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Commons Chamber

Volume 17: debated on Sunday 11 April 1982

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House Of Commons

Thursday 11 February1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Humberside Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time upon Thursday 18 February.

LLOYD'S BILL ( By Order)

Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered upon Monday 22 February at Seven o'clock.

SEVERN-TRENT WATER AUTHORITY BILL ( By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 25 February.

SOUTHERN WATER AUTHORITY BILL ( By Order)

Read a Second time and committed.

ALEXANDRA PARK AND PALACE BILL ( By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 4 March.

BRITISH RAILWAYS (LIVERPOOL STREET STATION) BILL

( By Order)

Read a Second time and committed.

GREATER LONDON COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS)

(No. 2) BILL ( By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 25 February.

LONDON TRANSPORT (LIVERPOOL STREET) BILL ( By
Order
)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 18 February.

TEES AND HARTLEPOOL PORT AUTHORITY BILL

( By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 25 February.

CUMBRIA BILL [ Lords] ( By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 18 February.

BRITISH TRANSPORT DOCKS BILL ( By Order)

FELTHAM STATION AREA REDEVELOPMENT

(LONGFORD RIVER) BILL ( By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 25 February.

Oral Answers To Questions

National Finance

Interest Rates

1.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if it is his policy to seek to achieve lower rates of interest by agreement with other Governments; and if he will make a statement.

While the policies of individual Governments on interest rates must be determined largely in the light of their domestic circumstances, it is important that countries should have regard to the international consequences of their actions.

Does the Chancellor admit that his forecast in his Budget speech of reduced interest rates resulting from increased taxation and vicious cuts in public expenditure has now been shown to be worthless? Does he agree that the budget that President Reagan is now proposing, with its crazy 18 per cent. increase in defence expenditure, threatens a deficit that will produce an increase in interest rates throughout the world? Does this not demonstrate the crass folly of the economic policies pursued by President Reagan and this Government?

There is inconsistency between the two halves of the hon. Gentleman's question. The Budget that I introduced last year enabled this country to enjoy—

throughout the summer, interest rates that were several points lower than they would otherwise have been, and several points lower than they were in other countries. The main reason for the increase in United Kingdom interest rates in September was the impact of higher interest rates in the United States. That increase was the consequence of higher prospective United States public sector borrowing. For that reason, while the Government support the general objectives of United States policy, we urge on the United States the need to contain its budget deficit, just as we do upon ourselves.

While not accepting all the points just made by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that the scope for reducing United Kingdom interest rates, even if the monetary aggregates are moving in a satisfactory way, is extremely limited while United States interest rates remain high. In view of the remarks made by Mr. Paul Volker today, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider carefully whether he should have further consultations both with the United States Administration and, in the light of what he has just said, the leaders of Congress?

I accept my right hon. Friend's point. While we do not claim that United States interest rates are the sole influence on our own, they have a powerful effect and we can do only a little to offset that. Even so, we must continue to achieve the right balance between fiscal and monetary policies as far as we can.

It is equally important for the United Kingdom and its partners in Europe to make plain to the United States our concern about the level of its budget deficit and the implications of that for interest rates throughout the world. The European nations have already taken steps to do that, but I shall consider my right hon. Friend's suggestion.

The use of the word "enjoyment" is singularly inappropriate to any aspect of the Chancellor's economic policies during the past year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) rightly reminded the House, interest rates were cut to 12 per cent. last March as the justification for the massive fiscal deflation that accompanied the Budget. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman at least accept that one major reason why interest rates have risen during the year has been the abolition of exchange control, which has resulted in a flood of British money—for the September quarter the Bank of England put it at more than 25 per cent. of total savings—from pension and insurance funds for investment abroad? Has not the Chancellor contributed to the high interest rates of which he is now complaining?

The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands the matter. The subject has been fully analysed in the latest issue of the Economic Progress Report, which was discussed at the NEDC meeting last week. It was plain from that discussion and those documents that the impact of the abolition of exchange control on interest rates was small. On the other hand, the impact of exchange control on the level of exchange rate undoubtedly served to keep it at a lower level than it would otherwise have been—exactly what the right hon. Gentleman has always wanted.

Public Sector Manpower And Resources

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what consideration he is giving to recent Confederation of British Industry proposals for a more efficient use of manpower and resources in the public sector.

I have warmly welcomed the report of the CBI working party on Government expenditure. The Government have made further reductions in planned public services manpower and administrative costs, as my right hon. and learned Friend announced on 2 December. We are pursuing many of the points which were made in the report and have welcomed the CBI's offers of continuing interest and practical help.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the CBI that we could save almost £3.5 billion by 1984 if we cut out the overmanning and inefficiency in the public sector? When will we make some progress in that area?

I do not necessarily accept my hon. Friend's figures, but I agree that there is a great deal of progress to be made in that direction. I welcome the fact that the Civil Service has been reduced by more than 50,000 since the Government took office. It is now smaller than at any time for more than 14 years. I am sure that we can make further progress in that direction.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that his refusal to accept the figure of £3.5 billion savings is shared by the CBI, whose document was so poorly argued that one of its leading members, Sir Leo Pliatzky, resigned before it was produced? The CBI's latest assessment calls for lower savings. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman looks at the CBI's plans for private profiteering and privatisation, will he examine carefully the report disclosed in Monday's Financial Times, which claimed that the ratepayers of Southend, far from benefiting from privatisation of certain services, had been conned and that the real effect on them is not a saving, but a cost of £700.

It is not for me to defend the CBI report, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about it. I am not aware of any withdrawal from the report by the CBI. I found the recommendations of the CBI, for example on accounting methods, on increasing responsibility in line management and Government, and for the contracting out of local government services, extremely valuable. I hope that we can move along those lines.

Economic Forecast

3.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what prospect for a revival in the economy he foresees for 1982.

The Industry Act forecast, published in December, envisaged a continuation of the gradual recovery in output which started in 1981. An assessment of economic prospects will be published as usual with the Budget on 9 March.

Can the monetarist experiment be continued in an effort to reduce the rate of inflation below 10 per cent. without a further intolerable rise in the numbers of unemployed?

My hon. Friend should not talk of a monetarist experiment, because the importance of monetary policy has been fundamental to economic policy management in Britain since the lesson that was imposed on the Labour Administration by the IMF in 1976. It is part of the common understanding of other Governments and Finance Ministers throughout the world. It is important to maintain the proper balance in that policy if we are to sustain progress towards lower inflation and, eventually, towards the recovery of employment.

At what stage of that tenuous predicted recovery does the Chancellor expect to be affected by the persistent overshoot in the growth of sterling M3?

The hon. Gentleman knows from his distinguished contribution to the proceedings of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee that, as explained in my last Budget speech and before that, sterling M3 is by no means the only monetary aggregate to which we have regard.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the public expenditure package that he presented in November represented half his Budget judgment for the forthcoming year? Will he confirm that the House should remember that that package represented a deflation, on the most conservative estimate, of £1,000 million, and that the Budget must be seen against that background?

