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Commons Chamber

Volume 128: debated on Thursday 25 February 1988

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House Of Commons

Thursday 25 February 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Imprisonment Of Members

I have been informed that Mr. William Ross, Mr. Clifford Forsythe, the Rev. Martin Smyth, and Mr. Harold McCusker were yesterday sentenced to terms of imprisonment of seven days. I shall cause the appropriate details of their offences to be published in the Votes and Proceedings and in the Official Report.

On Monday I notified the House that I had been informed that Mr. Peter Robinson, the hon. Member for Belfast, East, had been imprisoned for a period of 30 days. I am now informed that the sentence was one of seven days. I shall cause the corrected information to be published in the Votes and Proceedings and in the Official Report.

Following are the relevant letters from the Belfast magistrates' courts:

Dear Mr. Speaker

William Ross, Member of Parliament for Londonderry East, was convicted by me at Belfast Petty Sessions on 11 December 1987, of taking part in a public procession, contrary to Article 3 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. I fined him £20·00, to be paid within 28 days.

As that fine has not been paid Mr. Ross was today committed to Prison for a period of 7 days.

Yours faithfully

C. P. McRandal

Resident Magistrate

Dear Mr. Speaker

John Clifford Forsythe, Member of Parliament for South Antrim, was convicted by me at Belfast Petty Sessions on 11 December 1987, of taking part in a public procession, contrary to Article 3 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. I fined him £20.00, to be paid within 28 days.

As that fine has not been paid Mr. Forsythe was today committed to Prison for a period of 7 days.

Yours faithfully.

C.P. McRandal

Resident Magistrate.

Dear Mr. Speaker

Martin William Smyth, Member of Parliament for Belfast South, was convicted by me at Belfast Petty Sessions on 11 December 1987, of taking part in a public procession, contrary to Article 3 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. I fined him £20.00, to be paid within 28 days.

As that fine has not been paid Mr. Smyth was today committed to Prison for a period of 7 days

Yours faithfully,

C. P. McRandal

Resident Magistrate.

Dear Mr. Speaker,

Harold McCusker, Member of Parliament for Upper Bann, was convicted by me at Belfast Petty Sessions on 11 December 1987, of taking part in a public procession, contrary to Article 3 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. I fined him £20.00, to be paid within 28 days.

As that fine has not been paid Mr. McCusker was today committed to Prison for a period of 7 days.

Yours faithfully,

C. P. McRandal

Resident Magistrate.

Dear Mr Speaker

PETER ROBINSON, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR BELFAST EAST

On 17 February 1988, I sent you a letter signed by Mr F G Harty, Resident Magistrate, stating that Mr Robinson had been committed to Prison for a period of 30 days. I have now learned that he was in fact committed to Prison that day for a period of seven days only. I now enclose the appropriate letter signed by Mr M D McHugh, Resident Magistrate.

I regret very much this unfortunate error and apologise for any confusion it may have caused you. It occurred because Mr Robinson was apparently apprehended by the Police in respect of both unpaid fines at the same time. He paid one and was committed to Prison in respect of the other.

Yours faithfully

T V Patton

Clerk of Petty Sessions

Dear Mr. Speaker,

Peter Robinson, Member of Parliament for Belfast East, was convicted by me at Belfast Petty Sessions on 3 December 1987 of using on a road a mechanically propelled vehicle which was not exhibiting a licence in respect of that use contrary to section 12(4) of the Vehicles (Excise) Act (NI) 1972. I fined him £25, to be paid within 28 days.

As that fine has not been paid Mr. Robinson was today committed to Prison for a period of seven days.

Maurice D. McHugh

Resident Magistrate

Private Business

KEBLE COLLEGE OXFORD BILL [Lords]

SELWYN COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE BILL [Lords]

Read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.

LONDON REGIONAL TRANSPORT BILL (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question 10 December], That the Bill be now considered.
Debate further adjourned till Thursday 3 March.

TEIGNMOUTH QUAY COMPANY BILL (By Order)

YORK CITY COUNCIL BILL [Lords] (By Order)

ASSOCIATED BRITISH PORTS (No. 2) BILL (By Order)

BRITISH RAILWAYS (No. 2) BILL (By Order)

CARDIFF BAY BARRAGE BILL (By Order)

CITY OF LONDON (SPITALFIELDS MARKET) BILL
(By Order)

FALMOUTH CONTAINER CARGO TERMINAL BILL
(By Order)

NORTH KILLINGHOLME CARGO TERMINAL BILL
(By Order)

ST. GEORGE'S HILL, WEYBRIDGE, ESTATE BILL
(By Order)

SOUTHERN WATER AUTHORITY BILL (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 3 March.

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Order. It was a mistake to have read that out, as I have just read an announcement that the hon. Gentleman is unable to be present.

Stalker/Sampson Report

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the disciplinary proceedings of the Royal Ulster Constabulary following events reported in the Stalker/Sampson report.

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has discussed with the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary relevant issues arising from the Stalker/Sampson report.

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any discussions during the past three weeks with the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in relation to incidents which were investigated by Mr. Stalker and Mr. Sampson.

As the House will be aware, the first part of my statement on 17 February dealt with the aspect of possible disciplinary proceedings as a result of the investigations carried out by Mr. Stalker and Mr. Sampson. I undertook to inform the House of further developments.

As I also told the House on 17 February, I have discussed the relevant aspects of the Stalker-Sampson inquiry report with the Chief Constable. In particular, he has accepted in principle all the recommendations made by Mr. McLachlan.

How can the Secretary of State claim any credibility for the disciplinary proceedings when senior officers who have perverted the course of justice are still in command? John Stalker was suspended as soon as any accusation was made against him. Given that the E4A unit was responsible for murder — [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw"] — will the right hon. Gentleman suspend from duty the man described by Stalker as

"the senior police officer with the bulging briefcase,"
the man who set up the unit, Assistant Chief Constable Trevor Forbes, head of the Northern Ireland special branch?

What I could hear of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question consisted partly of a farrago of stories gathered from various press sources, for which I am not sure how much authenticity he would claim.

I do not accept the original premise of the hon. Gentleman's question. Matters concerning ranks of chief superintendent and below are the responsibility of the Chief Constable. Mr. Charles Kelly and his team have already started work and are in the Province now. The more senior ranks are a matter for the police authority. I can inform the House that Sir Philip Myers is already in touch with the authority.

May I ask the Secretary of State a question that I asked him on 17 February, which escaped him in the course of his answer? Since we all agree that the RUC cannot operate effectively without the confidence of the public, and since the right hon. Gentleman is now seeking to resolve that unhappy episode, would it not be wise to inject an independent element into the inquiries so that it cannot be said that this is merely police officers being investigated by yet more police officers?

With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the last thing that Northern Ireland and the police need are further inquiries of the length and scale that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have in mind; there has already been an exhaustive inquiry. I made it clear to the House that there was no question of Mr. Stalker's work being suppressed. His work and that of the bulk of his team was available to Mr. Sampson, and that work was carried through. It is necessary to bring these disciplinary matters to an independent conclusion with the arrival of Mr. Kelly and with the appointment of a police authority to tackle its responsibilities.

As the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester, Mr. John Stalker, was suspended for the most spurious of reasons while investigating matters in the north of Ireland, does the Secretary of State not find it a curious contradiction that the Chief Constable of the RUC, who is under inquiry by the Northern Ireland Police Authority, remains on duty directing that force? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the expressions of absolute confidence in the Chief Constable of the RUC by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister must inevitably prejudge the findings of the inquiry?

It is vital that the House remembers—it owes it to the RUC—that the events giving rise to these difficulties occurred in 1982. Before the reports and action of the Attorney-General, many hon. Members in all parts of the House paid tribute to the impartiality and determination of the RUC and to the courage that it showed in doing its work. I hope that hon. Members will not forget those words and that they will recognise that the credit for a substantial amount of the improvements that have taken place over the years must inevitably be given to the man who has led the force during that period.

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to answer the question that was put to him last week by the representative of the police body in the House, namely that those police officers who were brought to court and charged with murder but who were found not guilty will not be tried or disciplined again under the present inquiry? Does he agree that it is wrong for hon. Members to pick out police officers and name them without substantiating the charge being made against them?

While I do not wish to imply that those officers will be affected, I must say that it is now Mr. Kelly's responsibility. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Jones, who is the Deputy Chief Constable, are working very actively with their team on this matter and it would be wrong for me to anticipate their findings. What I do know—I think that the hon. Gentleman also knows this—is that there is great feeling in Northern Ireland, after all the years that this matter has taken, that it is important to resolve it at the earliest possible date. With regard to this matter, I do not wish to comment on individual cases.

The Secretary of State has paid tribute to the RUC. Is he aware that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, who for 20 years have been subjected to a brutal and callous terrorist campaign, have the utmost confidence in the RUC? They view it with the greatest pride and treasure the memories of those RUC officers who have been murdered violently by the Irish Republican Army.

The hon. Gentleman may recall my closing remarks when I was announcing the disciplinary procedure. I said:

"This is a particular tragedy for a police force of the courage and professionalism of the RUC today, who have given ample recent evidence of their commitment to protecting the whole community from violence from whatever extreme it may come." — [Official Report, 17 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 980.]
I stand by those words.

I warmly welcome the steps that my right hon. Friend announced a short time ago. However, will he accept that there was a degree of amazement at the response of the Republic of Ireland, which considers that the Government somehow preside over a banana republic in which the judiciary can be affected by a political decision? Will he at once lay to rest any such suggestion?

I am seeking to address some of the differences of view both on the Benches in this House and on the Benches in Dublin. The discussions that we had yesterday were most useful in that respect. These are very difficult issues and anyone who approaches them must honestly be conscious of the extraordinarily different—indeed, totally different—views on a number of issues. We are seeking a rather better common understanding.

