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Commons Chamber

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 30 March 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Saint Bennet Fink Burial Ground (City Of London) Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

London Regional Transport Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [10 December], That the Bill be now considered.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 14 April.

TEIGNMOUTH QUAY COMPANY BILL (By Order)

YORK CITY COUNCIL BILL [Lords] (By Order)

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

CARDIFF BAY BARRAGE BILL (By Order)

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

FALMOUTH CONTAINER TERMINAL BILL (By Order)

NORTH KILLINGHOLME CARGO TERMINAL BILL (By Order)

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

Southern Water Authority Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 14 April.

British Railways (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming debate on Question [15 March], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate to be resumed upon Thursday 14 April.

British Railways Order Confirmation Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Iran-Iraq War

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the current situation at the United Nations concerning his efforts to secure action to help bring the Iran-Iraq war to an end; and what representations have been received on this subject by (a) the Secretary-General of the United Nations and (b) Her Majesty's Government from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The recent deplorable escalation in the Iran-Iraq conflict, involving missile and chemical weapon attacks on civilians, has made the immediate implementation of Security Council resolution 598 all the more essential. We keep in touch with both parties in New York and elsewhere, and welcome the Secretary-General's latest efforts to bring them together. Meanwhile, it is vital that work should continue on possible enforcement measures.

I applaud any efforts by my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government to bring this deplorable war to an end, but is he aware that Western policy, whatever its intentions, is not seen to be evenhanded? One result is that it has given Iraq the chance to escalate the war, sometimes in the most ghastly circumstances. The Iranian Government, as my right hon. and learned Friend knows, have made responses to the Secretary-General on Security Council resolution 598. What consideration has been given to those responses, what test has been put upon them, and, if necessary, has any opportunity been given to call the bluff, if there be a bluff?

I assure my hon. Friend that British policy in this matter is unchanged and strictly impartial. We want the earliest possible negotiated settlement of the conflict. Iraq has said that it accepts and will implement Security Council resolution 598 if the Iranians do so. Iraq wants a sequence to be followed. Iran has neither accepted nor rejected the resolution, but has engaged in delaying tactics. Since then both sides have taken actions that have contributed to an escalation of the conflict. In those circumstances, the Secretary-General has been seeking contact with representatives of both sides in New York. The only way of trying to bring the matter to a conclusion is by pressing ahead with an even hand to secure enforcement of the resolution as it stands.

In view of the most appalling atrocity committed against the civilian population in the Kurdish regions, is it not time for the Government to initiate further action, at European Community level, too, to ensure that no material that could be used in chemical warfare is supplied directly or indirectly from Europe for either side in this appalling conflict?

I am sure that the whole House will sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's point. We have read with the greatest concern reports of Iraqi use of chemical weapons against villages in Kurdistan If confirmed — I have no reason to suppose that they will not be — they represent a significant increase in the use of these abhorrent and inhuman weapons. We have repeatedly made clear our condemnation of them and made representations specifically to the Iraqis by my hon. and learned Friend, the Minister of State, on his visit to Baghdad at the end of February, by myself in a conversation with the Iraqi Foreign Minister on 15 March and to the Iraqi ambassador in the Foreign Office only yesterday. Beyond that, we have worked within the European Community — we initiated this — to impose strict export controls on chemical weapons and on civil chemicals that might be used to produce them. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that matter. I think that the whole House will share my sense of abhorrence at the use of these weapons in any circumstances in this or any other conflict.

What are British interests in relation to this war, and how do they differ from the American interests in that area?

This conflict is almost the only issue in international affairs which I discuss with representatives of almost every nation and find an instant response to the proposition that this bloody conflict must be brought to an end. That is Britain's interest and it is the interest of every nation.

If the Foreign Office or any Government with whom we are in association learns or knows of the origin of chemical material, does the Foreign Secretary accept that that information should be made public?

I am sure that that matter should certainly be given the most serious consideration, because we have worked tenaciously to secure a comprehensive, verifiable worldwide ban on chemical weapons, specifically in this context, and have energetically taken up any cases that have been reported.

Central America

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a settlement of the outstanding conflicts in Central America.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Eggar)

We believe that the Guatemala peace agreement remains the best framework in which to seek progress towards a peaceful settlement of the outstanding conflicts in Central America.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Nicaraguan Government on the commendable steps that they have taken towards the implementation of the Central American peace plan? In the light of that progress, will the Government now make representations to President Reagan that it is high time that full and direct talks were opened between the Government of the United States and the Nicaraguan Government on matters of mutual security? Would it not be a wonderful Easter message to the Nicaraguan people if, after seven years of war and 50,000 deaths, they could at least know that steps were being taken towards implementing direct talks to bring an end to that conflict?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, our policy has long been that we welcome peaceful, not military, solutions to the problems of Central America. We have warmly welcomed the peace agreement and we urge everybody to implement it fully. A 60-day truce was recently agreed at talks on 21–23 March. Together with our European partners, we issued a statement in support of that on 28 March and we hope that the second round, planned for 6 April, will bring a substantive ceasefire and progress towards democracy. We shall he looking to the Nicaraguan Government to fulfil their pledges on the democratic front.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the release of 1,000 political prisoners in Nicaragua and the reopening of the opposition press there? Does he share my fear that this is only window dressing and that what we really wish to see in Nicaragua is a proper, pluralist democracy?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and add that it is deplorable that political prisoners were held by the Nicaraguan regime.

Before the Minister loses his voice completely, can he not bring himself, for once, to congratulate the Government of Nicaragua on the excellent progress that they have made towards implementing the peace plan? Does he recognise that the Esquipulas peace plan applies not just to Nicaragua, but to Honduras, Guatemala and, above all, to El Salvador? What are the Government doing to ensure that President Duarte restarts talks with the FLMN/FDR and to stop the massacre of innocent civilians in that country?

Despite the hon. Gentleman's attempt at winning ways and imploring hands, I would respect his balance in this matter rather more if he condemned the invasion of Honduran territory by Nicaraguan troops. Of course we welcome further moves towards peace in Central America. We have been doing that for a considerable time, and will continue to do so.

What steps can my hon. Friend take to make certain that the Nicaraguan Government improve still further on the efforts that they have made in respect of their negotiations with the Contras and begin to establish the pluralist democracy of which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) spoke?

It is clear that the Nicaraguan Government, for their part, need to establish a real pluralist democracy and to end their support of subversion in neighbouring states. One of the results of the San Jose IV meeting in Hamburg was that the European Community undertook to give support to the Central American Parliament, which is part of the overall progress in the region towards democracy.

Austria

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the present state of relations between the United Kingdom and Austria.

Relations between the United Kingdom and Austria are good, reflecting the common interests of our Governments and peoples.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House when he expects to conclude the inquiry into the alleged involvement of President Kurt Waldheim in the deaths of British commandos taken prisoners of war? Is the inquiry taking evidence from Captain Bill Blythe, who survived torture by Waldheim's own interrogation unit? Meanwhile, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that there will be no contact between representatives of Her Majesty's Government in Austria and this mendacious and wicked man?

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must not make a reflection of that kind about the Head of a friendly state. Will he please withdraw his last remark?

I withdraw my last remark, but if the commission of inquiry comes to the expected conclusion, I shall reserve the right to make it again.

I think that the last exchange between you, Mr. Speaker, and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) indicates that it certainly would not be appropriate for me today to comment on or prejudge in any way the outcome of the review that is under way. It is being undertaken by the Ministry of Defence. The commission is carrying forward its work as expeditiously as possible and the matter will be reported to the House as soon as the review is complete.

The matter will be reported when the review is finished. The hon. and learned Gentleman wants the review to be thorough, and it will have to be thorough. The people conducting the review will take account of any evidence that may become available to them, including the observation made in the earlier part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question. It is for them to decide the matter. The Ministry of Defence will report the outcome to the House as soon as the review is complete.

So far as the latter part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question is concerned, representatives of Her Majesty's Government will behave appropriately, as they should.

What is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the recent statement in Vienna by the French Prime Minister, Mr. Chirac, that Austria would be a welcome member of the European Community?

I listen with interest to the observations of Prime Ministers of member states of the European Community, just as the hon. Gentleman no doubt does.

Although relations between this country and Austria may be good, they will be much better when the results of the inquiry are known. Therefore, may I press upon my right hon. and learned Friend that the inquiry be expeditious? It is unfortunate that the amnesia of the President of Austria is the cause of the inquiry in the first place.

I shall not add my own observations to those at the end of my hon. Friend's question, but I entirely share his view, as I said in my original answer, that it is in everyone's interest for the review to be completed as expeditiously as possible. The review is being undertaken with that in mind.

Kampuchea

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has on recent developments in Kampuchea.

We shall continue to urge the withdrawal of all Vietnamese forces from Cambodia and to work for a settlement which allows the Cambodian people to determine their own future through free and fair elections and without outside interference.

Why do the Government continue to support the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot through the coalition of the United Nations? When will they withdraw their support for that murderous regime? Why will they not reconvene the 1954 Geneva conference, which they co-chaired with the Soviet Union when discussing the future of Indo-China, if they are serious about ending the diplomatic isolation of Cambodia over the past nine years?

Not for the first time, the hon. Lady is misinformed. The United Kingdom withdrew all recognition of the Pol Pot regime in December 1979. We have no intention of contributing to its re-establishment. We believe that free and fair elections based on United Nations precedents offer the best guarantee that the Khmer Rouge does not dominate after a political settlement has been found.

With regard to the chance of a United Kingdom initiative on Cambodia, we have long supported the efforts of Cambodia's friends in the Association of the South East Asian Nations to bring about a satisfactory solution to the Cambodian problem, but there is no new British initiative.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the withdrawal of foreign — that is, Vietnamese — troops from Cambodia is the touchstone, not only for security, peace and progress in the region, but for improvement in East-West relations? Is there any sign yet of the Soviet Union putting pressure on its Vietnamese allies to withdraw their forces from Cambodia?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The key ingredient is the withdrawal of occupying Vietnamese forces. With regard to the latter part of his question, the Soviet Union has told us that it endorses the regime's proposals for a solution, including an international conference. However, it has not yet gone further than that.

Do I understand from my hon. Friend's answer to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) that until 1979 the Pol Pot regime was recognised by the Labour Government, notwithstanding the massacres perpetrated on the Cambodian people? If that is right, is that not another example of the hypocrisy of the Labour party?

