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Commons Chamber

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 30 November 1982

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 30 November 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Social Services

I remind the House that short supplementary questions enable more hon. Members to be called.

National Health Service (Pay)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement concerning the current situation in the National Health Service workers' pay dispute.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received concerning the current situation in the health service workers' pay dispute.

The Royal College of Nursing is balloting its members on the pay offer made in the Nurses and Midwives Whitley Council on 9 November plus the offer by the Government to set up a review body for pay. The council of the Royal College of Nursing has recommended that it be accepted. So far as other staff are concerned, the talks with the TUC health services committee stand adjourned while the union leaders consult their members on a financial framework proposed by the Government that would permit pay increases of 6 per cent. this year and 4½ per cent. for 1983–84. The Government have also offered to enter into discussions on improved long-term arrangements for pay. We expect the results of both the ballot and those consultations by mid-December. I hope that the outcome will be a period of stability to allow the National Health Service to recover from the damage caused by this dispute.

I thank the Secretary of State for his detailed reply. Are the increases that have been offered genuine, or will they be paid for by voluntary or compulsory redundancies?

They are genuine increases. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have increased staff, particularly nurses, in the National Health Service.

Does not the Secretary of State's reply endorse the Government's attack on the NHS workers, and is it not a declaration of war on them? Further, is it not the case that if the Secretary of State does not change his policies and try to get a settlement we shall witness the start of a winter of discontent before the end of the year?

That is an utterly absurd supplementary question. Even the hon. Gentleman should recognise that the review body that has been offered to the nurses has been wanted by nursing leaders for years. I seriously ask the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition to reconsider their attitude to the dispute, because they are giving the impression that they do not want it to end.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we all want to see proper rewards for nurses for their excellent work? Will not the setting up of the review body lead to a better distribution of resources and increase the status of the nursing profession?

My hon. Friend is right. The nursing review body has been sought by leaders of the nursing profession for many years. In other words, it has wanted a more satisfactory system of determining pay. We have offered that to the nursing profession and I am glad to say that the council of the Royal College of Nursing has accepted it and recommended its acceptance by its members.

Does the Secretary of State consider that his conduct of the dispute so far has been a success?

My conduct of the dispute, as well that of the Government, has been fair. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support its outcome.

How much of the pay award will come from the budgets of the regional health authorities and how much will come from the Government? As the Secretary of State thinks he has done so tremendously well up to now, what will he do if the Health Service unions turn down the offer?

I shall not answer the hon. Lady's second question. I hope that she will use what little influence she has left in persuading the Health Service unions that this is a reasonable and fair offer and that it is about time, for the sake of everyone in the Health Service and, above all, the patients, that the dispute came to an end.

The hon. Lady will know that this year the regional health authorities paid about £67 million. She will also know of the effect of public expenditure decisions. In other words, the money that we provided from the Contingency Fund this year will continue.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the nursing profession accepts the award that is offered there will be no justification for other grades to refuse it?

I hope that that is so. I hope, too, that both the nursing profession and all those in the National Health Service will consider not just the pay offer that has been made, but the offer that we have made of a review body for the nursing profession, and—

The hon. Lady should wait. I hope that they will also consider the offer of talks on better long-term arrangements for everyone in the NHS. I should have thought that that was what the NHS wanted.

Pensions And Benefits (Uprating)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received concerning the clawback to be imposed on the 1983 pension uprating.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to introduce legislation to implement the Chancellor of the Exchequer's adjustment to the November 1983 social security uprating.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to be able to announce the Government's decision as to the amount of the clawback which will be deducted from benefit increases in November 1983.

Decisions on what the 1983 uprating should be will be taken, as usual, at the time of the next Budget. Legislation will be introduced as necessary, but I have no specific timetable in mind at this stage. The Department has received about 160 letters on this subject.

Does the Minister accept that those 160 letters represent the views of millions of people throughout the country? Will he confirm that of the £180 million savings from benefits announced by his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his recent financial statement, £90 million will come from pensioners, which means that a married couple will lose 90p and single men and women will lose 55p? Is that not the meanest cut that has ever been perpetrated?

I shall not confirm those figures, for the good reason that the decisions on them have not yet been made.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I remind the House that the adjustments are a necessary part of the forecast method. That method was introduced not by the Conservative Government, but by the Labour Government, to make a cut in the social security budget.

Is it really the Secretary of State's intention to introduce a Bill to clawback £180 million, which is just one-tenth of the cost of the Falklands war—[Interruption] Yes, it is just one-tenth of the cost of the Falklands war. It is a clawback from pensioners and other people in need. In May 1981 the Minister for Social Security, who is now sitting next to the right hon. Gentleman, as an earnest of his good will when clawing back the last 1 per cent., gave an assurance to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) that he would never do it again. Is that not duplicity?

The Government have made no decision about the amount of the adjustment of pensions and other benefits. I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the Labour Government introduced the forecast method they introduced it as a saving, but they did not say that they would make good the shortfall and ignore overpayments. That was never their position.

Will the Secretary of State name the occasion when the Labour Government introduced legislation to clawback benefits, as the Conservative Government did in 1981, and as he has forecast he will do in 1983? Will he tell us, because this is crucial for people outside the House, whether, if the legislation comes before the House on a clawback basis, it will include, as it did in 1981, not just old-age pensions but mobility allowance, attendance allowance, pensions for policemen and pensions for military personnel? Will the legislation include a clawback on all those people, as it did in 1981?

The hon. Gentleman knows that those are precisely the issues that are now being considered. It is right that we should consider them in conjunction with the Budget and uprating considerations. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, which is not generally recognised. The House should remember that, by statute, public service pensions are tied to national insurance retirement pensions as well, so that public service pensioners, whom some would claim are already favourably treated in contrast to private sector pensioners, would receive a bonus if there were no adjustment.

I accept that my right hon. Friend cannot announce a definite decision to the House, but will he assure me and the House that when the matter is being considered he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take careful note of the fact that the pensioner index is substantially in front of the retail prices index and is a more accurate assessment of pensioner costs?

Over the lifetime of this Government that has not been so. The RPI has risen further than the pensioner index. The whole purpose of making decisions at the time of the Budget is to enable us to take all those considerations into account. I say frankly to the House that there is no way that we can make improvements in social security benefits, which many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members would like, and at the same time keep the adjustment to a minimum. Choices will have to be made, but they should be all made simultaneously.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that last November the Government got the inflation rate wrong and, as a result, pensioners lost the equivalent of one week's money. Does he accept, therefore, that they need to have more this year for at least 12 months, if not longer, to make up for the money that they lost during the past 12 months?

The situation that the hon. Gentleman describes is implicit in the forecast method. I repeat that the forecasting method was introduced not by this Government, but by the Labour Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the meanest cuts of all came in the last Parliament when that system of forecasting was brought in and the Christmas bonus was withdrawn for two years? Does he agree that those who, like me, argue that pensioners should in future be able to keep some of the extra benefit that they are having this year would be more likely to get a sympathetic response from the Government if they acknowledged that the Government are doing so well and congratulated them on bringing down inflation and helping the pensioners?

