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Commons Chamber

Volume 981: debated on Thursday 27 March 1980

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House Of Commons

Thursday 27 March 1980

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

British Railways Bill (By Order)

Dartmoor Commons Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Tuesday next.

Oral Answers To Questions

Home Department

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.

Business Of The House

Will the Leader of the House please state the business for next week?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 31 MARCH—Continuation of the debate on the Budget Statement.

TUESDAY 1 APRIL—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Competition Bill.

WEDNESDAY 2 APRIL—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Education (No. 2) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Limitation Amendment Bill (Lords).

THURSDAY 3 APRIL—It will be proposed that the House meets at 9.30 am, takes questions until 10.30 am and adjourns at 3.30 pm until Monday 14 April.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the dissatisfaction about the public expenditure White Paper and the way in which it was presented? We have not had time to consider it before the debates. A number of issues are emerging. For example, it appears that council house building is likely to stop completely during the next year or so. In view of that and other matters that could be raised, will the Leader of the House undertake that we shall have a debate on the White Paper in the week following the Easter Recess?

Many hon. Members have found it convienient that the public expenditure White Paper and the Budget proposals should be considered together. After all, one is dependent on the other. I cannot at this point give the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking. I shall consider the matter, but I believe that it is more likely that the debate will be later than the first week after the recess.

In view of the importance of the engineering profession to the future of this country, will my right hon. Friend undertake that shortly after the Easter Recess we shall have the long-awaited debate on the Finniston report?

An inter-departmental committee is considering the recommendations of that extremely important report. After it has made its recommendations the Secretary of State for Industry will make a statement.

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to early-day motion No. 529, standing in the name of a right hon. Member, with regard to the future leave of absence for the Chair?

[That this House will hereafter give its indulgence and leave of absence to Mr. Speaker by resolution and not otherwise; and the Clerk, in announcing such absence to the House in the customary manner shall hereafter refer to Mr. Speaker's absence as by leave of the House' and not as 'unavoidable'.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for the matter to be considered through the usual channels and in any other appropriate way?

I have seen the right hon. Gentleman's motion. The first part proposes a departure from a longstanding practice, and one would wish to consider the implications of that important suggestion. I have sympathy with the second part. I shall see what can be done to meet the suggestion. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman knows that it would involve an amendment to paragraph 2 of Standing Order No. 105.

I do not believe that my right hon. Friend mentioned a recess motion. We normally have a recess motion before this House goes into recess. Will my right hon. Friend indicate when the Adjournment motion will take place? It is a good opportunity for Back Benchers to raise matters of importance to their constituencies. The Government have failed to provide time to debate the textile industry, and I wish to raise the continuing problems of that important industry.

My hon. Friend is right in saying that a recess motion is normal. It will take place from about 3.30 pm on Wednesday 2 April. It is equally well established, as my hon. Friend will know, for that announcement not to be contained in the Business Statement.

The BBC cuts in local radio, television orchestras, and so forth will be decided on 17 April. Will the House have an opportunity in the first three days after the recess to express a view, say, in a three-hour debate?

I cannot answer questions on the business for succeeding weeks during this week's business questions. That is, technically, what the hon. Gentleman's question amounts to. The BBC is responsible for the cuts that it makes. I share the hope that the hon. Gentleman latently expressed in what he was saying, that there will be no discrimination against the arts.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said this afternoon that he would be putting forward the Government's proposals on the recommendations in the May report after the recess. May we have a debate before those proposals arc put before the House?

We must await my right hon. Friend's statement before deciding that.

Order. I shall call the right hon. and hon. Members who have risen. I say to hon. Gentlemen who have tried to catch my eye that I know that the House is anxious to get on to the main business of the day.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury withheld a relevant document from the House during the debate on the EEC budget on Monday. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that there will be adequate time soon to discuss that important document?

I understood that there was some difficulty about that during my absence at the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is entirely fair to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. My hon. Friend did not quote from the document; he referred to it. It was made available to hon. Members on Tuesday. The matter will be examined by the Scrutiny Committee. If the Committee recommends a debate, we shall certainly have one.

Will my right hon Friend confirm that in the previous Parliament it was the practice for the Government to have a debate on the defence White Paper and for there to be three separate debates on the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force on Supply days? Is it the intention of the Opposition to follow the same practice, and will time be found for separate debates on each of the three Armed Forces?