The two halves of my hon. Friend's question are inconsistent. On 2 December I announced the expenditure half, and only that half, of my Budget. It is impossible for even my hon. Friend to judge whether it was deflationary in its effect.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has used the word "revival". When does he expect such a revival to reach the level in either employment or output that Britain enjoyed three years ago before he became Chancellor?

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that all countries have been sustaining reductions in their economic activity, not least because of the huge increase in oil prices that took place in 1979. I expect the right hon. Gentleman—it is too much to expect—to welcome the fact that output has been moving in the right direction since the middle of last year.

Unemployment Costs

4.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the cost to public funds of the current level of unemployment, including benefits that have to be paid out and money that is not collected, such as national insurance, income tax, and so on, and what is the average cost per unemployed single man, per unemployed single woman and per unemployed married man with two children, respectively.

Payments of unemployment benefit and supplementary benefit to people registered as unemployed are expected to total about £4 billion in 1981–82. A comparable figure cannot be given for revenues that were not collected—that could be only hypothetical. The average cost of benefits paid to unemployed people depends upon a number of assumptions. On the basis of the assumptions detailed in the answer I gave to a question from the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) on 16 December, the public expenditure cost of benefits paid to an unemployed married man with two children is £3,191 a year. On similar assumptions, the public expenditure cost of benefits paid to a single person, male or female, is £1,110 if a non-householder and £1,826 if a householder.

Does not the Chief Secretary accept that the sums involved are close to the wages that many people would be prepared to accept for working? Is he aware that 250,000 people have been out of work for two years or more and that many of them expect the Government to create jobs with the money that they are spending on benefits?

I do not accept that the hon. Gentleman is right. In a speech last weekend I tried to explain the figures. It is apparent that at nil net cost the amount of money that could be spent on providing employment is such that people would have to work for levels of pay substantially below the current benefit level. Although we may be tempted to follow the hon. Gentleman's reasoning, the figures do not support such a line.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend considering the proposal of Professor Layard that, along the bold lines of the youngsters in a work scheme, a substantial wage subsidy might be payable for a year to employers for each net addition to their labour force involving people who have been out of work for more than six months?

That is a different proposition, which must be considered on a different basis because it involves additional expenditure. In considering whether that is desirable, we must take into account the long-term effect on the labour market of doing so and whether alternative uses for that money would play a better part in assisting the recovery of British industry.

Will the Chief Secretary at least take the credit for his Government's having reduced the cost of unemployment by reducing unemployment benefit? Does he realise that during the past three years his Government have reduced unemployment benefit by a 5 per cent. abatement, a 2 per cent. error in calculation and, finally, the abolition of earnings-related supplement? Does he not appreciate that there is a grotesque contrast between that mean penny-pinching on the level of benefit and the ridiculous squandering of money by doubling the numbers of unemployed? If he find cannot find a way to give the unemployed jobs, will he at least give them the benefit to which they are entitled?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's figures, and I certainly do not accept his analysis of the causes of the current levels of unemployment. He knows perfectly well that the reason for the present unemployment is a combination of the world recession and the past lack of competitiveness of the British economy.

Income Tax

6.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the cost per individual income tax payer of the administration and collection of income tax; and how many individual taxpayers pay less than that amount.

Counting husbands and wives separately, the average cost per individual taxpayer for the current year is expected to be about £24. About 350,000 people have a smaller liability than this, but in a number of these cases no tax is paid because assessing tolerances apply.

Is the Minister aware that among the increasingly hard-pressed ranks of standard rate taxpayers there are many low-paid workers, widows and others whose income is little above the supplementary benefit level? Will he ensure that his right hon. and learned Friend appreciably raises the threshold, because that would save a great deal of money and be a relief to the many people who are extremely hard pressed at present?

I cannot anticipate my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget Statement. However, I can say that wherever the allowances are drawn some people will always fall just the wrong side of the line.

Can the Minister give an assurance, however, that the Government have not ruled out the possibility of increasing the allowances by more than this year's requirement to make up for the losses sustained last year when the Rooker-Wise amendment was not followed?

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to say anything more than that nothing is ruled out and nothing is ruled in.

Economic Policy

7.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he expects to reply to the Treasury and Civil Service Committee report of 18 December 1981 on the Government's economic policy.

The questions discussed in the Committee's report are matters for my forthcoming Budget.

When the Chancellor responds to the Select Committee, will he have collected his thoughts and be able to say precisely what the Government's economic strategy is? Why do we hear so little nowadays about sterling M3?

I am delighted by the hon. Gentleman's interest in the subject. He will hear more about it in my Budget Statement.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is now considerable confusion about whether the sterling M3 targets detailed in the medium-term financial strategy are indeed targets? Do we now have an exchange rate policy?

As is explained in the Government's Green Paper on monetary policy, and as was fully explained in last year's Red Book and in my Budget Statement, we have regard to more monetary aggregates than the sterling M3 figure and, as I said last year, we take account of the sterling exchange rates.

I shall call the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), but may I say that the Front Bench has spoken on every question except one.

On the subject of the Government's economic policy, has the Chancellor had time to study the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), in which he called for urgent Government action to save large parts of Britain from economic destruction and spoke of Treasury half-truths? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that when his right hon. Friend made those remarks he was reflecting the views of the vast majority of people in Britain, who reject with contempt the Government's economic policies, which have brought economic devastation to many parts of the country?

The hon. Gentleman is wholly mistaken in his analysis of the situation. The Government's policies have been, are and will continue to be directed to laying the foundations of sustainable economic growth, maintaining the battle against inflation and reversing the tide of unemployment.

European Community (Budget Contribution)

8.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent progress has been made in the negotiations between the Finance Ministers of the European Economic Community with regard to the United Kingdom's budget contribution.

The Community's Finance Ministers have not discussed the problem of net budget contributions since the autumn. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal told the House on 27 January about the latest discussions between Foreign Ministers.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but is he aware that there is an increasing sense of grievance and dissatisfaction among the British people about our contribution to the European budget? They know that the European Community has not yet repaid to this country money that is owed to us, and that if it had that money would be available to reduce public borrowing and help British industry to reduce unemployment and stimulate investment.

Whatever may have been true before the Government came to office, enormous progress has been made in this respect recently. The Commission estimates that in 1980 our net contribution was some £200 million only, and in 1981 some £55 million only, so my hon. Friend cannot take the Government to task for that. Judging by present demands, those sums would not be adequate for those who believe that there should be a massive reflation of British industry.

Yes, but what will be the situation at the end of this year if no agreement is reached by then?

The provisions of the 30 May agreement will apply to the calendar year 1982 if there is no agreement. It is impossible to know the net cost of our contribution in those circumstances until we know the world agriculture prices and many factors that have not yet been determined.

Public Expenditure

9.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proportion of public expenditure was represented by capital expenditure (a) at the latest available date and (b) 10 years previously.

