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Commons Chamber

Volume 981: debated on Monday 17 March 1980

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House Of Commons

Monday 17 March 1980

The House met at helf-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Archbishop Of Canterbury (Enthronement)

I have to inform the House that I have been invited to attend the enthronement of His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tuesday 25 March. I therefore ask the indulgence of the House and for leave of absence to attend the ceremony.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Contingencies Fund, 1978–79

Account ordered:

Of the Contingencies Fund 1978–79 showing (1) the Receipts and Payments in connection with the Fund in the year ended the 31st day of March 1979, and (2) the Distribution of the Capital of the Fund at the commencement and close of the year; with the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.—[Mr. Lawson.]

Oral Answers To Questions

Wales

P Leiner And Son

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a further statement concerning his investigations into the investment by the Welsh Development Agency in P. Leiner and Son.

The Welsh Development Agency has made a detailed statement, a copy of which my hon. Friend has received. I have nothing to add to it.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether his predecessor and his predecessor's Department were aware that at the time the WDA made its £2 million so-called investment in P. Leiner and Son more than a year ago that company owed the WDA substantially more than one-third of this sum? If not, why not?

My hon. Friend will know that I am not advised exactly of the information available to my predecessor. But this investment was submitted to my predecessor for approval because of the option clause contained in it, and not for the overall investment as such. I do not believe that at the time it was known that the scale of the loss was as great as later transpired.

Whatever the outcome of that investment, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, as the WDA is trying to prevent a number of private enterprise failures, there are bound to be some failures but there have been many successes, and the role of the WDA is to help firms in difficulty to try to preserve jobs as well as to play a part in the economy?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to the many successes in Wales. I have emphasised them in recent speeches. There is a lot that is going well for Wales, and it is right to emphasise it. Nevertheless, the questions being asked about this investment by the WDA are fully justified in view of the substantial loss that has been made.

In considering the future in the broadest sense, is it not possible that £2 million is too large a proportion of the resources available to the WDA to be devoted to one enterprise? Would it not be more desirable for the available resources to be spread more widely and among more concerns?

That is a view that I expressed to the WDA at my first meeting with it. That was a worrying feature of this investment. Under the policies now being pursued by the WDA and the guidelines and my requests for it to concentrate on small firms when considering investment, I do not think that such a position could arise again.

Welsh Economy

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many representations he has received about the impact of the current exchange rate of the £ sterling on the Welsh economy.

I have received no specific representations on this matter; but some exporting firms in Wales have certainly commented on the effects of a strong £ sterling on their overseas business.

Does not the present unrealistically high exhange rate make it very difficult for the products of Welsh manufacturing industry to be exported, and does it not mean that cheap foreign imports can compete unfairly in the domestic market with the products of Welsh industry? Has my right hon. Friend drawn the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to this?

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is as aware of the benefits and disadvantages of the present level of the exchange rate as anyone. But it follows from what my hon. Friend said about cheap imports that the same applies to cheap raw materials for our manufacturing industries. There are benefits to be obtained as well as some disadvantages.

Whatever may be the damage caused by the current level of the exchange rate the real damage to the Welsh economy is created by the Government's monetary policy. Is it not now time to relax that policy, otherwise whole sections of Welsh industry will be decimated?

No. The real damage to the economy was caused by the overspending and excessive borrowing of the previous Government that this Government are having to put right. Today's interest rate is the direct result of the economic policies pursued by the previous Government and their Treasury team in which the right hon. Gentleman was a leading participant.

Is the Secretary of State aware, however, that there are factories that have closed primarily because of the effect of the exchange rate? I think of SCM in my own constituency. Is he aware of the devastating effect that the exchange rate is having on manufacturers of consumer goods, such as washing machines, and others? Surely, the loss in terms of export of these manufactures is far worse than the benefit of the raw materials which are imported more cheaply.

I have said that there are advantages and disadvantages. I do not question that some companies with large export businesses are finding their competitive position very difficult at present, even if they manage substantial improvements in productivity. As I have said, however, it is important that we should have cheap imports for our manufacturing sector, and this has an effect on the inflation rate. These are matters which my right hon and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take fully into account in framing his Budget.

At a time, however, when Welsh industry is feeling the impact of interest rates and of the high rate of sterling, how does the Secretary of State justify the fact that 50 per cent. of those workers who previously were in areas which enjoyed full development area status or special development area status in Wales will lose that benefit, while in Scotland it is only 1 per cent. and in the North of England it is only 25 per cent? Let not the right hon. Gentleman tell us that the others have intermediate area status, because the Government have so reduced the incentives there that the status is meaningless.

Of course, 94 per cent. of the working population of Wales will continue to receive regional aid because they live in assisted areas. We are concentrating help where it is most needed. It is relevant to the points which are being put to me about high interest rates that we should reduce public expenditure in this as in other sectors.

Road Traffic Signs

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether, in the interests of road safety, he will ensure that no more bilingual traffic signs are erected.

No, Sir. The policy of successive Governments has been for bilingual traffic signs to be erected in Wales, and I intend fully to uphold it.

As an Englishman, Mr. Speaker, I ask this question with a great deal of humility and trepidation, but I have a Welsh wife and five half-Welsh children, and a Welsh rugby international father-in-law, and consequently, great admiration for the Welsh culture and language. I feel just sufficiently emboldened to ask the Minister whether he will agree with me that traffic signs are basically there to give direction to people from far-away places, and whether he considers that the signs, for example, on the M4 outside Newport, those great cinemascope screens, in an area of Wales where a relatively small proportion of the population actually speak Welsh, achieve the purposes for which they are erected or whether in fact they lead to a certain amount of confusion and danger?

The signs on our roads in Wales are there for the benefit of visitors and of Welsh motorists as well, from whom I have had no complaints at all. There is no evidence to suggest that bilingual signs are a source of danger to road users. I remind the House that they have been in use perfectly successfully for many years.

Does not the Minister agree, and will he not remind his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), that, after many years of some dissension and disagreement, the Welsh people have at last accepted bilingual road signs and that we take it very much amiss that an outsider should be stirring things up in Wales?

I do not regard a motorist from England or my hon. Friend in any way as an outsider. Indeed, he and others are more than welcome to the Principality. It is not true to say that Welsh motorists and the Welsh people have completely accepted bilingual signs, but I think that we are getting used to them and using them effectively.

When does the Welsh Office intend to respond to the representations from Gwynedd county council—and the same argument applies to Dyfed—as to the order of signs, and whether it is not confusing to have the county council signs with the Welsh version first, and the Welsh Office signs with the English version first in Gwynedd and Dyfed?

The hon. Member knows that the matter of the precedence of Welsh on road signs, which has been proposed by Gwynedd, is a matter to which I have given consideration. I hope to make a report on the matter in the not-too-distant future.

Might it not help my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) if he could spend a holiday near Brieg, in central Switzerland, where within 30 miles one encounters signs in at least three languages?

I should be very happy for my hon. Friend to spend his holiday in Gwynedd and support our own tourist industry.

Welsh Economy

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what measures he proposes to stimulate the Welsh economy.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what measures he proposes to take to stimulate the economy of Wales.

In addition to the general economic policies of the Government which are aimed at reducing public sector borrowing and containing inflation, I shall press ahead with the major road programme and shall support the work of the development and promotional agencies to which I have made available substantial additional resources for use in steel closure areas.

With the Wales TUC forecasting an alarming 140,000 or more jobless for next year, however, does not the right hon. Gentleman have any new major job projects in mind for Wales? With regard to the North-East Wales economy, what credence should we give to the recent reports about 2,000 new jobs possibly being set up by British Aerospace, making wings for the European Airbus? Does he see the titanium smelter plant on Deeside coming on stream on time? Does he see the steel workers and textile workers coming out of a job getting employment prospects in those spheres?

The WDA is undertaking a major programme of site preparation and advance factory building. I think that it is agreed on all sides that this is one of the most effective inducements to new job creation in the Principality.

I understand that planning permission has now been given for the titanium plant and that it is proceeding.