What my hon. Friend has said about inflation is crucial. Nothing could be more important. I hope that the social security team on the Opposition Front Bench will agree with this at any rate: inflation should be brought down and, once it is brought down, it should stay down. That cannot be in question. With regard to the figures that my hon. Friend mentioned, when the Labour Government made their saving it was worth £500 million in social security savings. That is the equivalent of £1 billion now. That was a direct cut in the social security budget by the Labour Government.

I shall ignore the fact that the Secretary of State has distorted his answer by not taking into account the fact that he has taken £1,800 million off social security benefits this year. Will he answer this question? Is he proposing to differentiate between the classes of people who are on pensions from whom he will claw back money? He appeared to say that that matter was for the Cabinet's decision. I warn him that our anger at any clawback will be doubled if he ignores public service pensioners and merely goes for the poorest in the land.

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the point. I was saying that in the decisions that we make we must take account of public service pensioners. That is why it is right to take those decisions at one and the same time.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory reply to my question, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the

Invalidity Benefit

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will ensure that his Department's offices pay for removal costs for those on invalidity benefit in the same way as payments are made to those on supplementary benefit.

There is no provision for making single payments to anyone who is not entitled to supplementary benefit, and at present I have no plans for changing these arrangements.

Is it not a fact that at one time DHSS offices had the discretion to pay removal costs for people moving out of their council house to sheltered accommodation and for seriously disabled people in such circumstances? Now, however, councils and organisations for the disabled are inundating us with complaints that the Government, not content with hammering the poor and the sick, have instructed DHSS offices to take away that paltry benefit.

As the House will recall, that matter was fully debated in 1980 when Parliament decided—

—Parliament decided to remove the discretion when introducing the regulated supplementary benefit scheme. That decision followed a review that was undertaken and completed just before the Labour Government went out of office. It was recognised at the time that the drawing of a firm line at those in receipt of supplementary benefit meant that those just on the wrong side of the line could not be helped by a lump sum payment. I remind the hon. Gentleman that in practice the discretion was exercised in very exceptional circumstances and only when the income was barely above the supplementary level.

Is the Minister aware that in many mining areas there are disabled people who have been on invalidity benefit for 10 or 12 years having to move to special accommodation? It is as important to spend cash on those removals as it is to spend it on the Falklands war. Why can cash be found for operations such as the Falklands war, which kill people, when it cannot be found for helping disabled people?

If those people are in receipt of supplementary benefit, they will be helped under the rules that I have just outlined.

The Minister knows perfectly well that the Social Security Advisory Committee has recommended the restoration of this limited flexibility, which existed under the old rules. Will he act to implement that recommendation, or is this another one of the SSAC's recommendations that will be put in the dustbin by the Government?

We have noted that the SSAC has made a general recommendation that there should be a limited extension of eligibility. The committee is considering the degree of that extension and we will consider its recommendations on the detail when they are received.

Health Authority Funding (Macclesfield)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received from the Macclesfield district health authority requesting additional funding for the financial year 1983–84.

None, Sir. I am, of course, aware of the local planning that will be necessary to permit the new district general hospital to open next year, and of discussions that are going on between Mersey regional health authority and Macclesfield health authority.

I am somewhat surprised by that answer, because I have made personal representations by letter to the Minister. Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the Macclesfield district health authority is serving an area with a rapidly growing population and that, in addition to the opening of the first phase of the new nucleus hospital, the area is having to cope with a growing number of elderly people, which takes considerable resources? Will he therefore give sympathetic consideration to any representations for additional resources, even if I request him to meet a delegation representing the district health authority from my constituency?

The question asked what representations I had received from the health authority. For that reason I said "None". I have of course, received a powerful letter from my hon. Friend. I will meet any delegation that he chooses to bring to me to discuss the question.

I take on board all his points about Macclesfield. It is because of its needs that Macclesfield is about to get a new district general hospital, which will be handed over to the health authority a month ahead of time in March of next year. We are providing £1 million in new growth money over the next two years to help the authority to plan for the opening of the hospital. I shall be glad to discuss the problems further when I meet my hon. Friend.

As the Minister has given a wrong answer, will he give me a factual one? How much of the Macclesfield budget will be used to pay for the paltry salary offers, and how much of other district budgets will be used in that way? Those budgets are already inadequate. Surely it should be a national responsibility to pay for the salary increases.

That point has just been dealt with in a more relevant question. Had we conceded grossly excessive pay claims in the National Health Service there would not have been room for the degree of growth in the Health Service provision for patients with which the Government are pressing ahead.

Chronically Sick And Disabled Persons Act

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he monitors the circumstances in which, under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, local authorities withdraw or reduce services to registered disabled people without diminution of need; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. Such monitoring would involve obtaining details of services provided to each of the several hundred thousand individuals under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. This is clearly impracticable. However, if the hon. Gentleman has any particular case in mind I should be grateful if he would send me the details.

If, as the Minister said, to monitor is impracticable, he can only deal, for example, with individual named cases, which imposes a tremendous burden on hon. Members wishing to raise the question as a general matter. Nor has the Minister touched on the fact that some authorities have used up their budgets.

Perhaps I may help the House. The hon. Gentleman is correct when he says that the Act requires individual cases to be examined.

Where a need has been established, will the hon. Gentleman allow an appeals procedure to come before him and Parliament?

I do not quite follow the hon. Gentleman. If a need has been established and the local authority has not satisfied that need, the individual concerned is entitled to make representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who has certain reserve powers to give directions in the matter.

Does the Minister agree that there will always be unfair disparities in the provision of services by local authorities until we have specific grants for disabled people? Will he undertake to discuss that matter with the Department of the Environment.

In any case where local decisions have to be taken and local authorities are given a discretion by Parliament, different local authorities are bound to exercise their discretion in different ways according to the local circumstances. That is the basis of local government. We are reluctant to impose conditions upon local authorities and to remove a discretion that Parliament has seen fit to give them.

Does the Minister recall that the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation raised with me the specific complaint of a cut in home help hours by the borough of Trafford without any change in the circumstances of the disabled people involved? Will he now make it pikestaff plain that his legal advice is the same as that given to me—that it is illegal to cut or withdraw services to disabled people under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act without any diminution of need?

I am a little puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman's persistence on this matter. He wrote to me about the matter and I replied on 11 November. I do not know whether he has received my letter, but after making inquiries I made it quite clear that the local authority concerned was making no change in its home help service.

Health Districts (Medical Manpower)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how the medical manpower needs of health districts are determined.

District health authorities are responsible for assessing medical manpower needs as part of their overall responsibilities for service planning.

The Minister has not referred to the decision. Does he agree that difficulties arise where the medical manpower committee agrees that there is a need for a consultant appointment—for example, in the case of the Bromsgrove and Redditch health disrict to prepare for the accident and emergency unit in the new hospital—but there is no revenue support? Is he aware that those difficulties are made much worse in a health district such as Bromsgrove and Redditch where there is underfunding on the RAWP formula?

