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Commons Chamber

Volume 984: debated on Monday 12 May 1980

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House Of Commons

Monday 12 May 1980

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Oral Answers To Questions

First, I remind hon. Members that those who are called for supplementary questions should ask only one question. Ministers need not feel obliged to answer more than one. Secondly, it is quite unfair for an hon. Member to try to argue a case put forward as a supplementary question, because that changes the whole character of Question Time.




asked the Secretary of State for Trade, what is the United Kingdom's likely balance of trade with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics over the next 12 months.

In the 12 months ended March 1980, the crude deficit on trade with the Soviet Union was £418 million. The development of trade over the next 12 months depends on commercial and other factors which I am not in a position to forecast.

When the Minister referred to "other factors" was he referring to the treatment of minorities by the Soviet Union, and to cases such as the awful tragedy of the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who disappeared? For the last 17 years the Soviets have refused to speak about him or reveal his whereabouts.

The hon. and learned Member has earned himself the reputation of being "the scourge of the Soviets". On this occasion I join him in deploring this appalling incident. As long as the Russians continue to persecute their minorities, as they have, they will continue to have criticism heaped upon them which they deserve.

Does the pound sterling float against the rouble? If not, how is its value determined?

I would have welcomed notice of that question. If the right hon. Gentleman puts it on the Order Paper I shall make arrangements to answer it.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the imbalance of trade between this country and Russia has been consistently to the advantage of the Russians? Are there not good political and economic reasons why that imbalance should be reduced, if not eliminated?

The crude trade figures are a little misleading. About 80 per cent. of our imports from the Soviet Union are of raw materials and a substantial proportion of those are subsequently re-exported by us at a profit. It would probably damage us more than the Soviet Union if we were to act as my hon. Friend suggests.

Would it not help our trade deficit, crude and otherwise, if manufactured goods from the Soviet Union bore the clear mark of their country of origin? Is the Minister aware that I have recently written to his right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister for Consumer Affairs drawing attention to Russian-produced greeting and Christmas cards which are dumped in this country to the severe disadvantage of a firm in my constituency?

We are helping the printing industry to mount an anti-dumping action in this case In fact a couple of weeks ago I wrote to the industry and urged it to get a move on and produce evidence. I offered the services of the Government. We are also looking at the question of origin marking of those cards.

Safety Of Life At Sea Convention


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects the requirements of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention to come into force.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 will enter into force on 25 May, and represents an important step forward in our continuing endeavours, nationally and internationally, to promote maritime safety.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the risks which communities such as Canvey Island, with its heavy concentration of high risk industry on the waterfront, face from unsafe vessels carrying hazardous cargoes and from bad navigation practices? Is he aware of our anxiety about delays in fully implementing conventions of this kind? By what date can we be completely assured of the banning of tankers, not fitted with inert gas systems, from ports such as London?

I could hardly be unaware of the anxieties about Canvey Island while my hon. Friend is a Member of this House. He constantly brings them to my attention. I said on 24 April that we will introduce the convention on inert gas system requirements for foreign ships earlier than would be required by the 1974 convention. I assure him that we are taking a lead in introducing requirements for the special qualification for the masters and officers of such vessels because of the very dangers to which he draws our attention.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his answers on both counts are satisfactory to the Opposition? Is he also aware that about one-third of total losses relate to ships that are less than 10 years old? Can he give us some indication of the timetable that he envisages for the ratification and coming into effect of the convention on training, certification and watch-keeping? There is deep concern about inadequate international standards of management and crewing.

That will not be an easy matter, but, in line with the conventions, the United Kingdom will be introducing new certification requirements in 1981 and I hope that other countries will rapidly follow our example. I am encouraged by the fact that these measures have the support of both sides of the House.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade how many United Kingdom firms have won contracts with Iran in fair and open competition with firms in all parts of the world; how many of those firms would be affected if Her Majesty's Government decided to apply econnomic sanctions against Iran; and how many workers he estimates would lose their jobs as a result of such sanctions being implemented.

The effort of sanctions would depend on their precise scope and on the extent to which exports to Iran can be diverted to other markets.

Is the Minister aware that President Carter has lifted the ban on the export of United States-produced wheat to the Soviet Union? Is he also aware that if we apply sanctions against Iran it is possible that American firms will be waiting to jump in and capture our markets?

The hon. Gentleman's concern is unnecessary, because we shall be moving in concert with the Americans on sanctions against Iran. Any trade banned to us will certainly be banned to them.

My hon. Friend is well aware that we are taking sanctions to help the United States—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must put his remarks in the form of a question.

Is my hon. Friend aware that we are taking sanctions to help the United States and that today the Americans have said that they intend to impose sanctions against 30 British products? Will those products be excluded from our list of products on which the sanctions against Iran are to be imposed?

I think that my hon. Friend is confusing two separate issues. One is the American retaliation as a result of our action against their synthetic fibres. The other is the question of possible sanctions against Iran. The House has to discuss later today the enabling measure for sanctions and perhaps that will be a more sensible occasion on which to deal with such details.

Does not the Minister thing it a piece of effrontery on the part of the Government to introduce sanctions, since those who carried on illegal trading with Rhodesia were not only not prosecuted but were relieved of all fears that they would ever be prosecuted? In view of that, are not the proposed sanctions on Iran a complete charade?

I never thought that I would live to see the day when the right hon. Gentleman became a mere echo of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who raised that point in the House last week.

Air Traffic Control Radar Systems


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether a decision has been made on the acquisition of a new radar for the Civil Aviation Authority; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he now expects the Civil Aviation Authority to come to a decision on the purchase of a new radar system for air traffic control.

The Civil Aviation Authority announced its decision on 2 May 1980. The CAA radar replacement scheme is expected to cost some £24·5 million and Cossor Marconi from Britain, and HSA of the Netherlands have won significant electronic contracts whilst AEG Telefunken will provide aerials and turning gear. More than half of the value of the whole project will be spent in the United Kingdom, including, I expect, half of the HSA contract.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the American firm Westinghouse which was, at one time, boasting that it had the contract sewn up, was eliminated from the competition because its offer was found to be seriously misleading? If that is so, will he make sure that those facts are known to every other British authority that may be contemplating a purchase from that company?

My hon. Friend is right to say that Westinghouse appeared at one time to be the front runner for the contract, but on closer examination it was found that the capabilities of the equipment on offer fell far short of the claims of the company's salesmen and produced a lower performance than the equipment offered by HSA, which was also offered at a lower price. I am sure that the lesson will be learnt by other prospective customers.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the CAA decision will cause much disappointment to the Marconi-Plessey group? Can he confirm that the price quoted by that group was competitive against that of Hollandse Signaal and that the group's specification for the equipment was just what the CAA required?

I should prefer not to go into the details of pricing and specifications, not least because it would not be in the best interests of any of the contenders concerned. The prime reason why the contract went abroad was that the CAA was not able to convince itself that British equipment could be delivered on time. I hope that those who are engaged in supporting the buffoonery in industry that is proposed for Wednesday will remember that such idiocy can only damage the chances of British industry.

Does my hon. Friend not find it rather sad that no British company can strike a deal with the CAA on the radar replacement? Does not that perhaps call for an overhaul of the working arrangements between the CAA and industry?

I am sure that the arrangements can be improved, but it is not true to say that the CAA has not been able to buy from British industry. Cossor and Marconi are extensive suppliers. Equally, if one were a Dutchman, one might think it a pity that Marconi gets the contracts for communications equipment for the Dutch Navy and that Ferranti gets the contracts for their airborne radar.

Is not the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the workers involved in British industry carry the responsibility for the fact that the contract did not go to a British company entirely disgraceful? Is not the idiocv of the Government in dismantling British industry and putting more and more people out of work the cardinal sin being committed in this country?

I am not blaming the loss of the contract with the CAA on events that have not yet taken place, but at a time when the prime criticism of our exports is that they are not delivered on time, I regard it as a combination of Luddism, idiocy and buffoonery further to delay British industry in support of an idiotic political gesture on Wednesday.

Will the Minister have a care in his remarks, because he indicated in the body of his main reply that a substantial amount of the equipment and labour concerned will be provided from the United Kingdom and, in particular, from my constituency?

I am delighted that that is so and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will advise the workers in his constituency that it is in their best interests to keep at work and to make sure that the equipment is delivered on time.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will take action to ensure that in practice United Kingdom exports to Japan are treated no less favourably than Japanese exports to the United Kingdom.

We will continue to press, directly and through the European Commission, for removal of obstacles which concern British exporters and for the further opening up of the Japanese market to United Kingdom exports.

Since the trade gap between Britain and Japan continues to widen, so that the Japanese are exporting to us more than £2 of goods for every £1 worth that we send to them, and since exhortation of the sort that the Secretary of State tried in Tokyo in January appears no longer to be working, is it not time for the Government to get tough with the Japanese and to impose countervailing duties and non-tariff barriers until the Japanese start to play fair in world trade markets?

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's diagnosis of the situation. Our exports to Japan are not growing as quickly as we should like, though they amount to more than £600 million and are not to be written off lightly. In addition to exhortation, we have arrangements which, in one way or another, already control more than one-third of Japan's exports to this country.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Japanese car industry voluntarily limited exports of cars to this country and that those who took advantage were Continental manufacturers rather than British manufacturers? Will he confirm that many of the restrictions and regulations applying to goods imported into Japan apply equally to domestically produced goods?

I agree with the first and second parts of my hon. Friend's question. He is right. In the last three months of 1978, when the Japanese sent in no cars, the net result was that the British share of the market remained absolutely static and that German, French and Italian cars took up the strain. If that happened, Opposition Members would immediately start complaining about the increase in our deficit with the EEC.

