House Of Commons
Wednesday 26 May 1982
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Agricultural Development Plan
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has yet held discussions with the National Farmers Union of Scotland on an agricultural development plan; and if he will make a statement.
I have spoken informally with representatives of the National Farmers Union of Scotland on several occasions but I am not yet ready to institute formal consultations.
Is the Secretary of State aware that real farm incomes in Scotland have fallen by 84 per cent. in the past five years and now look set to fall by more? Will he treat this as a matter of urgency? Is he aware that the matter has been dragging on and that the farming community is badly in need not just of more money but of more confidence?
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point about confidence. That is the most important factor. Two factors are involved. The first is income aid for farmers. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have done more than any previous Government to increase the amount of help for farmers, especially those in Highland areas. Secondly, there are structural changes. That is what will be involved here if the programme comes into being.
When my right hon. Friend has discussions with the National Farmers Union of Scotland, which does such a splendid job for agriculture, will he bear in mind that all of the less-favoured areas should be examined, rather than just one as against another? Bearing in mind the recent drop in farm incomes, will he do all that he can to help less-favoured areas, especially hill areas in Scotland?
I agree that the high-ground areas of livestock production have had the most difficult time recently. We shall try to help all farmers in those areas.
Health Service (Pay)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what have been the average pay increases for general practitioners, nurses, consultants and hospital porters in Scotland since May 1979.
Excluding current pay offers, those groups have, in round terms, had the following average increases: 75 per cent. for general medical practitioners, 67 per cent. for staff nurses, 73 per cent. for consultants and 33 per cent. for porters.
In present circumstances, how can the Government justify such miserable increases to low-paid Health Service workers while giving apparently huge increases to already high-paid people such as judges and top civil servants? Does he agree that nurses deserve better treatment than they are now receiving? What does he intend to do to remedy that?
It is not valid to compare ancillary staffs with medical and nursing staffs in the Health Service. The latter group must meet higher standards of training. We have taken special account of their position by making an additional offer. Ancillary staffs earnings and the offer that has been made to them compares favourably with settlements awarded to similar manual workers in other parts of the public sector and in the private sector.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been a substantial increase in the number of medical personnel in the Health Service in Scotland in the past few years? In view of that and the figures that he has just given, does he agree that it is wholly unrealistic for the unions to pursue industrial action for an equally unrealistic pay claim of 12½ per cent?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that a pay claim of 12 per cent. now is quite unrealistic. I confirm that the number of people employed in the National Health Service has increased since 1979. Since then there has been an increase of nearly 7,000 in the number of nursing staff. There has also been an increase in the number of doctors and porters.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in a written answer to a question of mine on 7 May 1981, I was told that the average increase in pay for doctors in 1979–80 was 26 per cent. and that it was followed by an increase of 31 per cent. in 1980–81? How does he defend that type of increase for those people, who do an extremely good job, with the niggardly offer of 6·4 per cent. to the nurses and 4 per cent. or less to ancillary workers? Does he agree that, as a result, many of those people will be worse off when their lodging allowances and others are deducted? Does he believe that that offer is defensible in the present age?
When the hon. Gentleman asked about doctors' salaries for those two years, he singularly failed to mention the fact that nurses' salaries had also been increased by the Government in those two years. The principal reason why the independent review body announced the increases for doctors in 1979–80 and 1980–81 was that they reflected the amount by which doctors' pay had fallen behind under the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a supporter.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a large number of people in the private sector have had no pay rise, far less have they had a 4 per cent. increase, and that a large number of self-employed people have suffered a decrease in income? Does he agree that it is wrong to use those people's taxes to give exorbitant pay rises in the public sector?
My hon. Friend is right. The Government must be seen to be fair to everyone, including those in the private sector who have had no wage increases and, indeed, those who have lost their jobs.
Is not the Minister thoroughly ashamed of the attack that he is launching on the nurses and hospital ancillary workers in Scotland? Does he realise that the Government's figures are grossly misleading and that the vast bulk of pay increases awarded to nurses in the past two years arose not from any generosity on the part of himself or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but from the Clegg commission, which was itself a catching-up exercise? Is he aware that, as a result of this legacy, the next Labour Government will once again have to bring nurses' pay up to parity due to its having fallen behind again as a result of this attack?
I am surprised at the illogicality of the hon. Gentleman's question. He began by almost admitting that the large increases that we gave were the result of catching up. That catching-up was necessitated by the treatment meted out by the Labour Government.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many employees of the National Health Service in Scotland receive wages which are below the level at which family income supplement becomes payable.
The income level at which family income supplement becomes payable varies in accordance with individual circumstances, but the minimum is £74 per week for a family with one child. It is not possible to identify the numbers of part-time and whole-time staff earning below £74 per week, but the average earnings of the lowest paid group of whole-time NHS staff are almost £14 per week above that figure.
That is a characteristically devious reply. Is the Minister aware that the people of Scotland set a very high value on the work and dedication of National Health Service workers? Is it not scandalous that a high proportion of skilled NHS workers are kept below the official poverty line? Does the Minister accept that he will be responsible for the consequences of the pay dispute that he has provoked?
It should not surprise me that the hon. Gentleman does not listen to the answers given from the Dispatch Box before putting his supplementary questions. As I said, the average earnings of the lowest paid paid group in the National Health Service are £14 per week above the £74 that I mentioned. Indeed, of those who earn less than £74 a week, more than half are part-timers. Among those who are not part-timers are nursing cadets and student and pupil nurses. I admit that they earn less than that figure, but clearly they are young and unmarried. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the young and unmarried should be considered for family income supplement.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is no less care and concern among Conservative Members for employees of the National Health Service, who give great devotion and skill to that service? Does he also agree that since 1979 the Government have provided an increase of 6 per cent. in real terms in expenditure on health, which shows not only that there has been no cut in the Health Service but that pay increases must come from within that 6 per cent. increase?
My hon. Friend is quite right. We have indeed increased expenditure on the Health Service. This has resulted in increases in staff and a decline in waiting lists. I hope that the people involved in industrial action in the NHS will take account of the effect of their action on patients. I am sure that they do not wish to damage patients' interests, and I hope that they will obey the guidelines set out between management and unions in industrial disputes.
Will the Minister tell us simply why it is all right to give hospital ancillary workers 4 per cent., nurses 6 per cent., higher civil servants 14 per cent. and judges 18·6 per cent.? Where is the justice in that?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained the special circumstances that led the Government to implement the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body. Average earnings among ancillary staff in the NHS are about £104 per week, which is not out of line with earnings among manual workers in the rest of the public sector and the private sector.
Invergordon Aluminium Smelter
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is yet in a position to make a statement about the progress of the Government's quest for an alternative operator for the Invergordon aluminium smelter.
A number of companies have expressed interest in the smelter, subject to various conditions—in particular, the terms of a new power contract. Discussions on these matters are in progress between my Department, the electricity boards and the companies concerned.
First, has the Secretary of State had discussions with the British Aluminium Company about the plant and site, which may be dismantled at the end of June? What will happen if the discussions with other companies have not been completed by then?
We are keeping in close touch with the British Aluminium Company, which at present owns the smelter. We are aware that its undertaking to keep the plant in a usable condition runs until 30 June, and we have that very much in mind in the negotiations.
Does the Minister realise the degree of unrest in the area at the Government's failure to get a new power contract on the road in time? Is he aware that it is five months since the plant closed and about 10 months since the Government became involved in this in one way or another? What steps does he intend to take to get the plant open and in a fit state rather than leave the matter to drag on for another month, with all the worry that will be caused in the area?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are not just leaving it for another month. We are negotiating with the companies that have expressed interest and with other companies. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that arranging a new power contract is an extremely difficult and complex matter. We are determined not to have a new contract that will fall flat on its face as the old one did.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, but for the heroic efforts of the Scottish Office staff and of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Energy, and the exemplary efforts of the leader of the action group, there would have been no hope of reopening the plant?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the way in which those involved in the Invergordon area have done all in their power to keep open the prospects for the smelter is very much to be commended. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has, of course, been very much involved in that. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) that the Government have made every possible effort to find a means of reopening the smelter and will press on with this as hard as they can.
Is the Secretary of State aware that some of us are suspicious of the way in which the Government's mood changes from great optimism a couple of days before an election to great caution immediately thereafter? Will he say something more precise about keeping the opportunities open beyond the 30 June deadline? Is he aware that, although we wish the negotiations well, even at best there seems to be not the slightest chance of everything being completed by that date? Does he agree that there is no reason why the Government should not take on some additional commitment beyond that date?
The British Aluminium Company has accepted responsibility for keeping the plant in a reasonable condition until 30 June. Thereafter, we should have to consider the situation in the light of the circumstances then prevailing. If by that time a new operator is directly interested in the plant, it would be up to the new operator to take over that responsibility. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are very much aware of this and are bearing it carefully in mind in the negotiations.
Health Service (Pay)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the progress of pay negotiations for National Health Service employees in Scotland.
Offers ranging from 6·4 per cent. to 4 per cent. have been made to most groups of staff. Some have been rejected by the Whitley council staff sides. Others are being considered by the negotiators or have been referred to union members for decision. NHS electricians and plumbers have accepted the management offer.
Does the Minister agree that the Government are operating an incomes policy that blatantly discriminates against all who work in the healing services? Will he urge upon the Government a policy that will result in proper pay levels for employees in the National Health Service, which should be a priority for the Government as well as for the community as a whole?
The present pay factors in the National Health Service are simply the result of a decision by the Government on what the country and the taxpayer can afford in the present circumstances. They are also part of our continuing battle against inflation, in which we have been successful, which will be to the benefit of everyone working in the National Health Service and everyone else.
Has there been any drop in recruitment of nurses and ancillary workers because of the present wage levels?
There has been no sign of any such drop. The increased number of nursing and ancillary staff employed in the National Health Service over the last three years shows that there is no shortage of recruits.
On what intellectual or ethical basis does the Minister justify those small, controlled increases to the lowest paid in the public sector while allegedly not believing in an incomes policy?
The Government and, through them, the employers' side of the Whitley council, are responsible for considering the effects of increases in the public sector on the taxpayer. We have that direct responsibility to the taxpayer and the community in our general fight against inflation. One of the factors in that fight against inflation is the need to get down wage settlements in the public sector. Our decision on pay in the NHS is part of our continuing determination to achieve that.
As the Government's policy on increases in salaries, according to the Prime Minister and others, seems to be a policy where increases are related to recruitment into the professions, and as there are at least three times as many applicants for entry into the medical profession as there are places for them, how does the Minister square the increases for doctors and consultants with the pittances that are offered to other workers in the National Health Service?
I have no doubt that if the doctors had not been offered such an increase, the hon. Gentleman would have turned his question round the other way. I invite him to read the recommendations of the TSRB and see how it came to that conclusion. The Government did not accept all the conclusions that it put forward this year or last year, because we are mindful of the other problems. We have to bear in mind the need to keep the salaries of those professional groups at such a level as to enable us to recruit and keep suitable staff in those responsible positions.
Football Authorities (Discussions)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what subjects he expects to discuss at his next meeting with the football authorities.
I have no plans for an early meeting with the football authorities, but I will be glad to meet them at any time if they suggest it.
Will the Secretary of State give an absolute assurance that under no circumstances will any Government pressure be exerted on the Scottish football team to withdraw from the World Cup, because it would be a deplorable case of double standards if the Government were to try to impose a boycott against the Argentine football team when they refuse to apply an absolute economic boycott against the Argentine junta because they are afraid of losing the support of some of their Tory friends in the City? Does the Secretary of State realise—
Order. That is enough of that question.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's question is not only a little long but muddled. The Government have made it clear that it is for the football authorities to decide whether Scotland will take part in the World Cup. I understand that they are content with that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is high time that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) asked a helpful and constructive question on Scottish football? Surely it is the wish of all hon. Members that the Scottish team will go to Spain full of hope and confidence. If there is anything that can be done on the administrative side to remove the Argentines, that will be a step in the right direction.
My hon. Friend is an incurable optimist if he thinks that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) will ever ask a helpful and constructive question on anything. With regard to World Cup participation, I should like to add my best wishes—and I am sure those of the whole House—to the Scottish team. I hope that it plays successfully in Spain in the World Cup.
Is the Secretary of State aware that he and his Ministers, through their decision on Hampden Park, have done more damage to Scottish football than Iran did in the last World Cup? Is the Secretary of State further aware that St. Mirren has not won a game since the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher), visited it recently? If the Secretary of State receives an invitation from the Scottish Football Association, will he kindly refuse it in case he damages our prospects in the World Cup?
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I attended the Scottish cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday. It was an extremely successful and happy event, but I do not think that that was in any way connected with the absence of the hon. Gentleman.
The Reds won.
Road Equivalent Tariff (Scottish Islands)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further progress he is able to report on the introduction of a road equivalent tariff for the Scottish Islands.
My right hon. Friend has further increased assistance to Scottish shipping services in this financial year to £10·6 million. This increased support continues the move towards road equivalent tariff.
