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Home Department

Volume 981: debated on Thursday 27 March 1980

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Metropolitan Police


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects the Metropolitan Police to reach its full establishment and when that establishment was agreed and last reviewed.

The force strength has increased by over 900 since the publication of the Edmund-Davies report in July 1978, but is still some 4,000 below establishment. It is not possible to say when the Metropolitan Police will reach full establishment, but it is likely to be some years before it is achieved. The last major review of establishment was in 1965.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that he has given an encouraging reply? The increase in police strength is no doubt partly due to the wise decision of the Government to allocate a 2½ per cent. increase to the forces of law and order. Is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the Metropolitan Police is adequately deploying those it has on its strength?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first remarks. On police deployment, there has been a review of local policing arrangements by the Commissioner. As a result, I am pleased to be able to tell the House that as many as 1,200 officers should be redeployed from administrative duties. That is a very satisfactory outcome.

Will the Minister make sure that when the Commissioner intends to close local police stations—as he does so intend—there is the fullest consultation with borough councils in the London area? There is great concern among people about the closing down of what they regard as their local police station.

I know that there is concern when this happens. It is a matter for the Commissioner. I know that he is anxious that there should be full consultation and discussion before proceeding with any such proposals.

Television Signals (Retransmission)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what stage has been reached in deciding policy regarding the retransmission of television signals which would enable isolated, scattered communities to receive television; and if he will make a statement.

We are considering with the broadcasting authorities possible arrangements for assessing the suitability of proposals for self-help schemes taking account of the UHF services already provided or planned in the area. My right hon. Friend hopes to make an announcement shortly.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I hope that the announcement will not be too long delayed. Does my hon. Friend realise that in many mountainous areas, including my constituency, this kind of active deflector system offers the only hope for receiving television? Those people would be grateful for a favourable reply from the Minister.

I understand the importance that my hon. Friend attaches to these schemes. But the Government need to be clear on resources and the technical implications of the whole future policy for extending 625 line UHF coverage in this way. Available resources must be applied to the best effect.

May I bring to my hon. Friend's attention a problem, not in an isolated area but in Southampton, one of the major cities? There is poor reception in all the areas surrounding the container port. The trouble is, obviously, the shadow of the container cranes. I have been trying for some years to get a solution. Can I call on my hon. Friend for help?

British Broadcasting Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects next to meet the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects next to meet the chairman of the board of governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to meet the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends next to meet the chairman of the board of governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

I have no immediate plans to meet the chairman of the board of governors of the BBC.

When the right hon. Gentleman gets round to meeting the chairman, will he explain that there is widespread concern in Scotland about the possible scrapping of the BBC Scottish symphony orchestra and, also, the schools broadcasting service in Scotland? Will the Secretary of State ensure that the BBC gets enough money from the Government to continue these services, which are so important for the educational and cultural life of Scotland?

I do not believe that words are needed from me to explain to the chairman of the governors of the BBC the strong feelings that have properly been expressed in different parts of the country about the BBC's proposals to cut its expenditure.

The exact decisons—which have not yet been made—are, of course, a matter for the governors and not a matter in which I could, or should, in any way intervene.

The hon. Gentleman, and others, should remember that when I raised the colour television licence fee from £25 to £34 there was an increase of some 36 per cent. for the two years. Interestingly enough, I did not hear many voices raised in the House at that time suggesting that I should put the licence fee any higher.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the BBC governors will he express the growing disquiet about the lack of factual balance in a good number of BBC current affairs programmes where the object appears to be to put some organisation in the dock such as our security forces in Northern Ireland, the Thames Water Authority, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston and more recently the Army in the programme "Gone for a Soldier"?

Will my right hon. Friend say to the chairman that the dictum that the BBC now appears to be following whereby controversy is considered more important than responsibility is not good enough?

These are matters for the governors of the BBC. Rightly, with the independent broadcasting arrangements such as we have—arrangements which I feel are right—they must make their decisions on balance and on taste. It is right for the House to express its views as forcefully as hon. Members wish to the BBC governors and it is absolutely open to the different parties to express their views—as they do—about balance to the BBC. That is the right way to proceed.