On the aerospace question, I have seen the reports. I understand that the company is considering a number of possible options and that it has not taken any decisions yet. But, in view of the importance of the matter, I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry expressing my interest in the matter and I have asked to be kept fully informed of all developments.

In order to stimulate the Welsh economy, will not the right hon. Gentleman persuade the Secretary of State for Industry to restore the £36 million worth of regional development grants and selective assistance which he will be withdrawing from the Welsh economy as a result of rolling back the so-called map of regional development, thereby reducing the incentives to industrialists to come to Merthyr, Pontypridd, Swansea and other areas? This makes a nonsense of the right hon. Gentleman's claim that he has given us money—£48 million in South Wales or £15 million to Shotton and other places.

The right hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like, and he is talking about a figure which would become effective only after the current downgradings are completed. We have already indicated that we are reviewing the areas affected by current closure proposals. If upgradings take place as a result of those reviews, clearly additional sums of money will be injected into the Welsh economy on top of the announcements that I have already made.

In his weekly lecture to the Saundersfoot Conservatives, the Secretary of State accuses the Opposition of painting a far too gloomy picture in Wales. Does he not realise that the gloom is of his own making? With 92,000 people already unemployed, with daily redundancies being announced in the private sector, with a threat hanging over our steel and coal industries, and with no sense of urgency on the part of the Secretary of State for dealing with the problems of North Wales, such as those in Dinorwic, I make an offer to the right hon. Gentleman. We shall gladly alter the tone of our speeches if he shows greater concern and takes positive action to prevent the gloom from becoming reality.

I have announced some very substantial measures. The talk about an industrial desert, which has been used by a number of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues and by the Wales TUC, is seriously damaging to the Welsh economy.

I know of specific companies which have indicated that their investment decisions have been affected by this talk, and I hope that those who use such language, including the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), will remember the damage that they are doing to the Welsh people.

Welsh Development Agency

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has had any recent discussions with the chairman of the Welsh Development Agency.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that there is intense dissatisfaction in Newport with the efforts of the Welsh Development Agency? Does he accept that the assistance offered to that town is a fleabite compared with that given to surrounding areas? Does he further accept that only 350 jobs will be provided, although it is expected that no fewer than 8,000 jobs will be lost? Essentially, that money is being provided to alleviate the loss of steel jobs. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the WDA is acquainted with those facts? Will he further suggest that some of that money is spent on land drainage in southeast Newport, where ideal sites are available?

The WDA is currently engaged in discussions with the local authority. The hon. Gentleman must be aware of a lack of immediately available sites of sufficient size in the Newport area. The WDA and the other bodies involved are therefore planning a major development, initially in the Llantarnan area, alongside Cwmbran. Discussions are continuing to see whether further sites can be brought forward in the Newport area. The hon. Gentleman will know that talks have continued between the Minister of Transport, the British Transport Docks Board and local authorities concerning the possibility of available land in the dock area. Every possible effort has been made to bring forward new sites in New- port. However, such sites are not readily available for instant development.

When my right hon. Friend next sees the chairman of the WDA, will he draw his attention to the genuine ground for public disquiet engendered by the circumstances surrounding the Agency's investment in P. Leiner and Son? Will he suggest that there should be a full public inquiry into the circumstances of that investment, in order to ensure that the facts are established and that blame is apportioned where necessary?

The new chairman of the WDA has no responsibility for the original investment. However, he is taking a close interest in the issue. He has seen all the papers and has discussed the matter with me. There is more than a possibility that the Public Accounts Committee will wish to look into the investment and that might be the right way of proceeding.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear that there is no foundation to the stories circulating in South Wales that it is the Government's policy to permit a relaxation of regulations concerning factory building and planning arrangements on sites in South Wales that could be developed by the WDA?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the possibility of enterprise zones. The Government have made it clear that they are considering proposals for limited areas to be treated in that way. Announcements will be made in due course.

Does the Secretary of State recall that during his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), he said that the Department and the WDA were considering bringing forward new sites and projects in Newport? How are those projects to be financed? We have heard a great deal about the £48 million that is to be spent on Port Talbot and Llanwern, and about the £15 million that is to be spent on Shotton. However, is it not true that the WDA's budget for the coming year will be only £58 million, and that that sum represents only £6 million more than the original budget? If that is true, how on earth can those new schemes be in that area? Has my right hon. Friend re-brought forward?

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the problem is not one of finance. Immediate sites are not available. The WDA has made resources available in steel closure areas and will fully carry out a programme that it considers reasonable and practicable during the next two years.

Unemployment (Caernarvon)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales, what proposals he has to combat the anticipated severe increase in unemployment in the Caernarvon area.

I am fully aware of the unemployment problems facing the Caernarvon area and I am planning to discuss the situation with Gwynedd county council.

Is the Secretary of State fully aware of the magnitude of that increase? Is he aware that 1,300 redundancies have been registered with the local employment office in Caernarvon in recent weeks and that that adds to the escalating unemployment rate? Does he accept that the CEGB has been run down in Dinorwig, that the Bernard Wardle factory has been closed and that several public works have come to an end? Is it not therefere ridiculous to downgrade the Arfon area from a special development area to an ordinary one, when the unemployment rate will probably exceed 20 per cent?

I am fully aware of the situation in Gywnedd. I therefore hope to discuss the matter with Gwynedd county council within the next month. We have said that if the unemployment situation changes, we shall review those areas affected. That applies to this part of Wales as to others. I am also pressing on with the A55 road programme. That is of great importance to the area.

Three major projects will begin in the coming financial year; Bangor bypass, Colcon stage I and Hawarden bypass. In total those projects will cost £125 million. We are treating that programme as a matter of urgency.

What contribution does the programme of arson against country cottages in North Wales make to the creation of employment opportunities in that area? Has my right hon. Friend re-ceived from Plaid Cymru an unequivocal denunciation both of the acts and of the motives behind those acts?

I hope that all hon. Members will condemn actions that damage and destroy property, and that endanger life. I agree that such acts seriously damage the economy of the area. They weaken the tourist industry and they may prevent or deter new investment. I hope that all hon. Members and all political parties will vigorously condemn those acts. I hope that Plaid Cymru Members will join in that condemnation.

Is not the Secretary of State aware of the statements that I have made during successive sittings of the Standing Committee on the Housing Bill? Will he not draw those statements to the attention of his hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer)?

It might have been helpful if the hon. Gentleman had repeated his condemnation—if that is what it was—in unequivocal terms today. I have not read his remarks. However, if he condemned that arson, I welcome his statement.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking such a close personal interest in the affairs of North-West Wales and its economy? Does he not agree that we should stimulate small firms in that area? Will he therefore consider whether the WDA's present scheme for giving loans at lower rates of interest in rural areas and in small towns should be extended to other parts of Wales?

My hon. Friend is right. We attach great importance to encouraging small firms. We are taking several measures in order to meet that end. I have asked the WDA to concentrate its investment programme on the small firm sector. Loans at concessionary rates of interest are available to firms in rural areas. The agency has joined banks in launching a guarantee scheme. I hope that my hon. Friend will draw these various schemes and the services available from the agency to the attention of all interested and potentially interested customers.

In order to mitigate any effect on outside investment that may result from such arson, has the Secretary of State had discussions with the Home Secretary—as I understood he was to do—to ensure that no more irresponsible programmes stem from the BBC? Does he not agree that those programmes demonstrate that the BBC has colluded with arsonists and has presented unbalanced programmes which act as an incitement to arson?

I am in touch with my right hon. Friend. I expressed my views beforehand about holding the programme. I do not accept the case put forward by Sir Michael Swann in his letter to The Times justifying the programme. I believe that the programme gave a platform for the view of a small minority, which will encourage further such acts. The chief constable for North Wales has stated that it will make his task more difficult. I hope that the broadcasting authorities will consider carefully the consequences of their actions, when property and life are being put at risk.

Expenditure

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is now in a position to state in what way the additional £48 million will be spent in Wales.

