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Commons Chamber

Volume 14: debated on Thursday 3 December 1981

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House Of Commons

Thursday 3 December 1981

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Unemployed Young Persons

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many young persons under 21 years in Northern Ireland are unemployed; and what was the comparable figure in 1979.

Separate statistics of the numbers of registered unemployed young persons aged under 21 are not collected. However, for the under-20 age group the most recent figures as at 12 November 1981 was 23,991. The corresponding November 1979 figure was 12,956.

Does the Minister agree that young unemployed people anywhere are more than likely to get into trouble with the law simply because they are wandering around with nothing to do, and that the circumstances in Northern Ireland make them more vulnerable to the blandishments of paramilitary organisations? Therefore, tackling the problem of the large number of unemployed young people must be an urgent priority for the Government. What proposals does the hon. Gentleman have to bring before the House?

The hon. Gentleman's analysis is correct. Unemployed youngsters are likely to get into trouble. It is precisely because of that, and because of the very high number of young people out of work, that we are taking positive steps. I mention only one. The increase in the number of places under the youth opportunities programme from 7,000 in March this year to an estimated 12,000 by March 1982—an increase of 70 per cent.—is evidence of what we are doing.

In view of yesterday's announcement by Gallaher of the loss of 500 jobs in Northern Ireland, will the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State warn their Treasury colleagues that any further increase in cigarette taxation could be disastrous for both Carreras and Gallaher in Northern Ireland?

I think that it is recognised that the increase in the tax has had its impact on cigarette smoking. Equally, it has been a major contributor towards the Chancellor's strategy, and therefore it is to be welcomed in that respect.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that in some of the most difficult areas of Belfast the percentage of unemployed, especially Catholic unemployed, is far higher than in the Province as a whole, and that this constitutes an added problem?

My hon. Friend will know that there is no discrimination between Protestant and Roman Catholic in employment matters. In areas of high levels of unemployment—my right hon. Friend is correct about certain parts of Belfast, but this applies also to other areas of the Province—we offer higher discretionary grants for industrial development to try to improve the employment situation.

Is the Minister aware that his statement today and Government policies do not match the fact that almost an entire generation of young people in Northern Ireland have no industrial or other work experience, that their idealism has been soured and that their hopes have been dashed? Will the Government recognise that situation and take positive steps, including, perhaps, giving financial help to employers to take on more young people under the age of 21 for at least two years?

The hon. Gentleman should not exaggerate the position. The vast majority of young people are at work. However, he is right to point to the seriousness of the matter. It is because of this that the Government are offering incentives to employers to employ young people under the young workers scheme, which will come into effect in the Province at the beginning of January. It is conceivable that it is already having an impact.

Will the Minister take a long hard look at the recent report of the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which demonstrates clearly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) about the link between unemployment and crime? When he looks at that report, I hope that he will conclude that there is a strong case for the expansion of the economy, particularly to soak up unskilled youth unemployment.

I recognise that the connection exists. That is why we attach special importance to that group of unemployed people in our society. At the same time, we shall not ignore the needs of unemployed adults.

I shall not be able to call the complete round of hon. Members on other questions.

Housing Executive

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what number of houses he expects to be sold by the Housing Executive in the current financial year; and, in this connection, what sums will become available from building societies for spending by the Housing Executive in the current financial year.

This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, but I understand from the chairman that over 7,000 sales are likely to be completed during this financial year. I regret that without information from individual building societies the Housing Executive cannot assess the extent to which sums will become available to it from this particular source.

With regard to the latter part of the Minister's reply., while I in no way challenge the necessity for the annual accounting of public money, are not capital sums received in that way by the Housing Executive from building societies intended to form a net addition to resources? Will the Minister take steps to ensure that there are no pedantic and absurd results from the way in which such payments fall on one side or the other at the end of the financial year?

I expect that the Housing Executive will spend about £19 million this year on housing from its receipts. As to the financing of next year's programme, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will join me in not wanting marked pound notes in relation to particular sources, so long as we can ensure that sufficient resources finance an adequate programme. I am discussing that matter with the chairman of the Housing Executive.

Is not the Housing Executive's real problem that the Minister's policies do not allow it to plan in advance? May we have an undertaking that in the next Appropriation Order money will be made available to the Housing Executive to enable it to plan at least five years in advance?

Apart from the question of the resources available, I am discussing with the Housing Executive a planned programme—which is exactly what the hon. Gentleman asks for—to enable it to look further than 12 months ahead. We shall then seek to make the resources available.

United States Of America

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make arrangements for a ministerial visit to the United States of America to counter the misrepresentation there by sympathisers of the Irish Republican Army of the situation in Northern Ireland.

The countering of such mispresentation has been part of the purpose of recent ministerial visits; and we intend that there should be more.

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his new post. Does he agree that it would be helpful if we could get across the basic realities to the people of the United States; for example, that the people of Northern Ireland in their relationship with Eire are just as entitled to choose their constitutional arrangements as are the people of Canada in relation to the United States?

Will my hon. Friend's colleagues explain to the American public that the IRA is seeking to create a base for subversion in Europe which is not dissimilar to what the Cubans are doing in relation to the United States? Will he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State plan an early visit to the United States?

We need to use every valid argument to persuade the Americans against supporting any organisation that might help terrorism in any way. We are still planning ministerial visits for next year.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that arrangements for his colleagues' trip are adequate? Unless the consulates—I have in mind Chicago in particular—make better arrangements than they have made for visits by hon. Members on similar trips, the visit will be wasted.

I hope that my hon. Friend will let my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State know if there are any shortcomings in the arrangements for overseas visits.

Unemployment

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has any further plans for reducing unemployment in the Province.

We shall continue to pursue our regional industrial development policies, which are set out in the document "Framework for Action". Essentially these involve support for established industries, the development of small businesses and the promotion of inward investment. Success in reducing unemployment can come about only by creating real and lasting jobs, and our national and regional policies are aimed at achieving that goal.

I do not wish to belittle the efforts of the Northern Ireland Development Corporation or any other bodies that are doing their best to attract new industries to Northern Ireland, but will the Minister direct his attention to the Mondragon experiment, in Northern Spain's Basque province, which contains answers for small businesses in Northern Ireland? Will he encourage the establishment of co-operatives, particularly in places such as Londonderry?

I have answered that question before in the House. The Government are not averse to the establishment of co-operatives in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, provided that they have a chance of viability. We can learn from the experiment to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Religious Discrimination

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the provisions enacted by the Parliament of Northern Ireland which discriminated between persons or classes of persons on the gound of religious belief.

I am not aware of any such provisions.

Does the Minister accept that the reference in section 17 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 cannot be taken to reflect unfairly on the integrity of those who promoted the legislation under the Government of Ireland Act 1920?

I am pleased to reassure the hon. Gentleman and the House that section 17 of that Act does not reflect on the competence and, more particularly, the integrity of the draftsmen who drew up that legislation.

Will the Minister of State examine the legislation enacted by a succession of Northern Ireland Parliaments, with particular reference to the way in which the Civil Authority (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922 was used exclusively against the Catholic population in Northern Ireland? When the House took over responsibility for Northern Ireland affairs, why was it necessary to pass the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act? The legislation might not have been seen to operate against the minority, but the attitude of Ministers and a succession of Prime Ministers made clear what the majority population of Northern Ireland was entitled to do against the minority.

None of the provisions of any of the Acts discriminated on religious grounds. It is clear to the hon. Gentleman and everybody else that acts of discrimination occurred, and therefore some sections of the Northern Ireland community withdrew their consent to the working of Stormont. That is why Stormont was disbanded.

Discrimination on religious grounds, North or South, is to be deplored, but will the Northern Ireland Office make required reading for those who brief people about the history of Northern Ireland what the American Mr. Hewitt has written in the British Journal of Sociology, which puts the allegations of discrimination at Stormont in a different light?

I am not aware of that issue of theBritish Journal of Sociology, but I shall draw it to the attention of officials in the Northern Ireland Office.