With respect to the Minister, that is not a reply. I should like to know whether the idea of road equivalent tariff, which was strongly backed by the Highlands and Islands Development Board and espoused by the Conservatives when they were in Opposition, before the general election, will be introduced. Have the Government abandoned their attempt to introduce that rational system?
Certainly not. I hope to announce decisions on changes in time for implementation in the financial year 1983–84. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that such a radical change needs careful consideration. I think that most people attach the greatest importance to overall financial assistance to sea transport. That has increased from £5·1 million in 1979–80 to 10·6 million in 1982–83.
I acknowledge the assistance that the Government have given to shipping on the West Coast of Scotland, but does the Minister recall that the Conservative Party made a firm election commitment to move towards a system of road equivalent tariff? As three years have passed, is it not about time that the scheme was introduced?
The Conservative Party said in its Scottish manifesto:
That is precisely what we have done and are doing."We will re-examine the structure of the subsidies and are prepared to increase them in real terms as part of the process of moving closer to Broad Equivalent Tariffs".
Does my hon. Friend agree that people who choose to live on the islands should not be disadvantaged because of that choice? When RET is introduced, it should be in respect of freight, people who live on the islands and tourists.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that constructive point.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many police officers there were in Scotland in May 1979; and what is the latest total number.
At the end of March 1979 there were 12,675 police officers in Scotland and at the end of March 1982 there were 13,221.
I welcome my hon. Friend's reply, but is he aware that many police officers are unable to attend to other duties because they must spend long periods at the sheriff court, where often they are not called to give evidence? Will my hon. Friend look at the matter and discuss it with the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General for Scotland in case a solution can be proposed?
My hon. Friend has raised a genuine problem. It is a matter of concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Law Officers. There are no obvious solutions. We hope that section 15 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, which provides for intermediate diets, will be helpful. That provision is not widely used at present. We shall monitor its use.
Does the Minister agree that the increase in the police force is infinitesimal compared with what the Conservatives were proposing during the general election and with what they said in their manifesto? Is he aware that the Scottish clubs, including those in the Scottish League, have been complaining about the ratio of police that they must pay to attend Saturday matches? Does he realise that while the police are in the grounds there is a high rate of vandalism outside?
The behaviour at Scottish football matches has improved considerably as a result of the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act. The hon. Gentleman is an influential figure in Strathclyde. He might wish to take up with Strathclyde region its decision to keep police numbers at 150 below the authorised figure.
Will the Minister explain clearly how much of the rate support grant settlement this year is for police pay, and how much that will be up to 1984–85? If this year it is only 4 per cent., rather than the 10 or 11 per cent. that would be required to honour the principles in the Edmund-Davies settlement, will he accept that his right hon. Friend's acceptance of those principles would be no more than glib hypocrisy?
That precise point was answered fully by my hon. Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland in his excellent speech to the Scottish Grand Committee on Monday. The Government have a record second to none on police pay. Discussions within the police negotiating board have not yet started.
Island Of Rockall Act 1972
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any proposals to amend or extend the Island of Rockall Act 1972.
In view of renewed interest by certain politicians in the Irish Republic, will my right hon. Friend affirm, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that though it be uninhabited, and notwithstanding any negotiations on the law of the sea, Rockall is sovereign territory of the United Kingdom and will so remain?
I am not aware that a claim has been made by the Irish Government, but if it were it would be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The position has not changed since the Island of Rockall Act 1972. That position stands so far as the British Government are concerned.
To what extent is the Scottish Office involved in any overtures for negotiations with the Faroe Islands and the Republic of Ireland over the median line settlement for the allocation of oil development licences in those areas?
To no particular extent, but if the right hon. Gentleman wants to ask a particular question on that matter I shall be glad to answer it.
Common Fisheries Policy
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress is being made towards a common fisheries policy.
Agreement has been reached on a revised marketing regime and on important aspects of the external regime. There has also been agreement in principle on a comprehensive range of conservation measures. Useful progress has been made in certain other areas, including control and structure. The important issues of access and quotas, however, remain to be resolved. We are continuing our bilateral discussions on access in an effort to reach agreement on acceptable arrangements. On quotas, we are maintaining our position that any settlement must fully reflect the special needs of our fishing industry.
Will my right hon. Friend give a categoric assurance that if our European partners try to push through by a majority vote a common fisheries package that is detrimental to the British fishing industry, the Government will take every step possible to protect our fish and our waters?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Given the major importance of the national interests involved for many of the member States, a CFP settlement should be, and can only be, achieved by consensus. That is what my right hon. Friend and I will try to achieve.
Will the Secretary of State set a time limit to the discussions on access? Until a settlement is reached it is impossible to go ahead with any regional schemes either for protection of local interests or for conservation. Will he set a time limit on these apparently endless negotiations?
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the time that this is taking, but perhaps he would agree that it might be counter-productive to set a time limit on the discussions. We could have had an agreement long before now if we had been prepared to accept one that was not acceptable to our fishing industry. Therefore, we do have to be patient and ensure that we fight on until we reach an agreement that is acceptable to our fishing industry.
Now that the Council of Ministers has ruthlessly set aside the British veto on the common agricultural policy, how can the Secretary of State possibly hope again to resist the Council of Ministers, which has been equally ruthless over the common fisheries policy, where there is already agreement and where we have no effective veto?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already discussed with our Community partners what lay behind the strange decision taken last week. That will have to be pursued collectively with the other member States. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is the Government's view, and that of most of the other States as well, that a common fisheries policy is a matter of major national interest.
Can my right hon. Friend explain why the Liberal Party and the Labour Party have blocked the Salmon Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Bill on recent Fridays, when it would do a great deal for the conservation of fish stocks in Scotland?
That is an extremely puzzling development. I can throw no more light on it than my hon. Friend. Fortunately, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party are not included as part of my responsibilities in Scotland.
Does the Secretary of State agree with the statement of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food last Wednesday that we were twice within sight of a fisheries agreement that would have been broadly acceptable to the industry had it not been vetoed by other countries?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that could have been so, but at that time we were doing everything possible to arrange the agreement by consensus. That is exactly what we shall try to do from now on.
Will the Secretary of State assure the House that, as we get nearer 31 December, when the 10-year period for the negotiation of the common fisheries policy runs out, we shall not have a repeat of what happened last week, and that the Government will resolutely oppose any attempt to set aside the Luxembourg compromise, as happened last week?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will resolutely do that.
Tayside Health Board
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will revise the Scottish health authorities' revenue equalisation arrangement governing the funding of Tayside health board.
No, Sir. I consider that the arrangements for determining the annual revenue expenditure allocations to Tayside and to other health boards are operating in a satisfactory manner.
Will the Minister therefore consult Tayside health board? Does he realise that when this agreement came into effect, Tayside entered into it on the basis that there would be increasing funding? On the no-growth basis that now exists, Tayside health board faces cuts in services as a result of making allowance for demographic changes in the region and to meet the pay awards that were not borne by direct Government funding.
Tayside health board is the most generously-funded board in Scotland. In furtherance of the SHARE arrangements, its financial allocations must, therefore, be held steady to allow less well-funded boards to catch up. That has been allowed for in all the years up to date by growth money in the service. We hope to continue that SHARE arrangement until there is greater parity between the amounts of money given to the different boards in Scotland.
Does the Minister accept that if he and his colleagues accede to the demand from the Police Federation for the arming of police forces with plastic bullets, funds will have to be increased for Tayside and other health boards in Scotland because of the casualties that may arise?
That is a totally irrelevant question.
Rolls-Royce Spey Engine (East Kilbride)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has had any consultation with Rolls-Royce Ltd. concerning future development of the Spey engine at East Kilbride; and if he will make a statement.
I am concerned to hear that reduced demand is causing difficulties. However, future developments are a matter for the commercial judgment of the company.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he not accept that my constituents and Opposition Members are astonished that the Government have adopted such a complacent attitude to an industry that is vital not only to East Kilbride but to the whole of the Scottish economy? Should he not do something about the problem faced by Rolls-Royce over the development of the Spey engine, which was promised by the Government and is not taking place in the way that it should?
The Government stand ready to assist any project that involves new capital investment. We would be prepared to consider any such project that turned up. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the aircraft industry is having a difficult time. If the commercial problems that Rolls-Royce faces lead it to experience difficulties, that is a matter for the company to solve.
Surely the Secretary of State realises that orders for Spey engines do not just "turn up". They are the result of the Government's policy and the making available of resources to the Services and the airlines, the financial limits of which the Government strictly control. The Government have a direct responsibility to act.
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is getting at. The Government cannot be accused of being ungenerous in the funds given either to the airlines or to the Ministry of Defence.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he is taking to ensure that Scotland benefits fully from the liberalisation of the telecommunications monopoly and from other Government measures designed to stimulate growth of the information technology industry.
My Department will do all it can to ensure that Scottish companies seize the market opportunities presented by our liberalisation policy and take advantage of the measures we have introduced to support development of new information technology products.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite those efforts, a great many firms that could still enhance their products or improve their production processes by the use of the most advanced technology still do not know how to get the kind of information that would be helpful? Will he therefore publish in the Official Report addresses and telephone numbers where firms can get that kind of assistance? Will he also bear in mind that, with advances in telecommunications cabling, priorities as perceived in Scotland may be rather different from those perceived in London? Will he therefore ensure that his Department keeps in close touch with these developments?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. It is necessary to encourage all those involved in this industry to get the maximum information. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is now preparing a major publicity campaign to advertise the implications of the new legislation and the opportunities that it presents. Officials in my Department will play their part in spreading that message throughout Scotland.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is another aspect, which is that the Post Office—now British Telecommunications—has provided an excellent service for a very long time in both the urban and rural parts of Scotland? If the Secretary of State for Industry chooses to use the massive powers of direction that he took unto himself in the British Telecommunications Act, and hives off the most profitable parts of British Telecommunications to private enterprise, that could leave the British Telecommunications set-up with a very poor profit. That could prove extremely damaging for the rural parts of Scotland and could increase telephone charges throughout the country.
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says, but he will realise that much of what he has said is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. I assure him that there are already encouraging signs that British Telecommunications is now looking to new opportunities and is positively stimulated by the new competition that it will have to face.
South Church Site, Stirling
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to announce his decision on the planning application in respect of the South Church site, Stirling.
The decision as regards planning permission rests with the planning authority. My right hon. Friend's decision on the called-in application for listed building consent in part to demolish the church will be issued shortly.
I am grateful to the Minister for the information that the decision will be delivered shortly. Is he aware that this application has been with the historic buildings division of the Scottish Development Department since October and that there were no objections to it? Is he also aware that another application has been with the historic buildings division of the SDD for nearly two years, yet Stirling district council has still had no response? Will he awaken the civil servants in the historic buildings division and have them make some decisions for a change?
There were objections from the Scottish Civic Trust and the Scottish Georgian Society to the application for listed building consent. A procedure of written submissions was agreed with the applicant and the planning authority to expedite a decision. A decision within 14 weeks of advertising the procedure was suggested to a developer, and we hope that that target will be achieved.
In view of the difficulty of breaking through the red tape and bureaucracy of the Tory administration in the Scottish Office, might not an answer be forthcoming good and quick—this week—if Denis Thatcher were to write a "Dear George" letter in support of the application?
Order. I must be left out of this.
As on many other occasions, the burden of the hon. Gentleman's question is beneath contempt. We must bear in mind the rules of natural justice for applicants, planning authorities and objectors.
Primary School Expenditure
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how much was spent per pupil in primary schools in Scotland in the most recent year for which figures are available.
Local authority current expenditure on primary schools, at outturn prices, excluding items such as meals and milk, was £636 per pupil in 1980–81. This represents an increase per pupil in real terms by comparison with the two previous years.
As this is a record figure, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to publicise it and to show the people of Scotland the success of the Government's education policy?
I take every opportunity that I can to mention this, because it counteracts the alarmist stories put about by some Labour Members, which suggest that there are even schools without books for pupils to do their lessons, when the amount of money that has been set aside per pupil is greater than it has ever been before.
Is the reference on page 60 of the public expenditure White Paper another alarmist story? It states that money will be made available for redundancy pay to primary school teachers. Is that figure included in the sums that have already been mentioned?
Surely the hon. Gentleman would agree that if any primary school teachers need such assistance, they should get it. There is now a better pupil-teacher ratio than there has ever been, and provision per pupil is increasing. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.
Has there been any progress in matching the drop in student numbers with reductions in the administration of education departments?
We are stressing to education authorities that this is an opportunity to reduce administrative costs when there is a smaller number of pupils in the schools. I am sure that many of them are taking that seriously.
Following the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the question on Scottish teachers' salaries tabled by the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie), will he explain how Scottish local authorities will find the money to fund the difference between the 6 per cent. pay settlement and the Government's initial 4 per cent. offer?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Scottish education authorities were parties to the reference of this matter to arbitration. Indeed, one of the main reasons that the arbitration board gave for its award was that it had to have regard to what local authorities could afford to spend. Like everyone else, the local authorities must ensure that when making their decisions they do not commit themselves to things that they cannot afford.
