Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 8 May 1980

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

House Of Commons

Thursday 8 May 1980

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Message From The Queen

Income Tax

The VICE-CHAMBERLAIN OF THE HOUSEHOLD reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Addresses, as follows

I have received your Addresses praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Australia) Order 1980, the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Bangladesh) Order 1980, The Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income)(Finland) Order 1980, the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Norway) (No. 1) Order 1980, the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Norway) (No. 2) Order 1980 and the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Sri Lanka) Order 1980 be made in the form of the drafts laid before your House.

I will comply with your request.

I have received your Address praying that on the ratification by the Government of Egypt of the convention set out in the schedule to the draft order entitled the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Egypt) Order 1980, which draft was laid before your House, an order may be made in the form of that draft.

I will comply with your request.

Private Business

Isle Of Wight Lords

Considered; to be read the Third time.

Falmouth Container Terminal Bill(By Order)

Read the Third time and passed.

Tyne And Wear Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 22 May.

British Railways Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 15 May.

South Yorkshire Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 22 May.

Bangor Market Bill Lords (By Order)

Read a Second time and committed.

Pier And Harbour Provisional Order (Brighton West Pier) Bill

Read a Second time and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Constitutional Future

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the future of the constitutional conference.

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in preparing the White Paper on the future Government of Northern Ireland, arising out of his constitutional conference, now adjourned.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he expects to publish his consultation document about future possible political institutions for the Province.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the Government's policy as to the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he expects to announce his proposals for constitutional advance in Northern Ireland.

The conference on the government of Northern Ireland adjourned at the end of March. In the light of the conference discussions of the Government's working paper and of the proposals put forward by the Northern Ireland political parties themselves, the Government are giving careful consideration to the preparation of their own proposals for transferring to elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland greater responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs. These proposals will, of course, follow the principles set out by the Government in our working paper—Cmnd. 7763. The Government's proposals will, I hope, be published in the next few weeks, but I cannot yet give the date of publication. When they are published we look forward to the widest possible discussion, including discussion in this House, if the necessary arrangements can be agreed. As to the conference in Northern Ireland, it will be for the parties concerned to decide how best they can discuss the Government's proposals with us, and whether or not that should be done by re-convening the conference.

Order. I propose to call first the five hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Failing that agreement between the major political element on a devolved system of government, which my right hon. Friend has been seeking so diligently, will he turn to the improvement of the existing system of administrative devolution, and to the development of local government?

My hon. Friend will remember that one of the options in the working paper was very much what he has in mind. I am bound to tell him that it did not command a great deal of support at the conference table. I stress again that our proposals will be within the principles of the working paper. We shall continue to seek a way forward, which is what all the political parties in Northern Ireland say they want.

Can the Secretary of State be a little more precise as to the timing of the release of his document? Can he say what status that document will have? Will it be a Green Paper or a White Paper? Does not he have a responsibility to recall the conference, as he has already told the House that it has only been adjourned? Can he assure the House that he will make every effort to work in a deliberate and positive manner towards publishing that paper within a matter of days, so that the people of Northern Ireland can be assured that the remarks of some Northern Ireland politicians, to the effect that devolution is dead and will not be resurrected, are not true?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise date. As I said in my original answer, we are giving careful consideration, which this complex problem undoubtedly deserves, to the way forward. We shall produce the document as soon as may be. As to the conference itself, it stands adjourned. However, it may well be that we and the parties believe that a reconvening of the conference is the best way forward. If that is so we shall reconvene it.

As there were no fewer than five different options in the consultation document, can my right hon. Friend say whether it is the Government's intention to distil one proposal or whether it is proposed to reduce the five to one or two options and to hold a further discussion about the best of those possibilities?

Apart from the fact that there were six options rather than five, I must ask my hon. Friend and the House to await the publication of our proposals, which I assure the House will be done as soon as we can. However, I cannot give a date at present.

While not, of course, asking my right hon. Friend to disclose his proposals in advance of publication, does it not remain clear that those proposals will contain effective safeguards in respect of the minority, on the basis that without such safeguards there is no future way forward politically in Northern Ireland?

Yes. That was clearly set out in our working paper. If my hon. Friend will re-read paragraph 5, he will find that that is one of the principles. I am quite clear in my mind that we must adhere to all the principles which are set out there. Indeed, in our discussions so far, I have found it to be generally accepted in Northern Ireland that we should do so.

When the right hon. Gentleman prepares this White Paper—I assume that it will be a White Paper—the contents of which he cannot reveal today—will he take on board the possibility, which many of us would urge upon him, of giving a role to the concept of an all-Ireland council under which there could be the closest possible development of co-operation between the Province and the Republic?

Close co-operation between the Province and the Republic with regard to security and economics already exists. I am not convinced that the introduction of a formalised all-Ireland relationship between the north and south on political matters would do anything to advance the cause which we are following, namely, to seek to re-establish democratic control of affairs in Northern Ireland by Northern Ireland people.

Will the document embrace the accepted fact that without the emergence of a united Ireland there can be no long-term solution to the problems of Northern Ireland?

Let us be quite clear about what it is that the Government are seeking to do. We are seeking to find ways of restoring to the people of Northern Ireland more control over then-own affairs. We are not seeking to solve the future of Northern Ireland. That is not for us. As I have said, we are seeking to re-establish some democratic way of controlling affairs in Northern Ireland. That is what we are about.

It was no doubt a slip of the tongue, but the Secretary of State implied that the matter would be discussed only in this House if mutually acceptable arrangements could be arrived at. Does he accept that the House must consider the White Paper at the earliest possible opportunity. Is he aware that I would welcome his views as to the order in which it should be discussed? When considering the reconvening of the conference, or whatever further discussions he will undertake in Northern Ireland about the White Paper, will he bear in mind the non-participation of a number of parties and bodies in the previous conference and the difficulty which that caused? Does he also accept that in many cases the hasty way in which that conference was called, and the lack of preparation, led to it being less representative of opinion throughout the whole of Northern Ireland than it should have been?

As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, the words I used were designed to avoid treading on the toes of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, whose business this is. Of course, I accept that in general hon. Members feel that an early debate would be a good thing. Like the hon. Gentleman, I regret that the conference was not attended by all the parties which were invited to it, but I am firmly of the opinion that arrangements for the future government of Northern Ireland affect everyone who lives there. Naturally, it is right and proper to talk to the political leaders in Northern Ireland and I intend to continue doing so. But I want to talk wider than that, and when I used the phrase " the widest possible discussion ", I meant exactly that.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the rumours which are now circulating in Northern Ireland to the effect that the Government will decide on the restoration of Unionist ascendancy, or something called " majority rule ", in Northern Ireland? Taking into account the dangers involved in pursuing that policy, and the fears which would be created among the minority population—particularly in view of the antics of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in Armagh yesterday afternoon—can he envisage the restoration of any type of government in which the hon. Member for Antrim, North would give fair play to the Northern Ireland minority?

