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Commons Chamber

Volume 76: debated on Thursday 4 April 1985

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House Of Commons

>Thursday 4 April 1985

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Planning Applications (Representations)


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proposals he has for facilitating representations on applications for planning permission by the owners or occupiers of contiguous land.

I recently introduced a neighbour notification scheme in Northern Ireland. Under this scheme the occupiers of land adjoining a site which is the subject of a planning application are notified of that application and given the opportunity of making representations before the application is decided.

Will the Minister do his best to ensure that this welcome and desirable reform is given statutory force as soon as practicable, especially in the light of his disclosure last night that there is a bottleneck in the draftsmanship department of the Northern Ireland Office?

I shall certainly ensure that we get ahead and provide a statutory base as soon as possible. We are talking about an interim scheme. Work on the amending Order in Council has begun, but we will obviously want widely to consult right hon. and hon. Members about the precise terms of the legislation.

Do the new notification procedures which the Minister mentioned cover the farming community and tenants of dwellinghouses, and, in particular, the tenants of Housing Executive dwellings?

For very good reasons the procedures cover occupiers rather than owners.

Is my hon. Friend the Minister, like me, encouraged to hear the right hon. Member for South Down, (Mr. Powell) welcoming a measure introduced at the behest of the Northern Ireland Assembly? Will my hon. Friend go one step further and consider site notification?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are also looking at site notification and experimenting in that direction. As for encouragement, I am always encouraged by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell).

Is there not an anomaly in the general law here? Is it not true that if someone is refused planning permission for his own property he can appeal, but that if something horrendous is happening next door, such as the erection of a fish and chip shop or a petrol station, he has no right of appeal? Should not the new provisions being applied to Northern Ireland be extended to the general law in this country?

We are also considering the whole question of third party appeals. It is often the case that the things that we do in Northern Ireland could well be transplanted elsewhere.



asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current security situation.

Since I last answered questions in the House on 7 March, one soldier, two police officers and one civilian have died in incidents arising from the security situation in the Province, making a total of four. As the House will be aware, two of these deaths occurred yesterday morning when a car bomb exploded outside Newry courthouse. The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for all these brutal murders. The House will want to join me in expressing abhorrence and extending deep sympathy to the families of all who have died.

So far this year a total of 120 people have been charged with serious offences, including 15 with murder and 11 with attempted murder; and 54 weapons, 2,160 rounds of ammunition and 3 lb of explosives have been recovered.

May I join the Secretary of State in his condemnation of yesterday's atrocity and in extending our sympathy to the bereaved? As it is human nature to slip into predictable routines, could certain individuals be given the duty of alerting their colleagues to the dangers of following fixed patterns? Those individuals could perhaps regard it as their task to suggest variations in those routines.

It is certainly a principle of good security policy that that policy and its procedures should be varied and kept under review. There are a number of legitimate questions arising out of what happened yesterday that need investigation.

The whole House will wish to join in the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend. Will he confirm that the SAS and other undercover security forces are active in the frontier area, and that those forces will be increased in and around Newry and South Armagh in the light of yesterday's events?

I can confirm that the General Officer Commanding has at his disposal in Northern Ireland specialist Army units which he deploys to meet operational needs throughout the Province. My hon. Friend will understand why it would not be sensible for me to go further than that.

I join the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) in offering sympathy to those who have been bereaved. Yesterday saw the death of the 10th member of the RUC to be murdered in my constituency in the past five weeks, and a civilian was also murdered. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will give further consideration to more security measures in the Newry area, which in the past nine months has been the subject of continuous bombings and murder attacks? We appear to be getting nowhere, despite all the assurances. However, will the right hon. Gentleman assure me, the House and my constituents that a firm security policy will be adopted and maintained in the Newry area?

There is a firm security policy, but I share the hon. Gentleman's feelings of outrage about what has been going on in his constituency. As I said to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), I agree that security policy and the emphasis on deployment in different parts of the Province need to be constantly examined and should be examined again in the light of what happened yesterday.

Does the Secretary of State agree with Ulster Members that the present security policy has been proved to be a failure, and that it ensures only that the constituents of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) and other hon. Members are put into coffins — the coffins of good Ulster, decent British citizens?

That is not a worthy comment at this time. I do not believe that the security policy has failed. It is given a high priority and attention, as must be right in the circumstances of the Province, and we defend it robustly against attacks and criticisms, as is also our duty. The hon. Gentleman makes no constructive suggestion. I am always open, as are the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding, to constructive suggestions, particularly from elected representatives in Northern Ireland.

On the general background to the security situation in Northern Ireland, and acknowledging that, from time to time, it is perceived to be in the national interest that we should humbug the Americans, will the Secretary of State constantly recall the old wartime adage "Careless talk costs lives", and realise that words that are seen to be flannel in other contexts can be misunderstood in certain different places, with disastrous consequences?

I have spent a large part of the last week or so trying to explain in the United States of America the complexities of the situation in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and trying to discourage the idea that there is a single key that will turn a single lock and solve the problem.

I welcome the condemnation of terrorist outrages by the Catholic hierarchy and the splendid statements of Catholic priests, which are so seldom publicised. Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Catholics on both sides of the water would be grateful if we could have an end to all equivocation in these matters, and an appeal from the Catholic church to Catholics to join security forces and replace those Catholics who have been murdered doing their duty?

It is desirable that representatives of all Churches should underline to those who listen to them that the role of the security forces in Northern Ireland is basically to protect the simplest human right of all—the right of the citizen to go about his daily lawful occasions in peace and security.

May I be associated with the Secretary of State's sentiments about yesterday's atrocities? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the allegations of torture by Paul Caruana, held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, have a dramatic effect on the minority community and their feelings about the security forces? I do not expect the Secretary of State to comment today on the details of the case, but will he guarantee that the detailed questions asked by Amnesty International will be answered in time?

Mr. Caruana's allegations are being fully investigated through the normal procedures. An investigation has been conducted by the RUC complaints and discipline branch. Its report was forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who decided, after careful examination of all the evidence, including the medical evidence, that the prosecution of any of those involved was not warranted. The RUC is now following the usual procedures and submitting its report to the Police Complaints Board for consideration.

In the widely reported discussions which my right hon. Friend is having with Irish Ministers about security in the Province and the possibility of a consultative role for Irish Ministers, is he also discussing the possibility of a consultative role for himself and his colleagues in security arrangements in the Republic, particularly in areas close to the border?

We discuss all aspects of security cooperation with the authorities in the Republic. That discussion continued under different Irish and British Governments long before the current dialogue with the Irish Government stemming from the recent Chequers communiqué. I agree that in practice — in terms of money, arms, explosives and policing — our security effort depends to a considerable extent for its effectiveness on a matching effort by the Republic.

I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to comment on the facts of the Caruana case, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) referred, but will he declare clearly that the rule of law is one and indivisible and that it cannot be preserved by invoking Satan to cast out Satan? Will he assure the House that the report by the Police Complaints Board will be made public? Will he then make a statement to the House on the recommendations in the Bennett report and to what extent they have been implemented?

The security forces—both the police and the Army — in Northern Ireland operate under the rule of law. That is what distinguishes them from an army of occupation operating under military law. The normal procedures of investigation, and review of that investigation, by independent bodies — the DPP and the Police Complaints Board — are being followed in the Caruana case. The Bennett report has often been discussed in the House and everyone agrees that the situation has markedly improved in recent years. The case will continue to be followed through in accordance with the usual procedures.

Broadcasting Authorities


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the broadcasting authorities in Northern Ireland; and what subjects were discussed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Nicholas Scott)

My right hon. Friend would not expect to have formal meetings with the broadcasting authorities, which are not responsible to him. However, he met both the BBC's Northern Ireland governor and the IBA's national member for Northern Ireland socially during February.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. When he next meets representatives of the BBC and ITV, will he convey to them the worrying anxiety felt throughout Britain and Northern Ireland about the filming of IRA funerals at which rifles are fired? Is my hon. Friend aware that it is grossly offensive and thoroughly unhelpful? People are sickened when the BBC interviews IRA terrorists who threaten our country. Should not both the broadcasting authorities respond more actively and responsibly?

I recognise the widespread offence that is caused by the televising of funerals which are turned into propaganda exercises by the paramilitaries. However, it would be wrong for the Government to try to prohibit the reporting by the media of such funerals. The media must use their own editorial judgment about such matters, just as the security forces have to use their judgment on the ground when paramilitary displays take place at such funerals. I am sure that those responsible will have noted my hon. Friend's remarks.

Will the Minister also discuss with the authorities in Northern Ireland the disquiet felt by my colleagues and I and many others about the investigative follow-up by the BBC in the aftermath of a number of sensitive security issues? I believe that that has virtually prejudiced any prospect of a police or UDR man getting a fair hearing or a fair trial in any subsequent action.

If the authorities in Northern Ireland deny what I am saying, perhaps the Minister will ask them why they refused to give me a transcript of one particular incident?

If the hon. Gentleman would care to write to me about that incident, we shall see whether there is an opportunity to raise it. The best way to handle these matters is for elected representatives and members of the public to make their views known direct to the broadcasting authorities.



asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to reduce unemployment in the Province.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave yesterday to his written question.

Is not the Government's record on unemployment in the Province absolutely disgraceful? When the Government took power in June 1979 there were 59,600 people unemployed in the Province. In February this year the number had risen to 122,157 — an increase from 10·3 to 21·2 per cent. Does the Minister agree that the additional 6p tax on cigarettes announced in the Budget will lead to further job losses in the tobacco industry in the Province?

The rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland was increasing before 1979, when the Labour Government were in power, and that applies also to Great Britain. However, no one here welcomes unemployment in Northern Ireland any more than does the hon. Gentleman. Between 1960 and 1983 unemployment rose by 84,000, but the actual drop in the number of people employed was only 6,000. Therefore, 78,000 were accounted for by increased personnel in the Province, a birth rate 50 per cent. higher than in Great Britain and women wishing to return to work—

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but if he speaks to the parents in the Province he will find that they notice when they have more children.

The actual increase in the rate of unemployment has decreased tremendously in recent years and we all look forward to the time when employment increases. In 1982 unemployment was increasing by 1,100 a month, in 1983 by 600 a month and last year by only 200 a month. However, between July and December last year there was an increase in employment in the Province of 4,100.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that new products should be found to create new job opportunities in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that Antrim Creameries in Ballynure has successfully produced a new product which it wishes to market as a cheese spread? However, under present food labelling regulations, because it has a fat content of less than 10 per cent., the product cannot be marketed as such. Will the Minister endeavour to have the food labelling regulations changed as quickly as possible so that new jobs can be created?

I agree that it is vital to find new products to replace those lost with the decline of the old industries. I shall investigate the matter of Antrim Creameries. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I know from a recent visit, the Milk Marketing Board is active in that area and products from the MMB and farms in Northern Ireland are being sold throughout the world.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am the chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which recently had two opportunities to visit Northern Ireland to study industrial and commercial development? Is he further aware of how impressed we were with the efficiency and enterprise of all workers in the Province? Does he accept that while there may be a lot of nuts in Noraid trying to make the Province as dangerous a place as New York city, Ulster is certainly a good place in which to invest?

I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren). Twice he has been to the Province with the members of that Select Committee, and I have had the privilege of meeting him and his fellow members on each occasion. Undoubtedly, employers in Ulster, and employers from outside who have invested there, pay tribute to the conscientiousness and reliability of the members of both communities working in the factories of Northern Ireland. The more that that can be made known in Britain and throughout the world, the better. We must do our best to build up tourism in that beautiful Province. Great opportunities exist there. Hon. Members who take all possible steps to publicise the advantages of Northern Ireland, in relation to sport and in many other ways, do a great service to the Province.

The Minister will be aware of the parliamentary answer that he gave me last week containing the unemployment figures for each of the 17 constituencies in Northern Ireland. Has he noted that the two constituencies whose unemployment figures exceed all others are Foyle and Belfast, West? Does he draw any political conclusions from that, for example, about the relationship between the rate of unemployment and violence? Does he agree that special attention should be given to the unemployment problems of those constituencies? Why is his Department making cuts in the valuable work of the youth and community workshop in Derry?

The answer to the second part of that supplementary question is that we have cut back only where all the places have not been filled. The figures show that 77 vacancies exist in the Foyle area. It is highly expensive to have places in community and other centres involved in youth programmes that are not filled. We are relating demand to supply.

The answer to the first part is that I am aware of the high rates of unemployment in Belfast, West and in Foyle. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have been concerned to assist with the continuance of employment, for example, at Molins and at other works. Clearly, a decline in violence would help to bring other employers in. I am making arrangements to meet people in May from West Belfast, including priests and the bishop of the area, to see what can be done by way of co-operation between the Government, trade unions, employers and the people of the area to improve employment prospects.

Is the Minister aware that a certain hypocrisy is shown by Opposition Members when we debate unemployment, in that the creation of jobs is not encouraged when leading members of the Labour party associate with members of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, who are blasting jobs out of existence in the Province?

There is a degree of truth in that, although many Opposition Members would not agree. To invite members of Sinn Fein to this House and to speak to them here undermines the whole issue of confidence in the Province. Nor is it helpful to the Republic of Ireland.

Her Majesty's official Opposition will not be distracted by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), and I assure him and the House that, as we have said on many occasions, the Opposition have no truck with and do not support violence in any form. It is hypocritical of the hon. Gentleman to seek to distract attention from the important issue of unemployment.

With the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren), I compliment the efficiency and enterprise of the workers of Ulster. I spent yesterday with trade unionists and industrialists there. Does the Minister share the widespread feeling that I found yesterday that Northern Ireland is a low-wage, unemployment economy? If so, does he acquiesce in it? If not, what steps does he propose to change that sentiment, which is abroad in the province?

I am sure that every hon. Member welcomes the hon. Gentleman's frank statement about Sinn Fein and violence in the Province. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren). The Government do not lay down the wages that are paid throughout the economy — that is done by agreement between employers and workers. It is difficult for employers and employees to have a high-wage economy in view of the fact that firms in Northern Ireland have to compete with firms in Southern Ireland, which are near the increasing markets of Europe and because of the costs of energy and transport. I share the hon. Gentleman's desire that we should develop full employment with good wages and good conditions in factories to encourage other people to come to the Province.

Short Brothers, Belfast


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to meet representatives of Short Brothers, Belfast.

I have no immediate plans to meet representatives of Shorts, but I keep in regular contact with the chairman of the company.

Should not the right hon. Gentleman change his mind and meet representatives of Shorts to receive the congratulations of workers and management because the Government have finally followed the American military establishment and the commercial world in ordering a high-quality product from Shorts? Will the right hon. Gentleman encourage the management of Shorts to ensure future high quality work by continuing to engage a large number of young apprentices and giving them the proper training that is required to keep the firm in the forefront of this technology?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was delighted that the contract for the RAF trainer went to Shorts. I was especially delighted because there was no need for any special pleading or special subsidy in that regard. [Interruption.] I can tell the House from certain knowledge that the contract was clearly awarded on merit, simply because Shorts beat the competition. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about apprentices. Since becoming Secretary of State, one of the most heartening sights that I have seen is the apprentice shop at Shorts. I have seen how engineers of the future from both communities in the Province are working together.