Around £40 million will be allocated to the WDA and the rest to the Cwmbran new town development corporation. The money is for the provision of sites and advanced factories in the area affected by the planned reductions at Port Talbot and Lianwern.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the emphasis that the Government are placing on the problems of Wales will be welcomed by all hon. Members? However, will he and the Minister continue to make speeches such as that at the weekend to ensure that potential foreign investors are aware of the benefits of Wales? Will he deprecate the statements made by right hon. and hon. Members opposite, which serve only to damage future investment prospects in Wales? Will he school them to cease such pontifications?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is not only I who hold that view. It is shared by those responsible for the Development Cor- poration and the Welsh Development Agency and others who have the job to encourage new industry to come to Wales. Such statements and the travesty of the truth presented by those who make them add to the problems of the Principality and make it more difficult to attract new jobs to Wales.

As the Government are determined to further cut public expenditure and as private investment is falling, where will the growth in the Welsh economy come from over the next few years?

As a result of the reckless policies pursued by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues when they were in Government, we have excessive public expenditure and borrowing. As a result of our policies, there will be a gradual reduction in the public sector borrowing requirement, interest rates and inflation, and new investment will he given fresh confidence.

Will the Secretary of State accept that once again we have had the £48 million turned down? Will the right hon. Gentleman now confirm that the budget for the WDA for 1980–81 will be only £58 million, which is £6 million more than the orginal budget? Will he further confirm that the concentration will be in the steel areas, at the expense of other areas that have long been in need of such investment? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the poor areas of Wales are having to pay for the follies of this Government's steel policies?

If the right hon. Gentleman ponders a little further, I believe that he will agree that it is right to concentrate aid on the areas affected by steel closures and the present serious situation. He knows perfectly well that we publicly announced in this House a reduction in the WDA budget. Since then a new situation has developed, and I have found substantial additional funds to be concentrated on the infrastructure in those areas. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that additional expenditure and do something to encourage fresh development to come to Wales, instead of backing his colleagues in nonsensical talk about industrial deserts and painting a picture of gloom and despondency, which can do us nothing but harm.

Steel Industry Closures (Job Losses)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the European Economic Community regarding the anticipated 50,000 loss of jobs in Wales as a result of the cutbacks at Llanwern and Port Talbot steel plants and consequent effects on the coal and other industries.

My right hon. and hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Minister of State, Department of Industry and their officials have discussed the BSC proposals fully with the Commission, and I and my staff are in close touch with these developments. I do not anticipate that the number of jobs lost at Port Talbot and Llanwern will be as high as the hon. Gentleman estimates.

In view of the disastrous consequences on the Welsh economy of the closures, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that I and my colleagues who met Commissioner Vredeling in Brussels were surprised that the Government had had very little contact with the EEC and that the Welsh Office had had no contact? Will the right hon. Gentleman listen to the EEC's comments about not immediately making closures but, if they have to be made, phasing them over a period? Will he accept that in two or three years' time we may find that we have less steel-making capacity in this country than we require? Will the right hon. Gentleman further accept that the EEC is talking about cutting 6 million tonnes, while BSC is cutting 6 million tonnes in this country alone?

As usual, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I saw Commissioner Vredeling in Brussels before Christmas, and my officials have been in touch with EEC officials since then. We are maintaining the closest possible contact with the EEC in these matters, and we shall continue to ensure that we obtain everything to which we are entitled from EEC funds.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that statements by Commissioner Vredeling that the United Kingdom has been slower than other member States in taking up benefits available are untrue?

We have taken all the benefits to which we are entitled under existing schemes from the moment that it was possible to do so. As my hon. Friend knows, a completely new scheme has been proposed, which has not yet been approved by members of the EEC but which Commissioner Vredeling favours. We are now discussing the proposed scheme with the Commission to see whether it can be modified so that it is acceptable and can be used in addition to existing schemes. If it is modified in a suitable way, we shall certainly use it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Newport is possibly the largest steel making area in the country, yet the Government's plans are all based on providing 350 jobs when job losses of 8,000 are anticipated in the town? The right hon. Gentleman appears to be complacent not only about the attitude of the EEC but also about that of the WDA, and what does he plan to do?

The hon. Gentleman does himself no credit when he suggests that the work force at Llanwern, first, comes only from within the town of Newport, and secondly, can only travel to sites within the town of Newport. He is well aware that the travel-to-work area is much larger than that. I hope that he is not suggesting that the admirable Llantarnan site, for example, is not entirely suitable and will not provide jobs for his constituents, as well as others.

If the right hon. Gentleman believes that the figure of 50,000 job losses given by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) is somewhat high, what does he consider to be a reasonable estimate? When he met Commissioner Vredeling, did they discuss the consequences of steel closures? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that when we met Commissioner Vredeling a week ago he was far from satisfied with this Government's response to the steel industry closures and the effects on South Wales.

A number of things have yet to be decided, so I can not give an estimate of the total number of job losses. The National Coal Board has not yet come forward with firm proposals. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) was asking about the consequences of the cutbacks at Llanwern and Port Talbot, and I am not aware that any responsible body is suggesting that they would cause 50,000 job losses. I do not believe that even the right hon. Gentleman would suggest that. The Wales CBI came to see me last week and that was not its view.

When I saw Commissioner Vredeling, the latest BSC proposals had not been put, and I clearly could not discuss them with him. Since then, my officials have been in touch with Commission officials. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry, has had conversations with the Commission recently, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Colleges Of Education

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the future of the colleges of education in Wales.

The public sector institutions are moving towards the revised target capacities announced by the previous Administration in 1977.

In view of the high cost of living, will not the Minister agree that the student grants scheme should be made mandatory?

That it not my responsibility, but I shall pass the hon. Member's comments on to my right hon. Friend.

Will the hon. Gentleman indicate whether the Government will carry out a further review of the number and size of colleges in Wales?

Clearly every college in Wales must fight to some extent for its own survival. The right hon. Gentleman will know why—because of the falling rolls and the consequent drop in the demand for teachers. Also we must consider the increased standards of admission for entry into our colleges of education. Severe difficulties are imposed on them because the universities are attracting so many more candidates from the schools. We are not conducting any review, and we are confident that all the colleges will meet their targets.

Housing Finance

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from local authorities in Wales regarding the Government's proposals for housing finance.

Nine authorities have made formal or informal representations about the recent housing allocations. Five authorities have also asked for clarification of points of detail.

Does my hon. Friend consider that the reduced allocations will none the less permit virtually all authorities to carry out such housing programmes as are reasonably practicable, given the material resources available?

I can assure my hon. Friend that Rhuddlan, on account of which he has made representations to me, is getting more money in its allocation for next year that it is spending this year. If it runs into difficulties it may supplement its allocation by using the next proceeds of sale of council houses or land.

How on earth can the Government pretend that this is an adequate programme in relation to the available resources when in the construction industry we have enormous unemployment in Wales?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that a promise was given in November 1978 that for the coming year the authorities would get 80 per cent. allocated to them of their allocations for this year. We have abided by that promise.

Will my hon. Friend continue to encourage the housing associations in Wales, as being a good way for local authorities to provide housing places for those on housing waiting lists without any cost whatever to the ratepayers?

Certainly we have encouraged the housing associations. We have allocated more than £28 million to the housing corporation which should enable the housing associations to maintain the programmes that are currently running.

Can the Minister explain why the housing investment programmes for England are available and have been placed in the Library, but those for Wales are still apparently subject to the Official Secrets Act?

The housing investment programmes have always been regarded as confidential, but certainly the housing allocations have been placed in the Library and they are public knowledge.

How can the Minister claim that there has been an improvement in housing when he has cut 30 per cent. in real terms off Merthyr's housing programme for next year? After all, this is a community which is trying to deal with the problems of redevelopment of more than 100 years, as well as build new council homes and give mortgages to people. Is he not condemning many people to an eternity of waiting? Is he aware that there are thousands on the waiting lists in Merthyr as well as other areas in Wales?

Merthyr is getting in 1980–81 92 per cent. of its original allocation for 1979–80. Therefore, I think it is doing pretty well.

