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Schedule 1

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Minor And Consequential Amendments

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 18, line 31, at end insert—

`(a) he may detain all or any of the persons found on those premises for the duration of the search.'.
During the debate in Committee, hon. Members on both sides were startled to discover that the power to search premises was thought by implication to include a power to detain persons, other than the particular person who was the object of the search, who might be present on those premises at the time. There was a general feeling that if that power was implicit, it ought to be made explicit in the terms of the statute, and in particular that the length of any such detention should be limited. That anxiety had been expressed by Sir George Baker in his report.

In Committee, we considered whether it was practicable to provide a four-hour period of detention in those circumstances, but upon consideration it seems more reasonable that the power to detain, without which some searches would be physically impracticable or liable to frustration, ought to be limited to the duration of the search itself. I hope that that will be found acceptable to the Government.

It may be that the interpretation is correct, that a power to search implies the power to direct any person not to leave the premises or to move from one part of the premises to another, but, in the light of the tense circumstances in which those powers are exercised, I hope that the Government will agree that it would be far better, as a minor amendment, if those powers were set out precisely on the face of the statute.

In view of all the pleasant things that have been said during the course of this stage of the consideration of the Bill about the confluence of views and so on, it would be nice if, on this last amendment, it was possible for me to accept the reasonable point that has been put by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). However, I am afraid that I have to act the hard man for once, and reiterate what I said in Committee when a similar amendment backed by the right hon. Gentleman was under consideration.

It is quite clear in law that the statutory power to enter and search premises does implicitly carry with it the power to do anything that is reasonably necessary to achieve the object of the search. There are other statutes that confer such powers — for example, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Criminal Law Act 1967, and drugs legislation—but nowhere do they spell out the ancillary steps that may be taken in order to make a search effective. Therefore, although the right hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable case, it would be odd to single out searches under this particular piece of legislation in the way proposed by the amendment when it is not reflected in other legislation that provides the power to search. Therefore, I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing his amendment.

There may be a disadvantage in varying in this instance from the conferment of powers to search in other statutory contexts. Therefore, although I think that there is some danger attendant upon the exercise of a power to search without specific power to do those various things in the course of a search, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 29, in page 18, line 40, at end insert—

' In section 18 (power to stop and question)
  • (a) in subsection (1)(b), after "other" insert "recent"; and
  • (b) in subsection (2), for the words from "imprisonment" onwards substitute "a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.".'.
  • No. 31, in page 18, line 41, at end insert—

    ' In section 32 (orders and regulations)—
  • (a) in subsection (1), after "orders conferred by" insert "section 9A above and";
  • (b) in subsection (3), for the words from the beginning to "Schedules)" substitute "Subject to subsection (5) below, no order or regulations under this Act";
  • (c) in subsection (4), for the words from the beginning to "approved) shall" substitute "Subject to subsection (5) below, orders and regulations under this Act shall, if not so approved in draft,"; and—
  • (d) after that subsection add—
  • "(5) Subsections (3) and (4) above do not apply to—
  • (a) any order under section 19A above or under Schedule 1 or 3 to this Act; or
  • (b) any regulations under section 5A above; but a statutory instrument containing any such regulations shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.".'.—[Dr. Mawhinney]
  • Order for Third Reading read.

    9.43 pm

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

    There are two points that I should like to put on record at this stage of the Bill that I hope will show the willingness of the Government to respond to some of the views put forward in Committee.

    Those right hon. and hon. Members who served on the Committee will recall the general concern that was expressed during the course of our discussions to ensure that Parliament was able to scrutinise effectively the emergency provisions legislation on the occasion of the annual renewal debates. I gave certain assurances about the provision of extra information—for example, that the Government would provide what statistical information was available. However, I believe that it would be for the assistance of the House, and, indeed, the other place, if, each year, a more objective assessment of the way in which the legislation had been operating could be prepared. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is therefore considering whether it might be right to ask an independent person of standing to conduct a review and prepare a report for Parliament. I hope that that will facilitate the Houe in coming to a view about the way in which the Act is working.

    The House will recall that we will renew the Act on an annual basis and that it has an overall life of five years. In Committee I was anxious to ensure that that annual review was as meaningful and penetrating as possible. I hope that if my right hon. Friend decides that eventually that is the right course to take, that approach will commend itself to the House. I shall be glad to take account of anything that is said in response to that during this Third Reading debate.

    Secondly, my right hon. Friend and I acknowledge the desirability of providing a clear statement of the powers available to the security forces under the emergency legislation and giving a clear indication of the ways in which those powers should be exercised. As I said in Committee, it is the Government's intention to introduce for Northern Ireland, by Order in Council, provisions equivalent to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, including provisions requiring the introduction of codes of practice equivalent to those drawn up under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Those codes would be of general application.

    However, it is clear that codes directly equivalent to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes would not bite on the exercise of emergency powers. Code A, for example, deals with powers of search that are exercised on the basis of "reasonable grounds for suspicion", whereas some of those in the emergency provisons Act are exercised in order to "ascertain whether" munitions and so on are present. There are similar limitations on the other codes.

    We believe that what is required is a separate code of practice governing the exercise of powers under the emergency legislation. The Government, therefore, intend to introduce a code of practice for the exercise of emergency powers in Northern Ireland. The code will not be a statutory code. We believe that such a code will be in the best interests of the security forces by contributing to greater understanding and confidence between them and the general public. It will also be in the interests of the general public to have a clear statement of the security forces' powers and of the way in which those powers should be operated.

    I should like to reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier. I compliment all those who played any part in the earlier stages of the Bill on the constructive way in which they approached it. We improved the legislation substantially on its way through Committee. I hope that the Government have been seen to respond positively and constructively both in Committee and today on the Floor of the House.

    9.47 pm

    This is not the time to embark on a further debate, and I do not propose to do so. However, I endorse what the Minister said in his final remarks. On Second Reading I called the Bill a mixed bag because I could not think of a more elegant expression on the spur of the moment. I said that we would place no impediment in the Government's path when they introduced progressive measures. The Bill represents an improvement in a number of respects on the previous law, and I hope that we shall continue to encourage the Government in well doing.

    We have debated the less attractive parts of the Bill. That was possible because the Government introduced the provisions by way of a Bill, not by unamendable orders. I imagine that that was because the Government had to do it in that way, and not because they had acquired a sudden aversion to unamendable orders, although I might wish that it were otherwise.

    We have had profitable debates. We have not reached unanimity, but we have directed our minds to one another's arguments and I believe that the Bill is better in consequence. Even at this late stage, the Minister has given us two items of good news. I shall not attempt to react to them now. In any event, it may be better to reflect on them before we say any more, but good news they certainly are. I, too, pay tribute to all those who have contributed to our debates. We have had enjoyable and useful debates and I hope that we shall have such debates more often.

    9.49 pm

    During the day we on this Bench have been asked why we are participating in the debate. The answer will be obvious to some, but not to all. It w ill not be obvious to all, because those who were elected to this House in 1983 from all parts of the United Kingdom have probably never seen Northern Ireland legislation being treated in the normal way by a Bill and not by an Order in Council. This has been a lesson for all of us who have been present in the Chamber since the debate began in mid-afternoon and for those in the Palace of Westminster who occasionally looked in upon our deliberations. We are grateful for that passing interest.

    The House has been inquiring how these complex issues could have been dealt with by an Order in Council. You, Mr. Speaker, know very well what would have happened had this been an Order in Council instead of a Second Reading, a Committee stage upstairs and now Report and Third Reading on the Floor of the House. We would have had a debate of 90 minutes, two fairly lengthy opening speeches, a limited number of contributions, a curious eagerness on the part of the Minister replying to encourage as many contributions as possible, and then, not surprisingly, find that he had insufficient time to deal with the many points that had been raised. He would then offer the consolation that he would write to every hon. Member who had raised points in the course of the debate.

    In his earlier contributions to the debate, the Secretary of State expressed appreciation of the privilege that had been his of reading the Hansard reports of the Committee stage and of being here — like myself — at a comparatively late stage in the proceedings having followed those earlier discussions in Committee. The Secretary of State said that the House had benefited from the debate being taken on the Floor of the House this afternoon and this evening. He is in the very happy position of being able to perpetuate that sense of privilege and pleasure by simply deciding that from henceforth all major Northern Ireland legislation will be treated by Bills in the normal way and not by Order in Council.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) reminded us that the Bill is merely one part of the necessary legislative armoury, given that the emergency may continue for some considerable time. Even that armoury in total will make no significant impact upon the continuing terrorist campaign. It is continuing, because there has been no reduction in violence since the year in which the present Parliament was elected and since the present Government were reinstalled in office in 1983.

    Far from a reduction, the violence has increased, despite the fact that in a press release on 15 November 1985 — a year and a half ago — the Prime Minister explained and justified her reasons for signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the following terms :
    "I entered into this agreement because I was not prepared to tolerate a situation of continuing violence."
    After a year and a half of experimentation and unfounded optimism, the Prime Minister is still tolerating that continuing violence. We would not unreasonably ask from this Bench, "How long is she prepared to tolerate it?"

    While the Committee has laboured diligently, and the debate in the House has to some extent supplemented the Committee's work, and while I join in the tributes paid to those who served on the Committee, it is my clear duty to warn the House that if and when the Bill receives the Royal Assent the effect on murder and destruction will be very marginal indeed.

