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Commons Chamber

Volume 75: debated on Tuesday 12 March 1985

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 12 March 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Surrey Bill Lords

Order for Third Reading read.

Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified. Amendments made.

Bill, as amended, read the Third time, and passed.

Lloyds Bank (Merger) Bill

National Bank Of New Zealand Limited Bill

Gosport Borough Council Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Leicestershire Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Social Services

Severe Weather Payments

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will estimate how much has been spent up to the latest available date in the current financial year on exceptionally severe weather payments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
(Mr. Ray Whitney)

The information requested is not available centrally, and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. When the period during which payments can be made is over, local offices will be asked to make a return so that the total number of payments made this winter and the cost can be worked out.

Now that the cold weather is, we hope, behind us again, does the Minister admit that the criteria for triggering the payments have been utterly discredited? Does he agree that, in future, any such payments should be based on temperature conditions that are the same throughout the country? Is not the idea that the Scots and others should be denied help with their heating bills because they are either hardier or thriftier nonsense?

I do not agree that the system has been discredited. Certainly, the operation of the system, which is undoubtedly complex, is being examined. The hon. Gentleman, like a number of his hon. Friends, continues to confuse the operation of this system — which is designed to give budget help in exceptional circumstances —with the quite different question of a cold climate allowance. As Governments of both complexions have understood it, it is generally considered that the arguments in favour of one national benefit scale are stronger.

Is the Minister aware that although the payments recently made south of the border were entirely commendable, great offence was felt in Scotland at missing out, because the temperatures there are usually lower? Will he ensure that, in future, payment of cold climate allowance—such as that contained in a Bill to be proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), and the principle of which has been contained in other Bills proposed by other hon. Members —is considered by the Department?

Again, the right hon. Gentleman is confusing two separate issues. The criteria for exceptionally severe weather payments are very clear, objective, laid down and are available to the right hon. Gentleman if he consults the Library. The argument for a cold climate allowance has been very carefully considered during our social security reviews and has consistently been rejected by Governments of all complexions.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many poor pensioners prefer to remain cold rather than get into debt? Will he ensure that before next winter there is in operation a fair and sensible scheme that will ensure that every pensioner is at least able to keep one room at a temperature of not less than 70 deg F?

I repeat that the operation of the system for exceptionally severe weather conditions is under careful examination. I remind my hon. Friend that the major support for heating comes from our supplementary benefit rates, which we have maintained at levels above the rise in the cost of living. I also remind my hon. Friend that the Government are now spending £400 million a year on basic heating additions. This figure is £140 million higher than the amount spent by the Labour Government. I would also point out to him that the level of heating payments is kept significantly ahead of the rise in the cost of energy prices.

Twice in my hearing the Minister has said that the severe weather payments system is under review. Will he give the House a guarantee that the review will be completed and a decision taken so that the same nonsense does not occur next winter?

Does my hon. Friend recognise that our weather has an extraordinary propensity to change from day to day? This system must be extraordinarily expensive to administer. It is about time we called it a day. It is plain daft.

I can only assure the House that the system is under review. It has operated for only two years. Every system that has sought to deal with the matter has run into similar problems. I also remind my hon. Friend that the major help for heating, as with other household additions, comes from our supplementary benefit and other social security programmes. It is important not to get this small addition out of perspective.

Is not this bureaucratic obstacle course of a benefit a monumental farce when pensioners often have to wait weeks or months for the payment, and even then sometimes receive only a footling 50p? When will the Government take some real action, such as restoring the £1 cut in heating allowances which they stole from pensioners last November, building up the home insulation programme which they are now running down and scrapping these absurd severe weather payments in favour of a special fuel payment of £5 a week throughout the period from October to March?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the action taken by the Government lies in the fact that, for example, our heating additions payments of £400 million a year are £140 million a year more than they were when the hon. Gentleman graced the Government Benches. I also remind him that this Government have kept all the supplementary benefit rates higher than the cost of living.

Doctors And Dentists

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many doctors and dentists undertook National Health Service work at the most recent count; and what was the comparable figure in 1979.

The most recent figures (September 1984) are of 67,300 doctors and 17,200 dentists in the National Health Service in England. Comparable figures for 1979 were 61,600 and 15,300. Growth is 9 per cent. in the number of doctors in the National Health Service, and 12 per cent. in the number of dentists, over the last five years.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that these figures provide further evidence of an improvement in the National Health Service since this Government came to office and that they make nonsense of the remarks by the Opposition about cuts in the National Health Service?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The figures established that this Government are devoting more resources to the National Health Service, that they are employing more doctors and dentists and, above all, that they are providing more services for patients.

Is the Secretary of State concerned about the fact that consultants regularly appear in court to give evidence during the time that they are employed by the National Health Service and that they pocket fees from the National Health Service and also very substantial fees for giving medical evidence? Does the Secretary of State agree that this is a potential abuse? Will he therefore look into it? Does the Secretary of State agree that if money could be saved in this way there would be less need for the Secretary of State to come to the House, as he did yesterday, and announce an increase in prescription charges?

I shall look at any evidence that the hon. Gentleman can provide, although I hope that he will not persist in making generalised accusations against the medical profession.

Will my right hon. Friend preserve the freedom of doctors and dentists to help private practice evolve with the Health Service and to stop the accusation of cheating levelled at them by the Opposition?

Yes. Action will clearly be taken on any abuses which are brought to my attention or which my statutory auditors find. That general and dental practitioners should have a right to private practice is clear and is the Government's policy.

How many people who need dental treatment are failing to turn to the NHS for that treatment because of its high cost, currently £15 for a couple of fillings, going up to £17.50? Many families must now be in need of dental care but are not receiving it from the system.

The hon. Lady should look at the figures. In 1979–80 there were 27 million courses of treatment and today there are 31 million courses of treatment. In other words, the courses of treatment are increasing, not falling.

Lone-Parent Families

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Security if he has estimated the increase in demand on personal social services which is caused by the increase in the number of lone-parent families.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Services
(Mr. John Patten)

The Government's plans for expenditure on local authority services take account of pressures on the personal social services, including the effects of increasing numbers of lone-parent families. For individual local authorities the grant related expenditure assessments are calculated using the latest available estimates of numbers of lone-parent families.

Does the Minister accept the view of the National Council for One Parent Families that the GREA levels do not reflect the real needs of one-parent families? What extra help will he provide for those 13 inner London boroughs which have the highest proportion of one-parent families in Britain? In particular, what extra help will he give to Hackney, which, in order to get down to the GREA levels for the under-fives, would have to reduce expenditure by 43 per cent?

I recognise the particular problems of Hackney, which, I understand, has the highest proportion of lone parents of any London borough or any other part of the country. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for it, but he must ask himself why other London boroughs with almost as high a number of lone-parent families, such as Hammersmith and Fulham, manage well without rate capping and his authority cannot.

In assessing the extra needs of lone-parent families, will my hon. Friend examine the other benefits given to them, particularly milk tokens, which are subject to considerable abuse. Will he consider altering that system? A monetary payment might be the right answer to tokens abuse.

We shall certainly be looking at that in the course of my right hon. Friend's social security review. My hon. Friend referred to other sums and benefits available to lone parents. Let me point out that, for example, benefit for one-parent families has gone up by 112 per cent. since the Government took office, well ahead of the rate of inflation.

Does the Minister not recognise that it is not only the increasing number of lone parents that increases demands on social services, but the increasing number of unemployed and the very old? If so, why are the Government using rate capping and other rate penalties to reduce spending to inadequate levels as set by the grant related expenditure assessment? Do they not want provision to be by businesses to those who can afford it, while those who cannot afford it will have to rely on charities or, worse still, have no service?

Local authorities throughout Britain have increased their expenditure on personal social services by some 18 per cent. in the past five years. They must set their own priorities. The hon. Lady could better spend her time pointing out good practice to boroughs, such as her own, which sometimes have rather bad practice.

Board And Lodgings Allowance

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received concerning the proposals to place a limit on the board and lodgings allowance.

We have received a large number of representations about the proposals directly, and the Social Security Advisory Committee has received over 500.

Is the Minister aware of the disastrous effect that that change would have on organisations such as the Oldham single homeless project, which has now been operating successfully for seven years in Oldham? Is he aware that it would split families in the same way as the old means test did 50 years ago? It would also affect the young unemployed, who, even if they did get on their bikes, would be unable to find work outside their local area.

I see no reason why it should have the effects that the hon. Gentleman has described. I hope the House will agree that it is no service whatever to young people to give them undue encouragement to come to the big cities and then to trap them on benefit rates which mean that they cannot possibly afford to take work.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that since 1979–80 the cost of board and lodgings allowance has risen by some 900 per cent? What will be the estimated cost in 1985–86 after the changes, and how does that compare with 1979–80?

At the moment I cannot give my hon. Friend an estimate for 1985–86. However, between December 1982 and the estimate for December 1984, the total of those payments, including residential care, has risen from £205 million to £570 million. No responsible Government could allow that rate of increase to continue.

Why has the Minister decided to make this change when he refuses to contemplate any of the sensible suggestions for improvements to other benefits and allowances, which have been put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House, on the basis that a full-scale review of social security policies is taking place? Why has the hon. Gentleman gone ahead with this change when he refuses to show the same willingness to make sensible adaptations elsewhere?

We have made the change for the reasons that I have already made clear. We are doing no service to many of those who gain from the increase in benefit, and the increase is proceeding at a rate that makes it more difficult to do what we would wish to do for those in genuine need.

Is the Minister aware that one of the groups to suffer most from this cut in the board and lodgings allowance will be the men who are kicked out of their homes as a result of his proposal to close 21 DHSS resettlement units? Is it not dogmatic privatisation of the worst kind when it is directed against people who, in addition to being homeless, have severe psychiatric problems? Do the Government not care that many of those men will not receive proper care in the community, and will die sleeping rough?

The hon. Gentleman has an absolutely relentless tendency to go completely over the top with any argument that he adopts. He referred to the resettlement units, but he should bear in mind that a significant number of those establishments are found in old-fashioned, decrepit, old RAF camps on the outskirts of our big cities.

I accept that not all of them are in that situation, but our declared purpose is to ensure that current resources are used to provide what we regard as more effective services to meet the needs of those people.

Mentally Ill People

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he has received any representations concerning the level of local authority support for the mentally ill.

Yes, Sir, I have received representations from several hon. Members and others since my right hon. Friend answered a similar question from the hon. Gentleman last October. The Social Services Committee has also produced its report on community care which bears on this matter.

