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Commons Chamber

Volume 19: debated on Sunday 4 April 1982

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House Of Commons

Thursday 4 March 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Lloyd's Bill (By Order)

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time upon Tuesday 9 March at Seven o'clock

ALEXANDRA PARK AND PALACE BILL (By Order)

LONDON TRANSPORT (LIVERPOOL STREET) BILL
(By Order)

SEVERN-TRENT WATER AUTHORITY BILL (By Order)

GREATER LONDON COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS)
(No. 2) BILL (By Order)

TEES AND HARTLEPOOL PORT AUTHORITY BILL
(By Order)

BRITISH TRANSPORT DOCKS BILL (By Order)

FELTHAM STATION AREA REDEVELOPMENT
(LONGFORD RIVER) BILL (By Order)

Cumbria Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 11 March.

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Price Increases

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied with progress in the discussions with his European Economic Community colleagues about the next round of agricultural price increases.

I refer my hon. Friend to the statement I made to the House on 18 February 1982.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the whole issue of agricultural prices is a ratchet with which to obtain concessions on other fundamental issues in the Community? Does he envisage, in the end, accepting a price increase of below 9 per cent. in order to obtain concessions on Britain's long-term budgetary contributions?

No, Sir. I have made it clear that the proposals in their present form, which would include a green pound revaluation of 4 per cent. and would mean that British farmers would obtain price increases way below the 9 per cent. proposed by the Commission, are completely unacceptable to the British Government.

When will the Minister announce the conclusions of this year's price review?

I am not in a position to do that, because it depends on the actions and views of nine other Member countries and the Commission. I am not sure when all these views will coincide, but I hope that it will be as soon as possible.

Why has the Minister so enthusiastically welcomed the Commission's action in taking the French to court? Should we not follow something of the French lead in adopting national aids which would, at least, give aid where it is needed in the industry as well as helping the consumer? Should the right hon. Gentleman not now be pressing the Chancellor to reduce interest rates, the cost of which to the farmer has trebled over the past four years?

I am relieved to hear the hon. Member proposing more public expenditure on agriculture, which is in sharp contrast to other Labour proposals, such as agricultural re-rating. In the Community market in which we operate it is completely unfair for a Government to subsidise its farmers and create unfair competition with other farmers.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his remarks concerning the unacceptability of the green pound revaluation will be well received by agriculture? Does he agree that the massive green pound differential engendered by the Labour Government, resulting in enormous negative MCA's, did massive damage to United Kingdom agriculture? Is he aware that the industry needs this respite to make up the difference?

Yes, Sir. There is no doubt that a long period of negative MCA's was very damaging to British agriculture's prospects both in the home and overseas markets. I am glad to say that since we reversed that policy we have improved our self-sufficiency to the extent of an improvement in our balance of payments of £1,000 million a year.

Unfit Meat (Staining)

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the pet food industry in regard to the staining of unfit meat.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

Representatives of the pet food industry have indicated that they would not be opposed to a requirement to stain material emanating from knackers' yards and unfit carcase meat, but no offals, emanating from slaughterhouses. They have also commented on the type of stain which might be appropriate for this purpose.

The House will be delighted with that positive response from the pet food industry, but does the Minister appreciate that while dogs are colour blind and unable to distinguish between green and violet—the suggested colours for staining purposes—dog owners might object to having to put out violet or green food for their pets? Will the Minister reassure pet owners that, whatever staining takes place, the colour can be removed by the pet food industry and that there will be no difference in the food's appearance?

The Government are still considering what stain should be prescribed. We shall take account of the preference of pet food manufacturers for a stain that disappears when the meat is heat treated and therefore does not give an unacceptable appearance to the pet food. We shall, however, wish to choose a stain that is immediately identifiable on raw meat.

Has the Minister had a chance to see a letter from a worker at Heathrow, which refers to illegal trafficking in uncooked meat by Qantas Airways via Bombay and Bahrain? Is she prepared to take action to see that this illegal trafficking is stopped?

The Government are most anxious that illegal trade in unfit meat should be prevented. We are preparing revised meat sterilisation regulations with the utmost urgency to stop any illegal trade in unfit meat. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are supporting his Bill to increase the penalties for these offences.

Milk

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proportion of the recent milk price increase will be paid to the farmer; and how this proportion will change after 31 March 1982.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

Of the extra revenue generated by the increase, the Milk Marketing Board will receive about 73 per cent. I cannot yet say how this proportion will change as a result of the spring review.

I am grateful for that reply. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the profit margins of both the producer and the dairy trades industry are under severe pressure? Will he bear in mind, in any future increase in the price of a pint of milk, that our unique doorstep delivery is vital not only as a social service but to farmers?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have struck, through the Binder-Hamlyn negotiation, a sensible and objective balance between the different interests. Only if the dairy producer and distributor prosper will the housewife and the consumer be sure of a proper and continuing service.

I am pleased to hear the Minister's remark about a continuing service. Is he aware, however, that the increase in milk prices will affect consumption in my constituency, where there is mass unemployment and where masses more people are on short-time working? They will find difficulty in meeting the price of milk. What is the Minister's view of the effect of the increase on lower-income groups and the unemployed?

I invite the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that the increase in the retail price of milk in January was the first for a year and that it amounted to only 8 per cent., well below the level of inflation. If the hon. Gentleman does not want milk producers and distributors to be able to recover their costs, I hope that he will have the courage to say so.

My right hon. Friend will have heard the European Commission's latest proposals on co-responsibility. Will he make it clear that these proposals are completely unacceptable to the House and to our dairy farmers? Does he agree that the whole question of co-responsibility levies should be re-examined as a matter of urgency?

We have the gravest reservations about what has been proposed by the Commission and supported by other countries on the co-responsibility levy. The effect is to discriminate against more efficient producers in the Community, including our own. It is significant that other countries, notably the Netherlands and Denmark, share our view strongly.

Does the Minister recognise that the objective must be to maximise the consumption of milk in the interests of consumers and producers? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is doing enough to defend the doorstep delivery side of the industry, which has had a difficult time and is still under long-term threat from possible bulk imports of milk from the Continent? What is the Minister's stance on the doorstep delivery system?

The Government are absolutely resolute in their defence of doorstep deliveries and of the tremendously good service that it provides for consumers. It is significant that the results of the Binder-Hamlyn review were agreed by both sections of the industry. I hope that this underpins the future of doorstep deliveries. The House will be aware of the strong stand that the Government are taking on milk imports in relation to the threats made in the European Court.

Farm Workers (Earnings)

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the rate of increase in real terms of farm workers' earnings.

I am satisfied that the level of farm workers' earnings strikes a fair balance between the interests of employers and employees in agriculture.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there have been enormous improvements in productivity in agriculture over recent years, especially in comparison with other industries? Is she aware that farm workers have played a crucial role in co-operating towards that achievement and that, in the process, they have improved substantially their skills and responsibilities? Will she ensure that the efforts of those concerned are fully recognised in future negotiations?

