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Commons Chamber

Volume 32: debated on Thursday 18 November 1982

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House Of Commons

Thursday 18 November 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Message From The Queen

I have to report to the House that its Address of 24 June relating to the birth of a son to their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales was presented this day to Her Majesty and that Her Majesty was pleased to receive the same very graciously and to give the following answer:

I thank you most sincerely for your loyal and dutiful address on the occasion of the birth of my grandson.

The expression of your pleasure at the birth of Prince William has much moved my husband and me and we are greatly touched by the good wishes which you have expressed towards my family.

Private Business

London Transport (Liverpool Street) Bill

Considered; to be read the Third time.

British Railways (Liverpool Street Station) Bill (By Order)

Order for Third reading read.

To be read the Third time upon Thursday 25 November.

Oral Answers To Questions

Home Department

Cs Gas

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further consideration he has given to the requests for a public inquiry into the use of CS gas during the Toxteth riots in July 1981.

I remain of the view that it would not be proper to institute such an inquiry. Civil proceedings are pending against the police on the part of three people injured by CS projectiles, and the matters are therefore sub judice.

In view of the grave anxiety that is felt on Merseyside and the call for a public inquiry, which is supported by the Liverpool city council, the Liverpool trades council, the Merseyside police committee, trade unions and many right hon. and hon. Members, in order to allay public disquiet and refute any claims of a cover up, will the Home Secretary reconsider the decision, bearing in mind the recent well-documented report in the New Statesman?

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says about feelings on Merseyside, but I remain of the view that to establish an inquiry now would only prejudice the civil proceedings, and it would be wrong to do that.

Order. The House has heard that this matter is sub judice, or at least the use of it previously was sub judice. If that can be avoided, I shall call another question.

As CS gas was used in Toxteth last year in defiance of the guidelines that were laid down by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in a statement to the House on 20 May 1965, what confidence does the Home Secretary have that his new guidelines will not also be defied? In view of the scale of the injuries caused by the use of Ferret cartridges on that occasion, will the right hon. Gentleman now ban its use and the use of CS gas in all circumstances on the British mainland?

We have issued the new guidelines, and I have every confidence that they will be respected. It was realised that the use of Ferret cartridges on that occasion was a mistake, and that has been accepted.

Boundary Changes

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take steps to require the Boundary Commission to make public the reasons for its final recommendations to him for boundary changes following a public inquiry.

The Parliamentary Boundary Commission for England is an independent body and we have no power to intervene in the conduct of its current review. I understand, however, that the commission's report will explain the reasoning behind its final recommendations for the whole of England.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that I find his reply a little odd, when the secretary of the Boundary Commission, in refusing to give me or the people of Hampshire any reason for its more eccentric proposals, tells me that it is answerable only to the Home Secretary? May I assume, from what my hon. and learned Friend seems to be saying, that the Boundary Commission is, in the technical sense of the word, an irresponsible quango?

My hon. Friend asks my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to "take steps to require" the commission to give reasons. We are not empowered by the legislation to require the Boundary Commission to give reasons, nor is it obliged by legislation to do so.

If the Boundary Commission were seen to be violating its own terms of reference, which is the old Chartists' demand for equal electoral areas, and if that were on a considerable scale, is it not likely that the Home Secretary would take that into account when the commission's report eventually came before the House?

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that it is confusing for a village or other local community, whose representations to an inquiry have been accepted, to find that the commission refuses to accept the conclusions of the commissioner as a result of the inquiry? Would it not be helpful if the commission were obliged to state its reasons for not accepting such recommendations?

I note what my hon. Friend says, but the commission is governed by the provisions of an Act passed by the House, as is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Any change such as my hon. Friend suggests would require new legislation.

Is not the information given to the House by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) deeply disturbing? The secretary of the commission is praying in aid for what the commission is doing instructions or advice from the Home Office. Will the Home Office contact the secretary of the commission and put it to him that that is improper and not in accordance with the constitutional relationship, which I should have thought he already knew?

I am confident that those who work for, or are members of, the commission are well aware of their rights, obligations and duties under the legislation.

International Social Service

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to raise the cash limits made available by his Department to International Social Service of Great Britain in respect of the operation of Her Majesty's Government's repatriation scheme.

Payments to International Social Service of Great Britain are made from a cash-limited Vote which provides also for several other services for which the Home Office is responsible. We are satisfied that there will be no problem this year in meeting the cost of the repatriation scheme which the organisation operates on the Government's behalf. The likely demand for assistance with repatriation is one of the factors taken into account annually before the Vote for a particular year is settled.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many immigrants will be disappointed by that reply? Is he sure that we are giving adequate aid under our 1979 manifesto commitment to give help and assistance to immigrants who genuinely want to leave this country?

I know that my hon. Friend is disappointed by my answer, but I do not think that many immigrants will be disappointed. I believe that the scheme as it operates at present is right.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the views pressed by those who claim that thousands of immigrants should go home are racially based and discriminatory and should be rejected out of hand? Will he, therefore, pursue policies that will encourage racial harmony, and will he particularly look at the immigration rules, which we debated recently, relating to children of people born in this country and ensure that they do not continue to suffer the uncertainty that is caused by the new draft rules?

We have made clear our position on repatriation. I have just reiterated it to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor). In our debate on the immigration rules I set out the reasons for our proposals for dealing with children, and I believe that what we are putting forward is correct.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) has said is complete and utter rubbish? As he will know, it is an open question—

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is an open question within the ethnic minorities whether the Government should pursue a more generous system of assisted resettlement, as many elderly immigrants and others wish to go back to the land from which they came, but have too much invested in pension schemes and other things in this country and cannot afford to go back? If there were a more generous scheme, they would wish to go. There is open discussion within the immigrant community on that matter.

We are not getting pressure from the immigrant community for resettlement grants.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government's position on this issue is not seen to be clear, especially when they have supporters of the sort that we have just heard? Is it not up to the Minister to condemn all this talk of repatriation as being thoroughly objectionable? It comes only from racist elements in his party.

I have made the Government's position on this matter clear over and over again.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it proper for an hon. Member to refer to another hon. Member as racist?

