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Orders Of The Day

Volume 21: debated on Thursday 1 April 1982

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Oil And Gas (Enterprise) Bill


3.53 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a moment for which we have waited for more than 114 hours of serious and sometimes even tedious debate. We are now reaching the conclusion of this important part of the Government's legislative programme. We all know that it is an Opposition's privilege to be negative. Opposition Members are entitled to carp and criticise as much as they like and they can sometimes convince those—

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument a little.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have now reached the Third reading of a Bill that has detained us for many hours. We understand why the Secretary of State has not been with us on many occasions, but should he not be present now?

Throughout our deliberations the right hon. Gentleman has been extremely understanding. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has many important duties to perform—[Interruption.]—and it is appropriate that he should seize the opportunity of having the last word on the Bill when he concludes the debate. Yesterday the Opposition could not even manage double figures. It is hardly appropriate for the Opposition to criticise my right hon. Friend when their Members have absented themselves from the Chamber for hour after hour. We do not blame the Opposition. We appreciate that they have their problems.

Let us return to the much more important subject of the Bill's merits and contents and of the opportunities that it will provide. Throughout the Committee stage constructive contributions came only from Conservative Members. We heard little more than carping criticism from the Opposition and we never heard a constructive proposal from them. I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) in the Chamber. He made some useful contributions. At least he has been constructive, and that is something.

Let us consider our achievements in relation to the British National Oil Corporation. Throughout our long debates there were far too many misconceptions about the Government's plans for BNOC. Some were genuine misunderstandings, others were no more than the Opposition trying to scaremonger and create apprehension in the minds of the public. However, we are not misled or deterred in any way by such things.

I should like to put the record straight. We are not abolishing BNOC. From the outset we consistently stated that the corporation would remain in existence under State control. We said that its primary role would be to trade in participation oil. That represents an important contribution to the security of the nation's oil supplies. We are not giving up our controls or regulatory powers over the North Sea. They will be unaffected by the creation Britoil. The independent BNOC will be completely separate from Britoil. BNOC will continue in being, ensuring that the national interest is properly safeguarded.

We are not, in any way, engaged in asset-stripping. BNOC's oil-producing business will be transferred to Britoil as a going concern. There is no question of BNOC's assets being sold off individually. We are not leaving Britoil at the mercy of any creditors who may wish to take it over. The articles will contain effective safeguards for Britoil's independence.

The Opposition's pathetic attempt yesterday—after so much song and dance during the weeks before—to criticise the articles serves only to show the care that we took to provide articles that adequately cover the situation. That was highlighted by the debate on new clause 1. The articles will contain effective safeguards for Britoil's independence and the safeguards will be triggered if there is an attempt to take over voting control of the company or to control the Britoil board or its composition.

Our plans represent an imaginative approach to the problems of a public-sector oil corporation and they should command the support of all who wish to reverse the steady expansion of the State in our national life.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I asked yesterday whether the articles of association had been referred to the council of the Stock Exchange. The answer given was in the affirmative. May we have the council's comments on the articles? Are they available to the House?

The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for as long as I have. He knows perfectly well that such correspondence and exchanges of views are confidential. Such information is not available to the House.

I deal next with the Government's proposals for the British Gas Corporation. At this stage in the Bill's progress through the House it might be appropriate for me to suggest that the time is ripe for others to come to terms with the provisions that we are proposing. One can admire the putting up of a good fight, but not the bad loser—not that I would ever suggest that Labour Members would be bad losers. They cannot be looking forward to the next election with any enthusiasm—that is for sure.

We are a philosophical party. We take things as they come. We do not get all uptight in the way that Labour Members do.

No one should doubt the Government's resolve to implement their proposals for the gas industry. No one should doubt that in implementing the proposals the Government expect—they are entitled to expect—the full co-operation of those who are involved.

We have described the gas measures to the House on a number of occasions. I should hesitate to do so again were it not for the misconceived criticisms still being put about in some quarters. There are general powers of disposal in respect of the British Gas Corporation's assets. We have made it clear that in the first instance we intend to use those to privatise the British Gas Corporation's interests in offshore oilfields.

In Committee, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave the assurance that he would not direct BGC, under clause 11(1), to dispose of assets required for the performance of the corporation's statutory obligations to supply on request under schedule 4 to the Gas Act 1972. I want there to be no misunderstanding. At present the Government have no plans to require the corporation to dispose of its interests in gas fields or to dispose of its transmission and distribution pipelines.

Competition will open up new opportunities for industrial and commercial concerns, on which success our economy depends. It is the larger industrial and commercial consumers who expect to be the purchasers of the majority of private gas supplies. However, the Bill also permits private supplies to smaller consumers, with my right hon. Friend's consent. We have made it clear that the purpose of that consent requirement is to permit a check to be made on the adequacy of the proposed safety and emergency arrangements.

The Government also said in Committee that they accept the need for private gas in the British Gas Corporation's pipelines to fall within specifications which do not prevent the corporation from complying with its obligations. Those are proposals which are workable and have full regard to safety.

After yesterday, may we take it that the concept of non-premium gas has gone the way of the dodo?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can make that assumption at all. That was made perfectly clear when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke on the gas clauses yesterday.

Part 4 deals with the important subject of offshore safety. It is probably the only part of the Bill that is wholly non-political. For that reason, it probably provided us with the best debates throughout our progress in Committee. The Committee spent a considerable amount of time talking about offshore safety and the proposals that had been laid before me by Labour Members, in conjunction with the unions. The general approach was constructive and we made a lot of progress in our thinking along those lines.

I recognise that the industry has invested considerable resources in safety. However, no matter how high the standard of self-regulation by the industry, no Government can abrogate their responsibility for the safety of workers offshore. For example, it would be completely unacceptable if workers housed on accommodation units did not have the same degree of protection as they receive when on drilling and production platforms. It is that thinking that underpins the proposals in clause 23. My Department is discussing with the United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association the application to Hotels of the various regulations made under the 1971 Act and the time scale for their implementation.

The majority of the Burgoyne committee's recommendations concerned points of technical detail on a wide range of offshore operations. Nothing proposed in the Bill will prevent the recommendations from being put into effect. It may be helpful if I review briefly the position regarding the implementation of the Burgoyne recommendations which concern the House and which we have debated and exchanged views upon.

Particular interest has been expressed for the safety of those who work offshore, and that is proper and understandable. Frequent reference has been made to the proposals contained in the North Sea oil charter prepared by the joint parliamentary union offshore group. I discussed the proposals with the group in a constructive meeting on 27 January and subsequently sent the group a written commentary on the proposals contained in the charter. I stand ready to have further discussions with the group when its proposals assume definitive form. As I made clear to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prestcott) last night, I look forward to discussing the progress that has been made after the group has had consultations with other Departments.

The question has been raised of the effectiveness of the sanctions available to Ministers to deal with companies with unsatisfactory safety records. Some Labour Members have advocated having the power to ban such companies outright from operating on the United Kingdom continental shelf. Clearly, we would all seek to circumscribe the activities of cowboy companies with a proven record of failure to implement safety regulations. I am persuaded that the combined impact of the powers currently available and the major incentive to the companies themselves implicit in the existence and exercises of those powers, constitute a powerful deterrent against any such rogue companies. I am not persuaded that a total ban is necessary.

As I explained to the House last night, legislation alone cannot ensure safety in the North Sea. A considerable number of factors influence that, not least the training of personnel before they go offshore and the attitude of the companies that are operating in the North Sea. Probably the most important factor of all is the general attitude of the workers offshore—the constant awareness of he necessity for safety and the application of the guidelines that are given in every case.

Finally, hon. Members have underlined the need for the safety regime to keep abreast of technological developments. The entire saga of the North Sea has been characterised by the opening up of new technological frontiers. The application of advancing technology to safety is no exception. Indeed, successive Governments have striven to develop an effective safety regime, flexible enough to take account of new technologies and new situations. The proposals contained in the Bill are entirely consistent with that approach.

The Bill reflects the Government's total commitment. in common with that of their predecessors, to ensure that every necessary step is taken to minimise the risks attendant upon activities in the hostile offshore environment. Clearly we should not delude ourselves into thinking that activities in such an environment can be rendered entirely risk free with legislation or without legislation—certainly not merely by regulation and administration.

We have an obligation to the offshore work force to establish and maintain the best possible safety framework within which offshore oil and gas operations may be carried out, and the Bill reflects the Government's unqualified acceptance of that obligation.

I believe that the measure that we have piloted through the House will be of great benefit not only to the nation but to everyone who is prepared to participate in the resultant Britoil company.

After many hours of serious debate, perhaps I shall be permitted a moment of levity—

I shall not give way just now. It may well be that what I am about to say is not within the knowledge of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)—

Before the Minister indulges in his moment of levity, perhaps he will comment on the speech made yesterday by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), who pointed out that the underwriting fees for Amersham, British Telecom, British Aerospace and Cable and Wireless came to £21·3 million. That was not denied. Before we come to the jokes, will the Minister say whether the £21·3 million is the Government's figure?

The hon. Member has a happy knack of pouring cold water on anything. That has nothing whatever to do with the legislation that we are discussing.

I was about to comment on the Welshmen who led for the Opposition. It is unusual to have two Welshmen leading for the Opposition. It will not be lost on my Scottish Friends that those two hon. Members made no reference whatever to clause 34. That is not a particularly important clause, but is has been indelibly imprinted on the minds of Welshmen since a week last Saturday. It is a good job that the clause does not contain a subsection (18), otherwise we might well have discussed such a subsection for a long time.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), who have co-operated to the full throughout our deliberations. We now look to see whether Labour Members, in their vigorous opposition to the Bill will be able to keep this Third Reading debate going on until 7 o'clock. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.13 pm

The Bill has been with us since the Queen's Speech. We have had a pre-statement, a debate in reply to the Loyal Address, a Second Reading debate and a guillotine motion. It is an important piece of legislation affecting BNOC, gas and safety in the North Sea. It would have been better if on Third Reading the Secretary of State had opened the debate, but I believe that the right hon. Gentleman will reply. I simply make the point that it would have been better had he opened the debate—

Certain standards are involved in this, and what I have just said relates to that and nothing more.

It would have been better had the Bill been handled differently at the beginning. We suggested a Select Committee-type approach. Despite what the Minister of State has said today, it was a good Committee. We made the most of it and the Bill was treated in a sensible fashion. Apart from one occasion upstairs and one today, the Minister of State provided us with much valuable information.

On Second Reading, eight promises were made about what would happen on Report. This is not the appropriate time to deal with them, but it seems that four have not been dealt with. Perhaps we can have a letter about that.

We put forward ideas arising from the charter on safety. That was debated last night, and everyone was self-congratulatory about it. We received certain assurances and we shall return to those in the future. Above all, we shall seek to put overall responsibility for safety into the hands of the Health and Safety Commission. We shall also return to the need to control the entry of foreign workers to our rigs. I explained why last night.

We are still convinced that the Bill is misconceived in respect of BNOC. It is wrong to split the corporation into production and trading arms. An integrated company is necessary, and that view is supported by many people in the industry. Although I do not want it done at all, it would have been better to have retained an integrated industry and privatised generally rather than to have split it up in the way proposed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I am not advocating that; I am merely saying that splitting it in this way is a fundamental error.

On the production side, there is no monopoly. BNOC produces about 7 per cent. of output from the North Sea and does so successfully. We shall seek to return to an integrated company. There is need for a national company that can talk to foreign companies, and BNOC could talk from strength with such companies.

We shall also return to the role of Government directors, which we discussed yesterday, because I do not believe that any Government have got the role right.

Just as nationalisation in the 1940s was not the end of that story, neither is privatisation in the 1980s the end of this story. One reason is that the alternative economic strategy that the Opposition are developing—[Laughter.] This is a serious point. The ability of the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) is such that he would make a good director of a Government company. What is done in respect of a national investment bank or even under the 1972 Act, where Government funds go into companies, is the opposite of privatisation. It is privatisation in reverse. In my view, we must be clearer about the terms of reference of these companies and the role of Government directors.

We are intrigued with the Secretary of State's method of acting through the single share concept. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) called it the "golden share". Some people are concerned about its propriety. In any event, what a system for the future! All we shall need is an Articles of Association (Enterprise) Bill. We need only include one share that is owned by the Government, and the Government may do that whenever they wish. If that happens, I hope that the Conservative Party will not grumble, because the one-share concept is capable of being developed in other ways. Apparently the Stock Exchange did not grumble. Therefore, it would not be able to grumble if we were to do what I have suggested.

In the 1940s and 1950s, we had Morrisonian nationalisation. Who knows, perhaps we shall have Lawsonite public ownership as a result of the single share concept.

I hope that the lawyers in the other place will look at this matter carefully. The view has been expressed that there is something fundamentally wrong with the single share, given the concept of a joint stock limited liability company and the responsibilities of the firm.

For the future, although there may be some sense in the Government having shares in firms as a general principle, nothing that has been done invalidates our opposition to the breakup of BNOC. There remains a large private sector, consisting mainly of multinational oil companies, and a State company, like Statoil in Norway, is needed to play a role in the North Sea and in the other seas around our coasts.

Despite the brave words of the Secretary of State, there is concern about the methods that are to be used for the sale of BNOC. Last night we learnt that the first that we shall hear about the sale of BNOC will be outside, not in the House. There is to be no report to the House of Commons about the method. So much for parliamentary accountability. If there is to be a repeat of Amersham International, it will be an affront to the country. New methods of selling the company should be found. Last night, the Minister called in aid the sensible words of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), and said that the hon. Member's suggestions would be looked at. So perhaps the method of sale will be different from that of Amersham International. In any event, the House of Commons is not to be told about the method that is to be used. There are other aspects of the Bill, such as the sale of subsidiaries, on which again there is to be no reporting back to the House of Commons. If the Government use the same methods as they used with Amersham International, they will not be able this time to say that it was a good method, particularly as the amount of money involved in BNOC is much larger.

On gas, we oppose the blanket powers given by the Government to sell off the whole of the gas corporation. We are told that the sale will involve the oil operations and the sale of gas showrooms. We shall allow the gas corporation to produce and sell oil, and we shall stop the sale of the showrooms. It does not mean that, in its accounting procedures, the gas corporation should not identify the costs and revenues of the showrooms, as was recommended in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report. In any case, nothing will happen to the gas showrooms until the next Parliament.

The part of the Bill which forces the gas corporation to carry the gas of private concerns is unclear and ill thought out. Despite the mythical Leicestershire village which was to be supplied with private gas, at least at the beginning, obviously the gas will be supplied mainly to industry. Even here, the oil companies are not jumping for joy. They have warned the Secretary of State—one has to read the papers to discover what is happening in this respect—that the new legislation could be a dead letter, and that potential customers have responded in a muted way. In private it is said that many industrialists doubt whether the Bill will have much of an effect, at least in the next 10 years. There are great problems of logistics, and those industrialists do not believe that it will mean lower gas prices.

I was disturbed to hear what the Minister said last night about the premium use of gas and depletion. It is the Government who decide that the British Gas Corporation should confine its sales to gas for premium uses. To change the policy would be wasteful. To judge from the tone of voice of the Minister last night, I feel that there has been a change of policy about the premium use of gas. The oil companies are interested only as long as they can move into the non-premium market.

Price is at the heart of the matter. Higher prices are needed to justify the development of the gasfields privately. I have heard nothing to change my mind since Second Reading that if the fields are developed the price must go up—a price which would have to take into account the tax regime. It is that, together with the effect that BGC has on the home market, which leads me to deduce that the Government will allow the export of gas, so that a market price of some sort will develop.

In that connection, I note a speech that was made by the Permanent Under-Secretary of State in which he supported Government policy—a most unusual development. If that had happened in the time of a Labour Government, there would have been hell to pay. It is unusual for a Permanent Under-Secretary to make a speech saying that the balance between the public and private sectors in production should encourage innovation, enterprise and efficiency. That is the sort of speech that should be made in the House of Commons.

The Permanent Under-Secretary made a speech in which he set out clearly and factually Government policy on this issue. Not only is he perfectly entitled to do that—and there are many precedents for it—but Sir Donald Maitland is a distinguished public servant who has given distinguished service to this country over a considerable number of years. It ill behoves the right hon. Gentleman to cast aspersions on a man of that stature.

Sir Donald Maitland is a distinguished man, but I do not believe that to make a speech that could have been distributed by the Tory Central Office is the function of a Permanent Under-Secretary. That would not have happened in the older Departments of State—just as in an older Department of State, the Secretary of State would have opened the debate.

The Permanent Under-Secretary talked about gas exports. He said:
"If, however, the fresh impetus given to exploration were to result in large volumes of new gas being discovered, this could provide a reserve base large enough to accommodate some exports"—
I note the qualification—
"as well as meeting the needs of consumers in the United Kingdom".
We have been trying to find out in the House whether there are to be gas exports, yet we have to read a speech by the Permanent Under-Secretary made to the Institute of Directors to find out.

If the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) wants to say something, I shall respond to what he says.

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he explain why the statements made by the Permanent Under-Secretary were so unacceptable to him, given the qualifications that the Permanent Under-Secretary made? Why would that not be in Britain's national interest?

It would have been an appropriate matter for a Minister to announce. If we were to be told that we were to have gas exports, which would have a profound effect on depletion policy, it would be better to be told about the matter during the course of the Bill. We are against it in the interests of depletion policy.

Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us whether, as a result of the Bill, there is to be a change. I said on Second Reading:
"I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says—that the Government will have the same depletion policy as before".
The Secretary of State intervened and said:
"I did not say that."—[Official Report, 19 January 1982; Vol. 16, c. 183]
Therefore, we have not got the same depletion policy. It would be interesting to know what depletion policy will result from the Bill.

Overall, the Government have pressed this legislation under a rosy umbrella of market pricing and competition, in a field where it is inappropriate. That does not mean we are not concerned with efficiency and prices, which will help industry, while giving a return of the investment capital. Speaking on behalf of the Opposition, as I did on Second Reading, we do not worship at the feet of State monopolies. Many changes must be made. Such monopolies were set up a long time ago. We do not sit at the feet of or wors6.ip multinational corporations either. There is a problem in both those respects and it must be considered.

We have been well served on gas production by a modern and integrated gas concern—the British Gas Corporation. This Bill is misconceived. It will not work in the way that the Government believe it will. The whole argument will go on for a long time. Many things in the Bill—parliamentary procedures and single shares—if done by a Labour Government, would have meant the media causing a continuous row. Our actions would have been called "East European". I am disturbed about the parliamentary accountability in the Bill. We have not had an open answer to the implications of the Bill, given our obligations under articles 85 and 86 of the EEC legislation. We shall seek to change this Bill one day. When we do, we shall seek to get much greater parliamentary accountability.

This Bill is only the beginning of the story. We shall vote against it tonight as an earnest of our long-term intention on other aspects of industry. I hope that my hon. Friends will vote against the Bill.

4.24 pm

It is worth reminding Opposition Members—my hon. Friends need no reminding—what the Bill contains and what are its main tenets.

We are talking about the setting up of a new private enterprise company named Britoil to take over the oil-producing business of BNOC. It is not just good fortune that the company has been so named. It is a reflection of the earnest endeavour of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and all Government Members that this company is being set up with the aim of achieving a new, thriving British oil company which, when launched, will have a wide spread of ownership among the public. Part I is the key and dominant factor. The public should take that point on board.

The Bill effectively states that the BGC, whose abilities, sincerity and performance are acknowledged on both sides of the House, should concentrate on what it does best—gas exploration, marketing and all aspects of the provision of gas supplies.

The BGC should not be tempted into undertaking oil exploration. It does not have a high degree of expertise in that area. Public assets should not be deployed in that area through a corporation that is supposed to carry out a different function. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was right to be firm and the assertions, suggestions and pressures put on him by the board of the British Gas Corporation in that the corporation should retain its interest in oil.

I hope when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate he will be able to reassure British Gas. There is worry among its management, particularly the middle management—who are perhaps the heirs apparent to the board of British Gas—that it will be viewed as a second-class explorer in the North Sea. There is no reason why British Gas, in its efforts to explore for gas, should be viewed by anybody as a second-class entity. Its expertise in this area is second to none and all hon. Members have a duty to make that known outside the House. We all have a duty to tell the world that we know of no organisation with the expertise of British Gas when it comes to exploring for and marketing gas. We must certainly not do anything to depreciate that dimension.

There is no reason why British Gas should be regarded as a second-class explorer. Some will immediately ask why, in that case, they should allow major industrial customers to buy their gas direct from private companies. Over a period the evidence has shown that when resources are limited—as they must be for any organisation, however large—a degree of competition is no bad thing. Certainly the rate of exploration in the North Sea was not as rapid as certain parties believed it should have been. Therefore, it is right that some competition should be introduced. That can only benefit the performance of British Gas in its North Sea activities.

The Bill was explored in considerable depth in Committee. We owe a "Thank you" to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands). Of all Opposition Members, he showed the most assiduity. He went into matters in great depth and asked some penetrating questions. I do not want to chastise the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). I know that he is a sincere man, but he has been a reluctant reformer. He said from the Dispatch Box yesterday evening that he was not entirely at home with this subject, and we accept that. We realise that he is genuinely concerned about the implications of the Bill.

I did not say that I was not at home with this subject, and today's proceedings show that I am. However, there are aspects of it that I just do not like.

I make it clear that I meant no personal offence to the right hon. Gentleman. He performed better today than he did on other occasions.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State was right to say yesterday evening, particularly when we were discussing part IV, that we had covered the safety dimensions in considerable depth, but the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) raised some issues that we did not discuss in depth in Committee. I hope that those matters that were unanswered in Committee will be dealt with in another place.

I am still concerned about the immigration laws not applying to those working on oil rigs. Although this is not a matter for the Department of Energy, I put my hon. Friend the Minister on the spot yesterday evening. I hope that urgent representations are being made to the Home Office to correct, in the next parliamentary session, what is clearly an anomaly.

I shall conclude now, because I had no intention of making a long speech. By his direct approach my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear communications. Some may not like such clarity in communication, but there is no doubt what the Bill is all about. My right hon. Friend deserves great credit, because he has faced the issue of privatisation. Many previous Secretaries of State have not wished to do that. How does one deal with the denationalisation of major facets of the British economy?

Nobody since the war has faced that requirement. There were tinkerings with the Carlisle brewery and other bits and pieces. One can denationalise major assets in Britain. My right hon. Friend has done that—or is at least three-quarters of the way towards doing it. It may hurt the Labour Party to hear that. It may confuse the Liberal Party and the SDP, but the British public want it. The House should express its thanks to my right hon. Friend for getting it done.

4.40 pm

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) mentioned wider ownership. That is one of the matters with which I wish to deal. I should like, first, however, to ask the Government about gas gathering. An amendment on this matter was selected yesterday but was not reached.

I must confess that my Presbyterian soul is still deeply shocked to see the flaring that takes place at Sullom Voe and Flotta and on the platforms that I visit. Has the position over the pipeline reached an impasse? Will no progress be made either by the private sector or the public sector? I should like the Government to reaffirm their determination to find some useful purpose for this gas and to see flaring diminished if not stopped.

What are the companies doing? The first responsibility lies with them. It might be made a condition of their licences that they dispose of gas—or more of it than is now the case—for some good purpose. I do not accept that it is impossible to lay the gas gathering pipeline. If, however, that is the argument, what steps are being taken to see whether the gas can be used locally at Flotta or Sullom? If that is not possible, I should like to know what steps are being taken over shipments. A large amount of gas all over the world is now shipped from point to point. I should like more information about gas gathering and the cessation of flaring.

I should like also to ask about the method of setting up Britoil. I have always considered it a great pity that the Government took no notice of the suggestion made by Mr. Samuel Brittan for a wide dispersal of shares to households in Britain so that all would share in North Sea oil. I intend, in due course, to bring together the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Mr. Samuel Brittan so that they can discuss this matter. It is perhaps too late to do anything where this Bill is concerned, but it is highly desirable that the widest range of ownership should be involved in Britoil. This is also apparently the Government's view.

To describe someone as a small shareholder can be misleading. A man who has a small shareholding in one company may be a multi-millionaire holding innumerable shareholdings in other companies. There is no means of knowing those who are the small shareholders of this country. All that is known is that in. Britain, certainly in Scotland, fewer people hold industrial shares than in any other Western European country except one.

A great deal more needs to be done. I support the suggestions made yesterday by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). I trust that the Government were serious in saying that they would consider them with care. All the suggestions were good. I wish to stress one or two of them. Small applications should be met in full. The scaling down that took place over certain recent issues has meant that people put in for far more shares than they want and get a smaller amount. I believe that small applications should be met in full. There is something to be said for a two-stage operation whereby only small applications in the first instance are received.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East made the important point that cheques should be cashed. He suggested that cheques should be held for only a week. In my view, they should at least be held for some time, so that those who put in for large amounts of shares that they cannot meet suffer some penalty. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that stags could be identified. If that is possible, it would be a great step forward. I am not certain how it can be achieved. If it can be done, it should be done.

Unlike the hon. Member for Northampton, South, I find that the more I listen to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) the better he becomes. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Labour Party would look at alternative methods of ownership. I welcome that. I think that the right hon. Gentleman agreed that there were faults in State ownership. One alternative to State ownership is wider ownership, particularly ownership by people working in the company. It is extremely important that this should be pressed forward in the operation of Britoil.

The National Freight Company was a great success when taken over by the people who worked in it. I think I am right in saying that 9,000 of its employees applied for shares and put up an average of £700 each. I think I am also right in saying that 83 per cent. of the equity of the company in reserve shares is confined to those who work in it or their pension funds. That is in startling contrast to Amersham International where, according to the Minister of State yesterday, the amount owned by workers is not 30 per cent. but 3 per cent. I do not protest about the method but Amersham was a mistake. I do not know why the Government cannot admit it was a mistake. Instead they go on saying that it was the greatest success of all time. That is not so. It was not a success from the point of view of the amount of money that was received. Not did it spread the ownership in the manner that the Government want, especially in respect of the involvement of employees in their company.

What can be done now? First, one can have a special category of shares confined to employees. Secondly, one can give employees some rights—for instance, the right to appoint a director. I raised yesterday the issue of Government-appointed directors, particularly in BP. I thought that I received an evasive answer from the Secretary of State who, I suspect, privately agrees with me. It is not clear what advantage BP has gained from having Government-appointed directors. Nor is it clear what they have actually done. Have they protected the public interest? Do we know of occasions when they have intervened to prevent fellow directors of BP acting against the British interest? I doubt it. There is something to be said, I suppose, for having ex-ambassadors as directors when companies operate abroad. This company does not operate abroad. I pray in aid again the support of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South, who said:
"I have always been sceptical about what a Government director does."—[Official Report, 31 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 325.]
Perhaps we can be told what they do.

In this case, we have the golden share. There is no need to have Government directors on the board. The Secretary of State can intervene to protect the public interest. When the Secretary of State asked me, in reply to my intervention, whether I was saying that Government directors were unnecessary and should be abolished, I can only say that I have heard no convincing reason for having them in this case. It is for the Government to show why ex-ambassadors and civil servants or even trade union officials, accountants and women are essential on the board.

I believe that there is a much stronger case for directors being appointed by the workers. This might be an interesting experiment. It would spread not only the wealth but the responsibility. It would be interesting to see whether industrial relations could be improved by encouraging workers not only to take shares but also to accept some responsibility for running the company. This happens, as the Secretary of State knows, in many countries. I suspect again that the Secretary of State, in private, is rather responsive to the idea. The right hon. Gentleman is looking particularly sphinx-like at this moment. He has learnt from experience that it is unwise to expose his soul too openly in the House of Commons. I ask him to think about the idea in the quietness of his chamber to examine whether this is a possible direction in which we may move.

It may be possible to establish a unit trust and allocate a certain amount of shares for it to the workers. The workers would control it themselves. There are various ways in which employee ownership can be widely extended. I hope that the Government are giving a great deal of consideration to how this can be achieved. I accept that Britoil is a much bigger company and a different sort of company from Cable and Wireless or the National Freight Company. I hope, nevertheless, that the Government will not be content to see only 3 per cent. of the equity go into the hands of employees. I hope that the Government will push on this occasion not only for wider ownership but for the real involvement of those who work in the company in its management and ownership. If they do not do that, the Bill is largely a waste of time.

It may help the House if I make two comments. First, this is a Third Reading debate. Therefore, hon. Members must talk only about what is in the Bill and not about amendments that were not carried. Secondly, at least 10 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen wish to catch my eye. We have approximately 100 minutes before the Front Bench spokesmen want to speak. Hon. Gentlemen can do the arithmetic.

4.51 pm

I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), because I, too, have striven to achieve wider ownership. This is one of the main reasons why I support the legislation. I congratulate my hon. Friend and his team on the way in which they have pressed the legislation through with great urgency but not without adequate discussion. It is important legislation.

