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Commons Chamber

Volume 130: debated on Monday 21 March 1988

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House Of Commons

Monday 21 March 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Wales

Aids

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the number of persons in Wales now diagnosed as having AIDS; what has been the increase during the past 12 months; and what estimate has been made of the probable increase over the next 12 months.

At the end of February 1988, 19 cases of AIDS in Wales had been reported to the communicable diseases surveillance centre, of whom 15 died. Comparable figures for the end of February 1987 were 11 and nine. It is extremely difficult to make a reliable estimate for Wales.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a number of recent studies, including one in the United States of America, suggest that the ultimate number of people suffering from the disease will be far greater than anticipated'? I do not wish to be alarmist, but will there be an upgrading of current plans to meet that possibility?

I have noted the various interesting results of studies into mortality rates for men aged between 15 and 64. My hon. Friend may be pleased to know that I have every confidence in the existing voluntary system of reporting AIDS deaths, although I am aware that not all are recorded. There may be HIV-related deaths that do not fall within the clinical definition of AIDS.

Do not the World Health Organisation and all medical authorities recognise AIDS as the greatest threat to human health this century? Are not the number of AIDS cases doubling every 12 months? Projected over 10 years, does that not pose a serious threat to a large number, perhaps even the majority, of the world's population?

In view of that enormous threat, will the Minister ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to use his voice in the Cabinet to plead for a massive increase in research funding so that a cure can be found for AIDS? Should not the Government introduce a major public education programme to prevent the spread of AIDS through promiscuity?

To begin at the end, a massive public education campaign has been launched through the Health Education Council and, indeed, the Welsh Health Promotion Authority, which has been active in schools, local authorities and elsewhere. I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the hon. Gentleman's point about international research. Indeed, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will read his comments.

Labour Statistics

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the combined total of persons employed in Wales in the coal and steel industries in 1979; what it is in 1988; and what are the equivalent figures for the electronic and information technology industries.

Employment in the steel industry and on the colliery books of British Coal amounted to 86,000 in 1979 and to 32,100 in 1987. Employment in the electronic and information technology industries in the same years was 17,500 and 23,100 respectively. I am pleased to tell the House that Race Electronics of Talbot Green, Mid Glamorgan, today announced a major additional investment of £11 million that will, over the next few years, produce 1,100 new jobs.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, which I am sure will be greeted with enormous pleasure in south Wales. Does that trend show the advantages that will come to Wales from modernising the approach to the older, more traditional industries and, more important, the introduction of the new science-based industries?

When the right hon. Gentleman meets tha Alyn and Deeside council later this week to discuss modern industries and electronics, will he bear in mind that the council has good plans for the now redundant site of Connah's Quay power station, which could accommodate modern industry? However, the plan has hit a snag. Will the right hon. Gentleman listen carefully and sympathetically to the problems of the district council, so that Alyn and Deeside has the benefit of that site?

I cannot comment on the specific scheme, but I shall certainly listen to the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we warmly welcome any announcements of job creation in Wales? Does he agree that for the future of the Welsh economy, it is essential that design, development and research development are carried out within Wales? Would that not amount to a more genuine science-based economy than would intermediate or low technology?

Yes, which is why I am hopeful that developments in the Welsh universities, through new grants to encourage research as joint ventures between industrial companies and universities, will have a considerable impact in Wales.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that we welcome all new jobs in electronic and information technology, even though, as his figures show, they fall far short of the number of jobs that are needed? Does he recognise that many of the predominantly women production workers in the new industries earn little more than half the average national wage? The new industries are not replacing the lost, high-paid, male jobs.

As 120,000 fewer people in Wales are now either employed or self-employed than when the Government took office, is the right hon. Gentleman not concerned about the latest unemployment figures, which show that Wales is eighth worst of the 11 regions in the decline in unemployment since February 1987?

I am gald to say that, in fact in terms of the rate of reduction on the normal basis that has been used by all Governments—[Interruption.]—Wales is in the top three of the league. So far as the figures are concerned, I note, as always, the deep depression of the right hon. Gentleman. In the past year unemployment in Wales has come down by more than 25,000. The people of Wales find the right hon. Gentleman totally out of touch with the mood of the country.

Labour Statistics

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest unemployment figures for (i) Wales, (ii) West Glamorgan and (iii) Neath and what were the comparable figures for the same period in 1979.

On 11 February 1988 the number of unemployed claimants in Wales, West Glamorgan, and Neath districts were 145,458, 19,461 and 3,456 respectively. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a basis that enables a valid comparison to be made.

What would the right hon. Gentleman's reaction be to those figures if they occurred in his own constituency? As for the quality of the jobs to which he has referred this afternoon, do they carry the same earning power as those that have been lost? What assurances can he give to places that are suffering colliery closures, such as my own area with the Abernant colliery, that new jobs will replace the jobs that have been lost?

I deplore unemployment anywhere. In the recent recession, there was a substantial increase in unemployment in my constituency. Indeed, it reached the kind of figures that is now the average for Wales as a whole. In terms of the jobs coming into Wales, since the last Question Time we have had announcements from major American, German, Japanese and Welsh firms, which are all putting in a great deal of investment and providing many new jobs. It is time that the hon. Gentleman, and others, cheered up about it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the local economy in north-east Wales is recovering extremely strongly, as can be seen by the fact that unemployment has fallen faster there than in any other parts of Wales during the past year—in Delyn by 24·1 per cent., in Alyn and Deeside by 22·9 per cent. and in Wrexham by 22·5 per cent.?

Yes, I am pleased that the latest figures for advertisements for vacancies show an enormous increase. For example, the latest figures for the Liverpool Daily Post show an increase of 33 per cent. and the Western Mail and South Wales Echo show an increase of 47 per cent. over the same time last year.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the cuts in home improvement grants in the Budget will create more unemployment in Wales, especially as we have the poorest housing stock in Britain? Does he not think that we should retain those grants?

I was amused to see the great outcry about that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will put this matter into perspective. On the average loan for house improvements the result of the Budget change will be a detriment of £1·32 per week, but for the same person the tax savings from the Budget will be £4·58 per week. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Budget is bad is totally wrong.

Do those figures not reveal that yet again in terms of unemployment south Wales is the blackspot of Europe? Will the Secretary of State reconsider the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), that in the past 12 months—February to February—our decline in employment is the eighth worst of 11 regions? Would this not be a good time to launch a housing drive, especially when one considers that Scotland, with double our population, spends four times the amount that we spend on housing? Perhaps the Secretary of State is perfectly content to see homelessness rise and Rachmanism take over.

The one thing that the hon. Gentleman is always guaranteed to do is to depict south Wales as a blackspot, but he does great harm to it every time he does so. I am glad to say that this year the local authorities alone in the valleys of south Wales will spend £48 million on housing improvements. The success of this Government in improving the housing of Wales compared with the failure of the Labour Government is remarkable.

Wales Tourist Board

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the chairman of the Wales tourist board; and what matters were discussed.

My right hon. Friend last met the chairman on 13 January and discussed a range of issues. I met the chairman and the board on 19 February.

Will the Minister tell the House whether the Secretary of State has discussed with the chairman of the Wales tourist board the effects of the arson campaign on second homes in Wales, which we all deprecate and condemn entirely? Has he had any response from the tourist board of the effect on the tourist industry, in view of the 130 houses which have now been burnt and the many people who are now having difficulty in getting insurance on holiday homes? What initiatives has his right hon. Friend taken to bring this campaign to an end?

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman condemn the arson campaign, and this morning I was glad to read in the Liverpool Daily Post the condemnation of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas). Naturally, my right hon. Friend and I join in that condemnation. We wholly deplore the arson campaign. The matter was not specifically discussed with the Wales tourst board, which is not the responsible body. It is a matter for the police and the Home Office.

As Welsh lamb is a delicacy much enjoyed by tourists, was the Minister able to assure the chairman of the Wales tourist board that no radioactive lamb contaminated above the official safety levels was sold in Wales, as it undoubtedly was in England due to official bungling?

I beg to doubt the hon. Lady's statement. Naturally we have taken every possible precaution to ensure that lamb that contains radiation above the accepted levels has not been sold. We have taken every possible step to prevent that, and I am glad to say that the outlook for the future is improving.

Is it not singularly inappropriate at this time that there should be this campaign of burning down holiday homes, in view of the fact that numerous people in many countries, including Wales, are now buying second homes in other countries, such as Spain, Italy and France? Is that not incongruous?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think that the entire House deplores the arson campaign that has been going on, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) described. We wholly deplore it. It is needless, cowardly and thoroughly condemned by the people of Wales as a whole. It does irreparable harm to tourism and our reputation as a hospitable nation.

Opera

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to encourage the development of opera in Wales.

The Government's substantial support for the arts is channelled through the Arts Council of Great Britain in the first instance. Opera in Wales has been a major beneficiary of Arts Council grants, which have done much to encourage its development. I hope that that development will continue.

We in Wales have an outstanding reputation for opera. Will the Minister say when there may he a decision on the future of Craig-y-nos castle in my constituency, the home of the late Adelina Patti, where prominent opera lovers in Wales, including Sir Geraint Evans, are keen to establish a music centre to train young opera singers?

Many people would like to see the former home of Adelina Patti become the centre for opera and other kinds of music. There have been several other suggestions for the possible uses for Craig-y-nos, including the theatre. Tenders for the freehold of the property are being carefully considered and we shall take all relevant factors into account in reaching a decision. My right hon. Friend has already taken action to increase the protection of the theatre at Craig-y-nos by announcing its listing to grade 1.

Does my hon. Friend know of the proposal by a private developer, in co-operation with Rhuddlan borough council, to build a theatre adjacent to the Sun centre, which would provide a home for the Welsh National Opera when it visits north Wales? Will he take a benevolent interest in the project?

We take a benevolent interest in all proposals to increase the number of venues available for the Welsh National Opera company. My hon. Friend will be aware that the proposal that he mentioned is not the only one. We are proud of the Welsh National Opera company and are anxious to see it succeed still further.

I recognise the Welsh National Opera company's contribution to opera. Is the Minister aware that Craig-y-nos is not dependent on the Welsh National Opera for operatic performances? What help will he give to sustain possible future productions and the continuation of productions at Craig-y-nos over the years?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has sung there with the Neath operatic society. Perhaps the theatre should be kept in his honour as well as that of Adelina Patti. Of course, whatever assistance is given to any future performance is basically a matter for the Arts Council.

