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Commons Chamber

Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 15 May 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Penzance South Pier Extension Bill

Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.

Read the Third time, and passed.

British Railways (No 2) Bill

Order for consideration read.

To he considered on Thursday 17 May.

Oral Answers To Questions


Low Flying


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to reduce the incidence of low-flying military aircraft over populated areas.


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has to review the flying of aircraft below 250 ft in the Scottish tactical training area.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement
(Mr. Michael Neubert)

The operation of the United Kingdom military low-flying system is kept under continuous review as efforts are made to minimise the impact of low-flying training on those on the ground. This monitoring applies equally to the operation of the tactical training areas which provide essential work-up training for exercises in North America.

Given the broad welcome yesterday for the report by the Select Committee on Defence and especially for the proposal that flights under 250 ft should be phased out over two years, will the Minister tell us when the Government will give a measured response to the recommendations in that report and when they will ensure that hon. Members of all parties who are interested in the subject are given a full opportunity to debate the issues?

We also welcome the fact that the Select Committee has concluded its comprehensive study of this important subject. The report deserves careful and considerable study, which it will receive. In accordance with parliamentary convention, we shall present our formal response in due course. Until then, I cannot respond to any particular recommendation in the report.

In considering the Select Committee's report, will the Minister pay particular attention to the evidence given by his own officials that it was possible to bring down flight training from 250 ft to 100 ft within two weeks? If the international climate persists, two weeks seems sufficient time in which to make the adjustment. Will the hon. Gentleman also pay particular attention to the fact that this country is paying a far smaller amount for research into simulators, especially on Tornado-type aeroplanes, than the Federal Republic of Germany? It would be appropriate to build up such research while phasing out very low flying.

It is important to remember that very low flying, which occurs in the three tactical training areas, accounts for only 1 per cent. of low-flying training as a whole in the United Kingdom. It would also be as well not to underrate the need for that low-flying training because training in this country is carried out at far greater heights and slower speeds than would be necessary in conditions of war, when aircraft would need to fly lower and faster. I take into account all that the hon. Gentleman has said, but, as I mentioned earlier in response to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), we shall first have to prepare a formal response to the Select Committee.

Will my hon. Friend take particular note of some of the useful and practical recommendations in the Select Committee report, such as better records of low flying in each area and the publicising of a telephone number and address to which members of the public could complain, as well as the other recommendations?

Yes, my hon. Friend is right to recognise the constructive nature of the report and the fact that almost every aspect of low-flying training is covered in it. We shall certainly take account of what is suggested and we shall endeavour to be as positive as possible in reply.

Lincolnshire has the highest concentration of RAF stations in the country and, I believe, one of the highest concentrations of low-flying planes come over my house all the time. Lincolnshire also has a long tradition of great pride in the valour and skill of the RAF. Lincolnshire is totally committed to maintaining the RAF's tactical viability through proper—

If the young men in the RAF are prepared to risk their lives in our common defence, the least that we can do is to put up with a little noise occasionally. While naturally investigating any abuses, will my hon. Friend the Minister give very short shrift to the whingers?

Lincolnshire has many claims to fame, as I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would be the first to acknowledge, and I am glad to hear that it is such a strong source of support for the Royal Air Force and the need to carry out necessary training. As the Select Committee acknowledged, low flying needs intensive training and regular practice. That is the sole purpose of low-flying training in this country.

Does the Minister accept that other countries seem to manage without the amount of low-flying training that we carry out here? Would not it be a sign of the Minister's good faith about the need for change, which my constituents in Porthcawl would welcome, that should there be a reduction not only in low flying by military aircraft but in the number of training aircraft taking off from RAF St. Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan? Will the Minister make that commitment now?

There are no commitments to be made this afternoon, as I made clear earlier. We are members of NATO and we make a major contribution to the defence of this country and that of western Europe. The hon. Gentleman would do well not to belittle the efforts of our highly professional pilots in that defensive system.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members who call for the abandonment of any stand-off capability for our low-flying aircraft expect RAF pilots to deliver old iron bombs with none of the security which comes from flying below radar? That is a recipe for disaster.

My hon. Friend, with his long experience of the Royal Air Force and of defence matters generally, exposes the poverty of the Labour party's defence stance, which will no doubt bring dividends when it is put to the test at another general election in which the issue of defence will be foremost in people's minds when they make their decisions.

Will the Minister inform his hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) that Lincolnshire is not a designated low-flying area and that if any low flying is taking place in his constituency, the pilots are breaking the regulations? The Opposition welcome the Select Committee's recommendations, especially those that we have been urging on the Government for some time, but will the Minister assure the House that he will look urgently at the recommendations relating to ultra-low flying, especially that which affects the three areas in the United Kingdom subjected to flights at 100 ft?

I fear that the Opposition spokesman shares the confusion demonstrated by half the nation's sub-editors in this morning's papers. We must be careful to distinguish between the three tactical training areas where low flying is allowed as low as 100 ft and general low-flying training, which accounts for 99 per cent. of low flying. The latter is spread fairly over the whole country and counties including Lincolnshire will see their share of low flying. The only quibble that I have with my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) is that he need not necessarily believe that he is getting an unfair share of that low flying.

Chieftain Tanks


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to make a decision concerning a replacement for the order of Chieftain tanks.

It remains our intention to reach a decision by the end of this year.

My hon. Friend will be aware from his recent visit to Leeds of the skills, commitment and investment by Vickers and its work force in its objective to produce the best tank in the world for the British Army. Can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that he has had an opportunity to examine the report on the second milestone and that that excellent company has passed that important test?

Yes. I am pleased to announce that Vickers Defence Systems has successfully passed the second milestone report. I am confident that if that progress is maintained, it will pass the third at the end of September. That process should allow completely fair competition, from which we shall select the tank best suited to the Army's requirements.

In selecting the tank best suited to meet the Army's requirements, does the Minister accept that it is necessary to take account of the threat and the need to meet that threat? Does he agree that it is necessary to resist any attempt to exact a crude percentage decrease in the defence budget and that we should ensure that the defence budget is adequate to meet the United Kingdom's continuing requirements?

I very much welcome what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. That thinking is in the forefront of my right hon. Friend's mind when examining the various options for change in our defence procurement and spending.

In the future battlefield of central Europe—[Interruption.]—force levels may be less. Therefore, when reviewing what tank to select to replace the Chieftain, will my hon. Friend examine with the closest care the possibility of ordering dedicated anti-tank helicopters at an early date?

I do not go along with my hon. Friend's view that the next battlefield will necessarily be found in central Europe. However, Her Majesty's forces must be prepared to counter Her Majesty's enemies in any theatre. To give them the efficiency and capability that they need, it is necessary to address the correct mix between helicopters and armour.

What is the Government's present defence procurement policy? Does the Minister accept that the jobs of those who work in the defence industries, such as those at Barnbow, are proving to be the most precarious in the present climate of disarmament? If that company were not to get the contract, what practical alternatives would the Government suggest to ensure that there is job security for those people in Leeds?

To my knowledge, there have been no redundancies so far in either establishment. However, the issue of redundancies and work allocation is entirely a matter for the commercial judgment of the companies concerned.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he has said about the stage that the replacement tank has reached at Barnbow. Does he agree that we are now in a state of such uncertainty in Europe that we must carefully consider replacing our weapons with the most modern systems that we can find to deal with any eventuality? Does he further agree that the comments of some Labour Members about the future of the Leeds tank factory—that it might be turned over to making dishwashers and washing machines in the future—is typical of the defence policies pursued by the Labour party?

Yes. None the less, the Labour party's concept of an arms conversion agency with a central corporate directive ideology remains an interesting concept echoed only in the Soviet Union, which is hardly an example of high economic efficiency.



To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the nature and purpose of the recent visit of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement to Rosyth dockyard and naval base.