The comment was not applied to an individual. I noted carefully that it was applied to a group.

Liquor Licensing

4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to introduce measures to implement the Erroll committee's report on liquor licensing.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the licensing laws are riddled with anomolies? Does he further agree that there is a strong case for introducing limited reforms similar to those introduced in Scotland, which are working satisfactorily?

I know that the licensing laws are subject to criticsm and dissatisfaction. The problem is to find a reasonable measure of agreement on what should replace them. We have followed carefully what is happening in Scotland, but it is too early to make a final judgment.

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is increasing pressure from the licensing industry and others for flexibility in public house opening hours and that there is great anxiety within the trade about competition from the proliferation of outlets, such as wine bars, which are not subject to the same number of licensing controls as are public houses? Is it not about time that the Home Office introduced legislation to bring about much-needed reforms?

I have already acknowledged that there is some argument over whether the present laws are exactly right. I should not necessarily defend them for all time, but there needs to be greater agreement about the right course to take. Although there is pressure for liberalisation, there is also considerable concern about the problem of drunkeness, particularly among young people. We must get the right answer.

Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at a rather silly anomaly in the liquor licensing laws which prevents charitable organisations from offering bottles of alcoholic liquor as prizes at functions held on unlicensed premises to raise funds for good causes?

I am aware of the concern about that matter but we have no plans for Government legislation on the issue.

Metropolitan Police

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will set up a new inquiry into corruption in the Metropolitan Police.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied that there has been no obstruction of Operation Countryman.

I am satisfied that an inquiry would not be justified. With regard to Operation Countryman, as I stated in my reply to a question by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on 21 October, I have concluded that there is no evidence of obstruction of a kind which would have prevented those concerned from doing their job.

May I take the Home Secretary's mind back to the "World in Action" special programme during the Summer Recess, in which three former chief constables, all eminent men in their field—Mr. Hambleton, Mr. Alderson and the former chief constable of Cumberland, Mr. Frank Williamson—maintained that the Countryman inquiry was obstructed by officers at Scotland Yard? Is the Home Secretary telling the House and the country that those eminent men were all misleading the nation on British television? If he is not telling us that, will he give us the full inquiry that everyone demands?

I do not wish to get into personal arguments with former chief constables, but I am bound to say that Mr. Hambledon had said earlier that he had not been obstructed in any way. If he cares to retract that statement subsequently—

Yes, he changed his mind, but there must at least be questions about what faith one places in the judgment of someone who says at one time that he was not obstructed and says subsequently that he was. One is entitled to take that view. I am convinced that there was not obstruction. I have been into all the details very carefully, and I have been into all the work being done inside the Metropolitan Police to deal with any possibility of corruption. I am satisfied that the work is being done and will prevent corruption in the future.

Is the Home Secretary aware that there is a great deal of public disquiet in the country at large, not just in London, as a result of the disturbing remarks made by the former chief constable who headed Operation Countryman? Nothing that the Home Secretary has said so far will clear up that public disquiet.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that hon. Members are not raising the matter with any wish to engage in police baiting or anything of that kind? It is in the interests of the police force that the allegations should be cleared up, and the only way that that can be done is by a thorough inquiry.

I should not in any way suggest that the hon. Gentleman is police baiting in what he is saying. I must decide what is the best way to prevent corruption in the Metropolitan Police and, at the same time—as the hon. Gentleman said—do what is best for the police and for their morale. I have concluded that it would be wrong to have an inquiry. It is right to back the new commissioner, the deputy commissioner and the assistant commissioner for crime. A great deal has been done in recent years to root out corruption in the Metropolitan Police. They have my full confidence in doing so. I want them to get on with the job.

Are not the allegations against the police thoroughly reprehensible, in that they represent a generalised smear on a fine body of men whose record is very good indeed?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Generalised smears are no good. I give Labour Members credit for not indulging in generalised smears. I trust that they are not doing so. I agree with my hon. Friend that if they were it would be unsatisfactory.

I have to judge the best way to root out and deal with corruption in the Metropolitan Police. I have given my view that the right way forward is to back the new commissioner and his senior officers in what they are doing and not to make fresh inquiries into the past. That is my judgment and I stand by it.

As the police authority for London, will the Home Secretary say why he answered "No" to the principal and primary question about setting up a new inquiry into corruption in the Metropolitan Police? Is it because he does not believe that corruption exists at a level that would justify an inquiry, or is it because he thinks that corruption could be better pursued in a different way?

It is because I believe that the right person to pursue corruption is the new commissioner, together with the deputy commissioner and the assistant commissioner for crime. I have confidence in them. If I were to set up another inquiry I should look as if I did not have confidence in them. I have confidence in them and that is why I am determined to back them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that efficient police officers who show themselves capable of dealing effectively with the most villainous criminals are liable to have their honour impugned by those criminals in order to gain an advantage? Therefore, is my right hon. Friend not right in assuming that the vast majority of our police force are honourable men, doing their duty, and that it is wrong for the House constantly to harass them?

I agree that there is always the problem in such cases that some evidence comes from people with dubious records. That is inevitable. That is why it is difficult to form the right judgment.

The view of the House is clear. I am grateful to the House and to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). We must root out corruption in the Metropolitan Police, and we must decide on the best way of doing that. I have told the House the way in which I think it should be done and I hope that the House will back me.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is only recently that ladies have been allowed in the Box and the Gallery, but I have never before noticed people holding hands and so on.

In deciding what happened at a crucial meeting between Mr. Hambleton, the deputy commissioner, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, is not the Home Secretary relying almost entirely on the accounts given by those two men? Had he had any personal contact with Mr. Hambleton to decide what actually happened? Until the truth about that meeting is clear we can never be wholly satisfied.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, but I have given my view that, with the new commissioner, it is my duty to look to the future rather than constantly hark back to the past. I intend to look to the future, and I believe that I shall be fully backed in doing so.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that answer, I beg to give notice that I shall seek leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Cruelty To Animals Act 1876

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to be able to introduce legislation to improve and update the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876.