The words of the Secretary of State are slightly hard to swallow for one who was involved with one of the three other contenders for the contract. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the wings for the Short 330 and 360 are made in my constituency, where there is unemployment of 17·3 per cent. When the right hon. Gentleman sees Sir Philip Foreman—I congratulate him on his success — will he remind him that any crumbs from his table will be gratefully received in the Isle of Wight?

The hon. Gentleman is a graceful loser. We have unemployment of between 21 and 22 per cent.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think it strange that the Liberal party spokesman for Northern Ireland has done his best to ensure that Northern Ireland does not get jobs for the Shorts aircraft industry? Does he further agree that the best encouragement that can be given to the work force at Shorts is for him to announce that the will not proceed with the privatisation of the company?

I do not agree with the hon. Member's last point. If Shorts could be successfully privatised—this is still an "if"—that would be a considerable tonic for the private sector in Northern Ireland. It certainly was unfortunate that the official Liberal and Labour party spokesmen seemed to be against the fact that Shorts won this defence contract. That does not in any way diminish our pleasure.

In order not to mar a joyful and, I should have thought, unanimous occasion, will the right hon. Gentleman, if he meets representatives of Shorts, extend to them the warm congratulations of those on the Labour Benches on the successful outcome of the Tucano project? Will he assure them that the Government will not, by any doctrinaire privatisation manoeuvres, destroy the company's successful progress, dismember the enterprise and endanger the employment of those who work there?

There will be nothing doctrinaire in our approach. I am delighted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) rejoice in Shorts' success.

Maze Prison (Special Category Prisoners)


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many special category prisoners remain in Her Majesty's prison, Maze, or elsewhere; and how many prisoners are held at the Secretary of State's pleasure.

There are 162 special category prisoners, all of whom are in Maze compound prison. Sixty-one persons are currently detained at the pleasure of the Secretary of State.

Will the Northern Ireland Office seek the fullest possible particulars of the extent to which prisoners convicted of terrorism do or do not return to paramilitary activity afterwards? In the light of such particulars, will the Secretary of State review the position of the young offenders held at his pleasure?

We are engaged now in the procedure of reviewing all those serving indeterminate sentences, as the appropriate time in their sentence is reached. The prisoners have the chance to put in written representations, and their cases are eventually discussed by a life sentence review board before being considered by Ministers. Already under that procedure 10 young prisoners have had dates fixed for their release, as well as three life sentence prisoners. That procedure will continue.

My hon. Friend has put his finger on a very important matter. In coming to these decisions, the possibility of re-offence, and thus the safety of the public, has to be at the forefront of our minds.

The Minister is no doubt aware that the process that he mentioned for the setting of release dates for young prisoners held at the pleasure of the Secretary of State has been welcomed by representatives of all sides of the community. In the light of that, will he do his best to speed up the process?

We have to consider each of the cases very carefully on its merits, bearing in mind the time that the person has served, the degree of involvement in the original crime, and the behaviour of the prisoner while in prison. The final, and in many ways the paramount, consideration has to be the likelihood of re-offence.

Sdlp (Security Forces)


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has recently discussed with leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party their attitude towards the security forces in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

I have had a number of recent discussions on security issues with representatives of the Social Democratic and Labour party. I have made clear in particular my hope that the constitutional representatives of the minority community will take full advantage of the various opportunities that exist at local and provincial level to make their views known on policing matters to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is unlikely to be a stable security position in Northern Ireland while the minority community neither supports nor even recognises the security forces, and if that view is also the reflected view of the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour party? Will my right hon. Friend encourage the SDLP, if it wishes to be viewed as a constitutional party, and if its members wish to be viewed as constitutional politicians, to offer its support and recognition to the security forces? Then we could discuss other matters which are of security interest to it and to the Province.

It is true that many members of the minority community serve in and fully support the security forces, as the casualty figures show. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is highly desirable that the representatives of the minority community should, in word and in deed, make their criticisms where they think criticisms are justified but, having done that, should join in understanding and proclaiming the fact that the security forces exist to protect the rights of the citizen, Catholic and Protestant, throughout Northern Ireland.

Will the Secretary of State, in replying to questions about the SDLP from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), take account of the well-known antipathy of that hon. Member to the SDLP and his well-known capacity for distorting the views and attitudes of that party? Will the Secretary of State tell his hon. Friend to find out what the position is before putting forward his views on our position with regard to the security forces and before making definitive statements in this House?

I remind the Secretary of State of what I have said very often — that we fully support the security forces in impartially seeking out anybody who commits a crime in Northern Ireland. We have said that repeatedly, but we have gone on to mention the sort of community confidence that is required to deal with the security situation in Northern Ireland. It must be the community confidence that applies in every democratic society. It must be based on consensus about government, which is the basis of order in any democratic society.

I thought that my hon. Friend's question was helpful in intention and in effect. I am familiar with the attitude displayed by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). I hope that he will encourage his friends in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the opportunities which exist, and other opportunities which might be brought into existence inside the Province, to express their views in groups and places where those views can have influence.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SDLP would also enhance its constitutional status if it were to take part in the workings of the Assembly and express those constitutional views there?

Despite the words of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), is the Secretary of State not aware that the perception in Northern Ireland is that the SDLP does not support the security forces? Does that not lead to a situation in which that evident lack of support means that people whom the SDLP claims to represent are unwilling to come forward to give evidence in cases of murder, even when those murdered are leaving mass?

I hope that everybody in Northern Ireland, regardless of community, will encourage people who are witnesses of crime or have evidence that could lead to the prosecution and conviction of criminals, to come forward without fear.

Notwithstanding the views of the SDLP, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied with the levels of overtime currently being worked by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand this. It is a mistake, which is quite often made in Northern Ireland, to suppose that overtime is a measure of the effectiveness of the police force. Indeed, too much overtime is obviously not a sign of a healthy and effective force. A much better measure of police activity is the man hours worked. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the figures for the year just ended show that police man hours worked in Northern Ireland were up to 23·8 million in 1984–85 compared with 23·3 million in 1983–84—a substantial increase.

A26 (Antrim-Ballymena)


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is in a position to report on the progress of the public inquiry into the proposed dualling of the A26 between Antrim and Ballymena.

The inquiry closed on 19 March this year, and I now await the inspector's report.

Because the inquiry has lasted considerably longer than the three days confidently predicted by the Department at the outset, will the Minister now look at ways of compensating objectors because of the additional legal costs involved, bearing in mind that the delays were caused by the Department in the presentation of its evidence and, 'on some occasions, by the non-presentation of its evidence?

I realise that the length of the inquiry—I think that in all it sat for 16 days over a couple of months —raised certain problems. We shall consider as rapidly as we can any claims as soon as we have received the inspector's report.

Ancillary Health Workers


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will indicate the number of ancillary workers currently employed by the Eastern Health and Social Services Board in Northern Ireland.

At the end of last year 6,451 ancillary workers were employed by the Eastern Health and Social Services Board.

Will the Minister confirm that the Eastern Health and Social Services Board budget has been slashed by the Government to the tune of £4·6 million? Will he tell the House what that will mean in terms of job losses? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if we get the 600 job losses that have been speculated about in various newspaper reports, that will mean the cancellation of new services, a reduction of beds and longer waiting lists? Would that not be regarded as a serious blow to the people of Northern Ireland?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's question is based on something that is not true. The budget of the Eastern Health and Social Services Board will be going up next year, on the figures for this year. Therefore, I am afraid that what the hon. Gentleman referred to cannot qualify as a cut.

Youth Training


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many youngsters leaving the youth training programme go on to full-time employment.

Since the youth training programme began in 1982, 9,552 — 53·3 per cent. — of the young people who have left the programme went directly into employment and 393 — 2 per cent. — returned to full-time education. The figures for the last six months were 2,768–55·8 per cent. and 164–3 per cent. Information is collected only with regard to trainees' immediate destinations on leaving the programme, so those who experienced any delay in entering full-time employment are not included in the employment figures.

Is that answer not a warning to young school leavers in Northern Ireland that the Government's youth training programme there has about the same success rate as the programme in the rest of Britain and offers no real future for young people? Why does the Minister not propose a real training programme, on trade union rates of pay, with an allowance of at least £55, and a guarantee of a job at the end? Does the Minister accept that the fall by a third in manufacturing employment under the present Government in the past six years, to a level that is half the real rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland, shows that the Government do not care for the youth of Northern Ireland and cannot offer them a future?

Over 16,000 young people and adults are in training in Northern Ireland, out of a population of 1·5 million. That shows how concerned the Government are about the matter. Three out of five of those who join the youth training programme either obtain employment immediately afterwards or embark on higher education. That shows that the programme is a great advantage to those who take part in it.

Prime Minister



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is travelling to south-east Asia for an official visit.

Tomorrow is the end of the tax year. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be no special Easter eggs for any over-zealous tax inspectors who take too many second looks at the books of small business men?

I can happily give that assurance. There is no question of tax inspectors being offered bonuses for increasing tax revenue from small businesses.

The Leader of the House will know that yesterday, after they had fixed their rates, many shire counties discovered that the rate support grant was again to be cut from the level of which they had previously been notified. What advice are the Government giving those counties about how they should accommodate the new cuts?

It has always been made clear, and local authorities have always understood, that the initial RSG figure given to them by the Department is an estimate and is subject to change in the light of council spending plans.

I hope that that carefully prepared answer will be gleefully accepted in the shire counties which are to be penalised. Apart from that answer, which the right hon. Gentleman read with such precision, can he comment on the absurdity of rate legislation which, simply because the GLC has fixed a rate lower than the statutory maximum, requires cuts in shire county allocation? The figure for Lancashire has fallen by £4·2 million, the figure for Cleveland by £1·3 million and that for Kent by £3·25 million. How will the right hon. Gentleman explain to those counties that their grant is to be cut simply because the GLC has levied a rate lower than that which the Government anticipated?

The hon. Gentleman describes a set of situations on which I cannot confidently comment — [HoN. MEmBERs:"Oh."] I will commit the great solecism in this House of refusing to comment on what I cannot comment on accurately. There is no doubt that the shire counties will contrast their own prudent financial management with what is happening in many other areas of the country, including that covered by the GLC.

The right hon. Gentleman fails to grasp the essential point. What he describes as prudent financial management in the shire counties has resulted in the shire counties receiving further cuts in RSG.

I have indicated to the right hon. Gentleman that I will not follow him down that path because I am not certain of my ground.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I understand that to save overtime, no searcher dogs were used in the VIP departure lounge at Heathrow today before the departure of the Prime Minister to the far east? Will he look into this, bearing in mind the fact that the country is concerned about the Prime Minister's security above all things and would not mind paying for the overtime required?

My hon. Friend is right to underline the great national concern that our leaders and the Prime Minister should always have the utmost security in their movements when undertaking national duties, but I have no doubt that the necessary standards have been fulfilled.

Although the Lord Privy Seal is right not to comment with confidence, or even without confidence, on the detailed figures of the cuts imposed on local authorities, how does he expect local government officials or elected members to cope with the constantly changing barriers against which the Government place them?

The right hon. Gentleman must know that the rate support grant figures are always issued on a provisional basis. On this occasion they have been revised, and revisions must be expected.

Will my right hon. Friend take time during the recess to consult his right hon. Friends on what new initiatives the Government might take to patch up our quarrel with Argentina, bearing in mind that the conflict started nearly three and a half years ago? Does he agree that, while it is all too easy for both countries to blame each other, there would be considerable long-term benefits for Britain and the Falkland Islands in having proper diplomatic and commercial links with Argentina and its new democratic Government? Would that not be in the interests of the long-term future of the region?

I accept that it must be in our ultimate interests to restore satisfactory relationships with Argentina, but that will be the consequence of a detailed and closely argued process of negotiation. We are at the beginning of that now, and we shall have to fight our corner.


I have been asked to reply.

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

Is it just coincidence that almost every time I hit the jackpot at Prime Minister's Question Time she does a bunk to the far east or somewhere else? In the Prime Minister's absence, will the Leader of the House ensure that approporiate Government action is taken to compensate Scottish football fans after the Government's intervention to switch the venue of the Scotland-England football international from Wembley to Hampden? Will they compensate the Scottish football fans, including some of my constituents, who have spent hundreds of pounds in non-refundable deposits for hotel bookings in London, only to discover that the great dictatorial referee in Downing street has blown the whistle and moved the goal posts from London to Glasgow?

I have a lively sympathy with the hon. Gentleman with regard to his discovery that I am here to answer his questions rather than the Prime Minister. I no more wish to answer his question than he wishes to ask it of me, but we are chained together by circumstance. As I am sure he will realise, my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport asked the Football Association to reconsider the date of the international. The change in the venue was a judgment of the Football Association and the Scottish Football Association. But I have left the worse news until last. Although there is much sympathy, there is no question of the Government accepting any liability such as the hon. Gentleman suggests.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at its conference in Inverness last weekend, the Liberal party voted to remove all United States bases from Britain? Does he agree that this is yet another example of a glaring inconsistency in the policy of the alliance on a critical issue? Apart from offering sympathy to the Social Democratic party for its curious bedfellows, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to reaffirm the Government's support for the other Alliance—NATO—which is the ultimate guarantor of the peace and security of British people?

I am happy to affirm the Government's commitment to the NATO Alliance and to say that all parties which affirm their support for NATO cannot have it both ways. They cannot want the Alliance and its nuclear implications, but deny that Alliance the nuclear bases.

Will the Leader of the House answer more sympathetically the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan)? If the Government so arrange sporting fixtures that it will cost sporting fans a great deal of money, and if they take the responsibility for changing the dates, they must take some responsibility for compensating those people for the many hundreds of pounds that they have lost. We will not have this. The Government must take either one line or the other.

The right hon. Gentleman is advancing a most contentious proposition: that the Government should undertake financial responsibilities and liabilities in this instance. This would be a major policy departure. It is simply not on.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many Conservative Members who, since 1979, have been urging rate reform? Is he further aware that we very much welcome the initiative of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in this matter? However, can he say when a fairer system that will better reflect people's ability to pay will come before the House? Indeed, will it come during the lifetime of this Parliament?

That would be a fairly fundamental reply to let slip out on a Thursday morning before we depart for Easter. I accept at once the good wishes that my hon. Friend conveys, but this is a very tangled problem and the sooner it can be dispatched the better. However, it would be just as well if we got the answer right rather than produced it quickly.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. Friend find some time today further to consider the newspaper report in last Sunday's Observer about substantial ballot-rigging in the Transport and General Workers Union, which apparently led to the election of Mr. Ron Todd as the general secretary? Will he reflect upon the fact that our trade union legislation which passed through the House last year, is very important in the light of this ballot-rigging, and will he further reflect that no Labour party spokesman has condemned this action, taken by one of its major paymasters?

