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Commons Chamber

Volume 22: debated on Monday 19 April 1982

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House Of Commons

Monday 19 April 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Untitled Debate

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Education and Science for oral answer today. It was on the Order Paper until last Thursday evening, but it appears that—

Order. Will the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) be kind enough to wait? I shall deal with his point of order at the end of Question Time if he would like to save time.

That would be too late, Mr. Speaker. Question 162 W, as it appears now, should have been answered orally before 3.30 this afternoon.

It is addressed to the Secretary of State for Education and Science. It was transferred on Thursday evening. I had no notification of that until I arrived here today.

I now realise what has happened. It is unfair to the hon. Member that a question that has been on the Order Paper for two days should be transferred with no indication being given to him. There is nothing that I can do today to put the matter right, other than to ensure that the mistake does not occur again.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the second page of the Order Paper, the List question, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), has no number or asterisk against it. Does that mean that it has appeared on the Order Paper by mistake, or that it is question No. 21, which you will call when you come to it?

The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) is right to draw my attention to the fact that, due to a human error from up above, question No. 21 is not numbered on the Order Paper.


Welsh Development Agency


asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many new factory units have been built by the Welsh Development Agency since its inception.

Between January 1976 and March 1982 the Welsh Development Agency completed 836 advance factory units, 11 bespoke factory units and 63 factory extensions.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the great majority of those factory units have been allocated or occupied? Does he agree that they are making a genuine contribution to the provision of jobs in Wales?

I can confirm that allocations have been high. The Department estimates that 1·15 million sq ft of WDA factory space was allocated—that is 186 units—in 1981–82. The vacancy rate has risen, but that is hardly surprising in view of the record level of factory building that has taken place.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the number employed in all the advance factories in Wales has been reduced by more than 10,000 between 1977–80?

If the hon. Gentleman tables a specific question, I shall answer it. It is true that some of the existing occupants have laid people off during that period. However, a record number of new jobs were created last year by new projects going into WDA factories.

Do the figures include the Hoover factory in Merthyr Tydfil? What prospect does the Secretary of State hold out of large numbers being employed in that factory?

The figures that I have given are for newly completed factories. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Hoover factory was completed some considerable time ago. It is obviously a high priority to find a new user for that factory.

As the effectiveness of the two development bodies in Wales depends not only on advanced factories but on the availability of investment grants, will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind when the review of the status of Mid-Wales takes place in the next couple of months?

I have already confirmed to my hon. Friend that we are carefully considering those issues in the review to which he refers.

I welcome and applaud the efforts of the Welsh Development Agency, but will the Secretary of State confirm that in the first days of this month 1,100 manufacturing jobs were lost in South Wales alone? If he finds it difficult to confirm that figure, I refer him to the daily reports in the Western Mail. How many advance factories does he believe are needed to make good that loss, apart from the existing level of unemployment in South Wales?

I shall put the matter into perspective. The 186 WDA factories to which I referred as being allocated for the year to March 1982 should promise about 4,700 jobs. That is obviously an important contribution.

Order. I shall call the hon. Members who are rising, but we shall have to move more quickly on the other questions.

Is the Secretary of State aware that as Dunlop has pulled out of North Gwent with the loss of almost 1,400 jobs in the last two years, the people of North Gwent, while not protesting at Dunlop's action only a few months ago, are horrified that the Department is now encouraging Dunlop to set up a new factory, not in North Gwent, but elsewhere in South Wales?

The hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware that we have made clear to Dunlop, as to other companies, the range of financial assistance that is offered in existing factories and in new factories. If at some future date the company wishes to set up a new factory, I am sure that that would be welcomed by hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that much of the good work of the Welsh Development Agency may be undone if the public utilities, particularly the electricity and water authorities, make exorbitant charges for connection? Is he aware that they often charge ridiculous sums for providing electricity and water to these factories?

I shall certainly bring that point to the attention of those bodies, although it has been my experience in dealing with the statutory authorities that they make considerable efforts to meet the special requirements of incoming industry.

Planning Applications (Gwynedd)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will review his policy relating to the criteria used in the granting and withholding of planning permission in Gwynedd, with particular attention to the significance to be attached to the county structure plan, the role of the national parks committee and the views of local authorities.

No, Sir. Our policy is to determine every planning case on its merits, taking all material considerations into account and giving full weight to the factors mentioned by the hon. Member.

Is the Minister aware of the grave concern in Gwynedd at the way in which the Welsh Office has overruled the decisions of local planning authorities in several applications in the past few months, particularly in Harlech, Gaerwen and in Groeslon, and that more recently the Welsh Office nominees on the Snowdonia national park authority have swung a decision against the democratic will of the people on the relevant committees in Gwynedd? Does he agree that there is no point in having structure plans and local democratic planning authorities if nominees and the Welsh Office itself throw them overboard in this way?

Structure plans give very useful guidance, but they are not overriding. Circumstances change, and individual planning decisions must reflect that. There were more than 1,300 appeals against local authority decisions in the Principality last year. The people who make those appeals expect a public hearing, an independent hearing, and a decision by an inspector.

Does the Minister agree that too much of the land in Wales is under the jurisdiction of the national parks?

Welsh Development Agency


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the operation of the Welsh Development Agency within the guidlines set by him.

I shall be discussing the agency's future strategy and operations tomorrow with the board of the agency, but I am satisfied with its achievements to date.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Welsh Development Agency, like the Scottish Development Agency, has had its effectiveness greatly reduced by the restraints put on it by the Government? Will he discuss with the agency tomorrow the possibility of widening its powers and increasing its resources so that it can deal effectively with the high level of unemployment in Wales?

I find it hard to accept that the agency's effectiveness has been reduced when 836 advance factories have been completed since its inception, 684 of them in the period since may 1979. That is more than three times as much factory space as in the period from January 1976 to May 1979. As I have said, I shall be discussing with the board tomorrow the scope of its future activities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work of the development agency would be severely reduced if this country left the European community, as the Labour Party urges?

I entirely agree. Indeed, I have just come from a lunch with the CBI, which estimates that it would mean the loss of 1 million jobs.

Does the Secretary of State recall that when we last discussed the Welsh Development Agency, in the Welsh Grand Committee in July last year, he indicated that he was asking the new chairman of the agency to undertake a review of its investment policy, and also expressed the hope that the agency would be prepared to take risks? Will the Secretary of State now tell us the result of that inquiry? Is he satisfied that the agency has sufficient powers and is using them to preserve existing firms and industries in Wales?

I shall be discussing precisely those issues with the agency tomorrow. The agency has produced a paper setting out certain proposals. It proposed to set up an investment subsidiary to assist it in its tasks. It has carried out exactly the remit that I asked it to undertake.

Job Creation


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what effect the Budget proposals will have on unemployment in Wales.

The Budget measures will foster economic recovery and assist industry to provide viable and secure employment in Wales as elsewhere.

Is the Secretary of State aware that this week alone there has been the closure of the Christie Tyler factory at Bridgend with the loss of 300 jobs, of Avon Rubber, announced this weekend, with the loss of 260 jobs, and of TMD Sewing Industries in the Ogmore valley with the loss of 43 jobs? Does he realise that that is 600 jobs lost in one week? Does he also realise that the Government's financial policy for industry is destroying the whole Welsh industrial base?

I am sure that against that background the hon. Gentleman will have particularly welcomed the reduction of 4,500 in the number of unemployed in Wales.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the year from the last quarter of 1980 to the last quarter of 1981 manufacturing production in Wales rose by no less than 13 per cent.?

I welcome the upturn in industrial production that is taking place, as I welcome the large number of new factories and premises now being opened.

Unemployment Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Wales by what percentage unemployment in the Deeside travel-to-work area in the county of Clwyd and in Wales has increased since May 1979; and if he will make a statement.

Between May 1979 and March 1982, unemployment increased by 177·8 per cent., 109 per cent. and 105·2 per cent. respectively. The Government have recognised the special needs of Clwyd by providing substantial additional factory building, at Shotton and by upgrading the Wrexham and Shotton travel-to-work areas.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the latest closure on the horizon in my area is that of Connah's Quay power station, while Courtaulds Flint mill has closed temporarily and the Greenfield paper mill is fighting for its life? Is he aware that those closures affect some 600 jobs in an area with 9,000 out of work and only 1,100 jobs in the pipeline? Will he concede that a major job project must be located on the banks of the Dee? What has happened to the Nissan project?