When final agreement has been reached on the draft Council of Europe convention on this subject, and when parliamentary time permits.

As there is deep public anxiety about reports of animal cruelty, such as unnecessary laboratory experiments on animals for cosmetic purposes, intensive farming and blood sports, will the Government give the matter some priority, particularly as the legislation that has been announced is harmful to the British people?

I am aware of the worry about animal experiments. The ad hoc committee of the Council of Europe reached agreement earlier this year on the text of the draft convention which it expects to be finalised in the near future, ready for submission to the Council of Ministers early next year. We shall then be in a position to move forward.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the measure is really a fossil of such incredible antiquity that neither he nor his right hon. Friend is likely to be accused of headlong impetuosity if they get on with tidying it up?

I am resigned to the fact that I am unlikely to be accused of headlong impetuosity in this matter. On the other hand, the Act, which has been a great one, is still viable. However, we hope before long to put our proposals before the House to bring the legislation up to date.

Will the Minister remember that "for the time being" must be in this parliamentary Session, because it was a firm election pledge in the Conservative Party's manifesto to update the legislation on experiments on live animals? If the Government do not intend to carry out that election pledge, perhaps they will say so now.

I hope that before long we shall be in a position to put forward our proposals to deal with the matter.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that next month the Council of Europe is holding a public hearing on animal experimentation? That will give an adequate opportunity for democratic forms of expression to be made, from which will flow the convention which he mentioned, which will enable us to get our legislation right on the subject.

I am aware of that hearing, and we shall take considerable interest in what happens there.

Will the Minister accept that on other issues—for example, asbestos safeguards—there has been a delay of many years when dealing with other countries in trying to reach a consensus? Will he assure the House that if there are any delays in the Council of Europe he will introduce legislation into this House to update what is regarded by many as an otiose, outdated and wholly inadequate piece of legislation?

Obviously, if the Council of Europe is not able to come to a conclusion on the matter, we shall have to think about going ahead on our own. However, I believe that the Council of Europe is working effectively, and it is highly desirable that we should work in partnership with the other members of the Council of Europe in achieving the right outcome.

Racial Equality

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what subjects he expects to discuss at his next meeting with the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

So far no arrangements have been made for a further meeting with the commission's chairman, but when my right hon. Friend next meets him it is likely that they will discuss a range of matters of mutual interest.

Does the Minister expect the chairman to deal with the recent report of the Commission for Racial Equality, which shows that six out of 10 of all black youngsters in Britain between the ages of 16 and 20 are out of work? Does the Minister realise that the vast majority of those youngsters are British citizens? When the Secretary of State goes to that meeting, will he give the chairman of the CRE any hope at all that the Government will reduce that disgraceful and dangerous level of unemployment?

We are aware of the problem of unemployment among young blacks. We believe that the economic measures that we are pursuing, together with the special schemes for helping young unemployed people, are the best approach to the problem.

During the discussions, will my right hon. Friend talk about the perennial problem that faces Conservative Members who represent constituencies in which many Sikhs live, which is the wearing of turbans by Sikhs when riding motor cycles or when they are involved in other day-to-day activities?

As the House may know, leave to appeal against the recent decision by the Court of Appeal was granted this morning. That will ensure that there is a definitive statement by the House of Lords of the existing law. The Government understand the anxieties of the Sikh community following the Court of Appeal's decision. We shall be ready to consider whether legislative action is necessary in the light of the Lords' decision.

When the Home Secretary meets the chairman of the CRE, would it not be wise if he said to the chairman that one of the best ways of dealing with discrimination in employment would be for the CRE to use its powers more effectively and more rapidly than it has in the past three years?

Both we and the CRE have noted carefully the conclusions of the Select Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, about the CRE's effectiveness in that regard. I have no doubt that it will do all that it can to operate its powers against discrimination as effectively as possible.

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of the CRE, will he discuss the recent advertisment by Luton borough council for an Asian-speaking local officer? Does he agree that that is an insult to the indigenous population as well to the immigrant population, and that if people settle in this country they should learn to speak the language?

I am in favour of the principle that all those living here should learn to speak English. It would be of enormous advantage if they could do so. However, if that officer were to work specifically among members of the minority who could not speak English, he could do a useful job.

Special Constabulary

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current strength of the Special Constabulary in England and Wales; and what was the equivalent figure in May 1979.

The strength in May 1979 is not known, but on 31 December 1979 it was 15,960. On 30 June 1982 it was 15,263. That represents an increase of 285 over the previous six months, and 1982 is the first year in the past 30 years in which numbers have gone up rather than down.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that that slight advance nevertheless represents a significant reversal of previous trends and is to be widely welcomed? As the Special Constabulary is widely acknowledged to be a very useful bridge between the regular police and the communities that they serve, will my hon. and learned Friend continue to take vigorous steps to strengthen and expand the Special Constabulary?

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said. I agree with him. We are anxious to encourage all proper and increased use of special constables. A particularly encouraging scheme is being run by the chief constable of Northumbria, who is recruiting home beat special constables to help police the neighbourhoods in which they live.

Despite that, and although the police establishments are up to the correct size, is it not a fact that during this year serious crime will rise, as has unemployment, above 3 million? What will the Government do to change their policies, which are palpably failing to stop more burglary and other such serious crime?

The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which is published today, will be of considerable assistance in that regard. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's support for that measure.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that one of the problems that has affected the Metropolitan Special Constabulary is the historic hostility between the regular force and the Special Constabulary? Will he consider inviting the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to act urgently to involve the Special Constabulary with the regular force in its ordinary police functions?

As I would expect, the attitude of the present Commissioner—as it was of the previous Commissioner—is strongly to encourage the Special Constabulary. A long time ago there was hostility in certain quarters, but that is a thing of the past, and a good thing too.

Criminal Statistics

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the level of crime in Liverpool, in May 1979, and for the latest available period.

The information available centrally relates to offences recorded throughout the Merseyside police area. About 28,500 notifiable offences were recorded by the police in that area in the second quarter of 1979, and about 34,600 in the second quarter of 1982.

Is the Home Secretary aware that since 1979 one crime has been committed every four minutes in the city of Liverpool and that there has been a 60 per cent. increase in robberies and a 35 per cent. increase in burglaries? How does the Home Secretary explain that? Does he stand by his statement in 1978 that there was no relationship—sorry, that there was a relationship—between the number of crimes committed and a high level of unemployment?

I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is asking me to substantiate. One moment he seems to say the opposite of what I said and the next moment he says what I did say. I have always accepted that unemployment is a factor in crime. I said it then, I say it now and I shall continue to say it. With regard to what can be done now, I believe that co-operation between the police authority, the local police and the local community is crucial in dealing with crime in Merseyside and elsewhere. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends giving their full support and help to that community.

I am glad that the Home Secretary has agreed that there is a link between increased crime and higher unemployment. Unemployment in Merseyside, particularly in inner areas, is massive, and thousands of young people are roaming the streets. That is why crime is rising.

I am always ready to answer questions in the House. I have spent a long time in the House and I have yet to discover when I have to answer questions that have not been asked.

As the clear-up rate of serious crime by the Merseyside police force is one of the lowest in the country, and, as the Home Secretary said, successful policing depends on the police having the trust and confidence of the public, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is necessary to restore confidence in the police on the part of the public in Merseyside and that that could be best done by introducing an independent method for investigating complaints against the police and establishing a form of democratic accountability of the Merseyside police force to its constituent local authorities?

The hon. Gentleman is prejudging many of the discussions that will take place on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I accept that such co-operation is important. In our answer to the Select Committee we stated our belief in an independent assessor of police complaints. I have also made it clear that statutory consultation will be provided for in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman's views on those matters.

Police Horses

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police horses are at work in the Metropolis; and if he will make a statement.

The Metropolitan Police own 180 working horses. The nature of their duties varies according to age.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware how deeply the nation appreciates the work of the Metropolitan Police men and women and the horses with which they work? Their work is both practical and ceremonial. Is he aware of how popular it would be if he were to create an award for such horses—since the horse is man's oldest and best friend—

—particularly for police horse Echo, which was gravely wounded in the Regent's Park bomb attack and which has made such a courageous recovery? If my right hon. and learned Friend could persuade my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to do likewise for Army horse Sefton, that would be no less than justice.

The horses on police duty that serve us so faithfully deserve our gratitude and care, as do those who work with them and for them. I am glad that police horse Echo is completing a good recover, but I suspect that he cares more for meals than for medals.

Firearms Certificates

12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement concerning any proposals to increase the level of fees for firearms certificates.

For the reasons given in my reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on 10 November, the Government have decided not to increase fee levels for the time being. We shall consider the matter again in the light of a report from a forthcoming joint working party of the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers on the basis of the principle that fees should recover the full costs of operating the licensing system.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is widespread support for the decision to suspend any proposed increase in fees? When is the report of the working party likely to be received by his Department? Will he assure the House that income from those fees will not be used as an additional source of revenue?

I cannot say when the report will be published. There never has been any idea that the fees should be used as an increased source of revenue.

Will the Home Secretary accept that many people in rural areas will welcome his statement? Why is he so much against people who have guns and so much for people who have dogs? Should not the criterion for a licence fee be the cost of administration?

I am for people who have guns, provided that they use them legally for proper purposes. I am for people who have dogs.

Will my right hon. Friend look into the cause of the unreliability of present police costing methods for the issuing of licences? Is he aware that it has resulted in one police authority producing a cost level several times higher than an adjacent one?

That is the purpose of the working party. If the shooting organisations wish to put forward their views, such views will be welcome.

Immigration Rules

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will publish a comparison between the immigration rules of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, France, Germany and the United Kingdom with regard to the entry rights of the husbands and fiancés of settled and citizen women.

No, Sir. The information available about the law and practice in other countries is not comprehensive enough to warrant being published.

As the changes in access set out in the White Paper—which I hope will, sensibly, soon be deferred—are not the result of popular demand within the United Kingdom, they can only have come from popular demand from the Indian Sub continent. Does my right hon. Friend believe that it would be useful to see what the access rules are in that part of the world?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have made it absolutely clear that the reasons for changing the rules for husbands and fiancés is that the changes derive from the creation of the new British citizenship. I accept that information is useful and desirable, but the problem is that, owing to the differences in settled status between different countries, it is hard to put it on the same footing.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is nonsense to suggest that only women overseas are worried about those matters? Women are hard done by in this country and they are waiting anxiously for the changes that the Home Secretary announced to the House the other day.

I accept that British citizen women have made the point that they are anxious for the changes to be brought in.

Germany and France have much more stringent rules for their guest workers than we have for our immigrants. Is it not ironic that one of the considerations in the framing of our new immigration rules should be the fear of an adverse ruling by the European Convention on Human Rights, of which France and Germany are the principal signatories?

It is debatable whether the rules about German guest workers are as my hon. Friend has described. We have proposed the changes to deal with the creation of the new British citizenship.

Will the Minister tell his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) that a settled person is not a guest worker? No civilised country stops its settled women bringing in their fiancés and husbands.

I can only repeat that it is difficult to draw parallels between the different status of immigrants in different countries.

Plastic Bullets And Cs Gas

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what guidelines have been issued to the police about the use of plastic bullets or CS gas cartridges.

Guidelines on the use of plastic baton rounds and CS by the police service in England and Wales to restore public order were summarised in the reply I gave on 19 October last year to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery). They have not been changed since.

As we know from the trial and acquittal of Kenneth Anderson that the police fired lethal CS cartridges at people on the streets, how can the Home Secretary pass that off blandly as a mistake? If the policeman who fired the cartridges did not know, or knew but ignored, the guidelines, what guarantee is there that his latest guidelines will not be ignored equally? If the policeman knew of them, but did not intend to hit anyone, does that not show how vicious such weapons can be and how dangerous the accidents? Is that not a reason for banning them from British streets?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the guidelines were issued after the use of those cartridges. As I explained on 19 October last year, and have stated again today, the chief constable of Merseyside acknowledges that Ferret cartridges should not be used again to deal with public disorder.