As ever, my hon. and learned Friend is right. I thought it best to be charitable on this occasion and not remind the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) of the rather unfortunate fact of the recognition of the Pol Pot regime by the Labour Government in 1976.

Chemical Weapons

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made towards the conclusion of a treaty dealing with the manufacture, deployment and use of chemical weapons; and if he will make a statement.

Encouraging progress has been made at the chemical weapons negotiations in Geneva. However, complex issues remain to be dealt with, particularly on verification and arrangements for an international inspectorate, if we are to achieve an effective convention. I met Mr. Karpov, chief Soviet arms negotiator, on Monday and discussed this issue.

After the impetus to try to secure a treaty in the past two years, is it not regrettable that there has now been a slow-down? Given the reports of the atrocities in the Iran-Iraq war, is it not more important to stem the dangers of proliferation than to pursue perfection in verification? What is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to the verification proposals in the draft United States treaty?

Verification between East and West is important because of the complexities involved in the interrelationship between military complexes and the civil chemical industry. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have been taking a lead in Geneva in tabling proposals on verification. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is a matter not just between East and West, but one that concerns a number of other countries,; and the lamentable use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war makes it clear to all of us that we should try to achieve a global ban. That is what we are working for. I cannot pretend that there are not difficulties that will be overcome only after a long time.

Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that, in the councils of the world, when we discuss chemical warfare we make it clear that we disapprove of the transfer of technology, materials and weapons to grossly irresponsible nations, such as those involved in the Iran-Iraq war, and that we shall do our best to ensure that neither side—East nor West—supplies those sorts of countries with such weapons?

Everyone would welcome any progress that can be made towards a ban on chemical and biological weapons. Does the Minister agree, however, that although he is right to condemn the use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish people in Iraq, one problem has been that the British Government have maintained diplomatic relationships with both Iran and Iraq, and not very long ago extended a £200 million credit to the Government of Iraq, enabling them to prop up their economy and continue the prosecution of the war? Would it not be better if we withdrew all trade, aid and credits to both Iran and Iraq as a way of bringing to an end the war and the use of chemical weapons in the region?

I think that that would be an entirely self-defeating exercise. The fact that we have diplomatic relations with Iraq, for example, has made possible a wide range of contacts, to the mutual benefit of both countries, and enabled us to play a constructive part in the efforts of the United Nations to try to bring the Gulf war to an end. As recently as yesterday it enabled a deputy undersecretary at the Foreign Office to see the Iraqi ambassador, to protest in strong terms about the use of chemical weapons, and to ask that his protest be reported back at the highest level in Baghdad. Without diplomatic relations, such exchanges would not be possible. The best way to stop the use of chemical weapons is to continue to protest through the channels available to us, as well as maintaining the present embargo to try to prevent any materials from Britain getting through that could be used in making such weapons.

The Government have done exceptional work in the chemical weapons talks in Geneva. Nevertheless, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be a great mistake to allow the chemical weapons talks to be sidetracked by other, seemingly more important, talks? Bearing in mind the importance of dealing with these appalling weapons, it is essential that we get a meaningful treaty as soon as possible.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The NATO priorities embrace four sets of talks, and the chemical weapons talks are among them. We would all agree — especially as chemical weapons represent a worldwide problem and not one confined to East-West relations—that the sooner we make progress, the better.

Does not the foot-dragging of the super-powers on talks aimed at a chemical weapons treaty lead inexorably towards further proliferation of these obscene weapons? Last week we saw evidence of mass deaths caused by cyanide gas in Iraqi Kurdistan—away from all the television cameras and lights that we are so used to in other parts of the world. That is an outrage, not only against humanity, but one that reflects the complacent inactivity of the great powers of the world. Why are we not so moved by the atrocities — as we are by so many others that appear on our television screens — that we take the great leap of political will which alone will free the world from these atrocious and horrifying weapons?

I certainly agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I have some comments to make to him. It now seems clear that chemical weapons were used by Iraq against its own Kurdish population and the Iranian invaders. That use was contrary to international obligations entered into by Iraq, so we must not be too simplistic about the matter. Much as I would welcome a convention, the mere fact of its existence would not necessarily mean that countries such as Iraq would sign it; and, even if they signed it, they would not necessarily adhere to it.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about the super-powers, I assure the House that we do not wish there to be foot-dragging and we do not believe that there is any. Every year we table a number of papers designed in a non-propagandist way to make progress. We must not underestimate the number of genuine issues that need to be resolved, such as the number of chemical weapons, the possibility of inspection, and the need to contain the prospect of a breakout, which could come through concealed work in the civil chemical industry. All these are genuine and substantive matters that cannot be wished away and will, I am afraid, take time to sort out.

East Germany

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met representatives of the East German Government; and what subjects were discussed.

I visited the German Democratic Republic and East Berlin from 12 to 16 March and met several Ministers and other officials, principally Deputy Foreign Minister Nier. We discussed a wide range of topics.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Can he tell the House, following the recent Leipzig affair, what prospects there are for this country to increase its export opportunities in East Germany? Is it true that there are opportunities for British manufacturers of machine tools and food and chemical processing equipment? What steps would he advise manufacturers to take to bring about those exports?

There are good prospects for British trade. I was glad to see that there were more than 140 British exhibitors at the Leipzig fair. That is more than ever before, and 66 British companies have the gold medal for regular attendance at the fair. As Mr. Wilson used to say, exporting is fun. The East German authorities have announced a substantial boost to their investment in all the areas that my hon. Friend identified. I believe that there are great opportunities for British companies which try to build up our trade. At the moment there is a heavy deficit in East Germany's favour, which we want to redress soon.

Did the Minister discuss the GDR's proposal, which arises out of an initiative made by the late Olaf Palmé, for a nuclear weapons-free corridor in Europe, including the whole of the GDR, part of the Federal Republic and designed eventually to link up with the Scandinavian nuclear-free area and the Balkan nuclear-free area, which, sadly has been closed, leading eventually to a nuclear weapons-free Europe?

I took the opportunity of a friendly and pleasant visit to say that I considered that proposal emptily propagandist. It sounded emptily propagandist when it fell from the lips of my East German colleagues, and it sounds even more emptily propagandist when it falls from the hon. Gentleman's lips.

The futility of nuclear-free zones is well known to most hon. Members. There is nothing to stop weapons outside such zones being targeted on places inside it, and there is nothing to stop mobile weapons, which the Warsaw pact has in abundance, from being brought into a so-called nuclear-free zone when the need arises. If we are to make progress in East-West relations, we should have less propaganda and more substantial and sensible proposals to discuss.

Palestine

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the current United States initiative to restore peace in Palestine.

We welcome the re-engagement of the United States in the peace process and support its efforts to help the parties reach agreement on a way forward.

In view of the four wars that have taken place in its 40 years of existence and the continuing threats to Israel's security, does my right hon. and learned Friend have sympathy with and support for Israel's insistence on the maintenance of a defence line along the River Jordan as part of any solution? if Israel says no to the Shultz peace proposals, must it not come forward with its own proposals, which respect the right of self-determination of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, to bring the present intolerable situation there to a halt as soon as possible?

What my hon. Friend says underlines what is very clear — that the status quo is in nobody's interests and that the continuation of deadlock only encourages extremists on both sides. That is why I have already welcomed the re-engagement of the United States in the peace process and why I am sure that the whole House will wish Secretary of State Shultz success on his next visit to the region. A way forward has to be found on the basis of the two principles which have been enunciated so often. They are the right of Israel and other states in the area to secure existence within recognised boundaries — I make no comment on my hon. Friend's point — and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

While he does not condone the policy of settlement and all that has followed from it, will the Secretary of State recognise the obvious fact that Israel has a strategic problem because of the narrowness of the country? Will he press at least for a demilitarised zone on the West Bank?

Israel clearly has a security problem. That is why every approach to the solution of the problem emphasises the need for recognition of Israel's right to exist within secure boundaries. It is equally important for the other side of the matter to be emphasised, namely, that unless Israel is prepared quite explicitly to recognise the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to proceed on the footing of the vital principle of territory for peace, there is no prospect of a way forward being found.

Bearing in mind that over the years every American peace initiative in the middle east has collapsed in the face of Isreali rejection, what hope does my right hon. and learned Friend hold out for the Shultz initiative? Bearing in mind the continuing and appalling acts of repression by Israel on the West Bank, will Her Majesty's Government and the EEC this time intervene to tr) to give some muscle to bolster the American initiative?

The position of the European Community and its member countries, including the United Kingdom, has been clearly and powerfully expressed in support of the principles that I have enunciated. It would be wrong to dismiss in advance the chances of success of the latest initiative being taken by the American Secretary of State. Of course, we should not underestimate the difficulties, but it remains vital to continue every effort to bring the parties together and we welcome it on that basis.

It is quite right that the conduct of Israel in relation to the occupied territories is an important feature that has to be put right as part of the process of finding a way forward.

Is not the useful initiative by Mr. Shultz seriously undermined by the comfort that President Reagan foolishly gave to Mr. Shamir when Mr. Shamir visited Washington recently? Is it not a fact that the escalating repression in the occupied territories has demonstrated, by what is happening today, including the shooting of a woman on the West Bank and the closing down of the Palestine press service, that the problem will not be solved by repression or force but only by a conference, and that the obstacle to that conference is Mr. Shamir?

Is it not essential that we put pressure on Mr. Shamir, and recommend the Americans to do so too, because we will not get an end to the conflict without a conference, and we will not get a conference until Mr. Shamir is budged?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman's analysis is very close to the truth. The House must regret that the opportunity was not taken during Mr. Shamir's recent visit to Washington to confirm Israel's commitment to the current peace efforts being undertaken by Secretary of State Shultz. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the continuing escalation of violence is a measure of the urgency of making headway in that direction, above all in the cause of Israel. The policies being pursued by Prime Minister Shamir cannot assure Israel of a secure future. Israel needs peace as much as anyone, and that peace can come about only through real negotiations.

It is entirely right for the House to urge Israel to join the almost universal consensus in support of negotiations on the basis of land for peace through the framework of an international conference. It is equally important for the Arab side to recognise that it cannot afford to miss another chance as it has an equally urgent need for peace. I urge it to work with the plan put forward by the United States.

Gibraltar

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has any plans to meet the First Minister of Gibraltar.

My right hon. and learned Friend has invited the new Chief Minister to visit London for talks as soon as he is able to do so.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she not think that the new Chief Minister's stated opposition to the Brussels agreement might blight progress on the future of Gibraltar and discussions with the Spaniards?