    I shall not transgress by dealing with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The less said about cases of terminal illness, the better. Because we are considering a measure that deals with security, or the lack of it — a measure that will become part of a larger apparatus — we should not deceive ourselves or the country by subscribing to the mere superstition that any promises of co-operation from any Dublin Government who depend upon the life support system of one or two mavericks in the Dail will ever make a significant contribution to eradicating terrorism in Northern Ireland.

    Recently, the Prime Minister took issue with me when I said that at least 18 people had been murdered in the first three months of this year. She said that some victims of the strife were members of the so-called Irish National Liberation Army, to which I must reply, "So what?" She ignored the fact that those murdering one another had crossed and recrossed the frontier to commit those crimes. Although I do not wish to disillusion and dishearten those who served on the Committee or who contributed to the debate today by suggesting that their work has been in vain, I should say that unless Her Majesty's Government bring themselves to recognise that they must recast their entire political, economic and security strategy, it will have been in vain.

    The Secretary of State quoted Sir George Baker's conclusion at page 71 of the report, which stated :
    "If 'doomsday' arrives in whatever form it will be the duty of the then Government to bring any necessary legislation before Parliament immediately."
    There is a real fear in many minds that the Province is careering towards "doomsday". In words slightly different from those used by Sir George Baker, I say with the support of my colleagues on this Bench that it is the duty of the Government to free themselves at long last from the shackles imposed by the Anglo-Irish Agreement and, as Her Majesty's Government, to take single-handedly such action as may be necessary to arrest the drift that has gone on for far too long.

    9.57 pm

    It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who has borne many burdens in a tortured Province with courage, humility and patience. I heartily agreed when he said that he was glad that the legislation was in the form of a Bill. Many Conservative and Unionist Members agree that, as far as possible, Northern Ireland legislation should be conducted like other legislation and that Northern Ireland should be treated as though it was truly part of the United Kingdom. But I assure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that I shall not comment on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. My views on it are known to the House.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) rightly commented on the amenity of our debates on the Bill. His attitude and speeches contributed greatly to that amenity. What has also been agreeable is the way in which nationalist and Ulster Unionist Members have taken part in our debates in Committee and on the Floor of the House and have been in full agreement on some amendments and new clauses. This one Parliament of the United Kingdom is where dialogue can take place between nationalist and Unionist as it has not always taken place in assemblies constructed artificially across the water. There has been unity——

    It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

    Business Of The House

    Ordered,

    That, at this day's sitting, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[ Mr. Neubert.]

    Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill

    Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    Although there have been differences, there has been unity in the House and in Committee on the desire that as soon as possible emergency powers should be dispensed with. In all quarters of the Standing Committee and in the House there have been diligent searches to find ways in which the powers can be lessened or softened without prejudice to that supreme interest—the safety of the subject.

    I support the Third Reading and congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Bill.

    10.1 pm

    I shall not disappoint the Government and Opposition Whips who wish to commence the debate on the next business as close to 10 o'clock as possible.

    I agree with the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) about the unanimity in the Chamber today. Although I could not be a member of the Standing Committee, it is clear from the debate that an attitude of partnership prevailed there and that the Government conceded some of the suggestions. I am grateful to them for that.

    Today's debate has demonstrated that when hon. Members come to this Chamber it is possible for them to argue their case and to ensure that the legitimate views of the Unionist majority can be put forward in a place where they will be listened to. If there is to be any hope in Northern Ireland, it is vital that debate should take place in the Chamber and not on the streets of Belfast. Therefore, it was conforting to hear the remarks of several Unionist Members but especially those of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who always speaks with enormous sincerity and considerable force about the problems facing the Province.

    If there is to be dialogue in the Chamber and partnership amongst parties in trying to ensure that there is victory over the IRA and other terrorist groups, there must be cross-border co-operation. That is why I believe the Government's strategy of endeavouring to achieve agreement across the border through cross-border co-operation on security is right. The tragedy of the last 18 months, to which the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley referred, is a tragedy not just of the last 18 months but of the last 18 years almost during which 2,500 people have died, of whom 200 were from the security forces, and 24,000 have been injured. That is why there is such a desperate need for co-operation on both sides of the border to achieve the objectives enunciated during today's debate.

    I am glad to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Bill. We wish it were not necessary to have emergency powers legislation. We wish it were possible to have fewer Orders in Council and more opportunities like this to debate the issues across the Floor of the House, but we recognise the special circumstances in Northern Ireland. For that reason, we will not oppose the Government tonight.

    10.3 pm

    The people of Northern Ireland have been told by the Government that this Bill will

    "make possible the effective pursuit of terrorism".
    On Second Reading, the Secretary of State told the House that it was the Government's
    "determination to pursue the campaign to eliminate the scourge of terrorism from the … Province". — [Official Report, 16 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 1084.]
    How often have the Government said that from the Dispatch Box during the past 18 years? More times than I care to remember. Ironically, it is most emphatically declared immediately after some fresh horrendous terrorist atrocity in Northern Ireland. When such declarations are made by Government spokesmen, they are usually made in ringing tones to emphasise the Government's determination and resolution.

    However, the truth is that it is the members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Army who have to face the relentless campaign of violence and death at the hands of the evil men who, for too long, have paraded and damned the face of Ulster. That truth is known throughout the length and breadth of Northern Ireland. Of course, it does not stop there. Every decent law-abiding citizen lives under the shadow of death from the bomb and the bullet of the Provisional IRA gunmen. In that, I include any other terrorist, no matter what his political aspirations or religious affiliations.

    I do not believe that this Bill will protect individuals in Northern Ireland from the terrorists. Having listened to the speeches today, I have come to the conclusion that the Bill is a nice exercise in British statesmanship, showing how moderate the Englishare. I doubt whether the French, the Germans, the Japanese or any other people who are subjected to terrorism would have given way to some of the expressions that I have heard in the House today.

    However, at least this debate gives me the opportunity to pay another tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. to those gallant men who live in Northern Ireland and whose wives and children are in Northern Ireland and are all too easily a target for the IRA. I pay tribute to them and to the regular members of the Army and the UDR.

    It is ironic that the Irish Republic, which the Government tell us is more committed than ever before to fighting IRA terrorists in conjunction with the United Kingdom, delivers the most thunderous protests to London whenever a British soldier wanders a few yards across the border on to Republican soil. The Irish Republic is jealous of its territory. I wish that the United Kingdom was jealous about the territory of Northern Ireland and made sure that the Irish Republic abandoned its claim to be part of the United Kingdom.

    However, what sickens me more, and what sickens many people — it is in this light that the present legislation will be viewed—is the abject apologies which follow from the Northern Ireland Office and the Foreign Office the moment that Dublin protests. Our counterparts in Europe would have a pretty robust answer to anyone who criticised a soldier for, for example, putting a listening device a few yards in to the Republic to protect himself and his colleagues, his brother soldiers, from the IRA.

    I have only a few more minutes and wish to make only one more comment. I should like permission to make that comment and, if I am out of order, I know that you, Mr. Speaker will call me to order. Every time during the past decade that Unionists have urged Her Majesty's Government to take steps to restore a degree of democratic control to the elected representatives of the Ulster people, the answer has always been the same: no devolution of power can be made without the support of both sections of the Ulster Community. We accepted that over a period. It was the solemn pledge given by the Government. However, that solemn pledge was shamelessly abandoned when, behind the backs of the Ulster people, and without consultation with the representatives of the Unionist majority, the Government entered into the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

    I am convinced that there can be no political progress in Northern Ireland until the accord is replaced by an agreement worked out by the elected representatives of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. That is where the Government have created a bar to progress, because the creation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement stops that. Until we make progress—I hope it comes sooner rather than later — we shall listen to pious words from successive Secretaries of State about the Government's determination to defeat terrorism in Northern Ireland. Sadly, the death toll will continue to climb.

    10.10 pm

    Just as on Report I said that I had mixed feelings about the detention provision, so I have mixed feelings about the Bill as a whole. I come, as on Second Reading, without any abatement of the feeling of alienation that I suffered in this House on 15 November 1985. The people who have died in Northern Ireland to maintain their British citizenship have been betrayed and there has been no sign from hon. Members that that is understood.

    The Bill is just so many words, and it will do absolutely nothing to solve the problems that we face in Northern Ireland. It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State tell the House that he was retaining in the Bill the element that deals with internment or detention because an emergency may arise or a Doomsday may come when no Government "could stand idly by". Those were his exact words. The Government have stood idly by for the past 17 years and allowed terrorism to march unhindered through the Province. I know that it is hurtful to the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to hear these facts yet again, and I shall not dwell on them, but 154 of the 181 murders in my constituency have not been resolved. In the words of the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, following incidents of violence, the people of Northern Ireland take hope or fall into the pit of despair.

    On 30 March, sadly, a Regular soldier, Iain O'Connor, was killed in Belfast, and the Northern Ireland Office provided the BBC with a statement, as it always does. In that information it stated that this was the first death of a Regular soldier for eight months, so there had been a reduction in violence in Northern Ireland. I doubt whether the Ministers even remember that on 9 July 1986 the last two regular soldiers to be killed were members of the Royal Anglians, Karl Davies and Robert Bertram. We all regret the deaths of members of the Regular Army.