In the light of the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), will he give an assurance that a Ten-Minute Bill to remove the parts of the 1973 Act which are inconsistent with his reply will not be opposed by Her Majesty's Government?

I do not think that I can give any such assurance. I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would share my view that section 17, with its prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of religion or politics, is positively reassuring for the population of the Province.

Terrorists (Selective Detention)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if, in view of the recent spate of murders and other terrorist atrocities in Northern Ireland, he will now introduce a system of selective detention for known Irish Republican Army terrorists.

No, Sir. I believe that the best way to deal with suspected terrorists is to bring them before the courts.

That is perhaps not an unexpected reply, and I thank my right hon. Friend for it. Bearing in mind the representations made to him by security advisers and the security forces in Northern Ireland, will he consider introducing some form of selective internment for suspected and known IRA terrorists, in accordance with the request by the Official Unionist Party which seeks to stand for moderation and progress in the Province? Many of us wish to see the ultimate deterrent—the death penalty—reintroduced, but we appreciate the sensitivity involved. Is it not important to take positive action to prevent the murder, arson and brutality which we have experienced recently?

No one underestimates the level of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland. I am not aware that any of my security advisers have called for the reintroduction of selective detention. I am not convinced that selective detention would produce any lasting benefit. I listen carefully to what all hon. Members say, but that is the position as I see it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition concur with his "No, Sir" answer to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)? As a Minister, I had experience of internment and I tried, in my little way, to end it. I am glad to see present my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who was very much involved in taking over the internment problem. I can only say that the reintroduction of internment would create more problems than it would solve, if it would solve any at all. I remind the House and the hon. Member for Macclesfield, who made the proposal, that our experience showed that as soon as detention or internment was introduced, violence escalated. It de-escalated only when we ended internment and started tackling the problem through the courts.

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is worth noting that 1972—the year after detention was introduced—was the worst year for terrorist violence in the history of Northern Ireland. The period from 1976 to 1980 saw a steady improvement in the security situation, although no one underestimates how far we have to go.

Security

7.

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

8.

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

11.

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

13.

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

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any statement to make on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Since I last answered questions on 29 October, I have to tell the House with deep regret that five members of the security forces and nine civilians, including the Rev. Robert Bradford, have died as a result of terrorist attacks. Several others have been injured, some seriously. There has been a particularly vicious series of attacks on part-time members or former members of the UDR and the RUC Reserve.

The House will be aware of additional security measures which have recently been taken. In particular, the Army's Spearhead unit has been sent to Northern Ireland, and more policemen have been deployed on operational duties. The GOC is deploying the UDR flexibly, with some units from peaceful areas supplementing those in the more difficult areas. All these extra measures have enabled the security forces to concentrate on the border areas. Everything possible is being done to protect those most at risk, but a good deal inevitably depends on the vigilance of such persons themselves.

The security forces are working extremely hard to prevent further terrorist attacks, from whatever quarter. They have had important preventive successes which, by their nature, are inevitably unseen. They continue to arrest suspects. Since 29 October, 102 people have been charged with terrorist offences, making a total of 865 charged with such offences this year. Prevention and conviction represent the right way forward. The interests of law and order and of reconciliation between the two communities cannot be served by people trying to take the law into their own hands. I am determined that terrorism will be defeated, but it must be done through the rule of law. We are entitled to expect all people to lend their full support to the established forces of law and order and to make available any information they may have which could help prevent or detect criminal acts.

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

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of hon. Members wholeheartedly support and congratulate the security forces on their recent successes? Is he further aware that there was a report on the tape today that various officials of the United States of America were coming to London to discuss the problem of Northern Ireland with his Department? Will he make it plain to the House that the problems of Ulster are the problems of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and have nothing whatever to do with any other foreign power?

I am sure that the matter to which my hon. Friend refers is a speculative piece. I am certain that the Americans, as much as the rest of the House, understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the support that he gives to the security forces.

My right hon. Friend, despite the representations of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), has ruled out selective detention. Since we have not yet got extradition from the South or any efficacious alternative, will my right hon. Friend ask the Foreign Office to renew its efforts in Dublin to secure either extradition or that efficacious alternative? Is he aware that the people of this country will not be content for ever to listen to these melancholy communiqués in a 100 years war.

The Irish Government, I think, have not been left in any doubt about our views on extradition. It is true that so far extra-territorial legislation has not been very effective, but we now see encouraging signs that this is changing. I am hopeful that the talks between the two Attorneys-General will result in further action. Anything that can be done to bring pressure on the Irish Government in respect of criminals who take refuge in the South should be done.

Will my right hon. Friend pass on the congratulations of the House to the security forces on their recent successes and thank them for bringing a greater measure of security to the Province? Will he confirm that the situation is such that there is no place whatever for any so-called third force? Does he realise the great concern, not only in Ulster, but on this side of the water, a the prospect of such a force being allowed a free rein?

Yes, Sir. I confirm absolutely what my hon. Friend said. I think that that would be the view of the whole House. I believe that the availability of information is the most important method by which we can bring criminals to justice. The more that both communities get on with this, the sooner we shall solve our problems.

All hon. Members continue to deplore the senseless and mindless terrorism of the Provisional IRA, but is the Secretary of State aware that there is no support in the House or in the country for the bullying and intimidating manner in which those associated with a third force speak? Does he agree that this sort of action should be repudiated? Will he assure the House that the negotiations with the Dublin authorities regarding the Province will continue and that he will not withdraw from those talks?

I am seeking to pursue a policy in which the majority and the minority groupings in Northern Ireland can live in peace with each other. No one should say anything that makes that task more difficult.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we have played our part in devising mechanisms entirely within the law to provide the channel of communication for information to be fed to the security forces? Will the right hon. Gentleman refute reports to the effect that the special security measures to which he referred, which were announced on 17 November, are to be reduced by next Wednesday? Will he assure the House that this time the security forces will be encouraged to finish the job of eliminating terrorism, from whatever source? As the Royal Ulster Constabulary is now rapidly approaching its recruitment target, will the right hon. Gentleman recommend that its establishment be increased by another 1,000?

If the police authority or the Chief Constable put forward proposals for an increase in the size of the force, I shall consider them carefully.

On other matters, it is not only the open, but the covert, side of security that is important. I lay special stress on that. I have no plans at the moment to make any change in the disposition of forces in Northern Ireland, but this is still a matter of consultation between myself and the GOC and the Chief Constable.

I warmly welcome all information that is made available to us. I hope that it will be strictly within the law. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has sought to do in that respect.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he will find a ready response from the Opposition to his statement on security and the way in which he is tackling the situation? We also back the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have always believed that the security forces are as good as the information they receive? The best way to get information from that great block of people in Northern Ireland between the two extremes is for them to see a ready response to their pleas for social, economic and political activity as well.

Yes, Sir. I have always believed that there are three parts to a tripod which can lead eventually to peace and greater security in Northern Ireland. The most important part of that tripod must be security. I am grateful for the support that I have received in recent days from Churchmen of all denominations and the pressure that they are bringing to bear on the community.

My right hon. Friend has exhorted those who wish to play a part in the security of the Province to come forward and join the official security forces—the UDR and the RUC—but is he satisfied that the regulations governing the acceptance of new recruits into those forces are not unduly restrictive?

I believe that I am, but I shall reconsider the regulations. There has been a problem about those who have reached the age limit. I have had consultations with the GOC to see whether he can be more flexible about those who are nearing the age limit. If my hon. Friend has any points in mind about entry to the UDR, I shall see that they are examined.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, while it is obviously desirable, extradition is not likely to be achieved in the foreseeable future, for many complicated reasons, and therefore further and greater co-operation between the security forces north and south of the border is of the essence? Is he aware that that has been achieved in recent months?

Co-operation is much better, but it is never perfect. The talks between the Attorneys-General could do much more to help. However, the Government of the Republic are more aware now of the strong feelings in Northern Ireland and in the House about criminals in the South.