I shall call the right hon. Member and allow one minute extra for Prime Minister's Questions.

The Home Secretary will be aware that in a number of newspapers there have been reports that chief constables—not police committees—have expressed their view that there is no appropriate use for such weapons and that they have declined to train their forces in the use of CS gas and plastic baton rounds. Will the Home Secretary publish in Hansard a list of those authorities which are training their men in the use of such weapons, those which are not, and the various types of weapons that have been provided by the police forces which have chosen to use them?

If that is what the right hon. Gentleman wants, I shall certainly respond to it. I shall seek an accurate assessment of all those figures and report them to the House.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 18 November.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later I took part in the presentation of the Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of the birth of Prince William of Wales. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with President Masire of Botswana. This evening I shall be attending a State banquet at Hampton Court Palace given by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in honour of Her Majesty the Queen.

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to say that she comprehends the humiliation and hopelessness that engulfs the homes of those who are made redundant? Will she consider restoring urgently the 5 per cent. cut in unemployment benefit? As a further boost to unemployed people will she consider sacking her Secretary of State for Employment, who has the most diseased mind in British politics?

I am well aware of the difficulties faced by those who are made redundant. The real solution is to make more goods at prices and designs that will sell. There is no other way to secure more jobs. I utterly disagree with the hon. Gentleman with regard to my excellent colleague the Secretary of State for Employment.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that at the meeting next week of the European Council of Ministers the Government will support the European Parliament's proposal for a common election system in Europe?

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to note the remarkable position with regard to food prices since the last general election? Will she recollect that during the period of the Labour Government food prices rose by 120 per cent., whereas since the 1979 election they have risen by only 32 per cent.? That figure is less than the average increase in inflation during that period.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Labour Government's record in increasing food prices was disgraceful. [Interruption.] Our record has been much better. The average annual rate of increases in food prices under the Labour Government—[Interruption.]

Order. The House knows that the Prime Minister must be heard. Any right hon. or hon. Member who is called to speak is entitled to be heard.

The average annual increase in food prices under the Labour Government was 16·8 per cent. Under this Government the average annual increase is of the order of 8 per cent.

Perhaps we could have a special Question Time for planted questions. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will appreciate from this morning's news that the future of Tadworth hospital for children now rests with the Government and with her. Will she take immediate steps to instruct the Secretary of State for Social Services to provide the money to keep that hospital going?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, at a meeting last night the board of governors recommended that the services at Tadworth Court be transferred to Queen Mary's hospital, Carshalton, which is only a few miles away. The Secretary of State is considering that proposal as well as the proposal from the charities. He will, of course, receive representations before he reaches his final decision, which will be made as quickly as possible. There is no question of patients being turned out of the hospital or of services being ended.

I asked the right hon. Lady what she was going to do about it. Some of us have corresponded with the Secretary of State on behalf of our constituents for several months. I believe that all Opposition Members are agreed that the hospital should be kept open. That means that something like £1·5 million is needed. When the Prime Minister said at her party conference that the National Health Service was safe in her hands, was she excluding Tadworth hospital for children?

There is a proper procedure to go through and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will go through it sympathetically.

Later—:

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have always understood that personal insults are out of order in the House. You may not have heard the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) accuse a right hon. Member of having the most diseased mind in British politics. Should not the hon. Member for Flint, East be told to withdraw that remark?

This point of order gives me a chance to tell the House that no one's arguments are advanced by sheer personal abuse. It adds nothing to anyone's argument. I should have thought that most hon. Members have an argument to advance and need not use personal abuse.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 November.

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

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the report produced by Strathclyde regional council, which shows that the closure of Ravenscraig steelworks will result in the direct loss of 13,500 jobs at the very least? Given the despair and uncertainty caused by current steel closures in an area of massively high unemployment, will she give an assurance that the Government will not even contemplate the option put forward by the British Steel Corporation for the closure of the Ravenscraig works?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is discussing the future of the steelworks in the context of the future of steel production and the need not to take precipitate action in the short-term but, instead, to consider the longer-term position. He will consider the whole question of the future of the steelworks and I hope that he will be in a position to announce his decision before Christmas. Action will not be precipitate or taken on a short-term view, but on a longer-term basis.

Has my right hon. Friend yet been able to consider a subject that was studiously avoided by the nations that voted recently at the United Nations for a resumption of negotiations between Britain and Argentina? Now that the graves of hundreds of the Argentine junta's victims are being uncovered, what steps will my right hon. Friend take to inquire into the whereabouts of those British subjects who disappeared in 1976–77, and to demand an explanation?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have made representations about those British subjects who are known to have disappeared. Fortunately, fewer British subjects have disappeared than other nationals, but each and every one is a human life. Those people disappeared under the Argentine's military Governments. That is another reason for not negotiating in any way with the Argentine Government over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to do what I did this morning—[Interruption.] When the public hear the guffaws from male Members of Parliament they may be able to reach a judgment about a very serious matter. Will the Prime Minister do what I did this morning and visit the breast cancer unit at the Royal Marsden hospital, where she will learn that 1 in 17 women in Britain are likely to suffer from breast cancer at any one time? If that unit closes, some of the women who would have been saved will die. Is the right hon. Lady prepared to tell the House now that she will find the money to save that unit?

The Royal Marsden is a postgraduate teaching hospital, managed by a special health authority, which is directly accountable to the Secretary of State. The allocation to that authority has not been cut and the authority is undertaking a review of all its activities so that it can decide its priorities.

When the right hon. Lady has occasion to count the cost—as I am sure that she does—in terms of casualties and suffering, of the constitutional arrangements recently imposed on Northern Ireland, will she consider how she can best use her personal authority to restore confidence in the Government's commitment to Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the commitment to Northern Ireland is enshrined in legislation. There will be no change without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. I agree that terrorism is grave, but we shall continue to wage an unrelenting war on it. We have great confidence in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and our Armed Forces. I pay tribute to the excellent way in which they continue to discharge their duties.

Will the Prime Minister use her influence today to ask Opposition Members to place in the Library a list of the goods that they have bought from British manufacturers out of concern for unemployment, and a list of the goods that they have bought from foreign manufacturers? In that way, we shall know the depth of their emotional concern for Linwood and Ravenscraig.