I sincerely hope that that will not happen. Her Majesty's Government are committed to respect the wishes of the Gibraltarians on the question of sovereignity. They have shown their wishes in the recent democratic elections there. I believe that the Brussels agreement, to which Her Majesty's Government remain committed, is the only way forward to rebuild confidence between Gibraltar and Spain. Practical co-operation is to the benefit of both sides. I am sure that the new Chief Minister will take account of that.

Will the Minister assure the new Chief Minister of Gibraltar that any conduct by members of our police or armed forces on that island will conform to normal standards of conduct in relation to suspected criminals who are under surveillance? Will he confirm that they will not be subject to the sort of brutality that we saw in Gibraltar recently?

The hon. Gentleman does not know his geography, does he? In addition, he cannot even recognise the facts when they are put before him. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend said on 7 March. The hon. Gentleman should re-read columns 21 and 22.

Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that there is a different perception of the Brussels agreement, as seen through British, Spanish or Gibraltarian eyes? Whereas a meeting with the new Chief Minister in London will be very useful, will my right hon. Friend consider an early trip to Gibraltar to see at first hand the anxieties of the Gibraltar people and to reassure them that the Brussels agreement is in their best interests, that it will in no way undermine the sovereignty that is enshrined in their constitution and that that cannot be altered without the wholehearted consent of the Gibraltar people?

There is no danger of any damage to the sovereignty of Gibraltar. Both my right hon. and learned Friend and I would certainly consider a visit to Gibraltar if the new Chief Minister invited one of us to go there. We must get round the table with the Gibraltarians to ensure that there is no return to the sort of confrontations that we saw in the 1960s and 1970s.

When the meeting with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar takes place, will every effort be made to convey the very real concerns of my constituents who have invested substantial sums of money in International Investments Ltd. of Gibraltar so as to ensure that those who absconded with, or misappropriated, those funds are brought to justice and that at least some of those funds are returned to those who invested their life savings, in good faith, in Gibraltar?

I shall certainly look into what the hon. Gentleman has said and bring it to the attention of the law enforcement agencies in Gibraltar.

Could my right hon. Friend confirm the dates of the visit to Gibraltar of His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester? When she meets Mr. Bassano, will she encourage him to continue the policy of supporting the efforts of the friends of Gibraltar in this country and of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust on the Rock to refurbish the monuments and artefacts of Gibraltar and thereby encourage the tourist trade?

I am sure that his royal highness will go to Gilbraltar, as he has been invited to do. I welcome the setting up of the trust. We believe that it is very important to protect Gibraltar's historic monuments and I hope that the new Chief Minister will encourage everybody to do what they can in that direction.

South Africa

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the use on 7 March of the British veto on a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against South Africa.

We vetoed the draft resolution because it included a call for mandatory economic sanctions.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the recent laws passed in South Africa will now prevent funds going to South Africa from organisations such as Oxfam that collect in this country? Has he any advice to give to those charities that are providing funds for that country? Is this not the time to consider effective sanctions against South Africa?

We have made it plain that we condemn many of the restrictions recently imposed by the South African Government. We believe that they suppress legitimate political activity and that they will promote conflict and a move in exactly the wrong direction. It is too early to conclude that they will necessarily interfere with all forms of humanitarian relief. As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, our position remains the same. We totally condemn apartheid, but we do not think that its ending will be brought about by any step in the direction of mandatory economic sanctions.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Government were absolutely right to use the veto on this occasion? Is he also aware that such people as the late Percy Qoboza, the late Steve Biko, Alan Paton and Helen Suzman, while being vigorously opposed to apartheid, have also been strongly opposed to economic sanctions being imposed on South Africa?

My right hon. Friend makes a very telling point, drawing on arguments that have appealed to people with deep experience of South Africa. I entirely agree with him. The whole of our experience since the imposition by other countries of punitive sanctions demonstrates that they do not make the situation better. They make a bad situation worse.

Has it not been the case in recent weeks that, far from accommodating the point of view of the Western democracies and the United Nations, the South African Government have been much more concerned with those to the right of themselves, and the electoral successes in by-elections of the Conservative party?

Will the Foreign Secretary consult as quickly as possible with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to ensure that ANC representatives in this country are given adequate police protection, in view of the assassination yesterday of an ANC representative in France and the clear fact that the South African authorities are operating murder squads to ensure that their opponents are put to death?

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman's substantive question first. Obviously, the whole House will condemn the murder in Paris of Miss September, because we are implacably opposed to violence and terrorism from any quarter. It is far too soon, however, to offer any view on who was responsible for her death.

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering representations on the safety of ANC personnel in London. I understand that members of the office were on an earlier occasion given advice by the police about their personal security.

My right hon. and learned Friend enjoys considerable support on these Benches and throughout the country for his robust opposition to economic sanctions. Will he now consider following the same policy in regard to sporting links with South Africa? Will he give the House an undertaking that no extreme political pressure will be put on any British rugby players who may consider touring that country in the future?

Our position on that is as stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House yesterday, when she clearly reaffirmed our support for the Gleneagles agreement, under which we try to discourage sporting contacts with South Africa. My hon. Friend will know that the English Rugby Football Union has already stated that it will try to dissuade England players from going to South Africa. We do not yet know whether the other rugby unions will follow suit.

Does the Foreign Secretary not recognise that, despite the Government's oft-stated opposition to apartheid, the blacks in South Africa still have the feeling that the Government are soft on the issue? Will the Foreign Secretary at least give an undertaking that the Government will look positively at making existing sanctions work? Is it not possible for them to go one stage further and at least stop direct flights, which will have no effect on the black population of South Africa?

I shall not accept the hon. Gentleman's advice on any extension of measures against South Africa of the kind that he has described. However, I would welcome his help if he would join me — and many others — in making plain to the people of South Africa that the Government have formed their opinion on the wisdom or unwisdom of sanctions on the basis of a conclusion on the best way of bringing apartheid to an end. There should be no doubt in his mind, or in anyone else's, about the vigour and firmness with which the Government condemn apartheid.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is no such thing as effective economic sanctions and that, in particular, the disinvestment by overseas companies has achieved nothing but the transfer of businesses, at knock-down prices, into South African ownership, which has made them more insular than they would otherwise have been?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Punitive sanctions would merely make a bad situation worse. We continue to follow a realistic policy of pressure, persuasion, advocacy and firmness. There is no justification for any belief that sanctions in the more extreme form would have any effect.

Is it not a fact that the Government use words to condemn apartheid, but, when action is required, do nothing whatever? Their actions therefore belie their words and make them sound empty. That applies both in the Security Council and to sport.

Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity not to echo the empty formula that the Prime Minister carefully devised yesterday, but to say clearly and without equivocation that the Government are totally opposed to British rugby players taking part in the "rest of the world" tour in South Africa?

I repeat what I have already said and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. We remain committed to the Gleneagles agreement and we shall continue to seek to discourage sporting contacts with South Africa.

On the earlier question, the hon. Gentleman must understand our view, which is upheld by many of the witnesses cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), that comprehensive mandatory sanctions would be an ineffective means of ending apartheid. They would hurt those whom we seek to help and they would prolong conflict. Punitive sanctions of that kind imposed by other countries have already failed to speed up reform, reduced external influence and strengthened Right-wing politicians in South Africa. The experiment has been seen to fail, and it is for that reason that we adhere to our view.

Ussr (Postal Deliveries)

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the response he has received from the Soviet authorities concerning abrogations by their postal authorities of international regulations over the delivery of mail from Britain to Soviet citizens, and on the practice of providing signatures other than those of the addressees on advice of receipt cards.

No clear Soviet response has yet been received.

We have repeatedly drawn attention to the need for closer observation of the spirit of international agreements at the CSCE review meeting in Vienna.

Does the Minister accept that there is a sense of disappointment that nothing positive has been done? Will he acknowledge that so long as a Government or postal authority give tacit recognition to signatures of people other than those to whom the mail is addressed they will be conniving at misappropriation of property and even downright robbery?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I am glad that he has returned to this important point. I remind the House that on 18 February we tabled a proposal calling upon all nations to agree that only the addressee or agent appointed by the addressee should be able to bear witness that a package had been delivered. At the moment, anyone appointed by the Government can do that. We look to the Eastern bloc countries to agree to that proposal as a practical way of showing that they are prepared to improve their practices on matters which should not be fundamental to their security but which are basic human rights in terms of the exchange of correspondence across national boundaries.

Will my hon. and learned Friend note that the continued breach of human rights and of the Helsinki agreement by the Soviet Union makes it extremely difficult for us to continue to negotiate on other matters? Will he urge General Secretary Gorbachev to change that policy and ensure that we can forward relations on a better basis?

There is no doubt that the fundamental problem in East-West relations is the lack of trust and confidence, which more often than not is based on judgments of the nature of Eastern society and breaches of human rights, which lead people to distrust the basic and fundamental impulses of Eastern bloc Governments. Until those things are changed, the level of progress that we want will be difficult to achieve.

Middle East

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on moves towards a middle east peace conference.

We support current efforts to promote the convening of an international conference as a framework for negotiations to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict. We hope that all the parties concerned will avoid action which could stifle progress towards a settlement.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that his phrase about the avoidance of action should apply to the current repression carried out by the Israelis against the Palestinians, which is reminiscent of the tactics used by their South African allies against the non-white population there?

Following the question by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), does my hon. and learned Friend think that it would be sensible to discuss with our EEC allies some form of action relating Israel's willingness to move towards peace with a willingness on the part of the EEC to grant concessions to Israeli exports?

There is no doubt that there has been a sharp and regrettable deterioration in conditions within the occupied territories in recent days. Seven people were killed over the weekend, a 50-year-old woman was shot dead today and in the past 10 days several hundred and perhaps more than a thousand people have been detained in circumstances which fall short of proper judicial standards. I should have thought that it would be self-evident to the Government of Israel by now that the Palestinian problem will have to be met by some means other than repression. The opportunity exists, within the framework of the American initiative, for proper talks to take place on the principle of territory for peace. Unless the Israelis are prepared to do that I fear that their 40th anniversary year will be a grave disappointment both to them and to the rest of the world.

Does my hon. Friend recall that this year there must be a general election in Israel, when the basic issue must be the peace process? Does he realise that many friends of Israel outside that country are hoping that the electors of Israel will listen to Mr. Peres and others who are putting forward peace proposals?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that typically constructive comment. It is crucial that, whatever else people disagree about, they agree that the status quo is no longer an option. If it were maintained there would be more bloodshed and more calling into question of the fundamental principles on which the state of Israel was rightly founded. The sooner that people come to grips with that and begin serious discussion, the sooner we can, I hope, make further progress.