Capital expenditure formed 11 per cent. of general Government expenditure in 1980–81 compared with 22 per cent. in 1970–71. Taking account of price movements, capital expenditure by public corporations was broadly the same in 1980–81 as in 1970–71.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that that shows a rather depressing fall in capital expenditure as a proportion of the total? What is the comparison with our European competitors? Finally, does he accept that, at least as regards certain essential public expenditure, only the authorities—national and local—can carry out that expenditure?

I do not know the comparable figures for other countries. I agree that the figure is depressing. It is all the more remarkable when one considers that the figure, which went down from 22 to 11 per cent. between 1970–71 and 1980–81, went down from 19 to 10 per cent. between 1975–76 and 1977–78.

Is not the major cause of that imbalance between current and capital expenditure in the public sector the enormous increase in expenditure on unemployment benefits and the revenue foregone as a result of massive unemployment? Is it not true that if, let us say, £1,000 million were put into a construction investment programme, the net cost to the public sector borrowing requirement would be less than £400 million? Why do the Government not accept that there should be a shift of this kind from revenue costs to capital investment?

The loss of revenue can have nothing to do with the percentage of resources going on capital as opposed to current expenditure. In my opinion that has little to do with the matter. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking about the causes for the change and the possible contribution of a measure of the kind that he described, I can tell him that the real reason for the change in the proportion is largely the fact that social service expenditure has gone up over a long period. The right hon. Gentleman does less than justice to his own Government in failing to take account of that fact, although it is certainly true that in the years that I mentioned, 1975–76 to 1977–78, the huge fall in actual capital expenditure was the significant component.

May we look forward to early Government action to rectify that alarming trend? Is it not true that, as long as public sector pay is kept firmly under control, it should be possible to do precisely that in areas such as housing, construction and industry?

I agree with my hon. Friend that public sector pay is a key element in the whole equation. To the extent that that is kept down, it is much easier to provide the money that one would wish for capital expenditure.

Given the Chief Secretary's earlier reply that he is not responsible for the level of unemployment, does he accept that there is a connection between the fall in capital expenditure to which he has just referred and the vast army of unemployed construction workers? Does he accept that those men are unemployed not because of the world recession or because they are not competitive with foreign construction workers, but because the Government are not investing in the future of Britain?

That is an entirely false analysis. The overwhelming reason for the present unemployment levels is lack of competitiveness in the past, caused by pay levels rising at a rate wholly inconsistent with increases in productivity. An increase in real disposable incomes of 17 per cent. such as occurred between 1977 and 1980 could not possibly continue without having a major impact on

Marriage (Financial Disincentives)

10.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will take steps to reverse the increasing trend of financial disincentives against marriage.

This is one of the important subjects set out for public discussion in the Green Paper on the taxation of husband and wife, published at the end of 1980.

Did my hon. Friend have the opportunity to read a very interesting article in a very reputable national newspaper about a couple—no doubt North London Socialists—who obtained a divorce and discovered that by doing so they saved £7,000 per year in tax? Is it not slightly absurd that a Government who believe so much in the family should put such a premium upon living in sin?

Most couples are better off married than single for tax purposes. The converse applies only when the wife, potential wife, or potentially separated wife has a very large investment income, as may well be the case for the couple to whom my hon. Friend referred. The balance is between marrying for money and being taxed on it for one's pains.

Value Added Tax

11.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is his policy towards the level of value added tax chargeable on the profit margins on holidays organised by tour operators within the Common Market.

It is not the Government's policy that the amount of VAT chargeable on package holidays should be determined by the profit margins of tour operators.

The VAT treatment of supplies by travel agents and tour operators is due to be reviewed by the European Community Commission during the course of this year in accordance with the provisions of the European Community's sixth VAT directive. If any changes were proposed to the Council of Ministers as a result of this review they would be fully discussed with the trade bodies concerned. Any decision by the Council would have to be unanimous. No proposals have yet been made for any change.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government will show the greatest possible opposition to this proposal, as millions of holidaymakers look to him to avoid this extra cost, which will come on top of currency surcharges, fuel surcharges, airport taxes and even security levies? Does he agree with holidaymakers that there is no need for a new tax when we already have so many old ones?

VAT at the rate prevailing in the country in which the holiday is taken is paid within the total cost of a package. To impose it upon profit margins as well would be an extra layer of tax. For that reason, the Government have retained their derogation from the directive and will have the opportunity to maintain that position for the future when negotiations resume.

Does the Minister expect the VAT liabilities of Laker Airways and its subsidiaries to be paid in full?

Taxation Bill

12.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what progress he has made in considering the feasibility of an annual technical taxation Bill to be presented to Parliament in addition to the annual Finance Bill.

The possibility of an annual technical taxation Bill was discussed in the Armstrong report. I await with interest the views of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee on that report.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is it not the case that much of the annual Finance Bill deals not with the spending or raising of revenue but with highly technical proposed taxtion reforms? Is it not a matter of concern that the House is expected to accept the annual Financial Statement and send the matter into Standing Committee with only the vaguest general idea of what the Finance Bill will actually contain?

My hon. Friend to some extent echoes views which I expressed in a speech to the Addinton Society in 1977. Constraints on the parliamentary timetable make it unlikely that a technical Bill of the type that I then suggested could be introduced in the immediate future. For that reason I have continued to include a large number of important technical matters in the main Finance Bill.

Will the Government study the feasibility of presenting a "Green" Budget, such as the Institute of Fiscal Studies has just produced, setting out costed alternatives strategies? Would that not be the right way to conduct the pre-Budget discussion rather than it, remaining a secret affair between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister?

That is a further aspect of the Armstrong recommendations, that is also being studied by the Select Committee. I look forward with interest to the findings of the Select Committee.

Unemployment Costs

13.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchquer what is the cost to public funds of each unemployed person, taking into account loss of tax and national insurance revenue.

It is not possible to give a single figure. Estimates would depend on a range of assumptions, for example, about the characteristics of the unemployed people, the earnings they would have had in work, and whether they were in the private or the public sector.

Will the Minister come clean and admit that the cost of unemployment is now approaching £15 billion per year? Does he agree that that figure exceeds the public sector borrowing requirement and is double the amount of North Sea oil revenue? Has he studied the prediction of the Manpower Services Commission that £10.5 billion in output will be lost as a result of unemployment? Does he agree that those are damnable statistics and that he and his right hon. and learned Friend should resign?

The answer to the last question is "No". [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I thought that it was important to get that question out of the way first. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I fully share his concern about unemployment levels, but an aggregate figure of the kind that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is not in itself a meaningful total, as it implies comparison with an economy with zero unemployment, which does not seem a very realistic approach to the problem.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the cost of unemployment is very high indeed? Will he address his remarks to an earlier question about unemployment in the construction industry, which is running at between 40 and 50 per cent? Will the Government consider introducing inflation-proof or index-linked construction bonds to attract private buyers into construction projects, which would get people back to work, achieve a great reduction in public borrowing and also reduce unemployment, which must be to the benefit of everybody in this country?

I certainly agree that the construction industry has been through, and is still going through, a very difficult time, but I draw attention to the figures, for instance, for increases in private house building starts and orders generally, which show a significant improvement in the position. I would wish to consider my hon. Friend's proposition.