Renfrew District Council (Lead Pollution Control)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has received from Renfrew district council as to actual or proposed expenditure by it on dealing with the problem of lead in the domestic water supply in its area which may be eligible for rate support grant.
I have received no information of this kind from Renfrew district council.
Is the Minister aware that specific legislation limits the content of lead in paint and toys? In view of the serious effect that lead in water has on women, particularly pregnant women, and young children, is it not time that the Government, and the Minister in particular, considered the introduction of legislation specifically to limit the lead content in water in view of the EEC guidelines on lead in water? Having introduced that legislation, will he then give the House an undertaking to will the means to local authorities to implement the law?
We are willing the means. The net allocation of £2·2 million to Renfrew in 1982–83 includes £400,000 for lead plumbing grants. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have increased relevant rate support grant expenditure for house-to-house surveys on the lead problem by £1 million in recognition of the need for additional expenditure.
Will the hon. Gentleman also take on board the wider implications of excess lead in water? Not only is lead involved in the conditions mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Adams); it is also implicated in diseases that cause mental illness in children, in heart conditions and in various forms of cancer. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore look at the whole problem of lead in water, both in my hon. Friend's area and in other areas of Scotland?
As I have indicated, we take this problem seriously in terms of resources. I understand that Strathclyde regional council, as water authority, is taking action in the light of the Renfrew reports.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if, pursuant to his reply to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central on 6 May, he will undertake a review of the factors that have led to the increase in unemployment in Glasgow from 15,440 in June 1966 to 95,587 in April 1982.
No, Sir. Unemployment has been rising in Glasgow as elsewhere over a number of years, reflecting a long-term decline in industrial competitiveness and more recently the impact of the world-wide recession. Our policies are directed to reversing this trend and improving employment prospects generally; we have also acted to encourage new and existing companies to develop in Glasgow and we are offering positive help to those worst affected by unemployment, through the programme of special employment measures.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the unemployment figures in Glasgow today are nearly double those for the whole of Scotland in 1966? Is he also aware that his Government are guilty of spending more money on keeping nearly 96,000 on the dole in Glasgow than they are spending on the whole of the National Health Service in the Greater Glasgow health board area?
I am not sure about that, but no one can accuse the Government of being reluctant to spend money in Glasgow. As part of the West Central Scotland development area, Glasgow has the highest rate of grant and since January 1981 we have made 49 offers of selective financial assistance to firms in the Glasgow travel-to-work area, involving more than 5,800 jobs. The total associated investment was about £192 million.
Solicitor-General For Scotland
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how frequently he meets procurators fiscal in Scotland.
I have visited five procurators fiscal at their offices since I was appointed to my present position. I hope to visit a number of others during this summer.
When my hon. and learned Friend meets procurators fiscal, will he draw their attention to the considerable concern felt by many Scottish fishermen about the case in Stornoway last year when two German trawler skippers were fined for illegally fishing for herring and were able to purchase back their catch at half the real value? Will he ask procurators fiscal to draw to the attention of the courts the practical difficulties over some sentences that are imposed?
I am aware of the concern that was caused last year and which was stressed by hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies in Scotland. The Lord Advocate has issued an instruction to procurators fiscal inviting them to draw to the attention of courts the powers that sheriffs have where events such as those outlined by my hon. Friend occur. Not only can a fine be imposed, but if the catch has to be sold at a price below its true market value an additional fine can be imposed. I hope that that step will mean that foreign fishermen who have been fishing illegally in our waters will secure no pecuniary benefit.
When the Solicitor-General for Scotland next meets the procurator fiscal in Haddington, will he draw his attention to the utter contempt with which the Secretary of State for Scotland has treated the recommendations of a public inquiry into the conduct of the East Lothian district council? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State has issued a default order in direct contradiction to the recommendations of that public inquiry? What has happened to the Tories' commitment to respect for legal decisions?
Whatever the hon. Gentleman may think about that decision by my right hon. Friend, I am sure that even he understands that it is not a matter for the procurator fiscal.
It may not be a matter directly for the procurator fiscal, but will the Solicitor-General for Scotland accept that it is difficult for him and others to make speeches about respect for the rule of law and the due processes of law when the Secretary of State treats those matters with such comtempt, as was instanced by the arbitrary way in which he set aside the considered judgment of his own reporter after an inquiry under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973?Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is wrong that East Lothian district council should have been ordered to comply with a number of difficult matters within six weeks, when the Secretary of State sat on the results of the inquiry for 10 weeks? Is it not adding insult to injury that the local authority should be landed with all the expenses of the inquiry?
We have gone a long way from meeting the procurator fiscal at Haddington. No matter involving prosecution arises from that issue and, therefore, it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will state the number of prosecutions through the use of police radar traps during each of the past three years.
No figures are separately kept of the means used to detect motorists committing speeding offences. However, I can advise my hon. Friend of the total number of persons prosecuted for speeding offences in Scotland and cases proved during the last three years for which statistics are available. The figures are as follows:
|Persons Proceeded Against||Persons Against Whom Charges Proved|
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the widespread disquiet in the national and local press about the accuracy of the radar gun? Can he give an assurance that it is completely accurate and that no motorists are unfairly prosecuted?
Following a case in England, considerable public concern was expressed about hand-held radar guns. The traffic committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers examined the subject as a matter of urgency and concluded that the hand-held radar devices were accurate if used in accordance with the operating instructions and by officers who were properly trained. However, the association has accepted the additional suggestion made by the judge in that case that the equipment should be tested against a car travelling at a known speed. That practice will be followed throughout the United Kingdom.
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that although many motorists do not like getting pinched for speeding, the actions of selfish motorists can make life a misery for residents of small villages on major roads? Will he and his colleagues look at the problem again to see whether more can be done to help those living in small communities on major roads?
I recognise the problems caused by motorists speeding through small villages. I hope that it will be appreciated from the figures that I have just given to the House that in the past two or three years there has been a considerable increase in police activity to ensure that those who speed and break the law are brought to court.
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will meet the procurator fiscal of Falkirk to discuss the administration of justice in Falkirk.
I have no plans at present to meet the procurator fiscal at Falkirk, but I shall of course do so should the need arise.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman meet the procurator fiscal of Falkirk so that he can discuss the experimental use of tape recordings in that area for the questioning of suspects taken in by the police? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman consider the experiment a success and does he intend to extend it to other areas? In how many cases have tape recordings been used in court in the prosecution of suspects?
