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Commons Chamber

Volume 87: debated on Thursday 21 November 1985

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House Of Commons

Thursday 21 November 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

LOTHIAN REGION (EDINBURGH WESTERN RELIEF ROAD)
ORDER CONFIRMATION BILL (By Order)

PETERHEAD HARBOURS (SOUTH BAY DEVELOPMENT)
ORDER CONFIRMATION BILL (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 28 November.

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Aujeszky's Disease

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on his meetings with the National Farmers Union regarding the financing of the Aujeszky's disease eradication fund.

I met representatives of the pig disease eradication fund, including members of the NFU, on 17 June, when I repeated that the Government had agreed to undertake the Aujeszky's disease control and eradication scheme solely on the basis that the industry would meet the net costs of compensation for slaughter. I told them that I could not agree to a departure from this clearly understood arrangement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the present deficit on the fund is about £13·5 million and that hard-pressed pig producers are likely to have to shell out well into the 1990s? Will he reconsider his rejection of the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture and see whether he can do anything to help this hard-pressed industry?

I am aware of the size of the overdraft, but I point out that £3·7 million was incurred by consequential loss arrangements which the fund introduced in direct conflict with the advice of my Department.

Does the Minister accept that the ADEF has been a remarkable example of Government and industry working together to tackle a major disease afflicting agriculture? Why has he rejected the Select Committee's conclusion that the Ministry was responsible for some of the deficit? Why does he not give a handout in the way that has been suggested?

I agree that the liaison between the Government and the promoters of the fund has been successful, and I hope that soon we shall be able to announce that the disease has been stamped out altogether. After all, there were only 10 cases this year compared with 443 in 1983. A clear deal was made between the Government and the sponsors when the scheme started, and I see no reason to break that understanding and arrangement now.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that neither his Department nor those representing pig producers foresaw a run on funds and the accumulating interest payments, which are now out of control any more, than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland foresaw the need to ask for £50 million a year because of the unforeseen burden placed on Scottish ratepayers by revaluation? Therefore, will he exert the same muscle in Cabinet as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has done for his Department, and carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee?

The cases are not comparable. I remind my hon. Friend that, when the polls were begun, the Government emphasised that the original estimates had to be treated with caution and that it was not possible to determine with accuracy the extent of the disease and other factors before the eradication schemes were started.

Does the Minister agree that unless the Government make good the shortfall in the financing of the scheme the industry's confidence could be damaged, and that might affect its support for other schemes in the future?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) on his appointment and welcome him to the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that he will speak for the Opposition for many a long year.

There is another side to the story which the promoters of the scheme might do well to bear in mind. The hon. Gentleman says that the producers' confidence may have been dented. The Government's confidence in entering into another similar arrangement, however desirable, might also be dented if this type of hassle goes on afterwards to try to break the original terms of the deal.

Milk Quotas

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his policy towards the new EEC outgoers scheme.

I have received representations on the proposed Community outgoers scheme from hon. Members, interested organisations and individual farmers. These have reflected a number of concerns, including the position of tenant farmers and landlords. The Commission's proposals for the scheme have only recently been published. I am still considering the detailed provisions.

While in principle I am in favour of measures aimed at bringing supply and demand in the milk sector closer together, I am equally concerned to ensure that any such scheme operates fairly throughout the Community. It is important that the scheme should reflect the interests of all concerned, and in particular that a careful balance is struck between the interests of landlords and tenants.

I welcome that reply. I am glad that no decision has yet been reached. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the basis of his policy on this matter will be that no tenant shall be allowed to surrender or transfer his quota without his landlord's consent? Otherwise, we shall risk damaging the viability, profitability and earnings potential of farms, which will be to the detriment of the relationship between landlord and tenant—a partnership which has served this country well over the years.

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said. I believe that there is general agreement throughout the industry that in most cases both landlord and tenant have contributed to the quota. It would be right to try to ensure that a careful balance is struck so that our landlord-tenant system is not jeopardised.

Will the Minister confirm that he will not oppose a special redundancy payments scheme for dairy farm workers if the EEC decides to introduce an outgoers scheme for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The hon. Lady will be aware that I have on many occasions answered questions about redundancy arrangements. She knows as well as anyone in the House that there are already widespread redundancy arrangements and that many companies involved in agriculture have redundancy arrangements more generous than the basic state scheme.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is considerable anxiety within agriculture about the knock-on effect of a further outgoers scheme, desirable though that might be? Will he bring forward his review of United Kingdom agriculture in order to give a better sense of direction to those involved in making important decisions in that respect?

Yes, Sir. I understand what my hon. Friend says about that, and I have some sympathy with it. Even with the milk quota scheme which is in place Community production still exceeds consumption by, in broad terms, 13 per cent. Measures are necessary to bring supply more closely in line with demand. Any such measures must be applied fairly throughout the whole of the Community.

We understand the need to bring dairy surpluses under control, but is the Minister aware that quotas and outgoers payments are only part of the story? First, is there not an urgent need to provide special compensation for the thousands of farm and creamery employees who are being thrown out of work as a result of what is happening? Secondly, does he accept that there is a need for positive guidance to avoid the transfer of the land of up to 2,000 farmers into commodities such as cereals and beef, which are already in surplus? The Government treated the dairy industry disgracefully last year. Will the Minister give an undertaking that he will try to get it right in 1986?

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a new rival on the Opposition Front Bench, but there is no reason to use such extravagant language.

As I said to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), there is a redundancy arrangement which applies throughout the industry. I understand that many of our dairies, including the Milk Marketing Board, run their own redundancy schemes, which are more generous than the standard arrangement.

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many representations he has received in the last six months about milk quotas.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

My right hon. Friend and I have received a substantial number of representations in the past six months about milk quotas from hon. Members, the industry organisations and individual producers.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Italians are still not enforcing dairy quotas at farm level and that there are suspicions that the French are not enforcing the quotas properly? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that that causes great resentment among British farmers, who have suffered greatly from the quotas?

It causes great resentment if anyone feels that the system is unfairly imposed. For that reason, we have taken every measure to ensure that these complaints are followed up rapidly. The Commission is considering them closely.

Is the Minister aware that a group of tenant farmer brothers who took over a small farm shortly before the quotas were introduced are now living on the breadline? They came to see me to tell me of their position. I wonder just how many small tenant farmers are suffering as a result of milk quotas.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows how careful we have been to try to use any extra milk that is available to provide help for those who have specific problems. If instances of specific problems had come to his notice, there were methods by which they could have been examined.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should say that it has not worked very well. The industry, as a whole, thinks that it has worked extremely well. Measures were taken on the basis of the advice that was received from the industry. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are adequate powers under the treaty of Rome for ensuring that when member states are in default in these matters action can be enforced against them? Will he make inquiries to ascertain whether we have been able to do that?