Is the Chief Secretary aware that his expressions of concern about the number and condition of the unemployed can only be treated with nauseous contempt by the Opposition, when the Government have cut taxation for the rich, put 3 million people on the dole and reduced the living standards of the poorest people out of work? Will he acknowledge and accept that, as a result of the 2 per cent. and 5 per cent. cuts and the withdrawal of earnings-related benefit, an unemployed married couple now receive £13 per week less than they would have received if the Labour Government's regime had been maintained?

I am interested to learn of the hon. Gentleman's nauseous concern. There are those on the Government Benches who are as concerned as Opposition Members about the problem and who find equally nauseating the fraudulent prospectus of extravagant expenditure, likely to lead to massive inflation and higher unemployment, that is put forward by the Opposition.

Value Added Tax

14.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his present policy towards the payment of value added tax by charities.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has informed the charities that we are considering their request for a change in the law whereby charities have always paid purchase tax and later VAT on their purchases. But I must emphasise to the House that such a change, as well as being expensive in staff and revenue, would also give rise to major anomalies.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his reply will give a certain amount of hope to the charities? Is he also aware, however, that there is great feeling on both sides of the House that the imposition of VAT on charities is far too high? Does he not accept that a reduction of this imposition by his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget would be welcomed by the whole House?

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend has heard my hon. Friend's remarks and that he is well aware of the views of hon. Members. I would point out, however, that there are about 140,000 bodies registered with the Charity Commission as charities. I do not believe that the House would regard all of them as fitting recipients of any relief that might be given.

Is the Minister aware that the doubling of value added tax has meant that, last year, Dr. Barnardo's paid £500,000, the Spastics Society, £218,000, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, £150,000 and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, £75,000 in VAT? At a time when local authorities are cutting essential services for disabled people, is it not disquieting that these organisations should have to cut back on homes and day centres, meals on wheels facilities and advisory and other important services?

What the right hon. Gentleman says is well known. There is a difficult problem. The right hon. Gentleman must himself acknowledge that there is a difficult problem of definition and that there are many charities to which he would not like the concession to be given.

Road Taxation

16.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the estimated total of all forms of road taxation in each of the past four years.

The amounts were £4,209 million in 1977, £4,620 million in 1978, £5,597 million in 1979 and £6,982 million in 1980. These figures and their components are published in "Transport Statistics Great Britain 1970–80". The information for 1981 is not yet available.

Does the Minister not realise that only about 28 per cent. of those amounts is spent on the roads? Does he not think that there should be greater expenditure when one considers the bad condition of our roads and the demand for bypasses to carry heavy vehicles? Does he not think that it is essential to get the unemployed back to work?

The figure of the proportion spent on roads given by the hon. Gentleman is approximately correct. Since the road fund ceased to be hypothecated to the construction of roads, the practice is not to equate revenue with expenditure in any particular sector. If that principle were to be carried very far, some strange consequences would arise.

Economic Expansion

17.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what measures he is considering to create an expansion of the economy.

The Government's intentions will be made clear in my Budget Statement.

Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer now comment on the speech by his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) —sacked by the Prime Minister—in which the right hon. Gentleman clearly warned of the economic destruction being caused to this country by the policies of the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Gentleman?

That is the second time that the hon. Gentleman has asserted the same view. For the second time, I repudiate it.

Is it not the case that whatever options my right hon. and learned Friend may be considering for 9 March, and whatever options are put forward by the Opposition, these will have little impact on the level of unemployment during 1982 and most of 1983? Is it not a cruel deception on the British people to pretend otherwise?

Is not the real trouble that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's own philosophy makes him equate expansion with inflation and that until he resigns and gives way to someone with a more forward-looking policy there is no hope of achieving expansion?

It is not a question of my philosophy. It is, in fact, the case that during the 1970s monetary demand rose by almost 350 per cent., while real output rose by only one-twentieth of that. It is manifest to most observers that inflation, reflation, and expansion of monetary demand is no way to improve the economy.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

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. This afternoon I shall be leaving for a visit to Lincolnshire.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to consider the reported comments of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), who is quoted as saying last night that he is fully behind Mr. Buckton and the striking drivers? Is she aware that I travelled to work with many of my constituents this morning, on what was a remarkably uncomfortable journey, by London Transport? Is she also aware that many of those travellers would like to be behind Mr. Buckton, albeit with a rather different aim?

I agree that many commuters are making heroic efforts to get to work. Most are succeeding. I dropped a line the other day to two civil servants, one of whom had walked 14 miles to work and the other 12 miles.

Order. All this shouting from a sedentary position is unparliamentary. In any case, a hullabaloo when hon. Members do not agree with an answer only delays Question Time.

The people who are being made to suffer by ASLEF members' actions are their fellow citizens, fellow trade unionists and small businesses, upon which we rely to try to secure more employment.

Does not the right hon. Lady think that the best course is for the House to wish success to the court of inquiry that is now examining the matter? Has the right hon. Lady had the chance today to consider, or indeed reconsider, the answer that she gave to the House a week ago on the question of El Salvador—[Laughter.] I do not know why this should cause laughter on the Government Benches. One thousand people a month are being murdered in El Salvador. Has the right hon. Lady had time to reconsider the answer that she gave last week? Does the more recent statement by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, represent Government policy? Will the Government now oppose giving support funds or arms to the Duarte junta in any form?

Industrial relations is a matter for British Rail and the unions to sort out for themselves. In so far as they are unable to do so, it is a matter for ACAS. One hopes, naturally, that ACAS will succeed in its efforts.

With regard to El Salvador, I repeat what I have already stated. Elections are due to be held on 28 March, involving eight political parties. Other nations have been asked to send observers.

Does not the Prime Minister appreciate that an election held in El Salvador in those circumstances would be nothing better than a murderous farce? Does she understand that the American diplomat on the spot has recommended that the Left-wing candidates in the election should conduct their election outside the country? Does she think that that is a fair election? Will she answer the question that I asked her? Does not the statement by the Minister of State mean that the Government are now reconsidering the policy?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Government condemn violence, from whichever quarter it comes. It is not a way to conduct national or international relations if one continues to hold to that course. I repeat that there is an attempt to hold elections on 28 March involving about eight parties and that other nations have been asked to send observers. It would be better if the right hon. Gentleman wished those elections well.

In view of the decision by the board of British Leyland to postpone the making of the new light lorry because of the three-week strike at Leyland Vehicles Ltd., will my right hon. Friend emphasise the fact that those strikes damage the prospects of sales at home and abroad?

I read about the decision of British Leyland. It is a matter for the board. However, I wholly support my hon. Friend. Strikes cause damage not only to the jobs of those who strike but to Britain's reputation. They mean that many orders that would otherwise come to this country are deflected to other countries where they do not go on strike as much as we do.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 11 February.

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

May I refer the right hon. Lady to the speech made yesterday by her right hon. acquaintance the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), in which he described her policies as bringing large parts of Britain to their knees? Does she accept those strictures? Does she believe that there is still no alternative to her policies, or does she intend to make a U-turn within a few weeks?