I support what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said. It is a pity that the legislation will not give the same opportunities to employees of British Gas that the employees of the British National Oil Corporation will have to become employee shareholders. I should have preferred the Government to consider privatisation of the British Gas Corporation by selling off some of those shares as well. I agree that there are difficulties in privatising a monopoly, so to speak, but the legislation will ensure that it is no longer a monopoly.

Safeguards could have been provided which would have allowed the sale of a minority of the shares in British Gas and given the employees a much-needed morale booster after all the changes that are visualised for the industry. It would have given them a genuine incentive, which is desirable. This has happened in industries which the Government have already denationalised, such as British Aerospace. We expect that others are in the pipeline.

A point which has not been properly debated relates to the gas consumers council which has made representations to me. I understand that they have not been properly investigated yet. It is a little concerned that under the legislation it may not be fully responsible for representing the interests of all gas consumers in future because of the outside gas interests that will develop. I do not regard this as a major obstacle, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider it and have discussions with the gas consumers council, if he has not already done so, to see whether its anxieties can be allayed.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was constructive in his support of much of the principle of the legislation. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is no longer in the House. His contribution was in strong contrast to the deliberately misleading propaganda that has been put out against the legislation. I am not accusing any specific Labour Member because many of the misleading scare stories about the legislation have originated not from the Opposition Benches but from outside.

It is important that when my right hon. Friend replies he should emphasise that these are maliciously misleading scare stories. It is nonsense for the trade unions involved in British Gas to suggest that 20,000 or 30,000 employees will be thrown on the scrap heap if the showrooms are sold. That by implication suggests that in future no one will install a gas appliance, so that there will not be any work for maintenance workers on repairs or installation, or that the industry is overmanned, by 30,000 people. That is nonsense. It is malicious because all of us, as Members of Parliament, have been inundated by communications from constituents who are not fully appraised of the details of the legislation but are worried by the scare stories.

The legislation will be of tremendous benefit to the consumer. That is what it is all about. There can be no question but that where a monopoly had been established by Parliament and has been encouraged to develop, as British Gas has, it has in its own way done an excellent job. Nobody disputes that. But a monopoly can get too powerful and its justification may no longer be as strong as it was in the early stages of its evolution. This applies to British Gas.

No one can challenge the fact that, because British Gas has had the exclusive right to buy gas, the exploration of gas has been inhibited. Because British Gas has had control over the price it has been prepared to pay, it has discouraged the development and exploration of our potential North Sea reserves. I do not think that I am alone in suggesting that the reserves of gas in the British Continental Shelf are substantial. They will probably last longer than our oil reserves.

We know that a great deal has been discovered already and is unexploited and that much more will be discovered. Meanwhile, because British Gas has had complete control over buying and pricing, the market has been developed rapidly because of under-pricing to the domestic consumer in recent years to the point at which we have to import nearly one-third of our gas from Norway.

Those who argue, as the Opposition have done, that this legislation, by increasing the availability of gas and increasing competition, will increase prices as well should think again. The increase in the price of British Gas has been largely due to the fact that supplies in the southern North Sea basin were no longer adequate to meet the demand and we have had to buy from Norway at European prices. The Norwegians have not been prepared to sell us the gas at prices lower than European prices. It is extraordinary that in our southern basin fields we are getting the gas at a very low price and at the other end of the pricing scale we are paying a high price, the market price, for Norwegian imports.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that between those two extremes is the reality; we could have developed British gasfields at a price between what British Gas has been prepared to pay for the southern North Sea basin and what we have to pay the Norwegians. If that exploration had been encouraged, those resources would have come forward and British Gas would have had an alternative source of supply from the British sector of the North Sea. This would have increased competition and held down prices, or at least evened out the inevitable rise in the price of gas. Those who dispute that must consider what has happened in the North Sea oil industry and in the oil market.

It is evident that today's surplus of oil has come about solely as a result of competition. When competition was eliminated and OPEC had a complete stranglehold on world markets and competition, there was a sudden price increase. Since the free market has to some extent been reestablished in the world oil market, we have witnessed the benefits of competition. I believe that the same will happen to gas as the incentive is provided for gas exploration and development.

British Gas will still be the dominant factor in the market as it will continue to have most of the retail market. It will therefore be dominant as the purchaser of gas. But at least it will have alternative sources of supply. That will benefit the consumer if those buying powers are used skilfully.

I return to the importance of selling Britoil shares. I hope that in due course British Gas equity will also be sold to its employees and to a wide range of the British public. That is important, not merely to provide motivation and incentives for management and employees, but for the wider national interest. More citizens should be seen to be involved in the economy as owners of the wealth-creating process.

It is lamentable in a mixed economy which practises the free enterprise system that still too few citizens are owners as well as earners. As Conservatives we are doing all that we can to promote home ownership, for example, rather than State home ownership, and we are denationalising and encouraging personal ownership of assets rather than State ownership of assets, but it is equally important that we devise a system for further sales of State assets. Britoil will be in the pipeline before long. It is important that we should devise a system that is seen to be fair and encourages small investors to take a stake.

The British National Oil Corporation is also concerned that that should happen. It is seriously considering methods of encouraging the small saver to subscribe to the share sale. There is a possible way of overcoming one of the difficulties of the Britoil share sale. If really small applications are encouraged and nearly all the shares are allocated to the small investor, Britoil may be landed with 500,000 shareholders, each owning £100 worth of shares. The administrative costs of that would be a problem.

All companies like to have many shareholders, but they do not like all shareholders to be small ones because that adds to the costs of keeping the register and sending out annual reports and distributing dividends. A solution that I hope my right hon. Friend will discuss is the establishment of a unit trust which will hold the shares of Britoil for the small saver on a group basis rather than the individul shareholder being registered in his own name. That would overcome a number of the administrative problems of coping with really small savers such as those who cannot even subscribe for £100 of shares, but could buy them by instalments of £10 per month, which would be possible through a unit trust.

Perhaps Britoil could establish trusteeship for a unit trust, holding only its own shares on behalf of many thousands of small savers and investors who want a stake in Britoil. That might be an interesting solution, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider it.

I congratulate the Government on introducing this important legislation. It will without doubt be of major benefit to the consumer. I hope that the Opposition, even if they are not prepared to admit it now, will have the grace to admit that the Bill will be of great benefit in due course.

5.5 pm

In moving the "Chird Reading of the Bill the Minister emphasised—rightly, and I congratulate him on it—the need for safety, especially in the North Sea. I was not a member of the Committee, but I have read the debates on the subject. I gather from the Committee proceedings and from what has been said in the House that the safety aspect has rightly been stressed.

My hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) and for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) often referred in Committee to the unfortunate fatalities in the North of England, and the Secretary of State undertook to send his officers to inquire into the matter. On 9 March, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West, the Secretary of State said that he had sent his specialist advisers to the North of England but that they had not at that stage reported.

Not enough is being done about safety in the gas industry and of gas installations. A few years ago I had electricity installed in my home at my own expense Before the electricity board would connect my house to the system it carried out a thorough inspection to make sure that all the apparatus had been correctly installed. I understand that that is not the case with gas installations. It appears that it is possible for gas appliances to be installed without the gas board being under an obligation to inspect what has been done.

While the Bill has been going through its various stages, and in recent weeks, I have been disturbed by facts that have come to light in my constituency on a new housing site that was built by Barratt. I am not condemning or criticising that firm in any way. The gist of the story is that in many of the properties built by that company, gas appliances have been wrongly installed. When the gas board has been called in, it has immediately cut off the supply of gas.

Who will pay for the faults to be put right? In many cases the cost of doing that will be between £100 and £200. No one will accept responsibility. I have tried to get the builders to a meeting, but they say that they are waiting for the gas board. I have discussed the matter with the gas board, and it has been extremely helpful. It has even gone to the extent of offering those involved a cut-price inspection. It has offered my constituents—and, I gather, others in the North of England—an inspection of gas appliances for £5, and I have advised them to accept the offer. For the sake of £5 they can and should ensure their safety. The gas board is being magnanimous about the matter.

In many cases the gas supply has been cut off. Who is to pay? Many of those involved are ordinary working people. The lady that brought the matter to my attention was a Conservative candidate at the last council elections. She is an ardent supporter of the Conservative Party, but she, like others, is extremely worried, because the gas board has cut off her gas supply.

I therefore hope that, if not now, when the Bill reaches another place, the Minister will ensure that there is a better safety net, so that my constituents will not face bills of between £100 and £200. They bought houses from a private company in good faith, and they thought that everything was in order. That is why I plug this plea for my people today. I hope that the Minister will re-examine this issue, to save that expense. I hope that there will be joint meetings with the builders and the gas board, which has been most co-operative. If it is a bad installation, my simple opinion is that responsibility must rest with the developers. I hope that the Government will consider what I have said.

5.10 pm

The Bill epitomises something that has been with us since the end of the Second World War—the argument between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party about clause four, the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The Conservative Party makes no excuse for continuing to fight that concept despite arguments from other countries about the continual ping-pong effect in British politics. Although one would not consider trying to run the Army or the police force on a private basis, nationalisation is not the most efficient vehicle for running productive competitive industry.

I was the Conservative Whip for the first leg of the legislation—the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill of 1975. I well remember the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) telling us that his legislation would not be like the old-style nationalisation of 1945 for the coal, electricity, and steel industries.

The new legislation came in the wake of the white heat of the technological revolution and BNOC would be a properly competitive company in the market. Yet what were the right hon. Gentleman's first three decisions?

First, for political reasons, the headquarters was set up in Glasgow, although the oil was in the North Sea. Secondly, for political reasons, BNOC was exempted from petroleum revenue tax, which all its competitors had to pay. Thirdly, for political reasons, it was headed up by a retired Socialist sympathiser from the textile industry. In other words, the new competitive company was yet another example of old-style nationalisation.

As British Gas has been in business longer than BNOC there has been more difficulty in dealing with the clauses relative to it because it has become more entrenched. As a general principle, however, I have always believed that in a nationalised industry—be it gas, electricity, water, oil or even telephones—the job of the company is to produce the goods and take them to a point of distribution. I have never understood why British Gas should be involved in the retailing of appliances any more than the electricity or water authorities. We do not insist on buying baths and taps from water boards. Why should not the same competitive principle apply to gas?

As the hon. Gentleman was a Whip on the 1975 Bill, he is in a better position than most to confirm that that legislation, which was not concerned with onshore gas installations, is absolutely no basis for saying that we have a depletion policy. We argued that yesterday, but received no answer whatever.

The hon. Member has made an intervention on a completely different point from the one that I was making.

As I have said, we do not regard nationalisation as a suitable vehicle for industrial efficiency. During the passage of the Bill, we have been able to see the shortcomings of BNOC. We have not been able to examine the shortcomings of British Gas because, regrettably, monopoly confirms the old adage that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So long as there is total monopoly—it has been going on for 25 years—it is difficult to tell whether there could be a more efficient way of dealing with the industry. That is what the Bill seeks to achieve.

BNOC was formed by the Labour Government after the oil had been discovered and brought ashore in the only way in which it would ever be brought ashore—by private industry. Those of us who represent constituencies in the north-east of Scotland realise the vital importance of private industry, be it British, Scottish or multinational, because we must use the exploitation of North Sea oil to learn for the future, so that in the next century when there is drilling for oil off the China coast or off South America and people ask "Where are the best underwater engineers in the world?" The answer will unquestionably be "In Scotland". That is what we must achieve now.

This is a necessary and vital Bill. I welcome it because it is in the interests of all the British people.

5.15 pm

This is probably the most important Third Reading debate we have had for a long time. This is a major denationalisation measure which should have received detailed and complete scrutiny by Parliament. Unfortunately, due to the guillotine, it has received anything but complete scrutiny. The scrutiny has been extremely cursory. As this is probably the greatest asset-stripping exercise ever to take place, it is very sad that we have not had the time to scrutinise it fully.

The Government have totally mishandled the conduct of the Bill. They failed to give the necessary information on the first part of the Bill dealing with oil, with the result that the all-important articles of association for Britoil remain largely undebated. In the middle of this period, there was the scandal of Amersham International, on which we have still had no satisfactory answers—only excuses. Yet the Government now intend to sell off valuable national assets according to some vague formula which, according to them, reflects the market value at the time. The time, of course, will be of the Government's choosing. Will they sell at a time of glut? Their own expressed intention is to complete the sale as soon as possible to produce significant effects on the public sector borrowing requirement. When will the sale take place? Will it be a forced sale? That, with the current low price of oil, would mean that the nation's North Sea assets will be literally given away.

We still do not know exactly how much of BNOC's production is to be sold. Will it be 51 per cent., 49 per cent. or what? Because we did not have the articles of association, we still do not know how the Secretary of State will prevent foreign control. He made some suggestions yesterday, but I hope that he will enlarge on them.

We certainly do not know how he intends to deal with the gas assets. The Opposition's anxiety arises not from xenophobia but from a genuine concern that we as a nation should retain control of our energy supplies. A time of crisis, when we really need that control, will be far too late to discover that we do not have it. It is all very well for the Government to commit £7 billion or £8 billion to the development of Trident as a form of defence, but they above all others should realise that the economic weapon is an equally potent defence—they urge its use often enough. Yet here the Government are proposing to give away a vital strategic tool in the control of -our energy supplies.

Many important questions remain to be answered because of the Government's mishandling of the Bill. How will the gas assets be valued? That question is especially pertinent when we talk about the hiving off of Beryl A and B, which the British Gas Corporation has already spent a mint to develop. That is also the case with the Hutton NW field. Will the Government compensate the BGC for its investment? It would appear not, but the Government are saying that the BGC's exploration role will continue unaltered except for one important difference. If the BGC finds oil, the area will be privatised. Who will pay for that? The poor, long-suffering taxpayer will foot the bill while the oil companies, which are not short of a bob or two, will have a relatively cheap asset, as did the speculators who bought shares in Amersham International.

The Government say that only fields that are predominantly oil fields will be privatised; but God did not arrange nature in that way. In many cases oil and gas are found together. What proportion of a field makes it predominantly gas or predominantly oil? Is it 10 per cent, 30 per cent. or 50 per cent? I suspect that the answer will lie more with the need to massage the PSBR than with the Government's stated intention of keeping the BGC a gas-only operation. Of course, that option does not make sense.

However, more serious issues arise. The Government profess, as an article of faith, that the Bill will automatically produce more gas. In Committee, the Secretary of State mentioned a figure of 5 trillion cubic feet of uncommitted gas. He knows that that is not strictly accurate, because the British Gas Corporation has been planning to take that gas for some time. Perhaps the Government mean that the untapped, so-called possible reserves will be developed. One would expect them to be. We accept that higher prices to producers will make that viable, but so would the anticipated gas rundown in the 1990s. We cannot produce more gas just because the price is right. We cannot get what is not there. The BGC is already exploring for new sources, irrespective of price. The Government propose to leave the incentive for exploration to the commercial dictates of oil companies rather than the energy needs of Britain. As they have failed to define a gas field, they are turning the issue into a massive lottery, with the consumer as the loser every time.

As well as the Bill relying on a magic formula whereby gas will be discovered, the Government have come up with an extraordinary proposal for guaranteeing gas supplies. Currently the corporation's industrial sales policy, which is approved by the Government, is a mix of firm and interruptible supplies. The latter are at a much lower price. In order to make their point that there was a shortage of gas, the Government made great play of the fact that Brush Electrical had its gas cut off for 23 days. Now the Government allege that the company spent an additional £100,000 to cover its excess fuel needs, but the Secretary of State did not tell us that it chose costly gasoil as a substitute. He also omitted to mention that it paid less for that fuel.

Significantly, the Government would not answer the question about the future of interruptible supplies. About 45 per cent. of industrial sales are in that category, but as storage builds up so that part of the market will decline. The interruptible sales are large, because the British Gas Corporation interrupts only in case of emergency. However, the Government seem to be promising that in no circumstances will supplies be interruptted. That means that if we have a strike outside our control, such as the Norwegian Statoil dispute, the loss of a sea-line, or a bad winter such as we have just experienced, all pledged gas will go to industrial consumers irrespective of national emergency demands. So far the Government have not spelt out the terms on which the gas will be available.

The lack of clarity goes much further. The Government have frequently said that the BGC will retain its so-called monopoly in domestic supply, but all sorts of hints were given in Committee about whether in future even that undertaking will be worthless. The Secretary of State said that, although in practice industry would probably be the main market for gas, he did not rule out private supplies to new housing estates, presumably to look after offtakes of private gas that cannot be absorbed by nearby industry.

Even more serious has been the notion of the depletion policy envisaged by the Government. The House will be astounded to realise that the recently acquired conventional wisdom that premium fuel should not be used for non-premium enterprises is not accepted by the Government. The Under-Secretary of State went so far in Committee as to question whether bulk steam-raising by gas was a bad thing. If his statement and the Government's philosophy were to be accepted, the Venice declaration on coal, the Coal Industry Act 1980, as well as many other aspects of the as yet thin rag that is called energy policy, would cease to exist. The Bill envisages that gas will always be available for any use, irrespective of whether it is in the national interest.

The Government's guarantees on safety are rather meaningless. We have had vague assurances that, for private supplies, the right of entry to quell leaks would be part of the contract. That is wholly inadequate, because almost at the same time the Government said that this so-called safety provision will be open to sub-contract. That means all things to all people. For example, what happens if a sub-contractor disappears? They have been known to go bankrupt. It would appear that the Government are concerned only to enforce safety by post-mortem. We have perhaps the safest, but unfortunately, in the eyes of the Government, nationalised, gas industry in the world.

There are further serious questions about the transmission of gas. It would appear from the Committee stage that not only will the BGC be forced to pay for constructing pipelines with no guarantee of return, but where the Secretary of State, in his wisdom, wishes to modify a pipeline to take on board private gas, the BGC still remains liable for the safety of the pipeline. That would be rational if the BGC had a final say about the modification, but it will not. The Government gave the game away when they said that that would be tantamount to charging private suppliers an unspecified price.

All that the British Gas Corporation can do is take the Government to court, presumably in order to insist that a particular modification would be unsafe. What sort of writ could be applied for? Nothing in this measure or in any other measure guides us. Presumably it would be an injunction, but the matter has not been clarified by the Government. It is enlivening to see Lord Denning transformed into a top flight gas safety engineer, but we live in the real world and judges are not the best people to decide technicalities. We have a vast store of knowledge in British Gas Corporation which can make that determination. To suggest that this knowledge would be used to destroy the purpose of the Bill would be on a par with suggesting that the Secretary of State would act solely in accordance with mere whimsical doctrine. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would do that.

I am extremely anxious about the prospects of future sell-offs in the industry. I have in mind the research and development station at Killingworth, on the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). Killingworth is probably the only high level research and development facility in the northern region. Only recently the research station developed a new pig for clearing pipes. That gives us a world-wide opportunity for sales in the gas and oil industries. It would be a scandal to seal off the Killingworth engineering research station.

On Tuesday about 1,000 gas workers lobbied the House. They were primarily concerned not with jobs, but with the public interest. I hope that hon. Members on the Government Benches listened to them, and I hope that they are listening to the Opposition this afternoon. The Bill is misconceived, ill-arranged, mishandled and should be rejected. Unfortunately, because of the Government's huge majority, we know that the Bill willl not be defeated in the House. We must hope that there will be enough noble Gentlemen in another place who are prepared to speak for Britain, to force the Government to see sense and to amend some of the more obnoxious clauses in this bad Bill.

5.33 pm

We have heard from the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) a very good example of the expertise that we were fortunate enough to have paraded before us in Committee.

The Bill illustrates, about as clearly as can be illustrated, the inherent weakness of the legislative procedures of the House. Passing legislation is, after all, one of its principal functions. The Opposition Front Bench distinguished itself on this point, as on so many others, in Committee. The right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands)—with his animadversions on the eccentricities of the Merthyr Express—drew the Committee's attention, and I hope that of the House, to the absurdities of the way in which Standing Committees are conducted.

Every hon. Member in the Chamber who has taken part in the debates on Report and Third Reading has said that this is a most important Bill, perhaps the most important Bill to come before this Parliament. I am delighted to see that a minority of hon. Members agree with that. However, I am disappointed that the unanimity among that minority is evidently not shared by other hon. Members whose enthusiasm is such that they have found better things to do this afternoon.

The expertise that was paraded before ignoramuses such as myself in Committee was deeply impressive. The assiduity and hard work of the hon. Member for Merthy Tydfil must have impressed the Committee. We were, of course, impressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench.

We had the experience of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West, whose knowledge of the gas industry was of such use to the Committee, and a further example of which we have heard today. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet). I am sure he will be making a speech today. His knowledge and skill in matters appertaining to energy is well known and acknowledged throughout the House. I should also mention my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost).

However, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will not object if I say that the fount of knowledge among Back Bench members of the Committee—I am conscious of the presence of the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas)—on matters relating to oil and gas, was relatively slight. It is wrong for the primary legislative Chamber of Parliament to rely on second-hand regurgitations of experts when examining the Bill, clause by clause and line by line, where modern legislative procedures are concerned.

I support the aims and intentions of the Bill 100 per cent. but if any good comes of it I hope that, above all else, my protests and that of the Opposition will be heard loud and clear by the powers that be and by those who arrange and reform the procedures of this place.

The Bill contains many good proposals—whatever the Opposition may say. However, it would have been far better to have taken evidence in a Select Committee, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, South suggested many times. People such as myself, who are not experts but who were nominated to serve on the Committee, could have formed a judgment and asked questions of those who have the experience.

I enjoyed the speeches of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan)—I have had the good fortune to serve on two Committees with him—but the great pleasure I derived from his ravings about the House of Lords and from the parading of his prejudices is a poor substitute for the serious business of considering a Bill in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman asks me to say something about the Bill. I give two examples in support of my theme. The first relates to the question raised in a predictably distinguished speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. He rightly questioned the wisdom of splitting BNOC and Britoil. Had I been expert enough at the time I would have supported my hon. Friend. I was diffident about doing so because I had neither the time nor the opportunity to brief myself properly. My hon. Friend put down a series of amendments yesterday, which, sadly, because of the guillotine, were not dealt with. They once again attempted to raise that very question.

Had we been able properly to listen to the evidence of experts, more members of the Committee could have formed a proper judgment about the wisdom of my hon. Friend's thesis and voted accordingly. Instead, we had to rely on the advice of our Front Bench which, I hasten to add, we generally support in principle. But that is not how a Committee should function.

The same applies to the argument about participation oil. Opposition Members use the question of splitting BNOC from Britoil to prop up their argument against denationalisation. I refuse to use the awful new word "privatisation" The argument to justify the existence of a Government-owned trading arm was never properly aired.

Third Reading is not the time to go into the whys and wherefores. But I have tried to educate myself a little on the subject.

As always, the hon. Gentleman provides a counterpoint to my observations.

There is no justification for keeping the trading arm in public ownership. The arguments for selling the lot are overwhelming. We were presented with a fait accompli. It appeared that the justice of keeping the trading arm was implicit in the proposal. We were unable to question it. The inter-related issues of separation and whether we should have participation crude were never properly aired, in spite of the elegant and enthusiastic speeches of so many Committee members.

I say this with diffidence, as I am a relatively new hon. Member. The House is in danger of becoming no more than an Augustan assembly, separate and distanced from the aims and aspirations of the people whom we are deemed to represent. Unless the House begins to reform its procedures, we shall deservedly sink into oblivion.

For all its imperfections—there are two clear ones in the oil section—the Bill attempts to do something which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Sir R. Fairgrieve) rightly concluded, will prove of immense benefit to the British people. I hope that the Bill will be used as an example to all hon. Members of the way in which good intentions can be brought about only in part.

5.44 pm

If I have a message for the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) it is that he will find it difficult to persuade the House authorities to change their procedures. While the hon. Gentleman occupies the Government Back Benches, his role is to remain silent. His sole purpose is to put into effect the legislation that the Government, in their wisdom, or lack of it, put before him. The one thing that would send a shiver of horror through the Front Benches of both parties is the idea that Back Benchers should be released from the discipline exerted by the Whips and take an independent stand.

The experiment launched a year ago to combine the Select and Standing Committee procedures has not been followed through with great vigour. I do not like to blunt the hon. Gentleman's idealism, but, after watching the procedures of the House, I believe that we are unlikely to see any change of consequence. I do not say that to undermine the strong argument for change.

Our function on Third Reading is to discuss not the antiquated procedures of the House, but what is in the Bill. My view from the beginning has been that the Bill is misjudged and misguided. As has been said, our proceedings have resolved into a debate on the merits and demerits of denationalisation or privatisation. So far we have not dealt with the benefits that countries throughout the world derive from having a State oil company, not necessarily as a monopoly, but one which may be flanked by private oil companies, and which is there to represent the interests of the State.

Wherever oil has been discovered, one is sure to find a State oil company. There are good and useful reasons for that.

First, it ensures that the national or State interest is looked after by a company that has the opportunity to engage in exploration, development and production. That is a useful instrument. Even though the participation arrangements are still to be enforced, I regret the dismantling of the oil equity side of BNOC.

The second reason is procurement. The issue greatly affects Scotland. Many jobs are involved, both onshore and offshore. Particularly in the areas further away from the oil industry, there is a great need to ensure, through Government agencies, the highest degree of purchase from national suppliers. The international oil market is full of multinational companies with only a passing interest in developing the North Sea oil province. They are inclined to order, as they did when they first came into the United Kingdom market, from existing suppliers.

I regret that the actions that the Government are taking through dogma will lead to BNOC, which has only a small minority of North Sea oil production, being relegated from a vigourous State corporation, with a growing influence on North Sea oil development, to a tiny private oil company, with minimal influence.

I do not wish to exaggerate the importance of the sale of the assets. The Bill has been described as one of the most important to come before the House. If one considers the sum involved that is probably right, but only about £1 billion will be obtained for the assets of BNOC, while the oil revenues this year and next will be about £6 billion. That puts the matter into perspective.

I do not agree that the Government's strategy is correct. They have not dealt adequately with the problem of preventing control by foreign shareholders. The special shareholder procedure may be sufficient to keep out foreign domination, but, having heard the Secretary of State's slim answer last night, I cannot accept that EEC interests can legally be prevented from asserting a claim over the assets. The Secretary of State perfunctorily said that that could be prevented, but those of us who have studied the articles of association take a different view. The matter might be tested in the courts.

My third point about the disposal of BNOC's assets is the price. I return to the remarks that I made on Second Reading. The price of oil shares, like the price of oil, has collapsed. Over the next six or nine months, or a year, it is not likely that the Government will be able to put those assets on to the market and receive a worthwhile return on them. Whereas the Government could have a case for arguing that that could be done over a longer term, they will not be able to do that within the time scale that has been fixed.

I warn the Government that by going for a policy of allowing the price of oil to be reduced and in doing their best to kick the feet from under OPEC, they are in danger of ruining thousands of jobs in Scotland. There is a high cost to be paid for the development of oil in the North Sea. If the price of oil comes down, it is unlikely that that development will go through. Jobs will be scarce if no contracts are given to oil platform yards and other yards. I want to reinforce that argument.

I could say many other things about the Bill. It stems from blinkered dogma and flies in the face of reality. With my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), I shall vote against the Third Reading of the Bill.

5.52 pm

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) mentioned the value of State oil companies. I should like to spend one or two moments dispersing that theory.

It is interesting to mention the Sarir field in Libya. The company there was BP which is half owned by the State. It was dispossessed by the Libyan Government. Its association with Bunker Hunt was broken. It eventually led to a court case. In Nigeria, British Petroleum was dispossessed because the Government sought to take over its assets. BP has not been able to get concessions in Venezuela or Turkey. There are two other cases. Pertamina, the State oil company in Indonesia became virtually bankrupt. In Italy there have been allegations of corruption against ENI over certain Saudi arrangements. Those examples are not advertisements for State oil companies.

I support the argument in the Bill to privatise BNOC. Of course, I make no allegations against it. I defended it in Committee. I have sought to keep it intact as a unified operation. What is notorious is that the initial chairman of the company was prepared to say that the company should be privatised so that it could advance further.

It is interesting how in the Third Reading debate most hon. Members have not addressed themselves to the major points and crucial issues in the Bill. There is the disposition of the assets of BNOC so that it can establish itself as a unit in private enterprise. There will be true ownership by the people, with private shareholders—as many as there can be—and not that mysterious mystique of being held by the State over which no one exercises control.

Another point which has been entirely overlooked is the supply of gas by persons other than the British Gas Corporation. Since section 29 of the Gas Act 1972 and section 8 of the Energy Act 1976, there has been only one distributor and one buyer of natural gas. That will be altered by the Bill. That is a crucial point. There will be other distributors, not simply the BGC. Therefore, its monopoly of supply will be altered. I should have thought that many Opposition Members would recognise that. They are surely not in favour of complete monopolies. Changes are brought about by the Bill. There are also two crucial clauses that concern the safety regulations.

