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Commons Chamber

Volume 22: debated on Friday 23 April 1982

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House Of Commons

Friday 23 April 1982

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]


Wisbech Market

9.33 am

I have the honour, Mr. Speaker, to present a petition from my constituents of the town of Wisbech:

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. The Humble Petition of the residents and retainers of the Old Market, Wisbech in the county of Cambridgeshire sheweth:—
That we the undersigned oppose the application by the Midland Bank to demolish two Georgian shops which it owns in the Old Market in order to build a small staff car park.
We give the following reasons.
1. The Old Market needs all its retail outlets to encourage custom to existing shops.
2. Although there have been continuous requests to the Midland Bank, either to sell or rent the said property, the bank has refused to permit them back on to the open market, but has allowed them to remain unused and unattended, consequently, this has affected their condition detrimentally.
3. If these two premises are restored and repaired, as they deserve, they would be viable retail outlets and residential accommodation in a prime trading area of Wisbech.
4. There is ample free car parking and the threatened shops are straightforward Georgian town houses of historical and social significance to Wisbech and in perfect architectural harmony with the Old Market.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that the Minister of the Environment should proceed to protect these two buildings from destruction or further neglect by one of two means.
1. By permanently listing the buildings, as are the majority in the Old Market, and recommending their prompt repair and restoration.
2. By recommending their compulsory purchase for use as rented units, or resale in the open market subject to conditions of repair and restoration.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc. To lie upon the Table.

Children's Homes Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question[2 April], That the Bill be now read the Third time.— [Mr. Boscawen.]

Question again proposed.

9.36 am

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
(Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)

I was trying, Mr. Speaker, 21 days ago, before I was so rudely interrupted, to outline to the House something of the B ill's background. I hope that hon. Members will not mind, if, as briefly as possible, I conclude what I had intended to say so that the House realises the need for the Bill.

The Bill seeks to provide protection for an already vulnerable group of children, whom it has been necessary to take into the care of a local authority, and for whom residential care, away from their own families, is needed. As I described to the House a few weeks ago, most children in care can remain with their own or substitute families. However, some need time away from a family home, and mostly they are placed in community homes provided by local authorities or in homes run by voluntary organisations. All those types of accommodation are subject to some form of control or regulation designed to safeguard the welfare of the children.

However, a small proportion of children are accommodated in privately run children's homes, and those homes—alone out of all kinds of accommodation for children in care—are not subject to statutory control or registration. Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has powers to inspect those homes, there is at present no power, when a private children's home is found to be unsatisfactory, to ensure that a home meets certain standards as regards conduct, the quality of care or the facilities provided.

The Bill would remedy the situation by introducing a system of registration by local authorities where the homes are located, and of inspection. Regulations will be drawn up that will include the standard of accommodation, the staff and equipment to be provided, and arrangements for the medical care and welfare of the children.

The scheme proposed by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) seems practical and workable. We envisage only a marginal effect on public expenditure. The cost of running the registration and inspection procedures will be incurred by the few local authorities in which the homes are sited. However, they will not be out of pocket because they will recoup those expenses from the registration fees that they charge the homes. The costs will be met by the much larger numbers of placing authorities, by way of a small increase in the weekly charges they pay to the homes for each accommodated child.

The registration and inspection provisions set out in the clauses, as the explanatory and financial memorandum indicates, are likely to increase local authority costs overall by some £100,000 in a full year at current prices. In the context of local authority expenditure as a whole this sum is, of course, minimal, though of concern in the present economic climate—a point touched on by the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) during the Committee stage of the Bill. The matter has been discussed with the local authority associations and the understanding reached with them is that the new arrangements will be introduced when they are satisfied they have the necessary resources. The commencement order provisions in the Bill will enable that to be done.

The Association of Independent Children's Households, many of whose members are providing children's homes which will be affected by the Bill, has consistently advocated a registration scheme. This is evidenced by its active participation in the London boroughs advisory service and the jointly produced handbook "Guidelines for Placement". The majority of privately run children's homes provide a valuable—and flexible—resource, and their particular strengths are appreciated by the statutory authorities.

This is the positive way forward, which I want to stress. But I must bring the House back to the original motives for legislation of this kind. As the hon. Member for Hartlepool said, my Department is aware of incidents—fortunately rare—in which young people living in unregulated homes have been exploited in some way, or where the establishments were inadequate as regards the standards of accommodation, staffing or equipment. The Bill sets out to provide a remedy for such abuses and I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman yet again for promoting a Bill on this subject and to offer him good wishes for its continued progress.

9.41 am

On behalf of the Opposition I wish to express our support for the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) on taking the initiative of introducing the Bill. It is a further step towards the protection of children who must sadly be in the care of a local authority instead of living with their parents.

Let us give an unopposed Third Reading to the Bill and hope that it will successfully complete its passage through Parliament.

9.42 am

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Davis) has taken me by surprise. Brevity is not a quality of Members of the House of Commons. I assume that, because of the unanimity of support in the House, he has chosen to be brief and to express the Opposition's support.

Given all the problems that the House faces and the major issues before the country, it is remarkable that our parliamentary system allows so much attention to be given to such a Bill. There has been a tremendous degree of cooperation both in the House and in the Department of Health and Social Security. Great care has been taken to try to get the Bill right. My constituents, and no doubt those of other hon. Members, are often impatient about the time taken to do things in the House. However, an enormous amount of time is required for provisions dealing with the care of children, because a whole range of interested professional bodies, organisations and individuals with a special interest in the subject have to be consulted.

I must stress the fact that it has taken about 10 years to introduce the Bill. The working party was set up in 1972. Motivated by the initiative of the officials of the DHSS, long discussions and consultations were held so that agreement could be reached on a draft Bill. Parallel with that, hon. Members on both sides of the House, with the Department's co-operation, had Bills drafted ready to present to the House. More than one attempt has been made, but, because of the way in which we have to deal with matters in the House, the most valiant attempts fell at the last fence.

Therefore, I am lucky that my Bill has received its Third Reading on St. George's day. The country does not give St. George's day as much attention as it should. It is a special day and this important Bill signifies the temper, tone, character, nature and concern of our people. Our child care and social service system is second to none. Therefore, I am pleased that on Second Reading there was the fullest co-operation. In Committee some interesting, constructive contributions were made. On Third Reading we have the opportunity to give the Bill our blessing in the hope that it will be speedily dealt with in the other place by those who are just as concerned as we are.

During that 10-year period questions arose about the need for the Bill. There is a remarkable infrastructure of legislative requirements, particularly in relation to the Child Care Act 1980, the provisions of the Education Act and the provisions for the mentally handicapped. Many of those who run homes may feel that the Bill is unnecessary. That might seem an interesting psychological reaction from those dedicated to the care of children, but they want to know whether Parliament is questioning their high standards. Admirably enough, throughout my learning curve with the Department such reactions have been kept to a minimum. However, it is worth emphasising that we are greatly impressed with the high standards of social care and, in particular, child care. That applies to voluntary, private, controlled and local government homes.

It is remarkable that there should be such a high standard. That is why we get annoyed when something goes wrong on the odd occasion. Therefore, the Bill seeks to confirm rather than to negate our belief that we are dealing with a truly established and dedicated child care service. As we had the advantage of consulting the service, at any time we have been able to pinpoint one small area that needed some tightening up.

The minister referred to several occasions during the past 10 years—the working party was set up in 1972 for that reason—when the best standards were not established in some privately run homes. In some cases food standards, furnishings and equipment could have been improved. Fire precautions were a little less efficient than they might have been and, unfortunately, no mattter how much care has been taken, there have been some cases of abuse of children. Cases of sexual aberration are not new in the real world in which we live, but we must always be vigilant about that aspect of behaviour involving children.

The Bill tries to deal with the few cases where children are placed in homes in other local authority areas because of a lack of accommodation in the placing authority. About 50 local authorities are in that position. The conurbations, especially London, have a problem. It is sensible that if the available accommodation does not fit the needs of a child who must be placed in care, the local authority, with its normal prudence in such matters, should be free to place the child in a home in another authority's area.

About 175 homes are privately run for commercial purposes and about 2,500 children have been placed in such homes. However, the legislative requirements and regulations do not apply in those homes and they do not have the same controls as have been established elsewhere. That is not a criticism of the private homes, local authorities, Parliament or the Department of Health and Social Security. This is a wide and complex area of child care. Concentration on providing an infrastructure of care and proper supervision enabled the discovery of the loophole. It would not have been discovered had it not been for the diligence, efficiency, scrutiny and monitoring of our system which is the forte of local authority social service departments and of the children's division of the DHSS.

It is commendable that the Bill provides that the placing authority, which, because of the tremendous work load in some of our social service departments, cannot accommodate the child, can send him to a home in another authority's area. The link of supervision is somewhat breached because of the inhibiting physical and time scale problems. Although the local authority to which the child is sent has some powers, it does not have the remedies of the placing authority. The Bill tries to deal with that problem.

Little has been altered in the Bill. We have tried to make it abundantly clear that it will be an offence if the privately run and commercially organised home does not register with a local authority. However, prudence has suggested that the Bill should provide that, if a home is not up to standard at the time of registration, it should be given 28 days to put its house in order. The appeal procedure allows six months. The home may continue to be run once an appeal is lodged, and that may also bring some pressure to bear on it to improve standards. The balances and checks are thus established.

Clause 8 provides regulations for the children. Those regulations will be issued by order. Proper records must be kept of the children—medical records, records of abnormal behaviour, absences and accidents. It is important that a proper record should be kept if children are seen with bruises that cannot be explained. There is a duty upon a home to ensure that the registering local authority is satisfied that there is real, continuous care for such children.

It gives me great pleasure, on St. George's day, to find that the Bill has such complete support in the House. I am grateful for the support of the Minister, the Government and my colleagues. I am also grateful for the hard work and co-operation of the officials of the children's division of the DHSS.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Food And Drugs (Amendment) Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 1

Nat"D Ure Of Defence Of Due Diligence

The following section shall be inserted after section 112 of the principal Act —

"Defence of due diligence
112A. In any proceedings for an offence under this Act or an instrument made under it, it shall be a defence for the person charged to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence."—[Mrs. Fenner.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.58 am

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 1 adds a new section 112A to the Act and provides a defence of due diligence to a person against whom proceedings are brought under the Act. It replaces the defence of contravention due to default of another person under section 113 of the Act.

Section 113 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955 provides a defence for a person who can prove that any contravention of the Act with which he is charged, although proved, was due to the act or default of some other person and that he himself used all due diligence to secure that the provisions in question were complied with. If this defence is satisfied, the defendant is acquitted and the other person may be convicted. The other person is brought into the proceedings by means of an information laid by the defendant.

10 am

The defence is considered defective in a number of respects. The procedure laid down by section 113 is cumbersome and difficult for the courts to follow. Prosecuting authorities have also found it complicated. It is also not satisfactory from the defendant's point of view since he may be innocent not because of the act or default of another person but because of something else which was beyond his control, such as an accident. The defence is not available to him in those circumstances. It is also doubtful whether it applies when the third person is outside the jurisdiction of the courts, such as a foreign manufacturer.

The defence provided by section 24 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 for offences similar to those of the Food and Drugs Act 1955 is less onerous for the defendant. He does not have to lay any information implicating another person or prove that the contravention was due to the act or default of someone else. He may escape liability by proving that the commission of the offence was due to some cause beyond his control, including mistake or the default of another person, and that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence by himself or any person under his control. That is under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

Under section 26 of the Weights and Measures Act 1963, as amended by the Weights and Measures Act 1979, the defence is further simplified. The defendant is entitled to be acquitted if he proves that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence. The defence is identical in substance to that provided in section 2(6) of the Consumer Safety Act 1978.

As the penalties under the Food and Drugs Act are being increased to accord with penalties for similar offences in other legislation, it seems right that this defence provision should also be brought into line with the defences under those Acts.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for her introduction of the new clause, but I must warn her that I am not yet satisfied that we should approve it with the introduction of the defence of due diligence, which she has rightly and fairly compared with the defence available in other legislation.

I would not in any way wish to accuse my hon. Friend of being less than frank, but was the defence not present in the original Act and taken out in 1948 for what I suspect were good and substantial reasons at the time? Can my hon. Friend, by referring back to the amending legislation, show us why reasons that were considered valid at the time are now thought no longer to be so strong that the defence can once again be introduced?

I had occasion to inquire from the House authorities whether the introduction of the defence was within the scope of the Bill's title. It appeared to mark a radical departure from the intention of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), whose Bill it is. I was happy to be a sponsor. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt expand on this, but I believe that he and I had the common intention to deal in the Bill with the problems raised by unfit meat being sold for human consumption. We were worried that the penalties were inadequate, that the time for investigation was too short to permit of successful prosecution and on a number of other grounds which it has not been found possible to fit within the scope of the useful but limited measure.

I could understand the introduction of the defence perhaps as softening the impact of the increased penalties and the extended time limit for offences connected with unfit meat, which, I repeat, was the original worry, but the new defence appears to apply to all the existing offences under the Act. That is a very different matter. That is why I consulted the authorities. I was told that it was a moot point, but they finally came down in favour of it being within the scope of the title.

The difficulty for us all was the short time in which to consider the matter. The new clause appeared on the Notice Paper only on Wednesday. I was not able to give it attention until yesterday at a late hour. The advice from the authorities was that if I raised the matter on a point of order their opinion would be bound to be repeated in view of the short time available for examination of the matter.

There is a considerable point here. If it is not one of order it is certainly one of administration. If I were put to embarrassment in trying to consider the matter, those concerned with the administration of parts of the Food and Drugs Act other than the provision relating to unfit meat must have been considerably surprised if they have been made aware of the extension of the defence of due diligence to the other parts.

I stress that my comments have been in no way hostile to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary as I know that not only in her present post but in her previous post she has been a forthright and rigorous defender of the rights of the consumer and the public and I pay tribute to the effective work that she has done. Nevertheless, I should be grateful if she would tell us what representations, if any, have been received and whether she thinks that the time scale has been fair and adequate. It is not reasonable to argue that it does not matter because after Third Reading the Bill will be considered in another place, so there will be time for further representations. In this House, we properly and jealously stick by our rights as elected representatives and it is right that we should have first crack at matters of this kind which so closely affect the interests of our constitutents—and what could affect them more closely than the provision of meat fit for human consumption?

It could be argued that the penalties that we seek to increase and for which we seek to extend the time limits are a new and heavier imposition on those charged with the responsibility to supply meat for consumption by the public and that it might therefore reasonably be considered necessary to mitigate their severity and to allow an alternative defence. But that is very different from extending this defence to all the other provisions of the Food and Drugs Act. If my interpretation of the new clause is wrong, I shall be happy to give way to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but that is certainly my reading of it.

My hon. Friend referred to other legislation such as the Trade Descriptions Act and comparable consumer legislation in which, as I have said, she played a valiant part on behalf of the housewife, but I doubt whether that analogy is sufficiently close or stringent to help us in this matter. As I understand it—I freely admit that I am far from expert on this and I am happy to be corrected—the Trade Descriptions Act could be taken to apply in cases of this type. It might involve labelling requirements with an abbreviated description of contents and, perhaps—this is doubtful, but I should be grateful if it could be considered—something about the quality. But that is a far cry from the absolute requirement that most hon. Members would consider necessary to cover the sale and handling of all the products covered by the Food and Drugs Act.

I believe that this should be considered by the bodies responsible for the administration of the Act. That is why I have asked my hon. Friend whether such full consideration has in fact been given. I rather doubt it, because if the consultation process had preceded the introduction of the new clause it is reasonable to suppose that notice would have been given to the promoter of the Bill and perhaps to myself by the interested parties, who would be aware that we were helping to introduce the legislation. I certainly received no such intimation until about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon.

I must therefore ask my hon. Friend to deal with this when she replies and to tell us what consideration has been given, as this is a wide extension of the powers of defence, incorporating a power which was expressly removed from the legislation in 1948. We therefore need a more substantial reply than my hon. Friend's introductory remarks, grateful though I am to her for opening the debate.

10.15 am

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have read with care new clause 2 as well as new clause 1. I think that it is clear beyond peradventure that new clause 2 is entirely part of new clause 1 in that it greatly extends the existing powers in the light of the first provision. It requires the defendant to serve notice on the prosecutor, giving seven clear days, informing him of the identity of the other person. In effect, it provides that if a person is charged under new clause 1 the burden of proof is upon him to establish his innocence and to show that he exercised all reasonable and due diligence and precautions. It then, in effect, imposes the further duty that if the person so charged says that somebody else is to blame he must take certain action to establish that.

Briefly, my point of order is this. I believe that it is impossible to deal with new clause 1 without dealing with new clause 2 at the same time. The two should be discussed together and dealt with as a whole. The House may then decide whether it wishes to incorporate either or both of them. I do not know whether that has been considered by those who advise you on these matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to delay the House now, but I shall certainly argue later that neither of the new clauses falls within the ambit of the Bill.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you rule that the two clauses should be taken together—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) has put a powerful case for doing so—I hope that I shall have the leave of the House to speak to new clause 2, on which I have several important topics to raise.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) has shown that a difficulty would arise if the two new clauses were taken together. There would be no essential difficulty in doing so if that were the will of the House, but I suggest that in view of what the hon. Member has said it is better to proceed as at present.

My view is exactly that of the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). One cannot properly discuss new clause 1 without at least bearing in mind the consequences of new clause 2 upon its implementation.

I must say at the outset that both the Consumers Association and the environmental health officers are most unhappy both about the way in which the new clauses have been introduced and about their content. In February 1980, the hon. Lady's predecessor as Under-Secretary of State, when asked about a review of food legislation, said:
"The review has been completed. The Government have concluded that major changes in the law are not necessary at present and therefore no consultative document will be issued."—[Official Report, 1 February 1980; Vol. 977, c. 786."]
It is clear that the two new clauses taken together constitute a major change in the law. I argue that insufficient consultation with interested and important bodies has been allowed for. I have read again thoroughly the proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee. At no point was it intimated that new clauses of this content would be introduced. I find no indication anywhere that one could have reasonably expected these two new clauses and, in particular, that the change in the law of due diligence was envisaged by the Government. Neither the sponsors of the Bill nor other hon. Members have been given due time to consider them.

In considering whether new clause 1 is desirable in its present form, it is a bad argument to say that the new powers are analogous to similar legislation. The schedule to the Consumer Safety Act, for example, gives power of search and seizure to officers that is not provided in the same form in this Bill. It is, therefore, necessary that new proposals for similar powers of search and seizure to those already existing in other legislation should be provided. The legislative requirement in respect of the quality of food cannot be held to be identical with that of any other consumer goods. It is not a question of protecting the consumer in the same way. There is need of a qualitative control in respect of food that goes beyond that relating to socks, shirts or jackets. The quality of food is a different concept. I do not like the false analogy of using consumer legislation as the basis for what is proposed.