On the question of housing waiting lists, the hon. Member knows from his experience of housing at the Welsh Office that there is no such thing as a standard housing waiting list. The waiting list is no real guide to housing requirements in Wales.

Land Development (Flooding Danger)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will advise planning authorities to consult the Welsh water authority before authorising development on land that could be subject to flooding.

Planning authorities are well aware that they should consult water authorities on development proposals which have implications for land drainage. They are specifically required to do so if the development includes works on rivers and streams and refuse tipping, among other things. We are nevertheless considering whether further guidance is needed.

Would it not be advisable to issue a circular formally urging planning authorities to make use of the expert advice of the Welsh water authority?

Advice is available to planning authorities, which emphasises the importance of consultations on development proposals which lie within the areas liable to flooding. I am considering with my colleagues whether a further circular would be justified in the light of recent events.

Will not the Minister agree that all the land under the jurisdiction of the Severn-Trent water authority should be handed back to the Welsh water authority?

Welsh Development Agency (Financial Support Policy)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what guidance he has given the Welsh Development Agency as regards withdrawing financial support from companies previously supported by it.

None, Sir. It is a matter for the agency's commercial judgment to decide when to invest in a company and when to take action to protect its existing investments.

Will the Minister tell the House when, during the past four months, a company in which the agency had a majority shareholding, has had a receiver called in, following which an associated company, on the strength of its commercial prospects, has been able to attract substantial financial support from agencies outside the United Kingdom with a view to establishing a major manufacturing plant employing several hundreds of people in another country?

I think that that question would be properly directed to the Welsh Development Agency, but if the hon. Member tables a specific question I will see that he gets the information that he requires.

Will the Secretary of State clarify reports in Wales this morning that the WDA will not go ahead with 30 advance factories in Wales because it has not enough funds available? Will he confirm that he wrote to the Dyfed county council recently telling it that the whole programme of advance factories would be held back because of a lack of funds for this work?

I have not seen the report to which the hon. Member refers. There is a programme of small starter units going ahead under WDA control in his part of Wales. I confirm that that is not being held back. The remaining factory programme of the WDA is being concentrated in areas which have suffered from steel closures and the running down of the steel industry.

Will my right hon. Friend review the requirement of a 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. return on equity undertakings by the WDA, in order to stimulate further such investment in firms in Wales and thereby stimulate the economy?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is suggesting that the agency should look for a lower return than in the past. If so, I am not sure that I could go along with him. It ought to set its sights high, rather than low. To date, its overall return has not reached the target that has been set.

Leasehold Reform

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received concerning the working of the leasehold system in Wales.

Leasehold reform has been the subject of six parliamentary questions and 84 letters.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the resentment among leaseholders in Wales who are finding themselves compelled by ground landlords to effect insurance on their homes? Will he seek an early opportunity to introduce legislation to make that practice of ground landlords illegal?

It is clearly in the interests of both the leaseholder and the freeholder that the property should be insured with a reputable insurance com- pany. The most common form of conveyance of leases contains only a requirement to that effect. However, I understand that some landlords who own many leasehold properties require that cover be obtained from a particular company, possibly because that greatly facilitates the necessary checking by the landlord that cover is being continued by all his leaseholders. I shall discuss that aspect with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Church Commissioners

23.

asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, when next he expects to attend a meeting of the Church Commissioners.

(Second Church Estates Commissioner): Consistent with my duties in this House I hope to be present at the Commissioners' headquarters at least once this week.

As the Government were defeated last week in the other place, this seems to indicate that even the House of Lords including the Lords spiritual take a more enlightened view than this materialistic Tory Government. Will the hon. Member give us an assurance that the Church Commissioners will join the rest of the Church militant and demand that the Government abandon their proposal to deprive children of their legal right to free school transport?

I have patiently explained to the hon. Member before that the Church Commissioners as such have no responsibility for education. I am not able to assist him, though perhaps he will have observed, as he studies these matters so carefully, that not all the Church Commissioners voted in one way when this matter was discussed in another place.

Public Libraries

24.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many books were borrowed from public libraries during 1979.

About 557 million books were borrowed from public libraries in England in the year which ended on 31 March 1979.

Do not those substantial figures show what an important part the borrowing and reading of books from public libraries plays in the educational process as a whole? Is my hon. Friend prepared to say, in relation to economies that we on the Conservative side accept totally, that he would hope that not disproportionate economies are made by local authorities on public libraries when considering the economies that they necessarily have before them?

I certainly endorse my hon. Friend's opening remarks. Everyone acknowledges the important role that libraries play in all communities. However, expenditure on the library service cannot be exempt from the restraints to which public expenditure in general must be subjected in present circumstances. I hope that the libraries will continue as the focal point that they have become for many people in every community.

Do not the facts that opening hours of libraries are being cut and fewer books are being bought by local authorities because of the Government's insensate and destructive tendencies in public expenditure cuts do enormous damage to the long-established tradition of free borrowing in British libraries?

The hon. Gentleman states his case with a little too much excess. The matter is constantly under review by my Department, but the hon. Gentleman must not exaggerate too much. We acknowledge that libraries play an important part and the number of books lent over the past year show no signs of a recession over the next 12 months.

Having made the gesture of supporting the public lending right legislation, will the Government take the further step of showing that they have their feet firmly on the ground by filing the matter and letting it gather dust?

That is not an undertaking which can be granted this afternoon. My hon. Friend knows the precise state of that legislation and the pro- gramme that has already passed the House.

Arts Expenditure

25.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations the Government have received about the effect of public expenditure cuts on the arts.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave him on 5 November 1979.

Will the Minister confirm that the Arts Council grant for next year will be £68 million, which is less in real terms than the grant for the current year? Is he aware that the cuts in the BBC budget have caused a proposal to scrap the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra? Will the hon. Gentleman urgently investigate that matter with a view to saving the orchestra, because its destruction would be seen as yet another act of cultural vandalism by the Government?

The hon. Gentleman's indignation is a little excessive and he is displaying some of his traditional gloom and despondency, which he does not owe to his constituents. The hon. Gentleman knows that the latter issue is a question for the BBC. On the other matters that the hon. Gentleman raised, he has waited since 5 November for his question. I suggest that he waits a little longer to hear my right hon. Friend.

In the difficult task that my hon. Friend faces in allocating such expenditure as remains to him, will he feel able to look more critically at the Marxist cottage industries that claim tranches of his budget and more benevolently at various artistic activities, such as those of South-West Arts in my constituency, which are creative rather than destructive?

My hon. Friend referred to my budget, but I must point out that it is a budget granted to the Arts Council and its allocation is a matter for the Council. Many hon. Members have written expressing deep concern about a number of recent matters that have appeared in the press and they are being looked at.

The Arts (Private Sponsorship)

26.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the latest results of his appeal to private sponsors for help in financing the arts.

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

I am happy to say that there has been a continuing positive response by the business world to appeals for increased sponsorship of the arts.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that it is obvious that the arts will have to depend increasingly on private sponsorship since the Government will not give adequate funds to enable the arts to prosper by that means? In view of the enormous windfall profits of the oil companies and the banks, will he undertake to approach them to disburse some of their ill-gotten gains for the sake of the arts?

On the first point, the hon. Gentleman is not right. The Government have made clear that they intend to continue public support for the arts. I agree with him that for any increase we must look to the private sector. We have had considerable success there. The Association of Business Sponsorship for the Arts estimates that private support is running at up to £5 million a year. I accept the hon. Gentleman's interesting suggestion that the banks and the oil companies should be approached, not for their ill-gotten gains, but for their perfectly legitimate gains. I shall be happy to go along, with the support of the hon. Gentleman, and suggest that they might make an even bigger contribution to the arts.

Does my right hon. Friend think that sponsorship from private companies will be able to overcome the problems caused to theatres by the 15 per cent. rate of VAT?

That is a different issue. I hope that the increase in private sponsorship will help not only the theatres, but the entire art world in a time of economic difficulty.

Returning to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, why should the BBC be, to such an extent, the sole patron of music? Is there not a case for some help from the Government in that respect?