There is obviously sometimes competition for resources to fund what every district health authority would like to do. Overall, there is enough medical manpower to go round and it is left to districts and regions to assess their own priorities and provide for particular districts. I know that Bromsgrove is behind by the RAWP formula, and so is the West Midlands region. That is why both are getting above average growth. The building of a new district general hospital has just commenced in Bromsgrove to meet its needs.

Is the Minister aware that much of the medical manpower works in the private sector as well as in the National Health Service? In determining the manpower requirements of the National Health service, does he bear in mind that many of those people are filling their pockets, as it is lucrative to be in the private sector at the expense of the National Health Service. That is why the medical manpower requirements are not met.

We undertake careful medical manpower planning for the National Health Service. I do not accept that there is a serious shortage of medical manpower. The new contracts, which have been introduced to enable consultants to work part-time in the private sector, have worked wholly to the benefit of the National Health Service and have helped to keep skilled medical manpower in this country.

Whatever the vested interest in the existing handout under the RAWP formula, will my hon. and learned Friend examine the gross iniquity whereby population statistics are out of date and expanding areas such as Northampton and Macclesfield are left behind year after year, with a cumulative deficit. It is time something was done about this.

I promised my hon. Friend when I met a deputation that included him that I would examine the population statistics. I also received representations from London districts that the population figures were unfair from their point of view. There is a certain conflict between the claims I receive. Northamptonshire, as part of the Oxford regional health authority, is underfunded in terms of RAWP, which is why it gets higher than average growth compared with other districts. We have to examine competing claims to see how far we can go in redistributing resources.

Children (Clothing)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the new arrangements whereby the responsibility for identifying children in clothing need has been passed to teaching staff.

The statutory provision for assistance with school clothing needs in Scotland is contained in section 54 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, which is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. So far as the responsibilities of this Department are concerned, single payments for children's clothing under the supplementary benefit scheme can be made only where the need arises for reasons other than normal wear and tear.

The Minister is probably unaware that some Scottish local authorities have delegated responsibility for dealing with school clothing needs to teachers and that the teachers' organisations have said that they do not possess the skills or ability to assess those needs. In those circumstances, does the Minister agree that his Department should reintroduce the scheme, under which skilled DHSS visitors can go to the house concerned and make provision for children in need?

No, I do not. The powers provided to education authorities in Scotland are appropriate, and it is not for me to tell the authorities how to interpret those powers or how to negotiate with the teachers' unions. That must be a matter for the local education authorities.

Does the Minister recognise that when this responsibility was transferred from his Department to the Scottish local authorities there was much hostility from the teaching profession and from the EIS in particular? Is he aware that if this money was properly spent by local authorities 130 additional teachers could be employed to educate children in the Strathclyde region—an area that is very much in need of employment, especially for the teaching profession?

There is no question of transferring a particular responsibility from the DHSS to Scottish education authorities. Under the regulated supplementary benefit scheme, single payments for children's clothing have been awarded more evenly across the country, and that has affected Scotland. However, as I told the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), the application of the powers of Scottish education authorities and the negotiations with the unions are matters for the Scottish education authorities themselves to sort out.

Should we not ensure that children who are genuinely in need are cared for? One is therefore at a loss to understand why teachers cannot tell whether shoes are leaking or clothes are inadequate.

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's opinion. He confirms my view that this is a matter for the Scottish education authorities, in conjunction with the teaching unions, parents and anyone else whom they ought to consult.

Voluntary Organisations (Ministerial Visits)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many visits were made by Ministers in his Department to voluntary organisations in 1982.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the number of such visits that he has made. It is a pleasure to see him involved with so many organisations. I pass on to him the great welcome for the opportunities for volunteering scheme. Will this programme be expanded?

I return the compliment by saying that it is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend at many of these functions. He is right to say that the opportunities for volunteering scheme have been warmly welcomed and that it has been a great success. I am pleased to confirm that we shall make additional resources available to continue the scheme at about the same level next year.

Leaving aside the statements of mutual admiration, did the Minister discuss with the voluntary organisations the effect of the doubling of VAT on their activities? Is he aware that the Spastics Society last year paid £350,000 in VAT and that the Royal National Institute for the Deaf paid £100,000? What representations is he making to the Treasury to end that burden?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that a meeting on this subject will be held tomorrow and that this is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind the substantial improvements introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend to increase the flow of money to voluntary organisations—for example, through covenants. In fact, many voluntary organisations regard the support from this Government as the most helpful that they have received for a long time.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his interest in the voluntary organisations. Has he given any directions to local authority social services committees to pump prime local voluntary organisations?

I am not in a position to instruct them to do so, but we hope to issue shortly the new circular on joint finance entitled "Care in the Community". I assure my hon. Friend that that circular will lay heavy emphasis on the need to work with and through the voluntary organisations.

Benefits

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will introduce twice-yearly reviews of retirement pensions and other benefits.

Does the Secretary of State realise that by introducing more frequent reviews he would at a stroke eliminate the feeling of injustice among pensioners because they must wait from March until November for their promised increase? Many of them feel that they will never get it, as they may die in the meantime. Secondly, more frequent reviews would allow the right hon. Gentleman more accurately to forecast the rate of inflation, thereby eliminating his embarrassment at having to steal from pensioners' purses and wallets the paltry sums that he claims to have overpaid them.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that when that suggestion was put to the Labour Government after November 1976 it was always resisted. The only justification for six-monthly reviews would be runaway inflation, which is what we had in the first years of the Labour Government. Fortunately, that is no longer the case.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that pensioners would not welcome such a proposal in the current year, because, if accepted, they would not enjoy the full additional benefit of 2½ per cent. in 1982–83?

My hon. Friend is right. Between 1974 and 1976, when the Labour Government introduced such frequent reviews, inflation was running at a rate of no less than 26 per cent.

Given that inflation under this Government reached 22 per cent., why is the right hon. Gentleman so coy about this proposal? Will he admit that there is nothing technically impossible about a twice-yearly uprating when inflation is in double figures? There is nothing wrong in that. The Labour Government proved that it could be done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) said, it would not then be necessary for the Government to introduce these clawback measures.

No one is challenging whether it is technically feasible. The hon. Gentleman has just said that it could be done if inflation were in double figures, and that was so when Labour was in power. Fortunately, under this Government inflation is not in double figures.

Perinatal Mortality

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will take steps to publicise the regional breakdown of the perinatal mortality rates for 1981 in England and Wales when they are available.

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

The figures the hon. Gentleman refers to were published last week. They show that regional differences persist, but there has been a remarkable overall improvement. Five years ago, only one English region had less than 14 perinatal deaths per thousand births. Now, every region is below this figure, and the two best regions are below 10 per thousand—a figure which bears comparison with any country in Europe. This achievement reflects great credit on all the health professionals whose sustained efforts have helped to bring it about.

I welcome that improvement. Does the Minister recognise that it is still sad that even now babies at risk cannot be taken into intensive care units? What action does he propose to take? Does he accept the findings of the Select Committee and the observation of the Spastics Society that in the event of a young baby's death an intensive and careful post mortem could reveal the causes and might further reduce perinatal death and handicap rates?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that we appointed the Maternity Services Advisory Committee to advise us on all aspects of this important matter. We look forward to receiving its reports from time to time and to reporting our conclusions to the House.

I am a member of that Select Committee. We welcome the improvement in the perinatal and neonatal mortality rates and hope that they will continue, but does my hon. Friend agree that closing down the maternity units in cottage hospitals such as the Congleton war memorial hospital is not a way of further improving those figures? Is he aware that that hospital is in an area of growing population and that the regional health authority and the district health authority should be considering upgrading those wards rather than closing them and reducing services?

If my hon. Friend cares to write to me about that case, I shall examine it. He is well aware that responsibility lies with regional health authorities to order their priorities in these matters.

Does the Minister agree that smoking by pregnant women is one of the most frequent causes of perinatal mortality? When will the Government do something about the problem, rather than expect the tobacco industry to discourage the sale of cigarettes, at the expense of its own profits?

The hon. Gentleman confuses the issue. Every Minister has made it clear that smoking puts people at risk. Unlike the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported, we have made a dramatic increase in the size of the health warning on the cigarette packet and obtained £11 million for research into health matters.

Family Practitioner Authorities (Appointments)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received concerning his proposals for all appointments to the new family practitioners authorities to be made by himself.

As there is widespread doubt about the Government's motives behind the proposal to reconstitute family practitioner committees, and in the light of a recent written answer by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security that no attempt would be made to ascertain the political allegiance of members of such committees, will the Minister come clean and confirm—or deny—that at least three administrations of family practitioner committees have been approached by officials of the DHSS to ascertain the political allegiance of their members?

I am not aware of any such approaches. I have not authorised any. Appointments to the new family practitioner committees will be made as they always have been—by the Secretary of State—on the nomination of a wide range of interested bodies, both professional and lay.

Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that there will be a minority of medically qualified people on each of these authorities?

We intend to preserve broadly the existing balance between professionally qualified and lay members. We will ensure that in the appointments that we make.

Spectacle Purchases (Financial Assistance)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many people now receive Government help towards the purchase of spectacles; and what was the number receiving assistance in 1978.

During the financial year 1981–82, 825,000 adult patients in England—17 per cent. of the total—received help with optical charges. This compares with 737,000—16 per cent. of the total—in 1978–79. In addition, 402,000 pairs of spectacles were supplied free to children in 1981–82, compared with 335,000 pairs in 1978–79.

Does the Minister agree that that is because the price of spectacles has rocketed under the present Government? Will he give the percentages of people who have applied for a free test and answer the question in those terms?

With this amount of notice I cannot do that. If the hon. Gentleman ever became a Minister, he would know that.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there is sufficient publicity in opticians' premises for National Health Service frames? Is he satisfied that there is sufficient price competition for private frames?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Office of Fair Trading expects to publish its report on competition in the optical service before the end of the year. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health is discussing with the frame manufacturers ways of introducing a variety of new frames into the NHS.

Is the Minister aware that when the charges were first introduced many years ago they were a temporary measure? How long have they been a temporary measure, and when will they be removed?

I recall the party of which the hon. Gentleman is a member frequently saying that it would remove those charges, but when it became the Government it reneged on that promise, as it has on so many other things.

Regional Health Authorities (Resources)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will seek to ensure that in future regional health authorities will be provided with resources based on assumptions for periods longer than the present two-year period, in order that such authorities may implement existing plans for hospital development.

We hope in the new year to issue to health authorities revised long-term guidance on resources which will provide a sustainable and realistic basis for forward planning.

Although the commissions on capital expenditure are now satisfactory, is my right hon. Friend aware that advantage cannot always be taken of them because the revenue implications cannot be guaranteed? Does he agree that if the two-year period were extended some of those difficulties would be removed?

I understand my hon. and learned Friend's point. He will know that we have issued guidance on the matter, so that when authorities are planning capital spending they also have resource implications in mind.

Prime Minister

Glasgow

Q1.

Even if the right hon. Lady cannot visit Glasgow before early next year, can she tell the House why, of her Cabinet colleagues, only the Secretary of State for Scotland has bothered to go to Glasgow to support the Tory candidate in the Glasgow, Queen's Park by-election? Is she aware that it is because that young man faces such a humiliating defeat that she is ensuring that she has nothing to do with it?

As that candidate has had the support of our No. 1 politician in Scotland, the excellent Secretary of State for Scotland, I am sure that he is very pleased. I am sure that there is no better candidate than the young man who is standing for the Conservative Party.

If my right hon. Friend is able to visit Glasgow—[Interruption.]

Order. If hon. Members wish to waste Prime Minister's Question Time by making a noise they may do so, but we shall not continue until hon. Members asking questions can be heard. I could not hear the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro).

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if she is able to visit Glasgow in the near future she will find many people there who realise that her policies have brought down inflation, interest rates and mortgage interest rates? Is she further aware that many people in Glasgow have been able to buy their council houses, against the wishes of the Labour-controlled council?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Our candidate, Jackson Carlaw, whom I met on Friday night, has found that people there appreciate the opportunity that Conservatives have given them to purchase their council houses, while the Labour Party wants to keep those tenants under control for ever.

Is the Prime Minister aware that construction firms in central Scotland are extremely annoyed that her "Buy British" policy is not being pursued by all Government Departments? Is she further aware that one of them turned down the opportunity to construct a package of houses on the Falkland Islands in favour of a firm—

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must keep his information to himself.

If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) had made that remark while standing up I should have asked him to withdraw it, as it is untrue.

Order. I must tell the hon. Member for Bolsover that if he does that once more this afternoon I shall order him out of the Chamber.

Order. It is impossible to continue with our business if hon. Members are not allowed to ask their questions.

As a Scottish construction firm was among those contending for a housing contract in the Falklands and the contract has now been given to a firm using Swedish components, will the Prime Minister ensure that her "Buy British" policy gets through to all Government Departments?

That contract was put out to tender. We had to purchase the most suitable houses for the people there and to house our troops. The last three in the tender were British firms. It is true that some used Swedish components, but that was because those components were the best available. The policy is to buy British where it is the best available or equal to the best available, but we must insist on purchasing the best available for the purpose.

Engagements

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will state her public engagements for 30 November.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be attending a reception for the Diplomatic Corps at Buckingham Palace.

As evidence of Russian spying against this country reveals that under cover of détente the Soviet Union has not only targeted every part of this country with SS20 missiles but has sought every opportunity to penetrate our defences at home, is it not scandalous that Mr. Andropov's first threat against us, issued through the Novosti press agency today, is that he will launch those missiles against us if he believes that we may threaten him?

The threat, both covert and overt, to our security and way of life is continuous, and our safeguard must be equally continuous. It follows that we must keep strong defences and pursue multilateral disarmament with balanced and verifiable reductions in forces.