Will the Secretary of State more firmly refute the allegation made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay), who suggested that the police were guilty of murder? Will he confirm that the police who were tried for murder were found not guilty, and will he also tell the House how he intends to deal with the situation where John Stalker, at a time when he was supposed to be carrying out an objective investigation into the RUC, was in fact communicating with the Manchester Evening News, conjecturing as to when Sir John Hermon might retire and suggesting that Mr. Anderton might like to succeed him? He later showed how subjective he was when he suggested that he, himself, was doing such a magnificent job that he might succeed Sir John Hermon as Chief Constable of the RUC. Is that not a disgraceful demonstration of unprofessional conduct by a man placed in a trusted position?

As I made clear to the House in my statement, much of the work done and various recommendations that I announced flowed from the inquiry carried out by Mr. Stalker and his team and all the recommendations were accepted in principle by the Chief Constable. I must add, however, that certain other aspects of the inquiry give cause for concern—not least what appeared in The Guardian, if it was correct—about the degree of confidentiality that was preserved. I am also concerned about the recent letter of a superintendent on Mr. Stalker's team and about the anxiety of a number of members of that team about the number of leaks during the inquiry.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the special branch in Ulster carries out its duties with great courage and at no small risk and that we should show our appreciation of that? Will he also confirm that those killed in the original incidents were given funerals with full military honours by the IRA?

On the latter point, that was certainly true in some cases. Undoubtedly, the special branch has performed outstanding service in Northern Ireland. It has saved very many lives in the security forces and among the general population. At the same time, as I made clear in my statement, it cannot be a force within a force. There were things that needed changing after 1982, and I believe that those changes have been understood. It is very important that, in the final analysis, whichever part of the police force a person may belong to, he is ultimately accountable.

I am sure also that the whole House will agree with the last sentence of the Secretary of State. I am sure also that the right hon. Gentleman will recall the comment of Sir John Hermon that the family tree incident was "untrue and deeply offensive". If it was untrue, it was certainly deeply offensive. The Secretary of State will also recall that Mr. Stalker said:

"It is supportable by evidence".
Does the Secretary of State agree that this is no longer a private matter between two very senior and experienced police officers, but that the integrity of both of them is now at issue and that, in the interests of the police, it is essential that Mr. Stalker should now put his evidence into the public domain?

I should like to think a bit more about what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am not at all sure that I think that it is anything other than a private matter,. It is a most regrettable matter, and I do not want to enter into judgments upon it.

Security

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the security situation.

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what improvements have been made in cross-border co-operation, to deal with the terrorist threat, in the last 12 months.

Since I last answered questions in the House on 28 January, three members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and one civilian have died. The House will be aware that, sadly, two of those were the members who were killed last night close to the centre of Belfast.

The threat remains high, but the courageous and determined efforts of the security forces are continuing to yield results. In particular, they have recovered a number of significant caches of arms and ammunition thought to have belonged to both Loyalist and Republican terrorist organisations.

So far this year 34 people have been charged with serious offences and 222 weapons, 63,000 rounds of ammunition and 3921b of explosives have been recovered in Northern Ireland. In addition, already this year the Garda Siochana has made a number of very significant finds of arms and ammunition. These include some 125 weapons, 80,000 rounds of ammunition and almost 6001b of commercial explosives.

Following yet another statement from my right hon. Friend about atrocities and murders, is he aware that some Conservative Members voted for the Anglo-Irish agreement, which we have always supported, and that we have looked to it to improve border security, but that if it does not continue to do so we shall have to think again?

I note what my hon. Friend said. Perhaps he could explain to me how we are likely to do better in border security if we do not co-operate closely with the Government of the Irish Republic, because that defeats me. We face a serious threat in Northern Ireland at the moment which is considerably enhanced because of the involvement of new weapons which it is believed, on good grounds, come from Libya. That threat is clearly not just to Northern Ireland, but to the whole island of Ireland. In those circumstances, the closest co-operation with the Government of the Irish Republic is absolutely essential.

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the remarkable success of the French and Spanish authorities in dealing with the Basque separatist movement through close co-operation? Will he assure the House that the respective heads of police from the North and South will meet shortly to improve coordination? Is he aware that he will have nothing but the full support of Conservative Members if he can achieve coordination between North and South on a far more advanced and sophisticated basis than over the past decade?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, one can look at some of the figures that I was able to announce to the House about the success of the Garda Siochana. I am afraid that part of that is due to the scale of arms and explosives that may be present in the island of Ireland, but it is also a clear indication of the substantial commitment that it has been making on this matter.

I hope that we shall have an early conference — I think that we shall have a full conference—and, as I have said, I want to include cross-border security matters and to see the closest co-operation between the Chief Constable and the Commissioner. I make no secret of that fact, because it is most important. Because the RUC and the Garda are in the lead, they must co-operate closely in this, which they do.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that complete confusion has arisen in Northern Ireland from the events of the past four weeks, and does he recognise that we do not know who to believe? Following the meeting in Dublin yesterday the Secretary of State announced that the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana would be meeting the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the next meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference, but the Dublin Government immediately contradicted that statement. Who are we to believe?

If there is any confusion, I am sure that I can rely on the right hon. Gentleman to try to help us to clear it up. I am sure that he will play a leading part in that.

I made it clear that we had an excellent meeting yesterday. I think that the Tánaiste, Mr. Lenihan, and I found it valuable to discuss a number of issues. On the right hon. Gentleman's particular point, it is agreed—he will see this if he reads the communiqué — that there should be a full meeting of the conference in the near future. I have made it clear that I should like that to involve cross-border security operation. There is clearly some misunderstanding on the question of participation, but I intend to see whether that can be resolved at the earliest opportunity.

Following the shooting of Aidan McAnespie by a young 19-year-old British soldier, and the release after three years of Private Thain, who himself was a young man when he was involved in the killing of another person, does the Secretary of State agree that the policy of putting young military personnel into sensitive security positions should be looked at again? Will he also accept that we on these Benches strongly believe that the Anglo-Irish Agreement should be consolidated and strengthened, and is the best way to proceed in fighting terrorism?

The House will recognise the heavy obligations and responsibilities that are laid on the security forces, and that is particularly so for young new members of regiments. The mainly outstanding way in which they have discharged those responsibilities is a tribute to the training and calibre of the troops that have served in Northern Ireland over the years. If anyone should ask why that soldier was in that sangar at that time, I would only say that every road block, vehicle checkpoint and watchtower in Northern Ireland exists thanks to the IRA and the terrorist.

Following the brutal murder last night of two members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, have the Government of the Irish Republic informed the Secretary of State whether they have any desire to hold an inquiry into those two deaths? Have the Government of the Irish Republic given any knowledge to the Secretary of State's office that they intend to hold an emergency debate in the Dail over those two deaths? Have the Government of the Irish Republic requested a special meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference as a result of those two deaths? If they have not, does the Secretary of State think that that is indicative of their political bias?

The hon. Gentleman makes the political point that he wishes to make in that contribution. I would merely add that the Irish Government have at no time suggested holding an inquiry into an affair in Northern Ireland.

Given the recent decision to release Private Thain, which most reasonable people would believe strains the normal limits of compassion, will the Secretary of State accept from me, and many others who were politically involved in the early 1970s, that in that highly emotive period, when sectarian conflict was at its height and when 60,000 people changed homes in Belfast because of that sectarian conflict—the biggest movement in peacetime Europe—and with all the atrocities committed at that time, such as Bloody Sunday, and so on, it is understandable that young people from both sections of the community were sucked into the terrible violence, for which they are serving long sentences? In the light of the decision relating to Private Thain, would not normal compassion demand that we show the same compassion to all those young people? If the Secretary of State were to do that, it would have a powerful beneficial impact on the security and political situation in Northern Ireland.

The only qualification that I would make is that it would be wrong to equate the position of a soldier serving his country in Northern Ireland in a particular position with that of a young person of the same age who may have been involved in a terrorist purpose. None the less, I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's point that young people who may easily be influenced by older people found themselves drawn into a situation which they now bitterly regret. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State looks at these cases carefully, bearing in mind the youth of the person involved. Of course, the very nature of "Secretary of State's pleasure" cases means that a person must have been under 18 when the crime was committed. We do look sympathetically at such cases, but we must obviously take into account the risk of reinvolvement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, where there is terrorism on both sides of a common frontier, one might well expect the maximum degree of cooperation in dealing with that terrorism, whether or not there is in existence something called the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

I certainly believe that it is in the interests of both our countries. It is significant that, in spite of the recent difficulties and tensions over certain problems, the Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, has made it clear that, although there may be an impasse on one or two particular issues, there is certainly no impasse on close cross-border security co-operation. That is in the interests of both our countries. Mr. Haughey has spelt that out in the Dail, and I never cease to spell it out in this House.

Does the Secretary of State realise that when double standards are seen to prevail, as in the case of Private Thain—which he appears to dismiss rather too lightly in my opinion—that strengthens the hand of terrorism, because the terrorists see that what happens on one side does not happen on the other? Was not a group of people let out in that case, rather than just one person? Is it not a disgraceful situation, and will it not strengthen the IRA?

I have tried to explain the background in response to the question of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), and I cannot add much to that. I am sympathetic, as is the House, to very young people who find themselves caught up in the web of terrorism early in life, but the House must also have regard—and I should be failing in my responsibilities if I did not take account of this—to the risk of reinvolvement of people who are released. I must consider that carefully, as complaints would soon arise if we took the wrong decisions.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Conservative Members note with great satisfaction the enormous improvement in security since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, particularly as reflected in the huge finds of arms and ammunitions on both sides of the border, and in the increase in the number of arrests on both sides of the border for terrorist offences? Does he agree with me that, if the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Conference had not been in place, the very difficult times through which we have been in the past three or four weeks would have been a great deal worse?