Sharpeville Six

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Government of South Africa concerning the case of the Sharpeville Six.

Along with many other Western Governments, we have repeatedly urged the South African Government to exercise clemency in the case of the Sharpeville Six.

The Minister's answer does not completely clarify matters. What representations have been made since the postponement of sentence on the Sharpeville Six? Will she confirm that there has been no change in the South African Government's murderous intention towards them and that this Government will seek, through every avenue available in the remaining time, to ensure that they are saved from the South African Government's rope?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have made our position absolutely clear. We and other Western Governments have repeatedly urged the South African Government to exercise clemency. Those appeals for clemency remain. On both 16 and 17 March, when I answered private notice questions from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I made it absolutely clear that as the Pretoria Supreme Court had agreed a stay of execution, we would not only continue to follow proceedings closely and with concern, but would do whatever must be done when news is received. No further news has been received at this point.

Has my hon. Friend made a list of all the judicial systems throughout the world of which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office approves or disapproves? Does she monitor the extent to which different countries adhere to their judicial processes? Does she agree that the South Africans have adhered strictly to their judicial processes in the trial of the Sharpeville Six? Why, therefore, is it any of our business?

In no way is it a responsibility of the Government to monitor all the judicial systems of the world. However, when human rights issues come to the fore, such as with the Sharpeville Six — and as I clearly explained on 16 and 17 March — I believe that the Government's stance on appealing for clemency is fully justified, and we shall maintain that.

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) asked, in effect, "Why pick on South Africa?" Is not the answer that the British Government should exercise their influence in South Africa because the British actually underpin the South African economy? When will the Government stop being miserable apologists for apartheid South Africa and start doing something? If the Sharpville Six are judicially murdered there will be no reason to prevent the Government from imposing full sanctions against South Africa. The only thing that that country understands is force. The Government have not delivered the goods on ending apartheid, and it is about time that they stopped being apologists and took effective sanctions against South Africa.

Not for the first time, and no doubt not for the last, the hon. Gentleman has misrepresented the Government's stance. The Government are wholly and totally opposed to apartheid. We find it repugnant and we want it ended as soon as possible. However, we shall not achieve that by measures that can only make worse an already disastrous state for many black people in South Africa. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, there is no way that we can speed the end of apartheid by repressive economic measures.

Ec Internal Market

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further contribution his Department is making to increase awareness by business of the opportunities offered by the completion of the EC internal market by 1992.

We have launched a major campaign to bring to the attention of industry, business and the public the opportunities and challenges of the single European market. All Departments are involved in this campaign, which will include a major conference in London on 18 April, followed by regional briefings throughout the country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that 1992 is a year of massive opportunities for British industry, and that the tragedy at the moment is that while French and German industry are well aware of the opportunities facing them, British industry is not? Does she also agree that if we do not get a move on, there is a real risk of British industry once again being taken to the cleaners by the French?

That is the very reason why the Government have just launched this major awareness campaign. We need to tell businesses of all sizes, throughout the country, exactly what opportunities lie ahead for them in the single market. That is why Ministers and, I hope, all hon. Members, will explain, as I am doing, from St. Ives to Manchester and to the far north of Scotland, just what the opportunities are. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join that important campaign for the future of British industry and for increased exports from this country.

Prisons

3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on prisons.

In July last year, I announced a package of measures designed to secure a better balance between the rapidly rising prison population and the prison accommodation available. Those measures eased the position, but only temporarily. The prison population has continued to grow apace. After falling to 47,500 in early September, it rose to 50,600 at the end of last week. That is some 1,200 more than at the same time last year. Taking into account the July measures, there has been an underlying increase over the same period of some 4,200. Projecting those trends forward, we could be faced with a prison population of some 52,000 by the summer of this year.

That sharper rise has not come about because of any acceleration in crime — indeed, the figures that I announced last week show a much smaller increase than the average rate of increases in recorded crime for the last 30 years.

There are four main causes of that growth in the prison population. First, there is a substantial increase in the number of criminals being brought before the Crown court, where the rate of custodial sentencing is higher. Secondly, there is a substantial lengthening in the sentences imposed by the Crown court for offences involving violence, including robbery and rape, and for offences of criminal damage and drug offences. Thirdly, as a result of a tighter policy on parole, the numbers are some 2,000 higher. Finally, there has been an unwelcome increase in the remand population, which has almost doubled since 1980, with some 700 added since the end of November last year alone.

So the uncrowded capacity of the prison system is some 7,000 below last week's population figure. Obviously, that means that there is severe overcrowding, particularly in remand prisons and, what is worse, 1,400 prisoners are being accommodated in police cells all over south-east England and beyond. Those cells are wholly unsuited for the long-term accommodation of prisoners. Their use is expensive and can be dangerous. It diverts police officers from their job of preventing and detecting crime and keeping the peace.

Part—almost half—of the police cells problem results from industrial action in some London prisons by members of the Prison Officers Association. Such action is irresponsible and places additional burdens upon the police and the rest of the system. Prison service management are working hard to try to resolve it, and I met the POA leaders earlier today and urged them to use their influence to bring the action to a speedy end.

It is not for me to decide who and how many convicted offenders should be sentenced to imprisonment: that is for the courts. It is my role to see that the courts have a satisfactory range of sentencing options open to them, and that when they send someone to prison there is suitable accommodation available for him or her. So this dual responsibility is reflected in the measures that I announce today.

First, on the demand side, work is in hand to make community service orders more demanding and more strictly administered — for example, through the introduction of national standards. Secondly, I have already announced a substantial expansion of the programme for providing bail hostels, involving an extra nine hostels at a cost of about £3·8 million. Thirdly, next month I intend to issue a circular designed to help the courts in taking their decisions on bail. Finally, and in the only slightly longer term, I am considering how to build up forms of punishment in the community which are seen by all to present a firm and fair way of dealing with offenders who do not merit a custodial sentence. That is on the demand side.

But the most serious crimes are rightly punished by imprisonment. Our existing prison building programme involves investment of almost £1 billion. That is the supply side. I am announcing today a number of measures, additional to those that I have already taken, to ensure that accommodation is available to hold prisoners in conditions of proper security.

First, Army camps will be opened at Rollestone and Camberley to house a total of about 700 prisoners. Because of the existing pressures on the police and prison services these will be manned by military police and other personnel acting under the direction of prison management grades. This will be a strictly temporary measure to bridge us through the summer until more permanent prison accommodation is available.

Secondly, through the building programme and other measures, just short of 3,000 additional permanent prison places will be created by this time next year. Of those, more than 1,300 will come on stream in the south-east from now into this summer because of the special need to relieve pressure on the remand system in and around London.

Thirdly, I am planning to reinstate Ashford remand centre in Middlesex, which would otherwise close in April for rebuilding, as a temporary remand holding centre for about 400 prisoners from the late autumn.

Fourthly, I have reviewed the existing prison estate for ways of creating additional places by using system-built accommodation and by other means. In that way, I plan to add about 800 extra places from the beginning of 1989. I shall be recruiting the prison staff needed to man those places.

Fifthly, by speeding up the existing building programme, I shall provide a further 1,000 places from the beginning of 1990. These will be created in purpose-built blocks on existing prison sites.

The combined effect of the measures that I have announced and those which I have already put in hand will be to provide just over 4,000 permanent extra places, with the necessary staff, by the end of the financial year 1988–89, with a further 1,000 starting to come on stream from the very end of 1989.

I believe that this is an energetic response to the massive growth in the prison population. I will not hesitate to take further measures should they seem desirable. We must be ready to think imaginatively to ensure that the prison service can meet its obligations. In that context, the possibility of involving the private sector more closely in aspects of the prison system should be urgently considered. I have already moved in this direction by establishing the Prison Building Board, which includes substantial private sector representation.

The board is inviting the private sector to make proposals for building remand or open facilities faster than has been done in the past. I propose, in addition, to publish a Green Paper on private sector involvement in all aspects of the remand system, and at the same time to engage consultants to help in working out the practical implications. I also propose to explore whether there might be room for developing privately managed bail hostels, providing more secure conditions than the current range of hostels provide.

I believe that, in contrast with the past, this Government's record of commitment to the prison service in unparalleled. The further measures that I have announced today underline that commitment and our determination to ensure that public safey and security, as well as decent conditions for prison service staff and prison inmates, are attained.

The Home Secretary has just told us that the Government's commitment to the prison system is unparalleled. That amounts to three things: first, record crime figures; secondly, record prison populations, despite deplorable clear-up rates; and thirdly, a prison system that is in chaos.

The Home Secretary has been less than candid with the House about the extent of that chaos. Will he now confirm that the Home Office, as late as today, has been making estimates about the extent of the crisis and has established that the prison population may well rise to more than 56,000 by next year. In the light of that, does the right hon. Gentleman understand that his response to that crisis is wholly inadequate and that it is based more on his desire to play politics with the problem than to solve it — [Laughter.] Hon. Members who laugh will recall that the Home Secretary categorically told us that the holding of remand prisoners in gaols was the result of the prison officers' dispute.

Well, I will read the words to him:

"action in some London prisons by members of the Prison Officers Association."
That is what the Home Secretary said, but it is not, however, what the Minister of State said in the Lords a fortnight ago. When asked the same question, the noble Lord said:
"The reason why prisoners are in police cells — and I must again make this clear — is that the prison system has been temporarily overwhelmed by the high levels of population growth in recent years." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 4 March 1988; Vol. 494, c. 413.]
If the Home Secretary now recalls what he said in his statement, will he tell us whether he sticks by it or whether the noble Lord in the other place was giving a more honest and less political analysis of why the problem has arisen?

Will the Home Secretary begin to accept some of the Government's responsibility for the crisis that he is now facing? In July, we told the Home Secretary that what he proposed to reduce the prison population was attacking the symptoms rather than the causes. Today he has confirmed our judgment by saying that the improvements that he then made were only temporary. He should know that those temporary improvements and the proposals that he has now described will not meet the crisis and nor will a programme of increased prison building.

The problem is the number of people who are sent to prison in this country. It is clear that custodial sentences are right and necessary for those who commit violent or serious crime, but we send too many people to prison and keep them there for far too long.