Welsh Craft Industry

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals he has to implement the recommendations of Mr. Tony Ball's Welsh craft industry study for a coordinated marketing policy for Wales and Welsh products, to be implemented by the Welsh Development Agency, Mid Wales Development, the Welsh tourist board and other Welsh agencies.

There has been strong endorsement of Mr. Tony Ball's Welsh craft industry study and of his ideas for developing a more co-ordinated strategy for promoting Wales and its products. I shall be considering with the main bodies concerned how best to implement the recommendations.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if a co-ordinated all-Wales marketing effort is to be achieved the Welsh Office must take the initiative? Does he also agree that such an integrated marketing approach could only increase the impact of each Welsh agency's marketing, without undermining their independence?

The report showed many weaknesses and duplications in the existing systems. As I said, I shall have further discussion with the bodies involved, and then we will come to our conclusions.

When the right hon. Gentleman reaches his conclusions, will he bear in mind that many small craft producers in Wales consider that the WDA and Mid-Wales Development are rather remote? Will he take steps to ensure that the distance between them is reduced as far as possible?

Part of Mr. Ball's recommendation was that, in the manner in which the system operated at the moment, many smaller craft users were unable to identify exactly where they should go and from whom they should obtain advice. The recommendations pointing out that they should have freely available to them a point at which they can seek any advice or help are important.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Welsh craft industry would be sadly neglected if the Department of Employment were to close the workshop for the blind in Pontypridd? Is he aware also that proposals have been under discussion for the past two years? Only a matter of weeks ago an Employment Minister decided that he would cancel any financial arrangements for the new workshop in Pontypridd. Will the Secretary of State carry out an investigation and ensure that the application for a workshop for the blind people of mid-Glamorgan is renewed and that a new building is provided?

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I gather that he or one of his Ministers will have talks with at least one Welsh Member in the near future.

Hospital Waiting Lists

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest information he has on the number of people waiting for in-patient treatment as (a) urgent and (b) non-urgent cases in (i) Clwyd and (ii) Wales.

The number of people waiting for urgent inpatient treatment in Clwyd at 30 September 1987 was 383, and in Wales 3,596. The numbers waiting for non-urgent in-patient treatment were 4,491 and 36,262 respectively.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the promise that he made last August? He pledged that by the spring of 1988 no patient waiting for an urgent operation should have to wait more than one month, and no patient waiting for a non-urgent operation should have to wait for more than one year. Today is the first day of spring. Every person in Wales knows that the waiting list is as bad as it ever was. Patients in the main specialties, such as general surgery, orthopaedics, ENT, and urology are dying before they get to the top of the waiting list. Did the Minister make his pledge last August out of simple political bravado, to build up the hopes of Welsh people, only to dash them cruelly today? If he did not, what has gone wrong?

The hon. Gentleman is spreading alarm rather unnecessarily. He mentioned particular sectors, which he also brought up in the last Welsh Grand Committee—general surgery, ophthalmology, urology and orthopaedics. I am pleased to say that in Clwyd the authority has reported that the urgent in-patient list in these specifications will meet targets. In addition, urology and ophthalmology non-urgent in-patient lists will meet targets in the same county.

I naturally urge my hon. Friend to increase further spending on the National Health Service at the earliest opportunity. However, his campaign to improve waiting-list performance figures in Wales has already shown itself to be a remarkably effective way of achieving value for money and, at the same time, a worthwhile improvement in health performances.

My hon. Friend is right. Increased expenditure on the Health Service under this Government has led to a greatly increased provision of treatment for patients — for example, 24 per cent. more in-patients were treated than under the last Labour Government.

Did the Under-Secretary of State notice that, just a week ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave away over £4,000 million, much of it to people who did not need it, when it could have been used to help our health and social services? Does the hon. Gentleman recollect a claim made by the Secretary of State for Wales in The Observer that when he went to the Cabinet, he received every penny for which he asked? In view of the appalling waiting lists to which the hon. Gentleman has just confessed, which are even worse than the temporary peak of the winter of discontent, does he think that the Secretary of State asked for enough? How does he explain to the people of Wales why the Secretary of State did not ask for more?

It is worth pointing out that the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Budget is not to do with expenditure. He is trying to beguile the general public, who may not appreciate that point. In the expenditure figures in the autumn, spending on the Health Service rose by £700 million more than the expenditure of a year before, which the right hon. Gentleman's party held out to be an electoral bribe.

Wales Tourist Board

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the total amount allocated for (i) publicity and (ii) marketing, within the annual budget for the Wales tourist board in 1980–81 and 1987–88.

The Wales tourist board's gross expenditure on marketing — including publicity which cannot be separately distinguished — increased from £1·55 million in 1980–81 to an estimated £3·493 million in 1987–88.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware of the concern that is felt in many parts of Wales that the board's publicity and marketing budget is still less than 50 per cent. of total expenditure? As that ought to be the major part of its work, will he ask the board to increase the proportion that it spends on these vital sectors?

The board spends a substantial proportion of its total budget on marketing, which is a very important part of its work, but it also has certain other costs, including expenditure on section 4 grants.

Will the Minister suggest to the chairman of the Wales tourist board that he arranges a meeting with the chairman of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, which has had a marked success in its publicity and marketing, and has developed a tourist initiative which works in harmony with the local community and benefits the local economy?

I am sure that all these non-governmental bodies have a great deal to learn from each other, but no one should underestimate the achievements of the Wales tourist board or the money that the Government have made available to it. The allocation for the current year is some £8·7 million and for next year it will be £9·2 million —an increase of 9 per cent. There has been an increase since 1983–84 of some 90 per cent. in the funds made available to the board, and it is making good use of those funds.

Should not my hon. Friend reconsider those figures in the light of the fact that the Wales tourist board will have to make substantial additional expenditure as it embarks upon an important programme of grading of hotels?

An increase of 9 per cent. in the board's resources for next year is very substantial, and this year we are making available additional funds of about £250,000 to promote marketing. As for hotel registration, the board already operates a voluntary system.

General Certificate Of Secondary Education

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the implementation of the GCSE examination in Wales.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware from an interim report published on 8 March that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools found that the GCSE is being successfully introduced. It is leading to better teaching and has succeeded in raising the motivation of pupils.

The Minister will be aware that many leading educationists in Wales are worried about the plight of 16-year-old students. They say that many are under a great deal of stress and that they are overworked. If so, what plans does the Minister have to remedy the problem?

I, too, have read the article from which the hon. Gentleman appears to be quoting, but in Wales there are others who welcome this development, and the HMI report is very favourable. We have spent more money on the introduction of this examination than on any previous examination.

Does the Minister accept that we endorse what he has said about the performance of the examination? Will he ensure that the proposals in the Education Reform Bill, which will be the subject of scrutiny this week, will not undermine the positive gains made in the assessment used for GCSE, and that the testing which the Secretary of State for Education and Science has in mind will not revert to more traditional roles but will retain the gains made by the GCSE?

We very much hope that the Education Reform Bill will enhance the performance of pupils. After all, the GCSE is intended to stretch children's ability. As for assessment, I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that in the coming year we shall spend about £855,000 in Wales on in-service assessment training for teachers.

Will the Minister join me in praising the efforts of teachers who have been working in extremely difficult conditions successfully to introduce the GCSE in Wales? Will he assure me that his Department will monitor the examination carefully, because early evidence suggests that pupils of average and below-average ability are having more than a little difficulty with the examination and that its purpose may be somewhat undermined?

As the inspectorate acknowledged, there are some teething troubles, but that is due simply to the introduction of the new examination. On the whole, it is progressing favourably. I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the teachers, who have done extremely well in introducing the examination, amd I am happy to say that in the current year we have spent about £859,000 on training teachers in respect of the GCSE.

Hospital And Health Plans

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he will take to ensure full public availability of financial information on hospital and other health plans in South Glamorgan and in Wales as a whole.

It is already my right hon. Friend's policy that the strategic health service plans submitted to him for his approval by health authorities should contain a reconciliation of the district's service objectives and priorities with the resource assumptions provided by the Department.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for that reply, and I am sure he will share my concern that a letter that I received this weekend from the chairman of the health authority seems to suggest that two promises will be broken. The first was that full financial information would be made available, although delayed from the date in December that was originally promised. The second was that the consultation period would be extended for the financial appraisal to be taken into account. Obviously, if the information was not made available, the extension will not make much sense.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the matter is of grave concern, and that it is impossible for us in the South Glamorgan area to take a sensible part in discussion about the plans? Will he draw to the attention of the chairman of the health authority the very sensible reply that he gave to my first question?

I am unable to comment on any promise that may or may not have been made to the hon. Gentleman. On the other hand, I think he will understand that, in the initial stages of consultation, it is not normal for the financial implications to be spelt out. Normally, that comes later. As far as I can see, the procedure is following its ordinary course and the guidelines laid down by the Welsh Office.

Will the Minister tell the House how much it would cost to reopen the high dependency unit in St. Tydfil hospital in Merthyr Tydfil? Can he give no fresh hope that extra resources will be provided to reopen the unit, which has £120,000 of equipment lying idle?

I see that the Mid-Glamorgan health authority has stated its intention to operate the unit in the long-term and that there is no question of closing it. It also claims that it is making a saving, with only three places operative up to this date, of some £30,000.

Will my hon. Friend consider seriously the representations that he is receiving from the Pembrokeshire health authority concerning the roof of Withybush hospital, which has been seriously damaged in recent years because of its construction? The health authority is expected to find the £500,000 to repair it when, in the first place, it was built under Welsh Office construction supervision. Moreover, its quality was seriously reduced because of the cuts under the last Government.

We are in negotiation with the Pembrokeshire health authority, to which we have made an offer.

Will the Minister also give an undertaking to reveal the financial and health costs of introducing charges for eye tests? Are such charges not likely to hinder detection of illness and lead to a further deterioration in the health of the people of Wales? By supporting the charges—as he is on record as doing—in conjunction with the massive tax handouts which will largely benefit the south-east of England, is the Minister not proving himself yet again to be a defender of the indefensible?