I have no further news on the Nissan project, but a number of important firms are considering projects in the area. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have welcomed the news that Squibb Surgicare is to take on some 200 people. I recently discussed the future of the Courtaulds works with the chairman of Courtaulds, and he understands the importance of the works to the locality. I have also recently been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy about the future of the power station to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

In view of the anxiety of people at Point of Ayr that the closure of the Connah's Quay power station may affect their future, will my right hon. Friend join me in pressing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to ensure that the project for the liquefaction of coal at Point of Ayr goes ahead at lull speed?

I understand the importance of the power station. At the end of the day, however, decisions about the power station must be the responsibility of the CEGB. As I have said, I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy about this. I can confirm that work is continuing on the liquefaction project, but I have no new information to give my hon. Friend.

Does the Secretary of State agree that his figures clearly show that unemployment in Wales, even using his favoured seasonally adjusted figures, is now 15·1 per cent.? Unemployment is now higher in Wales than in Scotland or any region in England. Does he further agree that the Government's public expenditure White Paper presumes an increase in unemployment of 300,000 in the coming year, and that the Welsh share of that will be about 17,000? If my figures are too pessimistic, will the Secretary of State give his own figures?

The unemployment figures are presented on exactly the same basis as those presented by the right hon. Gentleman when he was in the Welsh Office. The Government have not made, and do not intend to make, any forecasts about unemployment levels for the coming year. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman w ill have welcomed the recent reduction in unemployment levels.

Schoolchildren (Bus Passes)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussion he has had with county councils concerning the provision of free bus passes for schoolchildren.

Is the Minister aware that some of my constituents who are not prepared to allow their children to walk two and a half miles and more to school along busy main roads are genuinely unable to raise the £50 or £60 a month to pay for their children's bus fares? Does the Minister appreciate that from today, the beginning of the summer term, these children are no longer enjoying the right to universal free education? What advice would he give to such parents?

I am, of course, aware of the problem in the Clwyd local education authority. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the decision to withdraw discretionary free bus passes from children is a matter for that authority.

Is that not an unsatisfactory answer, given that in my constituency parents at Broughton who send their children to Saltney high school find that their domestic budgets are being blown to bits because of the extra money that they must find? Is it not about time that the Minister considered giving special and urgent aid to the local authority and to the parents?

I can understand the anxiety of the parents and of the hon. Gentleman, but I can only give the assurance that all children living beyond the statutory walking distances are entitled to free transport and that the authority will continue to make provision for those children.

Will the Minister state his policy when children are bussed free of charge considerable distances beyond schools that provide similar and suitable bilingual education? Should not children attend, where humanly possible, the nearest appropriate school that has already been the parental choice?

Order. Is the hon. Member's constituency in Clwyd or Gwynedd? It is in Gwynedd. I am sorry. Mr. Hooson to ask question No. 7.

Mental Health Services


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what progress he has made with joint financing of personal social services projects for the development of mental health services.

Earlier this month my right hon. Friend announced the largest ever increase in the Government's contribution towards joint finance in Wales—more than £1 million for schemes beginning in 1982–83. This brings the total central contributions to jointly financed schemes to almost £4.5 million.

I am delighted to hear of that progress. Is there any sign that local authorities are having difficulty in matching the Government's contribution?

The bids for joint finance were six times in excess of the earmarked funds. That does not suggest, to me at any rate, that local authorities are unwilling to bring forward schemes.

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware of the difficulty of local authorities in meeting their part of the responsibility from those schemes? In his county of Gwynedd the social services committee is having difficulty. Will the Under-Secretary also say what progress has been made on the other aspect of mental health services in Wales—the grants for MENCAP and the development of MENCAP services in Wales?

In reply to the second part of the question, I should make it clear that the figures do not include the £1·13 million for each of the five years beginning with the year 1983–84 which is concerned with the mental handicap initiative.

As to the difficulties of local authorities, although one understands them, nevertheless, as I said, there is clearly a considerable desire on the part of local authorities to participate in joint finance.

Does the Under-Secretary appreciate that there is considerable anxiety about the provision of mental health services in Gwent? We now find that Mr. Ron Evans, who has taken a keen interest in this matter, is to be replaced by an outsider as chairman of the Gwent area health authority. Does the Under-Secretary appreciate that political nepotism in these public appointments is deplored throughout Wales?

That matter does not arise under this question. However, with regard to the appointment of the new chairman of the Gwent area health authority and the retirement of Mr. Ron Evans, I should point out that Mr. Evans was appointed by the previous Conservative Government.

Holywell (Bypass)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether, in view of the deteriorating condition of the A55 road in the Holywell area, he will bring forward the date for the construction of the Holywell bypass.

The statutory, engineering and other preparatory work for this scheme has not yet been completed, but it is being proceeded with as quickly as possible.

Will my hon. Friend please get a move on? The bypass has been under discussion ever since I was first associated with the area 11 years ago. The road is rapidly disappearing down a blooming great hole, and is almost impassable. Does my hon. Friend agree that something must be done about it before 1989?

I sincerely hope that something will be done before 1989. To begin with, we intend that the existing A55 will be repaired by early next month. The earliest starting date for the bypass that I can give my hon. Friend is September 1984.

Does the Minister understand that those of us who live between Queensferry and Flint are having a torrid time, with huge traffic jams and much environmental blight? Why does not the Minister bring forward the Holywell bypass start date? Is there not proof that the much mooted river road should be started early? Will the Minister cut the waffle and give us some action?

I understand the frustration of the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones), but he might have been generous enough to refer to the considerable landslip in the area, which resulted in a two-year delay in work on the road with which he was once associated.

Beef Herd


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any plans to stimulate the beef breeding herd in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Beef producers' returns have improved considerably during the 1981–82 marketing year. Support measures for the beef industry are currently being reviewed as part of the CAP price-fixing negotiations.

Will the Secretary of State explain why the Government have not paid the extra £29·37 per cow to Welsh beef producers for last year?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we pay substantial grants to Welsh producers and there has been a sharp improvement in returns to beef producers during the past year. The average market price for fat cattle is now 21 per cent. up on last year, and there is a considerable improvement in the market.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind when the discussions take place on the future support for beef that this is the weakest element in the hill and marginal farm economy?

I understand the importance of this sector, but, as I said, there has been a notable improvement, and prices at the 1981 autumn suckled calf sales were up 20 to 25 per cent. Those are substantially above the increase in input prices during the same period. We are seeing a considerable improvement.

Trunk Roads


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the standard of those trunk roads in Wales principally used by traffic whose destination is the South-East of England.

Yes, Sir. With the opening of the M4 Bridgend northern bypass in September last year, there is now a road of dual carriageway standard from the South-East of England into Dyfed.

Does the Minister appreciate that everyone in South Wales is asking about the Severn bridge? Any long-term closure of the bridge would place the whole economy of South Wales in jeopardy. What are the Government's plans for repairing the defects and strengthening the bridge, and is there long-term provision for a new bridge?

Work on strengthening the bridge is in hand, and my right hon. Friend is awaiting the report of the consultants who were asked to appraise the whole bridge. I think that the House and those of us associated with South Wales recognise the great importance and significance of the smooth use of the Severn bridge for the economy of South Wales.

Will the Minister look again at his Department's priorities for the A5 in Wales, in view of the construction work that the Department of Transport is now doing on the M54?

Does the Minister appreciate that a considerable percentage of this traffic to the South-East of England is en route to the Continent? Does he further appreciate that if the Channel tunnel were built a considerable amount of that traffic could go by rail, which would be very much to the satisfaction of the people of Kent? What consultations is he having with his right hon. Friend on the building of the Channel tunnel?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I am not at present engaged in such discussions.