Monopolies Commission (Referrals Policy)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will make a statement of policy guidelines for referral of bids to the Monopolies Commission; and if he is satisfied with the manner and timing in which these referrals are announced.

My right hon. Friend refers a bid where, in the light of the Director General's advice, he considers that the public interest issues involved are sufficient to merit doing so. His decision is published as early as practicable in the course of the bid, and he has no plans at present to alter this procedure.

I am disappointed with my right hon. Friends reply in view of the long delay that took place in the Armitage Shanks—Blue Circle bid earlier this year. This resulted in over a month's delay in opportunities to take the matter further and, therefore, a long, protracted period of uncertainty for management, workers and investors. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the matter should be speeded up in the interests of everyone concerned?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed. As he will be aware, my right hon. Friend is required by the Act to make a determination as soon as practicable. His usual aim is to announce a decision before the first closing date of the final bid offer, as this is a reasonable target which has wide support in the financial community. However, fresh developments may arise during a period when the offer is open. In such cases, it is not normally practicable to reach a final decision any earlier, as in the case of Blue Circle-Armitage Shanks. Both the Department and the Office of Fair Trading make every effort to announce decisions on a merger by the first closing date.

Anti-Dumping Procedures


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will take new initiatives on anti-dumping.

The existing antidumping procedures provide an adequate framework for dealing with well-founded complaints of dumping. The European Commission is well aware of my concern that speedy and effective action must be taken to protect industry when dumping is causing injury. The Department of Trade retains an anti-dumping unit to help British industry in preparing complaints.

Does the Minister recall that the balance of trade deficit in textile goods for 1979 was nearly £700 million and that it is currently running at a higher rate? This is caused partly through dumping of cheap imports and is also a contributory factor to the massive number of jobs being lost in the textile industry. Is not the hon. Gentleman standing truth on its head when he says that the position is satisfactory? Is not the truth that the EEC is slow and unwieldy, and it appears to be totally indifferent to the needs of the British textile industry?

I am afraid that I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says. The procedures exist. They are there to be used. The industry is often much better at making allegations than establishing them with facts. We retain the anti-dumping unit precisely to help British industry prepare its cases. Where there is a well-founded case, we get action.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that procedures are working adequately with regard to alleged dumping from behind the Iron Curtain? It is difficult to get evidence of the genuine cost structure of the home market within those countries.

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why there is a wide range of goods subject to quota and control in trade with Iron Curtain countries. In those agreements, there is a price clause—aptly named considering who asked the supplementary question—that allows us to take action on grounds other than dumping grounds. We have, therefore, two opportunities. We have dumping and the price clause mechanism. We have used the price clause, for example, on Romanian suits.

Following the imposition by this country of generous quotas on United States exports of yarn to this country a few weeks ago, will the Minister confirm that the United States Government are threatening to impose further restrictions on exports of woollen textile products from this country to that country? As the West Yorkshire wool textile industry sees virtually no benefit from the quotas on yarn imports, will the Minister assure the wool textile industry that he will reject totally such measures? Will he have consultations with the industry urgently with a view to presenting a full case?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw the reported remark by an American official, who described American action on wool textiles, were it to be taken, as the equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot. In other words, we think that action on wool textiles would be a totally futile gesture. There are negotiations going on between the EEC and the Americans about compensation for our action under article 19 on polyester filament yarn. We shall do what we can to make sure that this does not apply to wool textiles.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the protectionism advocated by Opposition Members, which goes well beyond anti-dumping restrictions will lead to much higher prices for the consumer in this country—a matter to which Opposition Members do not often refer?

That point is not made as often as it ought to be made. It is interesting that the Consumers Association and the Retail Consortium have started forcefully to make this point. It should be taken into account in discussion on import controls.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a further statement on trade with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and with particular reference to the continuing massive imbalance between British exports to and imports from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Government's view remains that trade with the Soviet Union should continue to be pursued on the basis of mutual advantage. As my hon. Friend will know, a very large proportion of our imports consists of raw materials valuable to our economy and of goods which are subsequently re-exported at a profit to the United Kingdom.

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that so long as the trade imbalance stands at about the £480 million figure he has given, many people in this country will find it highly offensive that such an imbalance continues in the light of recent political events, not least the Russian invasion of Afghanistan? Will the Government take fresh initiatives to reduce substantially, if not eliminate, that imbalance?

I pointed out earlier to my hon. Friend that a very substantial part of our imports—more than 40 per cent.—are diamonds. Those diamonds are the basis of the London diamond market. A substantial number are re-exported at a good profit for Britain. By doing what my hon. Friend suggests, we would probably be damaging ourselves more than we would be damaging the Soviet Union. I suggest to my hon. Friend that this would not be sensible.

In the light of the Government's attempts to co-ordinate their trade policy in some areas of the world with the United States, have the Government sought an explanation of why the United States is proposing to lift the ban on the export of wheat to the Soviet Union?

It is not true to say that we co-ordinate entirely our actions with those of the Americans. The Americans deal substantially in some products to an extent that we do not. To say that we should try to co-ordinate our trade policy on all fronts, not only Iran, is not sensible. It would produce no gain for us.

While realising the need to export, is my hon. Friend aware of the impact of his statement on the Olympic and Afghanistan situations, when he praised the GKN contract for a factory in Russia producing heavy lorry bodies that can be used for war purposes?

I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that his facts are not right. The contract was in East Germany for the production of lorries that will be re-exported to third markets other than this one.

Will not the Minister take credit for the truly magnificent way in which the Government took action immediately following the Afghanistan invasion? In answer to a question that I tabled, it was revealed that the Government had stopped importing £1,100 worth of vodka for the Government hospitality fund. Did that not take great courage?

Exchange Rate


asked the Secretary of State for Trade how many individuals, and how many bodies, have made representations to him about the effect of the exchange rate on trade.

About two dozen representations have concentrated on the effect the exchange rate has on trade.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the current unrealistically high level of the exchange rate is pricing some British manufacturers out of export markets? Does he not think that the Government should do something to bring about a decrease in the exchange rate? Does he agree that if that does not happen there is a danger that the demand for import controls will become irresistible?

I fully understand my hon. Friend's anxieties, but inflation remains the main threat to our economic success, and the strength of sterling has advantages in helping to contain inflation.

Have any of these representations referred to the sterling-rouble rate?

I appreciate the overriding need to contain inflation, but is my hon. Friend aware that the present exchange rate and interest rates are increasingly oppressing a great number of exporters? Will he and his Department, since they are responsible for exports, be urging the Treasury not to be dogmatic but to seek lower interest rates at the earliest possible moment?

The Government want interest rates to come down as soon as possible, but not if that means sabotaging our economic policy.

To what extent is the high exchange rate due to the high level of interest rates? Do not the two high rates impose a double penalty? Is it not implicit in the Minister's reply that the only reason why he is not to act upon the exchange rate is that he has made such a mess of inflation?

Interest rates have a bearing on the level of sterling, but to reduce interest rates before the money supply and the rate of inflation are properly under control would simply be a short-term palliative which would subsequently give a further boost to inflation?

Airports Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will update those sanctions of the 1978 White Paper on airports policy dealing with general aviation requirements in the South-East in view of the subsequent changes in the pattern of road and airport developments in the area.

No, Sir. I do not think that there have been sufficient changes to justify another study of the situation being made at the present time.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the apprehension felt by the Bromley residents federation and by a number of my constituents at the proposed intensification of business flying at Biggin Hill? As the M25 has been constructed in the two years since the White Paper—one of several new factors—would it not make sense to think increasingly in terms of West Mailing as an alternative airport for at least some of these business jets?

My hon. Friend keeps me well aware of the anxiety of his constituents. I met members of the Bromley residents federation in mid-March. Although the M25 has progressed since 1978, its completion was envisaged then. There is nothing new about that. In my opinion, there are substantial environmental advantages for residents in the area around Biggin Hill in having a well-managed business airfield rather than leisure and club flying taking place at its present level.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is not casting covetous eyes on Biggin Hill airport and that he will not allow the British Airports Authority to do so either? Will he support the continued retention of the airport by Bromley council?

I will be the last man under your eyes, Mr. Speaker, to confess to the sin of covetousness. I certainly do not covet Biggin Hill; and neither does the British Airports Authority. I am very happy with the way in which the borough is going about the business of managing it.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are insufficient facilities for business aviation in the London area? Is he further aware that of the London airports only Gatwick and Stansted have all-weather 24-hour facilities? Will he try to ensure that even more services are made available for business flying in London?

Yes, it would be my objective to ensure that there is a major all-weather business aviation terminal on the north and south sides of London to serve the city.

Saudi Arabia


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is his latest view of the prospects for British trade in Saudi Arabia.

I hope that our close trading links with Saudi Arabia, which is one of our most important markets, will not be harmed as the result of the recent television film.

How many jobs does my hon. Friend think will have been lost in British industry as a result of the showing of the film "Death of a Princess"? Will my hon. Friend arrange an early meeting between the directors of ATV and those finding themselves unemployed so that those directors can explain their action to the people made redundant?

It is far too early to say what effects the showing of that film will have, but I hope that those in the media who make such films will in future, before they show them, reflect on the fact that they could damage British interests by showing them. I hope that they will reflect on the fact that there are 30,000 British people in Saudi Arabia whose jobs are less secure as a result of that film.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the anxiety in the British aerospace industry that over £1,000 million of exports will be lost as a result of the showing of that film in this country?

