Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 6 May 1987

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

House Of Commons

Wednesday 6 May 1987

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Environment

Homelessness

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the present level of homelessness and the cost of the use of bed-and breakfast accommodation.

I refer the hon. Member to the replies given to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) on 16 January and to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on 18 February.

Does the Minister recognise that, during the eight years since the Conservative Government were elected, homelessness has doubled and that the number of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has probably quadrupled? Does he recognise also that it is the most shattering indictment of his Government's policy that more funds are being spent—squandered—on bed-and-breakfast accommodation when, in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), he confirmed that it would be cheaper to build houses for the homeless than to put them in bed-and-breakfast accommodation?

I know how much the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the issue. I know of his long standing interest in it. However, he is blinkered in his attitude to the possible full range of solutions to the problems of homelessness. I can only draw his attention to the considerable number of empty homes in council ownership in London. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not done what he could to persuade councils such as Brent and Lambeth to make use of the money that I offered them last year to fill empty houses to house the homeless. They turned it down.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House when the inquiry that his Department has conducted into the working of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 will be reporting? Does he realise that many unemployed people move to areas such as the seaside and other areas of great beauty in the countryside and create major problems in towns such as those in east Devon? Will he make certain that the report is published?

I entirely appreciate the concern felt in areas such as east Devon over this issue. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are giving them close attention.

Will the Minister confirm that one of the ways in which he and his fellow Ministers are planning to try to deal with homelessness after the next election is another Conservative attempt to revitalise the private rented sector and that, at the moment, they are planning to give subsidies to private landlords so that they can make a profit out of housing?

It is surely a matter of common interest and concern in the House that there are 540,000 empty homes in the private rented sector. Surely we can find ways of making it possible for some of those homes to be tilled to house people in need.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that much of the additional funding for the Housing Corporation this year is specifically targeted at replacing bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Pending the reduction and elimination of that unsatisfactory form of housing, will my hon. Friend look closely at the possibility of, at the least, registering the landlords of some of that unpleasant property?

I know and respect my hon. Friend's long concern, as a board member of Shelter, in this matter. Almost all the extra money going to the Housing Corporation this year is to provide additional accommodation for the homeless and for young job movers, in close co-operation with the private sector. With £30 million of public sector money we shall draw in about £60 million of private sector money, provide a substantial number of new homes, and get people out of bed-and-break fast accommodation.

The Minister is quite right in saying that there is not one simple solution to the problem. There are a variety of solutions. Why has he not done more to encourage councils such as Bromley and Brent, which have tried, with modest resources, to experiment with making resources available to tenants who do not want to buy the house or flat in which they are living to enable them to have a stake somewhere else in the market, thereby releasing much needed family housing? Why has he not helped Brent council in that direction?

Transferable discounts are an interesting idea. That is why my Department is monitoring, for a short period in Bromley, Brent and in Ealing, the effects of the transferable discounts policy to see whether it works. We have three useful experiments going on. 'We shall look at the matter before the end of the year.

Green Belt (Planning Policy)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he intends to revise his guidance on planning policy in the green belt; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. The Government's policy is that there should be no inappropriate development in the green belt.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply.

If the acreage of green belt has doubled during the period of this Government, is that not evidence in itself that the balance between the needs of primary agriculture and those who have a genuine interest in matters environmental — not just a party-political, partisan approach—is well safeguarded by the proven record of the present Administration?

Yes, that is the case. In fact, the area of approved green belt in England has more than doubled since 1979 to 4·5 million acres. I confirm again that approval should not be given, except in very special circumstances, for development in the green belt for purposes other than those connected with agriculture, sport, cemeteries or institutions standing in extensive grounds, or for other uses appropriate to a rural area. That has always been the position, and I reaffirm it now.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that in Harlow two controversial planning applications have been made, one of which is concerned with the green belt. They relate to Brenthill park and the Guilden way. My right hon. Friend is shortly to make a decision about Brenthill park, but I understand that a public inquiry is to be held on 16 June on the Guilden way application. As the two applications are intertwined, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider——

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. For once in my life I have been put off by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Will my right hon. Friend seriously consider—[Interruption.]

As the two public inquiries are intertwined, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider on 16 June delaying the decision on Guilden way until after a decision has been made on Brenthill park?

I cannot entirely accept my hon. Friend's assertion about the intertwining of the two applications. I feel that each must be considered on its merits, and I also feel that we owe to those who appeal for permission a duty to deal with their applications speedily. I therefore believe that it would be right to proceed with the first application as speedily as possible, and to take the second in the normal sequence.

Nitrogen Fertilizers

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received from water authorities concerned about the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent discussions he has had with public water authorities on the pollution of public water supplies by nitrates; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend has received no representations from water authorities specifically on the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers. However, discussions on effective methods of limiting nitrate levels in water supplies are proceeding with those water authorities most affected.

The Minister will be aware, however, that the water authorities, including the Severn-Trent water authority, are very concerned about the level of nitrogen use, and that there is a feeling that there is an impasse between the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Obviously, it is in the interests of everyone that the issue and the dispute are resolved. Can the Minister give us a definite time scale under which positive steps will be taken?

Not quite yet. The hon. Gentleman is right: the Severn-Trent water authority is one of the authorities with which we have been in the closest touch about the matter, and it has sketched out for the Department some outlines of what water conservation zones might look like. That work has been very helpful, and I pay tribute to it. However, we have not yet reached the point at which we can set a time scale.

Will my hon. Friend recognise that there is deep concern about the excessive use of nitrates in agriculture, and that not only the Opposition parties are concerned about our environment. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is very concerned. Will he therefore speak to our right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and ask him to try to offer some form of financial inducement, perhaps, to farmers to reduce the amount of——

Order. I do not want the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) to be put off as well.

These are complicated issues, and there are two or three different ways of approaching them. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been giving very helpful advice to farmers about how to minimise damage. On some occasions, water treatment can also be used. My hon. Friend referred to the polluter pays principle. Financial compensation could cause difficulties. However, it might be right for experimental zones to have some such regime.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), whom I should have called first.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The mood at the moment is not conducive to being nasty to farmers, but is my hon. Friend aware of the rising tide of dissatisfaction in areas such as Southend where water consumers are having to pay substantially for the removal of pollution from their public water supplies, particularly when they know that the only effect of the use of nitrates is to produce vast mountains of cereals that cannot be given away? Once the current excitement is over, will my hon. Friend bear in mind his legal obligations under the Single European Act to make the polluter pay for his pollution?

My hon. Friend refers quite rightly to a serious problem, but solutions are not easy to find. That is why it is taking a little time to come forward with them. The detailed control that some people suggest there should be over applications of nitrogen would be exceedingly difficult to run in other than experimental areas. None the less, we shall have to consider whether we can find some solutions.

Is the Minister aware that for nitrogen fertilisers we could substitute part of what is becoming another problem—the manure mountain that is developing in Europe, along with the butter and the beef mountains? Conservative Members may laugh, but there is already a manure mountain in Holland, and one is developing in this country as a result of EEC subsidies for intensive farming. The manure mountain is causing pollution on the land and in the groundwater. If it were used instead of nitrogen fertilisers, we might be able to solve the problem.

The hon. Gentleman's chemistry is about as good as that of the famous American senator who, in relation to the acid rain problem, said that the time had come to take nitrogen out of the atmosphere. Nitrogen is still nitrogen, whether it emanates from an animal or from ICI, Billingham. A quite separate problem, that of slurry waste, is affecting water in much the same way as are fertilisers. The question is whether we can treat waste in such a way as to avoid that problem. I do not, therefore, think that the hon. Gentleman has yet solved the problem.

My hon. Friend is well aware of my longstanding problem with the River Avon, and he will have heard of the considerable disquiet that greeted the apparent decision of his Department to cope with the proposed River Avon survey. Can he say to what extent, and when, that might be funded by his Department? Will he also take on board the considerable concern that is felt by those at the Freshwater Biological Association, which is facing a 30 per cent. cut in its manpower? They are the people who can do most to solve the problem of the nitrate poisoning of our water supplies.

The latter point is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. He is responsible for the science budget. I was not aware that my hon. Friend had any problems on any matters whatsoever, but it is alleged that there are problems with the Avon in his area. The first proposal that was put to my Department for a survey was thought by the scientists in my Department to be not very well based, but discussions continue and if something sensible and helpful can be designed, we shall certainly consider whether to support it.

Is the Minister aware that as a consequence of nitrate levels in some areas being double the recommended EEC values, in April of this year the European Community started legal action against the United Kingdom Government? In addition, the river quality survey shows that the recent trends of improvement have been reversed. What steps are the Government taking to restore these trends? How much cash are they making available to water authorities to bring water quality within the EEC guideline of 50mg/litre? Further to his answers to other hon. Members, will he emphasise in his discussions with his colleagues at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that he is sticking to the polluter must pay principle?

There is a certain amount of confusion here, too, I am afraid. The European Commission has not instituted legal proceedings. The hon. Gentleman may be thinking of the quite separate problem of nitrites, which has nothing to do with this issue. His question is a bit off the beam.

I forget what the hon. Gentleman's second point was, I beg his pardon.

Land Use

4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when, following consultation, he intends to publish a circular on planning and agricultural land.

We are giving very careful consideration to the comments that we have received on the draft circular "Development Involving Agricultural Land" and hope to publish it soon.

I knew that it was a tricky question, but I have a feeling that it was actually a plant.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in West Norfolk which is, after all, one of the most beautiful parts of the country, there has been some concern about the recent announcement in respect of development on agricultural land. Will my right hon. Friend make it crystal clear that the announcement will not lead to any additional development and, indeed, that it will probably lead to better planning decisions? Will he also make it clear that it will not lead to an increase in the number of planning applications granted on appeal in respect of land outside village development guidelines?

I apologise to my hon. Friend. I received a message that he would not be here. I am delighted that he is, because it gives me a chance to answer his important question.

I hope to publish the revised circular soon, but we are taking account of all the comments made to us. No change will alter the basic fact that planning permission will be required for all developments on open land, although we intend to substitute the need to have environment and countryside objectives in mind as well as the agricultural quality of the land. That does not mean that 85 per cent of the land will be opened up to controlled development of any sort, either in west Norfolk or in any other beautiful part of the country. It could mean that there will be better planning decisions about the use of the small amount of land that has to be taken. I hope that that will be the result.

What account is the Minister taking of the recommendation of Friends of the Earth that priority be given for public house building and for the planting of deciduous trees? Does he agree that the planning arrangements for agricultural land and its protection have served our environment well?

With that last point, I entirely agree. As I have said, I hope that the new circular will result in even better planning for the use of land. On the first point, I imagine that the hon. Gentleman meant public housing rather than public houses. There is a conflict in many district councils between the refusal to give planning permission for more housing and their desire to build more houses themselves. That is a conflict for the local authorities to resolve.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the pressure for building on the green belt and on agricultural land is partly due to the fact that we have not yet done enough to recycle urban and fringe land? Will he confirm that perhaps 47 per cent. of all new house building last year was on recycled land, but that much more can still be done to build on land in the inner cities, on land held by local authorities and other statutory undertakers? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to make every effort to ensure that the private sector is aware of urban development grants, derelict land grants and all the other initiatives introduced by his Department?