I think that I shall refrain from commenting on a lot of what the hon. Gentleman says, save only to say that I note what his view is. As to rumours, I have discovered during the year in which I have had the honour to hold this office that Northern Ireland is no less prone to rumours than anywhere else—in fact it is rather more so.

Security

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the present state of security in the Province.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement concerning the security situation in Northern Ireland.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Since I last answered questions on 3 April, 41 people have been charged with serious crimes, including four with murder. One of those charged with murder is alleged to have been involved in the attack on the Ballymena to Belfast train on 17 January in which three people died.

The police are still questioning a number of people arrested on Friday last following an incident in which, I very much regret to have to tell the House, an Army officer was shot dead. In a follow-up operation, four men were arrested and a number of firearms, including an M60 machine gun and a considerable quantity of explosive material, were seized. Hon. Members will be aware that an M60 machine gun has been used in Belfast on a number of occasions in attacks on security forces. The seizure of this weapon is, therefore, particularly significant.

Altogether 38 weapons, 3,788 rounds of ammunition and considerable quantities of bomb-making material have been seized or discovered. The find on 29 April by a UDR patrol near Pomeroy of 900 lbs. of explosive packed into milk churns is a case in point. Those involved in the dangerous work of detecting and disarming this and other bombs are to be congratulated on their bravery and skill.

I regret to say that one member of the RUC, two members of the RUC Reserve, one ex-member of the UDR and one civilian have died at the terrorists' hands as well as the soldier I have already mentioned. Our sympathies go to the families of those killed.

During the course of last month, bomb attacks have damaged four hotels and a number of commercial properties in various towns around the Province, but a considerable number of attacks have been thwarted through vigilance and quick action by both the public at large and the security forces.

During my discussions with Irish Ministers on 15 April, we reviewed the existing arrangements for security cooperation. I am satisfied with the way in which they are operating. Hon. Members will have noticed, for example, the continuing successes of the Irish security forces in discovering arms and explosives caches.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that very detailed and full reply, and I join him in paying full tribute to our security forces in Northern Ireland. Would not he accept that there is continuing carnage, destruction and loss of life in Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the United Kingdom?

If the Government of this country, in the persons of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, are not prepared to tolerate terrorism on the mainland of the United Kingdom, will they take whatever action is necessary to rout out and destroy the known terrorist cells in Northern Ireland, even if this means using further units of the highly successful SAS, which showed us that terrorism can be defeated?

My hon. Friend will know that the Government remain fully determined to eradicate terrorism from Northern Ireland. He will know also that we are pursuing the policy of doing this within the law. I refer him to the earlier part of my answer, when I told the House that during the last month 41 people have been brought before the courts and charged with serious crimes, including four with murder. This is the way in which we are seeking to suppress terrorism. I am glad to say that the security forces are becoming more and more professional and skilled as the weeks and months go by. I hope, with confidence, that that level of arrests and charges will continue, if not improve.

Will the Secretary of State make a statement about the murder of a member of the SAS? [Interruption.] He was murdered in my constituency, close to where the hon. Member for Belfast West (Mr. Fitt) lives. The members of the IRA, who were surrounded, gave themselves up. What weapons were seized and what charges have resulted from the incident? [Interruption.] I want to know because they came out with a white flag, as usual on the New Lodge Road, close to where the hon. Member lives.

The operation, to which I briefly referred in my original answer, was a very successful one. It is much to be regretted that, when a plain clothes Army patrol investigated a suspicious incident, it was fired upon and one officer was killed. But, thereafter, the security forces acted with extreme efficiency, and I am very happy to tell the House that the incident lasted for only a short time before the terrorists involved, as the hon. Gentleman said, hung out a white flag and surrendered. They are all in custody and are being questioned, because the police are anxious to determine precisely what charges they should prefer. This was an important capture of both weapons and people, and the security forces are to be congratulated on the way they handled it.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the statement made by the Provisional IRA yesterday, to the effect that it intends to prevent the repair and future use of the Belfast-Dublin rail link?

The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for disrupting the rail link between Belfast and Dublin, and has now threatened—not for the first time—those working and travelling on it. This line is an important public service, of benefit to people of the north and of the south. The action and threats of the Provisional IRA demonstrate once again, if further demonstration were needed, that it cares nothing for ordinary people, north or south of the border, and is merely interested in destruction. Our determination to overcome this threat is quite unshaken.

Bearing in mind the confrontation in my constituency yesterday between certain hon. Members of this House and members of the security forces, can the Secretary of State tell us whether the RUC will arrest anyone on request, or is this a special facility extended only to members of the Democratic Unionist Party?

The Royal Ulster Constabulary decides when to make arrests. But I expect—and I believe that the House expects—that hon. Members should do everything they can to support the forces of law and order, rather than engaging in activities which actively hinder them.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many innocent people have been murdered in Northern Ireland in the past 12 months since the Secretary of State took office? Does that appalling, unabated slaughter not shame him, either into resignation or taking decisive action to defeat the terrorists, on the basis of what the Prime Minister has already declared, that the Government will not permit terrorism to exist in this country—or are the Ulster people second-class citizens?

Without notice I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the precise figure of people killed in the last 12 months, but I can tell him that it is too many.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government, supported by the whole House, are determined to overcome terrorism. We are embarked upon a particular course and I am convinced that it will be successful.

Will the Secretary of State consult his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence before consenting to certain UDR camp closures in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that many of us in this House believe that the advantages which may result from that action will be seriously outweighed by the disadvantages arising from such closures?

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, this is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but I know of the anxiety, some of which he has expressed to me, as have other hon. Members. I assure him that I am bringing it to the attention of my right hon. Friend. It is the desire of the whole Government that the UDR, which is such a fine body of men and women, should be used to the maximum advantage. That is the whole purpose of any rearrangement we may seek to make. But I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when he will realise that terrorism in Northern Ireland will never be defeated until there is proper extradition between the Irish Republic and the North of Ireland? Does he realise that, when, these murderers can hide and have safe refuge in the Republic, his forces cannot successfully deal with their attacks across the border? Will the right hon. Gentleman note that the people of Northern Ireland expect him not to enter into friendly relations with the Head of a hostile State which gives sanctuary to these murderers?

I am not as pessimistic as the hon. Gentleman. I believe that we can overcome terrorism, even though the Republic of Ireland does not practise the same law of extradition as we have in this country

As for not entering into friendly relations with another State, I must tell the hon. Gentleman and the House, that the co-operation between the security forces north and south of the border is, I am credibly informed by people who have longer experience of the Province than I, better than it has ever been. This must be an advantage.

Will the Secretary of State accept from the Opposition that it is the policy of the Government, as it has been of successive Governments, that it is for the police forces, supported by the Army, to bear the main brunt of overcoming the terrorist threat, and that those police forces do not need to be diverted from their main purpose by the irresponsible actions of people in authority?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that if people want to persuade the Government of the Republic that a proper system of extradition should obtain, they are hardly likely to do so by acting in a thoroughly irresponsible and discourteous manner to the Irish Prime Minister?

Yes, Sir. I remain convinced that the combined efforts of security forces in Northern Ireland and the Republic can overcome this problem. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman confirms his party's acceptance of the policy which the Government are pursuing; a policy started by the previous Labour Government. I am sure that, in the long run, this is the right way. Each of us has his own way of persuading other people to do things. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has his way and I have mine. I believe that mine is the better way.

Political Future

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether, following his recent discussions with members of the Government of the Irish Republic, he will now indicate that he does not intend to resume these discussions so far as they relate to political arrangements and circumstances in Northern Ireland.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will give an assurance that it is the firm policy of Her Majesty's Government that ultimate decisions regarding the constitutional future of Northern Ireland will remain the sole prerogative of the United Kingdom Parliament.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will place in the Library the political analysis which he presented to the Government of the Irish Republic on 15 April.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will explain the Press communiqué issued after his talks with the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic; and if he will make a statement.

My discussions with Ministers of the Irish Government on 15 April covered matters of mutual interest such as security and the economy. I also explained the Government's policy on transferring responsibilities to locally elected representatives in the Province. The analysis I gave was that contained in the conference working paper—Cmnd. 7763—my speech in this House in the debate on 29 November and in my answers to questions in this House. I am happy to repeat the assurances that I have given before, that decisions on Northern Ireland's future are for the people of Northern Ireland, Her Majesty's Government and Parliament.

I propose to call first the four right hon. and hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is no reason why the Government of the Irish Republic should not procure and study Green Papers and the Official Report of this House? Will he, in all his contacts with the Irish Government, bear in mind that he is dealing with a State which claims as part of its territory a portion of the United Kingdom? Will he, therefore, be especially careful to avoid, in communiqués or otherwise, language which could give rise to misundertanding?

Should it not be clearly understood in Dublin that the current diplomatic initiative and pressure of the Irish Government will, of course, be listened to politely as befits an EEC partner, but that decisions on this matter are for the people of Northern Ireland as a whole and the elected Parliament of the United Kingdom alone?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We obviously listen to the views of Governments with whom we are in close relationship and who, as my hon. Friend says, are members with us of the EEC—

My hon. Friend is quite right in his last statement. I am prepared to repeat that as often as is necessary.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we derive much comfort and satisfaction from the personal assurance given by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the affairs of our part of the United Kingdom are the responsibility of this Parliament and of her Majesty's Government? Will the Secretary of State take effective steps to ensure that there is no impression left in anybody's mind that there has been, or will be, any breach of the undertaking given by the Prime Minister?

I hope to do that. There has not been, and there will not be, any breach of that undertaking. I hope that the fact that I am answering questions on this subject in the House will help. I made it my business when I was in Dublin to repeat the words that I have used this afternoon.

As the joint statement from both parties after the Dublin talks stated that each party outlined the policy in relation to the political situation in Northern Ireland pursued by their respective Governments, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what outline of policy he stated at those talks? Following his remarks this afternoon may I ask him whether he has entered into an agreement with the Taoiseach that he can come to Northern Ireland as often as he likes and tie up hundreds of members of the security forces in looking after his security?

The hon. Gentleman makes much of the Taoiseach's visit to Northern Ireland yesterday. May I re-Mind him that that was not a unique occasion? The Taoiseach attended the enthronement of Dr. Armstrong as the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland. He attended, as I did, at the invitation of Dr. Armstrong. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will recall that such a thing has happened before. It happened when the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh was enthroned. The then Taoiseach, Mr. Lynch, attended, as did my predecessor. That seems to me perfectly acceptable and proper.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, not only are such talks useful, but that they should be uprated to include regular consultations between the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Ireland so that we can discuss, among other things, the possibility of Irish unity and get away from this silly idea that any group of people in the United Kingdom—be those people in Northern Ireland, Cornwall or Caithness—can veto a decision made by this House?

Meetings between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach are, of course, a matter for her. Naturally, they meet from time to time about their European business. I have regular meetings—not with the Taoiseach—with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Justice in Ireland on matters which are of common interest. Those meetings are of great benefit to both sides.

In view of the recent capture of an M60 machine gun—to which my right hon. Friend referred earlier—did my right hon. Friend in his conversations with the Irish Government urge them to initiate diplomatic pressure in the United States to prevent the proceeds from Republican fund-raising activities from being diverted to the procurement of lethal weapons of death such as M60 machine guns?

The details of the discussions which I had—as in the case of all discussions between Governments—are not made public beyond the official communiqué. I think that there is no doubt in the minds of the Governments of the Republic and the United States of our views on this matter.

De Lorean Cars Limited

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the application for financial aid by De Lorean Cars Ltd.

I have at present nothing to add to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member on 3 April 1980.

Does the Minister accept that we wish to see viable jobs in West Belfast? Will he also accept that a massive chunk of money has been poured into De Lorean Cars but that the taxpayer, having financed the development of the wonder car, does not own it? The rights are in the De Lorean partnership. Will the Minister make it a condition of any further financial assistance—if the car is so marvellous—that we should own it? Will the Minister confirm that no money is being siphoned off, directly or indirectly, into the associated concern CP Trim Limited? I wonder why the Minister refuses to answer questions about that firm?

As the House knows from answers to previous questions on this subject, the De Lorean company is funded in a complicated way, significantly if not exclusively, by the taxpayer through the agency of, as well as directly through, Government grant. I answer the hon. Gentleman by saying that I shall ensure that there will be the fullest possible examination of the application. The CP Trim company has come to West Belfast because of the De Lorean project and will provide additional jobs in an area where we desperately need them.

Will my hon. Friend say whether the DMC 12 is on target in its timetable? Can he say when he expects the first cars to come off the production line?

I am informed that the car is indeed on its production timetable and we expect limited production to start shortly after the summer. The intention is that the car will be launched in the autumn at the United States Motor Show.

Does the Minister accept that the ravages of inflation are hitting De Lorean severely and that it would appear that its request for additional funds is reasonable in the circumstances and in line with the criteria of the original agreement?

We urge the Government to make an early decision on payment. Will the Minister consider inviting the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) to visit De Lorean and see the success that it is making of this project?

The hon. Gentleman is correct. The ravages of inflation have affected the forecasts which were made— somewhat speedily—by the previous Administration. It is my duty to see That the ravages of inflation, which afflict every company in Northern Ireland, do not lead to an unduly early decision on additional funding. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the greatest possible scrutiny will be applied to this application and that the agreement, while allowing an application, does not commit the Government to meeting it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) referred to my position on this matter, I should like to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter again in the House at the earliest possible opportunity.

Convicted Persons (Rights Of Appeal)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether, in his consideration of desirable amendments to the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act, Official Report, 3 April, c. 624, he will consider the workings of the special access to the Court of Appeal, which is possible under Diplock courts procedure.