I am sure that the Opposition will have heard my hon. and learned Friend's comments. It is important to try to buy as many British goods as possible, always assuming that their quality, design and price can compete with those from abroad. We are in business not to try to protect inefficient companies but to persuade people to buy British when there is a proper and effective choice.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 November.

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

Will the right hon. Lady find time today to consider the issue of science policy? Is she aware that the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts sent to discover which Minister was in charge of it and received the reply that she was? Given the absolute pledges made by two Leaders of the House that responsible Ministers will attend Select Committees, will she come and tell the Select Committee about science policy? It is an important issue, upon which the regeneration of British industry depends.

Responsibility for the research aspect of science policy lies with the Department of Education and Science. There is a Minister and a very well known organisation for it. The research and technological grants given by other Departments are a matter for them. I stress that science policy is not a thing apart and separate from Departments. It should be a part of each and every Department. It would be wrong to try to sever it and to make it into a separate Department.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 November.

Has my right hon. Friend seen today's reports that the Treasury is apparently considering the abolition of tax relief on mortgage interest? Will she reaffirm the Government's commitment to home ownership and their determination to maintain tax relief on mortgage interest?

I saw those reports. I have no idea where they came from. There is no truth in them and there will not be so long as I remain First Lord of the Treasury.

When the Prime Minister addressed the NATO Assembly in Westminster Hall yesterday and reached the passage in her speech that referred to the pledge of member States to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, based on human liberty, democracy and the rule of law, did she notice any uneasy stirrings among the representatives of the Turkish Government? Does she agree that that military Government have broken every one of those matters by placing many trade unionists and leading people in the peace movement on trial simply for trying to exercise the freedoms of which she was boasting yesterday?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Turkish Government are committed to restoring democracy, which is a jolly sight more than the Soviet Union is.

Sterling (Exchange Rate)

3.32 pm

(by private notice) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement about the level of sterling and the Government's exchange rate policy.

The movements of the sterling exchange rate in the markets this week have been fully reported. Successive Governments have made it their practice not to make statements about the level of the exchange rate. I do not intend to depart from that practice. There are, however, two points that should be made.

First, the right hon. Gentleman asked about exchange rate policy. Let me assure him and the House that there has been no change in the policy of this Government, which has continued to be that the exchange rate should reflect market forces.

Secondly, let me similarly assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are determined to maintain firm monetary conditions conducive to success in the fight against inflation. We back that up by determined control of public expenditure and by reducing public borrowing as a share of national output. As I made clear to the House in last week's debate, we shall maintain these policies.

I am grateful to the Chancellor for making that statement. I might call it in some places a non-statement. Does he agree that it is a wholly understandable, if delayed, reaction by the foreign exchange markets to the appalling and uncorrected loss of competitiveness of British industry and, indeed, to the prospective wiping out of our current account deficit next year as revealed in the autumn statement?

Does the Chancellor consider that the movement of the exchange rate is beneficial, or not, to Britain's hard-pressed industry? Will he make it plain that he does not intend to reverse the adjustment by raising interest rates once again?

Does the Chancellor agree that it is far better to have a coherent and industry-related exchange rate policy than one that is buffeted and will increasingly be buffeted by foreign exchange markets as they come to understand the appalling weakening of Britain's real economy—in jobs, industrial output and general growth?

The right hon. Gentleman has asked several questions, all of which essentially relate to industrial strategy. It is true, as hon. Members have pointed out on several occasions, that a moderate movement of the exchange rate of this type may be of some help to some parts of manufacturing industry but only if they control their costs rigorously to retain that benefit.

It is extremely important on this occasion, as on previous ones, that one should underline the need for continued and increased success in moderation in pay bargaining. The United Kingdom cannot solve its basic problems of competitiveness by depreciation. No one in the market, therefore, should have any doubt about our determination to hold fast to our strategy to beat inflation. Sound money remains at the heart of our economic strategy.

Order. I remind the House that I have said previously that a private notice question is an extension of Question Time. I shall allow two questions from each side and then move on. That is what I have normally done.

Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirm, contrary to the implications of many press reports, that a fall in the exchange rate cannot of itself cause inflation, nor a rise in the exchange rate remedy inflation?

As I have often made clear to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman, many factors may or may not be regarded as causative of inflation. That is why the Government's policy is founded on the maintenance of a well-disciplined and well-balanced monetary policy. With regard to inflationary impacts or effects in industry, I repeat that it is for industry and those who work in it or manage it to take their own steps, in the light of their own competitive conditions, to maintain and improve their competitiveness.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, although there were various interpretations of the CBI conference debate on the exchange rate, it was clear that British industry did not want a soft option? Does he also agree that if we are to restore our competitiveness, it must be achieved by a policy of restraining excessive wage settlements and cutting industrial costs, not by a downward spiral of devaluation, higher prices and higher wage settlements of the type envisaged by the Opposition?

I was interested to hear what the Chancellor said about exchange rates policy being related only to market forces. Bearing in mind the enormous advantage to manufacturing industry and jobs of the present decline in the exchange rate, may we take it from what the Chancellor said that he will not intervene in any way to ensure that the exchange rate will go up again?

I shall not depart from my policy on the exchange rate as I outlined it. I shall allow it to be regulated by market forces. The right hon. Gentleman must appreciate that, although a lower exchange rate may bring some advantages to some companies and some industries, it also means higher costs to some industries and the consumer. No one can welcome that.

As there is no such thing as the perfect exchange rate for the pound against all currencies, and as the real problem is one of exchange rate volatility, is my right hon. and learned Friend prepared to reconsider the possibility of full British participation in the European monetary fund?

The factors that have so far led successive Governments not to join the exchange rate mechanism do not seem to me to have changed significantly in the past few days.

Business Of The House

3.40 pm

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

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John Biffen)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 22 NOVEMBER—Until about seven o'clock, debate on an Opposition motion on the problems and needs of disabled people, and afterwards debate on an Opposition motion on the need for the immediate restoration of the 5 per cent. abatement of the unemployment benefit.