Clauses 9, 10 and 11 of the Bill concern the powers of disposal of the assets of the British Gas Corporation. There can be disposals of Wytch Farm under the section 7 of the Gas Act 1972, but that is being amended and extended by the Bill. The BCG should confine itself to gas exploration, gas transmission and distribution. It should have nothing to do with oil in the North Sea. Those assets could be liquedated and the cash handed over to the State.

Clauses 15, 16 and 17 concern the use of pipelines belonging to the BGC. That is where there is a weakness. In future there could be a possibility of the role of BGC being confined to that of a transmission company only undertaking distribution. There is a possibility that it will go on on its present course. I have written to the Secretary of State and have suggested in Committee that there should be a natural gas transmission company. It would have all the advantages that are not apparent in the three clauses that I have mentioned. In those three clauses the ownership of the piplelines rests with the BGC. It can set the rates. There is an elaborate procedure under which appeals can be made to the Secretary of State.

But the BGC has a great ability to delay. If the Secretary of State could consider that matter seriously when the Bill goes to the House of Lords or at a later stage he may be able to change the arrangement so that impartiality and independence could be granted to the applicant companies concerned.

After all, what is the Secretary of State seeking? He is seeking to provide incentives, for example for more gas to be discovered. That can be done if the oil companies have the right to supply. Those companies will be able to compete if they can persuade BGC, under the Secretary of State's guidance, to enable the companies, perhaps in a consortium, to use the piplelines owned by BGC. However, there may come the day when the Secretary of State ceases to be in office and when, by accident or fortune, the Labour Party comes into Government. Does my right hon. Friend think for a moment that a Socialist Secretary of State would allow the transmission lines to be used by private enterprise? I doubt that he would.

One or two other matters are of importance. One is the retention of paragraph 28 in schedule 5 of the Petroleum (Production) Regulations 1976. I refer to the export of natural gas. I suggested in Committee that if a surplus of natural gas was required it would be essential to establish an export price to encourage exploration and development. Sheikh Yamani was here yesterday. I put one point to him: what will be the future price of natural gas? If the price is linked to crude oil, the price of gas will rise whether or not the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) wants it. We may wish to moderate that, but there has been a trend of rising prices. BGC started by paying the companies 2·87 old pence per therm. Now prices are rising and it is 16p or 16½p per therm. It could rise further to 20p or 30p per therm. Therefore, a linkage with Europe by joining the two grids would be the best thing that could happen to the United Kingdom.

We are in an impossible position. We have the right to import gas from Europe and a company can export and reticulate it wherever it likes in the United Kingdom. However, without the consent of the Secretary of State, we cannot export gas to Europe. Surely that is contradictory to articles 30 and 34 of the Treaty of Rome.

I sincerely thank the Government for introducing a definition of gas, which is being implanted in the Gas Act of 1972. Another matter, which has not been noticed by many hon. Members, involves the liquefaction of offshore natural gas. Before that can be done the Secretary of State's consent must be obtained. That was provided for in the 1976 Act. Why is it now retained? None of the gas has been exported. None of it has been liquefied, none of the ethane has been extracted and been sent abroad. Why, therefore, must the Secretary of State's consent be obtained? Perhaps the most conspicuous provision is removal of the duty to tender advice to the Secretary of State. What is more, the Burgoyne committee's recommendations have been to some extent implemented.

The Bill is on its way to the House of Lords. Parts of it are not too good, parts of it are remarkably sound, but it contains the prime point of privatising industry and it extends a policy that we have been advocating elsewhere. Let us not think for one moment that the British Gas Corporation, which has been doing extensive lobbying of the House during the course of the Bill, is right in all that it does. It talks about the premium use of fuel. Of its total industrial sales, 46 per cent. at least goes on interruptible supplies. Much of this gas has been used for under-boiler heating where the more suitable fuel is oil or coal. The BGC should take a more correct view of premium fuels.

It has been said that flaring is wrong. Surely some policy has been adopted? I am sorry that the North Sea gas-gathering pipeline was not successful. That was largely because of the attitude of British Gas, which was not prepared to nominate a price for methane, which meant that the banks were not prepared to give credit for development of the project. It was difficult to settle the amount of contribution being made from both sides. Having said all that, we are aware that the FLAGS pipeline, which is shortly to be completed, will link a number of other fields, North-West Hutton, Ninian North, Cormorant and Brent. This is the beginning of an embryo pipeline that will bring gas ashore into St. Fergus and other sites. The Government have controls and regulations and they can specify that the companies must not flare gas. They have to find ways of using it either by re-injecting it or by bringing it ashore.

I support the Bill, although it has weaknesses that have been pointed out to the Secretary of State in Committee. It must be drastically amended before it is finally successful, but I support it for its privatisation provisions. Privatisation in one form or another is what we want. I should have liked to keep BNOC intact, but the Secretary of State, for reasons that I do not understand, has not been prepared to do that. Nevertheless, he is privatising an integral part of it.

6.3 pm

We have had an interesting debate and some interesting strictures from the hon. Members for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) and for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) about the procedures of the House.

In his opening remarks the Minister illustrated some of the deficiencies. He spent a good part of his speech dealing with the clauses relating to safety. Last night my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) demonstrated his expertise, which was denied to the Committee. We should have accepted the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), and taken the path of the new Select Committees. Politics is not involved. We are all agreed on that. Under the new Select Committee procedure we would have had the expertise not only of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, but of others.

I cannot remember all of the Committee proceedings but I think that today, in the Minister's speech was the first time that we heard the word "Hotel". We are now on Third Reading, and I am not sure that the Bill covers the problems of flotels. Perhaps the Minister will say whether clause 23(2)(d) covers flotels. We have talked about them but have never had an opportunity to discuss the health problems involved. If there are flotels that accommodate hundreds of workers in congested conditions, we shall have to examine not only safety, but health. There is the minor aspect of the ventilation system that might be used in such vessels. This is something that is not part of an exchange across the Floor of the House. It should have been discussed under the new Select Committee procedure, and that is what we are asking for.

On three or four occasions the Minister used the word "misconceived". He seemed to be suggesting that we had misunderstood the Bill. That is not the case. We shall stop telling the truth about the Bill if the Government and their supporters will stop telling lies about our policies. The Bill is a doctrinaire measure. This is no basis for the economic well-being of the country. It is a doctrinaire measure and will not—[Interruption]—add one barrel of oil or one cubic metre of gas from the North sea. [Interruption.] It will not be to the benefit of the nation.

I do not say that it will not benefit the oil companies. That is a different matter. It may benefit the multinationals. Conservative Members have taken the remarkable view that, somehow or other, the price of gas can be reduced, but we must have an international price by exporting gas. How does that relate to a depletion policy? The Secretary of State will throw the existing depletion policy out of the window and ask for a depletion policy based on the market and price measurement. That is his view.

I take the view that monopolies can be wrong, but BNOC is not a monopoly. How can it possibly be a monopoly in the North Sea? The Secretary of State should do his Back Benchers the justice of listening to them, because on many occasions they were attacking BNOC. I am thinking particularly of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Sir R. Fairgrieve). Unhappily, he is not in his place and I do not like talking about people who are not here. Perhaps I was unfair to the hon. Gentleman, but he distinctly said that he was against this type of monopoly. He suggested that a doctrinaire person—Lord Kearton—was being put in charge and that in some way he supported the Government's policy.

The Secretary of State nods, but he cannot find any member of the present board or of a past one who supports the disintegration of BNOC. If the Secretary of State has something to say, I shall give way. Those on the board—Mr. Sheldon, Mr. Utiger or Lord Kearton—do not support disintegration, because they know that the logic of the industry is to have integration. I do not want to go into the history of Standard Oil, but the logic of the industry is to have an integrated operation.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) referred to the implications for Scotland. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West said it was a political decision to put the head office in Glasgow. Of course it was. It was a correct political decision as a countervailing power. Did not the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) support that? Where else would it have been put? The Minister may have suggested Aberdeen, but is there any guarantee that even though, as a sop, Britoil will be registered in Scotland, the unemployment position will be improved?

The oil trading side is likely to be in London. Will the employees be able to participate in the shareholding? They have participated in building up the corporation, but the Government have ensured that they will be denied the opportunity of entering into share ownership.

I have questioned the Secretary of State about referring matters to the council of the Stock Exchange. The Secretary of State was a member of the Public Accounts Committee and he will know that papers can be called for by the PAC. Therefore, it is as well now to know the views of the Stock Exchange on the articles of association. Does it support the concept of a golden shareholding that can outweigh all others? I invite the right hon. Gentleman to come clean with the House on that issue. I invite him to do likewise on the presentation of the prospectus. When will we get the prospectus?

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman desires to sell the company, when he has it in order, by the end of the year. Is that still his intention, bearing in mind the world oil market? I do not believe all that Sheikh Yamani says but I will take his view of the oil market before the right hon. Gentleman's. Sheikh Yamani has power because he can control his national oil assets, but all that the Secretary of State can do is attempt to talk down the market.

The Secretary of State seems to think that there is perfect competition within a market mechanism. He should know that that is not so. If anyone should have told him, it was Sir Donald Maitland, for whom I have a great deal of respect. I was surprised by the speech that Sir Donald made to the Institute of Directors in Scotland. He could have done so only under the instructions of the Secretary of State.

Oil is an international political commodity and instead of enhancing it, holding it and garnering it for the benefit of the British people, the right hon. Gentleman, for doctrinaire reasons, is saying "Let the market decide". The right hon. Gentleman is abrogating his supreme responsibility to securing energy supplies for Britain. He should be rejected and the Bill should be rejected by the House.

6.13 pm

I hope that the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas) will forgive me if I do not take up his remarks.

I wish to raise two issues. I was extremely interested in the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) about the sale of BNOC. He suggested that one way of ensuring wider share ownership was to proceed through the sale of unit trust holdings in the corporation. I am certain that the traditional City methods of ensuring wide ownerhip are inadequate. We shall not get the degree of wide ownership that we need if we use the traditional City systems.

I have a distinct preference for making shares available through the Post Office network, by employing the system that has been developed most effectively for the dissemination of national savings certificates. I believe that it would be possible to sell convertible stock in BNOC through the Post Office savings network, which could after a period—I suggest between 12 and 18 months—be converted into shares of BNOC. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that suggestion carefully.

Secondly, I have never made a secret of the fact that I think that the Bill should contain provisions for the privatisation—I object to that word—of the British Gas Corporation. I maintain that position, which I have held ever since the Bill was published. I recognise that the Bill is to be welcomed as a first step in the right direction.

My belief in the ultimate privatisation of BGC and its division into constituent parts was much strengthened by some documented information which I received recently. In January the corporation requested participants in the Frigg field, which is largely in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, that it be permitted to pay early for gas due to be delivered to it in March. The corporation will have paid for 13 months of gas supplies during 12 months. The significance of this may not be immediately obvious to all hon. Members.

One major way in which the Government control the corporation is through external financing limits. This year the corporation's EFL is minus £317 million—in other words, it should pay the Government £317 million. Had it not paid for the Frigg gas, which amounted to £100 million in this financial year, the chances are that it would have exceeded its financial limit by a significant amount. If it was trying to hit the limit exactly, it would have hit minus £317 million, but the real figure would have been minus £417 million.

There is some significance in this, because the Government have based their public expenditure plans on the money that they expect to receive from nationalised industries and on what they expect to invest in them. A sum of £100 million is quite significant. The corporation knows very well that if it has done much better than the Government expected and has generated more cash than expected, the Government will return to it in the next financial year and in subsequent years and tighten its cash limits.

Some might consider the financial changes that the corporation has brought about as cooking the books or financial fiddling, but it is certainly significant window dressing.

Before raising this issue in the House I took it up with the chairman of the corporation. He was extremely courteous. He saw me as soon as I asked to see him and he has written to me. I shall not bore the House with the detailed arguments, but I shall describe them roughly.

The chairman said that it was a commercial decision and he gave two reasons. First, he said that there was pressure from the oil companies to change the way in which they were paid by the corporation. I have been assured by the Norwegian members of the Frigg consortium that while they have historically been engaging in discussions with the corporation about payments through bills of exchange, the request for early payment for the gas that is to be delivered in March was not made by them and that the initiative was taken by BGC.

Many hon. Members do not appreciate the point. I understand that the arrangement between BGC and the oil companies was mutually beneficial and had been in practice for a long time. There is nothing new about it.

It is extremely interesting to note that the hon. Gentleman has been briefed by BGC and knew that I might bring up this subject. He would not have been able to make that point if he has not been so briefed.

I have raised a matter that is not widely known. However, the hon. Gentleman's point about the commercial negotiations does not stand up to scrutiny. In the circumstances, the arrangement cannot be regarded as mutually beneficial. There was only a long-term agreement with the United Kingdom partners in the Frigg field. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the United Kingdom partners have only a small share of that field. The Norwegian partners in that field declined to do anything more than accept early payment for the March gas in this financial year. That is significant.

The other commercial reason that Sir Denis Rooke gave was that there was a need to smooth out BGC's cash flow. He said that the weather conditions are so difficult that BGC must have some flexibility in its cash flow. However, BGC has had that problem for a long time, and it is not new this year. Why on earth should BGC ask for such flexibility this year?

I then asked whether the way in which the early payment had been sought represented an attempt to avoid the cash limits and the external financing limit system. It is worth quoting the letter that Sir Denis Rooke wrote to me. I shall cite extracts, and if any hon. Member wishes to see the full details I shall make them available. He wrote:
"I was certain it would have been quite properly and commercially negotiated"—
that is the arrangement for early payment—
"and that in those circumstances I certainly saw nothing wrong in making adjustments either way to meet the EFL target. … There is absolutely no point in making adherence to EFL targets even more difficult by building in aberrations stemming purely from the coincidence of weather factors."
We all recognise BGC's difficulties with cash limits. However, if the Government have set clear cash limits, it is up to BGC to stick to them. It is unreasonable for it to try to avoid them. I hope that the Government will carefully examine the whole issue and the way in which the accounts have been altered and changed.

I wish to make one further point—[Interruption.] I shall develop the point quickly, if Opposition Members will allow me to do so. All hon. Members believe that Parliament should control the purse strings. Together with many other hon. Members, I strongly feel that the Comptroller and Auditor General should have powers to examine, if necessary—and if Select Committees consider it appropriate—the audited accounts of nationalised industries. [Interruption.] That argument should be adopted by hon. Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan).

If anything substantiates that argument it is the story of how BGC has apparently got round the external financing limit.

Order. Other hon. Members wish to catch my eye, and the hon. Gentleman is straying from the subject-matter of the Bill.

6.25 pm

As he gains experience of the House, I hope that the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) will acquire some understanding of the sensitivities involved in certain debates, particularly when only a limited amount of time is available.

I turn to the Secretary of State's prompt decision on a gassing tragedy in my constituency. He dealt with the matter promptly and sent an official to the region. That was greatly appreciated. On behalf of thousands of householders with equipment with this type of gas supply, I should tell him that he has helped considerably to allay their worst fears. I hope that a report will be issued and widely distributed, perhaps after the inquest on victims.

I have also had reservations about the Committee's progress. There should have been two Bills—one on oil and one on gas. However, experience tells me that, regardless of their political colours, Governments will always try to get three Bills into one. On this occasion, they have tried to put two Bills into one and have failed miserably. Many of the issues that still concern Committee Members have not been fully debated. I wish that the Minister had spent more time on the implications of two distribution systems. When Parliament has given the Minister the necessary powers, I urge him to proceed carefully and cautiously when phasing in, in some cases. a double pipeline and operational system. I hope that he will always ensure that the standards of the two sectors are compatible.

As so often happens, an amending Bill will probably have to be introduced within the next two or three years to alter some of the actions taken in this Bill.

6.27 pm

Although time is brief, I welcome the opportunity to say a word or two and to release some of the gasps that I had to pent up in Committee.

I come from North-East Scotland and am well aware of the stupendous achievement involved in extracting oil and gas from beneath the North Sea. Those resources were laid down before the day of the dodo, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said. They have lain under the North Sea for many years and have been released so that this generation, and perhaps the next—but possibly no more—can use that pent-up energy for their benefit. There is no doubt that those resources are available because of enterprise. I use that word advisedly, and, indeed, I am pleased that the word "enterprise" is in the title of the Bill. Private enterprise brought that energy to the surface and has made it available to us.

I welcome the fact that the British Gas Corporation will have to break up its operations to a certain extent and that there will be an opportunity for small companies to get in on the gas act.

For the sake of future generations we should look at methane digesters which could come into being on a small scale as a result of gas production, perhaps only on a farm scale. The breaking up of the gas monopoly may make that possible.

6.30 pm

It is a matter of personal regret that, as we come to the end of our discussions on the Bill, I have to introduce two sour notes.

First, I must tell the Secretary of State that good convention and tradition should have led him to open the debate on the Third Reading of the Bill. We have excused him for, and co-operated with, his periodic absenteeism. We made special efforts on Report in that regard. We think that he, like any Secretary of State, should have moved the Third Reading of this major and important Bill.

The second sour note that I have to introduce relates to the speech made by Sir Donald Maitland. We do not believe that that speech was in order. It crossed the bounds of propriety and decency. Had Sir Donald's predecessor, Sir Michael Palliser, or Sir Robert Armstrong, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, made such a speech under a Labour Government, Conservative Members would have been the first to be on their feet on points of order about the role of permanent officials. His speech about this Bill carried "Yes, Minister" to extremes. It is not just a matter of a factual statement. The speech was a series of political views and opinions which we have debated constantly over 130 hours.

Whatever the permanent secretary's role, it is not to make public speeches in favour of the Bill. That is what the press release was all about. I deeply regret what has happened. The Secretary of State does not need to lecture me about Sir Donald Maitland; I think I know him as well as he does. It is sad and regrettable that for some curious reason he has broken what we consider to be the bounds of normal propriety and convention of permanent secretaries and their relationships with Ministers.

The Bill was no good when we began our proceedings, and it is no better now. It has not been changed at all. I have never come across a Bill to which fewer changes have been made. Labour Members who have served on many more Standing Committees than I have said that this Bill is remarkable for its lack of change. The reason is that the Bill derives from blatant obstinacy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas) said, it derives from sheer dogma and doctrine. Even the practical and pragmatic arguments that we put on the gas provisions of the Bill have been ignored.

In the time that is available under the guillotine, let me catalogue the fundamental failings of the Bill and the reasons why we shall oppose it both on Third Reading and in the country. First, as the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) and others have spotted, the Bill breaks up—smashes up—a successful national oil corporation. Even Conservative Members accept that it disintegrates BNOC. We take different views on what we should do about it, but it smashes a successful national oil corporation.

BNOC was profitable and vibrantly successful. It has gained grudging respect, even from the oil industry. The Bill breaks it up in the worst possible way. That point has been made by the hon. Member for Bedford and others both in Committee and in the debate today. The Bill will leave behind a State corporation trading in oil which is weak, vulnerable and with extreme financial difficulties. Indeed, the Government introduced a clause to give grants and subsidies to the State oil company. It takes genius to create a lame duck out of a national oil corporation, yet the Government are on the verge of doing so if the Bill goes through in its present form.

Secondly, by breaking up BNOC, it breaks up the one organisation concerned with the North Sea that was answerable to the Government and the nation alone. It had no allegiance other than to the Government and the nation. We know about the great success story of the North Sea and about the important role of the multinationals in developing the North Sea in the 1970s. That is all very well and good, but in fact and in practice they do not owe allegiance to this nation. They owe allegiance to the shareholders of Houston, Louisiana and elsewhere, and there is no reason to believe that they will invest on the size and scale required in the 1980s.

Coincidentally, the North Sea was helpful to those companies because they were pushed out of the Middle East in the 1970s. However, they may spend more time looking at, and investing in, China in the 1980s. Therefore, the breaking up of the one organisation that is the eyes and ears of the British Government and British nation, answerable to no one else, is in our view a disaster, given the problems that we shall face in the 1980s.

We believe that the Bill will destroy and undermine the control of our oil supplies. We have driven the Government hard and believed that we might obtain some concessions on the participation agreements between Britoil and BNOC. We still have not seen them, and that is another secret and veiled part of the Bill. Nevertheless, we believe that we shall lose control over our oil supplies.

As hon. Members on both sides have pointed out, the Government are absolutely friendless in their belief that they should break up BNOC. They could not even get Mr. Shelbourne to agree to the proposal. Indeed, Mr. Utiger and most of the other members of the board, some of whom believe in privatisation, feel that the Government have done it in the wrong way.

The gas provisions in the Bill are a betrayal of national and consumer interests. The measure will destroy the rights of British Gas to buy gas from the North Sea. It destroys the rights of British Gas to purchase gas from the North Sea on behalf of 15 million consumers. It will destroy the purchasing rights of British Gas. At present it has the right to first purchase, and the Bill will stop that.

As we said on Second reading, the end gain of the Bill is not to supply the Leicestershire villagers with gas that they do not have at present, nor is it to supply gas to Brush Electric. It will eventually allow the oil companies to export their gas to Europe. It paves the way for the export of gas, and Sir Donald Maitland told us so in his speech.

The Bill will also undermine the negotiating power of British Gas with the oil companies. The hon. Members for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) and Bedford, as well as the Government, know that British Gas will have to negotiate important contracts to cover consumer gas supplies for the mid and late 1980s. The Bill tilts the whole balance of those negotiations in favour of the oil companies.

Conservative Members have said that they support the idea that the oil companies should get a higher price for their gas. They have been the spokesman for a particular group of companies. They have not spoken on behalf of the nation's consumers. They have spoken on behalf of the interests of a particular sector, as has been apparent in speech after speech. They are willing to undermine the power of British Gas to negotiate on behalf of 151½ million consumers of gas in the mid and late 1980s. That is what the Bill is about. It will benefit private interests at the expense of the nation and of the consumer. That is why we shall oppose it.

There is worse. In clauses 15, 16 and 17 the Bill does something that no Government have done before. It will break up and meddle with the national gas transmission system.

I hope that that "Hear, hear", together with those of other Conservative Members, will go on the record. When the first problems arise as a result of the interference and meddling of a Secretary of State in a national gas transmission system and when the Secretary of State through his powers of direction overrides the professional and technical judgment of gas engineers and trouble arises, we shall remember who supported the proposal.

There is an even more incredible proposition in the Bill. The Secretary of State says "I take powers of direction to override British Gas and interfere with its national gas transmission system, but I do not accept responsibility for the actions that I shall take". That is what the Government said. When they repeatedly say that if the Secretary of State uses his powers of direction to override the professional judgment of British Gas officials and engineers, one assumes that the Secretary of State will bear responsibility for that—but no. He says "Although we shall override British Gas and have power to do so, we shall not accept responsibility for any decisions that we take". I do not know where hon. Members stand on that. Whatever they think about privatisation, can they possibly support the proposition that when a Minister's decision overrides the responsibility and judgment of an organisation, he is not responsible for the decision that he has imposed? That is a travesty, and it is what is written in the Bill.

Finally, I come to the most fundamental reason why we oppose the Bill. It offends every normal parliamentary convention. It is a crude enabling Bill which gives the Secretary of State enormous power to do what he likes, when he likes, and how he likes, with large assets which at the moment belong to the nation. The amount of parliamentary control once the Bill becomes law will be miserable and paltry. It will consist of a couple of negative orders debated late at night in respect of gas, and not a single one for the disposal of more than £1 billion worth of oil assets.

No matter where we stand on privatisation, we should stand on the side of parliamentary accountability and scrutiny. We have already seen an example of what happens when Parliament loses control or supervision of an issue. It happened with Amersham International, when none of the decisions made ever came back to this House. That is why the Government got into such a mess with that example of privatisation. This Bill is privatisation writ large. We oppose it on the grounds of principle, party philosophy and, more important, because it is a fundamental affront to every sense of decent parliamentary democracy.

6.44 pm

I shall start by dealing with two matters of a personal nature which were raised by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands). If, by replying to this debate, winding it up rather than opening it, I have been guilty of a discourtesy to the House, I apologise unreservedly. However, I assure the House that no such discourtesy was intended.

The second matter that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil raised was Sir Donald Maitland's speech. In that respect I make no apology whatsoever. Sir Donald's speech was his own speech. Of course, he showed it to me before he delivered it, and I approved it. It is a factual statement of Government policy, and he was perfectly entitled to make it. There are many precedents for it. I recall last year, when I was a Treasury Minister, that Sir Douglas Wass, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, made a public speech at an important meeting, when he explained Government economic policy. Economic policy is another issue which is not uncontroversial—something on which there is more than one view. The slur that we have heard today on a very distinguished public servant is uncalled for, and I hope that at some stage the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw it.

The Bill was scrutinised in Committee for more than 100 hours, quite apart from the scrutiny that it was given on Report yesterday. When the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) complained that the guillotine had prevented a proper scrutiny, that was totally absurd. It is important to get that on the record. The only thing that the guillotine prevented was an indefinite filibuster. The timetable motion that was moved and approved by the House was of such generosity that the Opposition were totally unable to fill the time that was allocated to them. Of the time that was available for debate under the allocation of time motion, the Opposition chose not to use twelve hours.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before you were in the Chair, your predecessor rightly pointed out that Third Reading is a very strict debate, in which one can discuss only what is in the Bill. Where in the Bill is there anything about the guillotine, how long the guillotine operated, and whether or not the guillotine was sufficient? I have not examined the Bill fully, but I can see nothing in it about the guillotine.

The hon. Gentleman is right, but it is not unknown for hon. Members and Ministers to have a preamble to their speeches. It should not be too long in a short debate.

So much for that. Perhaps I may now say something else that is not in the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am most grateful for the informed support—not always uncritical—which I and my Front Bench team have had from our hon. Friends on the Back Benches during the course of the Bill. If I do not have time to reply to all the points that they have raised, I hope that they appreciate that I take their points very much on board, and I will consider all of them most carefully.

I turn to the various arguments that were raised today.

On the first part of the Bill—Britoil and BNOC—one of the Opposition's main points was an attempt to maintain that the nation's security of oil supply would be undermined by the sale of shares in Britoil. That is complete nonsense. We have made it clear that, as with any other oil company operating in the North Sea, there will be a participation agreement between Britoil and BNOC. Participation, of course, is merely one of many aspects which ensure security of supply. In addition, there are assurances given by refiners, which recognise the special obligations to the United Kingdom in times of limited shortage, and BNOC's ability to repatriate oil to the United Kingdom market. That facility remains. These assurances, together with the Government's controls over depletion, licensing and flaring—I will come to the point about flaring raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in a moment—and the tax and royalty regime, remain wholly unaffected by the Britoil sale.

I hope that during the Bill's proceedings we have dispelled any apprehensions that existed at the beginning, about BNOC's future role. As I made clear throughout, BNOC will remain 100 per cent. in the public sector, trading primarily in participation oil, for which it will retain all the rights that it needs. It would not be in the national interest—as some of my hon. Friends urged—to take the further step of privatising the corporation's trading, as well as its upstream business. That trading is an essential function of the participation agreements. Therefore, the participation agreements have a strategic rather than commercial function. That is why they exist. It simply would not make sense to privatise them. This answers the point made, among others, by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). The right hon. Gentleman said that Britoil should be an integrated company. There is nothing to stop it being an integrated company. It is up to Britoil to decide whether it wants to move downstream; the articles of association state that it may do so. It can have refineries if it wishes, although at present it may not wish to. It can certainly trade and have distribution outlets. It can be fully integrated, but BNOC's role in the participation agreements is something that no integrated oil company can undertake, for the simple reason that such agreements are not basically commercial operations. They exist for strategic reasons.

One of my hon. Friends asked why we should not scrap the participation agreements. In those circumstances, the trading operation would be much smaller than its present large size. The reason we decided—most hon. Members on both sides of the House agreed that this was right—to retain participation agreements was fully explained by my hon. Friend the Minister of State in the fifth sitting of the Committee on 11 February.

On Britoil, the BNOC board formally accepted the Government's policy of privatisation as long ago as January this year. The chairman made no secret of his welcome to the benefits that this will bring to the company and its employees.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way because I know that time is short. My right hon. Friend said that he retains the participation crude for strategic reasons. Surely, there are other strategic raw materials apart from oil. Why do we not have participation agreements for them?

Oil is a commodity of a very special nature, as the events of 1973–74 reminded us all. On gas—

On the sale of BNOC, will the Secretary of State undertake, although it is not in the Bill, to report to the House what method of sale he intends to use?

The House will, of course, be informed of the method of sale before the sale takes place. That goes without saying. There are, however, certainly no parliamentary precedents for formal procedures to do that.