How the BBC disposes of its funds and programmes is a matter entirely for the Corporation.

Arts Expenditure

27.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he is satisfied with the level of Government spending on the arts.

33.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he will make a statement about the level of Government spending on the arts.

The House will be glad to know that in the expenditure plans for 1980–81 which I shall be submitting for parliamentary approval, I intend to provide for a grant of £70 million to the Arts Council of Great Britain.

I do not intend to be churlish to the right hon. Gentleman. I thank him for his reply. However, is he aware that the £9 million increase does not make up for the cut of £1¼ million in the arts grant that the Government made on taking office or for the 20 per cent. inflation rate from which the labour- intensive arts are suffering acutely? Is he also aware that, as his hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) pointed out, the increase nowhere near meets the doubling of VAT on the arts? What prospect can the right hon. Gentleman hold out for an improvement in the situation?

I would be the last person to accuse the hon. Lady of being churlish to myself, but she is perhaps being less than her usual generous self on these matters. The increase in the Arts Council grant amounts to £11.75 million and we hope that the inflation rate will not be 20 per cent. for this year. The £11.75 million represents an increase of 20 per cent. and I think that that is a fair deal for the arts. Of course, I should much rather see an even bigger grant, but I think that the hon. Lady will agree on reflection that, in the circumstances, the arts have not done too badly.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his answer? However, will he bear in mind that it would be helpful next year if the Arts Council could know of the Government's intentions just a little earlier?

I think that that is a fair point. I thank my hon. Friend for his more than generous remarks, which make up for my disappointment with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), with her less than generous ones. During the year expenditure reviews have taken place. In fact, the announcement has been made earlier than the general announcement on public expenditure. The Arts Council receives an earlier informal notification. I hope that next year there will be different circumstances and that we shall be able to get these matters over earlier.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should temper his euphoria and even show a little penitence. This grant does not meet the inflation rate and the likely inflation rate under this Government's policies. Perhaps he should recall—[Interruption.) I do not need any help from either side of the House on this.

Order. I am in the middle. Therefore, the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) meant "Will he".

I am most grateful for your assistance, Mr. Speaker. I was about to rephrase that, but the sight of the right hon. Gentleman so incenses me. Will he recall—if he wants to make comparisons—the very poor performance of his grant this year compared with the five years 1974–79 of the Labour Government when the increase was 250 per cent.?

The hon. Gentleman is not right. The increase in money terms was not 250 per cent. but 225 per cent.

In real terms it was 63 per cent. That is very similar to the rates of increase achieved by the previous Government. We are in a different situation now. During a period of cutback in Government expenditure we can all be proud of this year's arts grant. As for penitence, no doubt I have a great deal to be sorry for. like most people. When the lion. Gentleman makes an act of contrition for his sins, I shall happily join him.

Education (No 2) Bill

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,

"the situation now existing as a result of the decision of the House of Lords on Thursday last to remove clauses 23 and 25 from the Education (No. 2) Bill, and the Government's failure to make a statement of their intentions following that important change in proposed legislation."
The matter is specific, as it relates to a Bill that is currently before Parliament. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that it was a matter of great contention when it was discussed in the House, with Members of all parties voting for the removal of the clauses. It is an important matter, because it affects the legal standing and financial position of all local education authorities, especially the 20 that have decided to impose substantial charges for the provision of transport for children living some distance from their schools.

Most important of all is that the matter is one of great urgency. The beginning of the new financial year is less than three weeks away. Local education authorities have made their policies on education spending and rate revenue on the basis of proposals contained in the Education (No. 2) Bill when it left this place. It is vital that we obtain from the Government an immediate statement on whether they intend to reinstate clauses 23 and 25 of the Bill in this place, or, if they do not intend to do that, whether they will make additional moneys available to local education authorities to permit them to maintain school transport services at the current level. If the Government take the former course, of reinstatement, they will, as was repeatedly said in this place and in another place last week, cause immense harm to rural communities by permitting local education authorities to charge up to £200 a year for the transport of children. They will make nonsense—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to make the speech that he would make if I granted the application.

I have no intention of making such a speech either in content or in length, Mr. Speaker. However, in support of the view that it is an urgent matter, as only three weeks remain until the beginning of the financial year it appears to be important to relate that fact so that you may give full consideration to the situation that will arise in the event of the Government seeking to restore the two clauses in defiance of the decision of the House of Lords on Thursday last.

It is a further fact that nonsense would be made of denominational choice if restoration took place. Some local education authorities would be forced to betray promises made in good faith to parents in communities that have cooperated with reorganisation and the closure of schools in years past, since 1944.

If the Government do not take the course of restoration—this is related directly to the question whether we are likely to get a statement following the vote in the House of Lords—and still refuse to provide additional finance for school transport, they will ensure, as the Secretary of State and the Association of County Councils have said, that local authorities will make further cuts in classroom provision, in capitation allowances and in book allowances. They will have to sack teachers unless that money is made available.

I submit, Mr. Speaker, that we need to debate these matters urgently. Any further delay from the Government will ensure that local education authorities enter the new financial year in financial and administrative bewilderment and legal confusion. That will harm significantly the interests of parents and children throughout the length and breadth of the country who are supposed to be represented by Conservative Members.

It is possible for the Government to reassure parents in rural communities. It is possible for the Government to safeguard children against the effect of further cuts. The House of Lords has made its decision. It did so by a majority of two to one last Thursday. As the elected representatives of the parents who will be affected, I hope that we shall have the right to do the same.

The hon. Member for Bedwelity (Mr. Kinnock) gave me notice before 12 o'clock noon today that he would seek to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"The situation now existing as a result of the decision of the House of Lords on Thursday last to remove clauses 23 and 25 from the Education (No. 2) Bill and the Government's failure to make a statement of their intentions following the important change in proposed legislation."
I listened with care to the hon. Gentleman and to the important matters that he raised. As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reason for my decision. I have to rule that the hon. Gentleman's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Statutory Instruments, &C

By leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the motions on statutory instruments.

Ordered,

That the draft Transport Boards (Adjustment of Payments) Order 1980 be referred to a Standing Commitee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) Regulation 1980 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]

Olympic Games

Before calling the Lord Privy Seal to move the motion and make his speech, I wish to inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. and hon. Friends.

Secondly, well over 50 right hon. and hon. Members have already indicated to me that they would like to participate in the debate. It will be quite impossible for that number to be called, but I appeal to those who are fortunate to bear in mind the large number of their colleagues who also wish to speak.

I have one final request. I ask right hon. and hon. Members, on such a day as this, when so many wish to speak, not to come to the Chair to seek to advance their claims. It makes it exceedingly difficult for whoever who is in the Chair when such pressures are applied.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to delay the House, but as this is an occasion when there will be a free vote, although the Government themselves have put down a motion, I ask you especially to bear in mind that many points of view have been expressed in the various amendments tabled, and I ask whether you would reconsider your decision to call only one amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No "] There are precedents for this, as you, Mr. Speaker, well know.

As at least 29 hon. Members have signed the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and 46 have signed an amendment that I have tabled, may I express the hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will reconsider the matter and provide an opportunity for a separate vote on at least those amendments?

The House knows that it has given me instructions on this very matter. I am able to call more than one amendment only when the House expressly instructs me or gives me permission so to do. There is no motion suggesting that, or giving me that authority. Therefore, I have been able to select one amendment only. I have no doubt that others whose amendments appear on the Order Paper wish equally strongly that I had selected theirs, too.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is related to today's business but is slightly different from the point of order just raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller). May I ask you for clarification of the motion, before it is moved, since it refers to Great Britain and not to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

There are many competitors in Northern Ireland, and it so happen that the boxing and equestrian competitors in Northern Ireland go to the Olympic Games under the flag of the Republic of Eire whereas the athletes in Northern Ireland go to the Olympics under the flag of Great Britain. Therefore, the issue of those living in Northern Ireland who wish to be competitors and go under the flag of the Republic of Eire or under the flag of Great Britain is not covered in the motion, which seems totally to ignore the position of Northern Ireland.