If the SS20 missiles were removed, as proposed by President Reagan and NATO, there would be no need to put the cruise and Pershing missiles in place. It follows that the initiative should be taken by the Soviet Government to remove the many SS20s that they have put in place in the last eight years.

May I first make it clear that the Opposition strongly condemn and deplore the attack on No. 10 this morning and the methods employed? It is a disgraceful way of proceeding and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We hope and imagine that our view is supported throughout the House.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that almost every day brings some fresh disaster to our steel industry in almost every part of the country where steel is produced? As it is now some six weeks since the Secretary of State for Industry said that he intended to shoulder his responsibilities in this respect, when do the Government intend to take a grip on the situation?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his first remark. Letter bombs anywhere are very distressing, and we are all vulnerable. Indeed, hon. Members have received them from time to time. We must therefore be extremely careful. Fortunately, Mr. Taylor, who opened the letter bomb, was only very slightly burnt, but we must take even more care in the future.

There will be a debate on steel tomorrow. The final proposals from the British Steel Corporation have not yet been received. The right hon. Gentleman is right. There is a tremendous reduction in the demand for steel worldwide and enormous overcapacity in production worldwide; yet we are still building more steel plants. The situation is extremely serious. We have not yet received the final proposals, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will, of course, listen closely to the debate tomorrow.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her answer is unsatisfactory, because the reduction in demand for steel in this country is worse than in any other industrial country, although we have made bigger cuts than most other EEC countries? Is she aware that further jobs have been scheduled for abandonment at Sheffield. Manchester, Rotherham, Motherwell, Glasgow, Stockton and Brierley Hill since the Secretary of State said that he was taking responsibility for these matters? Does she realise that if we are to have any steel industry left the Government must take action, and that it will be no use talking about defending this country if we have no steel with which to do so?

On the number of redundancies, overmanning was greater in this country than on the Continent, so reductions have been greater. The right hon. Gentleman alleges that the fall in demand is greater in this country than elsewhere. I remind him that we had a 13-week strike, during which many people who had loyally purchased from the British Steel Corporation had to buy steel overseas, where it was made a condition of their purchases that they continue to purchase some steel from overseas. Indeed, many have said that in future they wish to have two different sources of supply and not to rely on the BSC again. Undoubtedly, therefore, that strike cut the demand for steel, as those who took part were warned at the time it would. As for the situation being worse than in other countries, I should point out that import penetration in the United Kingdom at 27 per cent. is considerably lower than in other European countries. For example, import penetration is 43 per cent. in France and 35 per cent. in Germany.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 30 November.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the conference of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament voted that Britain should withdraw from NATO? Does she agree that this is yet another instance of that organisation being at variance with the views of the overwhelming majority of British people?

I am aware of that decision by the CND conference. The narrow majority shows that the CND itself is split down the middle. To withdraw from NATO or to do anything to reduce its strength or safeguard would be to increase, not to reduce, the risk of war. It follows that we must do everything possible to secure the future of NATO, pursuing measures of multilateral disarmament, but utterly rejecting unilateralism.

They have risen because the markets took them up and the banks followed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree, as I do, with the warning given last week by the deputy leader of the Labour Party about the international dangers of planned competitive devaluations?

Yes, and I believe that I saw reports of a speech by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) overseas condemning competitive devaluation as a tool and pointing out—if he did not point it out, he should have done—that such action is an excuse for not becoming competitive.

In the national interest, will the Prime Minister defer calling a general election before the Bermondsey by-election to allow the Leader of the Opposition to show that his word is his bond and that he stands by the firm pledge that he gave to Parliament and the country—[Interruption.]

Order. I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. No one should have to shout just to be heard in this place.

—that Mr. Tatchell would never be endorsed as a Labour Party candidate?

I have not decided when to recommend that the general election should be held, but I do not think that it will be this side of Christmas.

Has my right hon. Friend seen reports of the speech by the Leader of the Opposition in which he described the years from 1974 to 1976 as especially successful? Given that in that period the rate of inflation was more than 30 per cent. and unemployment doubled, what does my right hon. Friend suppose a slightly less than successful Labour Government might do?

I am afraid that I do not spend a great deal of time reading the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I do not recall that speech, but I know that those were the years during which the Labour Government took Britain to the International Monetary Fund, and that is where Labour policies will take us again if ever the Labour Party comes to power.

Will the Prime Minister clarify the answer that she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and her statements at the weekend? Have the Government a target for the exchange rate, or is the right hon. Lady allowing the market to choose the rate?

We do not have a target for the exchange rate. I should have thought that that would be obvious, especially to the right hon. Gentleman. It would not be possible to defend a particular level of exchange rate, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Equally, when the exchange rate starts to slide quickly, one cannot ignore it. Therefore, equally—as the right hon. Gentleman and even the right hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench know—the Bank must intervene to smooth transactions. It cannot do more. We do not have a particular exchange rate target. We shall continue with our policies to reduce inflation, control the money supply, contain public spending and keep down public borrowing.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for trying to restore order while I was questioning the Prime Minister. Those of us who have spent our lives fighting fascism do not need protection from the National Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party, whose members have inherited the Nazi tactic of bullying and thugism.

That was not a point of order. It is wrong to raise points of order, as the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) did, to score party political points. Points of order are not for that purpose

If the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) has a point of order, I shall listen to him. If he has not, I shall be disappointed.

So shall I, Mr. Speaker. In previous Parliaments, I can recall requests being made from the Chair that questions to Ministers, and in particular to the Prime Minister, should be related to matters over which the Minister questioned has some responsibility. You must have noticed today, Mr. Speaker, that at least three, if not four, questions to the Prime Minister, coming mostly from Tory Back Benchers, were about speeches made by Members of the Opposition, about the decisions of the CND and about alleged guarantees given by the Leader of the Opposition, none of which is in any way the responsibility of the Prime Minister. Has there been some change in what is in order here?

There has been no change. The Prime Minister was asked to comment from the Government's point of view on statements about the CND and other organisations. There is a great difference, and that is my ruling.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that you are the protector of Back-Bench Members. Last week I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Defence, but I have not yet received a reply. However, the media can tell me what the reply is. Can you, Mr. Speaker, help me in this respect?

I shall try to help the hon. Gentleman. I shall look into the matter and write to him.

Fisheries Council

3.35 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers held in Brussels on 29 November.

Together with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State, I represented the United Kingdom.

Nine member States reaffirmed their agreement to the common fishing policy agreed on 8 November, but the Danish Minister asked for more time to consider his response. The nine member States made it clear that there could be no alteration to the agreement that they had reached.

On the instigation of the United Kingdom Government, it was agreed that the Commission would convene a meeting of high level officials to prepare the national measures that would be required should Danish agreement not be obtained before 31 December.

The brevity of the statement and the fact that it ignores every question that has been asked by an anxious industry that has only four weeks to know its fate is a disgrace. It not only makes a mockery of our proceedings but is an insult to the industry that has been asking questions for the past few months.