My hon. Friend has very generously asked me to do not much more than reflect, and I am very happy to reflect on all the various aspects of the issue that he mentioned. I join him in saying that I believe it underlines the considerable importance that we might attach to the postal ballot provisions in our recent trade union legislation.

Why have the Government, against the advice of their own quango, Playboard, made massive cuts in urban programme funding for holiday play schemes? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that without safe, constructive play, school holidays for many children will spell boredom and that for many parents, particularly working parents, they involve the worry that, instead of playing safely, their children might end up either in hospital or the juvenile court? Will he reinstate these important funds?

I have no authority to reinstate these programmes, but I shall of course draw the attention of the relevant Secretary of State to the point made by the hon. Lady. However, I suspect that these and all other public spending provisions have to be carefully assessed against need and value for money.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Did the First Lord of the Treasury, for whom my right hon. Friend is replying, know of— I cannot believe that she can have approved of—the discontinuance of the £10 paid every year since the reign of Henry VII by the Exchequer to a certain university — not mine? Should not a Tory Government cherish harmless anomalies and pleasant traditions?

I must admit that that is not even a technical knock-out. I have been floored in round one. I have not the faintest idea of what it is to which my hon.

Friend refers. I know that it is of national significance, otherwise the words would not be on his lips. I shall see that my right hon. Friend is informed of it the moment that she returns from the far east.

Will the right hon. Gentleman care to tell the House how many right hon. or hon. Members have had their phones tapped since the Prime Minister was elected in 1979?

Clearly there would be little point in tapping the right hon. Gentleman's telephone. I asked him whether he could tell us how many hon. Members have had their telephones tapped since 1979.

As I understand it, undertakings have been given in the House by previous Prime Ministers, and have since been reinforced, that no hon. Members have had their telephones tapped.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and I have been here throughout Question Time, including Northern Ireland Question Time, but we did not reach the highly topical question on political discussions on Northern Ireland. A considerable number of hon. Members who had not tabled any questions were called more than once. We waited and stayed behind precisely for those highly political questions. They were not reached because hon. Members who had not tabled questions, and others, were called many times.

There is always a difficult balance to strike, but the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the fact that I seek to balance questions between Northern Ireland Members and those from the rest of the United Kingdom. I am sorry that we did not get as far as the hon. Gentleman's question. If he had risen on question No. 6 he would probably have got in, but he did not do so. His question was No. 17.

Business Of The House

10.32 am

Will the Leader of the House state the business for the week after the recess?

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY I5 APRIL—Second Reading of the Surrogacy Arrangements Bill.

Remaining stages of the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill.

Proceedings on the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

TUESDAY I6 APRIL — Second Reading of the Prosecution of Offences Bill [Lords]. Motions on the Police (Anonymous, Repetitious etc Complaints) Regulations, the Police (Complaints) (Mandatory Referrals etc) Regulations, and on the Police (Complaints) (Informal Resolution) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY I7 APRIL — Conclusion of remaining stages of the Interception of Communications Bill.

Motion relating to the Wireless and Telegraphy (Broadcast Licence Charges and Exemption) (Amendment) Regulations.

THURSDAY I8 APRIL — Remaining stages of the Social Security Bill.

FRIDAY I9 APRIL — Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 22 APRIL — Opposition day (10th allotted day).

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman three specific questions? First, he knows very well that there is increasing concern on both sides of the House about the mounting tragedy in South Africa. Are we soon to have a debate on that subject?

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman knows that last night the Prime Minister announced, through a written answer, additional powers that Ministers are taking to influence the career of civil servants whom those Ministers designate as subversives or security risks. Clearly that statement ought to have been made to the House and been subject to questions in the House. May we have a statement on the subject next week?

Thirdly, are we to have a debate on this week's several White Papers on employment? If the Government intend to preserve the pretence that those documents are anything other than Conservative propaganda financed out of the taxes, there has to be a debate so that the implications of the Government's policy can be examined.

With regard to the general foreign affairs situation, which of course will encompass South Africa, it is my hope that we shall very shortly have a debate on that topic.

The powers announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday are derived from a report by the Security Commission in 1981 and the definition of subversion is that recommended by the Security Commission. Of course, we will look at this matter through the usual channels, as requested.

Finally, as will be evident, I have provided no time for an employment debate in the week of our return.

Thereafter we will see how we go, but there will be plenty of economic debates related to the Budget and doubtless it could be incorporated in one of them.

On Tuesday's business on the Second Reading of the Prosecution of Offences Bill, will my right hon. Friend pass on to the Home Secretary the hope that he will make it clear during his speech that the Government do not intend to reinstate the clause defeated in the House of Lords about the right of the prosecution to appeal to the Court of Appeal in sentence matters?

This is a contentious issue, but of course I will pass on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary the point that my right hon. and learned Friend made.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 558, which draws attention to the unacceptable and improper cash offer made by Political Research and Communication International Limited on behalf of Lead Manufacturers Limited to pay the travelling expenses to Sweden of the Select Committee on the Environment?

[That this House strongly deprecates the action of Political Research and Communication International Limited in offering to bear the travelling expenses of the Environment Committee so that the Committee can examine an advanced system for disposing of radioactive waste in Sweden; and considers that this offer by a financially interested party is, or may be seen as, an attempt improperly to influence and subvert the Committee.] This is an important matter involving a commercially motivated attempt to influence the work of a Select Committee and the activities of a PR firm of which an hon. Member of the House is chairman. Will the Leader of the House, bearing in mind his special responsibilities to the House as a whole, arrange for an early debate or statement so that the issues raised can be fully explored and rules of conduct properly established for the future?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an evidently serious point. I am sure that the whole House would agree that it would be improper for any Select Committee conducting an independent inquiry on behalf of the House to accept funding from an interested private party. Any further action arising on this matter would be for the Liaison Committee to consider in the first instance. Perhaps we may see how matters proceed from there.

In view of the fact that interminable delays are suffered in public inquiries, and, in particular, in view of the extraordinary and lamentable decision by a Committee of both Houses yesterday to overrule the decision of a public inquiry on the Okehampton bypass, will my hon. Friend consider providing time for a debate in the near future to enable the House to consider how the public inquiry system can be reviewed so as to give all parties a full and fair chance of presenting their case but at the same time enable an early end date to such inquiries which also include the granting of planning consent to be set?

The Government will now study the Joint Committee's report and consider what can best be done. In the meantime. I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend has just said.

Does the Leader of the House recall that after the last general election many hon. Members on both sides of the House were concerned about the methods and procedures of the Boundary Commission, exemplified in a small way — but it emphasised the daftness of it—by the silly names that were given to some constituencies? I have raised the matter on a number of occasions and quite properly, my suggestion that there should be an inquiry was guided to the Home Secretary. It was put to me that it might be a good subject for a Select Committee of the House. However that may be, it is now two years since the general election; the boundary setting was done badly; the procedures were often much too short. Can something be done about it? Nothing much needs to be done for about 10 years, but something ought to be done because there is concern.

I have every sympathy with that observation. The time honoured and civic traditions of Oswestry are now extinct and have been replaced by a mere geographic abstraction called Shropshire, North. Many right hon. and hon. Members must feel exactly the same way. If I had the constituency title that the right hon. Gentleman has, I would bear it very heavily. However, I shall look into the matter and see what further progress can be made.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that it is nearly four months, if not more, since the Computer Sub-Committee undertook a wide-ranging survey of the information technology needs of Parliament and, with the unanimous support of the House of Commons (Services) Committee, presented a report containing specific recommendations about what should be done. Is anything to be done, or will the report simply lurk in a pigeon hole for ever?

I shall certainly be in touch with my hon. Friend, and I hope that I can give him some assistance.

How long does the right hon. Gentleman expect Wednesday's motion on the broadcast licence fee to last? Would not a one and a half hour debate on such an important subject be inappropriate? I understand that under the Social Security B11, which will be disussed on Thursday, the Government propose to introduce some of the national insurance contribution changes presaged in the Budget. If that is so, will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that those amendments will be tabled by the Government on Monday 15 April?

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I take at once the force of what he says and shall see what can be done. He asked about Wednesday's business, but it is not in my gift to say when one item of business will conclude and the next begin. However, such decisions on licence fees have previously been resolved in 90 minutes.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the business that he has announced for the week after the Easter break — short as it is — is relatively light and not terribly important? I hope to be in my place then, but that will not be true of all hon. Members after the Easter break. Will my right hon. Friend consider sending our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a message, supported by the whole Cabinet, suggesting that she might like to take a few days off on her return from the far east, and perhaps go to the Mediterranean, to some nice quiet spot beside a golf course?

I am not sure what would happen to me if I conveyed the second part of that message. But I have a message for my hon. Friend, and that is, that for my hon. Friend to describe the surrogacy legislation, the Second Reading of the Prosecution of Offences Bill and the Interception of Communications Bill as falling into a somewhat second league category shows that he has fallen slightly below his normally acute vision.

Did the Leader of the House pluck up the courage to have a word with the Prime Minister before she left about the need for a debate, or at least a statement, on star wars? She went to the United States and recklessly pledged our support for that, although research costing $26 billion is involved. When the Prime Minister returns from her tour of the far east, she will no doubt make a statement boasting about what she has achieved there, and highlighting the opening of a dam that was built with money given by the Labour Government. It cost just over £100 million. That will merit a statement from the Dispatch Box, but $26 billion which could have been gone on much-needed aid for the far east will be spent without even any mention of it being made in the House.

Governments come and go, but taxpayers are the constant factor. They supply the public funds, whether that money is spent, overseas or at home. However, I shall of course draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the hon. Gentleman's point.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that since before Christmas right hon. and hon. Members have been subjected to organised lobbying campaigns in relation to badger baiting, the possible extension of VAT, the taxation of pensions, the limited list, tuition fees and so on. Most of that lobbying has been carried out courtesy of a word processor. Members of Parliament have received threatening letters from, for example, the Roche drug company. Has not the time come for a debate to be held on the nature of the lobbying of Members of Parliament and the manner in which it is carried out, as well as on how we should respond to such organised campaigns?

My hon. Friend raises a point of widespread interest to the House. We have to learn to live with this, but I am not sure that we would make living with it that much easier if we shared our collective agonies with each other in a debate.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his approach tends to be that when requests are made to him either too meekly or too aggressively he resists them? Therefore, will he take note of the fact that I am trying to steer a middle course in asking him yet again what the chances are of having a debate on the Commission for Racial Equality report on immigration control procedures?

The hon. Gentleman is being terribly moderate. I did not think that he was a great devotee of the middle of the road. Doubtless he, like me, holds to heart Aneurin Bevan's strictures on the subject. There is no likelihood of an early debate on the topic, but I shall continue to bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's claims.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the security arrangements for admission into the House have been tightened there have been outside long queues of parties coming into the House? I am particularly concerned about the effect that this has on children, the elderly and the disabled in bad weather. Could he find time for an early debate on this matter to discuss other ways of admitting visitors to the House?

My hon. Friend raises a matter that gives concern to a considerable number of hon. Members, and causes inconvenience for a number of constituents. However, I suggest that, in the first instance, my hon. Friend elaborates his complaints so that they can be considered by the Services Committee.

Following the Government's panic actions to keep blameless Scottish football supporters away from London, may we expect urgent steps to protect the population from young Conservative hooligans?

There must be some sharp rejoinder that buries that subject once and for all, but I regret to say that I cannot think of it.

Over the Easter recess, will my right hon. Friend look at the way in which the work of Select Committees is being persistently held up by the dog-in-the-manger attitude of the alliance in not allowing the replacement of members on Select Committees?

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I know that it causes deep concern among the Chairmen of the Select Committees.

In arranging the parliamentary business, has the Leader of the House been discussing with the Prime Minister the appointment of peers announced in the newspapers today? In view of the immense talent on the Government Benches, why have no Conservative Members been elevated to the other House? Does not the fear of consequent by-elections and the Government's knowledge that they will be defeated at such by-elections mean that they are not willing to risk them?

These are always matters that lie in the eye of the beholder. I looked at the list, and I thought what a fascinating social change it showed when the Labour Benches in the House of Lords are being stuffed with stockbrokers and merchant bankers.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concern that I have felt since November that the House is sitting later and later into the night, and in correspondence and questions I have asked my right hon. Friend whether he will consider looking at Standing Order No. 2 and bringing in morning sittings. On Tuesday 16 April, there is the Prosecution of Offences Bill and other Bills, which will certainly go on late into the night as usual. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend look favourably at the possibility of morning sittings, at least experimentally?

My hon. Friend is already a noted Member after but a few months' service. However, I have been here long enough to remember morning sittings, and, although they were hilarious for the small number of hon. Members who took part in the proceedings, hardly anybody turned up, hardly any business of substance was transacted, and the whole thing crumbled into farce.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is great anxiety in Scotland about the delay of the announcement of the result of the unnecessary review of Scottish lowland airport policy? I am told, in a little letter from the Secretary of State for Transport today, that, like many other important Scottish announcements, this is to be made by means of a written answer so that we shall not be able to question him. I do not want to delay the announcement any further, but should not the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make an oral statement to the House today so that we can question him?

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Minister responsible for sport to come to the House immediately after the recess to make a statement about sporting fixtures? Will he ask the Minister to include in that statement the challenge by six British girl jockeys of six American girl jockeys to a race at York on 14 June? Will he be backing the British fillies all the way?

That question would be more appropriately directed to the Minister responsible for sport. I shall explain to him the virtues of going to see my hon. Friend after the recess.

Will the Leader of the House tear himself away from the subject of jockeys and turn his attention to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority at Risley and the sacking by Exclusive Cleaners of the cleaning staff who refused to accept a wage cut?

Will the right hon. Gentleman examine in particular the security aspect, because the trade unions claim that normal security procedures are being weakened to allow temporary staff in? Will he explain to the Secretary of State for the Environment that the company has cleaning contracts for the Houses of Parliament? Despite the firm being a massive contributor to the Conservative party, will he consider removing the contract from the firm?

I shall try to moderate my reply, despite the sententious terms of the question. I shall draw attention to what has been said. The hon. Gentleman might seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment since it seems that its wider ventilation would be of advantage.

When the Prime Minister returns in a fortnight's time from the far east, will the Leader of the House ensure that her statement describes in particular her visit to Sri Lanka a week today? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for a large minority of the population there the visit will be seen as condoning President Jayawardene's policy of virtual extermination of the Tamil-speaking peoples of the north-eastern provinces, his ban on opposition public meetings and his recent lengthy detention of opposition and trade union leaders? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Prime Minister's statement deals with those matters?

The hon. Gentleman has formally identified himself with the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka. I shall draw the Prime Minister's attention to his comments.

