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Home Department

Volume 983: debated on Thursday 1 May 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Mr Jimmy Kelly

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he intends to take any further steps arising from the inquest on Mr. Jimmy Kelly.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked me to apologise to the House on his behalf for his absence this afternoon. I am sure that the House will understand and appreciate the reason.

After the most detailed examination possible of all the evidence, the inquest jury reached a unanimous verdict of death by misadventure, finding the cause of Mr. Kelly's death to be heart failure, brought on by acute alcoholic intoxication and exertion. It made no adverse comment about the police, and I understand from the chief constable that no additional evidence was revealed in the course of the inquest which in the view of the investigating officer would require him to make a further submission to the Director. In these circumstances, as my right hon. Friend has already announced, we are satisfied that no useful purpose would be served by setting up any further public inquiry or by taking any other action in the case.

I am grateful for that answer, but is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is grave public disquiet and that many people do not accept that any trial by inquest can occur?

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman further accept that, despite the objections from the Government Benches, what I have said is the reality? Will he therefore ask his right hon. Friend whether there can be a public inquiry, because a large amount of the evidence was not given at the inquest? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the relatives of the deceased man feel that much more needs to be examined? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is also grave disquiet because large sections of the police are in conflict with the public on many issues?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premises or conclusions. I do not believe that there is grave public disquiet. This is a serious matter, which has been looked into carefully and thoroughly at the inquest. I do not accept for one moment that there is material evidence of a substantial character that was not before the inquest. For those reasons it would not be right for me to suggest to my right hon. Friend that -there should be an inquiry of the kind suggested.

In view of the serious and unfounded allegations against the police, does my hon. and learned Friend intend to take an initiative to redress the balance of fairness? Will he take this opportunity to state that the allegations are completely unsubstantiated?

I am happy to make it clear to the House—as the verdict of the jury itself did—that what my hon. Friend has just said is absolutely the case.

Underlying that question is the suggestion that the best way in which justice for the individual can be achieved is within the normal existing judicial procedures. I entirely agree with that and I believe that public inquiries should be reserved for the extremely rare situations in which matters of general consequence need to be examined, rather than rights between parties.

Citizenship

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress is being made in the review of the law of citizenship; and whether he will make a statement.

We hope to be ready to publish a White Paper before the Summer Recess.

Does my hon. and learned Friend recall—because he was heavily involved in helping me on this matter—the case of my constituent who came here from the Bahamas in 1938, served for five years in our Army and has now been told that he cannot have a British passport any more, but that he must have a Bahamian one? Is this not an absurd situation which should be sorted out?

I am aware of this case. I must point out that when the Bahamas became independent, Parliament provided that people like Mr. Hanna, who had been born there, should become citizens of the Bahamas and cease to be citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Parliament also provided entitlement to United Kingdom citizenship by registration, and I know of no insuperable obstacles to Mr. Hanna's being able to do that.

To what extent are the Government consulting Commonwealth countries about the position of citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who would not be accepted as British citizens under any proposed scheme? Can that consultation take place before the White Paper is produced so that we can have some indication of Commonwealth thinking?

We are having a number of discussions with Commonwealth Governments on a wide variety of topics to do with nationality.

When the Home Secretary publishes his White Paper will it include provisions for withdrawal of the totally anomalous and unreciprocated right to vote given to citizens of the Irish Republic in this country? If not, why not?

As my right hon. Friend said on 26 October, we do not think it appropriate to deal with any voting entitlement in a nationality Bill.

Special Constables (Bounty)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of present recruitment levels into the Special Constabulary, he will consider paying a bounty to special constables who successfully fulfil their annual duty in the public service.

This is one of the possibilities being considered by the working party set up by the Police Advisory Board.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that encouraging answer. Does he not agree that in the 1980s an entirely different situation arises from that which existed at the time when the Special Constabulary was first established? Therefore, is it not essential to introduce some measure along these lines?