    The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) paid tribute to the RUC. I should like to pay tribute to the Regular Army which serves in Northern Ireland and the Ulster Defence Regiment. If, for Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, the measure of violence is the number of Regular Army men who die, and whom obviously we must hear about, I have no faith in them and I despise their efforts to solve our problems.

    What they did not tell us was that 42 other people died in Northern Ireland in those eight months. Those facts were hidden from the great British public. I wish that the Minister would stop muttering to himself and listen to what I have to tell him. He has become the Robinson Crusoe of the Conservative party. He is the longest serving Minister in the Northern Ireland Office and he has caused more offence to the people of Northern Ireland than any other Minister. It is intolerable that we must listen to a Minister whose rich and fruity tones—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman want to say something?

    I muttered that I thought the hon. Gentleman was not enhancing his case by indulging in such personal remarks.

    I am sorry if the facts of the tragedy of Northern Ireland offend hon. Members.

    The Minister, as a wine drinker, may appreciate this. I was saying that his rich and fruity tones are galling to the people of Northern Ireland when they listen to him on the television trying to justify the unjustifiable—the failure of the Government to deal with the tragedy of our Province.

    We have now reached a stage when Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office are disliked— I shall use only the word "disliked"—to an extent which is second only to the extent that we dislike, detest and revile the terrorists who kill our people. They have mocked us through the television screen. They have been the apologists for the Government of the Irish Republic—a country which, whether we like it or not, has given solace and shelter to the terrorists who kill my constituents.

    Last Friday my 32nd constituent died at the hands of terrorists since my election to the House on 9 January 1983. How many hon. Members, if they had to come to the House and speak of 32 people who had died at the hands of terrorists in their constituencies, could accept the charm and honeyed words — words of apparent understanding — which have come from the Dispatch Box this evening? For the Northern Ireland Office to tell the great British public that terrorism is on the decrease in Ulster is a shame.

    I shall not go back to the pre-Agreement days. Let me go back to 1986. Between 1 January and 8 April, 10 people died in Northern Ireland as a result of terrorism. In 1987 in the same period 22 people died, an increase of 120 per cent. Yet the Government tell us that terrorism is being contained.

    Cross-border co-operation has existed as far back as I can remember, right back to the first time that I put on a uniform in 1958. It existed because decent members of the Garda Siochana liaised with decent members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on a buddy-buddy basis. It was not good enough, because it was always hindered by the Government in Dublin, but it worked. It was never satisfactory, but it was done with good will. We have now formalised that agreement. No longer can the Garda Siochana liaise on the buddy-buddy basis with their counterparts in the RUC; rather they must feed upwards through the bureaucratic system what information they have, feed it across and back down again.

    Ministers must listen and stop shaking their heads. I talk to the policemen who have to do the work on the border. I am talking not about the constables or the sergeants, or even the inspectors; I am talking about senior police officers. They tell me that co-operation has never been less effective than it is today.

    Of course he is still laughing and shaking his head. Despite all the years that he has spent with us, he is incapable of understanding how we feel. He tends to believe the propaganda of those who tell him that it is a sectarian problem; the "Prots" do not like the Catholics and the Catholics do not like the "Prots". That is the greatest load of rubbish. If the Minister knew what went on in my constituency, where I represent my entire community, he would stop shaking his head and listen.

    The hon. Member for North Down alluded to the fact that the Secretary of State made the most abject apology to the Government of the Irish Republic. That Government have been set in joint authority over the people of Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman made the most abject apology about a listening device placed a few yards inside the Irish Republic. Not only did he make the most abject apology, but he assured his counterpart that the officer or officers responsible would be disciplined for committing the offence. In reality, that offence was an attempt to try to save the lives of their own men.

    On another occasion that co-operative Government detained a Regular Army soldier who happened to cross a farmyard out of Northern Ireland into Southern Ireland. that farmyard belonged to "Slab" Murphy. Hon. Members may have seen an article about him and the way in which he has exploited the situation over the years for personal gain. He is a smuggler. He has close connections with and could operate only with the permission and acquiesence of the Provisional IRA. It was from his yard that the soldier was abducted and taken off to the local Garda station. I agree he was released, but I did not hear one word of objection from the Northern Ireland Office about the way in which our soldiers are treated when they happen to move across that imaginary line and transgress, by a few yards, the territory of the Irish Republic.

    In the past I have come to the House and told how terrorists walk the streets of my town. They are known terrorists. I named one of them in this House. He was later arrested in Scotland where he had gone to perpetrate an outrage against the Great British public. He is now in prison in Great Britain. Those terrorists who still walk the streets of my town are not the first or second, but the third generation of terrorists since the 1970s. Terrorists tend to be men in their twenties. Those terrorists of the 1970s retired two generations back. Most of them retired unscathed to encourage the next generations to follow in their footsteps. Their advice was, "Be fleet of foot. We will condition you on how to deal with the RUC when they interrogate you about a crime. The law is inadequate so do not worry. There will be no or only minimum convictions against you." That is what we face when we discuss the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. We are discussing something against which this Bill is ineffective.

    I see two generations of known gunmen walking the streets of my town. They are free men, freer than their victims or potential victims—those people who uphold and try to enforce the law. That is the reality. It is something with which the Northern Ireland Office, the Bill and, sadly, the Government are impotent to deal.

    I know that Conservative Members believe that they will be returned to Government at the next election, be it May, June or October. They will consider inflation and tell us that it is steady or, indeed, going down. They will consider the way in which the Government have dealt with militant trades unionism and the problems in our schools. They will claim "Success, success, success."

    Those hon. Members should consider the streets of their towns. I have had invitations to speak in the constituencies of hon. Members. and I go round and meet members of the Great British public. At such meetings I say, "So you feel your Government have succeeded. But would you feel content walking down the streets of Wolverhampton, Bournemouth, Preston, Liverpool, Glasgow or London at half-past 10 at night with your handbag on your arm?" The little old dear sitting in the front row looks horrified, because she would not. I tell those meetings that if their Government have not got the courage to deal with law and order at that level, how can they deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland?

    What emergency will force or motivate the Secretary of State to take action against terrorism? What is that emergency? How many people have to die before the Secretary of State realises that British citizens in Ulster deserve more than the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors have brought to them over 17 years?

    Does the Secretary of State honestly believe, and can he stand up and tell me that the time that we have given in this House today to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill will make one iota of difference to the people of Belleek, Garrison, Aughnacloy, Newtown Butler or Rosslea? If the Secretary of State can say that, I want to hear it and my people want to hear it. Despite the welcome that I received from the Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland, there is no point in my coming here in the belief that I can do good for the people I represent unless the House is willing to listen to me and to take this piece of paper and study it. Is the Secretary of State willing to take it?

    Order. Will the hon. Gentleman return to the Benches and not remain in the Gangway, please?

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

    National Health Service

    10.31 pm

    I beg to move,

    That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Amendment Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 368), dated 9th March 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th March, be annulled.

    I understand that it will be convenient for the House to discuss also the following motions:

    That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Amendment Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 371), dated 10th March 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th March, be annulled.
    That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 1987 (S.1., 1987, No. 401), dated 11 th March 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11 th March, be annulled.
    That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 367), dated 4th March 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11 th March, be annulled.
    That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 385), dated 9th March 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11 th March, be annulled.
    That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 386), dated 9th March 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th March, be annulled.
    That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) (Scotland) Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 387), dated 9th March 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11 th March, be annulled.

    These days a lot of attention is being paid in the House to the next general election, although in view of the recent polls the Prime Minister may have missed the 7 May boat and the general election could be as many as 14 months away. But first, I should like to draw attention to the general election of 1979.

    The hon. Gentleman says, "Boring." I should like to draw attention to the basis on which the Tory party fought that general election.

    On the Thursday before the 1979 general election the Daily Mail, which has always been a favourite gutter rag of the Tory party, obliged its Tory friends by running a major headline which read, "Labour's dirty dozen". It said that the Labour party was putting about 12 lies and it would give the Tory answers. Lie No. 9 was said to be:
    "There are Tory proposals for higher prescription charges … Truth: 'We have no intention of increasing … such charges', says Mrs. Thatcher".

    That is an old lie. In the course of this nonsence, will the hon. Gentleman tell us what the Prime Minister actually said on 18 April 1979? She said at a press conference:

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

    The Daily Mail article was published a week before the general election.

    The Tories were in opposition and the Prime Minister was quoted. This is in quotation marks in the Daily Mail. She never sought for one moment to deny what was stated in quotation marks on the front page of the Daily Mail that Thursday.

    I certainly will not.

    What is more, the right hon. Lady then rewarded the editor of the Daily Mail with a knighthood. Either he was lying and she gave him a knighthood, or he was telling the truth and she gave him a knighthood. She probably has ceased to distinguish between the two.

    When that promise was made on the front of the Daily Mail, the prescription charge was just 20p. The Tories won the general election and, before the year was out, that charge which was not going to be increased had been increased twice to a total of 70p — a 350 per cent. increase in a year.

    No, I shall not give way. There is not enough time.

    There have been seven more increases since those initial two increases, taking us to the present proposition of a total of 240p—an increase of 1,200 per cent. That rate of increase even exceeds the rate of increase in the value of British Telecom multiple share purchases by Tory Members.