I drove across the Severn bridge this morning. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of yet another set of restrictions on that bridge? How many times and how many days in the last 12 months has that bridge been free to traffic as opposed to being heavily restricted, as it was again today, with little evidence of much work being done?

First, I apologise for my answer to the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) a few minutes ago. I did not interpret that question as widely as I should have. Of course, we take that matter into consideration.

I cannot give the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) information about how many days the bridge has been completely free from restriction, but clearly it has not been sufficient. There have been technical troubles associated with the bridge, and for safety reasons we have had to impose these restrictions. We shall, of course, clear the bridge as soon as we can, because we recognise its significance and importance.

Will the Minister make an authoritative public statement regarding the present condition of the Severn bridge, the steps that are shortly to be taken to improve it and the long-term view regarding the possible need for a second bridge? There is considerable disquiet among industrialists in South Wales, who fear that any closure of, or restrictions on, that bridge would adversely affect industrial development and growth in the area.

That, of course, is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and he has promised to keep the House properly and fully informed.

University College Hospital, Cardiff


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give details of repairs and rebuilding being undertaken at University college hospital, Heath, Cardiff.

Remedial works at the University hospital of Wales have covered mosaic cladding, repairs to ceilings in Meirionnydd House, defects in Pembroke and Brecknock residences and ward B4G. I am awaiting a report on the extent of any further works following a detailed structural survey of the hospital.

Pending that survey, will my hon. Friend say what the cost to date has been; what it is expected to be; whether anyone has been held legally responsible; and, when he receives the report, whether we can expect an end of the matter and that we shall not have to repair and rebuild this hospital every eight or 10 years?

The remedial works undertaken to date have cost £1·8 million. The report on the survey of the defects indicated a total cost of £6·3 million for the necessary remedial works, but a working party was set up to consider what further work was to be funded from central NHS sources. That working party is due to report shortly. It is expected that the cost will be in the region of £2 million, in addition to the £1·8 million in all spent so far.

As to action against those responsible for the defects, no one has admitted liability and responsibility for the current situation, but writs have been issued against the consultant engineers and the architects with regard to the mosaic defects. The question of litigation in respect of the further defects is also being examined.

In order to contain the obvious apprehension, as stated by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist), will the Minister arrange for Welsh hospital capital building expenditure to match or even exceed the per capita figure for England and Scotland?

As the hon. Gentleman should know, significant NHS capital works are taking place in Wales. We are building no fewer than four new district general hospitals. Of course, the expenditure figures on the University hospital of Wales must be related to the fact that that hospital would cost £100 million if it were built today.

Does the Minister agree that it is a public scandal that, so soon after the completion of this hospital, these remedial works are now required? Will he keep the House closely informed of the progress of litigation?

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I quote from memory, but I think that the hospital is about 10 years old. The Department has been carrying out a study of its procedures for controlling major projects, and it is hoped that the findings will help eliminate future defects in major capital projects.

Redundancies (Merthyr Tydfil)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will estimate the number of redundancies in Merthyr Tydfil since May 1979.

Between May 1979 and March 1982, 3,856 redundancies were notified to the Department of Employment as due to occur in the Merthyr Tydfil area.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is almost the total number of jobs that we could expect even if Nissan came to South Wales, and that is in one community alone? When can we expect some growth and an increase in the number of jobs in Merthyr Tydfil and other Heads of the Valleys communities, or will we be bypassed, in view of the fact that one Minister has referred to traditional industrial communities? When can we expect to see some real growth and real jobs back in the Heads of the Valleys communities?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about unemployment in Merthyr Tydfil, which is clearly extremely serious. It is also true that a number of projects now coming to Wales are deciding to locate in the Heads of the Valleys area. I welcome that. Furthermore, the improved road links that have been completed during the Government's term of office will help, and the hon. Gentleman will know that at present we are pressing ahead with the important road link up the valley to Merthyr.

Heart Disease


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will take steps to discover the cause of the high rate of heart deaths in Wales and to improve specialist treatment of heart disease.

As long ago as December 1979 my right hon. Friend asked the Welsh Medical Committee to prepare a report on cardiothoracic services in Wales. The report was presented to him in January, and I have myself discussed it with its authors. The report's recommendations are now being examined and costed by Welsh Office officials, and when this work is complete it will be published.

I welcome my hon. Friend's reply. Does he agree that the alleged leak was premature, irresponsible and caused unnecessary anxiety? Will he further take on board the fact that there is only one cardioangiography unit in the whole of Wales—at Cardiff—and, while other units over the border could be used, we do not have trained specialists to use them?

It is true that many treatments of Welsh people take place outside Wales, in both London and Liverpool. As to the so-called leak of the contents of this report, blatant party political propaganda is involved. Many of the figures, especially with regard to deaths, relate to as far back as 1978.

In addition to the working party report led by an eminent cardiologist, is the Minister aware of the report of Dr. Farrow, of the Welsh National School of Medicine, who states that expenditure on Welsh health should be according to our higher morbidity and not as calculated at present?

I am aware of that report, but the one that we are dealing with under this question was commissioned by my right hon. Friend and relates to cardiothoracic surgery in particular.

In calling the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas), I should point out that earlier I interpreted Question No. 6 narrowly, and I apologise to him. The hon. Gentleman might then have had a chance to ask a question, but he now has the opportunity to do so on Question No. 14.

Pneumoconiosis Research Unit (South Glamorgan)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether his Department has commissioned any research from the pneumoconiosis research unit in the South Glamorgan area health authority.

The Welsh Office has not commissioned any research at the Medical Research Council's pneumoconiosis research unit at Llandough hospital, but the work carried out there on occupational lung disease is directly relevant to health problems in Wales.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the recent statement by the former director of the unit suggesting that it was "withering away"? Is that not a serious statement from someone who was concerned with research that has been vital for Wales, and, more recently, for Cornish tin miners, in relation to industrial chest diseases?

I understand that the director retired early and that he made some comments to the press, which I read with interest. I have no reason to believe that the future of the unit is in jeopardy. It is dominated by the Medical Research Council, which is sponsored by the Department of Education and Science, and I understand that another director is to be appointed.

Is the Under-Secretary aware of the poor progress being made in the tripartite talks on pnuemoconiosis between the Government, the NCB and the NUM? Is there nothing that the Secretary of State can do for an area that is more blighted by pneumoconiosis than any other part of the United Kingdom?

The problem has been with us for a considerable time, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that much has been done over the years. The unit at Llandough is already conducting a major research programme on matters of special interest to Wales.


Steel Workers (Re-Employment)


asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on the progress made in finding replacement jobs for workers declared redundant as a result of steelworks closures.

No national information is available on the success of individual redundant steel workers in finding new jobs. But it is clear that the creation of the necessary new and secure jobs in the areas affected depends primarily on the right economic conditions for industry, which our current and economic policies are intended to create.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, while a number of us appreciate that there are difficulties in finding new jobs in steel areas, we were alarmed to read of the BSC's sale of Redpath Engineering to Trafalgar House, which will result in about 600 or 700 redundancies? Will the hon. Gentleman also comment on the rumour that the sale was made for a miserable £10 million and ask his friends at the Department of Trade whether the transaction creates a monopoly?

There is agreement in principle between the BSC and Trafalgar House for a sale. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is a matter for the commercial judgment of the BSC. It does not require the consent of the Secretary of State for Industry. Trafalgar House has said that it expects that there will be 600 or 700 redundancies, but that it will do its best to find alternative employment elsewhere in the group, and the redundancies would, of course, be spread throughout the areas where Trafalgar House is located.

The price is also a matter for the BSC and I see no reason to distrust its commercial judgment. I understand that it took professional advice. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of a monopoly, and I can tell him that the size of the companies involved means that the issue is being considered by the Director General of Fair Trading.

Did my hon. Friend read last Tuesday's Financial Times, which reported the rumour that the European Commission is about to announce a package of aid for steel closure areas and that Scunthorpe is not to be included? Is it not outrageous that, with 8,000 redundant steel workers in my constituency. the area is not to be included in any package of measures? What assistance will his Department provide to Scunthorpe and what representations will it make to the Common Market?