In particular, the Home Secretary is doing nothing about the remand prisoners, who are a major problem within the system. He has told the House today that the prison population has increased by 700 as a result of the increase in remand prisoners. That is exactly the number of new places that he is creating at Rollestone and Camberley. Had there not been an increase in remand prisoners, he would not have had to open those two Army camps. He is making the situation worse as a result of the Criminal Justice Bill, out of Committee yesterday, by changing the remand rules from seven to 28 days. What is more, he is failing totally to apply the 110-day rule throughout the United Kingdom. If it were universal, it would reduce the prison population by a substantial number.

The right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor must also take responsibility for another increase. The right hon. Gentleman blandly tells us that the tighter parole policy has increased the prison population by 2,000. But that policy is the responsibility of this Government—as is the failure to provide an alternative to custodial sentencing.

Two Bills ago, when the right hon. Gentleman was merely the Minister of State at the Home Office—some six years ago—the Opposition told him that he ought to develop more non-custodial sentences. Today the Home Secretary has told us that that is what he is now proposing to do and what he is thinking of doing. The truth of the matter is that the Home Secretary is trapped between logic and the 1922 Committee. That is why, at the end of his statement, we heard all that irrelevant nonsense about privatising the prison system. Everyone knows that that will not make a scrap of difference, but it may see the Home Secretary through another difficult afternoon. Good luck to him.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman's political difficulties are crowding in on him, but he should keep some hold on reality in spite of the deputy leadership contest. He adverted to figures, but neglected to look at the latest ones, which show that police clear-up rates are rising again, which means that more criminals are being caught. There is a major problem at the violent end of crime, as we readily admit. The courts are responding to that by sending more people to prison for longer, and that is part of the problem.

I repeat what I said in my statement, to which the right hon. Gentleman did not listen because the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was making so much noise. I said:
"Part—almost half—of the police cells problem results from industrial action".
That is exact. About 600 of the prisoners who go to police cells each night do so as a result of industrial action by the POA. The easiest single contribution to solving that problem is that that industrial action should come to an end.

The right hon. Gentleman said that I was not doing anything about remand; of course we are. We are building nine new bail hostels. Contrary to anything that went before, we are imposing time limits on trials. Later this week, on 1 April, I am extending that to 14 new police areas and I hope that by the time it covers the whole of England and Wales it will provide a saving of the sort the right hon. Gentleman describes—600 remand prisoners. The proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill offer a balance on the issue of bail which is right.

The right hon. Gentleman prattled about non-custodial sentences. Of course, there has been a great increase in the use of community service orders. We need to move on from the position we inherited and developed and build up the notion that there can be punishment in the community as well as in prison. That is not easy to achieve, but it is what we are working on, and the House will have an opportunity to consider our proposal.

The right hon. Gentleman's approach is deeply hypocritical. My two predecessors and I have tried, starting from nothing, to build up a major investment of £1 billion in the prison building system. The Government to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged not only did nothing, but inherited from a Conservative Government a prison building plan that they cut by 35 per cent. in 1976. I cannot remember whether that was at the same time as they cut the hospital building programme or a little before or after, but it was part of the same process, and it completely disqualifies the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) from making these proposals.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that further development of alternatives to custody will be warmly welcomed and that the further use of time limits as envisaged in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 will also play a constructive part in the future? Does he also agree that, in the short run, faced with a crisis caused in substantial measure by industrial action, he is absolutely right to take urgent measures to make more places available for the prison system and to accelerate the prison building programme? That is essential, both in the short term and in the long term.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. He began the process of experimental time limits on the length of time a person could be kept on remand, and he knows that that is proving successful. He also knows that it is sensible to proceed step by step, which is what we are doing. I believe that this will make a substantial contribution to easing the problem.

How long does the Home Secretary expect the strictly temporary use of Army camps to be necessary? Does he accept that the remand prison population makes a disproportionate contribution to the problem about which he has just told us? Will his circular on bail draw to the attention of the courts the presumption of innocence which all persons on remand should enjoy; and will he explain why he is unwilling to institute an immediate extension of the 110-day rule throughout the whole of England and Wales? It has been operating in Scotland for over 100 years. Is it not time that England and Wales enjoyed the same benefit?

The answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's first question is, the late autumn. The answer to his second question is that the Bail Act 1976, together with the amendments in the Criminal Justice Bill, gets the balance about right. There is purpose and point in a circular that will draw to the attention of the courts the possibilities that are now opening up about getting more precise information about the circumstances of an offender. Such information will enable the courts to decide more accurately whether bail should be granted. There is a great deal of point in building up bail hostels and possibly bail hostels in secure accommodation so that courts have the alternative of sending someone home on bail instead of locking him up in custody.

I think that I have already dealt with the hon. and learned Gentleman's third point. He knows that the Scottish system and processes of bringing people to trial are quite different and that therefore the 110-day rule cannot automatically be applied. We are building up step by step, area by area, and gradually tightening, a system of time limits suitable for England and Wales.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not only distinguished former holders of his office who think that today's package is no more than good sense? What are the comparative costs of holding prisoners in Army camps and in police cells, and which is the most favourable? Does he accept that the sooner the go-ahead is given for private contract remand prisons to be introduced to the system the sooner will the kind of problem that he addresses today be permanently removed?

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. The costs are roughly as follows. It costs the huge sum of about £1,000 a week to keep a prisoner in a police cell. To keep a prisoner in an Army camp would cost about £400 a week and in a prison the cost is about £250. I know that my hon. and learned Friend is a strong supporter of the concept of private management of remand. There are more attractions in that than in holding convicted prisoners in privately managed conditions. The arguments of principle and practice need to be thrashed out in British terms as opposed to, or in addition to, American terms. That is why the Green Paper and the consultants' report are the right next steps.

What precisely will be the increase in number and availability of prison officers? Is the Home Secretary aware that such is the crisis at the moment that there is very great concern in the courts that there are frequently no dock officers to search defendants and no dock officers present when custodial sentences are to be imposed? There is also concern when there are no policemen present in magistrates courts. Must a tragedy occur before something is done? If a tragedy does occur, will the Home Secretary take personal responsibility for it?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows better than that. He knows, or should know, that for many years we have been recruiting prison officers substantially faster than the rise in the prison population. If he has studied the figures, he knows that I have already announced that 1,960 prison officers will be recruited in the course of next year. That is 1,360 more than the expected wastage rate. I quite agree that the provision of extra places that I have announced will need staffing, and I made that clear in my statement.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly correct to say that in some places there has been a problem about the absence of police and prison officers in courts where the magistrate or the judge expected them to be. I have discussed this with the Lord Chief Justice and steps are in hand to make sure that in each local situation those concerned—the chief constable, the prison governor and those responsible for the administration of the courts—get together to find a common-sense solution to that problem.

May I remind my right hon. Friend that many of the problems that he has pinpointed today were pinpointed in the report of a Select Committee that I chaired in the mid-1970s, and that at that time the then Labour Government singularly failed to grapple with any of them? May I further impress upon my right hon. Friend the need to look at alternative means of imprisonment, particularly at the day fine system as a means of keeping fine defaulters out of prison, and at the new suggestions for electronic surveillance of people who do not need to be in prison?

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful contribution. She is perfectly right. We shall certainly tackle the possibilities of electronic tagging when we put forward our ideas on punishment in the community. I am keen that it should not be regarded as something separate or as a gimmick, but that it should find its place, if there is a place for it, in our general approach to punishment in the community.

My hon. Friend is also right about fine defaulters. They form a small part of the prison population, about 500 at any given time, and they are sent to prison by the courts only as a last resort. It would be more sensible if, in the beginning, the courts could assess offenders' means more accurately when they fix a fine, and we propose to help them to do that.

On reflection, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the terminology of the free market about suppliers and consumers, where there is no consumer choice, shows too firm a determination to prime ministerial doctrine? As he has told the House that the Government's repressive policy on parole has contributed 2,000 prisoners to the crisis, why not discontinue that policy?

I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. The courts place the demand on the prison system. It is perfectly reasonable to describe it as a demand which has to be met with action on the supply of prison places. That phraseology is perfectly right.

It is perfectly true that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), my predecessor, imposed restrictions on parole, which I have continued and which I believe to be entirely justified. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the Parole Board has gone considerably further than that. Most of the increase that I have mentioned does not relate to the policy of successive Home Secretaries, but to the spontaneous action of the Parole Board going wider than that. That matter will be discussed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the initiatives that he has announced this afternoon will be welcomed outside the House as well as within it, particularly by the police, who have been obliged to devote a disproportionate amount of their manpower to acting as temporary prison warders?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that additional prison accommodation can be made available far more quickly by the private sector than by the public sector? Is he aware that a number of companies and consortia would be able and willing to build prisons and then either lease them or sell them to the Government and that that would produce accommodation far more quickly? There are companies and consortia waiting to do that. Will he consider that possibility and implement it as soon as possible?

Absolutely. That is one of the proposals that I have announced. We have had approaches from a good many companies proposing to build and lease or build and sell. We are now saying, "Give us the precise ideas; let us discuss them with you." My hon. Friend is right: there is more scope than we have realised or used in the past for using the private sector to accelerate the provision of prison places. The matter becomes more difficult when we get into the problems of private management. I answered a question from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) about remand in connection with that point.

Does the Home Secretary agree that part of the problem—we all agree that there is a crisis in the prisons—could well be solved by taking two simple and effective measures tonight—first, to release those who are currently in prison for non-payment of fines and, secondly, to release those who are in prison for non-payment of maintenance? That would at least create approximately 1,000 places overnight and go a long way towards solving the police station problem.

Does the Home Secretary agree that there is a little irony in his statement this afternoon because his hon. Friend the Minister of State rejected out of hand the day fine system when it was considered in Committee as recently as a few weeks ago? Is not the truth of the matter that the Home Secretary is not prepared to take the bold and imaginative steps necessary to solve what is becoming a perennial crisis?

I certainly do not think that I would be justified in letting out of prison, by some form of executive release, people whom the courts have sent to prison as a last resort for non-payment of fine. That would be quite wrong. Many people have considered that problem and have started by saying that it must be wrong that fine defaulters are in prison and ended by acknowledging, as did the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), with his knowledge of the matter, that, in the last resort, the courts must have that right. The figure is about 500 at any one time. The answer is to make the level of fine realistic in the first place; that is what we are concentrating on.