Although I have not spoken to the procurator fiscal at Falkirk, I have talked to the procurator fiscal in Dundee, where the experiment is also taking place. The extension of the experiment Ls a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the experiment is being extended to Glasgow and Aberdeen. There are certain evidential problems about the validity of tape recordings in court, following a decision in the High Court at Perth. That is presenting some problems, but it is intended to use tape recordings as evidence wherever possible.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) that no tape recorded evidence has been admissible in court? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman obtain a copy of the annual report of Chief Constable Ian Oliver of the central Scotland police force, which makes it clear that if the experiments are to continue a substantial number of additional staff will have to be made available? Will those additional staff be made available?
I am aware of the comments of the chief constable of the central region and I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman. Following the first attempt to lead tape recorded evidence in a Scottish court, there was a problem about admissibility. However, it is still the Crown's intention to use such evidence in criminal prosecutions whenever it can be so used.
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will discuss with the judiciary in Scotland prosecution and sentencing policy in relation to solvent abuse.
Solvent abuse is not an offence by itself. However, I can assure the hon. Member that where solvent abuse may be of relevance in the circumstances of an offence before the court, procurators fiscal bring that matter to the attention of the court.
Have the Government made any further progress in taking positive action to tackle the serious problem of solvent abuse? If so, what other measures does the hon. and learned Gentleman have in mind?
This matter was debated in the Scottish Grand Committee, when the Government said that a consultative memorandum had been issued and views had been sought from interested bodies, not only on whether solvent abuse should be a matter for criminal prosecution, but whether other approaches might be adopted, particularly in relation to the children's panel system. A number of representations have been received and it is hoped that, following that consultative memorandum, the Government will be in a position to issue their views on the matter.
Scottish Law Commission
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what subjects he expects to discuss at his next meeting with the Scottish Law Commission.
I have no meetings arranged with the Scottish Law Commission. However, I meet it from time to time to discuss all aspects of law reform that it is presently considering.
Now that we have a Solicitor-General who is a little less intransigent than his predecessor, may I ask whether he will pressurise the Scottish Law Commission into producing the long-overdue Bill to abolish once and for all the barbaric practice of warrant sales and replace them with a humane alternative along the lines of the Bill that I introduced to the House last year, with support from both sides of the House?
The last time that I was at the Dispatch Box, when the hon. Gentleman was not present, I made it clear that the matter of the law of diligence in Scotland was a matter of top priority for the Scottish Law Commission. Now that the Labour Party in Scotland has had the decency to submit its proposals on the changes that might be implemented, I hope that the Scottish Law Commission can bring its deliberations to a conclusion.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.During the past 24 hours there has been a major increase in operational activity in the South Atlantic. On the Falkland Islands themselves, three successive raids were made from the task force on the Port Stanley airfield. These raids were successful and all our aircraft returned safely. As a result of the action of the ships and aircraft of the task force, the blockade of the remaining Argentine garrison on the Falklands remains effective. During last night and during the course of yesterday the loading of heavy supplies into the San Carlos area has continued. Five major supply ships left San Carlos during the night having offloaded their cargoes. The force ashore is fully established with sufficient supplies to carry out its tasks for an extended period, but the build-up will continue, and 5 Brigade is on its way. Two warships, including HMS "Coventry", were based to the north, outside the opening of Falkland Sound, to provide early warning of air attack and to provide an air defence screen for the supply ships unloading in San Carlos water. At approximately 1.30 pm London time an aircraft, probably on a reconnaissance mission, was detected by HMS "Coventry" and was shot down using her Sea Dart missile system. This was followed later in the afternoon by separate attacks by four Argentine Sky Hawks, which were shot down by the Sea Dart of HMS "Coventry" and by Sea Cat and Rapier missiles. This brings the total number of Argentine fixed-wing aircraft destroyed to over 50. At approximately 7.30 London time a further raid of Sky Hawks approached HMS "Coventry". She was hit by several bombs and suffered severe damage. She later capsized. Initial casualty figures are that 20 members of her crew died in the attack, about 20 were injured and the remainder of her crew of some 280 are safe on board other ships of the task force. After this attack on HMS "Coventry", at about 8.30, "Atlantic Conveyor", a Merchant Navy ship protected by escorts and employed in the resupply task, was attacked by two Super Etendard aircraft which fired Exocet missiles. She was hit and set on fire. She was loaded with supplies for British forces on the Falkland Islands. She had no Harriers embarked. In this attack, four of those on board "Atlantic Conveyor" were killed and a small number were injured. The remainder of those 170 who were on board are now safe on other ships. Yesterday's losses were tragic both for the Royal Navy and the Merchant Marine. The House will join with me in expressing our admiration and gratitude for the bravery and dedication of all concerned. Our thoughts are with the families of the men at this tragic time. I should like, Mr. Speaker, to make a general comment on the conduct of operations to recover the Falklands so far. During the past seven weeks the Royal Navy has assembled, organised and despatched over 100 ships, involving over 25,000 men and women, 8,000 miles away to the other end of the world. The task force has recaptured South Georgia and successfully accomplished a hazardous amphibious landing of around 5,000 men without a single fatal land casualty. The morale of our forces is high. By any historical standard, this will be seen to have been one of the most remarkable logistic and military achievements of recent times. In planning this operation substantial attrition of our ships, aircraft and equipment was both anticipated and expected. In spite of the loss of four naval warships, the task force has more escort vessels today than a week ago. Ten more destroyers and frigates have joined the force in the past two days. Attrition of our Harrier force has been much less than we had assessed and it has achieved complete dominance in air combat and land attack. Otherwise, in spite of massive movements of merchant ships in and out of hostile waters, the "Atlantic Conveyor" is the first supply ship that we have lost. When a setback occurs, there is always a danger that it brings in train undue pessimism about the future, just as success sometimes creates needless euphoria. Neither is justified at the present time. Our force on the ground are now poised to begin their thrust upon Port Stanley; behind them are another 3,000 men of 5 Brigade, whilst reinforcements and resupply are virtually denied to the Argentine garrison on the island. Generally the military objective to repossess the Falkland Islands has gone forward exactly as we planned it. We have had losses and there may be more on land and sea, but the people of the Falkland Islands can be assured that our resolve is undiminished. We intend to free them from occupation and to restore their democratic rights.
The loss of HMS "Coventry" and the supply ship "Atlantic Conveyor" comes as grievous and disturbing news, and the Opposition would like to join the Government in sending our deepest condolences to the families of those who have died or been injured in this occurrence.With regard to the questions put to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, we are very glad that he announced, in addition to the existence of the pension rights for the naval personnel, the enhanced levels of compensation for death and injury for those serving in our Merchant Navy. There is only one question that I propose to ask the right hon. Gentleman at this moment, since this is not the time to go into details. The House and the nation want to see this matter concluded at the speediest possible pace, with the fewest possible casualties. Will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government give us their undertaking that every door—military, financial and diplomatic—will remain open to achieve that result?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. In reply to his only question, I can give him a complete assurance.