    The Labour party is opposed in principle and in practice to these charges. No other party is so opposed. With the benefit of the document which reads
    "Conservative Research Department Brief on the English and Scottish National Health Service charges",
    which was prepared for this debate, under the "general points to make" given in the advice to Tory Members we find the following:
    "The Conservative party has always maintained that those who can afford to should make a fair contribution to the costs of the NHS."
    The fairest tax is income tax. People who can afford to pay income tax can contribute to the costs of the National Health Service in that way.

    No, I certainly will not.

    The SDP, which could be described as the spiritual home of prescription charges, remains in favour of them. I understand that the Doctor has told the other David that the Liberal party is in favour of prescription charges. Therefore, the Labour party remains the only party opposed to these charges.

    Will the hon. Gentleman tell us for the record why in the original Bill the Labour party provided that there should be a facility for charging and why the Labour Government in the 1960s, having abolished prescription charges, reintroduced them?

    In my view, they brought them back under pressure from people in the City who had no intention —[Interruption.] I may look as though I am getting on a bit, but no one can accuse me of being in the House as long ago as 1966. In my view, that decision was wrong and the increase should never have been introduced in the first place. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who was present then, was one of those who voted against the introduction, and all credit to him.

    We believe that the implementation of these charges proves to be a deterrent to people seeking treatment.

    No, I shall not. I shall develop my own arguments. [Interruption.] I am normally very willing to give way, but as the Government, who organise the business of the House, have organised it in such a way that a debate of an hour and a half has already been reduced to an hour by the previous debate running over, I do not think that it is reasonable to be expected to give way.

    Other people share our concern about the impact of prescription charges on poorer people. The British Medical Association says that the charges have reached a level that deters people from seeking medical treatment.

    It says:
    "Any extension of the present exemptions"—
    which has been suggested as a way round the problem by some people— is likely to introduce further anomalies and raise disproportionately the burden on those paying the charges" It describes the present list of exemptions for the chronically sick as incomplete, illogical and open to attack —and the members of the British Medical Association are masters of understatement.

    In Stockport recently, I visited the Shaw Heath health centre. A general practitioner there told me that he now asks his poorer patients if they are exempt from charges. If they say, "Yes, we are exempt from charges", he prescribes all the drugs that they need. If they say that they are not exempt, he either omits the second or third most important item—if it is a multiple-item prescription—or puts all the items on the prescriptions and tells the patients which are the most important items so that if they cannot afford all of them they will know which they can best do without. The other doctors present— and, to the best of my knowledge, not a single one, including that doctor, is either a member or a supporter of the Labour party—said that they did the same.

    Figures from the prescription checking bureau, which are available to Ministers, confirm that that is so, with as many as 100,000 items a year on multiple-item prescription forms not being bought.

    A further development is that doctors whose social consciences exceed that of the present Government —and, God knows, that must include most of the medical profession — are increasingly prescribing more than a 30-day supply of drugs for people on repeat prescriptions to keep down the costs. In the spring of 1986, the proportion of 30 days-plus supplies had reached no less a level than 16·5 per cent. of prescriptions. That response by doctors is at the same time both humane and disturbing: most people agree that supplies prescribed should be kept to a minimum, because access to large numbers of drugs and long supplies are potentially dangerous both to the patients and to other people living with or helping them. All those are the consequences of the grasping policies of the present Governent.

    No doubt the Minister will switch on his Norm-speak auto-pilot and repeat all the stuff about three quarters of the public not paying for their prescriptions — [Interruption.] Oh, it is true. He will go on to suggest that the remaining quarter who pay for the 80 million prescriptions that are paid for are flush with money— perhaps not the sort of people who could afford to make multiple applications for privatised shares in public assets, but people for whom paying, say £7·20 for a three-item prescription will not be a strain. But of course not everyone is a QC specialising in company law.

    Let me advise Ministers — and any hon. Member proposing to support them in the Lobby tonight — to look at the official leaflet entitled "NHS Prescriptions: How to Get them Free". Tory Members will no doubt be able to call on the services of their accountants or lawyers if they find it difficult to understand—and I suggest that they may find it difficult to understand. The section on low incomes reads as follows:
    "What counts as a low income depends on how many people there are in your family and how much money you've got left after you've paid essential outgoings and taken account of certain allowances. You can work this out for yourself (all these amounts are each week)".
    It then lists
    "rent or mortgage rates life insurance premiums HP payments for essential household goods fares to and from work of you and your partner trade union subs"—
    they have not noticed that yet
    "cost of care of a child or other dependant while you are at work £4 of your earnings £4 of your partner's earnings if you are a lone parent, half your earnings between £4and £20".
    When we have done all that it says:
    "Take this total away from the money you have coming in each week and see how much you have left. Now see whether it's worth claiming free prescriptions. It's worth claiming if, for example, you're single, not a householder, and don't have much more than about … £33 left each week, or if you're a couple and don't have much more than about £53 left each week … or if you're a couple with two children, one aged under five … and don't have much more than about £75 left each week."

    I shall finish this point, and then I will decide whether to give way.

    Ministers should consider the finances of those who have just a little more than that left at the end of each week and who therefore do not qualify for free prescriptions. Using the family expenditure survey that is provided by the Government, a couple—after the deductions I have mentioned—with £56 or £58 left to them at the end of each week will spend more than £45 a week of that on fuel, light, food, clothing and footwear alone, leaving them with £11 or £13 a week. Out of that, they have to pay for everything else that I have not already listed: for soap, washing-up liquid, matches, shoe polish, phone calls, stamps. That leaves them with less than a fiver. They will be unable to save up for a holiday, yet they will have to pay for prescriptions. At the end of the week they will not have enough money left to pay for a three-item prescription.

    I shall not burden the House by giving other examples. Many people who are not well off are having to pay for prescriptions and are deterred from seeking medical treatment because they have to pay. That is borne out by the prescription checking bureau figures, by the British Medical Association representations and by the representations that are made by doctors to Members of Parliament. If I had to choose between all those bits of evidence and something from a Minister in this Government, I know where I believe the truth lies.

    I do not intend to refer tonight to dental charges other than to welcome the news that they are not to be increased.

    I believe that the hon. Gentleman is a parliamentary private secretary and that it is traditional for parliamentary private secretaries to keep their traps shut.

    Regulations are also before us tonight that will increase the charges for overseas visitors who fall sick when they are here.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) mentioned my constituency and made certain allegations about a health centre in the constituency. In those circumstances, is it not usual to allow an intervention?

    The hon. Gentleman knows that it is entirely up to the hon. Member who is addressing the House whether he gives way.

    It can hardly be further to a point of order that was not a point of order.

    It is a new point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a Front Bench Opposition spokesman in the middle of a speech to yell over the Dispatch Box, "Keep your trap shut?" So far as that is a call to order, should it not be a matter for the Chair?

    I think that such matters are best left to the Chair. As I understand it, it was part of the hon. Gentleman's speech.

    I always try to raise the tone wherever I go.

    Certain people have always put it around that it is possible to come to Britain deliberately to obtain free medical care. It was never free on the NHS. The Government introduced charges for people who fell sick while they were here. There were many people, including some Conservative Members, in 1981 and 1982, when the matter was debated, who felt that it would be damaging to our international reputation to introduce charges for such people.

    Nevertheless, the charges were introduced with effect from October 1982 on the assumption that they would bring in the princely sum of £6 million a year. The Government sold our reputation for a mess of pottage. The charges have scarcely raised £6 million in gross takings since their introduction. The Government have consistently refused to give any estimate of the cost of collecting the charges. Nor have they made any estimate of the cost of establishing the charging system, which has had to be set up in each of the 214 health authorities and boards in England, Wales and Scotland.

    The Opposition regard the charges as shabby. They are an affront to the principles on which the NHS was established.

    The hon. Gentleman made it absolutely clear that, in his view at least, prescription charges ought to be abolished. Will he make it plain whether the next Labour Government, if such should ever be returned, would enable people to come here for free treatment under the NHS?

    I am happy to answer. The Minister said that people would be able to come here for free treatment. People were never entitled to come here with the intention of receiving free treatment. The Minister should not try to give that myth another run.

    Does that mean that, in addition to every other control on immigration, visitors must be asked whether there is any possibility of their needing medical treatment while they are in Britain?

    The hon. Gentleman ought to know that many visitors are already asked that question on arrival. We think that it is wrong that that question, and many others like it, should be asked. It was never lawful for someone to come here seeking free treatment under the NHS, and we do not propose to change that.

    Prescription charges are damaging to our health care system. They are damaging to people who are not very well off and who do not benefit from existing exemptions. It is the Labour party's policy, on being returned to office, to reduce them substantially immediately and to phase them out in the lifetime of one Parliament.

    10.54 pm

    I had thought that it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to wind up the debate because I imagined that at least one or two other hon. Members would wish to take part in the debate, but as it seems to be the wish of the House, and certainly of the Opposition, that I should speak now, I shall do so. However, I shall not make many of the remarks that I had intended to make in outlining what these various regulations will do. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) paid scant regard to a large part of the subject matter of tonight's debate and strayed in various ways. Although he gave us a good deal of entertainment, he hardly raised the level of debate on these serious issues.

    In the light of the history of this matter, in terms both of the record of the last Labour Government and some of the suggestions about the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the election campaign in 1979, I found some of the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks extraordinary, and they were convincingly and effectively disposed of by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls).