This morning I spent two hours with the representatives of the fishermen, who posed dozens of questions that the Minister should have answered today but has not. We are not told whether it is on the agenda—

Order. The Minister has made a statement, and the Opposition Front Bench is entitled to comment and not only to ask questions on a statement.

For example, we are not told about the contingency plans, or whether it is on the agenda for the Heads of Government meeting this week. We are not told anything about the legal questions posed by every newspaper and every fishing organisation.

First, will the Prime Minster deal with this matter at the Heads of State meeting this week? If so, will the hon. Gentleman guarantee that there will be no concessions on the present position and no trade-off in other directions to secure agreement?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman get on to the question of the national measures that must be taken? Is it not dangerously late to leave this to the decisions of the Commission on 21 December when on 1 January, if there is not an agreement, our waters will be open right up to the beaches? If the Minister is to apply national measures, does this mean—the fishermen think that this is what it means—United Kingdom jurisdiction up to the 200-mile limit and the appropriate median lines? Does it include the Shetland box and the pout box? Does it mean that our concessions last time concerning 7,000 tons of mackerel and the 6 per cent. cut in the Shetland box have been withdrawn? Can the Minister confirm that?

Will the Minister confirm that, even if concessions are made by the Germans and the French regarding their quotas, he will refuse to open up our waters off the northwest of Scotland to the Danes?

Will not control depend upon the issue of log-books, which will show where the catch was made, the species that were caught and the amount? Will it be possible to have this in operation by 1 January if decisions are to be made by the Commission on 21 December?

Is there any legal measure that will bind the Danes outside our 6-mile and 12-mile limits and outside the two boxes regarding the size of their catch? Does not the Minister agree that the legal position is infinitely more doubtful and dangerous than he has hitherto been saying? If we are not to apply a majority vote—and we do not want to do so—is it not the case that the Danes can argue that the derogation ends and the common fisheries policy is reverted to and they can fish up to our beaches? We need answers to these legal questions.

Can the Minister guarantee that if any Danish boat catching in the North Sea over the quotas already granted to the Danes is brought to a British court, the court's decision will not be overruled by the European Court? If that happens will it not make a mockery of our claim about defending the national interest within the EEC?

None of these questions, which have been posed continually since the Minister's last statement, has been answered. I reiterate that we should support any independent action that he took to protect our fishing fleet and waters.

Knowing my hon. Friend, I had better say any sensible measures to protect our waters and our fishing fleet. In view of the hold-up, is it not time to reassert the position, which was agreed by all parties in the House, of a 12-mile exclusive limit and 50-mile dominant preference? The Prime Minister made promises about that during the election campaign when she was speaking in the fishing port of Aberdeen.

The Minister's statement is disgraceful and an insult to the industry. Is it not time for a major debate on the fishing industry in Government time?

Any observer of the fishing industry who heard that series of questions will consider it one of the more pathetic performances on the fisheries platform. I was describing a meeting that took place this week. I discussed the object of that meeting with the leaders of the fishing industry this week. They completely agreed with that object. I met the leaders after the meeting and they were delighted with the result of the meeting.

There is no truth in the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) that the fishing industry is not in complete agreement with our tactics and what we have achieved. He is disappointed that the fishing industry wants the agreement and supports it. The industry is disappointed that Denmark has not come into line. The sooner that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West recognises that, the sooner he will receive some sympathy from the fishing industry.

It has been made clear by the Prime Minister and, I believe, by the President of France, the German Chancellor and the Dutch Prime Minister that they all require the subject to be on the agenda for the meeting of Prime Ministers and Presidents this week. I am sure therefore that it will be on the agenda and discussed.

None of the nine countries will depart in any way from the agreement that has been reached. Monday's meeting was important because it was the first meeting from which the Danish Minister had to return to Denmark with the clear message that there was no chance of any concessions of any description from any country, and that the nine member countries considered that the end of the negotiations had been reached. I am glad that that has been established before the summit meeting. It means that there will be no Danish vessels fishing for mackerel off the west coast of Scotland. All nine member countries are agreed on that, as is the Commission.

It has always been clear that we consider that action taken with the Commission's agreement will be legal. The Commission made it clear that, in the absence of agreement, it wishes the quota and access proposals, agreed by the nine countries to secure the fishing stock in Europe, to continue. It wants the nine countries to adopt national measures to achieve that. That is what the high level group will discuss in detail. The British Government have therefore prepared their proposals.

We have managed to obtain a few answers, but the Minister has not dealt with the main point. I shall remind him of what he said on his previous statement:

"We shall not impose in Danish waters measures which will affect them in their own waters. The deal will safeguard the waters of the other nine member States."—[Official Report, 27 October 1982; Vol. 29, c. 1053.]
We are interested, as he should be, in what will happen to the Danish fishing capacity in the North Sea in the waters outside our exclusive limits. What measures have been taken to deal with that? Can existing law deal with that position after we have granted them a quota?

I thank the Minister for telling us that there will be a meeting of Heads of Government on this matter. He should have told us that in the first place.

If the Danes decided to overfish in Danish coastal waters, it would be to the detriment of their fishing industry and that of everyone else. I do not believe that will happen. I hope that at either the summit meeting or at the meeting on 21 December the Danish Government will recognise that it is in their industry's interests to reach agreement. I am sorry that the hon. Member has not taken the opportunity to urge that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the firm stand that he took at Brussels. If, unfortunately, national measures have to be introduced by the other members of the Common Market, can he guarantee that there will be no nonsense about fishing up to the beaches and that the Danes will not exceed their authorised quota?

I can guarantee that there will be no fishing up to the beaches and that the basic access proposals, including the Shetland box, will be maintained by such national measures.

I believe that there will be an agreement that the Danes will be allowed to fish the quotas that the nine member countries considered reasonable. The enforcement regulations, which will enable the Commission for the first time to have inspectors boarding ships to see documents, irrespective of whether there is an agreement, come into operation on 1 January. That is something that the Opposition seem to have forgotten.

Can the Minister assure the House that Britain will take no position or action inconsistent with our insistence upon the right of veto?

I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Shetland fishermen have expressed considerable anxiety about the scheme. Will the national measures enforce the agreement, about which we know, against all the countries involved, including the Danes? Will we have the right to bring Danish ships before British courts if they contravene the agreement even if they have not signed it?

Can the Minister confirm what the Secretary of State for Scotland has said—that when the matter is finally settled he will be willing to meet fishermen's associations to discuss the possibility of management schemes?

Yes, Sir. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) knows, the Secretary of State for Scotland has already had various discussions with Shetland island representatives and has said that he will be willing to discuss the future management and operation of those important waters which have a considerable effect on the Shetland islanders.

The Commission's view is that in the absence of an agreement it is right for the Commission to give its authority for, and therefore make completely legal, actions that would be needed to conserve fishing stocks. The action that has been taken in the Shetland box is an illustration of what the nine member countries considered necessary to conserve fishing stocks in the area. I have no doubt that that action would be legal and that anybody who contravened that—including British, French or other fishermen—could be brought before British courts.