Does the Minister agree that, at the very time when it is his policy to discharge people from mental illness hospitals into the community, there is an additional obligation on local authorities to provide adequate care? Will he condemn the decision by Wandsworth council to cease funding the Bolingbroke day centre for the mentally ill, which means that some of the most vulnerable people in our community will be thrown onto the streets?

Local authorities are the junior partners in the movement of the mentally ill into the community, because money can be moved with patients into the community. Year on year we are providing better standards of community care, with increased numbers of day hospital places, increased numbers of day centres and, perhaps best of all, a substantial increase in — nay, doubling of — the number of psychiatric community nurses.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's assurance that provision in the community for the mentally ill is not entirely a matter for the local authorities, and that health authorities also have a very major role to play. Will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that mental illness hospitals are not closed before adequate provision is made in the community for those displaced, and that a flexible system of bridging finance is introduced, on the ground that the receipts from the sale of hospitals can be several years delayed from the initial capital provision required for the community facilities?

These closures of large hospitals are proceeding rather more slowly than many of us might like, because careful discussions have to take place between local authorities and local health authorities. Sometimes the root of the problem has been found to be not lack of finance, but lack of really good joint planning.

Will the Minister promise to investigate the special difficulties faced by the Salford health authority and the Salford city council regarding the discharge of patients from Prestwich hospital?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health recently considered the problems of the Salford health authority.

Will my hon. Friend accept that if a policy of caring for the mentally ill in the community is to work, the mentally ill must be absorbed into the community at a rate with which the community can cope? Bearing that in mind, will he stress to local authorities that they must consider the extent to which people can be absorbed into their particular community, instead of, in some cases, issuing planning permission at random for a particular area because the houses there happen to be acceptable?

Planning permission is obviously an important part of the matter, and I know that there can be emotive issues, as there are in my hon. Friend's constituency. At the root of getting the relatively small number of the remaining mentally ill into the community, whom we judge can go into the community—there are about 5,000 — is not only money, but good joint planning between the health and local authorities to ensure that those people are well and properly placed.

Although I appreciate what the Minister said about the transfer of resources with patients from health authorities to the local government sector and voluntary bodies, will he accept that local authorities are anxious about the continuation of funds for places after the deaths of the patients with whom those funds come? I noted the comments from both sides of the House about the need to be sensible about the problem. Will he take them on board and examine ways to encourage local authorities to accept their responsibilities in that regard?

There are long-term issues to be considered. For the life of a patient, funds are transferred on a named basis with a particular patient.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee on Social Services, which recently reported on community care, expressed deep anxiety about the ready availability of rhetoric and principle and in some cases the considerable lack of action and practice? Will he comment on its recommendation that the Department's social work service has an important role to play in the setting and maintenance of standards throughout the country, possibly through an inspectorate?

My hon. Friend talks about the readiness of rhetoric, and I listened carefully to what she said about that point. We welcome the report of the Select Committee on Social Services, on which my hon. Friend gives such distinguished and painstaking service. The report has 101 recommendations, and we shall respond in detail to each recommendation, including the reference to rhetoric which my hon. Friend mentioned.

Is the Minister aware that many of the local authorities which want to do more to provide community care for the mentally ill now say that they are in a Catch-22 situation? In seeking to observe the Government's rate laws, they find it increasingly difficult to discharge their mandatory duty to the mentally ill and others under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. What are DHSS Ministers doing to persuade Treasury and Environment Ministers of the need to ensure that adequate funds are available for the full implementation of that Act?

Bad authorities which cannot run good social services departments should look at the best practice of good social services departments, which are run predominantly by Conservative-controlled local authorities.

Limited List Prescribing

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received since he announced his revised limited list about a possible appeal mechanism for the prescribing of non-listed medicines.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received concerning the revised final version of his limited list of drugs available on the National Health Service.

We have received 123 letters commenting on the selected list which I announced on 21 February. Ninety-five have been from doctors or patients, of which 11 have been about a mechanism which would enable drugs not available at NHS expense to be prescribed in particular circumstances.

As the Minister has conceded that his first attempt at a limited list was unsatisfactory, why is he so self-confident as to believe that his second attempt is absolutely perfect and foresees every possible clinical need, given that some doctors believe that even with the new list they will be unable to prescribe appropriate pain killers for some cancer sufferers? Does he recognise that he may greatly reduce the opposition to the limited list if he provides a mechanism through which special cases could be dealt with and had it in operation as soon as the list comes into operation?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The expert committee that looked at the list of drugs believed unanimously that the selected list would meet all clinical requirements. The vast majority of concern has now been met. Nevertheless, if the profession wishes to propose some appeal mechanism I am ready to discuss it with the profession. That will mean that the profession will have to come and see me and talk about it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members who strongly support his proposals nevertheless believe that it would be in the interests of patients to have an appeals procedure, whereby drugs that are not on the list but are later proven to be essential can be made available? Has he received any communication from the British Medical Association—a minority of whose members have behaved callously towards elderly and sick patients—as to whether it will assist in the appeals procedure?

We have received independent advice from about 2,000 general practitoners, but regrettably the British Medical Association has said that until the House debates the subject next Monday it will not take part in talks. I regret that, but I hope that after Monday's debate the BMA will come to see me and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health as quickly as possible.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government's handling of this has been ham-handed, to say the least, and that anxiety among the sick, especially the elderly sick, could have been avoided had the matter been handled differently? Is it not clear that he must do something immediately to remove people's anxiety over whether they will continue to be provided with drugs that have been successful?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. We have always made it clear that we would consult on our proposals and that the original list was provisional. The result of consultation is the extended list. The vast majority of the public and of the medical profession accept that the list is now good.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although restricting the variety of prescriptions may be necessary, restricting the quantity of drugs prescribed is vital? Will he require doctors to limit prescriptions to 28 days' supply at a time, which would be cheaper, safer and less wasteful?

I am not sure that I can require them to do that. An advantage of the debate that we have had is that there is now much more concern about prescribing habits, and I hope to be able to follow that with further advice from the Department. In principle, I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's point.

Does the Minister realise that we have received a heavier postbag on this issue than on almost anything else, which is the real reason why so many Tories are standing up? Does he realise that every week there is a new and developing onslaught on the NHS, which causes more and more people to worry about what the Government will do? Is this the creeping privatisation of the Health Service by 1,000 cuts, of which this cut is a major part?

The hon. Gentleman is being more than usually absurd. He must recognise that we are trying to raise money for the NHS. However, it does not surprise me that he comes to such a conclusion. He and the Labour party want more spending on the Health Service but have not thought about how that money will be raised.

Although I welcome the tone of my right hon. Friend's answers this afternoon, especially the feeler that he put out to the medical profession, does he accept that if he met doctors' concern about an appeals procedure in cases where doctors genuinely believe that certain drugs must go to their patients he would do much to defuse all reasonable opposition?

Indeed, and that is why I said that my door is open to listen to representations on that. I am sympathetic to the principle, but it is reasonable to say that if the BMA wants talks it must come to me and discuss the matter.

What consultations is the Secretary of State having with his opposite numbers at the Department of Trade and Industry, who commissioned a working paper from the pharmaceutical industry on extending patent life, which would be a way of moving towards generic substitution and thereby forgoing the shambles which this limited list has caused?

The hon. Gentleman's description of the position is not remotely fair or accurate, and I should be sorry if he took that view into the Division Lobby. Clearly, I am consulting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, I am the sponsor of the pharmaceutical industry, which has made it clear that, despite the controversy over the limited list, it wants the DHSS to continue as a sponsoring Department.

Will my right hon. Friend say what representations he has made to the ABPI? Does he agree that its newspaper campaign has not only been misleading, but has caused quite unnecessary concern, particularly to elderly people?

I think that the campaign of the ABPI —and I would say that at times the ABPI has not been speaking for some of the excellent companies in the industry — on occasions has been disgraceful and hypocritical. It must be pointed out that its latest proposal, in which it suggests that old people will be affected, goes ill with its suggestion that exemption should be removed as one of the ways of making money.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how much of the cost of his estimated saving of £75 million will be borne by pensioners? If he cannot give the House a figure, will he say why not? Surely he does not intend to take some free medicines away from pensioners without knowing first how many will be affected and how much money they will lose?

I do not think that our proposals will affect the pensioners. What we expect this to do is to cut the drugs bill by £75 million immediately. We have always recognised that consultation would mean less saving. The aim is to look for further ways of getting better value for the drugs bill.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the savings made under the limited list system will redound to the benefit of the National Health Service and not simply to the benefit of the Treasury?

Yes, that is the whole point of the proposal. The money saved will go to health care. The Opposition have been consistent in pressing me to make economies in the drugs bill. The difference is that the Government are doing something about it. The fact is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) says, that the proceeds from that will go into health care.

Care In The Community

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about proposed developments in relation to care in the community.

We shall continue to encourage the development of services which enable people in need of care to live as normal a life as their condition allows.

I think that the overwhelming majority of people would acknowledge that as the correct policy in principle, but, will the Minister recognise the widespread anxiety among local authorities about the level of funding for community care? What guarantees can the Minister give that an appropriate and satisfactory level of funding will be made available to local authorities?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for agreeing with the policy in principle. I can assure him that some very good things are now being achieved in practice by way of placing patients in more suitable care. Local authority social services spending has gone up by 18 per cent. on average ahead of inflation while the Government have been in office. As my hon. Friend was saying, as long as local authorities pay attention to getting the best value for that money, we believe that they can make perfectly adequate provision for this policy.

Are we not in danger of being overhasty over the closure of some hospitals, such as Balderton hospital in my constituency, and Saxondale hospital in his? Can he give the House an assurance that these hospitals will not be closed until firm placings are available for those who will be affected?

As my hon. Friend mentions Saxondale hospital in my constituency, I can tell him that I well remember that being mooted for closure by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) when he was Minister for Health. I am glad to say that we now have a definite date for closure. I agree with my hon. Friend that no closure of any hospital should take place unless and until there is proper provision for better care for the patients. The health authorities concerned are planning to provide just that.

Why should there be under-funded care in the community when there are perfectly good hospitals for the mentally handicapped available, such as the Dovenby hospital, in Cumbria, in my constituency? Is the Minister aware that the future of that hospital is being threatened only because of the backlog of repairs? Why does the Minister not cough up the money and make sure that the people in that hospital who wish to stay are not forced out into the community to save the Government money?