If we are to get this matter settled properly, for the avoidance of doubt both here and among everybody outside, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule whether the terms of the motion are in order, or, if they are not, will the Government make a statement about it?

The hon. Gentleman seems to have lighted upon an interesting question, but it is one to which the Minister will have to reply. It is not for me, since it is not my motion.

3.43 pm

I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and believes that Great Britain should not take part in the Olympic Games in Moscow.
The first part of the motion is, I think, uncontroversial, and I shall spend little time on it, but the issue of the Olympic Games is inevitably linked to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and our position is that so long as the Soviet Union continues its aggression against the people of Afghanistan it would be completely inappropriate for Britain to take part in the Games.

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman before he has got started, but I hope that he will think it desirable at this stage that he should clarify the point raised a few moments ago on a point of order and make clear whether the Government's disapproval extends to the competition of athletes from this part of the kingdom, or whether the motion should have referred to the United Kingdom.

I am glad to clarify that point to the right hon. Gentleman. It does, of course, include the whole of the United Kingdom.

The Russians sent massive forces—

If this is an error and the position of Northern Ireland has been left out by mistake, should not the right hon. Gentleman say so at once and apologise not only to the House but to the people of Northern Ireland?

I do not think that the people of Northern Ireland would expect to be separated from this motion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make a great thing of it, I shall willingly apologise to him, but it is not, I believe, a matter about which they would worry unduly. As I say, I believe that Northern Ireland is not separated in this matter—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In order to clarify it, will you accept a manuscript amendment to put the matter right?

If a request comes to me and a manuscript amendment is submitted, I shall, of course, accept it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I, then, give you notice that I shall at the appropriate time wish to move a manuscript amendment?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order for the Lord Privy Seal to indicate which sports, if any, are covered by the whole of the island of Ireland and those which are covered only by the Six Counties of Northern Ireland?

The Russians sent massive forces into a hitherto non-aligned country in order to prop up a short-lived system that had already lost the confidence of the people. Their attempts to explain the sequence of events leading up—

I am most grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for giving way. With reference to the points of order made earlier, will he be kind enough to specify, in the terms of his motion, those sports to which he is referring and those to which he is not?

When I come on to the sports, I shall, but at the moment we are on the subject of the invasion of Afghanistan. This is a serious motion, and I do not think that the House wants it to be messed up by fiddling about with particular sports.

The Russians' attempts to explain the sequence of events leading up to their intervention were contradictory and quite implausible. This was the first occasion since the war on which Soviet combat forces have been used outside the Warsaw Pact area. The Russian action has been widely condemned by the international community. It has cast a deep shadow over East-West relations. It has underlined the selective and self-interested nature of the Soviet attitude to detente and the underlying expansionist aims at Soviet imperialism.

Certain inescapable conclusions flow from this. The first is the need, now more than ever, for the West to maintain its military preparedness and to prevent the Russians from further tilting the military balance in their favour.

Secondly, we need to take measures which will convince the Soviet Union that it has misjudged the firmness of the Western response. We need to show the Soviet Union that its definition of detente is unacceptable—that detente is indivisible and that it cannot continue to enjoy the benefits of Western technology, credits and foodstuffs while flouting the other areas of detente. I shall come later to the measures that we have taken.

Thirdly, we must help our friends in the area to strengthen themselves so that they are better able to withstand this new threat.

Fourthly, we must keep as our goal the complete withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, which alone will allow that country to pursue a peaceful, nonaligned status and permit a return to a more normal relationship between East and West. That is why we have taken the lead in developing the proposals for a neutral and non-aligned Afghanistan, endorsed by the Foreign Ministers of the Nine on 19 February.

The Soviet regime continues to insist that "outside interference" should cease before it begins to withdraw. With 80,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan, it is quite clear where the outside intervention is coming from. It is clear also that, but for the Russian invasion, their present stooge would be unable to sustain himself in power.

Nevertheless, the Russians' reactions suggest that they do not want to close the door to further discussions We are therefore considering the next step in our initiative. Equally, we must be on our guard against any Soviet attempt to use the prospect of discussions as a means of gaining the faint-hearted acquiescence of third countries in a permanent Soviet presence in Afghanistan.

Yet the search for a political solution will be long and arduous. To succeed, we need to keep up and indeed increase the pressure on the Soviet Union. We must intensify the measures that we and our partners have, from the beginning of this year, been working together to apply.

This process of acting together is never simple. Differences in the Western response are an inevitable reflection of the openness of our societies. The views of all countries have been very well aired. As my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary said at Chatham House on 22 February,
"In our democracies policy cannot be dictated by some kind of supernational …politburo, and the discussion of policy neither can nor should be conducted wholly in secret."
That is, after all, why the House is debating the motion today

Nevertheless, a number of major steps have been taken already.

I shall not give way. The steps include the United States decision to cut back on sales of grain, backed up by the decisions of the European Community, Australia and Canada not to make good the shortfall. The Government have consistently made clear to the Community that we oppose any further subsidised sales of agricultural products to the Soviet Union. The members of the European Community have agreed to refrain from giving the Soviet Union export credit at special rates. The United Kingdom has decided not to renew the Anglo-Soviet credit agreement which expired last month and which gave the Russians especially generous terms. The export of high technology goods which requires the prior approval of our partners in COCOM is suspended. Meanwhile, we are pursuing with our partners lasting arrangements for the tightening and widening of strategic controls on exports of technology to the Soviet Union.

Does the Lord Privy Seal think that it is wise to stop export credits? I agree that that should be the case on weapons, but is it wise when applied to non-military goods? British engineers would be out of work as a result of such measures.

Will not these measures injure detente, on which our lives depend?

As the hon. Gentleman should know, I am talking about specially privileged terms for the Soviet Union which were granted five years ago. The hon. Gentleman should know also that those terms were far from being fully taken up. The inferences that he has drawn are not justified.

Bilateral Anglo-Soviet events which might give a public impression of business as usual after the aggression in Afghanistan have been cancelled or postponed. These have included various ministerial contacts, as well as, for example, visits to Britain by the Red Army Choir and to the Soviet Union by the English Chamber Orchestra. It is difficult to strike the right balance—to do more harm to the Soviet Union than we do to ourselves. It may be that we should be prepared to go further than we have already. But I believe that the measures that have been taken add up to an effective and measured response.

I wanted to ask my right hon. Friend earlier whether he would make it clear that he associated condemnation of the events in Afghanistan with the condemnation of everyone in this country of the way in which the Soviet Union treated its Soviet-Jewish dissidents, especially in removing them from Moscow for the purposes of the Games.

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. I was hoping to deal with that point in some detail later in my speech.

Where we have refrained from certain other actions, that also has been for good reasons. For example, we still need to be able to convey our views to the Soviet Government. We cannot responsibly forsake efforts to preserve world peace and seek balanced arms control agreements which will enhance our security. We believe that we should continue to try to influence the Soviet Union towards more peaceful coexistence, for example, by seeking better implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. We should continue our attempts to help open up Soviet society.

I know that some hon. Members are worried about our continuing to trade with the Soviet Union, but we are not advocating the severance of all contacts in political, sporting, cultural or scientific fields, any more than we are advocating the severance of trade links where opportunities exist, especially for non-strategic capital goods.

However, if trade is to continue it must be profitable and not privileged. That is why we have not renewed the Anglo-Soviet credit agreement. As the House knows, the Government are opposed to subsidised exports of agricultural products, and we shall make further efforts to persuade our partners to join us.

I shall give way in a moment.

We are also opposed to sales of high technology, and we shall be taking steps, together with our partners, further to limit those sales.

I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins).

I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not wish to mislead the House on the question of export credits. Are not export credits still available to the Russians on interest rate terms that enable them to buy our exports at a lower rate of interest than that at which British industry itself can invest? If that is true, is not the distinction that he is seeking to make between strategic exports and others a very blurred one? It may well be that some of these exports will go to help the Russian war effort.

As I have already said, we are not agreeable to any preferential treatment for the Russians. I have referred twice to COCOM, and I stress that there is no question of our agreeing to exports that will help the Russian war effort. That is fundamental to our position.

The amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends is, therefore, in accordance with Government policy. As I have said we have not renewed the Anglo-Soviet credit agreement, with its extremely favourable terms. We are strongly opposed to doing anything that might facilitate the Soviet war effort. We are aiming to tighten and broaden the COCOM rules. Finally, we are opposed to the subsidised sale of butter to the Soviet Union.

Order. It is quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to give way. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) must resume his seat.

These measures have been part of a consistent, co-ordinated policy involving, on the one hand, the diplomatic efforts and initiatives of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary, and, on the other, many private organisations and individuals.

As I have shown, these have already involved British people in many spheres of life. We are now asking that British sportsmen should make their contribution also.

The Government accept that a considerable sacrifice is being asked of our sportsmen, since to forgo the Olympics would involve the loss of an irreplaceable opportunity.

Of course, we fully understand the dilemma in which many athletes may find themselves. As the House knows, the Government did not initially advise a boycott of the Moscow Games. Our first efforts were to try to get the Games moved from Moscow and relocated in another place. The athletes have made sacrifices and subjected themselves to a hard training discipline for many months or years in order to arrive at peak condition for the summer Games in Moscow. We understand and sympathise fully with their feelings. We all share the pride of those British athletes who, in the past, have been successful in Olympic Games.

Preference is no problem. However, I was about to give way to the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) since he has made several remarks from a sedentary position which I believe to be out of order.

I was merely wondering whether we must endure for much longer this hypocritical nonsense.

I hope that the House will give its reasoned attention to a serious matter.

Our athletes, as responsible citizens, cannot but share the concern that we all feel at the brutal behaviour of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the wider issues which that raises. We have thought hard about the issue and about how we might help.

My honourable Friend the Minister of State is now in Geneva with a group from like-minded countries examining the possibilities of enabling sportsmen to compete against each other in conditions similar to those of the Olympics but without the moral conflict attached to attending the Moscow Games.

However, there are many practical difficulties in the way. Governments in the free world cannot organise sporting events. They can encourage and facilitate the holding of games, but the organisation rightly and properly is a matter for the sporting bodies themselves. The international sporting organisations have their own rules and procedures. They have the power largely to decide whether and under what conditions international sporting events take place. I hope that they will facilitate our efforts to mount alternative games.

In this situation the Government have felt bound to give a lead and to point out the context in which individuals will have to take their own decisions. We fully understand hon. Members' anxiety about the liberty of the individual, but I do not accept that we have in any way harassed or bullied anybody, as has been suggested. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Hon. Members would be wise to wait to hear the facts before they jeer. The scope of our decision is limited.

I must carry on. We have decided, for instance, that it would be wrong to prevent athletes from going by such measures as the withdrawal of passports. On the other hand, certain decisions inevitably flow from the Government's decision to advise against going to Moscow.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, has made clear, we have advised the Sports Council that public money should not be made available to send attaché to Moscow. It would also be wrong for us as a Government to continue to provide and pay for an attaché in Moscow helping to organise British participation in the Moscow Olympics, so he is being withdrawn. However, the British Olympic Association is at liberty to do as other associations do and appoint its own attaché. Any British visitor to Moscow will continue to enjoy the full services of our consular officers in the normal way should they get into difficulties.

I accept that Governments in the free world cannot organise the Games, but why is a Foreign Office Minister in Geneva today, with representatives of three or four other countries, talking about such Games as an alternative to the Olympics? Is that not a contradiction in policy, and a wasted journey for the Minister?

If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) had listened he would have heard me say that those representatives are not trying to organise a Games but are considering the difficulties and how they might help.

The Government's attitude to leave facilities for civil servants and members of the Armed Forces has been misrepresented and exaggerated.

No official instructions have yet gone out, but we have decided that we cannot grant special paid leave to people working in the public service for a purpose that we believe is against our interests.

However, how individuals use their annual leave and whether they ask for unpaid leave are matters for the individual in a free society. The answer to any request for unpaid leave, will, in the usual way, depend on the needs of the service. Naturally, we hope that individuals will listen to our advice about British interests. In the last resort the decision in this country will rest where it belongs, with the individual.

I support the line that my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister have taken, but I wish to ask one question. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the problem for athletes and sportsmen is that they have to take a once-for-all, irreversible decision? In those areas where the Government have control they seek an equivalence of sacrifice. I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend but I have yet to hear any evidence that the Government have given a lead in seeking an equivalence of sacrifice in other areas of our national life.

I am sorry, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) obviously did not take in what I said earlier. Equivalent sacrifices are being asked of people in- volved in other spheres. We accept that in a free society such as ours individuals must decide for themselves. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition believes in what we are doing.

I have given way on many occasions, and I must move on.

There are considerable divisions and fluctuations of opinion in the athletic community. Mr. Derek Johnson, the secretary of the International Athletes' Club, for instance, recently wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to express, on behalf of a number of the club's members, the strength of their desire to take part in the summer Games in Moscow. However, on 11 January, in the Daily Mail he stated:
"Frankly, it does not matter what happens to the Olympic Games. They have become such a political thing that it is actually desirable that they should be cut down to size. The Olympics are an emotional attachment without intrinsic value. Their disappearance would be no great loss to society, or to athletics."
He continued:
"Like many athletes, I believe that Eastern Europe is up to its eyeballs in drugs. Yes, of course, drug-taking exists among Western athletes, but in Eastern Europe the federations are running an organised State drug programme for athletes."
Opinions are divided.

It has been suggested that our athletes should demonstrate disapproval of Soviet actions while participating in the sporting events. I cannot commend such a course. To attend is to become a guest and to accept the rules of the host—technically the International Olympic Committee but in Soviet propaganda terms the Soviet Union. Refusal to comply with the requirements of the organisers would not merely be seen as a discourtesy; it could be represented as a disruption or, in Soviet jargon, hooliganism. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish. Nonsense".] Hon. Members are very eloquent, but the effect of such action on the Soviet television viewer would be different and much less certain in its results than the unmistakable and uncompromising act of absenting oneself.

We are convinced that the only effective course of action is, purely and simply, non-participation in the Games.

The British Olympic Association maintains that the attendance of British athletes in Moscow would no more signify their approval of Russian behaviour in Afghanistan than does the continued presence of the British ambassador there, and that politics should be kept separate from sport.

The arguments of the British Olympic Association are fallacious, because they ignore the Soviet attitude to the Olympic Games. The association seems to think that the Russian attitude to sport and politics is the same as its own, whereas, as I shall show, it is very different indeed. "The Handbook for Party Activists" in Russia, which was published in June last year, has this to say:
"The forces of reaction are trying to exploit the Olympic Movement and Games in the interests of the exploiting classes, for the goals of business and commerce, as propaganda for the bourgeois way of life, capitalist construction and its ideology, and for the distraction of youth from the political and class struggle."
The handbook goes on to say that the holding of the summer Games in Moscow is convincing proof of the general acknowledgement of the historical importance and correct foreign policy of the USSR and of the huge services of the Soviet Union to peace. The book refers to
"proof of the correctness of Russian foreign policy and of the huge services of the Soviet Union to peace."
Nobody reading that could for one moment believe that the Soviets think that sport should be kept separate from politics.

Indeed, it is official Soviet doctrine that to say that sport lies outside politics—

Order. I appeal to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) to recognise when the Minister is not giving way, so that we may have an orderly debate.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to ask, through you, that the Minister should indicate—

Order. The hon. Member has said enough for me to realise that it is not a point of order.

It is official Soviet doctrine that to say that sport lies outside politics is not a serious point of view. As we know, in a totalitarian State such as Russia, nothing is separated from politics. All activity is political. So to those who view the world in the abstract, and still maintain that sport and politics should be kept apart, I would say, "Maybe, but what you will find in Moscow is not your kind of sport".

There is no question but that for the Soviet Union, holding the Olympic Games is Moscow is of supreme importance. It sees the Games as a propaganda exercise from which it hopes to derive very great advantage.