The constitutional position, that the Home Secretary, who is responsible for the broadcasting authorities, should not express a personal view or a view on behalf of the Government, is right. Equally, I am entitled to say to the House that I have noticed very plainly the views that have been expressed. I know that those views are appreciated by the governors of the BBC and they arc the people who must act in these matters.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there is another programme to be added to the alarming list mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson)? That was the recent Nationwide programme on arsonists in Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a heavy burden of responsibility lies upon those whose ultimate charge it is to transmit such programmes to show a degree of investigative journalism and check the veracity of the facts put across? Otherwise such programmes can only be alarmist and do damage to the general public.

I appreciate the feelings of my hon. Friend and many of those who are concerned about this particular matter. Strong views have rightly been expressed to the chairman of the BBC governors and I noticed in the newspapers that he sought to reply. Further discussions have continued. I believe that it is essential that we in this House, while expressing our views strongly to the governors of the BBC, must respect their independent position and leave them to make the final decisions.

Does the Home Secretary realise that many of us feel that it is his duty and responsibility to back up the chairman of the BBC governors in defending a public service that is independent of private sources of income? Does he further appreciate that any deterioration in the quality of BBC services to the Northern region will be regarded with great resentment? We have been the Cinderella for far too long. If there is any interference with the Mike Neville programme, there will be a rebellion in the Northern region.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I did not think that I was doing too badly in the course that he set me. I thought that I was making it clear that I would certainly not pass any judgment on what the chairman of the governors of the BBC did or on what the BBC did. That is a matter for them. In taking that course I am taking the course followed by every Home Secretary in the past. It is the right course.

I certainly support the BBC, though I cannot, as an individual, be expected to support everything that the BBC does. Nor would the BBC expect me to do so. The Government strongly support the BBC, and I, as the Minister in charge of broadcasting, strongly support having an independent broadcasting authority in this country. We have one. We are entitled to criticise it as hard as we can, but we must respect its independence.

In view of the requests that have been made to him today, will my right hon. Friend see the director-general of the BBC urgently and call his attention to the disquiet felt by many hon. Members about the way in which late evening programmes put out by the BBC have deteriorated in recent months? There has been a big increase in the screening of low quality, pornographic and second-rate material.

I note what my hon. Friend says. I see the chairman of the governors from time to time. I have no plans to see him at the moment, but he will be well informed about feelings on these matters when I next see him. Of course I am prepared—I am expected —to discuss these issues with him.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the BBC financial presentation to the Home Office in preparation for the licence fee increase included a general indication that cuts were to be made in orchestras, education and local broadcasting? Arising out of that, is there not a way—since the BBC provides these excellent orchestras as a public service—in which the IBA could contribute some money to BBC resources so that the orchestras could be maintained?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. When the BBC made its presentation to us it properly made that presentation on the financial facts as a whole. Naturally, what it decides to do with the money it receives through the licence fee must be a matter for the BBC. As the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, it is not for the Home Office to question how the BBC distributes its resources. Therefore, the BBC did not make that point. The provision of funds by the IBA and others to support the BBC orchestras is another matter, but it is fair to consider it.

Does the Home Secretary agree—as the chairman of the BBC govenors seemed to agree when I last put it to him—that part of the BBC's public service obligation is to provide at least some form of local news and weather information on radio? Is the Home Secretary aware that in north Northumberland the BBC proposes to remove all the regional VHF radio bulletins although we have no local radio alternative?

I was not aware of that. Coming from the same region—though from the other side of the Pennines—no doubt I ought to have been aware that that was happening in Northumbria. It was probably happening in Cumbria, too. But nobody has yet told me that it is happening.

Nevertheless, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that those of us who live far from London should have reasonable local services. I know that that is also the strongly held view of the BBC. Obviously, when the hon. Gentleman tells me of something about which the chairman of the BBC governors is inclined to agree it would be dangerous for me to assume that that was actually what the chairman of the governors was doing. That must remain a matter between the chairman of the governors and the hon. Gentleman.

Penal System (May Report Recommendations)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now in a position to announce his proposals on the recommendations in the May report on the penal system.

I hope to announce decisions on the recommendations of the May committee on Home Office organisation after Easter.