We in the Liberal Party wish to join the Government and the official Opposition in expressing our distress at the loss of lives and our profound sympathy with the relatives of those killed in the course of their duty on behalf of this country. We also join in the Secretary of State's mood of congratulation to the task force on its remarkable achievement so far. Were any helicopters lost on the "Atlantic Conveyor"?
I decided that it would be unwise to give details of what was contained in the "Atlantic Conveyor'`. It was full of supplies for the task force, and it would not be in its interests to give details of what she contained. I have announced that there were no Harriers on board.
I propose today to conclude the questions at 4 o'clock by the digital clocks.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the courage shown by the forces' families is an example to hon. Members to keep our nerve and our resolution?
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. We should all follow their example.
Will the Government bear in mind for their encouragement and that of the nation the words of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo:
Will the right hon. Gentlemen bear in mind that no battle worth fighting is won except at the margin? A pushover is meaningless and leads to no result."Hard pounding this, gentlemen; let's see who will pound longest"?
I have heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
The whole House will wish to be associated with the tribute that my right hon. Friend has paid to the men of HMS "Coventry" and the "Atlantic Conveyor", and we extend our sympathy to their families. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it has been thanks to the exemplary heroism of the men of the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine under fire that we have been able to achieve the remarkable feat of putting 5,000 men ashore without loss of life? Does he further accept that the shooting down of no fewer than 30 Argentine aircraft by Sea Harriers of the Royal Navy without loss in air combat is without parallel?
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. The performance of the Sea Harriers has been remarkable. There has not been a single Sea Harrier loss in air combat with the Argentine air force and navy. I agree with my hon. Friend that the heroism of the Royal Navy and its dedication have brought about a remarkable achievement—the landing of 5,000 men without a single casualty in a hostile environment. It has been a major achievement by the Royal Navy, and the whole nation realises what they have achieved.
I wish to associate myself with all the remarks made about our Service men and women who have carried out their duty. Will the Secretary of State say something about HMS "Antelope" and the misleading newspaper reports? We all understand the exemplary bravery of staff sergeant Prescott of the bomb disposal group. One of my constituents was killed on HMS "Antelope", but in the press reports only one death was reported. We all know that two men were killed. If the Secretary of State could put that right, the family in Mansfield would be eternally grateful.
I share the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety. We originally announced that there had been one death on HMS "Antelope". There was a statement from other sources to the effect that it was a bomb disposal man and not a member of the Royal Navy. We found subsequently that, in addition to the Royal Navy man, the person who was trying to deal with the unexploded bomb was killed. There were two deaths.
I represent part of the county of Herefordshire, which has close associations with the SAS and HMS "Antelope". Those who have died around the Falkland Islands have in a very real sense died for the Falklands. Does my right hon. Friend accept that the only real option that we have now is to press on for the victory that will make their supreme sacrifice worth while?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Those who have died in the Falkland Islands and around its shores are fighting for the freedom of other British people. They must feel that it is for their own people that they are defending democratic rights and resisting aggression.
Coventry city is as far from the sea as it is possible to be in Great Britain, but over the years there has been keen interest in HMS "Coventry" and her crew. Does the Secretary of State accept that the loss of the ship and those members of the crew who have given their lives will be keenly felt?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am most grateful to him for what he has said.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this further series of blows has fallen heavily on the country's great naval ports, one of which is in my constituency? Will he consider again the wisdom of giving further protection to our fleet by the destruction of the bases from which the aircraft are making their attacks?
I note my hon. Friend's feelings on the subject.
Note or deny?
I understand his strong feelings, but the task that has been suggested is militarily not feasible.
Although I associate myself with the remarks made about the tragic loss of life and the risks that the merchant service men are taking in the battle in the South Atlantic, will the Secretary of State reaffirm that the Government are prepared to look at any proposals that firmly link a ceasefire with an immediate withdrawal and eventual negotiated settlement? Nothing that has happened over the past few days excludes them from the obligation to search at all times for a negotiated settlement that can be defended in the House and under the terms of United Nations charter.
I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman says, but it needs two to bring about a peaceful solution. The Argentines are still obdurate and have given no sign that they want a peaceful solution.
My right hon. Friend will be aware from his visit to Southampton when the "QE2" left what an important part the port has played in the conflict and how well known the "Atlantic Conveyor" and her crew are in the area. May I associate myself with his expression of sympathy? I am sure that all the people of Southampton would want to be associated with it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks.
May I offer my sympathy to the families of those who have lost their lives? There were Merseyside seamen aboard the "Atlantic Conveyor". I have received a number of letters from merchant seamen on Merseyside and I met a number of them in Liverpool last weekend. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the general message from them is that we should call an immediate halt to hostilities to prevent further loss of life?
The whole House wants to see the earliest possible end to hostilities but not on the basis that the Argentines remain on the islands, on British territory, and deny democratic rights to British people.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House will have been impressed by the quiet optimism, poignancy and, above all, gravity of what he has said? In the past few weeks the Royal Navy has lost a percentage of its strength equal to that lost in the first year of the Second World War. Has not the time come when an unmistakable signal should be sent to the Argentine Government and people that unlimited attacks on British ships in British territorial waters justify and provoke an unlimited response?
I understand my hon. Friend's strong feelings. I do not believe that such a signal would bring a very ready or helpful response from Argentina.
The families of those who died on HMS "Coventry" have the deepest sympathy of all the citizens of Coventry. We are sure that in performing an extremely vulnerable role all the crew will have exhibited the courage and bravery that characterise the city whose name the ship bore.
I thank the hon. Gentleman.
At a time when it has been demonstrated that the price of freedom, like the cost of defending the rule of law, is a high one and that the British people are, not for the first time, paying more than their share of that cost and price, will my right hon. Friend, in addition to the sympathy that he has sent to the bereaved families, give two assurances: first, that there is available to the fleet the best possible means of dealing with the Etendard-launched Exocets; and, secondly, that there is no way in which the Argentines can succeed by war in getting what they can never get by an election?
I assure my hon. Friend that the Argentines will not win and keep the Falkland Islands by war. Only out of a peaceful settlement can the rights of the Falkland Islanders be protected and ensured.There are defences against modern missiles, but I do not believe that any nation possesses a certain answer to every attack by a missile of this kind. Our ships are well armed with a variety of defences, both active and passive, which have been effective against missiles. We shall review the defences of our ships against sea-skimming missiles when the conflict is over to see whether we can improve them.
Although the Secretary of State said that there were, I think, 26,500 British personnel, naval and civilian, in the task force and 100 ships, and perhaps a comparable number on the Argentine side, and that 500 or more casualties have been sustained, is he aware that no one believes that a military solution for either side could be sustained? As everyone believes that negotiations will have to take place in the end, how many more lives do the Government believe it sensible to lose before they go to the United Nations for a ceasefire to permit negotiation, or do they intend, in pursuing an ultimate military victory, that the awful tragedy that is unfolding should be continued to its bitter end?
I do not believe that it is sensible, to use the right hon. Gentleman's word, to lose one extra life, but in the defence of freedom our forefathers have been prepared to offer their lives. There are British people on the islands who are entitled to be defended by us. Their democratic rights should be upheld, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees. There can be no democratic rights for the people of the Falklands while the Argentines remain in possession. It is not a democracy, and rights have been taken away from British people by an invading force. The military aim is to repossess the islands. We may have further losses, but we intend to continue until we achieve that aim. When we are in possession of the islands again and Britain's administration has been restored, we shall want to arrange a long-term future for the islanders to live in peace with their neighbours. That wish at least I share with the right hon. Gentleman.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the regrettable but comparatively low loss of life in the Royal Navy ships is a great tribute to discipline and damage control arrangements on the ships? With the loss of "Atlantic Conveyor", what are his views about recommissioning HMS "Bulwark", which could provide much-needed deck and carrying capacity for aircraft to the South Atlantic or elsewhere?
The tremendous discipline on the ships has meant that the loss of life is as low as it is. On lunch-time television I saw an interview with the captain of HMS "Sheffield" in Ascension in which he stressed the vital point that it was the high discipline and calm of the men of "Sheffield" that resulted in the loss of life being so low.We are very active indeed in seeing whether we can get "Bulwark" out of dock and into service should she be needed, but I very much hope that the conflict will he over long before we are in a position to send her to the South Atlantic. But we are making preparations for her to go if necessary.
Reports have suggested that the Etendards came from the south-east after having been refuelled in flight. Has the Secretary of State anything to say about the implications of that if it is true?
I have seen the report, but we have no evidence of that at all.
Will my right hon. Friend send a signal to the task force commander not only offering our humble congratulations and sympathy but the prayers of the Christian community in the country for it in its task? In the final analysis, does he agree that it is defending international law?
I shall bring my hon. Friend's message to the notice of the Commander-in-Chief.
As I, like many others, have already lost constituents in the South Atlantic, may I ask whether the Government are continuing to consider the balance between the substantial diplomatic risk of immobilising air attacks earlier and better and the military risk of the continuing and unabated loss of ships and men?
Yes, Sir. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to imply that we might have a military means to put the mainland airfields out of action. There is no simple military means of doing that. Our task is to protect our ships and men ashore as best we can. The task force commander is giving all his time to that question.
We meet in a free Parliament where Ministers are accountable and where the news, whether good or bad, is conveyed to the nation. Bearing in mind that Argentina is an authoritarian State with a controlled press, can my right hon. Friend tell us what steps are being taken, or whether any are feasible, to convey by radio or other means to the Argentine people the truth of the situation in the Falklands?
Not only are there the normal overseas broadcasts of the BBC, but my hon. Friend will have read that we are broadcasting ourselves, under my direct responsibility, from Ascension. Our broadcasts to the Falkland Islands, which take place twice each day, bring accurate information to the Argentine garrison on the islands and accurate information to people living in Argentina about the truth of what is happening.
Will the Secretary of State give attention to a sensitive and delicate issue involving the means and expediency by which the results of such tragedies are conveyed to the next of kin? There is a feeling that there was a delay over last night's episode. Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman have regard to the fact that the Merchant Marine has played an important part in the conflict and that in more peaceful circumstances, as a maritime nation, we should not treat it as we have done in the past?
I note the hon. Gentleman's second point.When we hear that a ship is in trouble, it is a difficult judgment in every case whether we should give the ship's name straight away when we have no idea whether it is badly damaged—we receive only a brief signal initially—or whether it is better to hold the information back until we have more news about the number of casualties and the scale of the problem. I have been relying very much on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chief of the Naval Staff and, through them, the Commander-in-Chief. It is their responsibility to inform the next of kin. It is difficult to get it right. In retrospect, I believe that we should probably have released the name of the "Coventry" earlier last night, but we discussed the question at great length. It was not that we did not consider the matter with very great care. We made the judgment last night that it would be better to learn more about what happened before we gave the name of the ship. In retrospect, it may have been the wrong judgment, but in each case it is difficult to decide the right moment to release the name of the ship.
Would it not be for the national comfort and a salutary warning to the aggressor if it were known that, were it to become necessary and feasible, the commander was authorised to engage military targets in Argentina? Might that not shorten hostilities?
I have explained that I am not at all sure that it would shorten hostilities. That is the key issue. If, militarily, the judgment is that it would not shorten hostilities—and our best judgment at present is that it would not achieve anything, although I made it clear that we do not in the end close any option—I think that the matter is best left there.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
Order. I hope that it is a genuine point of order, because I have two applications under Standing Order No. 9.
My point of order is that last Thursday, in his speech, the Foreign Secretary spoke of the efforts being made by the British Government to find a diplomatic as well as a military solution—
Order. Clearly that is not a point on which I can rule.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
I will take the point of order, but may I say that the House is in a very serious mood, and rightly and understandably so. That is why I hope that we shall not get false points of order.
As one of the few Members of this House who has suffered loss of office because of his principled stand on this issue—[Interruption.]
Order. Let us hear the point of order.
I had thought it the parliamentary practice that such a Member was normally given a chance to rise on the—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows better than that.
Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat.
Order. When the whole country has very serious things on its mind, I hope that I shall not have to ask the hon. Gentleman to leave the Chamber. He must restrain himself, as everyone else has to do. He will be called in his turn, like everyone else.
The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. The hon. Gentleman will now leave the Chamber.
You are purposely trying to silence the opposition to this senseless operation. You will not accept Members who are opposed to this lunatic operation.
I name the hon. Member for Warley, East. Will the Leader of the House move the proper motion?
I beg to move, That Mr. Andrew Faulds be suspended from the service of the House.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
Order. There can be no point of order until I have put the Question.
Order. I have not proposed the Question yet. The Question is, That Mr. Andrew Faulds be suspended from the service of the House.