My hon. Friend very properly underlines the importance to us of Saudi Arabia as a market. It is our biggest market outside Europe and America and our exports to it last year totalled nearly £1,000 million.

Regional Water Authorities (Monopoly Situation)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he has any plans to refer any of the regional water authorities to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission under section 11 of the Competition Act.

Yes, Sir. Because there is widespread consumer concern about the charges levied by water authorities it would, I believe, be appropriate for the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to examine their costs and efficiency. I therefore made an announcement on 29 April that the Severn-Trent water authority will be among future references to the Commission.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement. Is she aware that the commonest complaint about water authorities is that their charges are related to the rateable value of a property, not to the amount of water used in it? Is she further aware that that is grossly unfair to people living alone, to pensioners and to those with small families?

My hon. Friend has raised a point of great importance to consumers. I am extremely pleased to tell him that I learnt that after my announcement that a reference would be made of the Severn-Trent water authority, resolutions appeared calling for that authority to adopt a water metering option for its consumers. I know that a great many consumers believe that it is most unfair that their water rates should be assessed on the basis of the rateable values of their homes. I hope, therefore, that in reaching its decision, the Severn-Trent water authority will take full account of that.

What does the Minister hope to achieve by a reference to the Monopolies Commission? Does she not accept that she stands there naked of any powers of price control after the abolition of the Price Commission?

Any reference under section 11 of the Competition Act implies, as is correct in this case, that a monopoly exists and that therefore consumers need special protection. The purposes of these references, which vary from reference to reference, is to ensure that there are no elements of cost which are passed on in higher prices which may represent inefficiency or overmanning or are passed on in higher prices because of an abuse of a monopoly.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for announcing this reference, but did she not make a mistake in announcing that the reference was of the Severn water authority? Should it not have been the Southern water authority which has increased its rates by just under 30 per cent. in a year? Will my right hon. Friend think about that again?

I can understand the concern of my hon. Friend. The Severn-Trent water authority was chosen for reference because it is the second largest water authority in the country. It therefore seemed appropriate for reference. Naturally I shall bear in mind the remarks of my hon. Friend about the Southern water authority when we consider future references.

If concern for the consumer is to be one of the criteria for references, when will the right hon. Lady make a reference from the private sector? Let us take, for example, the price of bread, bank profits and oil profits. When will she use that part of the Competition Act?

The question refers to references under section 11 of the Competition Act. The kind of references referred to by the hon. Gentleman are not apposite in relation to this question.

European Community (Competition Policy)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government regarding the development of European Economic Community competition policy so as to reduce the number and extent of inter-Community non-tariff barriers to trade.

The Government actively support and encourage work within the Community to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade. Our aim is the removal of all barriers which adversely affect our exporters. We seize every opportunity to press the Commission, which has primary responsibility for administering the competition rules of the Treaty, to this end.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many ways in which the export of British products to the Community can be discriminated against? In my constituency alone I can name two products—Tapchangers and Lamp Standards—both of which our EEC partners successfully export to this country. Will my right hon. Friend list products which are successfully imported into this country to discover whether there are any non-tariff barriers to our trading similar to those of our EEC partners?

My hon. Friend will no doubt be pleased to learn that, far from being regarded as—dare I say it—"Wet" in our attitude to unfair competition from abroad, we are regarded by other countries—which sometimes complain of it—as being particularly tough in defence of British industry if it appears to be threatened by unfair competition. My Department is at present vigorously pursuing a number of cases—some of them successfully. If my hon. Friend has specific information which he would like to pass to my Department we will be pleased to receive it and act on it where appropriate.

How does EEC competition policy apply to the common agricultural policy where we are giving £1,000 million to Europe primarily because of the CAP? That means dearer foodstuffs for housewives because we must buy from Europe instead of from elsewhere.

If the Government have been tough, how does the right hon. Lady explain that the balance of trade in manufactured goods between this country and the EEC has changed from a £300 million balance in our favour in 1970 to a £2½ billion deficit—which is getting much worse—in 1978? Does not the right hon. Lady agree that that points to the disaster of our membership of the Common Market in relation not only to agriculture but to manufacturing industry?

What that points to is that British industry in the main—there will be exceptions—is not sufficiently competitive in relation to our EEC partners. Where there are non-tariff barriers and where there is unfair competition, it is right and proper for the Government to intervene. It is not in the interests of competition, of consumers or of our efforts to strengthen British industry for the Government to intervene where there is fair competition.

United Kingdom-Ussr (Air Services)


asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will take action to bring about a better balance in commercial air services between the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Yes Sir. United Kingdom officials went to Moscow last month to negotiate new air service arrangements with the objective of securing a better balance. A second round is contemplated in the next few months.

I am grateful for that answer. Is it not true that Aeroflot has sales offices in Britain but that British Airways cannot have sales offices in Russia?

My hon. Friend is right, and that is one of the contributory factors to the imbalance. Aeroflot has offices here and is being allowed to open more offices in the United Kingdom. British Airways is not allowed to open offices for the sale of its tickets in Russia.



asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he intends to meet the Director General of Fair Trading to discuss refusal-to-supply activities.

It is for the Director General to decide whether refusal-to-supply constitutes a breach of the Resale Prices Act warranting action on behalf of the Crown in the courts. It would be improper for me to seek to influence his decision in individual cases.

When the Minister next meets the Director General of Fair Trading, will she raise with him the refusal to supply by major hi-fi and white goods manufacturers to Tesco and Argos and ask the Director General when he intends to take action to resolve that problem?

I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that I meet the Director General of Fair Trading frequently. Although we may discuss individual cases, I do not seek, as I pointed out in my earlier reply, to influence the Director General in individual cases. There are a number of ways in which action can be taken in such instances—on the part of the individuals concerned in civil proceedings, under the Resale Prices Act—which again would be a matter for the Director General of Fair Trading—or under the new, swifter and more flexible powers in the Competition Act which complement existing powers. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will welcome these new powers which will make it more difficult for the practices to which he has referred to prevail in future.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that refusal to supply is being used by newspaper wholesalers in London who are attempting to make themselves into monopolies in particular areas? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that this particular technique, which is totally against the interests of the consumer and the retailer, is brought to the attention of the Director General of Fair Trading who has said nothing about this matter up to now?

My hon. Friend has raised a matter about which I know there is considerable concern on both sides of the House. There is a registered agreement under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act in relation to the supply of newspapers which makes it impossible for certain people to obtain a supply of these newspapers if it is refused by the wholesaler. I, along with my hon. Friend, am not satisfied with this situation; and I shall discuss it with the Director General of Fair Trading.

Consumer Education


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what plans he has for consumer education.

Consumer education is important if consumers are to be properly equipped to wield their own considerable influence in the market place. Indeed, I recently announced my plan to compile a consumer education teaching pack for distribution to local education authorities.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but does she recognise that it is most important that consumers are fully informed of their rights? Will my right hon. Friend say when the education pack to which she has referred will be distributed?

I hope that it will be ready for distribution some time next year. The purpose of this pack is to enable a new generation of consumers to emerge from school with some idea of their rights and obligations. As a result of this they can become as effective and powerful in the market place as they should be. They will need less recourse to advice from other sources.

Is it not a fact that the Government have cut consumer services in the high street in collaboration with Tory-controlled county councils? Is it not the reality that consumers need speedy, if not immediate, access where false information is provided by traders or if they need to obtain further information? Should not the Government come clean and state clearly that they are not interested in the consumer and admit that they have been attacking consumer protection services nationwide?

I can come completely clean by telling the hon. Gentleman that my main concern is for consumers. I am satisfied that the kind of advice to which he referred is available to consumers through the CABs and through local trading standards offices. The greater the number of consumers who emerge from school with some idea of their rights and obligations, the fewer consumers will need to go to centres to ask for help upon matters which they have never pursued with the companies themselves in the first place.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable increase in the number of inquiries received by CABs since that function was dropped by the county councils? Is my right hon. Friend further aware of the effective way in which CABs have met their new responsibilities? Will she give sufficient support to the CABs to enable them to continue that function?

I am very grateful for the way in which the CABs have responded. I am not surprised that they have done so because the quality of the service they have provided in the past is renowned. I have given a great deal of support by doubling the grant to their national unit.

Is not the right hon. Lady talking nonsense if she says she believes that an education pack for schools is any substitute for detailed advice about problems faced by consumers every day? Is it not a fact that the CAB movement opposed her wholesale slaughter of consumer advice centres?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the education pack and that he says that it is not a substitute. He introduced a safety pack for schools which did not replace anything whatsoever. The consumer education pack is not meant to be a replacement. It is a more constructive and consistent way of ensuring that consumers are armed with the necessary information in the market place.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her activities in this direction are far more valuable than setting up a whole new plethora of consumer quangos which only confuse people and provide jobs for the boys?

Stansted Airport


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what progress has been made in planning the enlargement of Stansted airport; and if he will make a statement.

Planning the development of Stansted airport is a matter for the British Airports Authority, not my Department. On 22 April, the authority announced the boundaries of the proposed development and the measures which it is to take to relieve blight. The Department of the Environment has now initiated discussions with the BAA and the local planning authorities on the procedures to be adopted.

Does my hon. Friend think that it is fair and reasonable that the British Airports Authority, with the power of the public purse behind it, should distribute to every home in my constituency a publication called "Development of Stansted Airport" which presents a one-sided version of events? Will he provide assistance to the organisations which have a different view so that they can circulate households in a similar fashion?