I wish to be brief because there are many amendments still to be discussed. When we reach new clause 2 I shall wish, if possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to catch your eye. This legislation, as the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) indicated, has lasted adequately since 1948. It has not caused major difficulties. The whole basis of the Bill, which the Opposition welcome, was to deal with unscrupulous and potentially dishonest traders. The alteration in the due diligence clause will enable these traders to continue, perhaps more easily, their nefarious activities. The new clause represents a major weakening of food legislation when the objective of the Bill is to do precisely the reverse.

I deeply regret that the Government have chosen to introduce the new clause at this stage. I urge the Minister to think carefully whether she should not withdraw it in the light of the views expressed in the House with a view to introducing, following consultation, some modified form of it in another place. As it stands, I find it unacceptable to the whole spirit of the Bill and deeply disturbing in the manner in which it has been presented.

I wish to endorse remarks already made. The Minister has an excellent reputation as a protector of consumer interests, but that reputation is likely to be tarnished as a result of the introduction of the new clauses. In trying to protect the Minister and the House from folly, I hope that she can be persuaded to change course, to consider withdrawing the new clauses and certainly, among other things, to shift from the ground outlined in her approach to new clause 1. I believe the hon. Lady can do so without loss of face. It will not be the first time that there has been a change following the appearance of new clauses at this stag.: of the consideration of a Bill.

I was surprised by the Minister's remark that the lawyers had misgivings. Lawyers with whom I have discussed the new clauses have misgivings about their introduction. The hon. Lady's remarks are the reverse of the reality as I understand it. The hon. Lady argued that the procedures were cumbersome. It is precisely for that reason that the experts say that they wish to retain the existing situation rather than to depart in the direction suggested in the new clause. It is argued that the clause will reduce the onus now placed on the first defendant to whom the Minister referred. We are offering a soft option to defendants through following a similar procedure adopted in terms of consumer defence. In my view, we should be going in the opposite direction. I shall give some reasons.

Because penalties have been strengthened, together with associated reasons, the need to retain and even strengthen the existing situation rather than to move in the opposite direction is paramount. The professionals, who represent expert opinion, have argued that the introduction of these new clauses will reduce food standards rather than improve them. This is a move that the House, I understand, is trying to prevent. We are trying to raise food standards and not reduce them. Yet the opposite will be the result of the new clauses.

I do not wish to go over again the position in February 1980 except to express my surprise that the Minister should have wanted to move from a review of the whole of the food and drugs legislation. A review seems to me obligatory because of the changes that have taken place in the industry, together with associated changes. I hope that the Minister and her Department can be persuaded to return to a review. It is essential, for a number of reasons, that we should start now to review the whole of the food and drugs legislation.

The first reason relates to those very differences, to which reference has been made, between the Consumer Safety Act and the Trade Descriptions Act. Implicit within those differences are good reasons for the Government returning to the original position and carrying out the review in full consultation with the trade and enforcement officers, including all the professionals, the veterinary inspectors and meat inspectors, enabling the review to take place in an orderly fashion. I believe that the conclusions arising from such a review would be far different from those contained in the new clauses.

Another reason for not proceeding in the way that the Minister has outlined is to be found in experience of modern food technology and the importation of food processed overseas. Those two developments themselves mean that we should start to look at the possibility of strengthening existing legal procedures rather than to embark on this new principle of due diligence as a means of extended defence.

10.30 am

We are attempting to prevent the continuance of the illicit meat trade. However, in our previous debates we have not defined what we are discussing. The illicit meat trade falls into four distinct categories. There is the substitution of fit beef, pork or offal by first knacker meat, condemned unfit meat from slaughterhouses, other meats from slaughterhouses which have been imported for use as pet food, and meat which has been illegally slaughtered on a farm or on some other premises in contravention of the Food and Drugs Act 1955 and the Meat Inspection Regulations of 1963, which have now been amended. I am concerned primarily with the illicit meat trade. It is curious that we are almost aiding and abetting it by shifting our ground and introducing a new clause that will enable due diligence to be an adequate defence.

Consumers would be horrified if they understood and were aware of that which is contained in many canned and packaged meat products that are now purchased throughout the country. There are supposed to be strict safeguards but it seems that they are not sufficient. I speak to analysts whose job it is to examine food products from time to time. They are suspicious that a great deal of the contents are not as set out on the labels. For example, when it is claimed that a product contains beef, most analysts are convinced that there is little beef in the product, or certainly less than that which is implied by the label. If they are right, an offence is being committed, but it is one that is difficult to prove even with modern technology. None the less, analysts are concerned. Indeed, very few of them ever eat any of these products. Many of them are confirmed vegetarians, and they advise others to avoid processed foods in the absence of absolute guarantees.

It is common practice for the great chain stores, the large food distributors, to purchase many thousands of tons of processed products and to place their own labels upon the cans or packets. The products appear on the shelves of the chain stores with the brand names of the stores upon them. That should mean that they carry an obligation to their customers in guaranteeing that in distributing the food they are satisfied beyond doubt about the quality of the product.

Distributors should be made responsible. They should be forced to set up their own laboratories and procedures so that they may assure themselves of the quality of the product. They should sample what they are purchasing before putting their labels on the products so that they can provide the necessary guarantees. In this area consumers are entitled to perfection. In the food business there cannot be seconds. Mistakes cannot be made and infringements of the law cannot be rectified. Unfit products in packaged goods or in cans can be fatal. There cannot be rectification if consumers become ill as a result of eating unfit products.

We should be strengthening the area of responsibility and not reducing it. We should be saying to distributors that if they put their labels on imported products they must be responsible if the products are proved to be unfit. Local authority enforcement officers are right when they say that they want to get distributors in the courts and to make them responsible for the quality of their products. We should not be arguing that defendants have an unfair burden and should be provided with the defence of due diligence in arguing their innocence. They will say "We cannot see inside the cans. We buy the product in good faith. We go to extreme lengths to buy from reputable manufacturers. We know that a certain company overseas has been manufacturing the product for a long time. We are happy with what we are buying and distributing to the consumer." That is not good enough. We should be saying to distributors "You have no right to import stuff in this way without providing the consumer with guarantees. Those guarantees should carry a penalty that you will be taken to court if anything goes wrong." We should not be giving distributors a soft option. We should not deviate from that approach.

There has been no consultation with enforcement officers and those responsible for veterinary and meat inspection services. The clauses have come before us as a result of pressure from the larger meat distributors.

I try always to make brief interventions. The hon. Gentleman might recall our discussion in Committee when my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) said that he hoped that minor labelling offences would not be tried on indictment. The hon. Gentleman replied that he was quite certain that such offences would be dealt with in the lower courts and that only the more serious cases would go before the higher courts. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that that would be so. She has tried to meet what was said in Committee by introducing the new clause, but perhaps it has been drawn too wide. Perhaps all this trouble springs from what was said in Committee.

That is part of the argument. We may be able to make brief reference to that when we discuss new clause 2. I am concerned primarily with the introduction of the defence of due diligence. However, it is right to refer to our discussions in Committee.

Bearing in mind what goes on in food processing, we should strengthen the relevant procedures. Manufacturers of bulk food products often observe that a penny profit per item for them is a profit of £22 a tonne. If they are dealing with many thousands of tonnes a year, they are dealing with many pence and many pounds. That profit is sometimes gained by substituting other ingredients for quality meat. The attraction of so doing is very great. When substitution takes place profit margins are extremely high.

Most consumers would be horrified if they knew of some of the items that go into some products to make up the bulk. They are not confined, for example, to cereal binds. I am horrified when I read analysts' reports and learn that urea is used to give softness and pliability to fibre. I know that the Minister is similarly horrified. The knowledge that extracts of urea are used for that purpose would put most people off the products for life. It has had that effect on me. We must be careful in restructuring defence procedures by providing the extra dimension of due diligence.

Up to now, I have been speaking about the big distributors, the people who deal with thousands of tonnes of canned and processed packaged products and so on per year. However, I am not happy about another aspect of the matter. The small distributors are affected. There are classic cases such as the nuts and bolts in a loaf of bread or the mouse in the milk bottle. The distributor of the milk may say that he did not put the mouse in the bottle and that it got there before the milk came to him. He may say that he exercised every care in looking at his products and that, because the quality of the milk was so good, he could not see the mouse. If he had taken every care in his shop, he would claim due diligence and be cleared.

The people in the dairy could say that they had spent £1,000 in ridding the dairy of infestation and that they did not know about any mice. They could say that they had taken every conceivable safety precaution so that the dairy was clear of vermin, but the mouse still got into the milk bottle. The people at the dairy could claim due diligence in spelling out what they had done and in saying that they could not do more, but somehow or other the mouse had crept into the dairy.

We must be careful with food products and the special way in which food must be dealt with under the law. The matter must be looked at in a different way. We cannot go right across the board with the conclusions reached by the Department up to now.

I support a review of the whole legislation. It is curious that the Government have no powers to prohibit the sale of unfit food. Ours is one of the few countries where enforcement officers or the Government cannot prohibit the sale of food. Under certain circumstances, they can confiscate a limited amount of goods, but they cannot prevent the sale of food, although the batch analysis has proved that it is unfit. The penalties imposed on a distributor who ignored the warnings and still went ahead with selling what could be regarded as an unfit product would be heavy. However, the Government have no right of prohibition.

There is a difference between the law in England and Wales and that in Scotland. That is another reason why we should not go in this direction. The Scots, as in most things—except football—are far in advance of England in these matters. We pay tribute to the Scots for their imaginative approach to legal procedures. They are out front in this procedure. Therefore, there are difficulties. That is another reason why the Government should review the different sorts of food and drugs legislation.

I hope that we have said sufficient this morning to persuade the Minister to look again at the new clause and to give the House an undertaking that she will start the process of going back to February 1980 and undertaking a full review of the food and drugs legislation and of the mechanism within which enforcement officers have to operate. I hope that she will start to look at the possibility of strengthening the present law with a view to making distributors exercise greater responsibility and carry a greater legal onus than at the moment, rather than giving them a soft option and extending their line of defence to include the argument of due diligence.

10.45 am

I am afraid that I am a little rusty on food and drugs law. Many years ago, I had the task of undertaking many prosecutions and defences in that area.

I entirely agree with what has been said. We have before us new clauses, rather late in the day, without having had the opportunity to consider them fully and fairly before this morning's debate. Therefore, I share the view that these are matters that properly should be locked at in another place and should not be passed this morning by the House as they stand. New clause 2 is stringent and very much strengthens the law. Probably it goes too far.

I share the view of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) that there is no doubt that we should take the strongest action with regard to the sale of unfit food. The law needs to be reviewed and brought up to date. It would be a great benefit to have had this small but useful measure if it leads to that action for the future.

However, when one says that one wants to take strong action against those who sell or pass over unfit food of any kind, one must also bear in mind that there is still a right for a person to have a fair and just trial. The food and drugs legislation has always imposed upon the defendant the obligation to prove his innocence. It is important to remember that. Under the new clause, any person charged under the Act would have to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence. That is a considerable onus on the defendant. I am not sure that it is necessary. Under the principal Act of 1955, there was merely the obligation on a person to exercise all due diligence. It did not go so far as to say that he had to take all reasonable precautions. I should have thought that it would be sufficient to say that he has to take all due diligence. New clause 1, for what it is worth, somewhat strengthens the position against the defendant.

New clause 2 must be adverted to when one is dealing with new clause 1 because the purpose of new clause 1 is to attach to it new clause 2. I should like to give a great deal of thought to it and hear the views of the associations and people concerned before I am willing to support one thing. The new clause says that if one is to be entitled to have a defence at all one has to serve a notice within a period ending seven clear days before the hearing on the prosecutor.

That is all right for the big companies, but supposing that the person concerned is a small butcher in a market town. He has always had a good record for selling good meat. He never had knowledge of the laws because his reputation had always been accepted, but, unfortunately, on one occasion he was passed meat intended for dogs instead of humans. He was seen and he found out that he made a mistake. He wants to bring the culprit, the person who passed the meat to him, to book. That person would have to know the law and would have to serve within a period ending seven clear days before the hearing a notice on the prosecutor giving all information identifying or assisting in the identification of the other person as was then in his possession. It is a very considerable burden.

There is no doubt that new clause 2 imposes an additional burden. When it is carefully reviewed I do not believe that the promoter and sponsors of the Bill will find that the two new clauses weaken the existing position. On the contrary, they probably strengthen it. However, that does not mean that today, without consultations and consideration of the matter, we should necessarily give them a clear run. I am by no means sure that I am prepared to support new clause 2—at least, not unless it is considered by those who have a much more up-to-date knowledge of this law than I have.

The exercise of "due diligence" by the defendent is, I think, right. Although almost all lawyers prefer it, I do not want to go back to the position where the burden of proof is entirely on the prosecution. If a person is trading in meat and other food for human consumption, it is right that there is a burden on that person to establish that he is doing the best that he possibly can to see that the public get food for human consumption. Therefore, I agree with that proposal, but it is time that the whole matter was carefully reviewed and brought up to date, particularly as many foods are now entirely composite. Many of them are chemically combined with other things. Much of the food that we consume today is packaged in all sorts of ways. Thus, additional powers may be required in a number of ways that are not provided for in the old legislation, which dates back to 1948.

I share the broad general view that has been expressed that, on the whole, it is better not to handle the matter in this Bill, at least not at this time, and certainly not before another place has considered it. In the light of what has been said this morning, people in the trade will obviously now give much thought to the matter. Indeed, the promoter of the Bill, its sponsors and those who have spoken to it will at least have the assurance that they have stirred up the matter sufficiently to see that careful cognisance is taken by people in the trade and in the Ministry of all the points that they have raised.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) on his initiative and perseverance in bringing the Bill this far. I am happy to be one of its sponsors and I wish it well.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister, because I know that she has at heart the best interests of the food industry, in all its forms and ramifications. She has occasionally proved it in the House, but more often she has proved it outside, in correspondence and in response to delegations and urgent representations. She has paid meticulous attention to all the matters that have been put to her. For that, I and all right hon. and hon. Members are grateful. It is therefore with some regret that I take particular exception to new clause 1. I am sorry that she should lend her name to the proposal, and I shall briefly give my reasons for my disquiet.

The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) said that he had heard that environmental health officers were unhappy about this matter. He may have a hot line to them which I perhaps used to have but which has now ceased to function. I was in close touch with them before Second Reading and during the Committee stage. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was on the Standing Committee. I was lucky enough to receive representations from them during those proceedings, and since then I have heard nothing from the Environmental Health Officers Association nor—possibly more important—from my own local environmental health officers, who are very active in Leicestershire, where, unfortunately, we have had a few, but important, bad cases which necessitated law court proceedings in recent months, and which caused me to support the Bill.

I received the information about 7.30 yesterday evening by hand to the House, and I quote the last sentence:

"The proposals as presented are opposed by both Environmental Health and Trading Standards organisations and appear to be a hurriedly presented and unconsidered response to trade pressure."

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in reading that note. The information was delivered to him by hand, and possibly mine has gone by post. I shall probably get it tomorrow.

What I find unsatisfactory about new clause 1 is the fact that these major changes in the purpose of this modest and useful Bill, as far as I am aware, were not discussed in Committee. Nor were they envisaged in Committee. Certainly they were not discussed or envisaged on Second Reading a few weeks ago. It seems extraordinary that at short notice, as my hon. Friends have said—only two or three days ago—a major change of emphasis is now being applied to all the 137 sections of the 1955 Food and Drugs Act. The House should realise the consequences of what we are attempting to slip through this morning. It does not relate just to those parts of the 1955 Act to which the hon. Gentleman's Bill refers; it refers to any proceedings for an offence under the whole Act, and there are 137 sections in that Act. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, some of those sections deal with matters that are just as weighty, if not more weighty, than the fairly narrow approach that he takes to the food and drugs problem and hygiene generally, on which, of course, he has the full support of the House.

Before I can support this proposal, I want to ask my hon. Friend why this important change of principle was introduced. The 1955 Act has been with us for 27 years, and I want to know what purpose underlies this sudden major change in direction. Can she justify this major request to the House—I am sure that she can and probably will—by giving us some data and statistics, for instance, on the number of prosecutions in recent years that would have been successfully defended if this defence had been included in the original Act? I do not ask her to go back to 1955, but I should like to know whether there have been recent upsetting examples of which the House and the general public are not aware which make her feel that justice will be done by introducing this major change of course, arising from convictions that may have taken place because a defence that we are proposing to allow in new clause 1 was not then included in the statute book.

11 am

I am sorry that we have had only two or three days to consider all the important proposed changes to the 1955 Act. I shall deal with one or two sections of the Act that are affected by the proposed new clause. Possibly the most significant and important is part II, which relates to the milk, dairy and cream industry. The whole of the dairy trade is affected by that part.

Part I of the 1955 Act contains many regulations relating to food poisoning. Part LEI deals with similar regulations and instructions relating to marketing. Part IV, in about 18 clauses, deals with the complex slaughterhouses issue and their regulation and control. Part VI contains miscellaneous and general provisions.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that one cannot change significantly section 28 of the Act, which deals with the milk, dairy and cream substitute industry, or the subsequent sections in that part of the Act that deal with dairies and dairy farms. Any dairy farm that produces milk, cream or milk products comes under the ambit of section 28 of the 1955 Act.

What consultation has my hon. Friend had with the National Farmers Union about the effect of new clause 1? Is it happy about it? Has she consulted the hotel and catering industries? Have they expressed their views? Large sections of the 1955 Act affect the hotel and catering industries.

What views has my hon. Friend received from the local authorities about their responsibilities under the 1955 Act? I am sure that she must have consulted them because many of the 137 sections in the 1955 Act lay down specific obligations on the local authorities. Has she consulted the local authority associations and if so what are their views about new clause 1?

Perhaps my hon. Friend has negotiated previously and has come to the House with a finished package that we could, perhaps, accept. Has she consulted the Consumers Association about the changes and what is its view?

The hon. Member for Tottenham made it clear that he regarded new clauses 1 and 2 as an improper softening up of the law relating to food and hygiene offenders. He said that it was not the intention or desire of today's House of Commons to introduce any laxity in the law in that respect. The purpose of his Bill, which I fully support, is to tighten up the law. I am loth to support new clause 1.

Hon. Members have raised a number of points about the effect of new clause 1. I can rest heavily on what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), who is a well-known lawyer. He will know that I do not wish to reduce protection for the consumer. I am delighted that my hon. and learned Friend said that new clauses 1 and 2 strengthen the law. He said that the onus was on the defendant to prove due diligence.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) expressed the view, which has been expressed in the House before, that it is time for a review of the whole of the 1955 Act. About two years ago, early in the Government's term of office, that possibility was examined carefully and we decided against a root and branch review of the whole Act. I support the Bill today because such a decision about the whole Act should not make the Government inflexible in supporting a Private Member's Bill which, in the light of the unfortunate and terrible circumstances caused by a small minority in the meat trade, seeks to ensure that the penalties for breaching controls should be a real deterrent.

The Government support the Bill. We do not wish to undermine the purpose of the Bill, which is to protect the consumer. We wish to be flexible about what needs to be done, although we have already decided not to have a root and branch review of the Act.

Decisions must be taken to protect the consumer in the light of circumstances. The hon. Gentleman was perhaps exaggerating about what the consumer would think if he knew what was in the can or the package. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are preparing new meat product regulations because we believe that consumers should be better informed about what is in their food. The hon. Member for Tottenham exaggerates when he suggests that consumers would be terribly worried, but we believe that they should be well informed about the contents of products.

The hon. Gentleman said that own-label providers could prove due diligence by saying that they had done all that they could, and that only retailers would remain absolutely liable under new clause 1. However, packers already have the warranty defence under section 115 of the Act, and I am not aware of any suggestion that that defence should be removed. There is no change in that respect.

The hon. Member for Tottenham also said that the Government cannot prohibit the sale of unfit food. In fact, the sale of such food is prohibited by the Act, and section 9 empowers enforcement authorities to seize unfit food. The DHSS, in co-operation with my Ministry, has recently twice ordered the withdrawal of food from the market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) claimed that the defence was in the 1938 Act, but that it had been removed by amendments in 1948. I do not know of any such amendments, and we are not looking back to the old legislation.

The Acts to which I referred, the Weights and Measures Act 1963—updated in 1979—the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and the Consumer Safety Act 1978, all provided the defence of due diligence.

The onus is on the defendant. The hon. Member for Tottenham seemed to assume that it was an easy defence, but my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West, who is experienced in these matters, said that it was a difficult defence and that new clauses 1 and 2 make life tougher for the unscrupulous.

The hon. Lady talks of due diligence, but it would be sufficient for a distributor to argue that he did everything possible to assure himself of the good reputation of the manufacturer or importer. The defence is based on reputation.

For example, some cans of meat products carry the Royal coat of arms, but I know of some with the 'By Appointment" accolade that contain ingredients unheard of in 1959, including vegetable protein, isolated milk protein, egg protein, isolated bone protein, blood powder and plasma and a number of others. The Royal Family would be horrified if it knew that its accolade was attached to such products with unspecified ingredients.

11.15 am

Irrespective of warranty and the Acts to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, when a distributor puts his label on a meat product he should be responsible for it. He should not rely on the reputation of the importer or the manufacturer, but should guarantee the quality of the product.

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but the vendor of goods must establish the content of tins and would have to prove to the magistrates that he knew what the contents were and had exercised due diligence in ensuring that they were proper. Of course, that does not mean that every tin must be checked, but it would be no use a vendor relying on someone else's reputation. That would not enable him to establish a defence. It is a tough defence, and the vendor has to establish to the satisfaction of usually a lay magistrate that he has taken trouble to check what he is selling.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) referred to section 28 of the Act, which defines dairies and dairy farms. I cannot ascertain why that section is deemed to be affected by new clause 1.

The hon. Member for Tottenham and some of my hon. Friends disagree with my proposals, but they were kind enough to say that they knew that I wished to do all that I could to protect the consumer. The penalties in the Bill relate not to unspecified contents, but to breaches of the law. We should not be distracted from the main point and purpose of the meat product regulations that I hope will be ready before the end of the summer. I agree with the hon. Member for Tottenham that it is important that consumers should have information, but we should not confuse that with the offence of providing unfit meat.

My hon. Friend said that she did not understand how dairy farms were affected by new clause 1, which refers to proceedings for an offence under the 1955 Act.

There are 19 clauses in the Act relating to milk, dairies and cream substitutes. For example, clause 31 prohibits the sale of milk from diseased cows. That should never happen. Section 43 relates to the breach of condition of a retailer's licence. All these offences in the 1955 Act, including the 19 under part II, relating to milk and dairies, have a relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the agricultural sense. I should have thought that it would be proper to get the views of the National Farmers Union, which is responsible for these matters.

It may be more helpful if at this point I reply generally to the criticisms of the short time that hon. Members have had to look at the two new clauses. I would most certainly accept the criticisms if one were producing the two clauses, as it were, in isolation, but they are being produced in line with other Acts for the protection of consumers which carry high penalties—in this case very high fines or imprisonment, or both.

I well recall that when we first consulted the hon. Member for Tottenham about his intentions to introduce this Private Member's Bill he said that it would be reasonable for it to be in line with the Trade Descriptions Act. I am sure he will recall that, because it is perfectly proper that the penalties should match the penalties in other consumer legislation. To that extent, new clause 1 is in line with other legislation for consumer protection. I could certainly be severely criticised if I introduced something so new and so different that a long period of consultation would be required.

The Minister mentioned the Trade Descriptions Act. If new clause 1 followed the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, I would feel considerably happier, but it does not. The Trade Descriptions Act, in addition to mentioning reasonable precautions and due diligence, also requires, in section 24,

"that the commission of the offence was due to a mistake or to reliance on information supplied to him or to the act or default of another person, an accident or some other cause beyond his control",
and then that "all reasonable precautions" were taken.

That first part of the equivalent provision in the Trade Descriptions Act is a much more onerous requirement for the unscrupulous to wriggle out of. It is the absence of that harsher line in the present proposals that concerns me. I accept that they are in line with the Consumer Safety Act 1978, but they are not in line with the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. I would be much happier if the Minister had included those conditions. Will she consider inserting those words in another place, thus bringing the Bill into line with the more onerous requirements of the Trade Descriptions Act rather than of the Consumer Safety Act 1978.

In my opening remarks, I said that the Trade Descriptions Act had been updated, as it were, by later Acts in respect of the defence of due diligence. I specifically said that in the later Act—and certainly in the Act introduced by the previous Labour Government—the provision was made less onerous.

I noted with interest that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West said that, in justice and fairness to a defendant, a defence on the ground of due diligence should be available. I understand that in the other Acts which properly deal with consumer protection and provide for tremendous penalties for people who breach the law it is equally just and fair to enable the defence of due diligence to be argued.

I have listened very carefully to what my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have said about the short period allowed for consultation with all interests. Hon. Members will know that I would not wish to press forward with a matter on which they believe a large number of people have not been consulted. That would not be in line with the reputation of my Ministry. Therefore, rather than resting on the provision of time for the Bill to go through the other place, I intend to seek leave to withdraw the new clause in order that there shall be further time for consultations. I shall be wholly accessible in that respect. I hope later to introduce the clause in another place.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 2

Default Of Third Party

The following section shall be substituted for section 113 of the principal Act—

"Contravention due to default of some other person.

113.—(1) If in any case the defence provided by section 112A of this Act involves an allegation that the commission of the offence in question was due to the act or default of another person or due to reliance on information supplied by another person, the person charged shall not, without the leave of the court, be entitled to rely on the defence unless, within a period ending seven clear days before the hearing, he served on the prosecutor a notice giving such information identifying or assisting in the identification of the other person as was then in his possession.
(2) Where the commission by any person of an offence under this Act or an instrument made under it is due to the act or default of some other person, the other person shall be guilty of the offence and may be charged with and convicted of the offence whether of not proceedings are taken against the first-mentioned person."—[Mrs. Fenner.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 2 replaces section 113 of the principal Act and, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) said, it places an even greater onus on the defendant. It provides that if a due diligence defence involves an allegation that the offence was due to the act or default of another person, the person charged must, in order to rely on the defence, give information about the other person to the prosecutor. The other person is then made guilty of the offence.

I am sure that we are all most grateful to the Minister for her very generous and considered response to the representations that we made about new clause 1. I imagine that it is possible that at a later stage her generosity and understanding will also extend to new clause 2, but it is necessary to put on record, before we consider the advisability of withdrawing the clause, some of the difficulties that have been encountered by those who are charged with the responsibility of administering these very necessary regulations and enactments designed to safeguard the purity and fitness for consumption of our food supplies.

I yield to the Minister in her far greater knowledge and experience of these matters, backed by the resources of her Ministry, but I should like to mention some of the fears that have been expressed. They can be summarised under a few headings. First, there is the satisfaction that people experience with the present operation of section 113 of the principal Act. Second, there is the question of responsibility for proof and prosecution. Thirdly, there is the time limit. Fourthly, there is the amount of information required. Lastly, there is the area of operations.

11.30 am

I have not had time, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), to consult more widely with my local authorities, but, as I understand it, the environmental health officers feel that section 113 of the 1955 Act has been working well, with the exception of the time limits problem, which we have sought to remedy in the Bill. They believe that new clause 2 will make matters more difficult and expensive. In these times, that is a factor that we should consider. As I understand it, and I am open to correction, under the present procedure if a defendant can show that he has exercised due diligence he may be acquitted, but if he cannot the court may impose penalties on one or both of the defendants where the first defendant has shown that the second party was responsible for the offence. The whole proceedings are heard in one court on one day, which is much cheaper and swifter. We should seek to secure that in the administration of justice.

The fear is—I come to the second point—that the proposals now before us will require a longer procedure. If there is a successful defence it will then be for the local authority to introduce a further prosecution. That brings me to my third point, that there is a doubt whether the extended time limits under the Bill will be adequate to allow all the procedures and investigations necessary for the second prosecution of the second party. The hon. Member for Durham, (Mr. Hughes) pointed out that there are no powers of search and seizure, as under the Trade Descriptions Act, in the legislation that we are now considering. It is feared that there will be difficulties in obtaining the information needed to mount a successful prosecution.

That brings me to my last topic, the area of operation. It is equally true that the environmental health officers in particular have been gravely hampered in their investigations of trading rackets in unfit meat by geographical limitations which mean that they can only investigate an area within their own authority. If they are trying to trace a consignment through a chain, they have to rely on getting the information to their colleagues in the next authority. There is likely to be a breakdown, especially as consignments are often shipped at an early hour on Sunday morning or during Saturday night.

I hope that if this new clause goes forward, consideration will be given in another place to increasing the powers of environmental health officers to operate over the borders of their authorities. I know that that is not simple, but it is necessary.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be persuaded to withdraw new clause 2, also for further consideration. I have briefly outlined some of the points that need to be considered before any final decision is taken.

I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller). The brevity of my remarks should in no way be taken to minimise the fulsome gratitude of Labour Members for the Parliamentary Secretary's withdrawal of new clause 1.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch raised some conflicting points. Within the Bill we have increased costs for someone by making the offences triable either way. Clause 2 will have the greatest significance to those areas that we have raised to the higher court. I should imagine that lawyers will not allow matters to be dealt with in one day, as they are now in a magistrates court, when they go to a higher court. Therefore, there is a possible conflict there. However, I support the general theme.

Finally, a longer consultative period on clause 2 is necessary because it could affect the trade unions in a different way from the existing law. I have not had time since Wednesday to receive replies from those trade unions concerned with the food industry. It was Thursday before the trade unions had an opportunity to consider this and, therefore, I ask for extra time for the trade unions to consider the implications for their members.

I thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for listening to hon. Members' views in relation to new clause 1 and for its withdrawal for further consideration.

I am not nearly so unhappy with new clause 2 as I was with new clause 1. Nevertheless, the time available for consultation on a major policy change, with all its ramifications for the Food and Drugs Act 1955, is not sufficient. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw new clause 2 for further consideration.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) said, under new clause 2 it is complicated for a small retailer or butcher to follow the required procedure to provide the necessary evidence within a period of seven clear days before the hearing. Any retailer who felt inclined to use this new procedure would have to rely on expensive and learned legal advice which no doubt my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West would be glad to provide. However, the provisions of the 1955 Act seem to be simpler to understand, and possibly are just as vigorous as those contained in new clause 2.

Finally, has the Parliamentary Secretary had consultations with local authorities, consumer associations and others concerned with new clause 2? If she has, can she disclose their views?

My withdrawal of new clause 1 means, as a matter of common sense, the withdrawal of new clause 2 also. However, I felt that it was important that hon. Members should have an opportunity to put their points about that. May I reiterate to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Fan-) that this is not a change of policy? If it were, I would feel his criticism deeply. We are merely updating the defence clause in line with the defence clause in other consumer protection legislation. I hope that he will accept that. It is not a change of policy, but it conforms to a defence that is in other consumer protection legislation. Therefore, given my decision about new clause 1, I shall withdraw new clause 2. I hope for a long period of consultation, and I also hope that the matter will be raised in the other place. Because there has not been a change of policy I have not sought consultations. However, I take the criticism of the House and will now seek those consultations. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Abolition Of Imprisonment For Obstruction

`In the proviso to section 105(1) of the principal Act (by virtue of which, if a court is satisfied that a person guilty of an offence of obstruction under that subsection committed it with intent to prevent the discovery of some other offence under the Act, or has within the twelve months last preceding been convicted of an offence under the subsection, he may be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month) the words "or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month" shall cease to have effect' —[Mrs. Fenner.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The purpose of the clause is to abolish imprisonment as a penalty for obstruction. At present the penalty is a maximum fine of £20, or a maximum fine of £50 or up to one month's imprisonment for a subsequent offence within 12 months or where the court is satisfied that the offence was committed with the intent to prevent the discovery of some other offence under the Act. But after the passage of this Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill, the revised maximum penalty will be £1,000, with no imprisonment in all cases.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 4

Pre-I956 Subordinate Legislation

`In Schedule 12 to the principal Act

  • (a) paragraph 1(2); and
  • (b) in paragraph 2(3), the words from "(subject" to "effect", in the second place where it occurs,
  • (the effect of which is that certain offences against subordinate legislation made before the commencement of the Act are treated as offences under the Act) are hereby repealed.'—[Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    The clause is essentially technical and I commend it to the House.

    The Government support the new clause. It is one of the new clauses and amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) to which the Government have given drafting assistance. They are all technical changes following the main amendments made by the Bill to the principal Act. We consider them to be necessary if the Act, as amended by the Bill, is to achieve its objective and we support them all.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 5

    Application To Northern Ireland

    `(1) Paragraph 1(b) of Schedule 10 to the principal Act shall have effect as if the enactments listed in it included section 106A.

    (2) In the Table in paragraph 2 of that Schedule the fourth paragraph of the entry relating to section 123(1) is hereby repealed.'— [Mr. Norman Akinson.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.— [Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    The new clause concerns the geographical area covered by the Bill. I wish to obtain some confirmation from my hon. Friend. However, I suspect that the area of my concern is covered in the regulations that she has said that she hopes to produce before the Summer Recess.

    There have been difficulties with the importation of unfit meat from the Irish Republic and there are also difficulties in Scotland. In Committee, we were told that the consultative document had been issued in Scotland. My hon. Friend is not directly responsible, but I should be grateful if she could tell us how those consultations have progressed and what further measures have been taken. There has been a loophole across that border, just as there has been a loophole through the traditional Irish ports. The port health regulations do not apply to ports engaged in the traditional Irish trade. I seek confirmation that the regulations will deal with that under the heading—in the Irish case-of the importation of muscle meat, which will no doubt be covered by staining and sterilisation regulations. All concerned with the provision of fit meat for human consumption will be interested to hear of the progress that has been made in the consultations.

    I understand that the response from Northern Ireland was that similar regulations will be happily moved. I also understand that it would be out of order to introduce the subject of Scotland into this Bill.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 6


    '(1) The following sections of this Act extend to England and Wales only—

    • section 1;
    • section [Nature of defence of due diligence];
    • section [Default of third party];
    • section [Abolition of imprisonment for obstruction];and
    • section [Pre-1956 subordinate legislation].

    (2) Section [Application to Northern Ireland] above extends to Northern Ireland only.

    (3) 'Subject to subsections (1) and (2) above, this Act extends to England and Wales and Northern Ireland.'. — [Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this, it will be convenient to take amendment No. 19, in page 4, line 18, leave out subsection (3).

    11.45 am

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    I am conscious of events this morning. The new clause is consequential on earlier clauses and relates to Northern Ireland. Given the importance of the comments that have been made, I commend the new clause to the House.

    Perhaps I should add that a manuscript amendment to new clause 6 should be attached. It leaves out lines 3 and 4 as a result of the withdrawal of new clauses 1 and 2.

    I support the manuscript amendment. Since the Minister was kind enough to withdraw the defence of due diligence in new clause 1 and the amendment on contraventions due to default by a third party, the lines involved need no longer be included.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time.

    Manuscript amendment to new clause made: leave out lines 3 and 4.— [Mrs. Fenner.]

    Clause. as amended, added to the Bill.

    We now come to new clause 7, with which it will be convenient to take amendment No. 18, in page 4, line 17 leave out subsection (2).

    New Clause 7


    `(1) Sections 4 and 6 above shall come into force on 1st November 1982.

    (2) Subject to subsection (1) above, this Act shall come into force on 1st January 1983.'— [Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    Clause 2

    Offences Triable Summarily

    Amendments made: No. 1, in page 2, line 10, at end


    `(act) an offence under regulations made under this Act other than an offence which by virtue of the regulations is triable either on indictment or summarily;'.

    No. 2, in page 2, line 11, leave out 'against' and insert 'under'.

    No. 3, in page 2, line 13, leave out 'against' and insert 'under'. — [Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    Clause 3

    Time Limits For Prosecutions

    Amendment made: No. 4, in page 2, line 33, leave out 'commenced' and insert 'begun'. — [Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    Clause 4

    Mode Of Trial And Penalties For Offences Under Certain Regulations

    I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 13 leave out 'against' and insert 'under'.

    With this, it will be convenient to take amendments Nos. 7, 8, 9 and 10.

    These are consequential amendments that are mainly technical. Two amendments are grammatical.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 7, in page 3 leave out line 115. No. 8, in page 3 leave out lines 17 to 21.

    No. 9, in page 3, line 23 leave out

    `triable either on indictment or summarily' and insert 'so triable'.

    No. 10, in page 3, line 33 at end add—

    '() Include provisions under which a person guilty of an offence under the regulations which is triable only summarily is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding £1,000 or such smaller amount as may be specified in the regulations.'

    No. 11, in page 3, line 33 at end add—

    '(2) In section 123(2) of the principal Act (which applies subsections (1) of that section to orders requiring particulars of food ingredients) after the word "section", in the first place where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words ", other than paragraphs (e) and (eb),".'—[Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    Clause 5

    Abolition Of Certain Penalties Under Past Regulations

    I beg to move amendment No.

    12, in page 3, line 35 leave out
    `which were made before the commencement of this Act'.

    Again, this is a tidying operation.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 13, in page 3, line 36 leave out `convicted' and insert guilty'.

    No. 14, in page 3, line 38 after 'imprisonment', insert `on summary conviction'. — [Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    Clause 7

    Savings For Past Offences

    Amendments made: No. 15, in page 4, line 6 leave out

    `the commencement of this Act' and insert `1st January 1983'.

    No. 16, in page 4, line 10 leave out 'increase the' and insert

    'affect the mode of trial or'.

    No. 17, in page 4, line 11 leave out

    `the commencement of this Act'
    and insert '1st January 1983'.—[Mr. Norman Atkinson.]

    Clause 8

    Short Title, Etc

    Amendments made: No. 18, in page 4, line 17, leave out subsection (2)

    No. 19, in page 4, line 18, leave out subsection (3).— [Mr. Norman Atkinson.]


    I beg to move amendment No. 20, in line 1, leave out 'increasing the' and insert 'altering certain'.

    With this, it will be convenient to take Goverment amendments Nos. 21 and 22.

    Amendment No. 23 no longer makes sense following the withdrawal of new clauses 1 and 2. The purpose of the amendments is to alter the long title of the Bill to reflect its contents. The first amendment recognises that not all the alterations to penalties are increases. For example, imprisonment as a penalty for obstruction has been removed. The words "under that Act" should be removed because the Bill will enable penalties for offences against regulations to be altered and the offences to become triable either way.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 21, in line 2, leave out 'under that Act'.

    No. 22, in line 3, leave out 'under that Act'.— [Mrs. Fenner.]

    11.53 am

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

    We have had a mixed morning of good work and I am grateful for what the Minister has done. She has now enabled further consultation to take place before we see the final formulation of some of the ideas to which she referred. Although the Bill started life as modest measure, it is now laced with much more serious matters and once it becomes law the cases to which we have referred may be triable either way.

    Consumers can gain confidence from what we have done. I repeat that consumers are entitled to be guaranteed wholesome, clean food with absolute purity. The responsibility of the House is to ensure that our legal procedures are conscious of and take into account all the technological developments in recent years in the food industry. We have undertaken part of that process and we are on our way to solving some of the glaring anomalies that existed before this Bill.

    I wish to place on record my appreciation of all those who have made the Bill possible and who supplied the advice that I and the House have received. I start by thanking as generously as I can the occupants of the Chair on Second Reading, in Committee and this morning. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your assistance in enabling the matter to be dealt with so speedily this morning.

    I pay tribute to the Consumers Association, which has put much work into the Bill and has lived with it for a long time. It, too, can gain some satisfaction from the work that it has done now that we have arrived at this stage in our proceedings. I thank also the environmental health officers, the Institute of Standards, meat inspectors and veterinary surgeons—all the professions that wished the changes that are now embodied in the Bill—who made a tremendous contribution.

    My final job on Third Reading is to thank the Minister and other hon. Members on behalf of consumers. We represent their interests and I have great pride in thanking all those who have helped on behalf of consumers.

    11.57 am

    I wish to add my congratulations to those of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). I am grateful to him for permitting me to be a sponsor of a long overdue and much-needed Bill. I am also grateful for the Minister's response. She has been most helpful both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member for Tottenham will agree when I say that this is an important step but only one in a progress that must be made in the fight for food hygiene in all its forms. This is a series of sizeable steps but much remains to be done.

    My interest in this matter stems from some disgraceful cases in my constituency and in Leicester, where profiteers have been handling meat unfit for human consumption most irresponsibly. That is why I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has done to tighten up the penalties and to make those who are prepared to break the law pay just a little more towards the cost of their escapades.

    As I said, much more should be done. Progress must be made in Scotland. Meat staining regulations should be introduced as soon as possible. All that relates to food hygiene in all its forms.

    I, too, have been lucky to get up-to-date information from environmental health officers, mainly in Leicestershire. We have excellent officers on the Harborough district council and the Oadby and Wigston borough council. They have kept me right up to date until today. I thank them for their support and drive. They have given us all apt and essential advice. They have helped with expert opinion on Second Reading and in Committee. Without them, the Bill would not have been as effective as it is.

    12 noon

    I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) on getting his Bill this far. I wish it well. I thank the Minister for her courtesy, particularly this morning.

    I press upon the hon. Lady the urgency of the meat regulations. Welcome though it is, the Bill will be much more effective when regulations are introduced in line with available technology. Crushed bones and so on now used in manufactured meat were beyond the imagination of manufacturers when the original regulations were envisaged. I urge the Minister to expedite the introduction of meat regulations, after proper consultation, to go hand in hand with the Bill.

    12.1 pm

    I join the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) in pointing out the need to update legislation not only in line with the advance in technology. I refer also to the progress made in flash freezing, particularly of meat, which gave rise to the issue in the first place. Meat is now a bulk commodity, traded in rectangular anonymous cardboard boxes. It can remain for months, or indeed years, in cold store, and there is grave difficulty in discovering the contents until they are unfrozen and prepared for further manufacture.

    It is also necessary to update legislation on penalties in line with inflation. It is one year and 20 days since I had an Adjournment debate on a Friday on the subject of unfit meat. My interest originally arose from an episode in my constituency. The same is true of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Fan) and many others associated with the Bill. The investigations to trace the consignments of unfit meat stretched far and wide throughout the country and abroad. They made it plain that the penalties bear no relation to the profit. The Act provided inadequate protection for the public.

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) for his courtesy in inviting me to become a sponsor of the Bill. The Bill is a necessary and valuable step. We envy the hon. Gentleman's good fortune in the ballot and congratulate him on the manner in which he has taken the Bill through all its stages. We share his hope that it will swiftly be enacted.

    I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for her constant encouragement of the measure. I hope that she will not be disappointed over the withdrawal of the first two new clauses or feel that there was anything personal in our remarks. We greatly appreciate all that she has done and is doing for consumers. It may be impertinent of me to say so, but I believe that her stature has been increased by her generosity in agreeing to withdraw the first two new clauses. They may later be found to be necessary, but she readily and willingly understood the need for further examination and consultation. Her acceptance of that should not be considered a defeat of her proposal. She has been a strong and keen supporter of the Bill, for which we are most grateful.

    The Bill is not the answer to all the problems of the trade in unfit meat. As the hon. Member for Durham said, we are looking anxiously to the regulations. I press my hon. Friend again to say whether it is possible for her to report on the progress being made on the consultative document issued in Scotland because of the loopholes and also the loophole in the Irish trade through the traditional Irish ports. The loopholes cause great anxiety and were the channel of much of the traffic in unfit meat. They afforded the opportunity for the undoubted rackets which were a great danger to public health. It is our duty to prevent them.

    It is not just a question of the meat regulations under this Act. We shall have to look to my hon. Friend for further action. All the loopholes have not been closed by the legislation. There is the question of the powers needed to seize horsemeat. The public would be surprised to know the quantity of horsemeat that finds its way into various Products. Without those powers and the need to distinguish between fit and unfit horsemeat, there are further dangers to the public.

    Similarly, we shall have to look for compulsory separation——

    Order. The hon. Gentleman should confine his remarks to what is in the Bill

    I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had hoped that we could have included in the Bill at an earlier stage the separation of slaughterhouses and knackers' premises, which was another potential source of difficulty, but we have made great progress today under your guidance, Sir.

    I am pleased with everything that has been achieved. I am most grateful to my local councillors, environmental health officers, their associations in London, the Fatstock Marketing Corporation and the press. The press has had a great deal to do with uncovering the trade. That presented difficulties for the environmental health officers because of the restrictions on their activities to which I referred.

    I am optimistic that we are making progress, but I assure my hon. Friend that there will be pressure for further progress.

    12.9 pm

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) and the sponsors. It always seems a miracle when one reaches the important stage of Third Reading of a Private Member's Bill. I wish the Bill well in another place. I am glad, too, that throughout its progress the Bill has had the warm support of the Minister, who has been enthusiastic and extremely helpful.

    Before the Bill departs, I should stress its value to producers as well as to consumers. It contains much that will strengthen the hand of those who wish to produce quality agricultural produce which will pass all the examinations required by the legislation. That is a great step forward in helping farming. The more high quality produce that we can sell under this legislation, the better. There is no doubt that housewives will come back for more if the quality is there, and the aim of the Bill is to ensure the provision of high quality food for consumption in this country.

    Of course, we are all concerned not only about the consumption of horsemeat but, more seriously, about the slaughter of New Forest ponies and others which could be used far more valuably for riding than for eating.

    I am glad, too, that we have concentrated on slaughterhouses. I believe that in this and past legislation, standards have constantly risen, and the environmental health officers have done especially good work. This has been most necessary in the context of the high requirements in slaughterhouses for exports to Europe.

    Finally, as I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say a few words, I wish to ask whether any progress has been made in relation to Scotland. On 29 January, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland welcomed the provisions of the Bill and said that in Scotland
    "any necessary measures will be taken as soon as possible."— [Official Report, 29 January 1982; Vol. 16, c. 1133.]
    I do not know whether that is to be done solely by guidelines or a statutory instrument or whether we must wait another year for a further Private Member's Bill. All in all, however, I hope that some of the achievements of the Bill to improve the quality of food will at least rub off on operations in Scottish slaughterhouses and will activate the Scottish Office to speedy implementation of Scottish legislation if it is required.

    I wish the Bill well in another place and I hope that its time there will be brief.

    12.13 pm

    I wish first to answer the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) and for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro).

    My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries asked about Scotland. It is proposed in Scotland to have new staining and sterilisation regulations on similar lines to those for England and Wales. As my hon. Friend pointed out, Scotland starts further back, as at present there are no regulations at all on meat sterilisation.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch was concerned about powers to seize horsemeat. If horsemeat is suspected of being unfit for human consumption, it may be seized by an authorised officer. I should add that there is nothing wrong with selling horsemeat for human comsumption, provided that it is not unfit and that it is labelled as horsemeat.

    The Government's support for the Bill, as will by now have become clear from what I said on Second Reading and in Committee, springs from a determined resolve that penalties under the Food and Drugs Act 1955 must provide an effective deterrent to anyone who might be tempted to engage in illegal trade in unfit meat.

    It is difficult to assess with any accuracy the extent of this unlawful trade. However, it is obviously vital to public health that all meat sold for human consumption should be wholesome and fit to eat. The public must have confidence that this is so. It is important also that the majority of meat traders and producers, who maintain a high standard in their business affairs and abide by the law, should not be discredited by the illegal acts of an unscrupulous minority. The Bill will bring it home to that minority that their malpractices will yield no profits.

    The Bill makes it possible for the first time to take the more serious offences to the Crown courts, where heavier penalties can be imposed. It increases the penalty on summary conviction and provides enforcement officers with more time to prepare difficult cases by extending the time limits for bringing prosecutions.

    Although the offence of selling unfit meat is at the core of the Bill, we are also concerned with all offences created by the principal Act. For instance, it is an offence to sell for human consumption any food to which substances have been added or from which substances have been abstracted or which has been processed so as to render it injurious to health, and to sell food intended, but unfit, for human consumption. It is also an offence to sell to the prejudice of the purchaser food which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded, or to make a false description calculated to mislead as to the food's nature, substance or quality. This is why we must keep all offences under the Act in perspective. In co-operating with the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), the Government have recommended certain amendments to help the Bill to achieve its purpose but at the same time to maintain that balance in the overall objectives of the Act.

    I should now like to look at the changes that the Bill makes to the existing law. Section 106 of the Act deals with the penalties prescribed for the main offences in the Act, and these are all triable summarily only. I say "the main offences" because the Act also creates a number of offences outside the scope of section 106 for which special penalties are prescribed. Clause 1 of the Bill replaces section 106. The new section provides for the mode of trial of offences and also for their penalties. Offences will be triable either on indictment or summarily.

    I should perhaps explain at this point, as this caused some concern on Second Reading, that this does not mean that all offences will be tried on indictment. I imagine that the proportion will be small. However, the magistrates courts will decide on the appropriate mode of trial for any particular offence, subject of course to the right of a defendant to opt for jury trial.

    By revoking section 106, clause 1 also abolishes penalties for continuing offences. It is believed that these penalties are not used. They have been found to be unsuitable by the courts for offences other than those of omission where there is little difficulty in establishing that the offence continued throughout the period in question rather than being repeated from time to time. Section 106 offences are largely offences of commission, for which repeated prosecution is more suitable.

    The custodial penalty on summary conviction will be removed, and the alternative penalty of a fine not exceeding £100 will be replaced by a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum. The statutory maximum, as is shown by definition later in the Bill, is now fixed by section 32(9) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 at £1,000. Furthermore, section 143 of that Act allows the statutory maximum to be varied by order to take account of changes in the value of money. Thus, in future those penalties will be inflation-proofed, whereas previously they were not. A person convicted on indictment would be liable to an unlimited fine or imprisonment or both. It should be stressed that the penalties and modes of trial in the Bill will not apply to offences committed before the legislation comes into force, regardless of the date of commencement of proceedings or trial or the date of conviction or sentence in relation to such offences.

    Clause 2 creates a new section 106A in the Act, which sets out the offences which are to remain triable only summarily. They include, with one exception which is triable either way, the offences that I mentioned a moment ago, for which the Act provides special penalties. They also include offences under byelaws made under the Act, and offences under an order made under section 5 of the Act which confers on Ministers powers to obtain particulars of certain food ingredients.

    Also included in this category are offences under regulations made under the Act other than those which will be made triable either way by the regulations themselves. It is the Government's view that this group of offences should be triable summarily only. The special offence which is an exception to this group is an offence under section 5(3). This relates to the unlawful disclosure of information provided in compliance with a section 5 order. This is triable either way.

    We want to create effective safeguards to prevent the sale of unfit meat. This is the prime objective of the Bill. An essential part of these safeguards must be the conditions which would allow the careful preparation of a prosecution by an enforcement authority to achieve a conviction. Serious and difficult cases will take longer than the mainstream cases to prepare. This would be particularly so when the consignment of unfit meat had travelled some distance and moved across the boundaries of several authorities. Clause 3 lays down new time limits for instituting proceedings for offences under the Act.

    Offences which remain triable summarily only will continue to be subject to the time limits prescribed in the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980. The Bill lays down a time limit of three years from the commission of the offence or one year from its discovery, for offences triable either way. There are special time limits in the Act for instituting proceedings for offences where the prosecutor has procured a sample.

    Clause 4 provides for modes of trial and penalties in regard to offences under regulations made under the Act. At present, offences under regulations are triable summarily only. It would be anomalous if it were not possible to align them with the modes of trial of offences under the Act itself. We propose to review them in consultation with interested parties to decide the appropriate mode of trial and penalty that should apply to offences under each set of regulations. Clause 4 provides the framework for this review, and the maximum penalties that may be imposed.

    The clause provides that offences may be made triable either way. On summary conviction a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or such lesser amount as the regulations may specify may be imposed. The penalty on conviction on indictment could be either a fine not exceeding an amount specified in the regulations or an indefinite amount, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or such shorter term as the regulations may specify, or both the fine and the imprisonment penalty.

    Clause 2 already provides that offences under regulations which are not triable either way shall be triable summarily only. Clause 4 further provides that the penalty for those summary offences would be a fine not exceeding £1,000 or such lesser sum as the regulations may specify. These clause 4 provisions will replace section 123(1)(e) of the Act.

    I mentioned earlier that, by substituting a new section for section 106 of the Act, the Bill abolishes the imprisonment penalty on summary conviction and also the penalties for continuing offences. Clause 5 makes a similar change in relation to summary conviction of offences under regulations made under the Act. The clause does not, however, prohibit the institution in existing regulations of a penalty of imprisonment for either-way offences when tried on indictment.

    The first thing I think I should make clear about clause 7, as I believe I have done in Committee, is that the Government would not wish any provision of this Bill to be retrospective. We are satisfied that clause 7, as amended on Report, makes it clear that the new modes of trial, penalties and time limits would not operate so as to affect any person who committed an offence before the Bill comes into force. The existing modes of trial, penalties and time limits will apply to offences committed before the commencement of the Bill, irrespective of the date of commencement of proceedings for such an offence, or date of conviction or sentence. This principle applies to offences under the Act as well as to offences under regulations made under the Act.

    We are nevertheless concerned to see that no anomalies arise. If the whole of the Bill comes into force at one and the same time, there will be an anomaly. Offences against regulations under the Act committed after the Bill becomes law but before the regulations could be amended under the new powers would have been subject to lower maximum penalties than at present. During that period, offences against the existing regulations would have continued to be triable summarily. The maximum fine would still have been only £100.

    At the same time, because of clause 5, the punishment of a term of imprisonment would not have been available. The Government do not consider it desirable that provisions for imprisonment should be removed from regulations before the pecuniary punishment has been increased, or before offences against the regulations are made triable either way, in cases where that option is to be exercised. That is why an amendment was made to clause 7 on Report to bring clauses 4 and 6 into force on 1 November 1982, ahead of the remainder of the Bill. By doing so it allows regulations to be made under the new powers, to come into operation on the same day as the rest of the Bill, thus avoiding the anomaly to which I refereed earlier.

    Although most of the Bill appears to extend to Northern Ireland, that is only for the purpose of schedule 10 to the Act. The amendments made by the Bill are all amendments to the Food and Drugs Act 1955, which extends to England and Wales only, apart from schedule 10, which confers power on Ministers to make subordinate legislation for Northern Ireland relating to importation. Various provisions of the Act are applied to Northern Ireland by schedule 10 for the purposes of such subordinate legislation and it is desirable that, for those limited purposes, the amendments made by the Bill should extend to Northern Ireland. With that limited exception, the Bill extends only to England and Wales.

    The Government understand the concern of those who believe that measures should be taken to ensure that operations will not be set up in Northern Ireland or Scotland to bypass regulations in England and Wales. If that were so, it would defeat the whole objective of the Bill. In Committee I assured the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had indicated that changes in the legislation for Northern Ireland would be achieved in the criminal justice order. to do exactly what we in England and Wales are doing by the Bill. It may be necessary now because of the increased size of the Bill, for this to be done by separate Order in Council, but it will be done.

    Also in Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Scotland explained that the Bill brought the law in England and Wales into line with the law in Scotland on the main point of principle, which is penalties.