I shall ignore the second half of that question. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows the argument very well. We do not expect that those who pay for the eye tests—and many, as he knows, will not—will pay £10, the figure that has been put around. They may not be charged at all, because of competition. Opticians will still be under an obligation to report any disease or injury to the general practitioners of their patients, so there should be no spread of disease —despite what has, unfortunately and rather irresponsibly, been put around.

Rates

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the implications for rates in Wales following the House of Lords judgment on 11 February in the case of Clement v. Addis Ltd.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement made on 9 March by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

May I put on record my appreciation to the Secretary of State for any assistance that he gave in his discussions with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment preceding that statement? May I ask him specifically whether there is any opportunity whatever for the Welsh Office to make any additional financial help available to Swansea city council and West Glamorgan county council, which have suffered as a result of this decision of 11 February?

Provision is made so that the effects of an event such as this can be dealt with under section 67 of the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980. We are having discussions to see whether that applies in this case.

Health Service Staff

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on staffing levels in the Health Service in Wales.

Operational and managerial responsibility for the determination of staffing levels rests with individual health authorities. Since the Government took office there has been an overall increase of 16 per cent. in front-line staff and of 11 per cent. overall.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the recent British Medical Association report which revealed that there was a 50 per cent. shortage of medical record staff in Wales, with the result that treatment is being delayed, and carried out less efficiently in some cases, and that there are great problems of marrying laboratory results to medical records?

I hope that the arrangements to be made for manpower surveillance over the whole of the Health Service will help to make sure that manpower resources are available where they are most needed.

Duchy Of Lancaster

City Of Leicester

29.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he next intends to visit those parts of the city of Leicester which are Duchy property.

I hope to visit the Duchy interests in Leicester as soon as the opportunity to do so arises.

Since the lamentable defeat of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, in 1261, is it not right that the Minister and his Duchy acquired responsibility for the honour and county of Leicester? As he has now very wisely given up his responsibility for fiddling the unemployment figures and instead is turning his attention to covering up the adverse trade balance of the nation, may I offer him the opportunity to take advantage of Leicester as soon as possible by applying for admission to either the Trinity hospital or the Wyggeston hospital, both of which I understand he still owns?

The penalties of political defeat were rather severe in 1265, so it is the case that the Duchy of Lancaster acquired entirely the honour and county of Leicester in the 13th century. We now own one property in the high street and have an interest in the Wyggeston and Trinity hospitals. I trust that the way in which the Duchy administers them gives rise to no complaints. The economy of Leicester is thriving rather well. Unemployment is falling and employment is rising. The Highfields task force, for which I am responsible in Leicester, is achieving great success in getting projects moving in that difficult part of the town.

Church Commissioners

Education Reform

30.

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, answering for the Church Commissioners, what representations the Church Commissioners have received on the implications for the area of the commissioners' responsibility of the Education Reform Bill.

Mr. Michael Alison
(Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing Church Commissioners)

The commissioners' involvement in the educational field is restricted to providing grants towards the stipends of chaplains in universities and polytechnics. They have received no representations on this matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the popularity of denominational schools underlines the desire of parents for religious education based upon the scriptures? Does he also agree that religious education should be taught by those with a sense of conviction, and is he happy with the role of religious education, in the Education Reform Bill?

I am delighted that the Education Reform Bill retains the compulsory provision of the 1944 Act for religious education and introduces a new complaints procedure in relation to the supervision of that instructuon. I agree with my hon. Friend that, almost universally, parents want religious education and they want it to be predominantly Christian and scriptural. I note that there will be an opportunity to debate these matters in the course of the next two or three days.

Vat (Religious Books)

31.

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, answering for the Church Commissioners, what representations he has received from the clergy regarding the implications for their standard of living of taxation on religious books.

The Church Commissioners have received no such representations. Parochial church councils are encouraged to reimburse a clergyman for the cost of books considered necessary to assist him in his ministry. Failing this, the Inland Revenue allows tax relief on certain categories of books. The imposition of VAT on books would have a significant effect on clergy, who, by the nature of their work, spend quite a lot on books.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Is he aware that the European Community is still determined to impose VAT on books, and that this will not only be a tax on learning but in this instance a tax on religion as well? That will affect not only the members of the Church of England for whom the right hon. Gentleman answers, but Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and all the other religious denominations which he does not represent. Will he make representations to his hon. Friends to ensure that VAT is not imposed on religious books?

I note that a Treasury Minister in a written answer on 18 January stated that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made it clear that the United Kingdom will not accept proposals which restrict our right to apply zero rating.

Is not my right hon. Friend vigorous in his defence of the rights of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of this House to determine taxation? Is not his reluctance to allow Lord Cockfield to impose taxation upon religious books just as robust as that of the Prime Minister?

I am not quite sure that I can reach Lord Cockfield with quite as ready accessibility as I can reach my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Public Accounts Commission

Public Accounts Committee

32.

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission if he will give details of the occasions since 1986 when the Public Accounts Commission has received advice from the Public Accounts Committee under section 4(2) and (3) of the National Audit Act 1983.

The Public Accounts Commission considered and approved the National Audit Office's proposed Estimates for the financial years 1987–88 and 1988–89 at its meetings on 3 February 1987 and 15 December 1987 respectively. Before approving the Estimates the Commission had regard to the advice of the Public Accounts Committee as it is obliged to do.

Has the Public Accounts Committee advised the Commission on the number of National Audit Office reports issued to Parliament? Will the hon. Gentleman also give us his own view on whether enough time is allowed on the Floor of the House for these very important reports to be debated for the benefit of hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Yes, Sir. We understand from the Public Accounts Committee that the National Audit Office is expecting to produce 50 reports a year by 1992–93, which is a significant increase.

As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, much as I should like to give my personal view, I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a member of the Commission and no doubt heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the matters on which the PAC has given such advice— he was involved in this — was the need for a decent salary for the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland? In view of the serious staffing difficulties in that regard, is he pressing Ministers to ensure that the matter is soon resolved?

I can tell my hon. Friend that one of the matters that the PAC is considering at present is the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland.

Wales

Health Authorities (Financial Deficits)

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any proposals to help Welsh health authorities overcome their financial deficits.

This year supplementary revenue funding amounting to £23·3 million has been provided to district health authorities in Wales to help them meet financial pressures. This brings the cash increase in DHA revenue funding to £60·5 million, or 9·1 per cent., over the 1986–87 provision. Loans of £2·3 million have also been provided to the two authorities with cash flow problems.

Does the Minister agree that the situation for all health authorities in Wales is extremely serious? Is he aware that, as we approach the new financial year, Mid-Glamorgan area health authority already knows that, unless the Government fund in full the nurses' pay award, it will be £5 million short in the coming year? Does the Minister agree that most of the deficit finance problems of the Health Service in Wales are due to the Government's previous failure to fund properly the pay awards to the nurses?

The hon. Gentleman will remember that last year some 97 per cent. of the cost of the review body awards were funded by central Government and were, therefore, not met from health authority budgets. If Mid-Glamorgan area health authority had put into operation cost savings and tendering programmes, as it was urged to do, it would not be in this position.

How much less would be spent on the NHS in Wales if expenditure had remained at the 1979 percentage of gross domestic product, namely, 4·7 per cent. and not risen to today's level of 5·4 per cent. of GDP? The expenditure on the NHS in England and Wales is £2·9 billion. Will my hon. Friend tell us what the figure is for Wales alone?

Since the rise is about 35 per cent. in real terms I shall leave my hon. Friend to work out the mathematics of that one.

Labour Statistics

17.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many people were out of work in May 1979 and on the latest available date in (a) Clwyd and (b) Wales; and what increases these are in percentage terms.

On II February 1988 the number of unemployed claimants in Clwyd was 19,024. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a basis that enables a valid comparison to be made.

The seasonally adjusted numbers of unemployed claimants in Wales in May 1979 and February 1988 were 73,100 and 136,700 respectively. I am pleased to say the latest figure shows a decrease of 23 per cent. over the past months.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that later this week he will meet Clwyd county council? Will he give sympathetic consideration to the case that the council will make to build a new crossing of the River Dee? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that, if he gives such sympathetic consideration many new jobs will be developed in an area where there is still mass unemployment?

I gather that it is a local authority scheme and I shall, of course, listen with interest to what the authority has to say.

House Of Commons

Annunciators

33.

To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will make a statement on announcements about Government business on the House of Commons annunciators.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John Wakeham)

On Mondays to Thursdays the House of Commons annunciators display continuously, from fpm until the House convenes, any private notice questions and statements that are due to be taken at the commencement of public business. On Fridays any such announcement is usually shown first at 10 am and then at regular 15-minute intervals for a two-minute period until the statement is made.

I would be pleased if consideration could be given to keeping information about statements on the annunciators after 2.30 pm. Can my right hon. Friend say when he expects us to see that?

I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that there are physical limits to what can be done. However, it may be possible to accommodate the words, "Statement at 3.30 pm" or "Private notice question at 3.30 pm" on the top of the screen. In view of my hon. Friend's request I have referred this matter to the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee for further consideration.

While I would not necessarily want to hear every speech made in this Chamber if I were not present, is it not now technically possible to use the annunciator system to take a sound feed so that Members in their offices can listen to debates? When the Select Committee considers the televising of Parliament, could it consider the possibility of having pictures as well as sound on the annunciators?

I imagine that both those things would be possible, but they would require further consideration and decision by the House. I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's points in mind.

I appreciate that there are time restrictions with regard to private notice questions, but it is often the case that the Government know that a statement will be made, possibly even a day or so beforehand, yet no notice appears until 1 o'clock. Therefore, those hon. Members with lunch engagements go to those engagements without being aware that a statement is to be made. Is there any reason why, for example, the fact that there was to be a statement made today could not have been on the annunciator during the course of the morning?

First, there are questions regarding seeking Mr. Speaker's permission to make a statement and so on, but I will bear what my hon. Friend has said in mind. However, I believe that the present arrangements are the most satisfactory.

Still And Carbonated Waters

34.

To ask the Lord President of the Council what quantity of still and carbonated waters were sold in the House of Commons Refreshment Department in the last year; from what countries; and if he will make a statement.

I have been asked to reply.