I readily acknowledge that farm workers have made a notable contribution to agriculture's record of increased productivity. The reward for improved productivity is a matter for individual employers and employees.

In view of what the Minister says, is it not a disgrace that the average earnings of farm workers are now £30 a week below the average earnings of industrial workers and that the gap is getting wider? Is it not an absolute scandal that more farm workers receive family income supplement than any other single group of workers, despite their fantastic production record?

I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Lady's figures, but the gap between agricultural and industrial earnings is narrowing. In 1970 farm workers' earnings were about 70 per cent. of industrial earnings. In 1981 they were about 80 per cent. The agriculture and fishing industries contain the second largest group of two-parent families receiving family income supplement. The figures have to be interpreted with care, because they include agriculture and fisheries, and self-employed and part-time agricultural workers.

Is it not correct that both sides of the agricultural wages board have acknowledged that the board is serving the industry well? Does not the harmony in the industry reflect this basic satisfaction?

Yes, indeed. I am satisfied that the board has a wide enough brief to consider all the factors in making its awards. I have complete confidence in the board and its chairman.

Does the Minister not accept that farm workers are skilled workers and that the industry, under successive Governments, has consistently underpaid them? Has she seen a written answer that I received from her right hon. Friend, which shows that, with the exception of the Irish Republic, farm workers in the United Kingdom are the worst paid in the EEC? Will she join me in urging all farm workers to join the Transport and General Workers Union, with which the agricultural workers union has recently decided to merge, so that the TGWU can advance farm workers' interests as effectively as the National Farmers Union advances those of farmers?

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised if I do not support any of his latter remarks. I note his comment about agricultural wages. The Agricultural Wages Board is independent and autonomous. It has a wide representation of employers and employees. I am satisfied that those employers and employees and all the interests in agriculture have ample opportunity to make their cases to the board.

Foreign Fishing Boats

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he proposes to take steps to prevent part of the United Kingdom total allowable catch being taken by foreign fishing boats registering in the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, who is responsible for registration, is seeking to ensure that the owners of certain fishing boats are properly entitled to claim British registration and that their vessels fully comply with the rules that such registration imposes.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that that answer will be warmly welcomed? Will he assure the House that he will continue to press the Department of Trade for something to be done about this practice? Is he aware that the fishing industry is greatly annoyed that foreigners should so abuse our rules and regulations? The British public also do not like foreigners coming in and playing our rules so unfairly.

This is a matter about which I am deeply concerned. The past year saw a growth in this practice, particularly involving former Spanish vessels. In addition to what my right hon. Friend is already doing, a review is taking place of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. A consultation document has been issued and the fishing industry has been invited to comment on it. I shall be working closely with my right hon. Friend on this matter, which needs to be dealt with resolutely.

Has the Minister taken note of the gross excess of the catches over some of the quotas that were informally agreed last October and of the particular countries whose boats were responsible for the most serious of those excesses?

I have and I regard as thoroughly unsatisfactory the way in which some of the proposed quotas have been exceeded by particular countries. The Government have made their view clear on this to the Commission, and this underlines the fact that if we are to have effective conservation we must have it on a basis that is agreed and enforced internationally.

Crops (Market Support)

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which agricultural crops have required market support in the past year.

The information requested is given in table 25 of the annual review of agriculture 1982 White Paper. This gives details, including a breakdown by product, of public expenditure under the common agricultural policy and on national grants and subsidies.

Does the Minister agree that this market support gives farmers confidence to plan ahead and gives a great deal of help with our balance of payments?

Yes. I am glad to say that there has been a substantial improvement in our self-sufficiency in food. In the last few years that has improved our balance of payments by £1,000 million a year.

Is what the Minister has so far been able to do for the horticultural section of the industry sufficient to offset the huge subsidies given by the Dutch for their gas heating? Is the industry yet in a stable position, and has the Minister taken into account the fact that despite these problems the Dutch workers are still paid 50 per cent. more than their British counterparts?

We are expecting an agreement, perhaps this coming week, on the problem of the Dutch gas subsidy. I hope that it will solve this problem permanently. Unless that happens at the meeting on 15 March, legal action will be taken against the Dutch. Unlike a number of competing countries I have given our horticulture industry the full extent of national aid allowed by the Commission.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many farmers have suffered complete crop losses and that, apart from those in Wales, the South-West and Scotland, who will be fairly compensated, they will get no compensation from Community funds for the severe damage they sustained in December and January? That applies particularly to those who produce vegetables, as do many of the growers in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend lobby Brussels to see whether further Euro funds, over and above those announced by his right hon. Friend on 22 February 1982, can be found for this purpose?

A decision has been taken. No further Euro funds will be available. I am glad to say that over the country as a whole farming losses resulting from the bad weather have proved to be far smaller than were expected at the time. I hope that all parts of the House will be pleased at that. The aid given by the European Community is not confined just to Scotland and Wales.

Does the Minister have any difficulty in reconciling his attitude on agriculture, which is propped up by Government intervention, and what he said about agriculture assisting in maintaining a balance of trade surplus as a result of that Government intervention, with the opposite philosophy put forward by the rest of the Cabinet, who are arguing that Government intervention in industry is bad. There was a balance of trade deficit with the EEC in semi-manufactured and manufactured goods of £2½ billion in the last financial year. How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile those two views?

I am delighted to say that in all the policies I pursue I have the enthusiastic support of all my Cabinet colleagues.

Fishing Industry (Aid)

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received from the fishing industry in England and Wales about financial aid.

My right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland met representatives of the fishing industry on 17 February. My right hon. Friend has also received written submissions from several bodies, including the main organisations representing fishermen.

Has the Minister and his right hon. Friends had time, since those meetings and the other meetings that many other hon. Members attended on 17 February, to prepare a response to the arguments of the industry? Does he recognise that all the difficulties faced by the industry are not of its making but are the results of such problems as failing to get a satisfactory common fisheries policy? Will he recognise in his response that many of the problems apply just as strongly to vessels of less than 80 ft. as they do to the larger vessels?

Submissions have been received that bring in a variety of information, and it will take a little time to study that information and put it all together. The study has not yet been completed, but I assure the hon. Member and the House that as soon as it has been we shall come to a decision.

The general problems facing the fishing industry are something that must be recognised in our negotiations with Europe, which, in previous years has given us generous support.

Is the Minister aware that in Hull we are in such a desperate plight that we are forced to scour the world to sell our ships? We have been to West Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Has the Minister any plans to alleviate the misery of our fishermen?

We are considering the cases presented to us. The hon. Gentleman knows that in previous aid schemes the particular area fleet that he mentioned was generously treated. For example, during the last two years it received almost £7½ million, which is a substantial amount of public money.

Although Government aid to the fishing industry has been about £58 million a year, does the Minister recognise that there is still a case for further aid, pending restructuring? Does he also recognise that there is a special case for distant-water vessels and vessels under 60 ft. long?

A great variety of cases have been put to us and that is what we are studying. I am not prepared to come to a conclusion until I have analysed all the evidence that was put to me. I assure my hon. Friend that we are analysing this very carefully.

