House Of Commons
Thursday 13 June 1985
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL BILL (By Order)
Order for consideration read.
To be considered upon Thursday 20 June.
YORKSHIRE WATER AUTHORITY BILL (By Order)
BRITISH RAILWAYS (TROWSE BRIDGE) BILL [Lords] (By-Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday 20 June.
Oral Answers To Questions
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 9 May, four police officers and two civilians have died in incidents arising from the security situation in the Province. The recent tragedy at the Killeen border crossing point, in which the four police officers died, underlines the grave risks which the security forces continue to face in carrying out their duties. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to their outstanding courage and determination to defeat terrorism. Our sympathies go to the families of the bereaved.Since the beginning of this year a total of 230 people have been charged with serious offences, including 20 with murder and 18 with attempted murder, and 103 weapons, 5,715 rounds of ammunition and 3,858 lb of explosives have been recovered.
The House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for that statement. Does he regret the reluctance of the Irish Police Commissioner, Mr. Wren, to meet and to co-operate with Sir John Hermon, the Chief Constable of the RUC, since such co-operation must be in the best interests of both police forces to ensure that terrorism is eliminated as speedily as possible?
It is not for me to analyse the position of Commissioner Wren of the Garda. As my hon. Friend knows, in many ways there is strong and worthwhile co-operation between the RUC and the Garda, as a result of which many lives have been saved. However, that must be buttressed by regular meetings at a senior level between the two police forces, and I would hope that it could be regarded as a matter of course that the two chiefs of the police forces should also meet from time to time
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Chief Constable of the RUC has consistently stated that he has no disagreement with Commissioner Wren? Has the commissioner or the Government of the Irish Republic identified to the British Government the substance of any disagreement on their part with the chief constable?
No, Sir. As the hon. Gentleman said, Sir John Hermon has always been keen to improve co-operation, which in many respects is good, but which could be improved.
Will the Secretary of State comment on the remarks made at the annual meeting of the police representative body in Northern Ireland, when Mr. Alan Wright said that the financial cuts were hindering the RUC in their campaign against terrorism, and that the deplorable state of some border police stations was telling against the morale of the RUC?
I have noted those remarks, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was present at the dinner. There have been no financial cuts, in the sense that the RUC now disposes of greater financial resources than ever before. I understand what Mr. Wright said about the need for the renovation and replacement of buildings, and £20 million has been designated for that purpose for each of the next three years. That will match the needs created by the rapid expansion of the RUC in recent years.
Did the Secretary of State see the editorial in The Economist and think about its implications for security? It suggested that the Government were wrong to refuse to meet elected Sinn Fein representatives. Does he agree that it is a better democratic principle to meet the representatives of all elected parties than for the Government to pick and choose which representatives they find acceptable?
I am a little puzzled about The Economist. In one article it advises us not to talk to Dublin any more, and in another, as the hon. Lady said, it advises us to talk to Sinn Fein. I am clear that there is no purpose in deceiving ourselves that any conversations with Sinn Fein representatives would turn members of the Provisional IRA into decent, law-abiding citizens. In my view, that is not a possibility. The policy which I pursue is clearly different from that practised by the hon. Lady, though not, as I understand it, by her Front Bench spokesmen, who took an aeroplane to London before the embarrassing meeting took place. The policy in which I believe is that we should use every means within the law to distinguish between those in Northern Ireland who believe in and practise constitutional means and those who connive at violence.
Is my right hon. Friend content with the present practice in relation to marches and parades in the Province?
I have not lived through a marching and parading season yet, but I am uneasy about the present position. The policing of marches and parades on the present scale places a heavy burden on the police and in some cases, not all, can provoke sectarian conflict. Those who wish to see the police concentrate on the basic security problems of saving lives and protecting the community should think rather more carefully about the way in which some, not all, of those parades are organised and the burden that they place upon the RUC.
Despite Sir John Hermon's repeated statements that he wants to see an improvement in relations between the RUC and the Garda, does the Secretary of State agree that such an improvement will not be helped by public recriminations and by the apportioning of blame by the RUC or by the Garda?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I agree with that. It is inevitable that occasionally feelings run high and that there are misunderstandings. Those produce statements and further misunderstandings. I do not believe that any of those principally involved believe that that is a sensible way to carry on.
Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the serious statement made by the Sinn Fein chairman of Omagh council, who claimed that if ordinary Northern Ireland council workmen don the Queen's uniform and are part-time members of the security forces and the IRA say that they are legitimate targets, he is happy to abide by that? What action will the Secretary of State and the Government take against Provo Kerr, and what protection will they give to my constituents who happen to be part-time members of the security forces and work for Omagh council? When shall we see an end to the mockery of Sinn Fein-IRA vampires in our councils in Northern Ireland?
Anyone in Northern Ireland, whether a councillor or not, is under the law, and any remarks made or any membership of any illegal organisation—whether the person involved is a councillor or not—fall to be examined by the police and prosecuting authorities in the same way as with any other citizen. I hope that people who make the kind of highly objectionable and disgusting remarks to which the hon. Gentleman referred have that point well in mind.
In view of the fact that the armed wing of Sinn Fein has murdered three councillors in County Armagh, an hon. Member and a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, what measures has the Secretary of State taken to protect other councillors, council officials and council workers in the Province?
The level of personal protection accorded to personalities in the Province who may be under threat is plainly something that the RUC studies constantly, sometimes adding and sometimes subtracting protection as it assesses the threat. With his long experience, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is the only sensible way to proceed.
While the House is pleased to hear my right hon. Friend's comment about cross-border co-operation, is it not a fact that the two chief officers of police have not met for more than two years, and that, however good that co-operation may be today, it would be much better if the two chief officers of police could be persuaded to get together more frequently?
It is true that the co-operation that exists and is particularly strong in the border areas would be buttressed and re-inforced if there was more regular contact and co-operation at senior levels of the police forces. It should become a matter of course, without need for publicity or notice, that the commanders of the two police forces occasionally meet.
For the avoidance of doubt, will the Secretary of State accept that the return to London yesterday of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and me for an evening engagement was arranged before we knew the timetable of the working group and the order in which it was seeing delegations. However strongly the right hon. Gentleman may disagree, as we all do, with some of the views expressed by Sinn Fein, does he accept that the essence of democratic and constitutional politics, in which we all profess to believe, is listening to people with whom we disagree? In particular, can the right hon. Gentleman justify refusing to talk to elected councillors about health and safety matters? Does he agree that those whose reaction to every circumstance is to throw a tantrum and walk out can hardly complain if they are seen as being more interested in dramatic discord than genuine understanding?
I am sorry to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation, because it means that he associated himself with the Labour party delegation's decision that it was right to receive Sinn Fein. I simply repeat what I believe to be the right attitude for people in positions of responsibility, which is to distinguish to the maximum extent permitted by the law between those, whether we agree with them or not, who practise constitutional means of arguing their objectives and those who connive at violence.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the recent cross-border incursions by British soldiers into County Louth and the consequences of it? Is he further aware that there have been many such incursions, that they are always one way, and that the soldiers always give the same reason— a map-reading error? What conclusions does the Secretary of State draw from the fact that the only soldiers in Ireland who appear to be able to read maps are Irish soldiers?
I am not so sure that there are many Irish soldiers in those areas. The hon. Gentleman is correct in drawing attention to an error that was made and has been acknowledged by the Army. He spoke of "consequences", and he may be talking about a certain tap and oil supply. I have no evidence to lead me to suppose that that incident had anything to do with the British Army.
Kilroot Power Station
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a further statement about the decision to convert the Kilroot power station to burning coal and lignite.
The decision to convert the first phase of Kilroot power station to dual solid fuel—oil firing was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) on 22 May 1985. It has been widely welcomed in Northern Ireland as a first step towards reducing the costly dependence on oil.
I warmly welcome the decision to use lignite mined in Northern Ireland to fire a power station there. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that makes good sense economically, and that it will lead to a reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions from that power station compared with other conventional coal-fired power stations in the United Kingdom? If that is the case, is he aware that his Department is taking a welcome lead by setting an example to other Departments in playing a part in reducing what could be the severe effects of acid rain in the United Kingdom and acid rain exported to Scandinavia?
I am delighted to be a crusader in the House for clean air by the conversion of Kilroot power station to coal. The sulphur content of heavy fuel oil is 3 per cent., of coal 1 per cent., and of lignite in Northern Ireland 0.2 per cent. Therefore, the conversion of Kilroot to coal will cut by one third the amount of sulphur pollution. If we can eventually move to lignite production in the Crumlin area, we shall cut the sulphur content again by about 40 per cent.
As the Ayrshire coalfield had hoped to supply coal to Kilroot power station, will the Minister say what proportion of the solid fuel will be composed of lignite and what proportion will be occasioned by the burning of Ayrshire coal?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that supplementary question and I know that the NCB and the coal miners welcome the switch of Kilroot to coal. The intention of the switch at the outset is completely to coal. The transfer will cost £94 million and the saving will be between £25 million and £30 million a year. It will, therefore, pay for itself within three or four years—a relationship with capital expenditure currently almost without equal. If we decide eventually that lignite is right, and the test at the West Belfast station has not yet been completed, it will be used first not at Kilroot but near the mine. The intention for the foreseeable future, though not necessarily for the long-term future, is to use coal at Kilroot.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if discussions have taken place between Government Ministers, the chairman and chief executive of STC and trade union officials regarding job losses at STC Monkstown, Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.
In the course of the past few months I have had discussions with STC's chairman, the Monkstown factory work force representatives and the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I have also corresponded with STC's chairman. I have stressed my concern to secure the future of the factory and have promised that the Industrial Development Board of Northern Ireland will do all it can to help the company in its efforts to increase the factory's efficiency and to bring in new products.
I thank the Minister for his efforts so far. Does he accept that the privatisaton of British Telecom and the policy of purchasing from foreign companies contributed to the loss of 345 jobs in 1984 and will contribute to further job losses totalling 550 this year? Will he undertake to press the board of STC further to encourage the company to allocate products for manufacture at the Monkstown plant in Northern Ireland? May we be assured that the centralisation of STC activities in London is not a precursor to its withdrawal from Northern Ireland?
The answer to the first part of that supplementary question is that the Government are committed to a policy of free competition within the telecommunications sector. It is up to the manufacturing companies to exploit the opportunities available to them within that framework. The problem in relation to STC, as raised in the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, is that we have products there which have been sold in the past and are selling now. We need new products which will sell in the future. The whole problem of the Northern Ireland economy, of which the IDB is aware, is the need to encourage the development, by STC and other companies, of products that will sell in Northern Ireland, in Great Britain and throughout the world in the coming 20 to 30 years.
Crumlin Road Court (Trial)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make arrangements to pay an official visit to observe a trial involving evidence from a self-confessed terrorist at the Crumlin road court.
Is the Minister aware that many people regard the present system of juryless trials at the Crumlin road court as outrageous? It would be appropriate for him to pay a visit to see the way in which trials take place, with no jury, where the decision is made solely on the word of a supergrass witness who stands to benefit from giving evidence, and where only the judge makes the decision. How much money has been paid in the last four years to supergrass witnesses for their evidence in such circumstances?
The figure for which the hon. Gentleman asks, £1·3 million in recent years, has previously been given in the House. The answer to the main point of his supplementary question is that the matter must be seen against the background of terrorism and the struggle to protect the citizens of Northern Ireland. Terrorism has in the past included the intimidation of jurors, and that is why the recent Baker report concluded that the Diplock courts should continue. The uncorroborated evidence of which the hon. Gentleman complains is admissible in England and Wales, under federal law in the United States and in many Western countries. It is for the court to decide how much weight should be placed on that evidence. It is much better that the court should decide than that politicians or others outside the court should decide.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who believe that the Maguires and Bernard Conlans were erroneously convicted of terrorism by an English court with an English jury, also believe that they would probably have been acquitted if they had been tried in Northern Ireland by a Diplock court with a greater knowledge of explosive cases?
My hon. Friend will not expect me to follow him too closely down the Maguire trail. However, it is true, and it is a notable figure, that of those in Northern Ireland who pleaded not guilty before the courts, 50 per cent. were acquitted by a jury, and a higher proportion, 53 per cent., were acquitted in Diplock courts.
In view of the Government's rejection of the principle of joint sovereignty, will the Secretary of State also reject the Dublin proposals for the involvement of, and a role for, the Republic's judges in Northern Ireland?
I have noticed a flurry of speculation in the press, including the lead story in The Irish Times today. It is difficult to comment in the House or in public on discussions between Governments that are going on all the time and are confidential, but the right hon. Gentleman is too shrewd a hand to allow himself to be carried away by such speculation.
Does not recent experience, including the acquittal of several alleged terrorists at trials where accomplice evidence has been admitted, show that the judiciary of Northern Ireland is well aware of the dangers of convicting on uncorroborated evidence of accomplices, and that its quality is at least as high as that of the judiciary in the rest of the United Kingdom?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I am grateful for that comment.
Is it not a violation of both natural and legal justice that some self-confessed murderers are literally being paid to give evidence that will save their skins, and are doing so in trials without juries? The right hon. Gentleman said that it is all right for that to happen in England and Wales, but he omitted the fact that there are juries in England and Wales but not in Northern Ireland. Is he going to do nothing to set right such a travesty of justice in Northern Ireland?
I am looking, as the hon. Member knows, at the Baker report's proposals and I shall soon, I hope, be able to tell the House the way in which my mind is working. I am sure that it would be wrong, and a false service to the citizens of Northern Ireland, if we were either to abolish the Diplock courts and go back to the intimidation of jurors, or to pass extraordinary provision by which Parliament would rule out uncorroborated accomplice evidence, however much a court might later wish to assess its weight. That would be an extraordinary and untoward decision.
Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind that opposition to the supergrass system comes not only from Republicans, but, almost unanimously, from the Unionist side of the House? Does he not realise that the Unionist side would defend a proper legal system, which is one of the systems under which we have to work? By taking uncorroborated evidence, the system under which we want to live is seriously weakened.
I agree that the sooner we can work toward the restoration of, or at least an increase in, jury trials, the more that everybody in the House and Northern Ireland will be pleased. The hon. Gentleman knows the proposals which the Baker report made in that direction, which I am weighing. I return to the basic point, which is that so long as intimidation of jurors is a problem in Northern Ireland we would be rash to suppose that we could reconcile justice with an untrammelled restoration of the jury system.
May I remind the Secretary of State that this question is about the use of supergrasses and that the vast majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland, to whom he referred, in both sections of the community, regard the supergrass system, according to recent opinion polls, as a very serious travesty of justice.