The defence White Paper will he published on 2 April. After an interval to consider it, there will be a full debate in this House. The arrangements have not been finalised, but we shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

I propose to call only those hon. Gentlemen who had risen before I made my statement earlier.

As the BBC Governors appear to be accepting the Government's insistence on cuts that some of us believe will do irreparable damage to a great public service, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be a debate in the House before the cuts are implemented?

I cannot give that assurance. However, I believe that whatever cuts the BBC has to make because of the financial limitations within which it moves should be evenly and fairly distributed and that there should not be discrimination against orchestras. I echo what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about how welcome it is that £250,000 has been raised from private industry for the Scottish National Orchestra.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) about the document on the European budget and convergence? Does he recognise that his responsibilities are to the whole House, and that he should ensure that documents that are in the possession of the press are in the possession of hon. Members?

I agree with that. I discussed in detail the events surrounding those documents and I was satisfied that no action was taken that infringed the rights of hon. Members.

Has the Leader of House seen early-day motion No. 502, which deals with the new building regulations and fees?

[That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Building (Prescribed Fees) Regulations 1980 (S.I., 1980, No. 286), dated 3rd March 1980, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th March, be annulled.]

Is he prepared to accept the plea from Members of the three major parties for a debate before those fees and building regulations are implemented? Does he consider it right that they should be implemented before a debate on the subject?

I have seen the motion on the Order Paper. It is an important matter, but I cannot see my way to providing time for a debate before the recess.

With regard to the Budget debate and the information provided to the House, why does the Red Book not contain any prediction of the growth or otherwise in manufacturing output for the next 12 months? Is it because the Government expect a decline and are not prepared to tell the House?

Secondly, why is the energy section in the public expenditure White Paper wholly based on the situation that prevailed several months ago in respect of the nuclear power programme? When will the Government tell the House the truth about that?

I am flattered that those questions should be directed to me. They are not remotely connected with next week's business. They are important and I am willing to do what I can to answer them. However, I am not the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the moment. I am the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—a rather more important post.

The contents of the Red Book are the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, He indicated that he expected a rate of growth of 1 per cent. over the next few years. He wisely put it at a low level instead of inflating it to an artificial level as previous Chancellors have done.

The point made by the hon. Gentleman about nuclear policy is important. That policy is under review and there will be a statement in due course.

May I wish the right hon. Gentleman success in his ambition to become Chancellor of the Exchequer?

More seriously, has he noticed the growing support of many hon. Members for the motion that expresses concerti about the future of the Westminster hospital and Westminster medical school?

[That this House, conscious of the great service provided by the Westminster Hospital to the citizens of Westminster, its great medical achievements with a worldwide reputation in teaching and research and the quality of sevice provided for many years to Members of both Houses of Parliament, expresses its deep concern at the proposals published by the London Health Planning Consortium which propose the closure of 410 of the 510 beds at the Westminster Hospital, thus reducing it to a small support hospital without facilities for teaching or research; and calls upon the Secetary of State for Social Services to give an early assurance that Westminster Hospital will continue.]

May I press him to provide time as soon as possible for a debate on the Flowers report on medical education in London, and the London health planning consortium's report on hospital beds in London?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those matters are important. We are still awaiting the report of the University of London and the reflections of the health authority on the matter. We can consider the matter when we have that knowledge.

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill is receiving its Third Reading in the other place today. Will the right hon. Gentleman announce when the Bill will be read a Second time in this House, or will he make an announcement today that, in view of the savage attack on civil liberties contained in the Bill, he will now withdraw it?

We must separate the two parts of the question. Logically, I shall reverse the order. It is not the intention of the Government to withdraw the Bill. That paves the way for answering the first part of the question. In response to the hon. Member's soliciting. I shall try to bring the Bill before the House at an early opportunity.

When will the Leader of the House be in a position to bring forward proposals on the changes decided by the House on Members' secretaries' pensions and allowances?

I have given an instruction to the Fees Office that it should pay those new rates of allowance for secretarial and research assistants to any hon. Member applying for them, backdated to 14 February. I have today answered a question on the subject tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), and I hope that that will help hon. Members. There are some difficult questions with regard to pensions, and we are investigating the technicalities, with a view to making rapid progress. Meanwhile, I hope that hon. Members will be pleased to know the first part of my answer.