Many of our mentally handicapped patients would do better and have a better quality of life in good, smaller facilities than they will by being locked away in older hospitals. That is the aim of the policy. I understand the reluctance of many of the patients, which is shared by their families, to emerge from a hospital in which they have lived for a long time. However, only recently I met a man released from a hospital in which he had lived for 44 years, spending most of that time mute and violent, who is now enjoying a reasonable quality of life in a small home in Eastbourne.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a shortage of accommodation for the single homeless? In those circumstances, and in view of what the Minister of State said in answering an earlier question, will he reconsider the closure of resettlement units? The one in Newbury is a modern building, the costs of which compare favourably with private accommodation. As it has not been asked by the DHSS to trim its costs, why is it being closed?

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall ensure that our policy towards resettlement units does not conflict with our care in the community policy. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security said, we are seeking to make better use of the resources and, in most cases, to make improved provision.

Is the Minister aware that many mentally disabled people are being pushed out of hospital, that health authorities then divest themselves of responsibility, that local authorities refuse to accept responsibility and that the mentally ill are thereby left in a no man's land, with appalling consequences for them? Is he aware that the only answer is for him to guarantee a community place for every mentally ill person who leaves hospital?

I agree that we must ensure that such incidents do not occur and that, when they occur, they do not happen again. It is essential to make a proper assessment of any provision for each patient. We have lifted many restrictions which applied to health authorities and which previously stopped them from providing funds to enable local authorities to make more provision. We are satisfied that, with good joint planning and the good planning of resources, the policy can go forward successfully.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many people are thoroughly in favour of the thrust of the new policy—

—but that there is a need to reassure some patients who are being moved out of old-fashioned hospitals and into the community that they will have the care in the community to which they have become used?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks, though, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) pointed out, it is not a new policy in principle. It is, however, being handled with more care and pace than has been the case in the past, and we must reassure people with understandable fears that proper provision will be made for patients.

As the Government are prepared to give 100 per cent. disregard from rate capping for all council spending on civil defence, why cannot the right hon. and learned Gentleman persuade his fellow Ministers to give 100 per cent. disregard for all spending under joint finance for care in the community? Does he appreciate that the increased spending on the social services which he has praised is attributable largely to the actions of councils which are now being penalised by the Government by rate capping?

We have just eased the rules on the disregarding of joint finance expenditure and put joint finance in line with the urban programme. I assure the hon. Lady that some councils—such as authorities in Exeter and Devon, which are not remotely threatened by rate capping because they provide good services without breaching the Government's guidelines — are making spectacular progress.

Aids

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent representations he has received concerning his guidance about the precautions to be taken concerning acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied that reasonable safeguards have now been taken to protect hospital staff from infection by the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus.

I am satisfied that the precautionary measures recently recommended by the advisory committee on dangerous pathogens in its interim guidelines on AIDS for clinical and laboratory staff are adequate. Indeed, in the view of some experienced clinicians, they are too stringent. The interim guidelines were issued on 16 January by Health Ministers and the Health and Safety Commission. We have so far received only a small number of inquiries and comments, mostly relating to the interpretation of wording or specific points of detail. We are learning more about the disease as time goes on and the guidelines will be reviewed in 12 months' time.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the concern of the National Union of Public Employees on behalf of its members employed in the National Health Service, such as nurses, ancillary staff and ambulance personnel? Is he also aware of the concern that has been expressed on behalf of other public servants such as police officers, prison warders and firemen? Will he provide clearer guidelines for those people and make a statement to allay the fears that exist among the general public on this issue, so as to avoid any question of panic arising? Is he further aware of the concern of hon. Members, as shown by the fact that early-day motion 374, tabled by me, has been signed by 103 hon. Members?

The guidelines are clear and should be reassuring. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, for example, in the United States, where there have been 8,000 cases of AIDS, there has not been one case of a hospital or laboratory employee contracting the disease as a result of his or her work.

Wrightington Hospital, Lancashire (Children's Ward)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if revised proposals have yet been received regarding the children's ward at Wrightington hospital, Lancashire.

Is my hon. Friend aware that this matter has gone on for too long? Can he give any indication when the matter will be resolved, because local people are becoming increasingly concerned about the delay in saving this very important ward?

Elderly Persons

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the latest average weekly subsidy per head paid by his Department for the care of the elderly in private residential and nursing homes for the elderly.

Our records do not identify separately payments made to the elderly in homes for the elderly. However, the most recent provisional figures indicate that in December 1983 the average weekly payment of supplementary pension—which is paid to people over pension age—in residential care and nursing homes was £75·25.

Will the Minister recognise the concern at the large growth in private nursing homes, and will he ensure that adequate resources are given to local authorities to inspect and control these homes? Will he also ensure that local authorities have adequate capital and revenue resources to provide sufficient sheltered and residential accommodation for all our people who should have this provided by local authorities?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are anxious to have a proper balance of provision as between all the providers and that we have recently taken new steps to improve the registration and inspection of homes. I am sure that he will agree with that.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. After my duties in the House, I shall be leaving to attend the funeral of the late President Chernenko.

Has the right hon. Lady's attention been drawn to the point raised in the House yesterday about the outrageous remarks of the chairman of the National Coal Board, Mr. Ian MacGregor? Does she think that he is really up to the job when he is capable of saying that the miners—according to the Sunday Telegraph

"are now discovering the price of insubordination and insurrection.—And boy, are we going to make it stick!"
What kind of a clown have we in that job? Will the right hon. Lady consider sacking him and thus help to promote peace in the coalfields?

I have every confidence in Mr. MacGregor, the chairman of the National Coal Board.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that determined action by the Conservative councillors on the Greater London council has resulted in a saving on the rates of 3p in the pound for each of the London boroughs? Does she agree this is a very significant saving for London ratepayers?

Yes. I think that the determined action of this Government, coupled with the determined action of Conservative councillors on the GLC, has been of great benefit to the ratepayers of London.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Could the right hon. Lady find time today, or very soon, to reflect upon the position of those communities, some of them in my own constituency, where scarcely any teenagers are in normal employment? Does she not even begin to understand the consequences of such a situation, and may we at least have an assurance that Government economic policy will not be maintained until our societies are utterly corroded?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have done a great deal, and we hope to continue to do more, under the youth training scheme, the technical education initiative in schools and many of the computer centres to enable young people to get better skills to enable them eventually to get better jobs.

When my right hon. Friend goes to Moscow tomorrow, will she make plain to the Soviet people the strong feelings, which I am sure are shared by many of us, that, with the sadness of the death of their leader, we also have high expectations because Mr. Gorbachev, on his visit to this country, opened the doors of peace and friendship, which has given hope to the people of this country that the interests and aspirations of the people of the world can be met and that we can live in peace together?

I think that that will be the wish of everyone when we go to the funeral in Moscow. I think that we may take heart from the fact that the negotiations, which were due to begin in Geneva, have begun, and we all wish that they end successfully in agreement.

May I first agree with every word of that last reply? Today and tomorrow, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity, when she meets representatives of our Western allies in Moscow, to discuss with them the star wars initiative?

I am grateful for that reply. Will the right hon. Lady be reflecting to them the view expressed today by her predecessor, her right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), that star wars would be decoupling, destabilising and a diversion of resources? Since that is so obviously true, why must the right hon. Lady still trail along toadying behind the Americans? Why does she not do what a real friend would do and tell them they are wrong, honestly?

I believe that the United States is right to do research. It would be very difficult to get an agreement on research only, because there is no way of verifying what research is going on. When it comes to deployment and testing, that is already covered by the antiballistic missile agreement, and that is why I would expect it to be dealt with in that way.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her trip to Moscow should certainly not lead to the decoupling of the West from its allies, as has just been suggested, but she should try to persuade the Russians to negotiate sensibly and then get the peace and disarmament that we are all looking for?

Yes, I think that it has been the unity and strength of the West that has brought the Soviet Union back to the negotiating table at Geneva.

While the Prime Minister is in Moscow, will she make it clear that not only does she welcome the restart of the Geneva talks today, but that she is willing to make a contribution to them by indicating in principle that the Polaris deterrent should be counted in in East-West negotiations?

No, I do not believe that either our own independent deterrent or the French independent nuclear deterrent should be counted in. Ours amounts to only some 3 per cent. of the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. When that is brought down enormously — very substantially indeed — the situation might be changed, and we might be prepared to consider a different course.

In all the euphoria over the new Soviet leader and his charming wife, does my right hon. Friend agree that the most welcome sign of a change of attitude would be a halt to the genocide that is still going on in Afghanistan?

That would be very welcome indeed. I am reminded, as my hon. Friend suggests, that this year is the 10th anniversary of the Helsinki accord. Doubtless that is a matter for us to reflect about and take action upon.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Will the Prime Minister justify to the House how the Government can cut the real value of the heating allowance to old and disabled people and the housing capital investment programme on the one hand, but allow the cost of Trident to treble on the other hand? Is the right hon. Lady proud of the fact that to millions of our fellow countrymen and women she has become the personification of all that is unjust in our society?

The heating allowance has not been cut. It has gone up greatly, ahead of anything that the last Labour Government had and is far ahead of any increase in fuel costs. The cost of Trident will be paid at the time when it falls to be due. We do not know precisely what the dollar-pound exchange rate will be at that time.

When my right hon. Friend meets Mr. Gorbachev tomorrow or the day after, will she please ask him about the foreign policy that he wishes to implement, knowing that he may well reign over the Soviet Union for the next 20 years? Will my right hon. Friend ask him to ensure, sooner rather than later, that the Soviet Union withdraws Soviet troops from Afghanistan, dismantles the SS20s and adheres to the Helsinki final act? That is the only way to ensure peace and prosperity for all mankind.

I think that my hon. Friend has encapsulated the point and I cannot improve on the excellence of his question.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Will the Prime Minister repeat the exact words that she used during the 1979 general election campaign when she said that she had no intention of raising prescription charges? Will she tell the House by what percentage they have gone up since 1979?

Yes, sir. I have the transcript of the press conference here with me. Word for word I shall say exactly what the hon. Gentleman asked me:

"I doubt very much whether any responsible Government could say that over a period of five years, regardless of what happened to the value of money, they would not put up prescription charges. I doubt whether they could."

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), as Ken Livngstone recommended to the GLC the setting of a rate within the legal limit, and as he now appears to be in some difficulty about his nomination in Brent, East, will my right hon. Friennd commend him to those concerned for his new-found respect for the rule of law?