Will the grant for restructuring continue whether or not the Danes agree to the package?

I hope that agreement will be reached for immediate temporary restructuring, because it does not affect the principles of any dispute between Denmark and ourselves. However, I cannot guarantee that. I hope that the restructuring proposals can proceed.

The Minister's terse statement left us feeling anxious. Is he assuring the House and telling the industry that if Danish boats were to attempt to catch 30,000 tonnes of mackerel off the north-west coast of Scotland, or anywhere else, he would take measures to have their vessels towed back to harbour?

We would use the legal powers already in existence against anyone discovered fishing illegally in this way—for example, any fishermen fishing a particular stock when their country had no quota. That would be an illegal action. They would be subject to the basic penalties of a fine of up to £50,000 and the confiscation of their fishing equipment.

I should like to try to clarify the juridical position which, despite what the Minister has stated, seems a little unclear. If nine member countries, on the basis of the terms which they have already approved, agree that they will pursue national measures within their own waters, will such action enjoy the support of Community law? If it does not enjoy the support of Community law—the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that it did—what real protection exists?

Case history in the courts makes it clear that a national measure that has not been disapproved by the Commission has legal validity. The Commission's view, clearly expressed, is that, in the absence of a firm agreement, it has a task in such a vacuum to give approval to national measures that conserve fish stocks—this means the quota and access arrangements—in a realistic and sensible way.

I wish to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend for standing firm in Brussels. Is he aware that there will be considerable relief among fishermen in Bridlington that there has been no further concession to the Danes? If the Danes do not accept the agreement by 1 January, will national measures enable us to exclude them in the area up to the 200-mile limit?

No, Sir. The view of the Commission, which I personally support, is that in such a situation the type of quotas and access arrangements that nine countries have agreed would be considered to be sensible arrangements to conserve, enhance and improve fishing stocks in Europe. It would therefore be reasonable to implement the quotas that have been allocated. I should perhaps point out that if they do not accept the agreement the Danes will lose quite a lot of fish. The proposals would not include a substantial volume of fish given by the Norwegians who have made it clear that they are only willing to provide that fish in the event of there being a common fishing agreement among all ten member States. There would therefore be a loss of some importance in the quotas of Danish fishermen.

Order. If hon. Members are brief, I hope to call all those who have been standing.

As the Shetlanders depend so heavily on the fishing industry, and as the offer currently available to the Government is unacceptable to them, is it the Minister's intention to secure an improvement in these arrangements as they affect Shetland?

No, Sir. We abide by the agreement as currently reached. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has pointed out, a considerable amount, in terms of planning and management of the locality, can be done that is of interest to the Shetlands. We are not considering changes to the agreement.

It should be noted that 80 per cent. of the Shetland catch is within the 12-mile limit which remains an exclusive zone where foreign vessels cannot operate. It is one area of Western Europe where a licensing arrangement will ensure that important stocks in the locality are conserved and, I trust, will be enhanced in years to come. I believe that the agreement is a good one for the Shetland islands. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be only too willing to discuss the management proposals.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition's response to his progress on this difficult issue is more than a little cavalier, especially as they manifestly failed to achieve anything along these lines during their period of office? Should not the Opposition be encouraged by the fact that the Danes have asked only for a little more time? Should not they also be encouraged by the resolution of our Prime Minister and the other Heads of the nine countries involved?

Yes, Sir. There is a rather sharp contrast between the present situation and that which I inherited when all eight member countries were lined up against Britain on a package that was exceedingly unacceptable and where no progress had been made. Our deep sea fleet had seen its biggest decline, but hardly any aid was forthcoming from the then Government. The comparison is recognised by the fishing industry.

I appreciate the considerable importance of the fishing industry to Denmark and to the Danish people. I hope that the Danes will now recognise that nine member countries and the Commission are united in their view that no changes can take place. Unlike any other member of the Community, a substantial proportion of Danish fishing consists of fishing for industrial purposes. Virtually the whole of that catch is free of quota. In that respect, there will be no adverse effect upon the Danish fishing industry. I hope that the Danes, following careful consideration of the facts and features of the agreement, will come to accept the agreement within a short period.

Will the Minister return to the legal point and explain how the Commission can overrule the provisions of the Treaty of Rome with regard to open access fishing on 1 January? If a Danish ship was to fish up to our beaches and was taken to court, how could a British court enforce national measures in view of the fact that the Treaty of Accession gives primacy to the Treaty of Rome?

There are two reasons. There is an equality of treatment which does not mean that the access arrangements cannot come into operation. The same approach is adopted for other member countries that are affected. In the Commission's view, that situation is perfectly correct. The second factor is that the Treaty of Rome did not state that on 1 January 1983 there would be no measures at all. In fact, there was a provision permitting replacement of existing measures by whatever had been agreed among the member countries. In the event of a vacuum occurring, the courts have held that action by the Commission is legal and valid.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the fishing industry appreciates what he has achieved in the negotiations and the work that he has contributed? Is he aware that Opposition Members are developing the nasty habit of making inaccurate statements basically to show that, when these are proved inaccurate, they have influenced the decision? Will he make certain that these inaccurate statements are shown up for what they are?

Yes, Sir. The leaders of the fishing industry have had their approval of the agreement endorsed by their executives and by fishermen's meetings. Following my talks with the leaders of the three fishing organisations last week and my talks in Brussels, I have no doubt that they are totally with the Government.

What are the Minister's plans for ensuring that the dispute does not affect fishing in third party waters? How does he intend to ensure continued fishing by British vessels in Norwegian waters? When the right hon. Gentleman announces in the near future, I hope, details of an aid package amounting to £15 million, will he bear in mind that the sum is now inadequate given the fact that interest rates are going up again and that a key problem is the burden of debt? Is he aware that uncertainty still remains?

The Government hope that the relationship with Norway will not be impaired by any failure to reach an agreement. Norway shares waters with the Community and is desperate and anxious for an agreement. It was therefore willing to make sacrifices on fishing stocks to ease the position of Denmark. Denmark will lose that if it fails to agree. I hope that pressure from Norway will help to bring about an agreement.

I find the hon. Gentleman's remarks about aid surprising. The aid being given by the Government this year is equal to the total amount of aid given during six years of a Labour Government. The aid given to Grimsby during the lifetime of this Government will be more than that given to the whole industry during the lifetime of the previous Labour Government.

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the threat to the sprat. Is he aware that the history of the control of fishing shows that if an important species is omitted, it becomes virtually extinct because so much effort is directed towards it? Can we, for once, be slightly ahead of events by imposing tighter control on sprat fishing so that the breeding stock of the sprat is not annihilated as a reaction to control on other species?

Obviously I shall bear in mind and consider what my hon. Friend has said. The decision to have no quota for the sprat is based on scientific advice. If that advice changes and it is suggested that a quota should be set for the sprat, the Government will support it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there are only 31 days to go and that there is no immediate prospect of a unanimous agreement? He must have some contingency plan. Will he tell the House what it is and how he will implement what he describes euphemistically as "national measures" to preserve our stocks?