That proposal is being considered and I welcome the opportunity of telling the House that we are concerned to reverse the decline in the strength of the Special Constabulary. It has a valuable role to play and our concern for it is reflected in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary at the Metropolitan Police Special Constabulary annual dinner later this month. He will show by his presence the high regard and importance that we attach to the work of the Special Constabulary.

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that relations between the regular police and the Specials have improved considerably, particularly since the implementation in full of the Edmund-Davies report? As a result of some of the old tensions disappearing, will he not agree that the time is now right for an imaginative expansion of the Special Constabulary? The idea of using a Territorial Army-type bounty is worth considering urgently.

I certainly agree that the time has come to assist in the expansion of the Special Constabulary. That is why the working party is looking into these matters. I think that the climate is right, both for the reasons given by my hon. Friend and the more general fact that the support that the Special Constabulary can give to the regular police is increasingly recognised. I very much hope that we shall make progress in this direction.

Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is essential for the Government to encourage any sort of voluntary service? Will the working party look into the possibility of ensuring that whatever bounty is given, a certain amount each year is free from tax?

If the working party favours the recommendation for a bounty, it will have to consider the tax implications. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that aspect of the bounty proposal to the attention of the House.

Race Relations

4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to improve race relations.

The Government are committed to securing equal opportunities and promoting racial harmony. Existing legislation and Government programmes are already designed to further these objectives though we are thinking carefully about developments in this field. Good race relations also require a positive effort from all of our citizens, whatever their colour.

Is the Minister aware that his answer sounds incredibly complacent in that he has not put forward a single positive measure to improve race relations at a time when cuts in public expenditure and increasing unemployment are making the lot of our minority community worse than ever before?

I refute those observations. We are considering this matter very carefully and are maintaining the level of expenditure in Government programmes. We are reconsidering the exact scope of section 11 and we have the whole problem very much to the forefront of our minds at present.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that nothing would be more conducive to improving race relations than a reduction in the inflow of ethnic minorities to this country?

As my hon. and learned Friend knows, the Government have introduced new measures for immigration control which will have some impact in this area. However, we must consider the interests of all sections of our country at present.

In his review of the appeals system in immigration cases, will the Minister, in the interests of maintaining good race relations, recognise the importance of preserving the right of Members of Parliament to appeal directly to Home Office Ministers about individual cases when those Members feel that it is appropriate to do so? Will he assure us that this right will be preserved?

We have no plans to remove the right of hon. Members to raise questions with Ministers. There are occasions when it seems to me that that right is carried to almost excessive lengths. However I assure the hon. Member that we have no plans to remove that fundamental right.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the success of the various offices that have been set up in the regions, particularly in Southampton, to deal directly with immigrants' problems? Is my hon. Friend aware that my concern at present is about the fact that the Southampton office is about to close? Could its life be extended for another six months?

I am aware of this, but I am afraid that this has been forced upon us by lack of resources. I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said, but I cannot hold out any hope that the position will be changed.

Police Force (Ethnic Membership)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what are the latest available figures for members of the police force who originate from coloured ethnic communities; and what percentage of the total this represents.

On 29 February 1980, 268 police officers in England and Wales—0·2 per cent. of the total police strength—were members of the ethnic minorities.

I am sure that the majority of hon. Members will find these figures rather disappointing—

I said the majority of hon. Members. In view of these figures has my hon. Friend any initiatives to implement with a view to increasing the size of the coloured police population?

I accept the need to increase the number of recruits from the ethnic minorities. A special recruitment campaign, with advertisements in the appropriate languages, was conducted in the ethnic press over a three-month period in 1979, and a similar campaign will be launched later this year.

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that the National Front march through my constituency two weeks ago would have been less of an affront to both black and white citizens on the route of the march if the 5,000 policemen guarding the marchers had been less exclusively white?

What is the Minister doing to make the Metropolitan Police, in particular, more aware of its responsibilities to create racial harmony?

I cannot comment on the policing of that particular event. But, as I have said already, we hope to see an increase in the number of members of ethnic minorities in the police forces. There is no doubt at all that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is aware of the importance of good community relations and I believe that much good work is being done in that area.