May I assume, since I have written to my right hon. Friend on the subject, that he is well aware that ever since I came to this place, I have been promised by successive Home Secretaries that when the lease of Lancaster castle ran out, the prison would be removed? The city and county councils were hoping to make a superb tourist attraction on this site, and are very disappointed that my right hon. Friend will now hang on to it. Will he promise me here and now that if the prison population falls more rapidly than expected, he will relinquish the prison at the earliest possible moment, and enable us to use it for tourist purposes?

My hon. Friend and I have clambered over the roof of Lancaster castle together and I know how devoted she is to it, and how ambitious she and her constituents are for taking it out of prison use and making a tourist attraction of it. I have to disappoint her, and I hope that I warned her and the Duchy of Lancaster in good time that we need to hang on to it for prison purposes. I cannot give her a date when that will come to an end. Obviously, if her hopes were to be justified and there was a rapid fall in the prison population, we would look at the matter again, with the legitimate ambitions of the people of Lancaster for their castle very much in mind.

Is it not a fact that, under this Government, the prison population has increased by some 20 per cent. — an abnormal increase—and that there is something seriously wrong with the Government under whom this is occurring? Will the Secretary of State study the reports from the last three Select Committees on Education, Science and Arts about prison education? Although prisons are now pregnant with violence, education is made more and more difficult. There are not enough warders to look after those who wish to be educated and to take them from place to place, and nothing is being done to help prisoners, despite our reports.

The prison population was rising long before 1979. The difference is that we have done something to provide prison places, when the Labour Government did not. The hon. Member is on to a good point about prison education, and I know that he has followed this for many years. However, he paints too gloomy a picture. There have been major problems in the regimes, which have affected education, but that tide is beginning to turn. I was at Bristol prison on Friday and I was impressed by the educational facilities there, which have been improved.

Will my right hon. Friend comment further on the third of the measures that he announced — the re-use of Ashford remand centre, Middlesex, which is in my constituency, because this is an issue of major concern for those whom I represent? There are four points which they would like clarified. First, the announcement this afternoon referred to bringing Ashford remand centre back into use for 400 inmates, when 376 are being moved out this week. Can my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that overcrowding will not become a problem in this centre when it is brought back into use?

Secondly, how is the remand centre to be staffed, come the late autumn? Will it be by prision officers or by private contractors? Thirdly, will bringing this back into use result in the abandonment or delay of the proposals for redevelopment, because many people locally wish to see the proposals abandoned? Fourthly, will my right hon. Friend give the undertaking that has been given in the past to liaise closely both with me as the local Member of Parliament and with local councillors, so that the community is well aware of what is going on?

Those are reasonable questions, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the tone in which he put them. Four hundred is a round figure, and we have to work out in greater detail what is an acceptable level of occupation. The staffing will be by prison officers and not by soldiers. The redevelopment plan still exists, so it is delayed rather than abandoned. The answer to the last question is, yes, certainly, we shall keep in close touch with the local authorities, with the local people and with my hon. Friend.

Will the Home Secretary address himself to the central question which he has so far ignored, which is why it is that we send more of our citizens to prison per head of population than any other country in western Europe, yet neither our streets nor our citizens are safer as a result? Will he admit that prisons are overcrowded not as a result of people being in prison because they have committed violent crime — there would be no disagreement about that — but because they are cluttered with petty offenders, who are on short sentences in local prisons? Therefore, as a matter of urgency, will he address his attention to the evidence that is coming from the National Association of Probation Officers, so that we solve this problem not by building more prisons but by using other forms of treatment for people who are in prison but should not be?

The trouble is that one man's petty offender is another man's dangerous housebreaker. That is decided not by the hon. Member or by me but by the courts, case by case. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. I want to build up for the courts a wider menu or set of alternatives to custody for the non-violent offenders. That is precisely what we are doing.

My right hon. Friend's statement will be warmly welcomed, and nowhere more than in Chelmsford, where the young offenders' prison has been greatly over-subscribed in the past few months. Is not a great deal of time wasted by prison officers who have to go between the prisons and the courts with prisoners and sit in the dock with them while their cases are being heard? Is he prepared to consider privatising that part of the service, so that prison officers can be released to get back to working in the prisons?

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the amount of time spent by prison officers in escort duties of different kinds weighs heavily on the service. It is the other side of the coin about which the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) was talking when he was complaining that there were not enough of them. The Green Paper will go into this and all other aspects of possibly involving the private sector in the remand system.

Order. I believe that I have now called all those who are directly affected by this statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have no exact knowledge of which hon. Member has a prison in his constituency. I ask hon. Members, in view of the business before the House today, and there is a great deal of it, to ask brief questions so that we can have brief answers and get on.

In the light of the recent evidence given by the prison service to the Public Accounts Committee on the gross under-utilisation of prison workshops, is it not clear that the reason for their under-utilisation is the problem of warder power, and the fact that one cannot run industrial workshops in prison conditions if those in charge regard themselves as part of a penal institution? Is there not a sensible argument for bringing the private sector into the management of those workshops, to give some new objectives and to set a different scene, in which prisoners can enjoy rehabilitation?

That is exactly what we are doing. A good many workshops were closed because they were not properly organised and used. We are relying more and more on private sector advice in building up from that position. In most workshops there have to be discipline staff, or the instructors will feel insecure. The number of uniformed staff necessary in a workshop will differ from one prison to another, but within the limits of security, the fewer uniformed staff one needs in that place the better.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the successful experiment in Kent, which has kept a large number of people out of institutions altogether. Given the enormous cost of what he is proposing, will he look again at his Department's view that when an experiment in community care, or any other such scheme, is a success, the cost of it has to fall wholly on the local authority? Should he not look at using some of his central funds to expand and increase such experiments?

Of course we do that. As my hon. Friend knows, depending on the exact service involved, the costs are rightly shared between central and local responsibility. As we develop and publish our proposals for punishment in the community — for dealing with people outside prison—we shall tackle the question of financing.

Does the Minister accept that the remand problem would be diminished if more people were treated like Ernest Saunders, who seems to be able to flit round Europe with consummate ease? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a more fundamental question behind the massive explosion in the prison population that he described in his statement and that the philosophy of every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, encapsulated in the so-called enterprise culture, in fact breeds crime? The Government seem very lacklustre in their efforts to chase city spivs who make millions of pounds but very keen on burdening our prisons with petty criminals. Does the Minister accept that we need a change in the Government's philosophy? In particular, they should set an example by stopping robbing the taxpayer as they did over Rover.

No Government have taken more initiatives more effectively than this Government to clamp down on fraud; the hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. No other Government in recent times have done more to emphasise the responsibilities of the citizen as well as the enterprise of the citizen, which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, we are encouraging.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) and I drew the attention of his Department to the deplorable state of affairs in Bedford remand prison, where prisoners are three to a cell, where there are top security prisoners and where slum conditions prevail? We had a helpful meeting with a junior Minister at the Department on the subject. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the measures that he announced today will make an early contribution to solving the extremely urgent problem in Bedford?

My first priority is to reduce the number of prisoners going into police cells night by night because the conditions there are just as bad—perhaps in some cases worse—than those in Bedford, and there is the danger of escape and the diversion of police from their proper duties. My hon. Friend is perfectly right that another aim must be to reduce overcrowding, which is unacceptable, particularly in local prisons such as Bedford, and especially among the remand population.

Does not the Minister's announcement today confirm the record increase in crime? The Minister said that there were four causes: an increase in detentions, longer sentences, reduced parole and an increase in the remand population. Should he not have mentioned a fifth cause, which is that people are being placed in prison when they should really be in mental hospitals? Because of the inadequacies of the Health Service, patients are now being dumped at the doors of prisons when they should he somewhere else. It is because of those inadequacies that the prison officers are having to cope with the problem. Is it not about time that there was consultation between the Home Secretary and the Department of Health and Social Security with a view to making some changes?

The thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument is right, if the rhetoric is stripped away. There are still too many mentally disordered offenders in prison, although there are fewer than there used to be, and the right answer is to find the right institution, case by case and person by person. We constantly work both nationally and locally to do that.

All those concerned with law and order will welcome the Home Secretary's statement. However, why does the Home Office persist in locating prisons to the convenience of the courts and prison visitors? Why can we not locate prisons to the convenience of local residents? As my right hon. Friend knows, a prison is to be located on the outskirts of Rochdale and Oldham in my constituency. Why cannot prisons he built in remote areas or even on islands?

Because it is both risky and extremely expensive to locate prisons, particularly remand prisons, a long way from the courts that they serve. My hon. Friend will no doubt be glad to hear that in France people clamour for prisons to be built in their constituencies because of the employment that they provide.

I am sure that the Home Secretary will be aware that I have three prisons in my constituency. The Government have completely lost the confidence of the Prison Officers Association by reneging on the "fresh start" agreement with that association. That distrust has led to the prospect of industrial action at one of the most dangerous prisons in the country, Frankland prison. Instead of opening Army camps, which are not necessary given that there are empty prison wings all over the country, why does not the Home Secretary honour the "fresh start" agreement and recruit prison officers to get on and do the job properly?

We are recruiting prison officers as fast as we possibly can. I have given the House the figures, which show that next year we plan to recruit 1,960 against an expected wastage of 600. An enormous increase is taking place, and I entirely reject the assertion that we are reneging on "fresh start". "Fresh start" gives those of the hon. Gentleman's constituents who are prison officers a properly organised professional service for the first time. To take industrial action against it, in Frankland—or, even more damaging, in London—is a self-destructive act on the part of prison officers.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement that 1,300 extra prison places will be provided in the south-east will be particularly welcome in the context of the remand problem? Is not one of the root difficulties the delay in the process of justice? is there not a case for his pressing upon the Lord Chancellor the recruitment of more circuit judges to speed up the process?

That has already happened. There is also the problem of the Crown prosecution service, and my hon. Friend will know of the steps that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is taking to put more resources into the CPS. Furthermore, there are the natural delays in the law. We have dealt with the question of time limits. We are anxious to use every pressure that we legitimately can to cut down delays.

Does the Home Secretary recall the plans announced by his Department two years ago, which were aimed at reducing overcrowding in several prisons, including Leeds prison? At that time the population of Leeds prison was 1,200 against a certified normal accommodation of 650. The population of Leeds prison is now 1,400, and the prison continues to exist only because of the good will and hard work of the staff. What hope does the Home Secretary's statement hold out for the prison staff and what will it do to reduce the massive overcrowding in Leeds prison? Will there be a substantial reduction?

