House Of Commons
Thursday 12 November 1981
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Agriculture, Fisheries And Food
Butter (Intervention Stocks)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much butter is now in intervention stores; and how many days' supply this represents.
On 29 October the quantity of butter in public intervention stores in the Community as a whole totalled 8,593 tonnes. This is equivalent to approximately two days' supply.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a very low level? Indeed, a week or two earlier there were only 24½ tonnes in intervention store in Britain. As this stock is running at such a low level, will he now consider the possibility of suspending the co-responsibility levy for milk producers?
It should be appreciated that the intervention stock is not a true indication of the actual stocks of butter held, because stocks are held privately as well as in the normal course of trade. Currently, in the United Kingdom trade stocks, for example, amount to about 34,000 tonnes and private stocks to about 30,000 tonnes. So there is no question of any shortage of butter.
How much subsidised butter was sold to the Soviet Union during the past 12 months?
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to put down a question on the matter, I shall answer it. But I point out that since 1 January this year there have been no export refunds on butter sold to the Soviet Union.
Does that not destroy the misleading propaganda of the anti-Community folk who say that there are always butter mountains, and so on? Is it not important to have more than a week's supply in stock for British consumers? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that at present there is not enough milk for manufacturing purposes in this country? Will he do all that he can to see that milk production is stimulated and continued so that we can produce these products?
My hon. Friend is right. The way in which intervention stocks of butter have fluctuated from a high level to virtually nothing demonstrates that agricultural produce is a highly volatile commodity, and that it is in the interests of security of supply to the consumer both in this country and in the Community at large that adequate stocks are kept. I note what my hon. Friend said about milk for manufacturing, and I pay tribute to the work of the milk marketing boards and others in this country in improving the outlets for milk for manufacturing purposes.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate for expenditure by his Department on sea defences in the current year.
My Department's estimates for the current year include the sum of about £13 million for grant-aid towards expenditure on sea defences by water authorities, excluding the Thames tidal defences. My Department also expects to pay grants totalling just under £.1 million to local authorities for other sea defence works.
Does my hon. Friend accept that this is a matter of the utmost importance to all those whose homes or lives have been threatened or have suffered severe damage as a result of sea flooding? Does she accept that we are grateful for the high priority that the Government have attached to the maintenance of this programme? Will she assure the House that this special priority will. be maintained, particularly for all areas where lives are threatened and where property could be severely damaged?
My hon. Friend will be aware that my Department's role is to judge whether sufficient resources can be made available through the public expenditure programme to allow water authorities to carry out the sea defence work which they properly consider to be essential. I am glad to say that, since the Government took office, we have met all their demands, and no cuts have been imposed on the sea defences budget. I trust that I have reassured my hon. Friend about our priorities.
Will the hon. Lady discuss with her right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who knows the case full well, the two-year delay in providing help for Amble harbour, which has resulted from a bar that has been put down by the Department of the Environment? Does she not realise the importance of such help to the town's sea defences, to which the council is fully committed, which should receive appropriate grant-aid from the Department?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is primarily a matter for the Department of the Environment and for the local council. However, we shall watch the situation carefully in so far as it affects the responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the amount of good agricultural land that is lost every year due to erosion on the Holderness coast? Is she aware that where the land immediately behind the coastline is below sea level, there is a danger of flooding? Will she discuss with her colleagues in the Department of the Environment how the problem in rural areas can be solved, as no grants are available?
I shall certainly raise the matters to which my hon. Friend has referred with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment.
Do the funds that the Minister mentioned include emergency funds to meet the possibility of sea defences being breached and of extensive flooding taking place on parts of the coast for which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible? Will assistance be given to local authorities? If local authorities need to levy a supplementary rate to cover such damage, will they have to hold referendums?
The last question is, again, a matter for the Department of the Environment. My information is that those funds represent the amount allocated during this year. Any other sums would be subject to special consideration.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his policy towards the gassing of badgers.
My Department will continue to deal with the difficult task of controlling bovine tuberculosis in badgers and the transmission of the disease to cattle by all means at its disposal. In certain circumstances, this will require the gassing of setts. We shall continue to operate in full consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council and the other leading bodies in the field of conservation, animal welfare, veterinary science and agriculture. To abandon the policy would be an act of total irresponsibility.Superficial and misleading accounts of that policy have appeared in the press and on television. I deplore their inaccuracies. The attacks on the integrity of Lord Zuckerman and Ministry officials were gravely irresponsible.
I thank the Minister for that reply. How frequently has the advisory committee met in the last two years? Has it put forward any specific recommendations? If so, have those recommendations been carried out? What research has been carried out to try to stop the gassing of badgers?
The previous Labour Government set up an advisory body, whose composition includes representatives of all the main conservation and animal welfare groups. That body has reported annually on its views and attitudes and, of course, its advice has been fully taken into account. I appointed Lord Zuckerman, who is distinguished in this sphere, and he consulted whoever he wished and produced a report which the majority of those of distinction and scientific knowledge have accepted as a very fine report. I object to so-called television experts suggesting that such a man has been appointed for a whitewashing exercise.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that laymen, including politicians, are not qualified to know whether such action is right or wrong? We need proper scientific evidence, which exists. Will my right hon. Friend point out to those who take the opposite view, that it is in the interests of badgers and of their continuation—I declare an interest, as I have a badger sett opposite my front door—that badgers with tuberculosis should be destroyed?
One of the important factors in Lord Zuckerman's report is that if no action were taken in the South-West, the badger population throughout the country would be placed in jeopardy. I congratulate the previous Government on setting up a consultative panel. However, as it includes not only the British Veterinary Association, but the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, the University Federation for Animal Welfare and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, it is absurd to suggest that any Ministry would desire to gas badgers for the love of it.
During the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill we discovered that this subject was complex and that the scientific evidence was difficult to evaluate. Nevertheless, is not the Minister persuaded that there is at least some unnecessary and, perhaps, panic-stricken gassing of badgers, which is not called for?
On taking office I discovered that there was considerable public anxiety about this subject. I was aware of the consultative panel that the previous Labour Government had set up and of its distinguished members. Given the atmosphere and criticism at that time, I thought it important to appoint as distinguished a person as possible to have the freedom to look into and publicly report on the issue. Anyone who reads that report will be satisfied that the work of both the previous Government and this Government is responsible. The idea that anyone in my Ministry delights in unnecessarily gassing badgers is absurd.
Growers (Gas Subsidies)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is now in a position to identify the specific action that he intends to take to deal with Dutch gas subsidies for growers, in view of the serious difficulties caused to British producers; and whether he will make a statement.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends to take action in aid of the United Kingdom glasshouse industry.
We recognise the seriousness to our glasshouse growers of the continued artificially low prices being paid by Dutch growers for gas for glasshouse heating. We deplore the delay by the Commission and the Dutch Government in removing the distortion of competition.We shall continue to maintain the greatest possible pressure on the Commission to settle the matter urgently.
Will my hon. Friend return to her office at 3.30 pm this afternoon, ring the Commissioner and say that the United Kingdom Parliament is not prepared to put up with such snail's pace progress any longer? Will she tell him that if nothing has been done by the end of the month she will dredge up some health regulation to stop the goods coming in to Britain?
I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friends have made that point again and again. We hope to see some response very shortly.
Is the hon. Lady aware that the two largest glasshouses in my constituency have closed, with a fair number of redundancies? Help is almost too late. Now that we have the Chair in Brussels, can we not impose a tariff on Dutch tomatoes? I congratulate the Minister on introducing the welcome oil subsidy, but will it continue after December? It is important to know now, because it is time for planting.
It is for the Commission, not individual States, to decide to take tariff measures. My right hon. Friend has placed the matter fairly and squarely before the Commission. However, it does not feel able to take such action because of the circumstances. We have recently heard that the Commission is willing to extend the guidelines to enable the payment of an adaptation aid for another year. The Government are urgently considering the Commission's recent communication. I cannot at present anticipate the outcome.
My right hon. Friend was seen to nod his head when the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) asked whether the subsidy would continue after 1 January. Unfortunately, such nods do not appear in Hansard. On the assumption that the Europeans will drag their feet for ever, will the Minister give us a straight "Yes" or "No" about the continuation of that subsidy after 1 January?
I am sorry, but my hon. Friend will have to accept that I am not in a court of law. I assure my hon. Friend—and I trust that he will note the example of £5·5 million during the past year—that my right hon. Friends are determined to protect our glasshouse industry.
Is the hon. Lady aware that that is not good enough? In present circumstances, growers are refusing to prepare for next year. While we are waiting for a decision from the Government, growers are going out of business. We are giving the Dutch the means to take a larger share of the market than they have already taken. Is the hon. Lady aware that in 1977 the Dutch promised equalisation of fuel costs by 1979, and that from 1979 onwards the disparity in fuel prices has increased? Will the hon. Lady confirm that the subsidy will be continued and that countervailing tariffs will be imposed, if necessary, to protect our industry from destruction?
I have heard the hon. Gentleman speak in the House on this point many times and I know of his concern. I share his concern about the intolerable delay. He accurately set out a short history of the situation. I assure him that my right hon. Friends are determined to protect our glasshouse growers. The hon. Gentleman will know that the present adaptation aid continues to the end of the year. I know that growers are concerned about making plans for next year, and my right hon. Friend is fully aware of the need for urgent action.
Has my hon. Friend been informed that the net loss per acre to tomato growers in the last season has been estimated—I believe accurately—at £19,000 and that in the same period imports of Dutch trays of tomatoes increased by over £30,000? Decisions in the industry must be taken now, at this hour. How can the Government expect any confidence to remain in that sector of the industry unless action is taken soon or some earnest of intention to do something is given? Does the Minister agree that no longer can we wait for the Commission?
I thought that my hon. Friend would take as an example of our earnest to do something the securing by my right hon. Friend of the £5·5 million adaptation this year to defend our glasshouse growers. I trust that my hon. Friend will regard that as a good example.
Does the hon. Lady accept the feelings of the whole House that her unwillingness to give a clear-cut commitment in mid-November that the subsidy will continue after 1 January is unacceptable? Is she aware that glasshouse growers in Britain cannot retain their confidence, nor can they have a bankable assurance for next season, as long as the Government delay giving that firm undertaking and making such a statement?
We have made it clear that we shall take any legal action that can be taken. The period for adaptation aids has only recently been extended by the Commission. We are urgently considering the extension.
Agricultural Land Loss
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate for the last five years for which figures are available of the average annual loss of agricultural land for urban development.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate for the last five years for which figures are available of the average annual loss of agricultural land for urban development.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer this question and question No. 9 together.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to delay Question Time too long, but you will remember your ruling on 9 November when, in c. 307, you drew the attention of the House to questions appearing on the Order Paper in identical language. I therefore draw your attention to questions Nos. 6, 9, 10, 16 and 31, which are in identical language. The Order Paper is obviously being used blatantly for some reason by 'some" organisation. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will rule on the matter.
Order. I understand that the questions to which the right hon. Gentleman correctly draws attention were tabled before my ruling on Monday. Otherwise, I should have stood up, because it is wrong for anyone to try to corner our Order Paper or, indeed, to change its character from what it has been.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point of order by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) is not correct, because questions Nos. 10 and 16 are not the same as questions Nos. 9 and 31.
Order. I was referring to questions Nos. 6 and 9, which are identical, as the hon. Gentleman will discover. We can all read.
The average annual loss of agricultural land to urban development in England during the five-year period June 1975 to June 1980 was estimated at 8,400 hectares.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving two answers for the price of one. Does he agree that one of the best ways of stopping the loss of agricultural land is to halt green field site development in favour of using inner city vacant land?
Yes, I agree with that. The Secretary of State for the Environment also agrees with that. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 provides for local authorities to establish the extent of under-used and derelict land in their urban areas. I hope that that will result in a greater use of that land.
What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to stop the use of good agricultural land beyond city boundaries and to encourage developers to use some of the 250,000 acres of vacant, dormant and derelict land which, according to the Civic Trust, is lying idle in the city areas?
Planning permissions are the ultimate responsibility of the Department of the Environment. The working relationship between my Department and the Department of the Environment is close and good. Indeed, the Department of the Environment has recently taken note of our objections to the use of good agricultural land.
Does the Minister, by chance, have the comparable figures for land lost to motorways in the same period?
When my right hon. Friend's inspectors are conducting public inquiries into the designation of land for industrial purposes, do they take into account the question that lies behind the observations from this side of the House, namely, that when there is adequate land for development within town and borough boundaries, good agricultural land should not be designated for industrial development, however convenient that land might be for such development?
The inspectors to whom my hon. Friend refers are responsible for planning. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, by the creation of the register and his attitude to planning permissions, has done more than any recent Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that good agricultural land is not lost.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) alleged that five identical questions were on the Order Paper. This is not true. There were only three identical questions on the Order Paper and only two were answered orally. There were a further two questions, Nos. 5 and 12 on the glasshouse industry, which the Minister chose to answer together. Will you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to give a ruling that no question in identical language to another should appear on the Order Paper or that the same subject should not appear twice on the Order Paper?
I thought that I had made my position perfectly clear earlier this week. I believe that there was a move which, if not checked, would have changed the Order Paper of the House. I am considered to be the guardian of the Order Paper, to the best of my ability. If a new system creeps in whereby a whole string of questions are tabled in identical language, there is nothing to stop an hon. Member from putting down 100 such questions. As we have changed the character of Prime Minister's Question Time, so we could also change the character of Question Time, which is very precious to the House. I am doing my utmost to preserve the rights of Back Benchers in the matter.
Fish (Dumping At Sea)
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether there has been an increase in the amount of fish dumped at sea during the last 12 months; and what is the size of the increase.
Fish is returned to the sea for a number of reasons. It is not possible to give the figures requested.
Is it not a scandal that, according to recent newspaper reports, as much as 1,300 tonnes of fish were dumped at sea in the past 12 months because of Common Market rules? Is that not in conflict with the generalities that the Prime Minister trotted out when she came back from the Mexico summit about looking after the starving millions in the Third world? What about that grandiose Common Market aid through which cheap food, including fish, would be used to help schools, hospitals and charities in Common Market countries?
I have previously welcomed the hon. Gentleman's interest in fishing matters, but I should be better pleased if he put his interests in the fishing industry into perspective. The known amount of fish that has had to be dumped at sea is less than 0·2 per cent. of total landings. If the hon. Gentleman knew a little about the organisation of the fishing industry, in which fishermen have to work under natural conditions and where there can be no certainty of what is to be caught or when, I should have more respect for his criticisms.
Will my right hon. Friend reread the section of the Select Committee report on the British fishing industry in which the practice of dumping is condemned, because it makes it impossible to have accurate records of the attrition rate of the fish breeding stock?Does my right hon. Friend agree that unless fish are landed no records are kept? Does he further agree that dumping seriously pollutes the seabed and that therefore fish are not fit for human consumption when they are landed mixed up with rotten fish which have been dumped on the seabed?
I take the point, which my hon. Friend made forcefully in a Select Committee report, that where dumping takes place and causes pollution, measures must be taken—and, indeed, have been—it is difficult to obtain accurate figures, because there are many different reasons why fishermen have to discard fish. Some are not solely related to intervention. One would put an impossible bureaucratic burden on fishermen if a record had to be kept of every fish dumped.
I recognise that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has betrayed his ignorance of the fishing industry and that any proper conservation policy based upon—
I have not betrayed the electorate, as the hon. Gentleman has.
Order. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will do me a favour and just shake his head when he disagrees. It would be just as effective and would be very helpful to us all.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) in the brief introduction to his question talked about betrayal. I wish to put it on record once again—
Order. That cannot be a point of order. I acted as kindly as I could to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has it not been the case for a long time that a question should refer either to the question on the Order Supplementary Paper or to the ministerial reply? The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who represents some organisation or other, began his question with a subject that had nothing to do with the question or the reply by the Minister. Therefore, it must have been out of order.
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). As usual, he is absolutely right. His observations would apply to 99 per cent. of the questions.
Does the Minister recognise, even if the hon. Member for Bolsover does not, that the fishing industry is concerned about the by-catch regulations and that there is some need for the Minister to take a further look at that matter with a view to more flexible rules being made to allow by-catches to be landed and used for human consumption?
The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point, which has been debated at length both inside and outside the industry. The general view of the industry—and it has been the view of successive Governments both before and since we entered Europe—is that, in the interests of the enforcement of conservation measures—conservation measures are worthless unless they are enforced—the returning of excessive by-catches at sea is probably one of the best methods of ensuring enforcement.
How is the Minister unable to answer the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but is able to give a percentage of the fish that are actually dumped? Is not that gross duplicity? Is he not aware that, whatever the percentage, hon. Members and fishermen are concerned about dumping? From his information, will he tell us the nationality of the fishermen who dump that fish, dividing it between Scots and English?
If the hon. Gentleman had more interest in and knowledge of the fishing industry, perhaps he would have listened to my reply. While I said that it was not possible to know the totality of the fish dumped at sea, I was able to say, in reply to the supplementary question by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), what percentage of fish landed that had gone into intervention was dumped at sea. Those are two different questions. I cannot help if the hon. Gentleman fails to wash his ears.
Is my right hon. Friend concerned, as I am, at the reports of the dumping of fish on board East European vessels for cash outside the official quotas? Will he take steps to ensure that that is stopped?
My hon. Friend raises a real problem. As he knows, new measures have been taken to control mackerel fishing off the West Coast of Scotland. Policing and enforcement have been much more effective. If my hon. Friend knows of any instances of breaches, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be delighted to know about them.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on points of order being raised during Question Time. Is it not a well-established practice that points of order unnecessarily raised during Question Time have the effect of denying hon. Members the opportunity of asking a question and receiving an answer? Would you care, Mr. Speaker, to make your statement afresh on this point, referring particularly to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and your excellent suggestion that the hon. Gentleman might indicate dissent by shaking his head? Has not long experience taught all hon. Members that the hon. Member for Bolsover is unable to move his head in any direction—
Order. As the House knows, I have repeatedly said that if hon. Members feel agitated during Question Time and wish to raise a point of order, it helps if they leave it to the end of Question Time.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take action regarding the legality of the European Commission's claims to impose fish quotas on member States; and if he will make a statement.
Her Majesty's Government reject the claims of the European Commission.
I accept that, but will the Minister of State secure a declaration from the Commission at the earliest opportunity that never again will it seek to impose quotas on member States in the way in which it attempted to do so at the July Council?
The hon. Gentleman should be clear about that matter. I have endeavoured to explain to him by letter and in the House that all that the Commission made was a claim. It has not attempted to impose it. We have rejected it and other Governments have also rejected it. As to doing anything more than that, the situation has been made absolutely plain.
Leaving aside the question of whether the claims made by either side are legal, does the Minister believe that as a result of the long, continuing close-knit connections with other Ministers in the EEC over the past few months, there is any chance of coming to a settlement, not only on this item, but on others connected with the common fisheries policy?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has been encouraged—I am sure that he has—by the fact that in a number of major areas, such as conservation, marketing and certain third country agreements, considerable progress has been made. There has been a willingness to make progress in those areas. I do not for one moment belittle the problems before us, such as those concerning quotas and access, but the fact that we have managed to narrow them down to a number of crucial issues is an element of progress, and I hope that we are supported in that.
Surely the point is that the Commission must desist from making that claim, otherwise the threat will hang over other negotiations.
The hon. Gentleman might look at progress made in meetings since that time. The Commission made that claim and that was rejected not only by us but by other Governments at the July Council. It has made no attempt to repeat it either at the September or October Councils. In those circumstances, the hon. Gentleman is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Agricultural Land Loss
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the accuracy of estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the accuracy of estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses; and if he will make a statement.
The estimates of annual losses of agricultural land to urban development and other uses are derived as a by-product of the agricultural census and within the resources available for statistical inquiries they are the most accurate that can be obtained.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. However, is he aware that the Department of the Environment estimates that in the five years to 1979 about 100,000 acres were lost as against what I believe to be 45,000 acres estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?
My hon. Friend will find that there are some discrepancies in those figures involving the inclusion of Scotland and Wales in one set of figures and not in the other.
Will my right hon. Friend consider the introduction of statutory requirements to register change of land use from agricultural to other uses? Does he agree that that would slow down the loss of agricultural land and improve the statistics as between his Department and the Department of the Environment?
I am sure that it would improve them, but at the cost of a substantial increase in bureaucracy, numbers of staff involved, the number of forms to be filled in and applications to be made. There must be a balance between the statistical information that we would like to see and the cost of obtaining it.
Is it not a fact that the Conservative Party was elected on a platform of freedom of choice and the market economy? Why should it now change its policy of allowing builders to build on meadows and chop down trees? Surely the right hon. Gentleman is denying everything that the Conservative Party stands for.
All the best planning decisions have been taken by Tory Governments.
Would my right hon. Friend be surprised to learn that 90 per cent. of our residential dwellings are built on 10 per cent. of the land? Will he accept that?
I accept it with gratitude.
Has the Minister given any consideration to the loss of land that would be occasioned by the development proposed by his Government of the airport at Stansted? Is his Department making any representations about that on the ground that good agricultural land would be lost?
On all major planning decisions, and many of the minor ones, where good agricultural land is concerned my Department always makes representations and puts its case for agricultural land.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his policy towards increasing the supply of agricultural land available to let; and what proposals he is considering in this respect.
We are at present considering the package of proposals for amending the agricultural holdings legislation put to us by the presidents of the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association, which was designed, among other things, to encourage new lettings.
I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Does she agree that, despite the ostensible agreement by the Labour Party that much more land should be available to let and that there should be a fairer system of arbitration for fixing farm rents, its posture is entirely contradictory in that respect? Does my hon. Friend agree that now is the time for her Department to take the bull by the horns and introduce primary legislation without delay?
I agree with my hon. Friend's first comments, but I assure him that now that we have finished our detailed examination of the amendments we expect the two presidents to request an early meeting so that progress can be made, which will be welcome.
Does the hon. Lady accept that the agreement between the CLA and NFU does not make sense, as it would give rise to two different classes of agricultural tenant in England and Wales? Will she look at the agreement reached between the Scottish Landowners Federation and the NFU in Scotland, which does not include an attack on tenants' security of tenure? Would it not make sense to introduce legislation on those lines for England, Wales and Scotland?
No doubt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will consider that suggestion for Scotland. I regret that I do not know as much about landowning as does the hon. Gentleman.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, following the response to the questionnaire seeking the views of pig producers on the eradication policy for Aujeszky's disease in pigs, he will make a statement on what further measures will be undertaken on this matter.
In its announcement of the detailed results of the poll my Department indicated that further action would be discussed with the industry. We expect to hold a meeting shortly.
Will my hon. Friend recognise the concern among farmers in my constituency and in Warwickshire and the West Midlands generally that in Germany and Denmark greater progress has been made on this issue? Will she consider further whether we are doing enough with our veterinary services?
We agreed with the NFU about the value of its questionnaire. Our policy on the disease remains as announced on 24 June. This year to date there have been only 11 outbreaks, but we are considering with the interested bodies what further action could be taken.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received over the grading regulations and seasonal scale for fat sheep.
The only specific representation on grading I have received recently is in the question tabled for answer today by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson). I have received no representations on the seasonal scale.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that I am surprised at the lack of representation, when so many farmers in Mid-Wales—an important sheep farming area—are concerned about the inequalities of the system? Will he take on board the concern over the injustice of a system that shows a lower return than the guaranteed price?
My right hon. Friend and I will be happy to receive representations on behalf of my hon. Friend's farmers. I appreciate that the grading regulations and seasonal scale can have different effects on different areas in accordance with particular circumstances.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is a great deal of disquiet about the grading systems? Will he consider half-and-half grading, which would be a much fairer system for our sheep farmers?
I ask my hon. Friend to await the answer that I shall be giving to him later, but I shall take account of his point. However, experience of grading demonstrates that his claim is not necessarily borne out by the facts. I assure him that we review the gradings from time to time.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the smoke hazard to motorway transport, he will consider introducing legislation to make it illegal to burn stubble in fields after harvesting.
Can my hon. Friend assure us that she will have words with the Department of Transport with a view to introducing fog lights when stubble is burnt, to minimise serious accidents?
That is an interesting suggestion, but it is already an offence under highways Acts to light a fire within 50 ft of the centre line of a highway so as to cause damage to it or a user. Furthermore, local authorities can and do introduce byelaws with financial penalties.
Is the hon. Lady aware that in the vicinity of my constituency accidents involving damage and injury have been caused by smoke from burning stubble drifting across motorways, and that it is not good enough to continue to make excuses? Will she reconsider this matter and inquire into the claims made for stubble burning as against ploughing-in?
Cultivating straw into the soil has many disadvantages, but I recognise the concern about stubble burning. Each year my Department publicises the code of practice, which has generally proved successful. Nevertheless, MAFF officials are discussing with the NFU the scope for tightening the code.
Is the Minister satisfied that the code is being broadly adhered to?
I hope that I made it clear that there may well be scope to improve the code.
asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 November.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider reports in the national press to the effect that major and leading positions in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are held by card-carrying members of the Communist Party? Will she spell out to the nation that it is only by pursuing realistic policies directed towards multilateral disarmament that we are likely to bring about peace, and that that will not be brought about by policies that pursue the blind folly of unilateralism?
I saw certain newspaper reports which must give great cause for concern to many of those who joined CND and who are well-intentioned and honourable people, even though we believe that they are misguided. I wholly agree that the way to achieve peace with freedom is to pursue multilateral disarmament, so that we can retain our security at very much lesser expense to the nation.
Will the Prime Minister today discuss with the Secretary of State for Employment the appalling unemployment on Merseyside, with 130,000 or 20 per cent. of the population out of work? Is she aware that the situation will be further aggravated by 1,000 jobs being lost at the BL plant at Speke and 500 jobs going with the closure of the P and O line? Does she agree that the appointment of her right hon. Friend as Minister with responsibilities for Merseyside was purely window dressing?
I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's last contention. When my right hon. Friend went to Merseyside, morale rose. He is keen to do every single thing that he can for Merseyside. That is an extremely important factor. He has set up the equivalent of a regional office there to see what we can do to bring extra jobs to the region. He has invoked the interest of the private sector in the area in a big way. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said about the P and O Line yesterday.
Will the Prime Minister find an opportunity today to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he accepts or disowns the statement made by his Front Bench spokesman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—
Order. Although the question was appropriately worded, the right hon. Lady is not responsible for such matters. I presume that she does not want to be. She can be asked only about those things for which she is responsible.
If, during the day, my right hon. Friend could turn her mind to the subject of referendums, would she reflect on the suggestion that, if it is appropriate to ask people by that device whether they want their rates to go up, it would also be proper to invite them to verify their opinion on a subject that has consistently divided the public will and the House for the past decade, namely, the return to the statute book of capital punishment?
There is a great difference between a local poll and a national referendum. On the matter to which my hon. Friend referred, I think that national referendums have hitherto been only advisory. I do not think that a referendum on that matter would make any difference to the way in which the House voted.
Complaints Against The Police
asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on her policy towards the reforming of procedures for complaints against the police.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has informed the House, we are considering, in consultation with the Police Advisory Board, what changes in the present system may be necessary. A working group under the chairmanship of my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State is expected to report back to the board shortly.
Does the Prime Minister agree that it is essential that the police have the confidence of 99 per cent. of the population? Does she further agree that if that is to be achieved there must be effective democratic control and discussion of police policy, a simple procedure whereby minor complaints may be investigated and apologies given quickly, and, finally, a full, independent inquiry into major complaints against the police?
All of those matters are the subject of consideration in reports to the Police Advisory Board. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider them all together when they arrive soon.
Is not the first aim of those who wish to revolutionise society to undermine public confidence in the police? Does the Prime Minister therefore agree that, accepting that the police are not perfect, there is a powerful duty upon the Government to give maximum support to those who stand between the population and the forceful overthrow of law and order?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I made clear in my speech to the House a few days ago, we give our unswerving and unequivocal support to the police in carrying out their vital duties to uphold law and order for all our sakes.
Does the Prime Minster also welcome the statement by the Police Federation, following the last exchanges in the House when strong views were expressed on both sides, that it now feels that it would be in the best interests of police-public relations if there were an independent system of inquiry into complaints against the police?
That is one of the matters that will have to be taken into account by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary together with a number of other reports at present in preparation, and also any recommendations that the Scarman report may make.
Will my right hon. Friend resist all suggestions for further democratic control of the police, which is merely a code word for Livingstonian interference with the police, and instead concentrate upon the real need to restore public confidence in a genuinely independent element in the police complaints procedure? Would not that best be achieved by setting up a police Ombudsman procedure?
My hon. Friend's point about an independent element in police complaints procedure is at present under consideration by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will make a decision when he has received all the reports. With regard to democratic control of the police, the police must be absolutely free of any political control in making their operational decisions.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 12 November.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some minutes ago.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the average family in Great Britain has had to pay an extra £12·25 per week this year in direct and indirect taxation, compared with only 69p extra in rates? Does she agree that even in Greater London her own increases in taxation have been four times the increase in Londoners' rates? Do not those figures show that her unprincipled attack on local government is no more than a smokescreen to cover the fact that she has imposed massive increases in taxation and living costs on all families in this country, in complete contradiction of her election pledges to reduce taxation?
I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman's suggestions for reductions in public expenditure on both a national and a local level, so that both national taxes and local rates may be reduced. It would be entirely dishonourable to suggest that one can increase public spending and reduce taxes at the same time. With regard to the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave, the amount of taxation paid by the average family is clearly much greater than the amount paid in rates. If the hon. Gentleman had considered the percentages, however, he would know that the percentage increase in taxes for a typical family with two children was almost exactly the same as the percentage increase in their rates—before the latest supplementary rate increases.
Will my right hon. Friend consider the consequences of the intrusion into Swedish waters of a Soviet submarine, which was clearly established to be there for the purposes of espionage and nuclear warfare? Does not this emphasise the vital importance of unity and co-operation among the countries of the Council of Europe as well as within the EEC? Will she therefore confirm that it remains Britain's policy to support and participate in the Council of Europe?
On the last point, it remains Britain's policy to participate in the Council of Europe, which we recognise performs a valuable function and which includes countries that are not members of the EEC, such as Sweden. The incident to which my hon. Friend refers highlights the need to be extremely diligent and to keep our defences on the alert.
Returning to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), do I take it that the Prime Minister has confirmed the figures that he gave? Does she not find it astonishing that the average family in this country is now paying an extra £12·25 per week in Government-imposed taxation? How does she reconcile that with her election statement that she was determined to build real incentives for all into our tax system?
I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). The percentage increase in rates and taxes for the average family was approximately the same before the latest supplementary rate demands were issued. On the right hon. Gentleman's specific question, taxation would have been very much higher under a Labour Government. I look forward once again to hearing his proposals for reducing public expenditure. Otherwise, we must conclude that the right hon. Gentleman is giving notice that he would simply print the extra money so that Britain would once again be on the way to the IMF.
I am asking the Prime Minister to confirm that under the Conservative Government taxes for the average family have risen by more than £12 per week. Does she think that that is what she told the electorate at the general election?
Taxes for the average family have indeed increased. As I have frequently explained to the right hon. Gentleman, if we are to maintain prudent and sound financial policies, we should not finance increases in public spending by printing money, as I believe that the right hon. Gentleman would. At least we have the honesty to finance them properly by taxation.
Will the Prime Minister, in the course of her busy day, find time to consider initiating four or five major capital projects to be financed by the City?
If capital projects can be financed by the City, it is naturally at liberty both to finance them and to set them up. The trouble with some of the schemes put to us is that either they require Government guarantee or they are schemes started by monopoly industries that could put up the price sufficiently to finance the borrowing. That would have a very adverse effect on the private sector.
Can the Prime Minister clear up one discrepancy between her statement about Mr. Leo Long's espionage activities and the statement of the Attorney-General? The right hon. Lady said that there was one other individual to whom inducements had been given, and the Attorney-General said that there were a few other individuals. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what are the facts and what number the Attorney-General was referring to in speaking of a "few" individuals being offered inducements to confess?
If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at both statements he will find that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General gave the numbers, a few, to whom an informal inducement had been offered. I gave the number—[Interruption.] This is extremely important and I am trying very hard to get it right in response to a question from the other side of the House. I am trying to get it accurate. He gave the number of cases, a few, in which informal inducements had been offered. I gave the number from whom a confession had come as the result of an informal inducement. The two are perfectly compatible.
On a point of order Mr. Speaker. I have no interest to declare but many hon. Members wish to take part in the business that is to follow. It is, I think, within your prerogative, Mr. Speaker, to suggest to Ministers, including even the Prime Minister, that if they intend to make a statement that will deprive Back Benchers of time in subsequent debates, they should ensure that the statement is not given to the press as happened this morning and in today's midday newspapers. Is it not taking liberties with the House when Ministers come along, as they now do regularly, to make a statement that has already appeared in the press? Would not the best course be for you, Mr. Speaker, to say before questions that you will not allow the statement to be made because you have read it already in the press that day?
I should not like to try on this particular occasion.
Civil Service Department (Transfer Of Responsibilities)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the organisation of the central Departments.We have made a good deal of progress in the last two and a half years controlling the cost and size of the Civil Service and in improving its efficiency. The Government are most grateful to the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service for all the valuable work it has done in this area and in particular for its report on the future of the Civil Service Department. I look forward to receiving its recommendations as a result of its current study on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Civil Service. I believe that the time has now come when some organisational changes will help us to make sure that the progress we have already achieved is maintained. Setting up the Civil Service Department 13 years ago had a number of advantages compared with the situation as it existed before. But it had one consequence whose disadvantages have become increasingly apparent over time. It divorced central responsibility for the control of manpower from responsibility for the control of Government expenditure. I judge that the balance of advantage now lies in favour of consolidating the CSD's manpower control responsibilities with the central control of resources. I therefore propose to reunify responsibility for the central allocation and control of all resources, and to make the Treasury responsible for control over Civil Service manpower, pay, superannuation, allowances and for the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency. The staff at present concerned with these functions will be transferred to the Treasury. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) will be appointed as a Minister of State in the Treasury to help in the discharge of these responsibilities. He will continue to answer in this House for the whole range of Civil Service matters. The duties of the other Ministers of State in the Treasury will remain unchanged, but my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) will assume the title of Economic Secretary to the Treasury. I turn now to the Civil Service Department's other responsibilities. It remains my view that there should not be a total merger of the Treasury and the Civil Service Department. The efficiency of the Civil Service in carrying out its functions and the selection and development of civil servants are as important to the Government as the control of public expenditure. The machinery of government should make special provision for this, since it is a subject in which any Prime Minister is bound to take a close personal interest. I shall therefore continue to be Minister for the Civil Service and to be responsible for the organisation, management and overall efficiency of the Home Civil Service and for policy on recruitment, training and other personnel management matters. My noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will, as at present, discharge these responsibilities on a day-to-day basis. She will also answer in another place for the whole range of Civil Service matters. The staff involved in these functions will work alongside the Cabinet Office in a new Management and Personnel Office. Sir Robert Armstrong will be Permanent Secretary of this office and will also continue, as the Secretary of the Cabinet, to head the Cabinet Office. He will be assisted on the business of the new office by a second Permanent Secretary, Mr. John Cassels. An Order in Council will be necessary to transfer the responsibilities for Civil Service manpower and remuneration to the Treasury. The order will be laid before Parliament shortly. In preparation for its coming into effect, the new arrangements will be introduced administratively from 16 November. During the interim period, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have charge, on my behalf, of the functions to be transferred to the Treasury. Thereafter, there will not be a Department known as the Civil Service Department. There will be some staff savings as a result of the new arrangements. Sir Ian Bancroft, head of the Home Civil Service and permanent secretary to the Civil Service Department, and Sir John Herbecq, the second permanent secretary, both of whom were due to retire by the end of next year, have with characteristic public spirit accepted that these changes mean their departure from the public service some months early. Both have had long and distinguished careers in the public service, and have served the nation with all the devotion and integrity that we expect from our public servants. Sir Ian served successive Chancellors of the Exchequer with conspicuous distinction. He did much to build up the Department of the Environment before becoming head of the Civil Service in 1977. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in this expression of appreciation and gratitude for the many years of distinguished service that both he and Sir John have given to the country. On Sir Ian Bancroft's retirement, Sir Robert Armstrong and Sir Douglas Wass, the permanent secretary to the Treasury, will become joint heads of the Home Civil Service. Arrangements are in hand to explain to all the staff of the CSD how they will be affected by the reorganisation. Both the Council of Civil Service unions and the trade union representatives of the CSD's staff are today being informed of the details of the new organisation. I have placed in the Library copies of a note setting out the distribution of functions between the Treasury and the management and Personnel Office.
The right hon. Lady has made an important statement that affects both the efficiency of the Civil Service and the welfare of those employed by it. However, it seems to be a volte-face—I shall not use the offensive term "U-term"—compared with the statement that the Prime Minister made a few months ago. I hope that she will provide more information as to why that has occurred. I hope that there will be a debate in the House so that hon. Members will be able to discuss her proposals.What consultations have taken place with the unions and staff concerned? The Prime Minister said that they were being informed of the proposals today, but have there been proper consultations about the people who work in those Departments? Why does she now reject the advice of the Civil Service associations, which have given her and her predecessors advice on these matters? Will the Prime Minister tell the House why she has changed her mind since her statement in January, when she told the House that she had decided to strengthen and improve the existing Civil Service Department organisation, rather than to merge the two Departments? Has her mind or the Government's mind been in any way affected by the industrial action earlier this year? Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that the new Management and Personnel Office will have all the power and authority of a Department of State? Why does she consider that the diffuse control of the Civil Service will necessarily make it more efficient? Why does she consider that the Treasury has had such brilliant successes in the last few years that extra powers and authority should be transferred to it? I join the Prime Minister in her tribute to the individuals and high officials whose names she recorded. I knew some of them and I wish them every success. However, the announcement by the Prime Minister of the dizzy promotion of the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) to the high post of Economic Secretary to the Treasury will cause terror and derision throughout Whitehall.
With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's latter point, my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) will carry out the same responsibilities that he carried out previously. I am surprised that a change of name makes such a dizzy change in the right hon. Gentleman's reactions.We are not transferring the whole of the Civil Service Department to the Treasury, simply a particular part of it. Experience has continually shown the disadvantages of divorcing the management and control of expenditure on manpower resources in central Government from the management and control of Government expenditure as a whole. That is why the change is being made. Those sections of the CSD will now be closely in tune and in touch with policy changes on resources and control. The efficiency units in the management and personnel parts of the CSD will now amalgamate with the Rayner unit, which hitherto has been under the office of the Prime Minister. It will become a management and personnel office and will therefore be closer to policy-making in general. There were not advance consultations with the unions. It is difficult in a matter of the machinery of government, of which the first formal notice should come to the House, to hold such consultations. We are very sensitive that Parliament should be the first body to be told. That is the way in which to proceed.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that vastly more important than the location or the chain of command of the CSD—or whatever its new name is to be—is that it should continue to be an arbiter of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Civil Service? It is disappointing that that has not always been the case in recent years. It remains the policy of the Government to bring about that desirable state of affairs and to raise the standards of the great Departments of State—which, alas, vary so much—to the standards of the highest. Ministers also have a substantial responsibility for that.With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), is my right hon. Friend able to shed any light on the leaks in the newspapers this morning? Is it not agreed that it is very offensive to the House that we should read the Government's proposals almost verbatim in the newspapers before we hear them here?
I found those reports in the press today as offensive as did my right hon. and hon. Friends. I cannot shed any light on the leak. The first we knew about it was when we received questions from the press late last night. I do not believe that the leak came from my office. I do not know where it came from. I, too, found it as offensive as my right hon. Friend.I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is important to get the maximum efficiency. That is why we have the Rayner unit in my office, and why Ministers and permanent secretaries are taking a fresh interest in securing the maximum efficiency within their Departments. I hope that the new office will assist in that direction.
Order. I have an exceptionally long list of hon. Members who hope to participate in the main debate. I therefore hope that hon. Members will co-operate during questions on the Prime Minister's statement and be as brief as possible, because a Business Statement is to follow before we reach the main business.
In spite of the length of the intervention by the Leader of the Opposition, is there any necessity or justification for the time of the House to be taken up by a long and detailed statement, including notification of personnel appointments and retirements in the Civil Service, such as that which has been inflicted upon us this afternoon by the Prime Minister?
I am not usually accused of making too many statements—rather, too few. If the House does not wish me to make statements on these matters, I shall refrain from doing so in future.
Will there be any financial savings following the reorganisation and, if so, what will they be?
I believe that the main financial savings will accrue eventually from putting the manpower control division in the Treasury. That should lead to very much greater efficiency than we have seen in the past few years.
Is the Prime Minister aware that, although she referred in passing to the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, she omitted any reference to its unanimous report in the previous Session which recommended against the sort of changes that she has announced but made constructive proposals for improving the CSD? The right hon. Lady also did not controvert, or attempt to controvert, the Committee's statement that manpower is a different sort of resource from others and that managing people calls for special skills, not least the ability to negotiate effectively with trade unions?
When we received the Select Committee's report we implemented a number of changes that it recommended. Since then it has become increasingly difficult to operate at greatest efficiency with the control of manpower separate from the control of expenditure. I am sure that from the point of view of the best allocation of resources we have made the best decision. We look forward to receiving the report on efficiency throughout the Civil Service which I know the Select Committee is engaged upon.
Will the Prime Minister answer the question of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? What has happened since 29 January when she specifically said that she did not wish to merge the CSD with the Treasury because
Does she not feel that there is a danger of weakening the responsibility of departmental Ministers for the management of their own Departments in this gathering to herself and her office of greater responsibility for the management and personnel in the Civil Service?"all concentration would go on reorganisation rather than on dealing with the true problem?"—[Official Report, 29 January 1981; Vol. 997, c. 1070.]
On the hon. Gentleman's latter point, the Prime Minister is the head of the Civil Service and I do not think that he can accuse me of arrogating greater powers to myself. That is not the point at all. On the hon. Gentleman's first question, I said that it has become increasingly difficult to operate separate control of expenditure and control of manpower. I am sure that we have taken the right managerial decision and that now is the best moment to take it.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the decision to abolish the CSD which, over the past 13 years, has, it is sad to note, made a net negative contribution to the efficiency of the Whitehall machine? Will she assure the House that the Government will take the opportunity of the reorganisation to strengthen the role of the Cabinet Office in the co-ordination, planning and presentation of Government policies?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It will help many of those engaged on the management and personnel side of the former CSD to be more closely attached to the work of the Cabinet Office, which is a policy-making office. Much of their main work will be in improving efficiency, although, strictly, that falls finally within the sphere of each departmental Minister.There are many wonderful young people in the Civil Service Department who are anxious to have as much influence as possible on increasing the efficiency of the Civil Service as a whole. I hope that the new arrangements will meet with their approval and that they will enjoy working in their new Departments.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance? I note from our Order Paper that Prime Minister's questions start at 3.15 pm, but is there a limit on how long they should continue? The Leader of the House has to announce next week's business and there is an important debate to follow that. Is there any constitutional rule—
Order. The hon. Gentleman may have overlooked the fact that this is not Prime Minister's Question Time. The Prime Minister has made a statement and at 4 o'clock I shall pass on to the next business.
Does the Prime Minister agree that her proposals make no sense in management terms? How can it be right to give responsibility for pay to the Treasury and responsibility for industrial relations to the Cabinet Office, unless industrial relations now count for nothing? How can it be right to put manpower control in the Treasury and efficiency in the Cabinet Office? Is it not a fact that this has nothing to do with a rational analysis of the functions of Government, but is one of her terrible tantrums over the success of the Civil Service strike?
It has been argued that the whole of the CSD should go into the Treasury, but as there was already an efficiency unit in the Prime Minister's office, under Sir Derek Rayner, I felt it best that the other functions of the CSD, apart from those connected with pay, pensions and allowances, should be exercised in relation to the efficiency unit in my office. The unions will deal both with the Management and Personnel Office and with the Treasury, according to the matters involved in the consultations.I deliberately refrained from putting everything back into the Treasury. I believe that the Civil Service Commission, in dealing with matters of recruitment, will be better if it is kept separate and that the Management and Personnel Office is the best place for that.
Is the Prime Minister aware that many people will view her statement with some anxiety, lest it be the first step towards a Prime Minister's Department? There may be some important constitutional issues involved in the decision. Can the right hon. Lady confirm that no previous Prime Minister has ever seen his responsibilities for the Civil Service as being to hold executive responsibility and managerial responsibility for such important areas of overall Civil Service policy and that previously that responsibility has been designated to another Minister? What makes the Prime Minister believe that concentrating power in her office is the right way of proceeding?
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman could have heard everything I said. The Management and Personnel Office will be attached to the Cabinet Office and the efficiency unit, which was in my office, will go to form part of that management and personnel unit. With regard to the Prime Minister taking executive responsibility, I pointed out carefully in my statement that those responsibilities will continue to be discharged in exactly the same way as they are now, either by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe), who will go to the Treasury to discharge them, or by my noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who will discharge the day-to-day responsibilities in the Management and Personnel Office in the same way as she does in the CSD now.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that her package of decisions is amply justified by the disappointing record of the CSD in the years since the Fulton report? Will she undertake to come back to the House in due course, perhaps in a few months, with a report on the savings in manpower and money that may flow from her wise decision?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If we were starting again, I do not think that we would set up the CSD in quite the same way as it was set up. I believe that my hon. Friend's conclusion is correct. In the past few years the CSD has reduced its own staff by about 10 per cent. We shall certainly keep a careful watch on the points that my hon. Friend has raised, and report back.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on grasping a nettle that has been around for at least four years. Will she congratulate her hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who was one of the two people who drafted the recommendation in the 1977 Expenditure Committee report, which she has now substantially implemented? Does she agree that that shows that if a Select Committee takes two years to consider the Civil Service—the first time in 106 years that hon. Members had considered the Civil Service as a whole—it demonstrates the strength of bipartisan Select Committees on such matters?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was aware of the conclusions of that Committee and am glad of the hon. Gentleman's support and the support of all those who constituted the Committee under his chairmanship.
Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the demise of the CSD will in no way dilute the follow-through on the recent advice and instructions issued to all Departments on the subject of non-departmental public bodies?
I am glad to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I hope that the subject in which he has taken a foremost interest will continue to be prosecuted vigorously by Ministers in charge of Departments.
Would the Prime Minister explain what contribution to Civil Service efficiency will stem from having a two-headed Civil Service administration? Does she recall the phrase she used in her White Paper of February of this year when she said that the functions of the Civil Service Department had a logical cohesion which it would be harmful to split? How can she justify not only splitting it but splitting it three ways?
I have explained the reasons for the split, but the split is two ways, not three ways. Those who go to the Treasury will come under Sir Douglas Wass, and the others will be under Sir Robert Armstrong in the Cabinet Office. They will be joint heads of the Civil Service. The right hon. Gentleman is right in that there have not previously been joint heads of the Civil Service, but I am sure that it will work extremely well.
If hon. Members will be brief, I shall try to call those who have been rising. [Interruption.] Those groans come from hon. Members who have not been seeking to catch my eye.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this welcome decision. Is she aware that the evidence to the Treasury and Civil Service Sub-Committee showed quite clearly that the CSD was not doing an effective job, in stark contrast to the work being done by Sir Derek Rayner and his team? Can we now expect that a proper management accounting system will be brought into all Departments, not only the Department of the Environment?
I hope that the amalgamation of those two units into the Management and Personnel Office will help both to carry out their responsibilities as efficiently as possible. I am aware that the management accounting unit to which my hon. Friend refers is now being set up in the Department of the Environment. I hope that that will act as a model for other Departments.
Why on 29 January did the right hon. Lady agree that the Civil Service Department should continue its separate existence when now, a few months later, she is trying to join them once again?Is the right hon. Lady aware that it will not end here? When these matters of pay are dealt with in the Treasury, they will have to go all the way up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The trade unions will not be satisfied with meeting the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, as the right hon. Lady's spending Ministers are: they will want to go to the person who makes the final decision. The work of the Treasury will be increased and there will be a concentration of power without the ability to resolve problems any more satisfactorily than at present.
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, will continue to carry out the work he is now doing. He has been doing that work in the CSD. He will be doing it in the Treasury. The trade unions will deal with him and they will also consult my right hon. and noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.In any event, these matters had previously to come either to me or to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or groups of Ministers. The system in that respect will not be different.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the vital role that information technology can play in efficiency in the Civil Service, from her own office down? Will she assure the House that the changes proposed today will not affect the development of the work of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency? Might this not be an opportunity for shifting the responsibility for the agency to my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology?.Will my right hon. Friend also assure the House that these changes will not in any way affect the dispersal of Civil Service jobs in Glasgow?
There will be no change whatever in the dispersal programme of the Civil Service as a result of these changes.I hope that all matters concerning information technology, in which my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology has taken such a vigorous interest, will continue to be pursued actively. They are important not only to the Civil Service but as an example to the rest of commerce and industry.
If a major employer, employing over 600,000 people, announced a decision of this scale and importance only 30 minutes after calling in the unions to tell them, would not this House condemn it as a gross violation of good industrial relations? In view of the significance and importance of such a change, and the reservations expressed today, would it not be appropriate for this House to have the opportunity for a proper debate on the issue?
Machinery of government changes have always been announced to this House first, and I believe that that is the way to do it.
Where will the ministerial and administrative responsibilities for openness of government, and the follow-through of the flow of directive, now reside? Does the Prime Minister's statement mean that the pledges given to this House by the Lord President of the Council earlier this year, in a debate about the openness of government will be adhered to as strongly as he said they would be in that debate?
I do not think that there is any change. I remain head of that part of the office which deals with those things. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will carry out those duties on a day-to-day basis, as she does now.
Is it not a fact that the Government, in their doctrinaire pursuit of the notion of reducing the total number of civil servants, have concentrated mainly on the industrial civil servants and handed out their work to private contractors? Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that the cleaners, the painters, the electricians, the drivers, and so on, whose jobs are now being destroyed by the thousand, are no less dedicated to the public service than the very senior people to whom she referred in her statement?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. There have been some reductions in the numbers in the industrial Civil Service, but there have been a similar number of reductions in the non-industrial Civil Service.
May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?
The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY I6 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Civil Aviation (Amendment) Bill and of the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill. Motion on the statement of the young workers scheme. TUESDAY I7 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Shipbuilding Bill. Motion on the British Shipbuilders Borrowing Powers (Increase of Limit) Order. Motion on European Community Document 8832/81 on protection of laying hens kept in battery cages. WEDNESDAY I8 NOVEMBER—Supply (2nd allotted day): A debate on an Opposition motion on the Government's destrucive policy towards higher education in Britain. Motion on the Redundancy Fund (Advances out of the National Loans) Fund Order. THURSDAY I9 NOVEMBER—Supply (3rd Allotted Day): A debate on an Opposition Motion on the Scottish Economy and Industry. FRIDAY 2o NOVEMBER—Debate on the Report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, under the chairmanship of Sir Cyril Philips, Cmnd. No. 8092, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. MONDAY 23 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security and Housing Benefits Bill.
The following report of the European Legislation Committee is relevant to the debate on the European Community document on battery hens on Tuesday 17 November: 33rd Report, 1980–81, HC 32-xxxiii (1980–81), para. 3.
I have four important questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman.It is evident from the questions that were put to the Prime Minister a few minutes ago that there must be a debate about the statement she has made on the Civil Service, particularly because there have been no consultations in any form whatever with the people who work in the Civil Service. The right hon. Lady made a statement earlier in the week about Ireland. We asked for a debate then, and there ought to be a debate soon on the discussions between the British Government and the Government of the Irish Republic. With regard to the local government finance matters which the House will be discussing today, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that we believe that there must be two full days for the Second Reading of the Bill. Since it involves such important and novel constitutional propositions, it should be discussed on the Floor of the House. I am sure that that will be the desire of hon. Members in all parts of the House. Lastly, and perhaps most urgently of all, it is conceivable that next week there will be some announcement about GLC fares and the matters which have been the subject of court proceedings during this week. I know that an appeal is pending. I am not making a comment about that now. However, if there are to be developments, as has been projected in some quarters, it is obvious that the House of Commons would have to step in. The Leader of the House said in the debate last night:
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that we believe that transport policy and the way in which it has been laid down by this Parliament must be protected by this Parliament, and that we cannot have the courts interfering with policy matters of that nature."It is vital that we ensure that Parliament and no other body stands at the centre of the nation's life and decisions. This is not a matter that can simply be taken for granted or assumed."—[Official Report, 11 November 1981; Vol. 12, c. 621.]
I must inform the house that I have been told that an appeal has been registered, which makes the matter sub judice at present. I allowed the right hon. member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) to conclude his statement, but the matter is sub judice and we cannot pursue it.
I note what the right hon. Gentleman says in relation to the Civil Service Department and the statement of my right hon. Friend. I cannot promise that I shall find time for a debate on this important subject. We have had a long statement on it—and some criticism about its length. But let right hon. and hon. Members see whether they can find an opportunity. I do not think that I can offer time immediately.I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about Ireland. If he is thinking, as I think he was, about talks between the Taoiseach and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that is a matter that falls under the general heading of foreign affairs and Community affairs—although there is a sort of special relationship between this country and the Republic. There was a debate on foreign affairs last week, and I think that it would fall within that context. If the right hon. Gentleman has in mind a debate on Northern Ireland affairs, which are extremely important, there will be opportunities in due course for further debate on that subject. However, the point about Ireland must be looked at in the context of foreign affairs generally. As to the Local Government Finance Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged, I did not make arty statement in the business for next week about that Bill, so I do not think that any matter in relation to it arises in the exchanges over business questions. However, as he said, we are about to have a debate on a motion directly related to the issues behind that Bill.
The Foreign Secretary has just returned from his latest peace mission to the Middle East, where he has been trying to make a worthwhile contribution towards a settlement there. I do not think that we shall be having another foreign affairs debate in the immediate future. In view of the very tendentious misreporting that has taken place in various quarters about our Foreign Secretary's role, may we expect very soon a statement in the other place by the Foreign Secretary and a statement here on the present situation?
I am doubtful whether there will be a statement on that matter either in another place or here, but I have no doubt that my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Ministers of State in the Foreign Office will take opportunities to make the position absolutely clear. What I think I should say—I am sure that it is obvious to all hon. Members—is that the Foreign Secretary has been using all his endeavours to try to improve the situation and to secure peace in the Middle East.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that at the end of the previous Session he promised the House that there would be an early debate on the report of the Select Committee on Energy on the nuclear industry, which was to be combined, I understood, with a debate on the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the Central Electricity Generating Board? Is there now any hope of such a debate?
I do not think that I gave such a promise, but I must check on that. The importance of this subject is clear, but we are to have a debate on the Second Reading of the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill next week.
As the Scott report on the index linking of pensions was published about eight or nine months ago, and in view of the widespread public interest in index-linked pensions, when will the House have an opportunity to debate the matter?
I cannot say when, but I accept the importance of the subject and I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's representations.
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence or the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on the conflicting comments of Messrs. Weinberger and Haig and President Reagan on the position of Europe as a tactical nuclear battleground according to the disposition and attitude of American foreign and defence policy? Does the Leader of the House accept the highly undemocratic attitude of the Government in sending the Secretary of State for Defence to the NATO nuclear planning group meeting on 20–21 October and no statement about that meeting being made on the Floor of the House? Only one planted parliamentary question has been answered. This is a continuing disgrace. When will the Leader of the House do something about it and tell the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box and be answerable to the democratic institution that he is supposed to support?
On the first question, if the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends decided to use a Supply day for that purpose, it is open to them to choose it.
You are the Government.
On the second point, there is by no means a practice by which, following nuclear planning group meetings, there is an automatic statement in the House. When an important decision is made or something important has to be announced, the House is told. If no decision of particular importance is taken, the House is not told. It is a great mistake to fill up the time of the House every day at 3.30 pm with statements which are not necessary. Statements there must be on matters of importance and of interest, and to the extent to which the House wants them, but not on everything—particularly if there does not happen to be much to be said.
Will my right hon. Friend consider recalling the Select Committee on Procedure?
I indicated in what I said last night that it was in my mind to put down a motion shortly in order to set up that Committee once again.
Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider an earlier reply? Does he not accept that there would be considerable value in a statement being made in this Chamber on the admirable efforts of the Foreign Secretary in trying to get general acceptance throughout Europe and the Middle East and in America—one hopes—of the excellence of the Fahd peace plan?
I shall convey that view to my right hon. and noble Friend, and he will consider it. I shall consider it, too, but my personal view is that I am not sure that that is very likely. However, I shall consider the matter further.
Order. I want to try to help the House, in view of the noises earlier. I shall allow questions on the Business Statement to run until 4.20 pm, and then I think that we shall move on to the main business.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us do not take the same view as the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) but feel very strongly that there should be a statement on the Middle East, and quickly, if only to try to get together the policies of European Governments and the American Government on the Middle East?
Obviously, I shall take that point of view into account.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing anger and concern among nurses, the general public and Members of this House about the way in which the nurses' salary claim is being treated? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement, or, better still, will he provide time for a debate about this dedicated body of workers in the Health Service?
At the request of the Opposition, there was a debate on the Health Service last Friday.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure those of us on both sides of the House who attach great importance to the Madrid conference that he is as sympathetic to us having a debate on that subject now as he was before the day's debate on foreign affairs was fixed?
I shall bear that request in mind.
In regard to the debate next Thursday on the Scottish economy, in view of the overriding responsibilities of the Treasury for the present parlous condition of the Scottish economy, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a Minister from the Treasury is present, either to open or to reply to the debate?
Again, I shall note that point. I am doubtful whether hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies would be altogether appreciative of that suggestion, but I shall consider it.
May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion No. 34, standing in my name, which refers to the Colleges of Education (Compensation) (Amendment) Regulations?[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Colleges of Education (Compensation) (Amendment) Regulations (S.I., 1981, No. 1088), dated 22nd July 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th August, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled.] Will the right hon. Gentleman find time within our procedures for this matter to be considered?