Does the Home Secretary accept that his recently stated views on the need to reduce the prison population are widely welcomed? Does he also accept not only the urgency of a debate in the House but the need for quick action in order to contain the growing crisis in our prison system?

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. I wish the nation as a whole—and as a first step the House —to appreciate some of the problems inside our prisons. Those problems, if I may say so, over many years, have been too little appreciated by hon. Members.

I have plans which I hope will help but I do not accept that they will help as emergency measures. I hope that it will be necessary to take not emergency measures but measures which will have a clear effect. However, emergency measures can never be ruled out, though I hope that they will not have to be taken.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only fully effective way of reducing the present critically large prison population is to use prison sentences for serious—and in particular violent—crimes only and to use alternative punishments for other offenders where it is possible?

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. I have, as I think the House will appreciate, been a strong advocate of non-custodial sentences wherever possible, particularly for non-violent offenders. I will continue to stand for that principle since I am quite certain that it is in the interests of the nation. As my hon. and learned Friend will be the first to appreciate, in cases involving non-violent offenders shorter sentences—where thought appropriate by those administering them—would be valuable. In view of what some newspapers seem to say from time to time, that must be a matter for those who impose the sentences. It cannot he a matter for the Home Secretary.

Will the Home Secretary bear in mind that he first announced proposals for his short, sharp, shock regime to the Conservative Party conference? Is he aware that last Friday he announced his preliminary proposals for prison reform to the Central Council of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations? We may be a less appreciative audience, but will the right hon. Gentleman in future announce his proposals to the House, because hon. Members eagerly await a statement?

The hon. Lady makes a fair point. When I announced the proposals I had no responsibility, because at that time I was in opposition. When one is in opposition surely one is entitled to make statements outside the House, because one does not always hate the opportunity to announce proposals to the House first.

I am not speaking of when the right hon. Gentleman was in opposition.

The hon. Lady referred to my proposals for a short, sharp shock. I announced those during a by-election campaign in Birmingham when I was in opposition. I am not as good as some at remembering exact dates. I do not wish to be discourteous and I accept that I gave details to the Conservative Party conference. If I did wrong, I understand how the House might feel.

I made a general statement about prisons. I was not describing the detailed proposals for organisation which I have now promised. They will be more extensive. The hon. Lady thinks that I had an appreciative audience when discussing prisons. She should have heard and seen the audience. I do not think that it was all that appreciative of a speech by me about prisons.

Order. With respect, it might be my fancy, but it seems that answers are becoming longer.

As the prison population becomes more obvious and more alarming, should not the credit that the House pays to the prison officers for the splendid work that they do grow?

Will the Home Secretary continue his welcome positive and constructive approach by reminding the House and the country that the annual cost of keeping a person in prison is £5,894, compared with the annual cost of £250 for probation supervision, £350 for a community service order and £31 for an attendance centre order? Does that not demonstrate the efficiency of the non-custodial solution? Will he continue to place the emphasis on that in order to reduce the cost of the prison service?

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me always to be grateful for his interventions, but on this occasion I am grateful to him and, rather exceptionally, I entirely agree with him.

Rural Policing


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with the chief constables of England and Wales about rural policing.

We are concerned to encourage the development and interchange of ideas on the policing of rural areas, especially on the relationship between police and public. Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary discuss these issues with chief constables and their police authorities.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Is he aware that in many rural areas people are disturbed because, as increasing pressure is put on police resources in the urban parts of rural counties, policemen are withdrawn from the law-abiding villages and put on traffic and other duties in the towns? Is he aware that that means that police coverage is much diminished in such villages? Is he aware of the considerable public unrest? What can be done about it?

I understand the anxiety. The deployment of police is a matter for chief constables. Deployments can be, and are, discussed with inspectors of constabulary. I am sure that the chief constable involved will note my hon. Friend's question.

Has the Home Office discussed with chief constables community policing in rural and urban areas? What experiments in community policing are being conducted in metropolitan areas such as London?

The phrase "community policing" can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Different experiments in different parts of the country are taking place. Even within rural areas there is scope for different types of policing. Such matters are discussed with inspectors of constabulary and the police forces. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind, I shall do my best to deal with it if he writes to me.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the chief constable in the rural area of North Wales has said that police inquiries have been set back by several weeks as a result of the recent showing of the "Nationwide" programme about arsonists in Wales? Is not that highly regrettable?