In the year ending February 1988, 34,000 bottles of still and carbonated spring and mineral waters were sold by the Refreshment Department. Of those, 10,300 pints were British and 13,700 pints were French. The Catering Sub-Committee has recently decided to promote the sale of British waters by selecting waters from England, Scotland and Wales that will bear the House of Commons own label. It is hoped that those waters will be available for sale after the Easter recess, and we shall also be selling them in the Kiosk, thereby doubling the amount that we sell each year and making an increased profit.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I remind him that he, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds South (M r. Rees) and I were members of the Sub-Committee that chose the excellent English, Scottish and Welsh waters that the House has so enjoyed? Has the time not come to eliminate French waters from this House?

We do not intend to eliminate Perrier water. That would be totally undemocratic and it would be very much more difficult to obtain.

I am ashamed and disgusted that we carry foreign waters in this place. What about fighting for Britain? What about the British waters? It is high time that the policy was changed.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman, I can state that that is exactly what we are doing, and I am grateful to him for the compliment.

Welsh Language

35.

To ask the Lord President of the Council what assessment he has made of the cost of using simultaneous translation facilities in the Welsh Grand Committee so as to allow for the use of Welsh in its proceedings.

None, Sir. It is a rule of the House that all proceedings should be conducted in English.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the divisiveness that the Welsh language can and does cause in the Principality. Would this not be an inexpensive investment in confirming the unity of the United Kingdom?

That is a matter for the House, not for me. However, I very much doubt whether it would he approved by the House.

Bearing in mind that this year we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into Welsh and the fact that more than one-third of hon. Members from Wales now speak Welsh, does the right hon. Gentleman not believe that this year would be the appropriate time to introduce Welsh into the proceedings of the House?

No. The proceedings of the House have been conducted in English for many hundreds of years and I believe that that policy should continue.

In view of the large number of English Members who signed the early-day motion on this subject, will my right hon. Friend arrange for them to have Welsh lessons?

Will the Lord President of the Council resist this proposition? Is he aware that the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee are broadcast? Therefore, many of our countrymen who do not speak the language would be deprived of hearing the speeches made by Welsh Members if those speeches were made in Welsh.

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience. The rule regarding the use of the English language extends to the Committees of the House. I understand that on two occasions, once in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and once in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, a language other than English was used by a witness giving evidence. However, an interpreter was present and the records of the meetings were produced only in English.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the four-fifths of people in Wales who do not speak Welsh will be grateful to him for his sensible decision? Does he also accept that if he were to give way to this unreasonable request, groups speaking many other languages in the United Kingdom—and some groups may be as large as the Welsh-speaking group — would want to make a similar claim on the House?

As usual, my hon. Friend has widened the subject very well. He has made a very good point and I will take note of it.

Aerosols

36.

To ask the Lord President of the Council if there are any plans to ban the use of aerosols in the Palace of Westminster; and if he will make a statement.

Does the Minister not realise that Prince Charles has already banned the use of dangerous aerosols——

Yes, but we must not bring in the private opinions of members of the royal family to support arguments.

It is a stated public opinion of the royal family that the aerosols are dangerous and the royal family are not using them in their homes. Prince Charles made his statement as an environmentalist who is concerned about the environment. In the light of recent reports that there has been a 3 per cent. depletion of the protective ozone layer over Britain, and that every 1 per cent. by which that ozone layer is depleted causes the incidence of skin cancer to increase between 5 and 7 per cent., should not the Government take the issue seriously, set an example and ban the use of CFC-bearing aerosol cans in the Palace of Westminster and in all Government Departments, especially the Department of the Environment?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that not all aerosols are subject to this restriction. The restriction applies only to those aerosols which contain chlorofluorocarbons. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that by signing the Montreal protocol the Government are committed to reducing the use of those chemicals in this country by 50 per cent. before the end of the century. We are looking to all users in refrigeration, insulation and dry cleaning—as well as aerosols—to contribute towards that reduction. To that end the Government are adopting a more far-reaching and co-ordinated policy that will produce greater environmental benefits.

Is the Lord President of the Council aware that if aerosol sprays are banned from the Palace of Westminister hon. Members run the risk of becoming extinct? A lot of hot air is spoken here late at night.

Any such ban would ultimately be for the House to decide. While I would not discourage any decision by individual Members or Officers of the House not to use aerosols containing chlorofluorocarbons, it would not be appropriate to ban their use. Voluntary action is likely to be more effective, and the British aerosol industry, which has already made a significant contribution to reducing emissions, expects virtually to phase out the use of CFCs within the next few years.

Terrorist Murders In Northern Ireland

3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the recent killings in Northern Ireland, and especially on the murders of two soldiers in Belfast on Saturday 19 March.

I must remind the House of the background and sequence of events during the last week in Northern Ireland. On Wednesday the funerals were held of the three IRA terrorists killed in Gibraltar. In spite of the very large crowds and the extremely tense situation in West Belfast, the funerals had proceeded in an orderly manner, without violence and without any paramilitary display.

Order. This may be a point of disagreement. I shall call the hon. Gentleman in due course.

This was the position when a vicious attack took place at Milltown cemetery by a Loyalist gunman. In that attack three people attending the funeral were killed and a large number injured, of whom one remains in intensive care.

On Thursday there was the funeral of the IRA gunman shot by the Army on Monday. He was acknowledged by the IRA as one of its members. His funeral took place without disturbance and without paramilitary display.

On Friday the funeral took place of Charles McCrillen, a Catholic with no paramilitary connections, shot by the UFF; and of Thomas McErlean, one of the three killed at Milltown cemetery. These again took place peacefully and without any breach of the law.

On Saturday the funerals of the other two killed at Milltown cemetery took place, first that of John Murray, and secondly that of Kevin Brady, who was acknowledged by the PIRA to be one of its members. It was at this funeral that the quite horrific events took place that have so shocked the world.

I would like to tell the House the facts as far as they can be established about these events. Just after midday on Saturday, following the funeral service at St. Agnes church, the cortege moved off along Andersonstown road towards the Milltown cemetery. At that point, a civilian car attempted to reverse away from the cortege. Despite the television coverage of the subsequent events, which many hon. Members will have seen, it remains unclear how the car came to be in that position and for how long it had been on that road. What is quite clear, however, is that as it reversed away from the cortege its way was blocked, both forward and backward, by taxis accompanying the funeral.

What immediately followed is a matter of sickening visual record. A number of those in the funeral cortege immediately set upon the car with the obvious intention of pulling out the two occupants. Photographs indicate that at this point the driver of the car leaned out of his window and fired one shot in the air—the only shot which both occupants tired in the course of the attack upon them. After only a moment's pause the crown resumed the onslaught on the car, some of them smashing at it with iron bars, and eventually succeeded in hauling out both occupants. Both men were then dragged by the crowd into an adjacent stadium, the gates were closed, and it appears that a smaller group of attackers continued to assault them, stripped them and searched their clothing, subsequently threw them over a wall, and then bundled them into a black taxi which took them to a nearby piece of wasteland, where they were shot.

It subsequently emerged that the two victims were corporals in the Royal Corps of Signals— Corporal Wood and Corporal Howes. Shortly beforehand they had left the joint police and Army base in North Howard street mill, after completing a routine maintenance task, in order to return to their unit at Lisburn. They had no reason to be in the vicinity of the funeral. This is not an approved route for soldiers who are not on operational duty at the time, and there is absolutely no question of their being involved in any way with surveillance or any other duties connected with the funeral. I am therefore unable to tell the House with any certainty why they were there. If the most likely explanation is that they decided to take the shortest route back to their base, without appreciating the presence of the funeral, this can only be conjecture, and it will probably never be known why they were there.

Whatever the reason, however, nothing can conceivably justify the utterly appalling outrage that then occurred and which resulted in their deaths. The whole House will join me in extending the utmost sympathy to their families, and even more so in view of the awful television pictures of the occasion. Nor has it gone unnoticed, and rightly so, that, although they both had loaded personal protection pistols, they showed incredible restraint in using them only to fire a warning shot in the air.

In the face of this outrage, and the others in the week, the first and immediate objective is to bring to justice those responsible. In respect of the Milltown cemetery attack, a man will shortly be charged with these murders, and also a number of other serious offences. In respect of the killing of the soldiers, two men are already in custody. In addition, a massive murder investigation is under way, in which all possible resources are involved to identify all those responsible.

The next issue that I wish to address is that of the approach of the RUC to the conduct of these funerals. Large funerals and processions are arguably the most difficult events from a public order and a terrorist threat situation that the security forces face. They have been used quite unscrupulously by paramilitaries for propaganda purposes.

The Chief Constable, in determining the most appropriate method of policing any funeral, takes account of all the relevant circumstances in reaching his decision. Clearly a prime consideration has been that they should be conducted within the law and without paramilitary display. He would also have regard to the degree to which other elements would seek deliberately to exploit the presence of the police to provoke violence and disorder.

There have been suggestions that the arrangements for the funerals were the consequence of a political directive and that there had been some interference with the independent operational responsibility of the Chief Constable. This is quite false. The Chief Constable has asked me to make it quite clear that he takes full responsibility for the arrangements for the funerals, and that these were policing decisions, taken after the most careful assessment of all the relevant circumstances. I would emphasise that I fully support the decisions that he took in these matters, and in which the initial outcome had clearly been successful. However, the two incidents that subsequently occurred are clearly wholly unacceptable and require immediate review in regard to policing to be followed at any future funeral. The Chief Constable has informed me this morning that he is carrying this through as a matter of urgency. I can tell the House that he will carry through this work with great professionalism and sensitivity, but the House knows well how difficult it is to ensure that funerals can proceed in good order and within the law when there are elements who have absolutely no scruples or respect for family feelings in the way in which they seek to exploit them.

Faced with the appalling violence of the last weeks—not only in Belfast, but the vicious murders of Jillian Johnston in Fermanagh and Constable Graham in the Creggan in Londonderry only this morning—the House may remember the words that I spoke last Thursday about the desperate need to break the awful cycle of violence and retaliation and end the suffering and heartache that is achieving nothing but more misery for all. This is now urgent, and it is the time when every person with a spark of human decency must determine to give his full support to the fight against terrorism, from whichever quarter it may come. The security forces will take the lead, as they have done so bravely over the years, but they must have the whole-hearted co-operation of everybody in the Province, in the island of Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom, in their task. I saw this morning Archbishop Eames, Cardinal O'Fiaich, the Moderator and Secretary of the Presbyterian Church and the President of the Methodist Church, on the need for all in the Province to take their share of responsibility and to condemn violence in all its forms.