Conversely, a decision by several Western countries to absent themselves from the Games will have a powerful impact upon the Soviet population at large. In Russia, sport generates intense public interest. Soviet athletes receive many privileges. They and their supporters among the Soviet public know that without full international participation the Moscow Olympic Games will he fatally flawed—and it will not be easy to hide that fact.

The Soviet people will realise that for Western countires to stay away from Moscow implies a response to a Soviet action of great gravity. Those doubts and uncertainties, which have already arisen in the minds of many about Soviet armed intervention in Afghanistan, whatever the pretext given for it, will be magnified and will call for a satisfactory answer.

All this explains why the British Olympic Association is wrong in seeing no difference between the presence of athletes in Moscow and the presence of the British ambassador. High as the prestige of the British Diplomatic Service is, and distinguished though our present ambassador is, his presence in Moscow cannot be said to confer a great propaganda victory upon the Soviet regime. But the presence of Western athletes at the Games would undoubtedly constitute a great propaganda victory for the Soviet Union. If our athletic bodies wish to give such a victory to the Soviet Union, so be it, but they should at least know what they are doing and they should reflect very carefully before they reach a final decision.

I am sorry, but I am running late.

Mr. Brezhnev said that the decision to intervene in Afghanistan was a very difficult one to take. The decision to decline an invitation to participate in the Olympic Games is no less difficult, especially for a country with the sporting traditions and achievements of our own. But grave breaches of international order require serious responses, and there is no other Western response that would be so unequivocally clear to millions of ordinary people in the Soviet Union.

Another very important element in the present situation is the defence of human rights and the position of Soviet dissidents. [Interruption.] Some hon. Gentlemen may not think that the position of Soviet dissidents is important, but I assure them that it is. We cannot lightly brush aside the views of those who continue their steady and courageous insistence on the rights assured to them by law and by international agreements, notably the Helsinki Final Act.

Dr. Sakharov has said:
"While the USSR is waging military actions in Afghanistan, the holding of the Olympic Games in Moscow contradicts the Olympic Charter. This is obvious."
Alexander Ginsberg has said:
"You should boycott the Olympic Games. These games are not sport primarily, they are politics".
Bukovsky, Kuznetsov, Amalrik and others have all said the same thing.

The House will be aware that a wave of arrests of dissidents has recently taken place—50 persons at least in the last few months. Jewish emigration has fallen sharply since the end of last year. Harassment has been stepped up. We have recently seen the arbitrary banishment of Dr. Sakharov.

Part of this campaign can certainly be ascribed to official concern that nothing should be allowed to mar the resounding propaganda victory that the Soviet authorities had hoped to gain from the Olympic Games. The recent increase in the persecution of dissidents has been particularly marked in Moscow, where, of course, the majority of the Olympic events are scheduled to take place and where most of the foreign visitors are due to be concentrated this summer.

The perversion of the Olympic ideal that the new wave of repression represents would itself be a reason for not going to Moscow this summer. Decisions by Western nations not to participate in the Olympics will be a message to them that where Soviet action in international affairs is unacceptable, Western nations will not blandly condone it. On the other hand, a decision to attend in spite of Afghanistan will be a betrayal of all that they have so courageously fought to defend.

I should like finally to congratulate the Select Committee on foreign affairs on its impressive and timely report, which has been invaluable in informing our debate today. One question in its report—that of the site or sites for future Games—is a matter for the longer term, which will require careful study.

The Select Committee's recommendations are very much in accord with the Government's view, especially those in paragraph 3, which states that
"Until such time as those forces are withdrawn, the House should support all proper measures to make the Soviet leaders mindful of Britain's abhorrence of their aggression against Afghanistan, including in particular limitations on the supply of credit and high technology equipment, a reduction of cultural exchanges and the withdrawal from the Olympic Games in Moscow of all British Athletes."
The Opposition's amendment is very far from being a direct contradiction of the Government's position, and a good deal of it could be accepted by everybody in the House, but it is unfair in what it says about consultation. Similarly, while substantial common agreement with other countries is obviously desirable, if everybody waits for everybody else nothing will ever happen. In any case if the Opposition's amendment is defeated, I hope that that will not stop their supporters from then supporting the Government motion. I am sure that a good many Opposition Members are in agreement with what we are saying.

We have made no secret of our views and we have had extensive contacts with other countries in the Western alliance. We have found that many countries in the free world face exactly the same problem—

If the hon. Member tries to use the procedures of the House, namely, points of order, as a means of interrupting, I am unlikely to give way to him.

As I was saying, we have found that many countries in the free world face exactly the same problem as ourselves. In some countries, there is a close indentity of view between parliamentary and public opinion and the Government view. The United States is a conspicuous example. In some other countries, the Government position determines what sportsmen must do, but many Western countries face the same kind of problem, with the same conflicting currents, as exist in our own.

It is not surprising, therefore, that some Governments are cautious about expressing a view. But we believe that, at the end of the day, many prominent sporting countries will decide not to go to Moscow. I do not believe that in these circumstances, British athletes would wish to go to what would be discredited Games.

The Government have been accused—not only by the Opposition—of ignoring sporting problems and procedures. I hope that what I have said today will have shown that we have considered both the personal dilemma and disappointment of individual athletes and the very real difficulties of organising alternative games. In return, the Government are entitled to ask British athletes and their representatives, as well as this House, to consider the international consequences of their actions.

In view of the points of order made earlier, Mr. Speaker, I seek to leave to move the motion in an amended form, with the words "the United Kingdom" substituted for "Great Britain".

There are other people, in Afghanistan and in the Soviet Union, whose lives and whose freedom are at stake. The Government believe that non-participation in this summer's Games offers Western countries the single most effective way of bringing home to the Soviet regime and the Russian people our refusal to accept their occupation of Afghanistan. I therefore ask the House to support our motion tonight.

4.20 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "Afghanistan" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"calls upon the Soviet Government to withdraw immediately in the interests of world peace and detente in Europe; believes that an effective response on the Olympics as in the economic, trading and political fields can only be achieved by securing substantial common agreement among the Governments and sporting authorities of Western Europe, the United States of America and elsewhere; regrets the Government's failure to consult properly with the sporting bodies in this country; and asserts the right of individual citizens at the end of the day to make their own decisions."
Given the large public interest in this year's Olympic Games, it is right that the House should debate the matter, and that the debate should be held at a proper time and be of sufficient length to enable a substantial number of right hon. and hon. Members to take part. However, whether it is wise or necessary to hold this debate this week is another matter, and one to which I shall return later.

We have listened to an unhappy and unconvincing speech by the Lord Privy Seal. I do not believe that any right hon. or hon. Member on either side of the House who came with serious doubts about what is the best course to take will find his decision made any easier by the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Indeed, I am inclined to wonder just how closely No. 10 and the Foreign Office have kept in touch with each other during the past few weeks. In view of the Prime Minister's leading interest and initiative in the matter, it would have been far better if she had opened the debate herself.,

When we last debated East-West relations and Afghanistan, on 28 January, with so many issues of high policy left uncertain and unresolved at the end, I did not expect that the next occasion for a debate would be focused exclusively upon the issue of the Olympic Games. It shows an extraordinary—and to many people outside the House and outside Britain almost laughable—sense of proportion, apart from the fact that, in thrusting the issue forward ahead of other Western responses of an economic and trading kind, the Government have unnecessarily fed the suspicions and resentment of the community of sport that it is being singled out and asked to make sacrifices that others have not yet been called upon to make.

I do not think that the Lord Privy Seal's references to the non-renewal of the export credit agreement and his total failure even to mention the continued export of buttter, grain and other items to the Soviet Union will help to convince—

I substitute the words "failure to reach agreement about doing something". I do not believe that that will help to convince sportsmen that they have not been put in a special position.

Most of my remarks will be related to the position that we state in the amendment. I accept that on this issue there is bound to be a wide divergence of opinion. The Order Paper certainly reflects it. Therefore, it is entirely right that there should be a free vote—I hope a genuinely free vote—on both sides of the House.