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Commons Chamber

Volume 987: debated on Friday 27 June 1980

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House Of Commons

Friday 27 June 1980.

The House met at half-past Nine O'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Petition

Bourne Valley School, Hemel Hempstead

On behalf of County Councillor Mrs. Everall, the headmaster, Mr. Frank Hye, the chairman of the governors, the parents, staff and local residents, may I present this most beautifully prepared petition on behalf of Bourne Valley school, Hemel Hempstead.

Whereas Bourne Valley school is liable to closure and the matter is coming before the Secretary of State for Education, your petitioners pray
That the Bourne Valley School is needed by the parents of the school; its closure will destroy the balance of schools in Hemel Hempstead and will have a damaging effect on a thriving neighbourhood
and by reason of the fact that it is a good school your petitioners pray
that your honourable House do require the Secretary of State to reject the proposal of the Hertfordshire County Council to close Bourne Valley School.
And your Petitoners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table

Division No. 377]

AYES

[9.40 am

Berry, Hon AnthonyFox, MarcusRees-Davies, W. R.
Best, KeithJessel, TobySteen, Anthony
Biggs-Davison, JohnJopling, Rt Hon MichaelStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Lang, IanStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Brittan, LeonLe Merchant, SpencerWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Chapman, SydneyLyell, Nicholas
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Macfarlane, NeilTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Critchley, JulianMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Mr. Carol Mather and
Dykes, HughNeubert, MichealMr. Peter Brooke
Fairgrieve, Russell

Statutory Instuments, &C

By leave of the House I shall put together the questions on the motions relating to statutory instruments.

Ordered,

That the Representation of the People (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1980 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Berry.]

Ordered,

That the Representation of the People (Amendment) Regulations 1980 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Berry.]

Ordered,

That the Elections (Welsh Forms) Regulations 1980 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Berry.]

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.),

That the draft Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation (Variation) Scheme 1980 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Berry.]

The House proceeded to a Division—

Question accordingly agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.),

That the draft Eurocontrol (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 1980 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Berry.]

The House divided: Ayes 24, Noes 0.

NOES
Nil
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Geraint Howells and
Mr. Greville Janner.

Since it appears from the result of the Division that 40 Members are not present, I declare that the Question is not decided. The business therefore stands over until the next sitting.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could we send for the Leader of the House to explain this laziness or incompetence on the part of the governing party? Have they all overslept? Cannot they get up in the morning to get their own business through?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the manner in which the two draft statutory instruments were placed before the House at the last minute on a matter of very great importance? In particular, even the amendment of the title of the last two instruments is incorrect, the word "Diplomatic" having been omitted before the words "Immunities and Privileges". The wording is therefore wholly misleading.

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, that you give your direction that in future the House should have the opportunity to consider these important matters in advance, even if it is expected that they will go through on the nod?

I understand that there has been no breach of rule. The usual custom has been followed this morning. The items on the Order Paper are in the customary wording.

Bbc Orchestras (Disbandment)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[ Mr. Berry.]

9.52 am

In my old profession Sir, the curtain always went up on time, however unprepared the participants. This morning we have had some unco-operative elements, who have held up our very important cultural debate.

The British Broadcasting Corporation —hereinafter referred to as "the BBC" or "the Corp"—is not a capitalist organisation grinding down the faces of the poor. Nor is the Musicians Union a militant, mindless group, summoning the exploited classes to the barricades with flourishes of trumpets. So how is it that two such bodies, composed of sensible and, indeed—on both sides—sensitive men, have come to this intractable impasse—a strike by the musicians, no Promenade Concerts, to the great public regret, and no "Land of Hope and Glory" on the last night?

One has to examine the developments that have led to the BBC's intention to disband five orchestras and to the ensuing strike of the Musicians Union. Because of governmental need to tackle the bedevilling problem of inflation, the previous Home Secretary, my colleague—because of his care for the consumer—and the present Home Secretary—because of his apparent commitment to the Cabinet's monetarist policies—have both felt unable to grant the rises in licence fees that the BBC had argued were essential to meet its current expenditure and its future strategic planning in the face of competition from the better-heeled commercial companies.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) raised the colour licence fee from £21 to £25 and the monochrome fee from £9 to £10—less than the BBC had justifiably argued that it needed. The BBC turned to borrowing to cover the gap between income and expenditure, and the result has been a monthly cost of £600,000 to meet the interest charges. The present Home Secretary raised the licence fees from £10 to £12 for black and white and from £25 to £34 for colour sets. The BBC had argued for a rise to £40 to meet its costs.

The outcome has been that the corporation has decided to make a reduction in planned expenditure of £130 million over the next two years. Ninety million pounds will be saved by deferring or dropping various capital projects and developments. The remaining £40 million will be found by cuts in operating costs across the whole range of its services in television and radio, in engineering, in central services, in education and drama, in national and local broadcasting in every region of the country.

Although there have been large percentage cuts in drama and education of 18 per cent. and 10 per cent. respectively, the cuts that have aroused the greatest concern—and, indeed, outcry—have been those in music. It is important to say this morning that, although it is those last cuts that we are debating today, that must not be read as lack of concern for the damage that the other cuts are causing.

What do the music cuts entail, in detail? In England, the Midland Radio Orchestra will be disbanded, with a loss of 32 jobs. That, of course, is in Birmingham. The Northern Radio Orchestra will be disbanded, with 22 jobs lost in Manchester. The London Studio Players will also be disbanded, with a loss of 19 part-time posts of musicians on first call. The Northern Ireland Orchestra will go, with a loss of 30 jobs, and with the hope that those musicians may get employment in a new orchestral alignment to be set up over the next year or so in a merger with the Ulster Orchestra. What those musicians do for a living in the meantime is somewhat unresolved.

Finally, the Scottish Symphony Orchestra will be—if I may use the phrase—scotched, with 69 jobs gone. It is this disbandment that has aroused the greatest concern. I say that not as a Scot but because that orchestra has a long and distinguished tradition as a nursery for composers and conductors, and because of its contribution to the cultural life of Scotland.

That decision was taken by the Broadcasting Council for Scotland. It was not taken in London. That, to my mind, makes the offence the more incomprehensible and the less excusable.

In toto, 172 orchestral posts disappear. I have been given the figures for the cost of running each of these orchestras by the BBC. They are, per annum, as follows: the Northern Radio Orchestra, £180,000; the Midland Radio Orchestra, £220,000 the Northern Ireland Symphony Orchestra, £700,000; and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, £620,000.

The BBC has fostered the impression that these cuts are dictated by economic considerations, but the union—and, indeed, some of the journalistic commentators—suspect otherwise. As one of them put it, "There is a suspicion that the men at the top have seized upon the current economy drive to get out from under the burden imposed upon them by Lord Reith." It is well known, of course, that the BBC had tried to shed some of the orchestras in 1970.

When this point is put to BBC executives, they come back with the argument that the cuts have been made not only for economic reasons but are, to quote one of them, "artistically justifiable". They argue that the present composition of the two radio orchestras, the Midland and the Northern—strings and wind players—means an inflexibility in the sort of music that they play which does not allow for change in music fashions and which, in the seven half-hour sessions a week broadcast by both the Midland Radio Orchestra and the Northern Radio Orchestra, produces a constancy of tone colour which pervades everything that they play.

That is a professional comment, which I do not think I ought to try to examine or to enlarge on, but the BBC music bosses want to introduce a flexibility of instrumentation, to use their phrase, which would lead to a more varied musical output. In all fairness, one has to admit that the Annan committee seemed to support that argument. I shall return to that consideration a little later.

What was the reaction to the BBC's announcement of these cuts? I believe it to be significant, and I think that it should have disturbed the BBC, that nearly all informed opinion has been strongly opposed to them. The quality press made its comments. The Times although sympathetic to the BBC's problems, questioned the wisdom of the elimination
"of all the regional symphony orchestras"
and suspected that the BBC was
"deliberately seeking to avoid the odium of making a choice."
The same editorial stated:
"There is no justification for further expanding local radio at this time."
Discussing the cuts, the leader had this to say:
"the test by which they should be judged is whether they bear evidence of a deliberate strategy—as distinct from the easy managerial device of an equality of misery all round—and whether they take account of the needs of the public rather than the institutional requirements of the BBC. With its long and proud tradition the corporation must have higher priorities than equipping itself for battle with the second commercial television channel."
The Financial Times was even less understanding of the BBC's intentions. And I quote its leader:
"It is not often that the Financial Times expresses support for militant industrial action."
This is good stuff.
"But it is impossible to avoid feeling sympathy for the boycott of BBC programmes which the Musicians Union imposed this week."
Further down, it goes on:
"But the real importance of the dispute between the BBC and the musicians is that it reflects a trend in the BBC's whole philosophy which should be disturbing to admirers of the BBC's standards and of Britain's cultural achievements in recent decades.
If a broadcasting system funded by a compulsory licence fee, rather than by advertising or sponsorship, is needed at all, it is only because such a system can provide the nation with forms of entertainment, culture and information which commercial broadcasting is unable, or unlikely, to produce. But the BBC's priorities in searching for cuts suggest too little concern with Britain's cultural life and too great a preoccupation with competing against commercial stations in areas where the need for public funding is not at all apparent."
Anthony Arbluster in The Guardian had this to say:
"the orchestral cuts are not primarily inspired by financial considerations at all. They represent a quite drastic change in the BBC's policies of musical patronage …The economic squeeze had provided a handy opportunity for cuts which the more philistine elements at the top of the BBC have obviously been wanting to make for a long time."
Public reaction was symbolised by the Cardiff concert where an audience of 1,000 strong provided so much contribution to the musicians' strike fund that they had to fetch buckets from neighbouring houses to collect it.

Letters to The Times—always an important indicator of informed public opinion; I hope that laughter means agreement—included one from Sir Anthony Lewis who wrote on behalf of the music schools deploring the predicament facing many young orchestral musicians starting out on their careers Another was from Peter Maxwell-Davies bewailing the effect on young British composers.

Orchestras and musicians abroad have sent the union messages of support and condemnation of the BBC. The Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, the Danish Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic have all refused to allow a relay of their concerts while British musicians are on strike.

Organised labour has responded strongly. The TUC has condemned the proposals and wants discussions on them. The Association of Broadcasting Staff has expressed its disapproval. The Federation of Broadcasting Unions has condemned the BBC's intentions. The Incorporated Society of Musicians, which is not a trade union, has opposed them. And the Musicians Union, of course, is now on strike against them.

What are the reasons that have brought the musicians out on a strike supported by 83·6 per cent. of the affected players in a secret postal ballot of a union composed of members of all political dispositions? I think that on that result even that bucolic squire, the Secretary of State for Employment, had better put down his euphonium, because there is massive support among all or nearly all the professionals in that figure of 83·6 per cent. for the strike.

The union argues that these proposals were never presented to it as a basis for negotiation. They were a "take-it-or-leave-it" package. The first that it knew of it all was a statement made at an information meeting, so termed, at the BBC on 28 February 1980.

On 3 March Mr. John Morton, the general secretary of the Musicians Union, received a letter reiterating the proposals and stating that they would necessitate a renegotiation of the guarantee of musical expenditure that the BBC had with the Musicians Union and of the understandings on employment.

Meetings between BBC representatives and the union took place on 19 and 27 March at which the BBC simply re-presented the same proposals.

On 14 April another meeting was held and the union then made a detailed response and made clear that it would not accept a unilateral alteration of properly negotiated agreements.

A further meeting took place on 24 April at which the union stated, first, its willingness to negotiate throughout May; secondly, that the repeated presentation of unaltered proposals was not negotiation; and, thirdly that if the BBC per-sited in the dismissal of a third of its employed musicians a strike would be called after a ballot of its members.

From 24 April to 29 May the BBC refused to meet to negotiate with the union, although Morton, in a letter to Ian Trethowan on 16 May, had expressed its readiness to do so. The ballot was held and the membership overwhelmingly rejected the BBC's proposals and endorsed the union's stand. The players then downed instruments on 1 June—an inglorious day for the BBC.

The union bases its case on the following arguments. The first is that the BBC, by its unilateral decision, had breached the 1964 agreement which guaranteed the continued existence of the orchestras in exchange for the union's agreement then in 1964 to treble needle time—that is, the use of records in broadcasting. The agreement has never been terminated, although the BBC contends now that it has been replaced by the 1978 agreement, so the guarantee of 1964 on the orchestras has vanished. But can anyone in his senses believe that the union would ever have accepted such an agreement and the interpretation that the BBC now wishes to put upon it? It is inconceivable. The phrases in the 1978 agreement referring to the BBC's obligation to negotiate on the number of posts can only be taken as a reaffirmation of that 1964 relationship.

Secondly, the union argues that the 1978 agreement contains two elements: first, an assurance that
"The level of employment of permanent orchestral staff will remain a matter for negotiation with the Musicians Union"
and. secondly, a base line total expenditure guarantee—with a formula for calculation—which produces an expenditure of £6½ million.

Although the BBC has admitted the need to renegotiate these matters, it has made no attempt to do so but persists in presenting unilateral proposals and has subsequently gone on to break the agreements.

The agreements, of course, can be terminated, subject to the necessary notice. New tripartite agreements would then be necessary between the BBC, the union and the Phonograph Performing League if the BBC wants to use records. But the BBC has not sought such new arrangements.

Thirdly, the union argues that the reduction in the wages bill resulting from the orchestral dismissals at £1·5 million will be three times the amount that the BBC claims that it needs to save overall, which is £500,000. The union questions why the BBC needs to create such a large figure of unemployment—156 dismissals —to achieve a disproportionately small net saving in labour costs. Those 156 dismissals in 172 posts represent not the stated figure of desired cuts of 5 per cent. but the enforced redundancy of one-third of the BBC's permanently employed musicians.

Fourthly, the union argues that although 60 per cent. of BBC radio output consists of music, less than 5 per cent. of radio expenditure goes on staff orchestras.

The sixth and final point, and I think perhaps the most fundamentally important argument, is that the licensing system—the authorisation to raise money from the public—entails the maintenance of standards of performance and production and the acceptance of cultural responsibility as a public broadcasting organisation.

The sixth and final and perhaps most fundamentally important argument is that the licensing system—the authorisation to raise money from the public—entails the maintenance of standards of performance and production and the acceptance of cultural responsibility as a public broadcasting organisation.

Does the hon. Member also agree that the real responsibility rests with Governments to make certain that a sensible level of licence fee is charged?

I am delighted to find that my arguments are being made for me by a member of the Government party. I could not more strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. Of course it is the Government's fundamental responsibility—I am sure that this matter will arise during the debate—to provide the proper funding so that the BBC can fulfil its charter obligations.

It has not happened, sadly, under the present Government, or under the previous Government.

I do not want to make this a party wrangle, but it is surely common knowledge in the country and on both sides of the House—there should be no dispute over this—that the previous Government did not increase the licence fee to anything like the rise in inflation and the rise in costs to the BBC. Although the increase by the present Government does not arise pari passu with the increase in costs to the BBC, we have made a far better stab at it than the previous Administration. That point is surely fair.

There is always a danger in coming late to a debate, because an hon. Member may wish to raise a point that has already been made. I granted this point in my earlier arguments. Had the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great affection, been here earlier, he would have heard me make that point about the previous Home Secretary.

That is very good of the hon. Gentleman. I thank him. Perhaps I may continue with my spiel.

These requirements of the standards of performance and production and the maintenance of cultural responsibilities were never questioned after their establishment by Lord Reith and their sustenance by his successors, until considerations of commercial challenge arose in the 'sixties and 'seventies. The BBC apparently needs reminding that its charter entails obligations not only to entertain but also to inform and to educate.

Here, Sir, may I digress for a moment or two to make a critical comment, and also an autobiographical comment, on where and why I think that the BBC has gone wrong over the last few years. I was PPS to our old colleague, John Stone-house, when he was Postmaster-General. When that significant document "Broadcasting in the Seventies" was produced, my reading of it—it has subsequently transpired that this was true—was that, although the BBC was committed to the cultural trusts that Lord Reith had embraced as its public duty, the corporation had decided to step down-market and compete in the commercial arena. That decision could only mean, over time, a decline both in standards and service. I resigned my PPS-ship in protest against my Minister's acceptance of its arguments.

That fateful change of course for the BBC has led to what I believe have been massive misjudgments in its efforts to compete with the commercial providers. They have no standards to live up to. Their commitment is to the provision of the lowest common denominator of popular pap, and the BBC demeans its higher purposes of public service by stepping down to take them on. The result is the puerile rubbish of Radio 1, and the false decision was then taken to provide local radio, with its evanescent chatter on matters of absolutely no import whatsoever.

Those decisions have cost the BBC dear, not only in the lowering of standards but also in the waste of financial resources. I really do wish that the governors and executives of the BBC would address themselves to a reconsideration of their fundamental roles.

There is little purpose in this debate, however, if we simply point the finger at the BBC or at the Musicians Union and utter our condemnations. I think that we have to prescribe remedies out of these ills. Several cures have been suggested. Some of the panaceas are pretty unpalatable. The Musicians Union has not taken kindly to the idea that it might plough back its needle-time earnings, which are supposed to stand at about £900,000, to the maintenance of the orchestras. It explains, quite justifiably, that such moneys would not sustain more than a single orchestra for a single year.

Then there was the scheme that the chairman of the Royal Television Society mooted—that an independent body jointly financed by the BBC and the commercial television and radio contractors should take over all the 11 BBC orchestras. Well, I do not see that there would be many takers among the pop-orientated commercial ladies for that non-profit-making investment. What would be the purpose, then, of allowing the BBC licence money for its traditionally accepted role of music propagation and dispensation among its other cultural responsibilities?

Although I do not go along with that suggestion, I do believe that there is a case for requiring those who coin their money from a commercial radio or television franchise to make a greater contribution not only to the musical life of Britain but to the whole range of its artistic activities. These are matters that I think, the present Government, and certainly our next Government, will have to examine.

What are the more practical proposals that should be considered? The BBC itself wants to see trusts established both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland to which it is prepared to commit £100,000 a year each, for a possible term of five years, and to which other organisations, be they commercial, such as Gallahers in Ulster. or Arts Council, should contribute funding. The BBC argues—and it is an incontrovertible fact—that the Welsh BBC Orchestra has one-third of its 66 players sub-vented by the Welsh Arts Council, and that the Scottish Arts Council provides £450,000 a year for the other Scottish orchestra, the Scottish National. But I think that it is pretty sanguine to hope or expect that either commercial sponsors—much as the Minister responsible for arts and libraries summons them to his assistance—or regional arts councils, will cough up anything like the total funds needed to run either the Scottish or the Northern Irish Symphony Orchestras, which the BBC intends to disband and which currently cost £620,000 and £700,000 per annum respectively. It is a pretty unlikely prospect that commercial and Arts Council funding can do that job.

The more that I consider these problems of funding orchestral life in the regions the more I begin to believe that since the licence restraints of Government—both Governments—have brought them about, the more incumbent it is upon the Minister responsible for the arts, whom we all know to have real concern and commitment, to consider making a special grant to the Arts Council to help certain of these orchestras to survive—not all of them; certain of them.

There is a parallel, of course, in that both the present Government and their predecessors have made just such special grants of —1 million a time to the Arts Council to provide funding for the Covent Garden development plan. There is a slight degree of metropolitan elitism there. The regions, too, have cultural needs.

But, overall, I go along with the main argument of the Musicians Unions, which is that the BBC, by charter and by licence, has an absolute and incontrovertible responsibility for artistic patronage which cannot and must not be shrugged off when the economic climate gives excuse. The BBC's responsibilities have been and are to furnish the cultural sustenance of drama, of education, of public affairs and of music. I believe that the House this morning should make clear its view that the BBC should take these proposals back and reconsider its intentions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that the "Hear, hears" come from both sides of the House.

The BBC should enter into genuine negotiations with the union to see where a little give and take can be exchanged. But we should say, too to the union—and I say this to my hon. Friends—that it should consider where it can yield a bit on staffing and flexibility of instrumentation—to use the BBC jargon—where orchestral style has changed. I revert to my earlier comment, that Annan made that criticism of the union's intractability.

It is certainly not in either the BBC or the union that this contest should drag on for months, as well it may.

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend in his speech, which is very sound and contains much information and good judgment. However, did I hear him aright in his last statement? Was he condemning the union's intractability when faced with an ultimatum?

I do not think that my hon. Friend was listening as intently as he usually listens to these debates. Perhaps on a Friday morning he nods off a little earlier. What I was talking about was the Annan committee's comments—not my comment on the musician's present position. I do wish people listened when we were talking.

That is a professional criticism that I am not prepared to take.

What I was trying to say when I was politely interrupted is that it is not in the interests either of the BBC or the union that this contest should drag on for months; and it is certainly not in the interests of the public. Nine months or a year may well drag on before us.

At an estimate the BBC has nine months of needle time, but when it runs out of that it can put on foreign recordings and transcriptions. It can put on its own pre-recordings, already paid for, stockpiled and not used. Over those months many musicians may turn to other occupations for a livelihood. Is it really the intention of the BBC to deplete the store of British musicians? Is it really in the interests of any of us that skilled instrumentalists should turn to taxi driving, serving in coffee bars, or working in factories—if they can get the jobs?

The BBC, in its ensconced position of power, really must not underestimate the determination of its dismissed employees. Nor must it act the bully, as the hirer of hands. The BBC must learn that it cannot adopt the attitude of Aubrey Singer when he envisages that the BBC will grind the union down.

What a slogan for industrial relations! But, sadly, it is typical of an organisation that seems unaware that negotiations actually entail negotiation. Both sides must be prepared to come together and ravel how they can meet the valid concerns of the other. I hope that that is the clear message that the House sends out to both those parties today.

10.21 a.m.

The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) has done the House a service by raising this matter. As he implied, many of his points will be shared in other parts of the House. My colleagues, the hon. Members for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), my fellow officers of the Conservative Party arts committee, have asked me to express the great interest that they share in this debate. They all have pressing constituency engagements today and in this short debate there is, obviously, not time for all hon. Members who would like to take part to do so.

The officers of that committee were grateful when representatives of the BBC led by Mr. Aubrey Singer, and of the Musicians Union led by Mr. Morton, called to see us in the last two weeks to express their points of view. The officers of the Conservative Party arts committee tabled a motion saying that the BBC should review its priorities. We firmly believe that.

I start from the standpoint that Britian is one of the musical centres of the world. We are second to none in this country in the range of what we have to offer in orchestral concerts, chamber concerts, instrumental concerts, opera and ballet. Music is one of the things that we in this country do really well.

From the national point of view we should build on our strengths.

We should be proud that we do so well in this area, Fine music, like other great forms of art, has an emotional and spiritual dimension that enriches and enlarges people's lives and lifts them above the cheaper and brasher forms of entertainment.

The BBC in the 50 or 60 years of its existence has established and built up a great tradition in its special role as a patron of music. This role has been accepted by directors of the BBC and the heads of its various departments. The BBC's role in leading and sponsoring and awakening interest in the public at large, so that music is now the most popular of the fine arts, has been a major factor in the cultural life of our country.

Now we see that the BBC must economise. It cannot charge as big a licence fee as it would like. I suppose it never will be able to do that. The BBC would always like to charge more and do better, but someone has to hold the balance between what the BBC would like to charge on the one hand, and the interests of the fee-paying public on the other hand. That somebody must be the Government and Parliament. That is not a popular role for the Government and Parliament. Few of the roles of the Government and Parliament are popular, but somebody has to do it.

In common, I suppose, with hon. Members on both sides of the House, I receive letters about the licence fee. It seems that hardly a month goes by when I do not receive a letter from an old-age pensioner saying how onerous the television licence fee is. They ask if something cannot be done to exempt them or to charge them a specially low licence fee.

Those who have looked into the difficulties—as most of us have—know that if this were done it could be done only if the licence fee were increased for everyone else. It would have to be increased very substantially because, though numerous old-age pensioners live alone or in twos, there are a great many households in which a pensioner lives with younger people who are working. One in four households has an old-age pensioner in it. In such households there would be a great temptation to put the television licence in the name of the old-age pensioner. If a special licence were created for old-age pensioners, the television and radio licence would have to cost everyone else well over £50 a year. The great majority of the people would not want that. They would expect Parliament and the Government to exercise some control over what the BBC charge.

Where should BBC savings be made? To what extent, if at all, should savings be made from music? Should savings go right across the board equally among departments with each taking a share, or should the BBC concentrate on those services which only it can provide really well?

This raises the question of the role of the BBC, and I wish to stress that over the years—and I spend a great deal of my time listening to the radio, particularly to the music channel—I have greatly admired the services provided by the BBC, not only in music but in other areas as well.

Will the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) allow me to pay him the compliment of informing his colleagues—not many of us know this—that he is himself a fairly distinguished concert pianist?

I am an amateur pianist. All of us who have busy lives, whether we are in Parliament, the BBC, the Musicians Union, or anywhere else, getting on with what we have to do, tend not to take enough time to pause, step back, and ask ourselves what we are really doing and why. The BBC should do that over this matter.

My belief is that the BBC should concentrate on certain things of quality. It should concentrate on good music, good radio plays and features and not expend its precious licence resources on those things that commercial radio can do just as well. I think partly of Radio 1. I cannot see any case for the BBC being in the pop music business. That can well be left to commercial radio. The BBC will then have more resources for good music.

The hon. Member for Warley, East, quoted a leading article in The Financial Times. I quote further from that article. It went on:
"the largest single cut in BBC radio is to be achieved by axing the five regional orchestras, while far larger savings which could have been available from abandoning plans to expand local radio have not been attempted.
Radio 3 and educational programmes have been cut back, but the popular music output on Radio's 1 and 2 has emerged largely unscathed."
The article goes on, after saying that the BBC has hinted that it might drop all opera and ballet from television:
"Local and popular radio would have been better candidates for pruning than the orchestras, not because their programmes are in any sense unworthy; but simply because there is ample evidence that these popular services can function perfectly well on a commercial basis, without public funding. At a time when commercial radio has become firmly established throughout Britain… a reduction in the BBC's output '—
could easily have been made in that way.

My hon. Friend is not quite right in saying that there have been no cuts in radios 1, 2 and 4. What about "Waggoners' Walk"? I am told that over 1,000 letters of protest have been received by the BBC about the demise of "Waggoners' Walk" and only 150 about the orchestras.

We all receive letters on many subjects. Most hon. Members receive between 20 and 30 letters a day. The strength of feeling about a subject is imperfectly measured by the quantity of letters about it. As the hon. Member for Warley, East said, there is a great volume of informed and influential opinion. I attach at least as much weight to the quality of an argument as to the number of letters. Radio 1 should be scrapped altogether so that the BBC can devote its resources to programmes which only the BBC can do well.

Radio 1 attracts a mass audience. If Radio 1 was axed and BBC radio then attracted only a minority audience, would not that make BBC radio an even more likely candidate for axing?

No. The BBC has a traditional role, inherited from Lord Reith, of educating and enriching people's lives. The type of work done by Radio 1 can be done just as well by commercial radio financed by advertisements. It would not worry me in the least if that happened and if the people who like to listen to pop music heard it on the commercial network.

I suggest another economy that the BBC could make. The BBC is about to construct an underground car park costing £3,250,000. The capital and interest on that money at current interest rates could save nearly the annual £500,000 it is saving by cuts in music.

I should be particularly sorry to see the BBC Scottish orchestra go. It is a splendid orchestra and has done a great deal to promote the works of contemporary composers and to train young conductors such as Simon Rattle and young orchestral players. The orchestra has high standards and it would be a tragedy of the first magnitude if it were to go.

It will be sad if we miss the Proms this year. Hon. Members might have seen the letter from Sir Adrian Boult in The Times on Wednesday in which is proposed a formula which might save the Proms. Sir Adrian said:
"The BBC understandably want the Proms broadcast live; the musicians are unwilling to play if they are broadcast. Could not both parties compromise? Let the Proms go ahead; let the BBC record the concerts but not broadcast them till later. When the strike is over, the musicians could be paid and the concerts broadcast. Musicians not in the BBC would get concert fees immediately, broadcast fees later. In this way, honour would be satisfied and a great international festival made safe."
One can understand the BBC's view and the view of the Musicians Union. Some of us want to speak up for the Proms audiences as well.

Although nearly everything that I have said has been sympathetic to the Musicians Union. I hope that it is prepared to take one more look at that possibility. If it is not it risks losing some of the public sympathy which it has won. The Musicians Union could comply with Sir Adrian Boult's suggestion, or a variant of it, without weakening its negotiating position. I hope that it will do that.

10.35 am

I have considerable sympathy with the BBC in its difficulties. It is not only to be blamed. Since the BBC was founded it has had two main roles; it has been a great broadcasting organisation, and it has also been a great patron of the arts—probably the biggest single patron of the arts in this country.

For most of the BBC's life it has not occurred to anybody that these two roles could conflict. On the contrary, they harmonised. However, they are in conflict now, and it is because the BBC has not got enough money. Every penny that it spends on cultural activities not required for broadcasting is a penny taken away from its programme budgets. So the conflict has entered into the very centre of the BBC's activities, and it is struggling to resolve it.

Other things can be said in favour of the BBC. For example, some of the orchestras it proposes to axe are light music orchestras, and whereas light music was a mass taste 30 or 40 years ago it is such no longer. Popular tastes in music change quickly, and there is simply not the demand for light music now that there once was. So the BBC is justified in no longer wanting to maintain several permanent light orchestras.

The BBC made a reasonable proposal for Ulster, which the Musicians Union did not accept. It proposed the establishment of a new orchestra, comprising many musicians from the existing BBC orchestra and others from outside. That could have led to an excellent new orchestra, giving as much employment to Northern Irish musicians as now, but on a different basis. So altogether the BBC has had many good arguments on its side.

But I turn now to the other side of those arguments. And I have to say that in spite of everything that can be said in mitigation of the BBC, the case against what it is doing is stronger than the case for it. The BBC's chief fault is a false order of priorities. If it has to cut expenditure it can and should cut many other things before it even dreams of cutting symphony orchestras.

Local radio is an example. It was misconceived for the BBC to become involved in local radio in the first place. It was a panic measure, because the BBC was afraid that a whole new sphere of broadcasting would fall into the hands of commercial interests. Many hon. Members—and I am one—said from the beginning that the BBC would be bringing trouble upon itself if it became involved in local radio. And now this is coming true.

A few weeks ago a letter appeared in The Times from somebody living in Lincoln. It made the point that while saving £500,000 by axing orchestras the BBC was proposing to spend the same amount in setting up a new local radio station in Lincoln. The correspondent said that he, as an inhabitant of Lincoln, would far rather have the orchestras, and what the orchestras provide, than a local BBC radio station.

Another cut that could and should be made is in the BBC's bureaucracy. This has been a bone of contention for many years. Almost everyone who has professional experience of working for or within the BBC has agreed that it is a bureaucratically top-heavy organisation. Far too many people are employed who have nothing directly to do with the making and transmission of programmes. Decade in and decade out, the top management of the BBC has denied that this is so. Yet the people who know it best and object to it most are the programme-making staff of the BBC itself.

So I should like to see the bureaucracy drastically thinned down, and the expansion of local radio halted, before symphony orchestras are cut.

One direct standard of comparison on the television side is with ITV. Between the big current affairs programmes on ITV, such as "This Week", and the board of directors, there is commonly only one person. In the BBC, there are hierarchies of people between these two levels. The fact that the resultant programmes are not qualitatively different—often, indeed, when there is a difference it is in favour of ITV as far as current affairs programmes are concerned—shows that these intermediate people are not necessary to the production of good programmes.

There is something qualitatively wrong with top BBC management. I know a large number of individuals in that management personally, and they are, on the whole, extremely nice people. They are very well intentioned, and very professional. They are hard-working public servants. But what is important in the context of the present discussion is that nearly all of them reach the top via a concern with current affairs broadcasting, journalism, politics, or management itself, and not through an involvement with the arts and artistic broadcasting, say, music or drama.

Although in such a big organisation there are bound to be individual exceptions, the fact is that there are very few people at the top levels of BBC management with a really passionate concern for, and detailed knowledge of, the arts. This fact becomes important when cuts have to be made.

I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman. I cannot go on giving way to him.

This lack of knowledge of the arts becomes an important factor when cuts have to be made because the people making the ultimate decisions are passionately concerned, and rightly so, with public affairs, with news and documentaries, with politics, and often even with sport, but alas, they are not so passionately concerned with the arts. They are, therefore, more ready to accept large scale cuts in broadcasting on the arts side than on other sides.

The BBC management is, at this moment, defending its decision to cut regional orchestras on the ground that they are, after all, second-class orchestras —they are not the Berlin Philharmonic or the Concertgebouw—and that many of the people now complaining do not go to their concerts, or, if they do, they do not think all that highly of them. There is a grain of truth in this.

One cannot, however, simply have first-class orchestras and nothing else. Where would young orchestral players train and gain experience? Where would up-and-coming solo artists play? Where would young conductors gain their experience? Where would the top people hear the young and up-and-coming players in order to put them in the better orchestras?

Throughout the world of the performing arts—not only orchestras but theatre companies and ballet companies—in order to have the first-class, one has also to have the second-class and the third-class. One needs a whole structure up through which artists can develop and grow, and gain training and experience. It is an illusion to think that one can axe the second grade and the third grade and still keep the top grade. It cannot be done. So the BBC has a unique responsibility to maintain those middle grade orchestras as indispensable to the continuing health and vitality of the country's musical life.

It is, at bottom, a question of money. Here, the BBC is fundamentally mistaken in its insistence on basing its finances on the licence fee. By doing that, it is insisting on remaining poor. It will always be Governments that fix rises in the licence fee. And the pressure on politicians will always be to raise it as little as possible. Now that 90 per cent. of households have television, the licence fee is a tax that almost everyone pays.

We, as politicians, incur unpopularity by raising taxes So there will always be pressure on Governments of either party to raise the licence fee by less than the BBC wants or needs—to raise it, in fact, by the minimum amount that they can get away with. I believe that the pressure is greater on my party than on the Conservative Party. We have an especial concern with the situation of the poor, and of old-age pensioners, to whose needs I believe we are more sensitive than the Conservative Party. We are, therefore, more reluctant than they to increase financial burdens on those sections of the community.

So long as the BBC is financed by a licence fee, it will continue to have less money than it needs. The reason why the BBC is attached to the system is that it thinks that this preserves its independence. Because the money is collected by the Post Office and paid direct to the BBC, without going through the Government, the BBC thinks that this is a very symbol of its independence of Government. But the fundamental fact is that the Government decide the increase. And everything else depends on that.

There is one suggestion that I would put to the BBC management and ask it to consider most seriously. We have been unusually successful in this country in developing institutions for the purpose of distributing public money to public organisations without allowing party politicians to exercise patronage or control. This has been especially successful in the sphere of culture and the arts. I instance the Arts Council and the University Grants Committee.

No serious body of opinion in this country pretends that the universities, or the bodies that benefit from the Arts Council, are interfered with by party politicians. On the contrary, there is continually an outcry from party politicians about the way the money is being spent and we, in this House, find ourselves—rightly in my view—unable to interfere with it.

The hon. Gentleman is determined to interrupt, but I am even more determined to prevent him. The example of the Arts Council and the University Grants Committee shows that an organisation could be worked out for broadcasting whereby the Government made the money available to an intermediate body, which disposed of it to broadcasters in such a way that there was no Government interference, no party political interference, no dependence at all of the BBC on the Government of the day. If the BBC would involve itself in discussions to that end, we could arrive, I am sure, at a permanent arrangement whereby public broadcasting was properly funded, and none of the problems that we are debating today need arise.

10.50 am

The House will be indebted to the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) for his opening speech, which provides the setting for this debate. His restrained but strongly argued case will have found a common cause in many parts of the House. It is often said to be one of the strengths of this Parliament that its Members bring so much diversity of experience to its discussions. Perhaps my brief contribution this morning will exemplify that, because I can claim to have been a professional orchestral musician myself.

Sadly, I cannot declare a financial interest. The time is long since past when I could hope to make a living out of music. However, 27 years ago, when I was a student at the Royal College of Music, I had reached the point at which I was paid to play rather than to go away, which is the critical break-through in any musical career.

In coming, over a period of many years from one precarious profession—music—to another—politics—I must recognise that the musical profession is a highly precarious one. I start from that standpoint, from the musician's standpoint.

Perhaps I can illustrate how hazardous the profession is by citing one example which comes to mind. We know the insecurities and hazards of politics. They are notorious. But perhaps the insecurity of being a musician is not so well known. I cite the case of Roger Winfield, who when I was playing about 30 years ago was a very young recruit to the Halle orchestra. He was the protégé of Sir John Barbirolli and the pupil of Lady Barbirolli, better known as Evelyn Rothwell, the professional oboeist.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Winfield was sacked from the London Philharmonic orchestra after a long and distinguished career because, it is said, Sir Georg Solti, who took over the artistic direction of that orchestra, did not like his sweet melodious tone. Apparently, Sir Georg preferred the sonorous, metallic sound which is characteristic of some Continental orchestras, notably the Germans. For that reason, and possibly for others, Mr. Winfield lost his job. He took the matter to a tribunal. I do not know the outcome. However, that exemplifies the hazard of being a professional musician these days.

After all, we politicians may lose our jobs because of what we say, but it is not often that we lose them because of the way we say it. Here was a highly competent musician, playing in one of the country's leading orchestras, who found after 30 years that his position was no longer as secure as he might have had reason to think it was.

When we approach the question of the BBC's plans to reduce the number of orchestras that it employs, we must see that in the context of the potential employment for professional musicians in this country. The hon. Member for Warley, East raised the point about flexibility of instrumentation. It may well be that fashions in music change, but it would be unwise to diminish the significance of that for the profession. It may well be true that different textures in orchestral work, different instrumentation and going away from the traditional instruments to more synthetic kinds of music-making, have employment implications for musicians. But one must recognise at this point in time the very limited range of permanent, paid, pensionable employment for those who have chosen to make music their career.

I hope that the BBC will recognise the part that it has to play. As the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) has just said, it has a duty to the Arts as a patron to ensure the continuing flow of musical talent in this country. It cannot do that by proposing to close down five out of the 11 orchestras at a stroke; nor is there any need for it to do so.

Before I turn to the question of the BBC, I should like to dispose of one point of vexation—that of VAT. Up until now, the debate has concentrated on the BBC's proposals, and that is obviously the motivating force behind the debate. It is certainly the occasion for it. However, I remind the House that the subject on the Order Paper is the proposed disbandment of regional orchestras and that it is not the BBC's orchestras alone which are under threat of disbandment. There is considerable concern in different parts of the provinces about the future of regional orchestras.

The imposition of VAT touches on those wider concerns. I am glad that the Association of British Orchestras is not pressing for relief of VAT, because that is a political non-starter. I think that it is right not to do so. I do not think that there is any possible chance of VAT exemption for the Arts, whatever comparisons can be made with the Continent. It is just a fact of life which must be accepted, and the sooner it is accepted the better, because for the moment the concentration on that niggling tax on the Arts is diverting those involved in artistic enterprises from more constructive campaigns to secure support for their activities.

The hon. Gentleman really cannot refer to the money which Customs and Excise takes from the imposition of VAT on tickets as a niggling tax. Customs and Excise takes £30 million a year from VAT on concert and theatre tickets. That is nearly half of the total Arts Council grant. I ask the hon. Gentleman to summon his energy and courage and to support those of us who want that VAT point debated and changed in a future Finance Bill.

I cannot accept that invitation. I was about to make the point that, although the sum of money raised by VAT is not inconsiderable, on the individual decision to go to a concert or see a play I cannot accept—and do not accept from my experience—that it can be as influential as contended. I cannot accept that, because VAT was last year increased from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent., the addition of 7p in the pound on a £3 or £4 ticket will make that crucial difference between going to a play and not going to a play. It is not a critical decision of that kind.

Of course, rising prices generally may detract from support for the Arts. It may be that the cost of fares, petrol or having supper afterwards means that the evening becomes too expensive for people to engage in it as frequently as they would like. But I believe that the point about VAT is grossly exaggerated. I should like to see those in the theatre, music and the other arts concentrating their efforts and energies on promoting their artistic activities. They would do better to spend the time spent on campaigning against VAT in promoting going to a concert as a way of life.

I welcome the innovation of "Subscribe Now" and the dynamic new selling techniques for the theatre. I should like to see the same applied in respect of concerts. We must persuade people in this recessionary era that they must maintain our artistic life. It is a matter of competition for cash.

That brings me to my second point about VAT. It is so often forgotten that the VAT increase was made last year to enable tax relief to be made. As a result, people have more money in their pockets, and it is for the theatre and musical enterprises to go out and compete for that extra cash. That is the challenge which they face. They should not concentrate on this red herring or blind alley of seeking relief from VAT, because I believe that they are making a great mistake in doing so.

Such enterprises will also be misled if they take the point that the amount raised by VAT should be given to the Arts. That is a popular prejudice in connection with the so-called road tax, where it is widely believed that road tax is no longer applied to the purposes for which it was originally raised. There was an interesting answer from the Minister for Transport earlier this week, in which he pointed out that, although vehicle excise duty raises £1·3 billion, the expenditure on related subjects is £1·95 billion. In other words, more money is spent than is collected through road tax, and people are wrong in thinking that they are paying enormous sums of money through vehicle excise duty which is not being spent on the purpose for which it is intended. The same will apply to VAT. Of course we have to raise money by taxes, but it is not a question of raising taxes to offset grant.

A substantial part of VAT revenue is contributed by tourists. I use that argument against a tourist tax. If we are to have such a tax, it will certainly deter tourists. Is that what actors and theatre owners want? I am sure that they recognise the major contribution by tourists to their revenue and would not want a tourist tax to take the place of VAT on the arts. Our present system gives a fairly balanced result.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and the hon. Member for Leyton that it is a mistake for the BBC to strive to match the competition. Many would gladly provide some of the services that the BBC is striving to provide from its limited budget. In my constituency there was an attempt to provide an illegal radio service for the London borough of Havering. It was well supported by its listening public, illicit though it was. That point will no doubt not have escaped the eye of the Minister of State, Home Office. There is also the East London radio campaign by people wanting to provide local radio services.

Yet, in this, as in so many other aspects, the BBC wants to match all the competition. It cannot do it. In particular, it cannot match the kind of money that commercial television can raise. That is very much part of the problem. Therefore, I hope that the BBC will not try to follow all the paths to listening figures, since that will diminish its important and unique role as a patron of the arts. That is why it should give the highest priority to these orchestras.

Of course this can be described as elitist and catering to the tastes of a small minority. Nobody denies that: I believe that Radio 3 has only 2 per cent. of the listening audience. It will always be like that, and I hope that the BBC will recognise it.

Also, we should consider the background against which the BBC is making these cuts. I hope that it will have regard to its unique opportunity to support music. It is valid to say that the BBC would like more flexibility, but ultimately it is using the opportunity of the economic recession to make a change of policy, defending it with the economic argument. That is not honest. If the BBC wants to make a change in musical policy, it should state it and argue it and negotiate it as such with the Musicians Union.

Instead, the BBC is claiming that we once again have brought about this dreadful calamity—not only the abolition of "Waggoners Walk", as if that was not bad enough, but the disbandment of five regional orchestras as well. That is just not true. The BBC has the choice and it is not making it. It is putting up false alternatives. This should be pointed out to the BBC.

These orchestras fulfil a role, just as the other regional orchestras do. There is a great danger that, if we allow this plan to go ahead, we shall once again concentrate musical and artistic resources in London. I do not want to introduce a political note, but my hon. Friends will have observed the result of yesterday's by-election, which could be said to reinforce the growing gulf between the North and the South where we find most of our support. That trend will be accentuated by the concentration of musical activity in London; it will be one more nail in the coffin of the unity of the North and South.

I pass on to less contentious issues. If I were to ask the Government to do any one thing, it would not necessarily be to spend a great deal more money. However, one thing could reasonably be asked of them—that the amount of the Arts Council grant, which filters down into the regions and supports the orchestras, might be made known much earlier. Musical programming is a long-range activity. If the best artistes and programmes are to be secured, one must be able to act well in advance—perhaps two or three years ahead. It would not cost any more to announce the decision early.

After all, this profession is by no means well paid. Few of its members, and only those at the peak of their profession, can command their own fees. The rest must work hard to rehearse and must often record to make any kind of living at all.

Then there is the question of maintaining the real value of the support which is given. It should be recognised that inflation is not the best criterion, that there will be extra high costs for music. For instance, the instruments themselves, which the musicians provide, are obviously made by craftsmen, and in a computer-controlled, mass production age, crafts will always command a higher premium than everyday products.

Finally, I hope that the Government will stress to local authorities the need to maintain the level of regional musical activity. It is for the local authorities to decide, but Government guidance would be helpful. Even during the Second World War, it was regarded as sufficiently important for national morale to sustain the arts by subsidy. The lunchtime concerts by Dame Myra Hess at the National Gallery were a real contribution to the war effort.

Therefore, whatever our economic difficulties and the cries of the world recession, I hope that we shall ensure that our orchestras survive.

11.7 am

I join the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) in saying that I would applaud any action which put the cost of music on the defence budget. We could use some of the money that we are going to waste on Trident for musical education. That would do more for the morale of the country than the Government's policies.

We must be careful to ensure that we do not create an elitist attitude. Just because we are talking of the Scottish symphony orchestra or something of that nature, we should not immediately attack the tastes of the majority of citizens, who prefer Radio 1 to Radio 3.

We must be careful not to appear to be knocking local radio. I do not share the criticisms of local radio made by some of my hon. Friends. It serves a useful social purpose.

In the present economic climate, if a choice has to be made between expanding local radio and introducing new stations or making these cuts, which should have priority? That is a different question, but on the general principle of local radio we should not suggest that jobs should be lost there to maintain jobs in orchestras. That would be setting against each other two groups who should be not fighting but supporting each other. Certainly, at their executive level, the ABS and the Musicians Union have appeared to be supporting each other.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that no one is suggesting that the tastes of those who prefer Radio 1 should not be met? It is simply that many of us feel that those tastes can be met perfectly well by commercial radio financed by advertising, which would enable more of the BBC's resources to be concentrated on those quality things which only the BBC can do.

I do not accept that the BBC has a monopoly in quality broadcasting. That equally would be a wrong premise on which to start this argument. Some of the arts programmes that have been put out by the commercial stations, certainly on television, have been of very high quality. That also should be recognised. Whether the commercial stations spend sufficient of their money or time on such programmes is another argument, but it is wrong to say that the arts programmes that they are putting out are of lower quality.

Those are two important points that must be made. Otherwise, we are arguing simply about minority interests and minority tastes against what might appear to be the interests of the community as a whole. That would be sad.

Reference has already been made to the Financial Times leader on the issue. I do not want to pursue that point, because other hon. Members want to take part in the debate. But it seems to me that if the BBC seems to be abandoning its role and going into the market place and fighting the commercial world on the commercial world's terms it will be asked to discover and raise its money in a commercial way. If that happens, the whole reason for the BBC's existence as an independent institution under its charter seems to disappear.

Therefore, the BBC must look to what it is doing in the arts and in maintaining the quality of life, particularly in the regions, if it is to continue to have the support of many people. I believe that that is particularly true of Opposition hon. Members, who have supported it as an institution that did not necessarily go in for the high competition of the commercial world but sought to maintain a degree of quality and objectivity that is not always present in a commercial station looking for profits, looking for audiences, in order to maintain the interests of its sponsors. They are two incompatible things.

One the BBC starts to use its TAM ratings or whatever—how many people watch it on Christmas night as opposed to watching ITV, how many watched its sports programmes, or listened to a particular programme—as the sole criterion by which to judge a programme, that is an argument for a fall in quality, for pandering to the lowest common denominator, rather than looking for maintaining the highest common factor. Once the BBC does that sort of thing, it will find it very difficult to obtain support from the Opposition Benches.

We can also examine what the BBC has spent money on. It spent £2 million on buying "The Sound of Music". We shall doubtless see that film and the escapades of the von Trapp family singers every Christmas and Easter for the next decade at peak viewing time. What is interesting is that the von Trapp family singers were live musicians. We shall have them canned and recanned and recanned.

My second point is that we have not properly looked at the role that the orchestras have played in a regional setting. This is perhaps the greatest criticism that can be made of the cuts—their regional effects. There have been some minor cuts in London, but the effect of cutting the symphony and light music orchestras in the regions will be out of all proportion to similar cuts in the metropolitan areas. In the regions they supply a core of highly trained, highly disciplined musicians. They are a nursery for great instrumentalists, young composers and new music. But they are more than that.

The orchestras give opportunities for people engaged in music in the provinces to compare their own performances. The orchestras raise standards. They give opportunities for young players to play with gifted, experienced musicians and raise the quality of the music locally. They have a great influence on the teaching of music in their own areas, not only because of lessons that the players may give as individuals but because of the effect that the orchestras can have on people who listen and watch and learn the techniques. All those effects raise the whole of the cultural and music life within important areas and within the regions.

The immediate reaction to the cuts of people who are interested in music is "Why is it us again? Why is it Ulster? Why is it Scotland? Why is it the North-West? Why is it the Midlands? It is always us." It is always away from the metropolitan centre. It is always those areas that are not perhaps the most fashionable, which may be the areas where the bureaucrats of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) spoke do not live. It is this attitude, this contradiction of an expansion of local radio and at the same time the curtailment of local and regional facilities, that people find depressing.

My hon. Friend raised the question of the licence fee and the BBC's attitude to it. That was another point that I had intended to raise, but he dealt with it eloquently. We may or may not use a University Grants Committee or Arts Council model, but one can take also the position of the judiciary, who are paid from public funds. It would be hard for any hon. Member, certainly on the Opposition Benches, to argue that Lord Denning's independence of judgment is affected to any great extent by the fact that he is paid from public funds. I have a feeling that the arguments about independence because the BBC is funded from the licence fee are nonsense. There are other ways in which money can be found and independence can be maintained.

There is another point that, as a trade unionist, I regard as of the utmost importance. I regret for many reasons, but particularly on this occasion, that my late right hon. Friend the former Member for Rotherham, Mr. O'Malley, is not here. As a sponsored member of the Musicians Union, he could have put the case far more eloquently.

There is an important issue here. Every time we look at the BBC we have stories of strikes, bad industrial relations, how much better matters could be arranged if only people behaved rationally and objectively, like the commentators, interviewers and programme producers, and how much industrial relations would be improved. The matter is before ACAS, and I do not want to sour a happy outcome, if one is likely, but I am certain that in its handling of it the BBC has denied all proper precepts of good industrial relations.

One does not tell people "You will lose one-third of your work force and one-third of your membership in this branch of the industry. These are the terms. Good afternoon, and goodbye ", and expect there to be no positive reaction. That has been shown in the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) of the results of the secret ballot over strike action. The union was incensed. What would happen if in any of our areas, in any of our large factories, we said "One-third of the employed people will be dismissed arbitrarily. Some of you may get premature retirement, if you are over 50, but that is about it"? There would be great consternation on the Opposition Benches, to put it mildly. But, because this is such a small affair, because it is not industrially significant, there has not been the outcry that one would have expected. But that is no excuse for the BBC acting in a nineteenth century factory master manner towards operatives who are not all that well organised because in its view they do not really matter. The BBC cannot expect to start negotiations based upon a fait accompli that it has already introduced. It is no good the BBC saying "This is what is happening, but now we shall give £100,000 here and £100,000 there, perhaps we shall look to see how we can help the Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Stirling University, and perhaps there may be something that we can do in Ulster", when it has already reached its decision.

If the BBC is to save the Proms—and we should all like to see them saved—it must go back to the Musicians Union and say "We are in trouble. We think that there have to be cuts. Can we sit down and negotiate about them?" That has been the line of the Musicians Union all the time. It has said all along "Let us sit down and negotiate." But it does not wish to be presented with an ultimatum.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) spoke about the Proms. I regret greatly that we may not hear or see the Proms this year. However, Sir Adrian Boult's proposal amounted to strike-breaking and the removal of the most powerful weapon at the disposal of the Musicians Union, even taking into account the fact that the union's battery and arsenal are not very strong.

It is significant that this demand does not come from the musicians involved. It comes from outside sources who realise the significance of this matter. If the BBC could say "We have still got the Proms", it would have broken the position and strength of the Musicians Union. I hope that even at this late hour the Proms or some part of them will be saved. They can be saved if the BBC says "We shall scrap these proposals. We shall go back to the negotiating table and see how we can work out these problems together." That is the way to do it.

The other problems of the BBC over licensing fees, over money and over its dealing with a Scrooge-like Government can be surmounted if the BBC takes up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton. A great many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe the licence fee to be nonsense. This is an important institution, and its finances should be spread across the board of taxation and provided in that way. If the BBC came forward with suggestions of that kind, it would get a great deal of sympathy and support from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. In the meantime, the BBC must withdraw its ultimatum and negotiate with the union.

11.23 am

I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I intervene now, although I make it clear that I have no desire, let alone ability, to curtail the debate. I wish merely to express the Government's views at this stage.

Most of the debate has consisted of hon. Members putting forward views on the priorities that the BBC ought to have in the expenditure of the money available to it. Some hon. Members have suggested that more should be spent in one direction and less in another. As a viewer of and listener to BBC programmes, quite naturally I have my own views on these matters, and that aspect of the debate has provided an immense temptation to me. However, I think that it would be wrong for me to do anything other than apply a self-denying ordinance here, because Governments of both parties have always taken the view that they are not in a position, and ought not to seek to be in a position, to tell the board of governors of the BBC what should be broadcast and what should not.

It is for the board of governors to determine its priorities, and not for the Government of the day. It does not take a great deal of thought to see just how dangerous the consequences would be if a Government said "Within this budget you must spend money in a particular direction." This Government believe that if the independence of the BBC is to be maintained, by whatever financial mechanism one seeks to achieve that goal, one should not express Government views about the content or nature of programmes. I shall not do so, therefore.

Still less do I propose to comment on the negotiating position and the trade union matters just referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). I do not think that it would be right for me to attempt to do so.

However, I have been informed that Mr. Aubrey Singer, the managing director of BBC Radio, does not accept that he used the phrase attributed to him about grinding down the unions or the orchestras. He informs me that what he said was that he could not see much light at the end of the tunnel—[Interruption.] It is not for me to do anything other than report what I am given to understand Mr. Singer says was said on that occasion.

I have no doubt that Mr. Aubrey Singer made that interesting comment about light at the end of the tunnel. However, when it was put to him that the dispute might go on for a long time until the parties were ground down, an interviewer quoted him as saying "And I know which side that will be". I can only quote the interviewer. If Mr. Singer wants to correct that, perhaps he should take it up with the editor of that paper.

As the hon. Gentleman has chosen to quote the interviewer, it is not unfair that I should quote Mr. Singer, and that is exactly what I am doing.

The debate has concentrated on the BBC, which is not represented in this House. Therefore, I ought at least to explain what the BBC says about some of these matters, even though I do not believe that it is the Government's role to indicate those programmes on which the BBC should or should not spend its money.

Perhaps I may turn to what is undoubtedly the role of the Government. Here I refer, of course, to the licence fee. I appreciate greatly the fair and moderate way in which that aspect of the matter has been handled in this debate by hon. Members on both sides of the House. This has not been one of those occasions when there has been a clamour for increased licence fees. Whatever may be said outside the House, it is very significant that when the initial increase in the licence fee was announced, and subsequently, there was no great clamour in the House for a higher level than that determined by the Government of the day.

It has been accepted by both sides of the House that for many people the payment of the licence fee is a substantial burden and that the Government have to be extremely careful about the extent to which they can raise the fee. The message that must go out from the House on that score is one of a balance that it is not easy to maintain, and that there is not an easy way out simply by raising the licence fee. For the Government, the position has to be that in maintaining that balance we have to look at what other public institutions face at a time of acute pressure on public expenditure. That factor should be taken into account.

My hon. and learned Friend speaks about an easy way out. Would not it be fairer to say that when the BBC asks for £40 and is granted £34, it is the Government who are taking the easy way out?

I do not think so because, as the response in this debate has shown, whether it should be so or not, the Government have to deal with the matters as they arise from the consequences of the licence fee. That is perfectly reasonable.

Let me also develop the point raised by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) and another hon. Member about alternative methods of financing. We heard the analogy of the University Grants Committee and the Arts Council, and even, from the hon. Member for Leyton, the payment of the judiciary. Where in those cases direct financing is applied, leaving aside the effects that that may have on the independence of the bodies concerned, it clearly does not ease the financial situation. Just as under the present system the Government have to decide on the level of the licence fee, so under any of the alternatives envisaged, even if they did not threaten the independence of the BBC, it would still fall to the Government and, ultimately, the House, to decide on the proper level of support. That is something that would have to be determined in the light of the economic situation as a whole and of the Government's attitude towards public spending.

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not have the impression that there is no anxiety on the Opposition Benches about the level of support for the BBC. We have been concentrating an alternative methods of funding. At least I would take the view that the present licence fee, which amounts to about 10p a day and is half the cost of a heavy newspaper, or two-thirds of the cost of a cup of coffee in the House of Commons Cafeteria, is quite inadequate.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving his view. I have borne in mind that in remarks from the Opposition Front Bench and other hon. Members the difficulties facing Governments in increasing the licence fee have been accepted, not just from the point of view of its being awkward for the Government but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) pointed out, in respect of its being difficult for people to pay the money. I think that I was therefore, entitled to take that view.

Let me proceed to the specific question of the BBC and its expenditure on the orchestras. It is not for the Government to decide or even to advise the BBC on how to spend within its budget, but it will be for the convenience of the House if I report on the BBC's position on the matter.

The BBC came to the conclusion that within its budget it had to cut £130 million of planned expenditure within the two years covered by the licence fee increase. Of that, £90 million would be saved by deferring or dropping various capital projects and developments, leaving the remaining £40 million to be found through cuts in services. It is in that context that the cuts affecting orchestras arise.

The BBC has had 11 house orchestras —four symphony orchestras and seven light and popular music orchestras—which employed 551 musicians on continuing contract. These orchestras were costing about £4½ million a year—about 70 per cent. of the £6½ million a year that the BBC was spending on live musicians. The BBC considered that there were too many symphony orchestras for the needs of the main radio networks and none of them was as large as it should be.

As for the popular and light music orchestras, which are unique to the BBC, many of them, in the view of the BBC, are relatively limited in their style and repertoire because of their static instrumentation. The governors took the view that radio music had to take its share of the cuts—about £½ million a year or 8 per cent.—and that the only way of retaining the same quantity of live music and of keeping up quality and variety and achieving the required saving was to reduce the number of house orchestras while increasing expenditure on freelance musicians.

A substantial increase in that expenditure is something to which I know the BBC attaches considerable importance. The total volume of live music is not to fall, but is to be achieved not only more cheaply but in a more flexible way.

Six full-time house orchestras are to be retained, at a cost of about £3 million a year—three symphony orchestras—the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Northern Symphony Orchestra and the Welsh Symphony Orchestra, and three orchestras providing light and popular music—the Concert Orchestra, the Radio Orchestra and the Scottish Radio Orchestra. That will provide full-time employment for 379 musicians.

What, therefore, will be the cut in the performance of live music?

I think that there will be none. In addition to the changes to which I have referred and the decrease in freelance activity, the BBC has earmarked, for spending in Manchester and Birmingham, £100,000 a year each, which will provide work for freelance musicians. It is also actively encouraging efforts in Northern Ireland and Scotland to sponsor new orchestras which, if successful, will also provide work for many former BBC house musicians. It is only fair to give those facts to the House, since they put the matter in a slightly different light.

We should also bear in mind that no other European broadcasting organisation employs as many as six orchestras, and that the 379 musicians in these orchestras represent about one-quarter of all the salaried orchestral jobs in the United Kingdom. One cannot stigmatise the BBC in quite the language that has been used on some occasions when these facts are taken into account.

In a sense, the present troubles have been partly created by the success that the BBC has enjoyed as a patron of music over the years. This aspect was put very well by the chairman of the BBC, Sir Michael Swann, in a recent speech. He said:
"In the early days, the Corporation could only put out all the music it wanted by setting up its own orchestras. Over the years this had a dramatic effect on musical appreciation in Britain, so that other orchestras grew and multiplied, with the result that today, in more straitened circumstances, we still have as many orchestras of our own, but not as well supported as we would like, and providing more music than we need for broadcasting if we are to do justice to all the other admirable orchestras that we have helped to create. The problem should have been grasped long ago, and in our present plight it can simply be avoided no longer."
That seems to be a fair analysis of the problem, which shows the effect that the policies of the BBC have had in the past in stimulating other orchestras and, now, the need for the BBC, irrespective of the immediate short-term situation, to take action that reflects a change in circumstances.

I have thought it right to put forward the BBC's factual position and the arguments advanced in its favour, but it is also right to refer to an outside body of some authority that has also had occasion to comment on this matter. That is the Annan committee. It said
"We said in Chapter 21 we did not believe it to be essential for the profession that all the BBC orchestras should be maintained in their present form. We thought that the BBC's overall expenditure on live music and on the employment of musicians, either permanently or on a casual basis, was more important than the maintenance of any particular orchestral structure. Naturally, we also regard it as important that opportunities of employment should be offered to many different kinds of musicians and should not be restricted to a small numebr of experienced musicians. The aim should be to sustain a profession which can provide music of all kinds and not to fossilise the present arrangements. The present arrangements rightly permit the Union to negotiate the terms on which their members shall be employed. But it cannot be right for these arrangements to be used as a means of dictating to the BBC what the content of their broadcasting services should be."
It is important that the Government should not in any way give the impression that they are seeking to take over the BBC's role as the body that decides on the nature and scope of its broadcasting services and the priorities within them. It is equally important that the BBC should have the opportunity of hearing the views of the House—as it has heard and will hear them today—about how its responsibilities should be exercised.

I accept the responsibility of the Government in the sense that by determining the licence fee we set the financial climate within which the BBC operates. In doing so at the level that we have set, we have reached the right judgment in the general economic climate of today, taking into account the action that we have rightly taken, and are taking, on public expenditure generally.

I hope that I have been able to put to the House the considerations of the BBC and also the view that the Annan committee has brought to bear on the question on music within the BBC.

I endorse the comments of the Minister that it is not the role of the Government to interfere in any sense with the decisions of the BBC. But neither is it the role of the Government to act as such an obvious apologist and propagandist of the BBC's present arguments.

The Minister has not met the point that I made in my speech, that there is another aspect of governmental responsibility in this matter. Will he comment on the possibility of the Arts Council being given a special additional grant to aid the orchestras in their plight?

I do not regard myself as an apologist for the BBC, and I do not think that I have spoken as one. I have put the BBC's views, and it is right that those views should be put to the House. The BBC is an important and large public corporation, and it is right to expect a Minister—while making clear that the BBC should decide its priorities —to put forward the BBC's views clearly.

I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the hon. Gentleman's plea for extra money from a source other than the BBC and unrelated to broadcasting policy and the licence fee. It is for my right hon. Friend to consider that different approach to the problem.

I have sought—I hope with some success—to put in context the matter of broadcasting policy and the BBC's approach to it.

11.44 a.m.

Despite the Minister's reply to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), he has come to the House to apologise for and defend the actions of the BBC in this matter. To some extent, I agree with the view that in this debate the BBC has come in for some stick which was not entirely merited.

The Minister was reading almost entirely from the dog-in-the-manager brief that we have been given by the BBC. There is some merit in what the BBC has said in reply to those people who signed petitions opposing the proposed cuts. I quote from the BBC brief:
"If all those who have written to the BBC about the proposed cuts, or signed petitions opposing them, had in the past made their views known to their Members of Parliament, successive Governments might have taken a different view of the public's attitude to being asked to pay a realistic price for broadcasting, as for everything else."
That is true. The Minister was right in saying that when the licence fee was increased to £34, to last for two years, there was very little opposition in the House. It is a political football.

Oppositions seek to exploit for political purposes increases in licence fees proposed by the Government of the day. We should seek to devise a way in which that sort of exercise can be avoided. It is difficult to find an alternative, because ultimately this House must make a decision on the question whether public money will be provided. Therefore, it will be a political football. We must have the courage to say that, and to act accordingly. I should like the BBC to be financed in the way that commercial radio and television are financed. The broadcasting functions of the BBC are the envy of the world, both in quality and content. However, despite what has been said to the contrary, I think that there has been a reduction in the quality of BBC services, as a direct consequence of the introduction of commercial broadcasting over the past few years.

Like other political and public institutions, the BBC is a victim of inflation. The Government are bashing—to use a crude term—the provision of public housing, public health services and public education, and are saying that the BBC should not be exempt from that kind of slashing exercise. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said that, whenever these exercises are engaged in, the most deprived areas of the United Kingdom —whether in Scotland, Ireland or Wales—come in for the worst kind of punishment. The people of Scotland feel particularly angry about this cut. The Government know that in terms of employment, education provision, housing and social services generally, Scotland, like the Northern region, is the most deprived area of the United Kingdom. Proportionately, the largest cuts are being inflicted on Scotland, and Scotland's cultural life will be the poorer for it.

I say to the Minister and to the BBC that in imposing this sort of cut in Scotland they have shown an elitist arrogance that is completely indefensible. I have never known such complete unanimity across the broad spectrum of political and cultural life. Almost every organisation in Scotland opposes this sort of imposition on its cultural life.

It is not without significance that there are three Scottish Members present, who probably take the same view. It is rare on a Friday to find three Scottish Members present. They are normally three-or four-days-a-week men. They are present today because they know the political importance of the matter. Several others are waiting outside for the following debate, which is of considerable importance. I shall therefore be brief.

We object to this sort of treatment by a public institution that should be more sensitive to public opinion. It should have realised that the reaction in Scotland would be unamimously hostile.

It may be a good idea for a Select Committee to examine the overall finances of the BBC—to study how it is financed and what the relationship between commercial radio and television and the BBC should be. They ought not to try to compete; they ought to try to find a particular niche for themselves. If some method of dovetailing the activities of the two can be found—and if some way can also be found of considering the way in which the BBC is financed—it would serve a very useful purpose for the public interest as a whole.

Meanwhile the BBC ought not to send these dog-in-a-manger briefs to us in an effort to justify what seems to us to be indefensible.

11.50 am

It is a great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and to agree with him. I agree, first, on the central point that he and other hon. Members were making—the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) in particular—that if, on the one hand, the BBC is to feel itself bound in a ratings war with ITV and with the commercial radio stations, and if, on the other hand, it is financed by a licence fee system, it will be inevitably and continually in an impossible squeeze, because the politicians will never put up the licence fee as much as the BBC would like.

I also agree with the hon. Member for Fife, Central in what he said about the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the immense strength of feeling in Scotland. I do not want to go too far down the path of analysing the attendance of Scottish Tory Back Benchers on a Friday, but I entirely agree with him that, unusually and almost uniquely, the BBC has achieved the impossible by uniting Scotland on one issue.

The Minister has set out very clearly the position of the Government and of the BBC. If I may say so, however, his quotations from the Annan report were slightly selective. It is worth making the point that the Annan report was very clear in saying that it would not wish to see a national orchestra in Scotland or Wales abandoned. That was a very clear and specific recommendation from the Committee.

I should like to ask one or two questions about the way in which the decision to cut the SSO was reached. First, who took the decision? The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who opened the debate, said quite rightly that the decision was taken by the Broadcasting Council for Scotland. That is technically correct. The chairman is on record as saying that he went to Scotland with an open choice of options —but I think that some of the options were a bit more optional than others.

When we consider the context in which the Broadcasting Council for Scotland was operating, we find that some very interesting questions emerge. How is the SSO funded within the BBC? That is a point of some complexity. It was pursued by the Select Committee on Scottish affairs, when we took evidence from the BBC. The hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) asked:
"Could we get absolutely clear where the cost of specifically the Scottish Symphony Orchestra is borne? Is it borne nationally? Is it borne out of the Scottish block?"
The director of finance replied:
"It is borne out of the Scottish block. It is part of the Scottish total budget."
The hon. Member then said:
"That is now the fourth answer I think I have had on this."
A little later Mr. Trethowan said:
"It is in the BBC Scotland budget."
The hon. Member then asked:
"This is the final and definitive answer?"
The director of finance replied:
"Yes—I have the accounts here."
Then Mr. Ramsey, from the BBC, said:
"May I complicate the issue?"
The issue is complicated, but the key point is that the BBC in Scotland had, within the overall cut with which it was faced, a very considerable financial incentive to cut the SSO, because the SSO, in effect, is partly funded within Scotland and partly funded from London sources. If the SSO were cut the total saving was to be attributed to Scotland's share of the cut, so there was a considerable financial incentive to cut the SSO.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister referred to the fact that the Scottish Radio Orchestra is being continued. That is entirely correct. But it is still very odd that there was such a policy reversal within the BBC that last December the Scottish Radio Orchestra was to be abandoned as surplus to requirements, with 10 new posts going to the Scottish Symphony Orchestra: Over this very short period there has been a complete reversal of policy.

It also remains a little odd that Mr. Aubrey Singer was able to send a letter to all staff on 25 February, declaring that the decision had been made to cut the SSO before the meeting of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland, on 27 February, which took that decision.

Were there any alternatives? In the Scottish budget other economies are being made. The BBC and the public have made much of the many administrative and back-up staff who are to be made re- dundant. They say that there is nobody shouting for them. There are these cuts, but investigations suggest that no one on the administrative and back-up side has been sacked. I say that with some hesitation, in case I am inundated tomorrow with letters from people who have been sacked. As far as one can tell, there has been resettlement, retirement, golden handshakes, and so on, and the only people who are to be made redundant in Scotland are the musicians of the SSO.

Did the BBC in Scotland really have the alternative of "across-the-board cuts", as they have been described? The BBC says "No". It says that it was impossible, because of the high proportion of its total expenditure that goes on overheads—buildings and equipment—which cannot be reduced.

I do not think that that case stands up. The percentage breakdown of the BBC's annual operating costs in Scotland shows that total staff expenditure amounts to 70 per cent. The BBC presented the Select Committee with a great deal of factual and statistical evidence. I take the view that when I receive a lot of statistics from an official body the most interesting statistics are likely to be in the table that is in the smallest print. So it proved with these statistics, for in the smallest print of all were the statistics for staff numbers in the BBC in Scotland.

The statistics showed that over the period of the early 1970s—1973, 1974 and 1975—the BBC employed between 900 and 950 people in Scotland. It now employs over 1,200 people in Scotland. So it is not possible for the BBC in Scotland to argue that the organisation is terribly constrained, that it has been cut back and cut back, and that it had no alternative. The argument does not stand up.

I entirely accept that all these new people have been doing useful work. I am not suggesting that they are wasteful or under-utilised. The BBC, of course, has been doing new and additional things in Scotland. We have Radio Scotland, which has expanded its coverage—losing its audience at the same time. I do not want to attack the output of Radio Scotland. I think that the original marketing decision was probably the wrong one and that the audience has gone either to Radio 4 or to the commercial station. Perhaps the audience for the type of programme that Radio Scotland is broadcasting does not exist in substantial numbers.

The essential point is that there have been these extra things that the BBC has been doing over the last few years in Scotland, and there is no attempt to see whther they could be cut. There has been no attempt positively to evaluate the prospects for broad across-the-board cuts. There was certainly no consultation with staff to ask whether the staff could perhaps put up useful proposals for economics in other areas.

One comes back to the fundamental truth that the BBC is obsessed with a ratings war with commercial television and radio. In Scottish terms, many people have used the need for economies as an excuse to cut the SSO. That decision has appalled Scotland. People still do not believe that it will happen. It is getting very late, but let us hope that the debate will have a positive effect and that the worst will not happen.

12 noon

I start with what I hope will not be seen as too pompous a disclaimer. As the House will have recognised from the speech by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart), the Select Committee on Scottish affairs took evidence from Mr. Ian Trethowan and other senior people in the BBC about the effects of the cuts in Scotland. That was an information-gathering exercise, The Committee did not reach any formal conclusion. However, what I am about to say may represent the views of many of those on the Committee. The fact that I am the chairman of the Select Committee does not mean that I am speaking formally on behalf of the Committee. I speak only for myself.

In my view, there is widespread dismay and considerable disquiet about the basis of the decision to disband the Scottish Symphony Orchestra in the BBC's planning. That orchestra has long been an integral part of the musical scene in Scotland. It is one of only two full-time symphony orchestras. Its removal, by any stretch of the imagination, will leave a substantial gap in the musical life of the country. It will kill off 69 jobs. That cannot be done without causing a considerable blow to the range and depth of musical activity in Scotland.

Apart from the direct loss of jobs, there will be a multiplier effect which has been well-documented in the Select Committee's evidence and in the debate in Scotland. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra, because it was a house orchestra with perhaps not the same financial constraints as other orchestras, was able to air new Scottish works which no other orchestra in Scotland was able to do. It was a training ground for some extremely distinguished conductors. That perhaps underlines the importance and value of the orchestra. James Loughran, Alex Gibson, Colin Davis and Simon Rattle are names which immediately spring to mind.

The removal of this orchestra will have a considerable impact on the teaching of music in schools. Anyone who has read the written evidence submitted to the Select Committee by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama will see how serious the loss will be because, in terms of its teaching effort, particularly in the woodwind and percusion section, it was dependent on people with full-time jobs with the SSO.

I have lived most of my life in the West of Scotland and I think that that area particularly will suffer. The orchestra was based in Glasgow. In Scotland there is an East-West split just as there is a North-South split in Great Britain as a whole. The cultural life of Scotland will be hit and impoverished by the disbandment of the SSO. It is not just 69 redundancies. We have a new surge of redundancies in the West of Scotland and a 69-job loss will be accorded merely half an inch in the local press. The qualitative effect of these specialist jobs will be sadly missed in the area.

Pat Ramsay, the controller of BBC Scotland, in reply to a question from a member of the Select Committee, managed to make the masterly understatement:
"It is certainly very difficult to replace an orchestra once it has gone."
I believe that if the BBC does the deed, Mr. Ramsay, on that at least, will be proved right. It will be very hard to fill the gap or to put the pieces together again. I think that would be common ground among all Members of Parliament representing Scottish seats, irrespective of party.

I am not insensitive to the difficulties of the BBC. I know that it got £34 for the colour licence fee when it wanted £41 and that it is frozen for two years. I think that the BBC will face a considerable crisis even if it gets the cuts that it wants. The BBC has said that it has to find £130 million immediately in cuts. That figure is based on an inflation rate of 16½ per cent. from April 1980 and 12½ per cent. from April 1981. I make no particular political point, for this may be true whatever Government are in power, but it is irrefutable that there is no hope of those inflation figures being reached in the immediate future. The BBC will have to hack again and hack hard at what remains after the present round of cuts.

One of the interesting by-products of the evidence given to the Select Committee was the interchange between the Committee and Mr. Pat Ramsay in which he made it clear that, if the BBC had its calculations marginally wrong and had to find another £10 million or £12 million in cuts immediately, he had an understanding, which he could make stick, that the cuts would fall not in Scotland but in London. There were slightly choked gasps from some of his colleagues when he said that, but it is on the record. We in Scotland have noted that very carefully. Most of us suspect that that further adjustment—a nice euphemism—cannot be far behind in terms of BBC policy.

The Minister said that there had not been much protest in the debate about the level of the licence fee. I made the point in an intervention, and I repeat it, that we are trying to talk constructively about alternative methods of funding given the difficulties of the licence fee machinery and the political pressures involved. But for all that, as I have some critical comments to make of the BBC, I believe that we cannot run a service of the kind that I demand and expect from the BBC on the present financial base.

This morning I bought The Times for 20p and paid 16p for a cup of coffee in the House of Commons Cafeteria. When I think that my colour television licence fee costs probably 9p or 10p a day, I regard it as not just a good buy but an extremely cheap buy. However cynical and jaundiced I may be about BBC output, I get more enjoyment from it than I get from the average cup of coffee in the House of Commons Cafeteria.

It has been suggested to me on a number of occasions that we should go for an index-linked licence fee. I do not favour that. Index-linking is a dangerous mechanism to build into our economic system. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) and others that we should look towards a buffer body on the pattern of the University Grants Committee to protect the independence of the BBC which is already heavily challenged by escalating inflation and the constant political hassle which is coming from its inadequate financial base. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said, if we funded the BBC from general taxation across the board, we would take away many of the distorting pressures which encourage hon. Members on both sides of the House to be parsimonious with the BBC's financing. We must do something about that in the long term.

I turn now to what we must do in the short term about the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the present round of cuts. My appeal, even at this eleventh hour, is that the BBC should look again at its priorities. The cut in Scotland was 7 per cent. across the board. Like the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East I do not accept that it is impossible to do it across the board. The BBC, in its memorandum to the Select Committee, suggested that was
"to betray a misunderstanding of how broadcasting works."
That is a misunderstanding shared by many people who are professionally involved in broadcasting. I do not believe that it is a misunderstanding at all. It would be better to ask for contributions from every Department than to amputate in one area alone. I notice that Mr. Ramsay said that it was better to take off a couple of fingers than an eighth of an inch of skin all round. That may very well be. It is an unpleasant metaphor. However, it is special pleading. The lingering doubt in all Scottish Members' minds is that it wanted to lop off those fingers and it was not through necessity.

I do not take the view that it is an easy equation—for example, if we eliminated the duplication of sports programmes, got rid of Radio Scotland, which has only 6 per cent. of the radio audience and which costs £4 million a year to run, or did not buy "The Sound of Music" for £2 million, it would not be necessary to make these other cuts. I give my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central the admirable news that, according to the evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish affairs, he has only eight, not 10, other outings for Maria across the hills. It is perhaps a rather depressing spectacle, but it is slightly better than he thought.

I accept that these are things that it is easy to say could have happened. It is probably much more complicated. But for all that, I believe that we could find the money on a much more equitable basis. We are left with the unfortunate feeling that came from the Select Committee evidence and the Minister's speech: that the BBC management positively wanted to get rid of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and that it was not financial stringency at all; that that was the cover, the excuse, but it was not the root cause.

I want very briefly to make my protest against the kind of arguments which have come through again and again in the BBC's statements, which are arguments about centres of excellence, and centres which should be localised within the headquarters in London. The point was very well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton when he said that this is a deeply mistaken policy which will lead to distortion and ultimately the inability to maintain standards. I know that the BBC does not like being in the patronage game. It has made that very clear. It wants to see itself as a television and radio production company simpliciter. But I believe that that is a betrayal and a departure from well-established BBC practices that would be a tragedy.

I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton that the kind of argument which is put, perhaps, in the phrase "They are not a very good band, anyway", when referring to the SSO, is an entirely false argument to use in the present context.

It may well be that we are being over sensitive, but in the Select Committee on Scottsh Affairs, when I, as it happened, asked Mr. Ramsay whether, if he suddenly was given the £600,000 back—he is, after all, the controller of BBC Scotland—he would save the SSO, we got the following remarkable answer:
"That is a very interesting thought. I would want at least a week's notice of that question, because to save the Symphony Orchestra would be one's initial immediate and pleasing reaction, but I cannot say whether, because I have not looked at the options, in fact if somebody said 'Here is £600,000', I would spend it on a very expensive way of providing music."
It may be an expensive way of providing music if one takes the very narrow, selfish, commercial criterion. But given the broader, wider charter commitment of the BBC and considering the cultural needs of an area such as Scotland, which the SSO serves, I believe that that £600,000 should have been found and devoted to saving this orchestra.

So the first answer is that the BBC ought to reconsider even now. If it will not do so, the second best—but it is a long way behind—is that it ought to give time and ought to be a great deal more generous to those who are attempting to find alternative funding. Many energetic efforts are being made in relation to the banks and the oil companies. There is a lot of money at present in the Scottish economy in certain sectors. Possibly the Government, having specifically rejected a windfall profits tax in their last Budget Statement, could allow us to have some small cultural contribution from those who have been spared that particular impost.

If the BBC were to give a bit more, particularly time, to see whether that is practicable, that, at least, would be some contribution. But the best is that the SSO should remain in-house, remain an orchestra in the BBC livery, doing its best to maintain the extraordinarily valuable teaching and cultural service that it provides throughout Scotland. The unthinkable would be for it to disappear now and, therefore, as the BBC concedes, for ever, because that would be a betrayal of everything that the BBC ought to be trying to maintain in terms of its own history. The charter commitment is to have full regard for the culture, language and interests of Scotland. Dr. Roger Young, the chairman of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland, a full governor of the BBC, said to the Select Committee:
"We are doing some damage to that broad commitment by disbanding the Scottish Symphony Orchestra."
Of course he is, and that is cheeseparing that I believe that we cannot afford.

It is perhaps a small retreat, but it is a retreat from the high standards of the past, and once one starts to retreat, where does one end up? It seems to me that we could end up with the BBC being just another production company dominated by audience ratings and commercial judgments. That would be a very tragic situation. It would be a signficant defeat for the whole concept of public service broadcasting and for the BBC's wider social and cultural role.

I believe that the BBC is not prepared to think again. By persisting in its attitude it will damage the musical life of Scotland severely and permanently. But, more importantly from the BBC's point of view, it will damage itself.

12.14 pm

I think that it is right that this debate has now taken on a strong Scottish flavour. In following my fellow members of the Select Committee on Scottish affairs—my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar)—I hope that the House will allow me to concentrate, most of my remarks on the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, because, of course, it is incomparably a major victim of the cuts, both in numbers and in musical importance. But, I hope, too, that my remarks will have some general application.

I am conscious that the BBC has no right of reply in this Chamber, although it has had an admirable advocate in my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. I am conscious, too, that the House does not have the right—rightly so, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out—to interfere in the day-to-day running of the BBC. But we have a right and, indeed, a duty to comment freely when we see what we perceive to be an error in an important field of public concern. If in doing that I find myself criticising the BBC, I should like to register a degree of apology in advance and place on record my conviction that what the BBC does well it does superbly, and that certainly includes the making of music. It is a case of "When they are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad they are sometimes horrid".

I also join the hon. Member for Garscadden in paying tribute to the BBC's willingness to send facts and figures to the Select Committee on Scottish affairs in April, and to the frankness and helpfulness of its answers when its representatives came to see us with their director-general, Ian Trethowan. I am delighted to see that he has subsequently been knighted for his efforts.

I take as my text a quotation from Mr. Aubrey Singer, in a speech delivered in Monte Carlo last June, in which he said:
"The whole point about public service broadcasting, indeed perhaps the whole 'raison d'etre' for its survival is that it is in the game of nurture—more than it is in the game of exploitation".
If the BBC means nurture rather than exploitation, I suggest that it has a strong moral obligation to provide noncommercial programmes. I suggest that this is far more important than pursuing commercial radio and television down the alleys of pop music, expensive films and American soap operas, and trying to match every local commercial radio station around the country.

Of course, the corollary to this moral obligation to provide non-commercial programmes is that the BBC does not have to cope with all the problems of advertising, and few of us would wish it were the other way round. But perhaps sponsorship of orchestras is another matter, and something that we might consider. On a roll-over four-year or five-year basis, the sponsorship of orchestras or even of music festivals and concerts must be a negotiable possibility at the very least to lighten the burden of the costs of orchestras. If an oil company is willing to sponsor the Scottish National Orchestra, why could not the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra find a sponsor or a number of sponsors among the banks, oil companies and insurance companies?

Sponsorship seems to me to be a legitimate and acceptable course of action, which could ensure survival on a long-term basis and not just on a year-to-year basis.

The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), to whom I pay tribute for initiating this debate, quoted a number of very telling newspaper editorials. I would add just one to his list—the editorial comment from the magazine Life and Work. That magazine commented on its "sense of outrage" about the attempt to kill the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It said:
"The BBC has proposed a mistake as catastrophic and insensitive as the one which tried to foist pop and bingo on its most loyal listeners."
I should like to comment on the licence fee because I feel that the BBC's claim that it suddenly faces a problem that can be cured only by dramatic surgery, because of Government intransigence over the licence fee, just does not bear close examination. Perhaps, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, the licence fee is too low at just over 9p a day. Certainly the BBC should be given the stable financial environment in which to lay its long-term plans. I am glad to know that it is trying to negotiate a four-year rolling expenditure agreement.

I sympathise, too, with the BBC's claim that help is always too little and too late, but the fact is that the licence fee has risen by 60 per cent. in less than three years. It has almost trebled in six years. Last autumn the Home Secretary gave the BBC a clear two-year commitment within which to plan. Moreover, the buoyancy of the BBC's income is still greater than that, because the sale of colour licences has risen from 10 million in 1977 to nearly 13 million this year. It is estimated to rise to 14½ million by 1982. The BBC's income has doubled in the last five years, and its claim of "virtually static income" is manifestly false.

In the BBC statement of 10 June Mr. Aubrey Singer said that radio drama, talks, and so on had been cut by 10 per cent. or more and that the BBC could not make an exception for music. I accept that, and I also accept that there may be some truth in the statement of Mr. Patrick Ramsay to the effect that making cuts across the board is too facile an approach to something as complex as broadcasting. I have reservations about that, as have other hon. Members who have spoken.

I cannot accept that it is fair or reasonable that music, which provides 58 per cent. of all radio air time, should bear such heavy cuts when so relatively few people are employed in it. A user of that much air time, should be a provider of jobs and not the main jobs victim. While 69·1 per cent. of total costs, in Scottish terms, is accounted for by staff —staff have increased by 20 per cent. in the last two years and by 30 per cent. in the last 7 years—orchestras account for only 5·5 per cent. of operating costs. Yet the orchestras are being asked to bear 38 per cent. of the planned economies. The Scottish Symphony Orchestra, costing 3·5p of every licence fee, is to be destroyed. It is quite remarkable that it should come to that.

The Glasgow Herald made a telling comment when it pointed out that orchestras have survived wars. That point was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert). I cannot comprehend how the BBC, that great public corporation with a great tradition and record of public service, can contemplate such an act as wiping out an orchestra that it has nurtured and built up over 40 years.

The BBC spend over £25 million in expenses each year collecting licence fees. That is five times the figure for 10 years ago. If the BBC could achieve a 10 per cent. saving there it could solve the entire orchestral problem five times over. By sacking one-third of the musicians employed the BBC will make a net saving of only £500,000 out of total savings of £132 million. It will then employ only 50 more musicians than Dutch Radio, and one-third of the musicians employed by the Federal Republic of Germany.

Unlike my hon. Friends the Members for Romford and for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), I would be the first to disclaim any musical prowess, but I avow an abiding love of, and solace from, music. I played in a school orchestra. I was a bad flautist in what was, in school orchestra terms, a good orchestra. I think that I can claim to understand something of the extra dimension that being part of an orchestra can mean to musicians. There is an extra challenge, an extra insight and an extra creative stimulus generated in live performance.

That is of benefit not just to musicians. Through them it radiates to listeners and to musical life in general. I believe that we have a greater love and understanding of great orchestral works if we have played them. That understanding communicates itself to others in discussion and in listened-to music.

The effect of the BBC measures is not just on its own orchestral structure but on the entire musical profession, and upon music itself. As mixing metaphors is, perhaps, in fashion in the debate, I suggest that the ripples in the cultural pond caused by this bombshell will be of almost tidal proportions.

It is not just the symphony orchestra that will be affected. The smaller ensembles, groups, choral societies, music clubs, teaching, and the composition of music —constituting the sheet anchor of employment in a symphony orchestra—which have been allowed to flourish alongside—the symphony orchestra, will now be jeopardised economically and culturally.

The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama employs about 17 members of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra on a part-time teaching basis. Those teachers give almost 90 hours' individual tuition each week of the term. Their work covers 13 instruments and represents a substantial proportion of the total teaching capacity of the academy. Without the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the teaching that it allows, it would not be possible to field a full academy orchestra. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is the only college in Scotland where such training is available.

Another important feature of the full-time training that takes place there is the opportunity for advanced students to deputise in the SSO. That is in an invaluable stepping stone into the profession and is offered by no other orchestra or college on the same scale. The suggestion is whispered behind cupped hands that the SSO is not as good as it might be. If that is so, why have such distinguished conductors as Loughran, Davis, Rattle and others been willing to conduct the orchestra? Why three months before the cuts were announced was there a plan to expand the SSO?

An orchestra is a living, organic thing. It is something that evolves. Of course, it has its ups and downs. That very vitality and variability is what gives stimulus to the performance of music. If the SSO is not currently at its best—and that is unproven—surely that is a challenge and not an excuse for annihialation. If the standard is bad, why in recent years have 120 hours of broadcasts by the SSO been heard on Radio 3 compared with only 50 hours on Radio Scotland? Does that tie in with the claim that demand for the orchestra's work has declined?

Maurice Lindsay, a distinguished commentator on the arts in Scotland, has pointed out that during 1979 the SSO broadcast almost 50 new, or newish, British works. About a dozen of those were by Scottish composers. The chances of a London-based orchestra giving a first performance of a new Scottish work are almost non-existent. Thus, the disappearance of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is likely to make it virtually impossible for a young Scottish composer to hear his own music. The ripples are, as I have said, of almost tidal proportions.

Alternative sources of funding have been suggested. I do not propose to travel down that avenue, but I am tempted to comment on Radio Scotland. which employs between 60 and 70 people, at a cost of around £4 million a year and is now pleased that its listening figures have risen by 6 per cent.

Even in the musical context there must be options such as mergers, phased redundancies, negotiations with the unions, and natural wastage. Those options must be able to apply across the full spectrum of the orchestras. I believe that there is a possibility of longer-term co-financing arrangements under the heading of sponsorship.

The orchestra could perhaps cut out some unprofitable public concerts and, perhaps, abandon some of the larger orchestral works, which might enable the orchestra to be reduced slightly. The BBC may have awakened to the ill-conceived nature of its plans with its halfhearted talk of a new, smaller, independent sinfonia orchestra. That suggestion has all the worst features of compromise without any redeeming features.

The secretary of the Musicians Union has pointed out that the introduction of a new orchestra at the present time will undermine fund-raising at all levels for the performing arts. He said that if the BBC has its way not only shall we lose a broadcasting orchestra; we shall face a situation in which existing orchestras would be placed under threat through lack of finance. Already the Scottish Arts Council contributes more than 40 per cent. of its annual budget to orchestras. The Secretary of the Musicians Union says:
"The Scottish Symphony Orchestra has a distinct role to play in the development of Scottish music; its international reputation has been built up over many years. To force that Orchestra under a new name into the market place is to ensure that the Orchestra will be forced to abandon its hard-won identity and reputation for an adventurous musical policy. Without clear identity, and short of funds, the Orchestra would quickly be the object of attack from all sides."
Against that background it is tragic that the BBC should have allowed itself to get into a situation in which it could even contemplate the irretrievable selfmutilation involved in destroying a great orchestra. To do that would be to demolish a cornerstone of cultural life in Scotland. Even at this late hour, I say to the BBC "You have got it terribly wrong. Think again while there is still time."

12.29 pm

The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) owned to being a bad flautist. I own to be a bad clarinetist. Perhaps there is scope for a parliamentary orchestra, but unfortunately, like some of our debates, its performances might be a little conflicting.

The debate has been characterised by a remarkable degree of unanimity. I shall not repeat the arguments. I shall make one point and a general comment in a brief speech. There is a tremendous resurgence of interest in music in our education system. Conservatories and colleges of music, many of them concentrated in London and others throughout the country, have students of a high quality. A year ago at Goldsmiths College, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), the National Centre for Orchestral Studies was established. Most of its work is undertaken in my constituency. The students at the centre have already attended a conservatoire or college of music and predominantly they come from Britain.

Last Tuesday I went to a concert by that institution, as part of the Greenwich Festival. I was astonished by the incredibly high standard of playing. I heard that a leading conductor who had conducted the orchestra, which comprises youngsters in their late teens and early twenties, regarded it as a first-class orchestra with players of international standard. That is no surprise.

Some months ago I went to a concert given by a European youth orchestra. I was told that one of the difficulties of having a European orchestra for young people is that the British players are so good that they tend to overwhelm players from other countries. I have not checked on the truth of that. However, it is incontrovertible that the standard of talent and skill in the younger generation is unrivalled by anything that we have possessed in the past.

Students who have had full musical training and have taken the course provided by the National Centre for Orchestral Studies will have difficulty in getting jobs, whatever the BBC does. If the BBC goes ahead with its proposals we shall turn our backs on a tremendous standard of achievement at a time when we are able to take full advantage of it.

Britain is already a centre of musical excellence. We have every opportunity to become an even greater centre of musical excellence. It would be a tragedy if the BBC were to go ahead with its proposals which will deprive young people who want a musical career of stable employment.

I understand from the Musicians Union that, excluding principals, about 90 per cent. of the musicians in the BBC's orchestras in the provinces depend on salaries paid by the BBC. In London the figure is about 85 per cent. That indicates that the amount of freelance work available is limited. The great attraction of a job with a BBC orchestra is that it provides stable employment, the opportunity of contributing to a pension scheme, pay during sickness, and holidays with pay.

I was speaking to a musician last night. Musicians usually live on the knife-edge that can result in disaster when sickness strikes. They have little chance of earning pension rights. We have all encountered people who engage in an aspect of the arts but fall on evil times in their old age. I emphasise the extraordinary measure of damage that is likely to result from the proposals. I hope that the governors and senior staff of the BBC are made conscious of that as a result of the debate.

Whatever we might say about the licence fee or the financing of broadcasting there is no question but that the proposals constitute a shift of policy by the governors and policy-makers in the BBC. I remember hearing of someone travelling in France who discovered a hotel called "Hotel of the Immaculate Conception, and Commercial". That sums up what is happening—the immaculate conception from the days of Lord Reith but now a BBC which thinks that it must enter the commercial sphere and attempt to compete with commercial television and radio.

It is wrong to attempt to do that. It is a denial of the BBC's traditions. It is a denial of its reputation in Britain and all over the world for artistic and musical excellence. The BBC is such a valuable institution that, although we should have proper regard for its independence, it would be wrong for the House not to express its views forcibly.

12.38 pm

I shall be brief. I have no wish to come between the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and his exquisite light lunch. I have no wish to come between myself and my own exquisite light lunch. This has been a well orchestrated debate. Amid the pipes and drums, which at times have been deafening. we have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Warley, East, who is well known as a wind instrument, and also the speech of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee), who is, essentially, a string. I have no real idea which instrument I shall play, but I promise to play it briefly.

The debate must start from the assertion that there has been a failure on the part of this Government, just as there was a failure on the part of the previous Government, to allow the BBC a reasonable licence fee. The Home Secretaries of the day are the villains of the piece, although they are among the nicest men in the House of Commons. They were unable, however, to persuade their colleagues in the Cabinet to a particular line of policy.

The fact is that the BBC is short of money. Over a period of increasing inflation, the situation will become more serious. It must find £130 million in savings straight away, with the clear implication that this will be only the first cut and that it will have to look for more.

The BBC proposes to save £500,000 all told on the cost of musicians. This will reduce the amount spent on music from £6·5 million to £6 million. Put another way, 8 per cent. of the overall savings will be made on music. That is £500,000 out of the £130 million that the BBC is obliged to find. Translated into human terms, this means a loss, in the first instance, of 170 jobs out of 1,200 musicians employed by the BBC. To put that figure into perspective, the saving in education that the BBC is obliged to make is 10 per cent. and the saving in drama 18 per cent.

Of the 170 musicians, there are 20 vacancies and 30 musicians who are old enough to retire. That leaves 120, who will be drawn in the main, from the radio orchestras; the BBC has also announced that £1 million will be made available over the next two years, in freelance income for the very musicians who, until now, have been employed full time by the BBC. If all these changes are instituted, there will be 2 per cent. less live music than today. Money will be put aside by the BBC for the Northern Ireland Symphony Orchestra for some form of rescue operation. That is equally true in the case of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

It is a sad and sorry business that the BBC has no choice but to make these economies. In an ideal world the BBC and ITV should enjoy an income that is roughly equal.

My hon. Friend says that the BBC has no choice. Surely the BBC has the choice, as many hon. Members have stated, of cutting local radio or Radio 1. There is very limited demand for the BBC to carry out local radio. It is done perfectly well by commercial bodies.

I was just about to move on to that point. If the BBC is to survive as a national organisation, it has to compete right across the range of broadcasting. There can be no doubt about that. The question is then posed "Why?". The answer is that, for as long as the BBC relies on licence-fee income, it has to attract at least 45 to 50 per cent. of the viewing and listening audience. Once the figure falls below 50 per cent.—to 45 per cent—no one will wish to pay the licence fee and the whole basis for financing the BBC will come unstuck. The BBC is, therefore, obliged to act as a rival to commercial television and to maximise its audience.

Is my hon. Friend serious? Is he suggesting that if the BBC's share of the audience fell to 42 per cent. no one would pay the licence fee and the fee would become impossible?

My hon. Friend is being very Scots. If the figure of viewers that the BBC could claim fell below a certain figure—it is hard to be specific, but say below 40 per cent—the argument against the licence fee as a means of financing the BBC would become overwhelmingly strong. The BBC is, therefore, obliged at least to aim for half the viewership and more than half the listenership if one wants the licence fee to continue, which is of course another and separate point. There are obviously alternatives.

I assert again that the BBC and the ITV should enjoy incomes that are roughly the same if they are to continue on equal terms. At the moment, the ITV is able to raise its prices through the price of its commercials and to do so freely. The BBC is stopped from doing precisely that, because Home Secretaries of the day, anxious to prove their virility, are prepared to make an example of the BBC, whereas on other occasions, they are not prepared to do so.

Sir Ian Trethowan is making a new approach to the Home Secretary to see whether the Government would consider the establishment of a new body—three wise men, for example—to examine the finances and structure of the BBC and to report at intervals on what the licence fee ought to be. That would help the Home Secretary in part, because it would remove from him the immediate agony of having to take the decision.

The history of such "three wise men" bodies in the past has not been a very auspicious one. As Members of Parliament, we can all think of Lord Boyle. None the less, there at least ought to be an attempt to introduce into the debate some sort of mechanism which would make the task of any Government marginally easier. For example, in the Federal Republic, there is a commission of 12 men, who every so often decide what the German licence fee should be. That figure is announced and the German Government immediately accept it.

These are all steps which in the long term might ease the problems of the BBC. Were that to happen, all the short-term agonies of how much money might be saved by orchestras and by any other means would be avoided.

12.56 pm

I hope that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) will forgive me if I do not take up his arguments except to say that I agree very much with what he said.

About five years ago I was approached by Mr. John Morton, the general Secretary of the Musicians Union, and Mr. John Patrick, the chairman of the MU, who, following the sad death of our late colleague, Brian O'Malley—who was their sponsored Member at the time—requested that I should act in a strictly honorary capacity as their representative in this House. Although, unlike many hon. Members, I can claim no musical talents or ability, I have for the past five years met those two gentlemen fairly frequently. During my talks with them and their executive, I have been struck by the diverse nature, and politics for that matter, of musicians in general.

One can find on the Musicians Union executive a postman from the North of of England who plays music principally for pleasure but also for personal gain in a strictly part-time capacity, sitting next to a member of the executive who plays full-time for one of our principal orchestras. An ultimatum such as the one that the BBC has issued, to unite people as diverse as that, says a great deal about the incompetent way in which the BBC has dealt with this whole matter.

I am not anti-BBC. On the rare occasions on which the crazy hours that we work in this place enable me to watch television, I first look at the programmes on the two BBC channels, and only if there is nothing on there do I turn to see what is on the commercial side. The same applies to radio. In my constituency, which adjoins that of my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), there is a unique situation for the provinces in that, at least theoretically, there are two competing commercial radio stations. I do not know of anywhere else outside of London where that is true. We also have BBC Radio Birmingham, which the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and, to a certain extent, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) feel is somewhat inappropriate.

The hon. Member for Twickenham was adamant in his view that there was no place for the BBC in local radio—a point of view that I respect but with which I disagree. The fact is that the two supposedly competing commercial radio stations, covering the borough of Sandwell, which embraces the constituencies of my hon. Friend and myself, play exactly the same sort of music. By and large, they play the top 50 records, interspersed with the jingles that can be heard nation-wide on any commercial radio station. There are normally disc jockeys whose accents are more Baltimore than Birmingham and more Wichita then Wolverhampton. These are the people that the hon. Member for Twickenham would leave alone, in full charge of the local radio airways.

On BBC Radio Birmingham one hears orchestras such as the Midland Radio Orchestra—soon to be disbanded, if these proposals go ahead—and interviews with minor and not very important people, such as Members of Parliament and leaders of voluntary organisations. One hears these things infrequently, if at all, on commercial radio.

The hon. Member for Twickenham and those who support him presumably feel that it is sufficient to abolish BBC local radio and leave the field clear for commercial stations that are not remotely local in the nature and concept of their programmes. For the reasons that I have given, I disagree.

The Minister of State made a predictably robust defence of the BBC. I think that someone once called the Foreign Office a "nest of vipers". No one would use that description of the Home Office, since vipers occasionally hiss and show signs of life.

The Home Office view is that senior, if not junior, civil servants should be issued with a very dead bat, perhaps passed on by Mr. Geoffrey Boycott, or even Mr. Trevor Bailey in his heyday, and instructed to play it on each occasion. Home Office Ministers, regardless of political hue, make the same speech on every issue. They support the Establishment and say that there can be no justification for any change. The hon. and learned Gentleman has done it more eloquently than most, but his defence of the Establishment and his vote for no change were much the same as those of any of his predecessors.

Is not my hon. Friend being a little unfair to the vitality of the Home Office? Is he not aware that while the Minister was speaking representatives of another arm of the Home Office—the Metropolitan Police—were in a boat on the river, silencing some of the only decent music that we have heard from the Terrace in recent years?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the ingenuity with which he got that comment in.

I do not believe that this dispute, if dispute it is, has been correctly outlined by the Minister of State. The BBC management has wilfully and deliberately abrogated an agreement that it freely entered into just over a year ago. The management was reminded by the Musicians Union representative at a discussion earlier this month that it is only just over a year since union and management agreed that expenditure on musical employment could be reduced by £240,000, provided that agreement could be reached. That does not sound like the militancy that the Minister implied was behind the union case. He did not use that word, but that was his implication.

The same agreement, freely entered into by both sides, also allowed the BBC to negotiate the number of staff orchestra posts. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said so eloquently, it is a strange way of negotiating to say "You lot are sacked; away you go." I know of no other industry in the 1980s whose management would conduct negotiations in that way.

Following the agreement, and before the cuts were announced, there were trailers from senior management in the BBC, and after the announcement of the cuts there were various inspired leaks to interested journalists, to people who it was felt might create a justifiable fuss about the proposals, that the five orchestras referred to were inflexible, outdated and non-cost-effective—a lovely expression to use about light music. Perhaps that is an indication of the Philistines at present making policy within the BBC.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it says something about the quality of the management that it can make such comments about orchestras that it has had for so many years?

It would be interesting to find out the musical qualifications and abilities of the management people who have been so outspoken about the musical qualities of professional musicians. I do not know whether any or all of them are experienced in live classical music. They have been fairly pungent about the abilities of the orchestras that they now propose to disband.

I shall not give way. I am already being reminded of the time. I appreciate that I intervened during the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I have given way twice, and I think that I should continue.

The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) quoted from Mr. Singer's eloquent speech in Monte Carlo in June 1979. The hon. Gentleman might have gone on to finish the paragraph in question:
"Our job in radio must be concerned with the employment of musicians of all kinds for what the pop industry has suffered from is the recorded sound feeding on itself."
Those are wise and accurate words. Mr. Singer went on:
"If a musician's only outlet is the recording studio, the quality of performance suffers from lack of live contact."
Again, those are wise and accurate words. What a pity that that man, who was so eloquent in Monte Carlo, is not with us today to lay down the future policy for the BBC!

The BBC's proposals have no friends outside the Home Office. They have managed to unite newspapers as editorially diverse as the Evening News, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and the Financial Times in condemnation.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have suggested various alternative areas for saving rather than on live music outlets. Far be it from me to detain the House much longer, but I believe that one can look at the people employed by the BBC on Radio 1 and Radio 2. For the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Aldershot. I do not object to the continuation of those two stations, but it seems that some of the people involved are even longer in the tooth than I am. One or two of their more highly paid disc jockeys appear to have been around since the days of the crystal set.

I do not think that the youth of this country would be particularly socially deprived by the loss of Mr. Tony Blackburn's sophisticated sense of humour on Saturday mornings, for example, or that the housewives of Britain would commit mass suicide if Mr. David Hamilton disappeared from the air waves of Radio 2. The termination of the contracts of both those gentleman—I have nothing personal against either of them—would make an even better dent in the BBC's expenditure than the sacking of many able and professional musicians.

The BBC's views on the matter have no friends anywhere, as far as I can see. The Musicians Union will continue the dispute for as long as it considers necessary, until in the view of all intelligent, humane and right-thinking people it has won a dispute that it did not seek, that it did not embark upon, and that was entirely provoked by the incompetence of the BBC management.

1 pm

I am grateful, even at this late stage, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. As the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said earlier, this matter has united the people of Scotland in a way which has been achieved before only rarely. The hon. Gentleman went on to comment on the presence of Scottish Tory Members on a Friday. He was quite correct, of course. It is unusual for the new breed of Scottish Tory Members to be here on Fridays. We happen to live in our constituencies, and we go back there at weekends, as do most Labour Members. We come here on Fridays only when the House is discussing matters of great concern. We consider this to be a matter of great concern to Scotland.

Perhaps I might also draw attention to the absence today of the representatives of the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Party. I hope that it will be noted.

This debate is about the disbandment of regional orchestras. However, it is not possible to debate that without examining very closely the BBC's recent financial difficulties and how the Corporation has handled them.

I do not wish to make any party political points. I felt that the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) was honest and very fair, and I found myself agreeing with almost all that he said. That does not happen very often. But, without making a party political point, it is right to acknowledge that the last Labour Government handled the pay rise in the Corporation very badly, and that had a great deal to do with the Corporation's problems. What is more, the position was not helped when the present Government did not give the Corporation the money that it required to meet its current proposed expenditure. That is really what has brought about this problem, and it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge our responsibility, because it lies here. It would be wrong for us to attempt to duck it.

Even if the BBC had been given enough money, we should still want to look carefully at the way it planned its expenditure. I say that with some feeling. Some years ago I was living in Birmingham at the time when the BBC was building its new Pebble Mill studios. At about the same time, ATV was building its new studios. I did some work for ATV during that period, and I remember vividly how ATV first built its studios and got the operational side going. The BBC built the administrative section first. That demonstrated more clearly than anything that I had ever seen which of them had its priorities right.

I believe that that is why we have this present problem in Scotland where we have to find savings of £2·6 million. It has been brought about by the proposals to meet the new restrictive finance. It has meant the disbandment of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. That was a pistol that was put to the head of the Scottish Council of the BBC. It had little option. We in Scotland believe that it is a wrong decision and that we shall live to regret it.

In the past 20 years there has been a revival of cultural life in Scotland, and it was founded firmly on the work of the BBC's Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which has been broadcasting for more than 40 years.

The Scottish Symphony Orchestra has a distinct role to play in the development of Scottish music. It has an international reputation and worldwide respect. To force the orchestra out of existence of to make it play under a new name in the present music market is to ensure that it will lose all that has been worked for in the past. It will lose its identity and its reputation, especially its reputation for an adventurous music policy. We in Scotland will live to regret that, because not everyone in Scotland wishes to listen to Radio Scotland's pop music or to "The Flower of Scotland" played on piano accordions.

I draw attention to the splendid example given by a corporation in my constituency. The General Accident Insurance Corporation has donated a substantial sum to help retain Scotland's orchestras. If only others would follow that example, we could perhaps find a way of saving the cultural life which we need so desperately in Scotland. Scotland desperately needs its orchestras. I recommend the BBC to review its policy, and I urge the Musicians Union to be more flexible in its attitude. I plead with the Government to look carefully at its policy for financing the BBC.

I suggest that in Scotland Radio 4 would be perfectly acceptable instead of Radio Scotland—in most cases more so. I suggest that Radio Scotland is a poor imitation of Radio Clyde and that it should leave Radio Clyde to get on with the job it can do so well. I wonder whether it was necessary for Mr. Brian Redhead and his team to make their journey to Venice, given all the costs that were involved. After all, no visual effect was obtained. It was a sound radio presentation, not a television programme. The team had to go all the way to Venice to be near the summit, but only to introduce it to enable someone else to talk about it. That is a typical example of how the BBC squanders its resources. In the current climate is it necessary to send a team to Moscow?

I plead with the BBC: "Do not deny your responsibilities. Review your priorities and save our orchestras."

1.7 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) that the debate is important and in the regret that he expressed that not more hon. Members are present. I remember that when the plans were originally announced by the BBC hundreds of hon. Members rushed to the Table Office to append their names to an early-day motion expressing their concern. The way of expressing one's concern is not by putting one's name to an early-day motion which will never be debated but by being present here today on the Floor of the House. I agree with the hon. Gentleman also that it is wrong to debate the orchestras in isolation of all the other economies to be made by the BBC.

I intervene briefly in this limited debate to attempt to elicit further information from the Minister. If he finds it impossible to give me answers today he can write to me or get in touch with sources in Northern Ireland to place on record the precise position of the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. I have serious misgivings about that even at this stage.

Those hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who referred to the orchestra seemed to accept that a rescue operation is in progress and that the jobs of those currently employed in it will be, under amalgamation, absorbed into a new Ulster symphony orchestra. I have serious doubts about that. I have a communication from the director of the BBC in Northern Ireland which somewhat contradicts that indication. He says:
"Detailed plans for a combined orchestra were drawn up several years ago but unfortunately were rejected by the Musicians' Union and never came to fruition."
In a further paragraph the director said:
"For several weeks now we have been engaged in talks about creating a new Ulster Symphony Orchestra."
I wonder with whom he is engaged in talks. Is it the previous members of the Ulster orchestra, which is under the control of the Arts Council? Is the Musicians Union involved? If it is, why was it necessary for the BBC musicians employed by the Northern Ireland orchestra, aided and abetted by their colleagues in the current affairs section, to mount a picket outside the BBC last week in protest against the disbanding of the orchestra?

Later in the letter the director said that if the talks
"are successful the orchestra would come into existence in 1981."
That is the big "if". We do not know how far the talks have gone, or who is engaged in them. Further, the director says
"We would hope that many of the 33 new posts would go to players in the BBC orchestra."
That is an insecure basis on which to hope that those musicians will be able to retain their jobs.

The director said that if everything goes well and if a new symphony orchestra is created in Northern Ireland, it will be a first-class orchestra of international reput. But it is no use having only a first-class orchestra. There must be a second, third and fourth-class orchestra, so that the young musicians can obtain all the necessary skills and talent before they take their place in the number one orchestra. I should have thought that the two existing Northern Ireland orchestras would have been more conducive to the training of young musicians.

There is much uncertainty regarding the Northern Ireland Orchestra. Even if the talks are successful, and it is agreed to set up a new symphony orchestra, it will be outside the BBC family. The BBC will have no control over it. To some extent we shall be depending on a contribution from the Gallaher tobacco company and that contribution could be withdrawn at any time.

Exactly. If there is a recession in the tobacco industry, and if many people give up smoking—from another point of view, I hope that that will happen—that company may withdraw any contribution towards the upkeep of the orchestra.

There is a good deal of uncertainty, and I should be grateful if the Minister could ease some of the suspicions and fears about the continuation of that orchestra.

1.11 pm

I should like to make a concluding comment or two very briefly indeed. There has been some expression of sympathy for the BBC in its funding problems, and not inconsiderable animadversion on the parsimony of successive Governments. But what has really been very significant this morning is that a near unanimity of view has been expressed across the House, both of disapproval and distress at the BBC's intentions to dismantle its regional orchestras. The message has come across loud and clear that the BBC should, and must, reconsider its proposals. We can only hope that someone up there at the top of Broadcasting House has his earphones on, and is listening.

South Africa (United Kingdom Companies)

1.12 pm

We now move to another subject of debate.

Recent events in South Africa have brought home dramatically to us all the state of tension in that troubled country, and they have reminded us once again of the resistance that is bound to be made to the wicked policy of apartheid. Today, the Opposition seek to debate the question of the conduct of the Government in relation to their obligation to implement the EEC Code of Conduct for Companies with Interests in South Africa, and to consider the conduct of the Secretary of State for Trade in that respect.

The Code of Conduct to which I refer was approved by the Governments of the Nine on 20 September 1977, and it is set out in annex 1 of Cmnd. 7233, in which the previous Government asked British companies to adopt and adhere to its provisions, and instituted a system of reporting by these companies to the Department of Trade. The Code of Conduct represented an important step forward in joint action by EEC countries to influence their companies to improve their treatment of their employees in South Africa, particularly their black South African employees. Its seven basic provisions covered trade union organisation and recognition, the problem of migrant labour, pay, wage structures and black African advancement, obligations to families, desegregation at places of work, and reports on how the code was being implemented.

The EEC code replaced a United Kingdom code which was largely the result of the unanimous report of a Select Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers), which reported in 1974. The United Kingdom code was a valuable initiative, but clearly joint action by the Community was preferable.

Under the EEC code the Government have clear and unmistakable obligations. I assert that the Government—and in particular the Secretary of State for Trade—have not carried them out properly. I also accuse the right hon.

Gentleman of attempting to mislead Parliament and the public into believing that in the action he has taken he acted no differently from the previous Government.

The system of reporting under the code is crucial, and it is the obligation of the Government to seek reports from British companies. That is dealt with in paragraph 7 of the code on page 6 of the Command Paper. I draw attention in particular to this obligation which rests on the Government:
"The Governments of the Nine will review annually progress made in implementing this code."
Let me compare the record of the previous Government with that of the present Government in implementing the obligation entered into with regard to the code. On 15 February 1979, when I was Secretary of State for Trade, I published in Hansard a very long written answer which set out an analysis of the reports made to the Department of Trade by British companies and evaluated the progress—and, indeed, the lack of it—being made in each of the categories of conduct to which the code referred. I took the opportunity to make clear the Government's own view of where progress had been inadequate and where more action was required.

In annex F to my reply I listed the names of companies which, in our opinion, were paying black African employees below the lower datum level. I should explain that this level was a criterion set out in the code relating to a minimum wage of at least 50 per cent. above the minimum level required to satisfy the basic needs of an employee and his family.

The previous Government did more than simply collect information from British companies. They evaluated the information which they received, using their own sources to check the accuracy of some of the information supplied by the companies, and published the names of those they did not believe were paying wages at the level set out in the code.

I took this action not only because I believed that it was the proper thing to do; I also believed that it was necessary to do so in order to comply with the obligations that the Government had entered into in acceding to the code, that is to say, to review annually the progress being made in implementing it. How it is possible to review progress without evaluating it I do not understand.

What have the present Government done about the same code and the same obligation? First, there has been no parliamentary answer on the lines that I gave, despite repeated attempts by my hon. Friends to elicit one. Such an important matter should be the subject of a serious report to Parliament on the lines that I sought—apparently vainly—to institute.

Secondly, there has been no serious evaluation by the present Government of the information tendered to them by British companies. They have certainly asked for information in terms of the code and they have, of course, received reports from companies. I am pleased to note that marginally more companies responded this year than last year, which shows, I think, that the previous publicity was perhaps beneficial.

The Government have placed these reports in the Library of the House and produced a cursory analysis of them which does little more than categorise the replies by number. From the point of view of Parliament, the public and the press, this method of dealing with the matter is clearly unsatisfactory. Instead of a parliamentary answer which analyses the position in detail, we are merely offered a large amount of undigested material in which the inquirer has to quarry. It would take him several weeks of looking at the material in the Library to do that successfully.

Most crucially—this is the crux of our argument today— there is no attempt by the Government or by the Secretary of State to review progress, as is their obligation under the Community's code of conduct, by seeking to establish which companies are not adhering to the code. particularly in respect of wages. The whole point of the code and of the reports made under it is to seek to influence the behaviour of companies by the force of public opinion and media publicity. If companies are not adhering to the code, their failure to do so should be revealed clearly and publicly by the British Government so that they may be persuaded to improve.

The Government have at their disposal, as I know from my previous experience, information about British companies which they can use in conjunction with what they report to evaluate the progress that they are making. For example, we have the services of our embassy in South Africa. In cases where the previous Labour Government had queries about the figures supplied, those doubts were put to the companies concerned so that their replies could be obtained before any of the information, such as that in my answer last year, was made public. Incidentally, I note that the greater response this year, in terms of the reports made by companies, indicates that our practice of monitoring does not appear to have had any deterrent effect. Indeed, the opposite is perhaps the case.

I note also from specimen letters, which the Secretary of State lodged in the Library, that on 25 March 1980 letters were sent by the Department to 25 companies which had so far failed to report. Those letters included the phrase:
"A parliamentary statement … may be made."
Therefore, they were replying on the basis that there would be a statement such as had been made the year before. Until then it looked as though the Department at least was contemplating suggesting to the Secretary of State that a statement should be made on the lines that I had made. I wonder what stopped it.

The Secretary of State says that he stopped it. Now we know where the responsibility lies. A process that was under way was stopped by the personal intervention of the Secretary of State, That is important because of what I shall have to say about him later. At least we have an admission, if not a plea of guilty.

My main accusation is that the Government have done the absolute minimum that they thought they could get away with under the code. They have not sought to use the code and the report system to encourage the minority of British companies —I stress that it is a minority—at least to come up to the minimum provisions of the code.

I think that the Secretary of State may seek to rely upon a statement made by the Minister of State on 25 May—made in the wettest of all possible wet terms—that the Government will continue to encourage British companies to implement the code. I think that is the only remark of that kind that any member of the Government has made in the past year. The Government may also rely on some of the pro forma letters sent out by the Department which clearly thought that the code would be implemented properly until the Secretary of State stopped it. It is significant that the Secretary of State has not so far lent his own weight in any public utterance to the observance of the code.

The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate, as did the Select Committee, that it is not only desirable but probably essential that publicity should be a weapon. The select Committee, which recommended a United Kingdom code of practice, stated in paragraph 190 of its report:
"It is important that companies should expect future publicity."
I accuse the Government of back-pedalling on an important Community obligation of great value in improving the lot of black workers in South Africa.

I turn now to the extraordinary behaviour of the Secretary of State when he was challenged in the media about the changes that he has made. His first tactic, when he was challenged in a "Newsnight" programme, was to say that there was no change in what he was doing from what the previous Government did. I think that I have already demonstrated beyond any doubt the substantial differences that exist.

What did the Secretary of State say in that interview? Fortunately, I have a transcript of it. If he is wise, he will obtain one too. When asked a question, he said in a rather involved answer:
"I've published every bit as much information as the previous Government."
Later in the interview, he went on to say about what he had done:
"It is no different fom the procedures of the last Government."

I shall do so if the Secretary of State wishes. The question was:

"Interviewer: 'You have, in fact, no weight given to the various reports in terms of confidential reports on what's happening on the gound? You're saying that the only information you have is the information that we have access to at your Deparment'."
That is the interviewer complaining about not having the analysis that was given by the previous Government and names of the particular companies. However, the answer from the right hon. Gentleman, the transcript says, is:
"The infomation we have is the information we sought from the companies and which they sent in, and that's pecisely what we're going on. It's no different from the procedures of the last Government. And may I just say this; that if I was for instance—this is a voluntary code, I didn't publish it, the previous Government published the code—if, in fact, I was to publish a list of names of those who'd sent in the information which indicated some of their employees were paid below this level, then why should anybody send in the information at all? It would be penalising companies who tried to abide by the spirit of the thing against those who refused to send in any information at all. Now that's a crazy way of proceeding. I must tell you, I must tell you, that there's a lot of politics in this. I'm not doing anything different from the last Government."
If that is a crazy way of proceeding, it is precisely what we did the year before, and the result of it was that more companies replied, not fewer. So what is crazy about it? It is a lot more effective than what the Secretary of State had done. For him to say that there was something wrong in what we did and to criticise it, and then to say that he was doing nothing different from what we did, is very odd indeed. He cannot have it both ways. He is either as good or as bad as we were, but he certainly cannot be different, which is what he said in that answer. It is to my benefit that I quote his answers in as much detail as I can.

That is the Secretary of State claiming, first, that he made no differenct. That is clearly untrue. There is another feature about it that worries me even more. The Secretary of State was asked a rather long question about the activities of the labour attaché at the embassy in Pretoria, a Mr. Vose, whose information had been used by the previous Government. This is the reply by the Secretary of State.

Yes, on television. It is on page 2 of the transcript, at the bottom. The reply was:

"The information and the situation on the ground is not as you describe it. The poverty datum level is an extremely complicated system, arranged, I believe, by academics in South Africa."—
I think that that last remark is meant to be pejorative in tone—
"It varies from one town to another. The particular figures which we are publishing relate to an African family with five children and, of course, in companies there may be many employees—black African employees—who have less than five children. So in actual fact to be really accurate is an extremely difficult thing to do."
The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that that is rubbish from start to finish. It is more than an error; it is rubbish. It shows clearly that he had no idea what the poverty datum level was, because he knows, as I knew, that what the code set out was that the minimum wage was to be the subsistence level for a family of five, with 50 per cent. added to it, and that was to be the minimum wage whether or not there were any children, because of the difficulties of defining extended families in South Africa. So at least we have some admission from the Secretary of State. It is very clear that it is not just a piece of inaccuracy. It shows that he did not understand one of the basic elements at the heart of this whole matter. I am glad that he has the grace to admit that, at least.

We shall hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say shortly, no doubt.

The way in which the Secretary of State, throughout this whole interview, could not make up his mind as to whether he was doing no more or no less than the previous Government and was somehow doing better or worse than the previous Government, would have done credit to President Nixon at his most fluent. The inevitable conclusion to which we come on this matter is that the Government have back-pedalled on this code. There has been a change of policy, a change in the wrong direction. The Government are not doing what they ought to do under the code to evaluate the information, to process it properly and to name the companies which are offending in an attempt to make sure that we can all influence them. The Government are not adhering to a clear obligation which they have under the code of conduct and to the other countries of the Nine.

Let us consider what that means. It means that the British Government are backing away from one means—though not the only means—open to us to try to raise the wages of poor black South African workers in that country. I would have thought that nobody in this House would, say that it is proper for British companies to pay black South African employees below the level agreed by the EEC as the minimum datum line. Surely no one says that that is right and proper and that we should be giving any assistance to those who seek to do that.

Those companies who observe the code, and pay above it, should be praised, and I praise them. Those who do not should be condemned in this House and by every right-thinking person in the country. What is worse about the Secretary of State is that, having made this change of policy, he has sought, I believe vainly, to try to deny it. His denials have been exposed as unconvincing. At the conclusion of a letter to me the right hon. Gentleman said:
"If there is any need for the record to be set straight it is for those who, for inexplicable reasons of their own, are damaging the reputation of British companies in South Africa—and also totally misrepresenting this Government's and my own personal abhorrence of apartheid."
I have never accused the Secretary of State of approving of apartheid. I have accused no one of that. But I am certainly willing to accuse British companies which do not pay proper wages as I am willing to praise those who do pay proper wages. That has nothing to do with the reputation of British companies in South Africa. It has a great deal to do with the reputation of this Government and the reputation of the Secretary of State who has not, in my submission, carried out his duties properly.

1.31 pm

I do not intend to allow the particular personal charges which have been made against me by the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith)—all of which, of course, I refute—to destroy this opportunity for us to debate the substantive issue of the conditions of black employees in South Africa.

This is an important subject and one which merits the attention of the House. It would be doubly unfortunate if, at a time when problems are increasing in South Africa and when there is, nevertheless, growing talk of reform and change in that country—

There is growing talk of reform and change in that country. It would be unfortunate if we were diverted down a largely irrelevant blind alley about a so-called list of names and whether, if it exists—and it does not—it should be published in the particular form chosen by the right hon. Gentleman. I shall return to the subject of the imaginary list in a moment.

Let me first discuss the real issues which are at stake. The real obstacle to black advancement in South Africa is not apartheid—which I detest—nor is it the level of African wages. Of course, the receipt of an adequate wage in return for a person's labour is rightly a matter of deep concern, whether it be in our own society or in the poorest country of the Indian sub-continent.

The wages paid to black employees in South Africa are not noticeably lower than those in many other parts of the African continent. They are probably higher than in some other continents. The possession of any job for the merest pittance would be considered a blessing to the people of Bangladesh whose income per head is estimated to be less than $90 a year.

The real reason why South Africa has incurred the condemnation of the world is not so much its low wages as the pervasive inequality of opportunity to which the black African has been subjected. It is apartheid—unjust, inhumane and not even practicable—that merits, and has received, the condemnation of all political parties in the House. It is, of course, and I entirely accept it, for countries with the closest historical connections with South Africa—we are such a country—to use our influence to bring about reform and change—change, if possible, that comes about voluntarily rather than by force. Since Britain, for historical reasons, has large investments in South Africa, we should do our utmost to ensure that the investments serve to reduce the injustices in that society rather than aggravate them. That is why I support the code. Any suggestions to the contrary are untrue.

Some British companies have employee practices which leave much to be desired. There are companies of other Western nations of which the same criticisms can be made. The press has a valid and legitimate role in drawing attention to the facts. The press performs a valuable function.

Generally, British companies have not been followers in South Africa. Some British companies have been in the lead. British management has been conscious of its moral obligations, unlike hon. Members and journalistic commentators, who do not have to wrestle with the real problems of African advancement in the conditions of that country.

The particular aspect of industrial relations which is most detrimental to the advancement of the black African is the restraint of job reservation and the problems of training. That is fundamental. The problems are in the interests neither of British companies nor of black Africans themselves. However, they persist in important areas, and normally with the opposition of British firms. That is why it is of such importance, when wielding any power of condemnation by allegation or accusation, for us to avoid discrediting the reputation and integrity of British industry generally. That will not do anything to improve the living standards of black Africans—and of course, I favour doing that as much as any hon. Member. If I were to distinguish between one part of the code and another, I should say that the provision that
"all jobs should be open to any worker who possesses suitable qualifications"—
and that which urges employers to "draw up an appropriate range of training schemes for their black African employees", are more fundamental to the key question of African advancement than the simple minimum wage.

That brings me to the question at issue—wages. The code is right to set British and other European companies the objective of paying their African employees at least the minimum necessary to meet their human needs. Of course that is desirable. I confess that I do not believe that a rigid statutory minimum wage, if it were possible to introduce one, would be the best way of improving the real living standards of African workers.

A statutory minimum wage would tend to become a maximum wage. I have no doubt that that was one of the many reasons why the signatories to the European code came out against making it compulsory. The wage provisions of the code cannot be looked at to the exclusion of the code's other provisions. That is one of the reasons why the recent debate in the newspapers has been so misleading.

If a company provides good training schemes for its African employees, refuses to differentiate between workers of different races, gives good fringe benefits and has achieved good industrial relations—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North seems to be more interested in the press than in what I am saying. He seems to be concentrating his attention on the Press Gallery. If he listened to me I might be able to educate him.

I was looking at the heavens in disbelief at what the Minister was saying.

I am trying to explain to the right hon. Gentleman where he went wrong. If a company gives good fringe benefits and has set about achieving good industrial relations, it is to be commended, even though some might question its performance over wages. Such a company is much more to be commended than a company that pays good wages but does none of these other things.

The pillorying in certain newspapers of certain companies for their wage levels, to the exclusion of all other working conditions—de-segregation, fringe benefits, training opportunities, recognition of black trade unions—and, amazingly enough, a show of naming companies alleged to be paying low wages but not naming at all companies that have failed to report and which I listed in my Department's summary has done anything to achieve the objectives of the code. It has set back the underlying objectives of the code to a greater extent than any action that I may have taken in refusing to publish what, by its nature, would be an inaccurate and misleading list of names.

The list that the right hon. Gentleman published in February 1979 did not include any fresh information. It was simply an extract—in my view a misleading extract—from the information in the companies' reports. In The Observer last Sunday the chairman of Metal Closures, one of the companies mentioned in The Observer the week before, wrote the following letter:
" I refer to your coverage of wages for black South African workers in which our own group of companies is mentioned as having paid one employee below the Poverty Datum Line.
…While we regret that at that time there was one, recently engaged, temporary, worker being paid below the PDL, I wish you had mentioned the many benefits for black workers which our group has instituted, which were also itemised in our report to the Department.
These include annual leave bonus, according to length of service, pension fund, sick pay and personal accident insurance in excess of that required by legislation.
We also provide free clinics and chest X-rays.
Black employees receive cash or gifts at the end of 12 and 20 years service and there are housing loans for them.
We provide bursaries…for the primary and secondary education of children of black employees. We also award, for black employees only, seven annual bursaries to provide free university education for them or their children."
Letters have been coming to my Department that make clear that if this type of exposure continues, few companies will continue to complete this annual voluntary return. A letter from a company sent to us says:
" I can only repeat that such treatment just cannot be expected to encourage voluntary participation in the future, particularly from those companies whose South African concerns are still very sensitive to such approaches and whose co-operation, therefore, should be sought rather than demanded."
A letter from another firm says:
"I have seen the article appearing in the Sunday Observer of 8 June regarding the pay of African workers from which I understand this company is to be named in the House…The facts are that in the two years for which we have submitted reports the basic rates of pay of our South African subsidiary to its African employees have been 87 per cent. and 31 per cent. respectively above the PDL. In addition, there are fringe benefits for our African employees, clearly outlined in the report, which include bonus, pension scheme contributions, sick leave and loans to assist in education as well as housing.
I believe that you will be receiving many letters expressing similar concern from other UK employers with interests in South Africa who will also be questioning the value of submitting any further reports if the contents are to be so misrepresented."
If, this year, fewer companies were to come forward with reports than in the previous year—we shall do our best to see that this does not happen and to ensure that reports come in in the best possible way—the fault will lie with those who have grasped this opportunity to condemn the Government and myself as being somehow less concerned about the welfare and advancement of the black South Africans than the Labour Government. That is the implication that laymen are meant to draw from this campaign.

The right hon. Gentleman admits it. It is quite untrue. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has accused me of something in the House rather than doing so by letters to the press.

Let us be in no doubt about this. I have not accused the right hon. Gentleman of failing to implement the code properly. It has taken him some time to explain it to the House. He has had many opportunities to make an oral statement, and he has only done so because the Opposition tabled the subject for debate.

Last year, I took the responsibility of publishing the names of British companies. This year, the number which has reported has gone up. Therefore, what is there in his argument which suggests that they will not do so? Secondly, what right has any company to complain if it cannot say that it is already observing the code? Surely we should be attacking companies which do not observe it. They have an easy way of avoiding any criticism that they are failing to pay the proper wages.

I note that, like all social democrats, the right hon. Gentleman claims to have a much bigger heart and much greater feelings than anyone else. That is a quite common claim by those such as himself who believe that they have a monopoly of feelings about black South Africans. It is an absolutely typical piece of social democracy. I do not accept that the right hon. Gentleman has any monopoly of feelings, any more than —I accept—does any member of any other party.

I want to place on record the nature of the data on wage levels in South Africa which is received. The full data required by the code on wage levels is very complex. Companies are asked to quote minimum wage levels and to say how many African employees are employed below the higher datum level and how many below the lower datum level. But these levels are based largely on studies by academics—I note that the right hon. Gentleman thought that it was pejorative to say that factually this was based on studies by academics—and are different for different places in South Africa. In some places, two different datum levels are available, each of which is valid under the code. In other places, no datum levels are available at all. Moreover, there are different published datum levels for different sizes of families. The code envisages use of the level for an African family of five or six members.

With all those complications, it is hardly surprising that not all company reports are as clear or as complete as we should like. In fact, my predecessor, Mr. Edmund Dell—I mentioned him specifically in that television broadcast —admitted in his assessment on 13 December 1977 that:
"The absence of standardisation in the form of reply has made analysis difficult—",
and he added:
"indeed almost impossible."—[Official Report, 13 December 1977; Vol. 941, c. 115.]
That was Mr. Dell's view, and I share it.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West) rose—

I shall not give way to the Gentleman on any account at all. He can make his speech in a moment.

This means that it is not always possible to tell from company reports with complete certainty whether African employees are paid below the appropriate datum levels. To produce any list of companies which are paying employees below the lower datum level is, therefore, impossible without introducing subjective judgments or uncertainties in interpretation. I am fundamentally opposed to publishing a list of companies and exposing them to censure when that list is neither verifiable nor complete.

The right hon. Gentleman has erected the publication of this black list into some kind of moral principle. The list has nothing whatever to do with the moral issues at stake in apartheid. I believe that it is wrong to expose individuals or companies to public censure under the protection of parliamentary privilege unless there is clear, objective evidence to support it. That evidence does not exist here. If the facts in the reports which are available for everyone to see are true, there is nothing to prevent any newspaper or any hon. Member from saying what they will outside this House. If the information is untrue or uncertain—in my judgment, this information in uncertain—I am not prepared to remove the protection of the law from British companies or individuals by the use of parliamentary privilege. That is my position, and that is why I did not allow a list to be published, because I did not believe that it would be sufficiently certain or accurate.

I believe that that was possibly the reason—I cannot say more than that—why the previous Government did not publish any such list until the right hon. Gentleman came along and published it in 1979.

I am finding it difficult to follow the right hon. Gentleman's logic. He supports the code and intends to continue to implement it—but to what effect? What will happen to the information when it comes in? Will the penalty simply be that a newspaper will look through the report and make its own judgment, or will something happen inside the Department to those companies which either fail to reply or reply in terms contrary to the code?

The hon. Gentleman seems to be unaware that the code is a volun- tary one, not a compulsory code. The voluntary code was introduced not by me but by the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member. I have published exactly the same information, which comes from the company reports themselves. Those are in the Library. They are available to the press. The press has been studying those reports in my Department and has been commenting on them. There is nothing different, except that I have refused to draw false conclusions—I believe that they would be false—from those data or to give in a parliamentary statement a list of companies on which, for all the reasons that I have set out, I think great uncertainty exists. That is why I have not published a list.

I come now to the procedures followed by the Government. The right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North suggested that, in some way, we had taken a step backwards. That is simply not so. Our support for the code of conduct, as he said, was made clear almost immediately we came to office by the Minister of State in the House on 25 May 1979.

From then on, as the right hon. Gentleman said, companies have reported in considerable numbers. Since the end of the second reporting period under the present code, in June 1979, 205 companies have published reports for that year out of the 224 that we believe to have been liable to do so. That compares with 184 companies that published first-round reports the previous year, out of 220 then believed to be liable. A rise from 84 per cent. to 91 per cent. does not seem to point to a step backwards or to any loss of momentum. Quite the reverse—more companies have come forward this year than last.

In April, I had my Department's analysis and summary of company reports published. We listed all the companies which had submitted reports. We deposited all company reports in the Library of the House and made them publicly available in other places also, and we listed those companies which had failed to report. We could hardly have made available more information than that, in the true sense of information.

Any hon. Member and any member of the public may now know which companies have reported and which have not. They may read for themselves the reports which have been made, evaluate the facts and draw their own conclusions. That is exactly how the voluntary code was meant to work and we have acted in strict accordance with that code.

Notwithstanding the misrepresentations of Labour Members, I shall continue to support the code. I have already stated my views and those of the Government on apartheid in South Africa. I have already said that we must ensure that our investments there serve to alleviate that system and improve the pay and working conditions of South Africans. I see the code as an important means of encouraging our investors to achieve those objectives. Where I differ from the right hon. Gentleman is that he believes that a blacklist of companies is the way to proceed. I do not, and that is the end of it.

The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that the obligation on him is to review annually the progress made in implementing the code. If he does not evaluate that progress, how does he meet this obligation?

Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously telling me that his predecessor, Mr. Edmund Dell, failed to abide by the rules of the code in the three years before the right hon. Gentleman himself achieved the office that I now hold?

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the code did not apply in those three years. It was agreed only in September 1977. The list that I published was the first that could be assembled under the Code. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw that remark?

Is the right hon. Gentleman unaware that his own Government published a code before the EEC code came into effect?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confine himself to the EEC code, and answer my question? I do not know why he is not answering it. It was quite specific, and I insist that he answers it. The obligation is to review annually progress made in implementing the code. If the right hon. Gentleman refuses to evaluate, how does he meet that obligation? It is a simple question.

The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, who held the office for three years, pursued almost exactly the same arrangements under that code that his own Government introduced. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking me what I am doing to abide by the terms of the Community code, I have already told him. We go beyond the requirements of the EEC code. Does the right hon. Gentleman want me to read it out again? We have published a report. We have had an analysis of the reports that have come in. We have put our analysis and report in the Library, and it is available for everyone to see.

The only thing that we have not done, which is all that this is about, is that I have refused to blacklist companies and print their names in Hansard so that there is the protection of parliamentary privilege.

If the information in the company reports is true, anybody can publish it. There is nothing that I am doing to prevent anybody from publishing whatever he wants from the raw data available to the whole world. If it is true, anybody can repeat it in the press or in the House. I am not preventing anything. All the raw data are there, and free.

I am not aware that there was any complaint about anything that I published in Hansard. It will be news to me if there was, but if there was, I shall be glad to hear about it.

Secondly, how does the right hon. Gentleman say that he can review progress? He knows perfectly well that in my answer I said that we were doing well in some areas, not so well in others. The right hon. Gentleman makes no such comments at any stage. He merely analyses in terms of numbers. How is it that he has undertaken the obligation to review progress? Are we going forward in some areas, or are we going back?

Before the Secretary of State replies, may I remind the House that this debate will end at 2.30 pm. If there are many interventions from the Front Bench, that will make matters very difficult for Back Benchers.

Review of progress was part and parcel of the Select Committee's recommendations. I note that the right hon. Gentleman is of the view that Mr. Edmund Dell failed to abide by the Committee's requirements.

I have been accused of trying, first, to downgrade the post of the labour attaché in Pretoria. That is quite untrue. The right hon. Gentleman did not make that accusation, but it has been in the press, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been accused of it. It is a First Secretary post, and that is what it remains.

We have been accused of not naming companies that have made inadequate reports. That is quite untrue. Indeed, the charge in a letter from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was quite incomprehensible. Annex D of our report contains a list similar to that published by the Labour Government.

We have been accused of deliberately withholding information in our possession. That is quite untrue. We are working from exactly the same raw data—the information provided by companies—as the last Government were working from. Everything is published, and it is in the Library.

We have been accused of not urging companies to comply with the code. That is quite untrue. My hon. Friend the Minister of State made the Government's position clear in the House, and my officials, as the right hon. Gentleman said, contacted companies, urging them to send in their reports.

We have been accused of not intending further action. That is just what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. That is quite untrue. We shall do our best to get a good response in the next reporting period.

We shall not make the code compulsory, because it would not work if we tried to do so. Our problem this time will be to get a better response following the party political campaign that the right hon. Gentleman has led.

I have been accused by the right hon. Gentleman of saying on television that we made the same representations to companies as the Labour Government did. That is quite untrue. I was asked a question about the information that we had published. That is why I asked the right hon. Gentleman to read out the question instead of simply repeating the answer. I was explaining that the infor- mation in the reports was the same information as before. I was not answering a question about the representations that we had made to companies. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted me out of context.

We have been accused of a number of other things, but I want to leave time for the House to carry on with this debate. I apologise for taking so much time to answer some of the accusations that the right hon. Gentleman has made against us.

Seven hon. Members have indicated that they wish to speak in this debate. I have no authority or power to limit speeches, but those hon. Members who speak at length will deny others the opportunity to speak.

2 pm

In a highly tendentious speech, the Secretary of State drew attention to the lack of training and the practice of job reservation, as opposed to wages, as being the cause of African poverty in South Africa. It would be a great deal easier for Opposition Members to accept that kind of argument if the right hon. Gentleman showed by his deeds that he was taking action to improve this state of affairs.

We know that Smith & Nephew—I am very glad to name the company—has a good record in promoting trade union rights, but it is the only British company in South Africa with that kind of record. What action has the Secretary of State taken in respect of all the other companies?

The Secretary of State emphasised the importance of fringe benefits, the recognition of black trade unions and the approach to migrant labour. All these are very important issues. But what effort has the right hon. Gentleman made to make sure that the full information is made available on these issues in a reliable and fairly certain way? It is hypocritical of the right hon. Gentleman to draw attention to these issues and to say that he believes in private persuasion, but then to do nothing about it.

The answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is that no action is taken by the Department of Trade as a result of the reports being made. There is no penalty. The whole exercise in the hands of this Secretary of State has become a gigantic facade, inasmuch as he has deliberately left external researchers exposed to the law of libel, since he knows that the only means of establishing the truth about these reports, which some of his own officials have indicated are vague, fraudulent and evasive, is by reference to the secret memorandum provided by the labour attaché in South Africa, and the right hon. Gentleman has refused resolutely to make that crucial document available or, with his authority, to provide information based upon it. That is our case against him.

At the outset, it needs to be said that the only reason for this debate is the right hon. Gentleman's unwise—I hope that he now accepts that it was unwise—and devious decision not to publish, as the last Government did, the names of British companies paying workers wages below the poverty datum line. That, together with the assiduous researches of Mr. Adam Raphael, to whom credit should be given for this, is the background to this debate.

At least we owe it to the Secretary of State that by his initial evasiveness and then by the dishonesty of his answers during his televised interview on "Newsnight" on 5 June he ensured that this issue received far greater attention than it would have if he had taken the honourable and sensible course from the beginning. We are grateful to him for that, but that is as far as our gratitude goes.

It is obvious that the object of the Government's strategy is, simply, quietly to bury this issue. The only point of a voluntary code is that its cutting edge lies in giving publicity to those guilty companies which breach its provisions. Without full publicity being given to the findings at each round of the reporting, with analysis backed by the authority of the Government and with the vigorous use of publicity to get across the results, a voluntary code is next to useless. It is our case against the Government that this is precisely the result that the evasiveness of the Secretary of State was designed to bring about.

The right hon. Gentleman's defence will not stand up. He says, correctly, that he has published the company reports and that it is for hon. Members of this House and the press to publish their own conclusions, based on those reports, but he must know that that argument is entirely disingenuous. It is impossible, without reference to the secret analysis of the report, to reach a conclusion about the overall picture with any certainty. It is impossible to know whether any company has, for example, quoted the right PDL for its area, whether the wage levels quoted relate to the correct reporting period, and whether the company has over-estimated the fringe benefits that it quotes. The Secretary of State quoted, with no attempt to establish whether they were true, the fringe benefits of the company that he referred to in quoting the leet letter.

At least three PDLs have gained currency in South Africa. They are those fixed by the University of Port Elizabeth, by the University of South Africa and by the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce. Since companies are free to quote whichever PDL they like, they of course quote the lowest. I challenge the Secretary of State to indicate how any external researcher could, unaided, establish from data of this kind the true position on a standardised basis. He knows perfectly well that that is not possible.

Worse still, the right hon. Gentleman wants to have it both ways. On the one hand he says that he cannot publish a definitive list of companies paying below the PDL because the information is too uncertain; on the other, he says that it is for hon. Members and members of the press to do their own research on these reports and to publish the results that they derive from that. How does he expect those who do not have the benefit of the undisclosed memorandum from the labour attaché in Pretoria to arrive at a standard of accuracy that the right hon. Gentleman forgoes. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he does not answer the question.

Such casuistry, I suggest, does not commend itself to those of whom he claims to be one but of whom, his actions show, he is not, and who believe that there is a simple overriding moral issue at stake, namely, the use of Government influence to reduce and eliminate by every possible means the exploitation of labour by British companies—an exploitation that is probably more callous than that to be seen anywhere else in the world.

Worst of all, the right hon. Gentleman has tried to cover the tracks of the dishonourable course that he has chosen to pursue by making claims that he must know are utterly untrue and to pretend that there is no change of policy under this Government. He declared in his "Newsnight" interview, and he has in no way refuted this:
"I have published every bit as much information as the previous Government."
He also said
"I'm not doing anything different from the last Government."
From his own words today it is perfectly clear that those statements are demonstrably false.

The Labour Government published a full list on 15 February 1979. When a Cabinet Minister states a blatant untruth —I do not say that he did so intentionally, because I am prepared to believe that he misunderstood his brief—he should apologise. It is incumbent upon the Secretary of State, if he has any honour in this matter, to recognise that and to apologise to the House.

The essence of this debate, as the Secretary of State said, is what the Government will do about the shameful and deteriorating situation revealed by the reports of gross poverty and lack of rights of the growing mass black African workers employed by British companies in South Africa. What action is the right hon. Gentleman proposing—he did not comment on it—since his Department's figures indicate a steady increase in the number of black African workers paid below the poverty datum line by British companies?

In 1977 the figure was about 700, according to the Department's best estimates. In 1978 it was probably about 800. It was stated by the Department to be over 2,500 only as a result of the addition of a highly suspect 1,700 from a single company—Lonrho. In 1979, again according to the Department, the number was 2,000. Similarly, the number paid below the MEL rose from 13,000 in 1979 to 20,000 in 1979, again accord- ing to the Department's figures. In view of this alarming deterioration charted by the Department we are entitled to be told what new initiatives the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to reverse this apalling trend.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he believes in private persuasion—

The right hon. Gentleman did say that in his televised interview. He believes in private persuasion, as opposed to the publication of names.

Even if that were not so—I believe it is so—how does the right hon. Gentleman expect a voluntary code to have any effect? How does he explain the fact that he has not written a single letter to any of the chairmen of the guilty companies? Is not such policy of alleged private persuasion entirely hypocritical if he has done nothing about the results that this dredging of information has produced?

The Secretary of State hides behind the voluntarism of the code. He did so again today. There is nothing sacrosanct about a voluntary code. The previous Government accepted a voluntary code in the first instance only to see whether it would work effectively. It is clear that it is not working, and it is now incumbent upon the Secretary of State either to make aspects of the code mandatory or to indicate how the accepted objectives of the code can be achieved without a statutory back-up.

The prime objective of the code was, as the Secretary of State recognised, to promote African trade union rights. Until today, the Secretary of State has remained conspicuously silent on that. On 4 June I sent him detailed evidence from the Federation of South African Trade Unions which showed that the implementation of the code guideline, far from being developed by the companies, was being deliberately circumvented by them. Most serious is the manifest evidence of blatant opposition to trade union rights that was revealed. Again, the Department of Trade has clearly been colluding in this matter. I quote from the evidence of the Chemical Workers Industrial Union regarding the company Revertex Chemicals in South Africa:
"The union wrote to the Secretary of State for Trade requesting a copy of the report, assuming that since the White Paper states that companies are asked to ensure that a reference to the public availability of such reports is included in their annual report or chairman's statement, such information was public. The Department of Trade, however, informed us that because of copyright they could not let us have a copy of the report, but that a copy was available for inspection at the Consul General's office. On arrival at the Consul General's office the union officials were informed that they could read the report, but that they could not take notes or copy any part of it."

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that in fairness to other hon. Members he will bear in mind what I said 12 minutes ago.

Yes, I shall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I hope that it will be acceptable if I speak for another three or four minutes.

The Minister of State's reply was that if those informants' comments were correct the revelations were regrettable but that both sides of the case needed to be heard before a conclusion could be reached. I accept that argument. But what have the Government done to gain access to the other side of the case? Have they written to any of the companies? That is typical of the weasel-wording of the Government on this issue.

The Secretary of State has still not replied to the point about non-publication. He said that if he published the names of the guilty companies they would not provide the information the next time round, but when the Labour Government published the names last time, 36 companies failed to publish reports, but this time only 19 companies failed to publish.

The Secretary of State asked whether it was fair to pillory the companies paying below the PDL when 19 companies refused to provide any information—as if those 19 companies had to be allowed to get away with it, and as if the reporting could not be made mandatory, which is the other alternative.

This has been a shabby episode in British public life, but it is still not too late for the Secretary of State to redeem himself of his misspent career over this matter. He can still decide, on further reflection and in the light of precedent, that it is his duty to publish the names of companies that are paying below the poverty datum line, because there is no doubt that the voluntary method works provided it is used with sufficient vigorous publicity. The original report of the Select Committee in 1973 produced some dramatic improvement in wage levels, and the position is now deteriorating only because the Secretary of State seems bent on giving a nod and a wink to companies that have no intention of doing anything about this issue. He wants to scuttle at the first available opportunity.

It is not even as though such an attitude is expedient, let alone moral. What does the right hon. Gentleman think will be the effect of his sullen indifference over the whole matter on the British Government's standing in black Africa as a whole? Has not the Secretary of State stopped to consider that the balance of our trading interest is not overwhelmingly, in export terms, with black Africa rather than with South Africa?

I hope that, even if the Secretary of State remains recalcitrant on this, the Select Committee on Trade and Industry will think it appropriate at this point to re-examine the issue and, in particular, to summon the representatives of the 19 companies that refused to provide the reports, as well as the 33 that appear to be paying below the PDL.

There can be no question but that the overwhelming responsibility for a new initiative on this matter lies with the Secretary of State. The Government's attitude is already badly compromised by the corporate cover-up that we have seen over the Rhodesian oil sanctions busting affair. If the Government are to retrieve their reputation for being soft on big business law breakers and code breakers the Secretary of State will have to change his line fast and reverse his deplorable and cynical sell-out of Britain's good name for responsibility and justice in these matters.

2.16 pm

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) started by describing the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as tendentious. If the hon. Member is under the impression that the oration he has just delivered—a somewhat extended one—was balanced, neutral and bipartisan, I can only say that it must be by his own standards, for I have rarely heard a more splenetic utterance than he has just delivered.

The right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith), in one of his six or so speeches, spoke of the obligation on my right hon. Friend to apply the code and to evaluate it. He did not mention the article of the Treaty of Rome under which a Community obligation could arise. I feel tolerably certain that there is no such article, because the subject of foreign affairs is not included in the Treaty of Rome. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman used the expression "Community obligation".

It was an obligation entered into among the Governments of the Nine. It did not arise from the Treaty but was clearly an obligation entered into by the Governments.

If the right hon. Gentleman said that it was among the Governments of the Nine, that would be one thing. but the phrase he used was "Community obligation", and he said that my right hon. Friend was in breach of it. It would not worry me terribly if my right hon. Friend were in breach of a Community obligation, but he is not.

The truth is that the whole of the code and all the talk about it is simply an impertinent interference in the affairs of another country. It is an assumption of superiority of judgment, most admirably set out in the speech by the hon. Member for Oldham, West, to which we have just listened, but which was also to be found in the speech of the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North.

What is the basis of all this? Are we to have an evaluation, for example, of wages in Tanzania, in India, in Pakistan or in South America? If we were to have such an evaluation of wages, we might find that a lot of people in Tanzania—and in China—were paid a great deal less than people in South Africa.

There are people in the Labour Party who are absolutely obsessed about South Africa, and there are people in the media who are absolutely obsessed about South Africa. The whole thing is done by mirrors. The Left and its allies build up this tremendous picture of South Africa as a unique phenomenon in the world, whereas the size of the black population in South Africa is a tribute to the standard of living that can be obtained by going there.

I do not know why we in Britain should think that we can make a useful judgment upon South African affairs. We have shown a lack of perception in our post-war judgments about Africa. Every constitution that we have devised has been wrong and abandoned. We are always talking about equality there, political as well as economic, but no country in Africa is operating a universal franchise in any significant sense.

It is easy to attack the separate development system of South Africa. But what do the Opposition propose in its place? How do they propose that South Africa should be governed? By universal adult suffrage? It is far too advanced a country to be governed in this generation, or perhaps the next, by the South African negroes. It will probably be shown that even Rhodesia, much less advanced, cannot in the present generation be governed by the Shona and the Matabele.

I mention these points because the argument about the code, the list and the reports is based on the assumption that we know better than those who live in South Africa how that country should be governed. But no one is prepared to say how it should be governed. The Opposition, except for a few political blow-hards, know that it cannot be run by universal adult suffrage. They know that the economic as well as the political life of South Africa has for some indeterminate time to be dominated by European brains, discipline and communal organisation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because they have built it up virtually to a European level of development.

Of course, one day the African natives may be able to operate a Westminster system of democracy and generate for themselves a European or Western level of economic advancement, but it is childish to pretend that that is possible in this generation. If that is not possible, for a considerable time we shall have two communities living side by side in South Africa: the minority community being dominant, because the country would collapse without it, and the majority community being subordinate. That is a difficult and unfortunate situation.

I dare say that most South Africans would, in retrospect, agree that to allow people to come in from distant parts of Africa to what, when they first went there, was an empty land was a great mistake and that they would have been wiser to follow the Australian policy of doing their own dirty work—the white Australian policy. But the situation exists and must be solved. In my opinion, it will be best solved by those who have to live with it rather than by those in distant countries who know virtually nothing about it.

The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West talked about poverty datum lines worked out for various areas of a distant country about which they know little.

A good deal of the work in South Africa is done by unskilled labour. One of the results of this campaign from outside has been to raise wages to the point at which that kind of work will be better done by machines, especially in the mines. There is an acute shortage of skilled labour in South Africa. What my right hon. Friend said about training schemes was valid. However, there is a great surplus of unskilled labour.

The kind of blunt approach to which we have listened today will cause a great deal of misery among the unskilled workers of South Africa. A society should advance spontaneously and in a balanced way so that, as it advances, it is able to adapt. If tens or even hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers are thrown out of work in South Africa, because, by artificial pressure, the wage rate for the lower jobs is raised above the point at which machines become economic, a great deal of the responsibility will lie on those outside, who do not know what they are talking about, for interfering in somebody else's society.

Therefore, I say to my right hon. Friend that he is right to go slowly in this matter. He is right to rely upon a voluntary system.

The suggestion made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West that we should seek, however indirectly, through British companies, to impose a compulsory system to take effect in someone else's country is so astonishing, so impertinent, so arrogant and so puffed up by vanity that I honestly believe that it could only come from the hon. Gentleman.

2.25 pm

I want to declare an interest in this matter as the chairman of the British Trade Union South African Congress of Trade Unions Liaison Committee.

We are trade unionists whose employers have branches in South Africa, where black trade unionists are used as cheap labour to undercut the wages, the conditions and the trade union rights of British workers in Britain.

As British industry is the biggest outside investor in South Africa, we have demanded from the British employers, the multinationals in South Africa, that they concede the same trade union rights to organise and represent black workers as exist in their companies in this country. We insist that they pay at least the same wages for the same work as are paid to British workers, in spite of what is said by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell).

The conditions and the practice of apartheid in South Africa have forced my trade union, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, to cut off 25,000 members that we had in South Africa and some thousands of members that we had in the Rhodesias. Our union, with 1½million members, abhors racialism and our trade union rules debar the practice of it. Sir John Boyd, our general secretary, and other TUC leaders have sponsored a book, which was published just last week, on South Africa and black workers, and the deplorable wages and conditions and the torture and the death of those who oppose such a situation in South Africa.

If the Government and the Opposition want the facts and they cannot be given here this afternoon, let them read the book which I am holding—"Organise or Starve". It is a book written for the South African Congress of Trade Unions. Its opening statement sums up what it is all about. It says:
"It must never be forgotten that apartheid and racial discrimination in South Africa, like everywhere else, has an aim far more important than discrimination itself. The aim is economic exploitation. The root and the fruit of apartheid and racial discrimination is profit. Migrant labour, pass laws, poverty wages, victimisation at the workplace, unemployment, repression, imprisonment, banning orders, deaths—these are the ingredients of exploitation that shape the lives of millions of Africans workers from the cradle to the grave under apartheid."
Black workers fighting for a living wage in the textile industries at this very moment have been victimised and attacked. A statement has just been made by the organised workers of South Africa under the heading:
"South African textiles are dyed with our blood. Don't buy from South Africa."
That is what South African workers are saying. The statement says:
"The Frame textile group in South Africa has dismissed over 5,000 of its black workers because they demanded a living wage. The security police have arrested their union leaders and once again the racist regime shows its true face of brutality and repression. You can support black workers and their trade union leaders in their demands by boycotting South African textiles and South African goods. Support your brothers and sisters in struggle."
Reference has already been made to the list drawn up as a result of the code about which there has been so much argument. Yet I suggest that it should not be voluntary. It should be made compulsory. British companies should be made to disclose the information about the wages they pay and the conditions of their workers in that country. It is said that more than 2,500 workers have been paid starvation wages—that is, wages below the datum line. That is why we are seeking—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Statutory Instruments, &C

With the permission of the House I shall put the Questions on the two motions together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)

Terms And Conditions Of Employment

That the draft Job Release Act 1977 (Continuation) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 2nd June, be approved.

Consumer Protection

That the draft Novelties (Safety) Regulations 1980, which were laid before this House on 9th June, be approved.—[ Mr. Brooke.]

Question agreed to.

Ulster Defence Regiment Bases (Closure)

Motion made, and Question proposed,That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Brooke.]

2.32 pm

It has been another remarkable week for the Ulster Defence Regiment in Northern Ireland and it is appropriate that we should have the opportunity to discuss some aspects of its work today.

We have learnt that another member of the UDR has been seriously wounded and an ex-member of the regiment wounded in the same incident. Terrorists once again moved from the safety of the Irish Republic to attack those two men, who, of course, were at their most vulnerable, with the tools of their trade in their hands, and off duty. The terrorists tried to murder them, as they have murdered so many other gallant members of this regiment. We wish both those men good fortune and hope that they will soon be restored to health and strength.

We also had another occasion this week marking the tenth anniversary of the regiment when the Duke and Duchess of Kent participated in a garden party at Hillsborough House. Everyone in Northern Ireland expresses gratitude to Their Royal Highnesses for their concern and their appreciation, and for the sympathy they showed to members of the regiment and their dependants on that occasion.

We have also had a remarkable statement from a responsible elected member of the SDLP. He was defending the Provisional IRA against the allegation that they engaged in sectarian violence against Protestants. He said that they did not kill Protestants in Northern Ireland. He said that Protestants were killed only when they put on the uniform of the UDR and took sides in the conflict. I hope, of course, that many more tens of thousands of Ulstermen are prepared to take sides in that conflict and will continue to join the UDR.

If they are taking sides they are taking sides on the side of law and order and of civilised standards in our society.

The principal issue I wish to discuss is the closure of two UDR bases in my constituency. I regret having to have a public debate on this issue. The Minister knows that I tried to deal with this matter in private talks and in correspondence with him. But that has not sufficed. In order adequately to represent the feelings of my constituents and the feelings of members of the UDR I have had to raise the matter in the House.

I shall try to avoid saying anything that could further damage morale in the companies involved in the moves. There is heightened local concern at the proposal to close these bases, but I shall do my best to avoid assisting the enemy in what I say. But anything we say here can be read by the Provisionals and I suppose that they might use it.

We would be deceiving ourselves if we thought that the IRA did not already know what is going on. The closure of Loughgall has been reported in the press. The base is now empty for all to see and the impending closure of Lurgan has been reported extensively in the press. I am concerned about these closures.

County Armagh has a population of 130,000. The county has borne the brunt of the IRA war both from bases within the county itself and, in more recent times, as a result of the incursions from the Republic against the security forces in Northern Ireland.

The IRA has taken a terrible toll of off-duty UDR personnel and their colleagues in the Regular Army. If the deaths in County Armagh were population-rated there would be almost twice the number of UDR men killed compared with the figures for the rest of the Province.

The UDR performs a vital task. The fact that the Provisionals make such an effort to eliminate its members shows that they are aware of the threat that it poses to them. The closure of two of the five bases in the county seriously affects the viability of the UDR operations in County Armagh.

I have supported the general policy of reducing the Regular Army personnel involved in the conflict in the Province, but I have always argued that although it is possible to reduce the numbers in County Down, Antrim and parts of Belfast, they are still required in strength along the frontier in South Armagh, South Tyrone and Fermanagh. I have said that I can support the policy of reducing the Regular Army commitment if there is proper deployment of the UDR, both full-time and part-time, as a back-up to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

One must have been concerned when one read, as one did a few weeks ago, that there would be another reduction of 500 or 600 men in the Province. At the same time one learnt that that would cause the closure of the Lurgan UDR base. If the bases were of no significance and had no strategic importance, I should not object to their closure, however, that is not so.

The Loughgall base is the centre of a large geographical area in North-West County Armagh. As well as being well placed to patrol a number of violent Republican areas, it forms the guard on the Armagh-South Tyrone border, patrolling along the Blackwater River from Magheny to Caledon. There were three vital bridges across that river. There is no doubt that the Provisional IRA would have used the bridges to carry arms and explosives from the Dungannon and Coal island area into County Armagh or perhaps to Belfast.

The Loughgall company was recruited from the large natural hinterland around the village. Many of its members had to travel a fair distance to do their duty. The base was adjacent to the RUC station and the guard at the base automatically provided a guard for the local RUC station.

On several occasions recently the Loughgall police have sought UDR assistance and have had difficulty in obtaining it. When the base was open and the men were there, there was no trouble in that regard.

Regular Army activities in that area—1 do not want to say too much about that —have been inhibited because there is no base for a quick reaction force. It must be frustrating for the Regular Army unit which has always relied on the facilities of the UDR base. The base is there and almost all the facilities are ready for used.

No doubt we shall be told that there are good cost reasons for the closures. How can one measure that cost when there are so many offsetting costs? What about providing a guard for the local police station? How can one put a price on lives and damage to property that might occur as a result of the closure? We shall also be told that the closures release personnel. That will be an advantage only if we manage to hold on to the part-timers who will have to travel substantial distances. The two arguments are not particularly strong.

The most disturbing aspect of the Loughgall base closure is that the decision to close it was taken by the commanding officer of the UDR battalion without consultation with the local company commander. The man who had commanded the company based in Loughgall for six or seven years learnt about the closure of his base in the same way as I did—from gossip and the local press. It says a lot for the communications during the period of that commanding officer's reign if that is the case.

The gates were shut virtually a few days before the new commanding officer of the battalion took over command. In view of the fact that no discussion took place with the local company commander, and that there is a new commanding officer of the battalion, I ask the Minister to consider the need for a reappraisal of the situation to provide an opportunity for the man who will be looking after the area for the next two, perhaps vital, years to arrive at a different decision.

The impending closure of the Lurgan base is more incomprehensible. I was born and bred in Lurgan. Of the major centres of population in my constituency, Lurgan is obviously the most dangerous. It is a deeply-divided town, with a number of sensitive flash-point areas. Yet, within a matter of days, we are told, there will be no permanent Army and UDR presence in Lurgan. The Minister, in a reply to me a few weeks ago, said that the UDR felt that it was able to maintain a more efficient presence on the ground from bases elsewhere, meaning the Portadown base; and that the Porta- down base, almost, would be six miles further for part-timers to travel.

I measured the distance on Monday afternoon. The shortest possible route from the UDR base in Lurgan to the new UDR base in Portadown is 7·8 miles. It might be asked "What is 8 miles?" I should like to indicate the situation that will confront the part-timer. A part-time UDR member living in Lurgan, who can probably now walk to his base, will come home from a day's work, have a quick bite to eat, get into his car and drive to Portadown, pick up his weapon and drive eight miles back to Lurgan to do his duty. When his tour of duty is over, he will drive eight miles back to Portadown, leave the weapon in the armoury, and travel eight miles back home. That means a journey of 32 miles if it is intended that the UDR shall do duty in the town of Lurgan. There is no doubt that they are required in Lurgan.

The fact that Lurgan has managed to escape, over the past 12 months, a number of major bomb attempts, made on the commercial centre, has been due, in no small measure, to the UDR, which undoubtedly works closely with the local police and provides an excellent service in controlling the town centre. If it is intended that the part-time UDR members should continue these duties, they will be asked to add 32 miles to their journey.

I have no wish to bore the House by referring to the relationship between Portadown and Lurgan. I was born in Lurgan and have the misfortune to live in Portadown. I know the feeling that exists between the two places. There will be great reluctance among many men serving in the UDR in Lurgan to travel to Portadown, to be based there and to pick up their weapons there in order to do duty in their home town.

The 32 miles that constitute the shortest route go through hostile areas. There are three direct routes—the motorway, the main Lurgan-Portadown road and what was known as the old LurganPortadown road. Each of those three routes takes the UDR man through a hostile area. No matter how often he varies his route, he is bound to establish a pattern. We are asking people who already carry a sufficient burden to bear an added one that is totally unnecessary. I believe that frustration and disillusionment will quickly be engendered. Instead of being better off in personnel, we shall be worse off.

I should like to make two suggestions to the Minister. There is an excellent Territorial Army base in Lurgan—the Kings Park camp—which I believe was at one time used by the UDR until it acquired its existing premises. Why cannot the Lurgan UDR company again be based in that TA camp? Secondly, if there are long-term objections to that proposal, why cannot the Ministry of Defence enter into negotiations with the police authority for Northern Ireland, which is presently building a large and modern police station on an extensive site just off the Lurgan main street, with a view to sharing a portion of that site with the UDR?

After all, the UDR will become the immediate back-up to the police in the town. The police force already has a good relationship with the UDR. I hope that the Ministry of Defence and the policy authority for Northern Ireland can come to an agreement whereby the UDR unit in Lurgan can share that site as well as the armoury, and so on.

I do not believe that there will be any cost saving if more lives and property are destroyed. The Ministry of Defence budget may be slightly reduced, but the budget of another Ministry will subsequently be increased. If the Government want to save, they should save elsewhere rather than on this issue. I hope that the Minister will think again about both those bases.

2.46 pm

I join in the regrets expressed by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) about today's UDR casualties. I am sure that all hon. Members join him in sending best wishes for the full recovery of those concerned.

As was made very clear in our debate on the Army yesterday, there is widespread recognition of the important and significant contribution of the UDR in the Province. I join with the hon. Gentleman in the tribute which he paid to the work that it does.

I am grateful for the manner in which the hon. Gentleman raised the question of the bases. Concern has been growing in the command structure of Northern Ireland for some time that too many UDR soldiers are engaged in guarding their own bases. The decision to close the five UDR bases, which was made earlier this year, was made for operational reasons and for operational reasons alone. The decision involved the GOC Northern Ireland, who consulted his brigade commanders. The headquarters of the UDR consulted the COs of those battalions concerned.

I regret just as much as the hon. Gentleman the way in which those decisions were leaked. We in this House know only too well that Government and other machines can be leaky, as a result of which the decision gets out and embarrassment is caused.

As the right hon. Gentleman says, especially in Northern Ireland. I concur with that comment.

Unfortunately, that meant that the company commander heard the decision as a result of the information being leaked rather than from the commanding officer of the battalion, which is what was planned. I regret that that happened. I cannot do more than hope that it will not happen too often in the future, because one recognises the realities of the situation.

At the same time as the decision was being made to close the five bases for operational reasons—and, therefore, to release men for full-time patrolling duties —it was agreed that 175 extra full-time UDR members be recruited. That meant an increment of 350 extra full-time UDR members who were available for operational duties.

This is an important improvement. The Lurgan decision came later, but again it was made for operational reasons and not, as the hon. Member suggested, as a direct result of the decision to reduce the force level in July by not replacing another major unit. It was made because, for operational reasons redeployment of the Regular Army was taking place, which meant that the Regular Army was not available to guard the Lurgan base.

Have the Government taken into consideration the effect on morale not only in County Armagh but throughout Northern Ireland of the widespread impression that the Government are not wholehearted in their desire to use the UDR? If there is a need for more people to man the bases, surely those people should be recruited, and recruited quickly. Lives are at stake here.

Of course the Government are aware of the feelings expressed by the hon. Member, because he expressed them in the debate yesterday. I wish that I had had more time then to reply. But the decisions being made in these matters are being made by the military commanders—for operational, not political, reasons. I must make that clear.

The redeployment of the Regulars in Northern Ireland meant that they were not available for guarding the Lurgan base, so 25 full-time members of 11 UDR would be required if the base were kept open for full-time guard duties. The choice is an operational one—whether they are there guarding the base or employed full time in their patrolling duties.

Of course one understands the concern of those directly affected. There is some additional inconvenience and travelling for many of those concerned. But against that must be set the real operational gains from these base closures. There is no question of reducing what the hon. Member referred to as the viability of the UDR in Armagh. If anything, the operational capabilities of the UDR in Armagh will increase as the result of these changes. I should be very loth—I hope that every hon. Member will support this—to seek to intervene from a political position in an essentially operational matter which should be determined by the local commanders. To intervene in such a way as to reduce the number of UDR men out on patrol would not be in the best interests of anyone concerned.

The Lurgan base is being moved to Portadown, which, I am told, is six miles away. The hon. Member says that it is 7·8 miles. I was brought up to believe that the Irish mile was different from the English mile. In the light of the three-mile limit which used to occur in some significant situations, one can understand that.

I accept that there is some inconvenience and that some extra travelling will be involved. There will be some additional costs. The UDR patrolling in the Lurgan area will not be adversely affected. The present close liaison between the police and the UDR will not be affected in any way either. Similar considerations apply to the closing of the base in Loughgall. C Company of 2 UDR is now being based at Armagh. It will be able more effectively to carry out its war against the terrorists in that area as a result of this change.

Cost did not figure in the decision to close the bases, but it may be useful to indicate what the manpower saving means. The cost of guarding a base comes out—on the 25 men required—at over £100,000 a year. The extra travelling costs of those concerned are very small in relation to that. The expenditure on the new armoury, which will now not be used by the UDR but which might be used by the police at Loughgall, is insignificant compared with the overall manpower cost of continuing to guard all the bases as they were guarded.

As far as I am aware, there have been no resignations by any of the members of the UDR, full-time or part-time. I very much hope that no resignations will flow from these decisions.

I was grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman encouraged all concerned to continue to work this decision. As with any operational decision, the door is never closed completely to matters being reexamined if operational conditions change. If the new company commander or battalion commander took a different view, no doubt he would make his representations through his own command channels, and careful account would be taken of the views of the commander on the spot by those higher up the military ladder. Therefore, I do not entirely close the door and say that never, in any circumstances, could a change be made. It would be absurd of me to suggest that. However, the advice that I have had is that at present the feeling is still genuinely held that the work can be carried out by the UDR more effectively as a result of their base closures.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the three bridges over the Blackwater river which have been used by terrorists. I assure him that there will be no change in UDR activity at those bridges.

The hon. Gentleman made a particular point about the police station at Loughgall and incidents in which the police have had to call for military assistance in recent weeks. I shall look into his points. I am not aware of those incidents, and I should like to be fully informed about them. I am advised that the military back-up will there for the police in Loughgall when it is needed.

Taking all these matters together, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think that the decisions have been made in the best interests of making the fight against terrorism more effective in Armargh and other parts of Northern Ireland.

I again join the hon. Gentleman in paying the warmest tribute to the work done by the UDR. It makes a valuable contribution to maintaining decent standards and reducing the amount of terrorist activity in the Province. I would not wish to do or agree to anything that would reduce the UDR's effectiveness.

I believe that a case has not been made out to justify a political intervention here. The hon. Gentleman has properly raised the matter on behalf of his constituents, on behalf of people who may have slightly misunderstood some of the implications of the decisions, who may have thought that they would lead to a reduction of UDR activities. Having raised it and received these assurances, the hon. Gentleman will, I hope, feel that his fears have been allayed and that he can pass on this message to people living in his constituency, whom he has well represented in the manner in which he has raised the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock.