Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 168: debated on Monday 5 March 1990

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

House Of Commons

Monday 5 March 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Social Security

Pensioners (Income)

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was the increase in pensioners' average net incomes from (a) 1974 to 1979 and (b) 1979 to date.

Between 1974 and 1979, pensioners' average total net income rose by 3 per cent. in real terms. Newly available figures show that between 1979 and 1987 it rose by more than 30 per cent. in real terms.

Given the significant difference between those two figures, will my right hon. Friend take it from me that the substantial record of this Government is far more important than the rhetoric of the Opposition, especially as the figures show that the Labour party has a miserable record in this important area?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. Taking the picture as a whole, it is certainly striking how much better pensioners have done under this Government than under the previous Labour Government. We have sought, by using income-related benefits, to assist, in particular, pensioners who do not have savings income and occupational pensions.

Will not the Secretary of State admit that the removal of the transitional arrangements for housing benefit has meant that this year's increased pension for pensioners on income support has been wiped out? They are worse off this year—with the increase—than they were last year. Is not that the reality for many pensioners today?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about the housing benefit transitional protection arrangements, but the change in those that is intended to take place in April represents a smaller proportion of the pension increase this year than last, so his point does not stand up to examination.

Although I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what has been achieved, will he look carefully at the position of the wartime generation of pensioners, many of whom were unable to save or to own their own homes, and many of whom have not shared fully in the increased standard of living of the vast majority of pensioners?

Let me make two points. First, the figures to which I referred show that the proportion of pensioners in the lowest fifth of income distribution fell sharply between 1979 and 1987. Secondly, as I said in answer to the first supplementary question, we have sought to direct extra help to those who do not have savings and occupational pensions income.

The Minister will realise that we are less impressed by the figure of 30 per cent. because we read yesterday that top people's incomes have increased by 28 per cent. in a single year. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that under Labour basic pensions increased by 20 per cent., whereas under this Government they have increased by a miserly 2 per cent? Is not the truth that the rich are becoming richer on a prodigious scale while the poor are becoming poorer very rapidly? Is not the Minister filled with self-disgust at his role? Is not he tempted to leave office and do a runner or, as we say in Wales, do a Walker?

On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I congratulate him on his ingenuity in asking the question and return a firm no to it. As to the rest of his question, he cannot have been listening to what I said. The other point that emerges from the 30 per cent. figure is that pensioners' incomes have been rising faster than those of the population at large.

Income-Related Benefits

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what additional help is being provided for families in receipt of income-related benefits.

As a result of the reforms in April 1988, we provided an extra £200 million for low-income families with children. A further £70 million was provided under last April's uprating. From this coming April, we are providing additional help to less well-off families amounting to some £75 million in a full year, including help for families with disabled children and, through the social fund, maternity payment for expectant mothers. That brings the total amount of extra help provided for families with children in receipt of income-related benefits to over £350 million a year in real terms since April 1988.

My right hon. Friend gives some extremely welcome figures. As a general uprating of child benefit would not have helped those receiving income-related benefits and family credit, does my right hon. Friend agree that the specific targeted help under the family premium for those families is particularly important and more likely to hold them together, which is very important in this day and age?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The help that we shall introduce in April with the family premium, help within the family credit scheme over and above compensating for inflation, extra help with housing benefit, the lone-parent premium—which is being improved in housing benefit and community charge benefit—and the earnings disregard are all examples of how we seek to target help on those who need it most.

Will the Minister come clean and admit that many people are suffering since he abolished single payments and replaced them with the social fund? Will he explain why a woman with five children in my constituency, who is being rehoused because of domestic violence, has been refused money under the social fund to buy beds for her children? She would have received that money under the single payments scheme.

It is disgraceful, as my hon. Friend says. Why does not the Minister examine the failure of the social fund?

There are several questions later on the Order Paper about the social fund. The decisions are taken by independent social fund officers. Anyone who is dissatisfied with a decision can ask for the case to be reviewed and, if necessary, investigated by a social fund inspector.

Residential Care Homes

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he has received regarding state support for pensioners in residential care homes.

We have received a significant number of representations. Part of our response has been to provide an extra £100 million to increase all the national income support limits for people in residential care and nursing homes from this April. Current spending on income support payments to people in homes is now well in excess of £1 billion a year.

The House will be pleased to note the action already taken by the Government to close the gap between the cost of nursing homes—particularly following the welcome and substantial pay increase to nurses two years ago—and the cost to old people of living in those homes which is assisted by the Department of Social Security through income support.

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the Government's proposed top-up arrangements do not apply to existing residents in nursing homes? Will he therefore join my hon. Friends and myself in lobbying the Department of Health to extend that help to existing residents of nursing homes, not just to new entrants?

I hope that my hon. Friend welcomes the fact that under the new arrangement people under and over pension age will be helped. With regard to the existing cases, we continue to have discussions with our colleagues in the Department of Health, but I cannot comment further than that today.

Will the Minister confirm that almost half the residents in residential care do not have their fees paid in full, even though they are on income support? Will we have to wait for evictions from those homes before the Government change their policy?

No, I do not think so. Our commitment to improvement in residential care has been proved by the way in which we have allowed expenditure to increase from £10 million when we came to office to £1·1 billion now, by the continued growth in the population of those in residential and nursing homes and by the something like 10 per cent. per annum increase in the number of homes providing such care.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the report of the Select Committee on Social Services which deals directly with the problem and makes a series of recommendations with which I will not detain the House now? Those recommendations require an early response before the Social Security Bill comes back to the Floor of the House.

We received the report only on Friday. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that we want to give it rather longer consideration than just the past few days. I recognise the concern and feeling about the subject, not least as a result of my two appearances before the Select Committee on Social Services, of which my hon. Friend is a member. We are considering the matter carefully, but I do not believe that the Government can simply write a blank cheque to meet any charges, however high.

Is the Minister aware of the increasing insistence of local authority leaders of all political persuasions that their lack of funds for community care is forcing more people into residential care who could live in the community with adequate local services and that the poll tax will compound their problems? Will he at least ensure that income support payments keep pace with the charges agreed by local authorities for new residents?

I am not sure whether I can agree that. We introduced the new arrangements for community care which are part of the legislation currently before the House precisely because we believed that there was a perverse incentive for people to go into residential care, even when it was not the most suitable place for them to be. Making extra sources available for local authorities to provide care in the community is the right way to ensure that judgments can be made in the interests of patients or clients.

Pensioners (Income)

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what are the most recent figures he has for the change in pensioners' incomes from savings.

Newly available figures show that between 1979 and 1987, pensioners' average income from savings more than doubled in real terms.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. What proportion of retired people receive income from occupational pensions?

The proportion of pensioners overall who have income from occupational pensions is just over half, but among more recently retired pensioners the figure is now nearly three quarters.

Instead of trying to defend the shabby way in which pensioners have been treated by the Government, will the Secretary of State explain why, time and again, pensioners are penalised because they have saved during their working lives? If they have accumulated a sum of money, even quite a modest one by present-day standards, they are penalised in receiving benefit and unable to get rebates. As the Secretary of State and the Minister are well known for being somewhat wet in the Tory party, why do not they have the guts to do what the Secretary of State for Wales has done?

Perhaps I may take the opportunity to remind the hon. Gentleman that, less than two years ago, the amount of capital that people could have and still receive supplementary benefit was only £3,000.

The hon. Lady should check her facts before making sedentary interventions.

There is now a taper from £3,000 to £6,000. The hon. Gentleman knows that the limit for housing benefit was raised to £8,000.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people who thought that they had made adequate provision for their retirement saw their savings devastated because of the rate of inflation under the Labour Government in the 1970s? Is he further aware that there is concern among Conservative Members about the savings threshold, particularly for community charge benefit? It appears to be a tax on thrift and prudence, because retired people may lose all claim to rebates if they have made efforts to save during their working lives.

I recognise that the level at which capital limits are set is a matter for judgment. Our judgment was to increase them about two years ago, especially in relation to housing benefit and rate rebates. I hope that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that the more generous arrangements for community charge benefit than for rate rebates, in that it has a lower taper, will significantly help many people.

Child Benefit

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what would be the cost of uprating child benefit to bring it to the same level in real terms as prevailed in 1984.

Is not the Secretary of State ashamed that child benefit, the most efficient way of getting money to families, is worth 19 per cent. less than it was in 1984? As the Government are notorious for leaks, will the Secretary of State confirm the rumour that the Government are to abolish child benefit, and will he make a statement on the matter, either before the Mid-Staffordshire by-election or before the next general election?

We have no plans to do anything other than what we are committed to do and have been doing, which it to review the rate of child benefit each year in the light of all the circumstances and, of course, to devote considerable resources to assisting the least well-off families, as we have done on a large scale.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would not be sensible to use the enormous sum that he mentioned—two thirds of £1 billion—to assist not only the poorest families but some of the wealthiest in the country through child benefit uprating? If he wished to help the poorest families, would not it be wiser to make some modest change in the tax rules on benefits in kind to assist members of families who wish to get back to work?

My hon. Friend, with her characteristic ingenuity, makes a point which I shall need to transmit to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall ensure that it is drawn to his attention. In response to the first part of her question, over £1 billion of expenditure on child benefit goes to 1·75 million families whose incomes are over £20,000 a year.

Is not it time that the Government came clean with mothers in Britain about their plans for the future of child benefit—a popular benefit with mothers at all income levels? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government's failure to uprate child benefit in line with inflation is depriving every child in Britain of £1·35 per week? Will he admit that the Government have breached their promise to the nation in the previous election manifesto? Does he agree that it would be hypocritical for a Government who have massively cut taxes for the rich to argue that child benefit should be means-tested when the effect of means-testing would be to deepen the poverty trap for women on low incomes wishing to return to work?

The answer to every part of the hon. Lady's question is no. We have faithfully maintained the commitment in the 1987 manifesto and at the same time directed substantial additional resources to helping the least well-off families with children. As a result of what will happen next month, about 1·5 million families, with one quarter of the nation's children, will do better than if we had uprated child benefit.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the extra £70 million that will become available in income-related benefits to a quarter of children will give them substantially more than if there had been a general increase in child benefit, which is surely inequitable now?

Social Fund

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the total social fund allocation by grant and loan for the current financial year; and what was the equivalent figure for the last year of the single payments scheme.

Expenditure on single payments in 1987–88 was £214 million with an average award of £77. The total social fund allocation to local offices for 1989–90 is £204 million with an average award of £203 for budgeting loans and £260 for community care grants.

Last week, the High Court ruled that the administration of the social fund was illegal. What plans do the Government have to ensure that sufficient social fund money in local social security offices is available to meet the needs of people in every community, and that there will be equity in decision-making throughout the country? Does he agree that the present system of administration of the social fund is blatantly unfair, has resulted in a great deal of misery and represents an enormous cut in social security expenditure? Will he revert to the previous system of statutory single payments so that people in genuine and desperate need can get the help that they require and need not rely on the discretion of a local office which is cash-limited?

I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman's description of the social fund. If he took the trouble to look at the figures that I gave to the House—indeed if he had listened to them—he would see that what he said was manifestly out of order. Nor do I recognise his description of the High Court decision. The court simply said that some guidance had been drawn in too prescriptive a manner. Nothing in the judgment undermined the fundamental principles of the social fund. The judge said that he understood that Parliament expected the social fund to be run under strict monetary limits. I see no need to respond in any positive way to the hon. Gentleman's questions.

Am I correct in thinking that about £3 million of additional resources have been directed to the social security offices under greatest pressure from claims under the social fund? Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, irrespective of where one lives or the period of the fiscal year in which a claim is made, it means that, subject to all the conditions being satisfied, there should be no difficulty meeting the claims?

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend back to the House and confirm that what he says is true. We undertook to monitor the operation of the social fund when it was introduced and found £3 million extra to help 106 local offices that were under particular pressure. I cannot completely agree with the latter part of my hon. Friend's statement. Discretion, flexibility and targeting help on those who need it most may mean that different decisions will be taken in different parts of the country. However, our new procedures and the social fund inspectors seek to combine that discretion and flexibility with fairness.

Having been found guilty by the High Court nearly a fortnight ago of operating the social fund illegally, why has the Secretary of State still not issued any revised guidance to end the illegality? Is he aware that contrary to what the Minister of State just said, Lord Justice Woolf declared that the Secretary of State has imposed budget restraints in mandatory terms that were inconsistent with the intended flexible nature of the scheme? When will the right hon. Gentleman remove those budget restraints on the relief of poverty which should never have been imposed in the first place?

Nothing in the judgment does anything to nullify the fact that social fund officers should have regard to the budget when making their decisions. The judgment stated that the guidance was an overriding priority when making those decisions. We have notified our local offices that for the time being the budget should continue to be taken into account but that it should not have an overriding impact. We are further considering what other action we may need to take in that area.

The Government must take more concrete and positive action as a result of the High Court decision and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do that with some urgency. It must be incompatible on the one hand to expect adjudication officers to use their discretion while on the other hand they run up against cash-limited budgets. Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that it is a double indignity to be given approval for a social fund payment in principle and then to be told that its payment is impossible because the budget has been exhausted? That will simply lead to people being discouraged from making social fund applications in the future.

We wish to ensure that the Government come forward with proposals and we shall want to consider whether they will be purely administrative or will need some legislative underpinning. In essence, I want to combine budgetary limits with flexibility. I do not believe that they are incompatible. They can operate in the interests of the taxpayer and of claimants.

Has my right hon. Friend heard a clear statement from any Opposition party that the implied suggestion that there should be no limit on the social fund is its policy?

The Labour party has suggested that it wants to return to the old system of single payments, under which 80 per cent. of the money went to fewer than 20 per cent. of the claimants, and where we had an open-ended budget that rocketed up. All hon. Members know from constituency experience that the single payment system was open to widespread abuse.

Family Incomes

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people live in families with incomes which are on, or within 40 per cent. above, the benefit level appropriate to their circumstances.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security
(Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

The information requested used to be published in the low-income families tables, but these are no longer published because of technical shortcomings and methodological deficiencies. This was explained in the report of the technical review of low-income statistics. The last figures covering the period up to 1985 were published in May 1988 and are available in the Library.

Is not it true that the Government have ceased to collect statistics because they are so embarrassed about the number of people now in poverty? I understand that such figures have not been produced since 1985. How much has poverty increased under the Government? We understand that it has increased by 100 per cent. since 1979 and we believe that 10 million people now live in poverty. What is the truth? Does the Minister know? Should not the Minister be ashamed that this country's biggest growth industry appears to be the number of people in poverty?

As I have said, the Government ceased to use the low-income family tables because of technical shortcomings and methodological deficiencies. We did so because the same measure was used for defining poverty and for the means of relieving it. The obvious concurrence of that was a cut in benefits, leading to a reduction in the number of those in poverty. That was a ludicrous approach.

In response to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, all groups in the population have experienced an increase in their living standard over the past 10 years. Between 1981 and 1985, couples with children in the bottom decile had an increase of 8 per cent. There was an increase of 6 per cent. for those in the second bottom decile.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the plain truth is that under the Conservative Government those with the lowest incomes have done extraordinarily well and far better than under the Labour Government, when they saw their real incomes hardly move? It has been realised throughout the world that the creation of wealth comes first and that its distribution comes second. Unless we get it in that order, we shall never help the poor.

The increase in the size of the social security budget is the direct result of the Government's successful economic policies. More than £1 billion a week is spent on social security benefits. That amounts to £20 per week for every man, woman and child.

Is it the Government's intention that the 7 million to 8 million adult claimants on income support will have to pay a sizeable chunk of poll tax? Is the Minister aware that the Government's 20 per cent. personal allowance applies only to their laughable guideline poll tax figure of £278, so that those on the poverty line will have to pay poll tax on at least a further £100? The Prime Minister said that the poorest would be protected from the poll tax. Is that yet another promise broken, like the right hon. Lady's promise 10 years ago that prescription charges would not be increased?

Those on income support will be expected to pay 20 per cent. towards the cost of their community charge, for which an allowance is made within income support rates. Any increases during this year will be taken into account during next year's exercise.

Does my hon. Friend agree that an important sector of the benefit population—those living on benefit—is single parents, primarily single mothers, where the father has abdicated any responsibility for the family? Will she ensure that the Government bring forward proposals as soon as possible to make sure that fathers do not get away with it, and that if necessary there will be an attachment of earnings or a deduction from benefit?

My hon. Friend will be aware that there have been increases in premiums in housing benefit and in community charge benefit for lone parents, and that there is to be a much more generous disregard for housing benefit with effect from October. He is right in saying, however, that much closer attention needs to be given to the amount of maintenance that is paid by fathers for the upkeep of their children. That is precisely what the Government's study and review are intended to achieve.

Incomes

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people live on incomes below the appropriate benefit level for their circumstances.

Estimates of eligible non-recipients of income-related benefits are contained in the technical notes on take-up, copies of which are available in the Library. These notes contain analyses for 1985, the latest year for which information is available.

Is not the Minister's answer that, in effect, the relevant figures indicative of the Government's attitude to poorer people have been phased out? As the Minister said, the latest figures available are those for 1985. Does she think that by abolishing the figures that reflect poverty, she is abolishing poverty?

No. In reply to earlier questions, I said that the series of income analyses, based on the households with below average income, are designed to provide an appropriate and accurate measure of people's differing living standards. They are the result of a technical review conducted by officials in the Department. They will focus on the incidence of incomes below the average, and we believe that they will give a more realistic picture.

Of those living just above benefit level, many are pensioners, a high proportion of whom are living on fixed incomes. All these people are hit hard by increases in standard charges, whether for heating, electricity or the community charge. Should not we keep material evidence on that group, to assess how those in it are coping? Will my hon. Friend look at that problem again?

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. One of the problems with a social security system is that one has to draw lines somewhere. As I have already said, those lines, and levels, will be reviewed as part of this year's exercise.

Family Incomes

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many children live in families with income on, or within 40 per cent. above, the appropriate benefit level for their circumstances.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to question No. 11.

When will the Minister accept that the poorest section of the community suffers worst as a result of the freezing of child benefits, the forcing up of council house rents because of ring-fencing, and mortgage interest increases? Does she intend to increase the number of people at or just above poverty level? Is it not time that the Government gave more help to those most in need?

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the considerable improvements aimed at helping poorer families. Since April 1988, some 1·5 million families with 3 million children have had what I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree are quite substantial increases in their income-related benefits, amounting to £350 million in all. That includes increases in premiums, an extra £1 a week above inflation in the pocket of the mother, lower-paid working families getting family credit and additional help in housing benefit. The Government's social security system targets help.

Is not the European Community definition of poverty, on which the Opposition make so much play, bogus, because it depends on a standard of benefit that is so ridiculous that it would mean that the more that we increased benefit, the more poor people there would be?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have a network of proper income support, which is not to be found in the countries of our European Community partners.

Does the Minister accept that the problem is not caused by technical deficiencies or deficiencies in methodology? Is she aware that every time she or any of her colleagues are challenged about the refusal of one benefit or another, they say that the appeals system will take care of that? However, the appeals system is clogged up because of the directions that she and other Ministers have given that payments should be reduced.

I accept that the work load of the appeals system fluctuates from time to time. I remind the hon. Gentleman that while some people are worse off than others, one thing is certain—no Government have ever accepted the proposition that one can draw a single poverty line with some on one side and some on the other. I remind him that the social security system, with its total budget of £55 billion a year, gives more extensive and better coverage than any other social security system that we have had.

Staff Relocation

18.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what progress has been made in relocating his Department's staff away from the London area.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given on 14 November 1989 to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that a substantial amount of the Department's work in London was to be relocated to Leeds. A site for the new headquarters building in Leeds has been identified, and I expect that the relocation of posts from London will begin from the end of 1991.

I give cautious thanks for that reply, for two reasons. First, is not my hon. Friend concerned that the hon. Gentleman who leads for the Opposition on this topic, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), seems to be in total opposition to the move from London to the midlands and the north, which represents a much-needed improvement of the economy and employment? Secondly, I should have hoped that any reasonable person would consider that the city of Nottingham was a much better place to go than the city of Leeds.

Nottingham was included among the possible locations for the move of the Department of Social Security. Leeds was decided upon after the most careful consideration of its advantages, which are many. Indeed, it was the first choice among the staff who had an interest in relocating.

The Arts

Charitable Status

75.

To ask the Minister for the Arts what assessment he has undertaken of the impact of charitable status upon arts bodies.

Arts bodies that are charities derive considerable benefits from their charitable status. Under the new arrangements for the unified business rate, the minimum mandatory rate relief that local authorities must give to charities is to go up from 50 to 80 per cent. Local authorities continue to have discretion to give up to 100 per cent. relief to charities.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House roughly how many gainers there will be among arts bodies as a result of the change to charitable status? Have not various recent Government initiatives led to a substantial increase in corporate and private donations to the arts, and has not central Government and local government spending increased considerably as well?

My hon. Friend is right. It is not possible to be precise about the number of net gainers among the charitable bodies in the arts. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that the four national companies—the royal opera house, English National Opera, the royal national theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company—are all net gainers. My hon. Friend is right that the amount of corporate sponsorship is still increasing. It is estimated to be at least £35 million a year in support of the arts.

National Film And Television School

76.

To ask the Minister for the Arts whether he has any plans to expand the National Film and Television School.

I am increasing the grant to the National Film and Television School from £1·7 million in 1989–90 to £1·85 million in 1991–92 and will shortly be considering plans for its longer-term future.

What a measly increase. When will the Minister do his job properly? Is he aware of the massive expansion of the school? Is he aware that there is a need for a European school? Is he aware of the expansion that there will be, and that the European School needs to be in the United Kingdom? If he funds the school properly, we shall get the European school here. The Minister should remember that we have had many successful actors—we have produced the finest in the world and we want to continue to do so. It is necessary for us, in the United Kingdom, to be involved with the European school.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) anticipated me. I am deeply disappointed that the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) has not yet received an Oscar for drama, but no doubt it will come in due course. I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in the film industry, so I am all the more surprised that he has not acknowledged that in the past 10 years there has been an increase in real terms of 83 per cent. in Government resources and overall resources for the National Film and Television School. If he had acknowledged that, I might have been able to take his question a little more seriously.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, according to Radio Nottingham, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) has been offered a part in a film by none other than David Puttnam? Can he confirm that, following the hon. Gentleman's departure from the House after the next general election—which all Conservative Members regret—the National Film and Television School will be able to provide a place for the hon. Gentleman if he applies?

That is one of the best recommendations that I have heard, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Arts (Southwark)

77.

To ask the Minister for the Arts what information he has on the amount of Government money which went to arts organisations or activities in Southwark in the last year for which figures are available.

In the current year, Greater London Arts has given £477,000 to 60 different activities and organisations in the borough of Southwark. The imperial war museum received £10·4 million, and the local museums and galleries in London receive financial support and advice via the Museums and Galleries Commission.

I am grateful for the Minister's answer. Is he aware, however, of the double danger that faces boroughs such as Southwark in the coming financial year? Much of the money provided for the arts on the abolition of the GLC expires this year and will not be renewed. If the Secretary of State for the Environment were to poll-tax-cap Southwark, there would probably be no funding for the arts at all, either in Southwark or docklandswide. Will the Minister talk to his right hon. Friend, and make sure that the implications of poll tax and poll-tax-capping are clear? Discretionary funding will probably disappear altogether if any such idea crosses the desks in Marsham street.

It is entirely up to the borough of Southwark to decide what sums it can and should provide for artistic activities on behalf of its ratepayers. I note with interest that, over the past year, Scottish local authorities—despite the introduction of the community charge in Scotland a year ago—have been keeping up their support for the arts: vast sums are not required to provide them with good support and to enable them to flourish.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the great work done by arts institutions in Southwark such as the Southwark Heritage Association, the Shakespeare Globe trust and the Dulwich picture gallery, and of the enterprising way in which they have attracted not only public support but business sponsorship. Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment at Southwark council's reluctance to support those artistic institutions financially, morally or in some other way?

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's view. The Dulwich picture gallery, for example, is an outstanding centre of excellence. It makes a strong bid for private sector support and, indeed, I am going there to support its appeal for extra funds. Certainly such bodies deserve support, as does any centre of excellence.

National Companies

78.

To ask the Minister for the Arts whether he will discuss with the Arts Council steps to reduce the deficits of the national companies.

It is for the Arts Council to decide the level at which the national companies are funded. In 1990–91 they will each receive a grant increase of 11 per cent.

What other European country would treat its national companies as the Government treat ours? The Minister knows that the companies have been examined independently, and that the way in which they spend their grant has been found to be most efficient. Will he consider providing additional funds? Could his Ministry, for instance, fund the national centres directly rather than through the Arts Council—or will all this be stopped by the Queen of the Goths over at No. 10?

Clearly the hon. Gentleman did not listen to my answer. I have already told him that next year will see one of the biggest cash increases ever provided: the total increase for the four main national companies will be just under £4 million.

I also find it odd that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that copying other countries is necessarily the right answer. The key question that we must ask ourselves is, "What is the quality of these national institutions?" We must ask ourselves whether they are of the highest quality—and the answer is yes. We have every reason to be proud of them.

The national companies are indeed of tremendously high quality. In view of the 11 per cent. increase that my right hon. Friend has announced, however, does not he think that they should try a little harder to live within their means?

My hon. Friend is right. Every institution in the artistic world must live within its means and manage i is resources carefully, given the total amount of money that it has. However, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said earlier, the Arts Council is to receive a substantial increase next year—£20 million extra in cash resources—and 22 per cent. extra, in cash terms, during the next three years, together with three-year funding. That must be a sound basis on which to plan its finances.

Does not the Minister realise that, even after taking into account last year's increase, the funding of all those companies will be below the rate of inflation over the past five years? That is why the accumulated deficit of the national companies comes to over £7 million. The figures that the Minister announced today will not begin to tackle that problem. The deficits will not go away. The Minister cannot run away and hide from them. If he does not pay off the deficits, it will not be just the Royal Shakespeare Company in London that will close; other companies and other theatres will close. Ten years of Tory mismanagement will leave the arts bankrupt—literally.

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. He is again asking me directly to intervene and to undermine the arm's length policy. If a Socialist Government were ever elected, they would undermine the arm's length policy that has operated since the end of the Second World War under successive Governments. The hon. Gentleman seems to ignore the plain fact that the Arts Council is to receive a £20 million cash increase in the coming year. It is for the Arts Council to decide how to distribute that sum—not the Ministry, not my officials, not me. That is the right principle on which to operate.

Opera And Ballet

79.

To ask the Minister for the Arts what discussions he has held with the chairman of the Arts Council regarding the funding of national opera and ballet companies.

I meet the chairman regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest, including the funding of arts bodies.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who fought long and hard on behalf of English National Opera and its sister ballet company for an increase in funding and then for saving the Westminster funding element are grateful to him for managing to solve those twin problems? However, can he reassure me that that problem will not arise year after year and that he will ensure that there is adequate funding, particularly to cover the Westminster funding element, in the years to come?

Like my hon. Friend, I am glad that the Arts Council has decided largely to replace the funding that has been withdrawn by Westminster city council. As I explained in the House during a recent Adjournment debate, the method of funding by the London boroughs arises from the London rate equalisation scheme, which allows the subsidy to be shared among all the boroughs and to be paid by Westminster city council. In recent years, Westminster city council's domestic ratepayers have not been paying a subsidy to support the two institutions that my hon. Friend mentioned. There will now be substantial increases for English National Ballet and English National Opera.

Civil Service

Staff Numbers

96.

To ask the Minister for Civil Service what is the latest figure he has for the total number of Civil Service staff in post; and what was the comparable figure in 1979.

As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary informed the House in December 1989, the total number of Civil Service staff in post is about 565,000. That represents a reduction of over one fifth on the figure for 1979 of about 732,000.

Does my right hon. Friend expect further reductions to be made in coming years? Is he satisfied that in the senior grades one to four of the home Civil Service non-industrial grades only about 5 per cent. of the posts are held by women? If he is not satisfied, how could he achieve greater equilibrium?

On my hon. Friend's latter point, only 6 per cent. of the posts in senior grades one to three are held by women. That is a very disappointing figure. It is largely for that reason that we have put in hand an action programme to promote equality of opportunity for women. It is not possible to predict the size of the Civil Service in future years, but it is to the great credit of the Civil Service that one of the reasons for the decrease in its size during the past 10 years has been its programme for getting better value for money. That has led to a decrease in the number of civil servants employed, totalling 110,000.

Will the Minister explain how it can be a credit when the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the accounts of the national insurance fund, published last week, had to qualify that? The report stated that there was a serious lack of skilled resources to tackle deliberate evasion by some employers, with the resulting huge under-collection of national insurance contributions. Will the Minister explain why it takes 30 days for the passport office to process passports and why the civil servants working in the Department of Social Security at Tottenham were on strike a few weeks ago because of understaffing? Will the Minister pay more attention to providing quality standards for the public and stop boasting about the number of civil servants he can cut?

Of course, the quality of public services provided by the Civil Service and the Government is a matter of great concern. That is one reason why agencies are being established around the country. One of their main purposes is to introduce performance targets and to improve the quality of service. We already have an outstandingly good Civil Service and we are trying to help it become even better.

Civil Service Training College

97.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he last visited the Civil Service training college; and if he will make a statement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of our Commissioners in Brussels has expressed the view that he is better served by higher quality civil servants, than the other Commissioners in Brussels? Is not that a reflection of the high quality of our civil servants and particularly their training?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is quite clear from the evidence of a number of other countries in Europe and elsewhere that are interested in what is happening in the British Civil Service and the introduction of the latest reforms, that there is great admiration for the standard of our Civil Service. The Civil Service college at Sunningdale, which concentrates on senior management, is doing an outstanding job and we should be very proud of it.

Surely, pride in the quality of training in no way offsets the worries that the Minister should have about the increasing resignation rate among the high flyers, the fast stream in the Civil Service, as there are increasing differentials between their pay and that of their counterparts outside. What does the Minister have to say about that increasing trend and what does he intend to do about it?