I believe that it would be accurate to say that my right hon. Friend and I are not wholly in accord in those matters.

Does the Prime Minister not consider it incongruous, to say the least, that the West should, properly, be devoting a great deal of its resources to ensuring that there is no further deterioration of the democratic conditions that have been won at such expense in Poland, while at the same time it devotes about £1,000 million of its resources to what is apparently accelerating the deterioration of democratic conditions in Rhodesia? Will she say something about the representations that have been made to her this morning about the incarceration of a Member of the Rhodesian Parliament, Mr. Stuttaford? For the first time that Parliament has recently been surrounded by troops.

With regard to the representations from a Member of Parliament concerning the arrest of Mr. Stuttaford in Rhodesia—

In Zimbabwe, which, due to the excellent services of the present British Government, became independent Zimbabwe. Representations have been made on behalf of Mr. Stuttaford, who is not a United Kingdom citizen. Therefore, that is a matter for the Zimbabwean Government. However, our high commissioner is naturally doing all that he can to find out what is happening. We hope that the detention will not persist.

May I return to the rail dispute? Now that the Labour Party has come out in support of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Fireman, is it not important that the Prime Minister makes it clear, on behalf not just of the Government but of the overwhelming majority of the House that the proper course of action in such a dispute is to make use of a court of inquiry and not to cause long-term damage to British Rail?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Insofar as the dispute cannot be settled between the employers and the employees, the proper course is to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and secure its services in resolving the dispute and to co-operate with it to that end.

Will the Prime Minister take some time to consider and to tell us, in the light of the Conservative manifesto promise to allow more decisions affecting Scotland to be taken in Scotland, whether she agrees with the statement by the Conservative candidate in the Glasgow, Hillhead by-election, to the effect that he is totally opposed to any form of devolution for Scotland?

The Hillhead by-election has not yet started. Therefore, there can be only prospective candidates, otherwise there might be considerable difficulties with election expenses. Our view on devolution for Scotland was well set out in the last Parliament and it remains the same.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether it is the Government's intention to introduce legislation that would give council tenants living in leasehold properties owned by local authorities the right to buy their council homes?

I am well aware that our pledge at the general election covered those living in leasehold properties belonging to local authorities who wish to buy their homes, but where the local authority does not possess the freehold. Our last legislation did not cover that case. It should be covered. It is our intention to cover it. We have a high priority to do so. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that there will be legislation during this Session of Parliament. However, if not, we shall try in the next Session.

What interest is the Prime Minister taking in the Nissan-Datsun project being located in Britain? Does she understand the alarm felt by those of us who represent areas of high unemployment, as the unemployment figures mount month by month? Why does she permit the destruction of British industry?

The negotiations on the Nissan project are continuing. Unfortunately, I have as yet no statement to make about the negotiations. I hope that they will conclude successfully from the viewpoint of this country. With regard to British industry, the Department of Industry is embarking on what I hope will he a successful policy of having an exhibition called: "Can you make it?" [Laughter.] Opposition Members are not interested in getting more jobs. They prefer to complain about the level of unemployment.

The Department of Industry is setting up what I hope will be a continuing exhibition so that manufacturers who import components can set out what they import. Then we can ask other manufacturers in this country if they can make it, so that we can get import substitution, which should lead to more jobs. That is a constructive approach. We on the Conservative Benches hope that it will be successful.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the mushrooming of doubt in the Labour Party about the wisdom of its declared policy of wrenching Britain out of the EEC? Will she arrange to keep the Labour Party continuously briefed on the present number of jobs at risk and the number that will result from projects such as Datsun, which will be gone forever if the idea were to grow that we plan to pull out of the Common Market?

I note that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) is reported in an interview as having refused to commit himself to a policy of withdrawal from the EEC. May I congratulate him on his new-found hesitancy? I hope that it will be turned into outright support. I also believe that the TUC is recognising the need to stay in the EEC. We do well from it. in this country, especially with regard to inward investment, which produces jobs.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider the majority decision in the House of Lords in the case of Harriet Harman, which is an apparent travesty of common sense? Will she consider introducing legislation to overturn that decision and in the meantime ask the Home Secretary not to enforce the order for costs against that lady?

To have a decision in the morning and to be asked to introduce legislation in the afternoon is a little quick. It is better to consider matters first.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

Has my right hon. Friend seen newspaper reports that show that the time off given to civil servants for trade union duties costs Britain about &£14 million a year? Is not that estimate, proportionately, approximately twice as much as it costs the private sector? Will the Prime Minister assure the House that a full investigation will be carried out?

I saw the newspaper report to which my hon. Friend refers earlier in the week. I understand that the figure that he gives is correct. The agreement was negotiated in 1974. My hon. Friend will know that all employers are legally required to allow time off, both for industrial relations duties and for purely trade union activities. That agreement is being reviewed and renegotiated with the different unions in the Civil Service. The conclusion was that changes should be made to ensure that those who receive paid time off should properly account for their use of it and that allocations of time off should be reviewed at least annually—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Reading".] It is sometimes better to prepare answers to reports that appear in the press.

A new agreement incorporating those provisions is now being negotiated with the unions.

Questions To Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was very disturbed, I think last week, to notice in the Lobby a Conservative Member with a bundle of question forms in his hand, handing them out to Conservative Members.

It was not a Minister who was doing it.

There is a very long history to this practice. We all know that there is no chance whatever of totally stopping it and that in certain circumstances it is perfectly appropriate, but may I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that the House appointed a Committee on this matter in 1972? The present Home Secretary—the present Home Secretary— [HON. MEMBERS: "Wake up"]—the present Home Secretary was the Chairman of that Committee in 1972. Inter alia, the Committee looked into the question of planted questions. It deplored taking that practice to the extreme lengths to which two Conservative Ministers took it at that time. In the light of what happened this week and last week, it appears that the practice is stealing back in rather a big way. When the Prime Minister answers question, she comes out with what clearly must be a prepared statement. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to do what you can to stop it.

The content of the Minister's reply is nothing to do with me. It would be wiser to have the Business Question.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunnningham) has, by implication, referred to the question that I asked, are you aware that it was stated in the national press that I would be seeking to ask the Prime Minister a similar question?

I did not see it in the national press, but I thought that I should give the hon. Gentleman the last few seconds of Question Time.

Business Of The House

3.34 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 15 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Motions until 7 o'clock. Afterwards, remaining stages of the Hops Marketing Bill [Lords]. Debate on the first report from the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply), Session 1980–81, House of Commons paper No. 118.

TUESDAY 16 FEBRUARY—Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Increase) Order, the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) 1982, and the Report on Rate Support Grant (England) 1982–83, the Welsh Rate Support Grant Report 1982 and the Supplementary Report 1982.

WEDNESDAY 17 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Canada Bill.

THURSDAY 18 FEBRUARY—Motions relating to the National Health Service (Determination of Regions) Order, the National Health Service (Constitution of District Health Authorities) Order and the National Health Service (Determination of Districts) Order.