Let us suppose that a terrorist had committed a terrorist crime and that the only evidence available to bring him to justice was the evidence of one of his accomplices. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, it is not a matter of which community he belongs to. It would be very hard to say that that person could not be brought to justice even if the evidence of his accomplice would carry great weight in the court. Surely it must be right for the courts, whose independence has been rightly praised this afternoon, to make a decision in each case on the merits of that case.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next proposes to meet Ministers of the Government of the Republic of Ireland to discuss cross-border co-operation.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about co-operation with the Irish Republic, making special reference to security.
I met the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Barry, on 30 May. No date for a future meeting with Irish Ministers has been set. I welcome close co-operation with Irish Ministers in areas where we can work together to our mutual benefit. It is essential that we co-operate closely in dealing with the common threat of terrorist violence. I welcome the co-operation that exists at present between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda and I hope that this can be developed further.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many people regard talks between the British Government and the Dublin Government as crucial, not just in areas of security, but in areas covering the whole range of affairs in Northern Ireland? Is he further aware that, as all that we have to go on are pessimistic newspaper leaks that are causing a great deal of dismay, it would be better if the secret diplomacy came to an end and he were frank about what is going on? It would be better if the Secretary of State said this to us instead of always being scared about what the Unionists might say to him if he revealed something about these discussions.
One or two contradictions are embedded in that question. We have frequent discussions with Irish Ministers within the framework of the Intergovernmental Council, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about those discussions. We are holding serious and confidential discussions with the Irish Government to establish whether the relationship sketched in the Chequers communique last November could be made more substantial. It would not do much good to break off the negotiations at this stage and reveal their contents to the public. It may be a little time yet before we know whether they will succeed in the form of an outcome that would have to be explained and defended in this House.
Did not the Taoiseach describe the IRA as "our common enemy"? Despite the reported disagreements between the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has not the co-operation between those two admirable forces saved many lives on both sides of the border?
That is true, and it is one reason why we should like the existing co-operation to be strengthened and improved.
Has the Secretary of State noticed the good news of the increased recruitment of Catholics — between 10 and 12 per cent. — into the RUC? [Interruption.] It is a good step upwards. Is there any possibility of the two police forces holding joint training exercises and getting together to try to reach an understanding of the problems?
There has been an increase in the proportion of Catholics joining the RUC, which I welcome. However, the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is a long way to go before we can be satisfied about the position. A great deal depends upon what I hope will be a growing understanding between the leaders of the nationalist minority in the north and the police force. As for the hon. Gentleman's second question, I should like to move in that direction, but it has to be a step at a time.
In recent months, 14 members of the RUC have been brutally butchered in my constituency by the IRA. The Secretary of State's words ring hollow in the ears of my constituents. The co-operation to which he refers with the Irish Republic is a sham and non-existent. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that fact?
It is certainly true that the hon. Member's constituency, above all other constituencies in the Province, has suffered grievously in the course of this year. The response of the great majority of his constituents in both communities has been very steady and praiseworthy. I think that the hon. Gentleman went a little too far in his remarks, because I could take him to a place on the border, not far from his constituency, where the local RUC superintendent, if asked about his personal co-operation with his Garda counterpart across the road or across the river, would say that it was good and useful.
Bearing in mind the importance to cross-border security and co-operation between the two police forces of a Royal Ulster Constabulary with a considerable number of Catholics in it—and it needs to have more — and bearing in mind also the apparent ignorance of some Irish Ministers, particularly Mr. Barry, about the facts of the case, will my right hon. Friend take an early opportunity to reaffirm to the Irish Ministers that there is a 10 per cent. Catholic component in the RUC and a 12 per cent. recruitment rate, and that he and his fellow Ministers want to see both figures increased?
The Irish know that. Mr. Barry and I regularly find opportunities to enlighten each other's ignorance.
Will the Secretary of State accept that the Opposition welcome the fact that the serious and confidential discussions with the Irish Government are continuing? He has not, however, denied the aura of pessimism in relation to the talks to which my hon Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) referred. Can the Secretary of State confirm that Her Majesty's Government will, with the utmost vigour, press the talks to a successful conclusion?
Sometimes in the past few months there has been too much optimism about the talks and sometimes there has been too much pessimism. What I see and experience is a steady negotiation, seriously conducted, on both sides, but I do not yet know and cannot yet tell the House whether it will succeed.
Having had the opportunity of discussing with members of the Garda on one side of the border and with members of the RUC on the other side their practical co-operation, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will accept that at the operational level there is good co-operation, intelligence and information-gathering between the two forces? Nevertheless, will he accept that the recent incident at Killeen has raised some real anxieties among operational members of the RUC, and that there may be a case for some independent investigation into exactly what happened, and whether the four dead officers were set up before they were killed?
There is a police investigation proceeding into what happened and my hon. Friend, with his experience, will not expect me to elaborate on that. I think that the police are the right people to do the investigation and bring to justice, if they can, those responsible for a particularly atrocious crime.
May I ask the Secretary of State, when in discussions with Irish Ministers on cross-border co-operation, to demand that action be taken against those terrorists who are hiding in the South under a cloak of respectability? Will he take steps to demand that they be apprehended and returned to justice in Northern Ireland?
Yes, indeed. When there is proof that we can adduce, or that can be adduced in a court of law in the North, we do not hesitate to ask for the return of those concerned. As the hon. Gentleman knows, often it is not necessarily a question of proof, which may already be available. It is a question of wanting information that could be useful operationally.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to introduce additional safeguards against discrimination in Northern Ireland.
A wide range of laws and powers to safeguard individuals against discrimination have been in place for over a decade. We keep a careful watch on the effectiveness of these measures. I have already welcomed the review to be undertaken by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. I am examining information about the relative social and economic positions of the major denominational groups in Northern Ireland. I shall shortly publish data about that and make a statement about the Government's proposals for further consideration of this matter.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his very full reply. Does he agree that outside interference in that area is not helpful? In particular, does he agree that the adoption by American companies of the so-called McBride principles would not be helpful for employment or equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend is quite right. I have been encouraged by the number of people in Northern Ireland and the United States, usually supporters of the nationalist community, who have seized that point and are explaining to Americans that the McBride campaign could damage the whole community in Northern Ireland.Discrimination in employment in Northern Ireland is illegal. Therefore the best way to secure fresh jobs for the nationalist minority is to secure fresh jobs for Northern Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what period of time elapses between application for and authorisation of improvement grants; and if he is satisfied with the performance of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in this respect.
This is a matter for the chairman of the Housing Executive, who has advised me that the average time taken is 15 months. However, progress has recently been made to cut the backlog and that should contribute to an improvement in the time taken to process new applications.
While welcoming the Minister's understanding that improvement will occur, may I ask whether he acknowledges that some people have been on the list for two years and that some of them have died before their applications have been approved? Indeed, the increase in costs has made it impossible for people to proceed.
I am aware of the problem. I am pleased that we have cut the backlog, which peaked about 15 months ago, by about two thirds. We are presently reviewing with the Housing Executive ways in which we can target grants more effectively, to take account of both personal and housing need.
In the context of housing policy, will my hon. Friend say a word about his right-to-buy programme and whether home ownership is in fact conducive to greater stability in society, including greater stability in the Province?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have managed to sell 26,000 Housing Executive homes in Northern IreIand to theirtenants. There are 150 applications a week and 100 completions. I think that that should have some of the benefits to which my hon. Friend referred.
Elections (Identification Documents)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what use he intends to make of the power to extend by statutory instrument the prescribed identification documents in the Elections (Northern Ireland) Act 1985.
My right hon. Friend is currently reviewing the list of specified documents in the light of experience at the district council elections on 15 May. The Government will in due course consider bringing forward legislative proposals to apply the specified document requirement to other categories of elections held in Northern Ireland.