The Northern Ireland emergency provisions legislation provides a virtually unrestricted right of appeal to the Court of Appeal against conviction or sentence for a scheduled offence before a Diplock court. I am satisfied with the operation of this appellate system and have no proposals for its modification.

If the Minister is satisfied with the appellate system, how is it that those of us who go from this House on visits to Northern Ireland cannot but sense the deep-seated resentment against the working of Diplock?

I think that this is a resentment expressed frequently on behalf of terrorists who have been convicted and do not like the fact that they have been detected and convicted.

Will the Minister undertake to have a look at the report of the European Commission on Human Rights, which has been examining the working of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, and to make available in a suitable form the Commission's conclusions on the workings of that Act prior to the debate on renewal?

Yes, I shall certainly consider most sympathetically the hon. Gentleman's request, and I shall seek to meet it.

Terrorism

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people have been killed through terrorism in Counties Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh in the 12-month period 1 May 1979 to 1 May 1980.

Does the Minister accept that every one of those deaths represents a body blow to law-abiding communities living in those border areas? Will he confirm that in almost every incident the murderer involved sought sanctuary in the Irish Republic? His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that the situation is better than ever, but anything that is an improvement on nil must be better than ever. While we welcome the finds of arms and arms dumps in the Irish Republic, would we not accept the Irish Republic's sincerity even more readily if the people associated with those arms dumps were arrested?

I entirely endorse the point that the hon. Gentleman has made about the total unacceptability of even one death from terrorism. I concede also that a number of the terrorists responsible for these appalling murders come across the border and return across the border. That, in itself, is profoundly troubling, and it is something with which we must try to deal.

I should point out that, looking back over a period of five years, for example, out of a total of 129 murders in this part of the Province, we have succeeded in arresting and charging 42 people for murder. Those charges do not necessarily all relate to murders within that five-year period, and I suspect that there are more arrests and convictions to come. But the fact that these people may go backwards and forwards across the borders gives them no immunity from arrests, charging or imprisonment following conviction.

Following my hon. Friend's answer to the last question, will he, nevertheless, say whether the term " acceptable level of violence " is officially used in his Department? If it is, will he consider the damaging effect that such a phrase used officially has on the morale on the civilian population and on the armed forces serving in Northern Ireland?

If any such unacceptable phrase is ever used I confirm that it is totally unacceptable and that we shall do everything possible to expunge and exercise it from any public statement, written or oral, in this context.

Constitutional Future

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has now come to any conclusions about a form of devolution for Northern Ireland.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison).

In any devolution proposals will the Government give due consideration to the growing awareness of the need for cross-border co-operation with the Republic of Ireland on matters such as tourism, transport, industry, communications and sport?

Yes, Sir. There are a number of areas, of which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned several, where the interests of people north and south of the border are the same. That is why I believe that it is right to keep in close touch, as I do, with Ministers in the Government of the Republic, so that we can develop matters of common interest together, rather than in competition with each other.

Has the Secretary of State been informed of a recent one-sided broadcast on BBC 2 television, in which a Government politician, a supporter of the present Fianna Fail Government, claimed that a united Ireland was imminent? Will he take action over the question of devolution in Northern Ireland to put an end to the belief held by politicians in the Irish Republic that Ulster will fall into their hands like a ripe plum, because, in fact, the Ulster people will stand on their own if they are pushed out of the United Kingdom?

Happily, I am not responsible for the BBC. I did not see the programme to which the hon. Gentleman refers, in which obviously opinions with which he does not agree with were expressed. I often find that I watch television programmes and hear views with which I do not agree. I do not think that anyone in the United Kingdom or in the Republic of Ireland believes that the unity of Ireland is imminent. The most recent formal expression of opinion which we have had—as little as seven years ago—was the border poll. Every indication that exists today is that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. As long as they do, they will.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 8 May.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is attending the funeral of President Tito in Belgrade.

I am very grateful to the Home Secretary for answering on behalf of the Prime Minister, who, properly, is attending the funeral. However, has the Home Secretary noticed that President Carter has not deigned to attend the funeral? As it is the duty of an ally to give counsel as well as slavish help, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations, through the Prime Minister, to President Carter to the effect that it is time that he came out of purdah and, through his new Secretary of State, attempted to enter into discussions with the Soviet Union and other countries to solve the difficult foreign affairs problems that are emerging?

Having regard to a High Court judgment yesterday, will my right hon. Friend seek an official engagement today with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to ask whether the Leader of the Opposition will now withdraw his and his party's support for the so-called day of inaction on 14 May?

I have not actually noticed that the Leader of the Opposition's support has been very marked up to now. He has been very silent on this matter. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, however, has been quite clear. What I should have thought was evident to everyone was that next Wednesday those who wish to go to their jobs have the absolute right to do so. In their interests, for them and their colleagues, for their jobs and this country in the future, I hope that they will decide to do so.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take account of the fact that there were two important court decisions yesterday? On the first one, about the day of action, what the judge himself said, whatever views may be held about the particular decision, was that each trade unionist must appreciate that choice to work—[Interruption.]

I was coming to the question, Mr. Speaker. I was asking whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware of the fact that the judgment that was given by the judge fully supports the choice of any trade unionist or citizen of this country to decide for himself what he shall do on 14 May. Whatever criticisms may be made by Conservative Members on this matter, that is the fact that stands.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also take account of the fact that in the other court judgment yesterday there was, as many of us believe, a verdict given which could involve a very serious infringement of the freedom of the press? Since I should have thought that this is a matter that would fall within the right hon. Gentleman's province, will he take account of that judgment, and if in fact Lord Denning's judgment—[Interruption.]

If Lord Denning's judgment is upheld—which would be quite a rarity on these occasions—[HON. MEMBERS: " Oh."]. If his judgment is upheld, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to review the law and bring forward proposals which would forbid any such infringement of the rights or the freedoms of the press?

As Home Secretary I have learnt that it is unwise, when I am answering for the Prime Minister, in any way to comment on matters that are still subject to the due process of law. Therefore, I do not intend to do so. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman on the radio. I am sorry that he found it necessary to wriggle about the law as much in the House as he did on the radio. Nothing that he has said invalidates the perfectly proper point that I made about the right of everyone who wishes to go to his or her job on Wednesday to do so.

As the right hon. Gentleman is saying, on the second court case, that he does not want to make any comment, why is he so eager to comment on the first case?

I did not make a comment. I said that nothing in the judgment invalidated the right of those who wish to go to work to do so. That is the case, and that is what I said.

In the course of the day will my right hon. Friend consider the position of the surviving Iranian terrorist once the due processes of law have taken place? Accepting that there is no extradition treaty between Britain and Iran, does he nevertheless agree that it might be more appropriate to hand the gentleman over to the Iranian authorities—

Order. The case is sub judice. It is not for us to seek to influence the judgment of the courts.