Will my hon. Friend realise that it is not a question of ethnic minorities? We must not reduce the standards of entry into the police simply because of the colour of a person's skin.

I am not aware that my right hon. Friend or the police forces have any plans to reduce standards.

Interception Of Communications

7.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now name the senior member of the judiciary who will review the interception of communications; and when he expects to publish his first report.

Will the Minister's right hon. Friend reconsider the proposal in the White Paper that only the initial report to the senior judge will be published and that, thereafter, there will be no annual statement? What is the merit in having an independent check on the system if the independent assessor cannot communicate to Parliament or to the public his concern for, or confidence in, the system that he is checking?

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend indicated in his statement to the House that the initial report would indeed be published but that subsequent reports would not be published. That does not mean that Parliament would not have any knowledge of the nature of those subsequent reports. My right hon. Friend added that Parliament would be informed of any findings of a general nature and of any changes that are made in the arrangements as a result of subsequent reports. That seems to be a reasonable balance in what must, inevitably, be an extremely sensitive area.

Why is the Minister's Department refusing to say whether the criteria set out in the White Paper cover the interception of communications for those engaged in trade disputes?

I do not believe that the question of the appointment of a member of the judiciary to review the interception of communications is an appropriate vehicle for ventilating further the general issues of policy which were put before the House and explored in some depth when my right hon. Friend made his statement.

Boundary Commissions

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to propose changes in legislation governing the activities of the Boundary Commissions.

We are considering whether any such changes are necessary or desirable.

Does the Minister remember the remark that he let slip a month ago to the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) suggesting that the Government had in mind the possibility of changing the law relating to Boundary Commissions in order to speed up the process? Since it is generally accepted that the next redistribution will benefit the Conservative Party, does the Minister accept that it would be a political scandal if the Government were to use their majority in the House to alter the law relating to the Boundary Commissions in a direction which benefited the Conservative Party?

I accept that we have a lot to learn from the Opposition about political scandals in relation to these matters. I think that it would be a politi- cal scandal to hold the next General Election on the basis of the present boundaries, which are hopelessly out of date and do not reflect the quality of representation that should be paramount in our thinking. There is a strong case for thinking that it is quite unnecessary that the Boundary Commission should have to complete its consideration of the European constituencies before reporting the outcome of its consideration of the Westminster parliamentary constituencies.

Does my hon. and learned Friend recall the gerrymandering of the Boundary Commission's report by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Home Secretary? Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is quite scandalous that some constituencies could be at a grave disadvantage compared with others? Some hon. Members represent constituencies with 100,000 electors and others represent only 40,000 electors. Will my hon. and learned Friend take urgent steps to see that that situation is remedied?

I think that it is quite indefensible that one should fight an election with the present disparity in the size of constituencies. I merely referred, in passing, to past experience, and I do not think that we need to look back. We should be looking to the future and to implementing the representations of the Boundary Commission in an appropriate way in order to safeguard democracy.

The Boundary Commission procedure to ensure that there are not over-small or over-large constituencies is right. The Minister referred to the European elections and changing procedures there and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was trying to find out what is in the mind of the Government. Why are the Government thinking of changing the law so that the procedures for the European elections can be carried out in a way that was not envisaged when the original legislation was carried? We do not understand what the Government have in mind in this context. The question has nothing to do with gerrymandering and the Boundary Commissions. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many of us feel strongly about the nature of the European Parliament and the way in which it is organised?

I do not think that anything I have said, or canvassed, relates to the organisation of the European Parliament, or its powers. What I have said relates to the fact that, at the moment, the parliamentary Boundary Commission—including the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Commissions—cannot report until it has considered any changes that it thinks appropriate in the European Parliament boundaries. I am talking of boundaries alone. It seems to us that there is no justification for holding up the implementation of the Boundary Commission proposals concerning the Westminster constituencies because it may not be able to complete consideration of the European constituencies.

Will the Minister remind the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) of the saying that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, bearing in mind that his 40 per cent. provision gerrymandered the Scotland Act?