Making use of the blessed interval between elections to which we are now looking forward in Northern Ireland, will the Government be careful to consult all those with practical experience derived from the local government elections a month ago?
The Assembly has already had a debate on that subject, and we shall be studying that. We are ready to listen to representations from any quarter in Northern Ireland about the range of the documents electors might produce or, indeed, other aspects of the conduct of those elections.
Is my hon. Friend certain and satisfied that those wishing to take part in the recent elections in Northern Ireland were able to do so and were not denied the opportunity because they had the wrong documents available on the prescribed list?
We got the balance about right. The overriding fact is that, as the Irish News put it, personation was well and truly buried at this election as the result of our legislation. That was our aim, and we achieved it.
Can the Minister assure us that the Central Services Agency is doing everything in its power to issue a post-1973 medical card to everyone in Northern Ireland?
In giving that assurance, I wish also to pay the warmest tribute to the staff of the Central Services Agency for their efforts in putting out more than 50,000 cards immediately before the election.
Will the Minister keep in mind the proposal put in this House—[Interruption.]—when the matter was debated by—[Interruption.]
Order. We have not finished Questions yet.
Will the Minister keep in mind the proposal put to this House by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) that those who wished to have their names on the electoral list would have to sign the forms themselves and put their date of birth, which would be duplicated so that the presiding officer could properly check that all those voting were on the list?
As I said earlier, we shall want to review the experience of the district council elections and ensure that in future elections personation is as well and truly buried as it was in those elections.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the planned level of funding for Enterprise Ulster for the financial year 1985–86.
A total of £7·1 million, Sir.
Is it not a fact that funding in real terms has increased, yet the minimum target for 1985–86 of 1,000 newly created jobs has remained the same?
What the hon. Gentleman says is broadly true. The cost per individual of the Enterprise Ulster scheme is much higher than the cost of, say, the ACE scheme. The net cost of the Enterprise Ulster scheme is £1,899 per head, compared with £345 per head for the ACE scheme. The planned level of funding for Enterprise Ulster was set to ascertain how many jobs could be done under that scheme compared with other schemes.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 June.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be attending a banquet given by President de la Madrid of Mexico.
Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the growing menance of drug abuse, especially the threatened cocaine flood from the United States? In view of the vast profits that are made from these dealings, will she take the strongest possible steps to deal with drug pushers? When will my right hon. Friend introduce legislation to ensure that any profits or drugs that the pushers acquire can be confiscated?
We hope to introduce legislation on this matter during the next parliamentary Session. As my hon. Friend is already aware, we have added 160 new posts to Customs and Excise especially for tracking down drugs. Last Tuesday, it was announced that we would add a further 50 investigators to Customs and Excise to track down drugs. All police forces now have specialist drug units. The police are devoting more manpower to drug investigations. I hope, therefore, that we have equipped ourselves well should there be any diversion of cocaine from the other side of the Atlantic to this side.
Will the Prime Minister now tell us, honestly and plainly, whether there are figures for gainers and losers from her social security proposals— yes or no? Has the right hon. Lady or any of her Ministers seen such figures—yes or no?
As I made clear in my letter to the right hon. Gentleman, the purpose of issuing a Green Paper was to set out—[HON. MEMBERS: "Let us have the answer."] — the main themes and principles in proposing a new social security structure. The proper time to produce figures is when decisions have been taken on the structure. We shall provide a range of illustrative figures when the White Paper is published in the autumn. By that time we shall have taken decisions on the structure. Then we shall provide a range of illustrative figures for the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.
The Prime Minister's refusal to give a straight answer to a straight question will be noted by the whole country. It is entirely consistent with the approaches that she has taken on the whole matter. If the right hon. Lady will not answer that question on gainers and losers. will she publish the report of the pensions review committee, which included Mr. Stewart Lyon, so that the whole country can make a judgment on the advice that was tendered to the Government?
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not quite expect the answer that I gave. As to the latter part of his question, Mr. Lyon was an expert adviser, but the Government do not always have to take expert advice —[Interruption.] Indeed, we could be criticised if we did. I notice that it is reported that Mr. Lyon said:
"the final proposal to phase out Serps was ingenious".
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Metropolitan police have had a 5 per cent. increase this year, that there is a need for an examination into manpower and overtime, and that the police, who have been so well treated by this Government, cannot expect to be exempt from examination of their expenditure?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the police have been extremely well treated by this Government. Expenditure on the police generally has increased from £1·1 billion in 1978–79 to £2·8 billion in 1985–86, and spending on the Metropolitan police has increased from £291 million in 1978–79 to £763 in 1985–86. Against that background, we are justifiably proud of our record in respect of the Metropolitan police and the police throughout the country as a whole.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the word "ingenious" is always used of every successful burglar?
It is precisely because this Government do not wish to burgle future generations that we are looking at the present scheme to ensure that it is soundly financed by contributions from this generation, rather than staying with the old scheme which would put the burden on our children and grandchildren.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I shall take it afterwards.
But it relates to this question.
Order. I shall take it immediately after questions.
Order. There is no injury time during questions, and therefore I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order afterwards.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that at present contributions from 2·8 workers pay one pension, and that if SERPS is not altered 1·6 workers will in future pay one pension? That is surely an unsustainable charge on such workers.
I do not believe that the present SERPS system is deliverable. The burden on our children and grandchildren would be absolutely intolerable, and they would not be able to meet it. As my hon. Friend knows, the expert advice indicated that if SERPS were to be carried on the benefit would have to be substantially reduced, even though the contribution would have to remain the same.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 June.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the "World in Action" programme the other evening said, in effect, that she was lying about the sinking of the General Belgrano—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that "lying" is not a word that we use in the House, especially about one another.
Is the Prime Minister aware that "World in Action" said, in effect, that she was not telling the whole truth about the sinking of the General Belgrano? Is she aware that many people regard this as Britain's Watergate, as the Falklands war was used cynically to win a general election and many people on both sides lost their lives needlessly.
The whole matter of the Belgrano was thoroughly debated in the House when the Government motion that the sinking of the Belgrano was justified and that the first duty of the Government is to protect the lives of our people was passed without one dissenting vote from any part of the House.
Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to note that The Times newspaper today carries so many job advertisements that a separate eight-page supplement has been printed to contain them, the Daily Telegraph carries 10 pages of job advertisements and even The Guardian has five? Does she agree that that is a sure sign of a buoyant and expanding economy and is bad news for the Labour party and those whose profession it is to talk this country down?
I believe that it is a sign that more jobs are being created. I hope that those who are without jobs will go anxiously after those vacancies and that many more will be employed as a result.
As larceny now seems to be the right description of the Government's proposals for the state earnings-related pensions scheme, will the Prime Minister admit that Mr. Stewart Lyon proposed that the scheme should be retained but modified and its ultimate cost reduced, but that that option was not discussed by the Secretary of State's advisory team? Does she agree that that option should now be put to the House with Government figures so that we can decide whether it is viable?
I thought from their early declarations on the reviews that members of the SDP were supporting abolition of SERPS very vigorously, but with the alliance one never quite knows. The Green Paper made it clear that one of the options considered by the Government was to restrict SERPS rather than to phase it out. The reasons why the Government concluded that that was not the right option are set out in detail in paragraph 7.9 on page 23 of the Green Paper.
Will the right hon. Lady take time today to discuss with her right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the plight of the small dairy fanners in Northern Ireland, who are the only dairy farmers in the whole of the United Kingdom with herds of 40 cows or fewer who will have to carry the cruel EC cross of the milk quota?