What is the right hon. Gentleman advising the unemployed to do next Wednesday?

If those who have jobs to go to on Wednesday decide not to go to work, they are likely to put more of their colleagues in the difficult position of the unemployed in future.

Does the right hon. Gentleman envisage that large employers, including the nationalised industries, might take action for breach of contract, or inducement to breach of contract, following yesterday's judgment?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, since the successful events of last weekend, there has been a great resurgence of patriotism throughout the nation? Is he further aware that although much of that is due to the magnificent actions of the police and the Army, a great deal is also due to the leadership of the Prime Minister?

Olympic Games

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister, whether, pursuant to the statement, Official Report, 20 April, c. 190, by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, during the Adjournment debate on the Olympic Games, she will outline Her Majesty's Government's policy of giving modest help from public money to those who have followed Her Majesty's Government's advice about where the British interest lies.

I have been asked to reply.

Our policy is to give help in staging alternative events to the governing bodies of the sports concerned, if that is what their members wish. We have received no specific requests so far, but we expect that any sums involved would be modest.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is not only the athletes, but in many instances their relatives, who have sacrificed a great deal and are bitterly disappointed about losing their deposits and not going to Moscow? Has he any thought of giving them some modest recompense for doing what is in the national interest?

We have made our position clear. We are considering making sums available to the governing bodies of the sports concerned, but we are not considering going any further.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that these petty recriminations against the Soviet Union serve no useful purpose and can only have the effect of undermining world peace, besides the effect on our athletes, who have trained so assiduously over recent weeks and months to participate in the Olympic Games? Is it not time for the Government to take a more state-manlike approach?

To condone the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would be far more dangerous to world peace than anything else.

Does my right hon. Friend think it rather odd that some athletes and athlete administrators are seeking public money at the same time as they are demanding that politics be kept out of sport?

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 8 May.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson).

In yesterday's debate, did not two former Conservative Ministers express serious concern at the Chancellor's policies? What further changes in policy will the right hon. Gentleman recommend to the Prime Minister to avoid rising unemployment and the rising number of young people on the dole?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made his policy perfectly clear. He is sticking to that policy and so are the Government. We believe that we are on course as far as the monetary targets are concerned.

What action will the Government take to protect Libyan nationals living in London and to assuage the fears on both sides of the House that so-called Libyan diplomats have been engaged in intimidation, arson, kidnapping and even murder?

When it comes to law-breaking, we have made our position clear. As the House will be aware, three Libyans stand charged with murder. We shall ensure that our law is respected by all those who remain here.

Will the right hon. Gentleman talk to the Prime Minister when she returns from Belgrade and encourage her to reflect on the problems currently confronting the Lancashire textile industry? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, with the closure of one subsidiary of the Carrington-Vyella group in my constituency the other day, only 65,000 jobs remain of the 326,000 jobs that existed in the Lancashire textile industry a few years ago? What is the size of the Lancashire textile industry which the Government are prepared to accept as irreducible?

As a Member with a constituency close to the area to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, I understand fully the problems and anxieties that he expresses. I shall refer them to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

May I ask my right hon. Friend once again to reflect upon the conduct of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, especially—

Order. That does not come within the Prime Minister's area of responsibility.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I realise that normally the conduct of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Government. However, in this case I wish to call his attention to the fact that some of the—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is about to ask the question that he was going to ask earlier. It is out of order for an hon. Member to ask the Prime Minister to take responsibility for others for whom the Prime Minister is not normally responsible. I have previously ruled that it is wrong to ask the Prime Minister or the acting Prime Minister, to take responsibility for what the Opposition or their spokesmen do. It is out of order to pursue the point.

If the hon. Gentleman had to be named for that, there are some people who would never be here.

Tuc

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister when she expects to meet the Trades Union Congress.

I have been asked to reply.

I repeat the answer that I gave to the question in the name of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson).

The question is when the right hon. Lady is going to meet the TUC and not about her engagements generally.

I apologise. My right hon. Friend meets representatives of the TUC at NEDC and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

When the right hon. Lady meets the TUC, will it not be true—in view of the savage legal attacks by the Government on trade union rights and the savage attack on the low-paid and the sick by legislation and the Budget—that the TUC will explain that the only way in which trade unionists can protect their rights is by expressing opposition to the savage attack on their standard of living and by supporting the day of action on 14 May? Does he accept that no judgment at the behest of the Pravda of the Tory Party, the Daily Express, will diminish the rights of trade unionists to support the action on 14 May?

To talk about Pravdas of the Tory party is absurd, as I believe that the hon. Gentleman on reflection will agree. The hon. Gentleman talks of savage attacks. I do not accept, and nor do a large number of trade unionists, that these are in any way savage attacks. From what I read recently that is also true of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), who has been leading for the Opposition on this matter.

Before my right hon. Friend considers meeting the TUC, will he study reports of the execution this morning of the former Education Minister of Iran, who was the first woman member of Parliament and first Minister in Iran to be executed by firing squad? In view of the outstanding courage of our security forces in defence of the lives of Iranian nationals here, does my right hon. Friend accept that the execution of that woman Minister can only prejudice friendly nations against Iran?

I am bound to express anxiety over what has happened, but it would be wrong for me to comment specifically on the action.

Business Of The House

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 12 MAY— Consideration of private Members' motions until 7 pm.

Second Reading of the Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill.

TUESDAY 13 MAY —Remaining stages of the Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 14 MAY —Proceedings on the Gas Bill and on the Sea Fish Industry Bill.

Motion on the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY 15 MAY—Progress on the Health Services Bill, until about 7 pm, followed by a debate on the appointment of the British Steel Corporation chairman, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Afterwards, motion on the Iron and Steel (Borrowing Powers) Order.

FRIDAY 16 MAY—Debate on a motion to take note of the BL 1980 corporate plan.

MONDAY 19 MAY— Progress on remaining stages of the Housing Bill.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the arrangement for next Thursday, in respect of the debate on the appointment of the chairman of British Steel, which we requested last week. I am grateful to him for acknowledging our request.

We should have preferred to debate the business for Friday on another day. We appreciate the difficulties, and it is possible that the day cannot be changed. I understand the pressures, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider that request?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. As he knows, there were difficulties in finding suitable business for a Government Friday. It is not ideal to have the British Leyland debate on that day, but it was the best of the alternatives that were discussed through the usual channels.

Will my right hon. Friend ask whoever is speaking for the Government on Monday not to take the line that we believe in sanctions for their own sake, or that they are necessarily workable or in Western interests, but that the sole objective is to protect what we believe are the interests of the Western Alliance, and in particular those of the United States?

It is not for me, as Leader of the House, to instruct Ministers on their speeches, although it is an interesting idea, which I shall consider. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office will note the cogent advice advanced to him by my hon. Friend.

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether Monday's debate on the Second Reading of the Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill will finish at 10 pm or later? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the basis of the feelings of my hon. Friends it is unlikely to finish at 10 pm? If the debate is not concluded by a reasonable time on the following day, what proposals are there for a further day?