I am afraid that I cannot be drawn on that, because on that issue I believe that the hon. Gentleman showed more wisdom than in his lapse today.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the way in which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) phrased his question suggested that the way the boundaries were left at the last General Election gives great advantage to the Labour Party? Is not the important point that the boundaries should be fair? Whether that fairness removes an advantage presently enjoyed by the Labour Party is a totally separate issue.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I ignore speculation as to the effect or otherwise of the implementation of any proposals that might or might not come. Such speculation is always extremely hazardous. What is sure and firm is that it is quite wrong that there should be constituencies with over 100,000 electors and others with under 30,000 electors.

Hooliganism And Vandalism (London Underground)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will set up a working party into hooliganism and vandalism on the London underground.

My right hon. Friend will be holding, with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, a working conference on violence on public transport next Tuesday. I am sure that hooliganism on the London underground will be among the problems discussed.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that, welcome though his announcement is, a conference is not, in the judgment of many Londoners, sufficient? Is he further aware that the acts of hooliganism and vandalism which took place at Neasden and at Finsbury Park seriously shook public confidence in the ability of people to travel safely on the London underground? Will my hon. and learned Friend address his mind specifically to the problems—first, of getting the Metropolitan Police more actively involved in policing the London underground and, secondly, of reviewing the range of penalties which are available to deal with these Tube thugs? We simply cannot go on with the present situation much longer.

I appreciate, understand and completely share the public anxiety articulated by my hon. Friend. Of course, the conference that is to be held next Tuesday is not enough. However, I think that it is more likely than a working party to reveal to Government and the other organisations involved—whether local authorities or transport bodies—pointers to constructive action for the future.

The Metropolitan Police already assists the British Transport police where necessary. Any recommendations for greater co-operation may well emerge from the conference. The House will be aware that the Government are reviewing the scope and content of the criminal law to seek ways in which it can be strengthened where appropriate.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the railway men are extremely concerned about what is happening? Does he accept that there should be urgent co-operation between the British Transport police and the Metropolitan Police to ensure that the known danger spots are policed properly at times when vandalism and hooliganism take place? Is he aware that the fervent opinion of those who work on the system is that it is their job to work for the railways and not to fight for them and that they should be afforded protection when they are doing their jobs?

I do not think that I would disagree with a single word that the hon. Gentleman has uttered.

Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that there might be long-term solutions to the problem but that short-term remedies are urgently needed? Does he agree that it is not only a question of hooliganism but that people are anxious because of the extreme violence on the underground and on public transport? Will he do his best to urge that the Metropolitan Police cooperate with the transport police to ensure that urgent measures are taken to meet the grave crisis?

I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that there is no need to urge the Metropolitan Police to co-operate. They are ready and anxious to do so. It is a question of the best way in which they can co-operate. I hope that the conference next week will produce constructive, short and long-term suggestions.

Is there not another solution? Could we not fill London Transport carriages with passengers rather than vandals if we reduced the scandalously high cost of fares?

Urban Centres (Public Order)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he proposes to take to ensure that there will not be any " no-go " areas in British urban centres.

As my right hon. Friend made clear in his statement to the House on Monday on the recent disturbances at Bristol, however quickly or fiercely public disorder may occur, we must ensure that the police are able swiftly to restore the peace and enforce the law. Such speed of response is a central issue for the re- view of arrangements for handling spontaneous disorder which the Department is undertaking with chief officers of police.

Is my hon. Friend aware that few people will not wholeheartedly support what the Home Secretary said about his determination that there should not be any no-go areas in Britain? Is the Minister aware that it will be possible to give effect to those fine words only if either enough police officers are recruited into potentially inflammable areas, or if enough police officers are recruited to special groups to be used in particularly inflammable areas? Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the level of police recruitment and the capacity of the police force to deal with conflagrations if, by chance, they should take place in future?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments on what my right hon. Friend said on Monday. There has been a great improvement in recruitment in recent months since the present Government came to power. On the more specific question of how to handle disorder, that is exactly what the conference, which the Home Office is setting up in conjunction with the Association of Chief Police Officers, intends to examine.