What consultation has the Minister had with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on this issue? Since a cash emergency is facing the industry, can the Minister confirm that he has contingency funds to distribute to the industry at short notice?

My consultations with my right hon. Friend are daily. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall carefully consider the case that he has presented.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Bridlington fishing fleet the need for financial aid will be much greater if in the fourth quarter of this year we have a repeat of what happened last year, when the fleet was restricted from fishing for cod? If it cannot fish for cod at that time of the year there are no other fish available and the fleet has to tie up.

I understand the problems about certain restrictions that we had to put on, but, equally, I ask my hon. Friend to recognise, as I am sure the fishing industry recognises, that unless we have effective conservation policies there will be no fish for future generations to fish. We must think of our responsibilities in the long-term as well as in the short-term.

Does the Minister accept that the Opposition understand the complexity and we do not ask him to give a blanket assistance to every part of the industry? Will the Minister also accept that this is a matter of urgency and that differential aids for different parts and types of fishing, both in financial and conservation terms, together with opening up of stocks, is the way forward to assist in this difficult position?

Yes, and with the previous aid schemes there was differentiation between the different size of vessels. We certainly take on board the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Agricultural Holdings

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has received any representations from the National Farmers Union in Cumbria on the question of agricultural holdings legislation.

Does the Minister accept the need to introduce a new formula for rents and at the same time to reject the Country Landowners Association proposal for an amendment to the 1976 Act? Would not the best way to secure the interest of young farmers who want to rent land be to set up a national public bank of land to provide for their particular needs?

What proposals does the right hon. Gentleman have to reduce the rate of loss of agricultural land for letting in family-sized units? Will he consider the need for new tenancy legislation, including proposals for improved arbitration? Will he also consider introducing tax incentives to encourge the entry of new tenant farmers to the industry?

I am considering representations on those matters. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made some useful and helpful amendments in last year's Budget.

Animal Breeding Research Organisation

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, further to his reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) Official Report, 22 January, c. 193, if he will undertake to consult all interested farming bodies on the provision of research on animal breeding if the Agricultural Research Council decides to close any part of the Animal Breeding Research Organisation.

Machinery already exists for a continuing consultation of farming interests on the provision of all agricultural research programmes.

Is the Minister aware that the Animal Breeding Research Organisation, which has a world-wide reputation, is the only source of scientific thought on animal breeding in the United Kingdom? May we have an assurance that the Agricultural Research Council will continue a full programme of research into genetic breeding in cattle within the ABRO?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the various research projects commissioned by the Ministry with the ARC and undertaken at the ABRO are to continue, mainly at the ABRO. Discussions on details are continuing between the Agricultural Departments and the Council.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Scottish National Farmers Union has bitterly criticised the threatened closure of the ABRO in Scotland. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has said that it is one of the finest research organisations in the world. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that animal research is retained in Scotland, since Scotland is so dependent on agriculture for its livelihood?

I note what my hon. Friend says. I can assure him that the ARC has not made a final decision. A final decision is expected at its meeting on 23 March.

When the Minister has talks about animal breeding will she talk to Mr. Bernard Matthews, the millionaire turkey breeder from Norfolk, who has been paying his workers £72 a week for working in dirty, bloodstained conditions cutting the throats of turkeys, and allowing them three minutes to use the lavatory or fining them 15 minutes' pay if they take longer? How much subsidy does he get?

That question is not even loosely connected with the Agricultural Research Council.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind representations that I have made to her and my right hon. Friend the Minister on behalf of Shrophire farmers, who believe that to close the Animal Breeding Research Organisation would be a great mistake, because of its invaluable contribution to agriculture?

My hon. Friend will have observed that the ARC recently made it clear in its press notice of 19 February that it appreciates the continuing need for scientific support for the livestock breeding industry.

Is the Minister aware that, contrary to press reports, the revised ARC proposal would mean that the expenditure and staff at the ABRO would be cut by more than 50 per cent? We welcome the Ministry of Agriculture's decision to continue commissioning its work, but may I ask the Minister to tell the ARC that it must desist from sabotaging this internationally famous research station and provide the necessary money to support fundamental research?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the ARC comes within the aegis of the Department of Education and Science. The question of redundancies and management is for the ARC.

North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Agency

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Agency will move to Edinburgh; and if he will make a statement.

I hope that the convention for the conservation of salmon in the North Atlantic ocean can come into force during the course of the year, but this must depend on the speed at which the prospective parties to the convention ratify it. I am very pleased that the new organisation will have its headquarters in Edinburgh

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will wish to congratulate the Minister on bringing the agency to Edinburgh? When does the Minister hope that the other participants will sign the convention? Does he hold out any long-term hopes for improved salmon stocks in the United Kingdom?

Edinburgh is an appropriate headquarters for the organisation. I am glad that we had the support of other countries in the negotiations. The convention was opened for signature only on 2 March. It might take a little time before the signatures are completed. I hope that the process will proceed as expeditiously as possible.

Has my right hon. Friend considered the implications of the vote in Greenland to leave the Common Market and the consequences of that for the conservation of North Atlantic salmon? May we have an assurance that in negotiations with Greenland over its leaving the Common Market it will be made clear that if Greenland wishes to seek an advantageous relationship with the Common Market it will have to give categoric assurances that its fishermen will not act as high sea pirates of salmon that rightly belong to countries such as Britain?

As my hon. Friend knows, Denmark has acted on behalf of Greenland in the negotiations. I understand that it continues to do that in relation to external affairs. I share my hon. Friend's concern. If we are to preserve and husband the important salmon resource, it is vital that we have better controls over high sea salmon fishing.

Common Fisheries Policy

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what stage has been reached in negotiations for a common fisheries policy.

20.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current position in respect of the negotiations for a revised European Economic Community common fisheries policy.

Progress has been made on marketing, on conservation and on the Community's reciprocal fishing arrangements with third countries.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the need for certainty over the future of the fishing industry is urgent, it would be nothing but a hindrance to the successful conclusion of negotiations if a time limit were publicly placed upon the negotiations?

It is extremely important for the negotiations to proceed as expeditiously and constructively as possible. That is important not only to our fishermen but for the proper management of the resources in the sea.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing anxieties of inshore fishermen in the far southwest about the future status of the 6 to 12-mile bands once a common fisheries policy is obtained? Is he aware that local fishermen believe that in future that area should be fished exclusively by United Kingdom fishermen?

I am aware of that. My hon. Friend has been vigorous in the House in expressing that view. Our objective is to obtain a 12-mile exclusive zone. In the negotiations it is necessary to take account of the historic rights of people who have fished in that area. That we have not reached a conclusion to the negotiations yet is a sign that we are not prepared to settle for just any settlement.

Earlier the Minister said that he had met the industry's leaders on 17 February. Is he aware that the leaders met hon. Members in Westminster Hall before he met them, when there was an air of solid, 100 per cent. inspissated gloom? Did the Minister manage to convert them? Were they persuaded by what he said about the common fisheries policy?

Of course the fishing industry is anxious about its future, just as the Government are anxious about its future—[Interruption.]—I share the hon. Gentleman's genuine concern about the opportunities that our fishermen will enjoy. That is why it is important to get the right settlement. The fishing organisations have been represented throughout the negotiations and we shall consult them fully before any conclusion is reached.

I assure the Minister that this Government have a future. During that future will he press on with determined negotiations with the European Community, and, in those negotiations, make sure that we have beam trawling regulations that are no less favourable to our fishermen than they are to those on the other side of the North Sea and the Channel?

The fishing industry would have been perfectly justified in wondering whether it had any future under the Labour Government. From this Government it has received considerable aid and considerable progress has been made in many aspects of the common fisheries policy, such as those that I mentioned, including marketing and conservation. In answer to the specific matter that my hon. Friend raised, we have issued a consultation document, and I am considering the representations that have been made following those consultations.

Does the Minister realise that our only anxiety about the future of this Government is that it should be as short as possible? It has already been pretty nasty and brutish, for a start. May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the future of the British fishing industry, instead? Time is running out. We are moving into dangerous waters and, by the way, we are not leaving ourselves many dangerous waters to get into. Will the Minister assure us that there will be no agreement short of a 12-mile exclusive and a 50-mile dominant preference? Will he follow the excellent example of Greenland and get out of the market so that we may settle our own water limits?

I should have more respect for the hon. Gentleman's comments if he at least acknowledged the progress that has been made and the way in which this Government have helped the industry. Instead of being a prophet of gloom, he should show a constructive, not a destructive, spirit. Then I would more easily appreciate what he says.

Laying Hens

15.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present number of laying hens kept in battery cages in the United Kingdom.

Precise figures are not available. The 1981 June census indicated that the United Kingdom laying flock totalled 44·5 million birds. It is estimated that 95 per cent. of these are kept in battery cages.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware of the deep concern that is felt by many people about the treatment of animals that are kept in battery conditions? When will the Government introduce new legislation, or is this yet another example of Britain having to follow the rules that are laid down for this country by the EEC?

In many ways this country has led the EEC in matters of animal and poultry welfare. The Council of Agriculture Ministers has already agreed a large part of the draft directive. However, it must await the opinion of the European Parliament before reaching a final decision on stocking densities and implementation dates.

Has the Ministry any information about the number of birds that are kept in cages with four or fewer birds per battery, and the number where there are seven birds per battery? Is it possible to compare the incidence of stress in those cases and the improved yield that is available where fewer birds are kept?

A great deal of research is currently being carried out on the effect on birds that are kept in battery cages, both in other European countries and here. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have proposed the two-tier approach in Europe—450 sq cm per bird at the first stage, and 600 sq cm per bird at the second stage.

Beef Herd

16.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the decline in the beef herd of 3½ per cent. in each of the last two years, he will take steps to arrest that decline.

Beef producers' returns have recovered during the past year, and there are now signs that the decline in the beef herd is slowing down. Further measures to assist beef producers will be considered in the common agricultural policy price negotiations.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is no reduction in the Buckler cow premium this year?

There is no doubt that the help that is given through that premium and the hill livestock compensatory amounts that the Government have consistently increased are of great importance to our beef producers.

Will the Minister consider extending less-favoured area status, at a lower level of assistance, to those areas where the beef herd, in particular, could be assisted by aid within the rules of the Common Market, without upsetting the susceptibilities of the French or anyone else?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is one of the aspects to be looked at in the marginal land survey, on which this country has moved particularly fast.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 4 March.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Is the Prime Minister aware that mealy-mouthed, half-hearted, fence-sitting comments in the House on Tuesday and in a written answer yesterday strongly suggest to the world that, whatever her Minister with responsibility for sport and the Foreign Secretary may say or think, she privately condones this tour and the racist regime in South Africa? To clear the air, will she now give a straight answer to a straight question: does she condemn this tour? "Yes" or "No"?

I am not mealy-mouthed about upholding the Gleneagles agreement or about the right of freedom of people in this country to travel. Both are very important indeed. I have given a written answer. I have nothing further to add. I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said today, that he thinks that perhaps this tour is a mistake.

Will my right hon. Friend today consider the effect of a £9 billion reflationary Budget next week? Does she agree that if there were such a Budget the public sector borrowing requirement would go up by at least £6 billion, which would increase the interest paid, and that that would hit industry, jobs, and so on? Does she further agree that every one point increase in interest charges means that the cost of the national debt goes up by £1,000 million per annum?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that if an increase in expenditure of that amount were put on to the borrowing requirement, interest rates would go up very sharply. I cannot confirm my hon. Friend's figures, but I share his general view, and I can say that the payments of interest on debt have gone up enormously. They were about £2 billion in 1970. This year they are ?15 billion, which is more than we spend on either national health or education.

I come back to the answer that the right hon. Lady gave a minute or two ago about the cricket tour. Does she not now appreciate that the answer that she gave on Tuesday, far from assisting the situation, only made it worse, and that her further equivocal answer here today continues to make the situation worse? Can she say , without any equivocation, that she entirely agrees with what the Foreign Secretary said on the matter and repudiates what her Back Benchers have, said on the matter?

The right hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening. In my last reply I endorsed what my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary said on the matter.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to remind the country that Britain and the United States are the only two major countries that had lower inflation in 1981 than in 1979?

Some figures have recently been released. What my hon. Friend says is true in relation to the end of 1981 compared with the end of 1979.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 March.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the declaration of nuclear-free zones by the GLC and other Labour-controlled local authorities will be construed only as a sign of weakness by our enemies? Does she agree that it is amazing how few people, especially among those on the Opposition Benches, are prepared to learn from the lessons of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Afghanistan?

I agree totally with my hon. Friend. The policy of nuclear deterrence has kept Britain in peace for 30 years. To abandon that policy now, just when the threat to freedom is acute and powerful, would be the height of irresponsibility.

Does the Prime Minister agree that, with the millions of bricks that are being stockpiled, the thousands of construction workers on the dole and the millions remaining on housing waiting lists or living in substandard housing, her policy is one of shame and failure and calls for a debate in the House or the resignation of the Secretary of State for the Environment?

We have housing debates from time to time and we shall have them in future. Many of us would wish to see a greater proportion of public spending directed to capital expenditure. Most of the demands that we get are for increases in current expenditure. Local authorities this year have substantially underspent their capital allocations.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking the initiative among the oil-producing nations to procure a sharp downward trend in oil prices? Does she agree that this step provides Great Britain and the entire Western industrialised world with the opportunity to break out of the, vicious economic circle of recent years into what lain Macleod called the "virtuous circle" in which lower inflation leads to economic expansion, generating greater resources and savings, which in turn lead to lower taxation?