I have heard that expression of opinion. Of course I deplore anything which leads to police inquiries being impeded.

Local Radio


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with the British Broadcasting Corporation concerning its new style of local radio mini stations.

The BBC's plans for local radio were discussed in the Home Office local radio working party on 29 February.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the BBC has at last announced that Northampton is to have its station, but not until the end of 1982? Will he ensure that the Home Office working party makes an early announcement about the future of ILR stations and includes Northampton on the list?

I am aware that the BBC expects that the station will be opened during 1982. The question of ILR stations in Northampton and elsewhere is a matter for the IBA. That body will consider representations in support of ILRs and will take them into account before putting proposals to the working party.

What is the point of increasing local mini broadcasting stations at a time when the BBC is cutting programmes on its own radio and, in Suffolk, cutting television programmes considerably?

I am not sure what my hon. Friend means by local mini stations. However, the issue is for the BBC. It must make its decisions and then propose them.

Civil Defence


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to announce the results of his review of civil defence provision.

In view of the Home Office's frequently expressed determination to protect civilians in the event of a nuclear holocaust, is it intended to instruct local authorities to start a crash programme in building nuclear shelters? If not, why not?

That matter can be better dealt with at the conclusion of the review than during the course of it.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that many people are interested in providing their own nuclear shelters, despite there being no financial incentive and such shelters being subject to full VAT? Will he assure the House that that is being borne in mind in the current review?

I am aware that many people wish to provide their own shelters. The ways in which families can provide simple shelters at reasonable cost are under examination with a view to making advice on that subject available in due course.

Does the Minister accept that there is no civil defence whatsoever against a nuclear conflagration? Is he aware that the Secretary of State for Defence has said that in the worst circumstances only a few minutes' warning will be given? Is not the best defence to opt out of the nuclear weapons race?

I do not accept that for one moment. The best way to prevent nuclear conflagration is to be in a position to deter an aggressor. One must have a balanced view about civil defence. Of course there would be immense damage if there were a nuclear attack. That does not mean that nothing can be done to mitigate that damage if such a disaster were to occur.

Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House what funds are now available for nuclear fall-out shelters under the civil defence system? Will he indicate why it is taking so long for advice to be forthcoming on the specification of such nuclear shelters when people want to provide them for themselves?

Does he not agree that people are taking civil defence seriously, and regret the disruption that resulted from a previous Labour Administration?

People are taking civil defence seriously, and that is why my right hon. Friend instituted a review last year. The announcement of the review will come shortly. I am sure that my hon. Friend will wait until then. There is no money available at present for the purpose that my hon. Friend mentioned.

May we take it from the Minister's remarks that he does not intend to raise public expenditure on civil defence in real terms? Unless he does that, it will be extremely difficult to increase provision.

The hon. Lady is entitled to her opinion and her speculation. I think that the House would wish to wait for a proper statement at the conclusion of the review.

British Broadcasting Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in order to enable the British Broadcasting Corporation to retain a competitive wage structure, he will reconsider his decision not to provide extra financing for at least two years.

Does the Home Secretary accept that with the introduction of channel 4—which he calls service 2—the competition will become tougher? Do not the Government accept that if people are able to spend El on a National Health Service prescription—which, presumably, is what the Government believe—they are willing to pay 11p a day—one-ninth of that sum—to receive a quality BBC service? Is he no longer worried about the popularity or credibility of his Administration?

I shall ignore the hon. Gentleman's last remark. The increase in the television licences that I authorised for both colour and monochrome will bring £1,000 million to the BBC for two years. That is a considerable sum. It is right that the BBC, like everyone else in the country, should consider economies and the way in which it conducts its affairs.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, unfortunately, the BBC is grossly overmanned? Is he further aware that if it employed fewer people it could pay larger salaries?

As I have already said very carefully, these are matters for the chairman and governors of the BBC. I make the same response to my hon. Friend.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC should look in the opposite direction to raise more revenue? It could easily raise the necessary £130 million by considering other methods of sponsorship, or by selling its excellent productions, which it does not do at present.

As my hon. Friend will be the first to appreciate, the Annan committee, which studied the matter, did not advocate those courses to the BBC. The BBC governors would have to decide whether they wished to change from the course that they are following. Many would doubt whether that was wise—certainly the Annan committee did so.

Detention Centres


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will ensure that medical records are available to the courts before a boy is sent to Send or New Hall detention centres for the short, sharp shock.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will require courts to consider a medical report before committing a boy to Send or New Hall detention centres for the short, sharp shock regime.

The pilot project will be established within existing legislation under which courts cannot be required to consider a medical report or medical records before passing a detention centre sentence, although they have power to call for such reports or records. The medical officers at New Hall and Send detention centres will in all cases consider whether persons received from the courts are physically or mentally unfit for the regime, and if so arrangements will be made for transfer elsewhere.

Does not the Home Secretary agree that it is almost impossible to make these judgments purely on physical appearance? Does he not think that it is essential that medical information is available to the courts before they make a decision? Will not the courts be held in contempt if they send a person to one of the centres and the medical officer then recommends that he be transferred?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's last point. It is right for the medical officers at the centres to decide the matter, and I shall stick by that.

Does not the Home Secretary recall a. recent article by the medical officer at Send, which indicated that depression, suicidal gestures and overdoses were common among the boys at that centre? Did not that article also indicate that anxiety and depression—sufficiently serious to warrant observation and drug treatment—were common to 5 per cent. of the boys? They should never have been sent to a detention centre, especially one where a tougher regime is imposed.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that if those medical facts had been known to the court in the first place, such an inappropriate sentence would not have been passed, and should not be passed in future?

The hon. Gentleman is criticising the existing regime. I believe that my proposal for medical officers is right and that we should see how it works.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that one of the most successful forms of treatment for drug addiction in Singapore and Hong Kong is precisely the sort of regime that will be operated in the short, sharp shock centres?

I believe that my hon. and learned Friend is right, but we shall have to see how we proceed.

Does not the Home Secretary agree that as he has not revealed the exact nature of the regime to the House, and as it is an experiment, nobody—the prison officers, the courts or the doctors—can predict what will be the mental and physical effects of the regime? Even with a medical report they will be left in the dark as to the effects of the regime on the offenders.

I have undertaken to announce the exact details of the projects before they begin.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there appears to be a campaign to misrepresent his proposals for a short, sharp shock as being an institution for physical and mental torture? Will he make it quite clear that the only object of the exercise is to provide a reasonable degree of discipline for young people who do not seem to know the meaning of the word?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I have made my position on the matter very clear. I have said consistently that there must be no question of brutality in these regimes, because if there were they would not work.

Is it not time to stop calling the scheme a short, sharp shock regime? If it is to have any chance of success, it should have at least a proper title, otherwise "short, sharp shock" will become judicial phraseology. Those human beings who are sentenced will feel an understandable sense of grievance at being called by such an inelegant and inappropriate term.

I note the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks. He should give the pilot schemes a chance to succeed. The way in which I have set them out is a reasonable basis from which to start.

Violent Crime And Murder (Scunthorpe)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will call for a report from the chief constable of the Humberside police force about the number of unsolved cases of violent crime and murder in the Scunthorpe area.

I understand from the chief constable of Humberside that his officers have had considerable success recently in detecting violent crime.

I pay tribute to the Humberside police force for bringing to account a criminal in a murder case. However, is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the grave public concern in my constituency about the large number of crimes of violence that have not been solved, including one or two murders? Will he give the House an indication of whether his Department will be able to assist the Humberside police force in this respect?

Naturally, there is concern about crimes of violence. I think that the House would like to know that the clear-up rate for all offences in Humberside in 1979 was 45 per cent., compared with 41 per cent. for England and Wales. For serious offences of violence the figure was 85 per cent. compared with 81 per cent. in England and Wales.

Nevertheless, the best assistance that could be given would be for the police to be strengthened. The strength of the Humberside police at the end of January was 1,889, an increase of 112 since publication of the Edmund-Davies report. There is an application for approval of an interim increase in the establishment, which will be considered carefully.

Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House how many people in Scunthorpe and other parts of the country received sentences of imprisonment for violence on the picket lines since the beginning of the steel strike?

That is a different question, but I shall write to my hon. Friend with details.



asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is yet in a position to make a statement on the review of firearm matters currently taking place.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) on 6 March.

Does the Home Secretary recognise that the more time that elapses before more stringent regulations for the possession of shotguns are introduced, the greater will be the number of deaths and injuries from their use in crimes of violence? Does he recognise that many members of the police, and the majority of the public, believe that action is long overdue to stop the abuse of the use of shotguns in crimes which are totally unjustified in anybody's eyes.

I made it clear in the reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) that I did not believe that legislation, which would involve a great deal of bureaucracy and more police time, was justified in this case. I therefore believed it right to proceed by means of a voluntary code on the safety of firearms with the various bodies concerned. That I have done. Those bodies have co-operated very willingly and are now producing those safety codes.

Will my right hon. Friend extend his investigations to the use of the crossbow? It is a deadly and silent weapon which is being used more widely. Will he consider that matter to see whether some control can be exercised?

The crossbow, by its very nature, is not a firearm, but naturally I shall look into the matter that has been raised by my hon. Friend.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is adequate evidence to show that if one punitively restricts the number of legitimately held firearms, it is not an automatic corollary that the number of unlawful firearms is thereby reduced?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. That was one of the reasons why I came to my decision in regard to legislation. It was also one of the reasons why I believed that a voluntary code of conduct on the control of firearms was the right way to proceed.

Does not my right hon. Friend understand that throughout the big conurbations the shotgun has now become the preferred weapon of the serious criminal? One of the most effective ways in which the Government can fulfil their pledge to protect the police is to have far more effective controls over shotguns.

I have made clear the way in which I wish to proceed without legislation, which is through a voluntary code of conduct which I hope will have the support of Opposition Members. I hope and believe that that is the right way to proceed, and I shall proceed with it as hard as I can.

Parliamentary Boundary Commission


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how long he now expects the Boundary Commission to require to complete its work; and if it is his intention to include within the subsequent legislation other electoral reforms.

I understand that the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for England is likely to have completed its task of reviewing parliamentary constituencies by early 1982. It would not be appropriate to include in the Order in Council implementing the Commission's recommendations any provisions dealing with other electoral matters.

Does not the Minister agree that it is the Government's intention to legislate separately for other provisions, such as the doubling of absent voters list? Bearing in mind that much time will be taken to settle the boundaries in respect of almost 400 separate constituencies, does not the Minister agree that it will leave little time for political organisations to implement those recommendations prior to the next general election?

I am glad to learn that I shall have the hon. Gentleman's support for the early and prompt implementation of the report of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission as soon as it becomes available.

Is it really the case that before the boundary commissioners can report on the Westminster divisions and their differences they must also report on any changes in the European constituencies? If that is so, is not that a ridiculous fetter on their obligations?

lit is the case that the law requires the Commission to submit a supplementary report on the European Assembly constituencies. I can well understand and appreciate the view that it is perhaps unnecessary for that to be required.

Does the Minister accept that the provision to which he has just referred is contained in the law of the land at present? Does he remember a speech which he made to the Conservative Party conference last October in which he said that the Government intended to proceed with all haste on the implementation and pushing ahead of the Boundary Commission report? In view of the need to be entirely nonpartisan, can he give an assurance that there will be no short cuts and no amendments of the law which are designed purely to achieve objectives which may suit the Conservative Party while being in conflict with the law of the land as it stands?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing changes in the law and conflict with the law. I can certainly assure him that we shall proceed in accordance with the law of the land.

What is the present position with regard to the membership of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for England?

The present position is that the new membership was announced on 10 March.

In view of the Minister's statement that he is not considering other electoral reforms, will he have a look at the implications of the Transport Bill, which is at present going through the House, with regard to the transport of electors to polling stations and the implications between the two?

I did not say that we were not considering other electoral reform measures, because, as some hon. Members will know, I have made a number of speeches indicating that we are considering other measures. What I said was that it would not be appropriate to include any other measures in the Order in Council implementing the recommendations of the Boundary Commission.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 27 March.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later this afternoon, I shall be greeting Chancellor Schmidt on his arrival in this country for bilateral talks.