The Leader of the House will have read the further accounts about the situation in Cambodia, to which reference was made under Standing Order No. 9 yesterday. Will he arrange for an early statement to be made by one of his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

The situation in Cambodia is serious, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I am pleased to say that, with the support of the House, the Government have made £7 million available for the relief of famine there. The position has grown grave again. My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary is reviewing the position, and if he has a further development in policy to announce, it will be made in the other place and the Lord Privy Seal will make a similar announcement here.

I remind hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Thursday 3 April up to six hon. Members may raise with Ministers subjects of their choice. Applications should reach my office by 10 p.m. on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning and the result will be made known as soon as possible thereafter.

Social Security Benefits (Uprat1ng)

I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement about next November's increases in social security benefits, and about the other changes foreshadowed in the Chancellor's statement yesterday.

The retirement pension for a single person will go up by £3·85, from £23·30 to £27·15, and the rate for a married couple by £6·15, from £37·30 to £43·45. These increases match the full 161½ per cent. expected movement in prices between the last uprating and the next, which, under clause 1 of the Social Security Bill passed by this House and now in another place, has been fixed for 24 November.

Other benefits which will be similarly price protected include widows' pensions, war and industrial disablement pensions, non-contributory invalidity pension, new scheme additional pensions and graduated pensions, attendance allowance and invalid care allowance. There will be a special improvement in mobility allowance—from £12 to £14·50 a week—an increase of 21 per cent.

Supplementary pensions will be increased and aligned with the new basic retirement pension.

As announced yesterday, child benefit will be increased by 75p to £4·75 a week for each child. The premium for one-parent families will go up by 50p to £3 a week. Thus, a single parent with two children will get £12·50 for the children, compared with £10·50 at present.

Family income supplement for lower paid workers will be raised in November by an average of one-third, thus considerably improving the real value of this benefit. This includes an extra amount for fuel costs—to which I shall return later.

Most of the long-term contributory benefits that I have mentioned so far are taxable. In contrast, the short-term benefits and invalidity benefit have hitherto not been treated as part of taxable income, although it has been common ground on both sides of the House that they should, in principle, be taxed. As my right hon. and learned Friend said yesterday, proposals to achieve that will be put before the House in due course, so that these benefits will be treated as part of taxable income from April 1982, or as soon as possible thereafter. This is necessary to restore a fairer balance between incomes in work and out of work.

As an interim step, these untaxed benefits will be increased next November by 11½ per cent.—5 per cent. less than the increase in the taxed long-term benefits. Accordingly, sickness and unemployment benefit will go up by £2·15 a week for a single person, and by £3·45 a week for a married couple, to £20·65 and £33·40 respectively. Invalidity pension will be increased by £2·70 to £26·00 for a single person, and by £4·30 to £41·60 for a married couple. The dependency increases for children paid with these benefits will be increased by 16½ per cent., offset by the 75p increase in child benefit.

The Government are determined to maintain the safety net for the poorest people and accordingly the scale rates of short-term supplementary benefit will be fully price protected by increasing them in line with the 16½ per cent. forecast.

The cost of this uprating will be about £3 billion in a full year. About two-thirds of that will be met out of the national insurance fund, and I shall review contribution rates as usual in the autumn. Any necessary changes will take effect from April 1981.

For the convenience of the House, I am circulating details of the new rates of benefit in the Official Report, and copies will be available in the Vote Office.

The social security programme costs about £20 billion a year. It accounts for about one quarter of all public expenditure. It has grown, in real terms, by £7,000 million over the last 10 years, and now costs the equivalent of £1,000 for every household in the land. Continuing growth at this rate cannot be sustained, particularly at a time of nil or falling economic growth. Even after making the savings announced by the Chancellor yesterday, this programme will still rise next year by about 2½ per cent. in real terms. Moreover, given the need to contain the size of the public sector borrowing requirement, it is inescapable that this programme must bear some share of the necessary economies.

The savings that we have identified affect primarily those on short-term benefit, above the supplementary benefit level. Though I cannot pretend that they will be welcome, I must stress again that the "safety-net"—the short-term supplementary benefit level below which none shall fall—retains its real value.

The changes affect the earnings-related supplement, the linking rules for sickness and unemployment benefit, eligibility of occupational pensioners for unemployment benefit and the limit for the retirement pensioners earnings rule.

First, earnings-related supplement: I propose that from January 1981, the 15 per cent. rate of supplement on earnings over £30 a week, paid with short-term incapacity, unemployment and widowhood benefits, should be reduced to 10 per cent. and that, a year later, in January 1982, the supplement as a whole should come to an end.