FRIDAY 19 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 22 FEBRUARY—Supply (13th allotted day): the subject for debate to be announced.

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

May I put four questions to the right hon. Gentleman? The right hon. Gentleman has announced that the Canada Bill will be debated next week. Is he aware that he has made a serious error of judgment in bringing the Bill forward before the completion of the legal action brought by the Indian Association? The Government once made it clear that they would wait until that action had been completed. Although it may have been technically completed, the Government know as well as we do that a petition will be sent to the other place and will be dealt with soon. Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the position and wait until that process has been concluded before holding a Second Reading debate?

May we have a debate, in Government time, on the appalling housing figures for 1981? They show the lowest number of starts for 60 years. There are 1¼ million people on the waiting list and 400,000 building workers—one quarter—are out of work. Will not the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate on that important subject?

Before the Government make any further recommendations to the House, may we have an early debate on training? It is time that we had a debate on training facilities, particularly for the young. Two statements were made before Christmas and one of them led to a serious reduction in the number of training boards. In addition, apprenticeships are at the lowest level for many years. Will the right hon. Gentleman not arrange a debate?

What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do about the Bill concerning London transport, which received such strong support, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay)? That Bill was supported by the whole Labour Party, a section—I believe—of the Liberal Party and even a splinter group from the SDP. Given that strong alliance, will not the right hon. Gentleman understand that there should be immediate provision for the introduction of legislation? As the right hon. Gentleman knows that he must introduce such legislation, cannot he get on with it? Does not the Bill provide him with that opportunity?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have given serious consideration to his specific point about the Canada Bill and, indeed, to all the relevant issues involved. We took all that into consideration before reaching the conclusion that it is right to proceed now.

I cannot provide a day for a debate on housing in Government time. Obviously, it is a suitable subject for a Supply day debate. I should not be reluctant to provide Government time for it, but I have been forthcoming about Government time to debate other subjects—notably unemployment—and I cannot foresee an early opportunity to debate housing. It is only right that I should say that.

The same is true of a debate on training facilities. We have launched a major new initiative on training, which is immensely important in preparing the next generation for our new industries. Our major scheme is now under way. However, I cannot give a day for such a debate. If the Opposition feel that strongly, they should provide one of their days.

I cannot provide any time for the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). Of course, there will be legislation on this subject, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced. The legislation that we propose and the time necessary to enact it is as far as I can go at present.

Before the House proceeds with the Second Reading of the Canada Bill would my right hon. Friend do his best to make arrangements for representatives of the Indian nations to meet the Minister in charge of the Bill so that they may express their genuine and substantiated fears about what the future holds for them when the Bill is enacted?

They have already made clear representations. Indeed, there have been court proceedings in the matter. My hon. Friend will be able to raise these points on Second Reading. I do not think anyone can say that there have not been ample opportunities for those representations and views to be expressed. Further opportunities will arise during the passage of the Bill.

Would the Leader of the House not accept that reports of Select Committees ought to be debated on amendable motions so that the House can express an opinion on the various items contained in them? Since the report to be debated on Monday on the Adjournment contains one proposition that the Supply time allocated to minority parties should be entirely at the discretion of the official Opposition, does he not recognise, particularly since this proposal would not require any change in Standing Orders to be given effect, that the House ought to be given the chance to vote on it and that the proposal to debate the matter on the Ajdournment is to deny us that right?

I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands what I have in mind. The debate on Monday is to enable views to be expressed upon the report. No decision will be sought. I will put forward some of the changes recommended by the Select Committee which the House might with advantage accept. No doubt the hon. Gentleman and other lion: Members will do the same. Subsequently, in some months' time, I will place motions on the Order Paper so that there will be an opportunity to debate the matters and come to a conclusion. But before framing those motions and asking the House to reach decisions it is right to hear the general views of all sides of the House. That is what we are going to do on Monday.

Will the Leader of the House arrange, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for a statement to be made next week on the secret guidelines to be issued by the Home Department to chief constables concerning surveillance of individual citizens and the review that may take place on these guidelines?

I do not think there will be time to debate that, but I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has a plan in mind to make available the nature of the guidelines to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there seems to be a somewhat prolonged and serious deterioration in the arrangements for the delivery of the Vote? He will be as aware as any of us that there is nothing more pointless than receiving the Vote a day and a half or two days late.

I must agree with my hon. Friend. The cause of the delay has been unofficial union meetings each night in the warehouse department of St. Stephen's Parliamentary Press. These meetings have been held in protest against a continuing management stand against demands for what management believes to be unnecessary overtime. I am having investigations made. Naturally I wish to do everything I can to end the dispute on a satisfactory basis so that the parliamentary papers which hon. Members must have arrive at a proper time.

Does the Leader of the House know that the Manpower Services Commission has recommended the abolition of the quota system for disabled employees? Since this would damage the already bleak prospects of disabled employees, and since hon. Members on both sides of the House and disabled organisations are against the abolition of the quota, can we be sure that there will be a debate before the Government make up their mind on this recommendation?

I am not sure about a debate, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this Government, like their predecessors, take all the care they can to ensure that as many disabled as possible have jobs. Clearly, in present circumstances, it is even more difficult than usual, but there is an organisation throughout the nation to help the disabled find jobs, and in Government we give that all the support we can.

I hope hon. Members will be as brief as possible. I will allow business questions to run until 4 o'clock.

Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate on immigration, which has not been discussed in the House for a long time? It is a subject that gives grave concern to vast numbers of people. I ask him most earnestly to give consideration to such a debate.

It is with regret that I have to say to my hon. Friend that I cannot see Government time being available in the foreseeable future. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to find another opportunity to raise the subject.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision about the nature of the debate on Monday on the report of the Select Committee on Procedure? Will he give us an assurance that there will be an opportunity on a "take note" motion to discuss the allocation of Opposition time among the various parties on this side of the House—a matter which was before the Committee?

I do not think it would be appropriate for me to ask the House to come to any decision on Monday following the debate on the Select Committee report. The purpose of the debate is to allow hon. Members to express their views. As a result of that, I will in due course table motions, on which I will ask the House to take decisions. That is the moment when the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends may wish to vote either on an amendment or on one of the substantive motions.

Could the Leader of the House confirm the Prime Minister's welcome commitment given last week to introduce a Bill in the next Session on data protection?

I do not think that it is an absolute commitment at this stage. I would not go further than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

May I point out to my right hon. Friend that it would be convenient to hon. Members, their families and their constituents to have the earliest possible indication of our likely return after the Easter recess?

The Easter Recess is almost invariably one week, so Monday week after Easter day would be the normal time for the House to return.

The Leader of the House has not said why we are proceeding on Wednesday with the Canada Bill. Does the Canadian Prime Minister determine timetables, and not this Government? Why cannot the Government await the definitive ruling of the House of Lords which might be considering the case of the Indian Association of Alberta within a few weeks? Surely we must await that. Will he not agree that Canadians have been operating their constitution since 1967? Surely it would be worth while to delay the debate for a couple of weeks, if it affords justice to the Indians in Canada.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I did wait for the conclusion of the earlier court action before proceeding with the Bill. I have considered that point carefully. I understand that an appeal is likely, although one has not so far been made. Even if it is, I have taken that fully into account before announcing that we will debate the Second Reading next week.