It is vital that we also help the community, in any way, to support the fight against terrorism, and in that connection we are improving significantly the confidential telephone system. Very shortly indeed we shall be supplementing the present system with a single and easily memorable freephone number usable right across the Province. I have asked the broadcasting authorities to publicise the number, and they have readily agreed. That will be a valuable strengthening of the present facility, which is, in fact, being used by a considerable number of people in their horror at the events of Saturday.

The fight against Republican terrorism must be waged also beyond the confines of Northern Ireland, and it particularly raises major challenges for the Government of the Republic of Ireland. A significant number of steps have been taken to help improve cross-border cooperation, and we particularly appreciate the amount of weapons and explosives that have already been recovered by the Garda. We have to keep working to improve that co-operation in our common interest to defeat terrorism. I have this morning agreed with Mr. Lenihan that there will be a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference this week, at which we shall be discussing cross-border security co-operation, and which will be attended by Mr. Lenihan and myself, as co-chairmen, by Mr. Collins, the Irish Minister of Justice, by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and by the Chief Constable and the Commissioner of the Garda.

The common phrase this weekend is that the troubles of Northern Ireland have plumbed new depths of horror. That was the phrase at Enniskillen, that was the phrase at Milltown cemetery, and it is now the phrase in the Andersontown road following the events of Saturday. The truth is that there will be new depths again so long as this awful and violent campaign of terrorism and revenge continues. It has got to stop, in the name of humanity, if there is to be any decent future for the people of Northern Ireland and for all those living in the island of Ireland, and if the evil shroud of terrorism is to be lifted from the United Kingdom as a whole.

We all have our part to play, whether in actively combating terrorism through the security forces, whether working to build bridges across communities or whether in deciding we do nothing in our words or actions that can increase the tensions. We all have our part, and the duty that we owe to all the tragic victims of these outrages is to play that part to the full.

It is my unhappy duty once again to have to pass on the condolences of Opposition Members to the families of those who have been so tragically killed in Northern Ireland. Our sympathies today are with the families of Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood, but we must not forget Jillian Johnston, and we hope that her fiance will have a speedy recovery. Our condolences must go also to the family of Constable Graham, who was killed in the Creggan.

In the past four days the Secretary of State has twice had the melancholy task of coming to the Dispatch Box as the bearer of bad news. Five tragic deaths have occurred at funerals, three at the hands of a maverick gunman, and two after being cornered by a bestial pack that had trapped its quarry.

However, the important thing is that in this House we maintain cool heads. Our justified and righteous anger should not be allowed to overcome a reasoned judgment, for if it does the men of violence will have won.

On Thursday Opposition Members supported the decision of the Chief Constable in the attitude that was taken to the policing of Wednesday's funerals. He took a similar decision on Saturday, and in the successful funerals that occurred earlier last week, which we tend to forget. We thought that he was right then; we think that he is right now. He must decide how best to police events in emotionally charged atmospheres. That is sensitive policing, not soft policing. He must take each case as it comes, on its merits. We welcome his review, but we welcome also the knowledge of his integrity and of the fact that he will do what is best for the rule of law and for the feelings of the families of the dead in Northern Ireland when he comes to his decision.

None the less, questions need to be asked and observations need to be made. First, is the Secretary of State in a position to tell the House if, and when, the Army was informed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary of the type of policing practices that were to be used at the funeral on Saturday, and indeed at previous ones? What general procedures for liaison between Army personnel and the RUC exist on these matters?

Secondly, can the Secretary of State confirm that instructions were given to the two corporals about the route to be followed and that they had been briefed about the funerals?

Thirdly, we welcome the statement that a man is to be charged for what happened at Milltown and that two people have been arrested in connection with what happened on Saturday, but many more people were involved in the soldiers' murders. Can the Secretary of State say whether it has been decided to bring charges against the two who have been arrested and if he expects further arrests to follow?

Fourthly, it has been alleged that the security forces in the area were prevented by orders from seeking to protect the soldiers, the mere suggestion of which I find completely reprehensible. Will the Secretary of State confirm to hon. Members, who may have heard other hon. Members making that statement, that such was not the case?

Finally, in terms of questions, can the Secretary of State say what role the helicopter that was in the vicinity played in seeking to summon assistance to the cornered soldiers?

We welcome the Secretary of State's statement about the Intergovernmental Conference to be held later this week. Obviously, Opposition Members welcome the continuance of that development. We prefer it to suggestions in some quarters that there should be an early meeting between the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. Our general view is that, while we welcome the support and statements that are coming from the Republic in the wake of recent incidents, gesture politics of a summit nature would not be proper at the present time. Perhaps there should be a summit meeting, but it should take place only after a period of careful planning, with an agreed agenda, and when each of the Governments know what they want to achieve. At present, the mechanics exist in the Intergovernmental Conference for other matters to be discussed.

We believe that the Prime Minister should start once again to play a more active part in Irish affairs. In the past six months horrific events and political misunderstandings have increased. As a signatory to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, many of us believe that the Prime Minister should resume that keen interest which helped to lead to the signing of the agreement. This will be essential in the period leading up to the re-examination of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

There is a responsibility on the elected leaders of the communities in Northern Ireland, who have seen enormous tragic changes taking place in their communities. They must come together. They must sit together, with good will and no preconditions, to attempt to find a peaceful way forward. The vacuum in constitutional politics has for the moment been replaced with a surfeit of violence—the gunman, the bomber, the lynch mob. It is time for the political leaders from both communities in Northern Ireland to find an antidote to this poison in the midst of the communities.

All that the British Government can do, and all that we as an Opposition can help them to do, is to maintain the position in which the political leaders can come together to talk. The Secretary of State has a crucial role to play in this process. We are talking about British subjects directly ruled from this House. If that is his course of action, I am sure that he will be given the full support of all men and women of good will in both these islands. He will have our support in upholding the rule of law against the law of the jungle.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his closing comments and for the way in which he has approached this appalling and difficult issue. He said that he supported the decision as being right at the time, but clearly in the light of subsequent events it requires close review. That will he done. There is close liaison between the Army and the police. In all their activities they work in close co-operation.

In terms of what the soldiers knew, I understand that there was a general briefing at the beginning of the week about the problems posed by the tensions arising from the funerals. As I said in my statement, the route that the soldiers were on is not an approved route at any time for soldiers who are not on operational duties in the area.

I cannot add to what I said about charges, but obviously the House will await further information with close attention.

There is absolutely no truth whatever in the suggestion that the security forces were in some way prevented from intervening. That is a gross calumny on the operational independence of the Chief Constable and the integrity of the senior officers at the time. There is no justification whatever for that claim and I am sorry that certain people have chosen to raise that point.

At the time, the police were obviously assisted by the helicopter. It is no secret that it can provide helpful information of events on the ground, although sometimes it takes time to interpret exactly what is happening. The police did not have access to the sort of television film inside the cameras which subsequently we have all been able to see and with hindsight form other views. In the initial stages it took time to clarify what was taking place. The police knew that there were certainly no security forces or soldiers in the area. As far as their intelligence went, nobody was there. It is no secret that the first impression was of a further attempted bomb attack on a funeral. That was one possibility. As soon as it was clear that the matter was indeed serious, the police acted with considerable determination.

In fairness to the two young corporals, will the Secretary of State accept that he seemed to say by implication that the route they chose was the direct route to Army headquarters in Lisburn? Will he confirm that the alternative route, which is an extension of the M1 motorway, has been a no-go area to all Army personnel for years? Were the two corporals informed that the motorway extension was out of bounds to them? Were they directed to use a route which had not previously been authorised for military personnel?

Can the Secretary of State now answer the question that I put to him in the House last Thursday, when I asked him to explain precisely how the stand-off decision was taken and what wider considerations and discussions preceded the Chief Constable's directive? Does he agree that dual control of the security forces, the Army and the RUC, as required by article 7 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, is proving to be utterly disastrous?

I note that the right hon. Gentleman does not choose to repeat in the House the allegations that he made outside about some political interference. I am glad that he did not, because they happen to be absolutely untrue.

If the right hon. Gentleman intends to quote from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, it would be more candid with the House to recognise that the Anglo-Irish Agreement specifically reserves the operational independence of the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable has made his position clear. What has happened is deeply regrettable. The right hon. Gentleman opened his question out of deference to the two corporals concerned. We feel that deference throughout the House. The right hon. Gentleman does no good to misrepresent the position about the sad circumstances that surrounded their deaths.

In my statement I made clear the position about the road. It is not a no-go area. There are no no-go areas in Northern Ireland. There is a difference between routes that soldiers or security forces use when on operational duty, and those that they use when they are not on operational duty.

Whatever our private feelings about the atrocious happening on Saturday, I am sure that all of us welcome my right hon. Friend's frank, moving and firm statement. With regard to the future, will he take it from me that hon. Members and the country cannot accept any suggestion of no-go areas in any part of the United Kingdom? I hope that he will make that absolutely clear. Although we expect the Government to continue to seek reconciliation between two sorely tried communities by every reasonable means, they must not flinch from the task of eradicating men of violence, wherever they may be found.

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's comments. This has been a tragic and most awful occurrence. Whatever the circumstances in which it arose, it is simply intolerable that this could happen, not just in the United Kingdom, but anywhere in the civilised world. I do not think that I was the only person who sensed the utter barbarity that happened on Saturday. Against that background, I assure my right hon. Friend that there are no no-go areas. The writ runs throughout Northern Ireland, as it does throughout the United Kingdom, but I draw the distinction, which right hon. and hon. Members will recognise, between routes where there are no no-go areas and routes that are more sensible, or less sensible, to use when not on operational duty.

I join the Secretary of State and right hon. and hon. Members in expressing the deepest sympathy to the families of those who have been murdered in the past week in Northern Ireland and in sending a particular word of sympathy to the families of the soldiers who were murdered in such barbaric circumstances. The dictionary is no longer full enough of words to express proper condemnation and the revulsion that people feel about what happened. I agree with the Secretary of State. There is no shortage of those who, in hindsight, would tell us what we should have done.

I tell the House with conviction that the feeling in west Belfast last week after the Gibraltar incident was such that had the security forces mounted normal operations at these funerals the violence would have been serious and there would have been many more deaths. Unfortunately, political leaders, policemen and soldiers in Northern Ireland are faced, not with the normal choice between what is right and what is wrong—not with black and white—but often with the choice between the roads of lesser risk and lesser evil. In the circumstances, the police and the Army took the proper and correct decision, and I support them. These events have underlined for everybody across the board in Northern Ireland the desperate and terrible futility of killing human beings in order to unite a people.

