House Of Commons
Wednesday 16 April 1980
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Message From The Queen
Location Of Offices Bureau
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address, as follows:
I have received your Address praying that the Location of Offices Bureau (Revocation) Order 1980 be made in the form of the draft laid before your House.
I will comply with your request.
Oral Answers To Questions
Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs
asked the Lord Privy Seal whether Her Majesty's Government have offered Uganda assistance in the training of her police and armed forces in view of the possibility of withdrawal of Tanzanian troops.
We attach priority to helping Uganda rebuild her police force, and have been giving assistance in this field for many months. A request for training assistance for the Ugandan armed forces is presently under consideration.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply. Does he agree that Tanzania did a great service to the world in assisting to remove President Amin? Does he further agree that any help that we can give to Uganda to ensure stability in both its armed forces and its police force should in no way be denied? Will he ensure that a decision is reached as soon as possible?
I agree entirely that anything that we can do to help Uganda establish law and order—which is its top priority—is something to which we shall readily respond. That is why I said that we are giving priority to providing assistance and advice with the police and the armed services. There are further requests for advice concerning the armed services, to which we are willing to respond.
Will my hon. Friend consider either initiating the presence of a Commonwealth peacekeeping force in Uganda or inviting the United Nations to consider establishing a United Nations force in that country, rather than wait on events?
Although there has been a withdrawal of 10,000 Tanzanian troops, there are still at least another 10,000 in Uganda at present, and probably about 1,000 Tanzanian police. It is for the President of Uganda to determine whether he wishes to invite other countries to contribute forces. To date there has been no formal request to the Commonwealth Secretariat for a Commonwealth force. If the President wishes for that, it is for him to make an approach.
The Minister referred to a request for assistance in training the armed forces. Will he tell us the nature of that request, when was it made, and how quickly are the Government likely to respond? Is he aware that any other form of civil aid will be futile and worthless unless there is law and order, and chaos is prevented in Uganda?
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman that the first priority—which is the choice of the Government of President Binaisa—must be the preservation and establishment of law and order. That is why I have said that we are giving prority to that area.On the question of armed services, there have been discussions between the Deputy Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff in Uganda, and the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office in Britain. They have made various requests, which we are considering urgently, and to which we shall respond shortly.
asked the Lord Privy Seal if he has any plans to visit the Middle East.
My right hon. Friend hopes to do so before long.
While the Lord Privy Seal is in that region, will he take the opportunity to raise the question of the human rights of the Palestinians, especially as we hear so much about this subject at the present time? Does the Minister agree that we need action rather than words to ensure that these people are once again able to live in their homeland and govern themselves?
As we have often said in recent months, we agree that the Palestinians have political rights. In any settlement that has any chance of enduring, those rights have to be accepted and recognised.
Is my hon. Friend aware that if he were to visit the Middle East today he would find among our friends grave concern that some positive and effective action should emerge from the EEC Foreign Ministers meeting on Monday with regard to the position of Iran? Is he further aware that if that meeting fails, that failure will be trumpeted out, literally in Iran and other countries as being a failure by America to achieve the support of its Allies, which will seriously demean and weaken the Western Alliance as a whole?
I accept the first part of my hon. Friend's question. There is no special magic about Monday's meeting, except that it provides the first opportunity for the Foreign Ministers of the Nine to meet and, we hope, to reach at least a first step decision along the lines indicated by my hon. Friend.
Does the Minister agree that the brutal and barbaric attack on the kibbutz at Misgav Am last week by a constituent body of the PLO makes it plain that the Foreign Secretary was sadly wrong when he said that that organisation was no longer a terrorist body?
We condemn absolutely the attack on the Misgav Am kibbutz to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. Ae he knows, we do not recognise the PLO. It is an umbrella organisation which includes different bodies, some of which are still associated with terrorism of that kind and others of which are working through political and diplomatic channels. It is important to encourage the second tendency and to condemn the first.
Does my hon. Friend accept that until the PLO has totally, clearly and definitely renounced any intention of destroying Israel it will be hopeless to demand, and useless to expect, the Israelis to have any kind of meeting with it?
In the end, I think that the two things will have to occur more or less at the same time. The Palestinians will have to accept Israel's right to exist within secure and recognised frontiers, and the Israelis will have to accept that the Palestinians have political rights, too.
Has the Minister noticed today the announcement of the creation of a new Arab force, including the PLO? Does not that indicate to him that there is no change in the PLO's stance towards the integrity of the State of Israel?
We have noticed the announcement of the force. Let us wait and see what becomes of it in practice.
Mr James Moss
asked the Lord Privy Seal what further information he has regarding the trial or release of Mr. James Moss presently held in Mongu jail, Zambia.
I understand that no decision has yet been reached on whether the case against Mr. Moss should proceed to trial. Meanwhile, he is regularly brought before a magistrate, but continues to be remanded in custody, since bail is not granted in Zambia in murder cases.
As the Minister knows that Mr. Moss has been in confinement since December 1979, does he think that a visit by himself, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and myself might expedite a conclusion on the part of the DPP?
I should have to reflect a little on that question before giving a straight answer. However, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), are concerned. Indeed, their constituents who are relations of Mr. Moss have also made representations to me. My judgment is that through our high commission we are keeping in close touch indeed with developments in this case, and we shall keep a very careful watch on the welfare of Mr. Moss.
Does not the Minister think that it is unacceptable for Mr. Moss to languish in gaol for four months without the Zambian Director of Public Prosecutions making a decision on whether to bring the matter to trial? Can he say what further action the Foreign Office will take to press the Zambian authorities to make a quick decision, so that at least that element of doubt is removed from over this man's head?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, a charge of murder has been made against Mr. Moss. It is up to the Zambian Director of Public Prosecutions, when he has considered all the factors, to decide whether Mr. Moss should be taken to trial. We have been in touch with the Zambian Government to ask how far ahead they anticipate that will be. As yet we have had no response, but we hope to receive one very soon.
asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on relations between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of South Africa.
asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he expects to meet the South African Ambassador.
Our relations with South Africa are governed by our desire to encourage peaceful change there and to achieve an internationally recognised settlement in Namibia. If there is progress on both these fronts, we can look forward to the steady improvement in our relations which we seek.I have no plans to meet the South African Ambassador in the immediate future.
Bearing in mind the build-up of Soviet maritime forces in the Indian Ocean, most recently described in the defence White Paper, will my right hon. Friend have discussions with the Ministry of Defence about the possibility of sharing maritime intelligence information with the South African Navy, and even the possibility of having joint naval exercises with the South African Navy?
As my hon. Friend will realise, that is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but at present we have no plans to act as he has suggested.
When he meets the ambassador, will the right hon. Gentleman express the deep concern that is felt about the fact that Mr. Nelson Mandela and his associates have been locked away in South African prisons for 16 years, yet their real crime is that they simply want freedom for their own people? Would it not be wise for the Government to give the South African authorities the same sort of advice as Mr. Harold Macmillan gave them in his "wind of change" speech in 1960?
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we have no standing in the case of Mr. Mandela, so I do not think that it would be right for us to make formal representations on his behalf.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!".]—However, I am sure that the South African Government recognise very well what an excellent effect on international opinion the release of Mr. Mandela would have, and how widely it would be welcomed in this country as a symbol of the desire for reconciliation in South Africa.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Conservative Members welcome the improved relationship between this Government and the Government of the Republic of South Africa? Does he agree that it would be wrong to put undue pressure on South Africa at the present time over the future of South-West Africa? Does not he further agree that South Africa is doing its utmost to ensure that there is gradual progress to a more democratic form of government in South-West Africa, and that the Administrator General, Mr. Viljoen, is seeking to hand over executive powers in many areas to the Parliament which at present exists in South-West Africa, which represents all 11 ethnic groups?
Of course I hope for better relations with South Africa. As my hon. Friend will know, a specific question on Namibia will be answered shortly. It may be worth reminding the House that it would have been impossible to hold the elections in Zimbabwe without the logistic help that we received from South Africa.
In view of the Government's opposition to the British Lions tour of South Africa, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the House, to the British Lions rugby touring team and to the South African Government that British Embassy facilities in South Africa will not be available to that team?
I do not think that that sort of declaration helps anyone. The House and the Rugby Unions know very well what our attitude is to the Gleneagles agreement, which commits us to taking every practical step to discourage sporting contacts with South Africa.
Does my right hon. Friend think that it is right and proper that an organisation such as the British Olympic Association, which does not wish to mix politics with sport, should consider sending a team to Moscow, when for political reasons the South Africans are prevented from sending a team?
I do not honestly believe that that issue arises on this question.
May I press the right hon. Gentleman further with regard to Mr. Nelson Mandela? Surely there is nothing wrong with the Government pressing very strongly for, and making the strongest representations about, the release of Nelson Mandela and others, who have suffered years of the most cruel form of imprisonment on Robben Island. I believe that the full strength of the voice of the Government, through representations to the South African Ambassador here and to the South African authorities, should be heard with regard to the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners.
The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I have just said. We do not have any formal standing, but I have made clear what good would follow from a decision of the South Africans to release Mr. Mandela.
asked the Lord Privy Seal how many times in the current year the five Western Powers have held discussions with South Africa concerning the ending of the illegal occupation of Namibia.
The negotiations for Namibian independence to be achieved through the plan for United Nations supervised elections require frequent contact between the five Western Powers, acting either jointly or individually, and South Africa.
Does not the Minister recognise that there is some urgency in the matter, since South Africa is now regularly using Namibia as a base for repeated assault and aggression not only against Angola but against Zambia? Is there not a contradiction between our efforts to free Namibia and our apparent interest in building up commercial and financial relations with South Africa?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been discussions recently between United Nations officials, on both the military and political sides, and the various countries involved with the Namibian problem. Dr. Waldheim, the United Nations Secretary-General, has just made a report on that mission. It is reasonable that we should strike a balance between the need for some patience, in the light of those developments, and the need to reach an agreement as soon as possible—I hope—on the outstanding problem of the demilitarised zone.
Will my hon. Friend ensure that when the group of Five discuss Namibia full consideration is given to the views of the different parties inside Namibia, and also to the views of the different wings of SWAPO inside and outside Namibia?
Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend of that. The group of Five have kept in touch with the internal parties to ensure that they are aware of their views, and they will continue to do so.
Is it not in the interest of the West that there should be a free, democratic and independent Namibia as soon as possible?
Indeed. That is why we are committed to working as hard as possible for United Nations' supervised elections.
asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will place in the Library details of his approach to the Russian Government of his proposals as to how the Russian Army should withdraw forces from Afghanistan in order to avoid the possibility of internecine factional bloodshed.
No, Sir. The exchanges which we have had with the Russians are confidential. Our approach is flexible and other Governments are contributing suggestions on how the concept might be put into effect. It would, therefore, be misleading to publish details at this stage.
Do the Government agree with His Eminence the Cardinal Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster, that the Russians should not be regarded as bogeymen? May we be assured that these confidential communications are carried out in a sensible spirit, and not in the spirit of lashing the Russians? Lashing the Russians is not the way to get the Red Army out of Afghanistan.
The proposals put forward by my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and endorsed by the Foreign Ministers of the Nine, are not designed to lash the Russians. They are designed to give the Russians a way in which they can withdraw their troops from their aggression in Afghanistan, leading to neutral and non-aligned status for that country.
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the doctrine propounded by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) only a fortnight ago, when he seemed to suggest that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was justified by the fact that atrocities had been committed against Russian advisers within that country? Has he given careful consideration to that extraordinary principle?
I have indeed. It is true that it is dangerous to be a Russian in Afghanistan at the present time, but the remedy is in their own hands. They could withdraw.
Although after the invasion it was right that Western countries should press the Russians to withdraw, is it not now obvious that they have no intention of doing so? Should not the Government base their diplomacy on that assumption?
The Russians are now engaged in a savage colonial war in Afghanistan, to which it is difficult to see an outcome. It must be right to work in the direction in which we are working. The war is being conducted by upwards of 80,000 troops who are engaged in fighting the resistance movement. It must be our aim to encourage and to work towards encouraging them to bring that to an end by withdrawing their troops.
What evidence do the Government have that some circles—at least in the USSR—now realise that the invasion of Afghanistan was a major blunder in every sense of the word? Which item of British Government policy is designed to encourage those circles and to increase their influence?
It is the proposal to which the question was addressed. It is a proposal precisely designed to give the Russians a way out of their aggression.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the nature of those replies, I shall return to this subject in the Adjournment debate which you have kindly given me for next Monday.
asked the Lord Privy Seal what part his Department is playing in talks on securing peace in the Middle East.
We have no direct role in the current peace negotiations. We continue to support the autonomy talks as a step towards a comprehensive settlement. We are also discussing with our European Community partners ways in which Europe might be able to contribute to such a settlement.
Is the Minister aware that, so far as the Government may be involved, the peacemaking process is not helped by the intransigence of Premier Begin in colonising the disputed lands? Does he accept that there can be no lasting peace in the area until the just claims of the Palestinian nation are met?
Yes, Sir. We believe that the, Israeli policy of increasing settlements on the West Bank is unwise, unjust and a major obstacle to a settlement.
Can my hon. Friend say what action the Government have taken to support the role of the United Nations peace-keeping force in Southern Lebanon, in view of the adverse events there in recent weeks?
We take that very seriously. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has been in London today, and he has expressed great alarm which we share. A discussion is taking place in the Security Council of the United Nations at this moment on the matter. We strongly support UNIFIL, the United Nations force in the Lebanon, and we are willing to support any sensible measures to buttress it and increase its effectiveness.
In view of the fact that the Camp David agreement is defunct and is about to expire on 26 May in any case, what initiatives is the Foreign Secretary trying to mount with his European colleagues to bring forward other proposals which will be more realistic in terms of the need for the restitution of Palestinian rights?
As I said in my original reply, we are considering what we might do. We do not wish to do anything to cut across the highly important talks that are taking place within the Camp David process.
In view of the general confusion in the Middle East and the statement of President Carter that in no circumstances would he recognise the PLO, and in view of what the PLO is now attempting to do in setting up a command in Syria, will the Foreign Secretary, or his deputy, reiterate what was said by the Prime Minister, namely, that there is no question of Britain's recognising the PLO?
President Carter said that he would not recognise the PLO so long as it did not recognise Israel. That is one of the difficulties that we have constantly pointed out. We do not recognise the PLO, and it will be difficult for us to do so as long as it refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist within secure and recognised frontiers.
What progress have the Government made towards persuading the PLO to drop the part of the covenant which states that Israel must be destroyed? Most reasonable people, including the majority of people in Israel, feel that if the PLO were to drop that part of the covenant there could be discussions that could lead to a major breakthrough, which would benefit the Palestinian Arabs.
It is partly a matter of the covenant, as the hon. Gentleman says, but perhaps even more so a question of terrorist attacks. We are doing what we can in that direction. It would be a great help if the Israeli Government would state at the same time that they recognise that the Palestinians have a right to a homeland also.
I agree with the last remarks of the hon. Gentleman. However, there appears to be a different emphasis on the condemnation of the Israeli moves from that on the action of the PLO. Will the Minister make it clear that he is prepared to demand that the PLO drops this part of the covenant as a price for going ahead with negotiations?
We should not pay too much attention to the covenant, any more than we should to the founding documents of other political organisations. It is the action that is taken, particularly the renunciation of terrorist activity, that matters.
asked the Lord Privy Seal how many countries are now in agreement with Her Majesty's Government in their proposals for an Olympic Games boycott.
The number is increasing all the time. The latest information available suggests that about 30 Governments have publicly announced that they are in favour of a boycott or have expressed serious reservations about their athletes taking part.
Is the Minister aware that many of us who were deeply unhappy about the holding of the Moscow Olympics on human rights grounds, long before the invasion of Afghanistan or the American presidential elections, nevertheless feel that the current slogging match between the Government and the British Olympic Association will leave us with the worst of all worlds in this country, exposing deep divisions when there should be unity? Will he discuss with those athletes who have voted to go to Moscow, as is their right if they so wish, some form of unified protest by them in Moscow during the holding of the Games?
No. That ignores the fact that the Soviet Union controls the television output for the Games. There is no slogging match. We quietly and firmly reiterate our view when we are asked to do so. It must surely be increasingly clear to the hon. Gentleman that, as the tide of boycott begins to flow strongly in many sports, this will be a tawdry event, with second-rate competition.
Whatever other countries may do, will not any British athlete who goes to Moscow to compete dishonour himself and his country?
The competitors find themselves in a difficult personal situation, which has not been helped by the premature decision of the British Olympic Association to accept the Moscow invitation. We shall do what we can to help them in that situation, but we believe that it is strongly against British interests for British athletes to participate.
Should not the Government give up their attempt to blackmail our sportsmen and sports administrators? Does not the Minister find reprehensible the attempted character assassination of Sir Denis Follows, a man of the highest possible integrity, who has served sport admirably over many years?
The integrity of Sir Denis Follows is in no way in question. We disagree with his judgment about British interests in this country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this ought to be a situation in which Britain was leading the way and not merely counting how many other countries were doing this? Is it not sad that, without impugning Sir Denis Follows' character, he should commit character suicide rather than have his character assassinated because he will not understand that he has a position to uphold as a British person, and not merely as a representative of sportsmen?
I would rather not be drawn into further comment on Sir Denis Follows. I merely say that we warmly welcome the latest decision by British yachtsmen not to take part.
Will the hon. Gentleman say what compensation the Government are prepared to give to those business men who have obtained franchises for the Moscow Olympics, including Mr. McClue of Ayr, and will lose substantial amounts of money? Surely these are the people that the Government should be trying to encourage, but they will lose money as a direct result of the Government's action. What compensation will be given to them by the Government?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a particular case, he should do so. In principle, the Government are not liable for compensation in this matter.
Will my hon. Friend persuade the Government to take a more resolute attitude towards those British members who still wish to go to Moscow and point out that if they go they could distinguish themselves by being almost the only representatives in Moscow from any free country in the world?
It is true that the tide towards a boycott is flowing strongly and that the competition, sport by sport, will now be second-rate in many respects. For example, the United States' swimmers won 13 gold medals at the last Olympic Games. A swimming competition without American participation is certainly a second-rate affair.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, whatever position individual Members have taken in regard to the Olympics, many of us—even those of us who have strong views—find utterly distasteful and disgusting the attempt by members of the Government to brand individual sportsmen in Britain as dishonourable or as if they were disloyal in making their personal decisions? Will he therefore confirm that no impediment or difficulty, administrative or bureaucratic, will be put in the way of individuals making their own choice and going to Moscow if they wish to do so?
I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's account of what has been taking place. We have made it clear that it is a matter for choice in a free country whether people go. We have also made it clear, and shall go on making clear, our judgment as the British Government where British interests lie. We hope that as many individuals as posible will follow that advice.
asked the Lord Privy Seal what is his latest assessment of the situation in Afghanistan; and if the Russian Government have yet replied to Her Majesty's Government's proposals for the neutralisation of Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan the Babrak Karmal regime lacks support. There is widespread popular resistance to the Government and the Soviet occupying forces, which could number as many as 100,000.Our proposals, endorsed by the European Nine, are for a neutral and nonaligned Afghanistan. This is different from "neutralisation", which implies an imposed solution. We have put our thinking to the Soviet authorities. We are studying their reply and will decide later whether to continue the exchange and, if so, how.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is wide support for the Government's proposals, and will they push ahead with them? Does he also agree that this is about the only hope of getting the Soviet Union and its leadership off the hook on which they put themselves with this colonial aggression?
This is a serious proposal which has been put to the Soviet Union and to many other Governments in a serious vein.
We know who guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium and how that guarantee was implemented. Which countries would guarantee the neutrality of Afghanistan, and how would they implement it?
As I said in answer to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), I shall not today go into the details of a plan which is still being discussed and is still evolving. The three parts of it are clear: first, Soviet withdrawal; secondly, a declaration by the Afghans, repeating one that they have often made before, in favour of neutral and non-aligned status; and, thirdly, support for that declaration by their neighbours and other countries.
Is it not true that many countries have retaind their neutral status satisfactorily without external military guarantees? In those circumstances, is it not in the interests of the free world and of peace that neutrality should prevail in Afghanistan, and that this would be in the interests of the Great Power balance?
Yes. One of the encouraging things about our proposal is the degree of interest and support which has been expressed for it by many countries in the free world, and in particular the Islamic world.
Does the Minister accept that evidence of that took place in Oslo last week at the parliamentary assembly of the International Parliamentary Union, when an overwhelming majority of nations condemned the incursion into Afghanistan by the USSR and strongly called for its withdrawal? It appeared to be the general hope of the Assembly that the initiative being taken by her Majesty's Government, with a large amount of backing from the Opposition, would be successful?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. We certainly intend to proceed in that spirit.
asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will implement the Shackleton proposals for the Falkland Islands.
I have nothing to add to the replies given on 19 December to my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher).
In view of the reports, confirmed this morning, of a potential fish yield of 1,000 million pounds per annum, plus the potential of offshore oil from these islands, will my hon. Friend confirm that the sovereignty of these islands is not the subject of any agenda item for discussions with any foreign powers?
I do not know from where my hon. Friend got those reports of the potential. I have not the ability to be anything like so precise. In fact, I am dubious about the potential of fishing and oil. I confirm that the forthcoming talks with the Argentine Government will be purely exploratory. The Argentinians have sought talks with us, and we have responded by saying that we will meet them.
In view of the disputes with Iceland over cod, and the fact that now we have limits of 200 miles by international acceptance, why cannot the Government think a bit more about this matter and put 200-mile limits around these islands in the South Atlantic: not merely the Falkland Islands, but St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Asuncion Island, South Georgia—the whole lot? Even if we cannot get boats out of Hull to fish there because of the distance, at least we could charge the vessels of Japanese and Communist States for licences and make some money for these people in Port Stanley.
It would be impossible to police a 200-mile zone fishing limit round the Falkland Islands without the agreement of the Argentine Government, but that is one of the items that can be raised in the forthcoming talks.
Before my hon. Friend goes to his meeting, will he refresh his memory about the recommendations by the old Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Public Expenditure Committee in the previous Parliament, in so far as they referred to this specific question of the potential for British fishery development in the Falkland Islands?
I shall certainly refresh my memory of that important document.
Order. I shall allow an extra minute at the end of questions on the EEC so that I may now call the Front Bench spokesman on this question.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he has invited representatives of the Falkland Islands to attend the new round of talks, as has been the previous practice, and will he say what has been their reaction?
I confirm that we have invited representatives from the Falklands, and one councillor will attend.
Council Of Foreign Ministers
asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects next to meet his EEC counterparts.
asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects next to meet his EEC colleagues; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he expects to meet his EEC colleagues.
My right hon. and noble Friend will meet his Community colleagues at the next Foreign Affairs Council on 21 and 22 April. I myself will be paying an official visit to Cyprus on those dates. I expect therefore to meet Community colleagues next at the Council to be held on 5 and 6 May.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that at these meetings, and at the even more important EEC summit in Luxembourg, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will carry with them the good wishes of the entire nation when it comes to trying to organise a fair reduction of Britain's contribution? Will the Government be sure not to neglect the more pressing and urgent geo-political priorities at these summits, especially the need for a concerted European approach to the crises in Afghanistan and Iran?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said, I am sure that my right hon. Friend and my right hon. and noble Friend will carry with them the good wishes of the entire country. As regards the second part of his question, that will depend upon what happens between now and the meeting of the European Council, and especially upon what happens next week at the Foreign Affairs Council. However, I strongly take my hon. Friend's point.
In view of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Southern Lebanon, especially the difficulties facing the Irish troops as a result of the activities of Major Haddad, supported by his Israeli advisers, will my right hon. Friend confirm that top priority will be given by his counterparts and himself at his forthcoming meeting to taking some form of initiative to safeguard the peaceful intentions of everyone living in that area?
As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said earlier, he and I talked with Dr. Waldheim this morning about this matter, which is serious and needs remedying. However, I cannot guarantee that it will be given top priority at the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.
When the Minister next meets his European colleagues, will he make it clear to them when they discuss the imposition of any sanctions against Iran in line with President Carter's request, that any decision that they make, notwithstanding article 131 of the Treaty, will be subject to ratification by the House of Commons, as the Prime Minister promised yesterday?
Of course what the Prime Minister promised yesterday will, needless to say, be carried out.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that in some of the questions put to him on this matter there has been reference to "counterparts" and in others a reference to "colleagues"? It will not have gone unnoticed that my right hon. Friend used the word "colleagues", and in these days of questioning about Europe I am grateful to him for that distinction.
Can the Lord Privy Seal and his counterparts or colleagues think of any good reason why the Soviet Union should want to colonise Afghanistan?
That question should be addressed to the Soviet Union. All we know is that at least 80,000 troops are present in Afghanistan terrorising the inhabitants and causing large numbers of casualties and that this action has been criticised by almost the entire free world, 104 members of the United Nations, and by the Islamic Council. It appears to be supported only by the hon. Gentleman.
When he next meets his EEC colleagues, will my right hon. Friend discover from them whether the Brandt report is to be on the agenda for Venice in June? If so, will he undertake to publish the Government's response to it before that date?
It is too early to say what will be on the agenda in Venice, but I think that I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government's views on the Brandt report will have been published before that date.
The Lord Privy Seal is to discuss with his opposite numbers in the EEC the proposal by Lord Carrington for a neutral Afghanistan. Bearing in mind that he has said today that this neutrality would not be imposed but would have to be agreed, presumably by Afghanistan, would it not have been courteous to have indicated to the Afghan Government the nature of the proposals so that they—after all they will be the Government with whom the proposals will have to be agreed—would have known exactly what was proposed?
The hon. Gentleman has that wrong. The present Government of Afghanistan would not last a moment if the Soviet troops were not there. His views on this subject are, therefore, not all that relevant.
To return to my right hon. Friend's meeting with his counterparts, may we assume that on the agenda of this meeting will be the text of Sir Roy Denman's report, which asserts that the majority of senior Eurocrats are drunk and incompetent?
I cannot give a definite answer to that, but I think that it is unlikely.
When the Lord Privy Seal talks to his counterparts about Afghanistan will he make it clear to them that if there is to be a concerted effort to support the American position over the hostages in Iran that is made easier by the fact that the EEC is now less dependent on Iran for its supplies of oil? That therefore makes the problem political, as opposed to directly economical.
I agree that it is largely a political problem. The question is how to achieve the objectives that we all have in mind, which are, first, the maintenance and solidarity of the Western Alliance, and, secondly, the release of the hostages.
Order. I shall make a statement tomorrow on open questions on foreign affairs, which is something new.
European Council Meeting
asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects the new date for the postponed European Council meeting scheduled for 31 March to be announced.
The European Council is now to be held in Luxembourg on 27 and 28 April.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Can he say whether he is now convinced that the worst of the unthinking, narrow-minded, knocking of the Community in this country is over, and that, although the summit was postponed originally for the wrong reasons, the refixing of the new date offers a good opportunity for the Community to reach positive and constructive solutions both on our own budget contribution and on taking the Community forward on a number of important matters?
I cannot tell what will be done by what my hon. Friend called the knockers of the Community. However, I agree with him that there is a great opportunity at the forthcoming Council not only to make considerable progress and to achieve a solution on our budget contribution, but to make progress in other areas.
Has the delay in holding the summit given the Government any more room for manoeuvre over Britain's budget contributions?
We are not seeking greater room for manoeuvre, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has frequently said. We are seeking a genuine compromise, and we have a limited area in which to manoeuvre. However, the enforced delay has enabled various contacts to take place.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are much more likely to get a sensible answer to the problems of Britain's contributions if at the same time we show our determination to make the European Community a real force for peace in the world?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He will be aware that since the Government came into power, and especially over the past two months since the invasion of Afghanistan, we have shown a distinct wish and inclination to do just that.
Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that one other thing has happened in the interim? At the same time as he has been asking for a considerable change in our budget contributions, his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has managed, by moving to positive MCAs, to increase the contributions. How will he explain that to the Market?
As the hon. Lady will know, or should know, the increase in our contributions as a result of the move to positive MCAs, of which she talks, will be so infinitesimal that I do not think it needs explanation.
Areas Of Disagreement
asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will list the areas of disagreement which are outstanding between the United Kingdom and the other member States of the European Community.
The United Kingdom's inequitable contribution to the Community budget is the main problem affecting the United Kingdom specifically. The Government are determined to negotiate a fair solution. There are other issues for the Community as a whole to resolve, such as the need to control the costs of agricultural surpluses and to modify the common fisheries policy.
In view of the fact that there is, although my right hon. Friend did not disclose all of them, a long list of problems, and therefore the possibility, to say the very least, that these problems will not be resolved, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will be kind enough to confirm, in just one word, that it would be imprudent for Her Majesty's Government not to have a contingency plan based on the possibility that we do not get agreement, and that therefore we might in the last resort have to have some new policy of positive association with the countries in the Community other than the one that we have at the moment?
If I had to answer my hon. Friend in one word, it would be "No". However, I have told him and the House that I do not believe that what he is saying is a serious option. Britain is a member of the EEC and the Government have every intention of ensuring that it continues to be so.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House, in his helpful spirit of compromise, to what extent we are prepared to compromise on fish, on energy policy and on our relationship with the monetary system?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have said that we do not believe in a package deal. We believe that all these issues should be decided on their merits.
If it proves impossible for the countries of the EEC to adopt a single and effective attitude towards the crises in Afghanistan and Iran, will my right hon. Friend explain to the House where the British people are likely to see the much-vaunted political advantages of remaining in the EEC?
That is a doubly hypothetical question, and therefore one that I cannot answer.
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that we are facing a £1·2 billion deficit in payments and a £2½ billion deficit in trade with the EEC, of which £700 million accounts for textile goods? Has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office any contingency plans to improve the trading position, to seek stern negotiations to improve it or get out, which is the only solution that most sensible people see as the alternative?
I know that that is something that is very much concerning the Labour Party at the moment, but it is not concerning us. The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that our trading performance with the EEC is better than it is with the rest of the world. It is a characteristic of the Labour Party that its Members do not like listening to facts of which they do not approve. The export-import ratio of our trade with the Community increased to 86 per cent., from 83 per cent. in 1978. Since 1973 our exports to the EEC have increased by 350 per cent., and elsewhere by merely 200 per cent.
President Of The Commission
asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he expects to meet with the President of the European Community.
I expect to meet the President of the Commission, Mr. Jenkins, when I next attend the Foreign Affairs Council on the 5–6 May, if that is what the hon. Gentleman has in mind in his question.
That is what I have in mind. I apologise for the mistake in terminology. When the right hon. Gentleman meets the President of the Commission, will he explain to Mr. Jenkins, and will he explain to us now, why the Government will not accept finance from the European Community if it also involves finance from United Kingdom Government sources? Does he accept that this exacerbates our budget problem?
No, I do not. I am not certain on what the hon. Gentleman bases his question. As he knows, there have been Commission proposals to spend EEC money in Britain, which we have welcomed.
Does my right hon. Friend recall the judgment at the time of our original application to join the EEC, namely, that the cost of membership would be high and easy to quantify, and that the benefits of membership were unquantifiable but certainly very much higher? Does that judgment still not hold good? Does it not account for the ease with which one can set out the disadvantages and the relative difficulty in setting out the advantages?
Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It will not have escaped his notice that the Labour Party, when unfortunately, it is m government is in favour of the EEC, and that when it is in opposition it always turns against it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer about the balance of trade between the EEC and the United Kingdom is misleading? The figures that he used include the trade in oil. If he considers the trade in manufactured goods, which must be the test of any industrialised nation, he will see that Britain has suffered again and again as a result of its membership of the EEC. Have the positive and substantial benefits of the balance of trade that were promised by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in the 1971 White Paper come about?
That is because our economic performance in general declined sharply under the previous Labour Government. The fact remains that we are doing better with the EEC than we are with the rest of the world.
Official Documentation (Availability)
asked the Lord Privy Seal is he is satisfied with the form of official documentation used in the EEC Council of Ministers and the arrangements he has made for relevant documents to be made available to public and Parliament.
Documents are generally made available to Parliament within two working days of receipt in London. There are occasions, unfortunately, when Community documentation is not available as early as we would wish, but we shall on these occasions continue to make every effort to ensure that the House has the documentation as quickly as possible.
I thank the Lord Privy Seal for that reply. However, will he consider the matter again and make sure that on all occasions proper documents of the EEC Council are available? If he should find that there is no proper documentation that can be placed before the public and Parliament, will he take action to ensure that during the meeting of the Council of Ministers proper documenta- tion is provided to form the basis for scrutiny and debate?
I shall have another look at this. I agree with the drift of the hon. Gentleman's argument. It is desirable that, when possible, documentation should be available. We shall do everything that we can to ensure that it is. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any guarantee, because these things are not necessarily within the British Government's power.
When the Council is legislating, would it not be a good idea for it, occasionally at least, to hold some of its sessions in public, with the press present?
That is something that could be considered.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult to examine all the directives and regulations that flow from the Council if those documents are not available? Would the right hon. Gentleman like to suggest a new method whereby no directive becomes operative in the United Kingdom until it has been examined by the House of Commons?
I agree that it is difficult to examine a document if we do not have it. I have nothing to add to my original answer.
Council Of Foreign Ministers
asked the Lord Privy Seal when next his noble Friend expects to met his European Economic Community colleagues.
At the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 21 and 22 April.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the unanimity shown by the Council of Foreign Ministers last week over Iran represents a significant step forward in the development of an EEC foreign policy? Will this process continue at the meeting?
I think that we would all agree that next week's meeting will be very important. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, it will not be the be-all and end-all of our policy on Iran.
When my right hon. Friend next meets his European Economic Community colleagues, will he raise the subject of the operation of the European Investment Bank and of our contribution to it? Does he agree that we have our own Commonwealth Development Corporation, which is more worthy of the contributions that we make from our limited resources? Will he reduce our contribution to the European Investment Bank in favour of the Commonwealth Development Corporation?
Both institutions are important. I shall certainly look at the question, but it is unnecessary to denigrate one while praising the other.
If the Lord Privy Seal were a stubborn Iranian, would a blockade with the possibility of a military threat make him more, or less, amenable to releasing hostages?
I can safely say that that is a hypothetical question.
Post Office (Chairman)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I understand that it would meet the wishes of the House if I were to make a statement about impending changes in the senior management of the Post Office.Sir William Barlow has made excellent progress with the administrative prepartions for the legislation that the Government intend to introduce soon to separate the Post Office into two corporations. Sir William knew that I hoped that he would become the chairman of British Telecommunications, but to my great regret told me shortly before Easter that he would prefer to resume his career in the private sector. Sir William has my respect and admiration for what he has achieved and sought to achieve in the Post Office during the past two and a half years. His departure later this year will be a loss to the public sector, though I have no doubt that it will be a gain for private industry. I also announced yesterday that after consideration of a number of possible candidates I would appoint Mr. Ronald Dearing, a deputy secretary in the Department of Industry, to be a deputy chairman of the Post Office and chairman-designate of the postal business.
Opposition Members regret that Sir William Barlow felt it necessary to offer his resignation on this occasion.
Speak for yourself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West Mr. Lewis) must take up his fight in his own way. I am speaking for the majority of Opposition Members. The manner in which Sir William Barlow is going, the very soothing words uttered by the Secretary of State, and the chivalrous words of Sir William are reminiscent of the situation when Sir Leslie Murphy and the NEB were sacked.Will the Secretary of State confirm that there were differences of opinion between the Government and Sir William Barlow, particularly on three issues? First, will he confirm that there were differences of opinion about the investment programme? Is it not a fact that in 1979–80 the Post Office was compelled to repay £110 million? Is it not also a fact that this year's cash limit has been rigorously imposed and that Sir William believed that it was necessary to increase the investment programme? All those who are waiting for telephones no doubt share that opinion. Secondly, is it not true that Sir William believed that the rigid and unimaginative cash limits imposed by the Government made it difficult to hold sensible wage negotiations? We have seen the effect of lunatic wage negotiations in other industries, particularly the steel industry. Thirdly, is it not a fact that Sir William was utterly opposed to the break-up of the Post Office monopoly, because he saw the danger to the rural letter service? He was equally bitterly opposed to the attempt to destroy the monopoly in telecommunications of the maintenance and installation services. Finally, the Secretary of State has often said that he believes in a policy of Government non-intervention in management. Can he believe that imposing impossible cash limits on shipbuilding, the steel industry and the Post Office, and the sacking of the NEB and Sir Leslie Murphy along with the forced—that is how we see it—resignation of Sir William Barlow is non-intervention in management? If he believes that, he has a very idiosyncratic view of nonintervention.
The short answer is "No". There has not been a series of such disagreements between Sir William, myself and the Government. The exact reasons for Sir William's resignation—which I very much regret—are for him to give.It is true that cash limits—introduced by the previous Labour Government—impose a discipline, particularly on nationalised industries. Chairmen of nationalised industries, particularly of those that are successful, such as the telecommunications part of the Post Office, are irked by restraint on desirable investment. At this stage I draw no implications for British Telecommunications. However, it is all the more sensible, where practical, to introduce private capital in order to lessen borrowing—where necessary—on the public sector borrow- ing requirement. There is no truth in the allegation that there was a wide difference of opinion about the Government's decisions on the Post Office monopoly—largely because the Government have not yet made any final decision. Sir William Barlow would have liked a bigger investment programme. Indeed, we would have liked a bigger one. We are examining ways in which the Post Office can have a larger telecommunications investment programme within cash limits. I do not see the benefit of having cash limits—introduced by the previous Labour Government—if they are slack and imaginative, as opposed to what the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) would be pleased to call rigid and unimaginative. What is the point of having them if they are slack and flabby?
Will the Secretary of State tell us—as he has not answered my question about non-intervention in management—how it is possible to provide the 222,000 telephones that are now required, without a new investment programme? How can that be achieved within the rigid cash limits?
There are a number of ways in which the cash flow of nationalised industries can be improved, including higher productivity in particular, and better co-operation between managements and the work forces. But in addition, the investment programme can be increased beyond the retained cash flow of the organisation, to the extent that we can introduce private capital and reduce the claims on the public sector borrowing requirement.
While accepting that Sir William did not disagree with the Minister on the monopoly of postal services since that decision has not yet been made, may I ask whether Sir William expressed a view about what that decision should be, and whether the Minister gave any indication of what the decision might be? In the light of that, did those considerations have any effect on the resignation?
That question must be for Sir William. As far as I am aware, the answer is "No". Sir William was aware of my thinking about the changes that might be introduced, and I was certainly aware of his reaction to that thinking and have taken it into account.
Has Mr. Ronald Dearing been warned of the truly catastrophic situation that he is likely to be asked to take over in 18 months? Is not the Post Office being asked to provide services that are well beyond its depleted powers and beyond those required in most other countries? Should not a new appraisal of the Post Office's future be made before Mr. Dearing is asked to take over?
I am slightly puzzled about the reference to 18 months ahead. Mr. Dearing has unrivalled knowledge from outside the postal service of the problems, since he has been the deputy secretary in the Department of Industry involved in Post Office policy. I believe that my hon. Friend is concerned about the split when he refers to "18 months". I do not share his view that that split will produce the cataclysmic situation that he fears. Mr. Dearing has had the stalwart character to take a one-way ticket out of the Civil Service into what inevitably will be a demanding and exposed job, and all credit to him.
Is the Secretary of State aware that while the Post Office Engineering Union has strongly disagreed with Sir William Barlow over his opposition to industrial democracy and a shorter working week, it believes that he has been right to oppose Government policy on cash limits at their present levels, the proposed creaming off of traffic to private wires, and taking away the rights of exclusive service to install and maintain equipment? Is he aware that the union believes that Sir William has been right on these matters, and it is known that he has done this in order to defend the postal monopoly?
I am glad that voices other than mine have been raised in tribute to Sir William.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that while we wish Sir William well in his personal future, not everyone on the Government Benches will be devastated by his departure? Will he also accept that the one thing that Sir William has manifestly failed to achieve is a first-class postal service? Will he ask Mr. Dearing to give his early and urgent attention to achieving a first-class postal service or to abolishing the non- sensical two-tier system that we have at present?
I am not sure that my hon. Friend and those who support him fully appreciate the difficulties of managing some of our nationalised industries, particularly where the trade union membership refuses to accept the advice not only of their management but of their trade union leaders in improving services to the public.
The Secretary of State said that Sir William voluntarily resigned of his own free will and volition, and, of course, Sir William has admitted that. Can we be assured that as he will be getting a fabulous index-linked pension, the taxpayers will not be expected to give him a golden handshake, when everyone knows that the postal services today are worse than they have been at any time in the past 50 years?
The degree to which the postal services are worse than they have been is not the fault of Sir William, who has striven very hard to secure the co-operation of the postal trade unions in improving the service to the public. I suspect that Sir William will be able to earn substantially more in the private sector than he earns as chairman of the Post Office.
Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places since the statement was made.
Before my right hon. Friend reiterates too confidently his statement about the success of the telecommunications side of the Post Office, will he bear in mind that those who work in the City of London and earn substantial amounts in foreign exchange for this country now have to operate what is probably the most inefficient telecommunications service in any major financial centre? Is he aware that if these people wish to make a telephone call to many of the other financial centres they have to send a telex message and ask them to make the call?
I do not criticise what my hon. Friend says. There are many improvements that Sir William and the Government would like to achieve in telecommunications. The investment programme is part of the problem, and that is why we seek ways to enable it to grow.
Is the real truth the fact that the chairmen of the nationalised industries are finding it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to work within the ridiculous framework laid down by the Secretary of State? Is it not also true that in the not-to-distant future there are likely to be further resignations of chairmen of nationalised industries? Would it not be better if the Secretary of State asked Sir William to stay in the Post Office and, for the sake of British industry, resigned himself?
In that long question the hon. Member did not propose anything to replace cash limits. If he were to suggest denationalisation we might listen to him.
Is there likely to be any improvement in the postal services now?
I must weigh my words carefully here. Sir William, Mr. Ronald Dearing and I all have the same purpose—to improve the postal service. It is now a question of the extent to which the membership of the relevant trade unions co-operates with management in achieving this.
Why is the Secretary of State trying to cover up this matter? Why will he not admit openly that his own bungling interference has brought about this situation in the Post Office? When the Secretary of State tells the House that the £110 million that the Post Office had to repay to the Treasury was primarily from the profitable part of the organisation, namely, the telecommunications business, does he not understand that £80 million of that £110 million came not from the telecommunciations side but from the postal side of the business? Finally, can he explain why, since he became Secretary of State, he has spent a great deal of time attacking the postal service? How on earth can he expect the people who work in that industry to have confidence in the job that they do? Will he get someone to preside over the industry to give them pride in their jobs?
I do not habitually blame all problems on the trade unions, but the habit of the Opposition in ignoring the contribution of trade unions to the problems is going too far. The loss of the Post Office was to a large extent caused by the billing dispute, which cost the postal service nearly £100 million in interest on borrowed money. I think that the loss in the postal service would have been much reduced if the trade unions concerned, particularly the postal trade union, had co-operated in achieving higher productivity to offset the sheer increase in costs involved in their wage claim.
Is my right hon. Friend prepared to comment on the difficulty apparent in the last few years in recruiting and holding successful chairmen of nationalised industries?
I shall have difficulty in restraining the length of my answer. First, the job is inherently very difficult in managing an industry that is not subject to the disciplines of competition or the threat of bankruptcy. Secondly, it is not always possible to obtain the best person—although I believe that we have done so in the postal service—to head these industries at the level of pay at the present standard. Those are two difficulties, to begin with.
Is it not the case that if Sir William Barlow went to an unfair dismissals tribunal his leaving would be regarded as constructive dismissal? Have the trade unions been consulted on the new appointment? Why was the post not advertised? Why do those who get into these jobs with fantastic salaries—fantastic compared with the pay of an ordinary postman—come from the magic circle in his office?How does the Secretary of State expect the ordinary postal and telecommunications workers to co-operate when they see a chairman appointed from his little clique to preside over the destruction of the Post Office as we know it?
I scarcely know where to start on that series of imaginative allegations. First, there is no question of dismissal, constructive or otherwise. I am sad that Sir William Barlow has decided to go, but he prefers the cut and thrust of the private sector to the monopoly world of the public sector.Secondly, surely it is in the interests of the average postman and telephone worker to have good management and to co-operate with good management. That is how so many wage earners abroad have achieved a standard of living very much higher than that of our wage earners.
In view of the uncertainty that the resignation has caused in the Post Office, which is one of the largest employers in the country, when can we expect the legislation that will separate the postal side from the telecommunications side? As the right hon. Gentleman's cash limits have provoked a dispute in the steel industry and are provoking a strike in British Leyland, does he expect them to provoke an industrial dispute in the Post Office?
Cash limits are bound to create difficulties but they are nevertheless essential if we are to control public borrowing and, through that, inflation. I hope that the legislation will be introduced soon, but that is not a matter for me alone.
Does the Secretary of State not realise that ever since he took office he has not had a good word to say about the Post Office? He even agreed with the stupid and inaccurate remarks of the hon. Member for Horn-castle (Mr. Tapsell). How can the right hon. Gentleman be so complacent about cash limits and the investment programme when the latest figures show that at least 60,000 people have been waiting for telephones for at least six months? How could he have expected Sir William Barlow to continue as chairman when the right hon. Gentleman has continually undermined confidence in the Post Office?
I have sought to represent the consumer's reaction to the Post Office, and I have had plenty of evidence that the consumer has been dissatisfied with the postal service.
Port Of London (Financial Assistance) Bill
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to suggest that the Port of London (Financial Assistance) Bill, which is on today's Order Paper, is not a Public Bill but is either a Hybrid Bill or, possibly, a Private Bill, and ought to be subjected to the appropriate procedure for that sort of Bill.The long title says that the Bill is to
Certainly, by that title, the Bill benefits one authority—the Port of London Authority—which is one body within a class or category of bodies, namely, all those that are port authorities. On that basis, the other bodies in that category should have the opportunity to present their cases, by petition, to the House. I need not remind you, Mr. Speaker, of the ruling of Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster, but I shall quote it in order to develop my argument. According to "Erskine May", at page 862, Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster gave the following definition of a Hybrid Bill in 1962:"provide financial assistance for and in connection with measures taken by the Port of London Authority to restore the profitability of their undertaking by reducing the number of persons employed by them."
I submit that that relates not only to an adverse effect but to a favourable effect. The Bill deals preferentially and discriminatorily with the interests of the Port of London Authority in a manner different from the private interests of other bodies of the same category or class, namely, other port authorities. Of course, in my constituency I have particularly in mind the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. Page 865 of "Erskine May" deals specifically with Bills relating to the Port of London Authority. The paragraph is headed "Port of London" and says:"I think that a hybrid bill can be defined as a public bill which affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interests of other persons or bodies of the same category or class."
That deals specifically with the sort of Bill that is on the Order Paper today. When I consulted the usual people whom one consults on a subject such as this I was told that the Bill only provides money and does not alter the law, and that therefore it is a Public Bill dealing with public policy. I should have thought that if it is necessary to have statutory authority for the Minister to give away money to one body, that surely alters the law. Even if it is taken that it does not alter the law—and it must alter the law if we need a statute—I can find nothing in "Erskine May" to support that sort of argument. I submit that the Bill comes clearly within Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster's definition of Hybrid Bills in 1962 and well within the precedents of the way in which the House has previously dealt with Port of London Authority Bills. I submit that it is either a Hybrid Bill or a purely Private Bill."The Port of London Bill, 1903, was introduced by the Government and proceeded with as a hybrid bill, but, after being suspended, was withdrawn in the next Session. The Port of London Bill, 1908, a Government bill which constituted the Port of London Authority, was also proceeded with as a hybrid bill, but bills. promoted since then by the Authority have regularly been passed as private bills."
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I have an advantage over the hon. Members, because I had notice this morning of the point of order that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page) has raised, and I have the further advantage—I hesitate to say it to the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop)—of having studied "Erskine May", which I know the hon. Gentleman takes to bed with him. I also have the advantage of having looked into the matter in considerable depth during the day.I am naturally grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me notice this morning, which enabled me to have time to study the matter and to take advice upon the question. Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I must inform him and the House that I am satisfied that the Bill is not, of its nature, hybrid. Its sole effect is to make a grant of public money to the Port of London Authority to help it in its present financial difficulties. There are a number of instances of Bills giving similar assistance to individual authorities which have been pro- ceeded with as Public Bills. I mention in particular the Rolls-Royce (Purchase) Act 1971, the British Leyland Act 1975 and the Covent Garden Market (Financial Provisions) Act 1977, in respect of none of which was there, as far as I am aware, a claim that they should be treated as hybrid measures. In my view there is nothing in the Bill that amounts to direct commercial discrimination against any other authorities. I therefore rule that it does not require to be proceeded with as a Hybrid Bill.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I say with great humility that I share your view, but, purely for the clarity of precedent, I think that it is important to stress that Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster's ruling, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir. G. Page) quoted, contains a word to which emphasis was not given. I think that a Hybrid Bill can be defined as a Public Bill that affects a particular private interest—not a particular interest, but a particular private interest. As I understand it, the Port of London Authority is a public body. Therefore, on that very fine point as well, it would not seem to me to fall within Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster's ruling.
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I shall sleep a lot better tonight.
May I express gratitude to you, Mr. Speaker, rather than to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), for looking so carefully into the matter? I am much obliged.
We follow your advice with great care, Mr. Speaker, and the House is grateful to you for giving it, but since this morning's post arrived the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company has let hon. Members know that it is now in serious financial difficulties. From what you have said, Mr. Speaker, it would appear that there is a form of discrimination in the Bill. I should like you to have another look at the matter and report your findings to the House.
I looked into the matter earlier today. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends who feel keenly about Liverpool would be well advised to pursue the matter in another way. The Bill is not a hybrid measure.
Northern Ireland (Security)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
Earlier this week the House was given the details of the deaths and injuries suffered by the police as a result of Provisional IRA activity during the past 10 days. I shall not bore the House by repeating the details of their deaths, but simply remind hon. Members present that another three gallant young men, aged 24, 33 and 43, are dead and an equal number of their colleagues are seriously injured. Since then the terrorists have again demonstrated their capacity to strike at the community by bomb as well as bullet. Yesterday, in a well co-ordinated Province-wide bomb blitz, in a space of 19 minutes they totally destroyed three hotels, at a cost of at least £1 million, and in the process probably added another 100 people to the dole queue. We must be thankful that no one was killed, although a number of people were injured. In those bombings almost 1000 lb of explosives were used. In Strabane there was the further sinister element of the Provisional IRA again being able to commandeer a house, hold the family prisoner overnight and use the family's car to carry out its mission. While that was happening the person responsible for security in the Province was in Dublin talking to the Republic's Government. Many people in Northern Ireland, including me, feel that he could have been better employed elsewhere. There has been a serious deterioration in security in Northern Ireland during the past week. In my own constituency, four more men have been murdered. I resent the fact that Dublin politicians, some of whom are not without guilt with regard to the situation in Northern Ireland, should ever have the opportunity to discuss these matters, let alone to discuss them before Members of this House, and particularly before Members from Northern Ireland."the deteriorating security situation in Northern Ireland, which has resulted during the past week in the deaths of three members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and £1 million-worth of damage caused yesterday by a Province-wide bomb blitz."
The hon. Gentleman gave me notice this morning, before 12 o'clock, that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
The hon. Gentleman has brought our attention to the continuing grievous position in Northern Ireland. The House has listened with deep concern to what he has said. The House has advised me that when I give my ruling I should not give the reasons for my decision, but I tell the hon. Gentleman in passing that he is aware, and the House is aware, that I do not decide whether the subject shall be debated. I say that for the benefit of people outside the House as well. I decide merely whether there should be an emergency debate tonight or tomorrow. After listening to the hon. Gentleman with anxious concern, I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House."the deteriorating security situation in Northern Ireland, which has resulted during the past week in the deaths of three members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and £1 million-worth of damage caused yesterday by a Province-wide bomb blitz."
Health And Safety At Work Etc (Amendment)
I beg to move,
At present the position regarding weight limits is confused. The Agriculture (Lifting of Heavy Weights) Regulations 1959 provide for any workers employed in agriculture to lift.That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 so as to control the moving or lifting of heavy weights by employed persons and for connected purposes.
Yet the Woollen and Worsted Textiles (Lifting of Heavy Weights) Regulations 1926 put the maximum where the yarn, cloth, tool or appliance is reasonably compact at 150 lb and where it is not a rigid body at 120 lb. There is no reason for supposing that there is any physical difference between textile workers and agricultural workers. Section 72(1) of the Factories Act 1961 limits the load for any employed person to"any load consisting of a sack or a bag together with its contents lifted or carried unaided a maximum of 180 lb."
to the person lifting, carrying or moving it. My Bill would retain that general limitation, but, in order to clarify and improve the position, the maximum weight permitted in any circumstances for adult males would be 112 lb. The Bill would be classed as a "relevant statutory provision" under schedule 1 to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, and as such would be subject to the powers of the Minister under section 1 of that Act. That would mean that, should the Minister decide that further improvements were necessary as part of a review of the lifting of heavy weights in industry and agriculture, he would not be hindered by an Act which would not be part of the general legislative pattern. He would thus be able to repeal or alter the provisions of the Act by regulation made under the major statute, provided that any alterations were"any load so heavy as to be likely to cause injury"
However, it seems to me important to take action quickly, because of the num- ber of back injuries that occur, rather than wait for a review. Indeed, in a written question on 31 March 1976 I asked the then Secretary of State for Employment"designed to maintain or improve the standards of health, safety and welfare."
The Minister replied:"what consultations have been instituted with the Health and Safety Commission to produce legislation further to control the lifting of heavy weights by work people in order to reduce the demands on the Health Service arising from back injuries."
I tabled the question on 31 March 1976. At that stage the Health and Safety Commission was about to embark on a review of the lifting of heavy weights, incorporating much detail and expert advice. So far there has been no result. The anomalous position that I outlined in 1976 still pertains. The legislation has not been improved one jot. One is driven to the conclusion that the only weight lifted by many concerned with the issue is a piece of paper. If members of the Health and Safety Commission were to do a stint in a foundry or a mill, lifting bolts of cloth or pieces of machinery, there might be speedier action. About 50,000 people are involved each year in accidents resulting in strains, sprains and other injuries to the trunk, including slipped discs. I hope that my Bill will help reduce the toll. Lifting heavy weights also contributes to back pain. On 18 January a Conservative Member pointed out:"I am advised by the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission that the Health and Safety Executive has held informal discussions with representatives of a number of organisations having wide experience in the problems of the manual lifting of heavy weights. In addition, it is intended to include the subject in a review of the wider field of ergonomics which is to be undertaken by the Executive."—[Official Report, 31 March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 486.]
On average each year over 15 million working days are lost through industrial injury. In 1976, by comparison, 3½ million days were lost in strike action. In 1977 it was just over 10 million, as opposed to about 15 million days lost in the same year through industrial injury. The Government are enacting Draconian legislation against trade unions. It would be preferable if they concentrated on eradicating or at least reducing industrial injury. One way that that can be done is by supporting this modest measure. My Bill is a small step in the right direction. The TUC wants a lower level, which I believe is right, but by making my Bill a relevant statutory provision, which is a legal definition under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, the Minister can improve the position by regulation. For four years the Health and Safety Executive has been looking at the problem, and it is apparently about to embark on yet another working party, because the commission cannot agree on regulations. We should not wait for a further 200,000 accidents, with millions of pounds worth of National Health Service facilities being utilised. It is time that action was taken. While it is intended that the general provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act shall apply to this Bill and that it shall be subject to such means of enforcement as improvment and prohibition notices, it is also intended that section 47 shall be limited in its application, in that my Bill would give rise to civil liability under actions for breach of statutory duty. It is in that field that many workers have found the existing regulations most onerous. In 1976 I quoted the position of a farm worker who was injured after lifting a load of about 180 lb. The position has not changed. That worker obtained compensation only because the defined weight could not be obtained, and the matter was settled out of court. As long as statutory limits remain high, such accidents will continue. On 14 April 1976 I quoted from a letter written by a textile worker, who said:"Every day 56,000 people are off work because of back pain. Every year 18 million working days are lost because of it, which is more than the number of days lost because of strikes."—[Official Report, 18 January 1980; Vol. 976, c. 2173.]
I added:"may I give you another example of unfair situations regarding the Health and Safety at Work Act and the attitude of management. An inspector employed in our cloth inspection department had occasion to lift a roll of cloth off a 'batching unit'. There is no good access to the above machine and the operator/inspector would have to stand sideways and attempt to lift approximately 150 lb. or more by leaning over the machine. Requests were made by the men in the inspector's department to make the job more accessible or redesign the hatching unit for better access. That was two years ago!"
Only last year that illustration in 1976 was emphasised by a constituent of mine who found herself in exactly the same position, and subsequently suffered a back injury at work."The access was altered only under threat of legal action by the men, and photographic evidence was taken which resulted in action."
In 1976 people were reviewing, examining and re-examining the position, yet nothing has been done to legislate on the matter. The Department of Employment, which is responsible for it, has not even bothered to send anyone to keep a watching brief on the proposals. That is a disgrace. I hope that the House will give its approval for the introduction of the Bill. By this modest measure the House can reduce industrial injury and the resulting pain."By bringing down the maximum weight to 112 lb., we should save the nation money, prevent many damaging accidents, keep more people at work in a better state of health and release valuable National Health Service facilities for other uses. Any future improvements recommended by the Commission can readily be incorporated in the way I have described. If action can be taken swiftly by approving the Bill, it will clarify a difficult and confused situation, and surely in health and safety at work, that can only be of benefit."—[Official Report, 14 April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 1394–5.]
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Jim Marshall, Mr. Frank Haynes, Mr. Ted Fletcher, Mr. John Evans, Mr. Norman Atkinson, Mr. Frank Allaun, Mr. Kevin McNamara, Mr. Joan Evans, Mr. Russell Kerr and Dr. M. S. Miller.
Health And Safety At Work Etc (Amendment)
Mr. Bob Cryer accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 so as to control the moving or lifting of heavy weights by employed persons and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 9 May and to be printed. [Bill 192.]
Housing Bill (Allocation Of Time)
I beg to move, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:
1.—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2) below, the Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated shall report the Bill to the House on or before 1st May.
(2) Proceedings on the Bill at a sitting of the Standing Committee on 1st May may continue until 11 p.m. whether or not the House is adjourned before that time and if the House is adjourned before the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion the Standing Committee shall report the Bill to the House on 2nd May.
Report and Third Reading
2.—(1) The proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in three allotted days and shall be brought to a conclusion at Seven o'clock on the last of those days; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the proceedings on Consideration such part of those days as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.
(2) The Business Committee shall report to the House their resolutions as to the proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, and as to the allocation of time between those proceedings and proceedings on Third Reading, not later than the fourth day on which the House sits after the day on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee reports the Bill to the House.
(3) The resolutions in any Report made under Standing Order No. 43 may be varied by a further Report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub-paragraph (2) above, and whether or not the Resolutions have been agreed to by the House.
(4) The resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on Consideration of the Bill are taken.
Procedure in Standing Committee
3.—(1) At a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.
(2) No Motion shall be moved in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the Committee except by a Member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatory statement from the Member who moves, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.
4. No Motion shall be moved to postpone any Clause, Schedule, new Clause or new Schedule but the Resolutions of the Business Sub-Committee may include alterations in the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are to be taken in the Standing Committee.
Conclusion of proceedings in Committee
5. On the conclusion of the proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be moved in the Standing Committee or on an allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
Extra time on allotted days
7.—(1) On an allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.
(2) Any period during which proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the said period of two hours.
(3) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over from an earlier day, a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings upon that Motion shall be added to the said period of two hours.
8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.
Conclusion of proceedings
9.—(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order of a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub-Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others), that is to say—
(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock—
(4) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
10.—(1) The proceedings on any Motion moved in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(2) If on an allotted day on which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sit- ting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee shall—
12.—(1) References in this Order to proceedings on Consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of, re-committal.
(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to re-commit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.
13. In this Order—
"allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as the first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day, or is set down for consideration on that day;
"the Bill" means the Housing Bill;
"Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee;
"Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.
When I moved the Second Reading of the Housing Bill on 15 January, I said that it was far more than just another Housing Bill. It is a Bill with profound social implications. It provides an opportunity to transform the personal prospects of millions of our citizens. It will establish the rights of tenants as individuals above the bureaucracies of the State and local authorities.
The Bill flows from the clearest of manifesto commitments upon which this Government were elected. The policies within it were endorsed overwhelmingly by the electorate. They were promised in the Royal Address and were presented to the House in the Housing Bill at the earliest opportunity, which was dictated by these unique provisions and the time taken to draft and present them to the House.
The policies are ones that the people clearly want and have indicated that they want. It may interest the House to know that there is a continual stream of letters to my Department from people who are eager to buy their homes and are longing to know when the Bill will come into force. We have received about 2,800 letters from members of the public about the right to buy, about 90 per cent. of which support our policies.
For those concerned it is a big deal, and I am pleased that the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) realises that.The majority of these letters are from tenants who are trying to buy their own homes. The largest group are those who are having difficulty in buying because landlords will not sell, or sell at the discounts that it is within their discretion to grant. These people want the Bill enacted as quickly as possible.
Since 16 May 1979, most local authorities have been offering discounts of 33 per cent. to 50 per cent., which are the discounts available under the Bill. Notwithstanding that, sales in the past six months have been 2,500 fewer than during the last six months of the Labour Government. Where is the evidence that the measure is desperately needed? How does the Minister explain that decline in sales?
If the hon. Member looked carefully at the figures he would realise the fallacy behind his question. He is not in a position to refer to current completions or to those awaiting completion. We do not yet have the statistics of completions currently taking place, namely, the completions that will have arisen as a result of the new opportunities that were created following the change in government. The hon. Member will be aware that, as we have made clear to the House, the second half of 1979 saw levels of completion—22,000 for the half year—that are comparable with the highest levels of completion ever achieved in council house sales. The hon. Mem- ber will be pleased to see that on the evidence that is available the programme is progressing as successfully as I am sure he would want to see.
Has the Secretary of State seen the report in The Guardian today, which quotes his own Department's figures and demonstrates that sales are down by about 22,000 on what was achieved during the period of the last Conservative Government? Estimates by the Department show that 40,000 houses were sold last year. In those circumstances, surely the Secretary of State must be worried at the continuing decline in the number of sales, not only in the council sector but in the private sector, as a result of the very high levels of mortgage rates.