    The great point on which the hon. Member appeared to be clear early in his speech, and about which I understood him to make a ringing declaration, was that prescription charges would disappear in a puff of wind if and when he and his hon. Friends got into office. Although it sounded like that at the beginning, it did not sound like that at the end. By the end, one got the clear impression that these were promises to be made before an election, only to be run away from after it.

    Not only can I talk, but I intend to talk. What is more, I intend to ask one or two questions of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. It is all very well for him to come here and say that he knew that a Labour Government abolished these charges in 1965, only to reintroduce them in 1968, and when challenged say that had he been here he might have voted against that being done because he thought it was wrong.

    It is not all that loose.

    At any rate, we now know that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Labour Government's of 1964 to 1970 were wrong on at least that matter. The rest of us could probably think of many other matters on which they were wrong. What I want to know from the hon. Gentleman is what gives him any conceivable grounds for believing, in the light of the record of that Government, and of the intervening Labour Government, that any future Labour Government would get anything any more right.

    The hon. Gentleman thinks that City gents were responsible for the failure.

    It was chaps in the City, or, for all I know, gnomes in the City. I wonder.

    The hon. Gentleman said that he was too young to have been here in 1968, and I shall not speculate about that. However, I know that he has been in politics for long enough to know that it was not the people in the City who caused the problems for the Labour Governments of 1964 to 1970. The people in the City ran out of their capacity to finance a profligate Labour Government, who had to turn to the international bankers. We had the International Monetary Fund here.

    I can deal with the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) as well if need be.

    The memory of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras does not embrace the fact that the following Labour Government were also involved with the IMF. That Labour Government got it all wrong as well, and on that occasion the casualty — more significantly than anything that we are talking about tonight—was the whole National Health Service and above all the hospital building programme. With such a track record in the 1960s, and another in the 1970s, on what does the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras base the pathetic belief that any future Labour Government would do any better?

    I can offer a possible solution to the dilemma that my hon. Friend has just posed. He will recollect that one of the principles to which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) referred — the basic principle of the Health Service, to which he wanted to return — was that the Health Service would eventually wither away. Could a future Labour Government be proposing a return to the basic principles of the Health Service by claiming that they will deal with prescription charges by allowing the Health Service to wither, as they did when last in government and as they had done previously?

    My hon. Friend is very likely right. I do not say that a future Labour Government would intend the Health Service to wither, but the consequence of their policies in the past has been to wither the service and it is only by dint of considerable effort and, above all. additional investment by this Government that the hospital building programme is now recovering from the effects of the previous Labour Government. Against that background, I find it incredibly stupid — apart from anything else—that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras should come here tonight and say that he is willing to give up about £150 million of revenue for the Health Service, which I believe is raised reasonably, which is certainly making a very useful contribution to other aspects of the Health Service and which no Government in their right mind would throw away in the manner suggested by the hon. Gentleman, at one blow, or gradually as he suggested at the end of his speech.

    I shall not speak for much longer, as I believe that other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.

    If I understood the other arm of the policy adumbrated by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, it was that he would abolish prescription charges at some stage and fund that substantial sum of money by increasing income tax. Has he considered what that would mean for pensioners, who are currently exempt from prescription charges, but who are certainly not exempt from income tax? Has he tried that line on the pensioners? Has he—

    Does my hon. Friend know how much that would cost the taxpayer? If not, would he let me know later?

    It would cost about £150 million. That is the income from prescription charges. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has said that he will add that to income tax.

    Having commented on the main points raised by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, I want to make another point, on which I pressed the hon. Gentleman in interventions during his speech. However clear the House may feel that the hon. Gentleman's position is on prescription charges — and I, at least, thought that he shifted his position from the beginning to the end of his speech—we need to have a clear understanding of what a Labour Government's attitude would be to those who come to this country as visitors and are treated under the Health Service. We need to know whether that would be free.

    The Government's position on that matter is absolutely clear, and has been throughout. We think that it is reasonable that people coming as visitors to this country should be expected to cover the costs of the medical treatment that they receive here, in the same way as citizens of this country who have to visit the United States, for example, are expected to insure within the terms of the health service operating in that country, and have appropriate cover for most other countries in the world.

    I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the British public believe that that is common sense. They would regard it as something of scandal if nothing had been done about people coming to this country, often—although this is difficult to check specifically—with the intention of receiving free treatment on the Health Service. That prospect is obviously re-opened by the implied policy stated by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras tonight.

    The hon. Member for Ashfield is great at diversionary tactics. Let me just——

    I would not want to dodge the hon. Gentleman, nor would I want to tempt him into making more of his flattering remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, which have kept her in the newspapers heavily for the best part of six weeks.

    I am not looking to the hon. Gentleman to describe me as attractive or pretty. I shall leave him to continue his dialogue with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.

    I shall return to the serious issue from which the hon. Member for Ashfield was trying, understandably, to divert the House. The debate should not be allowed to end this evening without a much clearer-cut statement from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras on his party's policy on charging those from overseas who come to Britain to receive treatment on the National Health Service, or to need treatment on it while they are here for another reason. Whether the cost is £6 million or any other sum, there is a point of principle, and certainly of common sense, that needs to be established. We are entitled to a clearer answer than anything that we have heard so far from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

    With the leave of the House, I shall happily comment upon any of the other contributions that are made in the debate. For the moment, I shall rest my case.

    11.7 pm

    I shall vote against the Government measures that are before us. I have done so on previous occasions when charges have been increased by more than the rate of inflation since the Government have come to power.

    Although there are difficulties, I do not take the unrealistic line that the Labour party propounds. There is no doubt that the rate of increase in the charges since 1979 has been substantially above the rate of inflation. There was an increase of 125 per cent. within the first year alone of the Government coming to office. If the basic prescription charge had been raised in line with inflation since 1979, the charge would now be about 37p. If the charge had been raised in line with inflation from the time that the moderating charge was introduced in the early 1950s, it would be about £1. Unfortunately, the Government have not been consistent. Indeed, this year's increases were such that the Daily Telegraph on the day after the Minister's announcement, described them as "higher than expected". That appeared on the front page in the leading article.

    The second unfairness about the increase in the charges in that there is a 9 per cent. increase in the basis prescription charge while the amenity beds charge is increased by only 8·3 per cent. over two years. and private out-patients' charges have been increased by only 6·1 per cent. this year. There should be a consistency in the increase in the changes

    There is an unfairness in treatment between the NHS generally and the private sector. There is also the issue of uncollected charges. To impose charges that amount to the rate of inflation and then to fail to collect them leads to a double disadvantage. I hope that we shall hear sooner rather than later about what the Minister intends to do about uncollected charges. I believe that he owes me a letter on that issue. I ask him also to justify the lower than 9 per cent. charge that has been imposed on the private sector.

    The Minister does not owe the hon. Member as much as the private patients owe the NHS.

    I have made the point: there is a lot of uncollected money, not least in Camberwell health authority area, part of which I represent.

    The view of the Liberal party has never been that prescription charges should be abolished. Indeed, right from the beginning the Labour Government provided for charges in the legislation by which the Health Service was set up. The moderating fee was introduced early in the life of the National Health Service. I have always believed that a fee is proper because people need to be reminded that they are getting things which cost the public sector money. After all, 75 per cent of people are exempt. In general terms that covers the most vulnerable groups.

    The Minister should answer one further valid point that has been made. The British Medical Association and other professional bodies make the point consistently that the level of charges now is a deterrent to some people having prescriptions. That is clear evidence that the substantial increase since 1979 is unjustified. I accept that there should be charges but when charges start to deter, that is tilting the charging balance too far in the wrong direction.

    It is also ludicrous that some prescriptions, if obtained through the NHS, will cost £2·40 if these regulations are accepted, when their real cost is substantially less. I appreciate that nothing can be done about this before we vote tonight on the regulations. but the Minister should look into the matter. Some commonly used and easily obtainable drugs are available for, say, 50p. In such cases people should not have to pay the substantial amount of £2·40. Of course, there is always an averaging job to do, but, as I understand it, 32 per cent. of prescriptions issued cost in real terms less than the £2·40 charge.

    There is no reason why people coming to Britain should not be required to pay. I have a clear view on that. As the Minister rightly said, when we travel abroad we have to insure ourselves and make proper contingency plans. People should not come to Britain with the presumption or expectation that they will be treated free.

    The hon. Gentleman is making a serious contribution to the debate. As I understand it, he says that he agrees with the principle of charges being made. In a sense he could not deny that, because that point was made by Lord Grimond when the Labour party introduced prescription charges. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to introduce the criterion of charges at a level which will not deter people from getting prescriptions, what evidence can he produce to the House that the present level of charge is deterring people who would otherwise take up prescriptions?

    There is a factual answer to the hon. Gentleman's perfectly proper question. The number of prescriptions issued has gone down. There are several reasons. General practitioners and dispensers can testify to one reason, about which there has been much survey evidence—that the level of charge has a deterrent effect.

    The argument about prescription charges is always how one balances the books for the Health Service. The Health Service benefits from charges.