I certainly accept that. There have been difficulties in the history of the relationship of this country with the island of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Mr. Lenihan and I recognised yesterday, at our meeting, the benefit that is now coming from the working relationship and the understanding that have developed. I repeat the phrase that I used—we do not speak the same language, but we are beginning to learn to translate. That is important if we are to have a happier future.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Minister in charge of day-to-day security in Northern Ireland is the Minister who has returned Private Thain to the Army? Is he further aware that that Minister was also responsible for refusing a request to furnish the Fair Employment Agency with a reference supplied by a Catholic seeking a job on HMS Caroline, so that the Belfast Recorder said that, in all probability, he had refused to disclose the reference because the man was a Roman Catholic, and found the Ministry of Defence guilty of unlawful discrimination? In those circumstances, does the Secretary of State agree with The Daily Telegraph that that casts most serious doubts about his judgment as a Minister, particularly in the Northern Ireland Office?

As the hon. Gentleman has made that personal attack, he owed it to the House to be better informed of his facts before he made it. It gives me the opportunity to tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that the matters contained in the second half of the editorial to which he referred are not true.

County Down (Hospitals)

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if, in view of the recent announcements on cash limits, he will take steps to ensure that the residents of South Down served by the Down group of hospitals will not be deprived of any of the minimum medical facilities which are at present available to them.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Richard Needham)

The Eastern health and social services board has recently issued a detailed consultative document on options for changes to the pattern of services in its area, including South Down. Since the board itself has not yet reached any conclusions, it would not be right for me to comment at this stage.

Is the Minister aware of the statement in the House yesterday by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, about the biggest ever capital investment programme in the National Health Service for Scotland? Will he compare that with the draconian cuts and severe budget restrictions imposed on national health in Northern Ireland? In those circumstances, will he reconsider his Budget proposals for 1988–89 for NHS provision in Northern Ireland?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern on this question of the Down services. This is the second time that we have been able to discuss the matter today. I have told him that I will consider most carefully any proposals from the board. I must point out that, as he is well aware, the level of health provision in Northern Ireland is second to none in the whole of the United Kingdom.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the serious concern in Northern Ireland about the way that he is handling hospitals? Is he also aware that if he continues on this line hospitalisation will be very difficult? It is not one section but the entire community that is suffering. I have taken an interest in the case that is before the House. It is not good enough for the Minister to tell us that it is a matter for the board. When he takes money away from the board, how can it make any other decision?

Rather than damaging the Health Service in Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman should accept that the level of provision of health care is higher in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, as it ought to be. While I accept that it creates problems for the Health Service, the provision of 5·2 per cent. additional funds this year is the absolute maximum that can be afforded because of the pressures of the law and order budget and unemployment.

In considering any changes in hospital provision within the Eastern board's area, will the Minister always bear in mind that the most rapidly increasing population is in the Bangor-Newtownards part of the area?

I am sure that the Eastern health board will take that into account when it considers the options.

Harland And Wolff (Aori Contract)

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has now made any public subsidy available in relation to the AOR1 contract at Harland and Wolff.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Peter Viggers)

No, Sir.

In view of the Minister's predictable answer, will he assure the House that the Government are not in breach of the EEC sixth directive on shipbuilding, which must apply to Harland and Wolff as it does to other merchant shipyards? In the light of press speculation in Monday's Belfast Telegraph, can he make a statement to the House on the future of Harland and Wolff?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Harland and Wolff must comply with the EC sixth directive. I saw the speculative story to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The position has not changed in recent weeks. The future of the yard will depend upon its ability to win orders—this, too, has not changed in recent weeks — within the constraints of the EC sixth directive, which limits Government subsidy on merchant shipping orders to 28 per cent.

Does the Minister agree that there is a difference between orders for merchant ships and orders for ships for the Royal Navy, the first category being eligible for subsidy, whereas the second is not? Will he tell the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) that it is time he realised that if the AOR2 had been allocated on merit, perhaps Swan Hunter would not have received the contract and it would have gone properly to Harland and Wolff, as the AOR1 did?

The hon. Gentleman has made his own point to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown). The hon. Gentleman is right about shipbuilding orders. The EC sixth directive relates to merchant shipbuilding orders. I am pleased that Harland and Wolff has now virtually completed the ATS vessel, which should be delivered shortly to the Ministry of Defence. Of course, the AOR1 is also under construction in the yard.

Will the Minister tell the House that it is the view of the Northern Ireland Office that Harland and Wolff has been making determined efforts to better its lot in the shipbuilding industry? What is his Department doing to ensure that the speculation in recent newspaper reports will not come about.

We congratulate Harland and Wolff on the efforts that it has made to improve its performance, but its future will depend on its ability to win further shipbuilding orders within the constraints to which I have referred.

May I press the Minister further on the future of Harland and Wolff? He will be aware that in the Belfast Telegraph on Monday of this week there was an article which said that closure was an option being considered by the Government. Will the Minister take the opportunity to deny that closure is on the cards? As the Minister knows, the economic future of Belfast and of Northern Ireland will be disastrous if the shipyard is closed. [Interruption.]

I have already said in my response to the initial question that the position has not changed in recent weeks. The future of the yard must depend on management's ability to win orders. That is not the Government's responsibility. It is the responsibility of management, and we support it in its search.

School Statistics

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what percentage of schools in Northern Ireland have a selective intake; and what percentage of school leavers in each sector achieve five or more higher grade O-levels or equivalent.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

In most areas of Northern Ireland pupils are selected for grammar or secondary intermediate school education on the basis of a transfer test undertaken at age 11. Twenty-nine per cent. of the secondary schools in Northern Ireland are grammar schools and 71 per cent. are secondary intermediate schools. The percentages with five or more higher grade O-levels are 83 and 14 respectively.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures that he has given, in overall terms and indeed for pupils in non-selective schools, are significantly higher than for many authorities in England and Wales? Does he also agree that the more flexible, less ideological and more pragmatic attitude towards selective education in Northern Ireland contains important lessons for those who wish to raise standards in England and Wales?

The Government are committed to raising standards in schools throughout the United Kingdom. I can confirm that in Northern Ireland 36 per cent. of school leavers have five or more good grade O-levels, as compared with 27 per cent. in England and Wales. I have to tell my hon. Friend, however, that in Northern Ireland those who leave school with no qualifications at all represent 22 per cent. of the pupils, whereas the figure in England and Wales is 10 per cent. That is obviously a matter of concern, and we must have responsibility for children's education and the raising of educational standards right across the education spectrum.

Is the Minister not concerned that 71 per cent. of children in Northern Ireland go to secondary schools, where they have only a 14 per cent. chance of obtaining significant O-level passes? Does that not mean that the bulk of children are not receiving real opportunities in secondary education? Will he reconsider the position?

I do not accept what the hon. Lady has said. We seek in Northern Ireland to run a school system that maximises children's potential. It is a mistake to assume that the only children worth educating are those who are intellectually bright. All children have the potential for development, and we try to run a school system that produces that development.

The religious apartheid that exists in education in Northern Ireland—two systems supported by the taxpayer—cruelly divides young people during their formative years when they should be getting to know each other, and learning together. Will the Minister, who has already done considerable work in this regard, provide further money for the integrated schools in Northern Ireland, which provide a good academic education?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the commitment that he has expressed over such a long period to seeking to educate the children of Northern Ireland together, or at least in closer association than in the past. He knows that we are trying to be as helpful as possible, in a variety of ways, to reduce the present divide between the children.

Sex Discrimination Order

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many replies he has received to his request for observations on the draft Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order.

Will the Minister state his own commitment to equal opportunities for woman in Northern Ireland, and will he amend the draft order so that it is in line with European legislation?

The Government are committed to equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom. We think it right, however, that promotion of equality of opportunity in relation to gender in Northern Ireland should be handled as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom.

As for our own commitment in Northern Ireland, I am pleased to inform the hon. Lady that funding compares very favourably with that of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Great Britain. It was increased by 11 per cent. in the year before last, and by 9 per cent. in the current year.

Kilroot Power Station

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what decision he has made regarding phase II of Kilroot power station.

So many hon. Members are not here, for various reasons, that it has been quite difficult to keep pace with the questions.

Revised bids for the provision of new generating capacity, including the completion of Kilroot phase II, were received from Northern Ireland Electricity and Antrim Power Company Ltd. at the end of January 1988. The revised proposals are currently being examined and until that process has been completed the Government will not be in a position to make a decision on future generating capacity.

I am grateful for that reply—eventually. I hope that the Minister will be rather more expeditious when considering the various options for Kilroot power station. I hope that he will bear in mind that Northern Ireland Electricity wants to convert phase II to coal and that that will also be very important for the coal industry in Ayrshire, particularly the area that I represent. I hope that, as a penance for his appalling delay in answering my question, he will agree that it ought to be converted to coal and give a long-term guarantee that that coal will come from Ayrshire.

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct in saying that the availability of the completion of Kilroot power station with coal provides an attractive option for Northern Ireland. But there is a further attractive option for Northern Ireland, and that is the indigenous brown lignite resource. We are considering very carefully whether coal or lignite is the appropriate resource for future generating capacity, and whether, if brown lignite is the choice, it should be through NIE or through the private bid which has been submitted to us.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

I recognise that my right hon. Friend, in her pre-eminent position as First Lord of the Treasury, will not share any Budget secrets with the House today. Nevertheless, will she confirm that she has impressed on her right hon. Friend the Chancellor that the experience of the last nine years shows that there is nothing contradictory or irreconcilable about raising tax thresholds, lowering tax rates and increasing public expenditure, notably on the National Health Service, in the sensible and prudent way that we have done and that we discussed last night? Is it not a fact that a low-tax economy increases incentive and productivity and ultimately leads to a higher tax yield for the services that we all desire?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Lowering direct taxes is an essential part of getting the growth that we have seen over the last few years and therefore getting the resources to spend on such things as the National Health Service and increased nurses' pay. We also have to remember that nurses, too, pay income tax, and that when a nurse on £170 a week knows that she pays £46 a week in tax and national insurance contributions together she is not going to say that she wants taxes to be kept at that level. She would much prefer to have more net take-home pay through reduced taxation.