As the police were walking about the place peacefully shortly after the disturbances may we get away from the obsession about no-go areas and ask ourselves why there was so much hostility to the police in the first place when the outbreak took place? Is it not time that we began to consider community policing on a national scale rather than reactive policing, which was the cause of the riot?

The conference to consider police operations might examine such questions. The Bristol incidents have been analysed fully. A full summary of the chief constable's report is available in the Library. Inquiries will be made by the Select Committee of which the hon. Gentleman is a member. It is well known that local authorities are examining the situation.

Since many areas of our big cities are populated by Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be to the advantage of effective policing if there were more police from those communities, who speak the language and understand more fully what is going on?

We hope to have more members of the ethnic minority communities in the police force.

Community Relations Councils

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any proposals for making the councils for community relations more accountable either to Parliament or to local authorities.

Community relations councils are already answerable to the Commission for Racial Equality through the conditions imposed in connection with the grants that the Commission makes to them. I understand that the Commission is reviewing all these arrangements and that the question of accountability forms part of this review. Where grants are made by local authorities or other bodies it is for them to attach what conditions they think appropriate.

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to two recent examples of behaviour by the community relations councils? Is he aware of the violent and offensive attack by the Northampton community relations council on my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)—an attack which would be proper in a political party but which was grossly improper in a non-political bureaucracy? Secondly, is my hon. Friend aware of the refusal by the Wolverhampton community relations council to accept the advice of the Commission for Racial Equality on the appointment of an official? Do not those two examples point to the proposition that the community relations councils should be directly responsible either to the Home Office or to local authorities?

I do not believe that it is generally thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is incapable of defending himself against attack. I understand that the Commission for Racial Equality's policy is to require political representation on community relations councils to be broadly balanced. Events in Wolverhampton have aroused considerable interest. I understand that the Commission for Racial Equality is reviewing its relationships with community relations councils generally and is examining carefully the position in Wolverhampton.

Order. I remind the House that when hon. Members are called to ask a supplementary question it is unfair if they ask two or three questions. That stops questions by other hon. Members.

Does the Minister agree that it would be the worst thing possible if community relations councils lost their independence in the local areas? Does he agree that they should be accountable to their local communities?

We certainly do not want community relations councils to be puppets. They are expected to express honest opinions. To an extent, they are accountable to the people who pay for them, and that includes local authorities and the Commission for Racial Equality.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many community relations councils are beginning to regard themselves as pressure groups for ethnic minorities? Does my hon. Friend agree that, although it would be ideal if they had political balance, sadly, some of them have fallen into the hands of Left-wing extremists and are using Government and local authority money in a way which is damaging to racial harmony? Will the Minister examine the whole area of activity to see whether it can be brought under more effective control?

The CRE is looking into the local community relations councils. I agree that some councils are not as politically balanced as is desirable. However, what really matters is that the councils should fulfil a constructive purpose rather than merely indulge in politics.

Metropolitan Police

12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will introduce measures to ensure that the Metropolitan Police force is democratically accountable to the people of London through their local authorities.

I see no reason to change the present constitutional position, under which my right hon. Friend is answerable in Parliament for the exercise of his responsibilities as police authority for the Metropolitan Police district.

Does the Minister accept that a number of local authorities are thinking of withholding their rate precept to the Metropolitan Police unless a more substantial element of accountability is introduced? Such an element might make the Metropolitan Police more accountable to local authorities. What possible justification can there be for allowing a police force not to be accountable to the local community that it serves?

I am aware that one local authority has made such a threat. It is deplorable to threaten to break the law by withholding the precept. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail. It is peculiarly illogical to claim to stand for law and order by breaking the law.

Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that the task of policing London is operationally and logistically a seamless garment, that cannot be split between particular boroughs? Is it not true that certain police operations, such as the one now taking place, should not be messed about by politically-motivated local councillors?