I am very much aware of the problem in Northern Ireland. I believe that too few people took up the outgoers offer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is considering the matter now.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 June.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Instead of attending yet another banquet this evening, will the Prime Minister take time to read the report in today's Daily Mirror about a woman who is to have an abortion after breathing in fumes from a weedkiller containing the chemical 2,4,5-T? Having cut the health and safety inspectorate by 20 per cent. in the past four years, will she now support the campaign by the Transport and General Workers Union and others for a ban on that chemical, which was used by the United States as a killer in the Vietnam war?
The matter is now under consideration by the Health and Safety Executive.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 June.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Has my right hon. Friend had time to study the speech of our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Maurice Macmillan memorial lecture on Tuesday evening, in which he described the emphasis that he puts on wider share ownership and wider property ownership as one of the bases of the Government's policies? Does my right hon. Friend remain committed to the principle that further share and home ownership are the bases for further responsibility in society and for further economic and social progress?
Yes. I saw that speech and, as my hon. Friend knows, owner-occupation is at an all-time record because of the Government's policies. Moreover, the number of individuals who own shares has risen rapidly. It fell during the lifetime of the Labour Government. It fell from 2·5 million in 1958 to 1·75 million in 1979. It is now rising substantially. The British Telecom share issue alone has 1·7 million shareholders —a figure equal to the total number of shareholders in 1979.
I shall now take the point of order of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop).
It is sometimes difficult in the Chaiŕ to hear what is being said in the House, but it is sometimes difficult to hear in the House what is being said in the House. It must have been obvious to everyone in the House that the Opposition deliberately drowned my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's answer — [Interruption.]—just as they are trying to drown this point of order. They succeeded in drowning my right hon. Friend's reply to the somewhat mischievous question of an ex-Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Mischievous?"] I raise this point of order—[Interruption.] I am happy to wait.
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put his point of order to me.
I shall put it when I can be sure that you can hear it, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I rose on a point of order earlier to ask you to enable the Prime Minister to repeat her answer so that the House and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), who asked the question, could be allowed to hear her answer.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. Over the centuries our predecessors have fought for freedom of speech in this place and it is a very bad example to others if we fail to preserve that freedom. It is perfectly true that Prime Minister's questions have been very noisy, but I had detected a rather better tone of Prime Minister's questions in the past several weeks and I hope that that will continue.
Business Of The House
May I, within your hearing, Mr. Speaker, ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?
Yes, Sir. The business of the House for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 17 JUNE—A debate on a Government motion to approve the White Paper on Airports Policy, Cmnd. 9542. TUESDAY 18 JUNE—A debate on a Government motion on the Green Paper on the Reform of Social Security, Cmnd. 9517–9. WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE—Opposition Day (15th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition Motion entitled "Government Imposed Price Increases". Motion on European Community Document 9402/84 on quick frozen foodstuffs. THURSDAY 20 JUNE—There will be a debate on a Government motion on the White Paper on Developments in the European Community July-December 1984, Cmnd. 9485, on the report of the Dooge Committee on Institutional Affairs, and on Community Documents 11911/1/81 (on a conciliation procedure between the European Assembly Council and the Commission), on 10350/82 (on stronger action in the cultural sector), and on 8667/82 and 4469/85 on controls and formalities at Community borders. FRIDAY 21 JUNE—A debate on small firms which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. MONDAY 24 JUNE—Opposition Day (16th Allotted Day)—subject to be announced.
|[European Community Documents to be debated Wednesday 19 June|
|(a) 9402/84||Quick frozen foodstuffs|
|Thursday 20 June|
|(b) Unnumbered||Report of Dooge Committee on|
|EC Institutional Affairs|
|(c) 11911/1/81||Conciliation procedure between|
|(d) 10350/82||Communication concerning|
|stronger action in the cultural sector|
|(e) 8667/82||Frontier checks on Community|
|(f) 4469/85||Frontier checks on Community|
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. First, may I ask him to ensure that the statement on the social security benefits uprating is made next Monday so that in the debate on the Government's Green Paper on the reform of social security the House can have all the relevant information on the most recent uprating to hand?Secondly, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman for a debate in Government time on the immigration rules, taking into account both the European court judgment and the new restriction on Tamils? Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate in Government time on the crisis facing the arts, caused by the unexpected shortfall of £30 million that has resulted from the Government's failure properly to estimate the effects of the abolition of the Greater London and metropolitan county councils? [Interruption.] While considering that matter, will the right hon. Gentleman disregard the philistines who heckle from Conservative Benches? Finally, it is now 13 weeks since the violence at the Luton-Millwall match and the statement by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who is responsible for sport, and two weeks since the horrific incidents at the Heysel stadium in Brussels and the Government's promise to take effective measures. As it is now only 10 weeks to the start of the new football season and five or six weeks until the summer recess, when will we have the necessary discussions about the Government's legislation and their other proposals for dealing with football hooliganism? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that we in the Opposition want strong, urgent and effective action to be taken in that matter? Those objectives can be best achieved by joint effort and maximum agreement. In pursuit of that, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is joint discussion, maximum information and, very important, adequate time for legislation?
I recognise the importance of the uprating statement in the context of the debate on the social security proposals. Perhaps we can look at that matter through the usual channels.On the second point, while no announcement has been made about a debate on immigration reflecting the problems of the Tamils and recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, I accept that the topic is important. Thirdly, in the context of the arts, perhaps I will be allowed to say this—and I believe that this sentiment will be widely echoed throughout the House. I should like to express our great pleasure at the donation that has come today to the National Gallery through the Getty Foundation. I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about a debate concerning public sector provision for the arts. Again, perhaps we can look at that matter through the usual channels. Finally, I am most anxious to join the right hon. Gentleman in underlining the importance of consultation and maximum agreement on legislation on alcohol in respect of football matches. I shall do what I can to move matters in the direction that he seeks.
On next Tuesday's debate on the social security Green Paper, is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 129 right hon. and hon. Conservative Members have signed early-day motion 653, which urges the House to endorse the principle of an integregated tax-benefit system?[That this House endorses the principle of an integrated tax-benefit system; and urges Her Majesty's Government to use the present review of social security and the forthcoming Green Paper on personal taxation as an opportunity to take the first steps towards that objective.] Will he ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is made fully aware of that broad-ranging support?
I shall be happy to concur with what my hon. Friend seeks.
Surely the House will not be denied the opportunity to debate and have a separate vote on the humanitarian issue of the immigration rule changes that will effect the Tamil community. Does the Leader of the House, whose responses to the matter have been sympathetic, recognise that to embrace the matter within a wider debate would be to confuse that debate and to deny the House an opportunity that it should have?
I am happy to repeat now the sympathy that I expressed last week.
On next Monday's business, will my right hon. Friend make room for the debate to continue for about a further hour so that more hon. Members may be able to contribute and Mr. Speaker may be assisted in his selection of hon. Members who should speak?Since the past year has seen unprecedented threats to public order and an unprecedented increase in violent crime, is it not time that we had a proper debate on the relationship between the resources available to the police and the demands placed upon them, which are, frankly, becoming too great?
I acknowledge the authority with which my hon. Friend speaks about the police, but I hope that he will understand when I say that I cannot offer the immediate prospect of a debate in Government time on that topic. I shall, of course, keep the matter in mind.As to my hon. Friend's request with regard to the airports debate, I am sure that we can consider through the usual channels the virtues of extending the debate, perhaps until midnight.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Scrutiny Committee will be glad that there is to be a debate next Thursday on the Dooge report, which leaves plenty of time before the Milan summit? Is he further aware that the Committee's 21st report, published today, includes a summary of its views on this matter? There have been press reports of additional proposals from the Foreign Secretary. Will they be available to hon. Members before next Thursday's debate?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's kind remarks about the arrangements that have been made to debate the Dooge report before the European Council meeting. I shall look into his second point.
Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to think again about the role, in its broadest aspects, of the European Court of Human Rights, which is so different from our system, which is thoroughly un-English and which may lead us into an awful mess?
No time has been made available next week to enable the House to debate the shortcomings of the European Court of Human Rights, and I cannot offer any prospects of an early debate in Government time. It is a subject well suited to my hon. Friend's private enterprise.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement as soon as possible disassociating the British Government from the decision of the United States Congress to give financial aid to the Contras? In view of the increasing possibility of American intervention in Nicaragua, and because of the extreme danger of such an event, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on the matter?
I would mislead the hon. Gentleman if I suggested that there were any prospects of an early debate in Government time, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the points that he has raised.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although many people would abhor a police state, they believe that the availability of identity cards could be a critical part of the fight against terrorism and crime in general? Does he further accept that many forms of security card already exist? Therefore, may we have a debate on this subject so that the Government might be encouraged to make available to the public on request a standard identity card, just as passports have been available for decades—
The reception to my hon. Friend's suggestion shows that his first step should be to try his luck in an Adjournment debate and to see what reaction he gets there.
May I ask the Leader of the House a question of which I gave him notice? In the light of my Consolidated Fund debate on 19 December 1984, the two books by Graham Smith and Judith Cook and the astonishing articles in the Daily Star yesterday and today on the death of the rose grower Hilda Murrell and the possible involvement of British intelligence, does he think that the time has come for a statement on the subject by the Home Secretary?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having given me notice that he would ask his question. It is not immediately clear that the articles in the Daily Star add anything to what has hitherto appeared in the press, but I shall refer the point that has been made to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the introduction of the National Health Service approved list has been not just acceptable but welcome. He will also be aware that in a tiny minority of cases genuine difficulties have been created. Will he seek from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services an early statement to the House not just on plans for an appeal procedure but for the resolution of those few genuine difficulties?
I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health wrote to the general medical services committee of the British Medical Association on 16 April setting out the Government's proposals for an appeal mechanism. I understand that the committee will be responding shortly. I hope that we can take it from there.
Will the Leader of the House give further consideration to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) so that we may have an opportunity to discuss the deplorable resolution passed by the United States House of Representatives yesterday? Is he aware that the Opposition feel that the Government should make it clear that they do not believe that Washington should destabilise or try to overthrow any Government, as in Nicaragua, which they do not support or consider should exist?
I do not think that I can helpfully add to the answer that I have already given. I shall, of course, make it my business to ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend is also informed of the hon. Gentleman's opinion.
Did my right hon. Friend see the excellent letter in The Times yesterday from a former British and world boxing champion, Mr. Alan Minter, on values in sport and the need to improve crowd behaviour at sporting events? Does my right hon. Friend feel that the whole subject, linked with general social discipline, should be debated by the House in addition to discussions on the football measures to be introduced by the Government before the summer recess?
The initial step must be to introduce the measures that the Government have in mind and to which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred. If we can get along with those, that will be the best contribution that the House can make.
Does the Leader of the House recall that last week, when I asked for a statement on Lear Fan, he pointed to Question Time this week as being the time to raise that issue? Has he looked at the Order Paper today and noticed that there was no opportunity on it for any questions to be asked on Lear Fan? As £56 million of public money is involved, do we not deserve a statement at the Dispatch Box? Why do the Government persist in refusing to come to the Dispatch Box to answer about the Lear Fan loss of money?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not had the opportunity that I thought, when we had the exchange last week, might be available to him. I shall refer his observations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some quarters there is growing anxiety about the manner in which consultants within the NHS carry out private operations, about the waiting lists which are maintained, in some cases, it is felt, artificially long, and also about the remission of NHS fees from private patients? Will he arrange for a statement to be made on that matter by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health or for a debate on it?
I shall refer that point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. In the meanwhile, my hon. Friend may like to take the opportunity, if it is possible, to ask about it at Question Time on Tuesday.
Does the Leader of the House accept that the House needs an early opportunity to consider the case for urgent improvements to regional policy and changes in the pace and scale of public expenditure to assist coalfield areas where unemployment is already dreadful and is now being so swollen as to present a genuine threat of corrosion and the crippling of our communities? Is he aware that that is making a mockery of any residual attachment of the Government to the concept of one nation?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important aspect of economic policy that is contained within regional policies. There is no immediate opportunity for debating that in Government time, but he may wish to use the other opportunities that are available to him.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread disappointment at last week's decision to defer legislation to decontrol new private tenancies? In view of the fact that that will obstruct mobility of labour and, therefore, slow down the process of reducing unemployment, will it be possible to arrange a debate on the subject so that many Back-Bench Members who feel strongly about the matter may have a chance to express their views?
I do not foresee an early likelihood of a debate in Government time, but my hon. Friend may wish to pursue the other opportunities available to him.
Given that the Government have termed the social security reviews as the most fundamental since Beveridge, does the Leader of the House seriously consider that one day's debate is sufficient to discuss them? In view of the revelations in today's press that Ministers completely ignored the advice of Mr. Stewart Lyon, the independent adviser on pensions, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the consultative exercise within Parliament is likely to be as flawed and fraudulent as the consultative exercise for the reviews clearly was?
I do not accept much of that rhetoric as being appropriate to next week's business. The social security review is a big topic to be contained within one day, but, provided hon. Members argue succinctly, much good argument can be put forward and resolved.
May I reinforce the point made both by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) and in an excellent article by Ronald Butt in The Times today? Surely it is completely undemocratic for the laws of England to be made, not by the Commons of England, but by a bench of foreign judges, however distinguished they may be? We must have time for a proper debate to reassess our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights.
There is no time made available specifically and explicitly by the Government next week. However, if my hon. Friend could not slip the matter into Thursday's agenda, I would feel that he was not living up to his reputation.—[Interruption.] I am aware of his reputation and I am trying to be complimentary to him. I am trying to say, if I may use a somewhat overworked word, that my hon. Friend has the ingenuity, which is meant to be a complimentary term, to make his point even within that guise.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on yesterday's unsuccessful attempt by Mr. Coleby, a senior member of the Bank of England, to falsify the record of his evidence to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee on 22 May—
Order. I do not think that the Committee has reported to the House yet.
Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer—
Order. We cannot have a debate on the matter, because it has not yet been reported to the House.
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether I could finish my question. I am asking the Leader—
Order. Perhaps I too could use an overworked word and ask the hon. Gentleman to be more ingenious.
Disingenuously, Mr. Speaker, could the Chancellor of the Exchequer answer a debate on the ground that his denunciation of Mr. Coleby's evidence in the House on 23 May put pressure on Mr. Coleby to falsify the record of his evidence?
So many hard things have been uttered on topics of which I am wholly unaware that I can best assume that the hon. Gentleman has been thinking aloud.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the name of the Government, hospitals for the mentally ill and disabled are being closed? Will he, therefore, take note of early-day motion 515, which has been tabled by me and signed by 118 right hon. and hon. Members?[That this House, noting the widespread interest in the issue of care for the mentally ill and mentally handicapped in the community following the publication of the report of the Social Services Committee on this matter, calls for an early debate on the recommendations and implications of this report.] It asks for an urgent debate on the subject before all the damage is done and facilities for the mentally disabled and mentally ill are closed without adequate facilities being provided in the community by way of accommodation and skilled personnel.