If the banning of organisations completely dedicated to securing peaceful change in South Africa does not make the Prime Minister stop her pathetic appeasement of apartheid, what will?

We do not appease apartheid in any way. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we spend considerable sums of money in helping black South Africans to get the education that some of them might otherwise not get, and on helping security in the front-line states. I wish to make it quite clear that I condemn the latest move by President Botha to suppress free argument and debate. It will be a great setback to the possibility of peaceful negotiations. However, the application of universal sanctions would not improve, but only make worse, a very difficult situation.

When the Prime Minister's words of condemnation are mocked by the Botha regime and held in contempt by the victims of that regime, is it not plain to everyone that those words deserve that contempt and encourage further repression by those in charge of apartheid? When Bishop Tutu says that South Africa is heading for war, and when her own Foreign Secretary says that he thinks that the latest bannings make violence more likely, why does she not convene the Security Council, press for comprehensive sanctions and make an effort that is really worth while?

We do not make a difficult situation any easier by adding to it starvation and poverty for those whom we wish to help.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Will my right hon. Friend condemn the actions of those head-in-the-sand trade union leaders in the National Health Service in Scotland who led the strike yesterday, against the interests of the patients who could benefit enormously from the extra funds that would become available if the Health Service in Scotland had the benefit of the privatisation of services that applies to the Health Service in England?

Yes. It was a political strike in Scotland yesterday on the part of the nurses. Competitive tendering in England has released some £100 million a year that will go direct to extra patient care. It is appalling that there are people in Scotland who would rather waste money than save it by competitive tendering, and thus have more money to spend on patient care. We utterly condemn that strike, which led to about 400 operations being postponed.

Will the Prime Minister explain to the House how the current cuts in the family planning provisions in the Health Service will save money in the long run, given that the likely result will be greater occupancy of maternity beds or more abortions?

I hope that those who need and want such advice will continue to take it. I do not believe that any changes would have the effect that the right hon. Gentleman says.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the murder last night of two members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the return of terror tactics to the centre of Belfast? Does she agree that if foreign Governments wish to look at the security forces in Northern Ireland, they also should look at the use of the bomb-to-kill policy of Republican terrorists?

It is a tragedy that two more members of the Ulster Defence Regiment were killed last night, bringing the number of the security forces killed in Northern Ireland this year to six, in addition to the 27 who were killed last year. I hope that those who seek to undermine or criticise the security forces will remember the merciless attacks to which they are subjected and be thankful for the work that they do.

Does the Prime Minister recall how, in the wake of the Enniskillen tragedy, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) urged her to agree

"that no one should use the terrible suffering of those people of Enniskillen for political reasons?"— [Official Report, 12 November 1987; Vol. 122, c. 558.]
Does she believe that the same restraint should now be shown in regard to the tragic shooting in Aughnacloy last Sunday? Does she agree that it is unjust, unhelpful and uncharitable for Cardinal O'Fiaich to preach in his pulpit that that incident was murder?

Northern Ireland has suffered a great deal of violence, and that violence is continuing. Some individual tragic incidents have come to the public notice more than others. Our task should be the same on both sides of the border —to do everything we can to increase security and reduce the violence, because it is aimed not only at Northern Ireland; it is fundamentally aimed at the future of democracy in the Republic of Ireland.

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind what happened in Belfast last night? She will appreciate how I feel today, when I say that one of those young men was a member of my church, engaged to a young lady who is a member of my church, and the last time I spoke to them was to arrange their marriage. The other young man who was murdered last night was from the same district. I ask her to have a word with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the circumstances of the killing. Is she aware that a hoarding erected by the Lang company obscured the vision of the patrol, preventing it from seeing what was happening in the Smithfield area? The patrol had made representations to its superior officers about this, and no action was taken. Will she see to it that the matter is thoroughly investigated and that young men who go on duty are listened to?

Yes, we understand how the hon. Gentleman feels. He may rest assured that we all feel the same way and express our sympathy to the families of those people, and to the families of those who were injured. I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the hoarding. The matter is being thoroughly investigated. I echo the sentiment, which I know he feels, that men of the Ulster Defence Regiment are particularly brave. We really are very fortunate that, whatever happens in Northern Ireland, and whatever the number of tragedies, people are still prepared to volunteer to come forward to protect democracy.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in Scotland since the general election her party has lost 2 per cent. support, and it was very poor before the general election? Can the right hon. Lady tell us whether it is part of her Government's strategy that we must lose 7,000 jobs in the mining industry as the price of privatisation? Why did she bring in aid the brief supplied by the SSEB, when she knew perfectly well that the matter was about to go to the courts?

If one is interested in jobs, and we are—although I note that the Opposition support many strikes aimed at the destruction of jobs and at moving jobs elsewhere—one is interested in each and every industry being highly competitive and able to supply its material to other industries at a world competitive price as delivered to the power stations. I understand that the latter matter has now been set down for a date for hearing and, therefore, I can say nothing further.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in August 1986 the National Institute of Economic and Social Research forecast, for the calendar year 1987, growth of 1·8 per cent. and a PSBR of £11 billion? As it is now clear that growth in 1987 was 4·8 per cent. and there was no public sector borrowing requirement at all, will my right hon. Friend advise the Treasury to ignore the latest forecasts from the institute, except perhaps to advise it to buy a new computer?

Economic forecasting is, of course, notoriously difficult. I noticed an article in one of last Sunday's newspapers, which compared the actual forecasts with the outturn, and the forecasters did not come off very well. I have noticed the one to which my hon. Friend referred, but I think that it is now well understood and agreed that the most respected forecasts are those of the Treasury, and I am proud to be First Lord of it.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth). Question No. 4.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

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

Does the Prime Minister agree with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security that families should be urged to forgo a second holiday abroad to fund private health care, or does she join the Labour Benches in urging people to forgo a 1p reduction in tax to secure the health of the whole nation?

I am all for families being able to keep a bigger proportion of their own earnings, so that they can make their own choice.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the hospital matron was unique, in that she was able to deal with consultants and doctors, understood the needs of patients and nurses, and was at the same time able to keep a very careful eye on such basic items as bed linen and bandages? I ask the Prime Minister to look at the matter urgently and reintroduce this valuable post as quickly as possible.

Yes. I think that many members of the public regret that there is now no official post of hospital matron, because they believe that it kept up the standard of hospitals in a unique way. It is possible for the head nurse still to have that title in hospital, but that is not quite the same as a post. A number of people have the title. More local health authorities can have it if they so wish. It is a matter that we shall look at in our general review.

Q7.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that thousands of pensioners who live in houses with community alarms and similar apparatus, including up to 300 in Sunderland borough, have been waiting months for the NTVLRO to make a decision about whether they qualify for concessionary licences? Will she speed up this process and, further, when she instructs the Chancellor of the Exchequer what to put in his Budget, will she make sure that he leaves some money so that these folk get what they deserve, a 5p licence for their television?

I will of course call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) has said. It is not our policy to have 5p television licences for all old-age pensioners, as he knows, although that is the case in certain homes. Such a licence would only put the burden on all other television licence payers.

Business Of The House

3.33 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham): Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 29 FEBRUARY—Opposition day (9th allotted day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "The Suppression of Majority Rights in South Africa and the Responsibility of the British Government". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "The Urgent Need to Save British Science". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Bill.

Motion relating to the Education (Publication and Consultation Etc.) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations.

TUESDAY 1 MARCH — Until about seven o'clock motions on a social security order and regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order.

Motion on the annual report from the European Court of Auditors for 1986. Details will be given in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 2 MARCH—There will be a debate on Welsh affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on the Coal Industry (Restructuring Grants) and (Limit on Deficit Grants) Orders.

THURSDAY 3 MARCH — There will be a debate on the Royal Navy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 4 MARCH—Private members' motions.

MONDAY 7 MARCH — Debate on a Government motion on the privatisation of the electricity supply industry.

[Debate on Tuesday I March

Relevant Documents.

Unemployment Benefit (Disqualification Period) Order 1988

Social Security (Benefit) (Members of the Forces)

Amendment Regulations 1988 (S.I. 1988, No 269)

Debate on Tuesday 1 March

Relevant European Documents:

Community Document for Debate

OJ C336—Annual Report of Court of Auditors for 1986 Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee HC 43-xiv (1987–88) para 4

The following Documents and reports are also relevant:
Community Documents
(a) 9392/87Fight against fraud
(b) 9130/87Court of Auditors special report on the quota/additional levy system in the milk sector
(c) UnnumberedCourt of Auditors' report on wine distillation schemes
Relevant Reports
  • (a) HC 43-xv (1987–88) para 5.
  • (b) HC 43-xi (1987–88) para 7.
  • (c) HC 43-x (1987–88) para 5.]
  • I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. The Opposition welcome the fact that there will be an early opportunity in Government time to debate the Government's proposals to increase electricity prices and sell off the electricity supply industry, including nuclear power stations, to private owners.

    Can the Leader of the House tell us why the debate on Welsh affairs next week is being held not on St. David's day but the day after?

    Will the Leader of the House tell us when we can expect the Select Committee on televising proceedings of the House to get down to work?

    Finally, perhaps in an effort to improve order in the House before it is televised, can the Leader of the House tell us whether he is taking steps on the Government side to end the deliberate barracking of Opposition speakers, such as that faced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) yesterday, and end the concerted efforts of Conservative Members to take up time in debates so that Opposition Members with direct constituency interests in those debates are excluded from them?

    The hon. Gentleman has asked me three questions. First, I am sorry that it has not proved possible to arrange the debate on Welsh affairs for St. David's day, but, all things considered, I do not believe that we have done too badly.

    With regard to televising the House and the establishment of the Select Committee, there are active discussions taking place through the usual channels and with all parts of the House. I hope that we can get that Select Committee set up as soon as possible so that we can get on with things. The hon. Gentleman's criticisms in his third question sound a bit like whingeing and I believe that they are a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, rather than for me.

    I wonder whether my right hon. Friend remembers that, last October, I had to go to court, at great expense to myself, to defend the confidentiality of correspondence between myself and a constituent who was involved as a witness in a murder case? Therefore, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would agree to a debate on the confidentiality of correspondence between Members and their constituents especially given the fact that last week, during the rate-capping debate, at column 1240, the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) quoted the contents of a letter sent to me by the director of finance of Ealing council, and evidently copied to the hon. Member without my knowledge, concerning one of my constituents. That letter was a private matter between myself, my constituent and the director of finance and I believe that an important principle was breached, let alone good manners.

    I do remember my hon. Friend's involvement in that matter last October, but I do not believe that I can promise him a debate on that subject. I should have thought that such things were better dealt with by the conventions of the House, that confidential documents should he kept confidential. I should have thought that to proceed in that way was in the best interests of us all.

    May I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing to have the debate on the Scottish education order on the Floor of the House on Monday evening.

    Given that a number of timetable motions have been tabled, when does the right hon. Gentleman expect that the House will have an opportunity to debate the reports of the Select Committee on Procedure about timetable motions as well as its recommendations about private Members' business, particularly those relating to the use of petitions?

    There have been newspaper reports that the Scottish Select Committee is again being delayed because of the unwillingness of Conservative Members to volunteer to serve on it. Can the Leader of the House say when the House will be able to give instructions to the Committee of Selection to give the go-ahead for the Scottish Select Committee to be established?

    The Procedure Committee has a number of reports outstanding and it is certainly my intention to provide time for a debate on them. At this stage I cannot give a specific undertaking about the timing of that debate, but I believe that it is extremely important that hon. Members on both sides of the House should study those reports before we proceed to a debate.

    With regard to the Scottish Select Committee, I have had a helpful letter from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and I believe that that will enable us to make some further progress.

    Although I agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of studying the reports of the Procedure Committee before they are debated, does my right hon. Friend also agree that it is extremely important that we have that Committee back in being because there are a number of matters to which it should turn its attention?

    I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend and, indeed, discussions are presently going on through the usual channels to try to get that Committee set up.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that the Clerks of the House have said that the Opren drug disaster is not sub judice under the rules of the House? Yet the Government have done nothing to help the 1,300 applicants who have, between them, received a total amount less than was given to one American citizen. Why cannot we debate that issue?

    I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman and a number of other hon. Members are concerned about this matter, but I cannot promise him an early debate on it. I do not think I can add anything of substance to what I said about it two or three weeks ago.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the report produced yesterday by the Public Accounts Committee on charities says little that people in the charity world have not been saying for a number of years, its publication, coming on top of the recent decision not to prosecute the Moonies, and last year's efficiency review under Sir Philip Woodfield, will have added to the interest in a debate in the House in Government time on charities and the urgent need to tighten the regulations?

    I appreciate that this is an important matter. As my hon. Friend said, the report has only just been published. The Government are considering it and their observations will be published in a Treasury minute in due course. That is the best thing to do first.

    When may we expect a statement on Scottish electricity privatisation, which is important not only in itself, but because it is clearly the cause of the impasse and breakdown in relationships between British Coal and the South of Scotland Electricity Board?

    I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be making a statement in the near future.

    In view of the large number of our hon. Friends who have signed the early-day motion on the National Union of Students closed shop, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking about an early debate on that important subject, as literally hundreds of thousands of people are affected by that petty tyranny?

    [That this House welcomes the 1987 Employment Act which introduces legislation that will significantly reverse closed shop arrangements, but notes that hundreds of thousands of students will still have no choice over whether or not they join the National Union of Students; and hopes that the Secretary of State for Education and Science will take action to rectify this anomalous position as soon as possible.]

    I recognise that a number of our hon. Friends feel strongly about this. I cannot promise an early debate on the subject, but it seems to me that, with a little ingenuity, it might well be raised on the remaining stages of the Education Reform Bill.

    Will the Leader of the House recall a matter that I have raised with him during business questions before? I refer to the prayer, tabled as early-day motion No. 499 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), on the subject of changes in regulations for planning inquiries relating to power stations and overhead power lines.

    [That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Electricity Generating Stations and Overhead Lines (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 2182), dated 16th December 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th December, be annulled.]

    Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the praying days for the measure were exhausted on 19 February? Will he give us an assurance that the matter will be debated on the Floor of the House on revocation?

    I recognise that the time has run out for praying but I do not think that that should necessarily stop us having a debate if one can be agreed through the usual channels. We are trying to work that out at the moment.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that many hon. Members on both sides are concerned about certain parts of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, and in particular about the lack of provision in it for compensation for shooters who will have their weapons taken away? He will be aware that the Minister announced a compensation buy-back scheme in Committee after a constructive debate. When will he lay the money resolution?

    The Government are considering the matter. We hope to table a motion as soon as possible, but I can add nothing more to that.

    Will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision about the Welsh day debate being called for Wednesday? As a foreigner, the Secretary of State may not appreciate the significance of St. David's day to Wales. We do not want our daffodils drooping on Wednesday. We demand a debate on St. David's day; we have been asking for that for years. It is time the Leader of the House appreciated the significance of that day to the people of Wales.

    I am not too sure about all this foreigner nonsense. My father was born in Cardiff and I reckon that makes me more Welsh than some people who consider themselves Welsh. I thought I had done pretty well to hit 2 March; I am sorry if that upsets the hon. Gentleman. I suggest that he finds out how to look after his daffodil.

    My right hon. Friend will be aware that diplomatic moves are afoot to advance the peace process in the middle east. Will he, in the light of the considerable interest in the subject that has been shown among hon. Members, arrange for a wide-ranging foreign affairs debate before very long?

    There will clearly be a need for a foreign affairs debate before too long, but I cannot promise one in the immediate future. There will be Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Questions next Wednesday, so perhaps my hon. Friend could try his luck then.

    Will the Leader of the House accept that some of us regard it as an anachronism that there should have to be an annual Welsh day when Parliament should be dealing with our problems all the year round?

    On a more substantive matter, will he tell the House of the fate of the Griffiths report? When can we expect a statement? Will he give an assurance that that important report will he published?

    I can think of worse things to do than to debate Welsh affairs in the House all the time. I cannot make a promise on the matter, but I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's question about the Griffiths report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

    Will my right hon. Friend accept that many people agree with him that space research must take its place with other priorities? None the less, does he agree that the report of the Lord Shackleton illustrates that there are grounds for concern about the United Kingdom's space programme? Surely this subject must be worthy of a full debate in the House.

    It is certainly worthy of debate. The Government would be happy to defend their record on space research, which we consider to be good given all the commitments involved. My hon. Friend might try his hand, subject to you, Mr. Speaker, during Monday's debate on British science when he could raise some of his points then.

    May I press the Leader of the House to expand slightly on the answer that he gave about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? It would ease frustration among Labour Members if we could know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be in a position to put forward Government names for the Committee in the near future.

    To travel hopefully is not always to arrive, but I shall do my best. I had been waiting for a letter from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). I have now received a helpful and constructive letter from him, but I cannot add anything further.

    May I renew my call to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for a debate in Government time on the problems facing the civil aviation industry? Last Monday, we had a good run for our money on the subject of air safety, which highlighted the need for a debate on that topic. By 31 March, the Civil Aviation Authority will require comments on its review of air licensing policy. It seems quite wrong for decisions to be made on that subject until the House has had a proper opportunity to discuss all the issues involved.

    I recognise that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in these important matters. I wish that I could help him by promising a debate in the near future. Unfortunately, there are many conflicting calls on our time. The chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority is actively reviewing the procedure for investigating and reporting air misses. No doubt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be reporting to the House in the near future. That will be the next step.

    Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on low pay? When the Prime Minister visits my constituency tomorrow we hope to draw attention to the growing problem of low pay, particularly in the Health Service, where the disastrous privatisation programme has meant that not even jobcentres will accept advertisements from Mediclean.

    I wish that I could find time for the hon. Lady to have a debate on the subject. We are coming up to the season for an extended debate on the Budget resolutions. Some of the points that the hon. Lady wishes to make could be made in that debate.

    My right hon. Friend will know that for several weeks I have been pressing for a statement on meningitis. I am grateful to him for the courteous and detailed letter that he sent me following my request last week. This is a matter of national importance, not merely personal importance. I press the Government to make a statement on meningitis because many people who read snippets here and there in the newspapers do not know the full extent and nature of the problem. It is time that the Government cared and made a statement.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about the way in which I dealt with the matter last time. I shall refer the issue to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to establish whether he thinks anything further should be done.

    Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate or a statement on the current dispute at TV-am? Is he aware that for several months there has been a dispute, with a lockout of members of the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians, because of the management's attitude? Does he know that, according to recent reports, in contravention of section 20 of the Broadcasting Act 1981, the Saudis now own almost a controlling share in that organisation? Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken)—one of the directors of the company—who has issued a statement calling on Tory MPs to go to TV-am with fellow directors on Wednesday to break through the picket line? When he gets there, I shall be there, along with some of my friends, to ensure that those from other television companies who look to this dispute in the hope of maximising their profits do not turn it into another Wapping.

    When the hon. Gentleman started his question, I was determined not to have another debate. Having listened to him and realised to what extent he has got the wrong end of the stick over most of the issues involved, I was tempted to change my mind. However, I thought better of it; there will be no debate.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members have signed early-day motion 6?

    [That this House deplores the fact that, alone among public service pensioners, those whose service was overseas cannot count pre-appointment war service towards their pensions; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to remedy this injustice to a dwindling group of elderly people whose working lives were spent in adverse conditions while dedicated to the service of British interests overseas.]