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I am hopeful that by having the half-day on 12 May and a full day in prime time on 13 May the proceedings will be concluded at a reasonable hour. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first point, it is the Government's intention to table a motion suspending the rule for two hours so that the vote will take place at midnight.

Is it by accident or design that my right hon. Friend has arranged that on 14 May, when the TUC will be speaking in Trafalgar Square, we shall be discussing the Gas Bill? Has my right hon. Friend made special arrangements for staff and others to get to and from Westminster on that day?

We are hopeful that our proceedings will not be affected by whatever else happens on 14 May. With regard to the choice of proceedings on the Gas Bill, my hon. Friend asked whether it was by accident or design that that debate was selected. It was on both those grounds.

In view of the blatant abuse of the law and practice of diplomatic immunity that has been thrown into sharp relief in the past week by the contrast in the handling of the Iranian siege here and the continued holding of American hostages in Iran, combined with the terror on our streets that it is alleged emanates from certain embassies, do the Government propose to consider the problems of diplomatic immunity and make a statement or have an inquiry and debate on the proposed changes?

My right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary is looking closely at the important issues involved. No doubt he will come to a conclusion in due course.

May we have a statement next week from the Foreign Office on the status of the Libyan embassy, and in particular on the question whether it has been made clear to Colonel Gaddafi that we cannot tolerate so-called diplomats, the policy of whose country is to murder its citizens on British soil?

Without attributing the answer to any country, it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to condemn any such attitude. With regard to a statement by the Lord Privy Seal or the Foreign Secretary in another place, that would depend on developments.

Did the Leader of the House have any messages about the instructive debate that we had last night on Southern Rhodesian sanctions? Does he agree that it would be for convenience all round if, at the time that we are discussing Iranian sanctions, we brought in legislation for an Iranian sanctions amnesty order?

I followed with interest the proceedings last night. I must point out that although there are some superficial resemblances in the two situations, a deeper examination shows that they are entirely distinct.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the business planned for next Friday? Would it not be more suitable for the House to have a proper opportunity to debate in advance the total confusion in the trade union movement about the intentions of the planned day of action on 14 May? Would this not give us an opportunity to hear from the leader of the Labour Party his view of the trade unions trying to dragoon their members into a political strike that is not welcomed by nearly all those members?

I would welcome a breach of the Leader of the Opposition's Trappist vow of silence. On the question of changing the business on Friday, however, I believe that this would be moving out of the frying pan into the fire.

In view of General Gaddafi's utterly disgraceful statement and threat to Libyan nationals in other countries, including our own, may I press the demands that have already been made for an early statement by a Foreign Office Minister on this matter?

I shall certainly pass that request to the Lord Privy Seal and the Foreign Secretary.

My right hon. Friend will have heard the question put to the acting Prime Minister today by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) about the textile industry. No doubt he will also have noted that there has been an unsuccessful Standing Order No. 9 application on the state of the industry. Bearing in mind the parlous problems facing the industry, through no fault of its own, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate next week? This is an industry in which, in Lancashire alone, last week there were eight mill closures involving 3,500 people.

We are extremely concerned about the textile industry. There was a debate on 21 April on this industry—

Yes, it was on the North-West, but it involved the textile industry. I cannot promise an early debate in Government time, but there may be other opportunities for this.

When will the Whitsun Adjournment debate take place? Will the Leader of the House also tell us what progress he has made in relation to the Summer Recess, bearing in mind that school holidays are earlier in Scotland than in England and Wales? When does he intend to adjourn the House to enable Scottish Members to have some time with their wives and families during the holiday period?

We shall have the Whitsun Adjournment debate on Wednesday 14 May. While I am sympathetic to the needs of Scottish Members, I cannot give any guarantees about the date on which the House will rise for the Summer Recess. That depends on a number of factors that are not in my control. I hope that we shall rise at a reasonable time, but we have not reached the Whitsun Recess yet. Let us get over that before we start considering the Summer Recess.

As the debate on Iranian sanctions is clearly a charade to placate the ruffled feelings of the Americans, will my right hon. Friend ensure that appropriate invitations are extended to the United States ambassador and his acolytes to attend that debate?

The Distinguished Strangers' Gallery is always open to the ambassadors of countries that are represented at the Court of St. James. My hon. Friend is going too far when he refers to this matter as a charade. I draw his attention to the fact that it is vital in foreign policy that when the leader of the Western Alliance is facing difficulties, this country should be seen to support the United States.

However deplorable the holding of American hostages may be, is the Leader of the House aware that it is extremely unwise to bring in a sanctions order next week, since it will obviously serve no purpose whatsoever, and will not secure the release of a single American hostage?

That is a matter for debate, not when the order is introduced—because we do not intend to introduce an order—but when the Bill is introduced next week. I suggest that the hon. Member should reserve his comments until he sees the contents of the Bill, which has not yet been published.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed early-day motion 548, on pharmacists' remuneration?

[That this House calls for the implementation of the Franks Report and, in particular, the establishment of some form of permanent review machinery for settling the remuneraton of pharmacists]

In view of the widespread support for that motion, and the fact that the matter has not been debated since the middle of 1978, will my right hon. Friend allow time for discussing this forgotton profession?

This is an extremely important question, referring to the Franks report and the establishment of a permanent review machinery for settling the remuneration of pharmacists. My right hon. Friend hopes to be able to announce a decision on this matter shortly.

Do the Government intend to make a response to the Finniston report on the engineering industry? If so, when can we debate the matter?

Discussions are still continuing, and I hope, that the Government will soon be in a position to make a statement on this most important report within a reasonable time.

When considering the scheduling of the Iran Bill next week, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many Members on the Government Benches believe that the United States' perception of and interests in the Middle East are quite different from those of the United Kingdom? Does he agree that there is at least a possibility that the introduction of the Bill will be damaging to our interests in the Middle East, and therefore damaging to the Western Alliance as a whole?

This is an agreement of the nine member countries of the EEC to act in concert in this regard. We have entered into this agreement, and the introduction of the Bill next week and its publication today are in fulfilment of that obligation, freely entered into.

Before the House debates the appointment of the British Steel Corporation chairman next week, will it be possible for the Government to place in the Library and the Vote Office the details of the appointment, so that we can see the details of the Government's payment of £2 million to Lazard's? Some of us have difficulty in explaining to steel workers why the Government did not have any money to pay them more than 2 per cent.

That point would be more properly raised in the debate itself, and discussed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Given that a considerable amount of shoe leather will be used up on the rather pointless marches of 14 May, would it not be more appropriate if we had a debate on that day on the serious state of the British footwear industry? Perhaps out of that day of action some good may come to at least one section of British industry.

I only regret that that helpful suggestion was not made earlier, when we might have discussed it through the usual channels.

Can the Leader of the House give an indication when he expects to report progress on the all-party talks on the government of Scotland?