The price of North Sea oil has decreased by about $4 a barrel. This is very good news for industry as it will lower industrial costs and help to reduce inflation. It is good news also for increasing world trade, as money that would otherwise have been spent on oil will now be available for the purchase of other goods, and our industry is now in a good position to take advantage of that expansion.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 4 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

What will the right hon. Lady do to end the humiliation and the despair of the long-term unemployed? Is she aware that many men over the age of 50 fear that they might never work again? Does she understand that much of the desperate competition for the Nissan development stems from the fact that five of the British regions have unemployment of over 17 per cent?

I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in trying to secure the Nissan development for his constituency, should it come to this country. That has not yet been finally decided. As he will be the first to recognise, the ending of long-term unemployment will stem only from creating new industries. The Department of Industry is doing a great deal to support the creation of new industries and small business—or the expansion of existing ones. We hope that from the recent fall in oil prices we shall be in a position to try to get some more expansion. We shall continue our policy of supporting and encouraging the development of new industries and expanding small businesses.

Will my right hon. Friend spare a moment today to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on being reselected for Ebbw Vale, something which many of his distinguished colleagues seem unable to do in their constituencies?

I do so gladly. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman keeps his position as Leader of the Opposition for many years to come.

Has the Prime Minister noticed recently that, contrary to the law of the European Community, the French have been subsidising their farmers? Rather than attack the French for doing that, will she join forces with them? Only if members are prepared to support their individual economies in that way has the Community any chance of surviving.

If we get into a position where we have competitive subsidies, Britain may in the end lose. I think that it is a far better policy to try to secure the reduction of national aids and subsidies of the sort that France is applying. As the hon. Gentleman knows, France has been referred to the European Court over this policy.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to note that British Airways on its 14 Scottish Highlands and Islands air routes has been able to dispense with two-thirds of its staff without affecting the service, thus changing a prospective £6·5 million loss to a £1 million profit? Will she take steps to ensure that all nationalised industries do the same so that private industry can fund real jobs and not be forced to sustain imaginary ones?

That sounds an excellent example of reducing overmanning and turning a loss into profit. I hope that it will be pursued throughout British Airways to the great advantage of both British Airways and the British taxpayer. I congratulate British Airways on its achievement.

Did the right hon. Lady's earlier reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition mean that she condemns the cricket tour of South Africa and those of her hon. Friends who support it?

I have answered so many questions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".]—on this issue. I have nothing to add to the answers that I have given.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 4 March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing impatience of many small business men at the reluctance of her Government either to reform or abolish wages councils? Is she further aware that they cannot understand how the Government can stand by and see jobs lost by awards which raise wage costs by 16 per cent. or more at a time when the Government are trying to restrict increases to their employees to 4 per cent.?

I know of the anger that some of the wages councils' increases have caused, especially among a number of small businesses. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has recently written to two wage councils to draw their attention to this fact. I believe that we are constrained by our agreement with the ILO convention until 1985. However, we are considering the matter now.

Has the Prime Minister noted the double standards of those who pay lip-service to the condemnation of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan while encouraging sportsmen to play on the blood-soaked playing fields of Moscow? Will she avoid making the same error by clearly condemning those who have offended every decent instinct by taking their cricket bats to South Africa?

We endeavour to apply the same rules. We try to dissuade sportsmen from going to events that we think are contrary to the Gleneagles agreement or, in the case of Afghanistan, those that will give aid and comfort to Soviet Russia. We try to dissuade in both cases, but in the end we accept that our only powers are those of persuasion and that ultimately people are free to decide for themselves.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 March.

Did my right hon. Friend have time to notice that last weekend the Liberal Party council voted against the Government's Employment Bill? Does not that cause further confusion over the so-called "Alliance"—some are for it, some are against it and some do not know? Should not the electors of Hillhead notice that the alliance party not only faces both ways but in all directions at the same time?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. There may be confusion on those Benches, but there is none on ours. We are fully in support of the Employment Bill and we believe that the vast majority of our citizens are as well.

Is the Prime Minister aware of today's reports that MI5 has set up a gigantic secret State data bank in Mayfair which is two and a half times the size of the already vast police national computor? Is she aware that MI5 has been given unlimited access to the files of other Government Departments, which it is using to build up a comprehensive national filing system on each individual? Is this not 1984 writ large? Will the right hon. Lady legislate to ensure that this monstrous system is checked by a proper security-cleared consultant appointed by an independent data protection authority?

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is the practice—long hallowed by all parties—not to comment from this Dispatch Box on matters of security.

Business Of The House

3.31 pm

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 8 MARCH—Consideration of a timetable motion on the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill.

Third Reading of the Canada Bill.

TUESDAY 9 MARCH—My right hon. and learned Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will open his Budget Statement.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 10 MARCH and THURSDAY 11 MARCH— Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 12 MARCH—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY 15 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

For the Budget debate: relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee:— Fourth report, Session 1981–82 H.C. 21-iv, para. 2 Tenth report, Session 1981–82 H.C. 21-x, para. 1.

May I put two matters to the right hon. Gentleman? One of them arises from the answers given a moment ago by the Prime Minister on the cricket tour—[Interruption.] Some of us are deeply concerned to ensure that the Commonwealth games go ahead. Some of us have also taken account of the fact that the Foreign Secretary has made an important statement on this matter. Even if Conservative Members do not care, we think that it would be a tragedy if the Commonwealth games were to be injured or impaired. The danger is that England will be excluded from those games if the tour goes ahead. Therefore, I ask the right hon. Gentleman once again to ask the Prime Minister to come to the House at the beginning of next week and to make a fresh statement on the whole matter in the hope that we may rescue something from the situation. That is the duty of the Prime Minister, made all the more necessary by the answers that she has given throughout this week.

The right hon. Gentleman has proposed a guillotine motion on the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill on Monday. This matter still deserves considerable debate in the House. Debates have been held up because the articles of association have not been produced and presented. May we have a Government statement on the subject? I do not know whether it is right to ask that the Secretary of State for Energy should make the statement, since he commands very little confidence in any quarter of the House. Since he apparently was the number one adviser to the Government on the Amnesty—I mean Amersham International scandal—[Laughter.] I know that these are laughing matters to Conservative Members. They do not give a damn what happens to the Commonwealth games. They do not give a damn what happens to Amersham International. They do not give a damn what happens to the reputation of the House. The right hon. Gentleman should hold up any proposal for imposing a guillotine until many more facts have been given to the House and to the Committee. It would be much better if the Government got a new Minister to present the Bill to the House.

The right hon. Gentleman has made some rather subjective judgments about how hon. Members feel about certain matters. However, I am sure about one thing—the right hon. Gentleman is right about the Commonwealth games. I am sure that the whole House wishes those games to go ahead as planned.

I cannot find time for a debate on the tour in South Africa. This afternoon my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that she had answered a question on the subject yesterday. I have nothing more to add to what she said.

It is neither possible nor right for a statement to be made about the timetable motion before the debate on Monday. Obviously, all the issues surrounding the timetable motion can be discussed then. The Government feel that it is necessary, appropriate and timely to proceed with the timetable motion so that the Bill can reach the statute book in an orderly fashion.