    The Bill, although of great importance in itself, accepts and presupposes that there is at present a system that controls the sale of unfit meat and is intended to stiffen the penalties where those controls are breached. On Second Reading I gave an outline of these legislative controls and said how we proposed to strengthen them. With the indulgence of the House, I should like just to go over briefly the measures that we propose to take, since that will help to put the objectives of this Bill into perspective. Proposals will be issued as soon as possible for amendments to the Meat (Sterilisation) Regulations 1969. The objective is to have these laid before Parliament before the Summer Recess, although there may then be a short period before the new regulations come into force to enable the trade and enforcement authorities to accustom themselves to the new requirements.

    The proposals will be designed to strike a balance between the desire of the enforcement authorities for stricter controls on the treatment and disposal of unfit meat, and the need to avoid placing unnecessary constraints on the trade, which could themselves act as an incentive to evade the law and disrupt legitimate operations. The proposals are expected to cover the staining of unfit and knacker meat in specified circumstances and stricter controls on the movement, documentation and storage of such meat. These measures, with the provisions of the Bill, should make it considerably more difficult for the unscrupulous trader to evade the law.

    Is it clear that my hon. Friend will be able to have her new regulations on the control of meat products before we rise for the Summer Recess so that we may have the opportunity to read and consider them? They are important matters for the protection of the consumer. If my hon. Friend can introduce them before the recess, there will be an opportunity to consider them before the Bill comes into effect next January. It will be valuable to have the assurance that the House will be able to consider the regulations before the recess.

    It is my earnest objective to have the regulations laid before the House before the Summer Recess.

    I look forward to the successful passage of the Bill and I invite the House to give it a Third Reading.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

    Transport (London) Act 1969

    (Amendment) Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    12.33 pm

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

    The House will be aware that the Bill has already had one majority in the House. Like the Bill that the House was last discussing, this is a measure designed to help the consumer, in this instance the consumers of transport in London, of whom there are many millions. It is a simple Bill, designed to do two things: first, to clarify the law, which is now in confusion on this matter and, secondly, to prevent major damage being done to London Transport and London's economy by excessively high fares. It is a moderate Bill that treats the problem for what it is: a serious economic issue affecting about 10 million people in Greater London. It is not a subject for party political slogans.

    The Bill does not enforce or recommend any particular transport policy or level of fares. It retains the principle to which the Law Lords paid so much attention, and that is that London Transport must balance current revenue and expenditure as far as is practicable. However, it makes clear beyond further legal doubt that for this purpose grants from the GLC may be counted as revenue by London Transport. There is nothing revolutionary about that. That is already done as an accounting practice, for instance by London Country, and Green Line, by many non-London Transport authorities and by London Transport until a few months ago.

    The Bill assumes that some public grant will be made to London Transport by the Government, as is done already both for London Transport and many other public transport authorities. However, the Bill leaves the question of policy and the amount of the grant to be decided by the two elected public authorities concerned—the Government for their subsidy and, for the rates grant, the GLC, elected by the London electorate and London ratepayers. Surely that is a reasonable and democratic arrangement, which was approved by the House when the Bill that we are amending was passed in 1969. The limited powers in my Bill are naturally granted not just to the present GLC but to any GLC that London electors choose to put into office from time to time.

    The then Minister of Transport, Mr. Richard Marsh—now Lord Marsh—in moving the Second Reading of the 1969 Bill in the House on 17 December 1968 said:
    "The basic purpose of the Bill is to place the main responsibilities for transport in London where, in my view, they belong—with the people of London through their elected representatives on the Greater London Council."—[Official Report, 17 December 1968; Vol. 775, c. 1244.]
    Later, in Committee, he said:
    "if a democratically elected local authority decides that it wishes to spend its rates in a particular way for the benefit of its electors it is a rather unconstitutional theory that Parliament should tell the authority that Parliament knows best."—[Official Report, Standing CommitteeA, 27 March 1969; c. 48.]
    It is fair that some subsidy should go to London Transport from Government funds both because many people, including tourists from abroad who are not London ratepayers travel on London Transport, and because the existence of London Transport services greatly assists the London car commuter by reducing congestion in the streets. During the strike about two months ago I found that, owing to the congestion in the streets, the time taken to reach Westminster was double the normal time because London Transport services were not operating. That shows that the London car commuter, even though he does not use London Transport services, is greatly benefited by their existence.

    Sir Peter Masefield, the chairman of London Transport, has suggested that, in line with most other great cities in the world, London Transport current costs should be covered as to about half by fare revenue and half by public subsidies. That is, I think, reasonable, but no precise amounts are laid down in the Bill.

    The alternative to this legislation is a legal muddle on the one hand and damage to London's economic life on the other hand.

    At present we have both. It is a muddle because even the legal advisers of the GLC and of London Transport take a different view of what the Lords' judgment means. One object of the Bill, therefore, is to restore respect for the law by giving it clarity and enabling it to be carried out.

    Secondly, great damage is being done to London Transport. On the cautious interpretation of the Law Lords' judgment adopted by London Transport, that judgment now legally requires London Transport to do something that is commercially impossible—that is balance revenue and costs without counting grants from the rates as revenue. However, the effort to do what is impossible must inevitably mean, as it already means, worse services, prohibitive fares, less investment, lost employment, and a vicious circle of decline in London transport. Fares will not merely rise, as they rose by 100 per cent. in March of this year, but they will have to go on rising if this legal situation continues.

    The cut in fares in October 1981 led to a rise in passenger journeys of about 11 per cent. on the buses and 7 per cent. on the underground—that was a rise in productivity and efficiency, which nowadays we are all being urged to promote. The increase in traffic, of course, means a rise in productivity, if the same number of drivers and conductors in the same hours carry more passengers. That is what productivity means.

    Surely productivity is a function of revenue earned as well, and to ignore that factor is grossly to over-simplify the argument.

    Clearly the hon. Gentleman has much to learn. I remind him that I am presenting a noncontroversial Bill.

    The doubling of fares on 21 March this year has already led to a loss of more than 15 per cent. in passenger traffic on London Transport. Indeed, London Transport informed me yesterday that, as a result, it has lost 1 million bus passengers every day. That is a fall in productivity, as I think all those who understand this subject will agree.

    If, however, people cannot travel to work, general employment will be lost—not just employment on London Transport—and the whole of London's business life will suffer. The cost of travel to work is, of course, a part of the cost of production of all London business. The theatre business is the latest to protest about the effects on that riot inconsiderable London business. Nowadays we sometimes forget that the original LCC tramways were started with low fares 70 or 80 years ago, precisely to help those on very low pay. What were called "workmen's fares", as most right hon. and hon. Members present will remember, continued until only a generation ago. We are in danger of forgetting that low-cost travel to work benefits the whole community and not just the travellers themselves.

    The right hon. Gentleman rightly spoke about employment prospects. Does he agree that, had the original proposals been carried through, as we were promised, they would have had an even worse effect on employment prospects because of the impossible rating charge that many businesses in London would have faced?

    That is precisely the point to which I was coming.

    Against that, the cost to the average London domestic ratepayer of the reduced fares introduced last autumn was less per week than the cost of one gallon of petrol. That is the shattering burden about which we are arguing and which we are told would have such a dreadful effect on London.

    We must remember that about two-thirds of the GIC and ILEA rate that would have been imposed by the supplementary rate of last winter was due to the Secretary of State for the Environment's cut in rate support grant. It had nothing to do with London Transport. That must be made clear.

    The right hon. Gentleman knows that that happened because of gross overspending by the GLC and ILEA, which resulted in penalties.

    I notice that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) does not contest my facts and figures, but merely attempts to impart political prejudice.

    I shall not give way.

    The present situation also involves an unjustified discrimination against London. Thanks to a more recent judgment in Merseyside by another learned judge, the transport authority there is given powers which are denied London. In Greater Manchester, British Rail services raised only about 47 per cent. of total costs from fares revenue in 1980–81. That figure was provided by Ministers. The Tyne and Wear authority raised only 43 per cent. of total costs. After all, both British Rail and the National Bus Company receive substantial national subsidies.

    As has been constantly pointed out in the House, in the great cities overseas only about 50 per cent. of costs are covered by fares revenue. Indeed, in New York, Paris and Brussels the figure is well under 50 per cent. Even under the low fares in London last winter, 54 per cent. of revenue would have been covered from fares, but after the rise of 31 March the figure will be between 75 per cent. and 80 per cent., which is greater than in any city here or overseas.

    Unlike some Government Members who seem to suffer from political prejudice, Sir Peter Masefield, who knows far more about transport than I or they, has given his support to my Bill in a letter to me in which he says:
    "Your proposals are certainly most helpful and I would like to think they may be accepted."
    The Bill has the support of the travelling public, from whom I have received thousands of signatures in petitions and hundreds of letters, the chairman of London Transport, the unions representing London Transport employees, the Town and Country Planning Association and the Greater London Council.

    Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the description of the support that he has been given from Sir Peter Masefield, does he also agree with Sir Peter Masefield that control of London Transport should be taken right away from the GLC?

    That does not arise under the Bill. I shall be glad to discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman later and I am sure that I shall be able to convince him of my view.

    In addition to the bodies that I have already mentioned, the Financial Times, not a Marxist organ, said in a leading article on 25 March:
    "We welcome the short Bill introduced by Mr. Douglas Jay to amend the drafting of the 1969 Legislation … We hope … that there are enough Conservative MPs with open minds to give this Bill a chance of passage when it comes up for 2nd Reading next month."

    The Sunday Times, another non-Marxist organ, said that the Government

    "by legislating clear transport subsidy powers for councils, could show that it genuinely respects the principle of democratic local government."

    The Government would be saved much future trouble if they took over the Bill. I am sure that they could improve the drafting and I should be only too pleased if they would do so. When the majority of hon. Members, Sir Peter Masefield, the users and employees of London Transport, the Financial Times, The Sunday Timesand the GLC are all agreed, they surely cannot be wrong.

    12.52 pm

    I awaited the speech of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) with great interest and listened to it with great attention. After all, here is a Bill which is a parliamentary curiosity—the only one in my experience in the House which has been marketed through advertisements in the press and in other ways as if it had the remarkable quality, hitherto unknown to the House, of producing enormous financial benefits without any financial cost.

    The GLC has implied in its advertisements that the Bill will provide London overnight with a low fares system and more numerous services, no matter whether those services are needed, and that it will somehow do that without costing anything. At least, there is nothing on the coupons or advertisements about the price tag or who pays it.

    The GLC advertising campaign was based on distortion, misrepresentation and suppression of the truth and was a scandalous misuse of public funds.

    The Bill provides that London Transport can be given
    "a reasonable level of … support"
    but it does not say what that level of support should be or how it should be paid for.

    If the object of the exercise is to avoid future confusion and uncertainty, we do not know how that will be achieved, because we must never forget that it was the unreasonableness of the GLC's actions which produced the present high-fares, high-rates position.

    The Bill does not clarify the situation or tell us what is reasonable, and it does not tell us who will pay or how the cost will be met. The Bill, the advertisements and the coupons fail to spell out the plain facts. Therefore, I am obliged to fill in some of the gaps that result from the suppression of the facts about the costs involved.

    The facts concerning the cost of cheap fares are that the maintenance of the GLC's low fares policy would have almost trebled the rates increase in the GLC's precept for next year compared with when the present council took over, and that that excessive rates burden would have continued to rise year by year. Next year, the transport element in the typical householder's rate bill would have risen tenfold. That would have cost ratepayers—including people in some of the outer boroughs who make relatively little use of London's transport services—an extra £250 million next year.

    Will the Minister explain that those figures have validity only on the assumption of the present crazy arrangements introduced by the Secretary of State for the Environment? If the rate support grant arrangements were still what they were two years ago, those figures would be very much less.

    Let me now dispose of another misunderstanding and mistake relating to the block grant. It is argued that the burden on the ratepayers is not the result of the GLC's ill-conceived policies but is caused by the Government's grant system. The grant system is not an evil mechanism invented to chastise the GLC. It is a system agreed by the House to achieve fairness between rich and poor authorities across the country within the resources available.

    The grant penalties operate evenhandedly upon the authorities which fail to reduce expenditure in line with the reductions being asked of local government as a whole. The GLC would have had nothing to fear from this if it had continued to give London Transport a reasonable—indeed, substantial—level of subsidy, as accepted by my right hon. Friend in allocating the TSG which it receives in cash. It was excessive expenditure in other directions that brought about the difficulties. London's ratepaying old-age pensioners would have had to pay for low-cost travel for all and sundry, without any benefit to themselves.

    Returning to the cost of the policy, by 1984–85, the extra cost would have risen to over £400 million per annum. The total extra cost of the low fares over the next four years would have been about £1,200 million. Not only that, but two-thirds of London's rates are borne by industry and commerce, which have no votes in the local ballot box, yet whose continued prosperity is vital to all Londoners.

    Each £5,000 on the commercial ratepayer's bill is equivalent to the pay of a full-time employee. The imposition planned by the GLC would have meant the loss of thousands of jobs in London, at a time when the GLC is proposing to spend many millions of pounds of ratepayers' money to create job opportunities.

    I want now to give further facts about public support given to public transport. First, each year about £1,200 million is being provided in support of the bus and rail services. The Government have made it clear that they believe it is right and proper that subsidies should continue to be paid to provide essential public services and to keep them going.

    Each year London Transport has received—and will receive in 1982—about £250 million in public money, of which about £100 million is provided by national taxpayers. On that basis, that will be a subsidy of £1,000 million over the current four years that the GLC hopes to have as its electoral term. These are enormous sums in terms of public expenditure. That means that London Transport has received over 50p in grant for every pound earned from the fare box. In addition, London's British Rail commuter services receive an annual subsidy of about £150 million.

    A great deal of misunderstanding can arise with regard to international comparisons. International comparisons of the kind quoted, particularly in the pamphlet, are slick and misleading. They blur the real issues of how to provide London with the best and most efficient public transport system that we can afford.

    A great deal of misinformation is being purveyed in the GLC's figures for the level of subsidy to London. The GLC's London Transport figure is plainly wrong. London Transport gets a subsidy equivalent to about 33 per cent. of its costs. In addition, it gets its capital entirely free and has no burden of interest charges. Therefore, I emphasise that there are many factors that we need to know about before international comparisons are misleadingly entered into.

    Let me spell out the right way forward. Last month, following a meeting with the GLC, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the GLC requiring it, as a matter of urgency, to carry out its duty to develop policies to promote the provision of integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities in London, and to reflect that in the transport policies and programme document that must be submitted to him later this summer.

    In his letter to the GLC, my right hon. Friend said:
    "Such an approach is the essential basis for discharging your duty—that is the duty of the GLC—to Londoners and for striking a balance between all the interests concerned in allocating resources. I have made clear my view—and indeed as I have said the recent transport supplementary grant settlements have reflected this—that London needs substantial resources for public transport."
    That is agreed. My right hon. Friend continued:
    "What I asked you to do was to examine carefully how Londoners can get better bus and tube services with the resources I have indicated as likely to be available. Hypothetical plans that have no money basis are worthless."
    My right hon. Friend went on to suggest that the GLC should prepare a plan, taking as a starting assumption the level of resources approved following the transport policies and programme last year, to spell out how Londoners could get better bus and tube services for this money, to consider who should benefit from the subsidy and to analyse just where the money is now being spent, who is benefiting from it and the areas where there is scope for change to target resources more effectively.

    That is the task that faces the GLC this summer. As that letter that I have quoted makes crystal clear, my right hon. Friend has already given the GLC a firm practical basis from which to move forward. It must prepare proper plans for London Transport within the resources available. It has been given a clear benchmark of the resources against which to plan—the transport supplementary grant settlement this year. That gave London 40 per cent. of all the money that he provided nationally through the TSG for local authority local transport.

    It is disappointing that London, pre-empting such a high level of national resources, should have failed to achieve the levels of efficiency and productivity of the passenger transport executives in other major conurbations. Had London done so, savings of at least £80 million would have been available to lower fares.

    Moreover, the GLC has been told that if, when its considered plan, based on the reasonable subsidy that I have described, is brought forward, we find that any real legal difficulties exist, we are prepared to consider whether amendment of the law is needed. My right hon. Friend has made that clear repeatedly. The position is secure. However, rushing into instant legislation to turn the clock back—the GLC's advertisements associated with the Bill make it crystal clear that that is the aim—is no solution.

    Nor is the solution to bring forward a Bill of the kind before the House today, because it contains all the seeds of future contention and litigation. The right and practical way to proceed is to serve properly and responsibly the interests of passengers, ratepayers and those in the transport service industries.

    I am most anxious to continue.

    I agree with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North that this is not the occasion to dwell at length on the future organisation of London's transport system. After the chaos and incompetence of the last 10 months, the time is clearly at hand for major change in the way that transport is organised in the capital. The Government will set out fully the ideas that are developing for a better organised system as well as taking a close interest in the proposals that the Select Committee on Transport will shortly put forward.

    After the disasters, failures and illegality of the so-called experiments of recent months, the set-up cannot be left as it is. My right hon. Friend has made it clear to the GLC that he requires it to act with full responsibility. If the GLC will not put its house in order, the Government will have to impose their own solution.

    1.04 pm

    I shall be brief, as many hon. Members wish to speak.

    I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) on his Bill. It has the full support of the Labour Party in the Commons and in the country. I congratulate him on his logical assessment, the way in which he has applied his mind to the problem and the clarity of his speech. I wish that I could say the same about the Under-Secretary of State. In the manner of his right hon. Friend, he has resorted to substituting abuse for logic and policy.

    The GLC's policy of "Fares Fair" was fully canvassed before London's electorate. It was not illegal. The electorate was aware of what was involved and returned the Labour Party to the GLC to run the policy.

    Order. Interruptions only prolong the debate. If there are no interruptions, I can call more hon. Members.

    "Fares Fair" was always thought to be legal. A subsidy from the GLC to London Transport has been considered legal since 1969. Parliament's intentions were made clear at the time. The legality of the subsidy was not challenged even by GLC Tories when the matter was debated in the council chamber. No member of the Tory Party in London or in the Department of Transport can point to one instance of a Conservative in the House, in the GLC or at the GLC elections suggesting that the policy was illegal, although they argued about its wisdom and cost.

    Some people got together on a Sunday and decided to challenge the policy, initially on a frivolous basis. The matter went before the courts, which agreed that it was legal. It was only finally that the Law Lords concluded that it was illegal, purely on economic definitions and on how the system should be run.