Although recruitment is principally a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, unless the right hon. Gentleman is focusing on one area, there is not a massive loss of high quality civil servants. There is bound to be some interchange, and that is not unhealthy for the Civil Service. We also have secondments, but certainly we have a much more flexible pay policy, which is designed to deal more effectively with recruitment and retention.

Agencies

98.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on progress on implementing the agency programme.

99.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service how many areas of activity have now been granted executive agency status; and how many new agencies he expects to be created over the next 12 months.

Progress is very good. Eleven executive agencies have so far been established and I expect many more shortly. The first agencies are achieving tangible improvements in the efficiency and quality of Government services.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that has been made. Will he confirm, despite the disgraceful and partisan scare campaign, that those who work in the agencies enjoy Civil Service conditions of work and Civil Service pensions?

My hon. Friend is right on the latter point. When an agency is established, that does not mean that the civil servants automatically lose their status. On the contrary: they remain a salient part of the Civil Service, and unless, after consultation, their conditions are adjusted, those also remain the same. There is now a great speeding up in the introduction of agencies. There will be a major introduction with the employment service becoming an agency next month, and I expect that by the summer a large proportion of the Civil Service will be moving in that direction.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, with the 11 agencies already established, when the 43 agency candidates identified become agencies, more than one third of the Civil Service will have done so? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that gives a better sense of identity to the employers in those agencies and will answer the Comptroller and Auditor General's report when the collection of employers' contributions comes under an agency?

My hon. Friend is right. All the candidates—which now amount to 44, including the DSS contributions and benefits agencies—amount to one third of the Civil Service. We are now making steady progress and with the introduction of a large number of agencies this spring and summer, the Civil Service will begin to transform in a major way.

Has the Minister any plans to reduce the number of civil servants who administer the benefits system as a prelude to its privatisation, which I understand may lead to an American firm operating it?

That subject is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. A decision has been taken to create two large agencies to administer the benefits and contributions functions of the Department of Social Security. Under our agencies policy, we first decide whether services are fit to be privatised. If the Minister decides that they are not suitable, the next option is to decide whether they should be established as agencies. As agencies, they remain within the Government system and their staff remain civil servants.

Trade Unions

102.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service whether he has any plans to meet Civil Service trade union representatives; and what matters he proposes to discuss.

I meet the Civil Service unions from time to time to discuss a range of matters.

Will the Minister have a look at the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, which states that about £350 million for the Inland Revenue has not been collected from employers, who have taken that money off employees? Will he ensure that proper inspectors are appointed so that those arrears are collected? Will he bear it in mind that people who claim unemployment and other benefits are being told by the Department of Social Security, "You cannot claim benefit because your employer has not handed over the proper contributions"? If he looks into that and stops hounding one-parent families, he will be doing his job properly.

That is a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the creation of those agencies will make the Civil Service ensure that it obtains good value for money. The service already achieves that, but the creation of the agencies will move us further in that direction and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that objective.

Racial Discrimination

103.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what steps he is taking to eliminate racial discrimination in the Civil Service.

The Government are an equal opportunity employer. They have a range of policies to prevent racial discrimination and are drawing up a formal programme for action to increase equality of opportunity for people of ethnic minority origin, which I plan to launch in May.

Is not it essential that the Civil Service leads the way in this country, in ensuring that racial discrimination does not affect the progress of anyone at work?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under the policy of equality of opportunity, it is right to have a positive action programme for such subjects. About 4·2 per cent. of ethnic minorities are represented in the Civil Service, which roughly reflects the working population. They are not represented at senior level, but we must ensure true equality of opportunity.

Points Of Order

3.32 pm

Oh, dear. I shall take the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) first.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the current edition of The House Magazine?

I know that, Sir, but you do have responsibility for your instruction on taxis at the Members' entrance. Consequently, I should like to draw your attention to an article written by Simon Heifer, in which he threatens Members of Parliament. He says that journalists are keeping a "list of offenders" of Members of Parliament who exercise their right to take precedence at the taxi rank.

I am sorry that you, Mr. Speaker, do not see this as important, but then you do not have to queue up for a taxi. The article says that at least one of the journalists

"is keeping a list of offenders, some of them occasionally look to the press to report uncritically their views on certain important matters. Should they be concerned about the future quality of that reporting, a little less urgency"
will be required.

There is an order at the Members' entrance in your name, Mr. Speaker, stating that Members will take precedence. In the light of the threat in that article, will you kindly look into this and let us have your views?

Order. There is such a notice. I hardly think that the hon. Member needs my protection in a matter of this kind.

I think that you could have responded to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), who referred to not being able to get a taxi, by saying that, if he hangs around a little longer, he will find that some ministerial cars are empty. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman makes inquiries of the Secretary of State for Wales and asks the Prime Minister how many more Cabinet Ministers whispered in her ear last September, "Give it a few months—I shall be leaving."

There are many things that I might have said to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt). The House knows that the Services Committee has reported on this matter and that precedence is indeed given to Members who require a taxi.

I do not know whether you are aware of the all-party cycling group. I suggest that you tell the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) to join it, and get some of that weight off.

May I raise a serious and genuine point of order with you, Mr. Speaker? I know that that sounds unusual. On the proper day laid down for questions to the Department of Trade and Industry, I tabled a question to ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to give the trends in manufacturing industry productivity over the past 12——

It was transferred. None of my questions would be disallowed—all my colleagues know that. I came to the House today in my usual innocent manner and found that my question had been transferred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I did not mention interest rates, where the Exchequer always likes to get its hand——

Order. I am sure that the hon. Member has, because he is in the Chamber regularly. This matter has been put to me dozens of times. I have no responsibility for the transfer of questions; that is entirely a matter for the Goverment.

May I continue once more, Sir? I hate to bore you, but surely you, as Mr. Speaker, are in charge of allowing Members to ask questions of Secretaries of State without them, as in some kind of Russian roulette, changing them so that no one has to answer. If a Secretary of State does not want to answer a question, he can transfer it to someone else, which means that the Member concerned will not have a chance to ask that question for another month. We must have some protection against this transfer system.

It has ever been thus. Ministers who believe that they have no responsibility——

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) is getting desperate. [Interruption.]

Order. Perhaps the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak will listen to me, not to Members across the Gangway.

It has always been a fact that Ministers transfer questions if they are not within the responsibility of their Department. I feel sorry for the hon. Member, because this occasionally happened to me, but he must take up his complaint with the Department concerned.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. No doubt it has been reported to you that there was a bit of bother in the Chamber on Friday, because we did not reach the Radiation Exposed Crown Employees (Benefits) Bill, which would have given pensions to veterans who had taken part in nuclear tests. During the filibuster on the Planning Permission (Demolition of Houses) Bill, the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) failed early in his speech to declare his interests. It was only after the intervention of about five Opposition Members that the hon. Member said:

"I shall eventually come on to the part of my speech in which I declare that interest."—[Official Report, 2 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 551]
I then quoted, at column 552, "Erskine May":
"A Member will normally declare his interest at the beginning of his remarks."
Later——

Order. The hon. Member is quite right: I was not present on Friday. However, I always look at Hansard. I see, in column 551, that this very matter was dealt with by Mr. Deputy Speaker. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to that; there is nothing more to be done about it now.

If an hon. Member, on either side of the House, has an interest to declare, the person in the Chair must at some time determine whether or not that Member has spoken for long enough to have declared his interest. On the basis of Friday's interpretation, a Member could make a one-hour speech and declare an interest only in the 59th minute. Before his declaration, a number of points affecting the whole debate might have been made. "Normally" has to have some specific meaning.

Order. We cannot go back on this matter. However, later this week there will be a debate on the whole matter of Members' interests. The whole House knows the rule: that if an hon. Member on either side of the House——

Order. The whole House knows that, if a Member has a personal interest to declare, he should always declare it.

On a genuine point of order, Mr. Speaker, not a bogus one. It is very relevant, and I am sure that you will be able to give a decision on it. Last Thursday—St. David's day—we debated Welsh affairs for six hours. During that time, the Secretary of State for Wales had an opportunity to announce his impending retirement. Have you, Mr. Speaker, received from the Government any notification concerning a statement regarding——

No. I am afraid that points of order do not come much more bogus than that.

Orders Of The Day

Aviation And Maritime Security Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 1

Compensation In Respect Of Certain Measures Taken Under Part Iii

".—(1) The provisions of this section have effect where, in compliance with a direction under section 24 of this Ad or in compliance with an enforcement notice, the person to whom the direction was given or on whom the notice was served takes any measures consisting of the construction, execution, alteration, demolition or removal of a building or other works on land either within or outside a harbour area.

(2) If the value of any interest in that land to which a person is entitled is depreciated in consequence of the taking of those measures, or the person having such an interest suffers loss in consequence of them by being disturbed in his enjoyment of any of that land, he is entitled to compensation equal to the amount of the depreciation or loss.

(3) If any land other than the land on which the measures are taken is injuriously affected by the taking of those measures, any person having an interest in that other land who suffers loss in consequence of its being injuriously affected is entitled to compensation equal to the amount of the loss.

(4) Any compensation to which a person is entitled under this section shall be payable to him by the person by whom the measures in question were taken.

(5) The provisions of Schedule (Provisions relating to compensation) to this Act have effect for the purposes of this section; and subsections (1) to (4) above have effect subject to the provisions of that Schedule."— [Mr. Portillo]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.42 pm

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This Bill is a serious measure dealing with serious matters. I think that every member, from which ever side of the House, of the Standing Committee would agree that it was considered very seriously in Committee and that Government, Official Opposition and SLD Members made their best contributions to try to improve its wording. For that, I pay tribute to all concerned.

New clause is accompanied by Government amendment No. 10, which relates to the schedule that would go with the new clause. The schedule relates to compensation procedures for third parties whose land interests are affected by security measures. This matter was raised in Committee, and the Government indicated that they would introduce appropriate legislation. Both the clause and the schedule parallel existing provisions available under aviation security provisions.

Although, when the Bill was drafted, it was not envisaged that such compensation facilities would ever be needed—indeed, experience of the aviation provisions supports that view—it seems right to have a system available to ensure that no third party would ever be unduly penalised by security works. The compensation will be paid by the person who carried out the work required by a direction. It would be for him to decide how to finance the cost of the compensation, although, in all likelihood, it would be treated in the same way as any other security provision cost.

Despite the probably infrequent use of this clause, I commend its addition to the Bill as a necessary safeguard for, and help to, those people indirectly affected by the Bill's proposals.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) in particular was worried about how disagreements on levels of compensation might be settled. The proposed schedule in amendment No. 10 is modelled on a schedule that is already available in the Aviation Security Act 1982, which provides that the values will be calculated in accordance with rules laid down in the Land Compensation Act 1961.

In the event of any disagreement, the matter can be referred to the Lands Tribunal for settlement.

I think that the hon. Gentleman was also concerned about how the costs might be applied to certain people who were affected. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to clause 28(2), which allows that any person given a direction requiring works that affect a third party can object to it because the measures are excessively onerous. The onerousness could come from the level of compensation being sought. The minimum objection period of 30 days could be lengthened by the Secretary of State while the issue is resolved—probably by reference to the Lands Tribunal.

I hope that the new clause, which we discussed in outline in Committee, and the accompanying schedule commend themselves to the House.

I thank the Minister for the way in which he has introduced the new clause, which, as he made clear, deals with points that we raised in Committee.

I seek clarification of one or two aspects of the new clause. The Minister for Aviation and Shipping led us to expect that, under the new clause, the harbour board would be responsible for all compensation but it now appears that the party who is subject to the notice will be liable for his own compensation. That is obviously progress, although the Opposition remain concerned about a number of matters.

We have a now elaborate system of direction and enforcement notices, set out in legislation and backed by severe penalties but, as I understand it, where no compulsory powers are attached to the operation of the directions, any third party can stifle the operation and intention of a direction or enforcement notice served by the Secretary of State. That is a cause for concern not in respect of the more mundane changes that may be required in security arrangements—day-to-day changes, which are subject to negotiation—but in respect of urgent circumstances. Perhaps the Minister will explain exactly what will happen in such urgent cases.

I also seek clarification of the effect of the notices and directions. I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the circumstances in planning law under which property can become blighted. Is it possible that property will become blighted as a result of the service of directions, and what are the implications of that?

On the broader issues, we accept and welcome the new clause, because it takes account of the serious points made in Committee.

With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps Ministers' explanations in Committee were not as clear as they might have been. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) has correctly understood that the directions can apply to any party, and that it is the party to whom the directions apply who will be responsible for awarding compensation to third parties who are affected; it could be a harbourmaster, it could be a shipping line or it could be another party.

I hope to go a long way to answering a number of the hon. Gentleman's questions by explaining that it seems likely that in many cases the works that need to be carried out will be works in the harbour area. In circumstances in which the works fall within the harbour area, the Bill settles the matter clearly because the directions within the harbour area overrule any other Act or rule of law—that is made clear in clause 34—and will apply irrespective of anything that might be in contract. If the works are in the harbour, it is clear that the direction takes precedence. The party to whom the direction has been addressed is responsible for ensuring that the works are carried out and can compensate a third party. In other words, the third party may well be within the harbour area.

For example, a harbour authority may be given a direction which required it to construct a wall. That wall may impinge upon a third party—for example, a shipping line which has property within the harbour area. The direction within the harbour area would take precedence over any other Act or rule of law or contract, but the harbourmaster would arrange compensation with the third party in that case.

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have discussed the concerns of the British Ports Federation on this point and the requirement on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State under the Bill to order harbour authorities to demolish or alter buildings. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether the new clause has the agreement of the British Ports Federation and also meets the precise point with which the federation has been in consultation with the Department of Transport?

I have no further information about what discussions may have continued about that since we last spoke about it. Perhaps I will receive more news during the course of the debate and I will come back to my hon. Friend about that if I do.

So far as I can understand the new clause, it appears to meet the precise point that the British Ports Federation asked me to make in Committee.

I realise that my hon. Friend made his intervention in a helpful spirit, and I hope to give him some confirmation about that.

In response to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, I believe that it is rather unlikely that a third party outside the harbour area would be affected. If we were considering the construction of a wall along the boundary of the harbour and the adjoining area, the rules governing party walls, which I understand are general rules to be found in planning law, would apply.

If we were considering a matter that took the harbour authority considerably outside its own terrain, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South would be right to say that there was nothing in the new clause to force the third party to grant that the necessary works be carried out. On the other hand, in such an unlikely event, there is a method in the new clause to settle the compensation.

To show how unlikely that event is, I should say that, during the time that the equivalent provisions have been in operation for aviation security, there have been no cases in which such compensation has had to be paid. Whereas most cases are likely to be within the harbour area, it is likely that the parties would agree among themselves on compensation. If a direction was given to the harbour authority and perhaps a corresponding direction to a shipping company and each must carry out works, I imagine that they would probably agree between themselves on appropriate compensation, although there is a fallback, in that it can be referred to the Lands Tribunal.

It seems most unlikely that blight will arise. The probability is that the works would be within the harbour area. I cannot see blight occuring within a harbour area, and that would not be blight in any commonly accepted way. I find it hard to imagine, except perhaps through the building of a wall along a boundary, what works would go far outside the harbour area. That is why the question of blighting does not arise. If, on reflection the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South believes that there is a point to pursue on that, perhaps he can take it up with me in correspondence.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2

Responsibility Of Owners, Charterers And Managers

'.—(1) Any direction under section 21 or 24 of this Act shall be given first to the owner, charterer or manager of a ship in respect of which such a direction may be given.

(2) The Secretary of State may give a direction under section 21 or 24 of this Act to the master of a ship only after the Secretary of State's best endeavours have failed to secure compliance by the owner, charterer or manager with a similar direction in respect of that ship.'.— [Ms. Ruddock.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this it will be convenient to take the following: Government amendments Nos. 1 to 3.

Amendment No. 11, in clause 29, page 32, line 7, after 'Act)', insert,
'provided that the best endeavours of the Secretary of State have failed to secure compliance by the owner, charterer or manager of a ship with the direction to which such an enforcement notice relates,'.
Government amendments Nos. 4 to 7 and Government amendment No. 15.

The new clause follows on from the debate in Committee, in which we sought unsuccessfully to remove "master" from clause 17 and to insert "master" in subsequent clauses. Our purpose, then as now, was to recognise the reality of the world in which shipmasters operate.

In the Bill as originally drafted, the Government had implicitly recognised the difference between masters and the other three categories of persons, namely, the owners, charterers and managers, to whom directions might be given or from whom information might be sought. A distinction was made between foreign and British-owned ships. It was clear to us, and the Minister admitted in Committee, that the master of a foreign ship was being drawn into the provisions of the Bill simply because he was thought to be more accessible than the owners, charterers or managers. Opposition Members argued then and we still maintain that the onerous responsibilities and penalties that are imposed by the Bill should fall on those who have the resources and authority to comply.

Our new clause is an attempt to recognise those realities while accepting the Minister's intransigence. In new clause 2, we propose that when a direction is given, it is
"given first to the owners, charterer or manager".
In a consequential amendment, No. 11, we provide for an enforcement notice to be served on a master only when
"the best endeavours of the Secretary of State have failed to secure compliance by the owner, charterer or manager".
The National Union of Maritime, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers complained bitterly that misconceptions about the power and authority of a shipmaster abound and that the law is being framed as though a master has complete control of his ship and can call on unlimited financial, technical and human resources. The union feels strongly that the Bill would place responsibilities on masters that legislators would not dream of placing on captains of aircraft.

A recent article on masters by Michael Gray in Lloyd's List states:
"Rich in responsibility but poverty stricken in authority would seem to sum up the wretched modern master and his miserable life afloat.…in port after port come the legions of those earnestly requesting the master's signature to sign his life away, to commit himself to all manner of circumstances over which he cannot possibly have any control whatsoever. He is required to take responsibility for matters well beyond his actual minimal authority. And no matter how energetically he notes protest, how carefully he seeks to absolve himself from the consequences of his actions, it is his signature that is on the document, it is he who is ultimately liable."
According to the article, at a recent conference, Captain Colin Evans, the secretary general of the International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations, said that he believed that
"the burden on shipmasters had increased beyond the bounds of reason.
He saw a combination of factors conspiring against the master's peace of mind—tight manning, the multi-cultural crew, ever increasing pressure to sail, to stand on, to arrive in time. The master, said Captain Evans, was just not given the resources or the authority to enable him to do his job properly."
It is in recognition of the facts as presented to us by NUMAST that we move new clause 2. Without that clause, Government amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 cannot be justified.

Briefly, the amendments would ensure that the same duties are imposed on masters of British ships as are imposed on masters of foreign ships. That is a retrograde step, because the real responsibility, whether they are British ships or foreign ships, lies with the owners, charterers and managers. We seek to place responsibilities on masters of British ships. It was previously acknowledged that the inclusion of "masters of foreign ships" was an expedient because it was most likely that masters could be contacted more easily than those who are actually responsible.

Surely it must be acknowledged that a master, in seeking to comply with a demand for information or with the onerous directions for search and so on, must consult his employers. He will undoubtedly need to do that, because they undoubtedly have the authority and resources. We believe that that is where responsibilities should properly be placed. Therefore, I have moved new clause 2 to give effect to those feelings.

4 pm

We cannot accept the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). For certain directions we have introduced an ability to give a direction to a master. There was considerable disquiet on this point among Opposition Members, but after considering their points, we feel that they are wholly unjustified. We shall extend the possibility of giving directions to masters only to matters on which they are competent and responsible to act. As they cannot be given directions under clause 24—the main direction-making power which can require measures to be taken—no liability is placed on them to take decisions which involve capital expenditure. That, of course, is the responsibility of the ship operator.

Masters will be likely to receive only directions which require information or prohibit them from allowing people or property to be brought near or on a ship, from allowing the ship to go to sea unless searches are carried out and from allowing a ship to go to sea unless certain modifications are carried out. All those matters are within the master's scope of responsibility.

The measures which the Minister suggests that a master might have to take are serious measures when it comes to commercial interests. It is our view that the master could not, or would not be willing to, undertake such measures unless he could consult the owners, operators or charterers.

The issues may be serious but so would the reasons why the directions were issued. We are not in the game of issuing directions for the sake of it. We are not taking the power to issue unnecessary directions or directions for minor reasons. Directions would be issued for serious reasons. They would be issued only where necessary and where, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, it was not possible to implement the same action against the ship operator.

Why does the Minister have such objection to this modest new clause? All it says is that the Secretary of State "may" give directions. Would it not be right for the Secretary of State to take a reserve power to cover all eventualities? No one expects the Minister to give directions to a master for minor reasons. Surely, in the interests of security and safety, the widest powers should be available in case they are needed.

That is exactly what we seek to do throughout the Bill. We seek to provide the widest powers possible, so that, in the eventuality, we have the right measures to require various operators to take the action that we require. If we have trouble finding the operators—I shall come to this when I deal with the Government amendments—we want to be able to serve notices on the master of the ship, because sometimes it may not be possible to trace the owners or operators as quickly as we should like.

I understand that it is convenient to speak now to Government amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 15. Following the debate in Standing Committee, the Government undertook to take steps to remove the discrimination in the application of legislation to British and foreign ships. First, clause 21, which contains a power to impose restrictions on ships, can now be applied against both British and foreign ships when they are in harbour areas.

I stress that those powers of direction will not be the main way in which improvements in security will be implemented. Most directions to create a positive improvement will be given under clause 24—that is, the general powers to direct measures to be taken. The powers provided in clause 21 are for use only in certain circumstances.

I hope that my next point goes some way to answer the hon. Lady's point about amendment No. 11. We have introduced an ability to give a direction to a master. Again, the considerable disquiet about this point is not justified, because we shall extend the possibility of giving directions to masters only on those matters on which they are competent and responsible to act.

Does the Minister accept that our apprehensions relate not to his intentions, but to the way in which the law will operate in practice? As was made clear in Committee—and accepted by the Minister then—in every case the first line of contact will be the master, and no attempt will be made to contact the owner, charterer or manager, because whoever is responsible for enforcing the direction will go to the most obvious point, the master. We have tabled our amendments for that simple reason.

I appreciate the way in which the hon. Gentleman has made that point. I can only assure him time and time again that only if there are problems with contacting or communicating directly with the operator will we use the powers to contact the master. It would be wrong of us not to have those powers. That is why we have tabled our amendments and why we feel that the master needs to be included in the "final line".

If we have trouble in contacting the operator, we need to be able to contact the master. I emphasise that security reasons may be involved and that we would not do that lightly. We do not want to take that action at every stage, but if it is difficult to contact a foreign operator for whatever reason—there may be many reasons—we should be able to tell the master of the vessel that certain actions are required of him. We need the power in statute to do that. That is important.

The concern was raised in Committee, and in various other discussions with me, that we were somehow discriminating against British ship operators in favour of foreign ship operators. We had to do everything we could to explain that that was not the case and that we were taking the action so that ships of whatever nationality would be obliged to abide by what we are asking.

Even if Government amendment No. 1 is made, the clause still provides a seven-day period during which the information has to be given up. How often does the Minister think that the master of either a British or a foreign-owned ship will be in harbour for as long as seven days? Does not that period give the Minister ample time to contact the real owners, charterers or managers?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. It is certainly true that modern ships and shipping operations are in harbour for only a brief period. That is why we need the power, if necessary, to place that responsibility and request on the master if we are having trouble in getting hold of the operator. That is an important point.

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then I should like to make some progress.

I apologise for not having scrutinised the Bill in detail, because the answer to my question may be there. Has the Minister taken the power to prevent ships from sailing if there is difficulty in contacting the owners or in getting the master to carry out the directions?

Yes: if the direction is not carried out, we have the power to prevent the ship from leaving the harbour until the direction is complied with. We have that power, and it is wholly right that we do. I do not believe that there is any difference between us on that point—there was certainly no difference on it in Committee.

If an elimination process were written into the Bill, it would inevitably cause delay, during which the ship could disappear because no prosecution or enforcement action could be effected unless it could be proved that adequate steps had been taken to reach the operator before tackling the master. A month may be necessary to convince the courts that adequate time had been given and reasonable steps taken for notifying foreign-based operators. To avoid this procedural trap and yet acknowledge and mitigate the concerns of the Opposition, it would probably be best to offer an assurance that, wherever practicable, action will always be taken against the operator first. We give that overwhelming assurance. It must be acknowledged, however, that the powers are needed at the end of the day.

No liability would be placed on the master of a ship to take decisions which involved capital expenditure. Such decisions are the responsibility of ship operators. Masters will be likely only to receive directions which require information or prohibit them from allowing people or property to be brought near or on their ship, or for the ship to go to sea unless searches are carried out or certain modifications are implemented. All these requirements come within the scope of a master's responsibility. The powers will be used only where necessary and where, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, it is not possible to impose the same requirements on a ship's operator. The provisions are far more likely to be used when dealing with the masters of foreign ships, as it is those ships that will present the most problems when it comes to locating the operators and achieving the desired results.

We are not legislating to ensure that only foreign ships implement the measures that we feel are required. Several foreign shipping lines have voluntarily introduced high levels of security standards. We want to be able to take the powers which we consider necessary. We shall always attempt, first and foremost, to contact the ship's operator and require him to give us information. When that is not possible, we feel that it is necessary to be able to serve a request upon the master of the ship. A master has considerable responsibility for the overall conduct and safe transit of his vessel.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are essentially editorial. They represent an attempt to be more specific about the way in which administrative matters connected with the detention of a ship are implemented. Amendment No. 5 makes it clear that it is for an authorised person to certify that a direction has not been complied with. Amendment No. 6 places a requirement on an authorised person to deliver the certificate to the officer to detain the ship, if he does not use his powers to detain the ship himself. In both instances, a master must receive a copy of the certificate when his ship is detained, so that he knows the reasons for the detention.

I hope that the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) will agree that the Government have gone a long way to meet some of the issues which were raised in Committee.

In Committee, we undertook to remove discrimination in the application of legislation to British and foreign ships. Amendments Nos. 15 and 7 ensure that that will happen, in two ways. First, the prohibition powers that are contained in clause 21 will, if the amendments are agreed to, be applied against both British ships and foreign ships when they are in harbour areas. These powers of direction will not be the main way in which we shall implement improvements to security. Most directions relating to positive improvements will come under clause 24. The powers in clause 21 are for use only in certain circumstances.

I ask the House to reject new clause 2 and to agree to the Government's amendments.

My concern is about the way in which the Government approach their responsibilities and how vigorously they intend to apply the proposed legislation. When I have approached the marine inspectorate about the alterations made to ships in harbour, which have caused people to believe that they might be unstable, quick action has been taken by the Department to put things right and to prevent a modified vessel from going to sea—this applies especially to trawlers—where there is a fear that safety and life might be endangered. That is something to be applauded.

On the other hand, there have been instances when the Department and other arms of the law have not acted in the proper spirit of the law. I have in mind especially foreign ships where the crews have not been paid Representatives of the National Union of Seamen have tried to prevent ships from sailing until the crews have been properly paid. However, the police are brought in. the representatives of the NUS are taken off the ship and arrested, the crew are simply placed on the quayside and the ship sails merrily off, having not met its international obligations and responsibility to members of the crew.

I seek from the Minister an assurance that he will act vigorously not only within the letter of the law as it will be when the Bill is passed, but within the spirit of it, so that there is no shilly-shallying. I hope that there will be nobody saying, "It's a bit difficult. It may be a marginal case so we will let things go." We have to be specific, rigorous and determined to apply the law. If the Minister gives that assurance, and subject to the advice of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, I will not vote against the Government's amendments.

4.15 pm

I hope that my hon. Friend can confirm that the amendments meet the concerns expressed by the General Council of British Shipping about foreign vessels and the ability of the Secretary of State to get to grips with them. If that is the case, as I believe it is, the deputy director-general of the council, Jim Buckley, has asked me to convey the council's gratitude to my hon. Friends for their acceptance of these amendments.

I was surprised by what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said, because it seemed to be more in accord with our views than those of his Front Bench spokesmen.

I see him denying that, and I do not want to embarrass him.

We are introducing a new kind of legislation, which is a mirror image of the security set up in the aviation industry as much as possible, although one cannot tie up the two word for word because of some differences. As a result of this legislation, we shall have on the statute book a set of directions that we can make and require companies to carry out. In such circumstances, I am conscious that it would be wholly wrong if foreign vessels were allowed to operate under a different set of rules from British operators and vessels. This legislation is designed solely to meet security directions, so it would not be a proper use of the legislation to extend it outside that power. That is an important point, but I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the wider implications for the shipping industry.

I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) the assurance that these amendments meet the various points brought to our attention by the General Council of British Shipping. I have explained some of the reasons why we have accepted them, one of which is that it would be wrong to introduce regulations applying to British shipping but not to foreign vessels. That is why we have tabled the amendments. I hope that they find favour with the House.

We are most disappointed by the Government's response to new clause 2, because we tried to produce a compromise. In Committee, the Minister assured us, as he has been assuring us all afternoon, that there will definitely be an attempt to contact, first and foremost, those who are truly responsible—the owners, the charterers and the managers. We are delighted that he has made that clear, but because he has done so, we find it difficult to understand why, after we has so carefully introduced this compromise and tried to reach agreement with him, he has been unable to accept the new clause. However, as he has made his position clear and I do not expect to persuade him any further, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and new clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Directions In Respect Of Fixed Platforms

'For the purposes to which this Act applies, the Secretary of State may give a direction in writing to any person who operates, owns or manages a fixed platform, requiring him to take such measures as are specified in the direction.'.— [Mr. Doran].

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 13, in clause 10, in page 15, line 6, leave out

'or by threats of any kind'.
No. 14, in clause 11, in page 15, line 27, at end insert—
'(c) by its nature or design, is intended to raise the apprehension that it is intended to destroy or damage a ship or fixed platform, or endanger the safe navigation of a ship, or safety of a fixed platform.'.

New clause 3 relates to discussions that we had in Committee, when I set out in detail events when a hoax bomb was planted on a gas production platform in Morecambe bay.

One matter that caused me concern when I read the details of the event was trying to relate it to what the Government propose in the Bill, which creates more that 40 new offences—some of them serious and carrying the most serious penalties—and a mass of restrictions and regulations, and a bureaucratic system of direction and enforcement. However, nowhere in the Bill have the Government or industry been given the responsibility to do the simplest thing—to train and to prepare for the type of events that occurred on that platform.

New clause 3 requires the Secretary of State to give directions which would apply to owners and managers of fixed platforms to meet the gap in the legislation.

For the benefit of hon. Members who were not able to hear the Committee proceedings, I shall summarise the circumstances surrounding the events on the CCP gas production platform in Morecambe bay which was operated by a subsidiary of British Gas.

On 9 October 1989, at about 8.30 am, a suspected bomb was found on the platform. None of the men on the platform was notified until about one hour later, and then they were not given detailed reasons why they were expected to gather at the muster points and life stations. It was not until a quarter past ten in the morning that the men were told that a bomb had been found, and that caused some alarm. It transpired that a taped package, measuring 6 in by 7 in, with wires that appeared to be a timing device attached, had been found in a cellar close to one of the 26 in gas riser pipes coming on to the platform. A number of such high pressure pipelines come on to the platform and all the men knew that they were of the same sort that exploded on the Piper Alpha platform and caused that tragedy. Therefore, there was some concern among the work force.

The men were kept at the muster stations in the recreation area until 2.30 pm, when the installation's operations manager decided to address them. He told them little more than they had been told in the morning, but he confirmed that the bomb had been found and that bomb disposal squads were not expected until 4 o'clock. Again, that caused some concern.

The men were aware that the package had been discovered at 8.30 am, and they were also well aware from all the hectic activity around them—the naval vessels and helicopters—that experts who would have been able to deal with a bomb were in the area because of the Conservative party conference which was taking place a few miles away in Blackpool. They could not understand why the experts could not reach the platform any sooner than 4 o'clock, despite the fact that the bomb had been found about eight hours previously.

The men were not told until 6 o'clock that the bomb disposal squad had decided to try to blow up the suspected bomb, and that also caused considerable concern. The men were aware that attempts had been made to depressurise the pipelines, but one had not been depressurised and the consequences of a bomb exploding in those circumstances would have been horrific.

Throughout the day, there had been some panic and pressure from the men to get off the platform, but none was allowed to leave. They were threatened that if they went off they would not be allowed back. Effectively, they were told that their jobs were on the line. I have told that story because it is a graphic example of a real emergency. I understand that legal proceedings are likely to follow.

As it took place on an offshore installation, the incident relates at least to part II of the Bill. According to the evidence that I have been given so far, the management dealt with it in a way that could not possibly be described as skilful; it could, indeed, have been calculated to cause the maximum distress. The men had no idea what to do. The arrival of the specialist bomb disposal experts was considerably delayed, and all their requests to be evacuated were refused. Although the package proved eventually to be a hoax, no one knew that until the disposal squad had dismantled it; meanwhile, unnecessary distress was caused. That could easily have been dealt with by management, who could have evacuated the platform.

In the Bill, the Government have created more than 40 new offences. They have also created a very bureaucratic system of direction and enforcement notices, yet the Secretary of State has not been given the simple power to require training and exercises to deal with such incidents. The problem is not hypothetical; oil and gas platforms are vulnerable, volatile and dangerous. In the event of a further hoax, or even the placing of a real explosive device on a platform, the men must not be subjected to such pressures again.

In Committee, the Minister said that he would contact the Department of Energy as a matter of urgency, and I shall be interested to learn whether the Department has any lessons to pass on. In the meantime, the new clause would allow the Secretary of State to enforce a requirement for training and exercises.

Amendment No. 13 would deal with a problem that was raised on Second Reading—threats against the work force. Industrial disputes have occurred on offshore installations, and I fear that there will be more this summer as a result of offshore unrest and dissatisfaction. Few people in the industry do not expect that to happen. On previous occasions, men working on North sea platforms have been subjected to intimidation of which an offshore management would not be capable.

I can give two examples. The first relates to industrial action taken on MSV Stadive earlier this year. The ship is used in the northern sector of the North sea, in the Shetland basin, as a special response vessel: it is expected to respond to emergencies, and its crew have already dealt with two highly publicised incidents. The first involved the Chinook helicopter disaster in 1986, when they were required to collect bodies; the second was the serious blow-out 18 months ago on the Ocean Odyssey drilling rig, in which a radio operator was killed.

The vessel's crew were required to remain with the vessel, which was positioned over the blow-out well for about three weeks until the emergency had been dealt with and the well capped. It was a dedicated crew. The men were employed by a company that acted as contractor for Shell UK Ltd. Recently, Shell UK Ltd. decided to dispose of that contractor and to employ a new one. Most of the men had worked for the contractor for nine years; some of them had been there for 15 years. All were told that they were to be made redundant. If they had been working onshore, they would have had certain rights; their employers would have been under an obligation to them.

As the men appeared to have no rights, the employers entered into a battle about who would be responsible for redundancy payments. The men were left high and dry in the middle. Industrial action followed. Every member of the crew was intimidated and threatened with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1970, which provided for a maximum fine of £2,000. That ended the industrial action. All the men were sorely intimidated.

4.30 pm

According to the drafting of the provisions, an employer faced with industrial action would be entitled to threaten his men with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, which might lead to a £2,000 fine, and with the provisions of clauses 9 and 10, and to say that an offence had been committed. The maximum penalty in that case would be life imprisonment.

The Minister has told me that any prosecutions under this measure would require the sanction of the procurator fiscal or the Crown Office. That would carry little weight with a work force that was engaged in an industrial dispute that was perfectly legal onshore. The evidence shows that employers would use such threats and that the work force would be intimidated. For that reason, therefore, we have tabled amendment No. 13.

Amendment No. 14 is designed to deal with what was perceived in Committee to be a major gap in the legislation. I relate it to the incident in Morecambe bay. The Bill deals adequately with threats and offences. However, it does not deal with the hoax which, as the Morecambe bay incident showed, can be just as alarming as a real threat or incident. According to the amendment, any substance or package that raises
"the apprehension that it is intended to destroy or damage a ship or fixed platform, or endanger the safe navigation of a ship, or safety of a fixed platform"
would also constitute the kind of offence that appears to have occurred on the CCP platform on 9 October. In Committee, all sides appeared to accept that that was a serious gap in the legislation. I shall be pleased to hear the Minister's response.

I remind the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) that part II is intended to allow the United Kingdom to ratify and implement the provisions of the convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against safety of maritime navigation, which is known as the Rome convention, and the linked protocol, which is known as the Rome protocol. The hon. Gentleman will remember that, in Committee, we laid considerable emphasis on the need to establish in law very exact wording that was in line with the convention and the protocol. Under the convention and the protocol, all those who ratify the convention should introduce legislation that is more or less identical, so as to ease the extradition from one country to another of those who have committed offences. If the offences are defined in exactly similar terms, that process is considerably eased. For that reason, we are reluctant to deviate from the wording in part II. I admit that the part of part II relating to warships is outside the convention, but it does not touch in any way upon the wording of agreements under the protocol. I have difficulty with the hon. Gentleman's proposals on that point.

I shall take the amendments in reverse order. The matter raised in amendment No. 14 is already covered by section 51 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. I did not say to the hon. Gentleman in Committee that I thought there was a gap. The hon. Gentleman will know rather better than I do that United Kingdom law applies on platforms by virtue of the Continental Shelf Act 1989. Subject to further comments that the hon. Gentleman might make, his point about somebody introducing a package which is meant to look like a bomb and cause anxiety or fear is extremely serious, but is already covered in United Kingdom law which I hope applies to platforms.

The Criminal Law Act 1977 certainly applies to gas platforms in the southern sector and to the gas platforms in Morecombe bay, but it would not apply to installations in the Scottish section of the North sea—those lying off Aberdeen and Shetland. There may be an equivalent measure, but that is a different point.

The hon. Gentleman helps me by saying that there may be an equivalent measure. I suspect that that is the case, but I shall try to get him some verification of that.

On amendment No. 13, I had hoped that, when we discussed the matter in Committee, I had gone a considerable way to allay the hon. Member's fears. I had hoped that I had gone so far as to make it possible for him not to introduce a further amendment on the subject. Perhaps I can remind the hon. Gentleman how far I went in Committee:
"I offer the hon. Gentleman some further comfort by telling him that, in Scotland where prosecutions are initiated by procurators fiscal, they have considerable discretion but are subject to directions from the Lord Advocate. When a new Act is introduced, the Lord Advocate circulates information and sets out the policy on prosecutions. I shall draw his attention to this part of the Bill and ask him to take account of the point that it gives effect to a convention on terrorist acts and is not intended to be used in industrial dispute cases."
The hon. Gentleman was generous when he said at column 105:
"I am especially grateful to the Minister for suggesting bringing the matter to the attention of the Lord Advocate…I am still concerned, although not enough to wish to press the matter to a vote"—
and at column 106:
"I take on board all the points that the Minister has made and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment"— [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 13 February 1990; c. 104–106.]
I cannot say any more to the hon. Gentleman today than I did on that occasion. It is perfectly clear—as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State confirmed a moment ago in answer to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)—that the Bill is about terrorist acts and security, and part II is about the Rome convention and protocol. If the Bill becomes an Act, I shall have no hesitation in fulfilling the undertaking that I gave to write to the Lord Advocate and point out to him the purpose for which the Bill is intended.

In regard to new clause 3, I well understand why the hon. Gentleman was so concerned about the incident which he reported to the Committee, and to which the Committee listened with great interest, and I understand why he would want to raise the matter again. I confirm that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to draw to his attention the points that the hon. Gentleman made in Committee and to ask him to consider the matter.

I also remind the hon. Gentleman of the point that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State made in Committee: there is a distinction between the measures proposed in the Bill to render more secure a platform, ship, aircraft or installation against attack or infiltration and the procedures that should be in place so that an installation may be evacuated in case of emergency. Sound evacuation procedures must be available to deal with a bomb, fire or another emergency.