I am very pleased that in spite of all the political posturing a legal rate has been set. I am doubly pleased that it has been so, despite the advice of the Labour party conference, which we all saw on television last autumn. I hope that other rate-capped authorities will follow the example and set a legal rate.

Does the Prime Minister share my regret that Cardinal O'Fiaich's remarks in Boston and the speech by Bishop Duffy in London appeared to support the IRA's demand for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland? Would it not be much better if these gentleman were to take the Pope's advice and concentrate on saving souls?

The troops are in Northern Ireland to protect the fundamental rights of the people. I believe they do their task excellently and we would wish to congratulate them upon it.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

Will my right hon. Friend urge those teachers who are taking selective strike action to go back to work and stop the damage to our children, including some in my constituency of Surbiton? Does she share an interest with me in hearing the attitude of Opposition Members to the action taken by some teachers?

I make it clear again that I deplore the action of those teachers who, to pursue a pay claim for themselves, will harm the interests of the children in their care. That is the view taken by most parents and by most people. I applaud the action of the teachers who will not go on strike but who are bearing a particularly heavy burden because some of their colleagues have done so.

Has the Prime Minister's attention been drawn to a report on the front page of The Times today concerning the killing of 34 Lebanese villagers in an Israeli attack, which has been described as inhumanly ferocious? Does the Prime Minister know that there is a motion of censure before the Security Council at this moment on behalf of the Lebanon, which the United States intends to veto? Can the Prime Minister tell the House what her instructions are to the British representative? Will we, this time, exercise political and moral independence of the United States?

We deplore the appalling violence in south Lebanon and Beirut. It underlines the need for an early and complete Israeli withdrawal, co-ordinated as far as possible with the Lebanese authorities. Retaliation and counter-retaliation will solve nothing and will only add to the tragic suffering of civilians. We do not say how we shall vote while the motion is still being considered and the debate continues.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Basildon district council managed to set a rate within the limit placed upon it by the House, without cuts in services? Is she further aware that, without that limit, the ratepayers of Basildon would have had to pay double the rate increase?

I congratulate Basildon on its action. It is clearly taking the view that we have urged on many councils, that we need to get better value for money out of existing moneys rather than increase them.

When the Prime Minister sees President Gorbachev, will she tell him that there are many of us on both sides of the House who have been extremely critical of Soviet policies in the past but who nevertheless remember that it is nearly 40 years since we fought together and won the war against the Nazis? We shall also be commemorating 40 years since the liberation of the concentration camps, and we hope he will, in his regime, usher in a renewed era of goodwill based upon the final act of the Helsinki agreement.

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for his message. He will be aware that I also hope that the Helsinki final accord will one day be implemented fully. The 10th year since it was signed is as good a time as any other.

On a point of order, arising out of questions, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance because I fear that the Prime Minister inadvertently, in her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—

Order. I shall hear the point of order, but I can already sense that it is an extension of Question Time.

The right hon. Lady may have inadvertently misled the House about an election pledge that she gave on prescription charges in the Health Service in 1979.

Order. There is a perfect opportunity to debate this matter later on. This is not a matter for Question Time.

Home Affairs Select Committee (Report)

I have received a complaint from the hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner), Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, about a report in The Times on 6 March which purports to give an account of a draft report that has been circulated to members and staff of that Committee, and was strictly limited to them. I am satisfied that the hon. and learned Gentleman's complaint is entitled to precedence and accordingly, if he tables a motion relating to it, it will stand as first business tomorrow.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 22 March

Members successful in the ballot were:

Mr. Bowen Wells

Mr. James Couchman

Mr. David Amess

Social Security (Cold Climate Allowance)

3.33 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for more equitable heating allowances to reflect increased costs of domestic heating in colder climates; and for purposes connected therewith.
Spring may have arrived in these southern latitudes, but elsewhere memories remain of the bitter winter weather that we recently had, and the weather forecast for tomorrow suggests that snow and sleet are likely to return. Such weather as we have experienced has affected the south only occasionally, but further north and in higher altitudes blizzards and sub-zero temperatures are all too common; and, of course, on an annual average basis, temperatures are lower.

I first introduced the Bill in January 1984, but, more recently, the issue has been fired afresh by the iniquitous workings of the single payments system, which is supposed to cover the increased heating costs of supplementary benefit beneficiaries when exceptionally severe weather strikes. The fact that that system discriminates against those parts of the United Kingdom which are generally colder, and that the extra payments are usually made only to those living south of the Wash, has released a tide of anger and indignation in other areas the like of which I have never before experienced as an hon. Member.

I wish to make it clear, however, that this Bill is not an attempt to change that weird and wonderful system— as it has been described by the Minister. The system is already an embarassment to the Government and is under review. I earnestly hope that a new and fairer way of dealing with severe weather in all parts of the United Kingdom will emerge, and I am sure that that sentiment will be echoed by all the sponsors of the Bill.

Under present social security arrangements, the amount of money paid to recipients of supplementary benefit to cover their heating costs is the same regardless of whether the recipient lies in Cornwall or Caithness or in other words, regardless of the severity of the climate. There is, however, indisputable scientific evidence which proves that the further north and east one lives in the United Kingdom, the colder is the average annual temperature and consequently the higher one's heating bills. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that, taking two identical houses in Aberdeen and Bristol, it takes 30 per cent. more fuel to heat the house in Aberdeen and to maintain it at a given temperature than the Bristol house. Such climatic differences are not taken into account by the present fuel benefits—neither in the notional fuel element contained within supplementary benefit nor in the heating additions available to claimants over and above the normal rate of supplementary benefit, which can be obtained on the grounds of old age, chronic ill health, having children under five years of age or having a home that is hard to heat.

My Bill seeks to make changes affecting the level of payment of both heating additions and the notional fuel element itself. Using data published by the Meteorological Office, I have, on the basis of average annual temperatures, divided the United Kingdom into four zones. For the exact boundaries of the zones it has been convenient to utilise regional or, in the case of England, county boundaries. Roughly speaking, the areas with an annual average temperature of less than 8·5 deg. centigrade comprise zone 1, which is the coldest zone. The warmest zone, zone 4, has an annual average temperature of 10·5 deg. or more.

Zone 1 includes the Scottish islands councils and the Highland, Grampian and Tayside areas. Zone 2 includes the rest of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and north Yorkshire. Zone 3 includes the remainder of northern England, Wales, the Midlands and East Anglia, and zone 4 includes London and the south-east and south-west of England. The zones are described in greater detail in the Bill.

A basic level of payment with regard to both the notional fuel element and the heating additions should be made to claimants living in zone 4. Those living in zone 3 would receive 10 per cent. more than the basic rate; those in zone 2, 20 per cent. more and those in zone 1, 30 per cent. more; Regional variations in the payment of fuel benefits are nothing new. Until November 1970, they were worked out on the price of coal, which varied from place to place. My scheme calls for variations to be made on the basis of a much more constant factor—climate severity.

The Bill has received a tremendous amount of support. In the wake of the previous introduction of the Bill I secured the full backing of 50 regional and district councils in Scotland, the Scottish electricity consultative councils, Age Concern, several social welfare and pensioners' organisations and many people from all parts of the United Kingdom. A recent motion supporting proposals similar to those in the Bill was signed by 65 hon. Members representing all parties and all parts of the country, and there are hon. Members of all parties who are willing to sppnsor this Bill.

It is now widely recognised that there is an urgent need for radical reform of the system of fuel benefits. Only the DHSS attempts to defend the present arrangements. It has argued that family expenditure surveys do not show that more money is spent on fuel in more northerly areas. I and others dispute that, but even if it is true it may show merely that the elderly and poor in those areas simply cannot afford to pay more for the extra heating that they desperately need.

The correspondence that I have received in the past couple of years shows that there are many cases of need. I recently received a letter detailing the case of an old-age pensioner who has suffered two strokes, was forced to stay in the house all day and had just received an electricity bill of £203 for the winter quarter. I have received another letter from a pensioner in the Highlands who had suffered hypothermia previously and was understandably worried about what might happen during the winter. The weather had been so bad that she could not get out of the house and had to spend all of her available money on fuel. Those are just two examples of the terrible way in which many of our old and poor people suffer each winter, especially in areas with the harshest weather.

Statistics on hypothermia have recently been published in parliamentary answers. In Scotland, 174 deaths were ascribed or partly ascribed to hypothermia in 1984. The comparable figure for England and Wales was 568. In other words, 23 per cent. of all registered hypothermia deaths in the United Kingdom last year were in Scotland. I would expect the statistics to show a gradual increase in deaths according to the zones that I have described. However, we all know that the figures represent only the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Albert Long, convener of social services in Strathclyde region, has said that possibly about 3,000 people died from cold-related diseases this winter.

I have tried to keep the criteria in my Bill simple and capable of implementation at little administrative cost. The DHSS might want to adapt my proposals or to make them more sophisticated. As the social security system is under review, my sponsors and I, with, we hope, the support of the House, want to establish the principle that the greatest help should be given to those in greatest need and that, for fuel benefits, one of the main criteria of need must be climatic severity.

As Ministers work on the review, I hope that they will heed the express wish of the House and introduce a system of fuel allowances which fully and fairly reflects climatic differences within the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gordon Wilson, Mr. David Alton, Mr. Robert C. Brown, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Archy Kirkwood, Mr. David Knox, Mr. Albert McQuarrie, Mr. James Molyneaux, Mr. James Tinn and Mr. Dafydd Wigley.

Social Security (Cold Climate Allowance)

Mr. Gordon Wilson accordingly presented a Bill to provide for more equitable heating allowances to reflect increased costs of domestic heating in colder climates; and for purposes connected therewith: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 26 April and to be printed. [Bill 98.]

Orders Of The Day

Interception Of Communications Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.43 pm

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

On 7 February I made a statement on the publication of the White Paper setting out the Government's legislative proposals on the interception of communications in the United Kingdom. This Bill gives effect to those proposals. It is neither the purpose nor the effect of the Bill to broaden the scope of present practices governing the use of interception. Those practices have been authorised by successive Governments of both parties.

This Government neither seek nor want any additional powers whatsoever, but there is one important difference between this Government and their predecessors. It is that we are providing, for the first time, a clear and comprehensive statutory framework for the interception of communications. Even more important, we are creating, for the first time, a new criminal offence of unauthorised interception. Most important of all, we are providing, for the first time, a means of redress, and an effective one, for those wishing to complain that interception has been improperly authorised. Former Labour Ministers may protest raucously about the width of the criteria for interception, but their protests are sheer hypocrisy because their Government operated precisely the same criteria but did not dream of introducing any of the protections contained in the Bill.