    It draws the attention of the Government to the anomaly whereby all public service pensioners get war service credit in their pensions unless that service was overseas. Will my right hon. Friend allow us a debate so that what is fast becoming a majority of hon. Members may impress upon the Government the need to do justice to this group of very deserving people?

    I recognise that this is an important matter, and my hon. Friend has raised it on a number of occasions. However, I cannot promise an early debate and I cannot reasonably add much to what my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development said earlier in the week.

    The Leader of the House has had opportunities to explain the reasons for not having a debate on Welsh affairs on St. David's day. He has not yet given us a reason. Will he take this further opportunity to do so? Will he reassure us that it is not simply because of the non-availability of the Secretary of State for Wales, who may prefer creating photo-opportunities in Wales to attending to serious business in this House? Will the arrival of the television cameras in this House attract the Secretary of State to be with us for a debate on St. David's day and will the Leader of the House assure us that next year we can have the debate on St. David's day?

    I cannot at this stage promise the date of the debate in 1989. On this year's debate, if the hon. Gentleman does not know already, he will shortly know how these matters are arranged. They are arranged through the usual channels for the best convenience of everybody in the House and we did our best to meet all the requirements in this case. It is usually not wise to speculate or make slightly mischievous statements about what one thinks the reasons are, because one is usually wrong.

    Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on Scottish affairs only on St. Andrew's day and a debate on English affairs on St. George's day?

    My hon. Friend does not say what we should do for the rest of the time. His suggestion is very helpful, but I do not think that I can quite accommodate it.

    May I again ask the Leader of the House to consider a debate in Government time on the important subject of speech therapy provision in our schools? He will agree with me that many parents are very distressed at the shortage of qualified people to teach and help youngsters suffering speech defects.

    Will he also reconsider his disappointing reply on the Welsh day debate and may I remind him that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) will have no difficulty in looking after his daffodil?

    I felt sure that the hon. Gentleman would have to get in on the act on the question of the Welsh day debate. I cannot be more helpful than I was before.

    I imagine that the whole House recognises that the problems of children with speech defects are a serious matter. I should like to provide time for an early debate and I shall look into the matter, but I cannot promise that I shall succeed.

    Will the Leader of the House please bear in mind that when the Criminal Justice Bill returns to the House of Commons there will doubtless be a well-supported clause for the reintroduction of capital punishment? As that is a matter of such public interest and has such public support, and as the state has a duty to protect its citizens, will my right hon. Friend please allow a full day of debate on that important matter?

    I recognise that my hon. Friend is fast on his feet in such matters, but we should wait until the Bill returns to this House to see what amendments are tabled. We shall then work out how best to deal with them in the customary fashion.

    May we have a debate on the growing misery of vandalism and theft that afflicts shops, homes, churches and schools, especially in my constituency, and on the Home Secretary's refusal to make available the extra police who are needed on the largest estates? May we ask the Home Secretary for a statement on when he proposes to reply to the request from the chief constable of Leicestershire for 91 additional policemen, which will not be enough to contain the menace that has increased during the past nine years?

    I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I very much hope that in any reply my right hon. Friend may make he will point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman the additional resources that are now available in the number of police as a result of this Conservative Government's policies in recent years.

    May I reinforce the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) for a debate on civil aviation because there are not only the matters to which my hon. Friend referred? I ask my right hon. Friend to note other matters, such as airline competition policy, airport capacity and the licensing of certain foreign carriers coming to this country's regional airports, all of which are jostling for attention and would justify a useful debate.

    I recognise the strength of what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think I can add to what I said earlier.

    From the questions asked the Leader of the House will realise the importance attached by Scottish Members to the Scottish Select Committee. What priority does the Leader of the House place on a Committee which is unique by the fact of its non-existence? In saying that a letter will lead to further progress, can he guarantee an announcement some time during the 20th century?

    A Committee that does not exist is not unique. Many Committees that do not exist are unique. I cannot add anything more, but I am working quite hard on this matter, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

    Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on local government in Derbyshire where, as the latest of its nonsensical ideas, the county council has now issued 100 guidelines, which no doubt took a lot of time, to staff in its schools to say that they should not refer in letters to "he" or "she" when talking about their pupils? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is yet another of the county council's nonsensical ideas, following that of printing on all school notepaper, "Derbyshire supports nuclear-free zones"? A debate would be a useful exercise to expose the abuse of local government that we are currently facing in Derbyshire.

    I have to say to my hon. Friend that in all charity there are not enough hours in the day to expose all the nonsenses of that local authority. However, it seems to me that he might find an opportunity in the not too distant future to table an amendment to the Local Government Finance Bill when it comes back to the Floor of the House.

    Does the Leader of the House remember the Prime Minister reluctantly admitting that about 170,000 pensioners have been robbed of £1 million in compensation as a result of the recent error in the calculation of the retail prices index? Does he also remember that several hon. Members of all parties have raised this matter with him? Can he give us some inkling of the outcome of his meeting with the Prime Minister on this subject? If he is not prepared to reconsider the matter to ensure that the Government meet their moral obligation to pay that money, will he at least ensure that that £1 million is given to pensioner organisations which are campaigning for a substantial increase in pensions and for a better deal for pensioners?

    The hon. Gentleman, who is usually so careful about these things, should re-read the statement because he clearly did not take it on board. The Government have done something which they were under no legal obligation to do. They believe that they have got it right. On the previous occasion that the matter was raised in the House, one of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends raised the case of an individual pensioner, which I did not believe was a sensible way of proceeding. The Government's statements on these matters have shown that, for all practical purposes, they have dealt with the matter in as fair and reasonable a way as possible.

    Will there be time for an early debate to consider the terms of early-day motion 652 relating to miscarriages of justice which so far today has the names of 157 right hon. and hon. Members?

    [That this House, in view of the widespread disquiet at the recent judgment by the Court of Appeal in the case of the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings, calls upon the Home Secretary to establish an independent review tribunal, along the lines recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee Report on Miscarriages of Justice, in particular to examine the claim by the honourable Member for Sunderland South that he has traced and interviewed the four men responsible for the bombings and that they are all in Ireland.]

    If not, may we have a substantial debate on the Floor of the House at Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill?

    What is discussed when the Criminal Justice Bill comes back to the House is not a matter for me. I do not see how I can reasonably arrange a debate on this issue at the present time, particularly in view of proceedings which I understand are shortly to take place in the courts.

    May we have a statement on the EEC agreement with Turkey on the importing of acrylic yarns, which has a restrictive safeguard clause which, before, it can be operated, involves the sacking of workers and the closure of mills? Is the Leader of the House aware that already that agreement with Turkey through the EEC has led to short-time working in Bradford and a statement is urgently needed to protect jobs? Is it not time that some attention was given to the way in which the Government are continually capitulating to the demands of the Common Market with a consequent adverse effect on jobs in constituencies such as mine?

    I do not accept the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

    In response to the question put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), does my right hon. Friend consider that perhaps we should shortly have a debate on broadcasting so that that hon. Gentleman can explain to his lower-paid constituents, with whose woes he never fails to regale us, how it is that next week he will be appearing on a potentially violent picket line in order to defend the rights of television technicians who earn in excess of £40,000 a year for less than 30 hours a week?

    My hon. Friend puts his point well and I wish that I could arrange such a debate next week, hut I am afraid that I do not see how I can fit it in.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that the non-political organisation, Hospital Alert, has arranged a national lobby of Parliament today and at least 5,000 people will be coming to the Palace of Westminster? Will he give an assurance that can be circulated to people throughout the country who make contact with that organisation that every Member of the House, apart from Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries, are free to sign the early-day motion, which calls for additional resources for the National Health Service? Will he say that there is no need for any hon. Member to excuse his or her failure to sign because it can be amended to secure the necessary objective?

    [That this House congratulates the Confederation of Health Service Employees on the publication of its Charter for the National Health Service entitled "2p for Health"; urges that when the Chancellor announces his Budget on 15th March he uses the money put aside for a 2p tax cut for the National Health Service instead; calls on National Health Service staff, those who use its services and those who care about its future to unite in calling for that money, which amounts to £2·5 billion, to be used to fund a way out of the crisis; calls for £2,000 million to go directly into patient services, taking National Health Service funding back to the real level it enjoyed in 1979 and £500 million to be spent immediately, to improve pay and conditions for staff; calls for funding to continue to be through the tax system so that care can be given free at the time of delivery; calls for a rise in health authority funding of at least 2·5 per cent. above the increase in gross domestic product over the next 12 years to bring health spending up to the average for West European countries so as to provide a stable financial framework and enable long-term planning; calls for the urgent talks on how to improve working conditions; calls for full funding for pay awards to relieve the pressure on hard-pressed health authorities in defence of patient services; calls for a guaranteed independent system of pay determination for all health staff; calls for a users' charter of rights setting out a legal right to treatment, calls for a duty on health authorities to look at the quality as well as the cost of services; and calls for the involvement of staff and users in ensuring that standards are met.

    I am sorry to lecture the hon. Gentleman, but the first thing that one has to do before signing an early-day motion is to see whether its terms are reasonable and sensible and I hope that all will recognise that there has been a substantial increase in funding in the NHS under the Government which is likely to continue in future.

    Did the Leader of the House hear that amazing interview given by the Rev. Pat Robertson, one of the Republican party's presidential candidates, in which he said that he had had a discussion with God who had told him that Europe and the middle east would be destroyed and the world taken over by the evangelists? Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that someone like the Rev. Pat Robertson might become President of the United States and, through the nuclear button, have the wherewithal to fulfil that prophecy?

    It relates to a request for a debate on broadcasting to enable the House to make its opinions clearly heard. We do not want those television evangelists polluting our airwaves with the disgusting spectacle of people such as Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart pouring out their emotions. They are nothing more than Right-wing conspirators. Can we have a debate?