    The Minister may have seen in New Society last September an article headed :
    "Should drugs be free? The Labour party last week promised to abolish prescription charges. Jeremy Laurance asks if this is a sensible priority."
    The article ended :
    "Removing the charges risks stimulating demand, and putting an extra financial burden on an already stretched NHS."
    My colleagues and I cannot say that we will abolish prescription charges, much though we would like to do so in an ideal world. Something else in the Health Service would suffer if that were done. There will be prescription charges, but at no stage will they be increased by us by more than the irate of inflation, as far as one can possibly help or predict that. However, I am unwilling to compromise other areas of health care when the majority of the vulnerable are exempt. Certainly, a few people still suffer when they should not, and exemptions should be extended. However, in general terms, the criticism is not that there are prescription charges but that under this Government those charges have increased much more than they need have done, and have done so with unfair consequences.

    11.15 pm

    There is something deeply disagreeable these days about the nature of the Labour party. Because Labour Members have lost the political argument, they seem to concentrate on personal attack. There is grave disgrace as far as their party is concerned at the moment. Where they are still involved in the political argument, they seek not to illuminate but to misrepresent.

    Who would have thought from the behaviour of those few Labour Members who are here this evening that on one occasion during this debate — a deeply important debate, so we are led to believe by the Labour party— there were only three Labour Members present? That, too is a disgrace. Who would have thought that during the lifetime of this caring Government there has been an increase of one quarter in expenditure on the Health Service? For every £4 that was spent when this caring Government came to power, £5 is now spent on the needs of the unhealthy and of the people who we in this country, and in this Government, want to take care of? Who would have thought from the weasel words of Opposition Members that three quarters of prescription charges do not need to be paid and that three quarters of prescriptions are paid for by the taxpayer, and quite rightly so, as well? Who would have thought that the most disadvantaged in society do not have to pay prescription charges? Who would have thought that all men over 65, women over 60, children under 16 and mothers do not have to pay prescription charges? The chronically sick do not have to pay prescription charges. Season tickets are available for those who want them to pay for their prescription charges.

    Opposition Members do not care. They do not want to inform; they want to misinform. When there is rationalisation in the Health Service, when old, inefficient and inadequate resources are put on one side and the money saved from those resources is put into new hospitals, new buildings and new operating theatres, we do not hear anything from Opposition Members. All they seek to do is to misrepresent. All they seek to do, for their own grubby political ends, is to lower people's faith and to undermine their trust in the National Health Service for their dirty, grubby, deep, unpleasant, sanctimonious ends.

    Out of the £1·8 billion that prescriptions cost this country, a mere £145 million is raised through prescription charges. That money is spent in the Health Service. That money is spent on providing free syringes for people who did not have them before, for diabetics. This is another side of the caring Government. What is the Labour party going to do? It will not get into power, but what would it do if it did get into power? Would it provide those free syringes? If it did, where would it get the money from? About £145 million is spent on care in the Health Service as a result of prescription charges being paid only by those who can afford to pay them.

    Mr. Deputy Speaker, for 27 minutes of this debate, that giggling idiot on the Labour Front Bench——

    Order. The hon. Gentleman is not helping the debate. He should withdraw that remark.

    I withdraw that remark, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) spent 40 per cent. of the debate addressing the House with weasel words and reading from his text word by word, yet he is accusing me of reading when I have no notes before me.

    Labour Members have no policies or facts. All they seek to do is to disrupt, to undermine and to lower people's faith in the Health Service that the Government are rightly giving to the country.

    11.20 pm

    I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has reaffirmed from the Front Bench that the next Labour Government will proceed to reduce, and eventually to abolish, prescription charges. [Interruption.] I cannot understand why there should be such maniacal screeches from the Conservative Benches.

    My time goes back further than that of my hon Friend and I am not sure what stage of development he had reached in 1966——

    Yes, innocence and I am glad to see that my hon. Friend retains a large proportion of that innocence even now. I remember vividly how the Conservative party did everything possible to oppose the introduction of a free National Health Service. Tory Members voted against it on Second Reading and again on Third Reading, which was a further confirmation of their opposition to the principle of the service. One of the elements that they particulary hated was the idea that the service should be free to the patient. Because of the Socialist idea to provide the service on the basis of need, not money, and other practical reasons, the service was introduced in the first place. That was undoubtedly why Conservatives at that time were so bitterly opposed to it.

    I know that we cannot necessarily restore the NHS all in one go, although it would not be impossible. I understand that the cost would be £360 million, and in the Budget the Government could easily have raised £360 million from people who have been drawing £360 million in tax reliefs ever since 1979. They could easily contribute that sum, partly to restore the principle of a free Health Service, and partly to restore some parts of the Health Service——

    No, I shall not give way. Because of the way in which the Government have mismanaged the arrangement for this debate there is hardly a minute left, so I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. Moreover, I am not at all sure that the hon. Gentleman is in a fit condition to be given way to.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that your hearing is at least as good as mine. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind by making a slur like that. On reflection he may feel that he should not only withdraw it but give me a chance to intervene.

    Order. What the right hon. Gentleman was saying was not clear to me.

    I am glad that the Labour party is now recommitted to the restoration of a free NHS. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I hope——

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was getting to his feet to withdraw the imputation that I was incapable of making an intervention. Will he withdraw it, or not?

    Order. The right hon. Gentleman did not make any specific allegation about the hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did."] The right hon. Gentleman did not feel that the hon. Gentleman was making the right interjection.

    I did not hear you make any request to me to withdraw my comment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly do not think that I have said anything that requires to be withdrawn.

    Knowing the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure that if he had made any allegations that the hon. Gentleman was in some sort of condition, he would withdraw it.

    Order. I had called Mr. Foot. He was going to make some explanation to me.

    I do not think that I made any reflection on the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) that required any withdrawal. If he thinks that any withdrawal is necessary, he must have an even thinner skin that I thought. When I depart from any parliamentary procedure and I am asked to withdraw by any occupant of the Chair I obey, but no such requirement has been made.

    I am glad that my hon. Friends have given a commitment to the restoration of a free National Health Service——

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said that my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) was not in a fit state to make his speech or intervention. He has not withdrawn that.

    As I understood it, the right hon. Gentleman may have meant that the hon. Gentleman was over-excited — [Interruption.] Order. I am anxious to help the House. I did not sense a personal attack.

    Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that you are right. I was following your instructions——

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I naturally accept your hearing of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman. However, I think that we are entitled to some consideration. I was in the direct path of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and it seemed to many Conservative Members that there was a clear implication in what he said. One would hate to think that the right hon. Gentleman was using his seniority in the House to get away with something that many hon. Members would not be allowed to get away with.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is the second time that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested that I am not in a fit state to speak in the House. Your must have heard that.

    Order. I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman say that any hon. Member was not in a fit state.

    The hon. Gentleman should study Hansard tomorrow and look at the facts of the matter.

    I am sorry that more time was not provided by the Government for the debate. I am sorry also that some Conservative Members thought it advisable to take up time with bogus points of order to stop the debate proceeding.

    It is right that we should make clear to the country that one of our objectives is to re-establish a free National Health Service. We know that it will cost something. I should like to see it extended to the restoration of a proper dental service, the restoration of a proper optical service and the restoration of the ideals that prevailed when the service was introduced, which was why the Conservatives tried to prevent its being brought into being. That is the kind of service that we want to see re-established. The sooner we start that task, the sooner we shall be able to carry it through to completion.

    At the beginning of his speech the Minister for Health pretended that the Prime Minister had not sought to mislead the public on whether the Government intended to introduce prescription charges. The Prime Minister said that she had no intention of introducing prescription charges, yet we are discussing those increases. No hon. Member could make that excuse and think that he would get away with it.

    11.29 pm

    I want to ask the Minister one factual question which concerns dental charges. My evidence, frankly, is only anecdotal, but it seems to many of us that decisions are made not necessarily on the clinical judgments of dentists, but on their assumptions, right or otherwise, about a patient's ability to pay. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, there is a deterrent here. I simply ask, in the time available, whether the Department recognises that there is a problem.

    I am in some difficulty because there are no proposed changes in dental charges in the regulations.

    Let me tell the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) that the ideals of the National Health Service, on his analysis, lasted for only about three years because the then Labour Government introduced charges in 1951——

    It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)).

    Question put :—

    The House divided: Ayes 67, Noes 142.