Will my right hon. Friend take time to note that many people, particularly in Winchester, will welcome the Budget as extremely realistic, particularly the enlightened provisions for the rejuvenation of our inner cities and small businesses? However, many people will feel that a monetarist Budget can work effectively only in a free economy. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House of her dedicated efforts to break down the ill-effects of the two cartels, namely, the public employers and trade unions which operate a closed shop without a secret ballot?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that many people will welcome the Budget, which protects the weak, is fair to all and offers enterprising proposals for the vitality of the economy. I agree that we must reduce the role of the State, particularly as an employer. As my hon. Friend knows, we are passing denationalisation measures into law. I agree with him that we must deal with the power of the trade unions. As he knows, important proposals on the closed shop are now contained in the Employment Bill.

How does the Prime Minister square two proposals in the Budget with her commitment to the incentive society, namely, the failure to uprate child benefit in line with inflation and the abolition of the lower rate band?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the lower rate band was the top rate only for people who on the whole work only part time. The Chancellor took the view, I believe wholly rightly, that the most important thing was to increase personal allowances. I believe that will have the biggest possible effect. Child benefit, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, has been increased by some in 18¾ per cent., which is a considerable increase. If he looks at the overall effect of the Budget, he will find that it offers least help to single people—if I may put it that way—more help for married people and most help to families.

When my right hon. Friend today meets her ministerial colleagues and Chancellor Schmidt, will she discuss with them the question of yet another contravention by the French, by fishing for herring when fishing for that species is banned? That is causing serious concern to the British fishing industry which is standing by the EEC regulations.

I am aware of some of the allegations which have been made about herring fishing contraventions, which are perhaps permissible if they are very small in relation to a much larger catch of big fish, but which on other grounds are wholly outside the ban which our fishermen operate in the North Sea. I shall convey those strong feelings to Chancellor Schmidt.

Will the Prime Minister today take time to tell the people whether the Budget will increase unemployment or decrease it? Will she also tell the trade unions that the Government have no time for them and that they are proving that conclusively by the legislation which they are passing through the House?

The hon. Gentleman heard my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer say yesterday that, unfortunately, we expect unemployment to rise. Unemployment rose heavily during the lifetime of the previous Labour Government. Indeed, it more than doubled. Certain cases of overmanning must be reduced. The hope for future jobs must come from the vitality of small businesses. The Budget was very forthcoming about that.

Will my right hon. Friend reflect that although it was extremely irritating when the Italians announced the postponement of the European summit, there is a chance that that will assist in reaching a settlement? Will she further reflect that Chancellor Schmidt may intervene?

We were expecting to have bilateral talks with Chancellor Schmidt during these two days. I agree that we must use the interim profitably in order to reach a settlement of Britain's genuine budget complaints earlier than we had hoped.

When the right hon. Lady gives an account of the progress of unemployment will she include the fact that there was a month by month reduction in the level of employment during the last 18 months of the previous Labour Government? Does she not agree that that was coupled with a substantial reduction in inflation? If she is to bandy figures, she should include that in the record. Why are the Government cutting measures to assist the unemployed, including skillcentres?

I shall not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman about the figures that he presented earlier. He knows that the Labour Government inherited about 600,000 unemployed and that that figure more than doubled during the lifetime of that Government. As regards skillcentres, some of the places were not fully taken up. It did not seem right and proper to allow those places to continue.


asked the Prime Minister if she will state her public engagements for 27 March.

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

Has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister seen reports today to the effect that broadcasting organisations are planning to spend £3 million on covering the Moscow Olympics? As the BBC is having to bear considerable expenditure cuts, including the possible wind-up of some of its famous orchestras, will the Prime Minister make any recommendations to the BBC about such great expenditure?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I understand that the BBC has issued a statement to the effect that no final decision has been taken on the coverage of the Moscow Olympics. That decision will depend upon sports news value at the time and, therefore, on the number of people who go to the Moscow Olympics. The BBC will reconsider the issue nearer the time.

I share my hon. Friend's views about the proposals to reduce the number of orchestras. I am glad that private help is being given to keep those orchestras in being.