The Secretary of State has come to a conclusion which he announced to the House on the recommendations which we should make. It would seem distinctly odd if we were to give our help and support to undermining those proposals. What is more, I invite my hon. Friend to consider what our colleagues who represent constituencies near other potential sites would say if the Government reversed their position.

Overseas Development

Aid Programme


asked the Lord Privy Seal if, in the light of the Brandt report, he will review his decision to make substantial cuts in the aid programme.

Is it not somewhat hypocritical for Ministers to pay tribute to the Brandt report while at the same time sabotaging its chances of success by making a 14 per cent. cut in real terms in the aid programme for the next four years? Is it not hypocritical for the Lord Chancellor, at the Scottish Tory Party conference on Saturday, to question the morality of trade unionists when the Government are guilty of immorality in cutting the aid programme in order to give tax hand-outs to rich taxpayers? Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Does the Minister accept that the Government can do something to restore their tattered image in the Third world by using a small percentage of the £4,000 million they will receive this year from North Sea oil to save the lives of some of the 8 million people who are living and dying in poverty?

Order. Those who were here at the beginning of Question Time will know that I asked hon. Members to ask one supplementary question and not to try to argue a case, because that prevents other questions from being called.

The Government have already paid tribute to the Brandt report. They are considering the proposals, but consideration is not yet complete. The Government hope to publish their views before the Venice summit on 22 June. If I might answer a second supplementary question—the cuts are due to the appalling economic state which the Government inherited.

Apart from the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), how many people does my hon. Friend know who want to pay more in tax so that the money can be given to the underdeveloped countries to produce goods which threaten the jobs of British workers? Does it not make more sense to use overseas aid money to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of British industry?

In relation to the Lord Chancellor's pontification about morality, is the Minister aware of the growing concern, particularly in the British Council of Churches, at the fact that the Government have turned their backs on the obligation and responsibility that we have for the Third world? Does he agree, not only that money spent on overseas aid is a moral obligation, but that it is in our interests to spend in that way instead of pursuing the costly arms race?

With great respect, that is absolute nonsense. If the right hon. Gentleman could inform the Churches of that, I should be grateful.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Brandt report said that two of the greatest contributions that Britain can make to Third world development are the promotion of overseas investment and the expansion of manufactured imports—policies which are rigorously opposed by the Opposition?

That is correct. They would be of great help to developing countries. The specific recommendations of the Brandt report must be balanced against the economic realities facing the country. Proposals for increasing aid or accelerating the transfer of resources raise obvious difficulties.

Commonwealth Development Corporation


asked the Lord Privy Seal when he will be able to report the results of his review of the Commonwealth Development Corporation; and if he will make a statement.

We are undertaking a review of the activities of the Commonwealth Development Corporation in the light of the statement on aid policy which I made to the House on 20 February. Officials of the corporation are participating fully in the work being done. I am not yet able to say when it is likely to be completed.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. When does he expect the review to be completed? Is he aware that urgent decisions must be taken in relation to the Commonwealth Development Corporation investment programme and manning, and the chairmanship of the corporation, within the next few months.

I recognise the need for urgency in completing the review. I cannot say precisely at this stage when that will be. Whenever it is, the House will be informed of the conclusions reached by Ministers. Any change of policy in relation to the CDC as a result of the review will be the subject of a statement to the House.

Can the Minister confirm that the CDC has a future under the Government's new aid policies?

Is the Minister aware that the CDC is doing a brilliant job in developing countries by carrying out projects which are fully commercially viable and which, at the same time, make important contributions to the economies of the countries in which they are operating?

That is true. There has been no review of the CDC since 1975 and it is time for another.

Overseas Aid Policy

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, when considering payments of overseas aid, he will take into account losses caused to British companies owing to the failure of foreign governments to honour guarantees.

All relevant factors are taken into account when considering allocations of overseas aid.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the correspondence that I have had with him and other Ministers about the failure of the Government of Nepal to ensure that a debt owed to a British company is paid? Does my hon. Friend accept that in such circumstances British companies are entitled to look for support from the British Government and that our aid programme should take account of any failure to honour obligations?

My hon. Friend should recognise that the British Government have given the firm all support that they can through diplomatic channels. It is doubtful whether the proposal to cut off aid would help because aid improves the economy and makes it more possible for Governments to settle commercial claims. One of the problems is that the firm obtained a guarantee from the Nepal Government for the repayment of capital but failed to get it for the repayment of interest. It is that which is outstanding.

As it is a subject close to my hon. Friend's heart, can he say whether any progress is being made in developing European Community credit guarantees to cover mineral developments in the Third world? If they can be developed, would not that be of great assistance to the Third world and to mining companies in Britain?



asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement concerning his plans for assistance to Zimbabwe.


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will increase the amount of aid available to Zimbabwe.

I refer the hon. members to the statement which my right hon. Friend made on 15 April. The amount of British aid available to Zimbabwe remains as stated then.

Does the Minister agree that, although there were different views about the amount, there was general comment on the tardiness of response? Does he not agree that this country has a specific responsibility for the former tribal trust areas, where there was no infrastructure of administration for some time? Will we be able to help if requests are made in that area?

The requests for help will come from the Zimbabwe Government. They will discuss those requests with us, and we shall allocate the aid that we have promised already according to the joint wishes of the Zimbabwe Government and ourselves.

Although there was a general welcome for the decision to grant £75 million over three years, is the Minister aware that some assessments indicate that Zimbabwe may need up to 10 times that amount? Will the hon. Gentleman be a little more forthcoming and give some indication of the possibility of further aid from Britain, and also from some of the richer member States of the Common Market, which have benefited for so long from the excessive generosity of Britain towards the Common Market, budget?

I shall communicate the latter point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who will be dealing with the matter at the Council of Ministers. In our figure of £75 million we have allocated all that we can for the moment. It is for the other countries—and many are already pledging sums—to fill the balance of the amount that Zimbabwe will need. We are still pressing many countries to help Zimbabwe.

As the first step in that process, will the Government transfer aid that is at present allocated to Tanzania to Zimbabwe, as the former country does nothing but kick Britain in the teeth?

While taking the point made by my hon. Friend, I am afraid that the aid for Tanzania is committed already, and has been for some time. We cannot go back on Government commitments.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been trying to catch your eye.

I am sorry. I did not realise that the right hon. Lady had tried to catch my eye.

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to ask a short, but double, supplementary. What did Mr. Mugabe have to say to the Prime Minister on Friday about his need for increased aid, especially increased technological assistance? Why is the aid mission still not going to Zimbabwe two months after independence? What proportion of the £7 million reconstruction aid is expected to be spent during the next few months?

On the latter part of the right hon. Lady's question, I expect that quite a lot of the £7 million will be spent this year. It is a question of its being ready, available, and they can spend it.

I have not yet heard about the contents of conversations which took place between the Prime Minister and Mr. Mugabe.

Hampden Park, Glasgow (Disturbance)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the serious outbreak of violence that marred the Scottish Cup Final between Glasgow Rangers and Celtic at Hampden Park, Glasgow, on Saturday 10 May.

A crowd of about 70,300 attended the match, segregrated in the usual way, with Celtic supporters at one end of the ground and Rangers supporters at the other. During the game itself there were no major outbreaks of missile throwing or fighting on the terracings, and although 73 arrests were made inside and outside the stadium before and during the game, these mainly involved charges of breach of the peace and disorderly behaviour. The number of arrests at that stage was not unusual for such an occasion.

When the game ended, after extra time, a number of Celtic players ran towards the Celtic end of the ground and went on to the track to wave to their supporters. Supporters climbed over the protective perimeter fence to congratulate the players, and some hundreds of supporters ran on to the field. In turn, several hundreds of the Rangers supporters climbed over the fence and ran forward, until the two factions met on the field. Fighting broke out and a series of charges and counter-charges took place. During the invasion of the field many bottles, cans and other missiles were thrown.

In the light of experience gained in policing previous matches, about 400 officers were on duty within the ground during the game and over 100 more were deployed in the vicinity outside. As the game appeared to be ending without disorder, the police, as is normal practice, began to withdraw some officers in order to cope with the departing supporters outside. As the game ended, about 200 police remained in the ground. In response to the situation that developed, a number of those—including both mounted and foot officers—who were by then outside the ground were redeployed to assist those inside. By their prompt and vigorous action the police were success- ful in completely restoring order within 15 minutes from the start of the disturbance.

A total of 179 arrests were made directly related to the match, both inside and outside the stadium, and a number of those arrested were detained in custody. Twenty-nine people were treated by ambulancemen, but that included fainting cases. The exact number of those injured it not known. Four police officers, including one special constable, received slight injuries, but none was taken to hospital.

I am sure that the House will join me in deploring the disgraceful scenes of violence that took place, and in congratulating Strathclyde police on their firm and effective response. Had it not been for their prompt action, a much uglier situation might have developed.

This outbreak of football hooliganism at its worst underlines the need for legislative action to curb such behaviour. It is significant that after the match the terracings were littered with thousands of bottles and cans, indicating the amount of alcohol that had been consumed. In this connection, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill at present before Parliament contains provisions designed to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the alcohol problem at matches of this kind. Moreover, by prohibiting the carrying into football grounds of bottles, cans and other containers, whether they hold alcohol or any other beverage, the Bill will prevent their later use as missiles or weapons. What happened on Saturday clearly indicates the need for these provisions.