There is no doubt that we shall take any action that is open to us to ensure that these schemes are carried out properly. We need information, rather than vague reports which undermine what is otherwise an equitable scheme.

Will the Minister give a guarantee that our producers will not be penalised because there may be a shortfall in production under quota this year as a result of bad weather during the summer? We understand that we may be as much as 2 per cent. under quota. It would be atrocious if that shortfall were to be added to any overall cut in quota next year or after that.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have made it clear that we do not consider that any shortfall in quota should be taken into account in that way.

Food From Britain

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will confirm the arrangements for the likely future level of Government funding for Food From Britain.

I announced recently that for each of the three years from 1988–89 the Government will make available to Food From Britain's marketing activities £1 for every £2 contributed by industry up to a maximum of £2·5 million a year, provided that the industry contributes at least £3 million per year. This is in addition to the £14 million pump-priming grant which covered the organisation's first five years up to 1987–88.

I thank my right hon. Friend for continuing to fund Food From Britain. He will be aware that Britain's agricultural produce is the finest in the world. Is he satisfied that Food From Britain is making the most of the marketing opportunities that are available to it? Does he agree with me that much more could be done?

I agree that much more could be done. We have made more money available to allow that work to be done. Food From Britain has made an excellent start. It now has 16 commodity sectors which already bear the food mark and enable producers to guarantee quality produce for consumers. Good progress has been made also with exports. The record British presence recently at the ANUGA food fair demonstrates the marketing opportunities that exist for British exports of the excellent quality to which my hon. Friend referred.

Does the Minister agree that even the best food needs to be marketed strongly in the current situation? How does he equate the money funded for Food From Britain with the £40 million available in France for marketing its products?

We started a good deal later than some countries. The tragedy is that when the Labour party was in power it did absolutely nothing about this. It fell to this Government to found Food From Britain. We are building it up in a commendable way.

Milk Quotas

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received on the new proposals from the EEC on tenants' rights in relation to the disposal of milk quotas.

My right hon. Friend and I have received a number of representations on the proposed Community outgoers scheme from hon. Members, interested organisations and individual farmers. These have reflected a number of concerns, including the position of tenant farmers and landlords.

I listened carefully to that answer and to the answer given by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). Frankly, I remain unclear about the extent of the Government's commitment to help tenant farmers out of their present predicament. On milk quotas, do the Government now share the Commission's recognition of the rights of tenant farmers? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman press immediately to alleviate the conditions of tenant farmers in relation to milk quotas?

Recognition of rights does not necessarily result in an answer that suits our particular landlord and tenant system. We have clearly said that we recognise that, in almost every case, both tenants and landlords have contributed to production on dairy farms and that we are trying to find ways to have that position recognised. We want it recognised in the context of our situation, not someone else's.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in many cases the tenant has made the relevant capital investment and that any arrangements must take that fact into account?

We said that we would take proper cognisance of that fact and the fact that the landlord also has an interest. We want to ensure that the arrangements suit our landlord and tenant system, not just the system in other countries.

In view of the adverse summer weather experienced in the United Kingdom and the additional debts that went with it, will my right hon. Friend consider whether, under the new outgoers scheme, landlords and tenants alike may release part of the quota and take advantage of the scheme to alleviate their financial difficulties?

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have only recently received the preliminary proposals from the Commission. We have been looking at them carefully. That is one of the issues that we will have to take into account.

Food (Quality)

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to improve the quality of food.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

There is already a comprehensive range of legislation regulating the safety, quality and labelling of food. Regulations are kept under review so as to take account of new developments.

What does the Minister intend to do about those families in receipt of family income supplement or supplementary benefit who do not have enough money to buy food that conforms with the Government's nutritional guidelines?

The issuing of nutritional guidelines is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Security, and I am certain that it is balancing those factors.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear that food in Britain is of far better quality and worth than the food that is available in many other countries? Will she also make it clear that we should not put any more labels on food, as they only distract the attention of ordinary housewives?

I wholly agree with the first comments made by my hon. Friend, but we have accepted the recommendations of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food report, ensuring that food will be labelled with its fat content. We are looking at a non-statutory format for nutritional labelling, too.

Is the Minister aware that one of the ways in which the quality of food is enhanced is through the valuable work done at Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food research centres? In the light of that, is it not a scandal that the Government are proposing to close Shardlow Hall in the east midlands by 6 March next year, all for the sake of £1·6 million, yet they can find £252 million to balance the books of the Common Market, and we find that fraud amounting to £600 million has gone on in the Common Market? If the Government can find money for that, why can they not find the money to save the jobs at the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service and make sure that the taxpayer does not have to find more money to finance the dole queue?

The hon. Gentleman knows that that matter does not arise out of this question. We have spent about £200 million on agriculture and food research, and the Government are still contributing greatly to research. However, the food industry also does a great deal in research.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the potential threat to the quality of food because of the contraction of competition, caused, among other things, by the practice of discriminatory discounting and other trading practices by the large retail chains? Will the Department take an interest in that matter, although it does not come directly under its responsibility?

I can assure my hon. Friend that my Department has taken a considerable interest in the matter, but he will be aware that the Office of Fair Trading is the organisation that looks at it. Recently, it considered exactly that point. It found that current practices are not against the public interest, but, of course, it will look at any cases that are brought before it.

Will Ministers be taking the parliamentary opportunity on Monday of explaining in detail precisely why they find it necessary to cut 27 posts in the Soil Survey of England and Wales and other agricultural research, which has its effect on the quality of food?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman added the bit about food at the end of his question. I am sure he will agree that that area of research is not wholly applicable to this question, which is about the quality of food.

Common Agricultural Policy

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in discussions with his European colleagues on the Commission's Green Paper, "Perspectives for the Common Agricultural Policy".

The Council had an initial debate on the Green Paper when it met informally in September. At its meeting this week there was discussion based on a Commission memorandum on specific ideas for the cereals sector. The Commission has given notice of its intention to issue a memorandum next month covering its wider conclusions from the "Perspectives" exercise. We shall continue to press for a realistic price policy to be adopted as a central element in tackling the problems of costly surpluses in the CAP.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Commission's proposals for cereals are likely to bear more heavily on the United Kingdom than on other parts of the Community? What steps does he propose to take to ensure that that does not happen?

Co-responsibility levies would pose real difficulties of administration and equity, as my hon. Friend said. They would distort the proper working of the market. We should remember that the levy is a revenue-raising device to provide temporary relief for the budget. Rigorous long-term action on the price level remains indispensable to bring the cereals sector into better balance. Those were all points that I raised at the Council meeting this week.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the food mountains in this country are now at record levels and that the millions of tonnes of grain that are dumped in secret stores represent a scandalous misuse of resources? Do his earlier answers mean that he recognises that the proposed co-responsibility levy on cereals will make things worse, because the farmers will see it as a forerunner for quotas and expect him to insist on cereal price cuts?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares my view about the importance of price cuts and the relative ineffectiveness of co-responsibility levies. He also referred to the large quantities of grain stored in this country. We have those tremendous surpluses throughout the Community basically because during the past seven or eight years the Council of Ministers has ignored the advice given to it by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues while his party was in power, and by my colleagues while this Government have been in power. If the Community had taken the British advice from both parties, the surpluses would be less today.