As my hon. Friend knows, I am aware of the problems of Scunthorpe, and it is certainly one of the most adversely affected steel closure areas. I assure my hon. Friend that we would not want his constituency to be placed in a disadvantageous position by any special measures to help other steel closure areas. His area ought to be entitled to the same aid as other areas.

The Minister said in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) that no national figures were available, but is he aware that redundant steel workers form a significant proportion of the large number of unemployed in the Northern region, which still has the most unemployed in England? Ought not the Government to make special provision for redundant steel workers?

The original question was whether we could identify the reabsorption of steel workers. Unemployment and re-employment figures do not detail the previous occupations of individuals, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we recognise the special position of steel closure areas. That is why BSC (Industry) has been operating and why European Investment Bank and ECSC schemes are available to help to deal with those grave problems.

House Of Commons

Staff (Working Conditions)


asked the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, as representing the House of Commons Commission, whether the Commission will arrange to meet trade union representatives of the House of Commons employees to discuss their working conditions and related matters.

These matters are normally the subject of consultation between management and trade union representatives, without the direct involvement of the Commission.

Why is the Commission trying to impose on House of Commons employees a "no-strike" clause, which would shackle the trade unions even more than the Government's obnoxious Employment Bill, which is to be discussed later this week? In view of the understandable opposition of the trade unions concerned and the resultant deadlock in negotiations, will the Commission consider referring the matter to a form of independent arbitration, such as ACAS?

It is not the intention of the Commission to impose a "no-strike" clause on anyone, but it takes the view that Parliament's work ought not to be hampered in any way. Consequently, management is meeting the trade unions and I am told that some movement has been made. I hope that a satisfactory settlement will be reached in due course.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the vast majority of hon. Members fully support him and his colleagues in what they are seeking to do for us all?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, just as it is an immense privilege for us to serve as hon. Members, so it is a privilege to serve on the staff and to serve the country? Is he further aware that no bolshie attitudes on these matters are wanted round here?

Education And Science

Films (Appreciation)


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to encourage the appreciation of films.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take further steps to encourage the appreciation of films.

My responsibilities are limited to film as an art form and the preservation of historical material. I have increased the grant to the British Film Institute to assist with its production and archive activities, and its support for regional film appreciation.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he takes too narrow a view of his responsibilities for films? In view of the current success of British films, will he take the initiative with his ministerial colleagues in urging the establishment of a British film laboratory, as was strongly recommended recently by the Wilson committee? Would that not assist in maintaining standards, and is that not what a Minister responsible for the arts is supposed to do?

I think that the hon. Gentleman's question is based on a misapprehension. I am not responsible for that matter, which is entirely the responsibility of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, a former Secretary of State for Trade, confirms my view. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman addresses his question to the Department of Trade.

As hardly any hon. Members remember the Roman conquest, will the Minister use his best efforts to persuade film makers to put the dates of films in proper numerals instead of in Latin lettering?

I shall certainly consider that point, but I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be well able to read the dates of films and I am sure that all other hon. Members, apart from those educated at Eton, are able to do likewise.

I am sure that the Minister will be able to read the voluminous reports that have been produced from many quarters showing that the British film industry is probably now in a better position to advance than at any time since the 'forties? Will the Minister and his Department give the fullest and strongest commitment to do whatever is possible to improve and preserve the British film industry?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he should address his question to the Secretary of State for Trade, who is responsible for the commercial film industry.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee recently made an excellent report on the preservation of the film archives? When can we expect the Government's response?

Is the Minister happy with the present situation in the Government, whereby he is responsible for "arty" films and the Department of Trade is responsible for all other films? What is he doing in all those Cabinet Committees to achieve a situation whereby one Minister is in charge of the whole industry?

Fortunately, it is not for me to decide on the allocation of ministerial duties. That is the position, and it has been so for a considerable time, and not only under this Government. It would help if the film industry had united views about the Department to which it would like to be responsible.

Has not the Minister the sensitivity to feel that there is growing concern in the House that matters concerning the film industry in this country are extremely badly ordered? Does he agree—a simple assertion of agreement would do a power of good—that every aspect of films and film making would fare much better in Britain if the responsibility for films were taken away from his colleague in the Department of Trade and put under his cultural concern, where they should more properly be?

I am grateful that hon. Members wish to thrust these important responsibilities on me, but I should be grateful if they would take up this matter with the Prime Minister, who is responsible for the allocation of duties, not I.

The Arts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the amount of support provided from all sources for the arts in the North-West.

I am never satisfied, but in general I am impressed by what is achieved in this field in the North-West.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the arts are an important element in the attractiveness, and therefore in the economy, of the region? Does he therefore agree that it is distressing to see what is happening to the Hallé orchestra, which is being squeezed by a reduction in grant and an increase in charges by the local authority—and is in a static position with the Arts Council—before it can do anything about raising private funds? Would my right hon. Friend care to comment?

It is a great pity that the Hallé orchestra is being squeezed in this way. I hope that my hon. Friend will use his influence to try to persuade the local authority to reconsider its decision, which is small in cash terms but important to the orchestra. In answer to my hon. Friend's question about private help to the arts in the North-West, I hope that there will be an increase in business sponsorship, and I hope to have a meeting there in the not-too-distant future.

The Hallé orchestra forms an important part of the cultural life in the whole of the North-West. In view of the local authority decision, will the Minister look at the matter again and see what direct help he can give to maintain this important cultural achievement in the area?

I cannot ask the Arts Council to pay extra money when local authorities are reducing their grants to a particular orchestra. Otherwise, many local authorities would do exactly the same and it would be a great disincentive to people to continue to support them. I hope that hon. Members in the North-West will use their influence to try to make sure that the Hallé is not squeezed in this way by Manchester city.

Will the Minister accept that counties north-west of Southend are equally deprived of arts finance, and will he use his best endeavours to persuade his own county councillors and those around East Anglia to contribute more generously to the arts?

The hon. Gentleman has a valid point, and it is one that I discussed with him recently. Certainly I have it much in mind.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bring his good offices to bear on the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is much to blame for some of the damage that has been done to these activities throughout the regions?

I certainly do not accept that. It has been interesting to see how local authorities have reacted. Most of them have helped the arts considerably, bearing in mind the present difficulties. It is a great pity that a few of them have reduced their support for the arts in cash terms.

National Gallery


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will arrange for the responsibility for the buildings occupied by the National gallery to be vested in the trustees of the National gallery.

The ownership of the National gallery premises is vested in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on behalf of the Crown. I have had no representations from the trustees that this arrangement is unsatisfactory.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the intervention of the Property Services Agency, in respect of the internal/external fabric of the buildings of the National gallery, means divided responsibility on the part of the trustees? If the trustees are regarded as competent to look after the pictures, which are very much more valuable than the buildings, surely it would be right for them to look after the buildings as well?

I have had no representations from the trustees about the matter, but I shall willingly discuss the matter with them. The situation of the National gallery is exactly the same as that of every other gallery, except the British museum, where, under the British Museum Act, the trustees own the buildings.

Arts Council


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science, further to his statement of 22 February, Official Report, c. 643, what progress has been made in his discussions with the Arts Council cm the proportion of its budget spent outside London.

Over 60 per cent. of the Arts Council grant is spent outside London and I am satisfied that the Arts Council is well aware of the importance of helping the arts in the regions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to encourage the development of the arts in the regions, so that every one has the maximum opportunity to benefit from and enjoy them?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am glad to say that the proportion of the grant spent outside London has increased substantially over the past 20 years or so, and I hope that that trend will continue.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that under the present Secretary-General there has been a large change in the proportion spent in the regions and in the Metropolis? For once, due credit should be given to the gentleman who is responsible for that policy.

Is it a matter of Government policy what proportion of the funds available to the arts is spent on professionals putting on exhibitions, theatre and opera? Is the proportion that is spent on amateurs performing in the arts in youth orchestras or dramatics of one kind or another a matter of Government policy, or is it entirely at the discretion of the Arts Council?

No. On the whole, the Arts Council's charter restricts its ability to support organisations other than professional organisations. In its charter it has no power to support amateur organisations. The money that it gives is restricted to the professional theatre arid professional organisations.