We have operated national measures for some years with the approval of the Commission and with legal validity. We have discussed with other member States what national measures should come into operation in the absence of an agreement. There will be a high-powered meeting next week of top officials of the member States. It will work out the details of the measures and the manner in which they shall come into operation if it is necessary to introduce them. I hope very much that they will never have to come into operation. I believe that the agreement that has been reached will be good for Europe. I hope that the Danish Government are now at the point of deciding to accept it.

Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that the Prime Minister will bring her considerable influence to bear on the Danish Prime Minister to get his country to agree to accept the package which has been described by the chairman of the Scottish Fishing Federation, Willie Hay, who is one of my constituents, as a "very good package"? Will he ensure that the Prime Minister uses her considerable influence so that the Danes will agree to the package before the end of the year and so make unnecessary all the hypothetical questions and the answers that he has had to give?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met the Danish Prime Minister a few days ago. A long conversation took place on this issue. I know that the Danish Prime Minister was left in no doubt that we considered it vital speedily to come to a common fishing agreement and that there was no possibility of any change in the package that had been obtained. I believe that the Danish Prime Minister received exactly the same message from the French Prime Minister and the President of France the same day. He received the same message on Monday from eight other member States and the Commission. I hope that the totality of the message will mean that the Danish Government will recognise that it is vital to the interests of Europe and Danish fishermen quickly to come to an agreement.

I return to the legal issues. How can the Minister determine that there is a vacuum and that legal action "taken without the opposition of the Commission will stand" when it is clear under the terms of the Treaty of Accession and the regulation of 20 October 1970 that

"Rules applied by each member State in respect of fishing in the maritime waters coming under its sovereignty or within its jurisdiction shall not lead to differences in treatment of other member States. Member States shall ensure in particular equal conditions of access to and use of the fishing grounds situated in the waters."
If that is the current legal position, which after 31 December will leave no room for a vacuum, how cart the House, without alteration to the Treaty of Accession, take such measures?

Will the Minister please note the need for a full debate? There are deep legal doubts about our ability to act.

The view of the United Kingdom, and I believe that of the Commission, is that there are provisions in the Treaty of Accession which state that on 1 January 1983 the current position will be replaced. In the event of failure to reach agreement on a common fisheries policy, there will be a vacuum and the Commission can act accordingly.

Special Steels (South Yorkshire)

I have received notice of an application under Standing Order No. 9 from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) on the steel industry. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the debate on steel tomorrow will be on the Adjournment, which means that it will be an extremely wide-ranging debate. In view of that, I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he wishes to proceed with his application.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to proceed.

The hon. Gentleman must not make today the speech that he would make if called by the Chair tomorrow. Others will also want to speak tomorrow.

As the matter which I wish to raise under Standing Order No. 9 will have no place in tomorrow evening's debate, I wish, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to raise it today.

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the announcement by BSC that more than 1,700 jobs are to go in South Yorkshire as BSC Special Steels cuts steelmaking by about 15 per cent.".

I believe that the matter is specific. for it has been confirmed by public announcement and private communication.

The matter is important because South Yorkshire Special Steels is in a different market from any of the large five steel plants whose future is the subject of current speculation. Presumably it is the five large plants—Ravenscraig, Redcar, Llanwern and two others—that are the subject of continuing exchanges between the chairman of the corporation and the Secretary of State for Industry. Accordingly, it is the future of these five plants that will be the focus of attention in tomorrow's brief debate on steel.

This is the view of BSC for it has clearly—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a wide-ranging speech. He must confine himself to giving me reasons why the issue that he is raising is urgent and important and why I should grant an emergency debate.

I know that you will be helpful to me, Mr. Speaker. You are always helpful to me and to other hon. Members who seek to make submissions under Standing Order No. 9. You have questioned the propriety of my submission, Mr. Speaker, and I am doing you the courtesy of presenting an argument to meet your query. I was rather surprised that you did not find my argument acceptable. However, I was only halfway through it.

Order. I still find the hon. Gentleman's statement unacceptable. He must either come to the issue that he seeks to raise under Standing Order No. 9, as every other hon. Member has to do, and explain the urgency and immediacy of the application, or I will have to ask him to resume his seat.

I have confidence that you, Mr. Speaker, will be helpful to me. I know that that is your reputation. I shall come to the point.

The British Steel Corporation has clearly conducted a market survey for engineering steels over the next year—it made a similar appraisal of the stainless sector, which led in June to an announcement of 600 job losses in my constituency—irrespective of the present review of BSC' s plant configuration.

The matter is urgent, for while the chairman of BSC and the Secretary of State for Industry conduct their current review the haemorrhaging of jobs in South Yorkshire continues. This is because South Yorkshire's specialised products have been chiefly hit by Government policy and domestic recession. As a result, manpower levels have been slashed by more than half under this Government. In the past 18 months, the men who have lost their jobs could have filled the Chamber 15 times over. After five other redundancy announcements this month, yesterday's announcement will give November the grim record of the highest number of announced redundancies.

The tragedy is that the latest crisis has come at a time when the gains from past sacrifices were beginning to materialise. Productivity, quality and delivery times have all improved dramatically, as the chairman acknowledged in the corporation's latest annual report. The men feel bitter that they have had to bear an unfair share of the consequence of the Government's industrial problems and of those that face the whole of Europe. They greatly resent the fact that British steel makers are having to accept a greater burden and penalty because of European policies and the Government's policy. The Secretary of State for Industry refused in June to contemplate any change—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making the speech that he would have made—

Order. In my judgment, the hon. Gentleman is making the speech that he would have made on general grounds had he been granted his emergency debate. He has appealed to my judgment, and I now appeal to his. He is a good House of Commons man, and he knows what he should do on a Standing Order No. 9 application.

I come to my conclusions, and I am grateful to you for your helpfulness, Mr. Speaker. I was merely about to ask how many more jobs will have to go in South Yorkshire, an area that is fast sliding into economic chaos, before this Government realise that what is probably now at stake is the survival of the economy of South Yorkshire.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) gave me notice this morning before 12 o'clock that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing

"the announcement by BSC that more than 1,700 jobs are to go in South Yorkshire as BSC Special Steels cuts steelmaking by about 50 per cent."

The House listened to the hon. Gentleman drawing our attention to a very serious matter. The House is also aware that on the Adjournment tomorrow everything that was raised this afternoon could have been raised, and could still be raised, by those hon. Members who will be called in the debate.

I have given careful consideration to the hon. Gentleman's representations, but I must rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Statutory Instruments, &C

By the leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the two motions relating to statutory instruments.

Ordered,

That the Draft Double Taxation Relief (Air Transport Projects) (Cameroon) Order 1982 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Draft Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Zimbabwe) Order 1982 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. David Hunt.]

Orders Of The Day

Police And Criminal Evidence Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.11 pm