In view of that answer, will my right hon. Friend explain why there is no surplus and no wheat going into intervention in France, while we have a surplus of 6 million tonnes, which is likely to rise to 7 million tonnes? This morning the Agriculture Select Committee was told that that vast quantity of wheat was now valueless and that nobody wanted to buy it. This year we shall import 3 million tonnes of wheat from France and elsewhere for milling purposes because our wheat is, unfortunately, valueless and not wanted by our trade.

I do not accept that the wheat that we produce is valueless. That is not true. One of the matters about which we have recently been pressing the Commission is that it should have schemes to export grain of feed quality because there are markets in the world where that type of grain is needed. I hope that before long we can persuade the Commission to introduce a scheme that will in particular reduce the stocks of feed quality wheat that we have in store.

Has the Minister, in his discussions with his colleagues in the Community, considered the social and regional policy implications of a substantial shift from price support to direct income aids, which is proposed in the Green Paper?

Yes, I have considered that. I am worried about the possibility of income aids. The Commission has not yet made any proposals, and there would be difficult problems to overcome regarding income aids. They are difficult to administer, there would be problems of conflicts with existing social security schemes, and expense is a major factor. It is an area where national policies could well be far more appropriate. We could find that assistance from income aids would go disproportionately to other countries, and not to the United Kingdom.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his stand on trying to reduce cereal surpluses? Does he recognise that there is no difference between co-responsibility levies, price restraints and price cuts? In the first instance they will encourage higher production, which is the road we followed on milk, when we refused to consider milk quotas until the last moment. Will my right hon. Friend urgently change his mind and take steps to impose some form of cereal quota throughout the EC?

It is not true that there is no difference between price cuts and co-responsibility levies, because the advantage of a price cut over a levy is that it reduces the price to the livestock producer and makes the product more competitive in the export markets. I am surprised to hear my hon. Friend express support for quotas. If, for example, he wants to put our cereals industry into a straightjacket, so that we who are so efficient would not have the opportunity of increasing our share of European production, that will do a great disservice to the interests of our country, quite apart from the fact that in some parts of the Community it is almost impossible to administer cereal quotas.

In view of the importance of the document to the agriculture industries of both parts of the island of Ireland, and bearing in mind that some people in the EC will attempt to promote a common agricultural policy for the whole of that island, can the Minister tell us whether he intends to seek the advice of the Anglo-Irish ministerial council on that and other matters, where some people will advocate such a CAP?

Milk Quotas

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give his approval to the leasing of dairy quotas.

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in efforts to introduce greater flexibility into the milk quota regime.

I attach great importance to obtaining better arrangements for the transfer of quota between producers. We have been pressing the Commission to bring forward proposals on this, and shall continue to do so. In the meantime, we are exploring the scope for flexibility within the framework of the present Community rules.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an example of when Government lawyers ought to use their customary initiative? Even if it is not possible for technical reasons to indulge in quota leasing, should it not be possible to devise other methods, perhaps the pooling of quotas? In fairness to the dairy industry, must not such steps be taken fairly urgently?

I am not sure that my hon. Friend should restrict his comments to Government lawyers. All concerned might consider how flexibility can be achieved. If quotas are not to have a sterilising effect on the industry, there must be flexibility. We shall continue to press the Commission for such changes.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. There is a lot of rhubarb around here.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Commission asked for a study on quotas? Has my hon. Friend received that report from the Commission? If so, when will it be published?

We have pressed the Commission for such a study and asked it to take account of the problems in Britain that mean that flexibility is more important here than, perhaps, elsewhere. We are pressing the Commission for the results of the study and for it to take seriously the fact that we are unable to move quotas. Tight control over the system will mean that no new people will be able to enter the industry.

Severe Weather Payments

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is able to indicate into what areas the additional Government assistance will be channelled for farmers affected by recent bad weather conditions.

I have been examining the best way in which to help those worst affected in the livestock sector by the exceptionally bad weather and hope to be able to make an announcement very shortly.

In view of the catastrophic weather in the north, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland recently, will my right hon. Friend try to make his announcement just as quickly as he can? Even more important, will he make the payments this year if at all possible?

Yes, we shall make the announcement as quickly as we can. I am prepared to see how we can bring payments forward as soon as possible.

What has the Minister been doing with his time? He announced at the Conservative party conference that aid would be made available, but there has been a deafening silence since. Is he aware that about £25 million has been lost in my Scottish border constituency as a result of this summer and that there is a lack of winter fodder for upland farmers? When will he make a statement? If it is not next week, it will have been too long in coming.

We quite rightly wanted to get the full picture and have used the autumn to that end. We are now reaching the point at which we can pinpoint the areas that have had the greatest difficulty as a result of the atrocious weather. I hope that we can make a statement very soon.

Does cutting agricultural research constitute providing additional resources for farmers in the areas that have been hit by the bad weather? Why do the Government intend to introduce charges for the services offered by ADAS, payable by these very farmers—

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would relate his question to the subject, please.

The farmers in these areas are suffering and will have to pay the high charges for ADAS. Why should they not be relieved of those charges?

I do not suppose that farmers in Cumbria will read that question sympathetically. The hon. Gentleman missed the opportunity to press for the problems of Cumbria to be taken into account. Although he missed that opportunity, I can assure him that I am looking after those farmers very well.

I echo what my right hon. Friend has just said. Will he take it from me that it is essential that he takes as long as necessary to get the bad weather payments right? Will he ensure that he consults all sectors of the industry so that he may have as wide a spread of advice as possible on how the payment should be administered and to whom it should be allocated?

I pay tribute to the responsible advice that we have had from many people in trying to pinpoint the areas where the problems are greatest and where help is needed most.

When he announced the scheme at the Conservative party conference, the Minister promised that it would be in place by the end of October. This will be the longest October on record. Does he not realise that the livestock are suffering now? Will he expedite from the Treasury money as well as promises?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman made that announcement at his conference, but I do not recall giving an understanding that the scheme would be in place by the end of October. All I can say is that we want to get a full picture of the total effect of the bad weather before deciding how best to spend the money that we have available.

Frozen Foodstuffs

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received about European Community document 9402/84 on the approximation of laws relating to quick-frozen foodstuffs.

We circulated the draft proposals for a Council directive on quick-frozen foodstuffs to a wide range of interested organisations. We have received comments from representatives of frozen food manufacturers, distributors and retailers and refrigeration engineers.