What that deep feeling, right across our community, cries out to everybody in this House, and particularly to me and the hon. Gentlemen who sit behind me, is that there is a desperate need for dialogue, not to conquer one another, but to accommodate our differences. —[Interruption.] I also say to those who criticise and say that because of these horrific events the Government should be deflected from the road on which they have chosen to go, together with the Irish Government, that they are saying that both Governments should be blackmailed by the people who committed these horrific crimes, and that is unthinkable. —[Interruption.] Strength must be shown, and there is no better way to show that to the people of Northern Ireland than by the two Governments, with all their resources, working as closely as possible to face down and tackle all these problems.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's opening comments, which drew attention to the appallingly difficult decisions that the Chief Constable, who has the responsibility, has to take. It is easy enough to shout abuse, and the House heard an illustration of that during the hon. Gentleman's contribution, with the shouting and the heckling that will always come from one side or the other. There is plenty of abuse that can be shouted. The problem is how to take decisions in the best interests of the people.

I was particularly concerned about the contribution of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), because he has a part to play in leading. He is looked to for leadership, and I hope that he will be able, as I hope that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) will, to show total support, in the fight against the violence, for the efforts of the security forces, and in the total commitment of both the Unionist and Nationalist constitutional parties to realise that they owe it to their people to encourage dialogue and discussion and not to leave a vacuum in which violence breeds.

I join the Secretary of State, not only in his condemnation of the killings that he had to report to the House, but in his expression of sympathy to the families of those involved.

Is it the Secretary of State's view that some contribution to the fact that the two soldiers were killed was that they restrained themselves and did not open fire? Is any part of that due to the fact that soldiers, and the security forces in general, are concerned at the repercussions should they attempt to defend their lives or those of other people in the community, because there may be calls for inquiries, disciplinary charges and even court cases? Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that he will stand behind any member of the security forces who has to defend his life in such circumstances?

What contribution does the hon. Gentleman feel that the decision of the Chief Constable to abdicate policing of west Belfast played in the events of Saturday? Will he be pressing the Chief Constable, in his review of policing funeral arrangements, to ensure that if those circumstances should recur there will be taken into consideration the fact that the IRA takes over the policing of an area if the RUC abdicates that role? It is not simply a case of there being no policing in the area.

Does the Secretary of State feel that the vacuum into which undoubtedly violence and terrorism go can be taken up by political movement in Northern Ireland to get a replacement for a system that has failed not only politicians but the people of Northern Ireland? Can we not move towards a system of government that can produce peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and does he not think that with that stable structure of government we might have a firm and resolute security initiative to defeat terrorism in our Province?

It is right that the soldiers concerned had an absolute right to defend themselves. The terms of engagement are to save their own or other people's lives. At the same time, we must. recognise the appallingly difficult situation that they were in and the incredible restraint that they showed in the circumstances, to their tragic cost. They would have been entitled to defend themselves.

In no sense do I accept the phrase that the Chief Constable "abdicated policing" in west Belfast. I do not know why we assume that funerals ought to be policed. Should we not expect funerals to be one occasion when there is no need for policing? The appalling and unscrupulous intentions of those who exploit the grief of funerals has in the past made the policing of funerals necessary. There is no question of abdicating policing. Moreover, there is no question of tolerating any suggestion that the IRA, Sinn Fein or anybody else will set up some alternative police force.

Whereas the first funeral was clearly conducted in good order and without display, there were discouraging signs by the time of the funeral on Saturday. Although, as far as we know, there was no firing party, there were signs of some attempts to push the boundary back towards paramilitary displays, and I know that the Chief Constable is concerned about that.

If I read the hon. Gentleman right, I welcome the last part of his contribution, which was in line with other contributions that have been made. It is by dialogue, discussion and a constitutional approach, and not by violence, that we shall find the right way forward.

In associating myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the condolences that the Secretary of State has expressed, I assure him of our full support for him personally in circumstances which have required great fortitude, courage and resilience. We strongly believe that the ritualistic calls for his resignation and that of the Chief Constable are gratuitously offensive, and should be treated as such. We reiterate our support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement as the best tool for defeating the lynch mobs. We welcome the announcement of the Intergovernmental Conference, and we hope that there will be an early summit at which the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will meet. We hope that on the agenda on that occasion will be the question of a joint security commission.

Will the Secretary of State review the policy of letting soldiers on duty drive through the Province in unmarked cars while wearing civilian clothing and armed only with pistols? Is it not the case that the only crumbs of comfort to be drawn from a week of funerals, with yet more to come, is that the IRA has been exposed at its most bestial, ruthless and violent, and that no Irishman or Briton who calls himself civilised or Christian can give succour, hiding place or even acquiescence to the IRA or other paramilitary organisations?

I apologise for the fact that I have not yet replied to the question about a summit, which was raised also by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). As I announced, I and the Tanaiste, the Deputy Prime Minister, are to have a meeting this week. Any question of a meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will be a matter for later consideration, but there are no present proposals.

As to the question of the rules about soldiers travelling around the Province in unmarked cars while wearing civilian clothes, where there are major troop movements there is no question of that happening. However, in terms of administration and maintenance tasks — I see the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) nodding in agreement—the best way to safeguard the lives of soldiers, without massive organisation, is a degree of anonymity. Provided that the normal arrangements are adhered to, and sensible precautions are taken, it has worked extremely well in the past.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments about me. I agree about the bestiality of what took place. I hope that everybody knows that what they saw are the people who, with the Armalite and the ballot box, have used the phrase, "Who shall object if we take power in Ireland?" Not just north of the border, but throughout the island of Ireland, through the medium of television, people saw the sorts of people who want to take power over them. It was no coincidence or impulse that made those people rush towards the cameras to try to obliterate the shots. Whatever the tragedy and awfulness of this, it has revealed the IRA in its real, unspeakable nastiness. Those pictures will not be forgotten in the island of Ireland.

In expressing the full support of Conservative Members and the House as a whole for my right hon. Friend in his enormously difficult task, may I put it to him that, although it is almost impossible to find adequate words to describe the ghastly tragedies of last week, one thing that stands out is the heroic restraint of the murdered soldiers in not using their weapons to defend themselves against their brutal attackers? We should all pay tribute to them for that and remember them with honour. It should be a memorial and an example to everyone in Ireland.

We all feel deeply humbled at the way in which those soldiers reacted with discipline and restraint in the circumstances. It may interest the House to know that the GOC told me last night that the Army has never received as many messages of sympathy, concern and respect from members of the public across the Province as have been flooding into Army headquarters in Lisburn, where the two soldiers were based.

First, I join other right hon. and hon. Members in expressing my sympathy and the sympathy of my constituents to the families of the two young soldiers. My constituents know from bitter experience how the families and comrades of those two soldiers feel. Only the evening before the death of the two soldiers, which was seen so vividly on television, an unsuspecting young girl of 21 was gunned down, by 47 shots from high-powered weapons, in the yard of her own home. She was the 196th victim of terrorism in my constituency, and the 111th victim since a date exactly 12 years ago. Of those 111 people, 110 were victims of the IRA.

We have heard people talk, because they saw it on their television screens, about the unbelievable savagery of what happened on Saturday. I and those whom I represent live with that same unbelievable savagery day in and day out. That is why we are so bitter and feel so helpless when a decision is taken to remove the police and the security forces from west Belfast, giving the freedom of the streets to those who, equipped with radios and mobile in their black taxis, can take complete control on behalf of the Provisional IRA.

It is not true to say that there was no paramilitary display and no disturbance in Belfast as a result of withdrawing the police and the Army. No shots may have been fired over the coffins, but the deceit is that the terrorists go round the corner into the next street, set up a shrine and there, before the media invited for the occasion, display the same paramilitary activity as they used to display over the coffins.

We must not be fooled by the platitudes that we hear from those who take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the paramilitaries who supervise the funerals. I refer to the SDLP. I refer to the Irish Catholic Church and to those priests who can describe a terrorist who died in Gibraltar as someone who died like Jesus Christ. Neither I nor those of my co-religionists who heard those words can accept such blasphemy.

I ask the Secretary of State to try to listen to the voices of those, Protestant and Catholic, who want nothing to do with any paramilitary organisation and who would condemn the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Freedom Fighters as they would condemn the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein. Will the right hon. Gentleman now listen to the voice of the people and those who try to be responsible elected representatives on their behalf, and not give way to something that may appear to have short-term advantage, but which will provide nothing but long-term disadvantage, suffering and tragedy for the people of Northern Ireland?

The whole House understands the depth of feeling with which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) speaks. The name of his constituency says it all to anyone who knows anything about recent events in Northern Ireland.

In my statement last Thursday I made clear my concern about some of the comments that are made in addresses at funerals. I include such people in the categories of those who have a part to play in trying to ease tension and build bridges. It is incumbent on everyone to have great regard to the phrases that they use, whatever the emotion of the moment.

In that connection, although I obviously do not approve of paramilitary displays in which people slide down side alleys and set up little stunts for the television cameras, that is markedly preferable to their appearing at the graveside as they have in the past. Having said that, it is obvously against the law and should not happen. Although we prize highly freedom of speech and publication, the broadcasting authorities for which those stunts are arranged, and without which they would have no purpose, should consider their responsibilities in such matters.

In all the horror of the murder of the young girl in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, what revolted me as much as anything was the expression of regret from Mr. Adams, who said that he thought it was a mistake.

Order. I fully understand the importance of the matter, especially to those who represent Ulster constituencies, but I remind the House that there is an important debate to follow this. I hope that questions will be brief so that answers may also be relatively brief.

I join in the expression of sympathy. Is not the photograph of the naked young soldier poignantly relevant to this season leading up to Good Friday, and does it not remind us that we must never give way to despair?

The Secretary of State said that IRA funerals pose a serious problem. When he spoke to Cardinal O'Fiaich this morning, did he point out that the IRA uses its funerals for the glorification and justification of terrorism, and did he ask the Cardinal whether the Church will excommunicate the terrorists? Did he ask him to ensure that IRA funerals will be reduced to private funerals, with minimum rites and only a small number of people? That would save the security forces from danger.