I agree with all that my hon. Friend has said, with one tiny exception. Last year, 47 per cent. of all development was on recycled land and 45 per cent. of all housing development was on such land. That is the best figure that we have ever achieved, and I hope that we shall be able to do even better in the future. It is remarkable that we have managed to use old land for 47 per cent. of all development.

Order. Will the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) refrain from holding private conversations?

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that his draft circular included no provision whatever for the protection of the countryside for environmental purposes outside the green belt, the areas of outstanding natural beauty and the national parks? In view of the representations that he has received, will he give an assurance that protection for environmental and conservation purposes will be extended to the whole of the countryside?

The hon. Gentleman's premise is wrong. The original draft of the circular gave the very protection that he seeks, but my colleagues and I are considering whether the English language can be made clearer so that even the hon. Gentleman can understand it.

Radioactive Waste (Hinkley Point)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment where the low-level and the intermediate-level radioactive waste from Hinkley Point power station is held at present; what plans have been made for holding it in the event of a new pressurised water reactor electricity generating plant at Hinkley Point; what is the size of the area involved; and how long the waste will have to remain on site.

Low-level radioactive waste is temporarily stored at Hinkley Point nuclear power station pending disposal at Drigg. Intermediate-level waste is also stored at Hinkley Point pending the development of a suitable disposal route.

No proposals have been received by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for energy for a new station at Hinkley Point. I cannot therefore comment on what they might be.

I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks, but is he aware that the Central Electricity Generating Board intends to put a new PWR at Hinkley Point? As nuclear waste is already being stored there, and as even more may be stored there in the future, does he accept that planning is much more than a purely local function? Will he give an assurance that if the new station is built there will be consultation in the whole south-west area and not just in the local Somerset part about disposal and containment and, indeed, about the whole plant?

Any proposal — I do not know of any proposals at present — will be considered in the normal, thoroughly rigorous manner.

May I warn the Government that the consequence of the expedient in relation to nuclear waste disposal policy announced by the Secretary of State for the Environment in the House last Friday is that all Britain's low-level nuclear waste will be concentrated at Drigg in Copeland and there is no other policy in sight for the foreseeable future? Is the Minister aware that that policy is increasingly unacceptable even in a community that supports the development of civil nuclear power, especially when the Government fail entirely to make the necessary investment in the infrastructure — in roads and other communications to the area — which should be an essential prerequisite for the development of any such policy? Is he aware that the people of Cumbria and of Copeland in particular are slowly but surely losing all faith in the Government and their policies?

I can put the hon. Gentleman's mind firmly at rest on one matter. There will be a low-level waste disposal route, which will be combined with the intermediate waste disposal route, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have argued. Drigg will therefore not be the only facility. That would be quite unacceptable. It may even be necessary to create some low-level waste storage facilities at the power stations if there is any slippage in the programme. Drigg cannot be the only national facility — the hon. Gentleman is quite right about that. In fairness, I should point out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessors have gone out of their way in a number of respects to try to discuss matters with the council at Copeland and elsewhere and there has been a good level of agreement on some of the projects undertaken.

The Minister mentioned long-term disposal routes. Is he aware that since his right hon. Friend's announcement last week there has been considerable alarm in the Highlands and Islands about the possibility of nuclear waste being dumped on the islands?

Order. The question is about Hinkley Point. It is not much wider than that.

Waste from Hinkley Point could go to any of those places, Mr. Speaker. Will the Minister therefore confirm his written answer to me last week that no research has been specifically directed to small islands and reassure the people of northern Scotland that there is no intention to dispose of nuclear waste there?

Hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and other hon. Members are going around the country trying to stir up the maximum alarm, when they should be thinking about their responsibilities. There is no proposal on the table at the moment, so the hon. Gentleman should not try to get into his local newspapers by believing that there is.

Council House Sales

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many council houses have been sold to sitting tenants in England since May 1979.

From April 1979 to December 1986 about 769,000 tenants bought their homes from English local authorities and new towns.

Does my right hon. Friend intend to take any further steps to draw the attention of the public to the Housing and Planning Act 1986? Does he expect the provisions of that Act to have a big effect on future sales?

Yes, we have tried to get a circular to every council tenant who is living in a flat. I do not think that we have had a 100 per cent. success rate, but we have done our best to distribute a leaflet to them and the matter has been publicised in many respects. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that much more could be done. We shall seek other ways of making it clear that under a Conservative Government everybody will have a right to buy their house or flat at a discount. I refrain from adding to the leaflet that under either of the two Opposition parties that opportunity will depend on whether the local authority is prepared to give them the right. That is disgraceful backtracking from one of our most successful policies.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the seriousness of selling off so many local authority houses when his Government are building only about 130,000 a year, which is about half the number that the Labour Government built before 1979? Does he not understand that the more houses that are sold off to sitting tenants, the longer those who want to rent their local authorities will have to wait?

The hon. Lady is putting her desire to be a municipal landlord before the wishes of the people.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that later this month in Darlington the 1,000th council house will be sold to the existing tenant? In view of the fact that many other families in Darlington wish to purchase, will he establish from the Opposition, as a matter of urgency, in which local authority areas the right to buy will be suspended and in which it will not?

I am delighted to hear about the sale of the 1,000th council house in Darlington and I am waiting for the Labour party to declare from which authorities this right will be removed. However, it is a pretty academic question, because I do not think that it will be in a position to remove that right.

The Secretary of State's description of Labour's policy is a perversion. Our policies on these matters were stated fully in Committee on the Landlord and Tenant Bill. Does the Secretary of State recall that in 1983 the Government estimated that the discounted price at which homes were sold was £9,000, so, on the figures that he has given, does he agree that about £7,500 billion in capital receipts has been generated from sales, which is enough to build about one third of a million homes to rent over the last eight years? Why, with all those extra resources, have the Government built 500,000 fewer homes to rent instead of a third of a million more? Does he not agree that the story of the last eight years with regard to housing is one of squandering the resources for providing homes to rent for the people?

If I have misdescribed the hon. Gentleman's policy on giving local authority tenants the right to buy from their local authority, I would be glad if he will make that clear. I thought that there was a Lib — Lab pact on this matter and that they were in agreement. I have heard Opposition Members say many times that they will give local authorities in stress areas the right to refuse this opportunity.

The hon. Gentleman always talks about council houses, but he knows that private sector house building is at an all-time record. We are encouraging the Housing Corporation, with funds as well as legislative improvements, to go into the independent rented sector and build a great many more houses.

Would my right hon. Friend care to tell the House whether, on the heels of the great success of the municpal right to buy, he can hold out hopes to private tenants of private landlords that they might expect legislation to enable them to become home owners as well?

I would certainly like to tell my hon. Friend that we are very keen to increase the number of houses to rent and in due course we shall bring forward proposals to do just that in the private sector.

Community Charge

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received as w the minimum level of community charge to be paid by those on low incomes.

My right hon. Friend has received, and continues to receive, a substantial number of representations on this issue.

What will the Minister do to reassure my constitutents in Huddersfield who, if there are three people in a household, are faced with a 138 per cent. increase in their rate bill and a 218 per cent. rate increase if there are four adults in the household? What will the Minister say to those who are not only on low, but middle-range, incomes, who are faced with such a ruinous increase in their rate bill that they will end up either in the poor house or the work house under this Government?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are no work houses under this Government. However, there is a considerable amount of income support and help for the low paid in our society. If we concentrate on that, we have already said that the mentally handicapped and those in old peoples homes will be exempt, the severely physically disabled will receive 100 per cent. rebates and that there will be generous rebates for those on low incomes. Indeed, 80 per cent. of old-age pensioners will be better off than they are now as single pensioners. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] Opposition Members may not like to know that they will be better off under a Conservative Government, but the public know it. It is also important to recognise that it would be unfair to impose financial burdens on those on low incomes. It is equally unreasonable for people to vote in the length and breadth of this country without realising the financial penalties of the policies for which they are voting.

Does my hon. Friend agree that when the community charge is introduced there will be a very much greater incentive for Labour-controlled councils, such as Norwich city council, to keep rate increases down to a low level, and that that would benefit my constituents, business and industry in Norwich?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Undoubtedly, the opposition to the community charge from the Labour Benches stems from the fact that they know that it will bring reality home to authority after authority. If spending in Huddersfield and many other authorities was reduced to the grant-related expenditure level, authorities could reduce considerably the burden on ratepayers.

Now that even the Prime Minister yesterday admitted that this was a poll tax, and when the Secretary of State takes home about £30 a week extra as a result of the change, what have the Government to say to the millions of families already below the bread line who will be tipped further into misery by this change?

Reference has been made to the question of a poll tax. [HON. MEMBERS: "Poll tax."] Exactly. I have the reference here and I am glad that Opposition Members also read Hansard. If hon. Members would read Hansard and go to the dictionary, they will understand the definition of a poll tax — [Interruption.] If the hon. Member would listen, I will advance his education even further. A poll tax means a tax per head. However, it has nothing to do with the voting register. If hon. Members go back to the dictionary—[Interruption].

A poll tax is a tax per head. In this case, we are making exemptions, to which I have already referred. According to "Chambers" and other dictionaries, no reference is made—and no reference was made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday—to the question of linking the definition of a poll tax to the voting register.

Is it not true that the only places where the electors have anything to fear is where there are high-spending councils, and that if people are daft enough to elect a bunch of twerps, such as those who represent Manchester, they have only themselves to blame?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Indeed, the community tax—or rather the community charge—brings home to voters the cost of what they are voting for. In Manchester, the business ratepayers alone would save £30 million or £40 million. Manchester might then be again the prosperous city that it once was under private enterprise.

Mr. Speaker, "twerp" is a good old-fashioned northern word, which was used in a sensible parliamentary way. What is unacceptable about it?

Why does the Minister continue with useless subterfuge when even the Prime Minister confessed yesterday that what the Government intend to introduce is a poll tax? Why does he seek to mislead people when he knows that his own Green Paper makes it clear that many people who pay no rates now will pay under the new system? For example, of the 7·5 million low-income families receiving housing benefit, 3 million pay no rates now, but will have to pay the new tax. Many of those people, including national insurance pensioners, widows and unemployed people, will have to pay the same level of tax as stockbrokers, moneybrokers and millionaires. Pensioners and unemployed people will be taxed at the same level as the latter group, and everybody will pay a minimum of 20 per cent. Is that what this Government regard as fair and just?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."' Say that louder. If that is the Conservative view, we intend to make sure that the people of Britain know all about it.

In setting income support levels, we shall take into account the impact of those levels on the most vulnerable groups, especially those who will pay for the first time. However, let us consider the other side of that. How many people earning £10,000, £15,000 or £20,000 a year, in houses the length and breadth of this country, pay nothing because they are not the householder? Is that justice? Similarly, is it justice that the Labour party talks about capital values, which would double the charge being paid by some people because capital values in London rose by 25 per cent. last year? That would be the threat to people living in Ealing, Brent, Waltham Forest and in other areas. What would people living in those areas do if faced by the capital values that are proffered by the Opposition?