A few moments ago the Minister said that the contributions made by the local authorities in the regions are not as great as previously. Has he had representations on the matter? Does he agree that it is an extremely important matter? Is it not true that the arts are suffering as a result of the Government's policy of reducing Exchequer grants to local authorities, not least in the Northern region?

No. I think that the hon. Gentleman must have misheard me. I said that I was delighted that local authorities had not been reducing their expenditure on the arts by a substantial amount. In fact, most local authorities have been giving roughly the same amount as before. I told the hon. Gentleman, I think in reply to a question at our last Question Time, that the Northern area was getting a higher proportion of Government support for the arts than almost anywhere else.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Arts Council to continue to maintain its sense of balance in this matter, because London is the arts capital of the world, and that is a tremendous national asset? Many people live in London and many people enjoy coming into London from outside to enjoy arts events which, by their very nature, require large gatherings of people.

Yes. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members agree that a substantial proportion has to be spent on London, because that is where many of the centres of national excellence are. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend.

Is the Minister not aware, unlike the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), that it is not London that is the arts capital of the world, but Hammersmith, North? A number of arts and theatre groups there are in acute financial trouble, partly because of Government cuts in the arts generally. We should be talking not just about the proportion spent on London, as opposed to the rest of Britain, but about the total amount.

That cannot be right. Some groups may be in trouble, but it is not because of Government cuts. The Government have increased the Arts Council grant by a respectable amount considering the difficult economic circumstances. It is open to local authorities and the Greater London Arts Association to help those groups that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to discuss the future of the Arts Council in detail with Sir William Rees-Mogg?

Not as yet. Sir William Rees-Mogg's period of office does not begin until early May. After that, I shall naturally hope to hold a series of discussions with him about the future of the Arts Council.

Falkland Islands

3.30 pm

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a brief statement on the Falkland Islands.

Our objectives remain as already stated to the House. However, I should provide an account of developments since the debate last Wednesday.

Mr. Haig is continuing in his efforts to persuade the Argentine Government to agree to the implementation of Security Council resolution No. 502. His mission provides the best hope of achieving that objective.

The position is still delicate and the House will not expect me to reveal details of the negotiations. I know that the House understands that. We remain grateful to Mr. Haig and will continue to co-operate fully with his efforts to secure the implementation of resolution No. 502.

Meanwhile, we are stepping up the military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Argentina. Our naval task force is steadily approaching the area of the Falklands, and we are continuing to strengthen its ability to carry out whatever tasks may be required of it.

I am glad to tell the House that Norway has today joined members of the European Community and certain important Commonwealth countries in banning imports from Argentina.

The 22 marines who were captured in South Georgia and the remaining seven from the Falklands, as well as 13 British scientists evacuated from South Georgia, have arrived safely in Montevideo. I am glad to say that they are now on their way back to Britain. Fifteen British scientists remain in South Georgia and we have their wellbeing and safety very much in mind. The latest report on 18 April confirmed that all were safe and well.

The three British journalists arrested last week in Argentina are expected to appear before a judge today. The British interests section of the Swiss embassy in Buenos Aires is keeping us informed of developments.

Argentina must have no doubts about our resolve to exercise our rights to the full if this should prove necessary. However, I can assure the House that we are making every possible effort to get a satisfactory solution to this dispute by peaceful means. The Government will continue to keep the House informed.

First, I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I hope that he will take similar opportunities to keep the House informed as affairs develop. The Opposition welcome the Norwegian Government's decision to join the Community in sanctions against the Argentine.

The Opposition share the Government's objectives, which include securing the withdrawal of all Argentine troops and other persons from the Falkland Islands before Britain engages in direct negotiations with Argentina for a peaceful settlement of the status of the Islands.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—as I think all Labour Members would—that Mr. Haig's mission provides the best hope of a peaceful settlement. I hope that we shall all do everything that we can to assist him to succeed. If no immediate agreement on sovereignty can be reached after an Argentine withdrawal—that seems to be the stumbling block at the moment, according to Mr. Secretary Haig's statements—will the Government consider asking the Secretary-General of the United Nations to provide a temporary administrator for the Islands after the Argentine forces have left, so that the sovereignty issue can be put on one side for direct negotiation between Britain and the Argentine? I think that that is the desire of both sides of the House.

I apologise for putting a more hypothetical question to the right hon. Gentleman, but the issue may arise before he next has an opportunity to make a statement to the House. If Mr. Haig should finally decide—as he seemed on the point of doing twice in the last week—that he can contribute nothing more as an "honest broker", will the Government consider asking the Secretary-General of the United Nations to undertake that role, thus freeing he United States Administration to express the views of the American people that America should not behave as neutral between the aggressor and his victim or between a democratic ally and a dictatorship whose actions have often been hostile to the United States in recent years'?

May I finally ask the right hon. Gentleman to answer a question which I put to him in our first debate a fortnight ago? Can he assure the House that the Government will not reduce the forces at present available for the defence of Belize so long as a threat from Guatemala persists?

First, we are grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his intervention and for the shared objectives and the support that he has given the Government and Mr. Haig in what they are trying to achieve.

The first vital step is to secure the Argentine withdrawal in accordance with Security Council resolution No. 502. The methods are open to discussion, but that must be the first objective. It would be wrong at the present time to consider what might happen in the very unfortunate event of that mission not proving successful. It would be wrong to go beyond that. As I said in my statement, I know that the right hon. Gentleman supports that. At the moment, the hope and the effort must be to do everything possible to make the mission successful.

It has always seemed to me that while Mr. Haig and the United States Administration are trying to achieve the implementation of the resolution by peaceful means it would be inappropriate for them to be in any position other than a reasonably evenhanded one. That is a fair statement of the position. That must continue at the moment.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that no date has been fixed for any change in the situation in Belize. We have the situation in Central America very much in mind at the present time. No change is envisaged in the foreseeable future in our military situation there.

May I correct what I thought was a misunderstanding by the right hon. Gentleman of the suggestion that I put to him regarding the Secretary-General of the United Nations being asked to provide an administrator? The suggestion that I made in the House last week, and which I have repeated since, was that if, as appears to be the case, the impediment to an Argentine agreement to the withdrawal of its forces is the nature of the administration on the islands thereafter, during the period when negotiations between Britain and the Argentine on a permanent settlement must proceed, will the Government consider trying to take the sovereignty issue out of the immediate argument by inviting the United Nations to provide an administrator purely for the period between the withdrawal of the Argentine forces and the agreement of a permanent settlement?

We have never disguised from the House that the negotiations are clearly difficult and that there are a number of obstacles. A great many proposals and ideas have been brought forward to try to resolve those difficulties. That is what the negotiations are about. As the House was generous enough to understand last week, and as I am sure it will now, while those negotiations are going on, one hopes with a successful outcome, it would be wrong to go into the details of those negotiations. It would certainly be wrong at the moment to project our comments in public beyond this particular stage. It must remain our objective to hope, and to do everything that we can to ensure, that the Haig mission is successful.

Order. As it is clear that we shall return to this subject more than once in the near future, I propose to limit questions this afternoon to 20 minutes. That is a good run and might, indeed, be a bit too long to suit the House.

In view of the Government's repeated assurance that no agreement affecting the future status of the Falkland Islands will be made without the consent of the House and the Falkland Islanders, is it not clear that the withdrawal of Argentine forces from the islands cannot be conditional either upon such an agreement or upon the possibility of such an agreement?

We have made our position about the status of the islands and the importance that we have always attached to the wishes of the islanders clear from the outset. We have described those wishes as being of paramount importance. Of course, the Argentines have a different point of view about these matters and that is why the negotiations are so difficult and protracted. We are doing everything that we can to ensure that they are successful. The principles upon which we have based our case have been made very clear to the House.

Whatever may be discussed in subsequent negotiations, will my right hon. Friend confirm that if we are to uphold the vital principle that unprovoked aggression must not be seen to pay, Argentine withdrawal from the Falkland Islands must be total and unconditional, without any Argentine flags or administrators being left behind?