Can my right hon. Friend offer an early debate on alternative medicine which was debated in the other place recently? Is he aware of the great national interest in the subject, and has he heard about the recently formed council? Does he agree that views from all parts of the House on this important topic should be voiced?

I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's pertinent point, but we are moving to a time of the year when time is tight, particularly in view of the Finance Bill. However, I shall consider my hon. Friend's request.


Transport Services

10.54 am

I beg to ask leave to present a petition from the Walsall metropolitan borough council which is strongly opposed to the Transport Bill. The petition states that the proposals in the Bill would cause tremendous damage to existing passenger transport provision, and that is certainly so in the West Midlands.

The petition concludes:
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House reject any legislation to implement the proposals of the White Paper on buses and the Transport Bill and commit itself instead to the further development of an integrated local rail and bus network under direct control of locally elected representatives.
I totally agree with the sentiments expressed in the petition. It gives me much pleasure to present it to the House.

To lie upon the Table.

Royal Electrical And Mechanical Engineers (Newark)

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

Order. Since the start of the debate has been somewhat delayed, I suggest that the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) split the time left for their two debates, so that the first debate will end just after 11.25 am.

10.55 am

On 25 June last year I was advised by Lord Trefgarne in a letter that it was proposed to close Newark's static workshops of the royal Electricial and Mechanical Engineers with a loss of 193 posts in Newark. This is part of a much larger review and my comments relate to the Newark closure only.

I very much regret the way in which this has been done. Leaving aside for a moment the lack of consultation with those most intimately involved — the men and women who work there — I find it astonishing that proposals of this nature and magnitude were taken without any statement or debate on the Floor of the House. Until this moment, I have been unable to make any meaningful representations to a Minister in this Chamber. I was able to make a protest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when requesting a debate on this subject during Business Questions.

My astonishment and regret have been shared by the workers at the workshops who find it incredible that their Member of Parliament could not raise a matter of such fundamental importance — namely, a decision by a Government Department to close their workshop — unless he was fortunate in the ballot for an Adjournment debate, which I have been. Such a debate has been refused many times before today.

This regret has been compounded by the tactics of my political opponents in my constituency who have milked the matter for all it is worth. The Labour party on the Newark district council proposed a motion of no confidence in me because I had not been able to raise the matter here. I received an unpleasant letter from the district secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers who, after a meeting of his members, wrote:
"I was instructed to write a letter to yourself voicing their criticism and disgust at your total lack of practical help where it matters—in the Commons."
That sort of offensive stuff and party political capital being made out of a difficult position may be par for the course for the individuals concerned, but it is unfair that I should have been put in the position where this is publicly stated.

Before the proposals were announced on 25 June, I understand that there had been no prior consultation with the work force. They had been given no opportunity to explain to those conducting the review the importance of their work, the skills they exercise and the hardship that the closure would bring to them and their families. Yet the REME workshops are the fourth largest employer of labour in the town of Newark.

Newark's unemployment is high — at the last count 14·7 per cent. in the Newark travel-to-work area. Of that, 16·8 per cent. is male unemployment. Therefore, the proposal, if implemented, will be disastrous for those involved. There was clearly no thought of the effect on the unemployment situation when the proposals were formulated, and I regret that very much. The decision was an enormous shock to all concerned. The proposal is that the work force can get work at the Old Dalby workshops, which are in a different county and easily an hour's drive away, each way, when the weather and the road conditions are good. That is not practical for most people, and in bad weather it will mean three hours added to a person's working day. It will prohibit most women with families from even contemplating the move.

The people involved are not clerks or semi-skilled manual workers; the work done is the repair of Clansman radios. The workshop has been certified to the same standards as are applied to civilian contractors who manufacture or repair equipment for the services. I understand that it is the only unit in the country to be so certified.

The work force must be specially trained, and the training takes up to four years. Emergencies often occur. The vastly increased travel to work requirement would mean that it would not be possible for those travelling those distances to carry out emergency work or to do short notice priority work. The local technical college is geared to meet this specialist training requirement. That would be lost if the proposals were put into practice.

Nor would it be wise to have all this work done at one location and at one workshop. If there were a fire or other disaster at the Old Dalby works, no other place would have the expertise and equipment to do the necessary emergency work. In any event, why should the work be transferred from an area of high unemployment such as Newark to a prosperous area such as Old Dalby in Leicestershire?

If there had to be rationalisation, it would have been more equitable to bring the work to an area of high unemployment rather than to take it away. It has all been so unfair. Newark may have a high unemployment rate, but it can offer excellent transport access, which Old Dalby cannot. We are in a prime communications position, virtually on the A1 and on the east coast main rail line. REME makes sense at Newark. It does not make sense to move it away.

We shall be told that money will be saved. In relation to some of the other closures, that may be the case, but I have seen no figures to show that closing Newark will save money. There are 193 people involved and redundancy and unemployment benefit will follow if the closure takes place. Even if some jobs are taken up at Old Dalby, there will be relocation costs.

If there will be savings—I dispute that there will be—we should be told precisely what they are and how they are made up before the decision to close is implemented. At present, we do not have that information.

I submit that there are no proper grounds on which the proposal should be implemented. From the point of view of the skills that will be lost if No. 33 central workshop closes and of ease of communications, and from the taxpayers' point of view and, not least, from that of the many loyal workers there, these workshops should not be closed. It will be a crying shame if they are, and I urge the Minister not to allow it to happen.

11.4 am

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) on securing this Adjournment debate. I am grateful to him for providing me with this opportunity to explain—more fully perhaps than in earlier answers given in the House —the reasons that have led us to reduce the Army's overall static workshop capacity and, thus, to the closure of No. 33 central workshop at Newark.

Before dealing with the specific issues raised by my hon. Friend, I want the House to be clear about three points of principle which underlie our decision, announced last December, to proceed with the measures that we proposed in June 1984. The first and paramount point of principle is that we have a duty to the taxpayer to see that defence funds are spent only on essential defence needs and are spent in the most cost-effective manner. The review of the REME static workshops in 1982 showed that, overall, we had substantially more capacity than our operational needs could really justify—nearly 20 per cent. more at that time. Recognising that some reduction was thus inevitable, we allowed some slimming of the work force through not replacing many of those who left it in the normal course of events. But this is not an economic answer in the long term, because it merely converts the over-capacity problem into one of under-utilised capital assets.

Plainly, retaining excess capacity is not efficient; but nor is it efficient to retain under-utilised facilites, since that just pushes up the overhead costs of the operation. We really have to reduce overheads, and this means concentrating our programmed base repair activities into fewer, better designed, and better located workshops.

The Army, and the other services too, for that matter, should not be retaining in-house workshop capacity to do work that can be done quite satisfactorily, and less expensively, by industry or the motor trade—provided this involves no operational penalty. We have looked closely at the scope we have for putting out to contract repair work on — for the most part — what we call "commercial equivalent" equipments. Since these tend to be equipments such as Landrovers or hydraulic vehicle jacks, which are more readily replaced off the shelf, it is less vital that they are repaired by the Army. By having these repairs or overhauls performed under competitive contract, we can save money where the private sector is able to give a more cost-effective service because it can spread its overheads across both its military and its commerical work load.

Having started the study of the REME static workshop organisation in 1981, we found it necessary to recast its terms of reference in early 1982, following the report of the Public Accounts Committee "Repair of B Vehicle Assemblies". This widened the scope of the review quite substantially; moreover, the review team's main report was in turn followed by subsidiary studies dealing with separate functional and geographical problems, with the result that the full report was not considered by the Army Board until June 1983.

The submission to Ministers in July 1983 proposed reductions at a number of base and command workshops and the closure of No. 33 central workshop at Newark and No. 38 central workshop at Chilwell. It also envisaged doubling the amount of base repair work put out to contract. The combined effect of these measures would eliminate the 20 per cent. over-capacity in static workshops, redress the imbalance of trades and skills between workshops and allow significant savings in manpower, capital expenditure and running costs.

Ministers asked for further research to validate the proposed enhancements at certain workshops and for examination in greater depth of the potential for increased repair by contract. The final proposals, summarised in the consultative memorandum referred to in my answer of 28 June 1984 to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne), involved the same closures, a raising of contract repair to 36 per cent. of the base repair load, and net manpower reductions of 504 posts on the 1 December 1984 strength figures and 1,071 posts on the 1 January 1983 strength figures.

The benefits that we expected from restructuring the static workshops along these lines were not only a tauter and more cost-effective organisation, but one that would still be able to fulfil its operational tasks quickly and competently and residual workshops that would be well sited to perform their respective roles in both the United Kingdom and in Germany. The proposals assumed less backloading of armoured vehicles from BAOR for repair in the United Kingdom, but a compensating increase in the number of B vehicle assemblies to be backloaded for this purpose, since this was more economical and less operationally undesirable.

The Ministry of Defence recognised the far-reaching nature of these proposals, and especially the consequence for a large number of its employees. It therefore made every effort to ensure that ample time was afforded for consultation with the work force and its trade union representatives. Indeed, the initial period for such consultation was twice extended at the trade unions' request. Furthermore, various delegations and representations were received by Ministers and their officials well after the 1 October conclusion of the formal consultation period, and delegations continue to be seen. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces visited Newark on 26 November 1984. The decision that we announced on 10 December was therefore taken after full consideration of all the points that had been made to us during the consultation phase.

Let me now turn to the specific points made by my hon. Friend and contained in the petition from Newark town council.

The consequences for Newark of the closure of 33 central workshop REME are fully appreciated by Ministers, not least because they have been underlined very clearly both in various written representations and by the delegation which accompanied my hon. Friend when he visited my noble Friend on 17 October 1984.

I can also assure the House that the economic implications of the rundown of the REME organisation as a whole have been considered most carefully, and that the decision arrived at provides the optimum solution for increasing the effectiveness of repair support for the Army within the resources available to us.

I am very conscious of the disappointment that will be felt by the people of Newark—not to mention the work force itself—as a result of the closure of 33 central workshop. The fact remains that the Army as a whole now finds itself with more base repair capacity than it can justifiably retain. Wherever the ensuing closures or reductions were effected, our employees and the local community would be certain to question it, and to remonstrate with us accordingly. But the Ministry of Defence, having identified excess capacity and the inefficiencies that that would produce, is bound to look for the most cost-effective way to put the problem right for the longer term, even if it involves unpalatable decisions. At least in this instance many of our people will, we hope, feel able to apply for jobs in 35 central workshop at Old Dalby—which I think must mean that this closure will prove to have much less of a profound effect than might otherwise have been the case.

A number of points relate to questions of cost. The costs estimate supplied with the consultative document that I mentioned earlier—an expanded version of which has been passed to the trade unions—has been queried by various parties. It has been observed that there is no figure for redundancy compensation in our estimates. Redundancy costs are excluded from all Government investment appraisals, in conformity with Treasury instructions.

Some doubt has also been expressed about the validity of estimates for the transfer of existing plant from Chilwell and Newark to other workshops. Our estimates were based on the best available information at the time they were made, bearing in mind that detailed on-site studies of, for instance, new workshop layout, were not possible before the conclusion of consultations. Moreover, I think there has been inadequate recognition of the fact that much existing plant is now nearing the end of its economic life. The costs of maintaining and repairing it in the future would mean that its transport to the appropriate new location would not really be a sound investment—and, of course, some new plant for the surviving locations has already been in the pipeline for a considerable time.

Another area questioned is our costing of future repair by contract. It should not be forgotten that REME has quite a lot of experience in this field already—contracting out repair work is not a novel practice. Our estimates for this have aimed to be conservative, since we clearly did not wish to be accused later of having viewed the problem through rose-tinted spectacles. However, we would expect that, as the level of repair work put to contract rises, so will the competition to tender. That in turn should lead to keener pricing. Additionally, firms undertaking this kind of work will see it as being more regular and more plentiful, and therefore deserving of their investment in improving their plant which, in due course, will help to reduce their overheads. It will remain our responsibility, naturally, to ensure that the quality of repair work produced under contract remains fully acceptable to the armed services.

I am sorry if this has been a disappointing reply for my hon. Friend. No one could have done more than he has for Newark's retention, and I am sorry to hear of some of the personal criticisms that he has suffered in this regard. They are wholly unfounded and unwarranted. But it would be wrong of me to suggest in any way that the decision will be changed. I hope that I have been able to explain to the House the reasons for our decision.

Primary Education (Scotland)

11.13 am

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of primary education in rural Scotland. It is a considerable change from the last subject, and those following the debate from the Public Gallery must be wondering what on earth is going on.

I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to give a clear statement of the Government's policy on village schools throughout Scotland. I say that because there is widespread belief that the Scottish Education Department has abdicated all responsibility for policy and guidance in that field, and that local education authorities have been left to muddle through in the context of Government spending cuts and the general upheaval that is going on in Scottish education at present.

I shall resist the temptation to go into the case for an independent review of teachers' pay and conditions in this debate, except perhaps to say that I have not yet met anyone in my constituency or elsewhere who supports the Secretary of State for Scotland's refusal to settle the dispute by setting up an independent review.

Many of us hoped that the recent fall in pupil numbers in Scotland would be used as an opportunity to raise standards in schools, but instead the Government have chosen to use falling rolls as an excuse to slash funds for education in Scotland. Indeed, I understand that in 1980–81 the Secretary of State for Scotland specifically told the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, during the course of the rate support grant negotiations in that year, that more primary schools should be closed.

When regional and islands councils are compelled to cut their budgets, as they have been by the Government, it is, I suppose, inevitable that they see small peripheral services such as village schools as convenient targets for cuts. That is what has been happening in rural Scotland, and all over Scotland. Between 1980 and 1984, no fewer than 102 primary schools were closed in Scotland, and councils of all political complexions have been considering the closure of village schools.

The independent councillors in the Western Isles and Highland region were at it last year. The Tories in Tayside and Lothian region were taking steps to close rural primary schools. The Labour council in Fife is seeking to close schools. The Liberal chairman of the Borders region education committee has the most ambitious scheme of all, with a hit list of 25 village schools.

I notice that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is here. I know that he is concerned about the closures, as well he ought to be, because many of his constituents, including myself, are involved. I hope that we make some headway on the issue during the debate. I put it to the hon. Member, and to his friend, councillor Tom Burnham, a Liberal councillor in the Borders region, and to the Minister, that the whole principle of community-based primary education is now under threat in the Borders region. That could be repeated elsewhere in Scotland. It has been suggested that no fewer than a quarter of the total number of primary schools in the Borders region could be subject to review, and that is a matter of acute concern.

Policies in different areas are varying wildly. Some authorities are seeking to close schools with 50 pupils; others are retaining schools with as few as 10 children in them. I stress that I am a passionate believer in local democracy and local decision making, but since the whole matter is inspired by Government spending cuts, I believe that the Government have a duty at least to express a view on how those cuts should be applied.

There is a place for Government guidance on policies which have national implications, and I put it to the Minister that the Secretary of State for Scotland has a duty to take an interest in village schools, not only in the context of national education policy but in the context of the need for a national rural social policy.