Governments of varying political complexions have accepted that in defined and carefully controlled circumstances it is right and necessary to intercept communications. The ability to communicate effectively and quickly is essential to the criminal, the terrorist and the spy. The ability to intercept such communications is a legitimate and essential tool in the hands of those whose job it is to defend our society and protect our liberties. How else, for example, would the police or Customs and Excise be able to piece together information on someone operating a drugs syndicate, who takes care not to travel around to meet his contacts and does not allow them to see him? It cannot be right that such a person should be free to use the telephone in the certain knowledge that in that way he can operate without any fear that his dealings will be found out. Nor can it be right that terrorists or spies who strike at the heart of our democracy should be able to operate in that way.

The issue before the House today, therefore, is not whether the use of interception is necessary and legitimate; it is how the use of interception should be limited, regulated and controlled. As I said on 7 February, interception of communications is always highly distasteful; it is a major intrusion of privacy. Interception has, therefore, always been the subject of very stringent controls. Successive Secretaries of State, both Labour and Conservative, have set themselves the highest standards in operating the present arrangements and have established clear limitations on the circumstances in which the existing powers have been used.

This debate takes place against the background of a number of allegations in the film "MI5's Official Secrets". The allegations fall centrally into four categories—first, that interception has been authorised in circumstances that do not warrant it; secondly, that an unauthorised interception has been carried out; thirdly, that the security service has operated improperly in carrying out investigation and surveillance other than interception in relation to subversive activity; fourthly, that criminal offences may have been committed.

The first allegation covers a period during which both Labour and Conservative Governments were in power. Opposition Members must not be allowed to forget that the bulk of interceptions relate to the period before 1979. Since 1980, there has been an independent monitor of interception arrangements. That safeguard was brought into the system by the present Government. The task of the monitor—currently the distinguished Law Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich—has been to review on a continuing basis the exercise of the powers of interception covered by the previous White Paper and the associated procedures.

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with the agreement of former Prime Ministers and other Ministers concerned, asked Lord Bridge to take on the extra and particular task of determining whether the authorisation of interceptions over the whole period covered by the recent allegations named the individuals in question and, if so, whether the authorisations were sought and given in accordance with the procedures and criteria laid down in the Birkett report of 1957 and the Command Paper of April 1980. As hon. Members will know, Lord Bridge has now reported, and in accordance with—

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of and has he read the letter in The Times today from the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins)? I do not see him in his place. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in this letter the most extraordinary and personal attack has been made by the right hon. Gentleman upon Lord Bridge? Does he not also agree that, in accepting the Government's instructions to make an urgent investigation into interceptions, Lord Bridge has acted with unimpeachable judicial propriety?

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The attack made on Lord Bridge by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) was wholly unwarranted. In his letter the right hon. Gentleman totally ignores the fact that Lord Bridge is the judicial monitor. As such, he has knowledge of and access to all aspects of interception. In relation to interception allegations it is therefore wholly natural and appropriate that Lord Bridge should be asked to conduct an inquiry. The allegations—

I am answering a question. If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall give way to him, too.

In relation to interception allegations, it is wholly natural that the judicial monitor should be asked to conduct a special inquiry. The allegations in the film were of a limited number and the inquiry was therefore of a narrow compass. The inquiry into that matter was far closer to a judicial investigation than many of the things that judges are customarily asked to do by Governments of both parties. Therefore, I do not find it in any way surprising that Lord Bridge should have come to an early conclusion, which he reported to the Prime Minister. I regard it as deplorable that somebody with the experience of the right hon. Member for Hillhead should make a wholly unjustified attack upon Lord Bridge.

Does not the Home Secretary recognise that the burden of the attack is upon himself for having appointed as an investigator the very man whose work had to be investigated and that, as it was put in the Daily Telegraph, it was like setting Cerberus to investigate hell?

The hon. Gentleman has completely misrepresented what was said by the right hon. Member for Hillhead. If he cares to look at the letter, he will see that there is an attack on Lord Bridge. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a different point, he is entitled to make it. I would only say to him that it is equally misconceived because there is absolutely nothing surprising in the fact that Lord Bridge, who has experience of these matters as judicial monitor, should be invited to look back to the period when he was not judicial monitor, to consider the material that was put before successive Secretaries of State in support of applications for interception warrants and to consider whether they were well founded. That is what Lord Bridge did.

If I may make a little progress, I shall then happily give way to more hon. Gentlemen.

The Home Secretary has referred constantly to successive Secretaries of State and to previous Governments. May I ask him a factual question about which I have no clue as to the answer. I understood that legislation like this was always agreed on Privy Council terms and that there were discussions between the parties on Privy Council terms. Did that happen in the case of this legislation?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to matters that are dealt with on Privy Council terms, I believe that he would be best advised to address his question to his own Front Bench.

As hon. Members will know, Lord Bridge has now reported and, in accordance with my right hon. Friend's undertaking, his findings have been made public, in so far as that can be done in a manner consistent with national security. His review covered the period back to 1970. As he says in his report, he had regard to all the relevant criterial and had access to all the documents which he felt could be of any assistance to him. He concluded that he was satisfied, after full examination of all relevant documents, that no warrant for interception had been issued in contravention of the appropriate criteria.

In view of some of the things that have been said since about the narrowness of Lord Bridge's remit, I should make it clear that Lord Bridge's task was not confined to establishing that the necessary formalities had been complied with in respect of any warrant that was issued. He had to consider the merits of any application in order to satisfy himself that it could properly be regarded as coming within the established criteria for permitting interception. In other words, if the basis of an application were subversion, Lord Bridge's task included satisfying himself that interception could be justified on that ground.

Lord Bridge was not concerned with allegations that interception had taken place without the authorisation of the Secretary of State—

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall develop that point and then give way.

Lord Bridge was not concerned with allegations that interception had taken place without the authorisation of the Secretary of State, or with allegations in respect of activities of the security service other than interception. Such allegations relate to the operation of the security service as a whole.

The security service's task and procedures are governed by what is known as the Maxwell Fyfe directive, which requires the director general to
"take special care to see that the work of the Security Service is strictly limited to what is necessary for the purposes of this task".
It is an important part of the duty of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself to satisfy ourselves that the security service operates entirely within the letter and spirit of its directive. That is a responsibility which has always been taken extremely seriously. It is part of the continuing duty of any Home Secretary. But since these allegations came to the fore I have taken steps to examine the allegations that the security service has operated improperly in carrying out investigations and surveillance in relation to subversive activity.

I have concluded, in the light of the allegations and my inquiries into them, that the security service has carried out no operation, investigation, surveillance or action against any individual otherwise than for the purposes laid clown in its directive and with the propriety which successive Governments have rightly demanded of it, and which this Government will continue to demand.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to avoid the point of the earlier question, which is that surely he is responsible for the inadequacies of Lord Bridge's report if he did not specify that there should be an investigation into whether there were unauthorised taps by the security service. Is he now telling us in this further amplification that there were no unauthorised taps in defiance of the Maxwell Fyfe directive?

I was right to be reluctant to give way to the hon. Gentleman because I am coming to that point. He will recall that I specified four criticisms that were made in the film and I am dealing with them in order. If he will allow me, I shall come to that precise point.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that Lord Bridge dealt with the question of authorised interception and whether it should have been authorised. I am now dealing with the question of surveillance, investigation operations, and so on, other than interception. I have expressed my conclusion after specifically looking into the allegations.

In regard to allegations about unauthorised interception—

No, I shall not give way.

There were no allegations of unauthorised interception in the "MI5's Official Secrets" film. None the less, I have inquired into that, too, and I can inform the House that I am satisfied that members of the security service did not carry out any interceptions without the authority of the Secretary of State.

Finally, it is important that I should deal with—

I shall give way in a moment.

It is important that I should deal with all four of the allegations in the film. The Director of Public Prosecutions has asked the Metropolitan police to look into the allegations in the film which suggest that criminal offences may have been committed. When the police have completed their inquiries, they will of course report to the director.

Our difficulty is that the Home Secretary says, in effect, that what has been done has been duly authorised. Perhaps I can refer him to the answer that he gave me yesterday regarding the newspaper report that a former editor of a CND journal had been interviewed by the special branch about the private lives of leading CND officials and the leadership style of the general-secretary of CND. Yesterday the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:

"I am assured by the commissioner that no inquiries have been initiated by the Metropolitan police special branch outside the terms of those guidelines."—[Official Report, 11 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 28.]
I accept that, but it does not deal with the question. If such investigations and questioning took place, thereby infringing the civil liberties of those undoubtedly engaged in perfectly lawful activities, how does the Home Secretary's reply to me take the matter any further?

The hon. Gentleman will know perfectly well that it is not the practice, and has not been of successive Governments, to comment on specific allegations. If those sitting behind him think that that is a very clever or surprising admission, they should look at what the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said, very carefully, in a debate on 28 July 1977 on these very matters. The position is perfectly clear. In relation to the operations of the security service—other than interceptions, which I have already dealt with — the responsibility is that of the Home Secretary. I have given the House a clear statement of the conclusions that I have reached on that point.

What I cannot and will not do is to comment on individual allegations, any more than the Labour Government did. But let me reiterate what I have said on a number of occasions, because I hope that it will be found helpful. No member of CND, no members of a trade union — nor for that matter any individual—need fear that he is the object of surveillance by the security authorities unless his own actions and intentions bring him within the strict criteria set out in the definition of subversion. That definition was first enunciated by a Labour Government. I remind the House that subversion is defined as
"Activities which threaten the safety or well-being of the state, and which are intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means."
I make it clear today, as I have done in the past, that both elements of the definition must be satisfied before an activity can be regarded as subversive. It is not sufficient for the safety or well-being of the state to be threatened. In addition, there must be an intention to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy. That definition governs the work of both the security service and the special branches in relation to subversion.

It is, therefore, crystal clear that peaceful political campaigning to change the mind of the Government or people generally about political issues cannot constitute subversion. But that does not mean that the security authorities should be prevented from investigating someone whose activities threaten the safety or well-being of the state and are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy, just because that person happens to be a member of a trade union or of a particular pressure group. It would be wrong to investigate legitimate organisations as such, but it would be absurd to regard membership of such bodies as providing immunity from investigation for those who would otherwise legitimately be subject to such inquiries.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has reaffirmed, we do not believe there are any grounds for changing the present system of accountability of the security service to Ministers which has been in existence while successive Governments have been in power. The Bill does not alter that general arrangement. What it does do is to deal with the more limited but vitally important issue of authorised interception of communications in public systems.