    Division No. 142]

    [11.30 pm

    AYES

    Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Campbell-Savours, Dale
    Alton, DavidCanavan, Dennis
    Ashdown, PaddyCarlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
    Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
    Beckett, Mrs MargaretClwyd, Mrs Ann
    Beith, A. J.Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyCook, Frank (Stockton North)
    Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Corbyn, Jeremy
    Bermingham, GeraldCunliffe, Lawrence
    Boyes, RolandDalyell, Tam
    Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)

    Deakins, EricMcWilliam, John
    Dixon, DonaldMadden, Max
    Dobson, FrankMarek, Dr John
    Dormand, JackMarshall, David (Shettleston)
    Dubs, AlfredMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
    Eastham, KenNellist, David
    Fatchett, DerekO'Neill, Martin
    Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Pike, Peter
    Flannery, MartinPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRaynsford, Nick
    Foster, DerekRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
    Golding, Mrs LlinShields, Mrs Elizabeth
    Hamilton, James (M'well N)Skinner, Dennis
    Haynes, FrankSmith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
    Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Tinn, James
    Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
    Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Wareing, Robert
    John, BrynmorWelsh, Michael
    Kennedy, CharlesWinnick, David
    Leadbitter, TedYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
    Livsey, RichardTellers for the Ayes:
    McDonald, Dr OonaghMr. Allen McKay and Mr. Chris Smith.
    MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
    McNamara, Kevin

    NOES

    Alexander, RichardHirst, Michael
    Amess, DavidHolt, Richard
    Arnold, TomJackson, Robert
    Ashby, DavidKing, Rt Hon Tom
    Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Knox, David
    Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Latham, Michael
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Lightbown, David
    Baldry, TonyLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
    Batiste, SpencerLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
    Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyLuce, Rt Hon Richard
    Bellingham, HenryMcCrindle, Robert
    Bendall, VivianMaclean, David John
    Benyon, WilliamMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
    Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnMcQuarrie, Albert
    Blackburn, JohnMajor, John
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterMalins, Humfrey
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasMalone, Gerald
    Boscawen, Hon RobertMarlow, Antony
    Bottomley, PeterMather, Sir Carol
    Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Mayhew, Sir Patrick
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinMerchant, Piers
    Brinton, TimMeyer, Sir Anthony
    Brooke, Hon PeterMiller, Hal (B'grove)
    Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Mills, Iain (Meriden)
    Browne, JohnMitchell, David (Hants NW)
    Bryan, Sir PaulMoate, Roger
    Burt, AlistairMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
    Butterfill, JohnMoynihan, Hon C.
    Carlisle, John (Luton N)Nelson, Anthony
    Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)Neubert, Michael
    Chapman, SydneyNewton, Tony
    Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Nicholls, Patrick
    Colvin, MichaelNorris, Steven
    Conway, DerekOppenheim, Phillip
    Coombs, SimonOttaway, Richard
    Cope, JohnPage, Richard (Herts SW)
    Couchman, JamesPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
    Cranborne, ViscountPowell, William (Corby)
    Currie, Mrs EdwinaPowley, John
    Dorrell, StephenPrice, Sir David
    Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Raffan, Keith
    Durant, TonyRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
    Eyre, Sir ReginaldRhodes James, Robert
    Fallon, MichaelRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
    Favell, AnthonyRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
    Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
    Garel-Jones, TristanRowe, Andrew
    Harris, DavidRyder, Richard
    Harvey, RobertSackville, Hon Thomas
    Hayward, RobertSainsbury, Hon Timothy
    Heathcoat-Amory, DavidScott, Nicholas
    Heddle, JohnShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')

    Shelton, William (Streatham)Waddington, Rt Hon David
    Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
    Silvester, FredWalden, George
    Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Waller, Gary
    Speller. TonyWardle, C. (Bexhill)
    Spencer, DerekWarren, Kenneth
    Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)Watts, John
    Squire, RobinWells, Bowen (Hertford)
    Stanbrook, IvorWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
    Stanley, Rt Hon JohnWheeler, John
    Stern, MichaelWhitfield, John
    Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Wiggin, Jerry
    Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Winterton, Mrs Ann
    Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Winterton, Nicholas
    Temple-Morris, PeterWood, Timothy
    Terlezki, StefanWoodcock, Michael
    Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
    Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)Tellers for the Noes:
    Thornton, MalcolmMr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and Mr. Francis Maude.
    Townend, John (Bridlington)

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Defence

    11.40 pm

    I beg to move,

    That the draft International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designations and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 12th March, be approved.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following motion :

    That the draft Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 12th March, be approved.

    The two draft orders are complimentary.

    Headquarters United Kingdom Air was first established as a NATO major subordinate command in 1975 and since then has been manned by personnel from the Headquarters Royal Air Force Strike Command. It has now been decided to bring this headquarters into line with other NATO major subordinate commands by establishing a small international staff to integrate the command more closely with NATO which has agreed to provide funding for this measure. We are also taking the opportunity to designate the Commander Submarines, Eastern Atlantic as an international headquarters following the granting of international status by the NATO Defence Planning Council in 1982.

    The International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) Order 1965 designated the headquarters of the three major NATO commanders and three subordinate NATO commanders and also the NATO Channel Committee at Northwood and conferred on them such capacities, immunities and privileges as are needed to achieve their efficient organisation and operation. The effect of the first draft order is to add Headquarters United Kingdom Air and the Commander Submarines, Eastern Atlantic to the list of subordinate headquarters covered by the 1965 order.

    The second draft order similarly amends the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) Order 1965. This order was made under section 8 of the Visiting Forces Act 1952, which provides for the application to visiting forces of law relating to home forces.

    11.43 pm

    We welcome the fact that CINCUKAIR and COMSUBEASTLANT are to become international headquarters. Our air and submarine forces play a vital role in NATO's collective defence. Therefore, it is sensible that representatives from the armed forces of our allies should be constantly available and we welcome the installation of a small international staff at these places.

    Of particular importance to NATO is CINCUKAIR because one of Britain's most important roles in war would be as a staging post for the reinforcement of Europe. Air defences are absolutely critical if allied defence plans are to have any credibility, yet according to senior RAF officers our air defences are in peril. We rely on 30-year-old Lightnings which leak and 30-year-old Shackletons with no adequate radar and not enough pilots. By making CINCUKAIR an international command headquarters we will give our allies every opportunity to voice their concern about the lamentable state of our conventional air defences, and then perhaps the Government will do something about it.

    I have one question to ask about CONSUBEASTLANT. Will the command remain at Northwood, which is already an international headquarters? If it is to stay there, why is there a need for the change?

    I should like to move to the amendment order for the Visiting Forces Act 1952 so that it may apply to the two new international headquarters. Since that Act came into effect in 1952, we have had a number of reservations about it. Indeed, on Second Reading, Mr. Eric Fletcher, the former Labour Member for Islington, East, said :
    "This Bill … removes from the jurisdiction of the courts of this country a very large number of people … There has not been anything like that in this country since the Middle Ages … when there was a certain Papal jurisdiction which could defeat the claims of the English common law courts." —[Official Report, 17 October 1952; Vol. 505, c. 586.]
    It looks as though the Visiting Forces Act is taking over the role of the medieval papacy. Therefore, I have a number of questions to put to the Minister.

    Can the Minister assure us that, despite the internationalisation of these establishments, they will at all times be guarded by British service personnel? Can the Minister assure us that any foreign service personnel working at these two establishments who break British law will be brought to justice and that they will be kept in the United Kingdom pending investigations of any allegations against them and not flown quickly home to avoid investigations, perhaps resulting in injustice to British citizens? Will civilians in the United Kingdom have recourse to the law on compensation if they are the victims of motor or other accidents involving foreign service men from these two establishments?

    These two orders, although small and technical, are important. We welcome the fact that these headquarters will be part of an internationally recognised headquarters and that international staff will be there. The Labour party regards Britains contribution to NATO as the most important part that we play in having an effective defence for our country.

    The Visiting Forces Act will be a continuous source of embarrassment to successive Governments until something is done to satisfy public worry about the effects of the apparent exemption of visiting forces from the ordinary course of the law. That is a problem. We realise that the Visiting Forces Act had the best of intentions, but to give every member of visiting forces the equivalent status of a foreign diplomat or ambassador seems somewhat overgenerous in the circumstances. There is a need for this matter to be properly considered again by the House.

    11.46 pm

    We welcome the integration of NATO commands which is evident in the two orders. When I hear the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) waxing eloquent about Labour's commitment to NATO, my mind goes quickly back to that recent Washington visit and the attempt to explain how NATO could continue with no American nuclear forces as part of our strategic deterrent. But, thankfully, that issue goes wider than these two orders.

    What has happened to the great Liberal tradition of democracy when majorities at party conferences are overturned on the whims of leadership on exactly that same principle?

    I am glad to say that the majority at every Liberal conference I have ever attended, which has been all of them in recent years, have supported the maintenance of NATO's strategic nuclear deterrent on British soil. As long as the deterrent is necessary, they will continue to do so.

    I share with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North concern about aspects of the Visiting Forces Act. They have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) as well. I have one point to put to the Minister which should be fresh in his mind. He will have been looking at the Act because these orders extend its application. Why do not the relevant Government Departments—in part the Home Office and not just the Ministry of Defence — collect and retain information about how the Act operates in practice? My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil pointed out that it was necessary to obtain from readily available information in the United States the details that
    "420 members of the United States air force had infringed British law in relation to drug abuse and that 388 of them had been removed from the jurisdiction of the British courts". —[Official Report, 20 March 1986; Vol. 94, c. 402.]
    We all know that there has been a serious problem in the American forces and the American authorities are doing their best to deal with it. It is not intended as a criticism to raise the matter in that way. The concern is that the information is simply not being collected. This gives the impression that British Government Departments do not know how serious the problem is, do not know how much it is impinging on British life in the areas concerned, do not therefore know whether the problem is properly controlled, and do not, of course, know the extent of punishment of those service men.

    I should like the Minister to say whether, in the light of these extensions, he is doing something about the obvious gap in the information that Government Departments ought to hold.

    11.50 pm

    I wish to say something on the subject referred to by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

    Last Friday I attended a political meeting in Dumbarton. There was much concern, as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, about the relationship between service men and a drug problem. I shall not exaggerate; I do not believe that it is widespread, but it is there, and we require a statement on the policy of the Ministry of Defence.