On gas, we have made a number of amendments as a result of discussion in Committee. That proves, to some extent, the benefit of the Committee. There can certainly be no contention that the Government have been unwilling to consider constructive suggestions on the gas provisions. Nor did the timetable motion prevent any such suggestions. Indeed, all the changes that occurred took place during the operation of the guillotine.

Another point raised concerned gas exports. The Bill changes the present position in no way. I make no apology for that. There is tremendous scope for additional sales of gas to British industry. However, supplies from existing fields, which will soon decline, will be inadequate to meet all those demands. Our proposals will give the exploration efforts of the oil companies the fillip they need. UKOOA has assured me of its unreserved support for the Bill. On exports, the position is simple. If large new reserves of gas are discovered, we will consider exports.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked about gas gathering and what progress had been made. The BGC expects to take receipt this month at St. Fergus of the first gas transported via the FLAGS line. When the western and northern legs are completed next year, it will be taking gas from a total of eight fields. I am confident that oil companies will come forward in due course with gas gathering schemes for other fields.

The complete cessation of flaring would mean virtually the cessation of oil production. Flaring is now running at only half the rate that it was when this Government took office, even though the rate of production has risen considerably.

I have no time to give way.

On gas provisions, the objections raised may sound very bland and impressive. However, they were raised by people who did not want to see the gas monopoly broken in any way. They did not want competition in any shape or form. The Government are confident that private industry, both suppliers and customers, will be able to make the most of the opportunities the Bill will give them. The newspapers have already reported that an important company, with undeveloped gas reserves, is seriously examining the direct sale of gas to industrial consumers once the Bill becomes law.

I shall do all in my power to ensure that the market is open to such initiatives as speedily and effectively as possible. These powers are important and I commend them to the House. The safety provisions are of equal importance. I am glad that they were widely welcomed on both sides of the House.

The Bill is passing through its last stage in the House of Commons and I reaffirm its importance. Britain's energy sector has been the object of stale thought and received wisdom for too long. Debate has been kept within unspoken limits, which utterly failed to touch on the fundamental issues. There has been a measure of private despair, common to all Governments, about nationalised industries.

The Bill proposes a fresh approach, based on enterprise and change. I fully recognise, in the measures it proposes, that it is not a soft option, either for the industries concerned or the Government. Many would prefer us to leave things alone and let the industries stay as they are. That is not good enough. Of course change is never popular until it has succeeded. In the nation's interest, we must tackle problems and not pretend that they do not exist. We cannot afford to take the easy way out. Of course, it is easy for the Opposition to be negative, as they have been throughout the Bill. They carp and criticise, complain and are satisfied with nothing they are told. We know about that and a good example of it concerned the articles of association. They spent goodness knows how long at the start of the Committee stage complaining that they did not have the articles of association. When they got them, there was nothing they could think of to say or do. They did not criticise the Government directives. They did not criticise the provision to maintain independence. They had nothing to criticise. The whole thing was phoney.

There has not been heard from the Opposition any intellectual or coherent case for clothing their basic prejudices. I look forward to the passage of the Bill. I look forward still more to its implementation. I invite the House to give it a Third Reading. It is a Bill of the first importance. It will create more change and more progress in our energy industries than any previous legislation that has passed through the House.

It being Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Order [8 March] and Resolution [31 March], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 280, Noes 214.

Division No. 116]



Adley, RobertAlison, Rt Hon Michael
Aitken, JonathanAmery, Rt Hon Julian
Alexander, RichardAncram, Michael

Arnold, TomFry, Peter
Aspinwall, JackGardiner, George (Reigate)
Atkins, Robert (PrestonN)Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone)Garel-Jones, Tristan
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Banks, RobertGlyn, Dr Alan
Bendall, VivianGoodhart, SirPhilip
Benyon, W.(Buckingham)Goodhew, SirVictor
Best, KeithGoodlad, Alastair
Bevan, David GilroyGorst, John
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGow, Ian
Biggs-Davison, SirJohnGrant, Anthony (HarrowC)
Blackburn, JohnGray, Hamish
Blaker, PeterGriffiths, E.(B'ySt.Edm'ds)
Body, RichardGriffiths, Peter(Portsm'thN)
Bonsor, SirNicholasGrist, Ian
Bottomley, Peter(W'wichW)Grylls, Michael
Bowden, AndrewGummer, JohnSelwyn
Boyson, DrRhodesHamilton, HonA.
Braine, SirBernardHamilton, Michael(Salisbury)
Bright, GrahamHampson, DrKeith
Brittan, Rt. Hon. LeonHannam, John
Brooke, Hon PeterHavers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Brotherton, MichaelHawksley, Warren
Brown, Michael(Brigg&Sc'n)Hayhoe, Barney
Browne, John(Winchester)Heddle, John
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnHenderson, Barry
Bryan, SirPaulHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Buck, AntonyHicks, Robert
Budgen, NickHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Bulmer, EsmondHogg, Hon Douglas(Gr'th'm)
Burden, SirFrederickHolland, Philip(Carlton)
Butcher, JohnHooson, Tom
Cadbury, JocelynHordern, Peter
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln)Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Chalker, Mrs.LyndaHunt, David (Wirral)
Channon, Rt. Hon. PaulHunt, John(Ravensbourne)
Chapman, SydneyIrving, Charles(Cheltenham)
Churchill, W.S.Jessel, Toby
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)JohnsonSmith, Geoffrey
Clark, SirW. (CroydonS)Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Clarke, Kenneth(Rushcliffe)Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Cockeram, EricKaberry, SirDonald
Colvin, MichaelKellett-Bowman, MrsElaine
Cope, JohnKershaw, Sir Anthony
Costain, Sir AlbertKing, Rt Hon Tom
Cranborne, ViscountLamont, Norman
Crouch, DavidLang, Ian
Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Latham, Michael
Dickens, GeoffreyLawrence, Ivan
Dorrell, StephenLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Douglas-Hamilton, LordJ.Lee, John
Dover, DenshoreLeMarchant, Spencer
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardLennox-Boyd, HonMark
Dunn, Robert(Dartford)Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Durant, TonyLewis, Kenneth(Rutland)
Dykes, HughLloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Loveridge, John
Eggar, TimLyell, Nicholas
Elliott, SirWilliamMcCrindle, Robert
Eyre, ReginaldMacfarlane, Neil
Fairbairn, NicholasMacGregor, John
Fairgrieve, SirRussellMacKay, John (Argyll)
Faith, Mrs SheilaMacmillan, Rt Hon M.
Farr, JohnMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fell, Sir AnthonyMcNair-Wilson, P. (NewF'st)
Fenner, MrsPeggyMarland, Paul
Finsberg, GeoffreyMarshall, Michael(Arundel)
Fisher, SirNigelMarten, RtHonNeil
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'ghN)Mates, Michael
Fletcher-Cooke, SirCharlesMaude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Fookes, Miss JanetMawby, Ray
Forman, NigelMawhinney, DrBrian
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fox, MarcusMayhew, Patrick
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir HughMellor, David
Fraser, Peter(South Angus,)Meyer, Sir Anthony

Miller, Hal(B'grove.)Skeet, T. H. H.
Mills, Iain(Meriden)Speed, Keith
Mills, Peter (West Devon)Speller, Tony
Miscampbell, NormanSpence, John
Moate, RogerSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Monro, SirHectorSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Montgomery, FergusSproat, Iain
Moore, JohnSquire, Robin
Morris, M. (N'hampton S)Stainton, Keith
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Stanbrook, Ivor
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Stanley, John
Mudd, DavidSteen, Anthony
Murphy, ChristopherStevens, Martin
Myles, DavidStewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)
Neale, GerrardStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Neubert, MichaelStokes, John
Newton, TonyStradling Thomas, J.
Normanton, TomTapsell, Peter
Onslow, CranleyTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Page, John (Harrow, West)Temple-Morris, Peter
Page, Richard (SW Herts)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilThompson, Donald
Parris, MatthewThorne, Neil(IlfordSouth.)
Patten, Christopher(Bath)Thornton, Malcolm
Patten, John (Oxford)Townend, John(Bridlington)
Pattie, GeoffreyTownsend, CyrilD, (B'heath)
Pawsey, JamesTrippier, David
Percival, SirIanTrotter, Neville
Peyton, Rt Hon Johnvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Pollock, AlexanderVaughan, Dr Gerard
Porter, BarryViggers, Peter
Prentice, Rt Hon RegWaddington, David
Prior, Rt Hon JamesWakeham, John
Proctor, K. HarveyWaldegrave, HonWilliam
Pym, Rt Hon FrancisWalker, B. (Perth)
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Rathbone, TimWall, Sir Patrick
Rees-Davies, W. R.Waller, Gary
Renton, TimWalters, Dennis
Rhodes James, RobertWard, John
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonWarren, Kenneth
Ridley, Hon NicholasWatson, John
Rippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyWells, Bowen
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)Wells, John(Maidstone)
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Wheeler, John
Rossi, HughWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Rost, PeterWhitney, Raymond
Royle, Sir AnthonyWickenden, Keith
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyWigley, Dafydd
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.Wilkinson, John
Scott, NicholasWinterton, Nicholas
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Wolfson, Mark
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)Young, Sir George (Acton.)
Shelton, William (Streatham)Younger, Rt Hon George
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Shepherd, RichardTellers for the Ayes:
Silvester, FredMr. Anthony Berry
Sims, Rogerand Mr. Carol Mather


Abse, LeoBrown, R. C. (N'castle W)
Anderson, DonaldBrown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'yS)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBrown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCallaghan, Rt Hon J.
Ashton, JoeCallaghan, Jim (Midd't'n&P)
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,)Campbell, Ian
Bagier, GordonA.T.Canavan, Dennis
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Carmichael, Neil
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)Cartwright, John
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCocks, Rt Hon M. (B 'stol S)
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp'tn)Cohen, Stanley
Bidwell, SydneyColeman, Donald
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertConcannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Boothroyd, MissBettyCook, Robin F.
Bottomley, RtHonA. (M'b'ro)Cowans, Harry
Bradley, TomCox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)
Bray, DrJeremyCraigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Crawshaw, Richard
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Cryer, Bob

Cunliffe, LawrenceMcDonald, DrOonagh
Cunningham, G. (IslingtonS.)McElhone, Frank
Cunningham, DrJ. (W'h'n,)McKay, Allen(Penistone)
Dalyell, TamMcKelvey, William
Davidson, ArthurMaclennan, Robert
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)McNamara, Kevin
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Magee, Bryan
Davis, Clinton (HackneyC)Marks, Kenneth
Davis Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)Marshall, D(G'gowS'ton)
Deakins, EricMarshall, DrEdmund (Goole)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Marshall, Jim(Leicestser)
Dewar, DonaldMartin, M(G'gowS'burn)
Dixon, DonaldMason, Rt Hon Roy
Dobson, FrankMaxton, John
Dormand, JackMaynard, Miss Joan
Douglas, DickMeacher, Michael
Douglas-Mann, BruceMellish, Rt Hon Robert
Dubs, AlfredMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Duffy, A. E. P.Miller, Dr M.S(E Kilbride)
Dunnett, JackMitchell, Austin(Grimsby)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Eadie, AlexMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Eastham, KenMorris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Ellis, R. (NED'bysh're)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Ellis Tom (Wrexham)Morton, George
English, MichaelMoyle, Rt Hon Roland
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidNewens, Stanley
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Evans, John (Newton)Ogden, Eric
Faulds, AndrewO'Halloran, Michael
Field, FrankO'Neill, Martin
Fitch, AlanOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fitt, GerardPark, George
Fletcher, Ted(Darlington)Parker, John
Ford, BenParry, Robert
Forrester, JohnPendry, Tom
Foster, DerekPenhaligon, David
Foulkes, GeorgePowell, Raymond(Ogmore)
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)Prescott, John
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Radice, Giles
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
George, BruceRoberts, Albert(Normanton)
Golding, JohnRoberts, Allan(Bootle)
Graham, TedRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Grant, John (IslingtonC)Roberts, Gwilym(Cannock)
Hamilton, James(Bothwell)Robertson, George
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Heffer, EricS.Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)Rooker, J. W.
Holland, S.(L'b'th, Vauxh'll)Roper, John
HomeRobertson, JohnRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Homewood, WilliamRowlands, Ted
Hooley, FrankSandelson, Neville
Horam, JohnSever, John
Howell, Rt Hon D.Sheerman, Barry
Howells, GeraintSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Huckfield, LesShore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, Mark(Durham)Short, Mrs Renée
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Janner, Hon GrevilleSilverman, Julius
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasSkinner, Dennis
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy(Hillhead)Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Soley, Clive
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Spearing, Nigel
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)Spriggs, Leslie
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Stallard, A.W.
Kilfedder, JamesA.Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Kilroy-Silk, RobertStoddart, David
Kinnock, NeilStott, Roger
Lambie, DavidStrang, Gavin
Lamborn, HarryStraw, Jack
Lamond, JamesSummerskill, HonDrShirley
Leadbitter, TedTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Leighton, RonaldThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Lestor, Miss JoanThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Lewis, Arthur (N'hamNW)Thomas, DrR. (Carmarthen)
Lewis, Ron(Carlisle)Thorne, Stan (PrestonSouth)
Lofthouse, GeoffreyTilley, John
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)Tinn, James
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonTorney, Tom

Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.Wilson, Gordon (DundeeE)
Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H. (H'ton)
Welsh, MichaelWilson, William (C'try SE)
White, Frank R.Winnick, David
White, J. (G'gowPollok)Woolmer, Kenneth
Whitehead, PhillipWright, Sheila
Whitlock, William
Willey.Rt Hon FrederickTellers for the Noes:
Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'seaW)Mr. Allen McKay
Williams, Rt Hon Mrs (Crosby)and Mr. Frank Haynes

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Sittings Of The House


That this House do meet on Thursday 8th April at half-past Nine o'clock, that no Questions be taken after half-past Ten o'clock, and that at half-past Three o'clock Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]

Adjournment (Easter And May Day)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House at its rising on Thursday 8th April do adjourn till Monday 19th April and at its rising on Friday 30th April do adjourn till Tuesday 4th May and that this House shall not adjourn on Thursday 8th April until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.

7.13 pm

There has been some complacency by Ministers recently over the slight reduction in unemployment. They have dwelt on the decrease in unemployment during the last month. In the travel-to-work area which I partly represent, Walsall, registered unemployment is 17 per cent., which amounts to 28,738 on the jobless register. In the West Midlands registered unemployment is more than 15 per cent. with 344,400 registered as jobless. Unemployment in the West Midlands is now higher than the national average. That is unique and has understandably caused great hardship and suffering.

I am raising this matter as well because of the numbers who have been unemployed for a long time. In the area covered by West Midlands county council, 61 per cent. of those registered have been unemployed for more than six months and of these 36 per cent. have been unemployed for more than a year. It is also appropriate to point out that 29 per cent. of all the unemployed in the county area of the West Midlands are over 45 years of age. In the Walsall travel-to-work area the number registered jobless for over a year exceeds 10,000. That figure was given in reply to a parliamentary question recently.

What about the figure when the Government took office? In April 1979 the figure was just under 2,500, so there has been a threefold increase in the number registered as jobless for longer than 12 months in my travel-to-work area. Therefore, it is not surprising that, whereas in May 1979, 6,300 non-pensioners were drawing supplementary benefit from the two Department of Health and Social Security offices in Walsall, the figure now is 14,300. These are people of working age who are forced to draw supplementary benefit because in most cases they are unable to find employment.

We should not overlook what this means for the standard of living of those people and their families who have to live on the minumum prescribed by the State. They are unable to earn their living. If they are over 45 or 50 there is the nightmare fear that perhaps they will not be able to get jobs again.

When the Government went to the hustings in May 1979 they did not promise such a future for the people in the West Midlands. The figures which I have quoted show only too well what has been happening in the region during the past two or three years. What is required is action by the Government to reverse some of their economic policies and to reverse the tide of mass unemployment.

Previous Governments have accepted the objective of full employment. The accusation against this Government is that they do not accept that objective. In the Budget this year it was more or less accepted that unemployment would rise substantially during the next financial year. Are Conservative Members proud to belong to a party which in office has caused such misery, which has caused the living standards of so many people to fall and which makes those in the age group to which many of us belong feel that they will probably not be able to get jobs again? As I have said, that was hardly promised in the election manifesto of Conservative right hon. and hon. Members when they last went to the country. It has been a disgraceful performance in Government. Undoubtedly people up and down the country understand that they have been betrayed.

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Employment made a speech in which he said that young people had been priced out of jobs by other people's greed. That was a silly remark, even from the right hon. Gentleman. He seems to overlook the policies of his own Government, the recession, the slump, high interest rates and the rest, and simply talks about greed. Does he really believe that young people who go from school to the dole queue accept that as a reason why they cannot get jobs? Do their parents believe it? It is understandable that the right hon. Gentleman made those remarks, because he is so full of anti-trade union prejudice that he cannot think straight when it comes to any matter relating to unions.

On the first of the two topics that I wish to raise, when he replies to the debate the Leader of the House should tell us what the Government intend to do about unemployment in the West Midlands. In some places it is far worse than it was in the 1930s.

My second topic concerns an overseas matter—the recent elections, if they can be described as such, in E1 Salvador. Some ask why we should bother about E1 Salvador—what concern is it of ours? By sending observers, Britain has accepted some responsibility for those elections. It is extremely difficult to understand why we as a country have been associated with some others. Chile, for example, sent observers to those elections. That is a fine Government with which to be associated. Honduras, Haiti and Taiwan also sent observers. One can hardly describe such countries as outstanding examples of parliamentary democracy. The list of countries that sent observers to the so-called elections in E1 Salvador does not include one other European country.

We have been isolated by the attitude of the Prime Minister, who wishes to associate Britain with the regime in E1 Salvador. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, Britain's reputation has been harmed by being involved in and sending observers to those farcical elections. We all know how impossible it is to have genuine and meaningful elections in the middle of a civil war. The Opposition made that point recently in a debate but the Government refused to listen.

The person who has emerged as most likely to be asked to form a Government in E1 Salvador is the leader of an ultra-Right-wing group, who was described by a recent United States ambassador there as a pathological killer. That is the man who, in the next few days, may be asked to form a Government in E1 Salvador. It is he who has been behind the death squads—he has never denied it—that have been responsible for killing about 30,000 people in the past two or three years.

There have been many other occasions when the Opposition have protested against injustice abroad. There are many tyrannies. E1 Salvador is by no means the only one. Labour Members cannot understand why we as a parliamentary democracy should allow ourselves to be involved with such a regime. Surely it would do far more good if the British Government took a more detached view.

There is growing opposition in the United States to the American Government's policies towards Central America. The British Government may not want to associate themselves with such internal protests in the United States, but I am complaining that in many ways the British Government seem to be no more than an echo of the American State Department and Secretary of State Haig. We seem to be playing the same role as we played during the Vietnam war, and I doubt whether we helped the United States at the time by agreeing with their policies in South-East Asia.

There is a growing crisis in Central America, and in E1 Salvador in particular. If we are to intervene at all, we should ensure that negotiations take place between those who are fighting the civil war. We should try to bring peace, stability and genuine reform to that country, which has been poverty-stricken and oppressed for so many years.

It seems that the Government are once again making a grave mistake on an important foreign policy matter. That problem has preoccupied the United States a great deal. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, we hope that the Government will change their line and recognise that what is happening in E1 Salvador is civil war and that if the Government have any role to play, they should try their utmost to bring the parties together, for the reasons that I have stated.

Those, then, are the two points that I wanted to raise before the Easter Recess,

7.24 pm

Before the House rises for the recess, I wish to make a few brief points relating to essential requirements for the tourist industry. I have been asked by a number of my colleagues to do so.

The few hon. Members with a peculiar and close interest in tourism must be intensely critical of all previous Governments and, I am sorry to say, of the present Government.

In Hotel Catering and Institutional Management, Anne Voss-Bark, regional chairman of an area to which these matters relate, wrote as follows:
"It is clear that the Government does not give a damn about the hotel industry at the present time. All that Westminster is doing at the moment is making it more difficult for us to live, to give good service and to attract more customers, many of whom are from abroad and who could help to put our balance of payments right. You would think that the Government realises this, but they act as if they don't. The Government have done nothing to help the hotel industry—nothing—only the reverse."
Owing directly to Government policy, a number of hotels which are well liked and efficiently run have closed for lack of customers. One can go to coastal towns and count the "For Sale" notices as one walks along the front. Those signs are there not necessarily because the hotels are bad but because the owners have been forced to pay wages that they cannot afford and too much tax.

One hears of people coming back from France and saying how cheap it is over there, but French hotel owners pay 7 per cent. in VAT whereas English hotel owners pay 15 per cent. The Dutch pay 4 per cent. in VAT and—imagine it—even in Italy VAT is a mere 9 per cent.

I am not advocating that we change our structure of VAT, but I do advocate the urgent application of one or two matters. There is a serious malaise throughout the tourist industry. Whether it be the British Tourist Board, the regions, Devon, the South-East regional tourist board, the hoteliers or the caterers, all are deeply concerned at the lack of an effective tourist policy for many years past, particularly under the present Government from whom they expected a lead.

I shall give three examples. First is the abolition of the fatuous rule that Government grants—I am talking only of Government grants—provided under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, are permitted in only five areas of the country, all of which are manufacturing areas. None of them could conceivably be designated for tourism. There are one or two towns, to which I shall refer, in those areas.

None of the other tourist areas in the country is entitled to a tourist grant. No one in the tourist industry can understand it and no one in the country can believe it. The tourist industry is the most labour-intensive of all. It costs only £4,000 to create a job in the tourist industry. It has been proved that 80,000 to 100,000 such jobs could be created, at less cost than keeping people unemployed.

It is therefore essential—we await an early answer—that the Cabinet should consider redesignating such areas so that they may receive for tourists what tourism really needs. I refer not to the opening of the Manchester canal or something of that sort, but to direct needs of tourism. The Government have been considering the problem for more than two years now and no answer has been forthcoming.

It is the universal view of the industry that the grants, meagre though they are, should be on a nationwide basis specifically to assist black spots and the essential requirements of tourism. A satisfactory answer on that would make a very nice Easter egg for the tourist industry, which has waited a long time.

Secondly, I was asked to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I did so, to back up representations from the industry generally about industrial allowances. The present situation is intolerable. Tourism has been defined and accepted by the Treasury as an industry. Industrial allowances are 75 per cent. for industry, but only 25 per cent. for the hotel sector and the amusement centres, by which I mean caravan centres and so on. To restore the balance at least to the position of two years ago would mean raising the grant from 25 per cent. to 37½ per cent—still only half of the allowance to industry. That has been proposed as the first priority of the tourist industry.

The hotel trade took a tremendous pummelling when it had to make substantial and perfectly proper improvements to meet fire regulations. As a result, hoteliers found themselves without the resources or the borrowing ability to carry out necessary modernisation to a standard comparable with that of our overseas competitors. Nevertheless, in some areas this was achieved by means of industrial and other allowances, and particularly through section 4 allowances. The example of Scarborough shines out like a beacon. Because it is in an industrial manufacturing area, Scarborough received £1¼ million in section 4 grant. It was thus able to modernise its hotels. As the chief executive has pointed out, the value of that is now up to £7 million. The town has completely picked up through the expenditure of such a small amount.

Having considered the matter carefully, the subcommittee of the Conservative Party tourist committee has pressed this as a matter of the greatest importance. I beg the Chancellor to make the necessary amendment to the Finance Bill to bring the industrial allowances fairly into line for this great industry, especially at the present time when so many more jobs could be created but when so many jobs could also be lost if hotels and guest houses continue to close all over the country. That is no exaggeration. If this were done, they could modernise at very little expense.

Thirdly, the structure of the industry requires urgent consideration by the Cabinet, for this would be a Cabinet decision. To be quite blunt, the only good Minister concerned with tourism in the past few years was my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), who recently gave up that responsibility. She was first-class.

I give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not wish to give way more than once.

In dealing with the tourist industry and related matters, has the hon. and learned Gentleman any interest of his own to declare?

None at all. I am chairman of the Conservative Party committee on tourism, but l have absolutely no interests of any kind in this country.

I have none in Spain, either. I do not intend to argue any further about that. If I had any interest, I should certainly declare it.

In the judgment of many of us and of most of the trade there should at least be a Minister of State for tourism who would be concerned solely with the multitudinous problems of what is probably the most successful industry. It can certainly provide the greatest number of jobs for the unemployed, due to its labour-intensive nature. I believe that the present structure is wrong. Many of those who serve the industry believe that it would be better with the Department of Industry than with the Department of Trade. Whether or not that change is made, the industry certainly needs a voice that can be more comprehensively heard than is now the case.

If a mere £20 million instead of the present £4 million could be found, many of the problems would be solved, leading to a great expansion of the industry. If we had a Minister to correlate tourist issues with our European colleagues, we could ensure that the present EEC aid criteria were met and the European Investment Bank and the European social fund could provide the necessary tourist grants for hotels and for the infrastructure and the centres that this country requires but which, without assistance, will fail and will thus lose rather than create.

In France, substantial funds have been injected into the Camargue in the south. Those funds have come in part from Europe. If the criteria of the European social fund and regional fund were looked into, assistance could be provided for black spots in this country. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred to unemployment rates of 16 and 17 per cent. The rate in Margate is higher than that and is consistently one of the highest in the country. In all of the tourist resorts to which I refer, unemployment rates are 15 per cent. or more and generally higher than elsewhere. Let us give them the chance to assist this country. Let us support a successful industry and assist those who can make it more successful. That is certainly a better policy than following the path of trying to help those who have been less successful.

I hope that these considerations will be passed on to those who have to make the decision and that the Cabinet will pay due regard to them. I assure the House that there is a feeling throughout the hotel and catering industry that it is the Cinderella and has been left out although it has contributed much to the success story of the development of tourism in this country.

7.30 pm

At Prime Minister's Question Time today, I raised the problem of the murders in Northern Ireland in the past week. It is particularly important that I raise this matter before the House adjourns for the Easter Recess, because in my city of Londonderry two soldiers were butchered in cold blood today, and a policeman was shot dead as he left church on Sunday and a week ago today three soldiers were murdered in Belfast. All those murders were the work of the IRA. That is six lives in seven days. Moreover, there have been other attempts, one of which, on Tuesday, left a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary grievously wounded. It would therefore be wrong indeed for the House to shut up shop for 10 days without giving attention to this very serious matter.

I asked the Prime Minister today for a stronger security force presence on the ground. That means more Army personnel on the ground. In the past we have found that when the manpower is present the ability of the IRA to strike diminishes, and that when the shield is lowered or removed the ability of the IRA to strike through the weakened defences quickly becomes apparent.

The opportunity is not the only thing that matters in a situation such as this. There are wider ramifications. There are always other matters embodied in IRA strategy that are not immediately apparent to those who live in Ulster, and less so to those who live on this side of the Irish sea. Those who sit in the House, unless they are in positions of authority, and those in the streets of London and other British cities, do not have the feel and touch of grass root opinion in the Province and cannot be expected to reach the same conclusions as those of us who live there.

It is reasonable to ask for a stronger security and Army presence during the coming weeks in the light of our experience during the past decade. There is always some trouble at Easter. Above all, there is trouble every time we have another so-called initiative. We are now in the throes of a further initiative, which is nothing more than a rehash of what has gone before. A similar upsurge occurs when there are conversations between the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic and the right hon. Lady. It happened under her predecessors, and possibly it will happen under her successors if we are so foolish as to continue such contact. On the last such occasion, in November, seven people were killed in about a week, one of whom was the late Mr. Robert Bradford who so often addressed the House from this Bench.

My feeling is that we are seeing the same sort of upsurge, because today's murders were set up in such a way that they could have trapped anyone leaving the police station at which the soldiers were working and caught them on their way back to the city centre. Today the IRA displayed a willingness to kill any member of the security forces, whether local or national, who came within its reach. It was a carefully planned operation and part of an emergent pattern during the past few days, which demonstrates to me that there is a definite build-up in IRA activity. I should be surprised if many more days passed without further victims of the IRA's murderous activities.

Before the recess we must have a reassurance about the security force level in Northern Ireland. I must ask that the assurance given here in words is seen in uniform on the ground and that proper precautions are taken. Despite the warnings that should have been evident to any politician and to the security forces in Northern Ireland, no precautions appear to have been taken during the past few weeks. The security forces should have known that they had to take the necessary measures to prevent the six murders and attempted murders.

There is no point in turning round and saying that the chief constable or the commanding officer did not ask for men. That is as much a matter of political judgment as of military and security force judgment on the ground. We have had long experience about what happens at this time of the year and whenever such alleged political movements are attempted.