The matters raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South go beyond the scope of the Bill. They apply to the security of platforms against not only terrorist attack but natural threats such as fire and explosion. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has issued the directions necessary for the purpose. Having received the letter from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and read the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, he may wish to reflect further on them, but at present he believes that new clause 3 is unnecessary.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is responsible for the safety of fixed platforms. He takes the view that a special regime for them is no more necessary than for, say, a large chemical factory on the mainland.

In important respects, fixed platforms differ from ships and aircraft. They do not move, except between operations, and they do not carry passengers or, equally important, passengers' luggage. There is little or no international element involved in them. Although the objectives of new clause 3 are laudable, they are outwith the scope of the Bill.

Although fixed platforms may appear to be sitting targets, they are, fortunately, difficult to approach. or to board uninvited. With sophisticated equipment on board, platform managers know what is approaching and can communicate quickly with the mainland. The police can use their normal powers on platforms, and the ordinary criminal law applies.

I am not saying that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South does not have an important point. He was right to raise his concerns, and I do not blame him for using the opportunity in Committee and on Report to do so, but the proposal to tighten platform managers' response to an emergency is well beyond the scope of the Bill. I hope that the regulations made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will cover those procedures. The hon. Gentleman has given my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the opportunity fully to consider those matters, but at this stage he does not wish to establish the special regime proposed in new clause 3.

I must admit to being disappointed by the Minister's response. He rested his case for not accepting new clause 3 or the amendments on the fact that they are well beyond the scope of the Bill. That defence carries little weight, because, had they been outwith the scope of the Bill, they would not have been accepted for debate. They are well within its scope and well worth arguing for.

It is difficult for hon. Members to appreciate the feelings of workers in the North sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) and I have had varying contacts with the survivors of Piper Alpha and of incidents such as Ocean Odyssey. Hon. Members think that they have some understanding of the psychology of workers in the North sea, but none of us appreciates the lingering horror for people directly involved in Piper Alpha or for anyone who lived through those dreadful hours from the moment when it was thought to be a minor incident to the sudden realisation of its full horror.

To some extent—perhaps this is a difficult argument to put—the fear of those not directly involved in Piper Alpha is greater than those directly involved. People's minds work differently. Those who have been through a traumatic incident often come to terms with it—some of those involved in Piper Alpha have returned to work in the North sea— whereas others who perhaps only saw what happened are more fearful. That uncertainty is of immense concern.

We are all worried about the time it takes to decide whether to evacuate. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South spoke of an incident involving a hoax bomb. Hon. Members' blood must have chilled at the prospect of people hanging about not knowing what was happening, not knowing the location of the suspected bomb and not knowing what might happen if wrong or precipitate action were taken. The security of workers on a platform must be as important as any other consideration.

4.45 pm

A fatal accident inquiry is about to begin into the Ocean Odyssey incident. That inquiry should have begun earlier, but the problem is how all the different arms of Government should dovetail to work together on security.

The Minister takes too narrow a view of security. I understand that the aim of the Bill is security and that its main provisions aim to avoid risk to life and prevent attack from another source. He said that fixed platforms are different from aircraft and ships, because they do not carry passengers and they move only rarely. Nevertheless, baggage is taken on board, and security measures are necessary to check it. If necessary, we must advocate overkill.

The Minister argues that the Bill covers all eventualities, that we are being too cautious and that perhaps we are asking for measures that would be better covered by another Bill, but there are few opportunities to rectify anomalies or loopholes. Goodness knows when we shall consider another Bill on offshore installations.

I hope that the Minister will not close his mind to accepting new clause 3 or the amendments. I hope that he will carefully read Hansard and accept that we must cover every possible eventuality and ensure that decisions to evacuate are taken earlier rather than later. We all hope that there will not be another major incident, because it is no good saying afterwards, "If evacuation had taken place half an hour earlier, the incident would have been avoided."

We should act quickly and positively on security. That may sometimes mean platform owners bearing a cost that they would rather not bear, but the safety and security of the individual is far more important than temporary loss of production, although that may be expensive.

I hope that the Minister will accept the amendments, which are not harmful or redundant. They offer an extra safety net, and the Minister would do well to accept them; he can do no less if he is interested in the safety and security of workers in the North sea.

I should like to take the Minister's points in order. He rightly reminded me of my comments in Committee and of my gratitude to him for saying that he would emphasise the position to the Lord Advocate, but the hon. Gentleman ignored the thrust of my speech, which concerned not so much legal powers and provisions as the way in which they could be used to threaten the work force in a way that would not arise onshore. I do not resile one bit from my comments then. I should be delighted to note what response the hon. Gentleman gets from the Lord Advocate, but that still does not mean that the work force will not be intimidated by the threat of prosecution under these serious provisions.

On the Minister's points about new clause 3, of course the Department of Energy is mainly responsible for the security of offshore platforms. However, I recently received a letter from the Minister which seemed to deny that responsibility. The hon. Gentleman also ignores his Department's responsibility to offshore platforms. As I understand it, the Department of Transport is responsible for firefighting, life-saving and evacuation equipment, and for standby vessels, supply boats and so on. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) made clear, we get few opportunities to raise such issues in the House. Nothing in our discussions has suggested to me that the new clause and the amendments are inappropriate.

The Minister must bear the views of the work force in mind. Nearly 30,000 people work in the offshore industry. The hon. Gentleman said that it was difficult to board an offshore platform and to put on board the type of device that would create problems similar to those in Morecambe bay. He again ignored the practical experience in the North sea. Nearly two thirds of the men who work offshore are employed by contractors, and there is little check on their record. Any sensible terrorist would find that that work provided the easiest route onto the platform. He would not follow the official route or try to sneak up in the darkest hours but would get a job on a standby vessel or with a contracting company. As we noted from the Morecambe bay incident, it is not difficult to get devices on board. Someone learned his way around a platform and planted the hoax device.

I wanted to make two points. First, this matter comes within the Department's responsibility. Secondly, it is clear that there was a breakdown in communications between the management of the platform and the authorities responsible for dealing with the emergency created on the Morecambe bay platform. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that this is the responsibility of the Department of Energy; his Department has responsibilities.

In the light of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North about the attitude of the work force offshore after the Piper Alpha disaster, it is not good enough to say that management and the Department of Energy will sort these matters out. Some of us have little confidence in the way in which that Department performs its functions in the North sea. To say the least, there is great scope for improvement, and this is just one example.

We do not intend to push the new clause to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4

Expenses Incurred In Improving Security

—(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, the Secretary of State may reimburse to any person who—

  • (a) is the operator of one or more aircraft registered or operating in the United Kingdom, or
  • (b) is the manager of an aerodrome in the United Kingdom, or
  • (c) occupies any land forming part of an aerodrome in the United Kingdom, or
  • (d) is permitted to have access to a restricted zone of such an aerodrome for the purposes of the activities of a business carried on by him, or
  • (e) is the authority responsible for an air navigation installation, or
  • (f) is an air cargo agent
  • the whole or part of expenses incurred by such a person in improving standards of security in any matters within the control of that person.

    (2) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument—

  • (a) determine the form, manner and extent of reimbursement;
  • (b) make reimbursement subject to approval by the Secretary of State of the expenses proposed to be incurred;
  • (c) make different provision for different cases.'—[Mr. Snape.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    The Minister of State will be relieved to hear that we do not intend the new clause to result in the Secretary of State personally, his two deputies or his Department being responsible for reimbursing security costs. For technical reasons, we were unable to table the amendment that we should have preferred, which would have reinstated the aviation security fund. We did not have a debate on that matter in Committee, but we feel that this is the appropriate stage to have one.

    Sadly, all too often over the years, additional security has been introduced only after tragedy or disaster. As long ago as 1986, following the loss of the Air India 747 off the west coast of Ireland, the Select Committee on Transport looked into security at Britain's airports. It recommended the re-creation of the aviation security fund, which was established by the Labour Government in 1978 and disbanded by the present Administration in 1983.

    The Government rejected the re-establishment of such a fund on the grounds that it was bureaucratic, complicated and costly to administer, although they neglected to give any figures to back their assertion. They said that the fund's re-establishment would provide little incentive to efficiency. Following the second tragedy, at Lockerbie, the Government said that the industry would set up its own security fund. We should be interested to know from the Minister of State what progress has been made, if any, and whether such a fund is envisaged.

    Following the loss of the Air India 747, the Select Committee on Transport, under the chairmanship of Mr. Gordon Bagier, made a list of recommendations, one of which was the re-establishment of the aviation security fund. In paragraph 56 of the report, the Committee stated:
    "Although airports and airlines requested that the original Aviation Security Fund be wound up, it is this Committee's opinion that many are far from happy with the consequences. Some of the larger airports—and especially the BAA—may have benefited financially from running their own operation, but security as a whole has not."
    Those words were given additional emphasis after the loss of the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie at Christmas 1988. The Select Committee continued:
    "The abolition of the fund has encouraged the splintering of security operations away from each other, so that too frequently the priority of security operators is to circumscribe as tightly as possible the limits of their own responsibility, rather than look to the needs of the whole system".
    That criticism was echoed by the Transport Select Committee in its latest report on these matters. We are aware that, all too often, the present system appears to be based more upon the persuasive powers of those arguing to extract money from the Treasury than on the security needs of Britain's airports.

    The Select Committee report continued:
    "the Committee again draws attention to the European Parliament 'Report drawn up on behalf of the Committee on Transport on security at airports' which states 'the main question an institution with legislative powers such as the European Community should ask itself is whether these powers can be used to increase clarity, effectiveness and co-ordination between international and national rules governing security duties at Community airports'. For the reasons explained above, the Committee would encourage the Minister and the Department to pursue assiduously any such initiatives."
    We should be interested to hear from the Minister of State how assiduously the Department has been pursuing these initiatives, especially in the light of paragraph 57 of the Select Committee report, which states:
    "The public is concerned that airport security should be adequate and recent research has suggested that it would be willing to pay for it."
    All research, but especially that since Lockerbie, has revealed a similar conclusion—that the public would be prepared to have a fee added to their tickets, to be spent on security. They and Opposition Members believe that, in that way, adequate funds could be made available for the provision of such a necessary facility at Britain's airports. Notwithstanding that report, the Government have not re-established the aviation security fund.

    5 pm

    Following Lockerbie, the Select Committee on Transport, this time under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Mar