Will my hon. Friend do all in her power to ensure that this ill-conceived directive is not imposed upon the people of this country, who have more experience in the frozen food industry than the rest of the Community put together?

I agree with my hon. Friend that this country has tremendous expertise in the production of frozen food. I acknowledge my hon. Friend's specialist knowledge. He will know from the debate we had earlier this year that we opposed the directive in its present form. We shall be seeking modifications to the proposals to make them sounder and more acceptable.

Ancient Monuments

11.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the agricultural aspects of conserving ancient monuments.

Many ancient monuments are situated on agricultural land and in these cases the main responsibility for their day-to-day protection lies with the farmer concerned. It is, of course, a criminal offence to destroy or cause damage to any protected ancient monument. Farmers can and do enter into management agreements with the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, under which payments are made to help with the cost of the positive management of ancient monuments.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I ask for her reassurance that she will continue to keep an eye on the protection of such sites and the need for proper public access to them?

In applying our agricultural policy we take acount of other interests, including the protection of ancient monuments. To that end ADAS officers can help farmers to recognise the value of archaeological sites on their land and advise them on the most appropriate farming methods in use for protection of those sites. My hon. Friend mentioned access. The agreements with the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, to which I have just referred, can provide for access but I understand that in practice very few do.

Pelagic Fisheries

13.

asked the Minister of Ariculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress of the review of restrictive licensing of pelagic vessels.

A consultative paper on the review of restrictive licensing for the pelagic fisheries was circulated to industry organisations on 4 October 1985. When all those who wish to do so have expressed their views, Fisheries Ministers hope to reach decisions on future licensing arrangements before the end of the year.

Various people in the industry will be relieved that a statement will be made before the end of the year, because the uncertainty has not been good for the industry. Will the Minister accept that if any move is made to increase the number of freezer trawlers available for the pelagic fisheries, that will be viewed with great concern by those who are interested in conservation and particularly by people in my constituency, who will be adversely affected?

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the reason why we set up this investigation was do deal with all these issues. No decisions will be made without taking very seriously all the points that he has put forward.

With regard to conservation, has my hon. Friend seen the report in this week's Fishing News that two of the constituents of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) are buying a giant purser from Norway which has capacity in its hold for 1,100 tonnes of fish? Does he agree that it is pointless to buy a huge boat such as that if the owners then try to gain access to stocks that are under pressure?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that there is considerable argument in this area, and that it was therefore sensible of the Government to make sure that we had the full facts before making our decision. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may feel that it has taken some time, but it is better to get the answer right than to get a rushed answer wrong.

Prime Minister

Klaus Barbie

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if, in the light of the recently published report "L'affreux Secret" by John Loftus, special investigator for the United States Justice Department, she will cause an investigation to be made into the connection of British Intelligence with the case of the Nazi Klaus Barbie.

I have been asked to reply.

No, Sir.

Why the secrecy in dealing with the facts of the matter? Is it not the case that Klaus Barbie was recruited by British intelligence as an agent immediately post-war, along with many other ex-SS spies who were recruited by MI6? Is it not the case that there may well be more facts to be elicited, or are we to have a cover-up such as there has been over Dr. Mengele?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is a very strong tradition of reticence on these affairs, which has applied to Governments of all parties since the war. I cannot go any further in my reply than the answers that have hitherto been given.

Engagements

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

This morning my right hon. Friend presided at a meeting of the Cabinet, and is now in Brussels for President Reagan's briefing of the NATO Council.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there will be a welcome throughout the length and breadth of the country for the achievements of the Geneva summit, particularly the agreement that arms control talks are to go ahead with vigour, that President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev are to meet again soon, and that the establishment of greater understanding and mutual trust is an essential basis for effective negotiation, with concentration on our shared hopes for the future rather than on our differences of the past?

I am sure that, in the context of high profile summitry, being a very hazardous form of diplomacy, there will be a great sense of relief at the achievements that have been secured at Geneva. My hon. Friend appropriately puts the advantages in a way that appeals to the entire House.

I warmly welcome the transformation in US-Soviet relations and hope that we may now see deep cuts in nuclear arsenals and concrete agreements in the next year and the year after. However, does the Leader of the House agree that one of the lessons for hon. Members is that the deeply damaging and divisive policies of unilateral nuclear disarmament should be abandoned by the Labour party?

Whatever measure of detente has been secured at Geneva certainly does not derive from a unilateral nuclear disarmament philosophy.

Will my right hon. Friend utterly condemn the outrageous attack on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by badly behaved hooligans who call themselves Ulster Unionists, flying in the face of a growing reality that more and more people in the Province and in the rest of Britain are wholeheartedly behind the agreement?

I deprecate, as I am sure all hon. Members will, the physical attack upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I am certain that such action damages the cause of those who perpetrate it.

Will the Lord Privy Seal ensure that the Prime Minister has brought to her attention the increasing flood of communications from the length and breadth of England, Wales and Scotland expressing indignation at the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement and at her personal part in it?

I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the observations that have just been made. Doubtless they will feature in the debate that we shall soon have.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the arrangements reached by President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev in Geneva were firmly based on hard realism? Does he agree that that spirit, not the one-sided disarmament espoused by the Labour party and by one half of the alliance, is more likely to lead to arms control and lasting peace?

Whatever success has been secured at Geneva will be in the context of realism that is both hardheaded and cautious. I am sure that it has been secured by hard negotiations unclouded by the sort of gesture politics that are implicit in the CND.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Does the Lord Privy Seal recall the presentation made to the Cabinet by the Audit Commission during the summer recess? Will he confirm that the presentation clearly revealed that local authorities were keeping their houses in order much better than were Government Departments? Will he take this opportunity to pay tribute to county and borough treasurers, who have had to bear with the Government's restrictions during the past five years?

The Audit Commission plays an admirable role in the discussion about how best to maintain prudent public spending. I notice especially its endorsement of the idea that there should be museum charges and charges for other entertainment provided by municipal authorities. In broad terms, I am happy to concur with what the hon. Gentleman said.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read reports that Mr. Ken Livingstone proposes to offer up to £5 million of GLC money to bail out the Trotskyist regime in Liverpool? Will he discuss urgently with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment ways of preventing this municipal embezzlement of London ratepayers' money?

I am happy to concur with my hon. Friend's request, but he will have observed that Mr. Livingstone's exotic gesture does not seem to have succeeded.

What does the Leader of the House suppose is the Prime Minister's attitude to the dire straits in which two more teaching hospitals in London find themselves? What advice is she likely to give to the patients who will not be admitted there and to the researchers whose work will not be finished?