The hon. Gentleman is right that Leeds prison has steadily become more overcrowded, and it survives—it does much more than that; it does very well — because of the high morale and the hard and constructive work of its staff. When I went there not long ago, I was very impressed to find that it was planned to make a success of "fresh start" and the new flexibility that that gave. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) our first aim must be to ease the numbers of prisoners in police cells night by night. Our second aim must certainly be to relieve the pressure on overcrowded large local prisons such as Leeds. As the medium and long-term measures that I have announced come into effect, that should happen.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that he need not take lectures from Opposition Members, given the disgraceful cut in the prison building programme under the last Labour Government? On the subject of Army camps, can my right hon. Friend tell us what sort of prisoners he envisages being sent there and whether they will be secure? I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement about private sector involvement, but how soon does he envisage the private sector providing substantial extra places?

My hon. Friend's first point is perfectly right. Not just the prisons but the police and the law and order service as a whole were grossly neglected by the Labour party, as they would be again if it ever had the chance of establishing priorities. The prisoners in Rollestone and Camberley will be category C convicted. I do not exclude the possibility of using the provision for suitable remand prisoners, as we did with Rollestone in the autumn.

My hon. Friend asked about private sector involvement. In building, there are no handicaps or difficulties; it is full steam head. There is much to be done over bail hostels. On the management of convicted prisoners, I am hesitant. On the management of remand prisoners, there is plenty of scope for ideas and discussion and eventually for an experiment; that is what the Green Paper will illustrate.

The statement is welcome for the relief that it will bring prisoners and prison staff, but the Home Secretary knows perfectly well that we will be here again next year with a similar emergency statement unless something is done about the supply side. Why is Britain so uniquely prone to sending people to prison? Is it because of the practice of the courts or because we create more crime — in which case, what will the Home Secretary do about it rather than pursue the irrelevancies of privatisation?

We do not create more crime. If we compare our crime figures with those of our European partners, we do not find that we are a more criminal nation. It is certainly true that our courts send more people to prison than is the case in most European countries, although the judges dispute the statistics and say that they are not comparable. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman's general proposition is right. Parliament fixes the maxima and it is for the courts to decide, case by case, within those maxima what sentences to apply.

I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's main point. I do not believe that we should, or could, limit the courts' ability to make their own decisions case by case. I want, however, to spread before them for the lesser offender—especially the non-violent offender—a wider range of disposals outside prison so that they no longer think that it is only by sending someone to prison that they can impose a worthwhile punishment.

Order. I shall call the five hon. Members who have been rising, but I ask for brief questions.

I think that my right hon. Friend said that 1,400 people are currently held on remand in police stations. Is he aware that two people who were held on remand in Chesterfield police station after allegedly committing an armed robbery escaped last Friday morning? Does he agree that, as long as people are held on remand in police stations, it will represent an extra burden on the police? Incidents such as occurred last week take up quite a lot of police time, so my right hon. Friend's statement is welcome—we hope that it will relieve some of the pressure on the police service.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I said that the use of police cells for prisoners was dangerous, and that is precisely what I meant. We had the escape from Battersea of seven prisoners and I have had today a first report of the escape from Chesterfield to which my hon. Friend referred. It underlines my point—the sooner we can reduce and then do away with the use of police cells for prisoners, the safer the system will be.

Will my right hon. Friend estimate the size of the recidivist prison population? Does he agree that that group turns prisons into what Lord Justice May called universities of crime? Will my right hon. Friend continue to try to find means of rehabilitating prisoners so that they do not return to prison? What is being done to increase education and the prison work programme which, tragically, has declined recently?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is no longer fashionable to suppose that prison is a place where everybody can get reformed, and my hon. Friend is not arguing that case. The prison service and prison governors are clear that there are cases when a great deal can be done to prevent reoffending, and workshops and education are means of achieving that. That is why one purpose of "fresh start" is to make possible an improvement in regimes.

My right hon. Friend has made it absolutely clear how unacceptable it is to hold 1,400 people on remand in police cells, quite often many hundreds of miles away from their homes and from the scene of their crimes. What he has announced today is entirely welcome. When he uses Rollestone and Camberley, what will be the status of any military personnel who are used to guard the camps? What status does he envisage for any prison officers who might be outside the POA but used in contract remand prisons in the future?

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, it is too early to say, but that is a matter which the Green Paper will have to study. Camberley and Rollestone will be prisons. They will be designated as such and I shall appoint prison governors. There will be administrative grades to look after them. The military personnel employed will be in the same relationship as they were in 1980 and 1981, which is the last time that military personnel were used to look after prisoners. The ones who are in contact with prisoners will be military police and provost personnel, not other soldiers. I believe that the system will work smoothly, as it did last time.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, but what accommodation does he propose for that small but significant number of offenders who fall between the various sections of the Mental Health Act 1983? They are quite unsuitable to be in prison but are either inadequate or unsafe to be at large?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has a responsibility there and the Home Office and his Department have to keep in close touch locally and nationally on certain cases to ensure that we keep the kind of people about whom my hon. Friend spoke out of prison.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the deplorable conditions that exist in remand centres such as Risley, which need urgent attention. May I urge my right hon. Friend to be less tentative than issuing a Green Paper and going through a possibly lengthy system of consultation, and get down to the immediate relief that the private sector could bring?

I do not think that the private sector could bring immediate relief. Even an experiment, if it was to be worth while, would need a change in the law, which would certainly be contested. I have to have regard to the industrial relations side. As my right hon. Friend knows, the planning side is also difficult. We would not solve any of the planning problems of new prisons or remand centres by privatising. We need to push ahead with our thinking on this matter. I hope relief action will be the result. It is a major step and it must be carefully weighed and worked out in British terms.

Can the Home Secretary clear up the confusion about day fines? He seemed in answer to a question to be very sympathetic towards their introduction, but his Minister of State explicitly ruled them out in Committee a few weeks ago. Could we be told whether the Government are in favour or against? Will he confirm that 56,200 is the Home Office estimate of the prison population, but that he decided not to give the figure to the House?

On the first point, what I said and what I repeat is that, as regards fines, we are considering ways of helping the courts to assess offenders' means more accurately when they fix a fine.[Interruption.] No, that has been our policy for a long time. The figure I mentioned in my statement was 52,000 this year. One cannot be precise about the figures for the future. That is why I did not give a figure for after the summer of this year. On present projections, the population will continue to rise quickly. That is why I have announced 4,200 extra places. If we can get the short term and the medium term right, that will join in with the results from our longer-term building programme and the problem will begin to be solved.

Workington Brewery (Closure)

4.27 pm

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

"The proposed closure of the Workington brewery by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries in contravention of assurances given to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in 1986 to safeguard employment in Workington."
The House will recognise that, while the matter is specific to my constituency, it is important to the country as a whole because Scottish and Newcastle has set out clearly in the leaked minutes which I have in my possession, and which were referred to in The Independent this morning, to deceive the people of Workington in an unparalleled manner.

Last year, Scottish and Newcastle successfully acquired the profitable Mathew Brown brewery on the back of a collapsing stock market and having given half-hearted assurances to the people of Workington and the Government that it would not threaten jobs. No sooner had it acquired control of the company than it set up a small group of senior management to plan the brewery's closure.

The plan involved opportunism, dishonesty, deception and betrayal. Directors of the company, often pillars of the community in areas where they live, were party to a squalid and underhand operation which, under the code name "Operation Trojan", planned the deception of the trade unions during negotiations on wages; an attempt to appoint a company placeman in the unionised work force without the knowledge of the unions; the manipulation of regional development grant applications to avoid raising premature suspicions among employees; the use of Scottish and Newcastle's big guns if things became difficult; the handling of misleading information in response to local speculation and local opposition; the holding of covert brewing trials under false labels in Newcastle; and the deployment of the lie in defence of the company's interests.

The irony is that Virgil tells us that the use of the Trojan horse to get access to Troy was the means by which the Greeks gained control and destroyed the city. Scottish and Newcastle's Operation Trojan was equally designed to gain control by deception and deceit, and then having secured control, to destroy the Mathew Brown citadel in Workington. Mr. Speaker, can we debate this matter.

The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"The proposed closure of the Workington brewery by Scottish and Newcastle breweries in contravention of the assurances given to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in 1986 to safeguard employment in Workington."
I have listened with concern to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that the matter that he has raised is not appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Scottish Schools (Legislation)

4.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware of the correspondence between the Prime Minister's Secretary and his opposite number is the Secretary of State for Scotland's Office, which has been widely reported in the press.

It reveals a dangerous abuse of power, with the Prime Minister dictating policy and tactical detail. The Prime Minister has in effect instructed the Secretary of State to enter into a scandalous conspiracy with one of his own Back Benchers to introduce powers to allow schools to opt out of the education system.

That is offensive because there is no case for that alien innovation which will fragment the school system and make it more difficult to provide real opportunity to all children across the whole range of educational and social backgrounds.

It is doubly offensive because Ministers have repeatedly denied that there was any such intention. For example, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who I am glad to see is present, on 14 August 1987, at a press conference launching his discussion document on school boards,
"emphasised that the proposals for Scotland would not allow school boards to opt out of the local authority sector."
On 21 March 1988, the same Minister speaking in the Scottish Grand Committee, claimed that the only circumstance in which opting out would be considered was
"if there was evidence of real and substantial demand".—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 21 March 1988; c. 37.]
There is no such evidence, and it is a disgrace that on the very day that the Minister was giving what now seems to be a worthless assurance from a discredited source, the Prime Minister, presumably finding herself at a loose end for five minutes, was wishing on Scotland a dangerous nonsense, unwanted by parents and pupils alike.

This is a matter of great importance because it promises enormous damage to Scotland's independent and proud education system, and because it gives a chilling insight into the way in which the Prime Minister dictates to her Ministers in this case forcing a change of course despite undertakings freely given. There is a question here of faith and credibility.

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, the abundant evidence that, in connection with a recent education order on school closures, the Secretary of State was not master in his own office. That charge has been totally justified by this further example of the Prime Minister's malign influence. The Secretary of State has been forced to swallow his pride, and, much more seriously, the Prime Minister's policies. It is essential that those policies should not now be forced on Scotland's schools. The matter is urgent because we know from the correspondence that meetings are imminent. We fear that there may be an all too unequal contest between the Secretary of State's duty to represent Scotland and the Prime Minister's entrenched prejudice.

There should be a statement and an assurance that there will be an end to this unwelcome invasion of our affairs by the Prime Minister. That assurance should be given now, before the House rises. I appeal through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Government to give us that assurance and to act now to put an end to this nonsense.