I am well aware that some hon. Members would like to go further, and I understand why. They wish to see general privacy legislation. The Younger committee considered that possibility but rejected it. It pointed to the difficulty of formulating a sufficiently precise definition of the concept of privacy to form the basis of a legal remedy. Successive Governments have accepted its conclusion that the introduction of a general right of privacy would be likely to introduce uncertainties into the law which could have substantial adverse implications for the free circulation of information. But that does not mean that we should not take firm and constructive action where that is possible. It has been, and is, possible in a wide variety of ways. Like the Younger committee, we believe that the best approach is to deal with practical problems and find the right practical solution in each area. The Data Protection Act and, in a different way, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission are but a couple of examples of that approach.

It is an approach we are also applying to the question of surveillance. It is quite proper for people to be concerned about the use of surveillance or bugging devices. We have responded to that concern. Last December I published strengthened guidelines to the police on the use of such devices. The new guidelines tighten up substantially the previous criteria for the use of listening devices and of certain cases of visual surveillance: they extend the range of cases in which the chief constable's personal authority is required; and they rule out any attempt to use a listening device as a means of circumventing the controls over authorised interception. All that is new, and an extra protection.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the Younger committee recommended that there should be a right of civil action on the part of individuals who have suffered unwarranted eavesdropping of whatever sort? Why has not a right to go to court been included in the legislation?

The Law Commission has been considering this issue, and has made some extremely important proposals. In its report on the law on breach of confidence in England and Wales, it suggested a very interesting approach. The hon. and learned Gentleman is right in that a civil remedy was suggested. The commission recommends that people who obtain information by "improper means"—which includes the use of surveillance devices, as the hon. Gentleman knows — would he subject to an obligation not to use or disclose that information. If they did so, they would be civilly liable to an action for breach of confidence. That approach has, I believe, the considerable advantage of concentrating on the real mischief—that is, the use to which information obtained by surveillance is put. It provides the victim with a direct means of redress. I am able to announce today that the Government intend to introduce legislation based on the Law Commission's proposals. This will offer people an important and wholly new safeguard in an area of legitimate concern.

But it is not the function of the present Bill to try to deal with these matters. This Bill deals, as I have said, with authorised interception and the means of controlling and regulating that. It lays down in law for the first time expressly the grounds on which the Secretary of State can authorise interception. All of these grounds are set out in the European Convention on Human Rights—and this is important—as are other grounds such as public safety and the protection of health and morals, which have not been included in the Bill because, although they are referred to in the convention, they cover areas where the Government do not consider interception at all appropriate.

The Bill incorporates into the law all the existing stringent controls and limitations, and it also establishes new statutory safeguards and a new means of redress. In the Government's view, it fully meets our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Clause 1 is the foundation on which the Bill is constructed. First, it creates for the first time a general offence of unlawful interception. Secondly, it determines the scope of the measure. Those who intentionally interecept communications in the course of their transmission in the post or public telecommunication systems will now be committing a criminal offence.

This provision for an offence of general application is new. There are at present offences in telecommunication and postal legislation applying to the staff of the organisations concerned. In certain circumstances, others might be liable to a penalty for improperly interfering with the mail. But interception as such is not generally an offence. We believe it should be. The clause provides a maximum penalty for the offence of two years imprisonment, or an unlimited fine, or both.

It will be essential that the new law is enforced as rigorously as possible. Advice will accordingly be issued to the police before the legislation comes into effect on how they should proceed if people come forward with information suggesting that such an offence may have been committed. The House will appreciate that such advice is necessary because the provision is wholly new and affords wholly new protection. The significance of the offence will also be drawn to the attention of the Post Office and public telecommunications operators who people might in practice first approach.

The clause also establishes the exceptions to the offence. Obviously, the first is where a warrant has been properly issued by the Secretary of State. The two other exceptions provide for circumstances where interception may at present take place. They are, first, where it is with the person's consent, for example, in a case where obscene telephone calls have been made, and, secondly, where engineers or operators have to undertake what amounts to interception to establish that a line is functioning, for example, if it has been continuously engaged over a long period. The same exceptions are provided for in the existing legislation which applies to post and telecommunications staff.

Clause 1 also defines the scope of the Bill, that is, to communications in the public system. In telecommunications and the post, people have no option but to entrust information to the care of organisations over which they have no control. The sender and receiver are entitled to believe that the privacy of their communications on these systems will be safeguarded while they are out of their hands.

Clauses 2 to 5 deal with the authorisation of interception. Clause 2 empowers the Secretary of State to issue warrants. The warrants must specify the communications to be intercepted, and impose an obligation on the recipient to carry out the interception. The Secretary of State is empowered to issue a warrant if he is satisfied that it is necessary on one of three stated grounds. That is a central point. It is not sufficient that he feels a warrant might be useful in supplementing other material, or that the information it could produce could be interesting. The Secretary of State must give full consideration to whether interception is really justified to the extent that is "necessary". Moreover, as stated in the 1980 White Paper, warrants will be issued only where other methods have failed or, by the nature of things, are likely to fail.

The first ground on which, if it is necessary, a Secretary of State may issue a warrant is that it is in the interests of national security. That term is widely used elsewhere in the statute book, and occurs in some 50 statutes stretching over a long period. It is also precisely the term used in the European convention. It encompasses the protection of the country and its institutions from internal and external threats and the security of the realm, for example, from terrorists, espionage or major subversive activity.

The second ground on which, if it is necessary, the Secretary of State may issue a warrant is the prevention or detection of serious crime. As I told the House on 7 February, the police assess that in England and Wales in the past 10 years interception has made possible the arrest of some 5,000 people, and the recovery of approaching £100 million pounds worth of stolen goods and drugs. Those figures speak for themselves.

Ministers will continue to authorise such interception only on the basis set out in the 1980 White Paper and repeated in the recent White Paper, that is, only if there is good reason to think an interception would be likely to lead to an arrest and a conviction, and if the offence in question is a serious one. By "serious" is meant an offence for which a man with no previous record could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to three years' imprisonment, or an offence of lesser gravity in which either a large number of people are involved, or there is reason to apprehend the use of violence, or in which the financial rewards of success are very large.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He has given some limitations which would help to define the meaning of "serious crime". Will he tell the House why the limitations are not contained in the Bill? I would welcome a concession such as that which he made when I intervened a few moments ago.

The reason is perfectly simple. The limitations are difficult to put into statutory form.

"Serious offence" is defined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Is the Home Secretary now saying that a "serious arrestable offence" is not serious?

The hon. and learned Gentleman intervenes from a sedentary position having twice made a standing intervention. It is easier to deal with his standing intervention in an orderly fashion. He seems to imply that because there is a definition of "serious arrestable offence" in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act it would be appropriate to transport it into this Bill. I would not imagine that that course would commend itself because the definition of "serious", which is difficult to put into statutory form, although it has been put into the White Paper, is much narrower than "serious arrestable offence". "Serious arrestable offence" would permit interception in many cases in which it is not permitted under this definition.

In a written answer in Hansard on 25 February 1982, Lord Whitelaw said that he had placed a copy of the Home Office guidelines to chief constables, which were issued in 1977, in the Library. The Home Secretary authorised chief constables to do surveillance where it was operationally necessary, operationally feasible and justified. There was no mention of a warrant. Will the Home Secretary explain the difference between those guidelines and the continual statements that he has authorised?

The then Home Secretary, now my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw, was talking about surveillance, not the interception of communications. That is a completely different matter.

The third ground on which a warrant may be issued is for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom if, and only if, the information that it is considered necessary to acquire is about matters outside the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. That restriction does not apply in the parallel criterion in the relevant article in the European convention.

As in the case of serious crime or national security, the Secretary of State has to consider that interception is not just desirable. Secondly, interception has to be protective. It must be concerned with safeguarding the country's economic well-being, not with promoting it. That means it relates to threats to that well-being.

Thirdly, it is the economic well-being of the United Kingdom which is at issue. By definition, the matter must be one of national significance and cannot be of a trivial kind which is peripheral to that well-being. It is a crucial part of our foreign policy to protect the country against adverse developments overseas, which do not necessarily affect our national security so directly as to justify interception on that ground but which may have grave and damaging consequences for our economic well-being, such as a threat to the supply of a commodity on which our economy is particularly dependent.

Fourthly, the purpose of interception must be purely external. A warrant can be issued only in order to obtain information about the acts or intentions of people outside the British Isles. That is fundamental. Purely domestic events cannot give rise to a warrant on the grounds that they might affect the well-being of the economy. I repeat that the provision, like the other two grounds on which interception can be authorised, involves no extension whatsoever to the practices of successive Governments over a long period.

Am I right in thinking that, as a result of the Bill, the Executive will have no authority to intercept communications, either by tapping or bugging, other than by authority given specifically by an Act of Parliament?

No, Sir. That is true for interceptions, but what is known as bugging is not covered by the Bill and comes under surveillance. As I have explained extremely clearly to the House on many occasions, the guidelines for surveillance, which covers bugging, have been published and strengthened by the Government.

I shall give way in a moment.

During my speech I have explained why it was not possible to have general legislation relating to privacy. I explained why the compass of this legislation was confined to the specific matter of interception, and why in the case of privacy it was necessary to proceed in many different ways, one of which was by the issue of guidelines to the police and another by accepting the recommendations of the Law Commission, to which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) referred.

Is it not the hallmark of a democracy that, unless one is engaged in criminal activities, one should be free to go about one's business without being interfered with by the state? Is not the Bill nothing more than a licence for Governments to snoop on people, including trade unionists, with whom they do not agree?

No. It has been a long-standing view that, unfortunately, there are threats to our society and security represented by people who have not committed criminal offences. The hon. Lady can look back to the findings of the Birkett report as long ago as October 1957. At paragraph 141—no doubt the hon. Lady is familiar with it—Lord Birkett concluded:

"We are quite satisfied that the problems of national security are such that no reasonable weapon should be taken from the hands of those whose duty it is to watch over all subversive activities in the safeguarding of British interests. We are further satisfied, from the evidence before us, that the methods of interception hitherto employed are necessary, and have been productive of important results which could not have been obtained in any other way."
Since then the position can hardly be said to have rendered subversion less likely and the methods of dealing with it less necessary. The definition of subversion issued by the Labour Government in 1975, with its careful provision of two limbs, both of which must be met, has ensured that those responsible in the security services or special branch for dealing with such matters have dealt with them in a narrow compass and in a way that could not have been avoided. All Governments who have been in power during the relevant period have believed it necessary for the powers of interception to exist and for the special branch to operate in relation to subversion in the way that it does.