In view of the Opposition's obvious new interest in sport in South Africa, might it not be timely for my right hon. Friend to advocate a debate on the subject, particularly covering the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who has been absent for most of the week pursuing his sport behind the Iron Curtain, in Russia?

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time next week to give the House some information on any decisions that the Cabinet reached this morning on subventing in some way the operation of the smelter at Invergordon, through—if necessary—a dedicated coal-fired power station such as Kincardine in my constituency? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to explain the position because it is important for jobs in that area?

As Monday is Commonwealth Day, may I draw my right hon. and hon. Friends' attention to early-day motions 259 and 274, which stand in the names of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House joins with all other Commonwealth Parliaments in the observance of Commonwealth Day on 8th March, and with the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which brings together Parliamentarians who, irrespective of race, religion or culture are united by a community of interest, respect for the rule of law, individual rights and freedoms, and by the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy.]

[That this House urges continuing support for the development of the Commonwealth; and believes that due recognition should be given to Commonwealth Day on 8th March throughout the United Kingdom.]

On behalf of the Government, will my right hon. Friend endorse our continuing support for the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association?

I am delighted to endorse these motions. I am sure that the whole House will want Commonwealth day to be truly and properly celebrated. Both sides of the House attach great importance to the Commonwealth.

Is the Leader of the House aware that some of the Government's assistance for industrial development is misdirected, because some of the areas that receive it include localities that have an unemployment rate of 5 per cent. whereas some areas that are flatly refused it—such as North Staffordshire—have three times that level of unemployment? May we have a debate next week on the Government's targetting of assistance?

It is always difficult to draw the line between those areas where assistance is appropriate and those where is is inappropriate. I cannot possibly find time next week for that debate, but I shall convey the right hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of our two observers at the elections in El Salvador is Sir John Galsworthy, a retired Foreign Office official who, in 1945, recommended that thousands of people should be sent back to Soviet Russia, to be shot by Stalin? Given that, is he the proper man for the job? Should not the matter be debated.

I do not think that that matter comes under the heading of business for next week.

Will the right hon. Gentleman immediately reconsider the introduction of the guillotine motion on the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as the articles of association have not been made available to the Committee an enormous amount of time has been wasted? As a result, the part of the Bill dealing with the British Gas Corporation and North Sea safety will be neglected in debate. The right hon. Gentleman should reconsider the matter.

Clearly the safety aspect is extremely important. I think that that is in part IV, which is at the end of the Bill. It is important that there should be enough time available for those clauses to be debated properly. The Government considered carefully whether to introduce the timetable motion, and came to the conclusion that we should do so, so that the rest of the proceedings can be conducted in an orderly fashion.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the publicity in the press today about research assistants operating from Norman Shaw North and Norman Shaw South? Will he try to find time next week to make a statement clarifying the employment of research assistants, as many complaints are being made to Members about the presence of strange people in these buildings? Is he aware that the research assistants seem to work very strange hours, and is he concerned, as many hon. Members are, that the facilities of the House are being abused?

A number of allegations have been made. I have thought it right to institute some inquiries, which I have asked the Services Committee to undertake. There are security implications, accommodation problems and a strain on the facilities of the House. It is, therefore, an issue that requires investigation and I have set that in hand.

Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider the need to find time for a debate, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has suggested, or at least a statement, on the bribing of British sportsmen to play in apartheid South Africa because that would provide an opportunity for the Prime Minister to clarify her rather muddled and prejudiced mind on this matter?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made her views clear in her answer yesterday. I do not think that I can find time at the moment for such a debate.

May I offer my right hon. Friend some discreet but well-considered advice regarding a possible statement in the near future on heavier lorries? Would he accept that that statement should be deferred until June—1984?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has intimated that the House will be asked to consider that subject rather earlier. I think that we are committed to that and time is likely to be found for it this year.

Will the right hon. Gentleman draw the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Committee proceedings, which have now finished, on the Social Security and Housing Benefits Bill on Tuesday and Thursday this week? Is he aware that the pledge that the Prime Minister gave about maintaining long-term benefits in line with inflation has been under attack and threatened by ministerial statements in Committee? To avoid any doubt, will the Leader of the House ensure that when the Chancellor makes his statement and when the Secretary of State makes his statement on social security uprating the following day, there is no confusion in the minds of hon. Members or of our constituents about the proposed new retail price index announced by the Government in Committee which will cut £90 million from people on supplementary benefit this year?

I will, of course, convey those representations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. However, I have no reason to suppose that the hon. Gentleman will be confused after their statements.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early and urgent debate on the future security of the Falklands Islands, in view of worrying statements by the Republic of Argentina about the territorial integrity of that British Crown colony?

As my hon. Friend knows, that issue has been running, relevant and topical for a number of years. I cannot find time for a debate on it in the near future, but perhaps my hon. Friend can find some other way of doing it.

On the disposal of North Sea assets, bearing in mind that the Leader of the House is reported to be a member of Lloyd's and therefore very much involved in business deals of one kind and another, and taking account of the fact that oil is a falling market, will the right hon. Gentleman in his capacity as a member of Lloyd's advise whether it is a good time—

Order. No Ministers answer here on professional or business activities. They answer as Ministers.

I was merely drawing the attention of the Leader of the House to a possible contradiction in the Government disposing of oil assets when many people outside and inside the House would say that, even if it is accepted that the assets should be disposed of, this is a crazy time to sell.

Until the House passes the Bill, we are not in a position to sell. We should have to judge the market at the time.

Reverting to the welcome announcement by the Leader of the House of a statement regarding the employment of research assistants and the clear need for guidelines to be laid down, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there has been a great deal of unpleasant speculation and defamatory observations about decent, hard-working American students who are here to study and to help Members of Parliament? Will he make it clear in the forthcoming statement that these people should not be made scapegoats for the thoroughly inadequate research conditions and facilities available in the House?

I should not like to anticipate what may be discovered as a result of the investigations that I have set in hand, but I am certain that the matter should be looked at, if only to satisfy ourselves that in certain respects the present arrangements are satisfactory. If in other respects they are not satisfactory, we shall then be able to do something about that.

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the House will have the opportunity to discuss exemptions from the wearing of seat belts in cars before legislation comes into force, as, although the legislation will undoubtedly save many lives, there are reports that exemption will be far too difficult to obtain?

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I am confident that there will be an opportunity to debate the subject in the House before the final decision is taken. I will make sure, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that that is possible.

Is the Leader of the House aware that, after some seven years, part of Cyprus, a Commonwealth country, is still occupied by Turkish troops? As this country is one of the guarantor Powers and, sadly, yet again the intercommunal talks seem to be collapsing, when shall we have the opportunity to discuss this crucial matter in the House?

I think that it would be relevant on the next occasion that it is possible to have a foreign affairs debate. Clearly, it is an issue that one would like to see settled, but it had proved extremely difficult. The subject is constantly in the mind of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

In view of the nation's serious concern about the high level of violence to teachers, pupils and buildings in some schools, as evidenced at St. Saviour's School, Toxteth, and in other places, may we have an early debate on school discipline?