As it is now 12 years since the House last had an opportunity for a major debate on the arts, will my right hon. Friend consider whether time could be found to discuss the Government's excellent record on the arts and heritage?

I would welcome that if time could be found. We shall have to see how we get on, but I wonder whether, under the Supply procedure to which the House may come in due course, a Select Committee investigation might be appropriate. I should like to have a debate in the House on the subject but I cannot find time at the moment. Perhaps my hon. Friend will find some other means of raising this important topic.

Order. I propose to confine the remaining time to those who have been standing up.

In contrast to the puff from the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), in view of the present and impending dangers to the life and work of a whole range of arts activities, when can the House have an opportunity to debate the whole question of arts funding and support, and when will it be possible to raise the advisability and propriety of introducing political considerations into Arts Council appointments, which seems to be a developing aspect of Government policy?

The hon. Gentleman will have to persuade his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to find a Supply day for a debate on that subject or consideration of that aspect in the appropriate Select Committee might be another way of dealing with it.

Would the Leader of the House give further consideration to his announcement about the Canada Bill? He has received representations from both sides of the House and from the Opposition Front Bench, partly on legal grounds. In view of the considerable concern of Members on both sides of the House about the Indians, will he not permit a free vote when the Bill finally comes before us?

As I have said before, I have taken all those considerations into account. The right hon. Gentleman might like to know that, as a matter of courtesy and, I hope, good sense, I have asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to be present during the debate so that if legal matters arise he will be able to intervene if the House so wishes. Having considered the whole matter, the Government have come to the conclusion that it is right and appropriate to proceed.

Does the Leader of the House not believe that it is quite wrong for the Government to take an individual through the courts in order to clarify the law, as this Government have done in the Harriet Harman case, which was decided today? Does he accept that it is necessary for the Home Secretary to make a statement to he House this week about rescinding the £25,000 costs that the Government have incurred in prosecuting an individual, when instead they should have legislated if they wished to have the law clarified?

Does the Leader of the House realise that his refusal to allow a "take note" motion on the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) is a serious matter? Can he guarantee that there will be a debate before 10 o'clock on recommendation 8 within the next few months and that it will be possible to have a specific vote? Is he aware that, without such a guarantee, the smaller parties in the House are placed in a difficult position?

I cannot understand what has got into the SDP and the Liberal Party. We shall debate the matter generally and the right hon. Gentleman can express his views. In the light of what is said on Monday, motions will be tabled in due course on any changes that the Government decide to recommend. Those motions will be amendable and the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends can express their views. That is the right way to proceed. If the House thought that I would ask it to come to a decision on the report without a debate on Monday, I should be the subject of some criticism.

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether, in the light of the disgraceful talking out of the Death Grant (Increase) Bill last Friday, arrangements can be made for his right hon. Friend to make a statement about the increase in the grant?

The Government will announce their conclusions fairly soon. The House and the hon. Gentleman will know that the problem derives from the fact that the grant has not been altered for a long time. It was altered in 1967 and previously it has not increased commensurate with prices. There is a real problem here, but I hope that we shall announce our conclusions soon.

In view of the continuation of the railway strike, and the distinct likelihood today of a major escalation of the strike, will the Leader of the House set aside time for a debate so that we can clarify the issue for the whole country?

No, Sir. I do not believe that a debate would help. The only thing that would really help is for the strike to end and for the railways to start running again before British Rail's finances are in such a serious state that we must return to the subject.

Will the Leader of the House give further consideration to a debate on housing in Government time? Do not all the facts and figures show that many people have an appalling need for accommodation, especially those who must rent from local authorities? Would it not be wise, since last year's figures show that council dwelling building was at its lowest since the 1920s, to have a debate as a matter of urgency?

If such a debate is to take place in the immediate future it must be either in Opposition time or on some other basis.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement in the House about Tootal Ltd., which has decided to close down its factory in St. Helens, and tell the House what he is prepared to do to try to save the jobs of its workers?

I do not know whether a statement would be appropriate. I doubt it, but I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's representations to my right hon. Friend.

Can the Leader of the House assure us that a statement will be made by the appropriate Minister on the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations at the earliest opportunity, because reports are appearing in the newspapers about the stage that negotiations have reached? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is of great concern to the textile industry in both Yorkshire and Lancashire as that industry directly employs, in addition to the clothing industry, over 600,000 people?

I am acutely aware of the problems of the industry and I have tried throughout the negotiations to keep the House informed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade has done that. There were to be negotiations today, but they have been postponed for a fortnight. Perhaps after that a statement could be made to the House. We must consider that at the time, but the hon. Gentleman's point is very much in my mind.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a short debate, perhaps late at night, on the appalling problems in the British footwear industry, especially in the light of the effect of the changes in operation of the short-time working compensation scheme, reports of heavy dumping from China and Poland during the past few weeks and the fact that many thousands of people will lose their jobs as a result of Government inaction?

I agree that that too is an important issue, but I do not believe that I can find time for it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can find some other way.

Is the Leader of the House aware—to go back to the Canada Bill—that many hon. Members feel that the Canadian Indians have been oppressed for a long time and would appear to be oppressed again? Is it not essential that in this great constitutional issue we should safeguard the rights of the minority and see that they are heard? Is there any way in which Canadian Indian representatives can be brought to the Bar of the House to put their point of view to us?

The answer to the latter part of the question is "No". However, the hon. Gentleman can make his arguments during the debate. I have no doubt that his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and other hon. Members will argue along the same lines. It is wrong to suggest that we should not proceed with the Bill.

In his short period of office, the Leader of the House has refused the House the use of the Public Bill procedure, has refused control of the Comptroller and Auditor General and has now set up a Procedure (Supply) Committee with wider terms of reference on a sessional basis so that it cannot possibly complete its terms of reference in time. Will he make a statement about how he proposes to remove those obstacles to the proper scrutiny exercised by the House?

That is not an appropriate question from the Opposition. We have made more changes and advances in our procedures than the Labour Government. There will be an announcement of our conclusions about the Comptroller and Auditor General following the Chancellor of the Exchequer's consideration of the debate that took place on the subject.

The Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) was unnecessarily delayed because there were problems in finding appropriate members to stand. That was not the Government's fault. It is reasonable to have the Committee on a sessional basis. It could have started work three or four months ago if it had been set up at once, but that did not happen. Even so, there should be plenty of time for the committee's work. However, if hon. Members have not finished their work and wish to continue next session, I would be prepared to consider setting it up again, but that is too far away to worry about at the moment.

Order. I propose to call the four hon. Members who have risen and also a representative of the Opposition Front Bench.

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the Northern Ireland economy, especially the critical unemployment position? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the serious problems facing De Lorean, Harland and Wolff and other companies? Will the Government give time for such a debate as a matter of urgency?