I paid a routine briefing visit to Rosyth royal dockyard on 25 April as the Minister responsible for the dockyards.

Will the Minister enlighten us about what reassurances he gave to the workers in the dockyard and with Babcock Thorn Ltd. with specific regard to radiation exposure? Will he assure the House that the levels of radiation exposure to which those workers have been subjected in the past will be reduced and that more stringent measures will be adopted in the industry—at Rosyth, Devonport and elsewhere—to ensure that such exposure is reduced and that the workers' health is safeguarded in future?

We naturally take our workers' health and safety extremely seriously. That applies also to the work force in the royal dockyards who are the initial responsibility of the dockyards' contractors. Ministry of Defence policy is that exposure of our employees to radiation should occur only where it is justified, that it should come within the statutory limit of 50 mSv per year and our own much lower self-imposed limit of 30 mSv per year, and that the level should be as low as is reasonably practicable. As a result, the trend for exposure levels has been downwards. If it is any reassurance, 98 per cent. of all dockyard workers have an average exposure of less than 15 mSv and, on average, for all dockyard workers, the exposure is only 2 mSv.

Nato Nuclear Planning Group


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what decisions were made at the recent NATO nuclear planning group meeting in Alberta, Canada.

The meeting discussed a wide range of nuclear issues. In particular, nuclear planning group Ministers were able formally to welcome President Bush's recently announced decisions to terminate the follow-on to Lance development and nuclear artillery shell modernisation programmes. A copy of the final communiqués from the NPG has been placed in the Library.

Is not it a fact that tension throughout the world has eased a great deal and at the highest level of the super-powers there is new thinking about nuclear armaments? Will the Minister assure us that we are not the odd man—perhaps I should say the odd woman—out in recognising that fact, but are ready to meet all the other nations who are ready to bring down their nuclear armaments, or are we going to stand out as though the Russians are expected to attack next Thursday afternoon at 3 o'clock?

Of course, things have changed in the past 12 months. It is a recognition of the fact that the Warsaw pact's capability is much reduced, and the threat from the east European countries is probably no longer there, that it does not seem to be as necessary now as it was to make sure that short-range nuclear systems are modernised. However, I believe that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will continue to recognise the need for a flexible nuclear response and to accept the fact that the Soviet Union is still a military super-power with a large nuclear capability and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his answer. Does he agree that the Soviet Union not only has more nuclear weapons than the whole of NATO put together but, more importantly, that nuclear weapons are spreading to an increasing number of Third world countries? Does he agree that it is inconceivable that western Europe should shed the only nuclear defences which currently belong in European hands by Britain and France relinquishing their small strategic nuclear deterrents?

That is quite right. As my hon. Friend has said, our deterrent is a minimum deterrent, so it is not a matter of embarking on a massive arms race. We have the minimum deterrent necessary to give us a nuclear capability. It is a tragedy that the nuclear non-prolification treaty has not been so successful as it might have been and there are other countries developing nuclear capability in addition to the original five powers, including China, which have nuclear weapons.

In relation to President Bush's welcome statement, will the Minister state whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister was consulted, or merely informed, before the statement was made?

Yes, there was consultation, and we were kept in touch about the intentions of the United States before the announcement was made.

Does the Minister agree that although there is a lessening of aggression and tension coming from eastern countries, including the Soviet Union, there seems to be an increase in aggression and tension coming from the middle east, particularly Iraq and Libya? Will he therefore assure me and the people of this country that we shall keep up our vigilance and continue to develop our conventional forces and modernise our nuclear deterrent—unlike the Labour party which, at the last Labour party conference, agreed to a reduction in defence spending of £5 billion or, to put it another way, the complete removal of the Royal Air Force? May I ask the Labour party whether £5 billion is the price of protecting our loved ones?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is essential that we keep a defence capability, because we live in an extremely uncertain world. Many of the recent developments that have led to the easing of tension actually create new dangers, so it is important that we should have a nuclear capability as part of our defence capability, and it is essential to keep it up to date.

Ministry Stores (Security)


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to increase security at Ministry of Defence stores in the United Kingdom.

Security at all defence establishments is kept under regular review. We look carefully at any general lessons which can be drawn from incidents such as yesterday's at Eltham.

Will the Minister confirm that £3·5 billion worth of military equipment is still stored in depots which do not meet Ministry of Defence fire regulations? Given the previous fires at Donnington which destroyed hundreds of millions of pounds worth of equipment, is not that criminal complacency?

We have a continuing programme to improve the ability of our stores to withstand fires. It costs considerable sums and cannot be done overnight.

Although I appreciate that the IRA will always use its cowardly methods regardless of the amount of security that we maintain at our bases, and that it will just aim for ever softer targets, will my hon. Friend assure me that as far as possible we shall draw service personnel and activities within secure premises and that when we come to think of selling off MOD establishments which are surplus to requirements we shall bear in mind above all the requirements of security?

Yes, we always bear the need for security in mind when we relocate military establishments. If we ended up with a number of enormous military bases incorporating all our different military establishments, the IRA could claim a victory.

Does the Minister agree that there is little point in strengthening the outer defences if potential terrorists can gain access to the very heart of defence installations? Is there not an overwhelming case for a truly effective method of screening all who have access to those establishments?

I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there are about 2,000 military establishments in the United Kingdom, and it is extremely difficult to provide a high degree of security at all of them. He would not expect me to go into details of the security measures that we have taken, but it is significant that lives were saved and injuries avoided at Eltham by the precautions that had been taken. The laminated windows that had been put in stopped glass splintering across the room.

Has my hon. Friend any plans to replace with something rather more effective the current wire mesh fencing that is so commonly used around military establishments and which is so obviously not intruder-proof?

When my hon. Friend asks for something more effective he is talking about an incredible increase in expenditure on security fencing, if we are to use all the different available sensors and so on that are needed to make them effective. It worries me that people think that security can be enhanced merely by installing perimeter fences, which may create the illusion of security even though it is easy for people to break through them.

Arms Reduction


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what United Kingdom forces have been offered for inclusion in the proposed START agreement; and if he will make a statement on the defence implications.

The START negotiations are bilateral between the United States and the Soviet Union—British nuclear forces would therefore not be included in any agreement.

Why have none of Britain's nuclear forces been included in the START agreement? Is it because the Government are made up of closet warmongers who do not believe in the principle or practice of arms control? Do the Government remember their commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to negotiate away our nuclear weapons in good faith? Why, when the time is right, are the Government not prepared to make any reductions?

The hon. Lady is a bit wrong about this. The START treaty was between the United States and the Soviet Union. We were never part of it and it was not intended that we should be. I remind the hon. Lady that the Government's policy is to have the minimum independent nuclear deterrent that we need. We differ from the Opposition, who would like that deterrent negotiated away as soon as possible. I am sure that the hon. Lady supports that stance. There is a major difference in our attitudes. We want Britain to have a minimum nuclear deterrent and I hope that that will remain the position for a long time.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be foolish to include any British nuclear weapons in the START treaty until the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal is reduced to the extent that it no longer poses a threat to this country?

I totally accept what my hon. Friend says. It is difficult to envisage a time when the Soviet nuclear capability would be reduced to that degree. That certainly has to be one criterion. We must also remember earlier contributions to the effect that the non-proliferation treaty has not worked as well as it might and that other countries are now achieving a nuclear capability. We should not be concerned solely about the nuclear capability of the Soviet Union.

Why cannot Trident be included in the START agreement? Is not Trident an eight times increase in capability over Polaris at a time when world tension is reducing? Would not cancellation of the fourth Trident save Britain about £1 billion per annum? Why will not the Government cancel that?

As I have already explained, Trident is merely an uprating of our nuclear capability, and that is the minimum deterrent that we think we need. It is important for us to maintain Trident because if we did not we would cease to be a nuclear-capable nation. It is not the intention of the Government that we should be in that position, although I know that, in the unlikely event of a Labour Government, the Opposition would negotiate away as early as possible our independent nuclear deterrent.

Following the START treaty, may we look forward to a reduction in nuclear weapons throughout the world? Do the principles of those reductions—that they should be balanced, mutual and verifiable—hold good today and will the Government have nothing to do with the unilateralism about which we still hear from the Opposition?

Yes, indeed, and the basic preliminary agreements of the START treaty are ceilings of 6,000 warheads on 1,600 strategic offensive delivery systems. That would certainly lead to significant reductions. My hon. Friend talks about a reduction in nuclear weapons throughout the world. But other nations are trying to develop nuclear capability and there is a difficulty about making the non-proliferation treaty stronger and have verification in such countries.

Defence Companies


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the five largest British defence companies providing defence equipment to the United Kingdom armed forces.

The Ministry of Defence does not maintain separate information on the size of companies, but the five largest British companies by turnover and providing equipment to the United Kingdom armed forces in 1989–90 were BP, Shell, ICI, BAT Industries and British Telecom.

The Minister told the House on 9 January that issues of defence diversity were purely matters for the commercial judgment of the companies concerned. Does not he realise that the Government, private firms and public enterprise must all play a part in the profound changes that are affecting our defence industries? The Government cannot wash their hands and leave the matter purely to commercial considerations.

The hon. Gentleman distinguished himself as being the only hon. Member who tried to get a whinge-up going on the occasion of the European fighter aircraft statement by my right hon. Friend last week. Therefore, I do not feel particularly disposed to join him in a philosophical discourse.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the question just put to him was absolute nonsense? Would not it be much better to talk about which companies are most important to our defence capability and, in that context, would he include Westland?

Plainly, as our principal helicopter manufacturer, Westland will have an important role in the provison of helicopters for the armed forces in the next decade.

Will the Minister advise the five companies to which he referred to avoid getting into bed with SGL Defence Ltd., whose paid hack in the House of Commons is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence?

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot say that. We dealt with the matter yesterday. The hon. Gentleman must not cast aspersions of that kind across the Chamber. Will he please withdraw that charge?

I am not aware of what I can withdraw. The Register of Members' Interests shows that the hon. Gentleman is a paid hack of SGL Defence Ltd.

Order. The phrase to which I object is "paid hack". That is not a parliamentary expression. [Interruption.] Order. This takes up a lot of time. Will the hon. Gentleman please withdraw the phrase "paid hack"? It is unparliamentary.

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must not bandy words of that kind. I want him to withdraw that charge. If it was levelled against an Opposition Member, he would feel strongly about it. Withdraw it, please.

Order. I am dealing with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

I am not dealing with another point while I am on my feet. I am asking the hon. Member for Workington to withdraw that phrase.

I am a little concerned that my credibility among my hon. Friends might drop if I withdraw it.

The hon. Gentleman should be far more concerned that his credibility in this place may be compromised. Withdraw the charge, please.

One thing that I have never done is to tell anyone whom he should go to bed with.



To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many infantry battalions, both Regular and Territorial Army, are in existence at present; and if he will estimate the number of infantry battalions in 1995.

At present, there are 55 Regular and 41 Territorial Army infantry battalions in the British Army. The total number of battalions in 1995 will depend on the circumstances at the time. However, we recognise that the changing circumstances in Europe will have implications for the deployment and structure of our forces and we are therefore examining options for change.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the next five years will show, the defence of the realm in the near future is more likely to depend on soldiers on the ground than on the intercontinental ballistic missile? Will he undertake to preserve the county infantry regiment with its territorial battalion as the logical military bobby on the beat which we are likely to need in the face of increased urban terrorism?

I accept my hon. Friend's view that we shall continue to need the capability to meet the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, and that that capability will continue. However, we are now moving into a period when arms control agreements are likely to be signed and I cannot anticipate what the effects of those will be on the size and shape of the British Army.

If a major in an infantry battalion were to get into any kind of dismissal or resignation difficulty, would his case be confined, like paragraph 19A of the report on Colin Wallace's case in relation to his statement, to a very few senior officials? Would that be the position?

I cannot comment on what parallels can be drawn between the question and Colin Wallace.

When my hon. Friend is considering the future and number of infantry battalions, will he consider all the ways in which he can enhance the strength and quality of the volunteer reserves and Territorial Army? Will he continue to emphasise the importance of links between infantry battalions and their local area, county, and so on?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are well aware of the importance of links between infantry battalions and various parts of the country. If there are changes, there is no doubt in my mind that the role of the Territorial Army and the volunteer reserves will become more important—in terms of reinforcement plans in Germany, for example.

Lance Missile


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether Her Majesty's Government will abandon their support for a replacement to the Lance short-range nuclear missile.

The Government were consulted on the decision not to proceed with the development of a follow-on to Lance, and we fully support it.

How do the Government justify their isolation in that respect? Will they stop blocking proposed cuts in short-range nuclear weapons at the next meeting of NATO?

We are not blocking any SNF negotiations, because the alliance's position on that has not yet been agreed. But there is no question of our blocking it. As to going along with the decision not to have a follow-on to Lance, we must accept that over the past year the position in eastern Europe has radically changed and that the need for short-range nuclear systems is not what it was.

In these important considerations, will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that the alliance needs to maintain the capability rather than a particular category of weapons systems?

That is absolutely right. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that we need to maintain the flexibility of nuclear response. Therefore, I sincerely hope that a tactical air-to-surface missile will be introduced as part of that—[Interruption.]

In view of the Minister's commitment to a mix of short-range nuclear weapons, will he say where they will be deployed and against whom, given the shortness of their range in Europe?

It is obvious that the hon. Gentleman is addressing his question to the wrong person. Why does the Soviet Union have both a shorter-range and ballistic missile capability? As long as it has that capability, and the ability to administer nuclear weapons at different ranges, we must be able to respond and thus maintain the nuclear stalemate in Europe.

Does my hon. Friend agree that what distinguishes the Conservative party from all other parties is that we are not prepared to drop our guard in defence matters? It is very important to be able to counter-punch when necessary. Mr. Gorbachev may not always be there, and we must keep up our defences.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are entering a period of great uncertainty, and it would be foolish during that time to drop our guard.

Merchant Ships


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to use only British merchant ships for Ministry of Defence charter; and if he will make a statement.

It is the Government's policy to charter vessels on the basis of availability, suitability and cost—and, subject to those conditions, to give preference to British ship operators.

Is the Minister aware that British-owned and registered merchant shipping has slumped from 1,143 vessels to 336, and that that is the lowest figure this century? Is the hon. Gentleman prepared, as a Defence Minister, to sustain the British merchant fleet by accepting the recommendation that it should be the only fleet to which the Ministry of Defence gives charter work?

There has been a decline in the size of the British merchant fleet, but that decline has been slowing down and profitability has picked up in the past few years. Most forecasters see some scope for expansion in merchant shipping worldwide. In the meantime, the Ministry of Defence—we are obviously responsible for that aspect—is chartering vessels from the merchant fleet. In 1988–89 out of 60 that were chartered, 45 were British—75 per cent.—and in the 15 months from 1 January last year until the end of March this year, of the 40 vessels chartered 32 were British. Of the eight that were not British, five of the ships were not available on the British register.

If the decline were to continue and to gather speed, there would be grounds for concern. At present, we have no reason to believe that, with the different arrangements that we have made, the armed forces would not have their shipping needs met in time of war.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 May.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a memorial service for the late Lord Rothschild.

Order. This is to the detriment of hon. Members whom I shall not be able to call.

Order. Hon. Members know that this takes a lot of time from others who wish to be called.

Why is it therefore that the Department of Employment has not yet issued application forms to voluntary organisations for European social fund money that was available from January? Why is it that 11,000 training places and £25 million are put at stake in that way? Why is it that organisations such as the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the organisation for the disabled in Glasgow, Goodwill, have their existence endangered by the Government's failure to use European social fund money? Why is it—[Interruption].

Why is it that every training scheme in this country is endangered by the incompetence and inefficiency of the Department of Employment?

It would seem from what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question that there is still time for forms to be issued and for applications to be made for those forms. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the people who attempted to defeat training schemes in this country were the trade unions which fought the youth training scheme and the employment training schemes.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 May.

Will my right hon. Friend today compare the actions of Hillingdon council and Merton council? Is she aware that in Hillingdon, which has just become Conservative controlled, the community charge is being reduced by £70 this year, whereas Merton, which has just become Labour-controlled, has promised to double the charge next year? Does my right hon. Friend agree that in Labour-controlled councils in London the average community charge is £445, whereas for Conservative-controlled councils the figure is £294? Therefore, living in a Labour-controlled council area means an extra bill of about £3 a week.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Hillingdon has increased the amount spent on education, the elderly and the handicapped. That proves that Conservative councils cost less and give much better service than do Labour councils.

Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that last week's higher inflation figures were largely the result of higher interest and mortgage rates, higher rents and the poll tax? Will she confirm that that is the direct result of her policies? Does she therefore accept that she is not just the Prime Minister of inflation but the prime causer of inflation?

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that local councils set the community charge. If local councils had not overspent to the tune of £3 billion, the retail prices index would be 1 per cent. lower. The biggest overspenders were Labour, so the right hon. Gentleman bears some of the blame.

Is not that typical? The major components of the rise in inflation have been identified as the consequence of Government policies, yet the right hon. Lady is trying to blame everyone else. It is a wonder that she did not get the right hon. Members for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and everybody else into that excuse. If the Prime Minister is trying, as she says, to squeeze out inflation, why does she spend so much time cramming inflation in, with higher interest rates, higher mortgage rates, higher rents and the poll tax?

And why was it Labour's policy to persuade Labour councils to set the community charge as high as they could get away with? Yes, the retail prices index would be very much lower but for the community charge. It would also have been lower if the community charge had had the rebates taken off it and if housing rent rebates had also been deducted from it, as they were in Labour's time.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the leaders of Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats in the Republic of Ireland on their robust condemnation of their country's extradition laws? When she next meets the Irish Prime Minister, will she convey to him the utter disgust of most citizens of this country—Great Britain and Northern Ireland—at the fact that those who are wanted to answer charges for terrorist offences continue to be set free in the Irish Republic because the judges say that their offences are political?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Extradition is a very important part of upholding the rule of law and ensuring that people are brought before the courts so that they can properly hear the case and pronounce them innocent or guilty.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 May.

Why have the Government done nothing about paedophiles who are posing as social workers and seeking to molest children throughout the country—for example, by issuing passes to genuine social workers and health visitors? Recently I visited the vice squad at New Scotland Yard. The unit that deals with child pornography and other illegal pornography is so overworked that it is unable to follow up leads that would take it to people who are sexually abusing children. Will the Prime Minister take action to strengthen that unit?

I do not accept what the hon. Lady says. She knows full well that every hon. Member is doing his or her level best to stop child abuse and to prevent people from molesting children or women. The police are deeply concerned. Many social services departments are also doing their level best to deal with the problem. I suggest that the Opposition are playing at cheap party politics.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 May.

Without pre-empting the conclusions of the welcome review of the community charge that is being carried out, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government are not contemplating the introduction of either a roof tax or a local income tax into any part of the United Kingdom? Can she further assure the House that—as reported in the newspapers—such matters will be considered by Ministers for longer that the two minutes that it apparently took for the roof tax to be endorsed by Labour Members?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government believe that we should not introduce either a roof tax or a local income tax. It would be the worst of all worlds to have a tax on capital values augmented by a tax on income. It would be a high tax for all citizens. We are considering modifications to the present community charge, and we shall be in a position to announce them in a few weeks. They would not include the problem of the structure of local authorities, which is for longer-term consideration.

Does the Prime Minister agree with her Chancellor's forecast of two months ago that interest rates will be "materially lower" by the end of the year, or with the statement of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury two days ago that in the present dire economic circumstances any such forecast would be foolish? Which statement is right, and which is wrong?

I do not think that the statements are as opposite as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, whose message, which was never understood or acted upon by Opposition Members on either the Front or the Back Benches, was that we must always keep public spending firmly under control. That is the essence of sound policy.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 May.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of a document, publicised today, that rules out statutory incomes policy and abandons the goal of full employment? Given the publicly stated support for low interest rates and high public spending by leading members of the Labour party, is my right hon. Friend surprised to learn that that document was prepared for the home policy committee of the Labour party?

Order. I do not think that the Prime Minister can have any responsibility for Labour party policy.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 May.

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

May we take it from the answers given to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the one person who is not to blame for the high interest and inflation rates is the same person who has headed this wretched Administration for the past 11 years? Are we to take it that when those policies were decided upon she was simply absent, as she was when the leak occurred over Westland?

The hon. Gentleman can take it from my replies that I am glad that it was not I who was responsible for the 26·9 per cent. inflation rate under Labour: it was Harold Wilson and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 May.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) referred to the problem of people posing as social workers. It is becoming an increasing crime problem, with bogus gas and electricity men preying on pensioners and others. The problem is that identification can be bogus, too. Is not it time for another look at the possibility of a national identity card scheme?

My hon. Friend has presented his own solution, but I think that he will agree that it is up to everyone to do all that they can to support the police in their inquiries, and to be on their guard to watch for people who may come round. They must check with their local social services departments at once if they have any suspicion. That is the only way to protect the children and the family.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 May.

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

Now that there is only one member of her original Cabinet left—the rather forlorn and semi-detached deputy Prime Minister—why does not the Prime Minister consider sacking him as well, and then she could shout "Bingo!" And if she were to take the message of the current public opinion polls and go, we could shout "Bingo!"

We do not take quite such a light-hearted view of politics. We believe in having the best Cabinet, and that is what I have.

Nuclear Dumping (Dounreay)

3.30 pm

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

"the decision today by the Secretary of State for Scotland to allow test boring for nuclear dumping at Dounreay."
This disgraceful decision—[Interruption.]

Order. Will hon. Members who are not staying for this Standing Order No. 20 application please leave quietly?

This disgraceful decision is made all the more offensive by the fact that, yet again, important announcements concerning Scotland have not been made to the House of Commons, and yet again the Secretary of State is hiding from Opposition Members. We need a debate to force the Government to defend their decision before Scotland's elected representatives. The real importance of the matter lies in the fact that, once again, the Secretary of State for Scotland has shown his contempt for the clearly expressed wishes of the Scottish people.

In granting planning permission to Nirex, the Government are overriding not only the decision of the elected representatives of Highland region but also the overwhelming vote against Nirex by the people of Caithness in the referendum last November. At that time, despite the attempt to buy votes with the deep pockets of Nirex and the claims that Caithness would be a soft touch for dumping, the people said no to Nirex by a majority of 3:1.

At that time, even Nirex claimed that the views of the people would be taken into account along with other factors when the Secretary of State reached his decision. In fact, today, neither in the brief statement from the Scottish Office nor in the letter to the Nirex lawyers, is there any mention of the views of the people of Caithness. They have been dismissed as irrelevant to the consideration of the planning commission. Given that the only reason Nirex is investigating Caithness is that it claimed public support for its plans, this is a display of breath-taking hypocrisy.

The Secretary of State may claim the fiction that test drilling for nuclear dumping is a separate matter from dumping itself, but nobody in Scotland is likely to be fooled. The Government and Nirex are lining Scotland up to be Europe's No. 1 dumping ground for nuclear waste. As "Spitting Image" once noted, the Tory party seems to envisage an energy exchange between Scotland and England: we give England our oil and gas and England gives us its nuclear waste.

It has not escaped our attention that the Secretary of State for Energy was unwilling to allow the dumping of low-level waste in his constituency. But the Secretary of State for Scotland seems prepared to allow major waste dumping in Scotland.

The Secretary of State may wish to run away from the wrath of Scottish Members, but his party will not be able to avoid the political consequences of his decision today. The campaigns that will be launched against the proposals in Scotland, by the SNP and by Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping, will equal in strength—[Interruption]

Order. May I take it that the hon. Member has finished? I was about to say that, in view of the fact that I had to interrupt him, I will let him have another half minute.

We need a debate so that the arguments deployed by local councils and local people cannot be ignored by the Secretary of State for Scotland. We know the real dangers and problems associated with the deep-level storage of nuclear waste, the inevitable risk in the transportation of that material through Scotland and the potential damage to the core industries of the north of Scotland—fishing, farming and tourism—if the public perception of our clean environment is tarnished.

We need the Secretary of State for Scotland to explain his decisions to the Scottish people, and we should like him to do that from the Treasury Bench.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the granting of permission for test bore hole drilling at Dounreay."
I have listened with care to what the hon. Member has said, but, as he knows, I have to decide only whether to give it precedence over the business set down for today or for tomorrow. I regret that the matter he has raised does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order, and I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.

Points Of Order

3.35 pm

Order. This is very out of character for the hon. Gentleman, who is a long-standing Member of the House. Dr. David Clark.

The House knows, Mr. Speaker, that you have repeatedly deprecated the fact that certain Ministers have made major announcements on matters of policy outside the confines of the House, thus allowing hon. Members no opportunity to cross-examine them. Have you noticed that there is a question on the Order Paper from the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) which was not there yesterday—in other words, it is a planted question—and that this morning the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and No. 10 Downing street have been briefing the press about that question, which asks whether the Minister

"has any plans to add to his previous statement on bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the light of recent events."
In view of the considerable concern outside the House, which has been exacerbated by the announcement in the last half hour that Tory-controlled Westminster city council has banned the use of British beef in school meals, I wonder whether you have received any application from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement in the House, and if not, whether you would use your good offices to prevail upon the Minister to come to the House at 7 o'clock to tell us his latest plans to tackle the problem.

I see that there is a question on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), but that is not a statement made outside the House; it is part of our parliamentary proceedings. I have not received any requests for a statement, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a prime opportunity to put questions to the Minister on Thursday in Agriculture questions.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to columns 692 and 693 of yesterday's Official Report? Can you confirm that the contents in these columns were relevant to the comments by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), and can you tell the House whether an apology has been received for the discourteous and appalling comments about the Chair last night?

I of course study Hansard every morning when I have not been in the Chair, and I have not received any such request.

I will take Mr. Dick Douglas [Interruption.] Order. I call the hon. Gentleman to speak from where he was when I called him. It is a convention of the House.

No more bandying words with me, please. When the hon. Gentleman goes back to his seat, I will call him.

With great deference to you, Mr. Speaker, occupation of the Front Bench is a convention. I notice that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who is about to replace me as a member of the Select Committee on Defence, is still sitting on the Front Bench.

My point of order is about the Select Committee on Defence. You will have noticed, Mr. Speaker, that, after many years as a member of the Select Committee on Defence, I am to be replaced by a member of the official Opposition. I make no quarrel—

I am not going to be deflected from the point I wish to make. I recognise the rules, the obligations and the establishment in the House, but the establishment on both sides protects itself.

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, for whom I had great respect in the past, has an interest in defence-related organisations. I have taken the view—the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure has written to me that it is a personal view, so I accept the onus of the fact that it is a personal view—that anyone appearing before a Select Committee of the House should have the understanding in his or her mind that the evidence that he or she gives should be used for the purpose of that Select Committee and for no other purpose.

That may be a personal view, but I innocently—perhaps naively—thought that the House would uphold that principle. I understand that the House, the Select Committee on Procedure and the Select Committee on Members' Interests do not necessarily take that view. The Chairman of the Select Committee—

I am coming to the point of order. It is that no Chairman of a Select Committee of the House should hold interests which place that principle in jeopardy. I take the view that the interest of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence in defence-related companies places that principle in jeopardy. If that is not an issue for the House, I do not know what is.

It is not a matter for me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Well, the hon. Gentleman knows the route he should follow. He should make his strongly held views known to the Chairman of the Select Committee concerned. As to the first point that the hon. Member raised, I know that for many years he has been a valuable member of the Select Committee on Defence. It is not a matter for me that he has been taken off, although I may have my own regret about it.

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on column 692, Mr. Speaker. I was here during the debate. I have told the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) that I intended to raise the matter this afternoon. If standards are to mean anything in the House, when your deputy is in the Chair, he must be afforded courtesy and protection. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East has every opportunity to apologise now. If he refuses, will you please order him to do so, Mr. Speaker?

If representations had been brought to me by the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, who is a stalwart character and, I think, well able to look after his own interests, I would certainly have done that. But no such representation has been made to me.

Further to the point of order. First, may I say that I am grateful to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) for raising the point of order; he spoke to me earlier on the Terrace of the House. One of my great weaknesses in life is attractive company. I was so distracted by the absolutely beautiful and attractive company that he was keeping on the Terrace that I missed completely what he was saying to me. I am very grateful to him now that he has raised it as a point of order. That is more than I can say for the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who did not have sufficient decency or courtesy—or the good fortune to be sharing that attractive company. He did not, therefore, bother to tell me. I have know the hon. Gentleman since his pre-House of Commons days, so nothing about him surprises me.

If I felt for one minute that I was wrong in what I said last night—[HON. MEMBERS: "You were] I have no cause to apologise. I have a great advantage over you, Mr. Speaker, today of all days. I was here last night when the exchanges took place and you were not. I am perfectly satisfied that my attitude last night reflected my anger and the fact that I felt I had been wrongly treated, that the House had been wrongly treated and that the debate had been mishandled by the Chair.

I will not comment on that. I have had a report from the Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means on the matter. As to the hon. Gentleman's—[Interruption.] Will he listen to me, please? On his first point, I hope that he will spend more time in the Chamber, where he will find plenty of attractive company.

Further to the point of order of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), Mr. Speaker. On 3 May, the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, wrote a courteous letter to me asking for an apology in relation to a question of mine—he said "allegation", but I think that it was in question form—and he sent you a copy of the letter.

Before we take any further action—and we feel that proceedings should be kept on the Floor of the House—some of us would like to know a great deal more about the issue. Is it not highly desirable that there should be time for a debate and for some kind of explanation? Will you use your influence with the Leader of the House to try to get the matter cleared up one way or another? It is not a matter for slogans or points of order; it is a deep issue of principle and should be resolved in a civilised way.

I do not in any way disagree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. As he well knows, the Select Committee on Members' Interests is looking at this matter—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At 7pm yesterday, I sought on a point of order of which I gave notice to raise the case of 33 young Chinese, including a girl who is eight months pregnant, who have sought political asylum in Britain and who are now threatened by the Home Office with deportation to Panama where, undoubtedly they would be returned to mainland China with all the risks that that would involve. I am surprised that the Home Office and the Home Secretary did not seek to make a statement about the matter today. It is unprecedented for the Home Office to seek to deport without allowing an application for a judicial review of the refusal to be heard in the courts.

Nevertheless, I ask you now, Mr. Speaker, for advice. Would it be possible for us to raise the matter with the Home Office Minister who will speak on immigration changes tonight—at a late hour, I fear—in such a way that time is not deducted from the hour and a half which has been allocated for the debate on changes to rules and procedures? If that was possible, it would be welcome to all hon. Members who are concerned about the important implications of this extraordinary behaviour and decision by the Home Office.

Order. Allow me to deal with the matter so that we can move on to the next business.

I can tell the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) that it would not be within the scope of the debate on immigration rules to raise that matter. The debate deals with the imposition of visa requirements on citizens of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, except for those who are qualified as residents of the United Kingdom.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). While he and you, Mr. Speaker, were absolutely right in that the wider issue of Members' interests in general is a legitimate subject for debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Thank you]—I have never denied it—the subject of the allegation made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow was specific and wild. Had there been the remotest scintilla of truth in it, it would have been shameful if I had been behaving in the way that the hon. Gentleman alleges. He asked for an answer. He has had an unequivocal answer from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence stating that the hon. Gentleman's allegations are totally without foundation. It was on that narrow point that I consulted you, Mr. Speaker, and I have written to the hon. Member for Linlithgow asking him to withdraw his wild allegation, which received much currency, and also to apologise for the implications behind his allegation.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is part of the trouble. It was not an unequivocal answer. It was the kind of answer that was about as unequivocal—if I can put it this way—as the answers that I have received on Colin Wallace. It was that kind of Ministry of Defence answer from the Secretary of State which, it' one looked at it very carefully, was very ambiguous. That is part of the trouble and why we need a debate.

That is just the point. I think that we should best leave the matter to the Select Committee.

Order. We should best leave the matter to the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which is looking into that very matter. I call Mr. Winnick.

I wonder whether I can remind you, Mr. Speaker, that last June unanimous concern was expressed in the House—there was no dissent—about the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in China. We paid tribute to the people who were fighting in a terrorist dictatorship for the principles in which we believe. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the point of order?"] My point of order is simply this: following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), there is undoubtedly much concern that the people to whom my hon. Friend referred may well be genuine political refugees. There is a question whether they would be subject, if they were here, to judicial review. That has been denied them at the moment, and there is a great possibility that they simply will not be in the United Kingdom when the time comes. Is there not an inconsistency in that, last June, we paid tribute to the courage of those people in China while a year later in Britain we are denying some of those people the right to political asylum?

That may well be. However, the hon. Gentleman will have to take up that matter with the Minister concerned. As I understand it, those people arrived here on Canadian visas.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), surely the situation cannot be allowed to stand. Yesterday evening, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East said, among other things:

"You seem to make up the rules as you go along, Mr. Deputy Speaker".—[Official Report, 14 May 1990; Vol. 172, c. 692.]
The hon. Gentleman has refused to apologise for that attack on the Chair, which was made without a thread of justification. One fully accepts that he may have been in an excitable frame of mind last night, but he looked perfectly normal this afternoon. Surely the hon. Gentleman must apologise for a completely unjustified attack on the Chair.


I say again that I discussed the matter with the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means this morning. He did not feel that there had been any slur or attack on him. [Interruption.] That is what he told me. His view was that he had dealt with the matter in an adequate and proper fashion, and I am sure that he did.

I just want to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am grateful that you have put it on the record that the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, unlike irresponsible Conservative Members, did not think that there was anything untoward about the exchange last night. I am grateful also to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who described me as being excited last night, but perfectly ordinary this afternoon. That is more than I can say for him. He was incompetent last night and even more incompetent this afternoon.

No. I remind the House that we have a very long day ahead of us, including the debate on the immigration rules. I propose to hear the ten-minute Bill—the Control of Toxic Waste Residues Bill. I call Mr. Frank Cook.

Control Of Toxic Waste Residues

3.54 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect the environment by controlling the manufacture and by regulating the disposal of toxic chemical waste residues; and for connected purposes.
I am as aware as most hon. Members that the times when ten-minute Bills have made it to the statute book are about as rare as rocking horse droppings.

My proposals can be described as two-pronged. First, I am seeking to achieve the agreement of the Secretary of State for the Environment that he should set a timetable within which chemical manufacturers should design new chemical plants with toxic neutralising units of an appropriate character and capacity at the end of each production chain. Secondly, I am asking the Secretary of State to require chemical manufacturers to fit such units on existing plants, where practical.

That twofold approach would deal with the existing problem of the stockpiles of toxic residues and go some way towards resolving the problem of the production of further toxic waste later. The irony of the dilemma with which society is faced is that, if we had neutralising units within the processed chain, which would render the residue non-toxic before it became a residue, no-one would be worried about it, whether the neutralising unit was some form of incineration unit or simply a chemical process. The problem arises when we allow a residue to become toxic and then refer to it as a toxic residue. When attention is drawn to that, people's anxieties are raised. That is why it is necessary to design new plants in such a way as I have described. That is possible, and should be encouraged. The Treasury should give some incentive for units to be retrofitted to existing plants if they are young enough.

The Bill also seeks to contain toxic wastes within the region in which they are generated. That means that each region that derives an economic benefit from the creation of the chemicals that are produced in making the waste would be saddled with the responsibility of disposing of the waste thus created. It also means that we could dispense with the necessity of transporting toxic waste from one region to another.

A further advantage of adopting that course of action would be that toxic wastes—the residues that give rise to the anxiety—would be dealt with by communities that know the character and behaviour of the chemical compounds that are causing worry. Those communities know best how to draw up a disposal specification and how to ensure that that specification is adhered to stringently and responsibly.

It may not be necessary to deal with such toxic waste residues by incineration, but because many of the toxic residues come into existence through some form of heat application in a technical chemical process, many can also be disposed of by the application of heat. Incineration is a proven, safe and effective system for some chemicals, when carried out at appropriate temperatures under adequate pressure, in suitable plants, by qualified staff, using correct procedures, under proper supervision, applying constant monitoring in complete accordance with the predetermined approved specification to which I have referred.

I realise that this is an altruistic proposal and that it is pie in the sky, but I offer the Bill to the House as a means of discussing an issue that is causing great disquiet throughout the country and beyond our national borders. I offer it as a means of aiming at something better than what we already have, which is precious little.

For a start, we do not even know the size and character of the problem. I give credit to the Government, because I know they are conducting a survey. However, I do not think that it will go far enough. The audit should be more far-reaching and more specific about the nature of the chemicals and how they are dismantled. The adoption of my proposals would go some way towards meeting the requirements of society today, and I commend them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Cook, Ms. Marjorie Mowlam, Mr. Ted Leadbitter, Ms. Joyce Quin, Mr. John Cummings, Ms. Hilary Armstrong, Mr. Don Dixon, Ms. Joan Ruddock, Mr. Tony Lloyd, Ms. Joan Walley, Mr. David Winnick and Mr. Gerald Bermingham.

Control Of Toxic Waste Residues

Mr. Frank Cook accordingly presented a Bill to protect the environment by controlling the manufacture and by regulating the disposal of toxic chemical waste residues; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 6 July and to be printed. [Bill 140.]

Orders Of The Day

Finance Bill

(Clauses 3, 9, 10, 20, 23, 25 and 68)

Considered In Committee

[MR. HAROLD WALKER in the Chair]


That the order in which proceedings in Committee of the whole House on the Finance Bill are to be taken shall be Clause 68, Clause 9, Clause 10, Clause 3, Clause 20, Clause 23 and Clause 25—[Mr. Lilley.]

Clause 68

Contributions To Training And Enterprise Councils

4.2 pm

; I beg to move amendment No. 34, in Clause 68, page 55, line 34, after 'council', insert

'or a local enterprise company'.

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments; No. 35, in Clause 68, line 49, after 'council', insert 'or company'.

No. 36, in Clause 68, page 56, line 17, at end insert

  • (b) "local enterprise company" means a company with which an agreement (not being one which has terminated) under which it is agreed that the company shall carry out the functions of a local enterprise company has been made by the Scottish Development Agency, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, Scottish Enterprise or Highlands and Islands Enterprise.'.
  • In line with the statement on Budget day, we announced last week that the new tax relief proposed in the clause for business contributions to training and enterprise councils in England and Wales will also be available for contributions to local enterprise companies in Scotland. The amendments simply achieve that result. They provide that the relief for contributions to LECs will be on the same basis and for the same period as that for TECs. I hope that they will be welcomed by all hon. Members. As TECs and LECs will have many similar functions, it is clearly right that the same tax relief should be available to both.

    I apologise for the intrusion into the Minister's brief opening remarks, but will he reassure me that tax relief granted in respect of investments in training and welfare will extend beyond what is considered to be the normal business sector, for example into professions and other such spheres, so that the broadest possible tax relief is given to training and investment in those sectors?

    I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is no discrimination between different sectors of industry. As long as the contribution meets the conditions of the clause, whether it is in England, Wales or Scotland, it will attract relief.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 21, in page 55, line 45, leave out 'if' and insert 'to the extent that'.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 19, in line 47, leave out 'of any kind whatsoever' and insert

    'in money or money's worth.'.

    No. 20, in line 49, at end insert

    'provided that neither this subsection nor subsection (4)(b) below shall apply where the benefit in question comprises the training of employees of the person making the contribution and that training is wholly or mainly for the purpose of enabling those employees to better perform the duties of their employment.'.

    As a first priority in the debates on the Finance Bill, we sought to examine the clause that confers tax relief on contributions to training and enterprise councils. The Opposition deliberately intended to make that the first issue we raised because we share the almost universal view that good training and retraining, for employed and unemployed alike is not only beneficial and desirable for the individual, but vital for a strong economy.

    We seek by means of the amendment to probe the Government's intentions in the clause and perhaps even to improve the Bill. We do not oppose the clause itself but we believe that the more one studies it the more it throws into sharp relief the defects and inadequacies of the Government's training programme—if one can dignify it with such a name.

    The background to the clause and to our amendment is also one of almost universal agreement about the terrifying inadequacies of the scale of training in this country and of the Government's approach to that training, not to mention the inadequacies—in the view of the Opposition —of such solutions as the Government propose.

    It is rather difficult to tell to what degree the Government share our concern about the state of training, that state being identified by the fact that between 65 and 69 per cent. of 16 to 19-year olds are in training in this country, whereas in Germany more than 90 per cent. are, in Belgium more than 80 per cent. are, and in the United States and Japan similar figures obtain. The same imbalance applies to specific industries which need crafts-people to bring them up to strength.

    We thought that the Government shared this view—all the more so because on 6 December the former Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), said that Britain's training position was "mind-boggling" and because in Employment News a few months ago the word was that
    "we have a mountain to climb."
    The former Secretary of State set targets for training: that by the end of 1992 no young person should be employed without training; that two thirds of them should get to National Council for Vocational Qualifications level and a quarter to level 3; and that by 1995 all of them should be at least at level 2, and half at level 3. He went on to say:
    "Unless we set outselves these kinds of stretching targets we shall not meet the need for upgrading and multi-skilling in a decade of continuing and rapid change."
    The new Secretary of State, however, said in March:
    "My predecessor offered a framework of objectives for training … Progress … depends … on action by organisations outside Government; they cannot be specific Government targets."—[Official Report, 8 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 804.]
    Moreover, the consistent theme of the new Secretary of State has been not the great need for improved training but how well we are doing. That is a substantial shift of emphasis. As I said a few moments ago, that shift of emphasis is not universally shared. The CBI said a few months ago:
    "Britain's skill levels are lower than those in most of its competitor countries and the gap is widening."
    The head of the Training Agency, Roger Dawe, said:
    "At every level we are towards the bottom of the training league table, whether it is in education, youth training, higher level skills training or in management."
    A most interesting recent edition of "The Money Programme" had a number of comments to make on our training policies. On the programme, the chair of the Blackburn TEC said:
    "The situation is desperate. We are falling further down the ladder."
    Apart from the move away from targets, the new Secretary of State's second, equally alarming, shift of emphasis was to be found in the words that I have already quoted:
    "Progress on meeting the objectives"—
    for the development of training—
    "depends primarily on action by organisations outside Government; they cannot be specific Government targets."—[Official Report, 8 March 1990, Vol. 168, c. 804.]
    It seems to us that the Government are in terrible danger of repeating a mistake that they have made in other areas. The one that always springs to mind is community care. It is the mistake of picking up a perfectly reasonable policy which is in itself a good idea—in this case the idea of encouraging employers to make greater efforts to provide training—and using it as an excuse to shuffle off that part of the responsibility for the policy that properly belongs to Government and use that transfer as an excuse for cuts. Therein lies the danger, and it is one that the Government are running in community care, of discrediting the whole of a policy that might otherwise be acceptable.

    On the first occasion on which I met a senior business man who was involved in the early stages of setting up TECs, he talked about his enthusiasm for the idea. He spoke about the challenge of the needs of training and of the way in which he and his colleagues hoped to be able to begin to tackle it. However, he went on almost immediately to say anxiously that, although he thought it was a good idea and that he was looking forward to being involved, he hoped that the Government did not intend to transfer the entire responsibility for training to the shoulders of private industry.

    That concern is widely shared and was well expressed in the edition of "The Money Programme" to which I referred. One of the people interviewed said:
    "Somebody has to do it. I do not think we are necessarily the best but there is no one else."
    That was a sad commentary on that person's view of the Government initiative. However, there is still a good deal of enthusiasm in some quarters for the TEC initiative, just as there might still be some enthusiasm for the intention behind the clause if the Government had not pulled the rug from under TECs by taking away with one hand what they seemed initially to be giving with the other. I refer, of course, to the cuts made by the Government in the support from public funds that were previously allotted to training. In a sense that was the unkindest cut of all and it was made without consultation with those on whom the burden of greater responsibility would inevitably devolve.

    There is almost no doubt that, for most of those involved in TECs, the cut in funding was a devastating blow. They were also shattered when it took place without consultation and dismayed at the timing. Even as they warmed to their task, they were already expressing concern about the restrictions placed on the flexibility that they hoped to use to develop training and to meet the training needs in their areas. They expressed the view that reductions in scope followed directly from their duty to run the existing Government programmes of employment and youth training while their initial funding seemed to be too restrictive. It did not offer the flexibility to go further and bring in new initiatives in which they were particularly interested.

    The decision substantially to cut funding has undoubtedly created immense disillusionment. In its economic report in April, the Employment Institute said that the cuts in funding are visible every year, beginning in 1988–89 with a real terms cut of 9 per cent. It was 11 per cent. in the estimate for 1989–90 and there is to be a continuing series of percentage cuts in the years ahead. The institute draws attention to the fact that, between March 1989 and March 1990, £500 million was cut from the funding of TECs.

    Apart from that overall and substantial cut, individual industries are seeing the impact on the way in which they operate. I quote again from "The Money Programme" in which reference was made to the abolition of the electrical contracting industry board, its replacement by a voluntary body, and then Government money being cut in terms of the amount per head. An industrialist appearing on the programme said:
    "It baffles me sometimes, the inconsistency of policies. Government can have a policy of encouraging and then the next minute, a bolt from the blue, cuts in funding."
    Mr. Alan Bartlett of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce said:
    "I understand what the Government are trying to do but the general feeling is that it was not appropriate for it to turn its funding taps off long before most employers had been persuaded to turn their investment taps fully on."
    An editorial in the Financial Times said:
    "The Government are right to argue that industry should spend more on training, but it is sending the wrong signals by sharply cutting its own spending just as TECs are trying to mobilise support."
    The Government's usual excuse is that those cuts in training are justified because unemployment has been falling. Leaving aside, if one can, the fact that that fall is likely shortly to be reversed, not only have the Government cut those substantial sums, but they have cut funding per head. Even though the numbers are smaller, funding is less per head in every sector of training that the Government are in any way supporting—in employment training for the long-term unemployed, in youth training and even in training for the employed or for people such as the disabled.