Will my hon. Friend point out that it is the present rating system—to which many people do not contribute—that is unfair and that the way in which old-age pensioners are clobbered by the present system is totally unfair? Will he assure us that a Conservative Government would reform the present rating system, unlike the Opposition, who continue to support high-rating councils throughout the country?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend and I think that most people in the country would agree with him, especially those living in high-spending Labour, alliance and double-alliance counties? The basis of what we are doing is at the least courageous, for a start. We are tackling the question of rates, about which people have grumbled in every party for 50 or 60 years. All that people are offered by the Opposition are capital values and a doubling of rates in many areas of the country, which people cannot afford to pay.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about the level of the community charge and uniform business rate in London.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about the likely level of the community charge in inner London boroughs.

Since we published illustrative figures on 1 April we have received a small number of representations about the likely impact of our proposals on authorities in London.

As the Government have already caused many local authorities of all political complexions to make difficult choices between draconian cuts in basic services and increasing rates, how on earth does the Secretary of State justify a poll tax which, in areas such as Hammersmith and Fulham, will lead to the average family rate increasing from £365 in 1986–87 to no less than £432 per adult in the same year? What justification is there for such a regressive, heavy poll tax in local areas?

I shall give the hon. Gentleman a good justification. Hammersmith and Fulham is overspending by £16 and the Inner London education authority is overspending by £246 per adult per year respectively on their GRE. That massive overspending must be paid for by the people and I suggest that it is not unreasonable that it should be paid for by the people who vote those idiots into office.

The Secretary of State's discourtesy towards elected councillors is well known in this House and outside. Does he know that at present the average rate in the London borough of Newham is £517 a year and that if the poll tax is introduced it will mean that a two-adult household must pay £648 a year, a three-adult household £1,026 a year and a four-adult household £1,368 a year? That news will not do much damage to the Conservatives in Newham, because they do not stand a chance there, but how can the Secretary of State defend a system which imposes such charges on the second most deprived local authority area in the country while benefiting Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher in Dulwich to the tune of £37 a week in savings? This is an up the pole tax.

Newham receives a high GRE of £906 per adult and it is spending £167 per adult on top of that. The community charge will be high in Newham because expenditure is high. Furthermore, the Labour party in its publication "Local Government Reform in England and Wales" states that it wants a system of capital rateable values with variations in income, not variations in rateable value —[Interruption.] I am entitled to tell the House what the effects of the Opposition's policy are. The effect of variations in income on the assessment of rates is that rates will increase massively in the north of England and will decrease in the south-east. That is their proposal and it is about time the country knew it.

If Labour Members are genuinely concerned about the problems of Londoners on average or below average incomes, should they not spend more time talking about local government expenditure, which is at the heart of the problem? Can my right hon. Friend tell the House that he will keep rate-capping provisions in operation after the community charge has been introduced to give protection to people in Ealing?

As the Green Paper showed, we intend to retain some form of limitation on the charges that authorities may impose. My hon. Friend is entirely right that the reason for the high levels of community charge in London is massive spending. The overspending of ILEA above GRE is £246 per adult. Somebody must pay for that and the House will not disagree with the suggestion that the people in inner London should.

Will my right hon. Friend further consider Ealing and appreciate that the pressure for the community charge arises because of the sheer abuse of the rate system by the Ealing Labour council, which has imposed a 65 per cent. increase in rates on domestic ratepayers and a 57·3 per cent. rate increase on industry? That means a rate increase of at least £5 per household. Pensioners come to my surgery crying because they cannot pay it, but the Labour party does not care. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the vicious Ea ling Labour council will be rate-capped as soon as possible to save my constituents from the bread line?

I cannot say anything about the future of rate limitation or how it might affect Ealing, but I entirely share my hon. Friend's view that the ruthless and cynical imposition of massive spending and massive rate increases on innocent citizens is one of the most disgraceful and distasteful features of the Labour party.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that in Tory-controlled Wandsworth, the Prime Minister's favoured local authority, the community charge will result, per head, in a 115 per cent. increase compared to the present system, and that that is the biggest increase of any local authority in England or Wales? How does he justify that?

I justify it very simply. It is because there is a £246 per adult overspend by the Inner London education authority, of which Wandsworth is part. The Wandsworth rate, and the community charge that follows from it, is extremely low because of the good management of that council, but it is ruined by the surcharge for ILEA.

Given the passage last night in another place of the remaining stages of the Scottish equivalent legislation, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the possible advantages of deferring legislation in England and Wales until any minor difficulties are ironed out in Scotland?

We are likely to defer the English and Welsh Bills until the start of the next Session of Parliament, as my hon. Friend knows. That will allow plenty of time to look at any difficulties. It is important to return to the point that the Labour party is proposing a system that would have the effect of putting up the charges that people pay in the north of England through the rating system, and bringing down what will be paid in the south-east. Some of my hon. Friends will be glad to hear that information.

The Secretary of State is in the mire on the poll tax and I hope he realises that. Is he aware that his excuse for the 115 per cent. increase in Wandsworth—because of ILEA spending — simply does not wash because, so capricious is the poll tax system that it will lead to a reduction in average rate bills in Conservative Westminster, which is also in the ILEA area? Do the adjectives "ruthless" and "cynical" also apply to the 57 per cent. increase in the business rate that businesses in Wandsworth will have to pay, the 31 per cent. increase that businesses in Westminster will have to pay, the 32 per cent. increase that businesses in Ealing will have to pay, and the 82 per cent. increase that businesses in Kensington and Chelsea will have to pay? When the Secretary of State used the word "idiots", was he referring to those hundreds of thousands of electors who rejected the policies of the Conservative Government and Conservative councillors at the polls last May and elected Labour councillors? Was not the Tory Reform Group correct when it described the poll tax proposals as neither Conservative in concept nor sensible in application?

The hon. Gentleman might be glad to know that I have announced today proposals which will allow the minority of businesses that might face significant increases in rate bills five years to adjust to the new rate levies and that, where increases in the valuation are greatest, we shall postpone some of the increase in value to the next revaluation period.

Homelessness

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the rate of homelessness (a) in 1978 and (b) at the latest available date for which figures are available.

English local authorities accepted responsibility for finding accommodation for 53,100 households in 1978 and for 103,000 in 1986. Over the same period the total housing stock has grown by 1·4 million while the number of households is estimated to have grown by only 1·25 million. Therefore, the overall supply of housing has improved.

In the last few weeks the Government have discovered that public money thrown around reaches those parts of the electorate that monetarism cannot reach. Why do they not tell the local authorities to use the £7·5 billion from the receipts of council house sales to build some homes and provide some shelters for the homeless? The Government do not do that because they have a cynical disregard for the homeless, some of whom are not on the register and therefore, the Government do not have to worry about their votes.

If the hon. Gentleman had due regard for the needs of the homeless he would go to a local authority close to Bolsover, such as Manchester, and ask it why it is keeping 5,000 of its houses empty and why it has failed to collect £6 million in rents to help fill those homes.

Is the Minister aware that in London several hundred people are forced to sleep on the streets because they have nowhere to live? Is he aware that people placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation by local authorities are being evicted to make way for the tourist trade? Is he further aware that Tower Hamlets council is trying to evict 140 Bangladeshi families from bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Does he not think that the level of homelessness in the major cities is an absolute scandal and warrants immediate and urgent action by the Government to ensure that everyone in the country gets a roof over his head that he can afford?

I am not responsible for the activities of loony Liberal Tower Hamlets council. However, I am responsible for drawing to the attention of the hon. Gentleman the fact that there are about 30,000 empty council houses in London that could and should be used by Labour-controlled local authorities to house the homeless.

Tree Planting

12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the total cost of all the tree planting funded directly or indirectly by his Department in 1985; what percentage of the trees have survived; and if he will make a statement.

The Department funds the Countryside Commission, which paid £1·6 million in conservation grants, principally for tree planting, in 1985–86. A sample of trees planted previously with commission aid showed a median survival rate of 77 per cent. Planting by the Department directly during 1985 in the royal parks totalled some £50,000.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure he appreciates that it is not the number of trees that are planted that is important, but the number that survive. Is he aware that in order to get the maximum number of trees to survive it is important that sufficient is spent on maintenance and not just on planting? I urge him to ensure that, however much tree planting is done, the right balance is maintained between maintenance and planting so that we can get the maximum survival rate, so as to beautify our countryside.

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Countryside Commission survival rate figures are not bad. What my hon. Friend says will have to be taken into account in, for example, any new farm planting schemes.

In commending the work of my hon. Friend's Department and other Departments, including particularly the Department of Transport, in tree planting schemes, may I ask whether he agrees that the real role of Government should be to offer expertise and encourage to people to plant trees? To that end, does he think that the time is now propitious to have another national tree year?

That may well be a good suggestion and perhaps it should be taken forward in the context of the work of the European Year of the Environment Committee. I pay tribute to the work being done all over Britain by farming and wildlife advisory groups on tree planting on farms.

Housing Expenditure (Leicester)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how much money from central Government funding was provided for the city of Leicester to spend on housing in 1979 and 1986, respectively.

Central Government contributions towards Leicester city council's housing expenditure are estimated to have been £45·2 million in 1986–87. A comparable figure is not available for 1979.

A comparable figure, is it, because it would show that the amount available has been reduced by at least 50 per cent., thereby making it impossible for the excellent Leicester city council to carry out its duties in providing, maintaining and improving housing for people who need it in our cities?

On a specific point, what has happened to the £14 million that the Government promised would be available by the end of April under housing defects legislation for councils such as Leicester? Smith houses, Boot houses and houses with other defects are placing an immense burden on the council. Money will have to be spent on these houses instead of on the general provision. The money was promised, but where is it?

The announcement about the additional sums will be made in due course, to answer the hon. and learned Gentleman's second point. In answer to his first point, he supported the Labour Administration of 1974 to 1979, which made the biggest capital cuts in the nation's housing programme ever—about 46 per cent.

Will my hon. Friend exercise great caution in giving any additional sums of money to Leicester? Is he aware that Leicester city council—sadly, it is Labour-controlled now, but it will be Conservative-controlled after tomorrow — has 1,000 empty council houses and 26,000 council houses needing repair? The council is spending £5,972 on fighting the Housing and Planning Act 1986, which gives more rights to council tenants. It shows no interest in council tenants whatsoever. It is twinned with Nicaragua and does not give a damn for the decent people who live in Leicester.

I am delighted to respond to the authentic voice of the city of Leicester. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and with the editor of the Leicester Mercury, who, on Friday 1 May, condemned the activities of the Leicester city council in its smear campaigns over the rights of tenants in Leicester city—campaigns to which the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) gave his support.

State Security

3.30 pm

(by private notice)

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement in response to the statement made this morning by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) calling for a review by a senior judge of the findings of the 1977 inquiry into allegations about the operations of the security services in the mid-1970s, taking into account information reportedly contained in a book written by Mr. Peter Wright, examining both him and those officers who have been implicated by Mr. Wright or named by others, and providing the means to gain an independent verdict on the past, and to safeguard the future.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) has today called for an inquiry into. recent allegations about the Security Service in relation to the Government led by the right hon. and noble Lord Wilson of Rievaulx between 1974 and 1976.