Those talks are proceeding. They have made reasonable advances in the area of improving procedures in this House. I hope that within a reasonably short time we shall reach a constructive conclusion.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us remember a certain stage of the last war when this country would have undoubtedly soon gone under, because we were bankrupt and we could not provide ourselves with weapons or food, and the Americans came to our aid? Is it not right that we should support America now over Iran?

I agree entirely. Underlying my hon. Friend's remarks is the important principle that the whole security of the Western world depends on maintenance of the alliance with the United States.

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising throughout.

Will the Leader of the House consider withdrawing the Iranian sanctions Bill, particularly after the debacle of the amnesty order last night? Does he not think that there should be a general debate on foreign affairs rather than the Bill, so that we can discuss our whole foreign policy, which seems at the moment to be totally subordinated and servilely subjugated to American foreign policy over a wide range of issues, such as cruise missiles and Iran, which can pull us towards a third world war without any sort of independent view being expressed by the House or the country?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the world situation is fraught with danger. I would like to see a debate, in due course, on foreign affairs in general. Subject to Mr. Speaker's ruling, there will be an opportunity to consider the world situation as a background to the introduction of this Bill. As to withdrawing the Bill, this is a somewhat metaphysical point. One cannot withdraw a Bill before it has been introduced.

With regard to the Iranian sanctions debate, do the Government intend to have a free vote on their side of the House?

I understand that there is to be a free vote on the Opposition side of the House. I fully understand the reasons. Those reasons are not operative on the Government side of the House. A mild form of Whip will be imposed.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Register of Members' Interests, on the Table in front of him, is the 1976 edition? When will he find time for a proper debate on the register, to consider whether we can officially use the 1980 edition?

I have held discussions on this point with the Chairman of the relevant Committee. I understand that the current register is available for consultation in the Library.

In view of the major defeats suffered by the Conservative Party in the recent local elections and the consequential good effects on comprehensive education that changes of councils towards Labour will bring about, will there be an early debate on education?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's disappointment over the result of the local elections. I am afraid that I cannot assuage that by promising an early debate on education.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the textile industry requires not vacuous expressions of concern and sympathy but positive Government action to repair the damage done to the industry by Government policies? When do the Government intend to ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade will present to the House a package to save the industry? When will the Government arrange for a debate on the industry? During this Session there has been no debate on the plight of the Lancashire textile industry.

The Government have made clear their concern for the industry and have also taken practical steps in supporting the multi-fibre arrangement and in the preparations that are being made to ensure a reasonable degree of protection in the future. That is the immediate answer to the hon. Gentleman.

Questions To Ministers

I undertook yesterday to look into the submission made to me by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), about the acceptance by the Table Office of a question of his relating to the Cambodian relief operation. I am satisfied that the question was properly received. I should add, however, that I do not propose in future to respond in the House to points of order relating to the acceptance of individual questions. Such matters should be pursued through the normal procedure that applies to submissions to me in connection with decisions of the Table Office with regard to questions.

I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and the Clerks of the Table Office, for the amount of time and thought given to this matter. It is hoped that the issue can be raised, possible on the Adjournment of the House next Wednesday, when it can be properly discussed.

I take it, Mr. Speaker, that your statement does not mean that if there is a clash between an hon. Member and the Table Office, after representations have been made to you, hon. Members will be prevented from raising the matter on the Floor of the House. That is often a way in which matters can be resolved.

I am afraid that is just what I was saying. A procedure is followed in connection with the Table Office. If hon. Members are not satisfied, they appeal to me. I look into the matter. Sometimes I reverse the decision of the Table Office and sometimes I do not. I shall not say on which side I come down most often. It must then be the end of the matter.

European Community (Agriculture Ministers' Meeting)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the meeting of the Council of Ministers in Brussels on 6–7 May at which I represented the United Kingdom together with my hon. Friend the Minister of State.

I confirmed to the Council the Government's opposition to the price increases that were discussed at Luxembourg and agreed to by the other eight countries, and opposed the level of price increases of the order of 5 per cent. that were being proposed on the various commodities that were discussed at this Council meeting.

I made clear our strong objections to the proposals that the Commission had produced at Luxembourg on mutton and lamb and demanded that these proposals should be examined by the Special Committee in order to expose the many problems that would arise if they were adopted. I obtained agreement that this should be done and further discussions on mutton and lamb will only take place after the Special Committee has reported.

I resisted a suggestion from the Commission that the Council should agree to adopt immediately a regulation applying a common classification system to beef. It was accepted that there should be further detailed technical discussions before a decision is taken in time for the beginning of the 1981–82 marketing year.

I also pressed for the package of measures to include a commitment that the refunds of levies on imported cereals used in the production of spirit drinks, mainly whisky, would be paid. Although provided for in the Treaty of Accession, this has still not been implemented after a lapse of eight years. I said that I could not accept any further delay. I obtained a Council commitment to adopt a regulation this year providing for the refunds to be paid. These payments will be of substantial benefit to the whisky industry.

The Council agreed to a request from the French and Italian Governments for devaluations in their green currency rates of 1·3 per cent. in the case of France and 3·5 per cent. in the case of Italy.

The Council will resume its discussions on the CAP prices package and other items upon which, as yet, there is no agreement on 28 May. At the same time, it is probably expected there will be a meeting of the Council of the Foreign Ministers at which the budget question will be discussed.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement, but I hope that he manages to succeed in rectifying the unfair levy burden placed on the Scotch whisky industry ever since we entered the Common Market. The industry has to purchase dear Common Market barley, which has blunted its competitive edge in selling abroad.

What details of the farm package have so far been agreed? Is the butter subsidy to continue? What is to happen to the beef premium? Does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate any cuts in sugar quotas during this year? Does he still stand by his promise to the House that he will not agree to any price increase on products in structural surplus and that he will not agree to a sheep-meat regime that necessitates intervention and United Kingdom costs?

While recognising that the right hon. Gentleman has so far resisted the demand by the other eight Ministers for a 5 per cent. rise in average prices, in spite of the Commission's proposal that they should not rise above 2·4 per cent., may I ask him whether he is aware that even if the Prime Minister succeeds in cutting the budget deficit by £800 million and he then gives way on a 5 per cent. increase—there are clear indications that he will—our food bill will rise by about £300 million? Is he further aware that the greater the price increase the more the consumer bears the brunt and the more he undermines what the Prime Minister might achieve?

If the right hon. Gentleman also agrees to an increased co-responsibility levy on milk, which means that the United Kingdom consumer will have to pay more, and a contribution to a sheepmeat regime, which will mean increased lamb prices in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister's deal, in the end, will look pretty sick, as will the British consumer. What assurances can the right hon. Gentleman give that in the final round on 28 May none of these three things will happen—that he will not agree to a 5 per cent. increase in prices, or a co-responsibility increase in milk, or a sheep-meat regime with United Kingdom costs?

Those comments from a member of the previous Government, which had an average price increase of 7½ per cent. and never obtained a deal on the budget, are remarkable. Even if we agreed a 5 per cent. increase, it would be much lower than the average increase under the previous Government.

If the right hon. Gentleman reads my statement, he will see that we have obtained agreement to the whisky rebate, which is something that we failed to do during the five years of the previous Government. That will be of considerable benefit to the whisky industry. After many years of failure, a firm commitment has been made to that.

There is no agreement on any part of the package. We have a reserve over the whole of it. The package agreed by the eight other countries includes the whole of our butter subsidy—twice what the previous Government achieved—the beef premium scheme and a continuation of our sugar quotas.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I admire his stand in Europe and I do not believe that he should go for a 5 per cent. increase across the board? However, I am sure that he will agree that if British agriculture is to survive, it will need the extra 5 per cent. during the coming year. Will he assure the House that he will not abolish the present guaranteed efficiency payments on sheepmeat or trade them in for a similar scheme that will benefit the French? Can he also tell us when the review on marginal land will be announced?

The review is taking place. We are studying methods of speeding up the possible classification of marginal land. We should certainly oppose any sheepmeat regime that replaced the present system and gave fewer safeguards to our sheep producers. The present system has helped and is operating well in difficult market conditions. If there are to be changes, we shall want something that is as good, if not better, for our producers.

It is true that farm incomes have dropped substantially in real terms over the past two years and input costs are increasing substantially. A range of methods of assistance is available to us and the Government have used some, including green pound devaluations and increases in the hill farm subsidies. Those are ways in which we can try to help to maintain farm incomes. Obviously, at a time of substantial increases in input costs, there is considerable pressure on farm incomes.

In all the pressure that the other eight member countries are bringing for increased prices, do they ever take account of the increasing imbalance which will result and the near bankruptcy that the Community already faces, which is bound to get worse if we continue along that path?

If the present package is agreed, we shall come close to the 1 per cent. VAT limit, which would mean that an even greater proportion of the European budget was devoted to agriculture. As I have said before, in terms of European policies that would be a fundamental mistake when there are so many other things to be done in Europe.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his resolute and abrasive stance at the Council will be highly to the satisfaction of the great majority of his fellow countrymen? Will he confirm that the reference at the conclusion of his statement to the simultaneous meetings on 28 May in no way derogates from the statement of the Prime Minister that a settlement of the budget question to her entire satisfaction is the condition precedent to agreement on other matters?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the scotch whisky industry is appreciative of his persistent efforts to obtain the restitution payments due to the industry? May I congratulate him on the success of his endeavours? Can he confirm that the commitment that he has obtained covers not only payments that are currently due but those that have accumulated over the past eight years?

Yes. Our interpretation of the treaty is that the arrangement was applicable to us from 1 January 1973. With the changes that have taken place in grain prices over that period, it is a substantial benefit, currently about £20 million a year.

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm or deny reports that the Commission proposes to resume full-scale exports of subsidised butter to the Soviet Union? Why cannot the British Government veto that indefensible subsidy?

The reason why the power of veto does not exist is that under previous Governments the policy was agreed and, as a matter of policy, is in the hands of the management committee. It could be taken away if the majority of countries agreed. But they do not. The British Government think that to continue that form of trade, with British and European taxpayers subsidising unwanted surpluses to benefit the economy of the Soviet Union, is a tragic blunder.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if farm costs increase by 15 per cent. and we wish to maintain production, British agriculture must have an increase in its end prices? Will he try to explain why the Opposition accept that other industries can recover their costs but are opposed to British agriculture doing so?

In fairness to the record of the Labour Party in government, I should say that it successively obtained substantial price increases in every CAP review. It is only in opposition that Labour Members go in for their present policy. It is true that there are substantial increases in input costs. The rise in oil prices has massively affected the price of fertilisers and farm workers had their biggest ever pay increase last year. Those are substantial input costs and it is the duty of the Government to find ways of ensuring that agriculture continues to expand and invest despite those input costs.

Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that there are to be rebates on imported grain for whisky but not for bread? Will he confirm that the levy is about £50 to £60 a ton on feed grains for cattle and for making bread? Those corn laws have been with us since 1973 and is it not reasonable that the right hon. Gentleman's party should, as it did 100 years ago, get rid of those corn laws by getting rid of the Treaty of Accession?

The refunds on whisky relate to re-exports. If we start re-exporting bread, I shall certainly claim the refunds.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that no other industry in this country has had a price increase of only 6 to 8 per cent. in the past two years? Will he confirm that the continued reluctance of the French to permit the import of lamb from England is not forming part of the negotiations at this stage?

I regret that the Commission put forward, not with the support but with the silence of a number of other member States, a programme for sheep which is unworkable, will probably result in 100,000 tons of sheepmeat going into intervention, will violate third country markets and do a great deal of damage here and overseas. It is a crazy scheme. At the last Council meeting, I pointed out in detail the absurd weaknesses of the scheme, which resulted in its being referred back to the Special Committee. I hope that as the Commission is forced to look at it in greater depth it will realise the folly of its ways.

In Europe as a whole, the price increase last year was 1½ per cent. The increase proposed by the other eight member countries this year is 5 per cent., which would give a total of 6½ per cent. over two years—much lower than the rate of price increase of almost any other product in Europe. However, there are other factors, particularly in the United Kingdom, that have enabled us to obtain increases—due to the green pound devaluations and improvement of hill sheep subsidies—that have partly compensated for that situation.

Will my right hon. Friend say what the additional cost to the EEC agricultural budget would be as a result of the tentative agreement reached by the other eight countries? Within the context of that provisional figure will the United Kingdom be a net contributor or beneficiary?

As to the overall cost, obviously I do not know the final calculations of those aspects of the package that were discussed yesterday, some of which must still be costed. As to the Luxembourg package—the main items—it was suggested that the overall increase would be about 1,000 million units of account, of which the United Kingdom would obtain a share of the benefits. However, I hope that whatever agreement is reached—in the same way as last year, when the United Kingdom was a net beneficiary for the first time—this year we shall again end up as a net beneficiary.

Why was not the ethyl alcohol question discussed if the Minister discussed the whisky industry? Surely he realises that the ethyl alcohol problem is related to the whisky industry. Is the Minister merely hoping that the problem will go away?

No. The ethyl alcohol position is discussed under the alcohol regime. I discussed the whisky aspect under the cereal regime. I was unable to discuss this point under that item. The agenda at the moment is totally connected with price fixing. It is fixed by the Council, not by any member State, and therefore it was not discussed on this occasion.

Will my right hon. Friend say what he means by " sheep-meat "? Does he mean lamb and mutton? If he does, will he ensure that he defends the interests of our lamb and mutton farmers?

Yes. I mean lamb and mutton, although I discover that in this country basically all mutton is now called lamb. Obviously I give the assurance for which my hon. Friend asked.