I have seen the reports and I listened to the radio at lunchtime. I understand the hon. Member's concern but, as he correctly stated, it is not for me to say whether there should be a statement. I am certain that those who are responsible for these matters will have heard what has been said.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that we are to have an education debate during the first week after the Easter recess, would it not be perfectly logical for the Secretary of State to make a full statement during that debate so that hon. Members can make up their minds on the issue?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We look to you to protect the interests of the House in this matter. What has been disclosed today is appalling in its sheer dishonesty. We have a major change of policy to be announced, in contradiction to a ministerial assurance very recently given, by means of a planted amendment to a Bill which has not even had its Second Reading. We know that the Secretary of State for Scotland has become the Prime Minister's lapdog, but that does not excuse him or the Prime Minister treating the House with utter contempt and dishonesty. We ask you, Mr. Speaker, to protect the House and to demand a statement from the Leader of the House.

May I say to Scottish Members who are rising to intervene on this matter that there is not very much I can do about it. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has said that there is a Bill. I was not aware that there was a Bill to be debated shortly after we return from the Easter recess. I have no knowledge of any amendments having been tabled. They have not yet been brought to my attention.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not high time that these bogus points of order, started by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) — whose child has been opted out of the state education system — are brought to an end so that we can get on with discussing the Housing (Scotland) Bill?

I do not recognise the phrase that the hon. Member used. I know that this is a matter of high interest and concern in Scotland, but I must say to hon. Members that we have a heavy day of Scottish business before us, followed by the Merchant Shipping Bill. I ask that we get on with that, as there is not much that I can do about the matter.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will agree that it is of the utmost importance that hon. Members who are about to break for a brief recess to meet their constituents during the next 10 days, prior to debate on the education Bill which has been referred to, should go home with better information for their Scottish constituencies than mere newspaper reports, which are well-founded in that they emanate from 10 Downing street, and that we as Members of Parliament should have proper information in the form of a statement from the Minister, or indeed, the Secretary of State?

We should not have to go home to our constituents—my constituents have already been on the phone to me this morning—and explain to them, on the basis of newspaper reports, what the Prime Minister has leaked to the newspapers. That information is not only highly alarming to Members of Parliament and our constituents but seeks to destroy the fundamental education system in Scotland and will deeply damage our educational system by integrating it with the English system. That is why a statement is needed today.

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

I have no new policy to state, but I hope that it may be helpful if I state the position as I understand it. The Government's policy on the involvement of parents in the management of schools has been clearly spelt out. That policy is given effect in the School Boards (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced on 16 March and which is to have its Second Reading after Easter. That Bill does not contain provisions for opting out and the Government do not propose to include such provisions in the Bill. As for future policy, the Secretary of State and the Ministers have made it clear on several occasions that opting out may be considered for future legislation, but no decisions have yet been reached.

Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker. It is unsatisfactory for the Leader of the House to say that no decisions have been made, when, according to press reports, there has been actual correspondence with the Prime Minister's office that makes it absolutely clear that a decision has been taken in principle and that it is merely the tactics of implementation that have to be considered. The credibility and honour of the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) are very much at stake. He has given repeated assurances that the Government will not go down that road. All that the Leader of the House did was make it even more imperative that there should be a statement from a responsible Minister to clear up this mystery and allow us to put the point that this nonsense must be taken off the agenda now.

I do not think that we can take the matter any further today. I am not responsible for whether Ministers make statements. The Leader of the House has already stated the factual position concerning this newspaper leak. I do not think that there is any way in which I can assist the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Leaving aside the damaging policy implications, a much more important underlying revelation in the newspaper articles is the subversion of the policy-making role of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Scottish Members do not have the advantage of a Select Committee that can summon Ministers and civil servants before it to get to the bottom of the matter. The Leader of the House should therefore consider what should be done about it this afternoon.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did the Leader of the House make a statement or an intervention? If it was a statement, we should be entitled to question the Leader of the House.

I think that the Leader of the House rose to give the factual position in an effort to assist Scottish Members who have important business to discuss today by giving an indication of the business after we return from the Easter recess. I think that the Leader of the House was seeking to suggest that that was the appropriate time for this matter to be discussed.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What is the position when a Bill has received its First Reading and there is clear evidence to the effect that a substantial change is to be made before the Bill receives its Second Reading? Can you explain to me how we can properly debate the contents of that Bill if we do not know the exact nature of the policy changes?

Major changes are often made in Committee, but normally that is done on the understanding that circumstances have changed. There is ample evidence to show that the Government's policy has changed since the Bill was published. The House is entitled to guidance from you on the procedural significance of a change between the First Reading and the Second Reading of a Bill. We cannot have a proper Second Reading debate if the contents of the Bill have not been made known to the House.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present when I gave my previous answer, but I shall repeat what I said in one sentence. The Bill does not contain provisions for opting out and the Government do not propose to include such provisions in the Bill.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. With the greatest possible respect, will you not reflect on the fact that the Leader of the House has made a business statement? A business statement is normally followed by questions. The Leader of the House has been courteous and has given a further explanation. I respectfully ask you to say that Opposition Members, particularly from Scotland, should be allowed to probe further the Government's thinking on this very important issue. That is a reasonable request, in the absence of the Secretary of State for Scotland coming to the House to make a statement.

In seeking to be helpful to Scottish Members, I am not certain that the Leader of the House is in a position to answer factual questions. That is surely not a matter for him. The original point of order from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) contained a request for a statement. It was perfectly legitimate for him to ask for a statement, and the Leader of the House gave the factual position. I do not think that we can take the matter any further.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the points that you have fairly made, could not the matter be resolved if the Leader of the House gave an undertaking that the Secretary of State for Scotland will make a statement tomorrow? That is what we are asking for. Why can we not have such an undertaking?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm your responsibility for the protection of the business of the House? You must be becoming aware, as we are, that there is a plot on the other side of the House to use bogus points of order to prolong business that is not on the Order Paper, thus preventing the House from considering very important legislation. It must be within your power and discretion to prevent abuse of the House by bogus points of order and to let us get on with the business.

That is what I am seeking to do. However, the hon. Member does not represent a Scottish constituency. He may not know the background to these points of order and he may not therefore understand the concern of Scottish Members. The Leader of the House has been very helpful and has stated the factual position. I do not think that we can take it any further this afternoon. The time to raise it is tomorrow during Prime Minister's Questions or at business questions. Today the House has to consider further very important Scottish business following a very late night and also the Report stage of the Merchant Shipping Bill.

further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry that the Leader of the House has left the Chamber. I apologise for the comment that I am about to make in his absence. He tried to be helpful to the House, but I have to advise you that the Leader of the House repeated word for word what the Prime Minister recorded at 1 o'clock today in a television interview in Scotland that is to be broadcast tonight. My view is that the Leader of the House is protecting the interests of the Prime Minister. It is well known that there will be another row tomorrow because of what the Prime Minister has gone to Scotland to say today.

As for the Bill to which the Leader of the House referred, according to the Glasgow Herald the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) is to be given an amendment to that Bill and the Government are to use it to set out their policy. In a sense, that is much more acceptable than the shabby way in which the House and the Secretary of State have been treated. I have a lot of sympathy for the Secretary of State for Scotland. He is becoming an object of pity. Because of the activities of the Under-Secretary of state for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), the Secretary of State for Scotland can hardly turn his back now.

My point of order for you, Mr. Speaker, is the accuracy of the record. The Scottish Grand Committee met in Edinburgh on 21 March. The letter from the Prime Minister's private secretary to the Secretary of State for Scotland is dated 14 March. The Minister must have known on 21 March the contents of that letter when he made a statement in the Scottish Grand Committee which is now on the record and clearly shown to be untrue.

Surely you, Mr. Speaker, as the custodian of the report's accuracy, are under an obligation to act on the way in which it has represented the matter, when something completely different was going on behind the scenes.

The Chair has no idea of what is going on behind the scenes, and I cannot be held responsible for what Ministers say. Nor can I be held responsible for what is in letters that are leaked to the newspapers.

I fully understand the concern of Scottish Members about the matter, but I say to them again that I do not feel that anything further can be said about it today. No doubt we shall return to it during Prime Minister's Questions tomorrow, and, as the Leader of the House has been present today, we may have a further opportunity to discuss it then. Today, however, in the interests of the whole House, we would be well advised to get on with the Report stage of the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Order. Time is getting on, but I am in the hands of the House. If Scottish Members wish to pursue the matter in this way, they may do so, but they must take the consequences.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The problem could be solved. Three Scottish Office Ministers are present, including one who is directly involved in the argument that we have been having today. He can clear the whole matter up. He can let us know whether it is true that there was a planted question, and that he was aware of the exchange of letters when he made his statement to the Scottish Grand Committee on 21 March. He can tell us that he or the Secretary of State is prepared to come here tomorrow to make a clean breast of the whole matter.

It must be kept in mind that the school that occasioned much of this, although the whole of Scottish education is now affected, was in Paisley, involving my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mr. Adams). The matter was raised by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who has already been endeavouring to distort any sane and sensible solution for comprehensive education in Paisley.

You have handled the matter, Mr. Speaker. We must thank you for allowing us to say what we have said. But this is a crucial issue: the present position cannot continue.

Strathclyde region is now discussing the future of the schools. If we are now told that there will be a planted question to change the proposed Bill, that future can be altered. Strathclyde region now needs to know whether the Government intend to go ahead with what the Under-Secretary has been conspiring with the Prime Minister to achieve. Will he tell us today either that he will make a statement, or, perhaps, that the Secretary of State intends to resign? He has been sufficiently humiliated; I believe that he is prevented from resigning only by his knowledge that the Under-Secretary would take his place, and has put his country before his honour to save us from that prospect.

The Leader of the House has spoken. Why cannot one of the three Scottish Office Ministers make a clean breast of the matter, so that we know where we are?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have here an episode that is probably more corrupt and devious than anything that those of us who have been Members of the House since last June have witnessed in Scottish affairs—

Order. Accusations of corruption in the House are not parliamentary. I ask that the hon. Gentleman withdraw that.

I used the word in its dictionary sense, but I shall withdraw it if it has been taken in another way.

Three Scottish Ministers are sitting on the Front Bench, one of whom is at the centre of this web. One Minister has been exposed as having colluded with the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) to achieve an end with the specific purpose of deceiving the House. The hon. Member for Stirling — Mr. Forsyth Limited—