    There has been argument about the decision. The Law Lords are saying that if the GLC and the London Transport Executive make a reasonable stab at a fares policy to maximise revenue but still believe that a deficit will occur, they can supply a subsidy. If they have their sums wrong and 12 months later they find that there is an even greater deficit, curiously, it appears to be legal to make up the further deficit at the end of the year. It is silly that the GLC cannot work out its level of services, the best fares for London's economic health and for social reasons and plan in advance for a deficit. That is illegal. It is nonsense to operate in that way.

    Two things are wrong with the idea that a deficit cannot be planned. First, it does not allow the local authority to operate a policy taking account of social need. Secondly, it does not allow the GLC to plan transport taking into account population, getting the best use of the service and providing the widest possible service. It must take into account strict economics. Services must be cut and tube stations closed, buses can no longer be provided and the number of staff must be cut in a desperate effort to reach an economic balance.

    It is not dishonest. I always assumed that it was unparliamentary to use the word "dishonest" about another hon. Member and I insist that the hon. Gentleman withdraws his remark.

    I did not hear what the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) said, but if he said that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was dishonest it was unparliamentary.

    I used the word "dishonest", but I am certainly prepared to withdraw it if it was unparliamentary. I meant that the hon. Gentleman's remarks were totally misleading and may have come very near to being mendacious.

    One always knows when one has the Tories on the run on policy matters. They are reduced to abuse.

    Everyone connected with transport—in his heart of hearts, the Under-Secretary of State knows this—understands that a good transport system is essential for our capital and for most capitals and large cities. Therefore, many major cities throughout the world have heavy public transport subsidies. I refer not to countries that are normally regarded as pillars of Socialism, but to countries such as America where Socialism is anathema and where subsidies to public and private industry are generally frowned upon. Yet the major cities in the United States of America get a high level of public support.

    I must dispose of the idea that because tourists pay low fares, it somehow greatly damages London's economy and ratepayers. Conservative Members define London's ratepayers as the business ratepayers. They are not so concerned about the ordinary domestic ratepayers. However, if tourists spend less on public transport, they will have more money to spend in the shops and on goods provided by small traders, who are so dear to the hearts of Conservative Members. In that way, they provide for the ratepaying capacity of those very businesses.

    The Government have refused to act. It is no use the Minister complaining about rushing into instant legislation. It is close to four months since the Law Lords' decision. There have been constant discussions between the GLC and the Department and between the Department and the Government's Law Officers. The Attorney-General took the unusual step of giving legal advice on how the GLC's transport budget stood up. That shows the law's great confusion.

    When I listen to Conservative Members and to the Government, I wonder what happened to the words in their election manifesto for 1979. I thought that their great drive was to free local authorities from Whitehall control and that their argument was that the dead hand of Socialism and Whitehall under a Labour Government had stifled the initiative of local authorities. The first time that an elected local government in the capital shows some initiative, they stamp on it and refuse to help.

    The Bill is both desirable and necessary and deserves full support. All those with an open mind who realise that the GLC set out to provide a proper transport policy in the interest of all Londoners and of all transport users will support the Bill. I commend it to the House.

    1.14 pm

    The speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was, surprisingly for him, long on assertion but short on logic. Another surprising feature of his delivery was that it was almost nice enough to have one believe that it came from an SDP spokesman. However, it has many nasty consequences, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State rightly pointed out.

    While my hon. Friend is paying tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)——

    Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North for his speech because, as we understood it, his constituents in Aberdeen will, through his generosity, contribute to London Transport, for which we are eternally grateful?

    Perhaps it is easier for a Scotsman to be generous in such matters when he is talking about London.

    I am surprised to find so much support for the Scottish National Party on the Conservative Benches. I should declare an interest in that I am a London ratepayer.

    That is lucky, because the interests of the ratepayers of South London were well upheld in another place. Bromley council was right to bring the case. However, the ratepayers of North London think quite differently about these matters.

    The consequences to the ratepayers of London cannot be emphasised enough. The inequalities of the domestic rating system were well brought out by my hon. Friend the Minister, but because 62 per cent. of all rates are contributed by industrial and commercial enterprises there are grave consequences for jobs. The Conservative group on the GLC computed that about 33,000 jobs will be lost in London this year as a direct consequence of the 91 per cent. increase in the GLC rate burden.

    However, it would be wrong for me to conceal the fact that the latest increases in London Transport fares, which were introduced on 21 March, are almost intolerable, especially for those who must commute to work from the outlying parts of London to the City and the West End by underground. I shall give some examples of what is involved. A constituent who lives in Northwood Hill—[Interruption.] Hon. Members laugh, but if they had to commute to work, did not have travel warrants, earned very little and had to pay the increased fares, they would not laugh.

    Last year my constituent's season ticket to Kings Cross cost £339. When he renews his ticket it will cost £832. There is only one British Rail station in Ruislip-Northwood—West Ruislip. It provides fairly infrequent services to Marylebone, which is not convenient for the City of London. A season ticket from West Ruislip to Marylebone costs £446, but if one commutes from Eastcote or Ruislip to the City by underground the season ticket costs £986. If one wishes to travel from those stations or from Northwood to the West End, the season ticket costs almost £800.

    Those fares are savage and it is right that we should inquire why they have become necessary. If we do so, we may find some facts that are unpalatable to Labour Members but none the less true. The first is that the increases are largely due to the unhelpful attitude of the GLC. My hon. Friend was entirely right to remind the House that £250,000 of ratepayers' money has been spent on the unscrupulous campaign on this issue that has been waged politically by the GLC.

    That money could have been used much more responsibly for providing incentives and bonuses to London Transport employees to think up new ideas to rationalise the services and to provide a more efficient service to the travelling public. That would have been responsible and right. Instead, the whole campaign has been directed to preserve the status quo and to maintain London Transport's bad old ways. It has been political Luddism of the first order.

    Let us consider what those bad old ways are. Overmanning is certainly one example. Another which readily springs to mind is that the Socialist GLC disbursed £50 per London Transport employee to offset the supplementary rate increase that they, with other Londoners, would have to pay. Yet when rebates were given following the Law Lords' judgment, the extra VA) was consolidated into their level of remuneration for this year. "Consolidated" is the right word, because it is a bit thick for others in London to have to tolerate that kind of thing.

    Last year, London Transport employees received an 11 per cent. pay increase from the GLC in May when the bus drivers had already settled in April for 8 per cent. The GLC insisted that London Transport take on more staff than was strictly necessary and run more services than could be proved to be required.

    No, I shall not give way.

    The Standard, in some excellent investigative journalism which has not been denied by London Transport, showed, for instance, that the underground train maintenance workshops at Acton were poorly managed, that so-called "idle time" on the part of employees had been allowed to continue and that other scandalous inefficiencies of that nature had not been put right.

    The Bill in no way meets the current needs. It simply suggests that the GLC should provide more grants to London Transport. Like the chairman of London Transport and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), I believe that London Transport's service is far too important to be left under the jurisdiction of the GLC. It should be made into an autonomous public corporation under the most capable management that can be found. The services should be automated and the overmanning that characterises it must be eradicated. I am sure that the entire ticketing and fares collection process could be automated, as it is in other major cities. Moreover, with today's technology, it is certainly possible to operate one-man underground trains.

    Only when the most fundamental review of London Transport's operations has taken place and every step has been taken to rationalise its services should further subsidy be considered. I know that the Select Committee on Transport is looking into these matters and is empowered to call for persons and papers. More than enough persons have called to see me at my surgery and to lobby me in the House. As for papers, I have a mass of documentation from my constituents. I do not need any further evidence. My constituents know the burden of fares that they must bear.

    Only if no further savings from greater efficiency can be found should further subsidies be provided. Moreover, if subsidies are provided, they should come from the national Exchequer and not from the pockets of the hard-pressed ratepayers of London.

    In conclusion, it is well worth remembering how London Transport fares have escalated in the past eight years. If one takes an index of 100 in 1974, the RPI in 1979 was 204 and the London Transport index 296. In 1980, the figure for the RPI was 239 and for London Transport 445. How does it happen that London Transport is already showing its inefficiencies? In 1981, the figure for the RPI was 276 and for London Transport 515. In 1982, the figure for the RPI was 309 and for London Transport the index was 423 before 21 March and 846 after 21 March.

    Those statistics are fairly conclusive in showing not only that inefficiency started long before the change of administration at County Hall but also that the consequences of what has since happened need to be urgently considered by the Government. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport has reinforced what was stated by Lord Bellwin in another place on 5 April, that
    "the Government are not ruling out the possibility of the legislation"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 April 1982; Vol. 429, c. 69.]
    It is essential to take away the GLC's jurisdiction over London Transport. London Transport is too important to be a party political football—[Interruption.] What the travelling public needs is efficient management and dedication to providing the best possible service.

    One fundamental way in which the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, of all people, proved the defectiveness of his reasoning and of his logic was to say that by reducing fares London Transport had increased productivity. I believe productivity to be the ratio between revenue and labour costs. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that the staffing had remained the same. The remuneration most certainly has not increased, which means that the wage bill has stayed the same. But the income went down—[Interruption.]—because only 7 per cent.—[Interruption.]

    Order. This is a serious matter. It does not help if hon. Members shout across the Chamber their disagreement.

    —because only 7 per cent. more passengers were carried on the tube and only 11 per cent. more on the buses for a 25 per cent. decrease in fares.

    1.27 pm

    I intend to be brief in support of the Bill put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). I congratulate him on seizing the initiative. I had hoped to hear from Government Members some criticism of the Bill. Instead, all that we have heard—I include the speech of the Minister who ought to know better—has been a blatant party political attack upon the leadership of the Greater London Council. The only exception that I could detect in the Minister's speech was his criticism of the word "reasonable" in the Bill—a word that, I may say, appears in the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 relating to the surcharging of councillors. If the district auditor is able to make his decision on the basis of that which is reasonable, he will have precisely the same power when my right hon. Friend's Bill becomes law in relation to the word "reasonable".

    I understand that my right hon. Friend seeks to achieve the very laudable and sensible objective of bringing the position in law with regard to London more in accord with the position, as Mr. Justice Woolf held in a very clear judgment, in which the law stands in relation to Merseyside. When I think of the circumstances in which the London (Transport) Bill became law, including the quotations from Lord Marsh, which were read to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North in his opening remarks, and when I think that the climate of opinion when that Bill was enacted was very much more in favour of the provision of subsidies than it was when earlier legislation affecting the rest of the country was passed—as Lord Diplock said in his judgment in the GLC case—it seems extraordinary that London should be under greater restrictions than the rest of the country.

    Congestion in London is so much greater than elsewhere and, therefore, its needs are greater. That being so, it becomes even more extraordinary that the Government, in the person of the Under-Secretary of State, should seek to perpetuate the penal effect of legislation, as it has been interpreted, on London as distinct from the rest of the country.

    No. I want other hon. Members to have the opportunity to participate in the debate.

    The limited purpose of the Bill is one that serves not only social objectives—this was a major factor in the speeches of the Law Lords—but a major economic objective that was totally ignored by the Under-Secretary of State. I thought that the hon. Gentleman's speech would contain some reference to the economic factors. Of course, he told us all about the economic factors on the ratepayers' side, which I accept, but there is an economic balance. The hon. Gentleman did not mention the economic consequences of congested roads—the need to create road widening schemes, the need to pull down serviceable buildings and the need to destroy industries and commerce and to relocate them. Those are the heavy economic costs of a public transport system that is not making adequate provision for the people of the metropolis. That is true. I have seen it throughout my political life in local government and in the House. It is more true in London, with all its traffic and congestion, than anywhere else in the country, yet London is treated worse than other areas. Apparently that is what the Government want to perpetuate.

    The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) poured scorn on those from North London who have the benefit of the underground compared with those in South London who have not. I represent a constituency that does not have an underground station within it. However, of the enormous number of letters and petitions that I have received, both in support of the "Fares Fair" policy and of my right hon. Friend's Bill, and in opposition to it, 100 to one are in favour of the principle enshrined in the Bill, notwithstanding the fact that my constituents, who will be paying the rates—I accept that they have buses but the services are limited in many instances —cannot board an underground train without going outside my constituency. If anyone suggests that the people of London who do not have the immediate benefit of the services that we want to make it easier to provide are not in favour of that provision, that is not my experience. I hope that the House will bear that in mind and strongly support the Bill.

    1.35 pm

    There is much that I wish to say, but I shall endeavour to keep my remarks brief, because many hon. Members wish to speak. Two hours is an inadequate period in which to debate this matter. I trust that as the management of this morning's business was in the hands of the Opposition, we shall not hear any gnashing of teeth at 2.30 when they complain that they have not managed to reach a conclusion, because it would be false of them to do so.

    The behaviour of the GLC has been scandalous. I am ashamed that it has come to this pass. Having served for six years on that authority, I cannot imagine how it could have sunk to such a low level.

    Last night, I went with a colleague to another hon. Member's flat. Having arrived there, we found that he had received election literature issued by the Labour Party. Enclosed within it was some literature from the GLC without an election imprint on the "Fares Fair" policy. I shall be interested to see what will happen later when we have further appeals to the House of Lords over election jiggery-pockery. There will be more cries from the Opposition about what is happening to their colleagues in local government because they have not been acting in accordance with election law. They always want things altered in a way to suit themselves. That is a deplorable state of affairs. Much of the money that is now being spent by the GLC is purely and simply for political purposes. I would not be surprised to find many of the workshops that have been set up to do things, such as printing, at the ratepayers' expense are also used to produce Labour Party literature.

    Is my hon. Friend saying that the literature to which he has referred, issued on a political basis by the GLC, is in addition to all the political literature issued by the GLC on its fares campaign at a cost to ratepayers of more than £250,000?

    Order. Before the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) is tempted to go down that lane, I remind him that he should confine his remarks to the Bill.

    Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that was an important point, as this is in a local government election period.

    Opposition Members are reluctant to accept that, in 1969, there was no intention to give a completely free hand to the GLC to give whatever subsidies it wished. The Government of the day were in the hands of the Labour Party and they were anxious to be rid of the London Transport problem. They wanted to pass it to the GLC, which was reluctant to take over without considerable guarantees.

    I remember the negotiations and the number of times the GLC, of which I was a member, refused to accept the terms offered. We felt that London Transport should not be taken over unless there were strict safeguards for ratepayers. We did not want an albatross to be hung around the necks of Londoners. We made sure that the offer would not be on that basis. We also ensured that the whole network—the stations, lines, plant and equipment—was all handed over free of cost to the GLC. That point is not taken into account in any calculation being made of the subsidy.

    We could consider the costs involved in other cities, such as New York, and in many German cities. What about interest rates? No interest is payable on the cost of those items to London. It was a free gift, but interest rates have to be taken into account by all those cities in Germany, the United States and elsewhere in the world when they put in their capital equipment. I give way to the hon. Gentleman who made the accusation.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. Is he aware that the Greater London Council is not alone among public authorities in having interest-free loans? What about the nuclear power stations built by the CEGB? None of the interest payable on the construction of those nuclear power stations is chargeable to the CEGB. The situation is not unique. Why does the hon. Gentleman pretend that it is?

    I do not pretend that it is unique. I am saying that Labour Members are less than honest if they do no accept that the subsidies that we give to London Transport are subsidies for its day-to-day running. Hidden subsidies are included by way of the free plant and materials that were given in 1969. Such subsidies were not given to the networks in New York, Paris, Germany and elsewhere, where interest is still calculated and paid. If we took that into account, we should have a very different picture.

    It is clear that we should expect to subsidise public transport, and I am entirely in favour of doing that, but the subsidies should be understood to be fair and equitable.

    My hon. Friend says that we are in favour of subsidising public transport, and he is absolutely right, but is he aware that in a public expenditure White Paper the Socialist Government explicitly and unequivoc-ally stated:

    "the Government's policy is progressively to reduce the level of such subsidies … In allocating the subsidy between authorities … the Government have made a substantial shift away from holding down fares in the major conurbations … It intends to continue this shift of support in future years"?
    One of the architects of that White Paper was a London Labour Member of Parliament, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore).

    I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. It was something that the Labour Party said in one of its saner moments, which it does not seem to have very often now.

    Clearly subsidies should be given to help London Transport, but the subsidies should be kept in proper bounds. That was the whole aim of the 1969 Act. As far as I am aware, it was the aim of all administrations at County Hall from there until this year. The intention was to look after London Transport and to make sure that it had adequate resources for its day-to-day operation. It has to be borne in mind that 80 per cent. of its total costs are paid in wages. The GLC did not want an open-ended purse, because it knew what would happen if the trade unions got their sticky fingers into the public purse. The effect could be extremely damaging.

    We were given an example of the subsidies that are given to the Paris transport system, but it completely ignored the fact that there is no argument there about flexible rostering of seven or nine hours. There is flexible rostering in Paris. One day the railway worker expects to do two hours and the next day he is quite happy to do 10 hours. Here members of ASLEF are absolutely adamant that they are not prepared to budge fron an eight-hour day. That means, of course, that they often work less than five hours a day.

    Will the hon. Gentleman also quote the differences in wages between the two types of engine driver?

    I should love to mention the differences in wages. Those who earn their wages by allowing flexible rostering deserve to be paid more than those who are not prepared to operate such a system. If I had my way, employees would receive no extra increase until they saw the way ahead into the twentieth century. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the 1919 period. We must move forward like everyone else.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) to refer to a matter which exclusively relates to British Rail and has no impact whatsoever on London Transport?

    This is a Second Reading debate. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) was answering a question put to him by an Opposition Member. He is entitled to do that, but not at great length.

    Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    One cannot compare the transport network in London with the transport networks in Germany, America and Paris because they operate in different circumstances. The workers there are more realistic in their approach. They understand that it is important to give a service to the people who use the undertakings if they are to continue in business and make it worth while for the rest of the community to subsidise them.

    Giving a completely free hand to dip into the taxpayers' pocket at national or local level leads to gross inefficiency. That is what we must expect from an undertaking such as London Transport.

    Let us examine the attitude of the Opposition to the method of subsidy. It is incredible that they should be so worried about protecting the interests of people who come from the stockbroker belt immediately outside the GLC area at the expense of Greater London ratepayers. I do not understand their logic. I do not understand why the Opposition are so keen to increase the value of property in central London by reducing the fares for travelling to and from such property.

    It is obvious that if fares for travelling to and from the centre are made extremely cheap, at the expense of businesses outside, the value of central London premises will increase because the people who occupy them will be able to afford to pay more in rent. I do not understand Labour Party logic in trying to increase the value of property in central London. It does not make sense.

    Surely the hon. Gentleman recognises that the economic costs of central London congestion affect every Londoner.