Finally, did the Secretary of State raise at the Anglo-Irish Conference the question of allowing the coffins from Gibraltar to be landed at Dublin, thereby prolonging the funeral and inciting people to violence?

I do not think that it was any wish of the Irish Government for the coffins to arrive in Dublin. That was the choice of the families, and of others who may have been seeking to influence them. It posed significant problems for the Irish Government in policing the funeral as well.

I commend to hon. Members the editorial in the Irish News today. I am struck by some of the phrases in it. It states:
"The participants in the brutal orgy may well have formed part of the congregation that had just celebrated the ritual of the sacred liturgy."
It goes on to say:
"The barbaric murders of Corporal Wood and Howes were a satanic rejection of the Christian faith."
I think that the leading Nationalist Catholic newspaper in Northern Ireland brings across very forcefully the strength of decent Catholic feeling about those matters.

The Secretary of State told us at the beginning of his statement that the soldiers who were killed had been briefed earlier in the week. Is he aware that the individual whose funeral took place on Saturday was still alive at the beginning of the week, and would he care to comment on that?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Official Unionist party, made it clear that the Royal Ulster Constabulary could not have moved to the rescue because of a directive from the Chief Constable. Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that the people of Northern Ireland expect more from him than a new telephone number if we are to deal with IRA terrorism?

The hon. Gentleman's contribution falls somewhat short of the level that I would have looked for on this occasion.

First, let me say to him that the warning and guidance given to soldiers concerned funerals in west Belfast during the course of the week. He will be aware from my recitation that, sadly, there was a funeral every day from Wednesday through the whole of the week in west Belfast. As I have made clear, the route that the soldiers were on was never approved for non-operational use, whether for funerals or other matters.

As for the directions that were given, it was a police decision when to intervene. Allowing for the uncertainty at the start about just what was happening, and the difficulty of identifying events, the police arrived on the scene fairly soon, and in some numbers, but, sadly and tragically, not soon enough to prevent the deaths of the corporals.

My constituents and I join Members of the House, who, genuinely and sincerely, send their sympathy to the families who have been so sadly and tragically bereaved.

On Saturday, shortly after the two corporals were murdered, I stood at the bedside of my constituent, young Stanley Liggett, whose girl friend was being prepared for her coffin. As I stood at the bedside, that young man did not know that his young partner was dead. He was hoping, as he spoke to me, that soon he would be joining her in happiness, for the love that was in their hearts the one for the other.

I assure the Secretary of State that the people of my constituency do not feel happy about the security decision. Whether hon. Members accept it or not, it is different for those who live with this problem day after day. It is different for those who watch coffin after coffin going down the road. It is different for those looking into the faces of their loved ones—their kith and kin—who have been murdered.

People are lecturing us on how we are supposed to feel at the time of our sorrow and grief. We do not take very kindly to lectures at present. For 20 years our hearts have been cut asunder and our homes have been butchered. I know, because that happened to my family. I know what it is to carry the coffins of two young people down the road together.

There are Members of the House who have played along with the terrorists, and with a terrorist organisation, inviting its members to this country and sitting down with them. Indeed, in recent days, the leader of the SDLP has been in consultation and negotiation with the head of Sinn Fein. It was a Conservative Member who said on Northern Ireland radio this morning that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was an apologist for the terrorists. That was not my statement. It was made by a member of the Secretary of State's own party, who was trying to get out of the present tragedy of condemnation of the awful, brutal, savage murder of our people.

We want to live, and, whether or not it is accepted by hon. Members, we want to live in peace, but we can never live in peace with murderers. We cannot live in peace with men who have the weapons to kill our people. I ask the Secretary of State, genuinely and sincerely, to tell the House when he will fulfil the promise that he made at that Dispatch Box that he would bring peace to Northern Ireland with the eradication—that is the word used both by him and by the Prime Minister—of terrorism. I beg of him: let it be soon, for that is what my people cry out for.

The whole House understands the reasons, and the most recent reminders, that have prompted the emotion with which the hon. Gentleman has spoken, and I know that every right hon. and hon. Member will respect them. The hon. Gentleman., too, will respect the fact that he is not the only Member of the House who feels deeply and tragically about the extent of the suffering and sorrow. I have taken certain responsibilities as Secretary of State. I hope that I do not lack feeling, and I share the concern that the hon. Member feels so acutely, with even more personal knowledge of the people concerned.

Against that background, however, we all have a duty to work for the future, to try to make it better for people, and to find a way through the problems and tragedies. That is why I say that it must be through co-operation. We should not try to find people whom we can criticise or make into scapegoats. We should try to find people with whom we can build and improve a life for all those in the Province.

While expressing my horror and revulsion at the horrible killings of the recent past, and the 2,600 killings that have already taken place over a number of years, let me say that the understanding and sensitivity shown by the Secretary of State over a very difficult recent past have been recognised and much appreciated.

As one who publicly urged the Chief Constable of the RUC not to allow a confrontation to develop at the funerals, I feel that it would be absolutely wrong to allow the Chief Constable to be ultimately responsible for that decision, which I believed then was right, and I still believe was right. Having said that, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he agrees that the essence of the problem has not been changed by the terrible events of recent days? The essence of the problem remains the same, and therefore the essence of the solution must necessarily remain the same.

I strongly urge the two Governments, through the structures that they have developed for themselves, to approach a solution to the problem in terms of creating, not just peace, but the type of political stability that is so essential. If that were done, there would be a response, believe it or not, from the political community in the North of Ireland. Without that, every other effort is to no avail.

The challenge for political dialogue and progress is now within the Province, and that must now be addressed. To those who believe that there might be some solution through violence, the events of recent months, and above all the horror of Saturday, have shown where violence leads and shows the evil of the people who seek to perpetrate it.

I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the Chief Constable. He made a comment about the Chief Constable not having to take the responsibility. The Chief Constable does not shirk responsibility, and I have the greatest admiration for him in that respect. I hope that the House recognises that I will not shirk my responsibilities either. In making my statement I did not wish to cause confusion and suggest that responsibilities are different from what they are. I have no hesitation in making it clear that I stand fully behind the Chief Constable in the decisions that he took.

Order. I must tell the House again that I must have regard for subsequent business. Many hon. Members who are rising have already spoken in the Budget debate, and there is a long list of hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate today. I shall allow a further five minutes of questions on the statement, and then we must move on.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, like all my constituents in Carshalton, I and all hon. Members were deeply shocked and appalled by these tragic murders at the weekend? Our hearts go out to the parents and family of Corporal Derek Wood, who lived in my constituency. Is my right hon. Friend further aware that we were gratified by his words of sensitivity and sympathy for the families and that these will be of great comfort to them in their time of trial? Will he see to it that the results of the review that he has set in hand about the policing of funerals are speedily considered and acted upon?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he said, Corporal Wood was one of his constituents, and we understand very well my hon. Friend's feelings on the matter. I hope that he will draw to the attention of the family the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who has just returned to the Chamber. The House will have noticed that he spoke most movingly, and my hon. Friend will draw attention to the strong approbation of my right hon. Friend's admiration for two very brave young men.

There is considerable sympathy for the Secretary of State in what must have been the most difficult week of his political career in the most difficult job in British politics. We must also recognise the special courage that enables two NCOs not to use their weapons when they could have done so in the closing minutes of their lives. Have we not seen a chain reaction of events that can be dealt with only by the very closest co-operation between London and Dublin?

Bearing in mind the events, not only of the last week, but of the last few months, will the right hon. Gentleman state clearly that the British Government's response to paramilitary organisations, whether Unionist or Republican, will always put first the British national interest of protecting the democratic forms within which we operate, and the rule of law? If we are ever seen to operate, or are believed to be operating, outside those, we shall undermine our own position. If we can reiterate that and operate within it, we will not only carry Dublin with us, but will triumph in the end, because democracy can triumph only when we operate on that basis.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the close interest that he takes in this subject. He will excuse me if I do not reply in detail, but, broadly, I agree very much with what he said.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while this is a tragic occasion, it is none the less an occasion on which we can all appropriately unite to commend the work of the heroic forces of law and order in the Province—the UDR, the RUC and our own armed forces? Does he agree also that probably no armed forces in the world but ours could have sustained the burdens that they have had to sustain over a prolonged period? I hope that he will join me in hoping that before very long there will be condemnation of the violence direct from the Vatican.

My service in Northern Ireland forcefully brings home to me the debt that we owe to the security forces, not only for the effectiveness of their operations, but for the restraint and good humour with which they are conducted. In all the annals of their activities and service in Northern Ireland there has been no greater illustration of that restraint than the courage of those two young men.

On behalf of my constituents and myself, I, too, wish to place on record my sympathy for the relatives of the two young soldiers, for the family of Jillian Johnston and for the family of the constable who was murdered in Londonderry, Constable Clive Graham. Many hon. Members have spoken about the courage and bravery of those two young soldiers. I hope that the message will go to their colleagues who are still serving in Northern Ireland that we do not want any more of them to sacrifice their lives unduly. I can tell the Secretary of State that my constituents see that there are still no-go areas. As long as our people perceive that there are such areas, the Secretary of State must take note and with the Chief Constable take steps to ensure that there is proper policing throughout the Province.

May I also convey to the Secretary of State our very grave concern that in the absence of proper security and policing at IRA demonstrations those who are there already tooled up for murder and violence will use any excuse to perpetrate that violence? It is fine to suggest that the problem has to be solved within the Province. We as Unionists accept that, but we will play our part only when the conditions are right. The conditions can be made right by the Government of the Irish Republic and our own Government—with the agreement of the SDLP, if it is genuine—setting aside the obstacles to progress and the disgraceful so-called Anglo-Irish Agreement, which has produced nothing of success. It is being bolstered up. We must admit that we shall never have progress until the conditions and the opportunity are made available so that all the people in Northern Ireland can suggest a way forward that can be accepted and supported by both Governments.

I should like the hon. Gentleman to give me any details of any no-go area of which he is aware. I would appreciate it if he could give me those details. The determination and courage of the security forces ensures that such areas do not exist. The hon. Gentleman sought to widen this into other political issues. I should be happy to debate those with him at any time.

Order. I shall bear in mind those hon. Members who have not been called on this statement when we return to this subject again.

Statutory Instruments, &C

Ordered,

That the draft Minors' Contracts (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Boscawen.]