I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to that serious point.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to come to the Dispatch Box this evening to make a statement about the actions of district auditors in Lambeth and Liverpool, the results of which are due to take effect this week? Is he aware that Lambeth Labour councillors have had no alternative but to defend the services in the area against the swingeing cuts that have been made by the Government? Is he further aware that Liverpool has made great advances in jobs and housing in the last two years? Does he appreciate that in the view of many Labour Members, trade unionists and members of the public who depend on the services in Liverpool and Lambeth, the needs of the working class in those areas have a higher priority than Tory legality?
I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would join with me in welcoming the fact that one Labour council after another was now concluding a legal rate. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend his request that he come to the House this evening, but I cannot say that I travel that road hopefully.
In view of recent abuses by certain diplomats, including a Syrian who claimed diplomatic immunity when, highly illegally, occupying someone's property, will my right hon. Friend provide time for the House to debate the question of privileges and immunities given to diplomats, particularly in view of the number of people now being given diplomatic status?May I assure my right hon. Friend on behalf of many hon. Members that we were sorry not to hear him defending his stand on the business motion on the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill? Shall we have a further chance to hear his views on the subject, as the House would like an opportunity to debate the Bill again?
On the latter point, I can only repeat what has been said many times—that the Government would not themselves be providing time for that legislation.In the first part of his question my hon. Friend raised an extremely important point, especially for those living in central London. However, no time has been made available by the Government for a debate on the topic. My hon. Friend may like to take his chances with the Adjournment.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the appeal that has been made by Mr. Ted Croker, secretary of the FA, in respect of the worldwide ban against all English football teams. He will also be aware of early-day motion 765 tabled by me.[That this House unequivocally condemning all forms of social violence, deplores the decision of FIFA in banning all English teams from playing friendly and competitive football worldwide, including games against teams from Scotland, Wales and Ireland; believes that this hasty move leaves England in total isolation from the rest of the football world; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to support the Football Association, Football League and the Sports Council in any appeal against this decision; and supports any measures which will help to end football violence.] Will he ask the Minister responsible for sport to support this appeal against the total isolation of all English football teams from world soccer?
I shall, of course, pass on that suggestion.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have just received, as I think he and other right hon. Members have, a solicitous letter from the authorities of the House advising me that a nurse and doctor are available should I require their attention? Will he bear in mind, as we get into the hot summer, that we need an early recess, and will he advise us when the summer recess will start? The weather is so bad at present —we cannot blame the Government for that—that the sooner we start the recess, even if it means returning early in the autumn, the better.
I find that a worrying intervention, because my hon. Friend refers to a letter about medical advice which I have not received. Somebody must, therefore, be making an act of extreme discrimination in judging those of us who will and those of us who will not get to the middle of August.
Does the Leader of the House recall that, on the many occasions when I have referred to the Johnson Matthey collapse, representations have been made from other quarters, notably from the Conservative Benches, to the effect that there has not been sufficient cover by the Bank of England to oversee the credit worthiness of banks generally? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we should have a statement to clarify the position? It has been reported, for example, that only one Bank of England official oversees the credit worthiness of every bank in Britain. Is it any wonder that Johnson Matthey collapsed without anybody from the Bank of England having been made aware of what was happening? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that that is in strong contrast to the way in which district auditors have an army of people crawling all over Lambeth and elsewhere trying to stop councils from carrying out the mandates on which their councillors were elected?
I take at once the importance of the present investigations into Johnson Matthey and the items that are related to it. I shall look at the matter and see how soon a report can be made on it.
Was the Leader of the House at the Cabinet meeting when the Secretary of State for Social Services presented a slide show on his proposals for the dismantling of the welfare state? As the Government are denying the House and the public any detailed information about those proposals, if the right hon. Gentleman thought that the slide show had any merit, will he arrange for hon. Members to see it before we debate the proposals?
Unlike, as far as I can judge, every member of every Labour Cabinet, I never comment on what happens in this Cabinet.
Is the Leader of the House aware that since visa restrictions were imposed on Tamil people trying to leave Sri Lanka to come to this country there have been serious problems for those going to the British high commission in Colombo to apply for a visa? Is he further aware that, at 3 o'clock in the morning on Tuesday, a young man who had attended the high commission to try to get a visa was pulled out of the queue by the police and beaten up at the local police station? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the decision by the home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary about Sri Lanka merits urgent and important debate in the House because of the implications for the future of refugee status for any asylum seekers from any part of the world?
The hon. Gentleman will recollect that I have already told the Leader of the Opposition that there is in prospect a debate on immigration, which will cover many of the points that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. I cannot offer a debate in advance of that.
As there has already been a call for a debate on the condition of the police force, would it not be appropriate to have an urgent debate to consider the plight of victimised miners, especially as in Scotland the coal board has consistently refused to reappoint Jack Kane, a recognised conciliator? This is disgraceful and it should be the subject of a debate in the House.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter, but I can see no early prospect of the debate that he seeks being held in Government time.Later—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When the Leader of the House was trying to answer the question that I put to him, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) interjected a remark to prevent me from hearing the answer.
No, I did not.
Is it in order for an hon. Member, who is about to go on a trip paid for by the puppet Government of South-West Africa, to try to prevent other hon. Members from hearing Ministers' answers?
We have had enough about hearing answers in the House today. It is incumbent upon us to set a good example of free speech. We cannot possibly expect the rest of the country to respect this place if we do not set a good example.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What are your powers regarding entries in the Register of Members' Interests? Concern has been expressed outside, and should be expressed inside, the Chamber that free trips for hon. Members are not being entered in the register. I think that you should give a ruling, Mr. Speaker. If an hon. Member is going on a free trip, no doubt he will put in an entry to that effect. That is essential because otherwise, to a large extent, the register becomes meaningless. Will you give a firm ruling that if an hon. Member goes on a trip organised by a foreign Government he is under an obligation to ensure that an entry is put in the register?
The rules governing the Register of Members' Interests are well known to the House. They have been laid down by the Select Committee and every hon. Member should declare his interest. As I understand it, all overseas visits are recorded.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the benefit of those rather unpleasant Members who are very happy to take free trips behind the iron curtain—I am making no individual accusation when I say that—I put it on record that on Saturday I am going to South-West Africa as a guest of the multi-party conference of the internal parties, black, white and brown, of that country, to attend the inauguration of the transitional internal Government, comprising the internal parties. I am happy to declare that and it will be registered, as I have always done in the past, in the Register of Members' Interests.
Order. I think that we have had enough of this. I have a long list of right hon. and hon. Members wishing to take part in the defence debate, and we should really move on to the next statement.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I have already had one point of order from the hon. Gentleman.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This arises out of something that you said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). May I have an assurance that, when you said that every trip should be registered, you were saying, from the authority of the Chair, that that is what you would expect in the next compilation of the register? It would be handy if that were the case.
The hon. Gentleman is most helpful in drawing my attention to the rules of the House. He and the House know that it is not for me to interpret the rules on Members' interests made by the Select Committee on Procedure. They are laid down and known to very hon. Member. I hope that every hon. Member will obey them.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether the party of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) could prevail on him to make a permanent series of foreign visits.