There have been a number of debates this Session and last Session in which that subject was relevant. I do not foresee another occasion in the near future, although I share the anxiety of my hon. Friend and of the whole House about behaviour of this kind.

When shall we have the promised White Paper on data protection? Will the Leader of the House promise that it will cover the MI5 computer in Mount Street, W1 , which, if unsupervised by some kind of parliamentary mechanism, represents a grave threat to civil liberties as it has the capacity to store information about every citizen in the country?

I think I can say that the White Paper is coming soon. I cannot say precisely when, but it will be soon. On the specific point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said today, no Government ever make any statement or answer questions relative to the nation's security, which is quite as important as the anxieties to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. The White Paper will be forthcoming soon.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the West Midlands regional health authority and the Severn-Trent water authority are about to fluoridate the water supply of 2 million inhabitants against the wishes of most of the democratically elected local authorities? Will my right hon. Friend find an early time to discuss the powers of those unelected bodies to sweep aside the democratic views of the people in matters concerning life and death?

I am sure that is an important issue, but I am afraid I cannot find Government time for such a debate.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a Government statement or a debate is necessary about the cricketers who have gone to South Africa, in view of the Prime Minister's shameful refusal to condemn the tour? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that we need to know the Prime Minister's real views and whether she endorses the sentiments of the fellow travellers and apologists of apartheid on the Government Benches?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although there is great admiration for the way in which the police dealt with the hijacked Tanzanian airliner, there is concern in Southend and other parts of Essex that the designation of an Essex airport as a suitable landing place for hijacked airliners puts a considerable extra financial burden on the county? Are the Government willing to make a statement next week about whether this kind of financial problem should be dealt with on a national rather than a county basis?

Although I cannot promise a statement on that, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that this incident was handled with great skill by the police force on the spot and by the chief constable of Essex, under the general direction of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, but I do not think there is scope for a statement.

How does the Leader of the House answer those critics who say that parliamentary democracy is a sham, when a leading journal can describe the growth of massive computer facilities at a headquarters in Mayfair by a secret police service of which we are supposed to be rather critical and to want to hold to account, when the Prime Minister and he have refused—

Order. May I just ask the hon. Gentleman if it is next week's business about which he is asking? There is a statement to follow.

I am asking the Leader of the House for an urgent statement and time for a debate, but the Leader of the House has said that neither he nor the Prime Minister is prepared to comment on the MI5 computers which are being linked into other Government departments. This is a very serious matter for the freedom of the individual. They should abandon that platitudinous nonsense about not commenting on something that should be accountable to this House.

The hon. Gentleman should abandon his exaggeration. I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said.

Will my right hon. Friend give pleasure to both sides of the House by having an early debate on human rights, in particular, the action of the Test and County Cricket Board in threatening cricketers who are going about their lawful business in South Africa, particularly as this might be an apt matter to refer to the European Court of Human Rights?

Will the Leader of the House find time for a short debate on the continued incarceration of Rudolph Hess? Will he accept that this man who will be 88 next month has spent 41 years in prison, most of that time in solitary confinement? Does he not think it right to urge the Foreign Secretary to make greater efforts to allow this old man to die in the dignity of his home or at least in a British military hospital?

A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have taken a deep interest in this case, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to have a debate he must find his own occasion for it; I frankly cannot. I fully accept that there is concern on both sides about the circumstances of the individual to whom he referred.

An important statement was made last night on cigarette promotion in a written answer by the Secretary of State for Social Services—at a time when there was no opportunity for questions to be put by hon. Members. In view of this sneaky and unsatisfactory statement, will the Leader of the House find an early opportunity for us to discuss the Government's policy towards the tobacco industry and the dangers of smoking?

I do not accept the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman. A great many statements are made in this House—sometimes, I think, too many—and there have certainly been a number of debates on that issue. It seems possible that the general subject might fall within the scope of the Budget debate. I do not know, but it might. At any rate, I cannot find Government time for it and the right hon. Gentleman must find another occasion.

I propose to call those four hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the statement you made, Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday of last week, that it was high time that the House came to a decision about open questions to the Prime Minister? As you, Mr. Speaker, have made your view abundantly clear, may I ask my right hon. Friend to provide an early opportunity for the House to debate this and other important issues of procedure?

I rather doubt a debate in the House would be the best way to approach this. Athough I will consider the possibility, I should have thought a more likely way would be to have another Select Committee on Procedure look at it, not necessarily immediately but at some time in the future when we set up a general Select Committee of that kind once again. It is always difficult to establish exactly what suits the House best in relation to Prime Minister's questions, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the present arrangements are subject to criticism and that we must find the best way, when we can, of improving it.

With regard to the replies which the right hon. Gentleman has given on the subject of the inquiry he is holding into research assistants, can he confirm to the House that contained within that inquiry will be the subject of the adequacy or inadequacy of the facilities at present available to reseach assistants of hon. Members?

Yes, I think that is relevant. I do not myself take the view that the facilities of the House ought to be expanded without limit in accordance with the demand placed upon them. We have to try to strike the right balance here. It is a relevant consideration. There has been a good deal of criticism that, in some cases, a strain is being put on the existing facilities which is not really justified by the nature of the inquiries being made. It is, therefore, in my mind, although the inquiry I am making; at the moment is more specifically directed to the complaints that I have received.

Do the Government take seriously the coming special session of the United Nations on disarmament? If they do, will we be given an opportunity in good time to debate the matter so that we can also discuss the inadvisability of having a NATO meeting in Europe which coincides with the special session in New York?

All sessions on disarmament and on reductions in the level of armaments are taken extremely seriously. After all, the entire objective of all Western countries is to have a lower level of armaments. One of the disappointments, decade after decade, has been that on the other side of the lion Curtain they have not been prepared to acknowledge this objective or to stop their own remorseless build-up. Such sessions are taken extremely seriously and, notwithstanding all previous disappointments, approached with hope but also with realism. There may be an opportunity in the course of a foreign affairs debate later on, or on some other occasion, of debating these matters, though not in the immediate future.

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 301 concerning human rights in Hong Kong, now supported by 125 Members of this House.

[That this House recognises the merit of the social and community work of Ms Christine Vertucci among the poor, the homeless, and low income groups in Hong Kong and her campaign for health and safety at work; deplores the decision of the Hong Kong Government to expel her from the Colony without giving a cause for its actions; condemns this arbitrary action and violation of human rights; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to reverse that decision in order to prevent democratic, human and civil rights and freedom of speech and justice in the Colony becoming a mockery and a charade.]

Will he at some time arrange a debate on Hong Kong so that we can find out to whom the Hong Kong Government are answerable—whether it is to the Jockey Club, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank or this Parliament?

Ballot And Prime Ministers Questions

I have two observations to make before I call the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make his statement.

First, I remind hon. Members that if anyone is fortunate enough to be selected in the ballot for the Adjournment debate he is not free to transfer it, at least not without some consultation with my office.