Those matters are the responsibility of the North-West Thames area health authority, which will have to judge its priorities within the spending disciplines to which it is subject. But, since I am asked to relate the matter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I am sure she will observe that National Health Service spending has increased by 20 per cent. in real terms during the lifetime of this Government, that there are 58,000 more nurses and midwives and that waiting lists have decreased by 80,000 since 1979.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the efforts of Mr. Eric Hammond in persuading the TUC to accept the use of Government funds for union ballots?

Yes. I have no wish to prejudice the success of the Government's financing of strike ballots by warmly endorsing it to trade union leaders, but I suspect that there will be a growing recognition of the virtue of that legislation, just as Labour Members now realise that there is great virtue in the sale of council houses.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday, 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

If low pay leads to the creation of new jobs, why is it that in Bradford, where most people in work have always been paid low wages, there are now 35,000 men and women desperately looking for work?

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman had some compelling or demonstrable statistical information for that assertion he would have given it.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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 the youth training scheme is enormously well thought of, not only by those who are trained, but by the trainers and the job providers? The extension of the training period to two years is widely welcomed. However, there is some worry about the future funding of the scheme. Will my right hon. Friend use his best offices to ensure that future funding is kept to a maximum, so that the least well qualified who are currently on mode B will be affected as little as possible?

The point that my hon. Friend raises is echoed in many quarters of the House. We have designed the funding of the two-year scheme to help mode B1 providers, so that they will be generally eligible for premium grants. Many will receive special transitional help next year.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the parliamentary answer from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, which makes it clear that there will be a further cut over the next year of at least £135 million in the Government's captial allocation for housing, housebuilding and house improvement? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that just last week the Prime Minister rather glibly claimed in the Guildhall that she saw a process of renewal taking place throughout the country? Does he think a cut in housebuilding adds to or retards that process of renewal?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take account of the fact that the prospects for housebuilding relate not only to the allocations but to the local authorities' access to their own capital receipts. When these are taken in totality, it is the view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that next year will show an increase over this year.

Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman, at least, thinks that local authorities should be permitted to use more than 20 per cent. of the money raised by a variety of means that they want to dedicate to housing? Is he satisfied with the fact that we have the lowest housebuilding starts of any year since the war, that 250,000 building workers are unemployed and that young and old people are in desperate need of houses? If he is concerned about those things, will he use his influence to persuade the Government to change their policy, make those allocations, and allow local authorities to spend more on creating jobs and homes?

It is the avowed policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that decisions on allocations are taken in the context of the local authorities' access to capital receipts. There will be greater spending next year.

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to reflect on the increasing amount of damage being done to the education of our young people because of the continuing teachers' dispute? The National Union of Teachers has initiated a series of strikes in selected constituencies, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley). Does my right hon. Friend agree that such action is counter-productive and is not the right way to seek to persuade Members of Parliament to support the teachers' cause? Surely negotiation and discussion is the right way forward.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Many of the tactics being adopted will create an acrimony that will linger long after a settlement.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will the Leader of the House unreservedly condemn the stubborn and self-serving attitude of the leaders of Liverpool city council, who this morning rejected the last olive branch to save their city from municipal bankruptcy? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to make recommendations immediately to the Court of Appeal, so that the date for the hearing of an appeal against disqualification can be brought forward? Even if the councillors are determined on kamikaze tactics for themselves, at least the people of Liverpool can be bailed out and given a chance to change political direction before it is too late.

The breakdown of this morning's discussions was absolutely deplorable and can cause but further difficulties for the electors and citizens of Liverpool. The responsibility still remains with the city council to put its affairs in order, and it seems to me that the AMA and the Stonefrost reports show how that might be done. As to the possibility of the court action being accelerated, I am not clear what would be the status of my right hon. Friend in the matter, but I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's comments to him.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House if he will state the business for next week?

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 25 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill.

Motion relating to the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations.

TUESDAY 26 NOVEMBER AND WEDNESDAY 27 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, November 1985 (Cmnd. 9657).

At the end on Tuesday, there will be a debate on a Government motion to take note of European Community Document No. 11118/83 as amended by 10681/84, a proposal for a directive on parental leave and leave for family reasons and the explanatory memoranda of the Department of Employment dated 12 January 1984 and 18 January 1985.

At the end on Wednesday, Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Loans) Bill

THURSDAY 28 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

FRIDAY 29 NovEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 2 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Dockyards Services Bill.

Relevant European Documents

Debate on Tuesday 26 November

(a) 11118/83

Draft Directive on parental and family leave.

(b) 10681/84

Amended draft Directive on parental and family leave.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  • (a) HC 78-xxiii (1983–84) paragraph 1
  • (b) HC 5-viii (1984–85) paragraph 2
  • I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that information. It appears that some satisfactory progress has been made at the Geneva summit and, naturally, we welcome that. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Prime Minister, on her return from Brussels, makes a statement reporting on that summit next week so that she may be appropriately questioned? Will he arrange a debate in the near future in the House on the matters relating to the summit so that hon. Members may have a proper opportunity to consider those matters?

    May I again ask the right hon. Gentleman to arrange an early debate in Government time on the report of the Department of the Environment on the condition of disrepair of many hundreds of thousands of Britain's houses?

    Can he give a date for the debate on the autumn statement? Unless that debate is held in the week after next at the latest, we shall find ourselves in the position of considering the matter even later than was the case last year.

    I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his speech in the debate yesterday and I share his disappointment at the outcome. Will he accept the consolation from me that I agreed with everything he said, with the single exception that I thought that a decision in favour of televising the proceedings of the House would have been not a leap in the dark, as he described it, but definitely a leap into the light?

    To comment on that last point first, there is no one with whom I would be more happy to share disappointment than the Leader of the Opposition, especially as I believe that we shall both be sharing it for quite a while in the future.

    I am fully cognisant of the point the hon. Gentleman made about the autumn statement. I understand that the Select Committee is currently taking evidence. I will look into the matter and see how speedily it can be brought before the House.

    At present, the report on the state of the public housing stock is being discussed by the Department of the Environment with the local authority associations, but I will bear in mind the desire that it should be debated in the House.

    I shall be in touch with the right hon. Gentleman through the usual channels about the possibility of the Prime Minister reporting, after her visit today, and, in that more general context, about the desirability of a foreign affairs debate.

    Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the United Kingdom's continued adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights?

    I answered in a somewhat negative fashion when that question was put to me in the recent past, and I see no prospect in the near future of a debate in Government time. However, one of my hon. Friends might like to try his hand on the Adjournment.

    Given the right hon. Gentleman's statement to the House this time last week that the would look at contingency plans for what might happen in the event of services collapsing in Liverpool, in view of the failure today of the city council's leaders to accept the compromise plan put forward by the AMA, and given the failure of the Leader of the Opposition to convince the leaders of Liverpool city council to see sense, when will the Government come forward with plans to ensure that services to 500,000 people do not collapse in ruin?