In addition, it seems clear that the perimeter fence, which is intended to keep the crowd off the pitch, proved inadequate. I understand that the chief constable intends to discuss this aspect with the football authorities. Hampden Park is, of course, licensed under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, and I understand that Strathclyde regional council, which is responsible for licensing grounds in the area, proposes to examine the conditions attached to the licence and to consider whether these conditions require alteration. Inevitably, too, it will be necessary to consider whether stricter limitations should be placed on the numbers of spectators permitted to attend events of this kind, and I propose to consider this in consultation with the interested bodies. Plainly, we cannot permit such scenes to recur if football is to survive as a spectator sport. But the main responsibility rests with the football clubs and authorities themselves, and I have no doubt that they will be closely examining to what extent it was the actions of players at the end of the game that caused the disorder.

The House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for making a statement today. The scenes at the end of the match on Saturday were utterly appalling—worse than I have ever seen. If anything, they were rather understated in the Secretary of State's statement. He attributed the blame to one incident. I think that that is, perhaps, rather unfortunate, because I believe that what happened on Saturday was rather more complicated than the Secretary of State indicated in his statement.

I wish to ask a number of questions. First, it is obvious that the barriers were completely inadequate to prevent spectators entering the field. Can we be assured that something will be done quickly about that and, especially, that the matter will be dealt with in the design for the new Hampden Park football stadium? Secondly, are not some of the figures given today for police numbers rather different from those that appeared in reports over the weekend?

There has been much difficulty in understanding exactly what happened. Quite apart from police deployment, which is the responsibility of the chief constable, the total numbers are the responsibility of the football authorities, because they pay for them. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State would comment on that. Undoubtedly, there was a period on Saturday when the police were not able to handle the position because they were not there in sufficient numbers. I do not think that it was just a question of deployment.

Thirdly, we accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, and we hope that those powers will be implemented vigorously when it reaches the statute book. However, it is a little ironic that we should be attributing—in my view, perfectly rightly—so much of the trouble on Sat- urday to drink, when that game—like most of the other major football events in Scotland over the last year—was sponsored by one of the drinks interests. On Saturday, the game was sponsored by Younger's beer. I say that perfectly seriously. It is not much good our talking about the unfortunate influence of drink in these incidents when the whole of the football ground is plastered with advertisements for drink. The Scottish Football Association, the clubs and the supporters' associations must look at that question.

Will the Secretary of State confirm, as I hope is the case, that the Lord Advocate has given instructions—as the Lord Advocate in the previous Government did—that anyone charged with offences arising from Saturday's events should be prosecuted not in the district courts but in the sheriff courts? I hope that we can have an assurance about that.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I entirely share his expression of horror at the scenes that took place. I agree with his description. As he will, I am sure, realise, the barriers have been there for some years, but were not a requirement for the licensing of the ground. In fact, I understand that they were erected to fulfil the conditions for a UEFA match. Therefore, they were constructed for that reason and were not part of the requirements governing the licensing. There are differing views about whether or not there should be barriers, and whether it is an advantage to have the crowd completely segregated, because it means that the police are less able to get into the terracing if trouble breaks out.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is the responsibility of the owners of the ground and the promoters of the match to make sure that there is an adequate police presence. They are required by their licence to provide an adequate police presence and to do it in consultation with the chief constable. In this case, that procedure was carried out. I can confirm that the police numbers that I gave today are correct and that earlier reports in some newspapers, which gave different numbers, were incorrect.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. I can assure him that that Bill's provisions, if and when they are enacted, will be fully implemented so far as I am able to ensure.

I agree that sponsorship is something that will have to be considered carefully by those promoting such matches as this. There is a contradiction in that regard, and I have no doubt that they will think carefully about it. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate to what the right hon. Gentleman said about prosecutions.

Order. I remind the House that another statement is to follow and that the debate on Private Members' motions can continue only until 7 o'clock. Threfore, I shall call four hon. Members from either side and we shall then move on.

I am sure that the House will congratulate the chief constable of Strathclyde and his officers, particularly the mounted officers and the woman in that mounted section, who so gallantly went into the charge and cleared the field within 15 minutes. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the protective barriers, which were erected for the UEFA match, were satisfactory for Saturday's match, when for so many years there has been trouble between those two clubs at every major game in which they have taken part? When one looks at photographs of Wembley stadium and the type of barrier that is constructed there as a protection against rowdyism, does not one see—I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees—that Scotland can do equally well for matches at our wonderful Hampden stadium, which has been put to shame by the dreadful exhibition by the supporters of both teams on Saturday?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure the whole House echoes what he said in congratulating the police who were on the spot for the courageous action that they took. It was a nasty situation, and they deserve great credit.

My hon. Friend is quite correct in stating that the barrier is one of the problems that will have to be considered carefully. However, it is by no means accepted that in all circumstances barriers are the best thing. Those barriers have been in use for two years, and this is the first time there has been any trouble regarding them.

My constituents suffer worst from this drunken and unseemly violence, because Hampden Park is in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State agree that much of the violence is due to religious bigotry and that the clubs themselves set a bad example? Will he put the strongest pressure on the clubs to ensure that they carry out policies that do not continue that bigotry? Does not he also agree that Hampden stadium itself is in need of renovation, not only in terms of barriers but with regard to a total overhaul of seating accommodation, which would lessen the violence? Will he now make a statement to the effect that the Government will provide sufficient money to carry out that redevelopment as quickly as possible?

I sympathise very much with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the feelings of his constituents. I am sure that every hon. Member thoroughly agrees with him. I also agree strongly with what he said about bigotry playing its part. I shall do all that I can to encourage all concerned to remove any causes of such bigotry. However, that and the effect of alcohol cannot be ignored.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that the question of the barrier will be looked at. Will that be done as a matter of urgency? I am sure that my right hon. Friend will appreciate the concern of most people in Scotland at how easy it was for those animal hooligans to get on to the field. Can he assure the House that steps will be taken to prevent that at the forthcoming Scotland-England game?

I agree with my hon. Friend that this matter will have to be looked into quickly. We shall have to take into account the question of discouraging or preventing people getting on to the field and to bear in mind the safety of those who remain on the terraces. This matter will have to be looked at with both those aspects in mind.

While the Secretary of State rightly and predictably praises the police, blames the demon drink and condemns the inadequacy of the barriers, does not he accept that it is wrong that the football clubs and the Scottish Football Association should make any money while the innocent taxpayer pays for the ambulances and the hospital back-up services? Is it not time to consider withholding substantial sums of money against the sort of eventuality that occurred at Hampden on Saturday?

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's feelings. I think that there are difficult and practical problems involved in charging for all those services, and it is difficult to say where the line should be drawn. Of course, it is already the case that the cost of the police is borne by the promoters of the matches, and we can certainly look at extending that principle.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the activities of the hooligans on Saturday should now give himself and the Government cause to rethink the funding of the new Hampden? As Glasgow district council has reneged on its commitment, would not it be wise to see that in future all major games are played in rotation round the Scottish cities rather than remaining in one place where we know violence occurs.

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is making an offer that the next match should be held in Perth. Nevertheless, I realise that he makes a serious point. I do not think that the tragic events that took place on Saturday have a direct relevance to the decision about the future of the rebuilding of Hampden Park. As the House knows, I am already discussing with Hampden Park Limited whether and on what terms I should confirm the provisional offer of grant that has already been made. I also regret the fact that Glasgow district council withdrew its contribution, and I very much hope that it will be persuaded to reinstate it.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the scenes that we witnessed on television on Saturday were not only deplorable but frightening, in terms of the way in which people came to blows and the damage and harm that could be done? Will he comment on the fact that the problems arising the case of Rangers and Celtic football matches have existed for a number of years? Is not it surprising that nothing was done to ensure that the barriers were adequate for incidents that have occurred time after time? Can the right hon. Gentleman say when his inquiries will be completed, and whether he will publish the outcome?

I share the hon. Gentleman's sentiments about the frightening nature of what we saw on television. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister who is responsible for industry and education was there in person, and gave me a personal report of what he saw. I do not think that it is quite fair to say that nothing has been done over many years. A great deal of work has been done, notably by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) and his committee, which looked into this matter. We are proceeding to carry out many of the recommendations that that committee put forward. Therefore, it is not true to say that nothing has been done.

In addition, we are trying to marry the legitimate desires of the many thousands of people who enjoy a harmless sport in a free country with the safety of those who may get caught up when something goes badly wrong. It is not easy to carry on such activities and to maintain absolute safety in a free country without cutting into that freedom. However, we shall try to reach the best possible solution.

Although I accept what my right hon. Friend said about the disgraceful scenes at the end of the match, is it not just as appalling that it is considered normal and reasonable for 73 arrests to be made during and before the match? Does he accept that although the passing of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill might help, law and order depend ultimately on the people themselves?

I agree that when I received the first report on the events that took place I was struck most forcibly by the fact that there had been 73 arrests during a perfectly normal match, and before those deplorable events took place. That should be taken very seriously. I entirely agree that if ordinary individuals are to enjoy football, people will have to be better behaved. We must help them to do that.

In terms of the last sentence of his statement, on what precise ground does the Secretary of State suggest that the players were to blame?

As I said, it is not my view that that took place. Until I have had a full report, I cannot say whether the players were to blame.

The police view is quite clear, namely, that had the Celtic players not acted as they did an invasion of the pitch might not have occurred. I am only recording the view of the police. The police may be right or wrong, but that appears to be their view.

Anglo-Libyan Relations

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about Anglo-Libyan relations.

Her Majesty's Government have for some time been concerned about statements and activities by Libyan Government officials, which amount to political intimidation of Libyans resident in this country. Within recent weeks there have been a series of crimes involving Libyans.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister therefore decided to send a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office official, Sir Antony Acland, to Tripoli on 27 April, with a personal message for Colonel Gaddafi. This was followed up by meetings in both Tripoli and London between Libyan and British officials.

These contacts have led to positive developments over the last few days. The Libyan authorities have agreed, at our request, to withdraw four Libyans connected with their mission in London, who have been involved in activities which are incompatible with their functions. Three of those Libyans are at present in the United Kingdom. We are emphasising that we expect them to leave within the next few days.

One complication has been the status of the Libyan people's bureau, which has taken over the functions of the Libyan embassy. It is not for us to say how the Libyans should organise their mission, but it must be established that the people's bureau will be fulfilling the functions of a diplomatic mission under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. We are holding discussions with the Libyan authorities which we hope will resolve this question.

Our objective throughout has been to show that we wish to maintain good relations with Libya but that harassment of Libyan expatriates here must stop. The Libyan Government have informed us that they wish to see an improvement in our relations and that they desire closer co-operation, particularly in the commercial and economic fields. We share this desire, but our relations cannot improve unless the campaign of harassment ends immediately. The action which we have taken is designed to make that clear.

The House will be glad that the Minister has made a statement, and it will deplore the events that have made it necessary. The murder of two distinguished Libyans in London during the past four weeks, followed by Colonel Gaddafi's brazen threat to kill others unless they return forthwith to Libya, is a challenge that no Government could fail to meet.

We welcome the agreement with the Libyan authorities to withdraw four of their nationals, attached to the mission in London. What assurances can the Minister give about the behaviour of other Libyans in England, including those who, in this era of air transport, may so easily be sent here? I note what the Minister said about the status of the Libyan embassy, or people's bureau as it is now termed. May we take it that whatever is the upshot of the discussions our law will allow the prompt expulsion of those involved in the business of murder?

What consultations have the Government had with other countries in which these hit squads are active? Is this not a matter for invoking international as well as national law?

The right hon. Gentleman referred quite reasonably to the two murders that have taken place in the United Kingdom. As the House knows, three people are in police custody and the case is now sub judice. However, in case there is any misunderstanding, I should make clear that there is no evidence that the four Libyans to be withdrawn were directly implicated in those murders. We shall enforce the principle laid down by the Home Secretary when he said:

"We shall ensure that our law is respected by all those who remain here."—[Official Report, 8 May 1980; Vol. 984, c. 523.]
That point has been made clear to the Libyans.

As regards entry into the United Kingdom, there is a visa regime. Any Libyan who wishes to come here needs a visa. Obviously the statements and activities to which I have referred have made necessary a more rigorous control.

The right hon. Gentleman's last point was certainly correct. We are in close touch with Governments who have been similarly afflicted, particularly those of Italy, the United States of America and Germany. It may well be that further consultation and, if necessary, further action in common will be needed.

Is the Minister aware that the public are incensed because the police are put in danger and removed from their proper duties in order to deal with vendettas between foreigners that take place on British soil and that have nothing to do with this country?

Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate in more detail how thugs get into this country in considerable numbers, while those on legitimate business often face great difficulties? Is it not time to look not only at the position of the Libyan people's bureau but at the whole question of diplomatic immunity and the conduct of embassies? Will the Minister read Rebecca West's article in the Sunday Telegraph?

I am sure that what the right hon. Gentleman said in his first question was right. People are angry about the situation. We are determined that London should not become a battle ground for Middle Eastern factions. The action taken at the Prince's Gate seige is evidence of that. This action is another piece of evidence. We hope that these pieces of evidence will, as they accumulate, have a punitive effect.

Immigration control concerns my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. No system of control, however exact or meticulous, can produce a 100 per cent. assurance that the wrong people will not get in. As I have said, recent statements and activities have made more rigorous control necessary. Our immigration officers are well aware of that.

Although I welcome my hon. Friend's statement, if the Foreign Office has any doubts about whether the diplomatic bag is being used for the importation of firearms, will he ensure the diplomatic bag is X-rayed? If there is proof that firearms are being imported, will he give an assurance that the bag will be rejected and that positive action will be taken against the embassy involved?

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. In a further reinforced circular to the Diplomatic Corps, we have recently made clear that we shall take seriously any hard evidence that any mission is using the bag to import weapons covertly, or that any mission handing them to untitled persons. The Vienna convention is a fairly modern instrument, and it is quite specific on these issues. If it were properly observed, many of these problems would not arise. Our concern is not, therefore, so much to change the convention as to make sure that its terms are observed.

Order. In order to be fair to the debate on the Private Member's motion, I shall follow the same practice on this occasion and call four hon. Members from either side of the House.

The Minister made it clear that in his view the four people who are to go were not directly implicated in the murders concerned. Will he tell us, therefore, what status these individuals possess? Do the Libyans claim that they are diplomats? If so, do we accept it? Are we asking for them to go because they are persona non grata, or are we seeking merely an agreement by which they should be deported without trouble? I think that the public will appreciate the assurance that these individuals are not those who would be subject to criminal charges if they were not diplomats, and therefore there would be no reason why they should not have the same justice meted out to them as to anyone else.

The legal position is confused, as my hon. Friend knows, because a few months ago the Libyans said that their embassy was no longer to be regarded as an embassy but as a people's bureau. We are trying to sort that out, but in this particular situation we thought that it was not right to wait until that had been sorted out. We therefore cut through the legal tangle and asked the Libyan Government to withdraw these four people. Two of them are members of the people's bureau. One of them, I understand, is part-time, and another has less direct connection. But they are connected in one way or another with the people's bureau. That is why we asked the Libyan Government to withdraw them.

Order. I believe that I called in succession two hon. Members from the Government Benches. I shall therefore call five from the Opposition Benches instead of four.

Since the Libyan Government, of their own volition, reduced the status of the representation, were they informed that the diplomatic immunity and all the other rights of an embassy would cease to exist, and, if not, why not?

No. The Libyans' view is that the people involved in the people's bureau are not diplomats. This does not affect the principle with which we are involved in this House and in this decision. The principle is that people living and working in this country, whatever their status, should obey British law. If they are diplomats, there is one way of getting rid of them. If they break British law, if they are not diplomats, there is another way. But in either case there is a way.

Did Sir Antony Acland, on his visit, get any inkling of Colonel Gaddafi's threat that oil supplies would be cut off if Britain, America and others failed to compensate for damage done during the Second World War?

On the specific issue of the protection of embassies, is my hon. Friend aware that there are over 1,000 Metropolitan Police officers engaged on this business? Will he, therefore, consider limiting the number of people who come to missions, because they cause an insuperable problem?

I have much sympathy with the last point. On the first point, the threat about oil, which I have read about in the newspapers, was not implied to Sir Antony Acland and it has played no part in shaping our policy.

Will the Foreign Office try to learn that it speaks for Britain and not refer to Anglo-Libyan relations or Anglo-any other country's relations, because that is quite incorrect? I make the point simply because the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) forgot to make it.

The hon. Gentleman may have gathered that I am somewhat pro-Arab in my Views. Will he accept, however, that I very strongly deplore the external activities of such people as these Libyan activists, whose work does not enhance the Arab image throughout the world and who make the work of people such as myself, who are Arab proponents, much less easy?

I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I hope that all those right hon. and hon. Members who are friends of the Arab cause will take the opportunity to make the same point.

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), will my hon. Friend the Minister accept that many of us will not be satisfied with his answer in view of the wide suspicions that not only weapons but drugs are coming in through diplomatic immunity and the diplomatic bag? Has not the time come for us to have a completely new look at the whole question of diplomatic immunity generally?

We try to look at this matter all the time. What we need in order to justify the approach that my hon. Friend suggests is hard evidence. That is one reason why it is important to keep in touch with other Governments, as has been suggested.

Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), will the Minister also look at the article in the Daily Mail which gives chapter and verse of where these phoney colleagues are being set up for these people to come here allegedly to take English courses, but in fact come here and take jobs? This has happened not only recently; it has been going on for years. The previous Government did nothing about it. Now we have a docker coming to England from Arabia when our own docks are being shut down, dockers are unemployed, and we are giving them £15,000 in redundancy pay. We are having here dockers from Arabian countries. Is this not farcical?

The question of who is and who is not allowed to come into this country is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Will my hon. Friend accept that the Government's measured response is the right one rather than whipping up anti-Libyan or anti-anyone else feeling? Will he give an assurance that the Government will continue to act in dealing with diplomats or pseudo diplomats whether they are spies or are stirring up murder on London's streets?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is not just a question of our diplomatic relations with Libya; it is a question of the whole of our dealing" with that country, including the fact that there are nearly 6,000 British people working there, and a flourishing trade. It is essential that the law of this country should be obeyed by everyone who works here, but if this can be achieved by discussion, so much the better for our own national interest.

The Minister said that he was waiting for hard evidence. Quite apart from the Libyan murders and violence to which he has referred, surely the Iranian siege, as compared with the holding of American hostages in Tehran, is the clearest possible evidence that the whole area of diplomatic immunity, law and practice needs urgent review.

I would dissent from that. What is clear from the Iranian siege is that the whole system of immunity and diplomatic practice was in that case ignored and trampled on, just as it has been in Tehran, as we shall be discussing later this evening. It is not so much a matter of tearing up a relatively modern convention as of ensuring by decisions such as we have announced that that convention is observed.

Is the Minister aware that two wrongs do not make a right and that, merely because we are all incensed at the harassment of innocent people in this country, we should not immediately go over to the harassing of innocent Libyan students who come here for proper purposes of study? The idea that we should use immigration control as a tool for a stronger deterrent against the Libyan Government means that we shall probably create as much injustice for innocent students.