    I had been wondering whether the hon. Gentleman had been overworking recently. I am bound to say that if he thinks that that is a sensible subject for a debate next week, he should go on holiday for a while.

    Will the Leader of the House concede that a growing number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and, indeed, people outside, feel that it is difficult for the Government and the Opposition to conduct their business effectively in the House after 10 pm? That may be even more evident with the televising of Parliament. Since there is no Procedure Committee, will the Leader of the House advise us how best this matter can be brought to the attention of the House for an early decision?

    There is another hon. Member who seems to be falling by the wayside.

    For many years the House has tried to conduct as much of its business as it can before 10 pm, but I do not see that, in the foreseeable future, we shall be able to finish our business before 10. I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain if some of the subjects that he wanted to debate could not be discussed.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware of the fact that members of the National and Local Government Officers Association have until 15 March to cast their vote in the political fund ballot? Is he also aware that NALGO is grossly misrepresenting the Trade Unions Act 1984? Will he arrange a debate so that the House can discuss NALGO's distorted campaign of misinformation in an attempt to mislead its members into voting yes?

    I recognise that this is an important matter. I see the substance in what my hon. Friend says, but I cannot promise him an early debate. I suggest that he puts down a question to the Secretary of State for Employment for answer at Question Time next Tuesday.

    Does the Leader of the House realise that the Scottish Grand Committee, which does still exist, has not met since daffodils last bloomed in all the lands of the United Kingdom? Has there ever been a time since the Union of Parliaments in 1707 when the Scottish Grand Committee has failed to meet for such a period of time, when the Welsh Grand Committee has met on three occasions since the general election? Is it because the Secretary of State for Scotland is fearful to come before the massed ranks of the Opposition to debate the crisis in the Health Service and in education in Scotland, not to mention the diversion of money from the important bypasses in my constituency to the A74, and many other issues?

    If the hon. Gentleman likes to comfort himself with that view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, whom I heard giving a good account of himself in the House earlier this week, he is welcome to do so. Whether the Scottish Grand Committee meets in Edinburgh is not entirely a matter for me. Other parts of the House have a view on that. I can only say that I am glad that my ancestry was Welsh rather than Scots, as they seem to be a bit easier to control.

    Electricity (Privatisation)

    4.8 pm

    With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the future of the electricity supply industry in England and Wales.

    In our manifesto, we promised to bring forward proposals to privatise the industry. Our purpose is to give the customer and the employees a better deal and a direct stake in the industry. I believe that the industry will achieve more if it is moved into the private sector, freed from Government interference, and made accountable to its customers and shareholders, including its employee shareholders.

    In framing my proposals, I have adopted six principles. Decisions about the supply of electricity should be driven by the needs of customers. Competition is the best guarantee of the customers' interests. Regulation should be designed to promote competition, oversee prices and protect the customers' interests in areas where natural monopoly will remain. Security and safety of supply must be maintained. Customers should be given new rights, not just safeguards. All who work in the industry should be offered a direct stake in their future, new career opportunities and the freedom to manage their commercial affairs without interference from Government.

    There is substantial room for competition in the electricity industry. The distribution and transmission of electricity are largely natural monopolies, in which it would not be economic to duplicate resources, but there is no natural monopoly in electricity generation, which accounts for some three quarters of the costs of electricity. Only if competition is introduced will there be real incentives for generators to build power stations efficiently, to have their stations available and to fuel and run them efficiently.

    There are three conditions which must be met if competition in generation is to develop. First, the effective monopoly enjoyed by the Central Electricity Generating Board will have to be ended It will not be sufficient to leave the CEGB in its dominant position and rely on the growth of competition from Scotland, France and private generators. Second, ownership and control of the national grid will have to be transferred to the distribution side of the industry. However well regulated, the CEGB would have little incentive to allow competing generators fair access to a grid that it owned and controlled. Private generating companies would have little incentive to enter the market and compete. Finally, the CEGB's obligation to provide bulk supplies of electricity will have to be ended, as it obliges the CEGB to take all the key decisions on power supply.

    I therefore propose to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to provide powers to restructure and privatise the industry. Those powers will be used to reorganise the CEGB into three new companies. The first will be a new generating company, owning some 30 per cent. of the CEGB's existing capacity, all of it non-nuclear. The second will comprise the remainder of the CEGB's generating capacity, both fossil-fueled and nuclear. The third will be a national grid company, whose ownership will be transferred to the 12 existing area boards. The area boards will in turn be converted into 12 distribution companies, preserving their strong regional identity. The Government will consult the industry about the implications of privatisation for the employees and the continuing functions of the Electricity Council, but the council itself will be abolished when the new structure is put in place. When they have been established, the shares in the 12 distribution companies and two generating companies will be sold to the public and employees.

    In future, the distribution companies will be able to look to private generators, Scotland, France, the two large generating companies or their own generation to meet demand. The new structure will introduce competition, which will be the best guarantee of the customer's interests, but the legislation will also provide safeguards and new rights. It will create new opportunities for employees.

    First, it will establish regulatory arrangements to promote competition, to provide incentives for efficiency and to oversee electricity prices to the consumer.

    Secondly, a number of measures will be taken to ensure the security of supply. Because there are not alternatives to electricity in many of its uses, security of supply is of great importance. The legislation will therefore place a clear obligation to supply on the 12 distribution companies, which will ensure that they contract for sufficient capacity, but security of supply is not simply a question of having sufficient capacity. Power has to be transmitted through the national grid and the grid controllers have a central role in planning and directing the use of power stations so as to prevent the failure of the system and to minimise cost. Our proposals will ensure that the national grid company, owned by the distribution companies, retains that central role. The integrity of the grid and the operation of power stations in merit order will be preserved.

    The other principal condition for maintaining secure supply is to ensure that electricity is generated from the diversity of fuels. It would be irresponsible to rely on fossil fuels to meet all our electricity generating requirements. The legislation will therefore provide for a clear obligation to be placed on the distribution companies to contract for a specified proportion of non-fossil-fuelled generating capacity.

    The legislation will also incorporate an electricity supply code, consolidating and updating the legislation that currently governs the supply of electricity, and dates back to the last century. Above all, we shall maintain present standards of safety throughout the industry.

    Finally, the legislation will establish new rights for the consumer. Even after privatisation, the local distribution companies will remain natural monopolies. Although their prices will be regulated, I do not believe that this will be sufficient. The consumer will therefore be given the right to financial compensation, if the distribution companies fail to provide a guaranteed level of service. They will also be required to provide a range of performance indicators of standards of service, which will be published.

    Competition and other measures that I have described will benefit the consumer, but the employees will also benefit and that is just as important. The new structure of the industry will provide wider career opportunities for employees and there will be attractive provisions to ensure that they can acquire shares. Existing pension obligations will be safeguarded. The legislation will make no changes to the industry's negotiating and consultation machinery.

    Because of the importance of these proposals, I am today publishing them in the form of a White Paper and copies are now available in the Library and in the Vote Office.

    The electricity industry has much to be proud of, but I believe that it can achieve more. My proposals will create a modern competitive industry, owned by the public and responsive to the needs of customers and employees.

    I think that the House will at last welcome a statement from the Government on the privatisation of electricity and the publication of the White Paper which we have been calling for. The Secretary of State has presented a highly technical matter to us and we shall need to give proper thought to it. A week on Monday, we shall have the opportunity to debate the issue and to make our points after consideration.

    We have heard for a considerable time all the controversy about the Government's proposals. The Secretary of State has confirmed again today that consumers' interests and needs will be guaranteed by competition, but, at the same time, we have heard that he will protect monopolies. It is not a question of private competition; it is a question of monopolies, oligopolies and regulated control and has absolutely nothing to do with competition. Any close reading of the White Paper would certainly show that. If that is contested, the Secretary of State, in both his statement and the White Paper, talks of "natural monopolies". [Interruption.] If Conservative Members do not understand what that means for the exploitation of the consumer, they do not understand the theory of their own competition philosophy.

    Does the Secretary of State accept that the White Paper takes the organisation of the electricity supply industry back 50 years? Does he accept that the integration of the system has produced its efficiency and cheaper prices? Does he accept that the dismantling of the electricity supply industry is against the world trend and represents a triumph of ideology over common sense? Why does he dismantle the electricity supply industry that has ensured adequate investment, a reliable, national grid and electricity prices that are presently among the lowest in the world and produced by a public utility?

    Has the Secretary of State read the 1981 report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, established by this Government, on the generation of electricity and its 1987 report on bulk transmission of electricity? Is he aware that both reports concluded that, although criticisms could be made, the public utility had not operated against the public interest? That is the judgment of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission which was set up by the Government.

    Does the Secretary of State accept the recent Electricity Council report, which shows that, on the latest figures for electricity prices, Britain is the sixth cheapest of the 20 major economies in the world—cheap to the consumer and cheap to industry? [Interruption.] That was produced by the Electricity Council, a fact which may cause some humour on the Government Benches. What guarantee can the Secretary of State give that privatisation will produce cheaper prices than those produced by the public utility?

    Does the Secretary of State accept that the electricity price increases due in April have been rejected as unjustified by the CBI, the Electricity Consumers Council and any other consumer body? Indeed, his own White Paper says nothing about electricity prices. Has he read the independent report by Oxford Economic Research Associates, commissioned by the CBI, which rejects the notion that a 15 per cent. increase over two years is necessary to finance his £40 billion investment programme? Will he accept that the increase amounts to nothing more than a privatisation tax designed to fatten the industry prior to privatisation, and to be paid by the consumer?

    What steps will the Secretary of State take to prevent the newly privatised electricity supply industry proposed in the White Paper from colluding on prices and quality of service? Is not the Secretary of State attempting to construct a wholly inappropriate model of competition in an industry where competition has had no place and never had, publicly or privately here or abroad? Does he accept that even in the United States there is not a minuscule of competition? Will we not have a rerun of the British Airways-BCal scenario where in the end the larger company buys out the smaller company? Is it not just monopoly first by collusion and then takeover?