    The hon. Gentleman has identified yet one more area of disappointment for the Leader of the Opposition. I take note of what he says, but I can say no more today than I said a week ago.

    As Leader of the House, is my right hon. Friend really satisfied with a situation whereby the enactments of this House are subject to veto by the European Court of Human Rights?

    That is a situation in which we find ourselves by virtue of treaty obligations.

    Given the critical situation in Liverpool, bearing in mind that the workers there will today get their final wage packets, and given that schools will be closed and rubbish will pile up in the streets, not to mention the possibility of problems on the streets, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, even at this eleventh hour, whether he will meet the leaders of Liverpool city council? If not, will he arrange for a special debate next week so that hon. Members can debate these problems—[Interruption.] It is all very well for Liberal and Conservative Members to shout about the situation in Liverpool, but if they saw the conditions there they would realise the position that the Labour council faces.

    I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's real interest in this topic and, indeed, in the Adjournment debate held last week. I shall refer his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but I can offer no promise of a debate next week. Even at this late hour, it is time that the council leaders assumed the responsibilities that at present they are abdicating so manifestly.

    Will my right hon. Friend confirm that last Session's Bill on corporal punishment—which must be one of the daftest measures ever to have been put before this House—has been dropped indefinitely?

    I can take refuge in saying that, whatever has happened to it, it will not be next week.

    Has the Leader of the House read the report from the Privileges Committee dealing with confidentiality of Select Committee minutes and deliberations? Does he not recognise, particularly in the light of the most recent leaks, that there is a need to debate this matter so that the House can be clear in mind about what is acceptable and unacceptable? Will he make sure that time is made available to debate this?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I was in the Chair in relation to that report, and he is the first hon. Member to have drawn attention to it. I should like to reflect for a little while before I judge how widespread the insistence is for a debate.

    Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a Law Officer to intervene in next week's debate on the Anglo-Irish agreement and to deal with the question of its status? After all, it is described as an international treaty to be registered at the United Nations. But international treaties are treaties between sovereign states, and in this country only the Queen has treaty-making power. The Government may commit only themselves and are not able to describe themsleves, as the agreement does, as a sovereign Government. Is not a possible solution to this problem the fact that the Government of the Republic cannot bind their successor and the Republic of Ireland in any event? If so, is not the agreement worthless?

    My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot give the categorical undertaking that he seeks, but I shall do my utmost to see that the point that he raises is dealt with in the debate.

    During the debate on Tuesday and Wednesday, will the right hon. Gentleman ask one of his colleagues to address himself to a specific problem confronting me and other hon. Members, particularly those from Northern Ireland, to do with the legislative procedure for dealing with Northern Ireland affairs? Will the Anglo-Irish conference produce proposals for draft orders, and, if it does and we make representations in the House, will they have go go back to the conference for approval before they become draft orders? If they become draft orders and we in the House make further proposals, and the Government reconsider on the basis of our proposals, will they once again go back to the Anglo-Irish conference for endorsement? If that is the procedure, does it not mean that elected Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland are redundant?

    Bearing in mind that Kent has 16 Members while Northern Ireland has 17, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be time to discuss the fixed link in proper form, as this is a matter of great concern not only to the country but to the people of Kent?

    As I understand it, on Friday 29 November, there is a possibility of a debate related entirely to Kent. My hon. Friend may be lucky on that occasion, and if he is unlucky we shall look at the matter again.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that many Ayrshire farmers had their crops devastated by the appalling weather during the summer and are now facing bankruptcy? Is he also aware that the Minister of State, Scottish Office promised an announcement about aid at the end of October, but no such statement has been forthcoming? Is he also aware that my colleagues from Ayrshire and I saw the Minister earlier this month, and he told us that a statement would be made as soon as possible, but still one has not been made, even though today there were questions to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? When will a statement be made so that the Ayrshire farmers will know whether they will be able to continue in farming?

    I understand tht my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said this afternoon that he hoped to make a statement shortly. In any case, I shall draw his attention to what the hon. Gentleman has just said.

    My right hon. Friend will recall that previously I have asked for time to be found for a full in-depth debate on law and order. The way in which my postbag on this subject increases shows that there is disquiet over the question of juries, the possibility of hooded jurors, the parole system and the lenient sentencing that we now have, which means that there is no reason for the Government to duck a debate on this subject.

    It is not that we are ducking but that we are having difficulty in finding time. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's point, although he must be a little more fair than that. Many demands are made for debates in Government time, and hon. Members like to have a tolerable Christmas recess. However, I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's request.

    Last Thursday, I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate on the independent colliery review procedures for the closure of pits which have been announced only recently by the Secretary of State for Energy. The right hon. Gentleman promised that he would have a word with the Secretary of State about this, in view of the difficulties experienced by all parties to the deals. What is the result of his conversation with the Secretary of State for Energy? When I spoke to the Secretary of State's private office, I was told that it did not have the faintest idea how the procedure worked.

    If it is in order for the House to debate the treaty of the Anglo-Irish agreement, why is it not in order for the House to debate the treaty of the European Convention on Human Rights when this country is so often wrongly held up to ridicule in the rest of the world?

    It is not a question of whether it is in order; it is simply that I have not been able to make Government time available.

    Instead of having two days' debate on the agreement, would it not be a good idea to set aside a day for the workings of the Housing Defects Act, which the Government introduced some time ago? Nearly every council has found the Act to be unworkable. The local authorities are called upon to devise a repair scheme for the houses, but that is not properly designated under the Act. Is it not high time that a spokesman from the Department of the Environment told the House in forthright terms what authorities must do in order to alleviate the misery of thousands of tenants and residents?

    I strongly repudiate any suggestion that the Anglo-Irish agreement merits less than two days' debate in this House. It is of profound significance to the United Kingdom as a whole and a matter of acute sensitivity to the Province of Northern Ireland. As to the hon. Member's suggested replacement, of course it is true that we were to have a debate which would enable the Government to put their record on renovation and repair. It is so formidably effective compared with that undertaken by the Labour Government that I am much tempted by the prospect, but I do not have that amount of Government time.

    Will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to what I believe was a reasonable request from my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) for a debate on law and order? Bearing in mind the growing anxiety felt not just within the House but throughout the country about the completely inadequate sentences being meted out to rapists and baby killers, it is time that the House had an opportunity to voice its opinion on the important matters of law and order and sentences.

    I accept at once the importance of the topic and my hon. Friend's commitment to it. Being fair-minded, he will, I am sure, judge that we have only recently completed the debate upon the Queen's Speech when it was possible for the House to discuss it. It is a matter of balancing all the other demands on Government time with this request.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that there will have to be a debate, or a statement, in the House next week on the position in Liverpool, because it has reached crisis proportions? One aspect that must be debated and upon which we need a statement is how the DHSS will deal with all the staff who will be made redundant. For instance, on Monday the manual workers sign on and on Thursday the white-collar workers. No arrangements have been made to deal with them. The office of the Minister for Social Security told me today that it does not know in which category they will be—they are not redundant and they are not sacked; they may not get paid; benefit books will not in any case be issued until after Christmas, and each case will have to go before an assessment panel. That kind of hardship must be addressed by the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made?