The only difference is that the present Government have tightened the guidelines on surveillance, have published and put on a statutory basis—as we are doing today—what is done with regard to interception, and will provide an effective remedy against any abuse of such powers of a sort which no other Government have dreamt of.

Has the definition of subversion given by Lord Harris been clarified by the entry of the word "economic" in the phrase "economic well-being", with regard to the issue of warrants, and by the fact that warrants will be issued for economic well-being purposes only in cases outside the United Kingdom?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose interest in these matters is well known. The economic well-being criteria as they relate to events overseas have nothing to do with subversion. Subversion is a branch of the national security head and has a separate definition.

Clause 3 deals with the sort of warrants that can be issued. Warrants issued under clause 3(1) will be those directed at the communications of one person or organisation, or at communications to or from premises when it has been impossible to identify the person using the premises in suspicious circumstances. That arrangement is essentially the same as that described in the 1980 White Paper.

Warrants under clause 3(2) will replace those issued under the Official Secrets Act 1920 for the interception of external telecommunications. Those powers, as the Radcliffe report said in 1967, have been regularly exercised by Labour and Conservative Governments since the Act came into operation. The Government believe, like their predecessors, that they should continue to be available. The new provision will, as now, apply only to international telecommunications. However, its scope will be narrowed to bring it into accordance with existing practices. The warrant will be issued only on the same grounds as a clause 3(1) warrant.

Additionally, when the Secretary of State issues such a warrant, he will be obliged personally to issue a certificate describing the intercepted material which, having regard to the three statutory criteria, he considers it is necessary to examine. He will be required by clause 6 to ensure that there are arrangements preventing the examination of material not covered by the certificate. Finally, the certificate will not be capable of specifying communications to or from an address in the United Kingdom or islands unless the Secretary of State considers that their examination is necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting acts of terrorism, and then only for a period of three months. All those elements constitute a narrowing of the existing provisions.

Clauses 4 and 5 deal with the issue, duration and modification of warrants. The arrangements rest on the requirement that the issue of a warrant is personal to the Secretary of State. In no circumstances can he delegate the decision. If he did not take the decision, the warrant would not be a warrant and the interception would not he authorised.

Clauses 6 to 8 deal specifically with safeguards and the means of redress. They underpin the definition of the grounds on which interception can be authorised and the warrant powers. Clause 6 deals with the proper handling of communications after they have been intercepted. It obliges the Secretary of State to ensure that there are arrangements to secure two purposes. The first is to limit, in the case of a warrant for the interception of external communications, the examination of intercepted material to that specified in the certificate which he must issue at the time he signs the warrant. The second is to ensure that access to all intercepted material is confined to those who must have it; that only relevant portions are made available and that only the minimum numbers of copies are taken; and that it is kept only for the minimum necessary period.

Those requirements must be judged together. They add up to a comprehensive code for the handling of intercepted communications in all circumstances and by all those concerned. Those arrangements must always be in place, and as he signs warrants the Secretary of State must be satisfied with the existing arrangements or make new ones. It will be a significant part of the task of the commissioner to review the terms and effect of those arrangements.

Clause 7, with schedule 1, is in many ways the most important of the Bill, and its full significance has perhaps until now not been fully appreciated. Therefore, I wish to take this opportunity to underline what clause 7 and the schedule do and what their significance is. They break completely new ground by providing an independent, powerful and effective means of redress if interception has been improperly authorised. A tribunal will be established consisting of five senior lawyers. They will be appointed by the Crown by letters patent for a fixed term. They may be removed from office only on an Address to the Crown from both Houses of Parliament. Those arrangements are, in substance, the same as those which apply to the Ombudsman and they secure the tribunal's complete independence.

Anyone will be able to apply to the tribunal if he believes that his communications have been intercepted. It will be the tribunal's first task to determine whether an authorised interception has been directed against the applicant or the place where he lives or works. The tribunal will not be concerned in cases where there may have been interception without a warrant. Such interceptions would be a criminal offence to be investigated by the police, and prosecuted if there is evidence, in the usual way. The House will recall my explanation of the guidelines that will be given to the police to consider allegations of unauthorised and unwarranted interceptions and their examination.

I shall complete my explanation of what the tribunal does before I give way.

If an application to the tribunal discloses evidence of an offence—an interception that has not been authorised —the tribunal would, of course, draw that evidence to the attention of the appropriate authorities for investigation as a potential criminal offence. But if the tribunal finds that an interception has been authorised and directed against the applicant, that is far from the end of the matter, because it will then proceed to determine whether the Secretary of State contravened the provisions of the Act, for example, when he decided to issue the warrant, or in renewing or failing to cancel it. For this purpose, the Bill secures that the tribunal will have access to the same information which was available to the Secretary of State. The tribunal will form its own judgment as to whether the Secretary of State has contravened the Act. For example, it may conclude that the Secretary of State could not properly have considered that the warrant was necessary in the interests of national security or on any of the other grounds specified. If it concludes that there has been a contravention, the applicant will be informed.

The tribunal will then be able to do three things. It could quash the warrant; it could order the destruction of all the material intercepted in this connection; and it could order the Secretary of State to pay whatever sum by way of compensation it thought fit. The Bill will impose no limit on this sum. These are very considerable powers. They enable the tribunal to overturn the Secretary of State's decision if it considers there has been a contravention of the Act.

I hope that this explanation makes it clear that the tribunal will carry out an impartial and independent review of ministerial decisions in some of the most sensitive areas one could imagine, in a way that no tribunal or court of law has ever done before.

It would clearly, however, be ridiculous for somebody to be able to discover whether an interception had been directed against him simply by applying to the tribunal. That is why the tribunal cannot operate in public. But it will have full access to all the facts and arguments. In every case of an adverse conclusion, the tribunal will have to make a full report to the Prime Minister and must make a copy of that report available to the commissioner—to whose role I shall come in a moment—who will then be able to play a full part in ensuring that adequate corrective action is taken.

The Home Secretary has likened these arrangements to those that prevail in the case of the Ombudsman, but he omitted to point out that the Ombudsman reports to a Committee of the House. Therefore, there is an ultimate parliamentary review of the way in which he operates. All that the Home Secretary has said about unauthorised interception is so difficult to enforce that he must also take into account that it is upon his and the Prime Minister's supervision of the security services that that enforcement will depend, and those too in turn have no effective reporting mechanism to the House.

The tribunal is analogous to a court in the sense that it is the individual who complains and if his complaint is upheld he will get proper redress in he form of the quashing of the warrant and the giving of compensation. Therefore, the analogy is not a proper one.

As to the analogy with the Ombudsman, I am sorry if I raced past in describing that part of the Bill, but some hon. Members appeared to want to intervene. The analogy concerns the appointment, and that is the significance.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that telephones are tapped on occasion also by those who are hostile to this country? Does he recognise that some hon. Members are concerned that, as a result of clause 7 and some of the earlier clauses, it will be easier for the IRA and the KGB than for the security services to tap telephones in this country?

I do not think that that is quite the consequence of the Bill, although I understand and respect my hon. Friend's anxiety.

Can the Home Secretary tell us whether employees working for public telephone operators will be able to give evidence to the tribunal about unauthorised telephone tapping without risking prosecution under the Official Secrets Act 1911? If employees cannot give such evidence, are we not to depend on official sources only for what are the facts of the situation?

I am perfectly satisfied that the tribunal will have full powers to take whatever evidence is necessary in relation to a particular case. I do not believe that there will be any inhibition of the kind that the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether the work of the tribunal will be entirely retrospective, or will it be in a position to interview and, indeed, perhaps make life difficult for those who are engaged in security matters at the time that they are doing it? Secondly, since there are to be five senior lawyers, quite properly so, and one continuing High Court judge as a monitor, does he really think that a financial memorandum saying that this can all be had for £100,000 is realistic?

I think that the financial provision is realistic.

In answer to the first question, the tribunal will have to deal with a complaint when it is made. In a large number of cases — and this relates partly to the financial question — that will be a not very formidable task because there will be people who think that their telephone calls are intercepted when they are not, and it will be a simple matter to establish that that is the case. The more difficult task will occur when there has been interception, and the tribunal will have to consider whether, on the material available to the Secretary of State, it was justified. That is a task which it will conduct.

In describing the powers of the tribunal, the Home Secretary made the surprising assertion that, if it considered that the Secretary of State could not properly have exercised his discretion under clause 2, it could provide a remedy. That seems to be a construction of the Bill which has been put upon it by nobody else. Can the Home Secretary give the House his authority for that claim?

I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman is surprised. If he had listened to the various matters that were covered when I made a statement on the White Paper, he would know that there is no doubt that it will be within the power of the tribunal to decide whether the interception was properly authorised — in other words, whether the material placed before the Secretary of State was such that he could properly have come to the conclusion that it came within the criteria specified as being ones which permitted interception. That is the task of the tribunal about which there is no doubt or mystery.

If the hon. Gentleman finds that the redress is wider than he had assumed, I am glad to clarify the situation. There is no doubt about the position.

The post of commissioner, established by clause 8, complements the tribunal. Whereas the tribunal is charged with reviewing the Secretary of State's decisions when it receives an application, the commissioner conducts a continuing review on his own initiative. His responsibilities cover everything to do with the warrant powers in clauses 2 to 5 and all the arrangements for the handling of intercepted material made under clause 6. He is in this way looking not only at the Secretary of State's individual decisions, but at everything to do with applications that are put before the Secretary of State and with the execution of warrants. In short, the commissioner will oversee the whole field of authorised interception at all levels and in all respects.

The commissioner will be a judge of at least High Court standing, and will be the successor to the existing monitor of interception arrangements established following the 1980 White Paper.

As a consequence of his continuing review, the commissioner will be required to take two courses of action. First, if at any time it appears to the commissioner that there has been a contravention of the warrant powers not already reported on by the tribunal he must report that matter to the Prime Minister. Secondly, he is obliged to submit an annual report to the Prime Minister on the general exercise of his functions. The Prime Minister will be obliged to lay that report before Parliament, subject only to the deletion, after consulting the commissioner, of any passages whose publication would prejudice national security, the prevention or detection of serious crime or the safeguarding of the country's economic well-being.