My right hon. Friend will agree that the rapid passing of resolution No. 502 in the United Nations was a substantial achievement. It specifically refers to that point. This matter is not only of the utmost importance to Britain but of importance to all freedom-loving countries all round the world. They have just as great an interest in ensuring that withdrawal takes place as we have.

If it is true that the British Government rightly refuse to surrender sovereignty under duress and in the face of unwarranted armed aggression, but that they are prepared to negotiate sovereignty later, are not both countries getting the whole issue out of perspective? Argentina is doing so by its statement that its soldiers will stay, dead or alive, on the Falkland Islands, and Britain by its declaration that it will shoot first when the task force arrives. Is that still our position?

I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right about shooting first. The Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands when we—like previous Governments—were negotiating with them about the future of the Falkland Islands. In the course of those negotiations we gave due weight to the wishes of the islanders, which was not always to the satisfaction of the Argentines. However, those negotiations were going on. Without any notice, and without telling us of their intentions, the Argentines invaded these islands, and that position cannot be allowed to stand.

Some people may take the right hon. Gentleman's view that the Argentines and the British are getting the issue out of proportion, but the principle of one large country taking another country by invasion and military force cannot be allowed to stand. That is what the issue is all about. The Argentines have acted completely unreasonably. They are now in breach of a mandatory United Nations resolution. All members of the United Nations have an interest in seeing that they fulfil their mandatory obligations.

Is it not true that while the task force proceeds towards the Falkland Islands war zone the Government are pushing ahead with proposals to reduce the allowances paid to Service men in that fleet? Is it not bad enough that the Navy has to operate under the shadow of cuts in the fleet, without adding insult to injury?

The hon. Gentleman must not believe all that he reads in the newspapers. That matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and he has made his proposals public. They are fair and reasonable, and the hon. Gentleman can question him about them.

Will my right hon, Friend keep an open mind about the suggestion of a United Nations presence? If that were offered by the United Nations, it might be the very factor to induce the Argentines to withdraw peaceably. With a United Nations presence, a referendum of the Falkland Islanders could take place, and we all know the probable result of that. That would be a good interim measure.

I note that suggestion. During the negotiations, I should not wish to close any options beyond the objectives and principles that we have stated. However, in the course of these long talks we have explored a great many options and there are difficulties about most of them. Therefore, that is not necessarily a way ahead. At present, we must just hope that the present negotiations will, in one way or another, be successful.

Given the point made by right right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), do the published views of the British ambassador in the United States of America represent the Government's position on the attitude of the United States of America? Can the rght hon. Gentleman say anything more about the Soviet attitude or about its activities?

I have made clear our position about the attitude of the United States Government. At present they are involving themselves in negotiations with us and with Argentina. That is how that matter must rest. It is true that the Soviet Union is involving itself more with Argentina. Our ambassador in Washinton answered several questions about that in a recent interview and that is, broadly speaking, the position.

May I repeat a question that was put to the Prime Minister in the first emergency debate, to which she replied that we had many friends? Who are these friends in South America? Are not South Americans, Right, Left and Centre, right across the political spectrum—even among those who have suffered from Right-wing Governments—against us on this issue? Are we not antagonising the entire Hispanic world—[Interruption]—even among those who have suffered from Right-wing Governments? Is it not an illusion to think that the Americans will be less than evenhanded when an American President, based in California, is aware of the Hispanic speaking section of the American population in New Mexico, Arizona and California?

It is fair to say that the majority of the South American States have expressed their deep concern over the action taken by the Argentine. They may have a certain sympathy with the Argentine's claims, but they do not have any sympathy with the methods used to try to secure them. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Organisation of American States did not support the Argentine invasion, and Peru, for example, has proposed a 72-hour truce. Other suggestions are being made. Although the South American countries may express a certain sympathy with the Argentine's ideas, most of them do not approve of the way in which they have been put into effect.

We all appreciate Secretary Haig's tireless efforts, but has my right hon. Friend explained to him that, irrespective of the issue of sovereignty, the islanders' right to self-determination is enshrined in the United Nations charter and that, unlike the Argentines, they possess a freely elected legislature or Parliament of their own, which cannot function properly as long as the islanders are menaced by foreign invades with guns? Did my right hon. Friend make it plain to Secretary Haig that there can be no preconditions about sovereignty or anything else as long as Argentine soldiers remain on British soil?

There is no question but that the principle of self-determination is part of the United Nations charter. We have paid very careful attention to that. One of the issues is what the Falkland Islanders will want for the future. Before this traumatic experience they had a clear view, and we supported them in that. We do not know what their view will be. That is for the future. However, it is impossible to ascertain those views until the Argentines have withdrawn completely.

Is it not time that the Government informed the House, by way of a report, of the views that have been obtained from the Falkland Islanders? Is it not a fact that a variety of views have been expressed to official sources by those leaving the Falkland Islands and that there are families of Falkland Islanders in Britain who could be approached for guidance about the Government's political actions? Should not such action be undertaken even now, before the Haig discussions are completed, and regardless of whether they are successful?

It is impossible at the moment to claim a general view of what the Falkland Islanders' wishes are while they are under duress. Of course views have been expressed, and we have heard from those who have returned from the Falklands what the islanders' views are, but so long as the islands are under military rule from Argentina it is impossible to know exactly what the islanders think. I have told the House what I expect they would think—that they would want to be more British even than they were before the invasion, if that were possible. That is speculation. We should not anticipate that. The object remains to secure Argentine withdrawal. There is no other first step that can be taken.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that whatever negotiations may be necessary about sovereignty now or in future they should start from the basis that, legally, sovereignty is in British hands and that it cannot, for mere convenience, be put into abeyance, as it were, under the United Nations or any other organisation?

We start from the clear view that my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) is right. We are in no doubt about our sovereignty position. The Argentine challenges that and makes a separate claim of its own. It is entitled to make that claim, and there are various ways of settling it. The only means that we shall not accept as a method of settling it is the use of force.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not reasonable to expect people overseas to continue with sanctions if those in the City of London and members of Lloyd's syndicates rat on sanctions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that members of Lloyd's syndicates, who are well represented on the Conservative Benches behind him, today gave further insurance cover to Argentine Airlines and are already making arrangments to renew an Argentine Airlines' insurance contract, which expires on 1 May, through Swiss banks if necessary, so that the premiums will not have to come into Britain? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the City puts Britain before its own commercial interests?

I cannot comment on those allegations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, many of our friends have taken economic measures against Argentina. No new loans are being authorised or made to the Argentine by the City of London. I cannot comment of the allegation that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Argentine junta is still unwilling to allow the key question of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands to be determined by the International Court at the Hague, which I understand, would be the correct United Nations solution to this type of problem?

That has always been the junta's position. The Argentines see sovereignty as the critical issue and I have no reason to suppose that they have changed their attitude—their objection—to allowing the issue to go to the International Court of Justice. My hon. Friend has referred to an issue which is central to the talks that arc now taking place. Therefore, it would not be right to say anything more at present.

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the malignant truism uttered by the United States ambassadress to the United Nations who said that if the territory in question—the Falklands—was Argentine territory, the Argentine had clearly not invaded anyone else's territory? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider stating the opposite case and putting our case to the International Court of Justice? If that Court turns it down solely on the ground that the Argentine Government will not accept the case being heard by the International Court of Justice, the right hon. Gentleman must surely realise that that fact alone will weigh in the United States more than many other considerations.

That is a possibility, but I must say to the hon. Gentleman that we have never been in any doubt about our title to the Falkland Islands. Without doubt, the Argentines have invaded the islands. The Argentines have a claim that we have been discussing and arguing about for many years. There has been no movement on the issue under previous Governments, but that does not justify the actions that the Argentines have taken. This is a major international event that no country can afford to neglect.

I agree with the expressions of gratitude to Secretary Haig, but will my right hon. Friend communicate to Washington the profound misgivings that are felt on both sides of the House about the ambivalent sound and signals coming from the United States' Administration on this issue? In particular, will he consider making a protest about the statements made by the United States ambassador to the United Nations? If such statements are not checked, they could damage the future of the Anglo-American alliance.

It is clear that Britain has a great deal of public support in the United States. It is our view that the best achievement for us all would be for Mr. Haig's mission to succeed and for Resolution No. 502 to be implemented. While that process is in hand, it seems inappropriate in the circumstances for the United States Government to align themselves. I am conscious of the fact that among the public in the United States there is a wide measure of support for Britain's case, which they understand very well.

Are the Falkland Islanders free to leave the islands if they wish to do so? Are they free in practice to do so, as opposed to what the Argentines say about this? If they are, would it not be right for the British Government to say at this stage that if they do leave temporarily they will assist them to do so, so that they can get out of the combat zone?

There is no evidence that Falkland Islanders who wish to leave the islands are being prevented from doing so by Argentina. The hon. Gentleman's second point is one that we are considering sympathetically.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Royal Navy and the shore support facilities have performed magnificently? May I put it to him, in the presence of Ministers who have more specific defence responsibilities, that when calm has been restored we should look again at the shape of the Royal Navy and of the shore support facilities to see whether they are best suited to guard our vital interests, both inside and outside NATO, and that meanwhile we should not continue with any steps that would weaken the shore support facilities?

The whole House will join my hon. Friend in admiring the way in which the Royal Navy has conducted itself. The impressive way and the speed with which the Royal Navy assembled the fleet and set sail indicates that it is in pretty good shape. After this story is over various views will be expressed, but the fact that we could react so swiftly and competently showed that the Royal Navy is in very good shape indeed.

Order. I shall call one more Member from each side. That must be our lot for today.

In view of the statement made by the American ambassador to the United Nations, is the right hon. Gentleman convinced that in the end President Reagan will be on our side?

I cannot go further on that. I am sure that President Reagan would like to be, but the Americans are acting as negotiators. That is a position that should be respected.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the media have a grave responsibility? Are the Government concerned about the fact that some of the information given on television—for example, about Vulcan and Harrier use and training—seems extremely generous in the circumstances, and perhaps might be examined with more caution in future?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I should not wish to be critical of the way in which the issue has been presented on television. I sometimes wish that pictures and film extracts of the Argentine forces had a caption indicating their source, rather than a picture merely showing that something was happening. It is also fair to say that the correspondents who are with the carrier task force are reporting in a way that people find acceptable. I should not wish to criticise the media, but they have an extremely important role to play now and in the future. I am sure that the media will do their best to fulfil that role honourably.

Taking Of Hostages Bill Lords


That the Taking of Hostages Bill [Lords] be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—[Mr. Cope.]

Merchant Shipping (Liner Conferences) Bill


That the Merchant Shipping (Liner Conferences) Bill be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—[Mr. Cope.]

Statutory Instruments, &C


That the Fish Producers' Organizations (Formation Grants) Scheme 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 498) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Cope.]

Orders Of The Day


[17th Allotted Day]— considered

Public Accounts

[Relevant documents: 1st to 17th Reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1980–81, and the to 5th Reports in Session 1981–82, and the relevant Government Observations.]

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

4.1 pm

The reports of the Public Accounts Committee that we are debating are extensive. We are debating the first to the seventeenth reports for 1980–81 and the first to the fifth reports of 1981–82. I am sure that the House will forgive me if I do not refer to every one of them.

If my hon. Friend were to insist on a reference to all of them, I could attempt to do so.

It is traditional to begin these debates—the fact that it is traditional makes it none the less important—by thanking a number of individuals, especially colleagues on the Public Accounts Committee who always give me the most valuable support, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. I am most grateful to them. I wish also to thank the Clerks that the PAC has had. I think particularly of the former Clerk, Mrs. Irwin, and the present Clerk, who is John Rose. We have come to expect invaluable service from them and we have not been disappointed either by them or the small staffs that assist them—the Assistant Clerk and the young lady who assists in typing the reports.

I thank the former Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir Douglas Henley, the present holder of that office, Gordon Downey, the Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor-General, Mr. Calvert, and their staffs, who help to give our work the importance with which it is received both in the House and outside. Equally, I thank the former Treasury witness, Mr. Carey, and the present one, Mr. Judd, who gave and who give the PAC invaluable assistance. The same goes for all the Treasury witnesses, the accounting officers and other witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee.

As I have said, I cannot refer to all the reports that we are considering, but the reports to which I refer have a common thread because they all deal with waste, extravagance, cost-effectiveness and efficiency, value for money, financial control and accountability. All those general issues were at the heart of our major report in the first special report of 1980–81 on the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I do not wish to debate that report again today as we debated it as recently as 30 November, when it was virtually unanimously received by the House. Indeed, the Committee condemned the Treasury response, again virtually unanimously, and was supported by nearly 300 Members on both sides of the House in an early-day motion. Since then we have been promised a rather better response from the Treasury, and I hope that we get one. I am sure that the House will want to see a better response.

We were promised a better response by the former Leader of the House, who has been moved on to higher things. I hope that the present Leader of the House will be able to ensure that there will be no further delays on the part of the Treasury. I hope that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be able to give us that assurance. There have been indications that there are to be discussions with the Leader of the House and the Treasury on the new response that we are to expect, but in advance of that meeting I want to express some concern about the reply that was given on 6 April to a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). My hon. Friend asked:
"Ought the Public Accounts Committee to have access to British Leyland books?"
That was a fairly simple and straightforward question of the sort that my hon. Friend is adept at asking. I do not wish to refer to British Leyland but I am concerned about the Prime Minister's response. She said:
"The Government's view is this. The PAC has access to all those papers to which Government Departments have access and for which Ministers are responsible to Parliament. It is our present view that if the PAC were able to call for all papers in respect of public enterprises in regard to commercial contracts or commercial details, that would make it difficult to make those commercial decisions. It would also be extremely difficult to get anyone to run those undertakings."—[Official Report, 6 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 822.]
I consider that reply to be important and serious.

Neither I nor members of the PAC wish to make difficult commercial decisions more difficult. Nor do we want to make more difficult the task of Governments in finding the best possible people to run public enterprises. However, there are two major fallacies in the right hon. Lady's reply. First, there is the fallacy that the way in which the Comptroller and Auditor General and the PAC would deal with these matters when he and it has the access that has been requested would create the difficulties to which she was referring. That is a serious error on the right hon. Lady's part and on that of the Government. There has been much experience about the way in which the Comptroller and Auditor General and the PAC work. That evidence is that there is no reason to hold the fears that the right hon. Lady expressed.

The second and most important fallacy was the right hon. Lady's total failure to recognise the underlying importance of accountability to Parliament. I understand that it can be something of a nuisance and could create some difficulties, but I hope that all hon. Members will agree that it would be better to be something of a nuisance and to create some difficulties for public industries than to continue with the present system, which provides totally inadequate parliamentary accountability.

It was a considered reply because as my right hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) will recollect, as soon as the question was tabled I sent a long letter to the Prime Minister explaining the background to the question and giving substance to the rather artless question that I asked. I sent copies of that letter to my right hon. Friend and to the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). It was a reply that the Prime Minister and her civil servants and advisers had presumably been able to think about for 12 days.

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I am always grateful to him for his courtesy in letting me know when he wishes to raise such issues. When my hon. Friend put his question to the Prime Minister it was at a moment when I think he would have preferred to be putting questions on the issues of the day. However, that does not alter the fact that it was an important question.

As my hon. Friend rightly said, the Prime Minister has had time to consider her reply. It is sad that she appears to have taken the views that I assume have emanated from the Treasury. I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to tell us today that, in the light of the clear views of the House, as expressed on 30 November and in an early-day motion, we are entitled to some clarification of the Prime Minister's reply. If we are to have serious and meaningful discussions with the Chancellor and the Leader of the House, I hope that they will be serious and meaningful. I hope that the Government's mind has not been closed in the way that the Prime Minister seemed to indicate.

In her reply the Prime Minister used expressions such as the Government's "present view". I know how carefully such words are used. I hope that that means that the discussions with the Chancellor will be genuinely open. Perhaps the Financial Secretary can confirm that the Government's present views do not exclude important changes that could go a long way to meet the views of the PAC and a large number of others hon. Members.