    The hon. Gentleman raises points which are fair for the consideration of the House. Of course, I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to what he has said, but my right hon. Friend is not automatically engaged by the cynical disavowal of responsibility by the Liverpool council's leadership.

    When we discuss the Channel link, will my right hon. Friend take care to ensure that the House has an opportunity to debate all the viable alternatives and is not faced by a Government who gives us just one option on a take-it-or-leave-it basis?

    I have already said that I hope that we shall be able to have a debate on that topic in the reasonably near future. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's point when considering the form that the debate should take.

    Further to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) about a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy on the colliery review procedure, may I press upon the Leader of the House the fact that it is important that we should have that statement and a clear sign of what the new colliery review procedure is all about? A colliery in Ogmore is now under that new colliery review procedure and awaiting a decision. The community of Maesteg is waiting for a decision. A further colliery in Garw is under the review procedure. They are the only two collieries left in the Ogmore constituency. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the meeting that he is to have with the Secretary of State for Energy will be an early one and that the House will have an early statement about the review procedure?

    I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's argument and his constituency involvement. I shall ensure that the facts as he has described them are put to my right hon. Friend.

    We have had, rightly, a series of statements on the effects of the teachers' strike on teachers' pay and other matters. May we have an early statement on the effect that the strike is having upon children who are sitting examinations and children who are sent home without notice? Is it not time that the House considered the extremely damaging effect of the strike on children's education?

    I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with me that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science made his views and anxieties on this aspect of the teachers' strike extremely clear at Question Time a short while ago. However, I shall draw to his attention the further points that my hon. Friend makes.

    May I lend my support to Tory Members who are calling for a debate on law and order in the context of a letter which was sent by the chairman of the stock exchange to the Prime Minister three weeks ago on the enormous mountains of fraud in the Tory citadels in the City? Will the Leader of the House arrange a special debate on law and order in the context of that fraud and the Government's failure to deal with it?

    The hon. Gentleman properly reminds the House how widely such a debate might range. If I am unable to provide time for such a debate as speedily as he wishes, I hope that he will not throw aside his potential speech. The House will have an opportunity to consider all these matters when it addresses itself to the financial services legislation, which will be forthcoming reasonably soon.

    Can my right hon. Friend confirm that Her Majesty's Government expect Spain and Portugal to come into the EEC on 1 January? Will he confirm also that the matter has not been debated by the House, except for my Adjournment debate, since 1978? Surely a matter of such major importance to the British people should receive the fullest possible treatment in the House. Will he confirm that a full opportunity will be given to all Members to debate the issue and to vote upon it? Will that happen between now and Christmas?

    I congratulate my hon. Friend on being one of the relatively few Members who have persistently argued the utmost significance of the entry of Spain and Portugal into the EEC for the United Kingdom and its economy. I can confirm that legislation which is now in another place should be before us for consideration and confirmation between now and Christmas.

    Why will the Government not put a day aside to debate the recent survey into the state of disrepair of many council homes? The survey showed that 84 per cent. of these homes are in disrepair and that £18·8 billion would have to be spent to bring them up to a reasonable standard? Do the Government choose not to have a debate because they are as windy about their record as these homes are draughty?

    I appreciate that the political argument is shifting away from unemployment to housing, but housing will be as hopeless an area for the Opposition as unemployment has been. As I said to the Leader of the Opposition, the report is being discussed by the Department of the Environment with the local authority associations. I accept that it should be debated eventually in the House.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern that is felt on both sides of the House about the proposed bid by Elders IXL for Allied-Lyons, which may damage a number of constituencies' employment prospects, including those of Leicester, East? Will my right hon. Friend give the House an opportunity to debate the growing abuse of companies spending massive amounts of shareholders' money in launching takeover campaigns? Will he consider referring this particular bid to the Office of Fair Trading, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry?

    I admire the ingenuity with which my hon. Friend draws to my attention the problems of Leicester, East every Thursday afternoon. No one is a more doughty champion of the east midlands and Leicester than he—[Interruption.] I know how to butter my bread. The specific issue which my hon. Friend has raised is being considered by the Office of Fair Trading, and there I think the matter must rest for the time being.

    Will the Leader of the House arrange for one of his right hon. Friends to be present on Tuesday to explain to the House—in the light of Dr. Garret FitzGerald's claim that with the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement, the role of the UDR has been significantly changed—what part will be played by the representatives of a foreign country in the direct control of a regiment of the British Army? Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that it is because it is a regiment of the British Army that enmity has been displayed against it, notably in the past week with the murder of another Roman Catholic serving soldier—a sergeant—in Londonderry?

    I hope that I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's point, especially in the context of the Province. As I have said in answer to similar questions, I shall draw the hon. Member's points to the attention of those Ministers taking part in the debate in the belief that they will deal with them.

    Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) on whether in the near future the House should consider the position in Liverpool? There are 31,000 employees in the city, most of whom do not live there, who are the innocent victims of the intransigent attitude of the militant Left in control of the city council. If my right hon. Friend does not consider that a debate is appropriate, will he pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the information that most hon. Members are extremely worried about the position in Liverpool and would like a statement to be made?

    I shall of course pass on that point to my right hon. Friend. I should like to append this observation: wilful abdication by the Liverpool council does not necessarily involve Government responsibility.

    Most of us accept that the decision taken last night on televising Parliament means that it is unlikely that there will be television cameras within these precincts before the next election. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as is often the case, Scottish Members showed that they are more progressive and sensible than the rest of the House by 47 Members from Scotland voting for television, 17 voting against and one, for some reason, voting in both Lobbies? Will the Leader of the House consider the possibility of televising the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh?

    I am still a bit dazed after last night. If I may collect my thoughts, I think that my instinctive comment is, how can I be guaranteed that English money will not be used to televise Scots politicians?

    Does my right hon. Friend accept that parents and grandparents are extremely angry following a summer when children have been neglected—a summer of cruelty to children, rape, manslaughter and murder? It was a distressing summer for anyone who loves small children. Will my right hon. Friend take seriously the calls from Back Benchers to hold an urgent debate on this subject so that we can explore in depth how we may better protect children? The events of this summer must not be repeated. Parliament should enact legislation to protect children. May we have an early debate on this matter?

    I take account of what my hon. Friend has said. I have already said to the House that I fully understand the importance of this subject and the passion that it engenders. What I cannot do is to offer the prospect of an early debate—having regard to all the other pressures on Government time—but I take note of what has been said and shall ascertain what can be done.