Motion relating to the National Assistance (Charges for Accommodation) Regulations.

TUESDAY 23 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Housing and Building Control Bill.

Motion relating to the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 24 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Energy Bill.

Motion relating to the British Nationality (Fees) Regulations.

Motions on the Social Security (Contributions Re-rating) Order and on the Social Security (Contributions) Amendment (No. 2) Order.

THURSDAY 25 NOVEMBER—Motion relating to the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations.

Motion on the Government's proposals on lorries, people and the environment. FRIDAY 26 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY 29 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Telecommunications Bill.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for arranging the debate on the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations for which we have been pressing for many weeks. What does he propose to do about the mounting crisis in the steel industry? The news from Europe and elsewhere causes the gravest concern both in the country and in the House. We have had promises that the Government would make a statement on the matter as they have taken over full and direct responsibility for the industry. We must surely have an early statement, especially in view of yesterday's announcement of the Round Oak closure, where 1,500 jobs are threatened. In addition, another 427 jobs at the Ravenscraig works in Motherwell are threatened. Apparently, these closures will take place before the Minister reaches any decision or comes to the House to discuss the future of the industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into this matter and consider arranging a statement from the Secretary of State for Industry on Monday, irrespective of the wider debate on the future of the industry that we shall obviously demand?

Over the last few weeks, the right hon. Gentleman has given three undertakings on further debates. The first relates to security, on which the Prime Minister made an announcement last week. There was general agreement in all parts of the House that we should have a debate on that subject without waiting for the report of the Security Commission. When will that take place.?

We also asked for a debate on fisheries, and I should like to know when that will take place. Last week, the right hon. Gentleman agreed that we must have an early comprehensive debate before the Government take any action on the Hunt report.

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's modest crumbs of thanks for the debate on the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's anxieties about the steel industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is at present at the Council of Ministers meeting at Elsinore. He will be returning later this evening, and I imagine that he will wish to report to the House at the earliest opportunity. I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's comments to his attention. Part of the case that my right hon. Friend has argued at Elsinore has been the extent to which the United Kingdom has seen a much sharper contraction of its steel industry than that of other Community countries.

Last week, the Leader of the Opposition asked that the security situation be debated
"in the next few weeks".—[Official Report, 11 November 1982; Vol. 31, c. 681.]
I am alerted to that, and it is perhaps a matter that can best be pursued through the traditional channels.

I am unable to offer a debate on fisheries next week, but the Government intend that the subject will be debated. As I told the House last week, I accept that we must have a debate on the Hunt report and cable television, and we must do so before the establishment of Government policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray) will no doubt be pressing the right hon. Gentleman for a debate on the steel industry, but closures have been either announced or projected in other steel-making constituencies before a statement has been made to the House. That necessitates such a statement at the beginning of next week, even if it will be a few weeks more before the Government make up their mind about the steel industry generally.

I have no wish to manufacture swords when ploughshares will do. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will be making a statement on his steel discussions at the Council of Ministers. I shall draw his attention to the points that have been raised this afternoon, and I hope that we shall be able to find a way forward as a result.

In view of the importance of the Serpell report to the future of British Rail, when do the Government expect to receive it and when will it be published? Will the House have a full chance to debate that report, with all its implications, before the Government reach any decision?

I cannot answer my hon. Friend's questions now, but I shall have the matter investigated and will be in touch with him.

It is intolerable that the right hon. Gentleman cannot offer an early debate on fisheries. In view of the disquiet throughout the country about the recent agreement, and in view of allegations that there have been further surrenders even since then, it is vital that the House should have an opportunity to discuss the matter.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who has listened to the misrepresentation of the policy, will be the first to seek a debate.

It is merely a question of arranging the debate as soon as it is convenient, having regard to the other pressures on our debating time.

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Trade following his decision to reverse the decision of the registrar of business names to allow libraries to draw information from Companies House, particularly as it seems that the right hon. Gentleman took that decision following pressure from Conservative Back Benchers to protect the private company agency services?

In no sense do I accept the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to what he has said and will ensure that he gets an answer.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the law of the sea treaty will be open for signature in Jamaica on 6 December and that we still do not know whether the Government propose to sign. Will he ensure that one of his colleagues makes an announcement some time next week on what the Government's policy is?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is making a prudent assessment of where the national interest lies in this fairly complex problem. I shall draw his attention to the points that my hon. and learned Friend has made.

Regrettably, the Mental Health (Scotland) Bill is starting its journey through Parliament in another place. When it reaches the House of Commons, will the Leader of the House consider whether it should be examined, as was the English Mental Health (Amendment) Act, in a Special Standing Committee—a procedure that proved to be extremely successful? Voluntary and other bodies in Scotland would like it to be considered in that way. Will he also look into the possibility of the Special Standing Committee meeting in Edinburgh to consider these representations?

I should like to make a reflective judgment on that point rather than an instantaneous one.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that during Question Time, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Science, the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), mentioned the important matter of science policy. My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is concern on this subject on both sides of the House. Not only is it a subject of immense importance but it does not divide neatly into conventional party categories of opinion. It has been the subject of a full-scale debate in the other place, but it has only been debated on the Adjournment in this House. As a number of hon. Members would like to discuss the matter, how soon can that be done?

The succinct and semi-flippant answer is, "Not next week". My hon. Friend raises a serious issue, but, given the pressures on parliamentary time, there is no immediate prospect of such a debate in Government time.

May we have a clear undertaking that the debate on security will take place before the Christmas recess? Do the Government intend to table a paper, even if it is on an interim basis, containing the conclusions that have emerged from the Prime case, which have been with the authorities for well over six months?

I would rather confine my remarks to the answer that I gave to the Leader of the Opposition.

Since the Health Service pay dispute continues and the number of ancillary workers in the Health Service has increased by the same number as the population of Great Britain in the last decade, whereas the number of health workers has not increased at all, and in view of the effect of that on medical services at cottage hospitals, may we have an early debate on the privatisation of such services in the Health Service?