Although I accept and completely agree with the condemnation of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) of the atrocious murders in his city and throughout Northern Ireland in the past few days and weeks, is he saying that there should be no political initiative and that no one should try to erase the terrible divisions of the past and try to bring people together in the belief that the IRA or the Loyalist paramilitary organisations will not succeed? Is he saying that we should do nothing? If so, the IRA or the Protestant military organisations have won the war.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is too hasty. He should perhaps have waited and all would have been made clear as I expanded my arguments. The hon. Gentleman knows the policy of my party towards devolution in Northern Ireland. I object to the fact that the murders and criminal activity of the IRA are basically the direct result of the speculation, confusion and turmoil caused by the proposed initiative. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I said earlier that this was a rehash of what had gone before. We who have sat through many conversations with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office are well aware that what has been offered to us is that which was cast out—the Sunningdale agreement. All the people in Northern Ireland know that that sort of system did not work then and will not work now.

The Secretary of State, as well as rehashing that proposal, is guilty of gross negligence in not understanding the effect on the people of Northern Ireland of putting forward proposals such as these in the way that he has put them forward. It is a question of what effect his words, actions, and speculations in the press, and other news media, have on the people and the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland.

I was present at some of the meetings with the Secretary of State and, like my hon. Friends, I put questions to him, which he kindly answered. However, throughout all these meetings there have been different understandings in the minds of every group, every party and, in many cases, every individual. That differing understanding has not only been among the Members of the parties who visited him, but in the minds of the people and of the media. At best, that is a sign of poor communication by someone. As the communication all comes from the same source, the House will gather in whose lap I lay the blame.

Let us consider the 70 per cent. majority proposal that the Secretary of State will lay before the House next week, and let us examine the attitude that has been taken towards it and the understandings and misunderstandings in the minds of those involved. For instance, last Thursday during Northern Ireland Question Time, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked whether the Secretary of State could assure the House that in his proposals
"there are no suggestions of an institutionalised Irish dimension or enforced power sharing? Does he know that if he goes along that path he is bound to fail?"
We would agree with that statement, but the Secretary of State replied:
"We are now presuming on what may happen in the future. I should rather wait for these points to be discussed when and if the Government proceed with the proposals."—[Official Report, 25 March 1982; Vol. 20, c. 1073.]
In other words, it was a put-off, flannel answer, which we can all recognize

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to be cantankerous, and I have listened with great respect to the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), especially about the appalling butchery of his constituents and the security forces in Northern Ireland, about which we are all concerned, but surely we are debating a motion that we should not adjourn for the Easter Recess or the May Day Recess until we have had time to debate certain matters. We shall have a statement on Monday on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland, so I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman's remarks are in order.

I am listening carefully to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I judged that the hon. Gentleman was arguing that we should not adjourn until this matter had been resolved.

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have given the hon. Gentleman the answer that I should have given. This is a serious matter, which cannot be lightly glossed over. If I tend to go wide, I hope that the House will realise that I am seeking to avoid bloodshed and death by warning those whom I believe should be warned.

In an effort to clear up the confusion, on 29 March I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I asked him
"whether, in his meetings with party representatives concerned with his initiative on devolution, he made clear to each delegation (a) the requirement for a 70 per cent. majority embodying cross-community support for any devolution of powers to a Northern Ireland elected assembly and (b) the method of involvement of Northern Ireland parties in the proposed assembly as a cross-border body of elected representatives; and by what means."—[Official Report, 29 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 44.]
The right hon. Gentleman replied that he would answer as soon as possible. He did so the next day, having given the matter careful consideration for a further 24 hours:
"In my talks on constitutional development with the political parties in Northern Ireland I have made it clear that any proposals for devolution must be acceptable to both sides of the community. I have also discussed with the parties the case for a weighted majority in the assembly for any devolution proposals.
No cross-border body of elected representatives is contemplated, but as for participation of members of the Northern Ireland assembly in an Anglo-Irish inter parliamentary body, the first step is for the Parliaments in London and. Dublin to decide whether to establish such a body."—[Official Report, 30 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 72.]
Again, there was some concealment in some of the things that were said to me and to other members of my delegation when we visited the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman is saying, although not clearly, that there must be cross-community support, even up to the 70 per cent. level. I shall return to that in more detail shortly.

In the eyes of the ordinary individual in Northern Ireland who reads these questions and answers, there is but one reaction—that there is not a straight answer among them. There must be straight talking and straight answers, so that people have clearly in their minds what is happening. It is an important subject on the streets of Northern Ireland.

When there are no straight answers, there is speculation. Speculation is dangerous and leads to confusion. Confusion leads to destabilisation. The result is turmoil and incitement for the killers to capitalise on the position. Inevitably, that happens.

Some weeks ago one of my hon. Friends overheard a senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office saying that the tactic was to keep the situation fluid. That objective has been achieved beyond the wildest dreams of those who proposed it. The people of Northern Ireland are already bewildered by what is happening and bewildered by the speculation, the leaks and the differing reports. The position is causing me great anxiety.

In our meetings with the Secretary of State, Members of my party put forward simple, straightforward views, but we had the impression that we were talking to the deaf and that we were talking to people who had long since made up their minds to go down the Sunningdale road again. That road led to disaster, and it will do so again.

I must tell the hon. Member for Belfast, West that only by having sensible proposals for workable institutions will people in Northern Ireland feel secure. Although the terrorists may attempt murders, they will fail to cause confusion, because people will know where they are going. At present they do not.

I take to heart what the hon. Gentleman says. The Leader of the House was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during a fortuitous five months from January to May 1974. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Official Unionists, the Democratic Unionists, the Vanguard movement and all the other extreme organisations, including those on the other side of the fence—the Official and Provisional IRA—will coalesce again to prevent any political move in the forthcoming White Paper if it is not acceptable to the Official' Unionists?

Order. If the hon. Gentleman were to answer the question he would go wide of the debate. As the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said, the debate is about whether the House should adjourn.

Until now I was not aware that even in the mind of the hon. Member for Belfast, West my party was considered an extremist organisation. I resent the implication. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot accept it. He was rather hasty again.

When we met the Minister in early March, one of the first things that we asked was what he was reading to us. I say this to illustrate the confusion and the different understandings that can arise. We listened with care to what the right hon. Gentleman read and said. He told us that he was reading the draft White Paper. He was asked three times whether he had read it to all the other parties. He said that he had. Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend to tell the House on which dates he read the draft to each of the other parties? Did he tell them what he was reading? He did not tell us until we asked him. Straightforward answers to those questions may help to clear up the confusion. We were astonished by the import of the right hon. Gentleman's words. We could not understand why other dogs did not bark. Did they realise what was being read to them and what it meant?

Three of the major parties in Northern Ireland came to the conclusion that they were being told that 70 per cent., even if it was all Protestants, would be sufficient to bring a recommendation to the House for a transfer of powers to the proposed Assembly. That is not what we and one other minor party understood. Our understanding is that even if we have 70 per cent., that would not be sufficient unless it includes members of the Roman Catholic faith. If there are Roman Catholic members in it, much less than 70 per cent. would suffice. I do not know what is the understanding of the hon. Member for Belfast, West. Perhaps he can tell us.

With that confusion, how on earth can we expect the people of Northern Ireland to understand what has been said? The people who sat down with the Secretary of State and listened to the same things have come out with different understandings of what was said and what was meant.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is abusing my tolerance. The Leader of the House can answer only for his responsibilities. He cannot say what was meant in conversations to which he was not a party.

I thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No doubt the Leader of the House will bring my remarks to his right hon. Friend's attention before the end of next week, when the House rises.

We in the Official Unionist Party want the Secretary of State to be clear in his mind, and the House to be clear, about what the Ulster Unionist Party wants. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Belfast, West is interrupting from a sedentary position. Perhaps he will speak later.

We do not want a rehash of the Sunningdale agreement. We want a Stormont-type devolution. We make no apology to anyone for saying that, least of all to the hon. Member for Belfast, West. We do not want a talking shop. We do not want jobs for the boys, as was set forth in the committee structure. The House will be surprised to hear that when the committee structure was discussed, we were told that a committee consisting of a chairman, a vice-chairman and rapporteurs would be set up. We took that to mean jobs for the boys. The press was not told of that term, which is not one that is commonly used in British politics.

We believe that if there is to be any progression in Ulster, we shall have to be given the plain truth and the full truth next week. There must be no more fluid situations and no more smoke-screens.

It is essential that in the coming week or two effective steps are taken to increase the Army and the number of people on full-time alert until the turmoil that has been created by this initiative has died away.

When all that is done, and when the White Paper is published, we want the Secretary of State to be assured that when the election is called, we intend to fight it and win it, and we will win it. We will use the moral right that that majority gives us to demand the right to control that territory and to govern, because that is what that election will be about. There is no shilly shallying or whitewash that will cover that up. We want the Secretary of State to know that we are determined to get what we demand.

8.3 pm

I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), although I sympathise with him because of what has happened in Northern Ireland. As an ex-Northern Ireland Minister, I know of the anguish, the problems and the difficulties.

I am unhappy, in view of the problems in my constituency and in other rural areas, that the House is to adjourn next week. One problem is petrol supplies to rural garages. I wish to address my remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy via my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Obviously, I shall not expct a reply from him tonight, but I hope that he will make a statement in the near future on this important matter.

The problem is that the big suppliers are charging rural garages much more for their petrol than garages in urban areas. The difference is great. We need some help with that problem. I am talking not about subsidies, but about discussions with the petrol companies so that the problem is sorted out.

I have some criticism of the Government in this matter. They need to show more concern about the effect of high petrol prices in the rural areas and on the people who live there. My constituency is full of small villages, all with their own petrol stations. Regrettably, many of them have closed down because they cannot compete with the lower price at which petrol is selling in the cities and the towns.

The village petrol and repair station is of immense importance to the area and to village life. It does not just have to sell petrol. Perhaps such sales are the bread and butter, but those stations carry out repairs on cars, minor repairs in homes, and repairs on agricultural implements. The two things go together. If the station ceases to sell petrol because it is uneconomic for it to continue to do so, the rest follows. The petrol and repair station may pack up altogether. Such stations are slowly being squeezed out. That is sad. That started with the withdrawal of supplies from the major companies. Therefore, the garages have to look around for alternative supplies from smaller companies. They have to supply at higher prices, sometimes at up to 10p a gallon more than the price charged by large companies.

The Government have accepted that assistance must be given to counter that problem. They have given assistance to sub-post offices. I congratulate the Government on what they have done. There is no doubt that they have helped to channel more money to the sub-post offices in various ways. Good progress has been made. The petrol station and repair garage is equally important to the life of the village and the rural community. Good progress has also been made in the maintenance of village schools, which is another area in which the Government have given assistance so that the village and village life can keep going in rural areas.

I have five p's that I have mentioned before in the House—the pub, the parson, the primary school, the petrol station and the phone box, which are all essential to our remote areas and rural life. The demise of our small garages and petrol stations would have a devastating effect on rural life. It would cause further depopulation, which we do not want.

Therefore, I should like the Government to give me some more information on that subject before the House rises. Perhaps a statement could be made. At least a letter should be written because we need to have further discussion with the major petrol companies. That is urgent. There is the problem of price of petrol supplied to the small garages. There is also the delivery size—that is, the number of gallons that can be delivered. Many of those garages have smaller tanks, which makes it difficult for them to take a full load. In the past, they would have part loads. There is also the problem of subsidisation of urban garages, which the big petrol companies are doing, to the detriment of the rural areas.

Therefore, the effect is serious. I cannot emphasise too strongly that, while I am not asking for a reply tonight, I am asking the Secretary of State for Energy to consider those matters urgently before the Easter Recess because if the trend continues, rural life will be seriously affected.

8.10 pm

There are two matters that I should like to bring to the attention of the House, both of which the Government have responsibilities for, and which I believe should be discussed before the Easter Recess.

First, I shall refer to a local matter, about which I am deeply concerned, and which affects many of my constituents who live in the Bedford ward of my constituency. It is the problem of prostitution in that part of my constituency. The problem is not new. It has existed in the area for many years. However, in recent years it has grown a great deal for local residents because of the activities of motorists—the kerb crawlers who drive round and round that part of my constituency day after day from early afternoon until the early hours of the morning seeking to pick up women. That problem exists not solely in my area. On the Order Paper is early-day motion No. 338, which was sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), and which has been signed by 41 hon. Members. That motion states that that problem exists in many other parts of the country.

Over the years I have sought on many occasions to bring this matter to the attention of the House. I have sought a change in the law. Unfortunately, nothing has been done, yet it could have been done long before now.

My constituents are fed up with the abuse, the noise and the effect of this problem on the area in which they live. Can the Leader of the House fully understand what it is like to be repeatedly accosted, as local women are, by these individuals who drive around for hours on end in my constituency? I know of cases where respectable women, out in the front of their houses cleaning their windows or brushing the front steps have had motorists stopping, getting our of their cars, going up to them and asking "Are you out for business?" When comments have been made to these individuals the ladies in question are forced to listen to a storm of abuse from these people who have been insinuating that these respectable women are prostitutes.

What an insult, and my constituents have had to put up with it year after year. It is not only women but sadly it is also young girls leaving local schools and going home—and sometimes going to school—who are repeatedly accosted by motorists. I could give a list to the House of the ways that women are accosted by these kerb crawlers, that I am sure would both amaze and appal many hon. Members.

The local women are thus affected by the kerb crawlers, but in addition the whole area suffers. These men drive around and turn the area into a race track for hours on end, day or night. Something has to be done. I reject the oft-made comments to me by Ministers. I have had Adjournment debates and have asked questions only to be told by Ministers that, although they are sorry for me and my constituents, there is nothing that they can do about the problem.

I reject that point of view. We believe that very quickly these problems could be reduced, if not stopped. What we are seeking and what we have sought for many years, but on which we have had no help, is for the police to be given powers whereby they could stop motorists whom they see driving around the area and from time to time stopping and talking to women. Can there be any doubt in anyone's mind what these individuals are doing in my constituency ? If the police were given these powers the publicity that would follow from court appearances would quickly see an end to the problem, and an end not only in my constituency but to the problem that exists in other areas of this country.

I ask the Leader of the House, when will the Government consider the Brennan report, which was published as long ago as 1976 and made recommendations as to possible action against kerb crawlers? When will the Government start to examine that report and present to the House the suggestions in it, suggestions that we believe would go a long way, if not all the way, to stopping this continuous problem that, sadly, my constituents have to face?

The other issue that I wish to raise is the question of Cyprus. I do so because this is also an issue that the Government have firm responsibilities for. It is now nearly eight years since the invasion of Cyprus by the Turkish Army. After those eight years it is still a divided island. Over those years there have been many tragic happenings. Many people have been forced out of their homes in the northern part of Cyprus and those homes have been taken over by turkish settlers taken to the island by the Turkish Administration. Hundreds of people have been missing since the invasion. All the evidence and the information about them, such as their names and their villages, has been documented, but despite repeated efforts nothing has been done by the Turkish Administration to try to explain where these people are.

We have, over the years, had a series of intercommunal talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots but, sadly, little progress has been made. It is worth recalling to the House that Cyprus is a Commonwealth country. It is deplorable that a Commonwealth country should be occupied by troops of a foreign army, as Cyprus is. The Government often tend to forget that with Greece and Turkey we are one of the three guarantor powers for Cyprus.

Along with other hon. Members I was able to go to Cyprus at the end of last year, and I met both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. There is a willingness by the Greek Cypriots to work for a united Cyprus. They see a Cyprus where both Greek and Turkish Cypriots can live together. What are we, as one of the guarantor powers, doing to see that the present round of intercommunal talks will be successful and not, as in the past, a failure because of the lack of willingness on the part of the Turkish Administration?

What discussions are we having with the Turkish Government? No one can be in any doubt that, although Mr. Denktash is the leader of the Turkish community in Cyprus, the real authority rests in Ankara with the Turkish military junta. What discussions are we having with the Turkish Government specifically on the issue of withdrawal of the many thousands of Turkish troops now based in Cyprus? If the Turkish authorities would withdraw some of those troops it would be seen as a token of good will on their part, and a show of willingness, so that talks could progress to an acceptable and honourable settlement.

Furthermore, what guarantee will the British Government give the Greek Cypriots? Many of them feel that at some stage and under whatever guise, the Turkish authority might seek to take control of the whole island. These are crucial issues for Cyprus, a Commonwealth country. Time is not on our side. Eight years have gone by and I remind the Leader of the House—although I know that because of a previous appointment of his in the Government he will undoubtedly be aware of this point—that we have military bases in Cyprus. There could be, at some future stage, and if there is not a satisfactory and honourable conclusion to the tragedy of Cyprus, action against the British bases there. I do not think that the Greek Cypriots want to do this. They may be forced to do it if they do not see, after the long years of torment that they have had to endure, some action that will bring an honourable settlement to the issue.

I realise that I have put to the Leader of the House points that he may not be able fully to answer this evening. I ask him, because of the importance of the issue, with his usual courtesy, to make sure that his right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal is made aware of these points. If the Leader of the House is not in a position this evening to answer my points I hope that in the near future his right hon. Friend will do so.

8.20 pm

Before the House rises for the Easter Recess it is important that a statement is made, and preferably some action taken, on an issue that is a source of increasing concern and irritation for the people of Devon and Cornwall, which is the designation of the boundary of the existing South-West region.

The standard administrative and economic regions within the United Kingdom are determined by Whitehall, by the Department of the Environment. Ministers do not have to obtain the prior approval of the House. Consequently, some of our designated standard regions take little or no account of the regions' characteristics or needs. That is especially so for the South-West region. Under existing arrangements the regional unit is important in our administrative structure. It is used as the basis of functions such as regional economic planning and the collection and dissemination of a range of statistics such as housing, employment and income levels.

In many parts of the United Kingdom there exists a distinct expression of regional consciousness. Nowhere is that more keenly felt than in the far South-West of England, especially in Devon and Cornwall. Where this desire exists it should be encouraged by the Government, but at present Devon and Cornwall are lumped together in a so-called South-West region that extends eastwards to include Bristol and Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

The two far south-western counties have little in common with the areas with which they are linked. The basis of their economies differs significantly. Cornwall and Devon are far more dependent upon agriculture, fishing, tourism and the service sector. Apart from Plymouth there are no major concentrations of economic activity and poulation. Furthermore, under the existing arrangements Bristol, the so-called regional capital of the South-West, is nearer to London than to Bodmin.

The problem goes deeper than that because the artificial South-West region that we now have is dominated by Bristol and Severnside, Gloucester, Swindon and the like. In consequence regional statistics such as income levels and unemployment levels often make a nonsense of the true position that exists in the far South-West. As a result, distortions abound, much to the detriment of Devon and Cornwall.

The situation was recently highlighted by the European Economic Community's proposal to modify the parameters of the Community regional development fund. It is being suggested that in future the South-West assisted area, which comprises the whole of Cornwall and much of Devon, should no longer be eligible for assistance under the quota section of the Community regional fund. This sector represents 90 per cent. of Community regional aid, of which the United Kingdom received £153 million last year. The South-West assisted area has benefited by receipts of £20 million over the past three years.

It is understandable that the Commission's proposal created widespread concern in the far South-West. A number of my hon. Friends and myself raised the issue on appropriate occasions. It was raised also by our Euro Members in the European Parliament. As a result of our examination it became abundantly clear that the principal reason for the Commission proposing the deletion of the area was that it had used statistics that were based on the standard United Kingdom regional classification. In other words, the officials in Brussels had considered the figures for the standard South-West region. Consequently a completely misleading picture was given for Devon and Cornwall.

I shall briefly illustrate the result by referring to unemployment and average earning figures in the official South-West region. In April 1981 average earnings were 94·4 per cent. of the average figure for the United Kingdom. Average earnings in Cornwall were 84 per cent. of the United Kingdom figure. In other words, they were 16 per cent. below the national average and significantly below those for the South-West region.

Secondly, I shall quote the November 1981 unemployment figures, seasonally adjusted, for all employees but excluding school leavers. United Kingdom unemployment was 11·3 per cent. The figure for the South-West standard region was 10 per cent., which was less than the United Kingdom figure. However, when Cornwall and the parts of Devon that are within the South-West assisted area are considered, the figure rises to almost 17 per cent., which is well above the national figure and 68 per cent. above that of the South-West region.

I hope that the two sets of figures illustrate clearly the predicament of the far South-West. I hope also that I have been able to make it clear to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and through him to Ministers in the Department of the Environment, that the present regional boundaries are totally unsatisfactory for the far South-West and that there is an urgent need to recognise the case for the creation of a genuine South-West region comprising Devon and Cornwall. This could easily be done without the fabric of a vast and costly new bureaucracy. There is a strong case on the ground of regional identity and regional consciousness. There is a strong case also in respect of the collection and dissemination of statistics on which policies emanating from Whitehall and Brussels are based.

Until a genuine South-West is created, the real and urgent problems facing the far South-West will not be tackled with the vigour and determination that they merit. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend to relay to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the need for urgent consideration of this matter.

8.28 pm

I raise what is for me the hardy annual of the problems of Hackney. I do so again today because the Easter Recess will mean that I shall have to spend time in my constituency listening to my constituents' problems. I know that I shall face considerable complaint about housing conditions.

The complaint arises principally because today—opportunely April Fools' Day—the Secretary of State for the Environment decided that he would force Hackney borough council to receive 17,000 properties from the Greater London Council. Those properties, the majority of which are in my constituency, are in an appalling condition and have been so for years. Every week my surgery is full of tenants who complain bitterly about the condition of those GLC properties. I know that those tenants will be round to see me tomorrow and every Friday thereafter demanding that Hackney borough council do something about the condition of the properties.

There is an argument that the local authority—the primary unit of local government—should manage the properties in its area. That is true only if the local authority is taking over properties in a fit and proper state. However, as I have pointed out to the Secretary of State for the Environment many times over the past months—since his proposal to transfer the properties—the GLC does not know whether it is responsible for the property. The GLC does not even know the tenants. It is also totally unaware of the conditions.

The House will recall that I raised this matter a year ago, when the Secretary of State proposed to transfer the properties. I pointed out to him that the GLC had no detailed knowledge of its property. The Secretary of State was so impressed by the argument that he insisted on having a sample taken by his officials to test whether I was right.

That first sample of about 2,000 properties proved without a shadow of a doubt that I was correct. The Secretary of State then decided—I believe rightly—to extend the sample from 2,000 properties to 5,000. When he received the 5,000 the survey he found that what I had been telling him was correct—that the properties were in an appalling state. We then had a long argument about how he would reflect that, because he was content to transfer the properties. He said that he would try to reflect the condition of the properties in the money available to do something about them. Together with officials, the Secretary of State finally determined that, over 10 years £1,250 might be spent on each of the properties to bring them up to a reasonable standard. That point must be stressed—the properties were not to be brought up to an extraordinary standard, but up to a reasonable standard.

I argued that it was nonsense to suggest that. I produced evidence to show that to put the GLC properties in my constituency into good repair would require a fortune I sent him typical examples. But today, 1 April, Hackney is responsible for all those properties. However, it is unable to provide money for repairs. The House will recall that Hackney is one of London's local authorities that has continually been kicked into touch by the Secretary of State. Hackney has lost millions of pounds and is therefore in no position to take up the slack to provide the resources to take care of these GLC properties.

Some of the properties are in an appalling condition. One can go in and see a bucket on a table. On asking what it is doing there, one is told that it is to catch water from a hole in the ceiling. On inquiring how the hole in the ceiling came to be there, one is told that workmen came and knocked a hole in the ceiling. If one asks "Why did they do that?", one is told that water came through the roof and caused a bulge in the ceiling and that the workmen told the tenant to use a bucket to catch the water and to empty it when it had filled up. When one asks "How long ago was that?", one is told "Two months ago."

The tragedy is that when one tries to get the housing department to do something about the problem, the department tells the director of technical services, who then gives the order, but as he does not have the necessary workmen or the money, the problem stays like that for months. That is the sort of problem that faces Hackney borough council.

It would not be so bad if Hackney borough council had the resources, but it has its own properties to look after, which are also in a bad state. I am continually pressing Hackney borough council to carry out proper maintenance and repairs, but it cannot do those either. In Hackney, or e sees damp walls and ceilings, leaky roofs and rotten frameworks. The problem in my constituency is that about 90 per cent. of it is municipalised. It was owned either by Hackney borough council or by the GLC. Now, it is all owned by Hackney borough council.

In preparation for the changeover the GLC unilaterally decided that it would cancel all movements of tenants. That has greatly aggravated tenants who want to move from their bad flats into something a little better. They have been prevented from doing so and Hackney borough council now has the responsibility for trying to do something about that.

Hackney is in such a state with its property that it has had to stop transfers. The council will transfer tenants only if they are in a high medical category or if it is in its interests to transfer them. That would apply, for example, to those in under-occupied premises who can be moved to more suitably sized flats. From today, it will take months before Hackney borough council is geared up to manage the properties properly. Therefore, I hope that the Leader of the House will draw the situation to the Secretary of State's attention. I have desperately tried to do so. The property is in a bad condition and my people wish to transfer. They all live in flats and high rise blocks and want to move into houses. However, the Secretary of State has permitted all the GLC houses in the outer areas of London to be handed back to the borough councils and, as a result, my constituents do not have an opportunity to transfer.

There is a continuing argument between the Secretary of State and myself. The right hon. Gentleman says that there is a national mobility scheme. I try to point out that it is not working. It has never worked, and it is not working now. He then says that I must try. I tell him that I do try. I send him cases. He began by not understanding them and now sends them back to me saying that I will understand that it is the local authority's responsibility. I point out that he said that there was a mobility scheme. He then replies that he will get in touch with Basildon, for example, but writes back saying that he is terribly sorry but Basildon cannot help and adds that I will have to turn to the mobility scheme. Thus, we return to square one. We just go round and round.

That is right. I do not know whether the Secretary of State does that deliberately, whether his officials do not tell him or whether he does not read my letters. However, some of my constituents are virtually in a housing Colditz. People cannot get out of my area, but they can come in. There are so many awful properties that cannot be let that desperate people from other parts of the country will accept them. However, after six weeks they come to my constituency advice centre and demand to be taken out of the properties because of the appalling conditions. The roofs leak. I am talking about council properties, not privately-owned properties and landlords. Therefore, I seek some help.

When the Secretary of State decided to make Hackney take those properties, he did not give sufficiently serious consideration to the resources needed. He allowed himself to be misled into thinking that anyone can move from an inner city area, such as Hackney, to any other area, through the national mobility scheme that he set up. Today, I received a booklet from him describing how a council tenant can move. I have never heard such rubbish in my life. In theory it is marvellous. However, I have many cases to show him which prove that the scheme does not work. He has handed out the booklet as if it were useful advice. My constituents know from experience that things do not work like that. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State will have another look at the mobility issue. Perhaps something should be done in the outer areas, where they have such desirable properties, to ensure that allowances will be made for areas such as mine so that my constituents can go to those areas.

I deal now with the problem of funds for Hackney. There must be a special relationship between the Government and an area such as mine. We have had the partnership scheme. There has been a political issue and a row between the Government and Hackney borough council. I do not quite understand what Hackney borough council is doing.

On Friday 19 March I tabled an amendment to a motion, pointing out that the domestic rate in Hackney went up in 1980–81 by 48·9 per cent., and in 1981–82 by 55·1 per cent. This year it has gone up only about 10 per cent. That interested me, especially as the Secretary of State had withdrawn millions of pounds over those years from Hackney. In fact, he was responsible for increasing the rate from 69p to 196p in that time.

I did a little homework. I wondered whether that was the lowest rate that Hackney had ever had. It was not. The last year that it had a low rate was four years ago, in 1978. I thought to myself that that was rather odd, and then the penny dropped. It was election year in 1978 and it is election year in 1982. They are playing their party politics in doing that.

That would be all right if Hackney had no other problem; if it was able to manipulate its own affairs and get away with it. However, as from today, Hackney has another 17,000 properties from the GLC in bad condition to put in good repair. If it does not now raise sufficient rates—and under the new Government scheme an incoming council will not be able to raise a supplementary rate—my constituents will have to live in appalling conditions for a long time. Those people who now come under Hackney borough council, living in GLC properties, will live in misery for a long time. I suspect that no repairs will be carried out within the next year.

I shall have to advise my constituents to take legal action against the council in order to have the repairs carried out. Litigation under those circumstances is expensive. The majority of my constituents are at the lower end of the earnings group. They will have to go to the law centres, and in order to get legal aid the law centres will have to get approval from the Law Society before they can undertake any litigation. That will take weeks and the problems will be mounting up all the time.