Immigration control is rightly used as a means of deciding in the public interest who enters this country and who does not, but we are not in the harassment business. Our concern is that those who come here obey the law of this land.

Statutory Instruments, & C

Motion made, and Question put,

That the draft Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations 1980 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]

Not less than 20 Members having risen in their places and signified their objection thereto, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it, pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c).

Motion made, and Question put,

That the Import and Export (Plant Health) (Great Britain) Order 1980 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]

Not less than 20 Members having risen in their places and signified their objection thereto, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it, pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A ( Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c).

Fuel Prices

4.10 pm

I beg to move,

That this House, concerned by the impact of ever rising fuel prices, by the growing level of disconnections for fuel debt and by the number of households left without gas or electricity for periods of more than one month, calls on the Government to end wasteful energy consumption and to ensure that every household can afford adequate warmth.
I am acutely conscious of the fact that a sunny May afternoon is not, perhaps, a suitable occasion on which to ask the House to consider the position of those who cannot afford adequate heating in their homes. Nevertheless, this morning's announcement of a second electricity price rise in four months underlines the fact that none of us can shelter from the inexorable increase in fuel prices, even in summer months. It will be too late to discuss these issues in the winter, when our constituents will discover that their fuel bills will be around 30 per cent. higher than those that they struggled to pay last winter.

The motion refers to the impact of ever-rising fuel prices. No hon. Member can argue about the significance of those price rises. Department of Energy figures show that between 1973 and 1979 solid fuel prices rose by 131 per cent., gas prices by 85 per cent., and electricity prices by a staggering 183 per cent. As we know, the prospects for the immediate future are a great deal worse. The Government are requiring that domestic gas prices shall rise by 10 per cent. above the rate of inflation, not only this year but for the succeeding two years. There was a 17 per cent. rise in April, and there will now be a further 10 per cent. rise in October. Paraffin, which was decontrolled by the Government in July 1979, has risen in price by about 60 per cent. since then—from 53p per gallon before it was decontrolled to between 80p and 85p a gallon today. Paraffin is very much the fuel of the needy, the poor, and particularly the elderly.

The most frightening figures are those for electricity. The Government have required that electricity prices shall rise by 5 per cent. over and above the industry's costs this year, and for the two succeeding years. There was an announcement of a 17 per cent. increase in April, and today there was an announcement that the October increase of 10 per cent. is to be brought forward to August. It is worth recalling the increases in electricity prices during the past two years. On 1 June 1979 there was an increase of 8·6 per cent.; on 1 September 1979 there was an increase of 8 per cent.; and on 1 April 1980 there was an increase of 17 per cent.

That means that the price for the average domestic user will be between 30 and 40 per cent. higher than a year ago, and that is before taking into account the most recent increase of 10 per cent., announced today. It is no wonder, with a record such as that, that the Government have decided that the industry's costs and efficiency should be referred to the Monopolies Commission. I welcome that decision, but I doubt whether it will have much impact on the bills that my constituents will have to pay next winter.

The Electricity Council has produced figures that show that the price per unit for the average domestic user, including the standing charge, has risen from 1·03p per unit in January 1974 to 3·97p per unit in April 1979. The price has almost quadrupled in that period of five years. It is a staggering price rise. The result of the second increase of 10 per cent., announced today, means that electricity prices this year will rise almost as much as gas prices. That undermines one of the reasons that we were given for the rise in gas prices earlier this year. They had to be jacked up in order to make gas less attractive, as compared with electricity. Gas and electricity prices now seem to be chasing each other, with the consumer struggling hard to keep up.

In 1978 the previous Administration estimated that fuel prices in real terms would double by the end of the century. It seems as though that prediction is out of date. At the present rate, fuel prices must surely treble, if not quadruple, by the end of the century. We all feel the impact of this sort of price rise, but its impact on the poor should worry us.

Low-income households tend to have above-average fuel consumption. Single-parent families, families with children under 5, the retired, the sick and the unemployed all spend long periods of the day at home, when they need heating. Also, they tend to live in worse housing conditions—property with no insulation—and often they are locked into the most expensive systems of heating.

The Supplementary Benefits Commission showed that in 1977 37 per cent. of all households receiving supplementary benefit had all-electric systems of heating A single mother with a child under 5 receives the princely sum of £23·50 in supplementary benefit, with a 90p additional heating supplement, which is shortly to rise to £1·40. Set against that, her winter quarter's fuel bill could easily be £100 for electricity, and could be as high as £150—a payment of about £10 a week. Faced with that sort of expenditure, people have to make a conscious decision between paying for their fuel and spending adequately on clothes and food.

In the winter of 1978–79 a group of enterprising pensioners in my constituency carried out a survey of high-rise flats with all-electric heating systems. Most were one or two-bedroomed properties. They found that where the under-floor heating system was in use, the average bill was £118·63. Where under-floor heating was not used, the average bill was £80. The London borough of Greenwich published the results of an expert council survey on the problems, in those flats. It showed that electricity costs between 1970—when the flats were first occupied—and 1979 had increased fivefold. It showed that, to be used properly, the electrical systems in a typical one-bed-roomed flat would cost £556 a year—£10·69 a week. The London Electricity Board produced a sample showing that none of the flats in those blocks was adequately using the under-floor heating system,
"no doubt because of the high cost"
It was also discovered in a survey, and confirmed by the borough council, that many of the flat owners who attempted to use the under-floor heating found that the heating was lost into neighbouring flats. I suggest that that happens in blocks of flats in many parts of the country.

It is clear that rising prices are putting people at risk. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, in the "Monitor" published on 15 April 1980, reveals a significant rise in deaths directly due to hypothermia in the March quarter of 1979. There were 153 deaths during the same period in 1978, and 292—almost double—in the March quarter of 1979. The "Monitor" comments:
"It is, of course, very likely that the increased number of deaths were due to the very cold winter in 1978–79, particularly in early January 1979."
Apart from the deaths that are directly attributed to hypothermia, lack of warmth contributes to many other deaths. If we examine the figures for deaths over the past 10 years, for example, we find that the death rate for infants aged between four weeks and 12 months is 40 per cent. higher in the period from October to March than in the period from April to September. That means that an average of 550 more babies die in winter than in summer. The same is true for pensioners. The death rate for the over-eighties is 25 per cent. higher in winter than in summer—20,000 more deaths—and there are 25 per cent. more deaths among the over-sixties in winter than in summer.

I do not suggest that lack of warmth is the only factor in those deaths, but it is a contributory factor in a great many of them. Many elderly people are afraid to heat their homes adequately because they are worried about the fuel bills. That was confirmed by a national Citizens Advice Bureau survey in September 1979. It stated that:
"There is evidence that the elderly do not keep warm in winter through fear of incurring high fuel bills."
The Supplementary Benefits Inspectorate estimated that 60 per cent. of pensioners on supplementary benefit underheat their homes.

The high cost of fuel aggravates another problem—that of condensation, particularly in council flats. It is an increasing worry for many councils. Many people have had the unpleasant experience of going into council flats and smelling the dampness and seeing the fungus and black mould growing on the walls, and the contamination of carpets and cloths. Usually, the problem occurs in bedrooms because tenants cannot afford to heat them. The advice that they are always given is no doubt technically excellent. They are told to put on the heating and to open the windows. That is totally unrealistic advice for a substantial number of council tenants. One might as well tell them to burn pound notes to keep warm.

The problem of condensation ruins the quality of life for a great many people, especially for children who are forced to live and sleep in homes whose walls are wringing wet. It also has an impact on the condition of the housing stock in many council estates.

The motion refers to the growing number of disconnections. The December 1979 electricity disconnections were 21,145—the highest since December 1976. The annual rolling figure in December was 88,846, the highest since June 1978. I accept that the rate of disconnection appears to be low—namely, 0·5 per cent.—but one consumer in every 200 is cut off at some period during the year.

I am told that we should not get so excited about disconnections, as consumers are disconnected for comparatively short periods. Those of us who have taken some interest in the problem have had considerable difficulty in obtaining the figures. The information that is now available indicates that in 1978–79 no fewer than 16,370 electricity consumers were cut off for one month or more. That is about one-fifth of all disconnections.

The figures vary much from region to region. The North-Eastern electricity board area is the worst, where 30 per cent. of disconnections were for longer than one month. The Yorkshire board is the next worst, with 29 per cent., while South Wales comes third, with 25 per cent. It may be said that the code of practice should take account of these problems. The code was introduced as a result of unacceptably high rates of disconnection. It slowed down the rate and eased the problem for a period. However, I suggest that it is no real solution for those who cannot afford to pay for their heating.

The code was very much a public relations exercise rather than real help for those in need. That is demonstrated by the number who were allegedly protected by the code who have found themselves disconnected. The national Citizens Advice Bureau survey indicated that 45 per cent of surveyed clients who were disconnected were on supplementary benefit, family income supplement, or unemployment benefit. The survey showed that 66 per cent. of them had dependent children and that one-quarter of these were single-parent families. That is evidence that the code is clearly failing to help many of those whom it was designed to protect.

In many instances, consumers who are covered by the code have found that they cannot maintain the weekly payments that are required from them by the fuel boards. In 1979, in the South-Eastern board area, 38 per cent. of disconnections were in the homes of those covered by the code of practice who were unable to maintain their weekly payments. In the London electricity board area, in 1978–79 that applied to 44 per cent. of disconnections. If that is reflected nationally, it means that about 35,000 of the 88,000 disconnections were clear hardship cases, which the code of practice was designed to protect.