Does not the Minister agree that the Metropolitan Police force is as accountable as any police force outside London, but that it is accountable in a different way—through Members of Parliament, not councillors? Does not he accept that it may be argued that Members of Parliament can do the job better? Will he accept that many local authorities in London are concerned that there is no formal means of consultation between the police and local authorities? Will he open his mind to the possibility of change?

I agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. However, as regards the second question, the Commissioner is anxious to encourage local police commanders to establish liaison arrangements with local authorities in their districts. The Government very much support those developments. They are entirely consistent with the general position as regards responsibility. Any suggestions towards the further extension of that co-operation will be considered sympathetically.

Cuban Refugees

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will facilitate the granting of entry and residence facilities to a token number of Cuban refugees from the Castro dictatorship.

We shall certainly consider sympathetically applications from Cubans who have left the Peruvian embassy for countries of first asylum and who wish to resettle in the United Kingdom, if they have ties with this country or other connections suggesting that the United Kingdom is the natural country of resettlement.

Bearing in mind the campaign that was organised by the political Left on behalf of Chilean exiles, has the Home Office received any representations from members of the Labour Party on behalf of exiles from a Communist dictatorship? Would not the arrival of a few exiles provide a timely reminder to British people of the alternative to a free capitalist society?

I agree with my hon. Friend's last point. As far as I can ascertain, neither we nor the Foreign Office have received any representations from right hon. or hon. Members. We have received only one representation from another source.

Local Radio

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will ask his Department's working party on local radio to give special consideration to the phasing of local radio development with cuts in the British Broadcasting Corporation's regional radio news bulletins.

The Home Office local radio working party prepares proposals for the consideration of the Secretary of State for the Home Department for the further development of local radio by stages, over the United Kingdom as a whole. The working party has no responsibility for regional radio as such but is aware of the BBC's intention to withdraw its regional services in England and to extend its local radio services as resources permit, and will, therefore, obviously be working in that context.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he do his best to ensure that the withdrawal of regional radio services is matched by an attempt to develop local radio not on a duplicated basis, but on one that brings local radio to as much of the country as possible? Will he facilitate the attempts made by the BBC to extend local radio into north Northumberland?

As regards north Northumberland, the BBC has recently put forward proposals to provide alternative arrangements for extending the VHF coverage of BBC Radio Newcastle northwards, to include the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there is great support in Leicestershire for Radio Leicester and that it is widely listened to? Does not he accept that if cuts have to be made, many people would prefer them to be made on regional programmes, which are more widely spread and less relevant than local programmes?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern and of local support for that station. It is in accordance with the BBC's general policy to move from regional to local coverage.

Commission For Racial Equality

17.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to change the constitution of the Commission for Racial Equality.

No. The Race Relations Act 1976, which set up the Commission, has been in force for just under three years and we do not consider it necessary to consider further changes at this stage.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, according to one estimate by the OPCS, the current coloured population of 2,000,000, is likely to increase to 4,000,000 by the end of this century? Is he further aware that the Government may well find it necessary to go back on some of their commitments in order to reduce a seemingly endless flood of immigration? Will he take care that the Commission for Racial Equality is not enabled to interfere with any policies that the Government may introduce?

My hon. Friend is aware that we have already taken steps to reduce the flow of immigrants. It is for the Government to decide their policies. The CRE has the right to give its views, but it is for hon. Members and the Government to decide such issues.

Order. I shall allow one minute extra for Prime Minister's Question Time, in order to call the Opposition Front Bench spokesman.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm or deny the report that the Home Office is considering combining the Commission for Racial Equality with the Equal Opportunities Commission?

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 1 May.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Will the Prime Minister take time off today to answer more fully the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), and the accusations being made to the effect that the right hon. Lady openly condoned the use of Diego Garcia by Carter's task force, as a result of his decision to intervene in Iran and secure the release of the hostages?

I cannot get myself into a position where I have to confirm or deny movements through allied bases. There is nothing that I can usefully add to that reply.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman's point of order relates to the reply that he received, it might be better to raise it at the end of Question Time, as otherwise it will take up the time of other hon. Members.