    What steps does the Secretary of State intend to take to ensure that British generating capacity is not taken over by foreign owners? Will he consider having a golden share, for whatever that is worth after Britoil, to protect the British capacity to generate electricity? Can he assure us with total confidence that Lord Marshall is wrong to say that the separation of the grid from transmission will risk the security of supply, or will the Secretary of State be known as the first Minister for blackouts?

    Will the Secretary of State also ensure that the principle of obligation to supply to which he referred, which is now to be placed on the distribution companies, will guarantee maximum co-operation from private companies in the generation of power under any circumstances, and particularly in emergencies?

    In view of the Government's active intention to encourage coal imports in a newly privatised industry, can the Secretary of State tell us what effect that will have on the British industry? Will it not mean an estimated import of 30 million tonnes of coal and add £1 billion to the balance of trade deficit, which already stands at a record level of £14 billion? Will job losses be as high as the 75,000 estimated by the Coalfield Communities Campaign? [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] The Secretary of State took well over 10 minutes to read his statement on the White Paper. I must protest at the barracking of the yobboes on the Government side. I look to you, Mr. Speaker, to give me support.

    If the Secretary of State believes in the power of the market, why does he intend to import nuclear generation into the newly privatised industry? The Secretary of State, who believes in market forces, intends to force private distribution companies to take a share of nuclear energy, yet when it comes to the coal industry he says that market forces will prevail and coal will be bought from the cheapest source of supply. Why is the rule different for nuclear energy when the Government believe so strongly in the market solution? This is intervention by the Government, which is totally inconsistent.

    Why is privatisation going ahead when the Secretary of State has singularly failed to present the House with any evidence to counter the charge that it will lead to higher prices, job losses and poorer service to the consumer? Is this the price to be paid for future tax cuts?

    In conclusion—

    Order. We have a heavy day in front of us. The hon. Gentleman should now conclude.

    Has the Secretary of State read the report of the Gas Consumers Council which shows that, after the privatisation of gas, disconnections last year rose by 35 per cent.? Can he give the House a guarantee that a similar fate will not face consumers in a privatised electricity industry, with consequences for those who may suffer cold-related illnesses, including hypothermia, and who suffer fuel poverty? After all, 30,000 people die each year from cold-related illnesses. When will the Secretary of state produce a long-term energy policy which is capable of meeting the long-term needs of the nation and using the energy resources which are available in a sensible and coherent way?

    The Secretary of State, who defends his policy in the name of the consumer, must note that only five paragraphs out of 65 in the White Paper say anything about the consumer. This is not a policy about energy. It is not a policy for the benefit of the consumer or even for the benefit of those employed in the industry. It is solely a policy to maximise the price of selling off Treasury and energy assets to finance tax cuts.

    I am afraid that is not nearly as difficult as the hon. Gentleman would wish it to be. I accept that it is a long White Paper and that the hon. Gentleman has not had it long. When he reads it more carefully, he will find the answers to quite a few of his questions set out in clear detail.

    I shall go through some of the points which he raised. He said that I say in the White Paper that distribution is a natural monopoly; that is true. But I also say that nearly 80 per cent. of the costs of electricity arise from generation, and that is not a natural monopoly. The object is to seek to introduce competition into generation and, at the same time, to make sure that the distributors do not abuse their monopoly power, that they are properly regulated and that customers have a choice and also have rights which are enshrined in law.

    The hon. Gentleman also said that what is proposed is against the world trend. The plain fact is that there is no world model for electricity supply and generation. The model which we have put before the House, which we believe will work well, is now being widely discussed by far-sighted people in the American supply industry.

    The hon. Gentleman asked whether the industry will be efficient. We believe that it will be more efficient. We will build on the basis that is there. The main point of the White Paper, which he must recognise, is that at present the industry is totally producer-dominated. Electricity is produced by a single supplier and the customer has no choice but to accept whatever cost that supplier hands over. We are putting the customer in the driving seat. We are tilting the balance of the industry so that it will not in future be producer-dominated but will be dominated by the needs of the consumer. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Will it be cheaper?"] Yes, in due course it will be cheaper because competition will exert downward pressure on costs. It will not happen overnight. [Interruption.] In that case, we will do even better. All the signs are that competition will produce pressure on costs. At present, 80 per cent. of the costs are pushed over on a cost-plus basis to the customer. That will not be the case in future.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about price increases. He quoted the CBI approvingly. I hope he reads that paper carefully. When he has, I cannot imagine that he will find a thing in it with which he will agree. Electricity represents 2 per cent. of industry's costs. For the first time since April 1985, we are proposing an increase of 8 per cent. That means an increase of less than one sixth of 1 per cent. over three-years.

    There are some heavy users, and they are at a disadvantage. However, we have made arrangements to try to help them with their problems. One of the factors that hinder us is that we cannot offer undue preference to any one customer. Under our new structure, heavy users will be able to contract with generators and use the grid as a common carrier, and the problems that the hon. Gentleman and the CBI are moaning about will be dealt with.

    The hon. Gentleman talks about collusion. Again, he says that there will be only two generators. There will not. Scotland already has the capacity to support more than 2 GW south of the border, and that capacity could grow. The inter-connector needs strengthening, but effectively we already have three generators. We have the cross-Channel link, and we have two or three private generators feeding into the system. There will be many more in the future. The area boards will have the right to generate, and most are already making plans either to purchase direct or to install capacity of their own.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about a golden share. We shall make arrangements to ensure that the industries remain independent. [Interruption.] There are other ways which are very effective, and they will be adopted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Britoil?"] Yes, Britoil has shown that there are weaknesses in that arrangement, but there are other versions that can be put in place just as easily.

    The hon. Gentleman talked about the obligation to supply being transferred to the distributors. I do not think that he understands the significance of that. I have already pointed out that at present the industry is completely dominated by the costs of one monopoly supplier, and the distributors have no choice but to accept that cost. In future, they will be able to shop around for capacity and to strike bargains.

    The hon. Gentleman talked about coal imports. Coal imports are possible now. They do not take place, because of the long-term agreement between the CEGB and British Coal. If British Coal remains a reliable, competitive supplier, it will continue to supply the industry's substantial needs, but we shall not make it a supplier of obligation. We shall ensure that it remains the supplier of choice, on the basis of its performance. That is why the Government are making available £2 million a day of the taxpayers' money so that Britain has a modern, competitive coal industry.

    If the hon. Gentleman really cares about the future of coal, I advise him to talk to the unions in the industry and explain to them the need for flexible, modern working to go with the flexible, modern investment. [Interruption.] I am just about to explain.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about nuclear power. We believe that diversity of supply is essential for security of supply.

    The hon. Gentleman asks why we cannot have coal use to produce electricity. But we shall: coal will remain a substantial supplier to the industry. It will still be overwhelmingly the biggest single source of power. That will be built into the system. [Interruption.]

    Order. There is no point in the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) asking questions from a sedentary position. If he is patient, he may have a chance to ask them on his feet.

    We believe that it is in the national interest to have diversity, and nuclear power is part of that diversity. That was part of our election manifesto. It has been a declared policy of the Government, and remains so. One of the reasons for which we need diversity of supply is the abuse of monopoly power that certain elements of the coal industry have demonstrated that they enjoy using.

    I was asked about disconnections. There is no reason why disconnections should increase under a privatised industry, and we shall make arrangements to ensure that the code of conduct remains in place and is observed.

    Order. I am bound to have regard to the subsequent business for today, which is an important debate on Northern Ireland. I shall allow questions on the statement until 5.15 pm, and then we really must move on. I shall bear in mind that the hon. Members whom I call today will not stand quite such a good chance in the debate on Monday.

    Does my right hon. Friend accept that the additional competition that he proposes, and the creation of numerous new sources of electricity supply, is very welcome and will greatly assist the consumer — a point that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) seemed to ignore completely in his interminable harangue?

    As the Government propose that the entire nuclear programme should now go into the private sector, and as the nuclear costs will be protected by the requirement of the distribution company to buy nuclear, and that will therefore be passed on to the consumer, will my right hon. Friend reassure us that the nuclear building programme will be rigorously overhauled, tightly controlled and made suitable for the needs of the 1990s—and, in particular, suitable for a world in which oil and coal prices will remain very low?

    I know my right hon. Friend's views about nuclear generation. We believe that a generation of pressurised water reactors—the same technology, with a repeat build, six being built one after the other—will offer a sensible, secure way of meeting the nuclear obligation.

    Of course, as a result of the customer's obligation to buy electricity from nuclear generation, the nuclear industry will be in a privileged position, and that aspect will have to be regulated very carefully.

    Why is the Secretary of State treating the nuclear industry differently from the coal industry? Why has he given a guarantee for nuclear power and British generation, but gives no guarantee that the British coal industry will be protected?

    We see what is happening in Scotland. This could sound the death knell for the British coal industry unless there is a guarantee in the White Paper and in Government policy.

    The right hon. Gentleman is being extremely defeatist. Since 1979, the Government have made an investment of nearly £6 billion in the coal industry: £2 million a day is being invested. The industry is responding. It is becoming more competitive. I believe that it is capable of facing up to the competition, and that it does not need the protection that the right hon. Gentleman demands.

    It is a very negative approach to the industry to say that it has no future unless it is entirely protected. It must make good use of the investment. It must have modern working practices to go with the modern machinery, and its future will then be secure. That is in the hands of those who work in the industry.

    My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Select Committee on Energy has begun a major and comprehensive inquiry — belatedly, through no fault of its own. He will also be aware that the inquiry has already disclosed not only that this is a matter of immense complexity, but that there are profound disagreements on the structure, consequences and objectives of privatisation.

    As the inquiry is unlikely to be completed until June, may I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance that the proposals will not be regarded as having been set in concrete, but that the evidence and conclusions that the Select Committee may reach will be taken into careful consideration?