I regret that on the present showing we cannot have such a debate next week, or even shortly after.

When is the House likely to have a statement on the Government's intentions in relation to the Bondi report on the Severn barrage, which has for long been promised to the House? Is debate on the report likely?

The issue has massive implications to all in the South-West and South Wales. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of the relevant Ministers.

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's assurance that there will be a prompt statement by the Secretary of State for Industry on steel, perhaps tomorrow, but will the Leader of the House keep an open mind about the possibility of a full debate on the subject? Is he aware that it is causing the gravest anxiety throughout the industry in the United Kingdom? May I repeat a suggestion that my right hon. Friend allowed me to make a few weeks ago—that before long we should debate the Civil Service?

The answer to my right hon. Friend's first question must be yes. I take note of my right hon. Friend's interest in a debate on the Civil Service. Index-linked pensions, which are a related subject, have caused interest and have been debated recently. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not think me too unforthcoming if I say that I cannot give much hope of a debate in the immediate future.

Is the Leader of the House aware that John Pilger's film "The Truth Game" was shown in the House today? Can he guarantee a statement next week on the IBA's refusal to allow it to be shown when it complies with IBA guidelines on nuclear warfare propaganda? Does the Leader of the House agree that that is an outrageous act of censorship? Does he agree that it must be debated and questioned in the House, particularly since it is likely that the Ministry of Defence is blocking the complementary programme which the IBA requires and is, therefore, effectively preventing the showing of the "The Truth Game"?

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is no. I shall draw the Home Secretary's attention to the hon. Gentleman's comments in the second part of his question.

On a technical point, is it possible for the proposals in the White Paper on the new immigration rules to be divided into two so that those that are purely concerned with updating the law under the British Nationality Act can be laid before the House at once, whereas the more problematical ones to do with changes in access can await the final outcome of the debate in the country to see what the demand is for the changes? If that is possible, may it not be a useful way of pursuing the matter?

I do not think that I know the answer, but I shall inquire of the Home Office to see whether it can help my hon. Friend.

Will the Leader of the House answer the question that I put to him last week?

Yes. After due consideration, I believe that it would be unwise for the House to depart from its traditional practice that Scottish Committees reflect the balance of opinion in the House as a whole.

May we have an early debate on manufacturing industry in the West Midlands? Is my right hon. Friend aware that all hon. Members will wish to express their sadness at what happened recently at Round Oak? Is he further aware that that sadness will be more than balanced by the delight that many will wish to express at the way in which the sterling exchange rate has fallen? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that will be reflected by those who say that the slight adverse affect upon the retail prices index is of little importance in the light of the Chancellor's determination to hold down money supply?

My hon. Friend puts the matter in a regional context. The West Midlands is the home of the chemical engineering small business sector. We are due to have a debate on small businesses on Friday and I hope that my hon. Friend will have the good fortune to put his arguments then.

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising from the beginning, if they are succinct.

When the Leader of the House speaks to the Secretary of State about his statement on steel next week will he draw his attention to the needs of engineering and special steels because the British Steel Corporation seems to be pre-empting decisions by Ministers in announcing the closure yesterday of the Round Oak works and today of barmills at Craigneut in my constituency? Is that not important in the light of further restrictions on the import of engineering steels into America at the behest of the United States President?

I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is acquainted with the hon. Gentleman's anxieties.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the financing of the three hospitals in the Great Ormond Street group before the Secretary of State makes a decision? Does he agree that it is vital that the House debates the matter because the group's problems result exclusively from the Government's financial policies which involve restricting money to the group? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. and hon. Friends to stop saying that these wonderful hospitals are the victims of their own success? Surely, in a sensible society success is rewarded and not punished.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that in no sense do I disparage the significance of the issue if I suggest that it could properly be pursued in private time rather than Government time.

Does the Leader of the House intend to seek a review of Standing Orders and procedures in the House? If he does, will he bear it in mind that many Back Benchers are frustrated at their inability to take part in debates because they are squeezed out by the lengthy speeches of Privy Councillors and others? Does the Leader of the House agree that the House ignores that at its peril?

I was not aware of an ovewhelming desire in the House to alter the rules, but I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Does the Leader of the House recognise the great importance of having a debate on the West Midlands as soon as possible in view of the continuing redundancies and closures which give the lie to claims about economic recovery? Is the right hon, Gentleman aware of the despair, misery and devastation brought to the region under his Government? Does he accept that we should debate the matter as soon as possilble?

My job is to answer questions rather than to engage in debate. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) more accurately reflected the balance of concern about such issues. Be that as it may, both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend will have their chance in the debate on Friday.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a serious crisis in London, where, because prisons are overcrowded, prisoners held on remand in custody are accommodated in police or court cells? The consequence is inadequate facilities for washing, excercise, and sometimes visiting. Will he urge the Home Secretary to make an early statement on this serious matter so that we can come to grips with it?

I agree that it is a serious matter and I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the hon. Gentleman's points.

As unemployment on Merseyside has increased by more than 150 per cent. since the Government came to office—there are now more than 160,000 unemployed in the region—and unemployment will not be reduced to an acceptable level even if there is a miraculous upturn in the economy, will the Leader of the House allow a special debate, not a general one, on Merseyside so that we can hear about the special measures that the Government will introduce to invigorate industry in that area?

I recognise the great economic difficulties that beset Merseyside, but I cannot offer the prospect of such a regional debate next week or in the near future.

Unemployment Statistics

4 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about unemployment statistics.

In March 1981 a scrutiny under the auspices of Sir Derek Rayner on the payment of benefit to unemployed people recommended that registration at jobcentres by unemployed people claiming benefit should become voluntary, as it was not an effective test of availability for work and abolition would benefit both job seekers and the employment service. Acceptance of that recommendation was announced in July last year and it came into effect on 18 October. Jobcentres can now cut wasteful procedures and concentrate on their main task of matching jobs and job seekers.

Unemployed job seekers who can find work for themselves are no longer compelled to visit jobcentres. Claimants need visit only the benefit office where a test of availability for work now takes place. That simplification of procedure will lead to savings of 1,350 staff and £10 million a year.