I hope that I have been able to draw attention, first, to the foolishness of the Secretary of State in transferring these properties and, secondly, to his failure to carry out his responsibilities to ensure, in enforcing this transfer, that there were sufficient funds and resources available to carry out the work. Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman has failed to comprehend the fact that, far from being able to manage these properties, Hackney borough council is unable to manage its own. Therefore, the problem in the area is only being compounded.

It will be my constituents in Hackney, South and Shoreditch who will have to suffer more and more from the failure of both the Government and the council to do what they are statutorily bound to do, which is to carry out full repairs and maintenance to these properties to ensure that my constituents live to the standard which other people in Britain accept as a normal standard.

8.43 pm

I do not think that we should adjourn for the Easter Recess until we have debated the subject of immigration. As hon. Members know, this topic is rarely discussed in the House, despite its prime importance to the nation.

The time has now come, after about 25 years of mass immigration, when the Home Office and the Government should look at the whole matter afresh. Of all the countries within the United Kingdom it affects only England, because the number of immigrants who have settled in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is tiny compared with those who have come to England.

England has absorbed small numbers of foreigners over the last 1,000 years, but it was only in the 1950s that enormous numbers started to come here, mainly from the Indian Sub-Continent and from the West Indies.

Perhaps I can continue. Many other hon. Members wish to speak, and, like my hon. Friend, I have been waiting to be called. However, I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest stemming from the constituency which he formerly represented.

These people were not Europeans and were quite different in character, religion, habits and customs from our own people. It is a tribute to the kindness and tolerance of English people that so vast a number of strange newcomers should have come and settled in our midst with so little turmoil and confusion. As we know, the immigrants settled in London and in the large provincial cities and, naturally, tended to live together. As I know all too well, in many places the native English were gradually eased out of the houses, streets and neighbourhoods that they had known all their lives.

The so-called intellectuals and progressives who heralded this new invasion seldom lived in these immigrant areas, but the burden and upset fell on ordinary English working people, many of them elderly. The lives of some of them were turned upside down and their appeals for help were not generally heard, here by politicians, by social workers or even by Lord Scarman, who in his report on last year's disturbances studiously avoided seeing any of them.

A most interesting report was issued earlier this month on the old people of Lambeth after the rioting. It repays reading. The people struck the writer as being modest and gentle, even with a sense of humour. They remembered their history and were proud of the achievements of the English people. They sometimes wondered whether the West Indians really wanted to adopt our culture. The newcomers believed in the saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". There was little anger—no hatred at all—but there was sorrow and fear that rioting might become justified. An old man said simply "It is our country and our Queen. Why should we be afraid to go out?"

We must ask ourselves how this dreadfully tragic state of affairs has come about. How is it that we in this House have so neglected elderly English people in the immigrant areas, many of whom fought in the last war, some in both wars, and why have we allowed it to happen? I believe that there are two reasons. First, there is what I call the race relations industry and all its hangers-on, together with the effect that the anti-discrimination laws have had on the media, making many English people in high places—indeed, even some people here—frightened of speaking out on this subject.

Secondly, the immigrants who came here, mainly for economic reasons, have sometimes been slow to adapt to our patriotism and our ways. Indeed, many of them still have dual nationality. The merits of the case for immigration or otherwise are never discussed. Instead, abuse is heaped on those who try to raise the subject, and they are straight away accused of being unkind or unfair to the immigrants. This induces a feeling of guilt, particularly in the media and in the bosoms of some progressive people, but not, I believe, in the vast bulk of the people of this country who were never consulted about immigration and never really wanted it in the first place.

The fault lies not with the English, who are an amazingly kind and tolerant nation, but with those who would force changes upon us and invent a new crime called discrimination. Some years ago one used to speak with respect of a person "with taste and discrimination", but now the word "discrimination" is equated with "racialism", as a term of abuse.

I believe that immigrants themselves, or at least those who make a success of their lives here, prefer in the main to do without the host of anti-discrimination laws. Many of those who have come from the Indian Sub-Continent have become rich and successful as landowners, traders and capitalists. On the other hand, many West Indians—perhaps because of our climate—are returning in increasingly large numbers to their homeland. In my view, there would be a better and healthier social climate if all the discrimination laws were abolished, and I hope that the Home Office, which already has much to think about, including law and order, will not forget this important issue.

The exaggerations and absurdities of discrimination grow worse daily. An extraordinary case in Lambeth was mentioned by Ronald Butt in The Times today. The complaints of English people who objected to a noisy West Indian party in public premises which went on until 4 am were considered racialist. Last week there was the case, to which I referred the Prime Minister, of the doctor who advertised for a partner who was a Christian like himself. Some Christians are immigrants anyway, and one would hope that more would become so in this Christian country. In this respect, I welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury's firm stand on the primacy of Christianity above other religions here in the teaching in our schools.

If we can only quieten down the pro-immigrant lobby—I distinguish those people from immigrants—the other improvements must surely lie with immigrants themselves. They should be proud to be in England, proud to have joined one of the oldest and most civilised nations in the world. They should respect our ways and habits. In the end, to prove themselves true patriots, they should be prepared, as we all are, to fight and die for their new adopted country. We have had too much carping from some immigrant quarters. Let them get on with becoming as near to ordinary people as they can. That is the only way that they will ever be accepted here.

8.53 pm

I welcome this opportunity to mention an issue that has affected many of us during the past few weeks. The opportunity that is afforded by these recess Adjournment debates is something that Back Benchers greatly cherish. I should be grateful if someone could tell me if the announcement in today's Order Paper that the House rises on 8 April till Monday 19 April, and then rises on Friday 30 April till Tuesday 4 May, means that we shall not have a recess Adjournment debate for the second short recess? [Interruption.] I gather that today's debate covers both. So we are done out of another Back-Bench opportunity to raise issues on the recess Adjournment.

We have an opportunity to move away from the weightier issues with which we have rightly been concerned during the past weeks and months, and concentrate on some of the issues, perhaps not as big, but just as important to many millions of our constituents. Therefore, the House should not adjourn until we have given further consideration to the statement made last week by the Minister for Social Security on the death grant. We ought to be asking a few questions about that statement. The Minister was not as open, when making that statement, as we have come to expect. There were many gaps in the statement and they ought to be filled because the consultative process has already started and will certainly continue during the recess.

The reaction from pensioners, pensioners' organisations and childrens' organisations throughout the country was immediate. The effect on them was dramatic. Incidentally, the consultative document was so popular and there was such demand for it, that it is no longer available in the House. It is unusual that supplies of a document, of any description, do not last more than a couple of days in the Vote Office before all available copies are taken. That shows the amount of interest in the matter.

The Dignity in Death Alliance has campaigned for many years on this issue and reacted to the statement immediately. The Guardian quoted its reaction on 31 March:
"The figures have been pitched so low that they will not help people who have real hardship in meeting bills."
That gives the lie to some of the introductory remarks in the statement. On the same day, The Daily Telegraph stated in a leader:
"We wanted the grant to be for everyone and are shocked that the Government is proposing to restrict it to a maximum of 125,000 people."
We know that about 660,000 people would qualify now for such a death grant. To restrict the number to 125,000 will deny 505,000, and probably more, the opportunity of it. That article continues:
"The proposals are very disappointing because the average cost of a funeral is about £400 and a grant restricted to such a small number is going to leave thousands worried about how they will pay the cost."
From constituency experience—I have a bill in my pocket sent to me by a constituent—I know that the most up to date cost of a funeral, with only one extra car, totals £644. The present death grant is £30. The new arrangement means that over 500,000 people will not even be eligible for any grant, let alone for the £30. Many people find themselves in difficulty when the bill is £644.When my constituent visited his local social security office and asked for a special payment for assistance with that £644, he was told, when his bank account had been investigated and so on, that, because he had over £300 in savings, he would not be entitled to any assistance. He told them that he had saved that £300 towards the funeral, but was told it was too bad and that nothing could be done because of the regulations. That is an awful situation and we must consider it more closely, following the Minister's statement.

The Dignity in Death Alliance made its views known, not just to this but to previous Governments. This problem has existed for many years. I told the Minister that there was no need for further consultation or for the consultative document because the position was clear. The position is certainly clear to all those organisations who have been in almost constant consultation with their constituents, previous Governments and the Government. We could have had an immediate start towards solving the problem.

We must consider the basis of the options, as they are set out in the consultative document. As I understand it, they were drawn up purely on a fiscal basis, and not, as we or the country were led to believe from the glamorous reports, on the basis of real need. It is no such thing. The Government are saying that they have only so much money and that they will therefore fit the need into that amount. The proposal has not been drawn up on the basis of need. It has been done on a fiscal basis. It is an arbitrary position to adopt. The document points out that not all people on low incomes will necessarily be entitled to one of the qualifying passport benefits. There is mention only of supplementary benefit and family income supplement as falling within the criteria under which people will qualify for the grant. The document also says that there may be other cases of hardship that cannot be met. The situation will become worse rather than better.

I learnt for the first time from the Minister that the portion of the national insurance contribution that goes towards the £30 funeral grant amounts to 2p. I would have thought, like many of my constituents, that if 2p qualified one for a £30 grant, it would be reasonable to argue that multiples of 2p qualified one for a grant in multiples of £30. Should this not have been another option? If the 2p were multiplied by five or 10, and the £30 by a similar factor, the scheme would be self-financing. Is that not another option that should have been put to the people? There has been an omission. It was not honest to leave out this self-financing option.

There are many thousands—probably millions—who, like me, have always believed that the death grant is a national insurance benefit—a contributory benefit. The Minister, by saying that 2p is the portion that goes towards it, is saying that it is a contributory benefit. The Government will be made aware in coming weeks of the belief of people that they have paid towards the benefit and that they are entitled to it. It will be an awful job to persuade them otherwise especially in view of what the Minister has confessed.

I was horrified to hear spokesmen for the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party welcome the approach that has been adopted. These are the same people who have claimed credit over many years for the Beveridge report. Beveridge would not have denied the contributory aspect of the benefit. Paragraph 350, on page 135 of the 1942 edition, of the report, dealing with social insurance and allied services, laid down the principle:
"Persons retired on pension will always be on full benefit for a funeral grant."
It is therefore strange that fellows who have recently taken up the positions that they now occupy in the House should deny what Beveridge seems to have been saying in his total approach.

Another aspect that bothers me about the new procedure is the complicated post-payment vetting system. There is no means, I hope, of refusing the payment for a funeral. The approach is to pay and check later. The claimant will sign a declaration not to violate the conditions laid down by the Government in their favoured options. This raises a number of questions. There must be greater administrative costs than are involved in the present scheme.

The administrative cost of the £30 grant amounts to £8 million. We ought to have been told by how much that cost will be increased and how many more staff will be involved in the new vetting system. Is it the Government's intention to increase the fraud squad who will check on how many people have fraudently signed the declaration to claim the death benefit and then perhaps sold the deceased's house? One of the conditions is that the property must not be sold within 12 months. Are the Government going to keep tabs on this? If so, it will be an expensive and staff—consuming exercise.

The report in The Guardian of 31 March makes it clear that inspectors will check on families—not just the one claimant but other members of the deceased's family—after the grant has been awarded. It is alleged that that information came from the DHSS. That must mean the employment of more staff and therefore more expense. We were not told about that when the statement was introduced. We will not be able to discuss that in the consultative process because we do not know about it. We ought to be informed about that.

The estate limit has been fixed at £1,500. If the estate is less than that and the claimant satisfies other conditions he will qualify for the grant. The qualification limit for supplementary benefit is £2,500. The Government have not even gone as far as that cut-off. The estate must be £1,000 below that before the claimant can qualify for the funeral grant, even if all the other conditions are satisfied.

The rates outlined in the option will not be sufficient to pay for a full funeral. Those in real hardship will get some assistance but not the full payment, and thousands will get nothing. The Government cannot claim that they are improving the situation. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people apply for special help from the supplementary benefits department to pay high funeral bills. Since so many benefits remain unclaimed, that figure will probable get higher and the position will be much worse.

The Minister who introduced the consultative document made no proposals to solve the problems which will still exist. According to the document, grants will be paid in respect of elderly people who were previously excluded on the ground of age. No one appears to have noted that because we are talking of men aged 98 and women aged 93—not a huge number—their next of kin will themselves be retirement pensioners and probably will not qualify for any grant because of their circumstances. None of us would like to go away before Easter without illumination on that point.

The elderly pensioners who have spent many years caring for their aged parents, and who may have made sacrifices to do so, will benefit only if they are in receipt of family income supplement. It is doubtful whether pensioners receive family income supplement, or even, in many cases, supplementary benefit. So they will not qualify for the new grant. No doubt thousands will fall into that category.

It is worth repeating that the consultative document, which is not necessary—there has been enough consultation—has not been fully explained by the Minister. Many questions that could have been answered have been left unanswered. They are not questions for which replies had to be awaited. Such answers should have been included in the document if the consultative process is to be considered adequate.

Since 1979, the Government have promised a statement on the future of the death grant. The first promise was in reply to a parliamentary question on 20 July 1979, when we were told that there would be a statement as soon as possible. In May 1981, the Secretary of State said that a statement would be made shortly. In July of the same year, in a debate on uprating, the Minister said that a statement would be made in the first few weeks of the new session—in November. No statement materialised. Nothing was done. We were then told that the Government intended to make a statement before the Summer Recess last year. More recently, we were told that a statement would be made after the Christmas Recess, but it never materialised. Only a few weeks ago, I asked the Secretary of State in the Budget debate and he said that the consultative document would arrive the next week, but it did not arrive until a week later.

The statement should have been perfect after so much consultation and so many promises, but it turned out to be fairly inadequate. It has shocked all the pensioners and their organisations. The House is entitled to a further statement and to answers to the questions that I have raised before we adjourn for the Easter Recess.

9.14 pm

Before the House rises for the Easter Recess, it should examine the value for money that many of our citizens receive in consequence of the activities of local government. At a time when rate demands are being received, it is appropriate to ask whether the finance raised is necessarily being spent satisfactorily or, indeed, whether it should be spent at all. It is essential that we consider privatisation. That is a dreadful sounding word, but it conveys accurately the essence of its meaning.

Privatisation can be examined in terms of Government activity through various Departments, as well as denationalisation, but I shall concentrate on the local government aspect.

The absence of competition in the provision of local services and therefore the absence of the advantages of private enterprise and the entrepreneurial spirit, creates exactly the same weaknesses and failings as are found in State-owned monopolies. When there is no overt need to consider profit, there is no clear requirement adequately to reflect the wishes of the customer. Bureaucracy and restrictive practices easily become the order of the day.

People look to the county or district council to provide essential services. They should also be able to look for efficiency and good housekeeping. To involve the private sector, if it can undertake the services economically, must surely be only common sense, as long as sufficient public accountability is present in tandem.

Parliament should give the right to compete to firms wishing to tender for local authority contracts. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 introduced for the first time such statutory competition into construction contracts of more than a prescribed value. That right to compete should be extended to all services.

Privatisation has established itself slowly, due to the attitude of local authorities. Apart from a few well-trumpeted and excellent examples, relatively little has so far been achieved. Yet those same local authorities are entrusted by the inhabitants of their district or county with the responsibility to early out statutory obligations while at the same time they are charged with the task of raising rates responsibly.

The establishment of the right to compete would give fresh impetus to the concept of privatisation and would ensure that there was a duty upon local authorities to investigate possible savings and to implement them where appropriate. Such a system could be carried out by allowing potential contractors to serve notice on the district auditor obliging him to investigate their case for providing a particular service by contract.

It is wrong to think in limited terms about what areas might be appropriate for privatisation. The publicity given to refuse collection and street cleaning masks an enormous range of possibilities. Pest control, catering, architects' departments, office maintenance, security and grass cutting are just a few examples of privatisation already in practice among forward-looking Conservative-controlled authorities.

A further aspect of the need for value for money is much closer attention being paid to the role of voluntary effort. Our nation has long benefited from the dedication of volunteers giving assistance to the community in many different ways. The necessity of further reducing the public sector may provide additional opportunities for such good will to be given greater and freer range.

The proof of the success of privatisation has already been twofold—money saved and service improved. The Government have given a historic benefit by introducing the right to buy for council tenants. Let them now give another to all families by instigating the right to compete for council services.

9.16 pm

I wish to draw the attention of the House, and particularly the attention of the Leader of the House, to a written answer given to question 99 in yesterday's Hansard. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) asked the Secretary of State for Transport

"if he will make a statement on the requirement for Government support to British Railways passenger services for the current year."
The reply was, of necessity, fairly lengthy and controversial.

Before dealing with the reply, however, I wish to protest to the House and particularly to the Leader of the House about the increasing practice these days for Ministers to slip controversial matters through in written answers rather than coming to the Dispatch Box and being questioned by the House about the attitude and thinking behind Government decisions. I do not accuse only the present Government. The Labour Government, of which I was a very junior member, were equally guilty in some ways. More and more frequently matters have tended to be slipped through in written answers, thus depriving Members on both sides of the House of the opportunity to question the thinking and reasoning behind the decisions.

Having registered that protest, I turn to the details of the lengthy reply given yesterday. In the second paragraph, the Secretary of State said:
"The board originally submitted to me a claim for grant for 1982 of £885·2 million, which, allowing for inflation, would have been some £60 million above the total grant provided in 1981. Most of this results from increases in cost rather than a fall in revenue."—[Official Report, 31 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 139–40. ]
The last sentence illustrates the mistakes made within the Department and the fatal flaw in the Government's thinking on subsidies to public transport in general and to British Rail in particular.

Costs are likely to increase year by year. The costs of operating certain railway services tend to increase every year, not as a result of enormous wage increases or, as the Conservatives continually suggest, as a result of restrictive practices, but due to the necessity of operating what is, by and large, a clapped-out railway system. In rural areas and on branch lines especially, costs are rising year by year because British Rail does not have the money to modernise and upgrade the lines.

Recently the British Railways Board published a proposal to re-signal a branch line in East Anglia. It proposed the abolition of the existing manned signal boxes and wished to modernise about six level crossings on the line. The total outlay for those improvements, which were fully supported by my union, the National Union of Railwaymen, was about £2 million. The British Railways Board could not proceed because of financial problems. It could not find £2 million out of its investment allowances.

That branch line is still operating with signals constructed at the turn of the century and with level crossings that cost on average about £15,000 a year to run in staffing costs alone. That £15,000 a year could readily be saved by the operation of modern Continental lifting barriers. However, because of the recent reduction in available investment money the board could not carry out those improvements. Money is still being wasted and costs are as high as ever. Yet the Conservative Party believes—the Secretary of State for Transport has said it publicly—that the increase in railway operating costs is due either to increased wages or to restrictive practices inherited, as it likes to say, from our Victorian predecessors.

In the same written reply, the Government announced the appointment of a firm of City accountants to consider the financing of British Rail. The Secretary of State said before Christmas that he would be interested to appoint a commission. That is nothing new and neither the railway management not the unions objected. We have been investigated, reorganised and sorted out generally by commissions appointed by successive Governments. When the Government last conducted a similar examination they appointed the Monopolies Commission to consider the operation of railway services in London and the South-East—a part of Britain which, for some reason, normally returns Conservative Members of Parliament. I understand that there is a possibility that that will change at the next general election. However, the Monopolies Commission report cleared British Rail of the wild accusations made against it, and gave Southern Region almost a clean bill of health.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. P. J. Butler, a senior partner of Peat Marwick Mitchell and Company, proposes something that might blacken the character of the railway management or whether he produces a diatribe, much loved by the Conservative Party, about inefficiency, incompetence and restrictive practices, which it says—although no one has found it—bedevil railway operations in the 1980s. Mr. Butler's appointment has not been greeted with universal approval. In The Standard, not a newspaper that normally supports the trade union movement or the Labour Party, under the heading "Wrong target" the editorial this evening waxes strongly about the Secretary of State's decision. It states:
"Mr. David Howell, the Transport Secretary, ought to know full well by now that BR already gets less subsidy mile for mile and train for train than almost any other railway in Europe."
I can confidently tell the House that there is only one word wrong in that editorial—"almost". Mile for mile and train for train, British Rail receives less subsidy per mile than any other railway in Europe. The editorial goes on to say:
"If Mr. Howell meant yesterday's announcement as a warning shot, it was both badly timed and badly aimed: warning shots are supposed to cross the bows, not hit the target amidships."
The leader continues:
"The damage—
" the damage caused by this reduction in real terms in PSO support—
"will be, at worst, more cuts in services on top of the 10 per cent. already planned for June, more fare rises on top of those threatened this Autumn; at best it will mean more cheeseparing (dirtier trains with fewer carriages) of the kind that only adds to passenger misery."
The article concludes:
"And that will be the clearest evidence of a decision doubtful in principle and in practice plainly wrong."
That is an emphatic condemnation of the Government's attitude towards railway investment and of their decision to set in motion this gentleman's inquiries into the future of the railway business.

The key to the Government's intentions and attitude lies in the last sentence of the last paragraph in the written reply. It states:
"The board's commitment to accelerated disposals of assets will make an important contribution to achieving the 1982–83 external financing limit."—[Official Report, 31 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 140.]
The hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) expressed the desire to see privatisation in various aspects of council services. I do not know what experience the hon. Gentleman has in these matters—whether he has been a member of a local authority or had experience in the private provision of services generally. If he has, no doubt he and some of his hon. Friends who are enthusiastic in their desire for privatisation will be making bids if the British Railways Board is forced to flog its assets because of the reduction in PSO grant.

In the recent debate on a Ten-Minute Bill I listed for the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) some of the assets of British Rail which some people in the City would no doubt find attractive, even given the depressed state of the British economy. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the diligence and attention of my hon. Friends, we succeeded in defeating that Bill. However, the written reply shows that the Government are far from giving up and intend to pursue this matter. The available assets for privatisation are fairly well known and it will do no harm if I mention a few of them in passing.

The British Rail property board would be regarded by many Government Members, and by various people in the City, as a prime target for privatisation. It regularly contributes millions of pounds to the British Railway Board's coffers through the sale of assets—hundreds of millions of pounds over the past decade. Some sites were railway stations and goods yards in city centres, now, alas, no longer needed. Some sites were in the country.

If further sites are sold over a period with the proper business acumen that the Conservative Party always demands but rarely allows nationalised industries, a satisfactory source of income will be provided for the British Railways Board. In the past that income has been used to subsidise unprofitable services, which presumably we all wish to see continued. If the Government carry out their intentions, all that will be lost, because the British Rail property board will be sold lock, stock and barrel at a cut price to the City friends of the Conservative Party, thereby providing a profit for someone else instead of the British Railways Board and, through it, the nation. That is Conservative patriotism in the 1980s. Conservative Members are always quick to sing "Land of Hope and Glory" and wave a Union Jack. Their patriotism will give profits to their City friends instead of to nationalised industries and the country. I do not wish to be associated with such patriotism.

It often seems that the Government, and particularly their Back Benchers, would flog our publicly owned assets for the price of a good dinner or a trip to the United States. The railway unions are not prepared to stand by and watch such piracy. I refer not only to the British Rail property board. The Department of Transport and the Secretary of State say that railwaymen have no business running the other subsidiaries and that the public sector has no business owning them. Hotels have been sold. We expect to see others sold in the near future. So far they have all been cut-price sales, partly because of the depressed state of the economy and partly because everyone knows that the board is being forced by the Government to sell. It is being starved of funds to bring about the sales. That is not a businesslike approach. It is not patriotic to flog our assets in that way.

The PSO grant for 1982 represents a £15 million cut in real terms from last year. I could give a long list of branch lines that may be in danger because of the drastic reduction in finance. I mention two in my region. I forecast that within about 18 months proposals will be advanced to withdraw the Stourbridge junction-Stourbridge town service and Leamington-Stratford service as a direct result of the cuts. Both are seen as big loss makers in the West Midlands region.

In the past couple of years time-keeping on the main line between Birmingham and Euston has suffered because of the slow-down in track maintenance due to previous reductions in funds. I forecast that the Government will bring about something that has not happened for over 100 years. The journey between Birmingham and London will take longer, so the two cities will effectively be moved further apart, again as a direct result of the cuts.

The Government and the Secretary of State talk of the need to cut manpower and services. British Rail's original grant submission for 1982 took into account the manpower cuts that had taken place. By agreement with the unions, over the past two years 12,000 jobs have been lost. We saw no newspaper headlines or pious editorials about that. Since last June there has been a 6 per cent. reduction in loaded train miles on inter-city services as a direct result of the reduced grants for British Rail's investment to run existing services. A further 4 per cent. cut was scheduled up to October.

Yesterday's announcement will accelerate and worsen the cuts. Numerous late night services have been cut, particularly in London and the South-East, over the past few months. Conservative Members are always ready to attack railwaymen, allegedly for lack of productivity. They should have the honesty to tell their constituents that the reduction in services and the fall in standards are a direct result of the Government's attitude to the nationalised industries, particularly the railways.

Fares are bound to be forced up further because of what is said in the written reply. British Rail's fares increased last November by an average of 9½ per cent., which was considerably below the rate of inflation at that time. Fares since January 1980 have increased by 42·8 per cent.

The Secretary of State's answer should have been verbal and made at the Despatch Box. His written answer makes explicit his determination that there should be an accelerated disposal of assets in order to bring down the losses of British Rail in the next year. That is a short-term and short-sighted measure.

None of us is under any illusions about the Secretary of State's attitude towards his job. We all know, without reading newspaper editorials, that his appointment as Secretary of State for Transport was a demotion. He was fired from his position as Secretary of State for Energy because he showed precious little of that commodity. I have never made a practice of attacking any Minister or any hon. Member in his absence, but I must say on behalf of Britain's railwaymen that the Secretary of State has been little short of an unmitigated disaster.

Not only have British Rail's inter-city services suffered because of the Secretary of State's indifference, incompetence and desire to avoid probing questions at the Dispatch Box, but public transport in every major city has deteriorated drastically since the Secretary of State was appointed.

London's case is well known and needs to be rehearsed no further. In the West Midlands county area, the controlling Labour group was elected on a pledge of reducing public transport fares. The Secretary of State has stood by with his customary indifference and the majority Labour group has been forced to raise fares higher than they were before the group was elected in May last year.

Public transport is declining throughout the country. That applies not only to rural services and branch lines, which in many instances are the sole lifeline for many people who during the day have no access to a private car, but to the services in our major cities. Public transport and the railway industry have been strangled because of the mixture of malice and indifference on the part of the Secretary of State.

I trust that the Leader of the House, when he brings my remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, will remember, in his guise as protector of the rights of all hon. Members, my strictures, which are justified. I could tell that the Leader of the House did not agree with me when I began my speech. It is the duty of Ministers, regardless of political party or the popularity of the measures and policies that they wish to introduce to the House, to reply from the Dispatch Box and not to hide behind the device of the written reply. Opposition Members intend to return on each and every possible occasion to the subject of transport until we convince the Government of the error and magnitude—

Come on—the hon. Gentleman has been speaking for nearly 25 minutes.

The hon. and learned Gentleman appears to be cross at my strictures. If he thinks that the time of my speech should be limited or that my remarks are out of order, no doubt he will make a direct appeal to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At least I confine my remarks to matters about which I have a little knowledge, unlike the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is never off his feet, normally propounding the most preposterous Right-wing views on each and every subject that comes before the House. I have no need for lectures from him about restricting or restraining my remarks. I am here to defend the future of British Rail and British railwaymen, and I make no apology to a jumped-up lawyer like the hon. and learned Gentleman for doing so.

Public transport is suffering grievously under the Government. We intend to fight, and fight very hard, to reverse the policies that have proved to be such a disaster over the past three years.

9.45 pm

I believe that the House should not rise for the recess until a statement has been made by the Home Secretary on what I believe to be an aspect of the administrative rules approved by the House which explicitly contravenes the rights of women, which in all respects in this country should be equal to those of men.

I am referring to the immigration rules laid before Parliament on 20 February 1980 under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 which came into force on 1 March 1980. There is on the order paper early-day motion 370 on the immigration rules and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is signed by 12 hon. Members. The first six signatories were all supporters of Her Majesty's Government, including myself. It is worth reading the early-day motion. It says:
"That this House, recalling that the immigration rules were amended on 1st March 1980, noting that since that date there have been two categories of women in the United Kingdom, namely, those entitled to marry men from other countries and live with them in the United Kingdom and those to whom this basic right is denied; and believing that the present immigration rules are in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, welcomes the Secretary of State for the Home Department's review of these rules following the passing of the British Nationality Act and calls for an early statement on the Government's intentions."
As I said at the outset, I believe that the Government's statement should be made before the recess. I shall rehearse to the House the very good reason why this should be so. The British Nationality Act 1981, whereby for the first time British nationality can be transmitted either through the male or the female line, makes necessary a review of the immigration rules. These are, in a number of aspects, directly consequent upon citizenship provisions.

If, on matters of citizenship, we are agreed that there should be equality of rights for the transfer of citizenship between men and women, surely for immigration rules the sexes should not be accorded different treatment over the immigration of spouses for settlement in the United Kingdom. There is one particular reason why a statement from the Home Office is urgent and necessary. The lawfulness of the Government's action is about to be tested.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the National Council for Civil Liberties have launched complaints to the European Commission of Human Rights. These will be the subject of a hearing as to the admissability of the case presented by the JCWI and the NCCL before May 1982. If the commission rules that there is a prima facie case the European Court of Human Rights will have to decide upon it. Therefore, it is urgent that before the matter goes to the commission in Strasbourg the Home Office should make its position clear.

My hon. Friends and I put down the early-day motion that was tabled at the instigation of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), to whom I pay tribute. The Home Office ought to make its position clear, or, as a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Her Majesty's Government might find themselves in some embarrassment.

At this stage we should remind ourselves of what the immigration rules provide and the issue that is in question. The wife of any man, regardless of citizenship, who is settled in the United Kingdom and who has the right of abode, is entitled to enter the United Kingdom and to remain here with him. A woman does not enjoy similar rights.

Under the immigration rules—I refer to paragraphs 50 and 52, but especially 50—a husband who wishes to enter the United Kingdom with his wife must satisfy a number of preconditions. Three are listed, but the most important one and the material one is:
"an entry clearance will be issued provided that the wife is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who was born in the United Kingdom or one of whose parents was born there."
In other words, the wife must be either a British citizen born here or have a parent born in the United Kingdom. Entry clearance is stipulated for the entry of her husband to join her here and it is significant that entry clearance is not stipulated for the wife of a man, regardless of whether he is British, to join him for settlement in Britain. This is a prima facie injustice, and it is on that basis that I bring the matter before the House.

There are anomalies. For example, a woman who is an EEC national who is admitted to the United Kingdom to take employment has a right under EEC law to have her husband admitted to join her in the United Kingdom for settlement, but other women from non-EEC countries have no such right. The relevant articles of the European Convention on Human Rights are as follows: article 8, the right of respect for private and family life; article 12, the right to marry and found a family; and article 14, enjoyment of rights and freedoms set forth in the convention without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour and national origins.

In his evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, Mr. Anthony Lestor, QC, said that he believed that the immigration rules prima facie contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. He said:
"The first question which would arise is whether a difference of treatment has been made, in an area covered by the Convention, between persons in similar circumstances. The answer is plainly in the affirmative."
In March 1981 the European Parliament adopted a resolution, formulated by the Legal Affairs Committee which declared that it was
"of the opinion that the United Kingdom Government's new immigration rules may contravene the European Convention on Human Rights—is further of the opinion that they may also contravene the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in community law."
Women who were not born here, even if they are British, may have to choose between their husbands and their home countries. This is an intolerable decision for a woman to have to make.

The immigration rules have the ludicrous consequence that women of EEC nationality have more rights in the United Kingdom than some British citizens. Surely that cannot be right. For example, a woman who is a United Kingdom citizen but who was not born here and is without a parent who was born here can go to Ireland or to any other EEC country to take employment under the freedom of movement of labour provisions of the Treaty of Rome. Under EEC law, her husband then qualifies as her spouse and can join her in that country. Yet the same woman cannot have her husband join her in her home country, which is also an EEC member State.

I am pleased that the Home Office is reviewing this matter. I brought it to the attention of the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), on 24 March 1981, during the Committee stage of the British Nationality Bill. Although I do not like to quote what I have said before, it is worth quoting:
"If the Bill is enacted"—
it is now an Act. —
"the husbands of women resident in this country will, if they are to acquire British citizenship by naturalisation, have to reside here for three years. Would that not be sufficient control—"
to ensure, for example, that there are no bogus marriages; that is an important point—
"to make it reasonable and proper for us to re-examine the current discrimination in our immigration rules between the rights of women resident in Britain who were born here and those of women resident in Britain but not born here?"—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 24 March 1981; c. 735.]
A year has passed, and it is high time that a Home Office Minister came to the Dispatch Box to explain what has happened. That should be done before the May Day Recess. If it is not, we may find ourselves facing a case in the European Commission of Human Rights which could possibly lead to a case in the European Court of Human Rights.

9.51 pm

It is on rare occasions such as this that right hon. and hon. Members have an opportunity to bring their cases before the House. I was delighted to be able to remain in the House this evening to hear some of the important issues that have been brought before the House, particularly that raised by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). The issues raised by the hon. Gentleman are of primary importance and should be given every consideration by the Government.

I am always mindful of the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House can advance a case, use all their political intelligence to try to have a problem resolved, and, at the end of the day go home to their constituencies and to their beds and not be afraid that they might be killed before the next morning. Those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies are in a special category. Whatever the many differences that I may have with Unionist Members on the Opposition side of the House and with Democratic Unionist Members on the Government side, I would accord to them the same feelings as I have. We all live under a great cloud of terrorism in Northern Ireland.

I should like to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). Even the mention of that constituency and its political designation is enough to cause disarray and trouble in Northern Ireland, and many people would not wish to refer to that city as Londonderry. They would refer to it as Derry, and that is an indication of the great divide that exists in Northern Ireland, and has existed for many years. Indeed, it existed in the island of Ireland long before the State of Northern Ireland was created in 1920.

The hon. Member for Londonderry tried to tell the House that we should not adjourn because of what was happening in Northern Ireland. I intervened and said that it was fortunate that the Leader of the House was on the Front Bench, because he has great experience of Northern Ireland. We can now look back to 1974 and to the five tumultuous months from January to May 1974 and see that the things that happened then were disastrous.

From the press and the media we know that there is to be a statement in the House on Monday by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on the proposals that he may have for setting up a Government or Assembly in Northern Ireland. Some people thought that the Government might try to pull a fast one and make the announcement tomorrow morning. However, I am glad that they did not choose to do so. Northern Ireland is one of the most dangerous and compelling issues facing the British Government—far more compelling than the Trident problem. That is why the Government were right to decide not to make the statement tomorrow.

However, it is probably not right to make the announcement on Monday either. The Government should make it on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, when most hon. Members will be in the House and be able to express an opinion on the proposals. There will not be many hon. Members in the Chamber on Monday and there will be even fewer here tomorrow. However, if the choice is between Friday and Monday, Monday is the best day.

Without pre-empting the statement on Monday—again, it will be only a statement—the hon. Member for Londonderry tried to tell the Leader of the House what the Government should say and do about the political situation in Northern Ireland. His whole approach was, to say the least, rather negative. However, one could not do anything but sympathise with the hon. Gentleman when he drew the attention of the House to the terrible atrocity that took place this afternoon in his constituency.

I refer to the brutal and senseless slaying and murder this afternoon in Deny. Similarly, three young British soldiers were killed last Friday in my constituency. Such killings are senseless and will not in any way lead to a resolution of the terrible problems in Ireland. I do not need to tell the Leader of the House, but that is why I have taken my stand without fear of contradiction. The murders, atrocities and killings by the IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association and all the other paramilitary associations in Northern Ireland will not lead to a resolution of the conflict.

What the hon. Member for Londonderry was saying tonight—if I might try to interpret it—was that the Government should pour in whatever military aid is necessary to defeat the IRA. After they have done that, they should accede to the demands of the majority—he mentioned the majority two or three times in his speech—for a restoration of Stormont as we knew it before it was abolished in 1972.

That would be a total and absolute disaster. I lived in that State from 1926 until 1972, and I well remember that the one-party State that we then had in Northern Ireland—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Business Of The House


That, at this day's sitting, the Motion relating to Adjournment (Easter and May Day) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour. —[Mr. Lang.]

Question again proposed.

The one-party State that we then had led to the conflict which ensued and which led to the abolition of the Stormont Government.

Having said that, having been the leader of the SDLP for nine years, and having left that party because I believed that it had become a totally nationalist party and had forsaken all the beliefs of the SDLP, I do not believe that there is anyone in Dublin, Washington or London who can bring about the cessation of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland.

There are people in Dublin—particularly the leader of the present Government, Mr. Charles Haughey—who believe that by wielding a big stick or by adopting a threatening attitude to the British Government they will be able to intimidate and frighten the Unionist-cum-Protestant majority in Northern Ireland. That is not possible.

By the same token, the Right wing of the British Conservative Party will not be able to intimidate the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. Whether it be the Right wing of the Conservative Party in Dublin, or the Ted Kennedys of the Democratic Party in America—wherever they may muster their support—any attempt to back one community against the other is doomed to failure. The only place that the conflict will be resolved is in Northern Ireland, and particularly on the streets of Belfast. Any attempt by one community—either the majority or the minority—to impose victory or defeat on its opponents is doomed to failure.

I am telling the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that we still have tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday before the statement is made in the House. I believe that he—with his experince of that particularly turbulent five months—should impress upon his colleagues in office that any proposals that are brought forward must contain provisions for the protection of the Catholic minority and the Protestant majority. The impression must not be given that this is a victory of one community in Northern Ireland over the other.

We all recognise that whatever proposals are brought forward will be met by cries of "traitor". When I returned from Sunningdale, leaving the SDLP, I well remember that we were met by cries of "traitor". The right hon. Gentleman was at Sunningdale as well. We were told that we had sold out and were members of the Unionist Party.

Similar charges were levelled against the late Brian Faulkner, who was told that he had sold out and become a Republican. After the years that have elapsed, I can say that both of us were trying desperately to bring some sort of sanity to that terribly difficult situation, which had been brought about because of 400 or 500 years of Irish history. Brian Faulkner is no longer with us. I only wish that there was a man of his calibre still within the ranks of the Unionist Party—someone who could live with the realities of 1982.

What is required is not simply a military solution, as advocated by the hon. Member for Londonderry. It is simply not possible to use all the military hardware at our disposal in an attempt to capture all the IRA men. We must find a formula that will win the hearts and minds of the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

I am not sure what the Government's proposals will be. The Secretary of State may belong to a party to which I would give little if any allegiance, but I believe that he is trying to do what he can. One can only wish him success, and I shall have something further to say next week.

10.6 pm

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), whose courage is greatly admired in all quarters of the House.

I am wearing a black tie because today I attended the funeral of Lord Gretton, who for two years served the constituency of Burton in this House and was much loved and admired by all who knew him.

I rise to advance my plea that the House should not adjourn before it has got clear in its precisely what is happening on the West Bank and in the State of Israel. Although many hon. Members on both sides of the House are friends of Israel, and many are friends of the Arab countries, the Israeli case often seems to go by default, partly because the Israelis seem long since to have given up the belief that they need to justify their case in the councils of the world.

Very often one gets the feeling that the Israelis do not care too much what the rest of the world says about them, but that does not mean that their case is not good. It is just, because they want peace while their enemies want the annihilation of the State of Israel, if necessary through war.

For the past months the Israelis have pursued the Camp David agreement with great courage and in a most generous and praiseworthy way. They are giving up the Sinai in accordance with the agreement. They are handing over the aircraft bases, which means that they can be attacked in 10 minutes instead of 28 minutes. They are giving up all the oil that would have made them self-sufficient in two or three years. They are also handing over their outlet to the Red Sea and Sharm el Sheikh. They have experienced great opposition from their own settlers in Yamit. Yet Israel has been quietly trying to work out the basis for autonomy with the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank.

The Israelis have introduced a civil administration, the purpose of which is to begin to get the Arab citizens of the West Bank accustomed to being governed in a nonmilitary way, and to come together with Israel to discuss autonomy so that they can take over the governance of that part of the world themselves. That is what the autonomy pledge which Israel entered into in the Camp David agreement is all about.

The other matter that has pre-occupied the Israelis is that none of that will happen unless it is done with the cooperation and support of Arab leaders among the Palestinians on the West Bank. So they have been carefully nurturing the village leagues—a body of Arab leaders who do not wish to be told what to do, or to be threatened or intimidated by the PLO, but who themselves wish to take control and govern the West Bank, their areas, in peace.

However, as the PLO is pledged by 26 of its 32 articles of the covenant to annihilate the State of Israel, civil administrations which bring together the Arabs and the Jews, Arab village leagues which bring together the Israeli Government and the Arab village governments, are anathema to the terrorists and the warmongers in the PLO. So there has been a systematic and determined campaign of intimidation, which has involved the assassination of 17 moderate Arab Palestinian leaders in the past year and the deliberate disruption of the civil administration. That is why the Israeli Government had to sack the mayors of Nablus, Ramallah and Albirah, because they were obeying the orders of the PLO and not doing what mayors should do—administer their towns for their people. If mayors do not do that, all the social services and municipal activities break down in their towns.

The bitterness with which the PLO and its followers have pursued this campaign can be seen by two statements. One was from the "Voice of Palestine", which plays a leading role in the incitement of the Arab Palestinians. On 22 March it said:
"Advance in the direction of the forces! Draw close to the storm! Scatter the flocks of enemies! Change the map! Cast down the lamps of treason and surrender! Break, as you know how, the glass of bottles in the face of the soldiers".
That is the trash that comes over the radio and incites the Palestinian Arabs to violence.

Then there was the order issued by the Jordanian Prime Minister, Mr. Mudar Badran, on 10 March condemning to death any individual who continued his membership of the village league. There is the intimidation. That is the cause of what is happening on the West Bank now, and must also be the cause of great embarrassment to the Foreign Secretary, who has, by chance, chosen this time to be there. I believe that the Israelis are much encouraged by the Foreign Secretary's visit. The Conservative Government have been showing a much friendlier face towards the State of Israel. They have declared that they stand by their determination that the State of Israel shall remain safe and secure within its proper boundaries. The Government said that they would do nothing to diminish the autonomy talks and would support the Sinai settlement to the ultimate degree. They are doing what they can to encourage moderate Palestinians to talk to the Israeli Government, without which there can be no possible settlement.

Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to bear in mind the one matter to which objection can be taken. I ask the Government to stop repeating that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is in some way unlawful. I shall not use the time of the House by explaining why, by international law, that is simply not so. Suffice it to say that the League of Nations mandate gave a much larger area than the existing State of Israel to provide a Jewish home.

When the mandate territory was split, trans-Jordan was given what amounted to three quarters of what was originally intended to be the Jewish home. The West Bank territory was not included and therefore was invaded by Jordan illegally in 1948. Therefore, Jordan was a belligerent. It is said that the Israelis are also belligerent because they repossessed the West Bank. As between the belligerents there is no superior right vested in Jordan. The only other element in that area is the PLO. That is not a State and it has no entitlement to ownership of the West Bank.

Whatever might be decided by an international court of law, it would be wrong to continue talking about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as though it were in some way a breach of international law and illegal. Of course there must be a settlement of peace. That peace will occur only when the moderate Palestinian Arabs talk and agree with a moderate Israeli Government. The only uncompromising stand that the Israeli Government take is that they will not be told that they can no longer exist, by Palestinian Arabs, dictated to from Beirut. They must talk and negotiate with Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank not subject to the PLO to achieve peace.

If the Government bear those matters in mind, I am sure that they will continue to be helpful in bringing peace to that troubled and torn part of the world.

10.18 pm

Before the House adjourns, I shall draw attention to important matters which have still not been dealt with, although we have been waiting for four years—the regulation of data banks, control over the misuse of personal information and protection of personal privacy.

The Lindop Committee reported on these urgent matters in 1978. However, the Government have still not issued a statement about them. They have been promising a White Paper for some time. Perhaps that is now in the offing. I want, even at this stage, to raise several critical questions about the Government's thinking on this matter. That was revealed in the speech of the Minister of State, Home Office on 11 February, to the INFO conference.

The first and crucial point is that the Home Secretary has already made it clear that he will not implement the central recommendation of the Lindop report—that a data protection authority be established. Instead, he proposes to set up an independent registrar, assisted by about 20 civil servants. Frankly, one distinguished person who, no doubt, will be chosen from the list of the good and the great, plus 20 officials, all of them internally recruited, are simply not up to the task of supervising and regulating the vast array of personal information that exists, the sheer magnitude of which the Government seem unwilling to take on board. Even at the time of the 1975 White Paper, there were no fewer than 220 functions of central Government involving computerised personal information with data banks containing anything from 10,000 to 1 million names each. The complacency of the Government's thinking is only too well revealed by the Minister of State's speech when he declared:
"Breaches of personal privacy are likely to be rare."
The fact is that breaches of personal privacy are likely to be anything but rare. The threats to personal privacy are considerable. I believe that they are growing and that they are growing from many sources—from the storing and distribution of information which may be inaccurate or out of date, from the collection of data that may be done illegally or without the consent of the person concerned, as I know from my experience recently with regard to The Sun, from the transfer of information for a different purpose to that originally intended when it was collected and from allowing—or at least not preventing—others having access to private and confidential data to which they should not have access.

Secondly, the Government seem to be proposing that the independent registrar and his tiny staff would be limited to responding to complaints. They would not be undertaking regular and systematic supervision over the whole range of existing and new data banks to ensure that they complied with the appropriate codes of practice. This is surely a major defect when the great majority of people are probably wholly unaware of the vast range of data that is held on them, of the possibility of its misuse, of the right questions to ask to check on this situation and of whom to ask them. Trained and experienced inspectors are required to act on the public's behalf. The only way in which there can be an assurance that information has been properly collected and stored and not abused is through random checks from time to time across the whole range with inspectors regularly and anonymously probing particular data bank systems to ensure that standards and safeguards are properly adhered to.

Thirdly, it is surely crucial that the codes of practice should be mandatory. The Government, according to what their spokesmen have said, seem to have made it clear that they will be simply voluntary or discretionary. Lindop recommended that there should be 50 or more codes of practice to be made by the data protection authority which should have the force of law as regulations. In the absence of statutory force behind the codes, I believe that there is a real risk that serious abuses will continue to occur. Bodies like the BMA have rightly made clear their strong opposition to anything short of statutory regulations in sensitive areas, for example, in the whole area of clinical records. I hope that the Government, even at this stage, will think again about this important matter.

Fourthly, the Government are making a serious mistake through their apparent intention to restrict this whole exercise to computerised information. There is every bit as much a threat to personal privacy from the wrongful or inaccurate collection, storage and use of manually collected or stored data. I ask the Government again to reconsider what I think will be a fundamental omission from their White Paper is they do not include this element.

Fifthly and lastly, there is the whole question of the derogations and exemptions from the application of the independent registrar's supervision. Nobody doubts that genuine matters of criminal intelligence and national security should be exempt. Of course, that would he right. But it is vital that the exemptions should not be any more than are absolutely necessary. Certainly they should not be used as an excuse for blanket exemptions going far wider. It is on that point that there are serious grounds for concern that I should like the Government to consider.

It has been revealed that MI5 from its MOD-X computer centre at Mayfair taps freely into the files of other Government Departments according to a charter under licence from the Prime Minister. This charter and other links between Government-held personal files have enabled officials to begin building up what could ultimately become a comprehensive national filing system on every individual. In view of the immense significance of that and of its 1984-type potential, there is an urgent case that those responsible for such operations should be accountable to a special parliamentary Select Committee. Will the Government consider that point in making provision in their White Paper which will no doubt soon be published?

There is more than a suspicion that the Government will exclude the police from controls over how they use computers. This again is disturbing, because already we are into the era of mass surveillance of the population by the authorities. Indeed, 1984 is going to come well on time. The regulation of this in the public interest is essential.

We are seeing the development of a comprehensive range of police computing and the evolution of a comprehensive command and control computer system by the police. No fewer than 39 of the 51 constabularies have now got local police computers. In many areas there is the development of a capability for collation of local intelligence data which, despite all the strenuous denials by Home Office spokesmen, is clearly intended to link up with the police national computer for a countrywide intelligence network when the political climate is judged to be right.

Lest my remarks are misinterpreted, I should say that like every law-abiding citizen I am completely in favour of an efficient criminal detection system. But what is emerging is something distinctly different. Ease of access to information is gradually but steadily changing the pattern of policing from checking after a crime has been committed to random checks without reasonable grounds for suspicion. That is a worrying development.

For these reasons, certain safeguards are necessary. In addition to a special Select Committee we should adopt the Swedish system whereby even police and security files can be checked out by a duly appointed security-cleared officer. That is another point that the Government should consider before they produce the White Paper.

We should also consider outlawing the technique called free text retrieval for personal data applications. Lindop in its report thought that the use of this brought, in its words:
"a new dimension of unease"
to police computing, it all depending on how exactly the information was to be used as to whether there was an abuse of the information. For that reason, it is worrying that the Lothian and Borders police, without waiting for the conclusion of the public debate on data protection, have gone ahead and implemented an operational free text retrieval based system. Even more worrying is the question of where all this is likely to lead. The West Germans have an integrated security service and police computer network. Without adequate control, the British police and MI5 could do the same. Is that what the Government intend for this country?

I accept that there is unlikely to be any direct response from the Government to my comments before the White Paper is issued, as I believe that publication is probably imminent. Nevertheless, this is a vital subject which will have a close impact on the lives of citizens of this country and which touches on profound issues of freedom and civil liberties. I hope, therefore, that even at this stage the Government will reconsider the structure of their proposals on data protection and personal privacy. From all that we have seen so far, the signs are that at the moment their proposals are sadly defective.

10.31 pm

The Leader of the House may welcome my rising to speak now, if for no other reason than that it signals the end of his long, patient vigil from 7 o'clock until 10.30, listening to speeches on a wide range of subjects. I believe that mine is the penultimate speech from the Opposition, and I propose to take a much shorter time than others have done.

I shall resist the temptation to follow earlier speeches, except for a brief comment on that of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr.Stokes). I do not wish to be patronising in any way when I say that the hon. Gentleman is a unique character. He combines the ability to say the most outrageous things and to come to the most erroneous conclusions with retaining the respect and good will of most Members of the House. I hope that it will be a long time before the hon. Gentleman, or anyone else on his behalf, draws his death grant. When the time comes, however, I am reasonably certain that he will go to the Christian Heaven of which he spoke in passing and will find there good friends from all parties. He may then have the shock of his life, or rather his death, when he bows before the throne of Jesus and looks up to see, smiling down at him, a brown, Semitic face. He may then realise that some of the people whom he has criticised are his brothers no more and no less than anybody else.

It is proposed that the House should go into recess from 8 April to 19 April and from 30 April to 4 May. In normal times, those breaks from our duties here would be welcomed by everyone. I have always welcomed them, and in 17 years I have not sought to take part in a debate of this kind. Such breaks give us the opportunity to go to our constituencies, to do things that we cannot do when engaged in the everyday duties of the House and to spend a little time with our families. For the first time in 17 years, I now suggest that at this time of this year changes may have to be made in those dates even in the course of the next week.

Briefly, we are all aware of the dangers and difficulties that have developed, have increased over the past 10 days and are still increasing for British citizens and British interests in and around the British Falkland Islands and the Falkland Island dependencies. Those dangers are likely to become greater before, one hopes, they become less. In a situation in which not only British interests but British lives are at risk, I am wholly in favour, as I believe the whole House is, of a considerable degree of restraint in the questions that we ask, the comments that we make and the answers that we might expect. We shall have the right to inquire about any possible Government failings later, but not tonight. Our aim should be to do nothing that could make the position worse.

However, some things must be said before the House goes into recess—things that will do no harm, but may do some good. I hope that the Government will have such matters in mind during the next days and weeks whether we are in recess or in session. First, I ask the Leader of the House to accept that the first duty of the House and any British Government is to ensure the safety, security and defence of British citizens in British territories here or beyond the seas. The Falkland Island dependencies are British, the people of the islands are British and intend to remain British. We must give them every possible support.

No less important is the fact that the people of the Falkland Islands are good neighbours to one another, and wish to be good neighbours to the people of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and all other countries on the South American mainland. Britain, the Falkland Islands and South American countries have much to gain from cooperation, trade and better understanding. The present difficulties are not of the Government's making nor of the making of the people of the Falkland Islands. It is in everyone's interests in the South Atlantic that there should be co-operation, not confrontation.

I hope that the Government will continue to make every diplomatic effort to obtain a speedy resolution to the problems, and I hope that they are taking the advice of two people with special knowledge of the difficulties and opportunities in the area. The first, who I believe is known to the Leader of the House, is His Excellency Mr. Rex Hunt, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the British Falkland Islands. The second is Captain Barker of HMS "Endurance".

Will the Government bear in mind that the chances of a speedy and peaceful settlement are enhanced and not diminished if Britain is clearly shown to be supporting her citizens and protecting her territories with the considerable naval, air and military capability available? If that is done, the negotiations that must continue to take place will be conducted from a position of strength, not weakness.

Although I ask no questions and expect no answers about the capability available to the Government some people, both inside the House and outside, might be under a misapprehension about the total support available. At Question Time earlier this week the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) completely underestimated the capability of HMS "Endurance". She is not the clapped-out ice-breaker that he apparently believes her to be, and the fact that a former Secretary of State for Defence can make such a statement should be taken up with him direct. She is a much more powerful vessel. However, I shall not go into questions of which country possesses the biggest clout. All that I say is that people outside the House, especially in Argentina, would be under a great misapprehension if they were to assume that British capability in that area or anywhere else is less than it should be. We are talking about negotiations from strength and equality.

The Davidoff affair will probably go down in history. We must inquire as we go along whether it was a miscalculation or whether it was premeditated. I ask the Leader of the House to note that, if it is possible to have a statement before the recess, it will be welcome. There will be caution on both sides about what is said, but our interest will continue. We expect the British Government to continue to look after British citizens and interests whether the House is in session or in recess.

10.39 pm

The debate has taken its predictable course. A number of major and crucially important issues have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Some hon. Members have adduced seemingly compelling reasons why the House should not adjourn. Then, as you can observe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they have disappeared from the Chamber, presumably lest they were taken at their word.

I wish to pursue a number of the points raised. I was impressed by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). He raised the two important issues of unemployment and of the need for an early parliamentary statement on the report from the observers at the elections that have just been completed in El Salvador. The decision to despatch British observers involves the status and standing of this country. The House is not being unreasonable in demanding an early statement.

My hon. Friend said that 61 per cent. of the people unemployed in the West Midlands have been unemployed for six months or more. The same argument applies to the North-West, the Northern region, South Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales. Economists talk of the contraction of manufacturing industry. Most of our manufacturing is in the regions. We have seen the virtual collapse of manufacturing in the regions. Men over 40 who are declared redundant may never work again. Parents see their children still searching for their first job. That is the real cause of concern. The Government treat unemployment as inevitable. Our constituents do not accept as inevitable. They demand Government action to deal with the problem.

I was impressed by the sincere contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who highlighted two problems. The first was soliciting. He drew attention to a legal contradiction. Legal action is taken against women found guilty of soliciting, yet men guilty of kerb crawling do not attract legal action except in isolated cases.

My hon. Friend also drew attention to the continuing crisis in Cyprus. The Government joined in sanctions against the Soviet Union because it invaded Afghanistan. It is a contradiction for them not to take action as a guarantor power over the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The Government are anxious to get Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. They should be even handed and try to persuade the Turks to get their troops out of Cyprus.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Turkish invasion of Cyprus occurred under the Administration of whom he was a member.

It did. With a number of my hon. Friends, I urged lines of action on the Government, but at the same time it was not a Labour Government who took the stand on sanctions against the Soviet Union for the invasion of Afghanistan. It is that issue of action of principle that I believe, if the Government are to be even-handed, should be applied to Cyprus.

I share the view of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) that British people are amazingly kind and tolerant. The British people will need to be amazingly kind and tolerant when they hear on the air and read in the national newspapers and in Hansard his singularly offensive comments on the coloured population and communities in this country. Rarely have I heard such a singularly offensive speech from any hon. Member. The hon. Gentleman talked about the need for coloured people to have a community commitment. He lectured them on patriotism and on the fact that they should be willing to die for their country. I served in the Army in the last war. It was not exclusively white soldiers who died for their country.

If we look around the communities in which we live, go in the hospitals and ride on the buses and on the trains, we find the coloured community making a real contribution, yet the hon. Gentleman lectured them on patriotism. With the greatest respect, I hope that he will think again about the speech that he made this evening.

The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) about the death grant were absolutely right. I hope that the consultative document will be the subject of early debate. There are many features in it. Most people believe that when they contribute to the National Health Service scheme their contributions gives them benefits as of right. The consultative document shows that the Government's policy will be that benefits as of right will be transferred and interpreted as benefits by poverty standards. That is not good enough.

At business questions today, my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and, during the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), referred to the action taken by the Secretary of State for Transport in announcing a major departure from Government policy in a written answer reported at columns 139 and 140 of Hansard for 31 March 1982. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East said that it was a long answer. It covered one and a half columns of Hansard. It has all the characteristics of a planted question. The cut of £15 million represents a major departure from present Government policy.

The annual grant to British Rail has been rising in real terms during the period of office of the Government and of their predecessors. The cut will increase significantly the possibility of forced sales by British Rail of its assets in property, hotels and shipping in order to survive financially.

For those reasons, we are entitled to a parliamentary statement. I know that the Leader of the House will honour the undertaking that he gave in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford when he said this afternoon that he would look into the matter. I hope that he does so seriously.

Will my right hon. Friend reiterate the point that I made about the Government's common practice of slipping through controversial matters by means of a written reply? Does he agree with me that it is deplorable that this major change in policy should be so treated?

I agree with my hon. Friend.

I move on to the speech made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Ritt). He has the unique gift of conveying graphically the reality of the continuing tragedy in Northern Ireland. I am always impressed by the balanced views with which he conveys his thoughts on the subject. He talks with great experience, and over the years he has demonstrated a remarkable courage and moderation in the comments that he has made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is right to demand an early White Paper and a debate on the findings of the Lindop committee report. In the last Administration I had some ministerial responsibility for the Government's central computer agency. The Lindop committee, even at that time, was looking forward to an early White Paper. Not only did the previous Government end without bringing forward a White Paper but this Government have now been in office for two years and we still have not had a White Paper dealing with data processing and computer privacy.

All these issues demand the attention of the Government; and I am confident that the Leader of the House will bring the attention of his right hon. and hon. Friends to the points that have been raised.

10.52 pm

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

For the last three and three quarter hours we have had an unusually wide-ranging debate in which hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised a number of issues, including many substantial ones. No particular theme has emerged from the debate, and if I were to deal substantially with each issue I should turn this into an all-night sitting, which, I suspect, is not what the hon. Members who have taken part wish. All the constructive ideas that have been put forward tonight will be passed on to my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I am sure that they will wish to consider them.

The hon. Members for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke on the subject of Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Belfast, West said, it is an exceptionally compelling issue as well as a dangerous one. It is one about which I have thought, and continue to think, a great deal. I echo what the hon. Member for Londonderry said about the casualties that his constituency unhappily suffered today. I am sure that the House will join me in expressing our revulsion at these murders and in extending our sympathy to the families of the soldiers killed today. I assure the House that the security forces will relentlessly pursue those responsible and will do everything possible to bring them to justice.

Both hon. Members referred to the security forces. The hon. Member for Londonderry in particular referrred to the level of the forces. I assure him that this is always under review. It goes up and down according to circumstances and can be adjusted at short notice if necessary. However, it would be wrong of me to make any reference to a statement, and the proposals in it, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make on Monday. To that extent, the hon. Member for Londonderry expressed a view without knowing exactly what was to be proposed.

Any initiative in Northern Ireland is extremely important. The Cabinet and my right hon. Friends, especially the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I have spent much time considering what would be the best way of making progress and whether it would be better to make a move or to wait. As is known, we have come to a conclusion and the proposals will be presented to the House on Monday. Thereafter there will be various opportunities to debate them. I do not think that it would be right for me to comment in detail about the new proposals.

The first foreign affairs issue to be raised was E1 Salvador. It was referred to by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who opened the debate. The fact that we have sent observers does not mean that there is any question of our accepting any responsibility. The hon. Gentleman continued rather accusatorialy to say that the Government should be bringing the parties together. We cannot do that if we are not there. From that point of view, the hon. Gentleman should concede that there was a certain amount of common sense in sending observers. In any event, we sent them because we felt that there was a need to make an independent assessment of an important event in a country that is of increasing concern here and in other countries. Our observers are completely free to report whatever they have found. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall publish the report when it is produced.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to the West Bank and the encouragement that has been given by the visit of my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary. The West Bank is important and relevant to a foreign affairs debate, which I hope might be arranged before Whitsun.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) spoke about the Falkland Islands. I have arranged for the House to be kept informed of the developments so far, and I shall continue to do that. I am sure that the entire House shares the hon. Gentleman's anxiety and will wish to echo his call for co-operation. We shall do everything that we can to look after British interests, and we are taking all diplomatic measures at our disposal to achieve a satisfactory and peaceful resolution of the dispute. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for calling attention to the issue.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North began by talking about unemployment in his constituency. It was the only reference to unemployment save for that of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris). I agree that it remains perhaps the most important domestic issue. The Government are tackling it fundamentally. Much of it arises from the economic weaknesses from which, as the entire House knows, we have suffered for many years--low productivity, lack of competitiveness and paying ourselves more than the value of what we produce. That is part of it. The world recession is also a contributory factor.

There is no point in dressing up unemployment by producing false jobs. We must make ourselves competitive so that we can create real orders and real jobs, and that is what we are trying to do.

When the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), made his last ministerial speech in replying to a similar motion prior to the Christmas recess 1980, when he went out of his way to defend the Government's employment policy, it did not do him much good.

I do not know the relevance of that intervention.

My hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) and Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to immigration. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) asked for a debate on the subject. There was a debate on the Scarman report, which is only one aspect of the immigration problem. However, last Session the British Nationality Bill was passing through the House, and there were many opportunities when the subject could have been debated.

My hon. Friend complained that the merits of immigration had not been discussed for some time. Throughout the 1960s, when it mattered, immigration was continually debated. I attended the debates. More than one Bill was enacted and there was considerable discussion and controversy. However, the merits of debating immigration now seem weaker than before. Last time we debated such matters, my late hon. and learned Friend who was the Member for Beaconsfield, Sir Ronald Bell, made the same request. I was unable to give him a very encouraging reply and it would be wrong to say that I foresee an opportunity in the near future for a substantial debate on that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood referred to the immigration rules. As he probably knows, the Government expect the British Nationality Act to come into force on 1 January 1983. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering the changes that will be required in the immigration rules and will announce his decision nearer that time. However, I do not know whether he will do so before the May day bank holiday. We believe that we have a strong argument for resisting the challenges made under the European Convention on Human Rights, and such matters are very much in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) referred to local government and to value for money—fundamental issue in the minds of many hon. Members. He referred to privatisation and to reducing the size of the public sector. That is very much part of the Government's strategy and purpose. However, such matters can perhaps best be dealt with, to some extent, in the context of the rating review, which is all about local government finance. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will take account of the useful ideas put forward by my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned prostitution in his constituency. No doubt the problem affects other constituencies. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary does not think it right to make any decision on the need for legislation or on the form of legislation before the Criminal Law Revision Committee and the Policy Advisory Committee on Sexual Offences complete their review of the present law. I understand that the Criminal Law Revision Committee hopes to publish a working paper within the first half of the year, inviting comment on its provisional proposals. Prostitution is a continuing problem and it is difficult to deal with it. The hon. Gentleman proposed that the police should be given certain additional powers. I shall bring that point to the attention of the Home Secretary so that it can be considered. A review by the Law Commission is the right way to proceed and that will be forthcoming within the reasonably near future. That is the next stage.

The hon. Member for Tooting also referred to Cyprus. He is right to say that it is taking a very long time to resolve the issue. Of course, several parties are involved. However strong our desire and however hard we work at achieving it, that in itself is not enough to resolve the problem. However, the intercommunal talks under the auspices of the Secretary General of the United Nations are continuing in Nicosia and the Government are giving their fullest support to that work. We cannot necessarily be optimistic about the outcome in the immediate future, but we shall make efforts and take every step possible to resolve the issue. That is the best answer that I can give.

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North referred to the death grant and the consultative document that has just been published. In preferring the course outlined in the document, the Government's objective is to devise a new system that helps those most in need and at the same time makes the best use of available resources. It is a consultative document. The hon. Gentleman thinks that we should have decided something and done something, but we think that the subject is more controversial than that. The idea is to allow a period of three months or a little more for consultation.

The Government will welcome not only comments on what is in the document, but constructive alternatives. If there is a better alternative, it is open to the hon. Gentleman—or, indeed, to anyone—to put proposals forward. However, what the hon. Gentleman has said, and the constructive comments that he has made, show what a complicated issue it is and how sensible it is for us to proceed in this way. In the end, whatever is decided will be to some extent controversial. It seems to the Government that on such an issue we should have the broadest support possible.

Is the Leader of the House saying that the Government are prepared to reconsider the preferred option within that consultative document? Are the Government saying that at this stage they have a competely open mind on the question of the death grant?

I am saying that the Government are open to suggestions and are ready to discuss alternatives to the White Paper. We have thought about it a great deal. It has taken a long time. That criticism is completely fair. It is not only we who have taken a long time; the Labour Government were no less guilty than we are. That in itself is perhaps evidence, if anybody wants it, of just how complicated this matter is.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East raised the issue of the railways and the grant to be made to British Rail. I said this afternoon that I would look again into the question of the written answer, and that I will certainly do. However, when I looked into it before it seemed to me to be a perfectly normal and proper way in which to inform the House. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not wish to avoid an oral statement being made or a discussion in the House. However, we must limit the number of oral statements. Today we were debating under the guillotine and it seemed to me that adequate time would have to be given to the completion of the remaining stages of the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill.

The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the steeply rising costs on the railways the effect that they might have on some of the branch lines and the shortage of resources. That is absolutely true. However, he made no suggestion about where any extra money should come from. Our resources are limited nationally and all Governments have the job of deciding their priorities. Our purpose is not to provide more money from the taxpayer, but to try to help the railways operate on as commercial a basis as possible. There is no way that some fare rises can be avoided in the future. The taxpayer, the ratepayer, and all who contribute public money would say that we do not want any more burdens in order to pay more out to the railways.

I say again what I said this afternoon. This seems to me to be a wholly suitable subject for the Opposition to suggest for debate on a Supply day. The general topic of public transport is of wide interest and of great importance and it causes much anxiety. However, the Government will do everything that they can to help British Rail and other public utilities operate to the maximum extent on a commercial basis and with the greatest possible efficiency.

Data protection is another particularly complicated subject. It is quite true that the Government have said for some time that a White Paper will be published soon. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made it clear that it is a highly complicated subject. He expressed a number of rather strongly held personal opinions. I think that when the White Paper is published, and when the House comes to grips with the complexities of this subject, it will be found to be difficult.

Perhaps it will give the hon. Gentleman some encouragement to know that the intention is to publish the White Paper next week. That will be the beginning of a substantial series of debates, certainly in public, and, no doubt, at some point in the House, on what is a vital, intensely interesting and highly complicated matter. I think that the news about the publication of the White Paper next week is the best answer that I can give to the hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) referred to the South-West regional boundaries. He gave an excellent description of the distinctive and exceptional character of the far South-West within the South-West region. I am not sure whether it is simple to change the definition of a region for statistical purposes. In fact, that might be administratively quite difficult. However, I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend also referred to discussions in Brussels about Commission proposals. Those discussions are still at an early stage. We would not wish to see the introduction of any new scheme that would put Devon and Cornwall at a disadvantage. The discussions will continue and will take some time, but my right hon. Friend will keep my hon. Friend's point very much in mind.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) referred to property in London and made a strong case about the condition of housing that is now the responsibility of Hackney. He said that that authority has very little money available to repair those properties and that not enough resources are available. The hon. Gentleman expressed the problem graphically. I do not think that my right hon. Friend will be able to conjure up additional resources. Indeed, his principal struggle at present—the Government give him their full support—is to restrain the ever-rising temptation of all authorities to spend too much money. That does not alter the importance of what the hon. Gentleman said about the standard of the housing to which he referred and the need to do something about it. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) referred to the price of petrol in rural areas. I know that he has returned to his constituency. I shall certainly take that matter on board.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) spoke about the tourist industry and the need to help it. That is perhaps the sort of note on which we should end a debate such as this. I know that some hon. Members will spend the Easter Recess fairly modestly by staying at home and minding their own business, which I always regard as the soundest advice anyone can give a Member of Parliament.

I hope that the House will feel that the proposal in the motion is entirely right and that, come the end of next week, the recess will be welcome. All the important matters that have been raised will receive the thought that I am sure they deserve.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House at its rising on Thursday 8th April do adjourn till Monday 19th April and at its rising on Friday 30th April do adjourn till Tuesday 4th May and that this House shall not adjourn on Thursday 8th April until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.

Northern Ireland (Higher Education)

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

11.12 pm

I am glad to have the opportunity of bringing forward a matter of vital importance to higher education in Northern Ireland and, indeed, to the rest of the United Kingdom. I am convinced that the extraordinary response of the Minister responsible for education in Ulster to the Chilver report on higher education in Northern Ireland embraces a number of concepts that are dangerous and must be exposed immediately.

The Government's response is dangerous both because of what it says and because of the underlying implications to be found in many of their comments. I accuse the Government of having arrived at a decision on the merger between the new University of Ulster and the Ulster polytechnic without proper consultation, despite the fact that the decision must have a fundamental effect on higher education in Northern Ireland and, perhaps, throughout the United Kingdom.

Of course, the proposals have been dressed up by the Northern Ireland press office in such a way as to suggest that the Ulster people ought to thank the Government for saving the new university and for creating some sort of new institution, but in truth the Government have put a gun to the head of the new university, in effect saying "Either you agree to a merger with the poly or you close down". It is an ultimatum, not a choice. The new University of Ulster has no alternative now, despite its misgivings, but to take part in the discussions, which will take place under the chairmanship of an independent chairman to discuss the proposed merger with the Ulster polytechnic.

It means, I fear, that this mean manoeuvre by the Government—for that is what it is—could have wider implications. It might be a forerunner to similar forced amalgamations in Great Britain. Already six or seven universities are seriously under-provided with funds during the next few years. I warn those universities that what is proposed in Northern Ireland may be a softening-up process to make the precarious mainland universities more amenable to subsisting on a reduced income, knowing that the alternative may be a shotgun marriage with a polytechnic, as proposed in Northern Ireland.

Why change the nature of the Ulster polytechnic? It already has an assured future in its present form, being one of the most successful of the 31 polytechnics in the United Kingdom. It is directly funded by the Department of Education, and it has achieved pre-eminence in many aspects of practical and technical education. However, its present size, the number of students and courses, and the amount of money that it receives may be significantly reduced in an amalgamation with the new University of Ulster. I fear that the proposed creation of a new institution is a device to enable the Government to place financial and other restrictions on the Ulster polytechnic. The Ulster polytechnic at present may be basking in a glow of the prospect of becoming part of a university, but it will be rudely awakened by reality, if the proposed amalgamation goes ahead.

First the Minister seems to recognise that the Government made a tactical error in encouraging the Chilver committee to produce an interim report on teacher training. The interim report gave the impression that teacher training and education are somehow outside higher education, and that it is only the lucky few potential teachers who get to a university. Worse than that, the interim report encouraged the backward-looking bigots of the Irish hierarchy to creep out from behind their false facade of non-sectarian benevolence to demand that Roman Catholic student teachers should be kept in religious servitude to guarantee the continuation of the religious apartheid in education in Northern Ireland. The hierarchy, in a hysterical campaign in which allegations were made of discrimination by the Government against the Roman Catholic Church, told everyone who would listen that the Government's prime duty was the education and training of potential teachers in a strict denominational mould, at the expense of the British taxpayer.

The clear answer to this sectarian rubbish—for rubbish it is—is that the Government of a democratic State have no such responsibility. The clear responsibility of the Government is to provide non-sectarian education institutions, and I regret that the Government have capitulated to those who wish to maintain the sectarian divide in education in Northern Ireland.

Secondly, I felt that the Minister, in reading the statement, was despairing over the two greatest and most valuable characteristics of British universities—their independence and academic autonomy. Of course, a university is not a financially independent institution. It must operate within the financial restraints imposed by Government. In Britain, the University Grants Committee has the essential role of standing between the Government, as paymaster, and the university, as beneficiary of the funds. That Committee stands in the middle and tries to ensure that the Government do not abuse their financial power and the universities do not abuse their privileges. Unfortunately, the statutory remit of that Committee does not include Northern Ireland. I have complained about that in the past.

Funds are provided directly in Northern Ireland by the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture. The advice of the University Grants Committee is taken up by the Northern Ireland Office only if it can afford it. Of course, the system is wide open to political manipulation. A wise vice-chancellor in Ulster no doubt cultivates the friendship of the political head of the Department of Education, as well as that of the chairman of the UGC.

Therefore, universities in Northern Ireland are not as politically independent of Government as they are elsewhere in the United Kingdom. However, Northern Ireland universities are as academically autonomous as their counterparts in Great Britain. Their functions, privileges and responsibilities are defined by Royal charter. The senate and faculties are free to decide the syllabus for every course that the university decides to provide. There is no Council for National Academic Awards, Business Education Council or Technical Education Council able to become involved in these decisions, as happens with polytechnics. No outside body has the right to tell a university how it should design its courses, although some professional bodies are occasionally and naturally invited by the University Senate to consult them.

Every member of academic staff is free to teach his subject in whatever manner he considers best, provided that it is within the syllabus and curriculum. Every member of the academic staff is expected to carry out personal research. That is important and, of course, does not apply to a polytechnic.

These matters are important because the Government are proposing an amalgamation between a polytechnic, which is 40 miles from the university. It is not possible to achieve that amalgamation. The third problem I thought the Minister was contending against was the practical difficulty of a merger. British universities—and the two universities in Ulster are no different—possess the unparalleled responsibility and privilege of being able to accept or reject students at their own discretion. That makes it possible to keep the number of students and facilities in a reasonable balance. Polytechnics do not have that privilege and power. If the proposed new institution is to be a university, there will be no automatic right of qualified students to enter it. The automatic right of entry into a polytechnic is correct and proper for the senior technician student doing a business or technical education level course or a Council for National Academic Award degree or diploma course.

Whatever one may think about a student's reason for choice, the academically qualified students will go to a university in preference to a polytechnic. The existence of the Council for National Academic Awards has diminished the difference between universities and other institutions, but some important and valuable distinctions still remain. The status of a university degree, which a university can award, gives the university an academic reputation which the polytechnic can emulate but cannot surpass.

The distinctive features of the two sorts of institutions are paramount in the minds of students, staff, employers or potential employers. Any merger between them could only be to the grave disadvantage of the university and curtail the innovatory spirit of the polytechnic. A university must be basically a centre for learning and culture. It should not be expected to respond to short-term social and economic needs. That is the function of a polytechnic that deals with the here and now whereas a university should concern itself with the forever.

I should like now to turn to the comments made by the Minister in the statement that he issued at the time of the publication of the Chilver report. Paragraph 4.1(B) says that the deep-rooted traditions and attitudes of Queen's University could not lend themselves to its developing into a split-site institution. One wonders if the Minister has ever heard of the collegiate system or of the American system of university integration. The campuses at Berkeley and Sacramento are both parts of the University of California. I hope that the Minister is treating the matter seriously. I intend, like others, to return to it.

This is very different from a split-site campus. The new University of Ulster has struggled for years with the problem of Magee College. With the best will in the world, no solution was found. The additional cost to the new University of Ulster was, I think, about £500,000 each year to maintain Magee College but with no additional financial assistance from the Government to meet that responsibility. As a separate institution integrated with the Londonderry College of Technology, Magee College would have a better prospect. It should be remembered that the technical college has always trained a number of teachers of commercial subjects. Like many technical colleges in Great Britain, there is always the prospect of developing CNAA degree and diploma courses in a combined Magee and technical college institution.

On the one hand, the Minister seems to deplore the fact that 60 per cent. of students at the Ulster Polytechnic are doing degree-level work. On the other, he uses this fact as an argument for merger with the new university. He cannot deploy his arguments in both directions. The question that seems to have concerned the Government is whether it is educationally sound sense for the Ulster Polytechnic to have degree level work that attracts 60 per cent. of its students.

This state of affairs happened for two reasons. First, the existence of the Council for National Academic Awards encouraged the polytechnics to devise degree courses. Secondly, the Ulster College Act that created the Ulster Polytechnic provided no means by which the Department of Education could curtail the development of degree courses. We had the situation that within 10 miles of Queen's University a new institution was created which could develop the same range of degree courses. There is a heavy concentration of higher education institutions in the Belfast area to the detriment of the west of Ulster. That is why the new University of Ulster is so essential for the west of Ulster. Sadly, the Government propose to demean it by making it an instrument through which they seem to intend to control the Ulster Polytechnic.

The new university is criticised in the Chilver report because its range of courses lacks vocational and professional studies. What hope had the university, tied as it was to the University Grants Committee critria, against the generously financed polytechnic close to Belfast which took over existing higher national certificate and diploma courses from the Belfast College of Technology? The House can well imagine the outcry that would have come from the polytechnic governors and others had the new university encroached on what they regard as their preserve—that is, the vocational technician type course that is just below degree level.

At paragraph 3.12 we are told that the chairman of the University Grants Committee shares the Government's view that
"more radical measures are necessary in order to give a worthwhile and cost effective role for a major education provision outside the Belfast area.
" The implication of that sentence is that the University Grants Committee chairman has approved the proposal to merge the university with the polytechnic. I see no evidence in the Government's statement that the University Grants Committee was involved in discussions about the future of the New University after the publication of the Chilver report, if indeed it was involved before its publication.

I see no evidence that the Association of Commonwealth Universities was involved at any stage. Of course, that association has seen the amalgamation of several groups of universities and could have been of great assistance in providing information on this subject.

For over 60 years the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has represented the collective views of the universities to the Government and to Parliament. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House why that committee was not consulted before publication of the Government paper. I should have thought that such consultation was particularly important when a Government are contemplating a proposal either to close a university or to force its amalgamation with a non-university institution.

I urge the Minister to withdraw his proposal which will hurt the West of Ulster. There is a great deal at stake here which is more important than public expenditure cuts. There is a grave danger that the reputation of the New University of Ulster will suffer and that its degrees will be devalued as a result of a merger. This will not only have an effect on future recruitment but it will adversely affect the students already there. To all intents and purposes it will have ceased to be a traditional university.

The new University has had to contend with tremendous difficulties since its creation. The exodus of 18-year-old boys and girls from Northern Ireland, prompted by 13 years of terrorism and rising unemployment, was the main cause of the slow development of the New University. That exodus is a drain which could change the social and political face of Northern Ireland in less than a generation. If the Government are truly concerned, they ought to provide a special additional grant to encourage young people to stay in Ulster and attend the two local universities.

The New University is financially and academically viable in UGC terms. There are almost 2,000 full-time students there. The Stormont White Paper issued in 1976 envisaged a target between 2,000 and 3,000 students. There are part-time students at the New University as well. If more students are required, the three sectarian teacher training colleges should have been closed, as I have demanded for years, especially as the cost of running them is exorbitantly high for the number of students involved, and the students placed in an enlarged teacher training unit at the New University.

What about the 407 students from Eire who are at higher education colleges in Great Britain at the cost of £1 million per year to the British taxpayer? They could be directed to the New University which provides university education for 2,000 students at a cost of approximately £7 million. Thus the Government would effect a considerable saving.

The Government's proposed merger of the New University with the Ulster Polytechnic is a polite way of scourging the university—no matter what the Government may say—of controlling the cost of the polytechnic and of letting the Minister off the hook with regard to the future of the sectarian teacher training colleges. To achieve a framework which will satisfy the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the Minister proposes to downgrade the New University of Ulster which has in most difficult times earned a reputation which does honour to Ulster and its people.

It is a sad day for Ulster when liberal institutions of learning are being sacrificed to appease the bigots and those who seek further public expenditure cuts in an area which has suffered considerably from economic paralysis. I urge the Minister to drop these proposals or at least to reconsider them. A new Stormont assembly is about to be created. The Government seem to have great faith in it. I would have thought that this was a matter about which the Government should make no decision but leave it to that assembly.

11.34 pm

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the future of higher education in Northern Ireland and I congratulate the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) on his good fortune in being able to raise the subject on the Adjournment. There will be other opportunities to debate the matter in the Northern Ireland Committee later in the year. I hope that those discussions will take place on a basis of greater reality than we have been treated to by the hon. Gentleman for the past 20 minutes.

Talk of dangerous policies, guns to the head and so on is very far removed from the broad, if guarded, welcome that the Government's proposals have received in educational circles in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I welcome the constructive approach that those involved in education in Northern Ireland have taken to a difficult situation which, I believe, can be turned to the substantial advantage of all those involved in higher education in the Province in the future.

The suggestion that the decision has been rushed, when the Chilver committee was set up three and a half years ago, took a great deal of evidence and engaged in all kinds of discussions before producing its proposals, is also very wide of the mark.

As I have said, there will be opportunities for the Northern Ireland Committee to discuss the implementation of the Government's decision, but informal discussions with those involved in implementing the decision will begin immediately.

I reject wholeheartedly the pessimistic approach of the hon. Member for Down, North. There is no question of damaging education in the west of the Province or demeaning the status of the new institution.

Having said that, I shall go on to deal with some of the detailed issues involved.

I shall give way, but as I have been left only about seven minutes in which to reply to the debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's intervention will be brief.

The Minister speaks of the implementation of the Government's view. Is he therefore saying that the Government have made up their mind and that what we have already heard is now firm Government policy for the new New University and the polytechnic?

That is precisely the position. The Government have made up their mind on the fundamental principle, but we shall of course consult all those involved about the implementation of it.

On teacher training, I am bound to say that I resented the hysterical attack by the hon. Member for Down, Noll h on the attitude of the hierarchy in Northern Ireland. We have a problem which the partners in education and teacher training in Northern Ireland will have to solve, in that there is room for twice as many teachers in training as are needed or likely to be needed in the foreseeable future. There is a great need for closer co-operation between the providers. The suggestions of Sir Henry Chilver's interim group, which I still believe would be a sensible way forward, were nevertheless not an end, but a means to an end, in achieving that co-operation and to achieve a continuing high standard of teacher training in Northern Ireland.

We cannot go on with a staff-student ratio in Northern Ireland roughly twice as favourable as that which pertains on the mainland. The economies of the situation will certainly not allow us to sustain that position much longer and the discussions that I have been having with all the suppliers of teacher training in Northern Ireland must soon be brought to a close. In that context, I certainly believe that here, as in the wider sphere of higher education, prolonged uncertainty would be highly damaging.

I think that the background to the Chilver report is widely understood by those hon. Members present. When Sir Henry Chilver's group presented its report to me in January, I was very conscious of the fact that, since I was given responsibility for education some six months ago, all the institutions of higher education in Northern Ireland had been pressing me to realise how damaging it would be for continued uncertainty to prevail. Therefore, particularly as we are approaching the second half of the academic year and institutions are making plans for the future, I am sure that it was important and right that we should move to an early decision.

In Great Britain, each university has been given detailed guidelines by the University Grants Committee as to its future role and development. While we were awaiting the publication of the Chilver report it was not possible for Northern Ireland universities to be given such guidelines, although the same financial constraints and the same demographic trends were apparent in Northern Ireland as elsewhere. Simply to have allowed uncertainty to continue for a longer period would have been very damaging.

After examining Sir Henry Chilver's proposals, I did not believe that to have allowed the New University of Ulster to go on as suggested in that report, with a total enrolment of 1,000 to 1,500 students, as a totally new type of university, would have given it the guaranteed viability for the future that is necessary if we are to have a strong second university in Northern Ireland. That university would have been about half the size of the smallest universities in Great Britain and it would have been vulnerable to every sort of academic or economic storm that blew up. Now we have a chance to have a second university in Northern Ireland that can give security and stability for the future.

The new institution will be a university. I believe that it can combine the strengths of the NUU, which are substantial. In making this proposal we are not criticising the NUU, which has developed some strong aspects to its work. It had the grave misfortune of trying to develop its work at a time when there were troubles in the Province, and when nothing like the number of students from Great Britain or elsewhere were being attracted to higher education in Northern Ireland, for reasons that had nothing to do with academic standards, but everything to do with the political and security climate. Those who have been working at the NUU since its foundation deserve our tributes and our compliments.

The new institution can combine those strengths as well as the innovative strengths that the polytechnic has brought. One matter that occurred to us as soon as we examined the Chilver report was why, in a small province the size of Northern Ireland, with 1·5 million inhabitants, we needed to duplicate the binary system that exists here, as all the institutions of higher education in Northern Ireland are directly financed by the Department of Education.

One matter with which I am anxious to deal before the debate ends is the provision of academic continuity and the right of progression for students embarking on courses at the two institutions that are to be merged. The Government's statement made it clear that steps must be taken to ensure that students who have embarked on courses will not be at a disadvantage because of the changes. No matter what arrangements are made and what consultations take place, it is essential that there is a commitment to the students who are or will be in the system before the merger becomes effective. There can be no question of any students being left high and dry. I am glad to give that undertaking this evening.

There is also the separate but related matter of staff redundancies. It is difficult at this stage to estimate the staffing implications until the details of courses and the structure of new institutions are resolved, but, bearing in mind the financial constraints to which higher education is subject and the demographic trends of the 18 and 19-year age group with which we are confronted, any additional constraints on staffing as a result of the merger are likely to be very undramatic.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at seventeen minutes to Twelve o'clock.