That indicates that in many instances the repayments expected of consumers were far too high. All of us who have had experience of these problems know only too well of cases where the Department of Health and Social Security has said that the weekly repayment demanded by the fuel board is too high for the client to suffer when account is taken of the benefit that he is receiving. The result is that those in hardship are forced either to become disconnected or to continue to be disconnected.

One of the difficulties lies in the interpretation of the code of practice. The deputy chairman of the Electricity Council in a letter to the director of the Child Poverty Action Group on 14 December 1979, stated:
"although there is one code of practice there are 12 area boards which all have many districts, and the day to day interpretation of the code in respect of individual cases is carried out a long way from me."
We find that the ground rules vary very much from one district to another. It is difficult for those who seek to advise consumers who are in difficulty, because they often find themselves on shifting ground and do not know what the policy of the board will turn out to be.

There is also ample evidence of a profound lack of public knowledge of the code. Research sponsored by the Electricity Consumers' Council indicated that only 30 per cent of consumers had ever heard of the code. Of those, only one in five had read the leaflet. Those practical criticisms underline the importance of the independent review of the code that is being sponsored by the industries and by consumer councils. The review was announced by the then Under-Secretary of State for Energy as long ago as 1 August 1978. It was confirmed in a written answer on 13 December 1978, when the then Under-Secretary of State said that the review
"will start shortly",
and added:
"The aim is to complete it in as short a time as possible"—[Official Report, 13 December 1978; Vol 960, c. 199.]
I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will tell us what has been delaying the review of the code, and when the results are expected.

It is difficult for many hon. Members to understand the impact of disconnection on ordinary people. They are deprived of heat, light and often cooking facilities. They lose all the facilities of modern living that most of us take for granted. They are condemned to exist by using candles, paraffin and calor gas, and the dangers are obvious. There have been instances in various areas of deaths through fires that resulted directly from the fact that those concerned had been disconnected and were using those fuels. That applies especially to electricity disconnections.

The punishment of disconnection is far worse than any fine could ever be. It is far worse than a suspended prison sentence. However, the victim has no right to have his side of the case heard. He has no right of access to a lawyer. He has no right of appeal against the decision. That decision is often taken in secret by a fairly low-level official, who takes no account of the rules of evidence or natural justice. Worst of all, the disconnection can be carried out in the absence of the accused person. It is a barbaric punishment which is much more akin to Dickensian debtors' prisons than to a twentieth century caring society.

What are the alternatives? It is argued by many that debts should be collected through the courts in the same way as other debts. The Electricity Council claims that that would cost between £45 million and £65 million. It has produced no details to indicate how those figures are arrived at. The South-Eastern electricity board prepared calculations for its electricity consumers' council in July 1978. It stated that using the courts would cost it up to £500,000. That would mean a national figure of about £6 million. The National Consumer Council produced a detailed calculation which suggested that collecting debts through the courts would cost the industry nationally about £12 million.

If that is set against the £2,200 million of domestic electricity sales, we find that the highest estimate of the cost of using the courts is that it would add about 3 per cent. to domestic electricity costs. The lowest estimate is about 0·3 per cent. It is not surprising that a number of bodies, including the National Consumer Council, the national Citizens Advice Bureau and even the Department of Energy's ministerial inquiry have all come out against allowing the fuel boards to retain the arbitrary right of disconnection.

In April 1976 the Select Committee on nationalised industries stated:
"The hardships of disconnections are such that if the incidence cannot be very considerably reduced we believe that the powers of the electricity and gas authorities may need to be circumscribed."
That is equally true today.

The motion also refers to conservation. The programme that the Government inherited was inadequate, but it has now been cut to ribbons. We hear that in September 1979 the Department of Energy scrapped plans for 14 regional home energy saving advice centres which would have advised householders on all aspects of conservation in the home. The cost would have been about £500,000. We hear that in January 1980 the Department of the Environment produced a consultation document on higher thermal insulation standards for new homes which, sadly, included a standard for loft insulation lower that that recommended by the Department of Energy.

We find that the worst cuts are in the Government's own direct insulation programme. There were useful schemes being undertaken by the Manpower Services Commission to provide insulation for the homes of the elderly under the special temporary employment programme, but the budget was halved in 1979 and many of the programmes have been scrapped. I accept that Ministers have indicated that they will urgently be reviewing the possibility of restarting the scheme, but it would have been very much better if it had not been closed down in the first place.

The Government are most vulnerable when it comes to the scandal of home insulation. The allocation for local authorities for home insulation in 1978–79 provided for about 250,000 homes to be insulated at a cost of £12½ million. In 1979–80 the figures rose to about 500,000 homes at £25 million. However, in 1980–81 there is no separate allocation for local authority home insulation. It is merely included in the block housing investment allocation for local authorities. That allocation has been cut substantially, and local councils are having to close down their home loan schemes and stop improvement programmes and new building. It is therefore unlikely that insulation will be a high priority in their budgets.

Under the Homes Insulation Act, grants for loft insulation have been made available to council and housing association tenants, in addition to owner-occupiers. That means that a larger number of households are eligible, but the cash provided under the scheme has been cut. In 1979–80 it was £25 million, which would insulate about 500,000 homes. For the current year the figure has been cut by half. It is now £12½ million, which is sufficient for only about 250,000 homes.

The scope for energy saving through loft insulation is gigantic. On the Government's estimates of the number of dwellings with acceptable loft insulation, only 12 per cent. of local authority homes, 28 per cent. of owner-occupied homes and 11 per cent. of housing association and private rented homes have acceptable standards.

The industry is already saying that the cutback has caused it considerable difficulty. Eurisol-UK, the Association of British Manufacturers of Mineral Insulating Fibres, warned this year that the cutback would cause considerable difficulties. It says that its worst fears have been realised. Member companies have declared redundancies of between 10 and 20 per cent.

The insulating industry was encouraged by successive Governments to put down new productive capacity to meet the growing demand for insulation. It has invested over £80 million in the past two years to combat the problem last year of a shortage of loft insulation material, when the extension of local authority schemes increased the market by 25 per cent. The industry now finds that the local authority market this year will be almost non-existent. It feels that the homes insulation scheme cannot fill the gap because the available cash has been halved, although the potential take-up has been extended.

The industry believes that demand for its products will be cut back by 25 per cent.—the percentage by which it was expanded last year. As the trade association says in its letter to hon. Members:
"No industry can cope sensibly with the effects of switching on and off this kind of percentage of its total market."
That is one of the most frightening indictments of the Government's insulation policy.

That comment was confirmed by an article in the New Scientist on 27 March, which quoted from an apparently secret memorandum from a senior official in the Department of Energy to the Secretary of State. Having surveyed the various departures from the Government's original conservation policy, the memorandum sums it up:
"All this represents a sharp and visible contraction of the government's conservation programme and is, I fear, likely to attract increasingly adverse criticism."
The memorandum goes on to say that, in comparison with other countries" energy saving programmes, Britain's is now slipping fast.

It is hard to understand why, in a period of public sector cuts, the Department of Energy does not seem able to persuade its colleagues in the Government that money spent on conservation and insulation is not money down the drain, but is investment in the future that will produce savings of precious money and the conservation of even more precious energy. It should be protected from public sector cuts.

The Government appear to be relying on pricing policy as their main tool for conservation. Pricing has a role to play, but its impact on many consumers is serious and many simply cannot react to higher prices. Those locked into inefficient and expensive local authority heating systems have no way in which to find alternative heating. The Secretary of State has accepted that pricing is not enough. In a speech to the RIBA in October 1979 he said
"To rely totally on the price mechanism and people's response to it, without sensible and sensitive Government intervention, would be an unbalanced energy conservation programme."
The Government's limited intervention is neither sensible nor particularly sensitive.

I deal finally with fuel assistance schemes. The Secretary of State for Social Services, on 27 March, referred to the scheme that the Government had launched to provide help for the needy with their fuel bills. He claimed that the scheme was absorbing £200 million of Government spending, which looks like a large figure, but closer examination shows that it is less impressive. The normal heating additions under supplementary benefit account for £100 million of that spending, the extra schemes introduced last winter account for £20 million more and normal uprating would have added a further £20 million. The new money available, as set out in the Government's most recent statement, is only £65 million. About £9 million of that is in relation to the extension for the 70 to 74-year-olds, and £56 million as a result of the large increase in heating additions.

The scheme is welcome, but of 460,000 70 to 74-year-olds on supplementary benefit, only 122,000 have no heating addition. The remainder receive heating additions now, and will get no extra help. Providing the automatic heating addition for supplementary benefit families with children under 5 years old will cause difficulties. The Social Security (No. 2) Bill provides that from 24 November there will be a single rate of benefit of £7.30 for children up to the age of 10. When the youngest child, in a supplementary benefit family-, passes, the, age of 5, there will be an automatic reduction of £1.40 in the family's benefit.

What about pensioners under 70? What about those not on supplementary benefit; for example, those on rent and rate rebate? Do they not feel the cold? What about the estimated 900,000 believed to qualify for supplementary benefit who never claim it?. What about those with small occupational pensions that take them just above supplementary benefit, level? They may have exactly the same cash, income as the family next-door on supplementary benefit, but they can claim no extra help with their heating bills.

The Government scheme falls far short of what is needed. I hope that the Minister will not tell us that cash is not available for extra help. Many of my constituents will not understand why hundreds of thousands of needy people should be sentenced to shiver when the gas industry is expected to make a profit of £600 million this year.

Ideas for practical schemes exist. In its 1977 report the Supplementary Benefits Commission called for a comprehensive fuel rebate or bonus scheme. That call was repeated in its 1978 report, published in October 1979, wh