Allegations of this nature first gained currency 10 years ago, in July 1977. They were summarised in a speech in the House on 28 July 1977 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). The allegations ranged widely, but were to the effect that the Security Service had sought to discredit the duly constituted Government of the day, and in particular its Prime Minister; or that some members of the Security Service had conspired together to do so.

On 23 August 1977, the right hon. Gentleman, the then Prime Minister, issued a statement in which he said that he had conducted detailed inquiries into the recent allegations about the Security Service and he was satisfied that they did not constitute grounds for lack of confidence in the competence or impartiality of the Security Service, or for instituting a special inquiry.

On 8 December 1977, the right hon. Gentleman told the House that Lord Wilson associated himself with that statement, and therefore there was no reason to carry the matter any further. I accepted the right hon. Gentleman's statement and conclusions without question. I believed them, and I still believe them, to be correct.

Early in 1978, a book was published, entitled "The Pencourt File", which contained fuller accounts of these allegations. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has let me see copies of correspondence which he exchanged with the right hon. Gentleman the then Prime Minister. My hon. Friend drew the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the contents of the hook, and in particular to a number of statements attributed in the book to the then Sir Harold Wilson. My hon. Friend urged the then Prime Minister to arrange for a full inquiry to be undertaken by the Security Commission.

In his reply dated 20 February 1978, the then Prime Minister said:
"So far as I can see, there are no significant statements about matters of national security in this book of which the authorities were not aware when I issued a statement on allegations about the Security Service on 23 August last; I put the statement in the Official Report on 8 December."
He concluded:
"I have nothing to add to it."
In recent weeks these allegations have been given renewed currency in press reports which the right hon. Gentleman, in his statement issued this morning, says go into greater detail than the 1977 inquiry knew about.

It would not be appropriate for me or other members of this Administration to see papers relating to that time, and we have not asked to do so. I can, however, tell the House that the director-general of the Security Service has reported to me that, over the last four months, he has conducted a thorough investigation into all these stories, taking account of the earlier allegations and of the other material given recent currency. There has been a comprehensive examination of all the papers relevant to that time. There have been interviews with officers in post in the relevant parts of the security service at that time, including officers whose names have been made public.

The director-general has advised me that he has found no evidence of any truth in the allegations. He has given me his personal assurance that the stories are false. In particular, he has advised me that all the security service officers who have been interviewed have categorically denied that they were involved in, or were aware of, any activities or plans to undermine or discredit Lord Wilson and his Government when he was Prime Minister. The then director-general has categorically denied the allegation that he confirmed the existence within the security service of a disaffected faction with extreme Right-wing views. He has further stated that he had no reason to believe that any such faction existed. No evidence or indication has been found of any plot or conspiracy against Lord Wilson by or within the security service.

Further, the director-general has also advised me that Lord Wilson has never been the subject of a security service investigation or of any form of electronic or other surveillance by the security service.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, in a statement he issued on 22 March this year, declared that he had every confidence in the integrity and ability of the present director-general of the Security Service. So have I. I accept the assurance and the advice which he has given me.

This latest investigation, taking account of recently published material, confirms the conclusions reached and announced by the right hon. Gentleman in 1977, which I then accepted without question. That was in accordance with the tradition of bipartisan Front Bench support for the security and intelligence services and the work that they do. Like the right hon. Gentleman in 1977 and again in 1978, I do not propose to institute any other inquiry into these matters. In the light of the director-general's assurance and advice, I do not believe that any further inquiry would be justified.

So, once again, as in 1977, detailed inquiries have confirmed the conclusion that there are no grounds for lack of confidence in the competence or impartiality of the Security Service or for instituting a special inquiry.

It is time to stop raking over the embers of a period over 10 years ago and to assert confidence, as I readily do, in the Security Service's strict adherence to the directive under which it carries out its duties, and in its skill and loyalty in carrying out the tasks which it is called upon to undertake in the defence of our security and freedom.

I share the confidence that the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend for Cardiff. South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) have in the director-general of the Security Service and in his efforts in conducting an internal inquiry and examination into these matters, including the references to recently available information. That is all the more reason for thinking that there is nothing at all to fear from an independent review of that inquiry by a judge.

When my right hon. Friend, who was Prime Minister at the time of the 1977 inquiry, now seeks a review of that inquiry because there is, as he says, a direct conflict of evidence, it is unreasonable, unjust and unwise of the Prime Minister not to make a positive response to that very serious request. Does not the Prime Minister realise that such a refusal can only fuel suspicions of every description and that the resulting circumstances will not assist national security or the people engaged in maintaining national security?

Why does not the Prime Minister accept that allegations and assertions of criminal activity or criminal intentions that, as my right hon. Friend has said, go into greater detail than the 1977 inquiry knew about, have a significance which does not end with a change of Government or the passage of years? Why does not the Prime Minister recognise that those allegations and assertions—whether they relate to people still working or now retired, or to people living or dead—can do no good for either the reputation or the morale of the services and, therefore, must be dealt with in the manner suggested by my right hon. Friend in order to establish whether Peter Wright's version of events is fact, falsehood, fantasy, or a concoction of all three?

If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the integrity and loyalty of the director-general of the service, he should accept his advice. There has never been such a detailed statement as I have made. I have tried always to make detailed statements, going further than any previous Prime Minister. When the previous Labour Prime Minister made a statement about the Security Service, he knew that he could rely upon the bipartisan support of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. I wish we could do so today.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her very full statement will be warmly welcomed by Government Members, as will the decision? If in spite of my request in my speech on 28 July 1977 and, as the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South and Morley (Mr. Rees) has asserted, the inquiry then conducted was narrow and went into the allegations of bugging only and not into the wider allegations, all of which are referred to, does not that show that there must have been incompetence, negligence or a cover-up by that Government?

My right hon. Friend has heard the very detailed statement I have made. I have confidence in the director-general of the Security Service and in the Security Service. I believe that the majority of people have more confidence in the Security Service of this country than in some of the politicians in the Opposition who try to undermine the service.

I am very grateful to the Prime Minister that the statement I issued this morning has given her the opportunity to tell us about the director-general's investigation. I ask her whether she would have told the House about that if I had not issued that statement. It is all very well for her to be convinced about these matters and for me to be convinced about them, but it is important also that the public should have confidence in the service.

What the right hon. Lady has said this afternoon will have gone some way to reassuring the public about what has happened. What I have said in my statement is quite clear: there is a direct conflict of evidence between what Mr. Peter Wright has said and what I was told by the director-general of the Security Service in 1977. I have my own view about whom I believe, and I have expressed that in my statement by saying that, strangely enough, Mr. Wright has offered no explanation for his failure to come forward in 1977 to tell the inquiry what he then knew, despite a public invitation that I issued to witnesses to do so. So I have my own view about the situation.

In my judgment, it would be much better to clear the matter out of the way so that there can be public confidence, and the Security Service may know that it has confidence. If there were to be an independent inquiry from outside the Security Service, I believe I know what conclusion would be reached. Because of that, and because I certainly have nothing to fear from such an inquiry, I believe that the right hon. Lady is missing a very good opportunity both to close an unhappy chapter and to open a fresh one.

I beg the right hon. Lady not to close her mind to that even now. If she does not do so, these allegations, and in some cases inventions, about the Security Service will carry on and the contents of the book will continue to be dribbled out in one country or another. Every time that happens there will be a fresh spate of allegations and charges. The Security Service and everybody else will still rest under those allegations. The right hon. Lady is stubborn in not yielding to the suggestion that an independent group should consider these matters objectively, and report to her and to the House.

I believe that my next suggestion will carry with me some Conservative Members who are chuntering: the Government should also consider for the future some oversight body which would review the work of the service, its targeting, its management, its structure and its staff counselling—and if anything was needed, goodness knows, that is. The right hon. Lady did not refer to that.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that she has given a partial reassurance by the statement she has made which was drawn out of her by my press comment this morning? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. I ask the right hon. Lady once again to consider whether she cannot on some occasions be wrong. Would it not be better for her to accept some good natured and well intentioned advice that is offered to her?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that, in his view, my statement goes, in his words, some way to reassure. I believe that for reasonable people it will go the whole way to reassure. Secondly, when the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the security services, on that day 10 years ago when he appeared at this Dispatch Box and answered, he refused to institute an inquiry. He was right to refuse, and he knows that he was right to refuse. That is the tragedy of it. He knows that tradition has been for all Prime Ministers to refuse such requests. Let me quote Harold Macmillan:

"It is dangerous and bad for our general national interest to discuss these matters. Otherwise we would risk destroying services which are of the utmost value to us."
That, I believe, is correct.

Ten years ago the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) made a much shorter statement than mine. He was right not to allow an inquiry then. If every Prime Minister says, "This is the result of my inquiry; I will not have a further inquiry," and 10 years later reopens the matter, there will be no assurance whatsoever in anything said from this Box.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that those hon. Members on both sides of the House who know the present director-general will agree with her and with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) that he is a man of exceptional intelligence and integrity? Has she had any communication from the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth about whether, if the inquiry were held in private—I assume that that is what he wishes—those who share the Opposition Benches with him would accept the result of the inquiry?

Some people would never be satisfied and would go on raising matters again and again. Some people—I totally exclude the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) from this—wish to undermine the security services. This is their way of doing it. I have made it clear that I do not intend to institute a further inquiry. It is not necessary; it is not justified.

If Parliament is to accept that the security services return to the previous situation when there were no questions and debates in the House, surely it has to be satisfied as to its objective scrutiny. Is not that the fundamental point? Will the Prime Minister at least look deeper into the more profound matter of parliamentary scrutiny of the security services? If she were to give a little ground over that matter, on which there is a great deal of bipartisan support, many of us — I can speak only personally — would accept the word and integrity of the present director-general. He does not come from the security services and, to that extent, is outside it. I personally accept his judgment on this particular, though narrow, issue.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about accepting the assurance of the director-general and, therefore, accepting what I have said from the Dispatch Box. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt with the other matter from the Dispatch Box, in reply to a debate on security matters.

Bearing in mind the contrast between the position taken by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) when he had all the power and authority of a Prime Minister—I was content to accept that fact at the time—and his equivocal attitude now, does my right hon. Friend think that the only possible explanation is that he has unhappily been leaned on by a shadow Cabinet that is desperate for some political advantage?

I have said that I accept the advice that I have been given. I take the opportunity of reasserting total confidence in the Security Service. I have nothing further to add.

The Prime Minister has reminded the House that, in July 1977, two articles appeared in The Observer and thus were public knowledge. They were mentioned on the Floor of the House by the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and, I believe, two other hon. Members. The matters that were raised on the Floor of the House and were inquired into were public knowledge. If there is nothing new in Mr. Wright's book, why not let it be published?

The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that, if we did not contest the case of a former member of the service who, owing a lifelong duty of confidentiality to the Crown, wished to give an account of anything it suited him to say, there would be no security services left in the kingdom.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all the events that are the subject of the present allegations took place under a Labour Government and were inquired into by a Labour Prime Minister, and that all the personalities involved were either Labour supporters or even Ministers? Is it not a fact, therefore, that the Government have nothing to fear from having an inquiry? Are not the difficulties of an inquiry that, if it is to be a public inquiry, the interests of the Security Service will seriously be put at risk, and, if it is to be a private inquiry, it is unlikely to satisfy anybody and might be misunderstood as a cover-up?