Few hon. Members are more sharply aware than I of all the problems in Northern Ireland. I welcome debates on Northern Ireland from time to time, on the economy no less than on security and other matters. There have been opportunities in recent months to debate various policies in Northern Ireland, but I am sure that there will be further opportunities in the future. I do not have a time in mind, but I am just as keen as the hon. Gentleman to have debates about the problems that face the Province.

Did the Leader of the House hear an interview on the BBC's "World at One" programme today with distressed mothers whose family holidays have been wrecked by the collapse of Laker Airways and the consequent loss of a large sum of money? In view of the trail of family havoc that has been caused by the collapse of Laker, and of the announcement of the frightening possibility of Tiny Rowlands and Laker coming together again to form a new airline, is that not a strong case for a debate on the matter in Government time?

I would not want to go further than my hon. Friend who made a statement from this Box last Friday; nor do I think that it is right for me to comment on the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. Obviously what has happened to this company is important, but I do not think that there is any cause for a further statement or any other action that I should take as Leader of the House in the immediate future. But the events are very much in our minds.

Is the Leader of the House aware that some of us on this side of the House are against the idea of giving Supply time to the Social Democratic Party since all of them, bar one, were elected on a Labour ticket or a Conservative ticket. If Social Democratic Party members want parliamentary time, it is pretty clear to us that they ought to ask their colleagues in the Liberal Party to surrender part of their Supply time. They voted to join them and they must obtain their time from them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also take account of the fact that if he grants Supply time, the next thing is that the Social Democratic Party will want some of the parliamentary funds based on votes that they did not get at the general election for the party to which they now belong?

Will the Leader of the House also bear in mind that newspaper reports a few days ago suggested that 400-odd members of a National Front splinter group have joined the SDP? When all that is taken into account, we cannot allow them to get a foot in here.

I am sure that we all enjoyed that. I shall get into trouble if I start to express any views on how an Opposition might use or divide Opposition time. It is up to them to say whether they wish to divide it or not, and it is not the business of the Leader of the House to tell them how to use it.

On the railway industry, and not on the present dispute, is the Leader of the House aware of the growing rumours—and the concern that they are causing—that the Government have plans to take over the railway system and then to close parts of it down, in British Steel style? Can the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to come to this House and either confirm or deny those rumours?

We have no such plans. We only hope that there will be a good railway left at the end of this. If the dispute does not end pretty soon, I do not know what state the railways will be in.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has not been here, has he? The right hon. Gentleman did not hear me say 10 minutes ago that I would confine any further questions to those four hon. Gentlemen who were already standing. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that the same rules must apply to him as to other hon. Members.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did indeed hear what you said earlier. I was attempting to react to something that the Leader of the House had said. With respect—

Order. I think I had called everyone who had been standing, with the exception of the Opposition Front Bench. However, experience in this House has taught me that the best thing to do is to be as reasonable as possible. If the right hon. Gentleman has an urgent point that he seeks to make, out of a sense of fair play the House may like to hear him.

What the Leader of the House said a few moments ago was very provocative. The right hon. Gentleman must accept his responsibility as Leader of the House and realise that the position has now changed, in that 20 per cent. of the Members on the Opposition Benches do not belong to the Labour Party. The right hon. Gentleman has a duty to the whole House to make sure that matters are openly debated.

Further to the question raised by the leader of the Liberal Party, will the Leader of the House, in his role as the protector of minorities, seek to accommodate the Social Democratic Party next week by arranging for a third voting lobby to be raised, because of the controversial nature of the business, so that they may be easy in both their votes and their minds?

House Of Lords (Judgment)

4.6 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the decision of the House of Lords in Harman v Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the effect of this judgment on the freedom of the press."
A very serious situation has now been created both for the principle of open justice in the courts of law of the land and for the freedom of the press generally. Indeed it is such a serious situation that one of the dissenting judges, Lord Scarman, was called upon to quote quite widely from Milton's "Areopagitica" in order to make points that he failed to make about what a fundamental judgment this is in terms of the freedom of the press to report matters that come before the courts.

I shall briefly make a number of points that go to the urgency of this matter. The majority judgments, for the first time in Britain, purported to draw a distinction between two kinds of journalists—between people called court reporters and ordinary newspaper reporters in the courts and what they call feature journalists. They purported to draw the distinction as though these two sorts of people were quite different and that one sort can have access, through a solicitor, to matters read out in open court whereas the other cannot. I need simply say on that that if we were to divide the Press Gallery into those two sorts of animal it would exclude one or two of our roost beloved journalists from this House.

My second point is that Lord Scarman made it absolutely clear in his judgment that the majority judgment contravened article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that
"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression"
and that that right
"shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."
That right is only to be prevented by what is called a real pressing social need, as decided in the case concerning The Sunday Times, and Lord Scarman says that it can hardly be argued that there is a pressing social need to exclude solicitors from the rights available to everyone else.

Thirdly, the Home Office—the Government—brought this case and in the courts pursued their intention, which I find a quite offensive intention, to ask for Home Office costs. That will have the effect of bankrupting the National Council for Civil Liberties which now has to find £25,000. The Home Office's original statement was that it was a test case.

The hon. Gentleman must not make the speech that he would make if he were granted his application. The hon. Gentleman knows what he must outline to me, apart from the urgency of the matter.

I shall conclude. It has always been the case that the costs in a test case are borne by the Government. That has always been the principle.

In view of those three urgent issues which should be decided now, and could have been decided last year in the Contempt of Court Bill when it was before Parliament, we must have a debate on the Floor of the House—urgently—as we have in the past when the House of Lords has delivered judgment on cases as important as this one.

The hon. Gentleman gave me notice before noon today that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the decision of the House of Lords in Harman v Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the effect of this judgment on the freedom of the press."
The hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention to a very important matter. It is not for me to say whether it should be discussed by the House. That lies in other people's hands. There is more than one way in which a matter can be raised. The House knows that it has limited my power to decide whether the matter should be discussed tonight or on Monday. The House has also instructed me to give no reasons for my decision.

I listened with great care to what the hon. Gentleman said, as I listened to the earlier exchanges, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.

Canada Bill

I am tempted to begin my point of order, Mr. Speaker, with the words "Monsieur le President", because I want to put to you a question about the linguistic complications that we shall have next Wednesday on the Canada Bill. I do not know that it is unprecedented—it certainly cannot be historically unprecedented, but it probably is unprecedented in modern times—that we should be considering a Bill which is in English and in a foreign language.

The Bill is translated in annexe A, and therefore if any amendment were made to the Bill a consequential amendment of the French text in annexe A would need to be made, or it would be nonsense in Canada. The rest of the document is schedule B, which is in both languages.

If someone submits an amendment, apart from whether it is out of order on other grounds—I can imagine all sorts of other grounds that might make many amendments out of order—does he have to put it in English and French or just in English? If he submits it only in English, who will translate it into French?

I shall call the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) before I reply, because I believe that his point of order is related to the same subject.

My point of order is related to the same subject, Mr. Speaker,