I turn to specific reports that highlight the important issues dealt with in the general report. I hope that, as usual, it will not be thought disrespectful to the serious and important problems of Northern Ireland if I do not refer to the seventh report. It has become the custom to leave such issues to Northern Ireland Members. I am happy to leave the matter to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).

It is always welcome to Northern Ireland Members if right hon. and hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom show an interest in the affairs of that Province.

We are dealing with a huge number of reports—17 in one year and five in another. I should like to deal with the issues referred to in the seventh report, but we dealt with them extensively in Committee. I hope that the evidence that we took and the report show how much we concern ourselves with Northern Ireland matters.

I have never thought of Northern Ireland as anything other than a part of the United Kingdom.

I wish to deal with the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of a Department that is frequently discussed by the PAC—the Ministry of Defence. It has been reported on critically by successive PACs for 30 years. I refer specifically to the third report of 1980–81. For three successive years—1978–79, 1979–80 and 1980–81—it has exceeded its cash limit. We are well aware of the difficulties of managing development programmes, particularly for sophisticated military equipment. There are great problems. The Comptroller and Auditor General tells us that there are more than 20 projects with costs in excess of £500 million, which highlights the startling size of projects within the Ministry of Defence. There are bound to be unforeseen difficulties and escalating costs, but the Ministry of Defence constantly and seriously underestimates them. Would many of the huge projects have been started had there been a more realistic cost estimate?

The sixteenth report of 1979–80 looked at the costs of the Sting Ray torpedo, which were remarkable. Development and production costs at September 1981 prices totalled £1,211 million. When the project was first mooted in 1969 the estimated cost was £74 million. Of course inflation has been substantial between 1969 and 1981, but it is not unusual in such large projects for the costs to escalate vastly. One wonders whether the Treasury would have agreed to the project had it been suggested that the cost could escalate to that extent. It might have considered a different project or buying a system off the shelf from the United States.

In the early stages of such a project, when the technical task was considered, there should have been a thorough study, but there is always great urgency to get projects under way. The Sting Ray project started in 1969 and is not yet in full service, yet there was great urgency to get it under way. The PAC was not convinced that curtailing feasibility and project definition studies saves time in the long run. It certainly does not save money.

Another consideration must be whether it is possible to incorporate incentives to efficiency into contracts for development projects. It is a great problem. I welcome the Ministry of Defence proposal for a measure of joint funding with industry, where possible. Can the Financial Secretary tell us how such joint funding projects are progressing? How does he see them injecting greater incentive for cost-effectiveness?

I wish to put a topical question in relation to the Ministry of Defence's current cash limit. I do not wish to see our task force to the Falkland Islands restrained by a financial limit, and I doubt whether any other member of the PAC would, but the House is entitled to know how additional cash expenditure will be met. Is the Ministry's cash limit to be wholly suspended or will it be maintained with cuts elsewhere within its budget or with any overspend coming from the general contingency reserve?

I wish now to deal with financial control and accountability and particularly with the ninth report of 1980–81 on internal audit. To put it mildly, the PAC found the Comptroller and Auditor General's findings disturbing. The overall standard was substantially below what was needed to ensure that departmental systems were operating satisfactorily. Secondly, the audit of computer-based sytems was widely inadequate. Twenty-eight small departments and other bodies with a total voted expenditure in excess of £450 million had no internal audit system.

Some of the points raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General about internal audit are very interesting. Paragraph 12 of the report sets out clearly some of the reasons that led the Comptroller and Auditor General to be concerned about the internal audit within Government. The Public Accounts Committee felt that the review was a most useful exercise. It was also welcomed by the Treasury and the Civil Service Department, which have now initiated energetic programmes. Will the Financial Secretary tell us what progress has been made?

The fourteenth report of 1981 about the carry-over of cash limits at the end of the financial year was raised by the Treasury, which was interested in the proposition and which put forward some methods of dealing with the problem. We have heard some of the special problems, especially in relation to the Ministry of Defence. The Public Accounts Committee recognised that there were strong arguments both for and against the idea of dealing with the problem of carry-over of cash limits—problems of accountability and control within any Department that had such a carrying-over. With a budget, such as the Ministry of Defence has in 1982–83, of about £14 billion, there will inevitably be problems of carry-over at year ends. Any scheme must be strictly limited to maintain effective financial discipline.

The Public Accounts Committee favoured a controlled experiment to see whether an effective system of carryover could be allowed for a Department such as the Ministry of Defence. Eventually, we were told that the Treasury had turned down the proposal because it would require the provision of an extra £250 million in 1982–83. The Treasury hoped that it would still be possible to bring the matter forward again, as it said, when financial circumstances permit. What are the prospects for bringing forward an experiment in the near future?

Another major Department where financial control is of concern is the Department of Health and Social Security. The Committee dealt with various aspects of that in its seventeenth report of 1980–81. It referred especially to control of National Health Service manpower. I stress again that the Public Accounts Committee does not express a view about the total expenditure or total manpower, but believes that, whatever total is decided by the Government, it should be efficiently spent and properly controlled.

The Committee saw some startling figures. Since 1948, the number of employees in the National Health Service has doubled to more than 930,000. Between 1971 and 1979 there was an increase of 174,000. The number of professional and technical staff in England and Wales rose by 47·4 per cent. and in Scotland by 72·6 per cent. Those NHS increases are astonishing.

Reasons were given to us by the Department's witnesses that in some ways are understandable. First, there is unlimited demand for health care. Secondly, the growth, range and complexity of treatment demands constantly increasing costs. Thirdly, there has been a growth in the elderly population and, fourthly, and rightly, there have been improvements in conditions of service for the staff. The DHSS took the broad view that adequate control of manpower against that background was best achieved by the use of cash limits.

As one who introduced or extended the system of cash limits, I am, naturally, not opposed to their use, but the Public Accounts Committee feels that we should explore the feasibility of more detailed controls and targets for administrative and clerical staff rather than just try to control expenditure by cash limits alone. There is a danger that, while keeping within a cash limit, one might seriously distort the size of medical and non-medical staffs and therefore the balance between the two. The Treasury minute in reply to our report states that the Government are inquiring into the causes of growth in administrative and clerical staffs. Perhaps the Financial Secretary will give us whatever information he has about the progress that has been made to date.

The Public Accounts Committee also considered regional and geographical variations in the National Health Service. We all know those variations because we find them in our own constituencies. Paragraph 19 of the report refers to the Comptroller and Auditor General's views and the statistics that he presented to us about the widely varying staff numbers in relation to apparent work load. We recognised that uniformity of staffing levels is not a practical objective. However, we were surprised that the Department disclaimed responsibility for making regional comparisons. That must be surprising, because who can carry that responsibility other than the DHSS? Overall, the Public Accounts Committee expressed deep concern about the slow progress in developing a fully effective system of manpower planning and control. What further action will now be taken?

I could have chosen many more reports and examples of our concern for value for money, efficiency and effectiveness in the spending of scarce public resources. I have limited myself to comparatively few reports in order to shorten the time that I shall speak in the debate. However, I wish to mention an unusual part of our expenditure which involved the first case of the Public Accounts Committee travelling abroad. It did so only because of the importance that it attaches to the matter. I refer to the fifth report of 1981–82 where we considered expenditure in the EEC and the control exercised by the Court of Auditors. We felt that the Court of Auditors was of growing importance to British taxpayers, given what we know of the lack of efficiency in spending within the EEC. So we took views—they did not wish to call it evidence—from the Court of Auditors and the Commission. We are grateful to them for their cooperation.

The Court of Auditors was established only in 1977 and we recognised that difficulties with the Commission have arisen. There is a problem of overlap between the two bodies, and there is clearly a need for the powers and functions of the Court of Auditors to be unambiguously defined. Therefore, we recommended that much greater attention should be paid, especially by the Government, to the Court of Auditors' report. But whatever view we take of the level of public expenditure, relatively high levels of expenditure will continue within the EEC and the United Kingdom. There will, therefore, be a constant need for greater efficiency and effectiveness in the spending of public money. The same point applies to better financial control and accountability.

I hope that the reports that we are debating today, and the continuing work of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee, will help to achieve more effectively the objectives that we all share.