I confirm that the events referred to took place before my time in office as Prime Minister. I therefore have no responsibility for them. I have responsibility for the morale of and confidence in the Security Service, and I gladly reassert that confidence. I had hoped that, in a bipartisan spirit, the whole House would do so, because we owe a great deal to those who work in those services.

I think that the Prime Minister is making a grave mistake in not responding to the appeal of my right hon. Friend, and I still hope that she will, in a few days, change her mind on this subject, as she has changed it already, but what will she and her Law Officers now do about the newspapers in this and other countries that continue to discuss the matter? Are we to have an endless series of prosecutions against three newspapers in this country which are determined to continue discussing the matter freely, as they have done over the past few weeks? Does she think that that will be a service to our security services?

There are those who wish to undermine the security services, and they will go on and on regardless of any inquiry. Their purpose is different from ours, which is to uphold the security services. The security and intelligence services deserve our recognition and gratitude.

I have made a longer statement about this matter, in more detail, than any previous Prime Minister. I ask the House to accept it with the bipartisan attitude that Ministers in the previous Labour Administration expected and received from us.

Order. I must have regard for the subsequent business of the House. The private notice question is an extension of Question Time, and we have now had over 25 minutes on it. I must have regard to the fact that we have before us a very important debate on Northern Ireland, and that there is a great demand from right hon. and hon. Members to take part in it. We must now move on.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During your Speakership, you have always said that you are a champion of Back Benchers. Is it satisfactory that only Privy Councillors should ask questions on a subject such as this?

Order. There will be other opportunities, even tomorrow, for Back Benchers to ask questions about the matter. I must have regard to other hon. Members. This is not the only important topic that hon. Members wish to discuss.

You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that the mood is very bitter over what is seen by some of my colleagues as an attempt at a cover-up. It seems an abuse to the House that many of the Back Benchers who have been most prominent in the investigations and inquiries which have led to today's statement have been denied the opportunity to ask supplementary questions. I think that you should reconsider your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

The whole House knows that for private notice questions I normally allow no more than 15 minutes. This is an extension of Question Time. If it had been a statement, it would be a different matter. I have to have regard for all hon. Members in this House. I appreciate that this is a matter of much interest to many hon. Members, but there will be other opportunities to discuss it. The House may not have another opportunity for an Irish debate.

I shall take the point of order of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to place on record how much I regret the fact that today I was not allowed to ask the Prime Minister a question.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For some weeks my hon. Friends and I have felt strongly that we have been gagged, though not by you, and that we have been unable to make the points that we wanted to make arising from the very serious allegations in Mr. Wright's book. It is a shame and a scandal that hon. Members are being gagged and that they cannot raise matters that should be raised as part of their parliamentary duty. The Prime Minister has made a statement today. It may be that she was most reluctant to make it, but not a single Member who was not a Privy Councillor was called from this side of the House. If serious allegations are being made — and they will continue to be made — surely Members of Parliament have the right to use every opportunity to question the Prime Minister. We are being gagged.

The hon. Gentleman knows that he is not being gagged. There will be other opportunities, at Prime Minister's Question Time, to ask questions. If any right hon. or hon. Members feel that they are being gagged, it may be the Ulster Members, who have an equal right to the time of this House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have helpfully said that there will be oher opportunities to raise the matter. Would it be in order now for an hon. Member to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 so that it may be dealt with as an urgent matter?

I have had no application today for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20. Questions are put to the Prime Minister twice every week. Arising out of her statement today, there will be plenty of opportunities for Back Benchers to ask further questions on the matter.

Order. I have to have regard for every hon. Member, and I have to be fair to the whole House. This is a day on which we have an important Irish debate. The Ulster Members are back with us, and they have an equal claim to the time of this House.

I listened with respect, Mr. Speaker, to what you said. All hon. Members welcome back the Ulster Unionists. We never asked them to leave, but, as I say, we welcome them back.

There is a precedent which I call to your mind. When Lord Wilson was Prime Minister, we had a debate on the Crown Agents which arose from a statement that was made on the Floor of the House. There was no opportunity to make an application to the then Speaker, as would have been the practice. Mr. Speaker allowed the then Member of Parliament for Penistone, Mr. John Mendelson, to move his Standing Order No. 9, as it then was, so that the House could debate the statement that had been made. Because of that precedent, and in view of what you have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I ask you at least to allow him to move his motion and then to reach your decision.

Where is it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Here it comes."] Application under Standing Order No. 20, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the refusal of the Prime Minister to initiate an independent inquiry."
I have first to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter is urgent. It is self-evident, from the attitude of the House, that this subject will not go away and that it will have to be discussed before the general election.

Secondly, I have to persuade you that it is important. The Prime Minister left a number of gaps in her statement. Some of us are very concerned about our former colleagues—for example, about the forged bank account of Lord Glenamara, who was Ted Short. The Prime Minister will not even refer that matter to the Security Commission. In the absence of a public inquiry, some of us would like to debate why these matters should not be referred to the Security Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Griffiths of Govilon. Furthermore, why is it that the cases of Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd cannot be referred to the Security Commission?

It is very important that we should have a debate, because in public print the Prime Minister has been personally involved on account of the information that was acquired from Colin Wallace by Airey Neave in relation to "Clockwork Orange 2". There should be a parliamentary explanation of these matters. Perhaps there is an explanation. Our fellow citizens have been reading about the involvment of Airey Neave in all these matters. That is an added reason why there should be a public inquiry.

Finally, I have to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter is definite. We had to wait until this new information was winkled out of the Prime Minister — indeed, chiselled out of her—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan), who had every justification for saying that, until he made his statement, the House of Commons and the British people would have been told little about it. There is much new information. If, therefore, it is to be treated properly, Parliament ought to have a debate on the matter.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the refusal of the Prime Minister to initiate an independent inquiry."
I have listened with care to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you care to contemplate, Sir, why some hon. Members are less entitled to raise points of order than others? I was on my feet for 10 minutes.

Bill Presented

Secretary Of State For Education And Science (Qualifications For Office)

Mr. Barry Sheerman, supported by Mr. Terry Davis, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. Allan Roberts, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Mr. Willie W. Hamilton, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Roland Boyes, Mr. George Park, Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse, Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Allan Rogers, presented a Bill to provide that no person shall be appointed to the office of Secretary of State for Education and Science whose children are being, or have been, educated at private schools: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 8 May, and to be printed. Bill [151.]

Statutory Instruments, &C

Ordered,

That the draft Water (Fluoridation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Job Release Act 1977 (Continuation) Order 1987 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Ryder.]

Freedom Of Information

4.9 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal section 2 of the Official Secrets Act and institute a right of access for citizens to information related to the workings and decisions of government, with certain specified exceptions; and for connected purposes.
It is, of course, peculiarly appropriate, in the light of the statement that we have just heard from the Prime Minister, that we should he discussing this issue today, of all days. We have been powerfully reminded this afternoon of the intensely secretive nature of the British governmental apparatus and the arrogance of power that has affected this Government above all others. We need to open up the workings of Government to the maximum legitimate public scrutiny. At present, the presumption is that everything is secret unless the Government graciously decide that the public should be allowed to know. That is the wrong way round. The assumption should be that everything is in the public domain unless there are genuine—I stress genuine—security reasons why it should not be. My Bill seeks to secure precisely that change.

Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act has become notorious. It is absurd that secretive legislation should cover every action and every item that crosses civil servants' desks. The catch-all absurdity of the legislation alone should ensure its repeal. However, the situation is, of course, much more dangerous than that, because section 2 can be, and has been, used by Governments of all political persuasions to cover up political embarrassment rather than for reasons connected with real national security issues. Why did this Government prosecute Sarah Tisdall and Clive Ponting? Why did they use section 2 to obtain warrants to ransack the offices of the NewStatesman and the home of Duncan Campbell? Why have this Government made greater use of section 2 than any other Government in our history?

The 12 ordinary men and women who acquitted my constituent Clive Ponting two years ago threw the Government into considerable confusion. Effectively, the jury challenged the Government once and for all to draw the line between matters of political embarrassment or advantage and matters of genuine national importance. The Government have failed to draw that line, and today's statement by the Prime Minister has simply confirmed that fact.

My Bill, coming at the outset of what may be a general election campaign, seeks to challenge all parties in the House to state where they stand on this issue. Do they stand for over-secrecy, which is what we have at the moment, or for the fullest possible openness in Government? In a democracy, surely the answer must be crystal clear. Citizens must have the fullest possible access to information about what the Government and the governors are doing. The British people do not have anything approaching such access at present; they should have it. My Bill is a small step towards ensuring that that happens at long last.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Chris Smith, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Mr. Robin Cook, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Tarn Dalyell, Mr. Alfred Dubs, Mr. Tony Lloyd, Mr. Ian Mikardo, Mr. Peter Pike and Ms. Jo Richardson.

Freedom Of Information

Mr. Chris Smith accordingly presented a Bill to repeal secion 2 of the Official Secrets Act and institute a right of access for citizens to information related to the workings and decisions of government, with certain specified exceptions; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 3 July, and to be printed. [Bill 1501

Northern Ireland (Security)

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

Before we commence the debate, I must tell the House that there is a long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part. I ask all hon. Members to be brief in their speeches so that as many as possible may be called.

4.17 pm

I welcome the opportunity to initiate this debate on the security situation in Northern Ireland. Not least against the background of recent events, it is absolutely right that we should be having the debate today. I welcome the fact that right hon. and hon. Members from the Province will be participating. This matter is of great concern to the people of the Province and it is therefore right that it should be debated in Parliament. We know that strong views are held on this issue and that there will be strong disagreements on many of its aspects. That makes it all the more important that it should be discussed in the House of Commons.

In putting before the House the issues involved, it is my duty first to put the facts before the House and to help the House to reach a balanced and objective view of the security situation and of the progress that has been made in these difficult matters. Against the background of horror at one outrage or another — sadly, Northern Ireland has seen far too many outrages — it is understandable that emotions will dominate the debate. We owe it to all those who have suffered and all those in the security forces who have striven to serve their community, to look at the issues as clearly and fairly as we can. All of us who are familiar with the Province know that a series of successes by the security forces can lead to a sense of over-confidence about the early prospect of defeating terrorism. However, while it is a mistake to get too elated by a success, it is also wrong to get too downhearted by setbacks. We have a duty to examine the situation and to base our decisions on the fairest possible assessment.

In no sense do my remarks imply in any way that there is any such thing as an acceptable level of violence. Any murder is one too many, with all the human tragedy that it involves. I make it absolutely clear that our determination is to pursue our efforts until such time as terrorism is destroyed and real peace is restored to Northern Ireland and to the whole island of Ireland.

I begin by reminding the House of the background—the developments in the security situation and the tragic statistics — against which this debate takes place. To enable us to see just what have been the achievements of the security forces, of the steadfastness and resilience of the community and of the direction of security policy, we must consider the progress that has been achieved. Any hon. Member who studies the casualty figures will be struck immediately by the situation in 1972, the gravest year of all, when 467 people were killed—146 members of the security forces and 321 civilians. Last year, there were 24 deaths among the security forces. That is 24 too many, but by any standards it is a vast improvement on the situation some years earlier. The period to the end of March this year was the lowest first quarter for casualties in the security forces in any recent year, although I am the first to inform the House, as it well knows, that since then, sadly, there has been a serious deterioration, a serious level of casualties and clear evidence of a new ruthlessness in the campaign of violence that we face, including certain changes of tactics which we need to assess and to meet as effectively and speedily as we can.

It is right to set those achievements against the horrific level of violence in earlier years and to recognise how much the Province and, indeed, the whole country owe to the unstinting efforts, courage and determination of the security forces to whom we all owe the greatest debt. The problems and challenges that we face should not be considered only against the background of the terrible statistics of violence. We should also assess the progress and developments that have taken place as we sought to resist the campaign of terror launched principally by the IRA and the achievements of that organisation in pursuit of its objectives and the cause that it has sought to promote.

When the campaign was embarked on with all its evil intent, the IRA must have had certain objectives, and it is worth reflecting on the progress or otherwise that has been made towards those objectives. The most elementary initial objective was surely to undermine the morale of the RUC, to spread disaffection among the Army and to create reluctance and unwillingness to serve in Northern Ireland. Another objective was surely to attract ever-increasing support from the nationalist community as well as wider international support, particularly from the Government of the Irish Republic. Twenty years on in that evil campaign, we can see that in each if those objectives the IRA has completely failed.

The RUC undoubtedly faced problems and difficulties at the start of the campaign, but one can have only the greatest admiration for the way in which it has come through that time of trial to be recognised as an outstandingly competent, highly trained, well-motivated police force with high morale, widely respected for the stand that it has taken against terrorism and for its courage and professionalism—a force for which there is substantial support across the community and which has not the slightest difficulty in attracting more recruits to serve the community.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, as I am sure is every member of the RUC, for his tribute to that force. His words, which I am sure are sincere, would carry more weight if his office would occasionally listen to the views of members of the RUC who do the dying for us. He should also realise that he does not help RUC morale, which I know he wishes to maintain, if, as he will be doing later today, he fastens on the RUC discriminatory action which would not be acceptable to the police in England and Wales.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend put his intervention in that way. He will forgive me if I do not go into the second matter as it will be the subject of a second debate. I recall that the last time I discussed these matters with my hon. Friend was in the presence of deputation from the Police Federation which I was more than ready and willing to meet. Members and officers of the Police Federation know that I am always ready to meet them and to discuss problems of concern. Of course I am willing to meet people on issues of importance and of course I respect the role played by the RUC. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks in that respect. My support and commitment to the RUC are absolute—I wish to make that completely clear—and I am fully aware of the crucial role that it plays in the front line against terrorism.

The IRA's second objective was to develop a reluctance to serve in Northern Ireland — the "troops out" movement perhaps — and to create disaffection in the British Army. Anyone who has the slightest contact with the Regular Army and with the Ulster Defence Regiment knows, however, of the commitment and support that exists and of the high morale and enthusiastic response of the Army to the soldiering tasks that it so readily takes on in the province. One of the most encouraging developments has been the increasing professionalism as well as the notable courage shown by the UDR in its extremely tough role.

Thirdly, how well has the IRA done in seeking to spread disaffection among the nationalist community, to isolate the security forces from any support in that community and to have itself increasingly recognised as the voice of that community? Whatever levels of support it may have had in the past, I have the clearest impression that that support has diminished very greatly in the nationalist community. More and more people now see the IRA as offering just one guarantee to the people whose support it seeks — the guarantee of misery and continuing high unemployment. People are more and more aware of the unholy mismatch of a Mafia-type organisation operating rackets in drinking and gaming clubs and bogus protection firms with a Marxist terrorist group determined to impose its narrow views on people throughout the island of Ireland with complete indifference to the views of the majority.

It is worth remembering, when the IRA says that it has some right to speak for the people of Ireland, just how tiny a majority it represents not only in Northern Ireland but in the Irish Republic where it polled only 1.8 per cent. of the vote. To its humiliation, its total number of votes in the last elections in Northern Ireland — the district council elections — and in the vote for the Dail amounted to only 3 per cent. of the vote. The conceit, as the Irish Press said, of publishing a document called, "Scenario for Peace", which the Irish Press described correctly as an ultimatum for peace! The attitude of the IRA and Sinn Fein, is, "We do not care what you think; we will tell you what you should think and we will kill you until you think it." That is the proposition that it has the gall to put before the people, and that is why it will not succeed.

If we look at the background against which it has sought to enlist increasing international support, the reality is that the perception of it as an international Marxist revolutionary group is now, thank God, increasingly prevalent around the world. It may possibly have support from President Gaddafi; it may have associations with other groups around the world; but it does not enjoy the support of any decent, civilised country in the world.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement marks the complete repudiation of the IRA by the United Kingdom and the Government of the Irish Republic, and that has been underlined firmly by the new Government in the Irish Republic in recent weeks. It is a measure of that repudiation by the international community that the House will have noticed the increasing success that we have had in international co-operation. I am not referring just to the supplementary extradition treaty which was passed through the United States Senate with such an overwhelming majority. I am not referring to the new extraditions which have been achieved from the United States and Holland. The House will be aware of the support that we have had from police forces in the United States, France, Germany and Holland.

The Secretary of State will be aware that one of the Government's objectives for the Anglo-Irish Agreement is an improvement in co-operation between security forces on both sides of the border. Can he point to any great improvement in that? Anecdotal evidence from members of the British security forces would suggest that, if anything, the situation has become worse rather than better.

My hon. Friend takes a close interest in this matter, but to suggest that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was to be a wand that would have an immediate impact of a major, significant early change — [Interruption.] There have been successes. I can point to a steady, growing, and encouraging list of Garda seizures of explosives and mortars which undoubtedly have resulted from increased co-operation. I rely on and respect the advice of the Chief Constable. He says—he is uniquely placed to make this judgment—that the present opportunity is the best that there has ever been for developing close co-operation, which is one of the ingredients which will help in the fight against terrorism.

Some hon. Members raise the issue of cross-border terrorism as though it was the sole source of terrorism and as though terrorism was not originating from within the Province. Anyone who is taking part in this debate knows only too well the problems that are faced in countering the skill, determination and fanaticism of the terrorists in routing them out, even from within the Province where we have complete responsibility in those respects.

Of course there are incidents in Northern Ireland, but can the Secretary of State give the source of the explosives that are used in those incidents? They come from across the border.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has made that suggestion, because it is not true. We believe that a significant amount of explosives come from across the border, but we also believe—the hon. Gentleman must be aware of this—that a significant amount are also produced in the Province. We and the RUC are determined to prevent that, but it is a mistake to believe that everything originates from across the border. It is more complicated than that.

I shall make some progress and then I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

In reviewing the present situation I have sought to assess the progress that the terrorists have made in pursuit of what must have been their original objective. I hope that the House will accept that their progress has been nil. Far from making progress, they have lost some of the ground that originally they might conceivably have held. In terms of political progress and inciting greater support in the South, it is difficult to see how much lower they could go than 1·8 per cent. of the vote, and that is assuming that all the people who voted for them supported the more violent ambitions of Sinn Fein. Trapped in the failure of its political initiatives and efforts, it has now reverted to what it knows best — violence and terrorism. The House should not under-estimate its evil cunning and skill. That is a clear warning, and something that many hon. Members appreciate.

What makes it such an evil and difficult enemy to fight is that it lacks any principles or scruples about how its violence might cause horrific casualties and tragedies. One can think of the complete lack of compunction that it showed that one of its mortar bombs might have hit the supermarket in Newry instead of the police station next door. Many will recall the quite horrific injuries that were caused to the small girl who was shopping there. We have seen the most recent confirmation that it has no such inhibitions as the charming and kind president of the Irish Girl Guides was murdered beside her husband, Lord Justice Gibson, at Killeen.

Faced with the humiliation that it has recently suffered in the Irish election campaign and the split in Sinn Fein between Provisional Sinn Fein and Republican Sinn Fein it is quite clear that it has embarked on a heightened level of violence. It is true to say that the level of incidents was rising quite significantly towards the end of last year, but the determined and courageous efforts of the security forces prevented a number of those incidents leading to casualties. Sadly, as we all know, there have been a number of attacks recently and some have led to serious casualties. The House will be very familiar with those attacks.

Against that background I want to explain to the House how we should respond to the present situation. First, I want to refer to security policy. The security policy followed by successive Governments has been to fight terrorism with all the appropriate resources under the rule of law. One of the terrorists' objectives has always been to destroy the courts and exploit the grievances that can arise in such a situation. Part of the reason for the strong international support for our fight against terrorism has been the recognition of our determination to maintain the highest possible standards of British justice when dealing with terrorist crime.

Of course that is not easy. Of course that poses tremendous problems for the security forces and the courts in which, if I may say so, the Northern Ireland judiciary has played such a courageous part. The background to this debate is the clearest reminder of the courage shown by the Northern Ireland judiciary. Of course there are always attractions to try to find some different route outside of the present law. However, we have a very heavy responsibility before we make changes, to be sure that what looks like a quick or more effective approach does not create bigger problems for the future.

An effective response is essential to adapt to the new situation. However, the wrong reaction could all too easily be counter-productive and play into the hands of the terrorist. That is why we are continuing to consider ways in which the work of the security forces can be helped to bring terrorists before the courts. While maintaining fair treatment under the law, we will ensure that if terrorists are found guilty, they are subject to the full rigour of the law. I do not propose to comment any further on those matters now. However, I hope that the House has listened carefully to what I have said and will be under no illusions about the seriousness with which I regard that aspect of the problem.

The right hon. Gentleman has now been speaking for almost half an hour. Will he now get away from his exercise of rewriting history and making excuses for doing nothing about terrorism? Will he start from the premise that no deaths were caused by terrorism in Ulster before the Westminster Government took over full control of security and that the large death toll in 1972 to which he referred related to the fact that Westminster took over the entire administration of Northern Ireland? Will he stop hiding behind his compliments to the security forces, the judiciary and the various other people in Northern Ireland, who certainly deserve his compliments but who know that what he is saying is simply an excuse for doing nothing?

We came here to hear whether the right hon. Gentleman had any concrete proposals to deal with terrorism. He has said that terrorists will be brought before the courts. One hundred and forty-two out of 156 deaths in my constituency are still unsolved. That is a measure of the power of the courts at the moment. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the courts more power?

I think that the hon. Gentleman decided to intervene before he listened to my comments. This is an aspect——

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is particularly interested in this matter. It is a pity that he did not listen to my comments. I do not honestly believe that the House will accept his version of history that this all started when this Parliament became involved.

I have listened with great care to the Secretary of State's comments. However, he will understand that there have been repeated reports, not least emanating from Mr. Colin Wallace and Mr. Fred Holroyd, that on odd occasions our security forces did not operate within the law. In particular, I refer the Secretary of State to The Sunday Times of 26 April. I would like to have the attention of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. I. Paisley) because I will refer to him. That article refers to the fact that there was a forged bank account relating to the hon. Member for Antrim, North. That information has come into the possesion of some hon. Members. I cannot make a judgment one way or another and neither can other hon. Members. It is up to the Secretary of State to assure all of us today that the allegations made by Fred Holroyd, Colin Wallace and others—[Interruption.] It is all very well for some hon. Members to sneer. The allegations have been made and I am asking a question. If a public inquiry is not to be set up, can the Government assure the House on these matters during this debate, not least with regard to the forged bank account belonging to the hon. Member for Antrim, North?

The House is aware of the hon. Gentleman's tenacity on these matters. I would prefer to deal with the issues before the House. My hon. Friend the Minister of State may make an appropriate comment in his concluding remarks, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I want to consider the background to certain other steps that we are taking. The fight against terrorism depends on sustaining pressure on a number of different fronts. One of the crucial areas is the interdiction of weapons and the inhibition of weapons supply. As I have said, we are very grateful for the international co-operation that has successfully obstructed shipments of arms from the United States, Holland and France. I am also very grateful for the efforts and co-operation of the Irish Government and the work of the Garda and the significant number of recoveries of weapons, arms and primed mortars that the Garda have identified. I can announce to the House that I was speaking only today again to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Lenihan, and we discussed security matters. The security heads will meet again very shortly to carry their work further forward.

One of the key issues that we are also anxious to tackle relates to financial resources. Financial resources are the life blood of terrorism and we are taking a number of measures to reduce the funds that are reaching terrorists in various ways. The House will be aware of the recent successes of the racket busting squad set up by the RUC and the recent successful prosecutions of the tax exemption certificates fraud. That is an illustration of a route to funds that we have been anxious to obstruct. We have already introduced new controls on gaming machines. The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill, which is in another place at the moment, will seek to bring in new arrangements to control bogus security firms, and we have published proposals for dealing with unlicensed drinking clubs. Everyone familiar with Northern Ireland will be aware of the ways in which paramilitary organisations have sought to use those different devices as ways of increasing funds.

I want to consider certain matters that have arisen after discussions that. I have held with the Chief Constable and the GOC. I want to refer to a specific measure requested by my security advisers after my visit to inspect the A1 road at the scene of the appalling outrage of the murder of Lord Justice Sir Maurice Gibson. This morning I signed a vehicle control zone order for the road between the border and the checkpoint and that has come into effect forthwith. It is now not permitted to stop anywhere along that stretch and I am considering urgently whether such orders might be made in similar situations on border roads.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he tell the House how many members of the security forces accompanied him on his personal visit into no man's land, between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, following the horrific murders?

I thought that it was important to go and hope that the House thinks that it was right for me to go and to see properly for myself. Sadly, on every possible occasion, some hon. Members will seek—I can think of them now and have read their comments for long enough to know this—to score a political point, no matter how poor it may be. I would much prefer, and I think that the people of the Province would much prefer, that we deal with security issues seriously and that we do not always seek to score political points, but consider them objectively. I hope that I have the support of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis)—

I hope that I have the hon. Gentleman's support because although it is only one item, it is a sensible measure to take. It is taken al: the request of the security forces and I believe that it was the right action to take over one aspect that was concerning them.

Turning now to resources, the House will be aware that, following a period of reduction in the number of battalions in Northern Ireland, two additional battalions were deployed to the Provice early in 1986. Force levels are kept constantly under review, but in view of the interest in this matter I can confirm that that level of Army support will remain for as long as it is needed.

I turn now to the UDR. In recent months we have increased the permanent cadre by 150 posts, increasing the number of soldiers available for operational duties. A new permanent cadre rifle company is already being formed. In addition, yesterday the GOC called part-time members of the UDR on to voluntary permanent duty for the next few weeks. That will provide a valuable immediate increase in the force levels in support of the RUC. The effect is that part-time soldiers, who are available only for a limited eight hours a day, will be available for operations at all times. That will give much greater flexibility for operations in support of the RUC.

The Chief Constable has requested a further significant recruitment of RUC full-time reservists. The police authority for Northern Ireland informed me earlier this afternoon that, in its view, there is a case for a significant increase in the number of the RUC full-time reserve. It has yet to reach a final view on the precise number, but has recommended to me that immediate steps should be taken to start recruitment of those additional policemen. I have given immediate approval for that and recruitment will start now.

In addition, I have had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in respect of certain additional support that he has readily agreed to provide, as requested, that will help to combat more directly the present terrorist campaign. In addition, he will be making available additional helicopter resources to improve the deployment and mobility of the security forces.

These specific items are the clearest confirmation of the Government's determination to give all possible support to security forces and to the law-abiding people of the Province in their determined resistance to the evil of terrorism.

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House when those recruits will be on the streets of Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman knows that recruitment will start immediately. However, their appearance will depend on the speed at which the recruitment is carried through and on the length of training. It depends in part also on whether some of the recruits have already served, whether they need complete training or whether they are available at an earlier date. It is our concern to make sure that those extra resources are available at the earliest possible date. I give that confirmation to the hon. Gentleman.

Recruitment starts immediately and I believe that the training period lasts eight weeks for the full-time reserve. Therefore, with effect from an early date, additional resources will be forthcoming.

I have given details of certain additional resources and support that the Government will give to the security forces, and to all the people of the Province in their resistance against the evil campaign of terrorism. Everybody in the Province, and in the United Kingdom, can play their part in this. At present, when it is clearly the determination of the terrorists to provoke the maximum reaction, I look to everybody, in any prominent position, and especially to those in the security forces, to take the fullest care and to be as vigilant as possible about their own personal security. Everyone can make that contribution.

This is also a time when everybody must recognise that the security forces serve the interests of the community as a whole. I look to everyone, to all parties, to give the fullest support, without equivocation or qualification, to the security forces in the vital work that they do on behalf of the community. There is no law-abiding person in Northern Ireland who, in the past year, has not seen for himself the way in which the RUC and the security forces have sought to provide protection, without fear or favour, to people of all communities in Northern Ireland. They deserve, and are entitled to expect, the support of all in the work that they do.

Of course, there is another way in which everybody can help. When the RUC faces the security and terrorist threats that it does, it is entitled to look for maximum support, and for the avoidance of additional problems in the area of public order. Every additional policeman, who has to become involved in public order duties, is one less policeman able to stand in the fight against terrorism. It is clear that one thing that terrorists will seek to do is to provoke public disorder, and it is the responsibility of us all to ensure that we do not give in to such provocation.

The Province has shown its ability to rise above the threats and the misery that the terrorists offer. The economic progress that has been made, in spite of the terrorists' attempts and attacks, is an inspiration to people in the Province. However, this is a time when the terrorists seek to frustrate the progress that has been made and to sow uncertainty, distrust and hatred. It is a time for steadfastness and for all responsible leaders to avoid the vacuum of creating an opportunity for doubt.

I repeat that in the current position it is important that we see not only resources coming forward, with the full support of the United Kingdom in the fight against terrorism, but we need constructive political dialogue at present so that people can see that there is a way forward, which is not the bullet and the bomb, but which is through discussion and dialogue.

This issue of security is of as great concern in this Parliament as it is in the Province of Northern Ireland, which has suffered so grievously. The duty that we owe this Parliament and our country is to discuss these issues constructively and effectively to see the best ways in which we may bring peace and prosperity to the Province.

4.59 pm

This debate is a response by the House to a series of tragic events—the deaths in recent weeks of two members of the RUC and a member of the UDR, whose offence was carrying out the duties which we entrusted to them; the death of a distinguished judge and his wife, known to some of us for many years, who paid the price of their determination to live normal lives so far as possible in abnormal circumstances; and the deaths of and injuries to civilians who were not even part of the quarrel in which they were caught up.

One purpose of the debate is to enable the House to express unanimously its horror at those events and its sympathy with the families of the victims. There are times when it is important to demonstrate that our whole community is at one in its compassion for those who suffer and its condemnation of those who inflict the suffering. That is one reason, among others, why I welcome the return to the Chamber of right hon. and hon. Members of the Unionist parties. The debate will no doubt reveal differences among us, and that is what debates are for, but that should not mislead anybody into believing that those differences extend to our reactions to indiscriminate murder.

It is important that we use the occasion, not only to record our horror, but to discuss constructively how we can most effectively protect the people of Northern Ireland from what could be an endless trail of misery and death extending far into the future. It is right that we should express our emotions, and we make no apology for that, but we should not be forgiven if we did not also apply our minds.

We should look to see what lessons there are to learn about improving security. It is easy and tempting to make superficial allegations, to find someone to blame, to dig out the scapegoats and to do what we rightly condemn others for doing—to use the loss of human life as a peg on which to hang a propaganda sheet. We need to study at greater leisure some of the matters which the Secretary of State raised today. I add my tribute to what he said of the members of the RUC and security forces who have maintained their morale in difficult circumstances over a long period.

The police establishment may need to be increased, but that is largely a technical matter which some of us may be able to judge only when we have more detailed information. I hope that the Secretary of State will find it possible to broaden the potential recruiting base and that he will address his mind to how we can make it possible, to use an oft-repeated phrase, for a young nationalist to join the police force without being any less a nationalist.

Clearly, one matter which requires to be discussed is the obsession of the authorities North and South with the precise location of the border. No one who has taken the trouble to look at the record can doubt the commitment both of the political authorities and of the security forces in Northern Ireland and the Republic to protect all the people of Ireland from political violence. The new Taoiseach and Mr. Lenihan have made clear their position, and anyone who seeks to sow dissension and recrimination between the two Governments and between the two police forces is doing no service to the cause of security.

But there have been sensitivities about the exact position of the border which are not shared by the paramilitaries. The maintenance of a no man's land is perhaps not a model for international co-operation in the last two decades of the 20th century. I hoped to hear more from the Secretary of State about the arrangements made by the two police forces for their mutual co-operation. We have still not been told why someone known to be at risk was left by the Gardai escort on the border with no arrangements for him to be met by an RUC escort until he had travelled three quarters of a mile unescorted. There may be a reason, but that necessarily raises the question whether the demarcation procedures may not have assumed excessive importance in two forces engaged together in the same purpose.

Perhaps we should explore whether the operational units engaged in security work may be made responsible to a single directorate. I am not suggesting an all-Ireland police force, although that idea does not shock me; I am asking whether it is not possible for the two forces to work as one for a specific purpose on which the two Governments are at one.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that it is, if not conventional, at least frequently the case, that a car bringing a distinguished person from the South into no-man's land is met by another car coming from the North, that radio contact is established between the two before either car moves into the no-man's land and that the two cars line up alongside each other so that the distinguished person can step from one to the other in a split second? The pertinent question is why that did not happen for Judge Gibson.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is a relevant question and one to which I hope we shall in due course have an answer.

That seems a more effective kind of question and perhaps a more effective proposal than one for directing more troops into Northern Ireland. The latter is an easy suggestion to make for anyone who wants to demonstrate concern, but I doubt whether it will commend itself to those who are at the sharp end of responsibility for law enforcement in Northern Ireland. For some years, there has been agreement that policing duties are best carried out by the police and that members of the armed forces should normally he held back in barracks unless they are needed for back-up. No one who has proposed sending more troops to Northern Ireland has said what they would do or what purpose would be served by having them simply waiting around in barracks.

There is another reason why that suggestion is not likely to be effective. British troops are not popular in many districts of Northern Ireland. We may argue about the reasons for that and the mistakes that may have been made in the past, but increasing the presence of military vehicles or adding to the areas where people looking out of their windows see a barracks is not likely to encourage public support for law enforcement.