    Indeed. The GLC has said that the "Fares Fair" policy was expected to reduce congestion by only 1 per cent. If such enormous expenditure reduced congestion by 50 per cent., or even 25 per cent., I might be prepared to go some way with that proposition, but to spend £400 million a year to reduce congestion by 1 per cent. is not in my view good value for money.

    It is wrong to finance such an arrangement at the expense of people, such as pensioners, who will not benefit. It is immoral to make those who are fighting to make a business pay on the outskirts of London subsidise through their rates the costs of people travelling to the centre. It is logical that people who live in the centre of the city should expect to pay more for their accommodation. A business in the centre should expect to pay extra for that privilege and to pay their staff extra, too.

    Firms either pay extra because their business is in the centre of town or, if they have branches all over the country, they must pay their staff who work in the centre of London an extra weighting allowance. Every civil servant and bank official who works in the centre of London expects extra pay to cover the cost of getting to work or the cost of living in the centre of the city. Any benefit acquired by a reduction in fares is only a short-term benefit to the employee as it filters through the system within a year.

    Does that not prove my point that fares to work are part of the costs of production in London?

    They are part of the cost, one way or the other. There is either an allowance paid to staff or an increased rent to the landlord of the business's property. There may be a short-term advantage for about a year, but there will be no long-term advantage. Anyone who thinks differently has not thought the matter through.

    The Bill is providing a gift—at someone else's expense of course. All Socialist gifts are at someone else's expense. No thought has been given to the long-term cost.

    I was in business in outer London. I paid my staff less than they would have got in central London because I expected to do less business in outer London. I would have been extremely resentful if at the same time I had been expected to pay higher rates to get other people's staff into the middle of London. The very idea is monstrous, but it is typical of those who try to engineer things as part of an overall plan, and it is also typical of what is going on in the GLC.

    I am appalled by the GLC's behaviour. I earnestly request my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to look carefully at what is happening in the GLC and, if he shares my view that the council is not conducting itself properly in the running of London Transport, to introduce legislation to take this duty away from it. If that is done, and bearing in mind that so much else has already been removed from its responsibilities, perhaps the Government will then consider whether or not we need the GLC at all.

    1.52 pm

    I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), not just on introducing the Bill but on the way that he did so. His speech was non-controversial and he stuck to the point of trying to bring sanity into what is fast becoming a chaotic situation for London Transport.

    I had hoped that my right hon. Friend's speech would set the tone for the debate and that we would have a constructive discussion about putting the position back to where we all, including Conservative Members, thought that it was before the Law Lords' ruling. Unfortunately, instead of that, we have been harangued by a series of party political broadcasts that have not recognised the problems facing London Transport and its users and have not suggested solutions. Even the Under-Secretary's proposed way forward is not a way out of the impasse.

    We ought to accept the Bill and restore the position that obtained before the recent fares increase. We would then have time to discuss the long-term legislative steps that are necessary to tidy up transport matters not only in London, but throughout the country. To mix them up in one hotchpotch of party political broadcasts, with an eye on the local elections, is not the way to approach matters, and it was not the way in which my right hon. Friend, who introduced the debate, approached them.

    The case for an adequate subsidised transport system is unanswerable. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the measure, showed how, for the time being, it could be done through the Bill. He quoted at length many other sources of expert opinion which now favours this kind of sensible approach to the problems of London Transport. That is why the Bill does not find favour on the Conservative Benches.

    The arguments are well known, well rehearsed and well publicised, and have not been answered by any speaker in the debate. Hon. Members have spoken of the letters they have received. We did not hear whether they were for or against, but I suspect that most of them were in favour of the "Fares Fair" campaign. There may well be one or two against, but the support shown for the GLC's transport policy in correspondence has probably been heavier than on any other single issue for the past two or three years.

    Most of us have received correspondence, and it is not only from people who support the Labour Party. I have received hundreds of letters from people who support the Government on every other issue except this one, and who are now asking me to impress on the Government the need for the Bill in order to get the position back to what it was before the Law Lords' ruling.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that support for the Bill goes far and wide throughout the country? In Workington there is support for the Bill because it can have a direct impact on the jobs of 400 people in my constituency. We produce the Titan bus for London. The low fares policy pursued by the GLC policy under Ken Livingstone had the effect of increasing bus orders for Titan in Workington. All that has been prejudiced as a result of the Government's policy in failing to respond to the needs of public transport in London, and in wiping out 1 million passengers a day from the books of London Transport, thereby reducing the amount of money that it has available and the demand for the type of bus made in Workington. That is a dreadful betrayal of the Government's strategy as it affects our people. Throughout the country—and certainly in my constituency—there is firm support for this piece of legislation.

    I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention because it underlines what we have been saying in London—that it is not solely a London problem, and that there are areas up and down the country where the effect is quite dramatic. My hon. Friend has raised a very serious question, and those who are concerned about jobs will have listened carefully to what he said. We understand the roll-on effect of the reduction in the numbers of people using public transport, and the reduction in revenue which arises as a result. We know the great effect on employment in London, which is now spreading further afield. I hope that Conservative Members who weep crocodile tears about unemployment will have listened to the debate. Some may have been involved in other areas of the country where the effect may be similar. I am very grateful for the intervention.

    Prior to the intervention of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), I was trying to intervene on the specific point that he was making about the weight of correspondence that he has received, and which we have all received. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that so accurate were the GLC advertisements that a high percentage of my constituents—and I suspect those of most other hon. Members—were not aware that any subsidy at all was paid? If that is the case among thy constituents, I suspect that the misleading effect of those advertisements is London-wide and, indeed, nationwide.

    I do not want to judge the constituents of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire). My constituents are politically aware and alert. They do understand. If the people who voted for the hon. Gentleman are of such a low calibre, it is not for me—[Interruption.] He said it. People get the Member of Parliament they deserve. The correspondence that a have had is overwhelming in support of the campaign to keep fares at a reasonable level.

    The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) referred to correspondence from people who are clearly not of our political persuasion. Would he be interested in a letter that I received which says:

    "I am a Tory by nature but, would like to think, unselfish in my hopes for London and its people. I have lived in a number of European cities with subsidised public transport and cannot praise enough the cleaner, less polluted, more used (consequently more efficient) amenities at the expense of a small rate supplement, which can be repaid with a little use of what will be a much improved system. Yours, Tory, house owner, car owner."

    I know that all of us could repeat that letter a thousandfold. I have had letters from people who do not even use public transport, who have never voted Labour—who cycle to work—but who would welcome the introduction of the Bill.

    However, to put the record straight, I had one letter from a constituent of mine—a mutilated version of the coupon. It came from a Conservative Member of Parliament who lives in my constituency. I:How. MEMBERS: "Name him."] His name is Mr. C. P. Y. Murphy. Conservative Members do not even know him. I did not either, but I looked him up in The Times Guide to the House of Commons. He must be one of the few, even of his party, in my area, who are not in favour of the Bill. As I have said, I have had overwhelming correspondence from people of that ilk who support the Bill.

    As well as receiving correspondence we have attended numerous meetings all over London and beyond. We have met people of all political persuasions and of none. The overwhelming feeling is that the Law Lords' judgment was wrong, and even if it had to be, the argument following the Law Lords' judgment was that the Government should intervene and return to the previous situation, instead of jumping on some kind of cheap political bandwagon, to make capital out of it, to carry on a vendetta against the present GLC leadership and to ignore the wishes of people and commuters who use London Transport.

    Local meetings have only stressed what has been said in local correspondence. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North mentioned the Town and Country Planning Association. He could have mentioned the London Transport Passengers Committee, the London Amenity and Transport Association, the Camden community health council and all sorts of other organisations. He could have mentioned the pensioners' organisations, which were concerned at the beginning. In spite of the fact that the Secretary of State had said that he would not interfere and bring in legislation before Christmas, the weight of representations from the pensioners' organisations soon changed his mind on that. He brought in legislation just after Christmas. He had an eye to the number of protests from that quarter. It was possible for him to change his mind then because of the weight of public opinion.

    Several people who are in a special category have not yet been mentioned. However, I am sure many hon. Members have received letters similar to the one that I received from a constituent. He wrote:

    "You will know that the cost of fares has been dramatically increased. This is having very adverse effects on disabled people attending rehabilitation centres in the community."
    That is an important point.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I mentioned that community health councils in my area were concerned. They are worried about the problems that will arise when people have to visit hospitals, because of the added costs and burdens. There has been a big increase in fares. Perhaps Conservative Members should take that into account. The Minister claims that people did not understand the policy and that it was pushed by the GLC leadership. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said, that policy was the focal point of the GLC election campaign. The policy was argued about in the media and at numerous public meetings. The question of its illegality was never raised. However, people at those meetings understood what such a policy would mean for rate increases. The need to increase rates was spelt out as well as the need for a supplementary rate increase. Therefore, it is wrong to say that people did not understand the policy. It is right to say that no one challenged its legality, but it is also right to say that everyone knew that there would be a supplementary rate increase.

    Am I not right in thinking that the Labour Party member who was elected to the GLC in that campaign has since joined the SDP? She stood for reelection and was re-elected as an SDP member and is certainly not in favour of the policies enunciated a few months earlier.

    I allowed the hon. Gentleman to get in and to have a swipe at the Labour Party, but he should remember that that same Labour Party member has not opposed the transport policy that she fervently supported during the election campaign and has not gone back on the commitment to the transport policy. The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. Conservative Members do not check their facts. When they are involved in a dirt campaign they do not check anything. However, that Labour Party member has not withdrawn from the commitment to "Fares Fair" and to London Transport's policy. Like me, she would change some aspects of it, but she is still committed to a subsidised transport system.

    Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) will invite the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) to withdraw the aspersions that he has cast on that lady's character by attributing views to her that she does not hold.

    It is not in my court to defend the lady. She may have other friends—if they turn up—to do that for her.

    I should like to make it clear that I am not casting any aspersions on the GLC member for that constituency. I simply made the point that the Labour candidate resigned and was re-elected.

    We all understood the hon. Gentlemans's inference—that she left the Labour Party because of the transport policy. That is not true.

    Order. I gather that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) is not giving way.

    I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.: am in a bit of trouble, because I have given way several times.

    I may give way later, but I cannot deal with two interventions at the same time. I hope that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) will think about what he said about the GLC member who left the Labour Party and that he will recognise that he was miles away from the truth and did not understand the position at all.

    I accept the view of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) about the aspersions that were cast on the lady, but the hon. Gentleman also cast an aspersion on us by saying that none of her friends had turned up to defend her. My hon. Friends and I have been here since 9.30 this morning, so his remark was a little unworthy

    If I failed to notice the hon. Member and his hon. Friends, I am sorry.

    The fact that the matter was thrashed out clearly and publicly during the campaign was sufficient justification for those of us who supported it to maintain our support after the election. If those Conservative Members who constantly talk about their support for democratic principles and elections were sincere, they would have introduced legislation to support the wishes of the democratically elected GLC. The flaw in their approach to the matter is that they did not do so. When this Bill was introduced, following the Law Lords' judgment, we were lambasted by a party political set-up.

    The immediate result of the Law Lords' decision was to confuse the position even more. A matter that needed much more in-depth discussion became even more confused after the judgment. We have already heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), who spoke with great knowledge about these matters. We know that the Divisional Court upheld the decision, so we cannot say that those judges were out of touch or did not understand the position.

    The case then went to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. But even then there were differences of opinion among the judges. After the Law Lords' judgment there were differences of opinion among the barristers and solicitors representing the GLC. We understand that the legal profession has become rich on the basis of those confusions, but it did not help the position to see that everyone was confused, including those who had made the judgments. We went from bad to worse.

    If Conservative Members are concerned about London Transport and about clearing the slate so that we can discuss all the outstanding issues, they should support the Bill, return the fares system and the running of London Transport to a fair basis and then discuss any legislation to be introduced by the Government on the wider aspects of transport in London and our other great cities. If they had approached the matter in that way, we could probably have joined them. But their narrow approach in attacking the GLC will do nothing to help the position. I hope that they still have time to change their minds.

    Does the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) agree that the Government should concede, in the present chaos, an inquiry into the financial structure of transport in our capital city, so that we can work out rationally a proper structure of subsidy or whatever is required for the future?

    If the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) checks the Select Committee proceedings, he will find that some of his points have already been dealt with.

    Further confusion was raised in my mind when I began to think about the Secretary of State imposing clawback fines because of something that he said was illegal. One cannot impose a fine on an illegal activity without condemning the illegality. There is further confusion. The Secretary of State for the Environment was not acting legally when he imposed the fines and charges following what he and his right hon. Friends considered was an illegal action. I am not a lawyer but I believe that is a good argument, and perhaps we should pursue it further.

    I fear that the Government were angry about the success of the policy. Londoners and others much further away supported the approach to inner city transport. There were arguments about detail and other criticisms, but there was overwhelming support for the policy. Its effects have been criticised, but it had been operating for only a few weeks. It would have been sensible to give it six or 12 months. The Government were determined that it would go no further. They had seen that it was a success and that it had the overwhelming support of London. That is the root of their objection.

    I leave the matter there, as others wish to speak. Conservative Members who represent London seats should reread their correspondence, discuss the matter further with their constituents, trade unionists and others employed by London Transport and support the Bill before the day of reckoning comes.

    2.16 pm

    I listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), but his Bill is unacceptable to many of my constituents. It would inevitably mean a return to the swingeing increases in GLC rates that we saw earlier last year. I do not believe that there is any point in substituting the chaos of London Transport fares for the chaotic rate situation that resulted from the supplementary rate which was subsequently declared illegal. No hon. Member could be in favour of that.

    I am in favour of cheap fares. I make that clear to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the right hon. Gentleman, who would not be in favour of cheap fares. I fully and strongly support the substantial subsidies that the Government make available to London Transport. There has been widespread misunderstanding about the fact of subsidies throughout Greater London. Many people believe that there are no subsidies. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State made it clear to the House beyond any shadow of doubt that enormous subsidies are already being paid, as did the right hon. Gentleman.

    To put the record straight, will my hon. Friend confirm that not only has the rate subsidy to London Transport increased under the Government but that, as a proportion of the total national transport supplementary grant, it is greater than was ever paid out by the Labour Government?

    That is a valuable point.

    As I was saying, it is wrong to finance a cheap fares policy, as the GLC tried to do, out of the rates. That policy cannot possibly commend itself to the many thouands of my constituents and other London constituents who are retired, living on fixed incomes or living just above the supplementary rebate level. The supplementary rate with which they were faced to finance London Transport was completely unacceptable and bore harshly on them.

    In my constituency I have not relied on letters but have done a survey of views. Of those who intended to vote Labour, 35 per cent. believed that extra money required by London Transport should come from users, 30 per cent. were unsure and 17 per cent. each believed that the extra money should come from ratepayers or from taxpayers. In other words, the largest group believed that it should come from users and many were still unsure of the way forward.

    My hon. Friend raises an interesting point which will no doubt be noted by those who read the Official Reportof the debate.

    I have received strong representations from retired constituents urging me vigorously to oppose any return to the financing of cheap fares at the expense of ratepayers, many of whom simply cannot afford to pay any more. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North pointed out that the supplementary rate was no more than the price of a gallon of petrol per week, but many of my constituents cannot afford a further £1·80 per week. They do not have motor cars and they certainly cannot contemplate paying for the cheap fares scheme through their rates.

    No, I shall not give way.

    I am strongly in favour of cheap fares, as we all are, and I am strongly in favour of subsidies. The point at issue is the method. The great division in today's debate is between those who believe that the cheap fares scheme should be subsidised through the rates and those who believe that it should be subsidised out of central taxation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), in a powerful and important speech, made clear the misery suffered by his constituents and he is in a far better position to do so than the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race), who stood as a candidate in that constituency several times and was resoundingly rejected.

    Another aspect of the suffering caused by the swingeing supplementary rate relates to disabled people. The disabled, like the old, are obliged by law to pay their rates. Pensioners have passes and are thus not involved in fare paying, and the disabled in the very nature of things are not involved either. Yet they have suffered heavily through the rates. If there is to be a subsidy, it must surely be national.

    My hon. Friend illustrates the problem of using the rate fund to deal with any kind of cheap fares policy that a large local authority may wish to introduce. My hon. Friend makes an important point. The disabled are severely affected by policies of this kind.

    Like all London Members, I have received a large number of coupons as a result of the GLC advertising campaign. I deplore utterly the expenditure of £250,000 of ratepayers' money on that shameful campaign. I have replied to all constituents who wrote to me. I have pointed out the large subsidies available and my dismay at the way in which the matter is being treated for party political purposes.

    The return fare from Uxbridge to Moorgate by London Transport is now £6. The fare by British Rail from West Drayton, at the southern end of my constituency, is £4·20or £3·30 after 9.30 in the morning. It is chaotic to have such an enormous difference in the return fare to London from two stations about two and a half miles apart.

    We all know that the cheap fares scheme was ill-conceived, crazily financed and found to be technically illegal. I believe that to go back to such a policy would be wrong because of the massive rate increases that it would bring.

    Yesterday, I introduced a Bill into the House, a copy of which every hon. Member received today. I do not intend to debate the Bill now, but I should like to make a passing reference to the fact that I have offered the House an alternative to the Bill that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has presented. I call for an inquiry into the whole future of London Transport, its financing and the level of public support that should be provided for the travelling public of London. That is the right way forward. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport—I am glad to see him sitting on the Front Bench—to take account of the strong feelings expressed by London Members and also to take account of the clear division that exists between those hon. Members who believe that the cheap fares policy should be subsidised out of rates and those who believe that continuing subsidies should be met out of central taxation.

    I urge my right hon. Friend to come before the House, in the next few days if possible, to make clear the Government's intentions. We cannot, I believe, continue with a situation which, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, results in all kinds of chaos and difficulty for our constituents throughout Greater London. We want to make sure that never again are the fares charged for travelling in the metropolis decided by a group of party politicians in County Hall whose only interest is to make life as difficult as possible for the Government. If anyone doubts that this is the case, they have only to read the remarks made by Mr. Ken Livingstone on 28 May. I do not need to spell them out. Every hon. Member is familiar with them. It has to be remembered that Mr. Livingstone was not elected by the people of London to impose this policy.

    Will such an inquiry include a specific reference to the extent to which people who live outside Greater London and come into Greater London from Brighton, Birmingham, Woking or anywhere else—many of them are relatively well off—derive benefit from cheap transport provided by Greater London ratepayers? Many of those ratepayers are far worse off than those who receive the benefit. That was an utterly monstrous injustice. It gives the lie totally to any suggestion that the GLC scheme was fair.

    There is no doubt that my hon. Friends feel that the scheme was unfair.