In the measure that the Secretary of State has undertaken to deter terrorism in Northern Ireland—that terrorism is not restricted to one section of the community—will he be ever mindful that there is now real fear in the minds of the minority in Northern Ireland about the creation of a third force? Will he give an undertaking to me, which I am sure would be accepted by the House, that anyone found in Northern Ireland in an illegal assembly and wearing a mask, whether in the IRA or the so-called third force, will be arrested immediately? Is he aware that it has been stated that members of the third force are, in another line of duty, members of the UDR and the RUC? Will he give a further undertaking to the House that if anyone waving a licence, or a so-called licence, permitting him to have arms is found to be a member of the third force, he will have those arms withdrawn?

I have made it clear that private armies have no place in our society. They will not be allowed to take over the work of the security forces. The Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding are investigating allegations that members of the RUC and UDR have taken part in so-called third force demonstrations carrying their weapons. I am certain that appropriate action will be taken if that is proved to have been the case. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said, but it is far better, having laid down the general principles from the House and the Government, to leave the interpretation of the law to the Chief Constable and the GOC, in whom I have the utmost confidence.

Order. I propose to call both hon. Members, because five questions are being answered.

The Secretary of State congratulates himself smugly on the messages of support that he has received from various bodies in Northern Ireland for his security policy. Does he realise that he will not get any congratulations from the relatives of those who have been foully murdered or cruelly maimed by the Provisional IRA in its vicious, sectarian campaign of violence against Protestants and members of the security forces——

—and will he now accept that it is time for the Government to do something, after 13 years, to protect the lives of those who live, daily and nightly, under fear of death?

The hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear me correctly. I did not say that those messages of support had been conveyed to me. I said that the Catholic Church and the Churches in Northern Ireland generally were now playing an active part in advising people to give information in a way that perhaps they had not done previously. I do not wish in any way to minimise what Northern Ireland has suffered for 12 years. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do all that he can to help me to bring about peace and reconciliation between the minority and the majority elements in that society.

The Secretary of State talked about prevention and conviction as being a way forward, and I believe that most people would agree with that in a normal situation, but what consolation is that to people living along the border in Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh, who neither see prevention at work nor a conviction? When he is bearing in mind what has been said by Church leaders, does he remember the words of the Archbishop of Armagh a few weeks ago, when he said that the campaign along the border amounted to nothing more or less than a constructive attempt to drive people off land that they and their predecessors had lived on for centuries? Will he consider reopening some of the small police stations that existed along the border in the 1950s and 1960s in an attempt to instil some confidence into those communities?

As I said in my original answer, 102 people have been charged with terrorist offences since 29 October, including, as the hon. Gentleman knows well, a number for offences that may have been committed in the border area. We are making every effort to catch the criminals. The hon. Gentleman has been to see me with a number of proposals. I have taken those proposals seriously and implemented them wherever possible. He has produced another proposal this afternoon. I shall see that it is examined, but the difficulty about opening small police stations is that, quite often, they are the focus of attacks by terrorists and it is better to have people out on the ground than in police stations. However, we shall examine the matter again.

Union Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if, in view of the negotiations with the Government of the Irish Republic for increased cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Republic, he will take steps to assure the majority of the people of Northern Ireland that their desire to remain within the United Kingdom has the wholehearted endorsement of Her Majesty's Government.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will take steps to assure the majority of the people in Northern Ireland that it is the desire of Her Majesty's Government that the Province should continue to remain within the United Kingdom.

I reaffirm that the Government's policy is to maintain the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in accordance with the wish of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

Since the people of Northern Ireland have endured for over 12 years the campaign of violence and hatred directed against them because they are British, does my right hon. Friend agree that they deserve to be commended both for their patience and their courage? Will he therefore make it absolutely clear that they will be supported in their determination to remain British? Will he give that support, and will he make it clear to the Republic that the people of Northern Ireland will have that support for as long as they wish to remain British?

That support has always been made clear and remains the policy of the Government. The Republic of Ireland also recognises that any change could be made only by consent. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will come to live together in peace and will recognise the great advantages of remaining part of the United Kingdom.

; Is it not clear to the Secretary of State that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), while constantly declaiming his adherence to the United Kingdom, acts as though the United Kingdom Government are alien to the North? Is it not clear that the actions of that hon. Member are opposed to any political steps taken by the Government to engage in conversations that they feel will bring about peace? Is it not clear that something must be done to try to prevent the position whereby the third force, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has said, can go through the streets in uniform waving armaments? If any member of the Catholic community did that, he would be arrested. Can we have evenhanded democracy in Northern Ireland?

I assure the hon. Gentleman and the whole House that I intend democracy to be evenhanded throughout the Province.

Although I recognise that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend accepts that nearly all the inhabitants of the United Kingdom are intolerant of the millions of pounds that are being poured into that part of the United Kingdom, and intolerant also of the loss of lives in the Ulster Constabulary and in the Armed Forces, as well as the loss of other innocent public lives? Will my right hon. Friend pledge to show the same tenacity towards finding a political solution to Northern Ireland as we showed when solving the problems of Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe?

The two problems are not in any way comparable. However, I am sure that the whole House will wish to be tenacious in seeking a peaceful solution to the problems that have faced us for so long.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we wholeheartedly support the Anglo-Irish dialogue, but feel that it is probably time that the House had a chance to discuss the matter? We look forward to a debate, as early as possible in the new year, on the joint studies and the other related issues that have been put forward by hon. Members today.

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. However, an opportunity must be given before long for a debate on Northern Ireland. I know that my right hon. Friend has that in mind.

Homosexual Law Reform

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he is yet in a position to make a statement on the reform of homosexual law in Northern Ireland.

Not yet, but my right hon. Friend hopes soon to be in a position to make a statement following the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we cannot allow such an anomaly to continue for much longer? Will he undertake to look at civil liberties generally in Northern Ireland to ensure that they do not fall below those existing in other West European States?

I have given an undertaking that my right hon. Friend hopes to come forward soon, after due consideration has been given to the difficult implications—in a legal and social sense—of the ruling. He hopes to make a statement to the House. I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the point that the hon. Gentleman raised about civil liberties.

Do the Government accept the principle that legislation that is introduced and passed for the rest of the United Kingdom, as a result of Private Member's Bills and without the authority of the Government being exerted, cannot be applied by the Government, by Order in Council or otherwise, to another part of the United Kingdom?

If the permissive society has not yet reached Northern Ireland, is that not a very good thing that the North shares with the Republic?

My hon. Friend has voiced some of the feelings that are strongly expressed in the Province and to which the Government are rightly sensitive. The judgment of the European Court drew those feelings of sensitivity to the attention of everyone.

Stranraer-Larne Route

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if, in view of the closure of the Liverpool to Belfast ferry route, he will seek discussions with British Rail Sealink to ensure the extension of the service on the Stranraer to Larne link.

No, Sir. Both ferry operators working out of the port of Larne have assured us that there is sufficient capacity available at the present time.

Is the Minister aware that we on the Labour Benches hope that speedy action will be taken to reopen the Liverpool to Belfast ferry? What action will he take to ensure that the same fate does not befall the route from Stranraer to Larne? In particular, will he join us in asking the Monopolies and Merger Commission and his right hon. Friend to reject the proposed takeover bid by European Ferries?

The reopening of the service from Belfast to Liverpool is a matter for the commercial judgment of those who are considering operating a service. We very much hope that they will come forward and make the operation successful. As regards the safety and continuance of the Larne service, 8,000 fewer passengers have travelled on the P and O Belfast-Liverpool service during the past five years, while over 422,000 more passengers have travelled between Lame and Scotland. Therefore, it is plain that the service is viable.

Is the Minister aware that it would probably be in his interests, and in the interests of the House, if he were to be a little more forthcoming about the state of negotiations for reopening the Belfast to Liverpool ferry? I am not asking for names or for the names of firms, but merely if he will give some assurance that the matter is proceeding with all speed.

Negotiation is not a matter for the Government. We have played the role of the honest broker in advising those concerned of the commercial possibilities. We have every reason to believe that operators will come forward, but that is for them—not the Government.

De Lorean Cars Ltd

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current output and product development of De Lorean Cars Ltd.

I understand that the company is currently producing approximately 80 cars per day, a rate which would enable it to meet the target of 20,000 cars that it originally set itself for 1982.

The company will continue to develop and improve the DMC 12 to meet the demands of the market and I understand that it has plans to introduce, at some later stage, a new saloon car.

Does the Minister accept that it is very much to be hoped that sales will catch up with output and lead to long-term, stable jobs in the Province? As regards public accountability, given that £80 million of taxpayers' money is involved, will the Minister explain why he has failed to tell the House that three members of the audit committee have financial interests in the company according to the Minister's paper, theSunday Telegraph? In addition, will he explain why $18 million of taxpayers' money has been spirited abroad to a Panamanian company to pay Lotus Cars, which is in Norfolk? While we want permanent jobs, we also want full and proper accountability of taxpayers' money.

The hon. Gentleman's information about sales and production is erroneous, because sales are running ahead of production. The same comment might well apply to the hon. Gentleman's other allegations. I ask him and others who attempt to detract from this exercise not to do so, because they will damage employment prospects in Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 3 December.

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, including one with the chairman of the student academic campaign for Soviet Jewry.

Although I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply, does she agree that, in the week that the House has heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement, it is somewhat ironic that it has also been lobbied by the young jobless, teachers and members of local government? Do not such diverse interests illustrate the direct conflict facing the nation? What advice will my right hon. Friend give me to place before my constituents in Gravesend if public spending continues to rise at its present rate?

My hon. Friend has put his finger on two points. First, if those in the public sector demand more and more pay for doing the same amount of work, there will be less and less money with which to provide jobs for the unemployed. I hope that they will take that into account. Secondly, it is recognised that if people continue to demand more and more public spending for their constituents, they are at the same time demanding more taxes and contributions from their constituents.

Will the right hon. Lady answer the question that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not answer yesterday? By how much will the measures that the Chancellor introduced yesterday increase the right hon. Lady's own tax and price index?

How will increases on such a scale, together with increased rents, rates, health charges and national insurance contributions, assist the fight against inflation?

The right hon. Gentleman always tries to have it both ways. He always poses as a person who can hand out benefits to his constituents, but then refuses to allow the Supply to pay for them. The answer is exactly the same as the answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton). If the right hon. Gentleman demands more benefits for his constituents, he is, at the same time, demanding higher contributions to pay for those benefits.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the private sector, both corporate and individual, is becoming increasingly alarmed at being forced to pay not only the monopolistic prices but to finance the public, or the Socialistic sector of the economy, and that it is looking for strong and urgent privatisation? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that that hope is not in vain?

As my hon. Friend says, the efficiency of the private sector has gone well ahead of the efficiency of the public sector. Consequently, price increases in the private sector are much below price increases in the public sector. That is one reason why we are now taking powers to refer more of the public sector to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and why we are going ahead with more measures to privatise organisations such as the BNOC and to take away the gas monopoly.

What advice can the Prime Minister give to students, following yesterday's announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, given that some of their unavoidable costs, such as hall fees, have gone up by about 40 per cent. in the past three years, and that the allowance being given to them for next year is only a fraction of the Government's own estimate of inflation? What about the low-income families with sons and daughters at colleges and universities?

As my right hon. and learned Friend announced yesterday, student grants will go up by 4 per cent. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes it to go up by more, he must say what else he would cut or what other increase in taxes he would impose.

Is the Prime Minister aware that last month male unemployment in my constituency was 19·1 per cent. and that women's unemployment was 12·3 per cent.? Since then, the closure of Guy Motors has been announced, which means that another 800 jobs will be lost, and another firm—Britool—is in grave danger because of the probable withdrawal of the temporary employment subsidy. What words of solace and comfort does the right hon. Lady have for my constituents? I want no nonsense about wanting it both ways. My constituents want jobs and work, and that means investment of public money. What will she do about that?

As the hon. Lady probably saw recently, imports have risen. This country needs to get a larger share of our own market for those who produce in this country. That means moderate wage settlements and highly efficient companies. That is the way to get more jobs.

When my right hon. Friend considers Lord Scarman's remarks about positive discrimination, will she remember the 22 per cent. unemployed people in Bridlington town in my constituency, who have never rioted and who have just as much right to the Government's sympathy and aid as have the unemployed people in Brixton who, if they get on to a tube, have far more job opportunities than exist in the North-East?

I shall most certainly do that. Nothing in the difficult unemployment situation warranted rioting in any part of the United Kingdom. We are very conscious that many parts of the United Kingdom face difficult problems and that they must have the same amount of attention as those where riots occurred. It is much more difficult to get employers to go to places where riots have occurred than it is to persuade them to go to places where peace and good social conditions exist.

Engagements

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 3 December.

Has the Prime Minister seen the report inThe Times today about 97 young children having died while waiting for bone marrow transplants at Westminster hospital? Is that not the most tragic commentary of all on the operation of market forces and monetarism? Why does not the Prime Minister show some compassion for once and give a categoric assurance that sufficient money will go to the regional health authorities involved so that the doctors in those hospitals are not placed in the dilemma of having to choose one child to live out of every seven?

I saw that report and I was as concerned as the hon. Gentleman. I remind him that, since the time of his Government, spending on the National Health Service has increased. The number of doctors is up by 1,000. The number of nurses and midwives is up by 21,000. Nevertheless, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, a report by Professor Merrison on the future of the Health Service pointed out that one could spend just about the whole of the gross national product on health care, such is the great advance in technology and the expense of some of these operations.

Harder than ever? To have 21,000 more nurses and midwives and 1,000 more doctors is hard? We have much lower waiting lists for operations. How very hard Labour Members must have been.

I come back to the question that I was asked from a standing position. I am well aware of the excellent work done by Professor Hobbs at Westminster hospital. It is one of the few places where work on bone marrow transplants is done. We are looking at the future development of the service, and I am pleased to say Sir Douglas Black has agreed to chair the working party to consider the need for further bone marrow transplant units outside London so that this situation does not occur again. I hope that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will have the grace to be pleased—but I doubt it.

Since, tomorrow, the Army Board is due to consider the future of military bands, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the tremendous value of these bands, not only for Army morale and recruiting, but because of their role on Royal and other occasions in lifting the spirits of the nation? As these bands are the envy of the world and attract visitors here, thus helping the balance of payments, does my right hon. Friend consider it right that the entire cost should fall on the defence budget? Can that matter be looked at?

I wholly endorse what my hon. Friend says about the popularity and importance of Army military bands, and also their importance and popularity overseas. I should point out that they are also trained as medical orderlies. So they have another role. I shall draw the attention of the Ministry of Defence to what my hon. Friend says, so that in considering future expenditure on defence the matter may be borne in mind.

Has the Prime Minister's attention been drawn to the demand made by the Labour parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey that extra-parliamentary action should be taken to challenge the Government's right to rule? Does she agree that such an irresponsible demand should be condemned by all supporters of British parliamentary democracy and should not be condoned by craven silence?

I confess that I have not seen the remarks attributed to the honourable person who is standing for that seat. If those remarks are true, we in this House, who believe in parliamentary democracy, assume that anyone wanting to come here would also believe in it.

Since the matter has been raised, may I say that the individual concerned is not an endorsed member of the Labour Party, and, so far as I am concerned, never will be endorsed?[Interruption.] May I add that, as the Labour Party has played the leading part in the establishment and sustenance of parliamentary democracy, we do not need any instructions on the matter from skin-deep democrats on the Conservative Benches or defectors on this side?

Later——

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that in the exchanges at the end of Prime Minister's Questions I used the term "not an endorsed member". It must be clear from the context that what I wished to say was "not an endorsed candidate". I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to make the correction so that Hansard may record this statement as well as the remarks that I made previously.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 3 December.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the engineering workers and the tanker drivers on their acceptance of realistic pay settlements, by which action they have shown greater wisdom and common sense than has been shown in some of the views put forward by their trade union leaders?

Yes, Sir. I congratulate those workers. I note that the figures that were released by the CBI yesterday showed pay settlements of about 5 to 7 per cent. That is good news. It is only by moderate pay settlemments that we shall stay competitive and get more jobs in the economy.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As we have had such a good question hour without the aid of the digital clock, will you consider dismantling it, Mr. Speaker?

I deeply appreciate that conservative question. I shall give it my radical attention.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Francis Pym)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 7 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.

TUESDAY 8 DECEMBER—There will be a debate on public expenditure proposals for 1982–83.

Motion on EEC Documents 9675/81 and 4632/79 on carriage of goods by road.

WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER—Supply (6th Allotted Day): Until about 7 o'clock a debate on the common fisheries policy and the need to safeguard the interests of the British fishing industry, and afterwards a debate on people, heavy lorries and the environment.

Both will arise on Opposition motions.

THURSDAY I0 DECEMBER—A debate on the report of the Scarman inquiry on the Brixton disorders 10–12 April 1981, Cmnd. 8427.

FRIDAY II DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 14 DECEMBER—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that subject to progress of business, it is intended to propose that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Wednesday 23 December until Monday 18 January 1982.

[For the debate on the carriage of goods by road: EEC Documents 9675/81 and 4632/79.

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee:

Second Report, Session 1978–79, HC 159-ii, paragraph 4.

Second Report, Session 1981–82, HC 21-ii, paragraph 1.]

I thank the Leader of the House for responding to two of our requests and for providing time for debates on the economic statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Scarman report. We are grateful for the fact that he has responded to our two proposals, but I should like to raise three other questions.

First, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to provide time for a debate following any judgment by the House of Lords on local government and public transport? Secondly, in view of the leakages or revelations—or whatever they may be—about the Government's possible proposals for the National Health Service, will he give us an undertaking that there will be an early debate on that subject? Finally, has the right hon. Gentleman any news for us, apart from the leakages, about the present state of the Local Government Finance Bill that seems to be being mangled in some other meetings elsewhere? We hope that the mangling process will go on and that the right hon. Gentleman will perhaps offer the nation the Christmas present of abandoning the Bill altogether.

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the debates that have been arranged for next Tuesday and Thursday. I made it plain that we thought that a debate on the Scarman report would be necessary, and in response to the right hon. Gentleman's request we have brought it forward to the earliest possible date. We have taken a similar decision in relation to the public expenditure announcement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday.

I have nothing to add to what I said last week and previously about the House of Lords judgment, which has not yet been given, as far as I know. We must consider that matter when the judgment is given. I also have nothing further to say about the Local Government Finance Bill. Consultations on that Bill continue.

What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last Tuesday on the National Health Service is in no sense new. It was announced ages ago that the review was in hand. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there was a debate on the National Health Service about two weeks ago.

Will it be possible next week or the week after to have a debate on parliamentary elections to bring in the question of redistribution of seats and also to make it possible for the Opposition to explain how a selected candidate is not an endorsed candidate and whether the Leader of the Opposition was talking about the person selected in Bermondsey or about Tariq Ali, who has applied to join the Labour Party?

I am sure that that would be an interesting subject for debate, which many hon. Members would enjoy. However, I must disappoint my hon. Friend. I regret that I shall not be able to find Government time for that debate.

Is the Leader of the House aware that during the Second Reading debate on the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill the Minister dealing with the Bill said that in his view the proper time to discuss the Government's programme for building nuclear power stations was not in discussion on that Bill but in the debate on the Select Committee's report on that subject? When will that debate take place?

I am sorry, but I cannot make an announcement at present. However, I appreciate that at some point we shall have to have that debate.

Does the Leader of the House recollect that the useful experiment with Special Standing Committees that we had last year, which was enormously successful with the Criminal Attempts Bill and with two other Bills, has not been perpetuated this Session? In view of support for it by hon. Members on both sides of the House, will the right hon. Gentleman bring forward the necessary motion quickly?

My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), introduced the experiment in the House. As his successor I should like to say that I watched carefully the experience of the House during the experiment. I have a good deal of sympathy with the idea behind it, but it is not my present intention to reintroduce the Standing Order relating to Special Standing Commmittees at the moment. However, I should be prepared to do so if the Government identified a suitable Bill for the use of the procedure either in this Session or in a future Session.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider his decision in view of the undoubted success of the new procedure, which must not be allowed to fall into desuetude? Is not this a matter for the House to decide? Should it not have the opportunity to consider whether it wishes to make the procedure permanent? May I ask my right hon. Friend to put down a motion so that the House can come to a decision on the matter?

Various views are held about the procedure. There is no question of allowing it to fall into desuetude, as my right hon. Friend suggested. I indicated carefully in my reply that I had an open mind about the matter. At the moment, there is not a suitable Bill, but if it seemed appropriate to use procedure, for any Bill in this Session or in the future I shall be prepared to put down the appropriate motion.

Will the Leader of the House find time in the near future for a debate on hon. Members' secretarial and research allowances because many hon. Members are finding increasing difficulty, with the Government's present economic policies, which are putting many people in the dole queues and causing different sorts of deprivation, in dealing with all the mail? The amount of secretarial help that we receive is not enough to cope with our enormous mailbag and the tragic personal cases—we must deal with more of them day by day. Will the right hon. Gentleman give urgent consideration to that matter?

Where it is appropriate, recent practice has been to have a debate once a year, usually in the summer. We had such a debate last summer. I doubt whether there will be an opportunity in the immediate future, but this matter may well arise again during the summer.

As rumour has it that the House will not return from the Christmas Recess until 18 January, will my right hon. Friend explain why he said that we would be sitting until 23 December? Many hon. Members like to fulfil constituency duties before Christmas; and one or two also have families.

All I announced was that, subject to the progress of business, the Christmas Adjournment would be proposed on a certain date and that it would end on a certain date. I thought that a bit of advance warning about what was in mind would be helpful to the House. I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not approve of the dates that I have chosen.

Does next week's timetable mean that the Government have now abandoned their crazy Bill on local government finance?

Is it not unfortunate that the House has never had an opportunity to discuss the workings of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act since its enactment? In view of continuing anxiety about the handling, transportation and processing of hazardous materials, has his attention been drawn to early-day motion 100, in the name of myself and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry)?

[That this House, concerned that there is still no effective legislation to govern the storage, transport anduse of hazardous substances seven years after the Flixborough explosion, recognises the urgent need for regulations to safeguard the interests of the general public, provide adequate protection for those working with such substances and to amend the inadequacies in the planning law as it now stands, which often enables firms to commence the processing of these lethal substances without needing to apply for new planning permission; and therefore, as a first step, calls for the immediate presentation to Parliament of draft Regulations on Hazardous Installations as drawn up by the Health and Safety Commmission in 1978.]

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on this important subject?

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and my hon. Friend have raised that important matter from time to time. Regulations for the conveyance of dangerous substances come into force in January, and draft regulations on the notification of hazardous installations should be submitted to Ministers early next year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is studying proposals from the Health and Safety Commission for changes to the planning laws. This is very much a live subject in the minds of Ministers. The regulations may provide an opportunity for debate, but I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's representations.

With my natural modesty, I hope that I do not have to travel to the Front Bench to ask my question. In view of the impending danger to a number of British cultural institutions—we have had warnings from the director of the British Museum, and from the director of the British Film Archive about the survival of the nitrate film stock—when can we have an urgent debate on the funding of the arts in Britain, which is a critical matter?

I am afraid that Government time will not be available in the near future, but I observe that next Friday, on Monday week and on other days there will be Private Members' motions for which hon. Members can ballot. One of those occasions might be appropriate. It is not that I do not agree that this is an important subject, but the pressure of time is such that, frankly, I doubt whether Government time can be found in the near future.

If my right hon. Friend caught the mood of the House on Tuesday when the Secretary of State for Transport presented his paper quaintly but misleadingly called "Lorries, People and the Environment", and as we are to debate this next Wednesday, does he not agree that the sooner that the paper changes colour from white to green the better?

When answering questions on Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said that draft regulations would shortly be circulated for consultation, which will require a minimum of two months. He indicated that after that the House would need to reach conclusions. That seems to put the position in a fairly clear perspective.

Why does not the right hon. Gentleman table a motion to reconvene the Select Committee on Procedure so that we can deal with the point that was raised the other night when business collapsed following an early Adjournment?

I intend to re-establish the Select Committee on Procedure dealing with Supply as soon as possible. Discussions about that are taking place through the usual channels. It is not my intention at present to set up a separate Select Committee on Procedure to deal with other matters, although that is always a possibility for the future, if for any reason the House so decides.

Will my right hon. Friend match his commendable efforts to limit the amount of business in the Chamber by containing the amount of parliamentary business outside it? Is he aware that the Secretary of State for Education and Science was unable to meet a group of Members this week because no room was available and that next Monday I am invited to an important meeting that is to be held in an alcove? Can he not do anything to check the incontinent tendency of parliamentarians to keep meeting like this?

I think that that is beyond my power, which is perhaps just as well. Equally, from the other point of view, I should be reluctant to see any further extension of this Palace in order to provide even more facilities for hon. Members to have meetings of that kind. There is no doubt that an increasing number of groups are coming to the House and in various ways they find advantage in doing so. It my be that we are reaching the stage when the House will want to consider what action, if any, ought to be taken about it, but in the meantime I believe that things should be left as they are.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that on Monday we had an important debate on the rights of the House to examine and scrutinise public expenditure. As every speech in that debate, other than the one from the Treasury Bench, supported the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee that our powers of scrutiny should be strengthened, when may we expect legislation on that issue? Secondly, why did not the right hon. Gentleman intervene in that debate? This was clearly a House of Commons matter, in that it sought to strengthen the powers of the House. Surely it is part of the right hon. Gentleman's job to strengthen and develop our powers of scrutiny rather than to leave the matter to the Treasury.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that was an important debate. I think that I followed precedent by my non-intervention. The normal practice is for Treasury Ministers to speak to the subject, and sometimes Ministers from other Departments. I think that that happened on this occasion with the Department of the Environment. The Government's mind is certainly not closed on these matters. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have taken careful note of what was said on that occasion. In a debate of that kind, it is not unusual for the view expressed by the Committee to receive more prominence than any contrary view.

The Government and the Public Accounts Committee have a common interest in better control of public spending and better value for money. I realise that at present they do not see fully eye to eye, but I believe that the differences are as much about means as they are about ends. It is right that my right hon. and learned Friend and I should consider the important matters raised on that occasion.

Order. I propose to call all those hon. Members who have been standing in their places.

As I understand that the work of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland has been completed and the recommendations submitted, when may we expect the appropriate order to be laid before the House?

I think that the whole House will welcome the right hon. Gentleman's ready acceptance of ministerial responsibility for Tariq Ali. Will he complete the experiment on Bills by referring, say, three to Select Committees, either existing ones or ad hoc ones, under the existing permanent Standing Order? When we have had the debate on expenditure on the "instant reaction" principle next Tuesday, can we have another debate—there is precedent for this—after the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Calm), has had the opportunity to consider its economic implications?

I do not know whether there will be time for a debate on the hon. Gentleman's last point. As to the possibility of referring Bills to Select Committees, it is not my intention to do so, at any rate in this Session.

As one who has had direct experience of the new Public Bill procedure with the colloquially named "nodules Bill", will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many hon. Members view this procedure sympathetically and think that it has a useful part to play in our procedures? Will he therefore bear it in mind for a forthcoming Bill on data protection, which is urgently needed?

As I said, I am not unsympathetic. The success of the procedure depends very much on the choice of the Bill. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said. I have told the House in all frankness how I am looking at the matter during this Session. I do not have a completely closed mind.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement to the House on whether the Government are to go ahead with the purchase of the D5 or the C4 Trident missile? Is the Leader of the House aware that if the larger missile is purchased about £94 million worth of development work will have to be abandoned? Does he not accept that it would be welcome if the Secretary of State for Defence were to come to the House and announce the abandonment of the whole lunatic project? Does he not further accept that at least we would then be sure that Westminster hospital would receive the necessary finance for children needing transplants?

I know that the hon. Gentleman cannot resist his weekly crack of that sort. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, that the Government are considering, with the United States, the possibility of the D5. No conclusion has yet been reached, nor is it imminent. It is very much in Ministers' minds and, in the fullness of time, when conclusions have been reached, naturally the House will be informed.

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that we have already had years of consultation about heavier lorries? Is he not aware that there is a great deal to be said for the House of Commons reaching a decision on the matter at the earliest possible opportunity? Does he not also accept that it is a question that cannot be, nor should be, settled on party lines? Therefore, will he do what he can to encourage a free vote on the matter when it is debated next week?

The last point is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. The proposal of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport—that there should be two or three months for the White Paper to be considered—is reasonable. At the end of that time we shall come to a conclusion. I do not believe that that is a very long time for my hon. Friend to have to wait.

Will the Leader of the House have less than a closed mind on the subject of Special Standing Committees? Is he aware, for instance, that last year the procedure radically changed the nature of the "sus" Bill after pressure from both sides of the Committee? It made it a very much better Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether the forthcoming Criminal Law Bill is suitable for consideration in a Special Standing Committee? What are his criteria for the suitability of Bills?

The hon. Gentleman is fair about that, and the Bill to which he referred was a successful part of the experiment. However, as I said earlier, I do not envisage any particularly suitable Bill at present. I have an open mind, and there is no point in putting down the motion that I have been requested to put down unless there is a good prospect of using the procedure. If minds change and an opportunity of which we wish to take advantage arises, I shall be prepared to reconsider the matter.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the utter dismay felt by Her Majesty's loyal subjects in Gibraltar at the Government's decision—in answer to a highly unplanted question by me—to close the dockyard and to restrict the use of air space? I understood from Gibraltar this morning that the Chief Minister is coming here next week to see Ministers about it. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the House is properly advised on the matter and kept informed about what alternative provisions will be made for the people of Gibraltar?

I shall convey my hon. Friend's representation to both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Will the Leader of the House seriously consider asking the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement to the House about the hours that junior doctors are working, bearing in mind that there is an urgent need for a statement because patients are being put at risk?

May I direct the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1 in my name and the names of my hon. Friends?

[That this House believes that the pressing problems facing our cities can best be tackled by implementing some of the proposals contained in a recently published study `New Life For Old Cities' endorsed by 62 Conservative honourable Members and Members of the European Parliament representing urban constituencies which offers new hope for the regeneration of our cities, by turning to people rather than Government and relying more on private enterprise than public bureaucracy; and notes that included amongst the recommendations are: (a) the rapid release by auction on the open market of hoarded public land surplus to requirement, (b) promoting city renewal through self-financing private enterprise agencies which would contract out to existing local businesses and professional firms the job of marketing the city's assets, (c) making urban renewal attractive to private investment by offering cheaper loans through issuing tax-exempt revenue bonds, (d) offering rate holidays not just in enterprise zones but to single-plant family firms elsewhere and inner city retailers who ultimately will pay full commercial rates but only if their businesses prosper, (e) encouraging private business to build new factories, offices and homes in the inner city thus reducing the 60,000 acres of agricultural land and green field sites lost each year to urban sprawl, (f) halting demolition and instead encouraging local authorities to sell off decaying property for £1·00 for those (homesteaders) willing to repair and live in them, and making similar arrangements for shopsteaders to enable run-down shops scheduled for demolition to be saved, (g) encouraging building societies to lend on older houses and discontinue 'red-lining' (that is refusing loans for house ownership in run-down areas), (h) enabling sitting tenants of flats and maisonettes in outer council housing estates to purchase their freeholds for a nominal sum in return for a share in the block's management and upkeep thus saving local authority expenditure and (i) contracting out to private enterprise those local authority services which can be done better and cheaper by private enterprise; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to assume a catalytic role so as to enable public and private enterprise in partnership to realise their full potential, to reduce those checks and controls which militate against new development and to involve more fully those people living and working in cities in the total revitalisation process.]

