not resulted in a proportionate increase in the quality or quantity of services to the general public? Will my right hon. Friend therefore take time to consider how to reduce public expenditure in that sector without a disproportionate effect on front-line services?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The improvement in services has nothing like matched the increase in the number of staff. In many cases equally good services could be achieved with substantially fewer staff. I hope that local authorities will take full note of what my hon. Friend says.

Will the Prime Minister take time to recall the piece in the Conservative manifesto that talked of restoring to every child, regardless of background, the right to progress as far as his or her capabilities would allow? In view of that objective, how does she explain the philistine destruction of education in Scotland, with the removal of school meals and transport, and the 25 per cent. cut in the BBC education broadcasts, which will be 100 per cent. next year?

I fully reaffirm that objective. If I may respectfully say so, there is someone standing at this Dispatch Box who is an example of it.

When we consulted local authorities about the future of education, they made it clear that they would prefer to make economies in school meals and transport services rather than in the classroom. We have followed that principle. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman says about the BBC, it will of course, have to live within its budget. I believe that the new television licence is £34, which seems quite high to some of us. It is for the BBC to decide where it makes economies. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be pretty robust in what he says to the BBC about that matter.

Has the Prime Minister had a chance to notice that the clearing banks have announced a level of profits that is really very high? Does my right hon. Friend agree that these are essentially windfall profits and should be taxed accordingly?

I have noticed what is happening to bank profits. Indeed, I have previously commented on them from this Dispatch Box. I pointed out that the tendency is for bank profits to be high when times are bad for others and a good deal lower when times are good for others.

I must leave aside any question of taxation. We shall be giving our minds to that on 26 March.

If the problem is that times are bad, as the Prime Minister says, will she in her message of encouragement to the Conservative candidate for Southend, East, explain why company insolvencies and personal bankruptcies are increasing so rapidly?

The right hon. Gentleman may wish me to communicate certain matters to my candidate, but may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, whatever times may be like this year, the figures published indicate that car production this February exceeds that for last February?

I am sure that we are all happy to hear that car production is increasing rapidly, but will the right hon. Lady accept that if there is a rapidly increasing number of company insolvencies and personal bankruptcies people will not be able to buy those cars? Will the right hon. Lady answer my question whether she proposes to explain that to her candidate?

I propose to explain to my candidate what he very well knows—that there is only one way to try to bring inflation down, and that is the policy that we are pursuing. We should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman encouraged people not to ask for very high wages without extra production, which the right hon. Gentleman knows will only increase inflation and prices.

Is there any chance that the right hon. Lady will now answer my question?

I have answered it. Is there any chance that the right hon. Gentleman will ask for wages to be kept in line with productivity?

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 6 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to study the latest available figures for the number of crimes committed in the United Kingdom last year? Will she accept that 896,000 robberies and muggings took place at a time when 1½ million people were prosecuted for traffic offences? When will the Conservative Party promise in its manifesto to switch the emphasis from traffic offences to real crime be put into effect?

The police have a duty to see that the law is observed in both instances. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is endorsing the Conservative policy to increase pay to the police and do everything possible to increase recruitment.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), will my right hon. Friend take time today to study the survey into expenditure by local authorities commissioned by Sir Frank Marshall on behalf of the Conservative Party? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the knowledge that has been manifest through that survey that, while local authorities have been cutting services, they have not been cutting manpower to the same degree? Will my right hon. Friend continue to impress on local authorities that it is essential that services are maintained and bureaucracy cut wherever possible?

I have seen that survey and I agree that it reveals a disappointing state of affairs. It is all too easy for some local authorities to cut sensitive services, when they should be cutting the numbers employed in the administrative bureaucracy. I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says.

Will the Prime Minister tell the mill workers of Lancashire, who do not earn high wages, who are not militant and who do not make excessive wage demands, why hundreds and hundreds of them are losing their jobs, month after month?

May I say respectfully that I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's assessment of those workers in that industry. Labour relations have been excellent and the workers have gladly accepted new technology and new machinery. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade who, as he knows, when faced with a difficult decision on carpet yarn, took action through Europe.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that when the TUC tears up its guidelines on picketing in a fit of pique against the Employment Bill, it is only playing party politics? That is not the proper role of trade unions.

I had always thought that those guidelines on picketing properly reflected the criminal law as it stands. The criminal law is not being changed, so I trust that those guidelines will not be changed.