The supplement was introduced in 1966, since when circumstances have considerably changed. Redundancy payments are now more generous and the rapid development of employers' sick pay schemes means that the supplement—which has been allowed by successive Governments to decline in real value—is much less significant than formerly.

Next, the linking rules: the changes we propose will tighten the rules in relation to very short spells of incapacity, or repeated spells off work. We propose to shorten the linking period from the present 13 weeks to six weeks. In addition, we propose that benefits should not be paid for spells lasting three days or less. Both rules have, in the past, given scope for abuse. In particular, the operation of the 13-week rule has led to people getting the higher invalidity benefit after a succession of widely spaced but short spells of minor illness—a circumstance for which it was never intended.

Thirdly, unemployment benefit for occupational pensioners: these are, by definition, people who have retired and taken a pension. The proposal we make is that from April 1981 unemployment benefit will be reduced, pound for pound, for those whose pensions exceed £35 a week. The House has, on no fewer than three occasions, rejected this change, and I myself have spoken and voted against it. Yet, when economies in the social security budget must be made, it is not now reasonable to protect entitlement to a year's unemployment benefit for people who have retired and are in receipt of significant occupational pensions.

Finally, in the context of the economic situation as a whole, it is difficult to justify further increases in the earnings limit at this stage. At a time when other groups are having to make sacrifices, we believe that it is right to hold the earnings limit at its present level of £52 a week for the time being. However we remain firmly committed to ending the earnings rule as soon as circumstances allow.

The overall effect of this group of changes, including the 5 per cent. abatement, will be to save at current prices £270 million in 1981–82 and £480 million in 1982–83, less than 2 per cent. of the social security budget as a whole. But, I repeat, this programme will still be growing at a time of falling output.

Legislation will be needed to implement these changes. A Bill will be published tomorrow, which will also cover the changes in supplementary benefits for strikers' families, outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend yesterday.

I come now to help with fuel costs for consumers who are hardest hit. The supplementary benefit heating additions usually go up in line with fuel costs and, of course, the main scale rates of benefit take account of fuel costs with other living expenses. But this year we recognise that this would not be enough, and I am therefore proposing a special package.

First, the basic rate heating addition will be nearly half as much again, increasing from 95p a week to £1·40—that is, to £72·80 a year. Secondly, the middle and upper rates will be not only increased but merged into a combined rate of £3·40 a week, worth £176·80 a year. This will simplify the scheme and will mean an increase of almost 80 per cent. for some 350,000 people, largely the sick, the disabled and the old.

In addition to these substantial increases, the basic rate heating addition of £1·40 a week will be paid automatically to supplementary pensioner households above the age of 70—this winter's scheme was confined to the over 75s—and to supplementary benefit families with children under 5. Although most severely disabled people on supplementary benefit already qualify for a heating addition, there will be a "fail-safe" arrangement to pick up any who do not. Furthermore, in order to help low income families in work, a special addition of £1 per week will go to FIS families, on top of the £1 already added for fuel this winter.

We are taking other measures outside the social security schemes. Needy pensioners will be helped to save fuel by raising the grant under the home insulation scheme from 66 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the cost. Ministers are also launching an urgent study into ways of helping the old and disabled to save fuel, by insulating their homes, by draught proofing and by making better use of heating appliances. Such a scheme could involve the voluntary bodies and could use younger unemployed people under existing Manpower Services Commission powers. The fuel industries, too, are being encouraged to play their part by sensitive handling of the problems of poor consumers and by developing and extending their easier payment arrangements.

This is, by any standards, a substantial package of extra help. Expenditure on supplementary benefit heating additions, apart from the special measures we announced for this last winter, is running at about £100 million a year. The continuation of this winter's measures adds about £20 million the measures I have just announced add a further £85 million. We shall thus be spending in total over £200 million a year on special help for those least able to cope with rising fuel costs.

In a very difficult year we are protecting benefits for the elderly, preserving intact the safety net below which none shall fall, providing worthwhile help for lone parents and low income families with children and giving substantial new help with fuel costs to the needy.

The Government came into office committed to help those in the greatest need, and that is what we are doing. By next November, lone parents will have benefited by a 50 per cent. increase in the child benefit addition, by entitlement to the higher long-term rate of supplementary benefit after one year instead of two, and by a more generous sliding scale of disregard for earnings. Low income earners with children, including single-parent earners, will have been helped by doubling the family income supplement.

The disabled will have been helped by a 45 per cent. increase in mobility allowance, as well as by getting the longterm supplementary benefit rate after one year instead of two. The married pension will have gone up by £12.25 per week. No fewer than 2 million needy people will receive help with their fuel bills. That means £20 million more, in real terms, than in the last year of the previous Government. These are not the actions of a Government who do not care. But caring is not just: coping with the present; it is safeguarding the future. If we do not make this country more prosperous, the people we want to help the most will be the very people who will suffer most—the old, the sick, the disabled and the poor. It is on their behalf that I commend this package to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there any device whereby it is possible to avoid a Minister having to make to the House a statement lasting a quarter of an hour which is difficult for right hon. and hon. Members not in possession of the text to absorb and still enable the facts to be dealt with in debate by this House?

The content of the Minister's statement is, of course, a matter for his judgment. I cannot help the right hon. Gentleman.

The closing remarks of the Secretary of State cannot hide the fact that the Budget and the statement he has made today are a fundamental attack upon millions of working people and the unemployed. The last time that unemployment benefit was reduced in real terms was in 1928. The present reduction, along with the proposed reduction in invalidity and sick benefit, will mean a five-point reduction—or one-third—of their entitlement. What will the Secretary of State do to protect the people he will now put below the poverty level? How many more people now will be forced to go on supplementary benefit, a benefit that we want to see phased out and reduced?

I think that the House should note that invalidity benefit was introduced by a previous Conservative Government and has now been changed from a long-term benefit to a short-term benefit. Along with the invalidity payment, will the noncontributory invalidity pension, invalid care allowance and the housewives' noncontributory invalidity pension have to take account of the five-point reduction that the right hon. Gentleman is proposing? Perhaps he would inform the House about that.

Let us consider the effect on the low paid workers of the removal of the lowest rate tax band. By abolishing the reduced rate band of tax and failing to increase child benefit in line with inflation, the Secretary of State has actually helped to reduce incentives for the low paid and has widened the poverty gap. Perhaps he would answer that point. The House should also note that by fixing the date of payment as 24 November he has actually taken £34 million in benefit away from people which would have been paid to them if the date had been 17 November, and he ought to account for that. That is a lot of money for people on benefit.

I now turn to the removal or deeming of £12 in relation to strikers' families. We see this as a direct attack upon the trade union movement. Law-abiding families are being treated on a different basis from families of convicted people. It is right to treat families of convicted people decently, but this Government are making an example of the families of those who are on strike.

I turn now to the health charges. I am glad to see that the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister is present. On 18 April 1979 she said:
"Let me make this clear: the Conservative Party has no plans for new National Health Service charges."
What is the charge for the eye test other than a new charge under the National Health Service? Where does the Prime Minister stand in regard to that statement?

The new prescription charge is a direct tax on health. Surely it is outrageous that, before it has been increased to 70p, the increase to £1 has already been announced. I ask the Secretary of State whether he will make any further exemptions to assist those who will feel the weight of this new charge. It is no good Conservative Members laughing because—

We did not increase it to £1.[ Interruption. ] It is the working poor who will feel the effect of this increase to £1 and I hope Conservative Members take note of that.

I assume that the Secretary of State wants to act legally but why has he not given the uprating, based both on earnings and prices, in line with the 1975 Act? The Social Security Bill is not yet law and he has no right to give the uprating based on prices only. The Bill has not even gone to another place and we are entitled to know why the 1975 Act has not been implemented. We have had difficulty with the Secretary of State on previous issues.

In regard to pensioners, if a shortfall is forecast, will the Secretary of State make it good and not act as he did on the previous shortfall? [ Interruption. ] I think I am entitled to ask these questions. If the Government make these changes, we are entitled to ask searching questions.

The abolition of the earnings-related benefit is absolute robbery, because people have contributed to the earnings-related benefit since 1966. What percentage of people actually receive redundancy payments, and what percentage of their contribution based on their average earnings goes towards earnings-related benefit? Will contributions now be reduced to take account of the benefit that the right hon. Gentleman is removing?

Finally, I come to a subject that will interest Conservative Members—child benefit. Will the Secretary of State confirm that £1.20 is the correct amount to meet the rate of inflation by November this year? Is he aware that by not raising child benefit by £1.20 he is hitting the families of this country, cer- tainly those on lower incomes, and is devaluing child benefit? The right hon. Gentleman has paid lip service to child benefit time and again. Twice in their manifesto the Conservatives stated their adherence to the principle of child benefit, yet it is being reduced. What will the Secretary of State do to protect the family during a period of inflation and rising unemployment?

I believe that we are entitled to an answer to the questions that I have put to the Secretary of State.

At the beginning of his questions the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) engaged in what can only be described as a piece of political hysteria. To describe the package that I announced to the House as a fundamental attack on millions of working people is sheer rubbish. The right hon. Gentleman linked that with the 5 per cent. abatement of the short-term national insurance benefits. He will know that he was fully committed in principle to the taxation of short-term national insurance benefits. He wrote me a letter in 1976, and I was so impressed with it that I had it put into Hansard. He wrote that there was little doubt that in principle all such benefits should be taxed.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to refer to administrative difficulties. I am happy to tell him that we are coping with the administrative difficulties.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me how many people would be added to the supplementary benefit list. In 1981–82, the first full year during which all the measures that I have announced will take effect if the abatement of earnings-related supplement is included, the addition is about 30,000.

NCIP, attendance allowance and invalid care allowance are not subject to abatement.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the reduced rates of tax and incentives. The Budget as a whole improves the "Why work?" position for those in receipt of national insurance benefits. As we are maintaining the safety net for the poorest in the land through supplementary benefit, there is a marginal reduction in incentive for those at that level. That position is being helped by the large additions that we have made to the family income supplement.

The right hon. Gentleman queried the date of payment. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday that 16½ per cent. is the anticipated rate of inflation between the previous uprating and the next. Therefore, inflation has been taken fully into account.

It is suggested that the measures concerning strikers' families represent an attack on the trade union movement. The amount of supplementary benefit which has been paid to the steel strikers to date is over £8 million. The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation has not—[ Interruption. ] £8 million—and the unions at the centre of that strike have paid not a penny piece in strike pay to their members. If our proposals had been in force, the supplementary benefit payments would have been about half those that have been paid.

I shall deal with health charges and prescription charges on another occasion as we are now discussing social security. I stress that 66 per cent. of prescription charges go to those who are exempt. That includes all those who would be hard hit by the increase. There is the annual £12 "season ticket" arrangement from 1 December.

The right hon. Gentleman had his fun about legality when talking about earnings and prices. The order effecting the uprating that I have proposed cannot be brought before the House until the Social Security Bill is enacted. The whole thing will be lawful.

We have given a categorical undertaking that pensioners will be protected against rises in prices. The right hon. Gentleman knows that entitlement to the earnings-related supplement in any calendar year rests on the applicant having a contribution record in the preceding fiscal year ending 31 March. The entitlement rule is being fully observed in the abolition of the earnings-related supplement in 1982.

The reduction and the ending of the earnings-related supplement will be one of the factors that the Government Actuary will have to take into account when considering the con- tribution rate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is a pay-as-you-go scheme.

I move on to child benefit. In a difficult year, when it has not been possible to maintain the full value of the effect of the tax allowances, the combined effect of the measures that my right hon. and learned Friend announced yesterday was an overall 11 per cent. increase on an annual basis of personal allowances. That is exactly equivalent to the annual rate of increase of child benefit of 18¾ per cent. over 19 months as equivalent to 11 per cent. over 12 months. The figures are closely in line. Therefore, we are entitled to call this a family Budget.

Order. I understand that it is the intention to debate these matters on Monday next, when they will be the main burden of the debate. To be fair to those who are to participate in today's debate, I propose to call four hon. Members from each side of the Chamber before moving on to other matters.

My right hon. Friend has announced a package that means a substantial increase in real terms for the social security budget. Does he agree that the extravagant language from the Opposition Front Bench is wholly irresponsible and unrealistic?

Order. We must restrain ourselves. This is a time not for debate but for elucidation of the statement. The debate will come later.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the package, the line drawn between short-term benefits and long-term benefits will be of great importance, especially for those who have been out of work and sick for a long period?

I accept what my hon. Friend says. I am grateful to him for his remarks about the whole package. Many right hon. and hon. Members will know that many invalidity beneficiaries choose not to move to the pension because the pension is taxed and long-term invalidity benefit is not. That makes a nonsense of the failure to tax benefits, including the invalidity benefit. As the figures that I announced indicated, it is a much higher rate. Equally, it is right that it should be treated as part of taxable income.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, apart from the decisions that he and his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer have taken on prescription charges, his decision to cut back in real terms on unemployment benefit, invalidity benefit and child benefit means that he is no longer able to fulfil the proper responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Social Services, which are to protect those who are least able to protect themselves? In view of all that he said before the election, especially on child benefit, does he believe that he should continue to hold his present post?

My right hon. Friend kindly said "Yes". That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The package that I have announced goes the whole way to protect those in the greatest need. As the right hon. Gentleman was equally committed with his right hon. Friends to tax short-term benefits, he has no right to quarrel with the 5 per cent. abatement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposal on strike pay and the deemed £12 a week is widely welcomed in the country because it has been considered extremely unfair that those who are on strike should benefit from the taxpayer? Does he agree that the deemed £12 a week will mean that the taxpayer is picking up some of the cost of this social payment? Does he accept that it is high time that the Opposition realised that union funds and the contributions that ordinary trade unionists make to those funds should be used when members are called out on strike by their leaders?

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. I have no doubt whatever that this change will be widely welcomed in the country, not least by many trade union members who believe that it will make their unions act more responsibly.

Does not the Minister realise that to deem that people have had money when they have not received it is unprecedented and must in some cases be outrageously unfair? Would it not be better for the Government to take powers so that they can work out the total sum involved and then send the bill to the trade union involved—or is the Minister afraid of the trade unions?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits for the Bill tomorrow. Neither my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor nor I said anything about deeming. We are simply saying that the amount of supplementary benefit to which a striker should be entitled for his family will be reduced by £12. It will not he deemed. It will be reduced by £12. It will apply to all strikers. It is reasonable to assume that they will have made, either through their unions or individually, provision to cover themselves in the event of a strike.

I welcome the generous fuel assistance package announced by my right hon. Friend. First, will he confirm that it is intended that this should be paid not only to those on supplementary benefit but to those in work who are low paid and who therefore receive FIS? Secondly, will be confirm that, unlike past fuel assistance schemes, it does not depend on a particular fuel being used, but will be payable whether gas, electricity or solid fuel is used?

One of the great advantages of the more limited scheme this winter and the greatly expanded scheme of next winter is that they cover all fuels. It is a help to those in the greatest need with their fuel costs, whatever fuel they use. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The help going to those in work—that is, families with children who are entitled to family income supplement—as with all FIS payments that continue, once awarded, for a year, operates as a considerable incentive for those who return to, or remain at, work.

Is the Minister aware that most people, certainly working people, will regard these policies as sheer class policies and think that the Government are acting in a mean and callous fashion? The people will get the Government out of office at the earliest possible moment. I hope that the trade movement takes the strongest possible action to do that.

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is advocating that the union should engage in political strikes against a democratically elected Government. If so, I should have thought that he, as a good Member of the House of Commons, would be unwise to pursue that course. The constituents of the hon. Gentleman, as much as those of any other Member of Parliament, are thoroughly fed up with the sight of people being better off out of work. The Budget and the changes I announced make a start on dealing with that.

Referring to the contribution that may be expected from the unions towards the strike pay, is not ours the only country in Europe in which hitherto the whole of the support for those on strike has been extracted from the taxpayer? Does not this change enable us to look to the unions for a reasonable contribution and, as a result, a much greater measure of responsibility?

My hon. and learned Friend is right when he says that ours is the only country to do this. This is one of the measures which the Government are taking in fulfilment of their pledge to even up the balance between employers and unions.

Does the Secretary of State recoil last week's debate on the Social Security Bill, and especially that on child benefit? Was not he pressed strongly by his own Back Benchers? Did not he seem to agree that child benefit was the best way to reduce the poverty trap? Did he make any attempt in the Cabinet to get more than 75p this time?

The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to answer that question. Perhaps I could say that the 75p is the equivalent of an increase in child tax allowance of £130. I suspect that if my right hon. and learned Friend had announced an increase in the child tax allowance of £130, he would have been applauded by hon. Members on both sides of the House. When we come to convert this into weekly payment, it is made to look much smaller.

The advantage of the child benefit is that it goes to people who are below the tax threshold and who would not be able to obtain the advantage of a child tax allowance. Therefore, it is a great improvement on that. If we increased the child benefit by the figure of £1.20, the subject of the amendment on the Report stage of the Social Security Bill, it would have cost £90 million more in the current year and £250 million more in a full year. Anybody who advocates that course must be prepared to say where that money should come from.