It offers new life for old cities, not only the inner cities but the middle and outer cities, too, where the majority of the population now live. Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate on paragraph(f) of the motion which suggests a policy of homesteading, shopsteading and flatsteading to replace compulsory purchase and demolition by local authorities?

That is obviously an important subject, but I cannot provide Government time to hold such a debate in the House. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has spent a great deal of time in the inner cities. The matter is high in his priorities and it is being fully and carefully considered. If my hon. Friend wishes to mount such a debate, he must enter the ballot—I know that he does anyway—and hope that he is lucky in the draw.

Council House Sales (Norwich)

3.57 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the right to buy under chapter 1 of part I of the Housing Act 1980, which came into force as long ago as 3 October 1980.

I have today sent a notice to Norwich city council that I intend to use my powers under section 23 of the Act—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful".]—to intervene to assist secure tenants of the council to exercise their right to buy their homes. I have taken this very serious step with the greatest reluctance, and only after prolonged correspondence and discussions with the council over many months.

Complaints about delays and difficulties from individual Norwich tenants began to reach my Department in February this year. Accordingly, in April the council was formally asked for information on its past and expected future progress in dealing with right to buy cases.

Since May, as well as extensive correspondence, there have been three separate meetings with the council—one at official level, one with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and one with me. During this period complaints have continued to come in from tenants about delays and difficulties in exercising their right to buy. It appears that tenants currently have to wait a very long time, about a year, before they receive a section 10 offer notice, and delays can occur thereafter before completion is achieved.

On 28 July a formal warning was sent to the city council that I was contemplating using my powers of intervention under section 23 of the Act. Following the meeting with me on 5 November, the city council forecast that outstanding valuations, which are required before section 10 notices can be issued, should be completed by June 1982 but with the possible exception of some cases which it identified as difficult. One hundred and one cases were referred to at the November meeting as difficult.

At the end of October, the city council had admitted the right to buy in only 884 cases, a smaller number of cases than in many authorities, but still had 652 offer notices to send out. Notwithstanding adjustments that have been made to the monthly rate of issuing section 10 offer notices and the revision of some of its procedures, the city council's performance to date in issuing section 10 notices is among the worst of all authorities whose progress has been taken up by my Department. Moreover, its projected future performance, on which it has declined to give any assurance of further improvement, appears to me worse than that of any other authority which has been given formal warning that I am contemplating using my powers under section 23.

Having considered matters very carefully it appears to me, whether I have regard to Norwich alone or Norwich in comparison with other authorities, that secure tenants of Norwich city council have or may have difficulty in exercising their right to buy effectively and expeditiously, and I have accordingly sent them a notice of intervention.

Is the Secretary of State aware that this high-handed action is completely unjustified following the months of negotiations that have wasted the valuable time of his officials and those of Norwich city council? The council has taken many steps to speed up its action under the Act, including several actions demanded by the right hon. Gentleman himself. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that offer notices are now going out at seven times the rate that was being achieved earlier in the year? Is it not a fact that the difference in time between the right hon. Gentleman's demands on offer notices and the ability of the council to comply now boils down to a mere four months? How does that justify his intervention as housing commissar? Why has he decided to pick as a scapegoat one of the most responsible and progressive of housing authorities when the latest figures, which he presented to the House three weeks ago, show that 53 Conservative-controlled local authorities had sold no houses and that 19 Conservative-controlled authorities had either made no return or nil returns under the Act, including the authority within the constituency of the Minister for Housing and Construction, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley)?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement is not the last word on this matter as the Norwich council intends to test his action in the courts? Does he accept that in two and a half years he has forced up council rents by 117 per cent., that mortgage rates are at a historic record high level, that unemployment in the building industry is higher than ever before and that the housing programme is at its lowest ebb since before the First World War? Why is he wasting time on this petty distraction when he should have been devoting all his energies to putting right the housing shambles that he has created? Why is he so worried about a pebble in his shoe in the middle of an avalanche that he has created?

I think that the House will appreciate that, far from being high handed, I have gone to considerable lengths at meetings, which in the end I have held myself, to avoid the need to intervene. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) said that the rate of issuing section 10 notices is now seven times greater than it was earlier in the year. The House may ask legitimately what the rate was earlier in the year.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the difference between my demands on offer notices and the council's ability to comply is only four months. He has failed to take into account that that refers to straightforward cases only and that no timetable has been given for those cases which are not. As for a possible challenge in the courts, that is entirely a matter for the city authority. It must make up its mind.

The right hon. Gentleman always refers to the constituency that is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley), the Minister for Housing and Construction. The authority within that constituency is not selling under the right to buy because it is proceeding on a voluntary basis under the original arrangements that applied before the right-to-buy scheme. However, it may help the House to know the figures within my hon. Friend's authority. I understand that 385 applications have been received and that 28 have been withdrawn, leaving a net 357, which are still extant. Offers have been made in respect of 306, which is 86 per cent. of all inquiries.

The right hon. Gentleman pursues his characteristic denunciation of the approach that we have made. I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that he regards the right to buy as of such significance that he has now persuaded the Labour Party to promise to remove from all council tenants the right to buy. I understand that he has gone as far as to say that the Labour Party, if ever reelected, will interfere with the existing contractual arrangements.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent statement. Far from being high handed, is he aware that many of us have thought that it was high time that he made use of his powers of intervention? Does he understand that he will be given every encouragement from his right hon. and hon. Friends should he feel it necessary to intervene in respect of other local authorities?

I much appreciate my hon. Friend's kind remarks. He will know of my reluctance to use powers that are available, but I have to remember that in the end it is my duty to uphold the law and to ensure that tenants receive their legitimate entitlements.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Norwich city council is implementing the right-to-buy provisions both efficiently and expeditiously? Does he know that some of the statistics contained in his statement are incorrect concerning the number of evaluations that have been carried out? Does he appreciate that last month the council completed 90 evaluations and that there have been 90 offers for tenants? Is he further aware that there are several Tory-controlled local authorities whose records are substantially worse than that of Norwich city council? Does he remember that he told me that since I September there have been only five criticisms or complaints received by city council tenants? Why has he picked on Norwich? Is this not deliberate party political discrimination?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the statistics upon which I have to operate are those provided by the Norwich city council. He will be aware also that I have had to act in respect of Norwich because, when its performance is compared with that of other authorities, I consider it to be among the worst in delivering the right-to-buy scheme to council tenants. That is a fact that has been reinforced by the number of complaints that I have received from tenants.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I spoke at a public meeting in Norwich earlier this year to several hundred tenants who were bitterly angry about the way in which their applications to buy had been treated? Is he further aware that those tenants will welcome his statement? Would it not be for the general good if the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) were to say unequivocally and willingly from the Dispatch Box that he will request Labour councils throughout the country to comply with the present law?

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Ardwick would want all authorities in every political party to comply with the law. I am much more concerned that he should come to the Dispatch Box to remove some of the barriers to a better housing policy that his party is imposing on the housing scene. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the efforts that he has made to draw the attention of council tenants to the rights that are now theirs by statute. He has given us a manifestation of the concern in one area that those tenants should be able to get their rights.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is nothing more than a vindictive action against a Labour authority with an incomparable housing record compared with the records of other authorities of its size? Is he aware that the rate of making offers has substantially improved, which shows the willingness of the council to co-operate with his Department? Why has he not picked on Tory authorities that have a slower rate of making offers than the Norwich city council? Will he accept that Norwich has been picked on for an authoritarian attack on political grounds, that that is part of his conscious destruction of the powers of local government and that it is fundamentally undemocratic?

I cannot accept that it is fundamentally undemocratic when a Secretary of State intervenes to uphold the legal rights of individual citizens. I do not believe that it can be argued seriously that I am being vindictive. I have taken such care and such time to try to persuade the authority to try to improve on the performance which has been a subject of concern to me. This is not a matter of party politics. I should be prepared to move whatever the political complexion of the authority if the results of its sales efforts seemed to justify it.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his decision will be noted and welcomed in Norwich and by council tenants within other authorities who are facing difficuly in buying? They may follow his suggestion, including my own constituents, and make their complaints known to him in the hope that he will take further action.

My hon. Friend will be glad to know that I am in contact with a number of authorities. I have had to issue warnings to a number of them in the hope that they will seek to remedy the matters of concern without its being necessary for me to intervene. I understand that my actions today will be seen as a step in the direction of the implementation of the right to buy on a wider basis than simply that of Norwich. However, I repeat what I have said and hope that it will not be necessary for me to widen the intervention that I have announced today.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his disgraceful dictatorial action will be bitterly resented by local authorities throughout the country as an affront to local democracy? Would it not be more appropriate if the right hon. Gentleman worried a little about the hundreds of thousands of people on the waiting lists who are desperately waiting to be rehoused and who will have to wait much longer as a result of the Government's action which has meant that local authorities cannot provide the accommodation needed?

Before the hon. Member gets carried away with words such as dictatorial suppression, will he understand that as the Secretary of State I have to take into account the individual rights of citizens in the United Kingdom?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the determination to ensure that the law is enforced will be warmly welcomed on the Government Benches? Is he further aware that the Social Democratic and Liberal Parties are so interested in the rights of tenants to buy their homes that there is not one of their members in the Chamber?

I have heard my hon. Friend's comments, but he would not expect me to consider party political matters in this situation.

As the Secretary of State has asked me about my attitude to the law, is he aware that throughout the passage of the legislation I have made it clear that the Labour Party is opposed to a breach of a law on this matter? Is he further aware that no local authority has broken the law and that there is no proof that Norwich has broken the law? The legal action taken by Norwich may prove that he has broken the law. The only person proved to have done that so far is the right hon. Gentleman, who was found in a recent High Court action to have broken the law and he is doing nothing to rectify the position.

The right hon. Member is so anxious to defend himself that he misunderstands the situation. I am complying with the recent legal finding in a way that I believe will be totally within the law, as he would expect. I am delighted that he is keen on the maintenance of the law. He must understand that the law gives me certain rights on behalf of citizens, just as it gives rights to certain local authorities.

Will the Secretary of State accept it from me that Conservative Members welcome this move with great enthusiasm? Will he remind the House that what we are discussing, despite the comments from the Opposition, is the desire of ordinary people to buy their homes? An Act to make that possible has been passed by Parliament and we should support it and implement it as soon as possible.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am aware that my position means considering the rights of individual citizens. That is the purpose that the law envisaged when it gave me powers of intervention.

Will the Secretary of State accept that his smarmy appearance at the Dispatch Box fools nobody? His proposal is an example of a deliberate political vendetta against a successful Labour-controlled local authority. He has repeatedly expressed concern for the rights of the individual citizen. Therefore, will he tell us what manpower in his Department is engaged in furthering the rights of those citizens who want the tenancy of a council house but are kept waiting by the inefficiency of his policies? We now have the lowest public sector house building starts since the war. What is he doing for the rights of individual citizens who are on the dole, who have building skills and who want to be put to work on building houses in the public sector? His rotten Government's rotten policies are preventing them from being put to work.

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman in the calmest voice that I can muster. The persecution complex which now riddles the Labour Party will do it no good; nor will it help to heap personal abuse on me. Before the hon. Gentleman gets carried away with rewriting history about the cuts in capital programmes of the sort he describes, will he say why he supported the Labour Government who halved the capital expenditure of local government?

Will my right hon. Friend consider action in the case of my Socialist-controlled district council, which appears disinclined to fulfil the spirit of the law, to the obvious frustration of the tenants who wish to exercise their legal rights as early as possible?

I know that my hon. Friend is concerned for his constituents and, under the law, I must consider representations on behalf of any tenants who cannot fulfil their legal entitlement. I should be prepared to do that whenever I felt that the law was not being fully implemented.

When the Secretary of State puts the commissioner into Norwich, will he also instruct him to take evidence from the Norwich people who are on the waiting list for a house? There must be evidence about the hardship under which they live. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that such people cannot wait? They desperately need housing and it is the right hon. Gentleman's policies which are obstructing their desires.

I should be prepared to consider all the representations made to me provided that they were relevant to the discharge of my duties. However, I should have to make the point to anyone who said what the hon. Member just did that the revenue from the sale of council houses puts hundreds of millions of pounds for housing purposes in local authorities' hands.

Order. I propose to call the four hon. Members who have been standing in their places.

Is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State aware that his demonstration of his readiness to use the reserve powers firmly will be noted with great pleasure by my constituents? He will be aware that the Secretary of State for Wales enjoys similar powers in relation to councils which appear to be experiencing extraordinary difficulties, at the very least, in implementing the Act.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is here, and will share my admiration for the way that my hon. Friend advances the case for his constituents. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Wales is as determined as I am to carry out in full the duties that the law puts on us.

Has Norwich council been divorcing the garages beside the houses from the houses themselves and saying that tenants who want to buy cannot buy the houses? Will Norwich council do the same as Greenwich council in forcibly moving elderly people who applied with their more elderly parents to buy their homes—the council's grounds being only that the elderly parent died during the time that the council was not fulfilling the law? Will he consider intervening in Greenwich, as in Norwich, because the delays there are unacceptable to the tenants who want to exercise their right to buy their homes?

My hon. Friend's constituents will be grateful to him for putting their case today in the way that he has done before. I am not satisfied with the position in Greenwich, and that is one of the authorities with which I have had discussions about the rate of progress. However, I have no further statement to make today.

Will my right hon. Friend care to compare the record in the sale of council houses of the Conservative-controlled London borough of Ealing, which has now sold about 2,000 houses with a smaller staff, with that of Norwich? Will he comment on the fact that some of my constituents who live in Northolt, but in council houses belonging to the London borough of Brent, cannot buy them because that council has reversed the decisions which it previously made?

I am always glad to hear the achievements of authorities which are enthusiastically applying the right to buy. I am aware, as the House will be, that there have been about 400,000 applications under the right-to-buy provisions, which shows the wide benefits that council tenants see in the policy. I am therefore grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the problem. I shall keep that point under surveillance, as I do with all the other responsibilities that I have under the Act.

Despite the comments by hon. Members on both sides, does my right hon. Friend agree that what is happening in a major way at Norwich is certainly happening in nearly all constituencies under Labour-controlled councils? We applaud your actions and are relieved that at long last you are doing something about it.

I am not sure that you have taken action of the sort to which my hon. Friend referred, Mr. Speaker. If you had, I should of course have appreciated it. Following my hon. Friend's comments, and drawing the attention of the House to the fact that the right hon. Member for Ardwick said that all authorities should stay within the law, I hope that that message will be widely heard.

Bill Presented

Social Security (Contributions)

Mr. Secretary Fowler, supported by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Younger, Mr. Secretary Edwards, Mr. Leon Brittan, Mr. Secretary Tebbit, Mr. Hugh Rossi and Mrs. Lynda Chalker, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with certain contributions payable under the Social Security Act 1975: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed [Bill 33].

Orders Of The Day

Shipbuilding Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

It is not possible to have any debate on the Bill because six names have to be appended to the motion that the Bill be debated, and unfortunately one of them has mysteriously disappeared during the night. It would be useful to have your guidance for the future. If an hon. Member, such as myself, were prepared to make cogent remarks for the improvement of the knowledge of the House, would it be in order for that hon. Member to volunteer to take the place of a missing Member?

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. Some hon. Members may well regret that they will not have the advantage of hearing him; others may feel differently. As the hon. Gentleman has indicated, there were only five names, and I was therefore obliged to put the Question, according to Standing Orders.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Mraggreen

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

4.21 pm

Mr. Robert Atkins
(Preston, North)