    Part of the debate relates to the efficient organisation of COMSUBEASTLANT. On 27 January, I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) saying that he in turn had received a letter from his constituent Mr. George Turner, of 23, St. Philip's street, Blackburn, Lancashire. My hon. Friend wrote :
    "I should be most grateful if you could let me have any up to date information about this so I may decide how to pursue the matter for him."
    The letter that he received from his constituent read :
    "As a retired ex Royal Air Force Technician, (30 years service), I am curious as to whether any disciplinary action was taken against the submarine Commander regarding the `lost' ship's log —a most serious offence, and definitely a court martial offence … I would be grateful for any information."
    On 10 March, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces wrote a letter with the reference number D/US of S(AF)RNF 2301. It stated :
    "As Mr. Turner may be aware, a Board of Inquiry was held into the apparent disappearance of HMS Conqueror's navigational log for April to September 1982, once this had been discovered in October 1984. The then Secretary of State for Defence"——

    Order. Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the second order or the first? He must relate his speech to the orders that we are discussing. It seems to me that he is now dealing with an internal disciplinary matter of the Royal Navy.

    I was referring to the efficient organisation of COMSUBEASTLANT, which is quite clearly in the explanatory note. The Minister properly said that it was about the efficient organisation of COMSUBEASTLANT, and I do not know what the Clerk was suggesting.

    Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make those accusations. I merely want to keep him to the orders. One is addressed to the desirability of extending the privileges to the two headquarters, and the other to the desirability of the change in legal status of the headquarters.

    In his opening remarks, the Minister clearly said in our hearing that the debate was about the efficient organisation of COMSUBEASTLANT. Those were his words.

    I shall be brief. Let me add that the Ministry of Defence knows about the reference to the letter.

    I now give a recent quotation from the principal warfare officer on board a Navy frigate. He says :
    "I was in the Falklands and when we got back I was responsible for all the records and logs on our ship. We thought something odd was going on because instead of being told to send our log books off to Hayes as normal, we were told to collect all our log books together and send them to the Ministry of Defence. It had never happened before, and I know for a fact that this order was given to all the ships and submarines as well. I know exactly where the Conqueror's logs are, they're at the Ministry of Defence. Everyone in the Navy knows that. The so-called missing log book is a load of rubbish."
    I think it is fair to ask, after all this time, the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn was asked: what became of those log books? Is not this an opportunity for the Ministry of Defence to come clean, and say that no log book ever went missing from that ship? I take it on my own responsibility that I was told by members—in the plural—of the crew of the Conqueror that, if I thought that any of them had pinched the control room log book of the only nuclear submarine that has ever been used in earnest to put as some kind of ornament on their sideboard, I must be out of my mind. No one did that. There was a very efficient debriefing. No log book ever went missing. It was used by the former Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), as a smokescreen on the morning that he was to appear before the Select Committee.

    It is all a load of hooey. I believe that, rather than in the submarine control room headquarters, the log book of the Conqueror is sitting in the Ministry of Defence, where it ought to be, and that it is known to Ministry of Defence Ministers that it is among the public records. It is all a load of rubbish, and it is legitimate to raise the matter in this debate.

    11.55 pm

    When the Minister of State for the Armed Forces introduced the order, he drew attention to the Visiting Forces Act 1952. It is reasonable that hon. Members should ask him, when he replies to the debate, to deal with the effect that the new orders will have on the operation of the 1952 Act and to say whether he will inform the House in future about offences that would be tried by British courts if the Visiting Forces Act did not give almost complete immunity to members of foreign forces.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred to Mr. Eric Fletcher, the previous Member of Parliament for my constituency, who in a debate in 1952 said :
    "This Bill, in effect, removes from the jurisdiction of the courts or this country a very large number of people. In other words, the members of the visiting Forces and their civilian components will be able to commit crimes which cannot be tried in the courts of this country. That is something which, prima facie, shocks those who have been brought up to respect the deep-seated constitutional principles of our land." —[Official Report, 17 October 1952; Vol. 505, c. 586.]
    He went on to say that there had been nothing like it in this country since the middle ages.

    It is extraordinary that the Act should have been on the statute book for so long and that its provisions should be allowed to be extended by the passing of orders late at night. The large number of American forces stationed in this country — about 30,000 of them — have complete immunity from prosecution under both the civil and criminal law. Questions have been asked on a number of occasions about the number of offences that have been committed that have been recognised as offences by the American forces leading to the removal of those individuals from this country, but Ministers on the Treasury Bench have been absolutely silent.

    We are entitled to ask when the Minister expects to be in a position to tell us about the operation of this Act. It is unacceptable that he should be able to move yet a further extension of the Act, but not answer questions about the number of drug offences, motoring offences or other offences that have been committed by members of visiting forces who have been allowed to get off scot-free.

    The Government say that the collection of information is difficult. There must be something very badly wrong with the arrangements under which American forces are stationed here if no information is passed to the Ministry of Defence about what members of the visiting forces have done.

    I hope that the Minister will tell us what information is collected in the Ministry of Defence and whether local police and local courts keep any records of offences committed by members of the visiting forces. I object strongly to the Visiting Forces Act. I see no reason why forces from a foreign power stationed in this country should be exempt from British law. I find it even more offensive that we do not even know what offences they have committed and that all we have is the information collected by Duncan Campbell and others, which has been printed in the New Statesman. I hope that the Minister will answer those points.

    11.59 pm

    With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

    The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) asked whether COMSUBEASTLANT would remain at Northwood. It will. He asked why, if COMSUBEASTLANT had international status in 1982, it was now necessary to involve it in the orders. Although it had international status agreed by NATO in 1982, there has not been a convenient opportunity formally to designate it for the purpose of this legislation until the orders came forward. This is a tidying up provision. We have taken advantage of the opportunity created by the designation of UKAIR to designate COMSUBEASTLANT at the same time.

    The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) raised various points about the Visiting Forces Act 1952. It is important to make one or two general observations because from what has been said, it is clear that there is considerable misunderstanding about it. Although the Act is British legislation, it reflects a NATO-wide agreement involving reciprocal arrangements regarding the jurisdiction provisions for military personnel stationed in each others countries.

    Exactly the same legal rights which are given to American service men in Britain are enjoyed by British service men in Germany. They are important to our service men there. The Act has now been on the statute book for more than 30 years, and the criticisms that have been expressed by Opposition Members must be seen against the background of several Administrations being responsible for overseeing the Act, which has evidently proved satisfactory to successive Labour Governments.

    In view of what the Minister has said about reciprocal arrangements, can he say whether the German civilian authorities are informed—and publish the information — of the misdemeanours of British service men stationed there as part of the British Army of the Rhine?

    If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall continue with my speech as I was about to deal with that matter.

    The hon. Gentleman is clearly under a misapprehension about the effect of the Visiting Forces Act 1952 if he talks of American service men having widespread immunity from United Kingdom law. The provisions are somewhat complex, but they do not represent overall immunity. The hon. Gentleman might like to read, in Hansard of 19 December 1983, the detailed and excellent exposition of the Act's effects by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), when he was Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. If he does, the hon. Gentleman will see that the full effect of United Kingdom law applied to all offences committed off duty, which are the great majority. Even for offences committed on duty, there is reserved to the host country a right to request the Government of the visiting forces that the right of jurisdiction should remain with the host country and that the Government of the visiting forces should surrender their right to exercise jurisdiction. It is not correct to suggest that this legislation creates some wholesale immunity or exemption from the effect of British law.

    The statistics on offences show that more than 2,000 American service men have been convicted in the United Kingdom courts, and that the vast majority of those convictions relate to road traffic offences, which were specifically mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. As to the adequacy of the statistics that are collected within the Government about the operation of the Visiting Forces Act—a point raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed — I will draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. His Department has the lead ministerial responsibility for this legislation, and I am sure that he will note the points that have been made on that score in this debate.

    I thank the Minister for giving way again. I am interested in what he says about civilian offences committed when troops are off duty, but I am concerned about the actions of American forces on duty — for example, when they have been travelling with the cruise missile conveys in the Salisbury plain area. I have reason to believe that offences have been committed by those soldiers against British civilians, but no action has been taken and no redress is possible for the civilians, because those service men were on duty at the time and the Visiting Forces Act therefore grants immunity. For example, there was a problem when an American vehicle ran into a churchyard wall, causing it severe damage, and slightly injuring some people at the same time.

    Any particular details that the hon. Gentleman produces will be examined.

    I stress that the provisions of British law apply to American service men here, whether they are on or off duty. The only issue is over the rights of jurisdiction. and those rights can be applied by the Government of the visiting forces in respect of their service men for offences that have been committed on duty, but that does not mean that while visiting service men are here they are not subject to United Kingdom law.

    The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will, I hope, be aware that these orders relate to the designation of COMSUBEASTLANT, which is a NATO headquarters. He was referring to a matter that arose in not a NATO, but a national, context. He will be aware that the loss of the log of HMS Conqueror has been the subject of successive parliamentary statements, and the outcome of the board of inquiry was the subject of detailed investigation by Parliament and of a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) when he was Secretary of State. I am afraid that I cannot add to that.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Resolved,

    That the draft International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designations and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 12th March, be approved.

    Resolved,

    That the draft Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 12th March, be approved.—[Mr. Portillo.]