Northern Ireland Statements

4.38 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to make it absolutely clear that I make absolutely no criticism of your position. This is a genuinely serious matter. Over the past 12 months I have sat through almost every statement on Ireland and have attended almost all the debates that have taken place. I want to draw your attention to a matter that worries me. It is one that is often discussed privately by my hon. Friends and is about the whole arrangement for calling hon. Members to ask questions about matters relating to Northern Ireland. We had a good example today.

We understand your difficulties, Mr. Speaker, because you feel that you have to call Northern Ireland Members. Today no Labour Back Benchers were called. I say again that we understand your dilemma, Mr. Speaker, but this matter is one for the whole of the United Kingdom. If, by any chance, you can hear us speaking among ourselves, you will know that we are commenting on the fact that we do not believe that the problems of Northern Ireland will be resolved by Northern Ireland Members coming to the House periodically to complain about what has happened during the course of these violent days. That is not the way forward. The time has come for other hon. Members, particularly on the Labour Benches, where there are many differing views, to be given the right to make their case. I regret that, once again, that has not been possible today.

Order. We have a heavy day ahead of us and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is one of those wishing to speak later, if he is lucky.

The Northern Ireland Members who have spoken today and told us that they live daily and nightly with this tragedy have a right to express their strong feelings. I fully understand that this is a United Kingdom matter, but I hope that the House agrees that those who are most directly affected and those who have lost constituents in such tragedies should take precedence.

I hope also that the House will realise that, if we were to have an extended question time on such matters., we would put in jeopardy those hon. Members who rightly believe that they should be called during the subsequent debate. It is question of balance and I do my best to ensure that.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. While supporting everything that you have just said, I ask you to bear in mind that the comments of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) apply equally to those Back Benchers on the Government side of the House, who represent other parts of the United Kingdom, feel equally strongly about the matter and have not had an opportunity to participate in the questioning.

I wish to ask for your ruling on two points. I believe that you were right to call those hon. Members who have spoken, but those of us who believe that a much tougher policy needs to be instituted immediately did not have an opportunity to put that point to you. You, Mr. Speaker, are uniquely sensitive to the mood of the House. You know the mood of the country after such events. If this were a unique occasion and you felt that you could and should do so, you would extend question time on this matter. I ask you to bear that point in mind. I know that you have not done so before, but, such is the mood of the House, that I urge you to give other hon. Members an opportunity to express their heartfelt view that we need to get tougher.

Order. That is enough. The hon. Gentleman is one of a number of hon. Members who have in the past written to me to express their distress at not being called in debates. It is difficult for the Chair to balance the rights of those hon. Members who wish to make speeches in a debate and those who wish to ask questions after statements.

Order. I am highly sensitive to the interests of the whole House in this matter, but I must balance the rare opportunities that hon. Members have to make speeches in this place. There are opportunities to raise points during questions on Northern Ireland. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman comes in for Northern Ireland questions, but I shall bear in mind those hon. Members who have not been called today when we next have Northern Ireland questions.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson). This problem is quite different from those we have faced in the past. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to reconsider the matter. We are now in our fourth day of debate on the Budget, in which I have had an opportunity to participate, but the horrors of Saturday put in context the issues of the Budget and suggest that all hon. Members, not only those directly concerned with Northern Ireland, should have an opportunity to speak.

I accept that, but the hon. Gentleman has already been called in the Budget debate. He must have regard to his right hon. and hon. Friends who have not yet had that opportunity.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We on the Official Unionist Bench fully understand the frustrations of hon. Members on both sides of the House who, because of pressure of time, cannot be called. In an effort to be helpful, I suggest that, as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House are both present and can hear what I say, they might take the opportunity now to arrange a debate on this matter before the House rises for Easter, so that we may explore the differences between us.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although I appreciate the great difficulties that you face at present, may I suggest that, when dealing with matters of great emotion, the normal rules of procedure should be adhered to even more strictly? Many of the points raised were not in the interrogative, but in the form of long statements. That makes it much more difficult for the Chair and limits the opportunity of other hon. Members to speak. The House should support you, Mr. Speaker, in trying to ensure that the interrogative and the proper aspects of procedure are used at such times.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I share the frustration of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), but I hope that the House will note that very few Northern Ireland Members have been called in the first 15 questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Thursdays. We are not objecting to that. That is the way the House works and those of us who have come regularly to try to participate in the debate know how difficult it is to do so. That is the price of the House's democracy.

I fully understand the concern of the House about such matters. I hope that hon. Members understand the difficult position in which the Chair is placed in seeking to be fair to everyone.

Orders Of The Day

Ways And Means

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [15 March].

Before I call the Secretary of State for Employment, I remind the House that 26 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to participate in today's debate of whom nine are Privy Councillors. Not all Privy Councillors will he called as early as they would perhaps wish, but I beg the House to make short speeches so that as many Back Benchers as possible may be called.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to press you again, but I raised this matter on a previous occasion when we had a listing of this nature. Will you please ignore the status of Privy Councillors when calling hon. Members to speak in the debate?

I do not think that I ought to ignore their status, but I have already said that Privy Councillors may not be called as early as they would normally hope to be.

Amendment Of The Law

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That it is expedient to amend the law with respect to the national debt and public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance; but this Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—
  • (a) for zero-rating or exempting any supply;
  • (b) for refunding any amount of tax;
  • (c) for varying the rate of that tax otherwise than in relation to all supplies and importations; or
  • (d) for relief other than relief applying to goods of whatever description or services of whatever description.—(Mr. Lawson.)
  • Question again proposed.

    Budget Resolutions And Economic Situation

    [Relevant documents: European Community Document No. 9561/87, Annual Economic Report 1987–88 and the unnumbered document, Annual Economic Report 1987–88 (final version as adopted by the Council).]

    4.48 pm

    I shall seek to follow your advice, Mr. Speaker, on the length of speeches. This is the last day of the Budget debate and I wish to concentrate on the Government's economic policy and the part that the Budget of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will play in carrying forward that policy.

    The Budget has many strengths. It reduces taxation to the benefit of both individuals and companies. It reforms taxation by removing the long-standing unfairness of the system regarding married women. It recognises that the primary function of taxation is to raise revenue, not to punish success.

    I believe that those individual changes will be welcomed throughout the country and will add to the reputation of my right hon. Friend. But the Budget is far more than a series of individual measures. It is a further step in a strategy that is summed up in the very first sentence of the Budget Red Book:
    "the objective of the Government's economic policy is to defeat inflation and to maintain a vigorous and enterprising economy with sustained growth of output and employment".
    Now that, doubtless, is a general statement of policy that would probably attract widespread support. It would probably have the support of some Labour Members—certainly, I suspect, the support of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) who is replying to this debate and leads the revisionist faction of the Labour party. Indeed, over the past four days of the Budget debate, right hon. Gentlemen who have led for the Opposition have set out their interpretation of a "vigorous and enterprising economy" and their hopes for
    "sustained growth of output and employment".
    But on one point there has been a deafening silence from the Opposition Front Bench—that is on policies to "defeat inflation". If one reads the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Chancellor and the shadow Secretary of State for Social Services one will search in vain for any serious mention of inflation. It is not just that they have no major passage on it —the word hardly crosses their lips. Yet the whole point of the Opposition's attack on the Budget has been their claim that there is a conflict between the Government's economic policy and the demands of social justice. I find it inexplicable that in a case that majors on social justice the need to control inflation does not even rate a passing comment. Surely the most significant feature of life in Britain today compared with 10 or 15 years ago—the most important social advance — is that we do not suffer from the evil of inflation.

    The most important change in the lives of people in this country is that we now live with an inflation rate of just over 3 per cent. Even that is too high, but compare it with what went before and one sees the contrast. Between 1974 and 1979, inflation averaged over 15 per cent. For 13 months in 1975 and 1976 inflation never fell below 20 per cent. At its peak, Labour's inflation rate reached the banana republic heights of almost 27 per cent. We have heard a great deal from the Opposition about social justice, but the truth is that there is nothing more socially divisive than inflation. Nothing is more likely to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Inflation strikes at the weak, and the victims of inflation were literally millions of people in this country who no longer had the power to look after their own interests. The victims of inflation were the elderly living on fixed incomes and it is to the shame of the previous Labour Government that they knocked the heart out of a whole generation of elderly people in this country.

    I am not prepared to take lectures from the Opposition on social justice. There was no social justice in old people being brought to their knees by the financial incompetence of the previous Labour Government.

    I shall give way in a moment.

    There was no social justice in a Government who were prisoners of the worst prejudices of the most outdated trade unions in the western world. Above all, there was no social justice in the inflation that Labour inflicted on this country. What the Opposition have never understood is that the basis of any social policy worthy of that name must be a sound economic policy. Above all, it is that sound economic policy that the Government have achieved.

    The Secretary of State has talked about social justice for pensioners. Where is that justice when, from April, as a result of Government policy, 700,000 pensioners will no longer be able to claim housing benefit?

    I will come to that and a whole series of other points regarding social security, inflation and concern for the elderly.

    Low inflation, steady growth and a balanced budget have made possible improving productivity, rising levels of investment, falling unemployment and real and sustainable increases in spending on social programmes. It was precisely the failure of the previous Labour Government's economic policy that forced them into social policy "U" turn after social policy "U" turn.

    The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) has spoken of social security, but the cut made by Mrs. Barbara Castle in 1976, by fiddling the method of uprating, cost pensioners more than £1 billion — the biggest cut in the social security budget made by any Government since the war. That cut was made by the previous Labour Government.

    In a moment.

    The Opposition now talk of health, but the cut of 30 per cent. in hospital building made by the previous Labour Government was the biggest cut in the Health Service made by any Government since the war.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, referred to his Government's specific record in 1978. Let us consider what was said in 1978 about the Health Service and Labour policies. The Sunday Times commemorated the success of Labour policies with a three-part series entitled "Crisis in the NHS". The chairman of the British Medical Association was calling for an injection of £1 billion into the Health Service and said that the National Health Service in Britain was sick, inadequate and impersonal. Some months previously the general secretary of the Confederation of Health Service Employees, the late Albert Spanswick, said the National Health Service was more in danger and more in fear for its very existence than ever before. That was the state of affairs in 1978 and that is what the shadow Chancellor specifically put before the House as an example of what happened under the previous Labour Government.