Order. Let us leave this matter of foreign visits. I hope that the House will agree that it is not wrong for hon. Members to make visits to overseas countries. They enhance our debates and hon. Members are able to come back and express to the House their observations and personal experiences. It would be detrimental to our proceedings if that did not happen.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you accept that it is wrong for the hon. Member for Macclesfield to make incorrect innuendos concerning Labour Members about trips paid for by foreign Governments that they have not made?
Order. I think that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) was honourable in what he said. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) made the accusation in the first place and the hon. Member for Macclesfield said that his visit would be recorded in the Register of Members' Interests.
Sri Lankan Refugees
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware, as the House and the Leader of the House are already aware, of the interest that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and I have taken in the plight of refugees from Sri Lanka, particularly those who are Tamils. May I ask you a question?
The hon. Gentleman may ask me a question, but it must be related to my responsibilities. There have been exchanges about this matter with the Leader of the House.
Can you explain how it is that the Government can introduce changes in—[Interruption.]
Although I have many responsibilities, I am afraid that explaining Government statements and answering questions that hon. Gentlemen may seek to ask about them are not matters for me. I cannot possibly answer the hon. Gentleman.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, during the recess, changes were made in the immigration rules. A negative prayer against those changes has been tabled by the Liberal party. Therefore, can you explain how the Government can act on those changes before they have been discussed and passed by the House?
That is not a matter for me, and the hon. Gentleman well knows the rules about prayers.
Council Of Agriculture Ministers
I represented the United Kingdom, with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, at the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 11–12 June in Luxembourg.The Council resumed negotiations on prices for the 1985–86 season for cereals and rapeseed on the basis of a compromise which was before the Council on 13 to 16 May. The Commission submitted 10 draft regulations to give effect to the compromise, including the proposed reduction of 1.8 per cent. in common prices for these commodities. When the Presidency announced its intention to put these regulations to a vote, the German Minister said his Government were not prepared to accept the decrease in cereal prices. He formally invoked paragraph 2 of the Luxembourg compromise by saying that a very important national interest was involved for Germany and that negotiations must be continued until unanimous agreement was reached. I said in the Council that I had noted that the German Government supported the United Kingdom Government's view that, where a member state declared a very important national interest, discussions in the Council should continue without a vote. Given the German Minister's statement, I said that, in accordance with our position on the Luxembourg compromise, I had to object to a vote being taken and that I was not prepared to vote or abstain. The Ministers from Denmark, France, Greece and Ireland made similar statements. None the less, the Presidency proceeded with a vote. These four member states, together with the United Kingdom, refused to record a vote. Germany also refused to participate in a vote. The regulations were therefore not adopted. I regret the fact that the Council has thus failed to take decisions on sensible price arrangements for cereals and rapeseed for the next season. This represents a serious setback to the progress which has been made in putting the common agricultural policy on to a more realistic basis. Careful thought will need to be given by the Agriculture Council and the Commission to the situation that now confronts us. The rapeseed and durum wheat marketing years begin on 1 July and the marketing year for other cereals on 1 August. In the absence of agreement in the Council, the Commission will need to take decisions on how the markets should be managed. The Council failed to reach agreement on a draft directive covering intra-Community trade in heat-treated milk. Nor was it able to resolve long-standing differences among member states on the authorisation of hormone growth promoters. However, agreement was reached on the text of a directive on control procedures for hormones. Its adoption was delayed pending further consideration of the substances to be authorised. Several other veterinary directives were adopted, including an important two-year extension of the special import arrangements which the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland are entitled to apply as a protection
First, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say a little more about the veterinary points, in particular the state of the discussions upon hormone growth promoters? There are few hon.Members, and certainly not me, who would quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman's constitutional point, that any country should have the right of veto on a matter of national interest. But there is nobody who will not marvel at the sheer obtuseness of the German Government in refusing to face the necessity of cuts in cereal prices, in view of the mounting surpluses and the escalating cost to all member states. Does this not, however, bear out my warning when the right hon. Gentleman last made a statement: that by reaching agreement on all other commodity prices the Council had thrown away whatever leverage it had and that its tactics were the factor which enabled Germany to reduce the whole of this year's negotiations to a shambles? I hope that this year's lessons will be learned for the future. Where does this leave the cause of reform of the common agricultural policy, and in particular the right hon. Gentleman's often repeated belief that surplus production can be eliminated by means of price reductions alone? If agreement cannot be reached on a paltry reduction of 1·8 per cent., what hope is there of the Council being resolute enough to impose real cuts? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether this year's cereals price will be maintained next year, or has the Commission, as was suggested this morning by the Financial Times, the power to reduce prices in its capacity as manager of the fund? When will some of the agriculture Ministers realise that there is a national taxpayers' interest in all countries to reduce the subsidy, currently running at £1·.3 billion, for unwanted cereals? There will soon be an outcry as subsidies and surpluses mount up. The Council of Ministers will be compelled to do in haste what they are obviously too spineless to do in an orderly way, namely, to cut agricultural production, and agriculture will be the loser.
On the hon. Gentleman's veterinary point about hormones, the difficulty is that there is a difference of opinion between individual member states, some of whom believe that a ban should be imposed on the use of growth promoting hormones, even if there is scientific evidence showing that they are harmless. There are others, like the United Kingdom delegation, who say that we should rely upon the scientific evidence, that where there is clearance for certain substances they should be allowed to be used and that where we are awaiting a report on others we ought to wait for the scientists' report before reaching a decision.I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has no quarrel about the way in which we responded to the German veto on cereals. I agree with him that that was the correct and proper constitutional procedure for us to follow. I share the hon. Gentleman's exasperation over the attitude of the German delegation, but that made the rest of us appear, to use his word, spineless in view of the way in which the German delegation was prepared to use its veto to block a sensible decision being reached. It would have been much better if we could have given a signal to grain farmers throughout the Community that there would be a proper reduction in prices this year. The hon. Gentleman will remember, however, that last year there was a reduction of about 3 per cent. in cereal prices. I am still not without hope that we can continue to press for a 1·8 per cent. reduction which would amount to a reduction just short of 5 per cent. in two years. During this period production costs in very many countries have increased by perhaps 10 per cent. There has, therefore, been a squeeze on cereal prices in the last two years, when surpluses have been mounting.
Were cereal quotas discussed during the negotiations? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that they will not be sprung on the industry, as they were in the case of milk, which led to confusion and dislocation?
Cereal quotas were not discussed during this Council meeting, but in the past I have brought the discussion around to this point. The majority of Ministers in the Council of Ministers are, I believe, very strongly opposed to cereal quotas. We have to try to get the Community to understand that the best way to control the growing surplus of grain is to cut cereal prices.
Although I support the stand taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister in Brussels, particularly over ensuring that there is a cut in cereal prices, how, in view of this failure, can markets be managed in future? Cereal farmers must be given guidance about the future. What can be done to assist them between now and when a decision is made, bearing in mind that already there are huge surpluses and that there will soon be another grain crop?
I think that the Commissioner understands the need to take urgent action to deal with these matters. In particular, he said yesterday that the Commission would shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that there is not undue speculation in grain because of the legal vacuum. I believe that the Commissioner is well aware of the problems to which my hon. Friend referred, and I hope that we shall be getting some announcements from the Commission very soon.
Will my right hon. Friend enlighten us as to why the sensible British proposals for the reform of the CAP are either voted down or vetoed by what we are pleased to call our Community partners? Does not the German veto exercised yesterday mean that any serious prospect of reform in the CAP may now be declared kaput, and that as the only real control on agricultural spending is the ceiling of resources available to the Community, the only way to get any reform whatever is not to propose or support any increase in the own resources of the Community?