We in the Labour party are currently working on rural policy for the next Government, but for the time being a Conservative Government are in power, and people in rural Scotland are entitled to know the Government's thoughts on the matter. As he approaches the subject, I hope that the Minister will not object to me, as a Catholic, reminding him that John Knox wrote in 1570 that
"there should be a school in every parish"
in Scotland. So the Minister is attacking principles that run very deep.

I want to illustrate the state of alarm and despondency that has been caused in rural areas in Scotland by the closure threats before I go on to analyse the case for preserving and developing community-based primary education.

In my constituency of East Lothian, four village schools, at Dirleton, East Saltoun, Humbie and Whitekirk, all came under threat of closure last year. Obviously, that threat had a disruptive effect on everybody concerned. Long-term planning and development had to be abandoned in the face of the immediate threat. The children, teachers and parents faced six months of uncertainty while they considered their position and put their case to Lothian regional council. Initially, the two smallest communities thought that they could not possibly resist a decision taken by big brother in Edinburgh, but we got our act together. We demonstrated that the parents and the wider community supported their local primary schools. We proved that those villages could and would sustain adequate pupil numbers to justify at least a single teacher school and, thanks to the steadfast support of the Labour group on Lothian regional council, those schools were saved.

However, that was neither the beginning nor the end of the story. One of those four schools had had to go through the same review procedure one year previously, and there is no guarantee that those schools will not face another closure threat next year. That constant atmosphere of crisis is bad for the education of the children and bad for the confidence of the teachers and parents. The time has come for a clear policy to resolve the issue on a permanent basis.

I have strong personal feelings on the subject. My own five-year-old son recently started his education in the village school at Hutton in Berwickshire, represented by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire. That school was threatened with closure last year and the Borders regional council is now putting us through the mill again. That council's current proposals could mean that my son will be made to move to four different schools in the course of eight years of his primary education. That demonstrates the disruptive effect of uncertainty and closures in rural primary education on my own son. I hope that the House will understand why I feel particularly concerned about what is going on in that region and, indeed, in other regions.

I now refer to the detailed case for community-based primary schools in rural areas. The real case for closures is usually based on financial considerations, although the argument is usually dressed up in educational jargon. However, even the economic case for closures is deceptive. There may be a short-term gain from shutting a village school and selling the building, but at the end of the day the local education authority is still responsible for educating the same number of children. On top of that, it will have to face a permanent commitment to substantial and rising additional transport costs. That has a knock-on effect on educational considerations because extended journeys to school for young children are bound to have an effect on their concentration and ability to make progress in school. One of the proposals currently under consideration in the borders could mean that some primary school pupils in the Lammermuir area in my constituency will face 50-minute journeys every morning and evening on their way to and from primary school. That is when the roads are not blocked by snow, as they frequently are in winter. That illustrates the extreme nature of some of the proposals that are being considered.

The economic case for closures is debatable, but the community case for retaining village schools is overwhelming. It is related to the glaring need for a positive rural social policy, and has to be seen against the background of the disastrous effect of the Government's free market economic policies in rural Scotland. We know what is happening to village shops, village telephone kiosks, bus services and small businesses throughout rural Scotland. The local school is a vital component in any community. It is a focus for community activity. It helps to encourage children to identify with their home neighbourhood. The closure of the school can be a mortal blow to a fragile village community.

Apart from anything else, the lack of a local primary school has been shown to deter young families from staying in a village, which does permanent damage to the social structure and economy of that community. I can think of examples in my constituency of two comparable villages. In one village the school has been closed and it has turned into a sleepy village to which people retire. In the other village, the school has been kept open, and it now supports a mixed and active community.

However, the economic and community considerations are side issues. The real priority must be the quality of education for children. It seems to be fashionable for educational bureaucrats to run down small schools, but that attitude is not shared by teachers or parents of children at village schools in Scotland. There are certain disadvantages when a single teacher has to cope with the full range of primary 1–7 in one school, in what is in effect an extended composite class. However, there are also well substantiated advantages in the environment of a rural village school. The idea that schools with fewer than three teachers were a bad thing originated in the Plowden report of 1967, but the report failed to substantiate that case. Lady Plowden herself put the following question in a letter to The Times in 1978:
"Is it right to take the heart out of a community by taking away the children, Pied Piper like, thus losing the bond which is created within and between families through a common interest in the school, involving parents and even grandparents, which is both socially and educationally desirable?"
The closers of village schools do not get much comfort from Lady Plowden.

No doubt the Minister will have heard of Rural Forum, the umbrella organisation that represents the whole range of Scottish rural organisations, including trade unions, women's institutes, farmers and even landowners. Rural Forum held a conference on rural schools last month in Edinburgh, at which the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire spoke. The clear message from that conference was that the educational benefits of village schools far outweighed the disadvantage. What are those advantages? Small pupil numbers make it possible to adopt a more flexible approach to teaching. Project work is a feature in those schools, and in that sort of extended family environment it has been shown that children develop social skills much more readily, learning to share the attention of the teacher. Older children develop a sense of responsibility towards the younger children. All in all, experience has shown that the system can work well. I have spoken to most of the secondary school heads in my constituency about the matter, and all of them without exception have confirmed that children from the smaller primary schools perform at least as well as those from bigger schools when they go on to the secondary school.

I accept that there is no room for complacency about the quality of education in small schools. I should like to see developments related to the special circumstances of rural schools. There is something to be said for clustering schools and sharing teachers and equipment, as has been done in some other areas. It is obvious that teachers who will have to deal with mixed age classes in a rural environment probably need special training. There is scope for developing parental involvement in those schools. Of course, we should continue to learn from the experience gained elsewhere, whether in England, Wales or further afield in places such as Sweden or Finland where people have been working on the subject.

I stress that I am not saying that every tiny rural school must be retained regardless of all the circumstances. Where a school roll has collapsed irrevocably below 15, it is obviously sensible to review the situation, although I would tend to concentrate on the possibility of attracting more young families into such an area as part of a broader rural development policy rather than taking the negative approach of closing the school and therefore shutting down the community.

There is something awfully final about a school closure. Closed village schools are never reopened, so the crop of closures that is now under consideration in Scotland could have permanent and serious effects on the neighbourhoods concerned. It is worth mentioning that the most recent figures published by the Scottish Office show a rise in projected primary school rolls in Scotland, so we must stop and think before the process goes any further.

Above all, there must be a genuine and credible consultation process directly involving parents and the wider community. People have no confidence in the present consultation procedure. At present the regional or islands council concerned is the combined prosecutor, judge and jury in the consultation process on the future of rural schools. Until 1981 the Secretary of State for Scotland had to sanction the closure of any school, but section 23(6A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1981 and the associated regulations mean that local authorities can close schools that are within five miles of the alternative school without ministerial approval. That is despite the fact that the journeys for many pupils may be much longer than five miles in places where such amalgamations take place.

That is in marked contrast to the situation in England, where ministerial responsibility is still acknowledged. In a written reply on 17 March 1983 the Prime Minister herself said:
"We recognise the value of rural schools to their communities. This is reflected in the calculations underlying rate support grant to take account of the additional costs of provision in sparsely populated areas, in the advice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to local education authorities about falling school rolls, and in his detailed consideration of all closure proposals that fall to him to decide, which takes account in each case of local circumstances, the views of the local community, and the educational needs of the children concerned."—[Official Report, 17 March 1983, Vol. 39 c. 234.].
We have no such guarantees or safeguards in rural Scotland. Indeed, one Scottish village community threatened with the closure of its school is considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. That should not be necessary.

I conclude by appealing to the Minister to acknowledge the case for rural schools in Scotland and to consider establishing a new review procedure that will be seen by all concerned to be fair. I should like to wish the Minister a happy Easter, but I shall refrain from doing so until I have received from him a response that I hope will be positive.

11.31 am

First, in case I forget to do so at the end of my speech, I wish the hon. Member for East Lothian a happy Easter, and the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), whose interest in these matters we all acknowledge.

We should place the question of rural schools in the context of the improvements that we have made in general to primary education in Scotland, which apply to rural as well as urban schools. We have embarked upon a primary education development project, stemming from the report "Learning and Teaching in P4 and P7" by the inspectorate That report followed a survey that revealed shortcomings in the primary school curriculum, including, especially, the failure to establish the relevance of skills and knowledge acquired at school to the real world.

In planning the national development programmes and the annual programme of inspection of schools by Her Majesty's inspectors we are always concerned to ensure that schools in different environments and of different sizes are given their proper place. In that way, in practical terms, we ensure that the interests of small rural schools are always covered.

The Minister refers to the inspectorate. The inspectorate is not always much help. Dirleton school in my constituency received a glowing report from the inspectors last year but, almost in the same post, it also received a closure threat. I wish that the inspectors could save the schools, but they cannot.

Yes, but the authorities have to take many factors into account when considering the question of school closure.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned resources. The Government's public expenditure plans make generous provision for primary school staffing. There is a flexibility factor of 8 per cent. over the basic staff complements recommended in Scottish Education Department circular 1029. The hon. Gentleman referred to expenditure. Resources are always limited. However, we have increased expenditure per pupil in real terms in each of the past few years. We have also introduced all-graduate entry into primary school teaching. Those measures will have beneficial effects in rural as well as urban areas.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the present teachers' pay dispute. The feature of the dispute that is of special relevance to the debate is the threat by the Educational Institute of Scotland of selective action in primary schools to replace, for a short period at least, targeted action on secondary schools in Conservative-held constituencies. It would be wrong for me to devote too much time to the dispute, but the management, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association and the Professional Association of Teachers all recognise that the sensible way forward would be to undertake a review of pay and conditions within the Scottish joint negotiating council. The third union, the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, wants to enter the normal annual pay negotiations. Only the EIS is not prepared to take either route. I hope that the planned selective action will not be widespread in rural schools, because of the effects on the schools and the communities to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

The hon. Gentleman concentrated on the implications for rural communities when small schools close. He referred to the statutory framework which, as he said, is different north of the border. The legislation has been revised by the present Government. I will spell out the reasons for the present legislative framework in Scotland. Before 1981, the consent of the Secretary of State was required for every school closure in Scotland. In some cases there was no opposition to closure. There was a consensus that the school, for one reason or another, had outlived its usefulness or the original need. The hon. Gentleman has told us that it is not the essence of his case that there should never be any school closures in rural areas.

Education authorities had no option but to seek the Secretary of State's permission to close. The procedure was wasteful of resources, and bureaucratic. It was also wrong in principle, for it had the effect of passing to central Government a local matter that would more properly have been left to local discretion.

I found some of the hon. Gentleman's comments surprising. My impression was that the Labour party favoured the decentralising of decisions to local authorities. I believe that it was right that the Education (Scotland) Act 1981 transferred the responsiblity for closure to the education authority. However, it is quite wrong to suggest that local authorities were left — I believe that this was the hon. Gentleman's phrase—to their own devices. The Government recognised that some types of school would entail special circumstances. Safeguards were therefore introduced, especially in respect of proposing to close schools in more remote areas. The regulations made in 1981 require that the Secretary of State's consent be obtained before the implementation of any primary school closure proposal that would result in pupils having to transfer to another school five or more miles away. In the case of secondary schools, the distance is 10 miles. It was envisaged at that time that a significant proportion of closure proposals affecting rural schools would continue to require the formal consent of the Secretary of State. The 1981 Act did much more than that. One of its main features was the parents' charter, the objective of which was to give parents more say in deciding which schools their children should attend.

The education authorities are now required, before reaching a decision on any school closure proposal, to consult many people including the parents of all children in attendance at the school and of all children who, while not yet of school age, could be expected to attend the school concerned within two years of the date of the closure proposal. Those consultations are an important part of the process. They are taken seriously by all concerned, as witnessed by the hon. Gentleman, who gave examples of two cases where local communities succeeded in persuading their education authorities to abandon proposals to close rural schools.

I am grateful to the Minister for attempting to cover this point, but I hope that he accepts that it is deeply unsatisfactory that the future of something as important to a village community as its school should be left entirely in the hands of the authority which has a pecuniary interest in closing it. Indeed, the interest has been imposed on it by the Secretary of State. Is there not a case for an independent inquiry procedure to be set up? I understand why the Minister may not wish to take back the responsibility for reviewing such matters, but there must be a case for setting up an independent inquiry system in areas where there are closure threats.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, but I believe that the decision must be made by the local authority. It must take account of all the factors involved, and it is responsible to the electorate of the area. However, as I emphasised, it is not an unfettered choice, because if the closure will involve transfer to schools more than five miles away, the decision must be made by Ministers.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), whose interest in the matter is well known, for introducing the debate. Could I press the Minister on the importance of the framework in which the consultations take place. I accept that the decision should be devolved and that the regional authorities must make the ultimate decision in each case. No one has argued against that; if we did, we should be charged with being anti-devolution, whereas most Opposition Members are in favour of it. In many of their structure plans, the regional authorities lay heavy emphasis on the fact that rural areas should be supported in a very conceivable sense, yet some of their policies, especially the primary school closure programme, go against that.

Have the Government any interest or are they taking any part in the promulgation of the ideas contained in the Armitage Norton report, which was the genesis of the present round of closures started by my local authority in the Borders region? Is it the Government's intention to encourage other regional authorities to adopt the cost-benefit analysis contained in that report? If it is, the Minister will have to answer many such debates in the future.

The Government have a duty to set out the framework in which they believe consultation should take place. They need not bring forward a statutory instrument; they could simply give guidance to local authorities, especially about consultation with community councils and with the public in general, as well as the statutory duties that are imposed on them by the 1981 Act, which, at the end of the day, amount to nothing more than writing to parents and saying what they propose to do.

Of course, we have issued circulars to local education authorities setting out their duties and responsibilities under the Act, and no doubt local authorities will take into account the factors mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. But, ultimately, within the framework set out in the Act, this should be a matter of local discretion.

A delicate and difficult balance must be struck in relation to the use of resources. An education authority has a responsibility to the entire area that it serves, and money saved in one part of the service could be used to improve the service elsewhere. As the hon. Member for East Lothian fairly acknowledged, a balance must also be struck on the purely educational merits. On the one hand, the pupil moving from a small village school to a larger school benefits from the wider educational opportunities that become available and the social benefits likely to accrue from contact with larger peer groups. On the other hand, I do not deny the hon. Gentleman's point that a small school can have an educational richness all its own. Increased travelling time makes the child's day longer and thereby detracts from the educational advantages of attendance at a larger school.

Certainly, and I assure the House that where a case is referred to my right hon. Friend for decision, the factors of educational advantage and travelling distance, including travel arrangements, and the length of the school day are carefully examined.

The position is different north and south of the border, but the different responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science do not mean that there are no rural school closures in England and Wales. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that since the new Scottish arrangements were introduced in 1981, 18 schools have closed in Scotland and 390 have closed in England. The hon. Gentleman should not place too much emphasis on the different statutory provisions north and south of the border.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Hutton primary school, which his children attend and which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire. He will know the position on the consultations about that closure.

I must emphasise that we always have the interests of rural communities very much in mind. We are undertaking a research project on the parental choice provisions of the Education (Scotland) Act 1981, which will include an examination of parental choice in six areas of Scotland, including a rural district, and I await with interest the result of that part of the project, which is expected within the next few months.

We all appreciate the difficulties faced by education authorities and communities about school closures. The hon. Gentleman recognised that school rolls have been falling, and he referred to the uncertainty for the future. Beyond the immediate period, there is much uncertainty about the trends in school rolls. If education authorities are properly to fulfil their accountability to the public, they must take whatever steps they consider necessary to rationalise the provision of school education. Therefore, school closures, which occur in urban as well as in rural areas, should be considered as part of a larger canvas and should not be seen as a discriminating or random measure.

We are committed to the principle of reducing direction from the centre, but we have acknowledged that, on some occasions, local discretion cannot be completely unfettered. The present legislative framework in Scotland provides the correct balance between the rights of the local authority responsible to local people to take decisions and to take account of wider considerations, which is why, under certain conditions, school closure proposals still come to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for consideration. When the closure proposals come to my right hon. Friend we shall be conscious of the basic theme of the hon. Member's speech: the special and important role that small rural schools play in the fabric of rural life.

National Institute For Research In Dairying, Shinfield

11.50 am

I am grateful for this opportunity to draw attention to the unsatisfactory redundancy and re-employment terms offered to staff employed at the National Institute for Research in Dairying at Shinfield, Reading, in my constituency. The institute was closed last week. I am grateful for the support given by Lord Sherfield, chancellor of Reading university, who has put down questions in another place, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee). With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the consent of the Minister, my hon. Friend will join in this debate.

It seems that there may have been a serious misunderstanding about the nature of the employment of the staff of NIRD. The NIRD is administered by a delegacy of Reading university under their ordinance No. 24 and also under the terms of a trust that was set up in 1963. The effect is that the staff hold contracts with the university. A number of them are listed in the university calendar as university staff, some—this is important—as academic staff. It is quite clear that they are employed by the university, but the university does not manage the finances of NIRD. They are provided by the Agricultural and Food Research Council, which also set out the conditions of service. This seems to me to be a very complicated and, I should have thought, unsatisfactory arrangement, but it has worked very well over the years until now.

In 1974, the delegacy decided that all new staff should retire at the age of 60, not, as previously, at 65, but the existing staff—this is also important—were given an option to continue under their contracts until the age of 65. In the delegacy minutes of February 1974 it is noted
"that the existing male staff will prefer to retain their present contractual age of 65."
This was accepted by the AFRC.

In 1975, a further change was offered: to lower the pension age from 65 to 60. Again, this was an important option for the staff and no change was made to their contracts; it was a pension change. In April 1984 they were told, somewhat unexpectedly, that the NIRD at Reading would be closed in March of this year and that in its place there would be the Animals and Grassland Research Institute, mainly at Hurley and at Arborfield, and a completely new Food Research Institute Reading at Shinfield. But—and this is the unsatisfactory aspect to which I wish to draw the Minister's attention—staff under 60 were to be offered new posts on clearly less good terms, since they would be compelled to retire at the age of 60. Staff over 60 were to be made redundant without compensation.

In the intervening period since 1974 a number of the staff have refused other jobs, while some have not made pension arrangements which would have been beneficial to them had they known that they would be faced with this situation. There is also the aspect that quite large earnings will be lost because of the loss of five years of expected work. In one man's case—he is at the upper end—it will he in the region of £97,530, as well as the loss of part of the pension which he would have expected to receive.

This is clearly a matter of great concern to the approximately 160 staff who are involved. These people are employed by the university. The 1963 trust lays down that the institute can be closed down only by a decision of the council of the university, not by the delegacy, nor by the AFRC. This was not done. So far as I can ascertain, no decision was made by the council to this effect. There was merely a decision by the delegacy. Furthermore, under the trust two years' written notice has to be given to the AFRC.

Since these people were employed by the university, many of them had expected that if their employment was to be terminated it would be terminated under the procedures of the university. These are clearly set out in the university statute 32(4), in the university ordinance 24(3)(1) and in ordinance 32. This has not happened. Many of these staff are highly skilled and have given very long and devoted service to the NIRD.

There is absolutely no doubt that the reputation and standing of the institute not only contributed to agricultural research in this country but is one of the reasons why the staff retained their loyalty and stayed there over the years. They fully expected that their contracts would be honoured or that they would be compensated. They did not expect the Government to direct the AFRC not to pay them compensation.

The Minister, I am sure, recognises the justice of their case. He is a fair-minded and impartial Minister and I ask him to look at this again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your agreement and the Minister's consent. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham.

At the beginning of the debate I failed to call the hon. Member for Reading, East by his correct title—Sir Gerard Vaughan. I apologise and beg his pardon.

11.58 am

Your courtesy, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is typical of that which you show the House whenever you are in the Chair. I am very grateful to you and to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) for making it possible for me to intervene for a few moments to support the campaign which he has correctly led, because the institute of which we speak is in his constituency. He has led that campaign in defence of his constituents' rights with the pertinacity which we all associate with him. I, too, have a number of constituents who are involved. For some years the institute lay within the boundaries of the Wokingham constituency. I know that I share with many others admiration for the past work of the NIRD, now coming to its end.

I shall concentrate on one point only. I am grateful for the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science and also for the conscientious and exhaustive way in which he personally has looked at this matter, as he always does when human matters are involved. It could be put like this. His view—of course it is upon advice and having looked at the matter carefully—is that staff entitlement was explicitly agreed when the current Agricultural and Food Research Council's pension scheme was introduced with a retirement age of 60. I think that that is a fair summary of the view that he has expressed to my hon. Friend and to me. I do not question the sincerity with which that view is put, but it is not a correct reflection of the position of those who are 60 or older or were on a contract that gave them certain rights when they reached 60.

I have drawn to the Minister's attention a letter to a constituent of mine from the secretary of the institute. So that the references are on the record, I should say that the letter is dated 14 March 1974. The letter was written to bring the then existing arrangements at the institute into line with the institutes of what was called the Agricultural Research Council. One can see the reasoning, purpose and rationalisation behind that in 1974.

However, as we have been reminded, the delegacy of the institute agreed in 1974 that the retirement age should be 60 in future contracts and that existing staff should have that option offered to them. That rule was reasonable, civilised and proper and I take no exception to it. However, a number of senior men, including the constituent in whose name I have provided documentation, did not take up that option in 1974. There is no dispute about that.

Furthermore, the Employment Protection Act 1978 requires that all employees should receive a statement of their terms and conditions of employment. I shall not weary the House by reading the statement and conditions of employment issued to those of whom we are speaking. I shall quote only paragraph 13 of the statement that was given to my constituent and, I have every reason to believe, to all others involved:
"Although the retirement age for staff is 60, you are allowed to retain a retirement age of 65, but you may choose to retire at 60 with immediate payment of any benefits to which you are entitled under the ARC superannuation scheme."
That shows that the retirement age for my constituents and others was 65, and all compensation should be based on that age. However genuinely and sincerely the Minister states that he is satisfied that the retirement age is 60, he is not correct. I ask him to recognise that fact.

The House always likes matters such as these to be reduced to their effect on individuals. I have been a willingly loyal supporter of the Government's policy on universities, involving, as it has in recent years, severe reductions and retrenchments of personnel. However, we have always said — and, as far as I know, we have always honoured the commitment—that the rights of individuals are protected. If the House has interfered with the reasonable expectations of those employed in universities, we have recompensed them accordingly.

In this case, the amount involved is minuscule in terms of national expenditure, but for one of my constituents it represents a pension right of £1,000 a year. I know that the Minister accepts that that is a major change in the reasonable expectations of a person's professional life when he has been working for one of the most prestigious academic and practical institutions in its field.

I repeat my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East for permitting me time in his debate to support his forceful advocacy. I feel deeply that, unwittingly I am sure, the Government are doing an injustice to some fine people. Such actions always leave me with a sense of deep unease and that is why I am grateful for the opportunity to help to raise the matter on the Floor of the House.

12.6 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Peter Brooke)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) for providing the House with an opportunity to debate the closure of the NIRD at Shinfield, Reading and the circumstances of the termination of service of people formerly employed by the institute. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) for having joined in the debate and I thank both my hon. Friends for the way in which they put the issues. I recognise that the matter is one of particular concern to their constituents. We have had some correspondence about it and had the pleasure of meetings on the issue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends, because no constituents could ask for more diligent hon. Members on their behalf.

Until its formal winding-up on 31 March, the NIRD was a state-aided agricultural research institute funded by the Agricultural and Food Research Council. The AFRC funds 14 such state-aided institutes in England and Wales, which, together with the council's own establishments and the state-aided institutes funded by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, constitute the Agricultural and Food Research Service. With the agreement of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which provides about half the AFRC's income through payments for commissioned research, and DAFS, the AFRC undertakes corporate planning for the whole of the AFRS. I note that because the changes at the NIRD need to be understood in the context of the research service as a whole.

In its first corporate plan, published in December 1983, the AFRC identified as an important objective the achievement of more specific remits for individual institutions. It wishes to move towards a simpler and more integral management and structuring of research programmes. In line with that objective, the first plan gave notice of the council's intention to bring the NIRD and Grassland Research Institute programmes on nutrition and production studies in cattle, sheep and pigs under single management, with the possibility of a progressive concentration of the work at the GRI site at Hurley, near Maidenhead. The plan also envisaged expanding the programme of food research at the existing sites at Bristol, Norwich and at Shinfield, and to convert that part of the NIRD programme at Shinfield which has concentrated on milk utilisation to the study of a wider range of commodities.

These proposals in the plan are now well on the way to implementation. The closure of NIRD and the Grassland Research Institute at the end of last month coincided with the establishment of a new Animals and Grassland Research Institute based at Hurley and of a new Food Research Institute, Reading, which will continue to use some of the former NIRD premises. The initial staff of both institutes have been found by transfers from the former institutes, although inevitably in a rationalisation of this kind jobs could not be found for all the former members of staff. I should say in this connection that the council's planning and redirection of activity is being carried out in the context of a significant reduction of income from the Department of Education and Science, following advice from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils in 1982, and the prospect of equally serious reductions in commissioned research income. The council's second corporate plan, published in March, speaks of 550 posts having been lost in 1984–85—100 by compulsory redundancy—with at least 650 more to go by 1988, a significant proportion of whom will inevitably be made compulsorily redundant.

I turn now to the position of the staff at NIRD. In doing so I must stress that the AFRC acts in these matters as an independent body in receipt of its own legal advice. My Department is not necessarily privy to that advice, and in any case it has no power to intervene. Under the council's Royal Charter, the pay and pensions of its officers are subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Treasury. Details of conditions of service, however, are matters for the council to determine.

The NIRD was technically a constituent institution of the University of Reading and was administered by a delegacy of the university. Its staff were employed by the university, as my hon. Friend said, but it was a condition of the AFRC's grant to the university to run NIRD that their terms and conditions should be essentially the same as those of other 'staff in the AFRS. The AFRC told the university when the time for closure came that the grant was being withdrawn. Thereafter the university procedures to which my hon. Friend referred are essentially for the university. The staff concerned are members of the AFRC pension scheme and are employed on Civil Service rather than university salaries. That is why the decisions relating to the staff were taken by the AFRC rather than by the university. Effectively they were members of the Agricultural and Food Research Service. For many purposes that is treated as a unified service. For example, it is covered by a single Whitley council, a single redundancy agreement and unified disciplinary and promotion procedures.

The normal retirement age for AFRS staff has for a long time been 60. However, a number of staff at NIRD who were appointed before February 1974 had a specific provision in their contracts from the university, their employer, that their retirement age was 65. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham specifically referred to an individual.

When the decision was taken to close NIRD all its staff were given notice that their contracts would be terminated, as was allowed for in their terms and conditions. I understand that all staff below the age of 60 have been offered contracts at the new institutes, apart from eight industrial staff who left under the redundancy agreement. Those contracts specify a retirement age of 60 in all cases, including those of staff whose previous contracts specified retirement at 65.

Although I know that my hon. Friend is specifically referring to the group aged between 60 and 65, because he quoted the larger group I will dwell on them for a moment. It is obviously for individuals to decide whether to accept those new contracts—I am talking of those under 60. If they do so, they also accept the change in retirement age. If they reject the new contracts it is for AFRC to decide whether that rejection is reasonable. If the rejection is reasonable, the individual is treated as redundant and compensated accordingly. If it is not, he is treated as resigning and receives no immediate benefits. In the latter circumstances, it is open to an individual to take his case to an industrial tribunal. I understand, however, that the AFRC trade unions advised their staff to accept the new contracts and that as of yesterday all but one had done so.

Staff at NIRD who were aged 60 or more on 1 April 1985 have not been offered new contracts of employment and are therefore redundant. I shall come to the question of compensation in a moment, but it is important to realise why the AFRC has acted in this way. Its purpose of course is to apply across its whole service, including the new institutes, its retirement age of 60. This concern is given particular force by the fact that the AFRC is currently having to make a significant number of compulsory redundancies to stay within the Government's expenditure constraints. To retain former NIRD staff up to age 65 would, therefore, in effect mean that more younger staff in other institutes would have to be made redundant instead. It may be helpful if I give the House some idea of the numbers involved. When NIRD closed there were some 405 staff there. Of these, about 364 have accepted the offer of new contracts of employment at other AFRS institutes. For about a third of those this means accepting a contract with a different retiring age. Thirty-three staff are already aged 60 or more and are therefore not being offered new contracts and, as I mentioned earlier, eight industrial staff have been made redundant.

In considering the question of compensation for staff aged 60 or more who have been made redundant —which formed the nucleus of my hon. Friend's case—it is necessary to look back to 1975 when the AFRC introduced a new pension scheme. That scheme is essentially the same as the principal Civil Service pension scheme, which has a normal retirement age of 60. When its introduction was discussed the position of staff with a contractual entitlement to work until age 65 was looked into very carefully. It was explicitly accepted by all parties, including, I understand, the AFRC trade unions, that if such staff were made redundant after age 60 they should receive only immediate payment of their pension entitlement. Certainly there is a letter to the unions setting out these terms and there is a letter to the secretaries of all the institutes stating the circumstances of the case.

This was part of the agreed package for introducing pension arrangements which were in many ways an improvement on those that the staff concerned had before. The only exception would be if that was less than their statutory entitlement under redundancy compensation legislation, in which case it would be made up to the latter figure. This is the basis on which the NIRD staff are being compensated, since the situation envisaged back in 1975 has now arisen. It was, of course, the AFRC's decision in 1975 to allow staff to retain a right to work until age 65 while joining a pension scheme with a normal retirement age of 60. It gave them the option to do this because it wished to encourage as many staff as possible to join the new scheme. However, I understand that if NIRD staff now being made redundant had stayed in their previous pension scheme they would not have been any better off, and might have been worse off.

Despite all this, the Government have considered carefully the possibility of allowing AFRC to pay additional compensation to NIRD staff aged 60 or more. We have not yet felt able to do so. The starting point must be that there is no legal entitlement to such compensation. The staff concerned have had their contracts terminated, are therefore redundant and have been compensated for this in line with arrangements made with their representatives in 1975. I am afraid that that is a fairly normal course of events in both the private and the public sector. They are receiving a Civil Service pension, which is not normally regarded as ungenerous. They were in many ways in a favourable position with a pension scheme posited on a retirement age of 60, a right to retire at 60, and yet a right to stay on until 65. In using the expresssion "a right", I am, of course, implying that it was subject to the provisions of the contracts of employment which allowed for termination by notice, and that observation applies both before and after 60. I acknowledge, nevertheless, their genuine concern that their expectation of working until 65 has been removed with a consequent reduction in their pensions. I can only say that this is by no means the only area where Government policy involves retrenchment and a requirement on staff to leave before the age to which they had hoped to serve.

I understand and sympathise with the concern of my hon. Friends the Members for Reading, East and for Wokingham for their constituents. The position is not one that any of us would have chosen. As has been kindly said, I have looked into it in some detail. I hope that I have demonstrated that none of the staff of the former NIRD has been unfairly or unreasonably treated. It is, of course, unpleasant for people who have given good and useful service to their employers, and who believe that they still have much to contribute, to have their service terminated or, as they see it, truncated. However, the AFRC, which has the responsibility for managing the service and deciding on the allocation of the funds entrusted to it must be free to make the changes which it regards as necessary for the proper development of the scientific work that it supports, bearing in mind resources and priorities.

Security Services (Ministerial Control)

12.21 pm

Yesterday's announcement by the Prime Minister of a large extension of ministerial powers in suspending public servants—and not only civil servants—on the ground of being subversive is bound to cause further anxiety about security matters.

We must be very careful not to allow a climate of intolerance to grow. We know what happened in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the tremendous damage that McCarthyism and the like did there. I think that we can say with some justification that even at the height of the cold war hysteria, we did not, under either Labour or Conservative Governments, allow ourselves to follow quite that path in the 1950s. When the Prime Minister returns to the House after the Easter break, she will be expected to make an announcement. She should have made an oral statement to the House instead of using the device of a written reply.

The security services are rarely debated in the House. They might be touched on, as happened, for example, in the debates held only this week during the Committee stage of the Interception of Communications Bill, but that is about all. It is not possible for me or any other hon. Member to table questions about the security services, because the Table Office will tell us that such questions are not allowed. I accept straight away that the same argument has been put by Ministers in successive Governments, and no doubt we shall hear the same argument from the Minister today. It is argued that it is necessary to protect the work undertaken by bodies such as MI5, and so it would not be in the public interest for such state agencies to be the subject of parliamentary questions and scrutiny.

However, there is a growing feeling in the House, and even among some Conservative Members I understand that that attitude is no longer acceptable. The allegations that have been made, particularly in the film shown on Channel 4, "MI5's Official Secrets", have strengthened the case for saying that some degree of parliamentary accountability on the part of the security services is now more than justified. Indeed, I do not accept that such accountability would endanger the safety of the country. I shall illustrate that by reference to the Select Committee of which I am a member.

When the Home Affairs Committee decided to look into the special branch of the police force, one or two Conservative Members and some people outside expressed the fear that we would endanger the safety of the state. What happened? We agreed to inquire into the special branch and that all our sessions would be held in public. The inquiry has now come to an end. Does the Minister or any Conservative Member suggest that as a result of that inquiry, with public sessions—just as there should be—the country has been in any way endangered? Have secrets been revealed? The answer is perfectly clear. Therefore, the fears expressed at the time about the Select Committee's inquiry were not justified. The leak that occurred was about a draft report, and I hope that that will not be used as ammunition in arguing against parliamentary scrutiny.

In a recent answer, the Prime Minister informed me that she would not agree to the Director General of MI5 appearing before the Select Committee if at any time he was invited to do so. When I put another question to the Home Secretary, I was informed that it would not be possible for the newly appointed Director General of MI5 to meet hon. Members in this House, say, once a year. But what would be wrong with that? Indeed, what would be wrong with the Director General of MI5, who is a public servant, paid out of public funds, appearing, if so requested, before the Home Affairs Committee?

I cannot for the life of me see how the state would be endangered if the Director General came before the Select Committee. Nowadays, everyone knows who he is. Only two or three weeks ago a profile appeared in The Observer. So the nonsense that the public are not supposed to know the identity of such people has fortunately ended. Before the film, "MI5's Official Secrets", was shown, disturbing reports had appeared in the press about the way in which MI5 collects information on people.

There is, apparently, an F Branch of MI5, which is very important. It is sub-divided: F2 investigates not the stock exchange, the City or the Conservative party but trade unions, while F7 looks at various other political groups. In an article that appeared in The Guardian in April 1984 we were told that F7 also looks at Members of Parliament, teachers, lawyers and journalists. If that is so, how many people are the subject of investigation? How many files are open on Members of Parliament, teachers, lawyers and journalists, and perhaps others as well? Who decides who should be investigated by F branch of MI5? Since the publicity over F branch, the title might have changed.

It is perhaps surprising—although I do not know—that those Conservative Members who are always on about state interference and the need to cut the number of civil servants do not seem to be particularly worried about state surveillance activities. The article also mentions FX. Apparently, it is responsible for long-term infiltration. Moreover, F4 puts agents into political parties and organisations. We are told that F6 puts agents into trade unions. If I had mentioned all this at the time, or shortly afterwards, the ministerial response might have been—and might still be today—that we should not believe all that we read in the press. Of course when an organisation such as MI5 has such immense powers, and there is no parliamentary scrutiny, there is bound to be unease about whether abuses occur.

In the film "MI5's Official Secrets", a former employee of MI5, Miss Cathy Massiter, claimed that the late Mr. Harry Newton was an agent of MI5 and had been put by MI5 into CND and other organisations. This point may not be covered by the Minister's brief, but I hope that he will take note of it. Would it not be right to clear up this allegation? Mr. Newton is dead, and the allegation has caused considerable distress to his family and friends.

If the allegation made by Miss Massiter is correct, what justification would there be for the security service to plant agents in organisations that no reasonable person could consider to be subversive? I do not know whether Mr. Newton was an agent—I am trying to seek information through this debate. If he was not an agent, what possible reason could there be for Miss Massiter to claim that he was? What would be her motive? Many of us believe that she is an honourable woman, who has done the country good by revealing what has been happening in MI5.

Is CND subversive in the eyes of security service? The Home Secretary told us in the House and in the Select Committee when it was examining the special branch that the CND is perfectly legal. Therefore, why is it subject to all these investigations?

In March this year, I read in The Observer that the former editor of the CND newspaper, a journalist of some 30 years experience, a Mr. Bonnett, fell out with CND. When he left the organisation, he was asked all sorts of questions by the special branch, about gossip, such as who lives with whom, and about the leadership style of the general secretary of CND. What justification is there for asking such questions? He is quoted as saying that the special branch was interested in everybody. There is understandable and justifiable concern over this matter.

Is the Institute for Workers' Control, of which Mr. Newton was treasurer, considered subversive? If it is not, why was Mr. Newton, if he was an agent, planted in that organisation, and no doubt encouraged to become its treasurer? Are MI5's planted agents instructed to act in the most provocative way possible, carrying out the traditional role of agents provacateurs? Is putting agents into such organisations the right way to spend taxpayer's money?

Yesterday in Committee on the Interception of Communications Bill, I was asked by a Conservative member whether I believed that a security service was necessary. Obviously, I answered in the affirmative. I went on to say that much of the work undertaken by the security service is no doubt justified, but if the feeling continues to grow that some part of the security service is out of control, and many people fully committed to the parliamentary and democratic system are or have been the subject of unjustified surveillance by MI5, then confidence in the impartiality of the service will become eroded. Why should CND, the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Institute for Workers' Control be targeted by the security service and the special branch?

Miss Massiter said about the NCCL:
"Anyone who was on the National Executive of NCCL, who worked for NCCL, who was an active member to the degree of being, say, a branch secretary of NCCL, would be placed on permanent record and the routine enquiries were instituted to identify such people and police inquiries were sought."
I am sure that the Minister will say that he is not in a position to talk about such matters, but is it not a matter of concern to the House that an organisation that no one could reasonably consider to be subversive should be subject to such detailed and unjustified inquiries? How far does this extend to other organisations?

Why was my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), before she came to the House, the subject of such surveillance? Is she a subversive? Is it argued that she wanted somehow to overthrow parliamentary democracy? Taxpayers' money was used to carry out investigations into her and many like her. I should have thought that every hon. Member should be concerned about such abuses being practised by the security service. What kind of intelligence officer in MI5 could have been so stupid or prejudiced as to believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham was some kind of danger or threat to the state?

Are there some people in MI5—if there are, I trust that there are not many—who are so partial in their own political views that they would find it difficult to carry out objectively the directive given to the security service in 1952?

The matters that I raise will continue to be raised, certainly by Labour Members. The feeling grows that it is wrong for the security service not to be subject to any form of control by Parliament. The definition of subversive, which anyway is far too wide and needs changing, refers to those who want to overthrow parliamentary democracy by various means. The irony is that Parliament itself has no say in these matters. We can have the occasional debate, but we are not likely to get much information. The director-general of MI5 is banned from appearing before the Select Committee and questions are banned in the House. The announcement by the Prime Minister yesterday means that anxiety is bound to grow, as is the feeling that some changes are necessary.

Yesterday, in Committee on the Interception of Communications Bill, one or two Conservative Members argued for an ombudsman for telephone tapping, but more is required. If we are to have confidence in the security service we have to be persuaded that it carries out its function in a proper manner and not by such practices as targeting organisations such as the NCCL and the CND, and carrying out inquiries into my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham. We have to be persuaded that the security service will carry out its functions in a proper manner. It should not do so in a way that many of us would consider, in the light of the allegations made by Miss Massiter, to be near-subversive in themselves.

12.37 pm

The subject of this debate reflects the close interest that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) takes in security matters, and that has been demonstrated by his contributions, among other things, to the recent inquiry of the Home Affairs Select Committee into special branches, and to debates on the Interception of Communications Bill. There is no dispute that questions of national security, touching as they do both on the most vital interests of the nation and upon the rights and freedoms of the individual citizen, are ones which need to be taken very seriously by the House, and I have no quarrel with the hon. Gentleman for raising these matters. However, I am sorry that he did not pay tribute to the vital work that the security service carries out in protecting the community as a whole from threats such as espionage and terrorism.

The hon. Gentleman referred to yesterday's announcement, which he said represented a large extension of ministerial power to suspend people in the public service who are security risks. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree with the basic proposition that when the reliability of an individual in public service is in doubt it may be necessary to remove him from work the nature of which is vital to the security of the state, or to bar him from moving to such work. When there is doubt because of alleged subversive tendencies or associations a formal procedure is used which has existed since 1948. Under it the individual has the right of appeal to an independent panel of three advisers.

Last night the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) engaged in his usual extravagant language and made a statement to the press which was reported this morning. If the right hon. Gentleman works himself into a lather like that over such a non-event he is likely to be well and truly dead before he is deselected for Gorton.

I must go into some detail to put into perspective the substance of the reply given yesterday.

I appreciate that it is right for the Minister to refer to such matters, because I referred to them, but does he intend to find time to refer to other matters that I raised?

I have every intention of referring to a number of other matters raised by the hon. Gentleman.

The terms of reference of the three advisers were last published by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1957. The Security Commission, in its report on security procedures and practices in the public service in 1982 observed that these had become out of date in the light of the changes in the nature of the threat to security. I am advised that my right hon. and learned Friend has decided, in the light of that, that the Government, in consultation with the three advisers—Lord Justice Lloyd, Sir Patrick Nairne and Mr. Edward Hewlett — should revise the terms of reference and the statement of procedures to be followed. That decision, which was announced yesterday, does not alter the definition of subversion from that given by Lord Harris of Greenwich, a Labour Minister, in 1975.

The new terms of reference now include membership of subversive groups, other than Communists, which are acknowledged by the Minister concerned to fall within the definition of
"activities which threaten the safety or wellbeing of the state and which are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means."
The only other changes in the terms of reference of the three advisers are concerned with procedure. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, North will recognise that this really is "much ado about nothing". It would have been highly irresponsible if the terms of reference had not been brought up to date in the light of the report by the Security Commission.

Safeguarding national security is in a real sense the highest trust which parliament places upon Ministers and, in the area which we are now discussing, particularly upon the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary of the day. If that trust is neglected, the nation's safety is imperilled.

However, two things are particularly worth noting about the debates which have recently taken place on the Interception of Communications Bill. Nobody anywhere in the House, with the possible exception of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who on 12 March at column 215 had some rather extraordinary things to say about his former Prime Minister Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, has suggested that Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries of successive Administrations, of whichever political party, have not discharged the trust confided in them in these matters with all the care and integrity that Parliament has rightly expected and demanded of them. No one has suggested that questions of national security can be discussed in public in any detail.

Those who threaten society with terrorism, espionage and subversion use stealth and secrecy as their weapons. Those who have to counter these threats must be able to operate with similar secrecy and their operations cannot be put at risk by public disclosure of their methods and tactics. It is this consideration, and this consideration alone, which has led successive Governments over a very long period to adhere to the policy of not commenting on security matters.

This means that false or misleading reports and allegations have to go unanswered. Far better that, than to give those who threaten our society clues as to the nature of the security service's operations against them by comparing the answer which is given to one allegation with that which is given to another. It is for that reason that I shall not comment on any of the particular allegations that have recently been made.

I cannot possibly oblige the hon. Gentleman in his request about Mr. Harry Newton. However, I shall indulge myself in a comment upon it. I am aware that the allegations about Mr. Newton have caused distress and anxiety to him, his family and those who knew him. My right hon. and learned Friend has said how irresponsible it is for such allegations to be made about someone who cannot respond to them himself. However, responsibility for the allegations rests with those who made them. I cannot depart from the usual policy of not confirming or denying allegations about the operations of the security service. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises fully why that is so.

I remind the House that the Home Secretary covered all aspects of the allegations made in the programme. First, the allegations of improperly authorised interception were examined by Lord Bridge, who found that no warrant relevant to those named in the programme had been issued in contravention of the appropriate criteria. Secondly, my right hon. and learned Friend indicated that he had taken steps to examine the allegations that the security service had acted improperly in carrying out investigations and surveillance in relation to subversive activity, and had concluded, in the light of the allegations and of his inquiries into them, that the security service had carried out no operation, investigation, surveillance or action against any individual other than for the purposes laid down in its directive and with the propriety which successive Governments have rightly demanded of it.