    4.15 pm

    Nor will the clause, even amended, do much to redress the balance. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimated from its survey the impact of what is taking place. Again, it identifies the fact that in its view—after all, it is a training provider—employer contributions would have to treble to make good the fall in Government funding for employment training alone.

    It would be interesting to know—I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to tell us—just what impact the Government expect the clause to have. I am sure that most hon. Members will be aware that, in the Red Book, the entry for this clause is marked with an asterisk, showing that it is of insignificant proportions, which I think usually means that it is expected to be less than £3 million. That is against cuts of at least £500 million which I have already identified.

    Let me give a final quote from "The Money Programme":
    "If the cuts prevent us from doing something worthwhile, most of us will think it is time to go. We will give up trying to persuade the others."
    That is a good employer who is concerned about training and who is prepared to give up time which, as we all know, is money, to try to promote training; to do the very thing that the Government want and which the Government are claiming to encourage. Such employers are now saying that they are prepared to give that time to try to encourage others to train, but they are not prepared to do so if the Government pull the rug from under them. Even as it stands, the clause is somewhat restrictive, whether intentionally or otherwise.

    The Financial Secretary will recognise, as I expect will hon. Members, that tax deductions are already available for training. The scope will be a little greater because of the impact of the clause, but there will not be a vast change. Under section 84 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988, a deduction is available to be used for the purposes of technical education at universities and similar institutions. In sections 588 and 589, there is already a deduction for the cost of retraining employees, although with limits, and elsewhere, in section 74 under the general rules for training deductions and section 75 under expenses management, there is provision for some tax deduction.

    We presume that most TEC contributions by an employer would be allocated to the local initiative fund, where the greatest flexibility exists in the operation of the TEC and where the activities are most likely to be tailored to the needs of local industry. Again, it is likely that existing law would have given a deduction for some part of the contribution and, although the relief is a little greater, it is not as generous a relief as some hon. Members might have assumed when the Chancellor announced it.

    We are particularly concerned about clause 68(3), which says that the provisions identified in subsection (1) do not apply in relation to a contribution if he—the person making a contribution or an associate—
    "receives or is entitled to receive a benefit of any kind whatsoever for or in connection with the making of that contribution".
    We interpret that as meaning that even the smallest benefit of any kind, from anyone, will result in the whole contribution being disqualified for the purpose of tax relief. We share the Government's wish to make effective anti-avoidance law, but that provision appears to go too wide. I shall explain why that is so.

    As clause 68 is worded, if a TEC agreed to train local youngsters in word processing, say, and offered free places on such a course to the employees of a particular company that had made an annual contribution of £100,000 to that TEC, because the company was receiving a benefit from those free places, it could, as a result of its past support, lose £35,000 of tax relief on its current year's contribution.

    If clause 68 really means what it says, if a TEC offers contributors free access to its video production facilities, those companies might lose their right to tax relief—even though they might seldom, if ever, use the facilities.

    Amendment No. 21 seeks to deal with some of those issues. Clause 68(4) says that, where relief has been given and a benefit has subsequently been received, the value of that benefit shall be chargeable for tax purposes. That implies that the Government intended in subsection (3) that only the amount of the contribution equal to the value of the benefit should be denied relief. Amendment No. 21 seeks to deny relief not if a benefit has been received but only "to the extent that" a benefit has been received. We hope and believe that that was the Government's intention.

    Amendment No. 20 raises the question of whether the provision of training for a contributor's employees should be regarded as a benefit. It seems to us that it should not be so regarded, and should not result in the employer losing tax relief. If the contributing company had incurred training costs, they would have been tax deductible. If the excess of the contribution over the training costs had been paid to the TEC as a no-strings contribution, it seems that, under clause 68, tax relief would have been given. We see no reason for a different rule applying if the whole sum is given to the TEC and then it provides employee training.

    Amendment No. 19 concerns a narrower issue. We understand that the Inland Revenue may be concerned in cases where a company enjoys a tax deduction by contributing a certain sum of money and is then refunded it in a tax-free form. If that is the intention of subsection (3), it can be narrowed by applying it only if the contributor receives the benefit in cash or in money's worth from the TEC, leaving intangible benefits such as the use of facilities, advertising support, and so on, untouched.

    I refer finally to a possible drafting error, on which we have not tabled an amendment. I do not expect the Minister necessarily to answer the point today, but perhaps he will consider writing to me. We are concerned about interaction between subsections (1) and (2). Subsection (1) specifies that
    "the contributions may be deducted as an expense in computing the profits or gains of the trade"
    and subsection (2) refers to any such contribution
    "made by an investment company"
    being deductible as a management expense. Again, it appears that expenditure will not be allowable as a tax deduction under subsection (1) because it is not made by a trader for the purposes of his trade. It appears to deny the relief that subsection (2) seeks to give. If contributions are allowable under subsection (1), why is subsection (2) needed in addition?

    It may be that the intention is to interpret subsection (2) as it is meant to be interpreted—but we are concerned whether the clause as drafted gives effect to the Government's intentions. Perhaps the Financial Secretary will give us an assurance that if, on re-examination, the clause is found to be defective in that respect, it will be remedied by the Government later in the Bill.

    The Opposition do not oppose the clause, but the issues that it highlights expose the Government's short-term and short-sighted approach and the weakness of their case as regards the provision of training.

    The Government seem to recognise no interest wider than that of the individual, which is perhaps a practical expression of the Prime Minister's view that there is no such thing as society. The Government seem to be seeing no interest wider than that of the individual employer or the group of employers and others from the locality who share representation on the training and enterprise councils. That may be the Government's view, but employers do not believe that—they have more sense. It is not the employers but the Government who are charged with the duty of defending the public interest in training, and employers recognise that.

    Opposition Members commend the amendments to the Committee because they represent a small improvement to a flawed policy, but they do not affect the fact that the Government's overall policy and intention is being defeated by their actions and mistakes, and that the Bill makes only a minor contribution to our substantial training needs.

    I shall take up some of the words which have flowed from the lips of the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) when she quoted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as having said that there is no such thing as society. I am not sure of the context in which the hon. Lady suggests that my right hon. Friend made those remarks.

    Yes, but I am not sure of the context in which, according to the hon. Lady, she made that assertion.

    I shall begin my remarks by quoting with approval, what a former Conservative Prime Minister said at a St. George's day dinner. Stanley Baldwin started his speech by saying:
    "The responsibility for progress rests not only with the Government but upon evey man and woman in the country."
    That theme seems to underline the approach of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to training responsibilities.

    The clause grants tax relief for the current year which did not exist for the past year in respect of contributions made to training. The hon. Member for Derby, South made it clear that the Labour party would not oppose clause 68. She said perfectly properly that her amendments are probing amendments. The hon. Lady, the Labour party and I think even the two representatives of the once-mighty Liberal Party will not oppose clause 68. Therefore, the issue before the Committee this afternoon is whether the clause is an improvement upon the law which existed hitherto or whether the Government should go further, as the hon. Lady believes. She believes that the Government—which means her fellow countrymen and mine—ought to make further direct contributions towards training. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench believe that there should be a partnership between the Government and industry for responsibility for training.

    I welcome clause 68 because it will give additional tax relief and additional encouragement to those who have a responsibility for training—the employers. The responsibility for training rests upon employers and management. That responsibility cannot be foisted on the Government. As clause 68 provides further encouragement and additional fiscal incentives to managers and employers to carry out their responsibilities, it is a significant improvement upon the law up to 5 April 1990.

    The hon. Member for Derby, South made a compelling speech, but her philosophical proposition seemed to be that the responsibility for training rests exclusively with the Government.