    I thank the right hon. Member for Battersea, North for the opportunity to debate these matters. My only regret is that we do not have the time to discuss calmly the relative merits of providing a cheap fares scheme through the rate fund as opposed to central taxation. That is what the argument is about. It is up to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to bring forward proposals so that the GLC is obliged to respond to his initiative within a short time. If the GLC does not do so, I believe that London Transport should be separated and set up as an entirely independent body.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, That the Question be now put.

    I am sorry to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I cannot accept the motion. Fourteen other hon. Members have already indicated their wish to speak in the debate, which has been in progress for rather less than two hours.

    Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With respect, I have not heard the argument in the past that the closure cannot be accepted because other hon. Members wish to speak. In fact, one of the reasons for moving the closure is to shut people up. The first argument is therefore not valid.

    Secondly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you said that the debate had been in progress for an insufficient length of time. I rely on memory, but I believe that it has always been the considered opinion of the Chair that a closure could be moved and would be accepted after two hours debate. In this instance, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I say this before you receive advice from the Clerk—I think that about one minute is involved. I put it to you, Sir, that this is a fundamental matter on which the House wants the opportunity to vote.

    I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He has great experience. Indeed, it is even greater than mine. However, he will know that on a Friday afternoon it is rare for a closure to be moved after less than three hours debate. Certainly it is unusual for a closure motion to be accepted after less than three hours of debate. An important debate is taking place and it has continued for about two hours. A great many hon. Members wish to take part in it.

    It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

    Debate to be resumed upon Friday 7 May.

    Sex Discrimination Act 1975

    Garden Supplies (Sunday Trading) Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    With the authority of the hon. Member in charge of the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Friday 30 April.

    Lorry Traffic (Regulations) Bill

    Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [2nd April], That the Bill be now read a Second time

    Succession To The Crown Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Second Reading deferred till Friday 30 April.

    Hedgerows Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Second Reading deferred till Friday 30 April.

    Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill Lords

    Read a Second time.

    Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

    Hospital Services (Leicestershire)

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

    2.31 pm

    I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the plight of Leicestershire in respect of the hospital services that are available to its citizens, and especially the threat of closure to the Glenfield district general hospital in my constituency, work on which has already begun. The expenditure upon the hospital is already considerable, yet it is threatened by the cuts in expenditure that will come through to the Trent area health authority, and of course to the Leicestershire district.

    I am pleased to say that, whatever the many matters that divide hon. Members representing Leicestershire constituencies on other issues, we have long worked together to try to alleviate the plight of Leicestershire people, who have long been near the bottom of the league of hospital beds and services. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has headed the efforts of us all to try to press upon successive Governments the need to bring help to the area. As recently as 21 February 1980 the hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Leicestershire area health authority finance in an Adjournment debate. He produced figures that were irrefutable to show that the area is extremely badly off. The situation has not improved. I thank the hon. Gentleman for attending the debate. I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he will wish to take part in it if he catches your eye.

    I shall quote from the reply of the then Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), in that Adjournment debate, who said:
    "I readily concede that the Leicestershire area health authority has a very difficult task in attempting to improve health services in the county. There is no dispute that the area has suffered, and still suffers, from a legacy of low Health Service funding. No one could argue with the statistics that my hon. Friend produced.
    That is the hon. Member for Harborough. The Minister continued:
    "The authority has the daunting task of undertaking new capital developments, including a major teaching hospital, as well as maintaining the growth of medical education."
    Later the Minister referred specifically to the third Leicester district general hospital on the Glenfield site among developments that
    "should go a long way towards providing the people of Leicestershire with the health service that they have every right to expect".
    Later the Minister stated:
    "My hon. Friend rightly reminded the House that a long period of under-investment in the Health Service, not only in Leicestershire but in the Trent region as a whole, is the underlying cause of many of the deficiencies he has described. The recommendations of the Resource Allocation Working Party aim to secure a pattern of resource distribution based on relative health care need. Under the RAWP formula, Trent has emerged as one of the most needy regions and has received the third highest growth rate this year."
    That was in 1980, and the rate was2·7 per cent. The Minister said later:
    "I fully recognise that Leicestershire has suffered a legacy of deprivation of health services, and I am conscious of the difficulties that lie ahead."—[Official Report, 21 February 1980; Vol. 979, c. 806–810.]
    I trust that the Minister who has replaced him will in no way seek to under-estimate the problems that Leicestershire faces with a growing population, served by doctors, nurses and ancillary workers in hospitals, with the greatest devotion and care, but with a low rate of hospital beds. The needs there are so mighty that on the latest figures showing acute specialties with significant waiting lists, 460 people have been awaiting acute orthopaedic surgery for over four years.

    The figures spread through general surgery, ENT, orthopaedic surgery, ophthalmology, plastic surgery and even gynaecology. They are disgraceful in any decent and compassionate society. Successive Governments have done their best to try to bring the Trent area and the Leicestershire health authority to parity with areas that are more adequately and fairly served.

    Unfortunately, only gradual improvements are being made. In 1981–82, resources available to the Leicestershire health authority were only 91 per cent. of the national average and 23 per cent. less than the average for authorities in the best provided region in this country. With a national growth rate of 1·5 per cent. for the NHS as the assumption upon which the projections were based, that would mean the injection of £44 million additional resources. The area with its expanding population received £3·8 million growth in 1982–83. If it is implied in the Government's figures that there is to be nil growth, the consequences for the continuation of the opening sequence of Glenfield district general hospital are bleak.

    That hospital is to be large. It is to employ over 700 people in an area that needs a transfusion not only of health care but of jobs. It is an area where unemployment is staggering. It is higher than it has ever been and is increasing. I am informed that already £300,000 per annum is spent by Glenfield hospital for staff pre-recruited and in training, which is essential for nurses and other trained staff if the new hospital is to open quickly at an economic level of activity.

    There is no question of just announcing that a hospital is approved today and that it will be opened tomorrow. There must be preparation. If the overall level of acute in-patient services which Leicestershire needs is to be improved the planning must proceed and the building must go on. The people must know where they stand.

    The overall level of acute in-patient services available in Leicestershire can be judged from the discharge rate per 1,000 of population. In 1980, the discharge rate was 74·4 per 1,000 in Leicestershire compared with a national average of 91·4 per 1,000. That is only 81 per cent. of the national average. In every specialty we have the same problem. In our surgeries we all have to say to people who come to us with acute conditions believing that they are not being served properly that they are right, that the Trent area is at the bottom of the league, and that the Leicestershire part of it is at the bottom of the Trent region.

    Why do we come to the Government and not to the Trent area? The answer is that it is the allocation of money by the Government to the regional health authority which determines what it has available for allocation. The regional authority can then decide how to allocate those funds among its various district authorities. In the Trent region every district health authority is below the national average. Every authority in the region is below the national average, which is almost automatically the target figure in terms of resources per capita, with the sole exception of Sheffield, which is exactly on the national average. It follows that no district health authority in the Trent region has any excess funds above its target figure which could possibly be transferred to Leicestershire.

    The latest statistics for the year 1980–81 show Leicestershire at only 91 per cent. of the national average—one of the lowest figures in the Trent region, a region which itself is poorly off. If Trent were to assure Leicestershire that it could proceed with the Glenfield development and that a period of minimal growth is predicted by the White Paper, the money would have to come from other district authorities, all of which, with the exception of Sheffield, are below the target figure. That is something that no authority could contemplate.

    It is impossible and wrong for the Government to say that all that is needed is a transfer of resources within the local authority. The Trent authority itself is made up of districts, each of which is below the national average and in need. It is a deprived and disadvantaged area. I ask the Minister not to say that we are going to the wrong place and that we should refer our inquiries to Trent, because Trent is in the hands of the Government as to what it can allocate.

    I raise this matter because of apprehensions which emerged only last week, when we were told for the first time that the Glenfield district hospital might not proceed. I understand that if work is stopped now, the expenditure necessary to mothball the development of the hospital, which is already well under construction, would be about £400,000 a year simply in rates and maintenance costs. So we would be paying £400,000 a year to maintain an empty shell which was treating no patients at all.

    Therefore, I ask the Minister to give us an assurance which hon. Members from Leicestershire can pass to our constituents, not least in the city which is the worst-off part of the worst-off area in the Trent region. We can tell them that the Government will ensure that the hospital will go ahead in accordance with the plans, and that the authority will not be starved of the funds that it needs. I hope that the Minister will not reply that funds should be taken from other parts of Leicestershire which themselves are far below the average provision which, as his predecessor rightly said, the citizens of the county are entitled to expect.

    2.44 pm

    I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) on raising this matter on an Adjournment debate, and I thank him for giving me a moment or two in which to support his efforts. In Leicester and Leicestershire we are united, if on nothing else, about the inadequate health facilities of the city and county. For years the hon. and learned Member and I and most of our colleagues on both sides in the Leicester area have complained to successive Ministers for Health that for years the city and county have been disadvantaged in health spending. Only two years ago I found it necessary to raise the matter on the Adjournment. The hon. and learned Gentleman has followed that today.

    On 18 March the chairman of the North-West Leicestershire community health council, Canon George Crate, was reported as saying:
    "Everyone in Leicestershire should be concerned about the low funding of the health service in the county compared with other parts of Britain."
    In the same report, the treasurer, Mr. Wilf Taylor, was said to have warned that
    "hardly any growth in the service was expected over the next couple of years, although Leicestershire was now receiving a slightly improved allocation of money from the Trent Regional Health Authority."
    The treasurer was reported to have continued:
    "Even with the most favourable circumstances, Leicestershire would only achieve an equal share of funding compared with the rest of the country, by 1990. At regional level, more than £38 million extra was needed to achieve the national average and £140 million to reach the spending level of the best funded parts of the country."
    We have had a Conservative Government for three years. I confess that whatever improvement has taken place in that time has been microscopic. Any progress towards more equal funding for Leicestershire has been so slow as to be not worth while.

    I tabled a question recently, to which the Minister replied:
    "The revenue allocation of the Trent regional health authority in 1982–83 is 5·5 per cent. below the national average represented by its target share of resources under the RAWP formula. This represents £37 million at 1982–83 cash limit levels. The Trent region continues to receive one of the highest levels of growth in its revenue allocation of all regions. The future rate of progress will depend on the resources available nationally."—[Official Report, 29 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 32.]
    I intervene to support the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West. I am completely dissatisfied with the snail-like progress in Leicester. The area has been, and still is, considerably disadvantaged. That has been admitted by successive Ministers for Health. I hope that the Minister will not disappoint me. I hope that he will make a good effort in the district and at least spend as much there as is spent in the rest of the country so that we may have a chance of reducing our waiting lists instead of seeing them growing longer.

    2.47 pm

    The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
    (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)

    The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) have described eloquently the current position of the health services in Leicestershire. Nobody will dispute that Leicestershire has been and remains, by national standards, one of the country's deprived districts. However, Members must recognise that the position of Leicestershire has improved substantially in recent years. It was in recognition of the fact that resources had been distributed very unevenly that the system of differential resource allocation was introduced in 1976. This RAWP system has continued in every year since then. Under that policy the Trent region has been a major beneficiary and has received considerably greater growth in real terms than the country as a whole. In the five years from 1976 the Trent region has had revenue growth in real terms of 14 per cent. as against 8 per cent. for England as a whole and in this year, 1982–83, the Trent region is receiving 3 per cent. growth as against 1.7 per cent. nationally.

    The Trent RHA pursues a policy of resources equalisation within the region, and Leicestershire has been a major beneficiary of that regional system. I do not decry what the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend have said, but it does not help to overlook the considerable achievements that have been made possible since the RAWP system started.

    In the period up to March 1981, Leicestershire enjoyed real growth of 21·8 per cent., compared with the regional total of 13 per cent. This year, it is receiving 4·3 per cent., compared with a regional total of 3 per cent. It is one of the highest growth rates in the region.

    As I have said, I acknowledge that Leicestershire still finds itself short of its RAWP target, but over that period it has improved its position substantially, from being at 82·8 per cent. of its target in 1976 to being at 91 per cent. of its target in 1981. Again, that is one of the fastest rates of progress towards target in a region where every area health authority was below target at the outset. Important new developments at the Leicester royal infirmary and the Leicester general have been achieved during that period.

    In 1978, the DHSS asked all regional health authorities to prepare detailed strategic plans for the 10-year period from 1979–1988. As a basis for those plans we issued resource assumptions to regions. They were forecasts of the revenue that would be available over that 10-year period. The Trent region was told to assume that it would receive on average 2·4 per cent. per annum new money—that is money for developments of services.

    In accordance with the RAWP policy, that increase was substantially higher than the national average, which was set at 1.5 per cent. It was not a guarantee. The advice that we issued also suggested that allocations might vary. The Trent regional health authority produced a plan based on that assumption of 2·4 per cent. per annum on average.

    To date, up to and including this financial year, those assumptions have been fulfilled. In fact, the Trent RHA has received slightly more than it was told to assume and to date the RHA has been able to fulfil most of the things that it planned to do. That is not a bad record, although it is one that is often forgotten. There has been real growth in the NHS in every year since the Government came into office. We are now spending more money on the Health Service than at any time in the past, and 6 per cent. more in real terms than when we came to office. It does not help to talk of cuts, as did the hon. and learned Gentleman, when the opposite is the case.

    I am asked to gaze into the future and to give absolute guarantees about the level of resources that will be available. Those I cannot give; no one can. The future is more than usually uncertain.

    The Government's recent public expenditure White Paper set out our view that plans for future health spending must be formulated with strict regard to the total public expenditure that the economy can sustain. The continued control of public expenditure is an essential feature of our battle against inflation.

    The White Paper also sets out our belief that the best way of meeting new needs in the Health Service is by increasing its efficiency. We believe that health authorities should be able to increase efficiency enough to provide further growth in services of about ½ per cent. per year in 1983–84 and 1984–85. The Government will consider whether the provision should be revised in the light of the availability of resources and the scope for increased efficiency.

    I appreciate that the Trent region's plan, which was based on a revenue assumption of 2·4 per cent. per annum on average, includes the development of the new hospital at Glenfield which was scheduled to open in 1984. I also accept the RHA's assurances that if that assumed level of revenue were to materialise the hospital could open on schedule. I cannot give hon. Members any guarantees about when it will open. Nobody can give such guarantees until the financial situation for the next few years becomes clearer.

    I am acutely conscious of the fact that the current uncertainty about the level of revenue funding for future years will cause concern to all authorities and particularly to those that have substantial revenue commitments, such as opening new hospitals, immediately ahead of them. But I can give some assurances. The first is that the Secretary of State will issue advice on the likely level of resources for next year as soon as he possibly can. We intend to discuss the question of resource allocation with the chairmen of regional health authorities at a meeting shortly and it is our hope that the resource assumptions for the financial year 1983–84—the year in which the hon. and learned Gentleman is most interested—will be issued to health authorities around the end of May. This will do much to clarify the immediate position.

    Secondly, I can assure my hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Gentleman that we have not in any way lost sight of the position of those authorities such as Leicestershire which are still under-provided in many important services, and the benefit that would accrue to them from the continuation of the RAWP system of distribution of the available resources. On that basis, Trent region could expect to receive an above average rate of growth in its revenue allocation in the next few years. However it is inherently more difficult to carry out a substantial measure of redistribution when the overall level of resources is not growing as fast as it did.

    Thirdly, some people argue that efficiency savings are less readily obtainable in those authorities that have long been funded less generously than some of their neighbours and that a standard requirement to find efficiency savings places a proportionately greater burden upon them. We shall be discussing the whole question of efficiency savings with regional chairmen at the forthcoming meeting to which I have already referred.

    So we shall be doing all that we can to remove the uncertainty which at the moment surrounds resources for future years. It is presently difficult to make reliable forecasts even for one or two years ahead. It is proportionately very much more difficult to make reliable forecasts for 10 years ahead. The fact that the assumptions that were issued in 1978 have been confirmed over the period since then is a matter for congratulation, but it would have been remarkable if they had been precisely accurate over the whole 10-year period.

    It is, therefore, incumbent upon health authorities to devise their plans in such a way that they can adapt to changing circumstances. This is a subject that I discussed with the chairman and officers of the Trent RHA when we recently had one of the first of our accountability meetings with them. We have asked them to consider the dependence of their plan on the continued fulfilment of assumptions issued some years ago.

    I accept that there has to be flexibility, but will the Minister accept that one cannot have flexibility in building a hospital? One has to plan ahead and spend, for example, £300,000 a year on pre-training for nurses and staff. Then one has to spend a similar sum in order to mothball the hospital. Surely the Minister does not apply that principle of flexibility to a hospital that is half built.

    What the hon. and learned Gentleman has not taken into account—although he referred to it at the beginning—is that the Government make a capital allocation to each region, and the region has steadily been getting closer to its RAWP target. Within that allocation, according to statute and the will of this House, the distribution within regions is a matter for them. The priority and the flexibility will have to be worked out by the regions. The figures that the hon. and learned Gentleman has put forward are important, and I am sure that Sir Sydney King and his colleagues will be looking at them.

    It is, alas, not the only case that we have in the country where hospitals have been built and are still in some cases standing with beds empty. We are desperately trying to see what can be done. We are trying to ensure that proper planning takes place, so that we do not find, at the end of the period when resources have been committed and spent on building a property, that more money has to be spent on what the hon. and learned Gentleman has called mothballing.

    I can sympathise with the views expressed by my hon. Friend and by the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Health Service in Leicestershire is underprovided in many respects, and the people there naturally hope that these deficiencies will be remedied as soon as possible. They can rest assured that the Trent region is likely to receive a bigger slice of the Health Service cake than most other regions, whatever happens in the future. But these are difficult economic times and we cannot guarantee that the cake will always be of such generous proportions as it has been in the past.

    I believe that the Trent RHA and the Leicestershire health authority, which is now some three weeks old, will approach these difficult times with sense and responsibility and will do all in their power to improve the services where they are most needed, within the resources that we are able to allocate to the region. I hope that they will at the same time scrutinise and rescrutinise their own operations to seek ways of improving their efficiency and cost-effectiveness and will look at privatisation of cleaning, of laundry and of catering to see whether it is possible to reduce costs. I hope that they will look at the possiblility of disposing of surplus, unused and often under-used land, which can be used to give them additional finance. All these are ways in which I hope they will operate. That is the duty that we have placed upon them. That is the duty placed upon all of us in present circumstances.

    I hope very much that it will be possible for the Trent authority to work out something that will fit in with the order of priorities that it has mentioned, and that will recognise the problems of Leicestershire which my hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Gentleman have raised this afternoon.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock.