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Commons Chamber

Volume 118: debated on Monday 29 June 1987

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House Of Commons

Monday 29 June 1987

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Members Sworn

The following Members took and subscribed the Oath, or made and subscribed the Affirmation required by Law:

Sir Ian Stewart Lloyd, Havant.

Robert Antony Hayward, esquire, Kingswood.

Order. We will take points of order after Question Time, in their proper place.

Order. I shall take points of order after Question Time and private notice questions.

Oral Answers To Questions


A65 Addingham Bypass


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to make a further announcement about the proposed A65 Addingham bypass.

I expect to make an announcement shortly.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the residents of Addingham will think it entirely apt that the first oral question of this Parliament should relate to a scheme first proposed half a century ago and awaited impatiently ever since? Without wishing to prejudge the inspector's report, may I ask my hon. Friend to take account of the fact that almost all the evidence given to the recent inquiry favoured the Department's preferred route? Will he therefore seek to minimise any remaining delays relating to the statutory procedures before construction commences?

Yes. I am aware that I need to get rid of some of the commitments made by Hore-Belisha before I can start to complete some of my own.

Is there any similarity between the position on the A65 bypass and that on the A41 bypass, where the delays are allowing heavy traffic to shake the towns of Kings Langley and Berkhamstead and bring misery to my constituents?

The similarity is that both my hon. Friends and many Opposition Members are keen for necessary roads to be built. We have to go through democratic procedures and we often learn from consultations. I hope to be able to announce tomorrow that the public will be able to see the latest proposals for the A41. I hope that they will benefit from some of the changes and will support the scheme if they approve of it.

Herald Of Free Enterprise


asked the Secretary of State for Transport on what basis he made his decision not to bring prosecutions in respect of the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster; and if he will make a statement.

I am advised that it has been the firm policy of general application over many years not to bring criminal charges in connection with matters which have been the subject of public inquiries of this sort. It was felt that in this case the paramount need was to establish the cause of the disaster as quickly as possible and to see what lessons could be learnt.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and recognise that he was not in his present position when the decision was made. However, did not the inquiry clearly show that the company had allowed safety to be sacrificed for speed and that negligence was proven? This is a case far more serious than anything similar. My right hon. Friend's Department, through the Civil Aviation Authority, would have grounded any aircraft or airline that had behaved similarly. Has the inquiry any executive powers, and, if not, why has my right hon. Friend apparently pre-empted any decision that his Department might take in future?

I agree about the seriousness and importance of the case. The inquiry, which I hope will report before too long, will make what recommendations it likes, and it would not be right for me to comment at this stage on what my hon. Friend says. As I understand it, it has always been the view in all formal investigations that prolonged discussion of the evidence at a public inquiry would prejudice a fair trial if criminal proceedings were to be brought. In addition, witnesses at subsequent inquiries would be inhibited in providing evidence. It is open to the inquiry, if it so wishes, to suspend or cancel the certificates of the officers involved, should the inquiry think that an appropriate course.

Is the Minister aware that a number of new ferries are coming into operation and that they must be affected by the evidence taken in this inquiry? Is he further aware that unless he is prepared to talk urgently to the transport companies, it is possible that we will face another major accident?

I hope that that is not the case. However, the hon. Lady is on to an important point. As soon as I have the recommendations of the inquiry, I shall wish to consider them speedily. A not unrelated question from one of the hon. Lady's hon. Friends should be reached in a few moments.

Is it not the case, quite clearly from the evidence that we have seen in the press, that Townsend Thoresen is riddled from top to bottom with negligence and disregard for safety procedures? In that case, does the Minister not regret the blanket decision not to prosecute? Does he accept that it will come ill if one or two officers are made to carry the can for what was clearly company policy? Will he give an assurance that should it unfortunately become necessary for a similar inquiry to be held in the future there will be no blanket immunity from prosecution?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to prejudge the inquiry. Let us wait and see what the judge reports, and then the House will consider the appropriate findings. This decision has not been taken in isolation. There has never been a prosecution after a formal investigation of this kind, and this is true not only of these investigations but of inquiries like them, because it is thought that a fair trial would be prejudiced. That was the position when the Labour party was in power. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says, and it may be right, after the inquiry is over, to look at these procedures again. However, I cannot do that until the inquiry reports.

British Rail (Dundee)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will discuss with British Rail management the implications of its Omega plan for the station in Dundee.

Is the Minister aware that these discussions have taken place against a background of secrecy at different levels of management in ScotRail, and that people have been summoned to meet senior management but no pencils and paper have been allowed into such meetings? Rather than having this type of closed-door consultation, would it not be better to wait until the NUR's independent economic firm of consultants, the National Economic Research Associates, completes its study, and then ensure that ScotRail takes account of its findings, which demonstrate that, with only a 4 per cent. increase in revenue, 10,000 jobs could be created on the railways? Those jobs are required to improve the service given by British Rail.

It is not unusual for an organisation to stand back and take a good look at its own management and methods, particularly when substantial new investment is coming on stream. ScotRail is doing just that and keeping staff and unions in the picture as it does it. Internal industrial relations matters are entirely for British Rail.

Is the Minister aware that the British Railways Board only two years ago built an amenity/ operations block at Dundee at a cost of some £250,000? Is he further aware that it has now been suggested that British Rail may be considering transferring the administrative functions from Dundee to Perth and that, if this were to happen, the block so recently built at Dundee would lie empty, and a replica block would need to be built at Perth? Will the Minister intervene to prevent British Rail from embarking on such a waste of taxpayers' money, and make sure that the administrative functions are retained at Dundee?

Where ScotRail decides is the most appropriate place to carry out its management functions is a matter for ScotRail and not for Ministers. However, I can say that, as far as the Dundee station staff are concerned, the plans which are now under dicussion will have no effect on the manning of Dundee station. The building to which the hon. Gentleman referred is entirely a management matter.

Drink-Driving Campaigns


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he intends to lauch any campaign against drink and driving before Christmas.

Yes. The objective is to cut out avoidable death, injury and distress. Drinking and driving is unacceptable in today's society.

We are launching tomorrow the next phase in the national campaign against drinking and driving. We warmly welcome the wide support our efforts have attracted. The 1,100 killed and the thousands injured by drinking drivers demand substantial media coverage on a continuing basis.

Will the Minister accept that Labour Members welcome any campaign that keeps off the roads the potential killers—the 100,000 or so drivers who lose their licences each year? As the Government have not agreed to requests for stiffer sentences and the lowering of blood-alcohol levels, will he consider making it a statutory requirement that all pubs, clubs and other places that sell alcohol display clear, bold notices at the exits of their car parks saying clearly what the consequences of drinking and driving are?

I welcome the all-party support for dealing with this avoidable epidemic of death and injury. Perhaps I can explain why I think it is better during the next three of four weeks not to pay too much attention on potential changes in the law. Drinking drivers will seize any excuse to avoid facing the fact that too many people are drinking and driving. The suggestion of having a notice in car parks near premises where alcohol is served or sold is a good one. I will consider whether, in co-operation with the licensing authorities, we can bring it forward, even if I cannot promise a change in the law to make it mandatory.

When looking at the question of campaigns against motorists and reviewing the law, will my hon. Friend have another look at the campaign being waged against motorists by the London clamping units? Is he aware that when I introduced to the House the clause in the 1982 Transport—

If as many people are deterred by the clamp as successful convictions for drinking and driving deter, we may save 30 offenders for every person who is penalised.

Is the Minister satisfied that the Government's proposals for all-day licensing will not make the problem of drink-driving at Christmas worse?

It is not at Christmas that we have the major problem; it is at this time of the year. That is why we are having another campaign in June-July. It is also worth remembering that it is not a question of how long people have to drink, but whether they mix alchohol and driving at all. I do not think that the question of the number of hours that licensed premises may be open is relevant. What is needed is social control, self-control and making drinking and driving as unacceptable as smoking in church or chapel.

My hon. Friend will be aware that when there is a drink-driving campaign at Christmas the police are often accused of operating in a heavy-handed way. What talks has he had with the police so that their actions coincide with his present campaign to avoid the sort of hysterical headlines that we get at Christmas during such campaigns?

I do not think that any politician should be concerned about hysterical headlines. The police have a 365-days a year campaign to deal with drinking and driving. They also have a 365-days a year problem of coping with the consequences of it, because at every accident involving injury the police are involved. There is nothing that they would like to see more than the offences and the injuries cut out, thus allowing them to spend more time on more serious issues once we control our own drinking and driving.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that he and I share a common ground on this issue. I was slightly critical of him last year in respect of the budget that he allocated for the campaign on drinking and driving being less than it was in previous years. Can the Minister give us any indication as to whether that budget will be restored to its original figure? En passant, Mr. Speaker, it was not the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) who introduced wheel clamps; it was me, because I moved the amendment.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend can sort that out afterwards. I am willing to admire them both. I am grateful for official Opposition support for the campaign. We are spending substantially more on the campaign against drinking and driving, but I am perfectly aware that if I announced tomorrow at the press coference that no taxpayers' money was being spent, we would then get about £40 million free media coverage, and the media would actually carry out their own responsibility of spelling out that this is one epidemic that can be ended if we can raise public awareness and get the enforcement and the education right.

Network Southeast


asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether there are any plans for further investment by Her Majesty's Government in the Network SouthEast of British Rail.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, although I am a little disappointed with it. Is he aware of the aging stock in use on suburban services to my constituency of Erith and Crayford and of the growing anger and frustration of regular commuters at the decline in service on those routes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to his particular anxieties. On Network SouthEast, British Rail's latest plans envisage spending no less than £969 million in the next five years on new rolling stock, signalling and electrification. The plans include a new design of electric multiple unit train—the Networker.

Is it not true, however, that British Rail will only bring forward proposals agreed by him on some privately communicated criteria? Does he recall that a few months ago I asked whether he had been approached about the cross-rail project, a long standing British Rail project whereby, for a few miles of standard gauge tube tunnel, the mainline railways could be connected across London? Does he agree that that would bring dividends to London and to the community as a whole? Does he know of any reason why that plan should not be put to him formally?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I do not interfere in the detailed operations of British Rail. If the proposition that he has in mind is so desirable and attractive, he should put it to British Rail, and if British Rail agrees I have no doubt that it will put the proposal to me.

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to suggest that I cook up with British Rail what will and what will not be accepted. In this context, I should point out that I turned down the Royston-Cambridge electrification proposal when it was first put up because it was not a viable proposition.

Before any further investment is made in the south-east or anywhere else, will the Minister ensure that British Rail catering cars stock English mineral water, not just the French variety? What does he suppose the chairman of the French railways would say if he were instructed by the French Minister to stock exclusively English, not French, mineral water? Will the Minister speak to the chairman of British Rail about this?

In these commercial matters it is for British Rail to decide how to satisfy its customers, but, in view of my hon. Friend's vehemently expressed views, I shall draw the matter to the attention of the chairman of British Rail.

Will the investment proposals for Network SouthEast be subject to the same marketplace mechanism as proposals for other sectors of British Rail? If so, what consolation can he offer passengers on Network SouthEast and elsewhere who have to stand on one another's heads at great expense annually so that he can expound to the House the preposterous nonsense that he and the Department are in no way responsible for the congestion and overcrowding on Network SouthEast and elsewhere on our railway system?

The quality standards to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention have been accepted by the chairman of British Rail as those that can be reached within the financial targets set for British Rail. The standards that have been set are higher than they are now. Indeed, Network SouthEast has set particularly high quality standards for itself. For example, last year, in terms of punctuality, the standard was 91 per cent. of trains within 5 minutes. This year the figure is up to 93 per cent. I look forward to those standards rising even higher throughout the whole of Network SouthEast on average.

Does my hon. Friend agree that greater resources would be available to Network SouthEast if it were to press ahead with the privatisation of Travellers Fare and with British Transport Advertising Ltd.? Will he discuss the matter with the chairman of British Rail at an early opportunity?

The matter of British Transport Advertising Ltd. is already proceeding. British Rail has been asked to ensure that the private sector is involved, wherever possible, in catering services.

British Rail (Electrification)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with the chairman of British Rail about the electrification of the east coast mainline north of Edinburgh.

What assurance can the Minister give for the future development of rail services north of Edinburgh?

Rail services north of Edinburgh, among other places including Aberdeen, are currently served by the superb HST125 services which now operate on the east coast main line, with a number of them going well north of Edinburgh. As to the form of traction on those routes in future, it is a matter for British Rail to bring forward proposals such as it thinks fit. It is not for Ministers to interfere or to initiate. British Rail proposes, Ministers dispose.

Nevertheless, following the point made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), does my hon. Friend agree that the Government would be doing nothing less than their national duty if they assisted British Rail to recognise that commercial criteria are not the only criteria by which new electrification schemes should be judged?

Electrification schemes should be judged on whether they provide the quality of service required most economically. That is a matter for management, not for me.

Because of widespread concern about electrification north of Edinburgh, and indeed between Bradford and Leeds—

Will the Minister, when he gets back to his office, telephone the chairman of British Rail and ask him when he is to meet deputations who want to discuss electrification schemes, especially as, over the past two years, the Minister has urged all and sundry in Bradford to ask for such meetings? It would greatly help if the Minister would put some pressure on other Ministers to agree to the meetings that he himself is proposing.

There are other senior staff in British Rail besides the chairman who have responsibilities in this respect. I think I am right in recalling that one such meeting has already been held.

The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. If I am not correct, perhaps he will write to me with further details.

The electrification of the east coast main line as far as Leeds is a year ahead of schedule. I expect it to commence services in October 1988. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in congratulating British Rail on that achievement.

Does the Minister agree that his dictum that British Rail proposes and he disposes is not the whole of the story? Is it not true that he also encourages and discourages? In that event, will he encourage British Rail at least to do a feasibility study of electrification north of Edinburgh?

The House and the hon. Gentleman well know that I have encouraged British Rail to bring forward viable investment propositions. Indeed, I have a track record of approving them, and approving them in a quick and businesslike way, which would be the envy of any of his predecessors in Labour Governments.

The electrification approvals that were given between 1974 and 1979 amounted to £71 million; and between 1979 and 1987 they amounted to £474 million. When the hon. Gentleman can emulate our record, I am sure that he will be very pleased with himself.

M25 (Compensation Claims)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many compensation claims arising from the construction of the M25 have been settled; and how many are outstanding.

Is the main reason for the delays in settling the outstanding cases difficulty in reaching agreement on the amount of compensation to be paid? If so, is my hon. Friend satisfied that the district valuer is treating all these cases with the appropriate urgency? Will he reconsider the case of my constituent, Mr. Denis Langford of Seven Hills road, Iver Heath, to see whether his case can be dealt with rather more quickly?

I shall write to my hon. Friend with a full reply to the points that he has made. The district valuer deserves thanks from both parties in disputed cases, because it is a good way of settling a large number of cases, especially when they arise over the construction of a major motorway, such as the M25. If improvements can be made in the procedures, we will search for them and try to bring them into effect.

How many compensation claims are being pursued against the construction companies, given the fact that widespread repairs are already necessary on the M25?

Some of the repairs would normally have been carried out within the first year of the motorway being opened. On one part of the M25, we agreed to a delay because we thought that that would be of general benefit. If I can give a fuller answer to my right hon. Friend, I shall write to him.

Will the regulations on compensation be enforced sympathetically, or narrowly and restrictively according to the book?

One reason why I regretted my hon. Friend's departure to the Back Benches was that I suspected that he would ask such questions. The answer is that we are bound by the law, but I hope that within the law we can treat people as they would wish to be treated.

Ferries (Safety)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he intends to take any action to improve safety precautions on roll-on/roll-off ferries.

My predecessor ordered a formal investigation into the capsize of the Herald of Free Enterprise. The hearings have now been concluded. I hope to receive the report within about a month and when I have it I will give the most urgent consideration to its recommendations.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge the inherent conflict between the pursuit of profit and the achievement of safety standards in all forms of transport? As it is his personal duty to apply safety standards in transport, why did he say in reply to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) that he intends to take no effective action against a company which exposed its passengers and crew to such terrible and avoidable peril?

I have already answered a question about the latter point. I do not accept everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. As to his first point, I believe that these enterprises should be profitable and safe. If they are not safe, I shall take the necessary action—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] The House would expect me to wait until I receive the recommendations of the inquiry, which I hope will be out in about a month.

Those of us who represent constituents who were on the Herald of Free Enterprise—and I think that there is not an hon. Member in east Kent who does not find himself in that position—will welcome any new safety measures that enhance the safety not only of passengers but of those who work on ships. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the results of the inquiry will not lead to a vendetta against all RO-RO ferries? Does he recognise that many ferry companies, including the Sally Line of Ramsgate, already observe watertight bulkheads and have a 100 per cent. safety record?

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I want to get the report, publish it as soon as possible, allow everyone to think about it and take speedy action where it is required.

Does the Minister accept that there are two outstanding elements in this unfortunate disaster that he should take into account? First, to what extent will the Secretary of State for Transport accept responsibility? Secondly, since even partial flooding is likely to be critical in such ferries, is not their design a matter of deep concern? What work is his Department doing in that regard?

If the Department bears some responsibility, we shall have to accept our share of it. I do not wish to prejudge the results of the inquiry. Flooding and design may be covered by the recommendations from the inquiry. If they are, we shall consider them urgently. There is much to be said for research into those issues as a matter of urgency.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) asked the Secretary of State what action he intends to take to improve safety on such vessels. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that he has power under regulation 408 of the Merchant Shipping Regulations 1984. It is clear that the Herald of Free Enterprise was operating contrary to those obligations. The company failed to maintain a safe place of work or a safe system of work, and the ship's log did not give an accurate description of the draught of the vessel before leaving Zeebrugge. All those things were contrary to the regulations, and the Secretary of State has the power to deal with shipping companies which flout the regulations. Is it not time that his Department set an example for safety at sea and safety for passengers?

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but he has not made any specific suggestions. I should have thought that what I am doing is entirely reasonable and that the whole House would recognise it as such. An inquiry is going on and it will report in a month. We shall then decide to take urgent action if that is required. What could be more reasonable than that, and what more could any other Secretary of State do?

Channel Tunnel


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a further statement on arrangements for financing the Channel tunnel project.

The financing of the Channel tunnel project is a matter for Eurotunnel.

There have been repeated assurances that no public funds or guarantees will be given for this outdated white elephant. Will my hon. Friend say something about the circumstances in which the European Investment Bank has been persuaded to provide a cheap loan of £1,000 million, when the rules of the EIB clearly state that any loan, no matter how small, must be guaranteed by a Government or a body of equivalent status? Finally, will he comment on the circumstances in which British Rail was persuaded to tear up its previous agreement and to agree to provide hundreds of millions of pounds of advance payments to the tunnel to make it slighly more viable?

The loan of £1 billion from the European Investment Bank is not public money and repayment will not be guaranteed by the Government. Security is being provided by the clearing banks that are participating in the project.

On my hon. Friend's second point about advance payments by British Rail, I understand that British Rail has not agreed to any advance payments to Eurotunnel. The proposal that has now been agreed is for regular minimum payments each year once the tunnel is open for use.

Does the Minister not agree that the European Investment Bank is guaranteed by the member states of the Common Market and that the £1 billion, which will be poured into that ill-starred venture, will represent, at least in part, some public expenditure? Would it not be better to put that public expenditure into electrifying the whole of British railways in a progressive plan, including the Leeds-Bradford section, instead of the project being continually sabotaged by the Minister and his Department?

No public expenditure is involved. The European Investment Bank obtains its operating resources mainly by borrowing in its own name and on its own credit in domestic and international markets. In this case there is no guarantee at all from the Government. This is entirely a commercial loan.

Will the Government insist that Eurotunnel sticks to its original guidelines for national investment quotas in the equity of this project? Surely even Channel evangelists such as my hon. Friend might have second thoughts if the British institutions invested as little as 10 or 20 per cent. in the project, thereby allowing it to become the famous Franco-Arabian-Japanese Channel tunnel?

My hon. Friend is, as usual, on his hobby horse on this matter. Eurotunnel has recently agreed a loan facility of £72·5 million to provide interim finance until its public share issue later in the year. That does not involve any Franco-Japanese or middle east finance.

Aircraft (Near Misses)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will meet the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority to discuss recent near collisions by aircraft using Heathrow and if he will make a statement.

I hope soon to meet the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. The CAA has responsibility for the safe operation of aircraft in the United Kingdom, including the provision of air navigation services. Recent statistics published by the CAA show that, although traffic is increasing, the likelihood of a public transport aircraft being involved in a risk-bearing airmiss continues to decline.

Is the Secretary of State aware that recent press reports, including statements attributed to air traffic controllers, have aroused widespread concern about the possibility of a disaster as Heathrow? I recognise the importance of the CAA, but does the Minister accept that in the last analysis the Government are responsible? Is he satisfied that sufficient resources are being made available for this purpose, in terms of both staff and the most modern and high technology equipment?

I hope that there is not widespread concern. Hon. Members may have heard Mr. Tugendhat, the chairman of the CAA, state clearly on the radio today that the likelihood of a risk-bearing airmiss is going down, not up. That is encouraging when one considers the growth in traffic. The CAA is responsible for safety and I am satisfied that it has sufficient resources for this purpose. If it does not, I am sure that it will tell me so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the airlines operate at the forefront of aviation technology and lead the world in safety in the equipment that they use? Is he satisfied that the BAA is operating under the umbrella of the CAA and the national air traffic services with the best equipment that is available today? If not, why not?

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend has said. A massive amount of public money has been spent on equipment, and a large sum will be spent in future. If the CAA comes to me with proposals on safety grounds, I shall look at them with great sympathy. So far I do not think that there is any need for the CAA to do so.

Heathrow Airport


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received concerning BWIA's application to increase flights to Heathrow airport.

The Trinidad and Tobago Government recently sought additional traffic rights for BWIA between the east Caribbean and London. It was supported by St. Lucia and Barbados. I am pleased that the matter has been resolved.

Is the Minister aware of the concern in my constituency—[Interruption.]

at the fact that the BWIA cannot have more routes from Heathrow airport? Is he further aware that British Airways has four times the number of routes of any Caribbean carrier? Does he not consider that this is unfair, especially on the basis of the Government's policy of free and fair competition? Will the Minister meet a delegation to discuss this matter further?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his question. It is as reasonable for him to ask that question as for any other hon. Member to pursue air traffic agreements for constituency or other reasons. I am not sure that I am the right person to meet a delegation. The discussions that took place, the agreement that was reached and the resolution of the matter raised were a tribute to people getting together and trying to sort out problems. Some air traffic agreements are not simple, and I am sure that this one will benefit from the hon. Gentleman's interest.


Mr Peter Wright


asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the proceedings in the Wright case in Australia.

The hearing of the Government's appeal against the judgment delivered in the Supreme Court of New South Wales is due to commence on 27 July.

Having lost the court case in Australia, why is more public money being wasted in pursuing this matter further in the courts? Would it not be useful if the Attorney-General started his new post with a clean sheet and recognised that the Wright case has become a farce? Is he aware that another book which the Government tried to ban, "One Girl's War", and which technically is banned in the United Kingdom, is now freely available in the Library and I have a copy of it in my hand?

I thought that it was well enough understood by now that the Government were upholding, or seeking to uphold, in the courts of New South Wales the principle that those who have served in the security services of this country owe a lifelong duty to the Crown to preserve the confidentiality of any material that came to their knowledge by reason of that employment, unless authorised to publish it. That is the principle that I shall seek to uphold in the Court of Appeal. I certainly do not intend to embark on my tenure of this office by surrendering after one adverse hearing.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that all right-minded people support him in his endeavours and his desire to ensure that former members of the security forces are not allowed to publish their memoirs? Will he also consider the longer term, that is that section 2 should not be abolished, but should be replaced by a freedom of information Act which would ensure what the permissible boundaries are in respect of all these publications?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the first part of his question. I did not notice that this was much of an issue during the general election, and if it was, it did not seem to advantage the Labour party to any discernible extent. On the second part of his question, my hon. Friend will recall that the Government introduced a Bill in another place along the lines that he suggested, but that it did not find favour. Further policy on that matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Where is the consistency in the Government's position? Why is it that they pursue Wright in the Australian courts, yet they leave Mr. Nigel West, now a Tory Member of Parliament for Torbay (Mr. Allason), free? The Government do not pursue him in the courts, but he wrote two books which set out, in detail, the internal workings and structure of both MI5 and MI6. Are there two laws in this country? The Government pursue one man but leave the other, when both have committed the same alleged crime.

In spite of the numerous questions that the hon. Gentleman has asked and the answers that he has received, I am afraid that he still has not understood that the principle that the Government are seeking to uphold is that anybody who has held employment in the security services owes a life-long duty of confidentiality to the Crown.

May I re-emphasise to my right hon. and learned Friend that for many of us on the Conservative Benches the only thing that matters is that a trusted public servant has abused his position of trust. We firmly support what the Government are doing.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall not comment upon anything that is in issue in the proceedings before the court in New South Wales, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the principle that the Government are seeking to uphold.

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman to his new office, if not to entirely new responsibilities, and wish him well.

On the assumption that Wright's main allegations have already appeared in the British press, and noting that the whole book is advertised for import from the United States, is not the attempt to hush it up now a waste of money and effort? Would not that money and effort be better expended in investigating what are, after all, extremely serious allegations, made by somebody who is in a position to know?

I am grateful to the hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I believe that expression has already been given by others in the House today to the importance of the principle that the Government are seeking to uphold. It is a matter to which the Government attach considerable importance and I believe that the public support them.

Family Courts


asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the future of family courts.


asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on his consultation document on the establishment of family courts.

The Government published a consultation paper in May 1986 setting out three possible options for reform in the handling of family cases. That paper indicated that Ministers intended to be in a position to take decisions about this matter not later than December 1987. That remains the target, but the matter is a complex one and the Government cannot commit themselves precisly to that date or to any particular decision.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that if, at the end of the day, for reasons of cost it was decided not to proceed with family courts, that decision would be met with widespread disappointment by those who are involved in trying to make sure that the system of family law in this country works as efficiently, effectively and humanely as possible? In those circumstances, would my right hon. and hon. Friend at least undertake to look at jurisdiction in the various levels of courts—magistrates, county courts and so on—to see how that jurisdiction might be simplified to make it more streamlined for the benefit of all involved in applying family law in this country?

I recognise my hon. Friend's long-standing interest in this important subject. Officials are still considering the resource implications of the various options upon which decisions can be made. I do not think that I should speculate upon the outcome of their considerations when it ultimately comes before my right hon. Friends to decide the matter. Plainly, the issue to which my hon. Friend has referred will be one to which importance will be attached.

Piecemeal reforms may be a 11 very well, but our court systems were arranged at a time when attitudes to children, divorce and maintenance were quite different from those of today. Before taking any final decisions, will my right hon. and learned Friend look again at the entirely innocent victims of the present arrangements, the 160,000 dependent children who are annually involved in divorce cases? There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that a coherent family court structure would best serve their needs.

I know my hon. Friend's interest and experience in these matters. The interests of children will, of course, be in the forefront of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor's mind. That is a matter—

My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has a good deal more interest in this matter than has the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who is shouting from a sedentary position. I note what my hon. Friend has said, and I shall draw it to the attentiion of my noble Friend.

Does the Attorney-General not agree that in any restructuring of the court structure, which is long overdue, some effort should be made to ensure that the courts are adequately staffed and have adequate resources? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not also agree that the example that we now see in Crown courts and county courts, where lists cannot be met simply because of the shortage of court staff, does not give us much hope of confidence in the future of the court structure if he or his party is in charge?

Without commenting on general assertions, of course I acknowledge the importance of adequate staffing.

The precedent of the Crown Prosecution Service does not augur well for adequate staffing. Will the Attorney-General bear in mind that from the time of the Finer report there has been an increasing consensus among all those involved, both legal practitioners and those on the welfare side, that there must come about a unified, coherent court structure?

I note the strong expression of opinion voiced by the hon. Gentleman today. As I said, all these matters are being considered, and my right hon. Friends will take a decision as soon as possible.

Zircon Satellite


asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the progress of inquiries resulting from the search of BBC premises in Glasgow in February in relation to "Project Zircon".

The police investigation which started in January is continuing, and the matter is being considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

February, March, April, May, and now June—is it right that the police investigation involving the Special Branch on that Sunday morning should go on for so long? Is not the truth of the matter that this has little to do with the national security of our country and everything to do with pressurising the BBC?

Overseas Development



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will state the level of emergency support being provided by Her Majesy's Government to assist with the present crisis in Mozambique.

We have committed nearly £14 million in emergency aid for Mozambique so far this year, including a pledge of up to 30,000 tonnes of cereals. In addition, our share of emergency and food-aid provided by the European Community this year amounts to nearly £3 million.

Is the Minister aware that the consequences for Mozambique of war and drought are defence expenditure of 42 per cent. of the annual budget and, among other things, the highest rate of infant mortality in the world? What steps are the Government taking to end South African destabilisation in this region? As we now know that the Government's commitment to overseas aid has been reduced to the disgraceful figure of 0·32 per cent. of gross national product, will the Minister assure the House that that essential aid for Mozambique will not be taken from another part of the overseas aid programme; in other words, that the poor will not be asked to feed the poor?

In response to the last part of that rather long question, our major contribution to Mozambique comes out of the growing aid programme, for which I am pleased to be still responsible. On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we endorse the Nkomati accord and, with other European Community Governments, have consistently pressed the South African Government to stand by it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on providing emergency support for the starving people in Mozambique, on which I am sure the whole House will congratulate him, but can he assure the House and the country that, in the chaos in Mozambique, the assistance will reach the right quarters and feed starving women and children?

I very much hope so. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The most recent aid package that we announced of £2 million will largely go towards precisely the priority that he has identified. Part of it will go towards improving facilities at Maputo port and part will go to the Save the Children Fund to help to improve its food distribution organisation in Zambezia, which is the province probably most affected in the current emergency.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) the Minister told the House of the Government's attitude towards South Africa, but the reality is that South Africa continues to be the major determinant of the crisis in Mozambique and continues to fund the terrorists fighting in that country. What practical steps will the Government now take to put realistic pressure on South Africa to stop this funding of terrorism?

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know about the help that we are giving to Mozambique in the training facilities at Nyanga.

Given the fact that, prospectively, Mozambique is the most prosperous country in southern Africa, that it has a minute population compared to this country and is seven times the size of France, given that it has a fence erected by the Marxist Government to prevent its people from getting out, and that they choose to go, not to any of the five African countries to the north, but to South Africa, can my hon. Friend explain why we should be concerned about helping the victims of a Marxist Government?

The economic policies now being pursued by Mozambique, after its agreement with the IMF and the World Bank, certainly do not seem terribly Marxist to much of the outside world. The reason why we are giving so much emergency relief to Mozambique is that there is such a sizeable and unattractive emergency there.

Developing Countries (Debt Repayment)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his Department's policy towards the imposition of debt repayment ceilings by developing countries.

The unilateral imposition by debtors of repayment ceilings risks damage to their long-term creditworthiness and can hinder their development. I would prefer to see the genuine problems of the poorest and most indebted countries settled by joint action on the part of creditors.

Proposals made by the Government for easing the debt burden of certain sub-Saharan African countries received broad support at the Venice summit.

Notwithstanding the Minister's reply, is he aware that in Peru, which had the fastest economic growth in Latin America in 1986, there was an 8 per cent. growth rate because it linked its repayment of loans to 10 per cent. of all export earnings? Is that not an approach that the Minister would welcome and commend to other impoverished countries? Does he not accept that many Third world countries are in great poverty because they are now paying back more in loan repayments than they are receiving in aid?

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question showed that he had thought up his supplementary question before listening to my answer. I am delighted that the debt of the poorest countries in the world was put firmly on the political agenda by the Venice summit, and I am pleased that the summit called for a solution to those problems by the end of the year.

What is the advantage of a loan, as opposed to a grant, to a developing country? After all, a loan only imposes further burdens on the developing country to repay the money, which is precisely what the original money was intended to assist it with.

There is a great deal of wisdom in my hon. Friend's question. That is one reason why we have a record on retrospective terms adjustment that is pretty well second to none.

I congratulate the Minister on his reappointment and commiserate with him over the constraints that he will find on funding for his portfolio. Surely the reality is that, in relation to sub-Saharan Africa, the Venice summit delivered nothing at all. It is imperative to write down and write off a major share of the debt of the sub-Saharan African countries, especially at a time when the most recent OECD report shows that the total resource flow to those countries has fallen by nearly a half since 1981.

The Minister says that he will do something about debt, but what is he doing on aid? We are discussing grants, the issue raised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). The British overseas aid programme has now fallen to 0·32 per cent. of gross national product, despite the assurances given by the Minister to Tory candidates only last month that the real value of the aid programme would be preserved.

First, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's kind words. Secondly, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be pleased with the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of his sub-Saharan African debt initiative. Thirdly, our aid programme has increased in real terms since 1983.

Bilateral Aid


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what amount of bilateral aid is being made available to each Central American country in the current year.

British bilateral aid to the five Central American republics, Belize and Panama during 1986 totalled £16·4 million, which includes £11·6 million Commonwealth Development Corporation finance. I shall publish details of our aid to individual countries in the Official Report. Figures for the current year are not yet available, but they are likely to be similar.

Is the Minister aware that since 1979 the Government's record of aid to Central America has been one of continually decreasing aid to Nicaragua, and increasing aid to neighbouring countries such as E1 Salvador and Honduras? Does he not think that it is time that British aid to Nicaragua was increased in line with the development of that country and the improvements in the living standards of its people? Will he take this opportunity to condemn American-organised and inspired terrorist violence against the Government of Nicaragua, which leads to the death of so many innocent people in that country?

I am interested in, but not surprised by, the Left-wing fixation with Nicaragua, often to the exclusion of much poorer countries. We are constantly being pressed by Opposition Members to ensure that more of our aid programme goes to the poorest countries in the world. As I have had to tell the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) from time to time, there are 50 countries that are poorer than Nicaragua.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, rather than sloganising politically about the virtues of the Government of Nicaragua, those who are genuinely interested in solving the plight of the people there would do much better to invite the Government to do all that they can to encourage the Central American states to come to some agreement about coffee prices, because they are at the heart of Nicaragua's exchange problem?

The following is the information:

The breakdown between countries is:

Capital aid

Technical cooperation

Disaster relief

Commonwealth Development Corporation





Costa Rica522,00011,016,000
El Salvador47,000193,000

Bilateral Aid


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects to make a response to the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons, HC 32, 1986–87, concerning "Bilateral Aid : Country Programmes."

I expect to present the Government's detailed observations on the report to the House after the summer recess.

Does the Minister recall that paragraph 141 of this report says that the last Government White Paper on aid policy appeared about 12 years ago? Does he not agree that the majority of British taxpayers would be quite happy with overseas aid, provided it followed the lines of the White Paper produced by Dame Judith Hart in 1975, entitled "More Help for the Poorest"? Is he aware that the evidence produced to the Select Committee shows that that is not now the policy being pursued? Will he now revert to those policies, which the House and the nation endorsed in 1975?

Quite a few things have happened since 1975. The Labour party has lost three general elections since then. I am not convinced that the electorate is as familiar with Dame Judith Hart's White Paper as is the hon. Gentleman. I can assure him that we shall deal with whether to publish a White Paper in our response to the extremely interesting report from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Children In Care

3.32 pm

(Middlesbrough) (by private notice) asked the Minister for Health if he would make a statement on the recent increase in the number of cases of alleged child abuse in the Cleveland health authority area.

Investigations into the way in which these cases are being dealt with have been put in hand by the Northern regional health authority. In addition, the regional health authority today announced that it is making arrangements for all cases of suspected child sexual abuse in the south Tees district to be discussed with other consultants drawn from a special regional reference group that is being established.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has asked for an urgent report on the findings of the regional health authority. It is extrememly important that if there appears to be a case of child abuse it should be carefully and sensitively investigated. If the current investigations confirm suggestions that there have been significant failings in achieving this in Cleveland, the Government will be ready to institute an inquiry.

Order. I should say to the House that some of these matters are sub judice and that questions and answers should not refer to individual cases that are before the courts.

I welcome the Minister's response to my question and also thank him for moves today by the regional area health authority. Does he accept that the Opposition are as anxious and determined as anyone to protect children from the infamies of child abuse? Is he aware that an area review committee consisting of representatives of the area health authority, social services, the police, the NSPCC and other services drew up draft guidelines for the handling of alleged child abuse in Cleveland? is he further aware that if these guidelines, drawn up in March, had been adopted there would not now be a question mark over the future of 204 children taken into care in Cleveland since May?

Is the Minister further aware that Dr. Marietta Higgs, a consultant paediatrician in health care on Teesside, and Mrs. Sue Richardson, of Cleveland social services, colluded and conspired to keep the police out of the allegations of sexual abuse whereby Dr. Higgs made the diagnosis, a social worker made out a place of safety order and a justice of the peace signed it without the intervention of the police, other agencies or any counselling procedures or corroboration?

Is the Minister aware that on 11 March, 11 June, 18 June and 23 June specific requests were made for the intervention of a police surgeon in cases of alleged sexual abuse, but all the requests were turned down by Dr. Marietta Higgs and the social services, thus impeding justice for the children and their families? Is he also aware that on 28 May, at a meeting with police officers who expressed their disquiet at the number of alleged sexual abuses not examined or corroborated by a police surgeon, Mrs. Sue Richardson implied that she did not see a place for a police surgeon at any stage in the proceedings and to this day the social services department is still holding out against such police involvement and has submitted its own draft guidelines which exclude the role of the police?


I want to make three points in response to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). First, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has pursued this matter and for taking the trouble to see me for a full hour this morning to put me completely in the picture about his point of view in light of the investigations that he has carried out.

Secondly, I confirm that so far there has been a failure to adopt guidelines about the kind of co-operation that we believe is essential among health authorities, the social services departments, the police, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and others in handling these matters. However, I am happy to say that a further draft has been produced today, and I hope that that will lead to further progress.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment off the cuff on the serious suggestions that he has made about two individuals. However, we will give very careful consideration to his points when considering whether an inquiry is needed and, if it is, what form it should take.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and I represent a number of parents involved in this issue. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough has had my backing—although I did not comment publicly until the weekend—in calling for action to stop the two doctors at the centre of this matter until there has been a cooling-off period. Although I welcome the suggested guidelines, does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that it would be in everyone's interest—in the interests of innocent parents, of innocent children and of parents who are afraid to take their children to hospitals in south Teesside in case they find themselves in a position similar to that which exists—if the two doctors involved were suspended? Could my hon. Friend bring pressure to bear on the regional health authority to allow the volatile atmosphere on Teesside to cool off? There are other paediatricians in this world. Please use them.

I also want to pay tribute to the proper concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) in these cases on behalf of his constituents. My judgment at the moment is that the regional health authority has taken the.appropriate action by setting up the panel to which I have referred. However, I note my hon. Friend's comments and I will draw them to the attention of the regional health authority.

Notwithstanding the individual issue which might cause an inquiry to be established, does not the general question of child care proceedings identify the need for an inquiry into the way in which the system of checks and balances clearly has not been operating in many parts of the country? Does the Minister agree that far too often the watchdog is too closely identified with the burglar and that there is a need to re-examine the way in which the family courts operate and for a more independent objective element in the way in which we treat such cases?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are well down the track of producing further and more formal guidance about the way in which we should deal with matters of this sort. My present view is that had the guidance, which was issued by the Department some time ago, been followed in the light of what has been happening in Cleveland, many of these difficulties would have been avoided. I should prefer for the moment to avoid the further delay of an enormous wide-ranging inquiry and instead to get on and produce the guidance.

Is my hon. Friend aware that children in my constituency, which is covered by the South Tees health district, are being collected from their beds at 2 o'clock in the morning by social workers? Does not my hon. Friend see a clear parallel with the activities of another body which carried the initials SS? We may all applaud the wonderful job that the social services do, but what reassurance can he give that the practice to which I have referred will be stopped?

A wide variety of allegations have been made and we shall be considering them all. I would not wish to comment on specific instances this afternoon, but I undertake to take account of what my hon. Friend has said, as I shall take account of the remarks of others.

Is the Minister aware that the problems of child abuse seem to be growing? In the south Leeds part of my constituency there have been instances of child abuse that have led to court cases. Apart from what has happened on Teesside, as important as it is and notwithstanding that it has been properly raised in the media over the weekend, should there not be an appropriate investigation into guidelines, the way in which social services operate, legal considerations and police involvement? The issue has been worrying many of us for some time and suddenly it has come to the surface. Should we not consider the problem overall, bearing in mind that there is something wrong if the statistics are not telling us an untruth?

In producing the new guidance we shall, of course, take account of what is said to have happened in Cleveland. Proposals have been made for some changes in the law, and in taking account of those proposals we shall be considering what is alleged to have happened in Cleveland.

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the difficulties that is confusing public discussion is the absence of any objective assessment of the extent of child abuse, other than the register which covers less than 10 per cent. of the population? Does he think that recent events emphasise the need for his Department to be undertaking a careful and objective assessment of the extent of the problem or for an expert body such as the NSPCC to be funded to enable it to do so?

My hon. Friend takes a close interest in these matters through his connections with the NSPCC and he will be aware that we are intending to begin to collect statistics centrally in a way that I hope will shed further light on exactly the problem about which he is concerned.

As a former assistant director of social services, I am deeply shocked by some of the remarks which have been made in the Chamber this afternoon. It might be helpful to the Minister and the House if the hon. Gentleman understood the magnitude and severity of the abuse of some children in Cleveland. For example, a young girl under five years of age is suffering from gonorrhoea.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that everyone in the House would agree to the proposition that none of us wishes to condone or see the continuation of child sexual abuse. I am sure that that is not the purpose of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) or of anyone else who has spoken from either side of the House. The issue is how we are to strike the right balance between differing considerations, and the query that has been raised is whether that is being done. It is essential that that issue should be inquired into and that it is established as something that commands the respect and support of us all.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that this issue has arisen as a result of professional advice given by two consultants employed by the National Health Service? As he has rightly decided to seek a second opinion, will he ensure that the cases of children who are still in care are examined no later than by lunchtime tomorrow?

I do not think that I can give precisely that undertaking, but when the present panel has completed its work on 20 of the cases we shall urgently consider how to proceed with the remaining 200 cases.

Will the Minister confirm that the evidence of the research is that at least 10 per cent. of children in Britain are sexually abused? Two thirds of them are girls and one third are boys. An overwhelming number of cases involve the children's fathers, although stepfathers and neighbours are sometimes involved. Does the Minister agree that the problem has been massively neglected for years and that the social and health services are now trying to deal with the problem, which has caused enormous harm to the generation of children who have been neglected. Does he not agree that rows like this simply put us back? If there is a need to review individual cases, let them be reviewed, but let us not have cheap publicity in the press and in this place. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a massive amount of child sexual abuse continues to be neglected and will he confirm that he intends to take steps to ensure that it is not?

I recognise, as does the whole House, that there is a widespread view that the problem has been underestimated over the years. There is now some argument about how far the incidence of child sexual abuse has increased and how far there has simply been an increase in the reporting of previously unrecognised child sexual abuse. Either way, we all have to tackle the problem, but it will be tackled effectively only if there is public confidence, which appears to be lacking in Cleveland at the moment, that it is done sensitively and carefully.

On a day when yet another public inquiry into the way in which social services departments carry out their business is in progress, will my hon. Friend assure us that during the inquiry he will remember that society leaves many of the most difficult, painful and confusing cases to be dealt with by social workers? When from time to time they make a mistake, we all rush to condemn them and turn them into a scapegoat. That is an unhelpful way of dealing with the matter and it is sure to destroy the social workers' confidence.

I am very conscious of that, and I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks.

Does the Minister agree that, while the safety of children must have the highest priority, their interests are not secured by procedures that are faulty or not properly carried out? Investigations of wrongful allegations of child abuse would be extremely damaging not just to the parents but to the children involved. The Minister said that we were well down the track in producing final guidelines for social services departments and that changes in the law had been proposed. As everyone in the House recognises the difficult role of social services departments and, indeed, of medical consultants who are called in to advise, will the Minister tell us when he expects the final guidelines to be issued and proposals for changes in the law to be brought before the House?

Obviously we shall want to consider both those points further in the light of what has happened. I aim to issue the guidance within the next few months, taking account of the events in Cleveland and of any further information that we gain about them. Draft guidance exists on these matters. It has clearly not been fully reflected in the events in Cleveland and I am concerned that it should be.

Points Of Order

3.49 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recollect that for centuries we have indulged in prayers before starting our proceedings in the House. Those prayers have always been respected by all hon. Members in all parts of the House. In view of what happened today, may I suggest that new hon. Members should have those traditions drawn to their attention, that they should be told that notes on speeches should not be written during prayers, and that when hon. Members are indulging in prayers they turn about to face the wall? Unless we maintain those traditions—and I say this with the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker—the House will degenerate.

While I am on the subject, I wonder whether it would be a good idea to suggest to new hon. Members that it is normal to wear a jacket in the House.

I am aware that one hon. Member, a new Member, who may not know the traditions of the House, behaved in that way. Let me repeat, especially for new Members, that the whole House knows that we face the wall while at prayer. As to dress, now that the Chamber is air conditioned, hon. Members who come in to make contributions should wear a jacket, otherwise; like me, they may get a cold.

Order. Let us not nit-pick. I mean male Members. Lady Members will, of course, wear dresses.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, and in the same spirit, would you also remind hon. Members, especially new Members for their guidance, of the tradition of bowing to the Mace when entering and leaving the Chamber, and of any other events or traditions that you believe to be of value in adding to the dignity of the House?

These are early days in this Parliament, and these matters are best left to the Whips on both sides of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, concerning today's private notice question. You may recall that in 1983 I introduced legislation on child abuse which perhaps would have prevented what has happened in Cleveland. I was a little surprised that I was not—

Order. With the best will in the world, I cannot call everyone. I know of the hon. Member's interest, but I have to balance both sides of the House and I—

Order. With the best will in the world, I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. These matters may be raised in the course of a debate, and if we can get on today the hon. Gentleman may be fortunate enough to be called.

Where are we going? On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that at the start of the last Parliament, after the 1983 election, you had strong representations from the alliance representatives about the allocation of time and, more to the point because it concerns your province, when and how speakers would be called from the Social Democratic and Liberal parties. You will recall that at that time I made the point that I was not altogether happy about the massive increase in the allocation of time to their representatives.

Here we are and it is a completely new ball game. I want to know, before the ink is dry, what your response will be now that it is pretty clear that they have blown a fuse. For instance, would it be better from all points of view if, instead of having the leader of the Liberal party ask questions of the Prime Minister on a Tuesday, and the leader of the SDP asking questions on a Thursday, you combined the two? Then, on the first opportunity, tomorrow, you would afford the leader of the Liberal party a question and the leader of the SDP would follow. They would then find it possible to ask questions of one another.

During the election and before, the leader of the SDP was always on television. Normally one would have expected him to be at Wimbledon, but he has not been there. It is incumbent on you, Mr. Speaker, to assist, and to try to get to the bottom of this row between these two Kilkenny cats.

Order. It is not one of my functions to get to the bottom of rows between different parties. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman, but, as ever, I am grateful for his advice.

Further to the point of order relating to prayers, Mr. Speaker. My understanding is that the reason why hon. Members turn round halfway through prayers is that they used to pull faces at each other. If that is truly the origin of this tradition, should it not be re-examined with a view to modernising prayers as well as some of our other institutions?

I think that the majority of Members feel that we should stick to our traditions.

Orders Of The Day

Debate On The Address


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [25 June]

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.- [Mr. Churchill.]

Question again proposed.

Social And Economic Situation

No fewer than 34 right hon. and hon. Members have applied to speak in the debate. A large number of them are new Members. I will do my best to accommodate as many as possible, but this will depend upon the brevity of the speeches. I have no authority to limit speeches to 10 minutes, but it would be extremely helpful and courteous to new Members if that could happen today.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you selected for debate the amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) and five other Members who represent the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru? Will there be an opportunity to vote on the amendment tonight or at a later stage during the debate on the Queen's Speech?

The hon. Gentleman knows that amendments are not called until the final two days of the Queen's Speech debate. The matter does not arise today.

3.56 pm

I am very pleased that at this early opportunity in the new Parliament we will have a full debate today on subjects to which Her Majesty's Opposition wish to draw attention. The fact that within the countries of the United Kingdom and the various regions of England there are various differences is not something that should be a matter of regret, because it is part of the history of our country that these are differences that can be tolerated within the state that is the United Kingdom. The fact that Scotland, incorporated voluntarily within the United Kingdom for over 250 years, has maintained its own national identity during that period is evidence of the basic diversity with which the United Kingdom can be properly associated.

I am aware that the Opposition, in choosing the topic, wish to draw attention to the economic differences that exist and the extent to which they think those differences have been aggravated over the past eight years. However, I think they will appreciate that economic differences within the United Kingdom are not a new phenomenon; they go back to the industrial revolution and the fact that certain parts of England, the west of Scotland and south Wales were at the forefront of the industrial revolution when that social and economic transformation took place. The whole history of the past 60 years has involved the consequences of that industrial revolution and the need to assist the transition that the United Kingdom as a whole has been going through over that period.

Since the 1930s every British Government, including the present Administration, have recognised the need to assist those parts of the country going through that period of economic transition by a regional policy that played, and continues to play, an important and significant part in assisting the economies of substantial parts of England, Scotland and Wales.

The major feature to which Her Majesty's Opposition wish to draw attention is the differential levels of unemployment within the various parts of the United Kingdom.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way at this early stage. During the course of his remarks will he be bringing out other differentials between Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom—for example, the higher expenditure per capita on the Health Service in Scotland; the great benefits which have flowed to Scotland under the Government in various methods of regional aid; and the desire that we all have that not only Scotland but other regions of the country should continue to benefit in the next four or five years from the sort of policies that the Government have pursued throughout the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend has simply repeated what I have already emphasised. Under successive Governments various parts of England, Scotland and Wales have received, and continue to receive, special recognition of their distinctive needs, as I believe is right and proper.

The Opposition wish to draw attention to the differential levels of unemployment, but those differentials have existed for many years, and the Labour party and Labour Governments have been conspicuously unsuccessful in resolving them. To date, no Labour Government have left office without leaving more unemployment than when they came to office. [Interruption.] The Opposition may not like that, but it is true. If we are concerned about the very high levels of unemployment that we are presently experiencing, it is fair to point out that the process of mounting unemployment did not suddenly begin in 1979. It began in 1974, leading to a doubling of unemployment under the Labour Government and a subsequent further doubling under the present Administration. In the past year, however, we have begun to see the reverse of that process for the first time in a good many years. I believe that the whole House will welcome that.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Perhaps he will allow me to continue.

We are experiencing an almost unique combination of falling inflation, falling interest rates, a healthy currency and substantially falling unemployment throughout the United Kingdom. As the House is well aware, in Scotland in the past 16 weeks alone unemployment has fallen by more than 34,000. After the interruption caused by the decline in North sea oil prices in 1986, Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom are enjoying a common experience of substantially falling unemployment. I hope that the House as a whole will be only too pleased to welcome that.

The role of the Government has been not merely to provide the economic framework in terms of inflation, competitiveness and industrial relations leading to those falls in unemployment. In the past few years we have also given specific help to those parts of the United Kingdom which have had particular problems. I refer, for example, to the Government's creation of the Locate in Scotland bureau in 1981. In the past six years that body has succeeded in creating or maintaining up to 42,000 jobs in Scotland through a successful policy of inward investment:. We have also seen the transformation of the Scottish Development Agency into what is now recognised, as it was not eight years ago, as the most successful agency of its kind anywhere in western Europe.

The Opposition constantly claim that the Government have neglected the interests of, for example, the west of Scotland. Yet Members representing Glasgow constituencies speak with pride of the transformation of Glasgow in the past 10 years. They rightly believe that Glasgow is miles better than it was and represents the best example of urban renovation that the United Kingdom has seen. Where do they think the resources came from which enabled that transformation to take place?—[Interruption.] I am happy to pay tribute to Glasgow district council and Strathclyde regional council for their contribution, but they cannot claim to be starved of resources when, with capital allocations from central Government, they have achieved the transformation to which I have referred. Much of the transformation has also come about through the work of the housing associations, which have received enormous support from the Government, and through the work of the Scottish Development Agency in the Glasgow eastern area renewal.

The Government decided that the next garden festival should be held in Glasgow, declared Glasgow to be the European city of culture and assisted with other provisions of that kind. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), an honest, fair-minded man, well knows that the transformation of the city that he helps to represent would not have been possible if the Opposition's criticisms had an iota of truth in them.

I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's tribute to my local authority colleagues in Glasgow. He has paraded as one of his achievements the declaration that Glasgow was to be the European city of culture, but what funds were provided for that enterprise by central Government?

That designation was in recognition of the cultural improvements that have taken place. Scottish Opera is funded by the Government.

The creation of the gallery housing the Burrell collection was also assisted by the Government.

Opposition Members may cheer, but not for long.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the Locate in Scotland bureau carried out a survey in the whole of north America on where in Europe, not in Britain, incoming investment wished to go, and that 80 per cent. favoured Scotland provided that there was no change in this country's economic policies and no tax-raising assembly in Edinburgh?

My hon. and learned Friend is substantially correct in referring to that favourable perception of Scotland and of the United Kingdom economy.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

No. I have a number of remarks to make and many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. If I give way to everyone who seeks to intervene, that will not be possible. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that.

In seeking to suggest a divide in the economic opportunities for Scotland and for other parts of England and Wales, the Opposition always concentrate solely on unemployment. I do not deny that that is a major consideration, but I have already commented on the reality behind the charge. If the Opposition believe that there are fundamental problems facing the Scottish economy, before reaching a firm conclusion they should consider the advances and advantages in economic development that Scotland has experienced. Perhaps they will explain, for example, how, between 1979 and 1986, Scotland experienced an increase in manufacturing productivity of 4·9 per cent. compared with only 3·6 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole. They may also like to explain how Scottish manufacturing exports outperformed the United Kingdom by 30 per cent. and why the latest figures for gross domestic product per head and disposable income per head are higher for Scotland than for any part of England outside the south-east of England and East Anglia. They may also like to explain why male average weekly earnings in Scotland, which are at the rate of £201, are higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom, except the south-east of England.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Order. I say to hon. Gentlemen who rise on points of order that they only take time from the debate. It would be far better to let the Secretary of State get on with his speech and thereby enable more Back Benchers to be called.

If, therefore, there is said to be a division between Scotland and the south, hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent Scottish constituencies should recognise that our economy is a complex organism and that, within it, Scotland has some major advantages of the kind to which I have drawn attention. Opposition Members should avoid the naive, simplistic definitions which obviously attract an uncultured and unsubtle approach to such matters. That advice is appropriate.

Attention has also been drawn to the traditional industries in Scotland and the problems that they have been experiencing. I remind Opposition Members that the steel industry, for example, to which we all attach importance, for years was operating at a vast loss—a loss that amounted to some £500 million a year. Today, that same steel industry is operating at a profit. If we are concerned and anxious to see a future for Ravenscraig within the steel industry, no one is going to convince me or the public as a whole that the prospects for Ravenscraig are not infinitely better when it is part of a profitable steel industry than when it is part of a loss-making one.

There is also the position facing the shipbuilding industry in Scotland. Naturally, I share the concern of all hon. Members about the current problems facing UIE.

Order. I am not taking points of order in the middle of the Secretary of State's speech.

Order. Will the hon. Lady kindly resume her seat so that we may get on with the debate?

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue my speech he may find that some of his interventions are unnecessary.

Although we are indeed conscious of some of the problems facing certain of the yards, let us remember that, within Scotland, Yarrow has been successful in tendering for a major order for frigates from the Ministry of Defence. Govan has been successful in winning major orders for Chinese ferries. Indeed, the chairman of British Shipbuilders paid tribute to the support that he received from the Government which enabled Govan to win that order.

I have some further information which I believe will be welcome news to both sides of the House. As the House knows, the Scottish Transport Group recently sought tenders for a new ferry for its subsidiary Caledonian MacBrayne to serve South Uist, Barra, Coll and Tiree. I am pleased to tell the House that a most attractive tender has been received from British Shipbuilders' Appledore Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow. I have today given approval for the group to proceed with discussions with the yard on the terms and conditions that must be agreed before an order is placed. That illustrates how, under the Government, shipbuilding in Scotland has become sufficiently competitive to win orders that are of importance to our work force.