The various safeguards introduced by the Bill need to be judged—

I recognise that the commissioner is responsible under the Bill for interception only. With regard to any official of MI5 who felt unhappy or concerned about the work that he or she was being asked to do, which I understand was the case that arose in the recent television documentary, will the Home Secretary consider before the Bill is considered in committee extending the functions of the commissioner so that any officer of MI5 concerned not only about interception but about the nature of the targeting that he or she was asked to do might be able to go to the commissioner rather than to the television studios in order to provide an outlet for somebody who is dissatisfied?

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting, but I do not believe that the commissioner is the best route for dealing with the matter. It is the task of the director-general to support and guide the staff of the service in carrying out their functions.

As it happens, I have taken a personal interest in this matter and I have made it clear that I would encourage anyone in the security service who is concerned about any aspect of his work to take up the matter with senior management in the proper way—[Interruption.] I know that the right hon. Gentleman, if not others, is concerned about this issue.

I regard it as an important part of management's function in any organisation to take seriously and to listen carefully and sympathetically to any anxieties. I would not wish there to be an atmosphere in which any individual felt that it was improper, inconvenient or unwelcome for him to raise his concerns.

That is something which the organisation itself must ensure and which I, as Home Secretary, must be satisfied the organisation is ensuring. I assure the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) that it is an aspect of the task to which I attach considerable importance.

The various safeguards introduced by the Bill need to be judged together. The bedrock of the scheme is the offence of unlawful interception; any interception not expressly provided for, whoever, carries it out, is a criminal offence. There are no exceptions to that. Only a Secretary of State may authorise interception and he may act only on the criteria laid down in the Bill. His decisions may be overturned by the tribunal if it finds that he has acted outside his powers. He is not, therefore, the final arbiter either as a matter of law or in practice. He is required to take steps to ensure the proper handling of material gained from interception. The exercise of all his powers, and all the associated arrangements, are subject to scrutiny by the commissioner, who will report on them. The scheme is, therefore, one of a series of complementary checks. Taken as a whole, as they must be, the provisions add up to a comprehensive series of safeguards.

The Bill raises issues of great importance to the preservation of law and order and of our national security. The Government have been far more open in their approach to these matters than any of their predecessors. The Bill is, I believe, a considerable further step forward. It will reinforce public confidence in the handling of this most sensitive area, providing for the first time a means of redress for the individual. But we must also ensure that nothing we do prevents us from safeguarding our national interests. That is something the public also expects of us, and is fully entitled to. The Bill maintains the right balance, and I commend it to the House.

4.42 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which gives statutory authority to interception of communications on criteria at once so vague and so sweeping as to permit interception on an unacceptably wide basis, and which provides insufficient safeguards for those adversely affected by unlawful interception."
The advance publicity orchestrated by the Home Secretary for his speech in the Daily Telegraph yesterday said:
"Mr. Brittan, Home Secretary, is preparing a trenchant counter-attack against the Government's critics of telephone tapping for tomorrow's Commons debate on the issue."
I hope that, if that speech was trenchant, the Home Secretary will never set out to be soporific.

We debate the Bill at a time when there is profound concern about the erosion of civil liberties in Britain and about serious allegations made in connection with the security services. That concern will have been deepened as a result of the 59-minute smug, complacent and insensitive speech that we have just heard from the Home Secretary.

Yes, I wrote it beforehand — [interruption.]—in anticipation, knowing the right hon. and learned Gentleman well. He may bore, but he never disappoints.

In recent weeks, particular disquiet has been expressed following the allegations made in the television programme "MI5's Official Secrets", the programme which was cravenly banned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority and which then became widely available and discussed, even though it was banned.

In Soviet Russia, material that is prevented from being officially published but is then illicitly circulated is known as samizdat. It is a sign of the similarity of attitude of this Government and of the Soviet authorities towards disfavoured dissent that, when it was required, a samizadat system instantly sprang up in Britain, its somewhat incongruous parents being The Guardian and Virgin Records.

That programme was finally shown last Friday and, as we know, a film transmitted on Channel 4 normally has an audience that does not compare all that favourably in size with that of a closed circuit television programme. However, the IBA's craven and contemptible ban ensured that the programme "MI5's Official Secrets" was watched by several million people.

The IBA suppressed that programme for fear of being prosecuted under the section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. It must be said that some puzzlement has been aroused by the manner in which the Attorney-General has been operating the Official Secrets Act in the past few months. At best, his conduct has been capricious. At worst—and much more likely—it seems that it has been motivated by concern for the interests of the Conservative party rather than the pursuit of justice.

When Sarah Tisdall leaked information which had not the tiniest impact on national security but simply revealed a characteristically squalid example of news management by the Secretary of State for Defence, she was tried at the Old Bailey and sent to goal. When Clive Ponting leaked information which the prosecution admitted did not breach national security, he too, found himself in the Central Criminal court.

Yet what happens to Cathy Massiter, an employee of MI5 for 14 years, when she comes forward with what she claims are details of MI5 operations entailing serious allegations of malpractice by the special branch, by MI5 and by the Secretary of State for Defence? What happens? Absolutely nothing.

Indeed, it was indicated that the matters involved in Cathy Massiter's allegations were far too secret to be aired in court. Thus, the lesson for public servants who are thinking of leaking is clear: if one wants to reveal something, make sure it is nothing trivial. The more secret one's information, the greater one's chance of staying out of the dock.

One may, however, be sent to see a psychiatrist, as Cathy Massiter was. It seems that the parallels between this country and Soviet Russia are growing, if official reaction to dissidents here is to treat them as candidates for mental hospitals.

Why did the allegations made in the "20:20 Vision" programme arouse such widespread alarm? It was partly because the allegations implied that Ministers might not have been carrying out their duties according to the rules officially laid down. Even more, it was because a fear had arisen that the security services might have been taking, on their own initiative, actions which had the most alarming implications for civil liberties and the right to engage in free, non-violent, democratic dissent in Great Britain.

The allegations against Ministers are twofold. It is alleged — and so far it has not been denied — that in August 1983 the Home Secretary signed a warrant authorising the tapping of the telephone of Mr. John Cox, a vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, on the grounds that he was a Communist and therefore a subversive, yet that label of subversive violated the definition laid down by Lord Harris, repeated by the Home Secretary this afternoon and explicitly accepted by the Prime Minister.

Miss Massiter claims that Mr. Cox did not meet the test of being a major subversive, terrorist or espionage threat, which alone under the rules would have qualified him for surveillance. He was, she says, simply the best person that MI5 could think of if it was to have an excuse for tapping the telephone of a leading member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Again, she alleges that secret information obtained by covert and clandestine means for MI5 was passed to the DS19 unit at the Ministry of Defence. She claims that a briefing paper on CND was specifically prepared for MI5 by the Secretary of State for Defence. She claims, further, that this material was then used by the Secretary of State for party political purposes.

If this allegation is true, both MI5 and the Secretary of State are in violation of the Maxwell Fyfe directive of 1952, which has been cited by the Home Secretary this afternoon, because that directive lays down:
"It is essential that the security service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence."
Those allegations are disturbing enough, but Miss Massiter has made further charges against the security services. She says that they infiltrated the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament even though that organisation cannot, within the Home Secretary's own rules, be described as subversive. Indeed, the Home Secretary has repeatedly given the CND a clean bill of health. He told me in the House on 10 December:
"So far as the legitimacy or otherwise of CND is concerned, I do not think it is for me to legitimise it or otherwise. There is no doubt that peaceful political campaigning to change the mind of the Government and of people generally about the validity of nuclear disarmament, whether unilateral or otherwise, is an entirely legitimate activity which does not fall within the very strict criteria of the 1980 White Paper." [Official Report, 10 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 737.]
That is what the Home Secretary said and he has repeated the essence of that statement on several occasions since. Yet, according to Miss Massiter, MI5 deliberately and wrongfully classified Joan Ruddock, the Chairman of CND, as a subversive so that they could open a file on her, including Special Branch references to her movements.

Since the controversy about the Channel 4 programme began, there have been further serious allegations about unauthorised activities by MI5, including telephone tapping and surveillance by other means of organisations which do not meet any of the required criteria. Misgivings have become widespread. This is a comment — very anguished, and properly so—in a leading article in the Sunday Telegraph last week:
"The chief danger of police-state methods creeping into democracies is not that they are authorised from above but that they generate themselves from within."
Concern expressed in this way over a wide spectrum of opinion in this country was at first brushed aside by the Government. At length, however, 12 days ago, the Prime Minister announced that she had asked Lord Bridge of Harwich to conduct an inquiry into the allegations. As we know, Lord Bridge reported within five days. Some people asked how he was able to complete his investigation in so short a period. For me the puzzle was how he managed to spin out the time, for he investigated hardly anything.

When the Home Secretary made his announcement of the inquiry, in that curious way that he has, I asked him a series of questions about the terms of reference of this inquiry. I asked him if Lord Bridge would deal with allegations of persons being falsely classified as subversive. The Home Secretary said that Lord Bridge would. But there is nothing in Lord Bridge's report to indicate that he did.

I asked if Lord Bridge would deal with allegations that material obtained by MI5 had, against the principles of the Maxwell Fyfe directive, been used for party political purposes. Again the Home Secretary said yes. Again there is no evidence from Lord Bridge's report that he did anything of the kind.

There were two areas of concern which the Home Secretary made it clear would not be within Lord Bridge's terms of reference. One was infiltration other than interception. The other was unauthorised interception — that is, interception not authorised by Ministers but undertaken independently and illegally within the secret services. Lord Bridge duly, as required, ignored these matters. I do not criticise him at all. He looked into only what he was told to look into. So, inevitably, he provided the report that he was required to provide. But that was really not a report. It was a theorem; all that was missing at the end of it was the letters "QED".

No wonder that this disreputable exercise has allayed no fears but instead aroused derision. Indeed, there are those who say that the Prime Minister only did it in a desperate attempt to prove that she has a sense of humour.

The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), the son of a well-known comedian, is right to complain that anybody should allege that the Prime Minister has a sense of humour.

The question arises, have elements within our security services got out of control? Are they acting irresponsibly on their own initiative? Are they taking an improper interest in political and industrial matters far beyond their proper purview?

Accepting that, indeed, it is quite likely that MI5 is out of control — as a former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), has more or less said in a letter in The Times today — is it not a fact that the guidelines first mentioned by Lord Harris in February 1975 are so wide that it is quite justified for the special branch to do the kind of investigation that I mentioned earlier during the Home Secretary's speech — namely, to ask a former CND official all kinds of questions which had no bearing whatsoever on national security?