I was encouraged to read in the press that the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: " Question."] Is the Prime Minister aware that it was stated in the press that the Government are reviewing their public sector buying policy? Will she confirm that that is true? Does she agree that the Government should positively encourage Government Departments and public sector buying bodies to buy British? That would do much to help industry at a difficult time.

My hon. Friend is quite right. I referred to this matter in the debate on the confidence motion. Our policy is to encourage all Departments to buy British as far as possible, commensurate with getting good value for money.

Talking of encouragement from the press has the right hon. Lady had an opportunity during her busy day to read the magnificent May Day issue of the Daily Mirror? Has she given instructions—I trust that she has—that it should be read by all members of her Cabinet, wet or dry?

I have glanced at the Daily Mirror. I did not think that it was worth doing more than that. I noted a picture of shoes, kept for children to wear at a school in The Wirral. I made inquiries. There has been no change in practice at that school since the election.

Now that the dust has settled after Monday night, does my right hon. Friend think that EEC Governments, and the French Government in particular, will be able to accept a far-reaching reform of the budget so that a smaller proportion of Community money would be spent on the agricultural policy and on funding agricultural products that go straight into surplus? Is not that fundamental to the whole issue?

We require two things: a reform of the common agricultural policy, and ass change in the way in which the budget is financed. It would have helped if the proposed price settlement had represented a smaller proportion on agriculture. Unfortunately, it did precisely the opposite. Those two things will have to be brought about. The opportunity will be when the 1 per cent. VAT ceiling is reached, but we shall have to press for both reforms very hard.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

Will the Prime Minister today find a moment to re-read the Conservative Party manifesto, particularly that section entitled " Helping the Family "? Will she compare it with the annual report of the NSPCC, published this week, which notes an increase in family tension as a result of diminished support for families from public funds? How do the conclusions of that respectable body, sponsored by Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret, square with the Conservative commitment to support family life?

With respect, there have been problems with which the NSPCC has been dealing splendidly over the years, and I do not believe that those problems have changed since the election. I believe that it is a disgrace that there is even need for such a society, but so long as there is cruelty—and it occurs at all levels of income throughout society—we shall need such a body. As to the more detailed reply which I could give the hon. Gentleman, since the Government have been in power, with the increases in benefit which they have already made, coupled with those which have been announced, by next November lone parents will have benefited by a 50 per cent. increase in the child benefit addition, low-wage income earners with children, including single parent earners, will have been helped by the doubling of the family income supplement, and there are many more things proposed.

While the Prime Minister, quite rightly, only glanced at the Daily Mirror, will she look rather more carefully at The Sun, which reveals that 85 per cent. of the population and 75 per cent. of trade unionists are against the futile strike which is due to take place on 14 May?

I saw that article, and I think that it shows enormous common sense on the part of those who are being called upon to take part in the day of action.

While thanking the Prime Minister for the courtesy of her reply to myself and two of my hon. Friends relating to the letter we sent her about Diego Garcia, in which she reiterated what she has already said to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), may I ask her to confirm that if the base at Diego Garcia was used by the Americans in the rescue attempt in Iran, British permission should have been received?

I am being asked the same question in a different guise, and there is nothing that I can usefully add to what I have already said.

Will my right hon. Friend, who is giving such positive and dramatic leadership to the free Western world and to our country in a time of difficulty, take a little time out of her busy programme to study the philosophy and policies of Benjamin Disraeli, who believed in the national interest above all else and the good sense of one nation of all people, in order to sustain her in the wonderful work which she is doing?

I shall certainly try to do so, perhaps during next Monday's bank holiday. Like my hon. Friend, I am a great admirer of Disraeli, and staunchly believe, as both of us do, in true Conservative policy.

Order. The House ought to listen because we do not know what is coming next.