Indeed, I had it put to me last weekend that, if the proper concern of members of the Unionist parties is to protect Protestant people from nationalist paramilitaries, no contribution is made to that objective by flooding nationalist areas with military vehicles.

I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to understand that we are here as Unionists to ensure that security is improved for all people. We are not protesting about bad security to get better security for Protestants than for nationalists, but to improve security for all the people of Ulster.

I would not seek to dispute what the hon. Gentleman has said. I was only pointing out that if the purpose is to protect the people of one area, who, usually, unhappily, in many parts of Northern Ireland are of one community, from paramilitaries in the other community, no great purpose is served by flooding a different area with military vehicles. That was my point.

We should be exploring how more effectively we can improve security. Perhaps a degree of light in that respect is worth a great deal of heat.

The debate can serve a further purpose. It should not simply be a technical discussion about how to tighten security, still less a competition for nominating scapegoats. However we improve security, no-one will win. However many paramilitaries are detected, and convicted and imprisoned, quite properly, there will always be a reserve of young potential recruits, until we transform the world into which they are born, resolve the quarrels on which they are nurtured and deal with the grievances of the communities in which they live. If we are serious about ending the violence and offering families in Northern Ireland a secure existence, we cannot avoid addressing those wider questions.

I make no excuse for those who murder, and no one who knows me could believe that I would. I simply point out that they believe and seek to persuade those who are receptive that they are taking part in a war. If we respond with an analysis which accepts that what is happening is simply a physical struggle, we play directly into their hands. It is also a battle for hearts and minds, and we do not win hearts and minds by shouting slogans.

Last week the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), in a wise and thoughtful intervention, pointed out that one important aim of the paramilitaries is to provoke the authorities into the sort of punitive reaction that would enable them to complain and to evoke a response among the communities on whose support they depend. What I believe was in the mind of the hon. Gentleman was that the security forces have to be told that there are certain measures which they cannot carry out with impunity because one cannot defend the rule of law by risking exceeding the fringes of the rule of law. I believe he is right.

This is not the occasion to develop that theme in detail. We discussed it in our debates on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. If we are to win the battle for hearts and minds, we have to persuade people, particularly young people, in Northern Ireland that it is possible to build without destroying. A simplistic analysis in terms of winning a war is not enough.

Some months ago I talked with some Protestant teenagers in Belfast, who told me three things. First, they said that they hated Catholics. When I asked on what experiences they based their antagonism, it transpired that not one of them had ever met a Catholic. They were segregated where they lived. They were segregated at school.

The hon. Gentleman says, "Nonsense." I met them; he did not. If he does not believe that there are areas where that happens, he does not know Belfast, let alone the rest of Northern Ireland. I am not talking about just one side of the sectarian divide. I have had similar experiences on the other side. They were segregated where they lived; they were segregated at school; they were segregated in their leisure activities. They did not meet Catholics where they worked because they did not have any work. The word "Catholic" was simply a label.

Then, they told me that they were attracted to armed violence. When I asked them what they thought they had to gain by taking up the gun, they asked me what they had to lose. They said that they had no jobs, no future, that they were just hanging around in that dump and why should they not take up the gun. Anyone who does not believe that there are teenagers in Northern Ireland who take that view is simply not living in the real world.

I would like to try to answer their question, and I hope that it will go out as not just my answer but as the unanimous answer of this House. It is intended not just for those Protestant teenagers because, as I said, I have heard similar reactions from those on the other side of the divide. I say two things to those young people. First, if we have a dream to fight for, a dream of anything that is worthwhile, it must be of a future where neighbour can live alongside neighbour, where people build together for the good of everyone and where people's energies are directed to creating prosperity in which everyone will have a share. No other dream is worth having, still less fighting for.

There is no way in which that sort of future can be created by terrorising people, by destroying what others are trying to build, by driving away investment or by perpetuating quarrels. Exchanging grudge for grudge, or reprisal for revenge, into eternity cannot lead to the realisation of a dream; only to a nightmare. We do not create freedom by shooting those who disagree with us and we do not bring about justice by arrogating to ourselves the right to decide who should live and who should die.

With no right of appeal, as my right hon. Friend said. I am sure that anyone who knows Northern Ireland understands why the folk heroes of 50 years ago were prepared to take up the gun. But their guns have not created a dream world. Even in the Republic the feuds and the politics of the past still distort the politics of the present and frustrate the politics of the future. That is my first answer to those teenagers.

Secondly, I say to them that they do not have to resort to murder. It is possible to realise a dream through constitutional, democratic politics. Our generation may not have set a very encouraging example, but there is hope within the system. Simon Bolivar and Roger Debret may be romantic figures to some of the younger generation, though even they would tell us that there is nothing romantic about blood when we see it leaking out. But in Ireland in the 1980s there is more constructive work to be done by less romantic heroes and heroines working to build bridges, to heal wounds and to improve the quality of life in local communities, sometimes at great risk to themselves, and with little recognition.

I appeal to those who distribute the news. There is a feeling that if people give their time and energy to a resource centre or a community association no one notices, but if they lead a team of bombers their names are in the headlines. We all help to create the folklore which influences those hearts and minds that we have to win. We need to say that there are ways of redressing grievances within the system of constitutional politics. But if we are to say that with any persuasiveness, we need to demonstrate that grievances can be redressed through the democratic process.

We have to make it clear that massive, chronic unemployment is not built into the fabric of the universe. It can be changed. Life on the dole does not have to be dominated by massive electricity bills and the Payment for Debt Act. We may all need to make changes to the style and content of what we have said in the past. If there is to be new hope, we all have to contribute to a new style of politics. In particular, we can encourage the activities which have sprung from the needs and initiatives of local communities.

In the last few months I have visited a number of communities where people from the local area, who do not think of themselves as engaging in politics, give their time and energy to improving life and particularly to giving young people a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging. We should listen to those people. I do not suggest that we agree with every suggestion they make, but in some cases we can encourage what they are doing at very little cost. Some of them have had their funding withdrawn without being told what is alleged against them and they feel that they have been excluded from the consultative process. I have met some of them and I am sure that they genuinely do not know why that has happened.

If the Northern Ireland Office believes that it has reasons to cut funding, it could at least discuss them with those groups. I suggest that the Northern Ireland Office even consider visiting them to see what they are doing. I visited them and I do not believe that they deceived me as to their real purpose. I stopped and talked to people on doorsteps. I do not think that they had any political axes to grind. They wanted to show me the houses where they lived, in some cases because they were proud of them and in other cases because they had problems. They told me about the schools that their children attended, about provisions for the elderly and the handicapped, and about provisions for youth clubs.

The Secretary of State was right when he said that those people have no sympathy for the paramilitaries. There is no base of sympathy there at present, but some of those people were worried about the young. They felt that nobody who was in a position to take an effective decision wanted to listen to them. That is not the way to persuade people that constitutional politics works.

We can help those who are building bridges. We can consult them at all levels. If this debate is about how to combat what is evil, it should also be about how to encourage what is good. There are officials in the NIO who go out and meet people. They are on first-name terms with people in the resource centres and the youth clubs. But we must work at it if we do not want to add to the "us and them" of the sectarian divide an "us and them" of the communities and the Government. I am not arguing for work like that as a substitute for security measures because we require both, each reinforcing the other.

There are paramilitaries who may well enjoy the violence. They revel in the power to make decisions about life and death and bask in the importance that is denied to them in any lawful way of life. They have a vested interest in perpetuating the troubles, and their hearts and minds may be beyond our power to redeem. But they will be isolated if the genuine grievances on which they feed are removed, and if the sectarian quarrels that form their vocabulary are no longer the mainstay of political currency.

We are all part of that problem and we have to share in finding the solution. If we fail to achieve a solution, the blood of future victims will be on our hands too.

5.21 pm

We have been asked to be brief and I shall be, but I wish to say two or three things. First, many people will agree that this debate has a depressingly familiar ring. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is absolutely right to draw to our attention the fact that terrorist activity and its consequences in the Province are infinitely less than they were 50 years ago. However, they are still much too common. During the steady decline in the activities of terrorists over many years, there are periods when, for one reason or another, there is an upsurge. On such occasions we have general debates like this in the House.

I am certain that we shall hear from hon. Members representing the Province fearful tales of what is happening in their constituencies. They will tell us about the murder, the explosions and the mayhem and misery that is affecting their constituents. I do not blame them for that, because we cannot blame them. If that sort of thing were happening in my constituency I would do exactly the same. We shall hear about those things again in this debate and we shall pay attention to what those hon. Members say. Every hon. Member wants to try to find the sensible and best way forward, and it is about this that I want to speak.

I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talking about the levels of the security forces. It is the easiest thing in the world to say that there are problems in Northern Ireland, that terrorist activity is increasing and that more troops are needed. Some people say that. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) does not agree with that approach and I do not agree with it either.

I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that he has the support of the Ministry of Defence for selective reinforcements. I note that he is to get more helicopters and specialised troops. That is good. It is no good just having a lot more soldiers about in Northern Ireland, for the reasons given by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West. That is because law and order and the defeat of criminals—which is what terrorists are—is a matter for the police. It is upon the police that we rely for maintaining law and order, for deterring criminals and for catching them.

I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that the strength of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is being increased. It has been increased steadily over many years from the very low and unhappy period 15 years ago when it was almost disbanded. Any of us who know anything about the problems in Northern Ireland know that the RUC is a highly professional force and that no force in the world is more able and better skilled to deal with those problems. I have the highest possible admiration for the RUC. To hear that it is getting and will continue to get the moral and financial backing that it requested from my right hon. Friend is extremely good news.

Every policeman whom I have ever met, and I have met quite a few, tells me the same thing—that he can do his job efficiently and well only if he has the support of the public. The community hires men to put on uniforms and maintain the law, but unless we actively support them they cannot do the job properly. Every policeman knows that. In that area more could be done and more is being done.

I think that at least 99 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland want nothing better than to live in peace and quiet and to feel safe and secure. Many people may say that I am exaggerating, but I do not think so. About 1·5 million people live in the Province and 1 per cent. of that is 15,000.

Does anybody seriously maintain that there are more than 15,000 people in the Province whose sole desire is to get their way by engaging in terrorist activity?

That is most interesting and represents a considerable change from what I was told when I was there by hon. Members who are now in the House. Do they say that there are more than 15,000 active terrorists in the Province?

That is what I am talking about and I do not believe that there are. There is a small number of active terrorists, a lot less than 15,000. Somebody with more knowledge than I have may be able to give a more accurate figure, but I do not think so.

The people who desire to get their way by shooting, causing explosions and killing, and who are trying to do that all the time form a small number. I have said that 99 per cent. of Northern Ireland's people want to live in peace, and any hon. Member who wants to may correct me on that. Anything that anybody can do to harness their good will and desires to the support, principally of the police but of course of any other security force, should do it. The more we or anybody attempts to do that, the better. Who can do that? I suspect that the people who can do it most effectively are the community leaders in Northern Ireland.

My right hon. Friend and his Ministers are not leaders of the community any more than I was when I was there. He is, as I was, the authority, the man with the power to say that this shall be done and that shall not be don