As the Chancellor admitted yesterday that the rate of inflation had doubled and that it was likely to be 20 per cent. next year, does the Prime Minister feel that he is justified in making a five-fold increase in prescription charges? Is it not a tax on the sick?

The rate of inflation will rise a little. As the hon. Gentleman noticed, my right hon. and learned Friend was careful not to increase the retail price index by very much in the Budget. A number of people had expected much higher increases in taxes and charges.

By the time the prescription charge of £1 comes in in December, the cost of a prescription item will be about £2½90. That is almost three times the amount paid. Some 66 per cent. of prescriptions go to those who pay nothing as a result of exemptions.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that we have finally got together—

Order. Although the hon. Gentleman's remark was meant kindly enough, it was his own fault last week. He had been jumping up, but did not do so when I called him.

My remark was meant as an indirect apology. I shall make it more direct. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although some of her colleagues may wish to argue about individual items in the Chancellor's broad programme, that in no way reflects the fact that the enormous majority of her party are firmly behind the Chancellor's broad strategy?

I wholly agree. It is the only strategy that will bring Britain back to prosperity and self respect.

The right hon. Lady has referred to "fairness". Is it fair that steel workers should be offered 8 per cent. while local authority workers arc offered 14 per cent. and the rate of inflation is nearer 20 per cent.? Does she not realise that Underground fares in London have risen by 45 per cent. in the past 12 months? Does she not accept that prescription charges have increased five-fold over a 12 month period? Where is the consistency?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, consistency is found in the fact that people must earn their keep. No one can expect that keep from anyone else. I had thought that the hon. Gentleman was in favour of responsible free collective bargaining. Earnings vary according to the circumstances of an industry. I have already replied to a question on prescription charges. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will recognise that prescription charges did not go up for a very long time.



asked the Prime Minister if she will pay an official visit to Little-port.

Some of my constituents will be very sorry to hear that. What they would have liked to ask the Prime Minister, after her oft-repeated support for small businesses and her help to small businesses in this Budget, is how she would expect a sub-postmaster with one employee to pay that employee eight weeks' sick pay, as he would have to do. They would also like to know who will become rich as a result of his having to pay tax and employer's contribution for both employee and the replacement.

I would be very surprised if a sub-postmaster with one employee had no alternative source of income. I was brought up in a shop with a sub-post office [Interruption.] I was brought up in such a shop for many years. A large sub-post office has a good deal of income or it has another shop. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will raise such issues of detail when the appropriate Bill is laid before the House.



asked the Prime Minister whether she has any plans to visit Elderslie.

Since Elderslie is a centre of the carpet industry, would my right hon. Friend assure those employed in that industry that she will lose no opportunity to draw the attention of our EEC partners in the Commission—at the highest level—to the fact that the Department of Trade has immense support from all parties? Does she accept that we should press for urgent action at Community level in order to deal with unfairly priced American imports?

I am very well aware of the problems facing the carpet industry as a result of cheap imports from the United States and Canada. I am also aware of the problems that face my hon. Friend's constituency. As he knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade secured some quotas for polyester yarn and nylon yarn. Unfortunately, he did not do so for carpet imports. The Commission and the Department of Trade are monitoring the situation very closely. They would not hesitate to take further action if that were thought necessary.

Cruise Missiles


asked the Prime Minister what representations she has received regarding the siting of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom.

Does the Prime Minister accept that the £10 million spent on installing cruise missiles could be better used to increase mobility allowance by at least £1 per week and the single-parent premium by at least 50p per week for 12 months or more? Does the right hon. Lady agree that, since Parliament was ignored, the people who live within 30 miles and preferably a wider radius around the proposed cruise missiles sites should have the right to vote on whether they accept them, with an 80 per cent. vote as for the closed shops, for example? Alternatively, does the right hon. Lady believe that freedom of choice exists only when she has the choice?

The hon. Gentleman asked a similar question before. As he knows, no freedom would exist in this country unless there were a Government prepared to defend it. It is the task of the Government to make such provision as they believe appropriate, debated before Parliament, to provide for the proper defence of this country to deter any enemies at all levels. The provision of cruise missiles is one of those levels.