—who only glances at the Daily Mirror from time to time, is the Prime Minister proud of the fact that she has cheated the old-age pensioners by introducing a 54-week session, and punished schoolchildren by pushing the price of school meals through the roof? Is she proud that she is seeking revenge upon the miners by removing State liability from the pneumoconiosis scheme and the miners' voluntary retirement scheme? Is she really proud that, at the general election, she led a party which peddled a pack of lies?

I rather thought that under the Tory Government it was reported that some miners now had an income of £10,000 a year. I am very proud of the Government's record during the past year. I am proud of the fact that the married pension has gone up by £12·25p a week; that by next November the disabled will have been helped by a 45 per cent. increase in mobility allowance; that by next year no fewer than 2 million needy people will receive help with their fuel bills—which in real terms means £20 million more than in the last year of the previous Government; that we have cut the standard rate of income tax by 3p in the pound; that we shall have compulsory tenants' rights to purchase council houses, and that we have managed to get the Employment Bill through this House.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave some time ago.

As the Prime Minister is said by the press to enjoy the nickname of " the Iron Lady", can she say just how much she enjoys the prospect of cutting unemployment benefit in real terms by 5 per cent., cutting by a similar amount the benefits paid to pregnant women and cutting the benefit which is paid to invalids in real terms?

I believe that this year it was right to cut the increase in unemployment benefit by some 5 per cent. below the level that it would otherwise have been, because I believe that it is right to have a larger difference between those in work and those out of work.

In her review of public sector orders, will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that a fair share goes to small firms, as that would help them very much?

I shall endeavour to do that. As I have gone around firms in the country, I have noticed that quite a lot of public sector ordering is done through small firms because they are excellent with regard to delivery dates and industrial relations.

Is the right hon. Lady so proud of the cuts in real benefits which have been carried through in the last two Budgets? Is she proud enough of that to publish the full list in the Official Report? Is she proud of the fact that she has pushed up the rate of inflation to 20 per cent., that the unemployment figures have gone up to more that 1½ million and that the mortgage rate has gone up to 15 per cent.? As the " day of action " is partly a protest against all those things, can she advise us to whom we should send our protest? Should it be sent to the Secretary of State for Industry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or No. 10 Downing Street?

I am proud of the Government's records as a whole, including the fact that, in spite of everything the right hon. Gentleman has said, the standard of living rose last year by 6 per cent., that we have just had a very good month for exports and the fact—which I forgot previously—that we settled the Rhodesian problem.

In the same generous spirit as that of the right hon. Lady, may I congratulate her and the Government on the settlement of the Rhodesian problem? We were all very glad to see it, because that represented a real U-turn on their part. Will the right hon. Lady now tell us whether she is still proud of the speech which she delivered in Australia on that subject?

Yes, because in that speech in Australia I said that the sanctions issue would be resolved by November, and it was.

Will my right hon. Friend consider this afternoon warning the TUC, in connection with the calling out of its members on 14 May, that neither the law nor the Government will protect them by one penny from action for damages which might result?

It is my understanding—although it would need to be confirmed with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General—that the " day of action " on 14 May would not be a trade dispute of the kind which would give immunity from action in a court of law.

Is the right hon. Lady preparing any measures to help combat the serious rise in unemployment in Britain?

I am every bit as concerned as the hon. Gentleman about rising unemployment figures. They have not yet passed the peak that was reached by the previous Government. I fear that they will rise during the coming months. We shall do everything we can, but we need help and support from the rest of the country. Unemployment will rise if some groups demand increases in pay which are too high and take away the jobs of others.

Has my right hon. Friend read the account in the press today of the preposterous resumption of surplus butter sales to the Soviet Union by the EEC? Has she also read that that butter is not being sold at subsidised prices to the Soviet housewife, but in a way which greatly profits the Soviet exchequer? Does not that constitute a subsidy from the European taxpayer to the Soviet exchequer at a time when it cannot possibly be justified?

I read that report, and I should like to make it clear that the United Kingdom voted against that sale. However, it is not one that requires the unanimous support of each and every member of the Community. I confirm what my hon. Friend said, that the normal export refund was higher in this case than previously. I condemn this sale totally.