    The Leader of the House may be aware of the controversy in greater Manchester about the decision of the chief constable to purchase plastic bullets. It is my constituents who are likely to be affected by the decision should the bullets ever be used. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is an overwhelming argument that the relationship between the police and the community in the inner city areas should be open to the scrutiny of Parliament? That changing relationship should at least have the benefit of the collective wisdom of the House. May we have a debate on the policing of England and Wales?

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to comment on the merits of his proposal. I should have thought that now, of all times, was not the occasion further to politicise the police of this country. However, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

    The Leader of the House answered a question from the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) about our having an early debate on the serious issue of child abuse. May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend that such a debate will take place on Friday 29 November, initiated, dare I say, by myself?

    I am more than happy to join the hon. Gentleman in giving publicity to the debate, which will be the first on Friday 29 November. He is right to say that it will give an excellent opportunity to all those who have sought to have a debate on the topic.

    Liverpool

    4.2 pm

    I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, to discuss a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

    "the impending collapse of services in the city of Liverpool".
    I take this opportunity to raise the matter because I believe that on Monday it would be convenient, without any major disruption to our business, to move the debates to later in the week, without interfering with the important debate on Tuesday and Wednesday on Northern Ireland. I believe that the matter should take precedence over business that has already been laid down, for specific, important and urgent reasons—specifically because Government intervention is the only solution available. It is clear that every other attempt to resolve the matter, involving the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Leader of the Opposition and many other people, has broken down.

    The matter is important because it is a unique problem. It is a tragic first for a city the size of Liverpool, and it is a tragic first for any local authority. The matter is urgent because unless the House acts, 500,000 citizens living in Liverpool will be left without services and 31,000 employees will find themselves without employment and without money coming into their homes to look after their families' welfare. It is also urgent because schools will close and young children will have no opportunity to complete their education. Social services will cease to function and meals on wheels, home helps and a variety of welfare services will not be available—

    Those services will not be available, especially to elderly people, in a city where one in four is over retirement age and where the fastest growing group are the over-80s. From a hygiene point of view, there will be major public health problems when the refuse services break down. No contingency plans exist. The Government have not considered the matter, as the Leader of the House made clear earlier. It is a contrived crisis that is now out of control.

    The people in Liverpool feel akin to those in the first world war who were caught in a no man's land with belligerent and incompetent generals in the trenches on either side, hurling invective and abuse at one another. Ordinary people are now being made the victims. One in five of the people in Liverpool is already out of work. Liverpool has more than its fair share of problems. This is an urgent matter, which should be properly debated next week.

    The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

    "the impending collapse of services in the city of Liverpool"
    I do not under-estimate what the hon. Gentleman has said, I have listened with great care to his submission. He knows that my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 10 is to decide whether it should be given priority over the business already set down for this evening or for Monday.

    I regret that I cannot find that the matter that he raised meets all the criteria laid down under the Standing Order, and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House on this day.

    Divisions

    4.5 pm

    I am grateful for the opportunity to raise with you, Mr. Speaker, a point of order of which I have given you notice. Will you consider, and make a statement upon, any action which you deem it necessary to take to enable Members already in a Division Lobby with the intention of voting on a closure motion to become aware that the Division has been called off and the main Question is to be put? The problem arises because hon. Members who are already in a Division Lobby cannot hear what is happening in the Chamber and will tend to interpret the initial ringing of the Division Bell on the main Question as being the second ringing of the Division Bell on the original closure motion when it is called off.

    There is a simple way of overcoming that problem. Coloured lights could be installed in the Division Lobbies where they can be seen by all hon. Members. They should be illuminated for two minutes after a Division is called off. That is the course that I judge to be most convenient for hon. Members and the efficient conduct of the business of the House.

    I believe that my memory serves me right that when it was thought convenient to install two digital clocks in the Chamber there was no investigation by the Select Committee on Procedure. It was an obvious and convenient step, and I believe that this is a step that you could properly take, Mr. Speaker, within your own authority since it involves a change not in procedure, but merely in mechanical facilities, and that there is no need to refer it to the Select Committee.

    I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. The confusion that occurred last night which led me to put the Question again is not unprecedented, but it is rare and I should like to consider carefully, in that context, what the hon. Gentleman has said.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It would be dramatic to have the psychedelic effects that the hon. Gentleman suggests but would not a simpler solution be to put monitors the Division Lobbies?

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you are aware, several hon. Members attended the magnificent performance of Monteverdi's vespers last night in aid of your fund for the restoration of St. Margaret's Church. By arrangement, we left St. Margaret's at 9.50 pm to record our vote in the important Division. I went through the Aye Lobby at the correct time, not on the procedural motion when the Division was called off, but on the main Question. On looking at Hansard this morning, I find that my name is not recorded as having voted.

    I therefore ask for two things: first, that the record be put right; and, secondly, that, in view of the confusion and the possibility of other names having been omitted—some names that I expected to see are not in the list—there be a recount.

    If what the hon. Gentleman says is right—I am sure it is—I shall ensure that his name is recorded as having voted among the Ayes. On the second point, I have taken account of what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has said, that the figures may show a discrepancy of one in the names and the count. I cannot accede to the second request.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It might be helpful to know what caused the problem last night. It arose from the fact that it was not whipped business. With great respect to those hon. Members who acted as tellers and then were not found for the closure motion but were in place for the main Question, they were not professional Whips and they had no control, so to speak. When things alter in the Chamber during Government business or whipped business, the Whips get into position to inform people in the Lobbies and the procedure goes through smoothly. Last night we had good amateur Whips, who caused confusion because of their lack of experience.

    I am sure that the usual channels will be heartened by the hon. Gentleman's support of them.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday there was a double confusion. There were hon. Members in the Aye Lobby who genuinely thought that they were voting on the procedural motion, but also hon. Members who thought that they were voting on the substantive motion, who voted, like the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), and then immediately repaired to whatever task they were performing outside the House. If you are going to correct the voting register to take account of the hon. Gentleman's vote and his subsequent absence, surely I am right to assume that other hon. Members may have been similarly affected. If so, does it not put the validity of the vote in considerable difficulty?

    I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman. There may have been a discrepancy of one, and, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) has mentioned that he passed through the Lobby, that might be how it was caused. On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, he will know perfectly well because he was present that, because of the confusion, I caused the Division on the main motion to take place again. We cannot have yet a further Division.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I apologise to you and my colleagues if I caused any confusion last night? When the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) sat down three minutes before the hour of interruption and I rose, I should have made it plain that I intended to resume my seat on the hour of interruption, so that we would have a clean Division. I did not do so, and I apologise if I caused any confusion as a result. The hon. Lady chose to move the closure a minute after that, and that is how the difficulty arose. If it was in any way my fault, I apologise to the House.