My right hon. and learned Friend also said that he was satisfied that members of the security service had not carried out any interception without the authority of the Secretary of State, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions had asked the Metropolitan police to look into the allegations in the film which suggested that criminal offences may have been committed. This was a complete and conclusive answer to that set of allegations.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North made some remarks about CND. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has made it abundantly plain that political campaigning to change the mind of the Government or of people generally about political issues cannot constitute subversion under the definition given by Lord Harris in 1975. Similar considerations apply to trade unions and their members.

No individual need fear that he is the subject of investigation by the security authorities on the ground of subversion unless his actions and intentions bring him within the strict criteria set out in the definition. That definition was discussed at length in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in its recent inquiry. My right hon. and learned Friend explained its effect fully and carefully. He also explained the reasons for the Government's belief that this definition — which was applied by the previous Labour Government—sets the right boundaries for investigations into subversion without transgressing into interference with legitimate political or trade union activity.

On ministerial control of the security service, we must take as our starting point the directive issued to the director general by the then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, in 1952, and referred to in paragraph 238 of Lord Denning's Report Cmnd. 2152.

This directive makes the director general personally responsible directly to the Home Secretary for the proper and efficient implementation of the tasks set out in the directive. It is through this relationship that ministerial control is exercised. The Government appoint the director general, and he holds office only so long as he has the confidence of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister.

The director general is expected to seek direction and guidance from the Home Secretary as to the way the service goes about its business. With but one exception, the Home Secretary does not concern himself with particular operations. That one exception is when an interception warrant is sought, when of course the Home Secretary must be given sufficient supporting information for him to judge whether the application comes within the established criteria. But in general the Home Secretary is not concerned with particular cases, as paragraph 6 of the directive makes clear when it states:
"Ministers do not concern themselves with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Service in particular cases, but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue on which guidance is sought."
There are good reasons for that policy. The security service is not—as some have alleged—in the business of obtaining information on behalf of the Government. It is there to protect all of us and the state against external and internal dangers, and must, as the directive makes clear, do that in a way that avoids any suggestion that it is concerned with any matter other than the defence of the realm as a whole or that there is any political bias or influence in its work. The operational judgments must be for the director general to make. If he gets them wrong, and the safety of the state is jeopardised or civil liberties unjustifiably infringed, he must answer to the Home Secretary.

In that way the chain of responsibility and control is clear and unequivocal. It enables Ministers to discharge their responsibility to Parliament for security matters without involving themselves in the detailed operations of the security service.

I appreciate that the Minister does not intend to respond to any of the allegations made by Miss Massiter. If it is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), when she was the legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties, was the subject of surveillance, and if it is true that many other people involved in that one organisation had files on them for no other reason than that they were active in that organisation, would not the Minister agree that that was indeed a serious erosion of civil liberties and in itself to be deplored?

The hon. Gentleman knows better than that. It has been the custom for years and years never to comment on national security matters. It has certainly been the practice never to answer hypothetical questions.

The hon. Gentleman needs to think for only a moment to realise that if Ministers were actually to answer questions framed in that way, over a period of time there could be questions so framed and answers so given that eventually obvious damage would be done to the security services.

I am not, therefore, impugning anybody. It is nothing except common sense to say that it is nonsense to put questions framed in that way and ask Ministers of the Crown to answer them. I am not departing from the practice that has been followed by Governments for as long as I can remember, and certainly the practice followed by the last Labour Government.

The hon. Gentleman, who is so ready to make all these criticisms, never mentions one of the most salient factors in the "20:20 Vision" film, which was that the bulk of the allegations related to matters that were alleged to have happened during the period of the Labour Government. All the hon. Gentleman's attacks are directed as though somehow under this Government the prison gates are closing and practices are being changed. He knows the position perfectly well and he should make that plain if he wants to make a fair speech to the House—which it is obvious he does not.

I am sure that the House would not want the position to arise where any Home Secretary was directing particular operations against subversives or others who might threaten our society. However great was the honour and integrity of the Home Secretary of the day, the suspicion would always exist that political influence might be brought to bear on the conduct of these operations, and it is therefore right that through the structure of responsibility established by the directive, the service should be under the operational control of its director general, and that he should account to the Home Secretary for its proper and efficient working.

So the Home Secretary is necessarily distanced from the detailed workings of the security service, but that does not mean that there is any lack of ministerial control. As my right hon. and learned Friend has made clear, he and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister take very seriously their responsibility for satisfying themselves that the service operates within the letter and spirit of its directive. They take the utmost care to ensure that the person appointed as director general has the necessary qualities of ability and judgment to guide the service properly and effectively in the performance of the tasks set for it. My right hon. and learned Friend maintains regular contact with the director general, though the House will not expect me to go into details about the nature of those contacts or the matters discussed.

However, the House can be assured that my right hon. and learned Friend takes great care—as I am sure did his predecessors—to inform himself of the matters of which he must be aware in order to satisfy his responsibility to Parliament for the maintenance of a security service that is efficient in the protection of our national security and vigilant in its upholding of the civil liberties of the citizens of this country. This is an effective exercise of ministerial control in a difficult and sensitive area. I believe that the balance is right, as indeed have all the Governments of both parties who have exercised these responsibilities since 1952 when the directive was issued.

Royal Assent

I have to inform the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

  • 1. Hong Kong Act 1985.
  • 2. National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985.
  • 3. Lerwick Harbour Order Confirmation Act 1985.
  • 4. Bournemouth Borough Council Act 1985.
  • 5. London Docklands Railway Act 1985.
  • European Economic Community (Enlargement)

    12.57 pm

    The subject for debate has not been dealt with by the House since 1978, which was the last occasion on which we had an opportunity to discuss the vital matter of the enlargement of the EEC, which will have, as I hope to show the House, very profound effects for the United Kingdom and the EEC as a whole.

    Since 1978 we have had the opportunity to examine the effects of an enlargement of the Community with the accession of Greece. As a Member of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1984, I have had the opportunity to examine the effect of an enlargement of the Community and to consider at close quarters the operation of the institutions of the Community.

    The rationale that is given by the Government for supporting the accession of Spain and Portugal to the EEC tends — my hon. Friend the Minister will no doubt confirm this later — to be based on three principal arguments. One could be summarised as the completion of western democratic Europe, another related to that would be the consolidation of democracy in the applicant countries — Spain and Portugal — and the third has a strategic or defence element and relates to the encouragement of Spain to take part in or to join NATO.

    The completion or extension of democratic Europe is a very tempting argument, although it should be noted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said as recently as 2 April — Hansard reference column 1066, perhaps appropriately:
    "I think it likely that 12 will be the limit of the Community for a very long time." — [Offical Report, 2 April 1985; Vol. 76, c. 1066.]
    I regret that in a sense because, quite apart from the merits or otherwise of the case being made for Spain and Portugal to join the Community, I would be very interested in the possibility of countries such as Austria and Switzerland — were it not for their curious political position — and Norway and Sweden looking again at the Community as prospective members. Apparently that is not in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which I regret.

    Therefore, the argument about the completion of western democratic Europe can at best be only a rather temporary one because we are not, apparently, contemplating its full completion. In that sense, the related argument about the consolidation of democracy is somewhat dubious because we are not told in what sense mere membership of the EEC would guarantee the continuation of democracy in any member country, never mind Spain and Portugal. Nor does the Community have a satisfactory definition of "democracy", and I believe that it would be unable to judge whether a country was, in that sense, sufficienty democratic to merit membership. The Minister of State might wish to expand on that when he replies to the debate.

    In relation to the argument relating to strategy, defence and NATO, an intriguing prospect emerges because the Spanish people will have a referendum next year about their membership of NATO. Are we being told that we are, in effect, bribing the Spaniards into agreeing to stay in NATO by their membership of the EEC? Or do we not welcome wholehearted membership of NATO, regardless of whether moneyes are paid or membership of other organisations is extended?

    That must be considered in the context of the fact that Ireland, which is a member of the EEC, is not in NATO — indeed, Ireland declares itself to be neutral — that France is not a full member of NATO in any case, and that, more importantly, the country which is arguably the single most important member of NATO, certainly on the eastern flank—Turkey—will apparently be expected to continue to support NATO without being offered the bribe or inducement of membership of the EEC. It is beyond me why we must offer Spain, but not Turkey, that inducement.

    Will the Minister comment on the position of Turkey as a loyal member of NATO and as a country which is moving rapidly towards the restoration of democracy, and say whether we would welcome Turkey as a member of the EEC? That is highly relevant to the question under consideration, which is the enlargement of the Community, in this case to take in Spain and Portugal.

    Politics is, among other things, the assessment of the judgment of costs and benefits. What I have outlined so far have been the principal arguments about the claimed benefits of the enlargment of the EEC bringing in Spain and Portugal. The costs argument is much less clear than hon. Members might believe. Surprisingly little information is to hand about the costs of enlargement. The Prime Minister said:
    "We shall, of course, put as many of the details of the costs"—
    of enlargement—
    "as we can before the House". — [Official Report, 2 April 1985; Vol. 76, c. 1070.]
    However, she had said about the enlargement of the EEC in a written reply to me:
    "It is not yet possible to estimate actual costs and benefits to the United Kingdom"—[Official Report, 29 March 1985, Vol. 76, C. 365.]
    We are left in the peculiar position of being asked to sign a blank cheque. We shall be asked by Her Majesty's Government to agree to the entry of Spain and Portugal without, I fear, being told the costs of that exercise, either to the Community or to the United Kingdom. I hope that that will be rectified before the treaty is brought to this House for ratification.

    I hope that the Minister will consider several heads of cost and give the Government's position on them. Two of the main sources of benefit to Britain from the EC are the regional fund and the social fund. It would be interesting to know whether those funds will be increased in size and, if so, what other elements of the budget of the EC might be reduced as a result. In any case, it is not inevitable, given the fact that two countries which are less prosperous than the United Kingdom will join the Community, that our position in, as it were, the league table of claims on funds, such as the regional and social funds will be reduced.

    Shall we not find ourselves benefiting less than we have from such funds? Either we shall benefit less, in the sense that we shall get less of an existing fund, or, if the funds are increased in size, we shall get less than we would have got were Spain and Portugal not members. I am sure that the Minister will have followed that logic—I hope that it has not been too confused—in his usual impeccable way.

    My first area of concern, therefore, could be put broadly as the redistribution of wealth from the richer to the poorer. It is often said that one argument for bringing Spain and Portugal into the Community is that we could help them as less prosperous countries. The honest answer to be given by those who support the entry of Spain and Portugal must be that, if that is the case, the more prosperous must inevitably pay some of the bill. It is the size of that bill that we must be told before we are expected to approve the entry of Spain and Portugal into the Community.

    A much bigger issue is the common agricultural policy, and here we enter the real big money arguments of the EC. The CAP still takes by far the largest part of the resources of the Community and there is, regrettably, no sign of that changing. How much worse will it be when we get the entry of these two new countries into the Community, with their production of wine, olive oil and tomatoes, to say nothing of their other products, and the demands that they will make on the CAP?

    The questions that arise from that include not only what we shall do to deal with the control of expenditure on those important items, which will be much increased in output within the Community, but what will happen to the whole orientation of the CAP. I have been asked to comment on behalf of Britain's horticultural industry. I have been sent a document by the National Farmers Union, and the extracts I quote from it show the depth of concern of the industry in this country. The NFU says:
    "realisation of Spain's enormous agricultural potential could add to the Community's existing surplus problems with further adverse budgetary consequences. The Unions believe that EC funds should not be made available to Spain or Portugal from the Guidance Section of FEOGA if this would lead to increased production of products already in surplus."
    The NFU goes on to say with specific reference to horticulture:
    "The accession of Spain and Portugal would increase EC fruit production by almost 50 per cent. and vegetable production by 25 per cent. Existing Community growers"—
    including those in the United Kingdom—
    "would face a major increase in competition, as well as the possible disruption and destabilisation of sensitive and already adequately supplied markets."
    There is, therefore, concern among the members of the agricultural community in Britain that the effects of Spain and Portugal coming in will be far-reaching, because the southern countries—I refer to Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal all in alliance, and France when it suited her—would be in a position to swing the whole emphasis of the agricultural policy away from the direction that it has taken in the past—dairy products, cereals, beef, sheepmeat and the like—towards the southern products.

    I hope that the Minister will address himself to that difficulty because if we are to be honest with ourselves and our citizens, and particularly with our farmers, we must tell them what we estimate the effect will be of the entry of two new countries to the Community, which would form a new emphasis or power bloc to the south of the Community, when those countries would, in their own interests, want to draw more of the CAP funds towards themselves.

    Again we are faced with the difficulty either that the funds will be increased overall or that the existing funds will be redistributed. One way or the other, the bill must be picked up. It is the size of that bill about which we need to hear more today. Why is it assumed that a sector as vital as our automobile industry will prosper by easier access to Spanish markets, when the Spanish automobile industry is one of the most modern and efficient in Europe and when, if anything, we shall face an increased stiffening of competition from that source?

    I am aware of, and pay tribute to, the attempts by Her Majesty's Government, and in particular by the Minister of State, to try to make sense out of the institutional arrangements of the Community, particularly in terms of the position that would be created if Spain and Portugal were to join. The Minister will, I am sure, confirm that up to now our efforts in that direction have, alas, failed. We shall see an increase in the membership of the Commission of the Community from 14 to 17. There is already a problem in finding enough meaningful work for the present 14 commissioners to do. It remains to be seen what 17 members will do. That is bad enough, but I am told that the European Parliament will increase from 434 members to 518 members. There will also be two official new Community languages. The costs of travel—Madrid and Lisbon will be centres of activity in the Community, and those of us who have been Members of the European Parliament know what that involves—and of interpretation and translation of documents must impose a heavy burden on the Community's institutions. There will also be significant effects on voting in the Council of Ministers.

    I add in passing, because I agree that it is only a temporary argument in a sense, that the political complexion of the two countries, but especially the larger country, Spain, which has a Socialist Government, will have a potentially profound and unfortunate effect on the political balance within the Community and its institutions. How will the political decision-making process in the Community be affected by the accession of Spain and Portugal?

    I am dubious about the claimed benefits of the enlargement to bring in Spain and Portugal. I do not believe that the arguments have the strength and validity which we have been asked to accept as unarguable and beyond dispute or doubt. I am concerned that the full cost of this exercise has never been laid before us, in terms of the internal budgetary working of the Community and, more importantly, in terms of the effects on the balance of decision-making and influence within the Community and the extent to which funds will be reorientated or redirected from the northern part of the Community, of which we are a part, to the south, in which the two applicant countries will be such an important element.

    I remain extremely sceptical about the benefits of this exercise. I look to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for reassurance. I hope that the House will take the opportunity that it is given, in terms of what my hon. Friend says as a background, to consider the position that it will take when the ratification of the treaty of accession comes before hon. Members later this year.

    1.12 pm

    The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
    (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)