Secondly, I hope that hon. Members will desist from writing in to me asking to be called at Prime Minister's Question Time. Everyone is on an equal footing at Prime Minister's Question Time and I try to ration the number of supplementary questions as best I can by keeping a record.

Satellite Broadcasting

4 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the Government's intentions regarding the future development of direct broadcasting by satellite—DBS.

The House will recall the report of the Home Office study of DBS published last May. Reaction to that report has been largely constructive and positive. The Government now see a need for early decisions if the industrial opportunities which DBS offers this country are to be grasped in good time, in a situation in which there will be keen international competition.

The Government have therefore decided, in principle, that this country should make an early start with DBS, with the aim of having a service in operation in 1986. Because of the importance of making this early start, the Government have concluded that the best course would be to start with two channels initially; the number of channels could be increased up to the maximum of five channels permitted by international allocation, as and when demand justified it. The services would be transmitted at powers sufficient to permit both individual reception and community reception with cable distribution. I intend to make a further announcement shortly about the future role of cable.

As regards finance, the Government expect the capital cost of providing the satellite system to be found in the private sector.

On the industrial side, various interests in the aerospace and related industries have shown that they are ready to play their part in this challenging new venture, and we shall be working closely with them and with the domestic electronics industry to ensure that the economic benefits are effectively realised for the United Kingdom.

On the broadcasting side, it is clear that DBS must develop in a way that is consistent with our existing broadcasting arrangements, especially as regards supervision by a broadcasting authority and maintenance of proper programme standards. The BBC has already put forward proposals for two DBS channels. One would be a subscription service, including a substantial element of feature films and major sporting, cultural and other events not presently available for transmission on BBC 1 or BBC 2. The other would be a service which would draw on the best television programmes from around the world—and indeed from this country. This would be financed basically by licence fee revenue, which would probably include a supplemental licence fee for DBS.

The IBA and commercial television companies have also shown some interest in providing DBS services, but their plans are less well advanced. Additionally, more time will be needed to devise the right framework, which would be likely to involve legislation.

In these circumstances the Government believe that the right course, if the necessary early agreements are to be reached between satellite providers and users, is to authorise a go-ahead with the BBC proposals. However, the Government attaches importance to the participation of commercial television companies in DBS. What we are now proposing would leave ample future opportunities open to them. The Government intend to press ahead with the necessary preparatory work, and would be ready to introduce legislation for the purpose as necessary.

Meanwhile, the immediate requirement is for the BBC and the British space industry to enter into discussions with a view to constructing and agreeing detailed proposals.

I commend these decisions to the House as a sound foundation for a development with major significance for this country's industrial and employment prospects. The House will no doubt wish to have an opportunity of discussing them. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will find time for an early debate.

We welcome the Home Secretary's statement, because satellite broadcasting will allow the BBC further to inform, educate and entertain millions of viewers, and it will provide increased job opportunities in the television, aerospace and electronics industries, but the proposals represent a significant step into a completely new and rapidly changing area of broadcasting, involving public money and an element of financial risk. Therefore, it is essential for the House to have a great deal more information than it has received today about their exact implications.

The fact that neither of the new channels will be financed out of advertising is to be warmly welcomed. Commercial interests will be absent and the BBC will continue to provide a truly public service, financed by public money. We expect a White Paper before the Government introduce any legislation on the participation of commercial television companies in satellite broadcasting.

With regard to the public money involved, it is extraordinary that the Home Secretary did not mention one figure, or even an estimate. The change will not take place until 1986, but we are talking about public licence fee money. The right hon. Gentleman said that the licence fee would finance one channel and would probably include a supplementary licence fee for DBS. What percentage increase on the present fee does he envisage that could be?

What is the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the cost of his proposal to the BBC during the first few years, even on the basis of a calculation made as if he were starting the service today? At what stage does he expect a profit to be made? Have the Government costed the whole scheme? Will it be cost-effective? If it has not been costed, it is irresponsible of the Government to bring it forward.

With regard to the nature of the programme service to be provided on the new channels, has the Home Secretary received a positive assurance from the BBC that, with two new channels, there will be no consequent lowering of standards in the existing services, that they will not be weakened and impoverished, and that their quality and range will not be sacrificed in favour of the new channels?

We shall pursue all these matters and many others during the debate.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her welcome on behalf of the Opposition for the basic proposition.

I emphasise the vital importance of getting ahead as fast as we can if we are to grasp industrial opportunities that will provide substantial jobs for this country—and to get ahead of our competitors. It is very important that we do that.

On the question of cost-effectiveness, the hon. Lady missed the point that the hardware will of course be provided by private industry, as has been made perfectly clear.

The BBC's first duty will continue to be to those who pay the licence fee. Naturally, no one can give detailed estimates of what will happen at the end of the negotiations, four years hence. Such estimates would be impossible to make, and if made would be largely meaningless. In the debate we shall provide all the basic figures and all the other information that we can.

The hon. Lady asked for a White Paper before legislation with regard to the independent companies. I cannot see why it should be necessary to have a White Paper on what would be technical legislation to permit the IBA another organisation or the companies to participate. I cannot give an assurance about that.

I return to the point that I hope that in all these matters the House will realise the great importance of seizing an opportunity and getting on with it.

Order. I hope that hon. Members will be brief. I shall allow questions to run until 4.30 pm , which should allow all those who wish to ask questions to do so.

Does my right hon. Friend remember that at the time of the passage of the Broadcasting Act the Government's policy was to increase the choice of programmes by increasing the number of sources from which those programmes came? Is he now reversing that policy with a plan that puts in the hands of the BBC the overwhelmingly larger proportion of broadcasting—that is, two-thirds of all television, all of national radio and half of local radio?

First, the Government are not reversing anything. The companies are already engaged in a new outlet in the fourth channel, which will come into effect very shortly.

Secondly, as I made clear, there should be an opportunity for commercial interests and companies to enter this area. We believe that the BBC has put forward its detailed proposals far ahead of anybody else. It is in a position to sign up with those who will provide the hardware, and we believe that it is in the country's interest that it should do so.

We welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement as giving British satellite technology and programmes a great boost; and his assurance that there will be a full debate on the allocation of satellite channels before any final decisions are taken is a wise decision. Is he aware that the committee appointed by the previous Government, which I chaired, and which first brought the issue of broadcasting satellites to the notice of the House and the country, warned—I am sure that he is aware of the warning—of the imminent threat to our domestic screens by well prepared and rapacious private operators—pirate operators? Although the right hon. Gentleman has given a hint for the future, what surprises me is the exclusion from the stage of the Government's own sponsored organisation, ITV. I take it that it is held up at the moment only by technological matters. Will he in particular express his support for the proposals for the multiplex analogue component?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. I fully recognise, as the Government and the House will, the contribution that he made to bringing these matters forward. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's other points will be taken up in the debate. I fully appreciate their importance. I shall not say anything further about them today.

Sir Hugh Fraser
(Stafford and Stone)