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Commons Chamber

Volume 202: debated on Thursday 23 January 1992

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House Of Commons

Thursday 23 January 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business



Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Thursday 30 January.


Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered on Tuesday 28 January at Seven o'clock.

Oral Answers To Questions

Home Department



To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his estimate of the number of crimes committed in 1991.

A total of 5.1 million notifiable offences were recorded by the police in the 12 months to the end of September 1991, the latest period for which firm figures are available.

Does not that answer confirm that the increase in crime in the past 12 years has been greater both in proportion and in number than the increase in crime over the previous 12 centuries? Will not the millions of victims of crime feel that the 1979 Conservative law and order policies are humbug? Do not the upholders of law have daily experience of the fact that the greedy society so desired by Conservative Members must inevitably be a bad one?

The Home Office research and statistics department is excellent and produces very good figures, but unfortunately we do not have on record the figures for 12 centuries ago. However, I advise the hon. Gentleman that crime has increased throughout the western world during the past half century. The hon. Gentleman should first reflect on the fact that, in his own area of South Yorkshire, the figures to which I have referred show that the incidence of sexual and violent crimes has been going down, not up. He should further refer to and reflect upon the continuous Labour search for excuses for crime rather than for the introduction of any sensible policies to deal with crime. In the end, it is down to a person's individual choice whether to be bad and to commit crime. That cannot be blamed on social factors.

Would my right hon. Friend care to estimate what percentage of those interesting crime figures are the result of members of the Labour party asking people to break the law?

I referred earlier to the excellence of the Home Office research and statistics department when I explained that we do not keep crime figures for the past 12 centuries. My hon. Friend has raised an interesting thought; perhaps I should ask the Department to look into it.

Why has crime in this country risen by an average of 6 per cent. per year since the war, but by 18 per cent.—three times the usual average—in the past two years?

Being assaulted by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on such issues is rather like being attacked by a bread and butter pudding. It looks very substantial on the surface, but when one looks below the surface, one finds nothing of any substance. The right hon. Gentleman's question contains its own answer. If the right hon. Gentleman would only himself address the causes of crime, he would realise that they would certainly not be solved by the suggestion made at the Labour party press conference this morning—that we should empty our prisons to pay for more police. That is what was said by the Labour party which in 1979 left the police forces of this country 8,000 under strength.

Order. I will not take a point of order. However, as we shall have to live with each other for the next few months in an electioneering atmosphere, I refer hon. Members to "Erskine May" on moderation in language.

Public Order Act 1986


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to meet the chief constable of Essex to discuss proper implementation of section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986 in the Thurrock parliamentary constituency.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Peter Lloyd)

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend has no such plans. The implementation of section 39 is an operational matter for the chief constable.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the ever-increasing frustration and anger among hundreds of my constituents in Grays, Tilbury and South Ockendon, who almost on a weekly basis have to put up with large invasions of mobile itinerants on land near where they live? At the very best, the itinerants create a great deal of filth and rubbish, which the landowner or the council has to clear up. At the worst, they have an unfortunate impact on the local crime figures. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a disgrace that chief constables across the country have declared a policy of not invoking section 39 if a civil remedy is available to the landowner? Does he agree that the law should be changed so that the police have a duty rather than just a power to act under section 39?

I am aware that a great many people suffer a great many problems because travellers, illegal trespassers and wandering folk settle on land. Section 39, however, is specifically designed to deal with aggravated trespass. It is not designed to undermine the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which requires local authorities to provide official gipsy sites for those who normally resort to the area. If a local authority does what it is supposed to do under those Acts, it has access to the criminal law to deal speedily and effectively with those who settle unlawfully on land.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but does he understand that there is a particular problem with certain councils, such as Avon county council? In the 23 years that that council has been in existence, it has not complied with the 1968 Act. As a consequence, section 39 is useless because the council will not move people off its land. Therefore, it is essential that people who live around the land, and are thus directly affected, should be protected under section 39 so that they can use the law to move people on.

My hon. Friend makes the point: it is his local authority's duty to comply with the 1968 Act and not for the chief constable to bend section 39 of the 1986 Act.

Sunday Trading


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a further statement on the operation of the Sunday trading laws.

It remains uncertain whether the Sunday trading provisions of the Shops Act 1950 continue to form part of our law. But as my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General explained in answer to a private notice question from my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on 27 November 1991, those provisions are not therefore suspended. Parliament has placed the primary responsibility for their enforcement on local authorities and it is for them to decide their own course of action.

For our part, we intend to bring forward proposals for reform of the Sunday trading law once the legal position is clear.

Does the Minister recall telling the House that the four criteria for the reform of Sunday trading were that it should be practicable, enforceable, and acceptable to the country and that it should command the support of the House? Yesterday the ten-minute Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) was overwhelmingly given its First Reading with a majority of 200, with all-party support. Does not the Minister think that it is time to ensure that that Bill is put on the statute book to safeguard what Churchill once described as the greatest of British institutions?

I understand the anxiety of the House about the state of Sunday trading. I read the ten-minute Bill yesterday. I apologise for not being on the Front Bench for the debate. The result was interesting and certainly one which I shall study carefully. However, it would be foolish to introduce legislation before we know the outcome of the European Court of Justice declaration.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Government's position puts all the responsibility as to whether to prosecute on local authorities? Many authorities find that enormously expensive. Are the Government prepared to put up money to assist local authorities if they decide to prosecute in the interests of what they believe ought to be the law, and in fact is the law?

It has never been the case that central Government would indemnify local authorities for expenditure when they are already given money through the revenue support grant to enable them to undertake their responsibilities, and that is not a way forward. Nevertheless, local authorities may enforce the law as it stands.

Is not the Minister passing the buck? There is widespread concern and strong opinion throughout the country that the Government are handling this issue most inappropriately. When will the Government take decisive action and end the hell of a mess in that section of industry?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration, but it is not so easy as Opposition Members keep asserting. If legislation were introduced at this point it is possible that it would fall foul of the decision by the European Court of Justice and thus be impracticable and a waste of public funds.

While accepting that the tremendous European complication about this cannot just be wished away, will my right hon. Friend take note of yesterday's vote and appreciate that a significant number of Conservative Members voted for that Bill. A factor for some of us in so doing was the fact that we have been saddened and sickened at the supermarkets' attitudes in exploiting the European difficulty. When studying possible reforms and changes in the law, will she consider that the decision to open on Sunday is taken not by local supermarket managers but nationally by their boards, and that if there is any change in the law they should be the ones to be prosecuted?

The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), was on the Front Bench yesterday and has reported to me the content of the ten-minute Bill and the vote. I fully understand the considerable cross-party support for what was said in the ten-minute Bill, but it is important that we wait a few months to see where the European Court comes down. It will not take long and the Government will then be able to take all those factors into account. One would hope that major retailers will be clear in their minds about their activities and the consequences that may accrue.

How many of the major companies that broke the law at Christmas and were not prosecuted are contributors to Conservative party funds?

The last time I debated Sunday trading with the hon. Gentleman, he made the perfectly ludicrous suggestion that his party would have a conference on the matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] It does not seem to me that there is any need for me to answer his silly question on the subject.

Murder (Provocation)


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the law relating to provocation as it affects cases of murder.


I am aware of concerns that have been expressed about this aspect of the law. The defences to murder have been reviewed on several occasions, most recently in 1989 by the House of Lords Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment. There has been no recommendation to change the rule that provocation applies only where the defendant acts with a sudden and temporary loss of self-control. Any change must not make it easier for a defendant to escape conviction for murder in cases where there is a planned or revenge killing.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his interest in the subject. Is he aware that among women serving life sentences in Bullwood Hall women's prison for murdering their husbands there are several whose lack of command of English meant that they were not aware that there was anywhere that they could run to, that some women who had tried to run away from extreme brutality were dragged back by their families, and that some were terrified of leaving their children with a brutal partner, and that therefore they had to wait until they could do something about it and were driven to commit murder? Technically, they did not qualify for the defence of provocation, but their cases are heart-rending and should evoke a change in attitude towards the type of defence that women in those circumstances can claim.

My hon. Friend has been to see me about this matter with a group of colleagues. I am sure that she will appreciate that I cannot comment on individual cases, particularly those among the ones that she has mentioned that might come before me.

I understand the concern that has been expressed in the House and in the country about this. However, I cannot condone, as a response to violence, the killing of the person who does that violence. There is concern about the law in this area and I believe that the arguments on it are finely balanced. Before we rush into changes to the homicide law, we must ensure that such changes do not do more harm than good. I assure the House that I shall keep this matter under the most careful review.

I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary received a deputation and undertook to consider taking on my Bill. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman could not go any further at that time, but is he aware that his argument that a change in the defence of provocation might allow for revenge killings is wrong and invalid because juries would not accept it in the case of revenge killings? Will he bear it in mind that the law as it stands does great injustice and that many women are suffering life sentences that they should not be suffering? Will the Home Secretary think again, please?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he presented his case to me, although I hope that he did not take away from our meeting any belief that I was totally persuaded by the argument that he put forward. The House of Lords Select Committee looked into this matter just two years ago. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Committee recommended that the defences of provocation and diminished responsibility and the offence of infanticide should be retained.

This is an important matter, particularly as it affects violence, and violence more perpetrated on the woman than on the man. One must not open up the possibility for either partner in a marriage or a relationship to murder their partner, not as a result of a sudden, temporary loss of control, but as a result of a careful, well thought out and premeditated plan. That is why the balance of the argument in this matter is so fine.



To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next expects to meet his European Community counterparts to discuss further progress in the Europol proposals.

Outline proposals for the establishment of Europol were approved at the meeting of the European Council in Maastricht in December 1991. Those proposals are now being developed and the United Kingdom has been in the forefront of police co-operation in Europe to combat the growing evil of international crime. Officials from all member states will be meeting regularly to develop the proposals and I shall be meeting my counterparts in June to review progress.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging response and for the work that he and his colleagues are doing on this. Does my right hon. Friend accept that to some extent there is a link between ever closer co-operation among police forces and Community arrangements with Interpol? The public should be spared some of the more bureaucratic checks and delays at ports and airports that will occur, for example, at Dover and elsewhere, when there are too many uniformed officials stopping people unnecessarily. There is a certain linkage, although there are many difficulties. As we are only a year away from the start of the single market, will my right hon. Friend reassure the public that unnecessary bureaucratic delays will not occur at our ports and airports, to the annoyance of the public?

That goes rather wide of the question. I should make it absolutely clear that from 1 January 1993 we shall continue to maintain our frontier controls, particularly on matters of international crime, drugs and immigration. One does not want to occasion unnecessary delay in exercising those controls, but they must be sufficiently firm and rigorous to ensure that criminals who try to get into the country are detected and that illegal immigrants are similarly detected and prevented from entering the country.

Is the Home Secretary aware that there is considerable concern that the sort of co-operation that exists regarding the police is not subject to proper democratic scrutiny? Will he ensure that all discussions that take place are opened up for us to criticise and assist?

As far as the police are concerned, I and my fellow Ministers are answerable to the House. There is a good co-operation between the British police and police forces on the continent because more and more crime—particularly drugs crime—crosses frontiers. A vast amount of drugs are coming into Europe from north Africa, from central Asia through the Balkans, and from South America. It is important that we work closely with our European partners on this. For example, we have 30 drugs liaison officers—British police and Customs officers—in more than 19 countries. The key factor is the exchange of information to deal with international crime.

Traffic Wardens


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what encouragement he is giving police forces to recruit and use traffic wardens for traffic control duties, particularly to meet seasonal needs.

The recruitment of traffic wardens is the responsibility of individual police authorities and their deployment is an operational matter for individual chief officers.

I thank my hon. Friend for that information. Can he give some information about the way in which the Government can encourage the greater recruitment of traffic wardens up to full complement in police forces and encourage the better use of those wardens so that they make the best possible contribution to the maintenance of traffic flow and the release of police officers for the control of crime?

The Home Office funds 51 per cent. of traffic warden service costs through the police grant. As my hon. Friend no doubt knows, under the Road Traffic Act 1991, local authorities will be able to seek power to recruit and deploy their own parking attendants in designated areas, and any fines levied go to local authorities to help defray the costs of that service.

Bail Offenders


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he intends to take to deal with repeated offenders who commit crimes while still on bail; and if he will make a statement.

We are examining carefully the evidence from a number of recent studies by the police and others of the extent of offending on bail, and considering, in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and others, what further action might reduce offending by people released on bail. We will announce our conclusions in February.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that more could be done in the first instance to prevent offences? Is he aware of the excellent work being done by Crime Concern? Will he produce his White Paper on the subject soon? Is he aware that one Bolton youth was arrested 30 times last year for car crimes?

The answer to the first of those three points is that the Home Secretary will shortly be publishing his promised and much looked forward to paper on criminal prevention. The answer to the second is that I agree that Crime Concern, which enjoys all-party support in the House, does excellent work. The answer to the third is that the Criminal Justice Act 1991 introduced new guidelines which can be passed from the magistrates to the social services to ensure that from October this year juveniles can be remanded in custody under certain conditions not previously available to the courts.

Is the Minister aware that not only juveniles but adults are committing crimes while on bail and that many crimes now being committed by adults while on bail involve firearms? Does he agree that it is time we had a real clampdown on the possession of firearms throughout society, remembering that the problem will not be cured unless the Home Office takes strenuous action in relation to the legal as well as the illegal holding of firearms?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the recent rise in the number of crimes involving firearms. There were about 9,000 last year, of which about only 4 per cent. involved replica firearms. We have the toughest sentences available in any country in western Europe for the carrying of firearms. Carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime can attract up to a life sentence. New sentences became available to the courts with the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and quite right too.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the delegation that I led to the Lord Chancellor to consider the problem of bail bandits and light sentencing by Crown courts, and to the concern in my constituency that the Hampshire police authority is short changing the Isle of Wight in terms of the number of constables on the beat?

The answer to my hon. Friend's last point is that when the Secretary of State made his announcement about the additional real 1,000 police coming on stream this year, he said that 80 per cent. of them should go straight on to the beat. The answer to his first point is that it is absolutely clear that a number of people who break their bail conditions are remanded in custody when they are brought back to the court; but that happens in only about six out of 10 cases, and in four out of 10 cases when those who break their bail conditions are brought back to the court, it seems that they are no longer remanded in custody but are again let out on bail.

On the subject of repeated offences, will the junior Minister now say why crime has risen on average by 6 per cent. each year since the war but rose by 18 per cent. last year?

There are a number of reasons for crime. You, Mr. Speaker, would not permit me to give a full answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question, which reminds me of a minute that I sent out, when I went to the Home Office in 1987, to the then permanent secretary. It simply said, "Please, what causes crime?" Reasonably enough, I have never had an answer. The decisions of individual men and women to commit bad acts is what causes crime. It is no good the Labour party seeking again and again—as it did this morning—excuses for why people offend. Rather, it should look for ways of dealing with those people when they have offended and ways of preventing offending.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance yet to read the excellent report submitted to him by the chief constable of Northumbria about the problem of constant reoffending on bail? Is he aware that that problem is made worse by a small hard core of young criminals who offend again and again, but that that is not always known to the justices? What action does my right hon. Friend intend to take?

As I said in answer to the main question, in the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will make in February, we shall be able to give a fuller answer than I can give now. We have in the Home Office a copy of the very helpful report by the chief constable of Northumbria and we have also been greatly assisted by the work of the members of the Police Federation, who have co-operated in the analysis of the serious problem of offending on bail.

Life Imprisonment


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the guidelines for the period of imprisonment to be served before prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment will be released on licence.

The main considerations in deciding whether to release such a prisoner are whether he or she has been detained long enough to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence for the offence and whether the potential risk to the public is judged to be acceptable.

The Minister will be aware of my concern about the period of imprisonment served by persons who murder members of the security forces. A clear disparity exists between the guideline in England and Wales of 20-plus years' imprisonment and the practice in Northern Ireland of about 13 years' imprisonment before murderers of soldiers and policemen are released. Does the Minister agree that if that issue came before the European Court of Human Rights, under the reasoning in the Dudgeon case, the court would almost certainly hold that it is contrary to the anti-discrimination article in the convention to have two different regimes operating within one country? Would it not, be advisable, therefore, to have a uniform regime—which need not necessarily be the same as either existing regime—rather than wait until such a system is imposed on us?

What the European Court of Justice may decide is a matter of pure speculation. In essence, the matter is for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some classes of cases, retribution and deterrence are never satisfactory? In the case of terrorist crimes, it is about time that we had a sentence of indefinite imprisonment until terrorism ends.

My hon. Friend is right. We regard murders committed in this country by terrorists as deserving a minimum of 20 years' imprisonment for those people. That marks the public's revulsion at acts of gratuitous violence against innocent victims. No matter for how long a period lifers are detained, the Home Secretary will release those people only if he considers that it is safe to do so.

Parliamentary Representation


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the level of parliamentary representation from England; and if he will make a statement.

In the past 12 months, we have received four letters on this subject from hon. Members. A private Member's motion was debated in the House on 8 March 1991.

I wish to put two propositions to my right hon. Friend: first, the English are under-represented in the House; and, secondly, the Scots are over-represented here. If my right hon. Friend agrees with either or both contentions, what will the Government do about that?

Occasionally, when I am ironing, I consider the possibility of having a constituency which is called Mitcham, Morden and Mole Valley. That is not, however, a possibility, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) represents an area a little bit down the road in the county of Surrey. I am told that the same considerations of constituency difficulty, demography and geography would apply to rearranging the constituencies within Scotland. It is for that reason, I believe, that the Government have decided that we should maintain the present system.

Is the Minister aware that the hon. Member for Dartford—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) will pay attention for a moment. Is the Minister aware that the hon. Gentleman is quite right to worry about the level of representation in England because every time a Tory is defeated in Scotland he flees the country, comes down here and tries to get a Tory seat? I refer, for example, to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), Ian Sproat, Michael Ancram, and Gerry Malone. The problem for the hon. Member for Dartford is that, once he has been defeated at the next election, he will be replaced as a candidate by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth).

The hon. Gentleman might reflect on the fact that those Scotsmen who come down here to represent English constituencies are the best of the Scotsmen, who choose to come down here to represent one of the 523 constituencies in this country.

My right hon. Friend will know that there has been a large influx of people into Dorset, including many people from Scotland and from Wales. If my hon. Friend will look at the recommendations already coming from the Boundary Commission, she will see that it recommends that there should be eight rather than seven seats in Dorset. That would have some benefit in the forthcoming election if she could push it through. I wonder whether she can.

The whole House will be very relieved to know that such a matter is not entirely in a Minister's hands. I understand that, if that change occurs, the Conservative party will certainly benefit by an extra constituency.

Does the Minister accept that when the wishes of the people of Scotland are reflected in the decision to set up a Scottish parliament, it will indeed make sense to reduce the representation of Scots in the House? Does she recognise that the inequity and injustice done to her party through, for example, no Conservative Members of Parliament being returned in 12 Glasgow constituencies would be redressed by the granting of proportional representation throughout the United Kingdom?

I am not persuaded by the hon. Gentleman's arguments that to have proportional representation would necessarily persuade Glaswegians to vote Conservative. I hope that the Government's policies will persuade Glaswegians to think carefully about whether to vote Conservative in the next general election.

Seriously, as the Boundary Commission proceeds with its report over the next 10 years, would not it be correct to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom had the same proportion of representatives? That would solve the whole problem.

As my hon. Friend knows, this matter has been discussed quite recently within both the Government and the Home Affairs Select Committee. Equitable representation is very hard to achieve. When the Boundary Commission looks at these matters over every 10 years or so, demography and demographic conditions have to be considered, and it is less easy than it appears on paper simply to provide consistency in terms of the demographic relationship of the people living in the country and the number of Members representing them in the House. Inevitably, it would mean that there would be more and more people coming into the House to represent constituencies unless some kind of control were exercised.

I think that the Minister is saying that the Government's view is that the basis of representation should remain the same—in which case, I am glad. Will she tell some of her hon. Friends that a recent independent study has shown that if the basis of representation in Scotland were equated with that in England, the Conservative party in Scotland would cease to be an endangered species and become an extinct species? Some of the remarks made by Conservative Members show the foresight and planning of the dodo.

I suspect that these matters will be discussed on a number of occasions in the future, but the Opposition should not be too complacent about the attitudes and voting patterns of those north of the border for ever and a day.

Vehicle Security


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from motor car manufacturers regarding their intentions to improve motor car security.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on initiatives taken to improve vehicle security.

I have had three meetings with car manufacturers. I will be meeting them again in March. I have urged manufacturers to fit to all new cars dead-locks, immobilisation devices and visible identification numbers. I am pleased that they have responded very positively.

Car crime, principally by young males, accounts for nearly 30 per cent. of all recorded crime. Our major crime prevention campaign this year will be against car crime, and the courts will soon have available the additional penalties under the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill.

I am grateful for that reply. When the Home Secretary meets the car manufacturers in March, will he impress on them the seriousness of the situation and consider compelling them to fit such devices as standard, bearing in mind that, last weekend alone, £100,000 worth of damage was caused by car theft in my constituency?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. When I first met the car manufacturers, they did not appear to be taking the matter very seriously at all, but my last meeting with them revealed that they are now much more prepared to make their cars more secure. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Whether we can make it compulsory for cars to be fitted with such devices is a matter for the European Commission. My Department and the Secretary of State for Transport have already made submissions to the Commission that a standard high level of security—as high as we have in Britain—should be enforced across Europe.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his initiative in talking to the manufacturers about improved vehicle security. Will he tell the House what support he has had for his additional measure, the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill, which will surely go a long way towards stopping the theft of motor vehicles? Will he assure the House that he has had the unreserved support of the Opposition during the passage of that Bill?

Regrettably, we did not receive very much support because, in Committee, the Opposition voted against the major proposals in the Bill. That is the trouble with the Labour party: one has to distinguish between its rhetoric and reality when it comes to law and order. This morning, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that he wanted to see more policemen on the beat, yet when he was a member of the last Labour Cabinet he cut the number of policemen and left the police force under strength.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that he is about to launch a £5 million campaign involving the glitzy television commercials that have been his trademark in every office of state that he has held? Is not it a fact that he never learns from experience? Last year, his May campaign—national crime prevention week—cost £4.5 million, yet the three-months' figures for crime following that expenditure showed an upsurge in crime. When will the Government spend less on advertising and more on the police and crime prevention?

We have increased expenditure on crime prevention and the police much more than the previous Labour Government, who cut it by 3 per cent. I can confirm, however, that on 11 February I shall announce a major campaign—car crime prevention year. It will be a highly successful campaign and will cost £5 million. It will be supported by BMW, Citroen, Ford, Honda, Peugeot, Renault, Rover, Toyota, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Volvo and most of the major insurance companies in Britain. They are uniting with us to reduce crime.

The hon. Gentleman again raised the question of law and order. I shall be only too pleased to fight the next election on the basis of the record on law and order and to show that we have a very much better record than the last Labour Government.

In reply to the main question, my right hon. Friend said that he had had discussions with motor vehicle manufacturers. Has he had any discussions with motor vehicle insurers? Many criteria are used to determine motor vehicle insurance premiums. Should not anti-theft devices be one of them? As someone who has recently paid an enormously increased premium, I think that that would be an excellent idea.

I met the insurance companies of Britain on three occasions. In October, they issued a new set of tariffs which provide that a car owner who suffers a loss has to make a larger contribution and introduce the principle and concept of a premium reduction for certain security devices.

Order. Before we proceed to Prime Minister's Questions, may I remind the House of what I said on Tuesday? Questions on matters of policy should relate to policy options available to the Prime Minister. They should not consist of invitations to comment directly on the policies of other parties in the House, for which the Prime Minister has no responsibility.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

The Prime Minister has cut 110,000 training places in the past year. Furthermore, training schemes do not produce the skills or the qualifications for the jobs that are needed in Britain at this time. Is that because, as the Prime Minister said in another interview with Sue Lawley, from his point of view qualifications "are wholly useless"?

Despite the unfavourable economic climate, both youth training and employment training continue to help young and unemployed people on a very substantial scale to go into further training and further education. Very large numbers of young people are being helped. We are investing enormous sums in training, in enterprise and in vocational education—two and a half times as much, after taking account of inflation, as was invested by the Labour party when it was last in government.

Romford (Visit)


To ask the Prime Minister whether he has any plans to make an official visit to Romford.

I am making a series of visits to all parts of the country, and very much hope to include Essex among them.

Will my right hon. Friend be assured that any time that he cares to come to Romford, Essex men and Essex women will throng the streets in their thousands? In the meantime, will he give my constituents an assurance that he welcomes the report of the three wise men on primary education, and that the Government fully subscribe to the importance of the three Rs? Will he confirm that it is our top priority to get back to the basics in education and to sweep away the leftist progressive teaching methods that, having been put to the test, have failed?

My hon. Friend couches his invitation to visit Essex in irresistible terms.

The report that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State published yesterday is extremely important. It challenges some of the teaching methods that have been used in recent years and it suggests that schools should concentrate on commonsense, practical teaching. I believe that that is what parents want and that it is the best way to ensure that children are taught the essentials. We certainly hope that both schools and teachers will adopt the proposals in the report.



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

The Prime Minister will be well aware of the appalling environmental problems in the Fal estuary arising from the water pollution after the closure of the Wheal Jane mine. I do not think that people in Cornwall want to allocate blame at the moment, but they do want to ensure that the environmental clean-up is carried out both in the short term and the long term without hold-ups. Will the Prime Minister ensure that there are no financial problems at any stage in ensuring that the long-term and short-term clean-ups take place?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we set up the National Rivers Authority specifically to respond in the first instance to the sort of pollution incidents to which he refers—this one is a very serious incident. The NRA has been closely monitoring the situation since the mine closed. It had developed contingency plans before the incident and put them into effect when water in the mine began to overflow. I am sure that the NRA considers that it will be able to deal with the problem with the resources that it has.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports from the German chambers of commerce which show that German industry has invested £7.8 billion in this country in recent years? Does not that demonstrate that low taxation, low inflation and good industrial relations are the basis for strong investment, including inward investment; and does it not also show that the future of this country is excellent under this Government?

I have seen the report to which my hon. Friend refers. I have also seen the important comments of the CBI, which set out the fact that Britain now attracts nearly half of all the inward investment from Japan that comes to the European Community. I believe that, by investing here, German and Japanese companies and those of other countries have shown their confidence in the British economy. It is a shame that some of the gloom and doom-mongers in this country do not share that confidence.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that under his Government the British economy is in its longest recession since the second world war?

I will confirm to the right hon. Gentleman, as I am sure that he will be pleased to hear what the European Community has to say, that the United Kingdom is the only country where signals of a sustained economic recovery are discernible, by contrast with a tendency towards gradual slackening of growth continuing in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Slightly closer to home, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the British chambers of commerce today report that this is the seventh consecutive quarter in which the United Kingdom economy has suffered from recession, with levels of economic activity continuing to decline? Is not it clear that the recession caused by the Prime Minister's policies is continuing because of the Prime Minister's paralysis?

The British chambers of commerce are clearly wrong about the seventh consecutive quarter. That would imply that the recession started in the second quarter of 1990, which it clearly did not, because output rose between the first and second quarters of 1990.

I notice also that the president of the chambers of commerce said that British industry and commerce were on
"an improving trend of slowly and steadily climbing out of the recession".

Will not the Prime Minister refer to the report and listen to the voices of business and commerce from all over the country when they say:

"A worsening position on employment expectations,"—
higher job losses—
"and a major down-grading of business confidence, however, give no cause for comfort in this survey"?
How can the Prime Minister be so complacent and so indolent when he is receiving advice that something now needs to be done?

The right hon. Gentleman was clearly not listening. I quoted from the president of that particular group of chambers of commerce. The report itself says:

"an improving trend of slowly and steadily climbing out of the recession."
The right hon. Gentleman should look at other surveys and forecasters. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund both forecast recovery. What is equally clear among business men is that they have no enthusiasm whatever for a Labour Government. A survey of the top hundred British companies showed that 63 per cent. of them believed that recession would get worse under a Labour Government, and not one of them believed that it would get better.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to tell the House of the decision made yesterday to restore to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the gold deposited for safe keeping in the Bank of England but misappropriated by the then Labour Government with the support in the Division Lobby of the leader and Chief Whip of the Liberal party at that time?

I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that when I met President Landsbergis yesterday I was able to indicate that we would be returning the gold. As the House well knows, the Labour Government in 1967 ordered the gold to be sold. The then Conservative Opposition roundly opposed that, and I am delighted that this Conservative Government have been able to correct that smear of dishonour.

United Nations


To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to pay an official visit to the United Nations.

I shall chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on 31 January.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that 140 nations have signed the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty, including Tory Canada? Why cannot this Tory Government honour their pledge under the treaty to get rid of nuclear weapons, which will mean the withdrawal of Polaris—which is literally cracking up—and the saving of £10 billion on Trident, to be spent on the national health service to care for lives instead of threatening them with mass murder?

If nuclear non-proliferation—

Quite so, Mr. Speaker.

If nuclear non-proliferation is good enough for the rest of the world, why is not it good enough for us?

We seek to promote non-proliferation and disarmament, and that will be one of the matters to be discussed at the United Nations Security Council meeting that I shall chair next week. But I must say to the hon. Gentleman who suggests that it would be appropriate at present for this country to scrap its nuclear weapons and Trident that to do so would leave the country wholly defenceless. That may be the view of the hon. Gentleman. It may even be the view of right hon. Gentlemen opposite in their secret hearts. It is not the right policy for this country, it is not the policy of the Government and I hope that the Opposition will make clear how many of their members support that policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament rather than a policy of secure defences for this country.

When my right hon. Friend visits the United Nations, will he raise the issue of the RAF aircrew who were shot down over the Gulf, some of whom came from west Norfolk? They were tortured, humiliated and abused in gross contravention of the Geneva convention. Is it time that the perpetrators of the crime were brought to justice?

I strongly share the view expressed by my hon. Friend. I do not think that it is a matter for discussion at the special Security Council meeting next week; it is certainly a matter which remains on our agenda.



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

The Prime Minister's view of an expanded Europea, Community, composed of many states in eastern Europea together with existing members, is extremely attractive, but will he contrast that with the instability within the United Kingdom because the aspirations of a nationwide Scotland are frustrated by its being unable to secure its independence and membership of the Community? Will he take steps to have that issue ventilated in a multi-question referendum of the people, which could perhaps be held in harmony with the general election?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he had to say about the European Community. That is the right way forward for this country, the European Community and the wider Europe which I hope in due course will join the Community. The hon. Gentleman spoke about devolution. The Union has served Scotland and England well. In terms of a debate, he will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has called for debates in the Scottish Grand Committee and I hope that everyone will contribute to them.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to increase the top limit on national insurance contributions because of the plight in which that would place many of my constituents and people in neighbouring Blackpool who earn under £15,000 a year but during the holiday season earn more than £400 a week?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will need no such encouragement. The policy suggested by my hon. Friend would hit many people on modest incomes who have bonus or overtime earnings and who occasionally earn above £390 a week. Such an impost would be quite contrary to the policies of the Government and the Conservative party and we shall not introduce any such policy.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

Will the Leader of the House please tell us the business for next week?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 27 JANUARY—Motions on the Electricity (Northern Ireland) Order and the Electricity (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order

TUESDAY 28 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Prison Security Bill.

Motion on the Uncertificated Securities Regulations

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at Seven o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 29 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Education (Schools) Bill.

THURSDAY 30 JANUARY—Motions on the English revenue support grant reports, followed by motions on the Welsh revenue support grant reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 31 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Until Seven o'clock, Private Members' motions.

Motions on the Caribbean Development Bank (Further Payments) Order and the African Development Fund (Sixth Replenishment) Order.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 29 January to consider European Community documents Nos. 7573/91, 8122/91 and 10157/91 relating to satellite broadcasting standards.

[Wednesday 29 January 1992

European Standing Committee B

Relevant European Community Documents

  • (a) 7573/91 Satellite Broadcasting of Television Signals
  • (b) 8122–91 Programmes for High Definition Television Services
  • (c) 10157/91 Satellite Broadcasting of Television Signals
  • Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

  • (a) HC 29-xxx (1990–91), HC 24-ii (1991–92) and HC 24-v (1991–92)
  • (b) HC 24-iv (1991–92)
  • (c) HC 24-vii (1991–92)
  • Thursday 30 January

    English Revenue Support Grant Reports

  • 1. Revenue Support Grant Report (England) 1992–93
  • 2. Revenue Support Grant Distribution (Amendment) (No. 2) Report (England)
  • 3. The Population Report (England) (No. 3)
  • 4. The Special Grant Report (No. 3)
  • Welsh Revenue Support Grant Reports

  • 1. Welsh Revenue Support Grant Report 1992–93 (HC 151)
  • 2. Welsh Revenue Support Grant Distribution Report (No. 3) (HC 152)
  • 3. Distribution of Non-Domestic Rates (Relevant Population) Report for Wales (No. 3) (HC 153).]
  • May I begin by thanking the Leader of the House for responding so promptly to our request for debates on the revenue support grant orders for England and Wales? Will he assure us that, before the House rises tomorrow, we shall have the revenue support grant order documents for England available in the Vote Office? I realise that the debate is not until Thursday, but I am sure that it would be helpful to the House to have the documents that are the subject of the debate.

    On the same subject, will the Leader of the House arrange for his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement on the latest poll tax fiasco—the decision by the courts not to allow computer evidence to be used by local authorities in pursuit of more than 7 million claims for non-payment? Does not this latest poll tax mess confirm everything that we have said from the Dispatch Box about the grotesque inefficiency of this capricious and unfair tax? Ought we not to have a statement as soon as possible to help local authorities and to inform all those people who are paying the tax about exactly what the Government intend to do?

    Why does not the Leader of the House help his hon. Friends and the Opposition by giving us more Supply day time? We are always hearing bogus claims by Conservative Members that they want more time to debate Labour party policy. We too should like to debate policies on industry, especially in view of the latest fall in industrial output and the awful news contained in the report of the Associated British Chambers of Commerce. But yet again the Leader of the House is denying the Opposition the opportunity to choose the subject for debate by not providing Supply day time. Will he assure us that he will provide some time the week after next?

    On the first point, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the orders being brought forward. As he knows, it is necessary to debate them very soon. That is relevant to the question about Supply days, to which I shall return in a moment. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the orders will be published and will be available in the Vote Office tomorrow.

    On his second point, about the community charge and its enforcement, the hon. Gentleman will know that there is a considerable distinction between the community charge and the procedures in the magistrates courts when people do not pay their community charge and local authorities take action against them. The two are distinct. There is no reason why people should not pay their community charge: that is the most important point on the issue.

    As for the proceedings in the magistrates courts, the Government are looking urgently at the matter. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are giving it great attention. There is nothing in that aspect which means in any way that people should not be paying their community charge, because there are many people on comparatively low incomes who may have to suffer because others are not paying. I hope that no one in the House will do anything but encourage people to pay the community charge.

    On the third point, about Supply days, we had a debate only yesterday on economic matters; industrial matters could have been included in that. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have two Supply day debates today. He will see from the business next week that there are a number of matters which are very important, and he will see that there is private business. I shall see what I can do about another Supply day in the week after that.

    Order. Before I call Back Benchers, may I remind them that we have today two debates, both of which are heavily over-subscribed? I have no ability to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches today. Furthermore, there is another statement. I propose to limit business questions to go on until 4 o'clock, when we shall move to the next statement. May I remind the House that questions should be directed to business next week and not to wider issues for which there may be other opportunities?

    Will my right hon. Friend consider, as there is no debate on the subject next week, the urgent necessity for a full debate on civil air transport policy, since the chairman of the Association of European Airlines and boss of Alitalia has warned that next summer, unless something urgent is done to overhaul air traffic control systems in Europe, the whole air transport industry may snarl up and gradually come to a halt?

    My hon. Friend will know that we are at the stage in the process where a large number of Bills are coming from the other place or from Committees. That business is taking a considerable amount of the time of the House, rightly and inevitably. I cannot therefore promise my hon. Friend an early debate on the subject.

    May I refer the Leader of the House to the answer given by the Prime Minister a moment ago about the need for debates in the Scottish Grand Committee on the future government of Scotland? Will he use his good offices to try to get those debates under way? They are long overdue. The Secretary of State for Scotland seems to think that we can have them without a statement on Government policy on the future government of Scotland. That is what we want.

    We have offered to have debates. My right hon. Friend has indicated that he would like to see them and has suggested that that is an appropriate way of having all the issues fully aired. I hope that discussions are under way to achieve that.

    Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to debate early-day motion 448, standing in my name and supported by a substantial number of hon. Members from all parties, welcoming the Government's support for the repeal of the infamous "Zionism is racism" resolution of the United Nations?

    [That this House welcomes the decision of the United Nations general assembly to repeal the notorious U.N.G.A. Resolution 3379/75 of 10th November 1975, normally known as the 'Zionism is Racism' resolution; congratulates Her Majesty's Government for ensuring that the United Kingdom voted for repeal, just as it originally voted against the 1975 resolution; thanks President Bush for leading the diplomatic activity which produced the repeal of that infamous slur on the Jewish people; but notes with regret that 25 nations voted against repeal, including such totalitarian dictatorships as Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria.]

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that resolution. As we have made clear, we warmly welcome the repeal of the resolution. We co-sponsored the repealing resolution and played a full part in ensuring that it was adopted by an overwhelming majority.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that there have been very disturbing reports this week about Fisons' pharmaceutical production standards by the American Food and Drug Administration, but that British inspectors' reports are kept secret? As the public are the consumers of these goods, may we have a debate next week so that we can discuss that very important information?

    I cannot promise a debate next week. The right hon. Gentleman has other ways of raising the matter, but I shall draw his point to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

    My right hon. Friend referred to the discussions that are to take place next Wednesday in European Standing Committee B on European satellite standards. He will be aware that the draft directive under discussion would, if implemented, commit the spending of many millions of pounds of European taxpayers' money to propagating a transmission system that virtually nobody in Europe would be able to watch. Expenditure of that magnitude might be a mere bagatelle to those who sit on the Opposition Benches, but the Department of Trade and Industry, and those who sit on this side of the House, are resisting that draft directive. Can my right hon. Friend find time for the whole House to debate that issue, so that a very clear message can be sent to the European Commission?

    It would not be appropriate for the whole House to debate the matter, because the Standing Committee is to consider it next week. However, I would point out to my hon. Friend, who I know takes a great interest in these matters, that part of the new European Standing Committee process is that we very much hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House who have an interest in a particular subject will attend the meetings. In that way, they will be able to make their points. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to do that next week. Moreover, the report of the Standing Committee will eventually be debated on the Floor of the House.

    Could we have additional information, perhaps by means of a statement next week, about those whose homes are being repossessed? Only this morning, I tried to intervene on behalf of a constituent whose home is being repossessed. When I reminded the lending society of what we had been told last week in the House of Commons, I was told, "We do not know very much about it; discussions are continuing, and it will be some time before any decisions are made." In the meantime, many thousands of people are in the greatest anxiety about what will happen to them. Can we be given an update?

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have been pleased to see that one building society has now reached agreement on the mortgages-to-rents scheme. That has already been announced. He will also know that, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement in December on the outcome of the talks with the building societies, we intimated that we should be introducing a Bill to deal with the social security aspects. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has introduced that Bill today, and the House will have an opportunity to debate it shortly.

    May we have a debate next week on the community care programme so that we can be told how it is to be imlemented by the Government? A number of my constituents and their relatives are very anxious about the proposed closure of Westwood hospital in Bradford. If that hospital is closed, there will be nowhere for mentally handicapped people to go, if community care is a failure, and I suspect that to be the case in many areas. This is an urgent and increasing problem. The Government ought to provide time for a debate on the subject.

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman noted that successive Governments have adopted a community care policy. Such a policy is now being implemented by the Government, with considerable expenditure. Spending on the social services has gone up faster, in real terms, than the number of elderly people. Nearly £2 billion is being spent to provide support for people in their own surroundings in the community. That policy involves considerable expenditure. I cannot promise a debate next week on the particular example that the hon. Gentleman gave.

    May we have a debate on the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the leader of Derbyshire county council, whose policies have led to redundancy for hundreds of teachers yet who has managed to ensure for himself a well-paid part-time job, at a salary equivalent to £40,000 a year, with the loss-making, council-controlled Derbyshire enterprise board? Is that not a unique example of the rat building himself a cosy lifeboat before abandoning the ship that he himself has sunk?

    I know that my hon. Friend will find many opportunities to draw attention to the great inadequacies of Derbyshire county council. I have certainly found much about it to criticise when visiting the county, not least when I was Secretary of State for Education and Science. I hope that my hon. Friend will find ways of raising that point in the House again.

    May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 546 on the subject of software piracy?

    [That this House notes that the culture of criminality at Mirror Group Newspapers continues; expresses concern that much of the computer software used by the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror was illicit; welcomes the news that a substantial sum has been paid by MGN plc to the programme manufacturers in compensation; and urges MGN directors to consider resignation in recognition of the mismanagement perpetuated under Robert Maxwell and his successor.]
    Will he please find time in the business of the House next week for a debate on the subject of software piracy and the continuing culture of illegality at Mirror Group Newspapers? What advice would he give Sir Peter Parker, a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, who has suggested that he will clean that Augean stable?

    I understand that, regrettably, the illicit use of computer software is widespread. I have indeed seen my hon. Friend's early-day motion. Copyright owners are actively enforcing their statutory rights against such activities in both the public and private sectors. The Government welcome the fact that several bodies have reached mutually acceptable agreements with the copyright owners.

    May I refer the Leader of the House to a matter of extreme urgency, which I referred to him on 11 December, regarding the total moratorium on public expenditure in Northern Ireland, both capital and revenue, and to the dire consequences of that for commerce, industry and employment? On 11 December, the right hon. Gentleman generously said that he would refer that matter to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but the only reply that I have received is a letter that was dated the day before a certain written answer was tabled in the Library, giving no details whatsoever. It is absolutely imperative that at least the Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland, if not the House as a whole, should debate the fact that there is a total ban on public expenditure in Northern Ireland. We are told that we could debate this in the spring estimates, but that would be too late in the fiscal year.

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there has been no reduction in the total volume of public expenditure in Northern Ireland that is planned for this year. It is currently running at £6.5 billion. The moratorium relates to new contracts only and, at most, will last until the end of this financial year. Work on contracts already let is unaffected. Clearly, it is necessary to keep within the total public expenditure plans. That is part of good budgeting and that is why the moratorium has had to be introduced.

    In our debates on the Education (Schools) Bill, will it be in order to refer to the threat to education standards and parental choice, the suggested abolition of grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges, and to the threat of an increase in private school fees of 30 per cent?

    My hon. Friend knows that I am strongly supportive of the positive aspects of those policies, and would be extremely concerned at any suggestion that the policies of other parties might have a severe effect upon them. Given that the Education (Schools) Bill relates to the whole issue of greater choice for parents and to greater parental knowledge of what is available in our schools, I expect that some of his points will be within the terms of the Third Reading debate at least.

    Will the Leader of the House make time for an early debate on the minimum wage? Is he aware that 4.5 million people in this country would benefit from a minimum wage, of whom 80 per cent. are women? Before we get the usual propaganda from central office, will he explain why all our EC partners and our main competitors, such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States, have a minimum wage which appears to cause them no problems? Is it not time that we came into the 21st century?

    I would certainly be happy to find time for a debate on the minimum wage to enable us to refute the charge that so many of those other countries have minimum wage proposals precisely along the lines advocated by the Labour party.

    Such a debate would also enable us to state the serious danger to jobs, including part-time jobs, and the big increase in unemployment that would result from a minimum wage. It would also enable us to bring out the fact that, as a result of the Labour party's support for the social chapter, national insurance contributions would also be brought to bear on many part-time workers, thus reducing their incomes. I would be happy to have such a debate, but it cannot be next week.

    May we have a debate on the future management of Government business in the House? My right hon. Friend may have noted that the Leader of the Opposition has announced today that he predicts that a Labour Government after the general election would have a majority of 20. My right hon. Friend will also note that yesterday an amendment was tabled by 25 Labour Members in which they called for socialist policies, arms cuts, harnessing of the national savings—whatever that means—and restoration of so-called trade union rights. During such a debate, could not the Leader of the Opposition tell us whether he would capitulate to the demands of such a group, and, if not, how he would control it?

    We do not need a debate on the management of the House to explore those points. Indeed, they were made effectively yesterday. There will be other opportunities for raising precisely those points without such a debate, and I hope that my hon. Friend will find the time to do so. I am sure that he agrees with me that there is no basis for the Leader of the Opposition's expectation of such a majority.

    Will the Leader of the House consult the Secretary of State for Health about the alarming state of affairs at the John Radcliffe hospital at Bicester? In November last year, Fred Hobson, 62, with heart trouble, went in for a heart operation. He was there three days and was then turned away because there were not sufficient facilities. In December he went back and got the same treatment. In January, he was told not to come. Three days ago, he was turned away again. Will the Leader of the House make sure that those Tory spivs who run the health service in Oxfordshire are the ones who are turned away—rather than Fred Hobson, who was turned away from the hospital—and get the operation done?

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) can tell us where in Bicester there is a John Radcliffe hospital? No such place exists.

    I am not responsible for what is said here. I am sure that the Leader of the House will know about that.

    I do not know the details of that case, and it sounds as if the hon. Gentleman may not either. I know that the hospital is not in his constituency, so it is not appropriate for him to seek ways of raising the matter in the House. Certainly, I would be happy to have many opportunities in the House to debate the great success and progress made under our national health service reforms.

    My right hon. Friend will have noted that, despite yesterday's debate on the autumn statement, there is still widespread ignorance among some hon. Members about the optimism about the United Kingdom economy shown by distinguished bodies abroad. With that in mind, I have a suggestion. Will my right hon. Friend consider, in advance of the next economic debate—I am sorry that it is not next week—tabling a list of quotations from bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Community, so that we can start the debate with the facts? That might help right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to conclude with the facts.

    We can certainly consider that suggestion. I am sure that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would wish to consider it. But every time that favourable comments are made about the United Kingdom economy—including, for example, that made by the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce about the successful operation of German-owned companies in the United Kingdom—which contrasted with the view that it took of industrial relations in the 1970s, the Labour party seeks to shout them down because it does not want to know.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman consider arranging a debate next week on the plight of the homeless? Does he realise that, of the 180,000 homeless people, 156,000 are between 16 and 25, that one in four children are homeless and that 34,000 of them are in Scotland? Could he also do something about debating the 53,000 people now in bed-and-breakfast accommodation?

    If the hon. Gentleman said that one in four children were homeless, I am sure that he did not mean to say it. That is a ludicrous charge. We have debated these matters in the House. The Government have taken considerable steps to provide facilities for the homeless. There is not an opportunity for a debate on the matter next week, but it might be possible to make some remarks about it during Thursday's business. I cannot promise any debate next week.

    Will the Leader of the House consider changing the order of business next week so that there may be an urgent debate on pensioners and unearned income? [Interruption.] Bearing in mind the Labour party's policy of imposing a 9 per cent. surcharge on unearned income over £3,000, we have a duty to tell millions of pensioners the disastrous effects that the Opposition's policies would have on their life style and means of survival. [Interruption.]

    I am afraid that I do not see, within the terms of next week's business, the opportunity to debate that subject, but I hope that before too long we can yet again raise the question of what the Labour party is saying about tax on investment income, which would clearly affect many people with modest incomes, many with incomes well below £20,000. From the noises which have just been made, it would once again seem that there is a considerable lack of clarity about the Opposition's tax policies. The more we hear from them, the more we realise that the amount of revenue is decreasing and therefore the gap between their expenditure and tax policies is getting greater.

    Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Wales to come to the House early next week to clarify the major initiative, which he announced in the Liverpool Daily Post yesterday, to set up an all-Wales body, nominated by him, which would include representatives from the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, local government and some hon. Members from the House, to—in the words of the statement—help him "to run Wales"? Should a statement on that matter not have been made to the House rather than leaked to the Liverpool Daily Post? If that is Government policy, surely we need a statement at an early date.

    I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

    May we have a debate on attempts to suppress democratic discussion of vital national issues in light of the decision of Mirror Group Newspapers—for so long, the voice of Robert Maxwell—to refuse paid advertising from a political party and consequently deny their hard-pressed pensioners some revenue?

    If I can guess at what my hon. Friend is referring to, if the group will not take the advertising, we shall certainly get the case over in many other ways to the people who are likely to be affected by Labour's tax and spending policies.

    May I return the Leader of the House to the issue that I raised last week—the illegal use of computer evidence in magistrates courts? He told me last week and the shadow Leader of the House today that the Government were giving that matter urgent consideration. Has he seen early-day motion 539, which I tabled last night after the judgment given by the senior stipendiary magistrate, Mr. Christopher Bourke, after five days study?

    [That this House notes the decision of Mr. Christopher Bourke, the Clerkenwell stipendiary magistrate, on Tuesday 22nd January, to reject the use of computer records in magistrates' courts as amounting to hearsay evidence; believes that this stems from the failure of the Home Office to issue the appropriate commencement order to the Civil Evidence Act 1968; believes that, in regard to poll tax cases, the Government's options are limited, to either not extending the legal use of computer records, which presumably will require the presence of a council officer with personal knowledge of each individual case to swear on oath as to the particular individual circumstances, or to extend the use of the Act to allow the legal use of computer records and face a possible challenge on any of the seven million liability orders already granted in England and Wales, particularly those that led on to nearly 200 imprisonments; and calls for all poll tax cases to be halted until this is sorted out.]

    That judgment backs up what I told the Leader of the House last week and what I have been telling the House for more than a year—that flawed procedures are being used in magistrates courts to railroad more than 7 million people through the courts and to put almost 200 people in prison. Why will the Leader of the House not announce not merely that urgent consideration is being given to the matter but that all poll tax cases will be halted forthwith until the situation is resolved?

    I have already said that the Government are considering the matter urgently. Nothing that has happened in some recent cases provides any reason for people who are liable to pay the community charge failing to do so.

    Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on education, and especially on the local authorities' responsibilities and their relationship with Government in terms of school organisation, so that I may highlight the need for an early decision on proposals to reorganise schools in Ealing, where parents, teachers and children will be greatly affected by those decisions?

    I cannot promise my hon. Friend Government time for that matter. However, he is aware that he can seek to find time to raise it in the House.

    Will the Leader of the House look at early-day motion 291, which has been signed by 124 right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House?

    [That this House regrets the Government's failure to deal with the imminent threat of wholesale breaches of the law on Sunday trading; expresses concern that Ministers appear to be running away from their responsibility to uphold the law as soon as one or more large commercial organisations express their intention to ignore the law; greatly regrets the way that this situation puts pressure on responsible and law-abiding retailers to open on Sundays simply to protect their market share; further regrets the damage that is likely to be done to small shops and family businesses as a consequence; considers that sensible progress to modernising the law should be made on the basis of the REST proposals put forward by Keep Sunday Special; and calls on the Government actively to pursue the regulation of Sunday trading in a way which deals fairly with employees, their families and with community and commercial interests.]
    The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of yesterday's decision by the House, by 224 votes to 4, to do something about the shambles about the operation of the Shops Act 1950. Surely some time should be given next week so that we can debate this issue, especially when, today, in answer to Question 4, the Minister of State, Home Office told the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) that it would be a couple of months before we had the report from the law courts in Europe. That does not answer the burning problem of law-breaking on a Sunday, especially when the House has not been afforded the opportunity even to debate the matter in full so that a consensus of hon. Members can be taken. The Leader of the House should make time next week for this urgent matter to be discussed.

    But the Government have already made clear their position on this matter. We had a full statement on the case that is now in the House of Lords and on the general discussion in relation to the reform of Sunday trading. The hon. Gentleman has been here sufficiently long to know that yesterday's decision by the House was simply to give leave to bring in a Bill. The House did not take a decision on the Bill or express a view on it. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are many views in the House about exactly what any reform of Sunday trading should involve. It is unlikely that the House will be able to consider a Bill on this matter in the remainder of this Session, given the amount of business that we have to do.

    No, I cannot take a point of order—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".]—until after the statement. I must apply the same rules to those on the Front Benches as to those on the Back Benches. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Tracey?"] This is taking up time, but if hon. Members are alleging that I took a point of order from the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), I did so because the Chair has to hear the point of order if it is alleged that something unparliamentary happened during the course of Question Time. Nothing had happened.

    No, I am not taking it. The shadow Leader of the House cannot ask me to hear a point of order from the Front Bench when I am not prepared to hear them from those on the Back Benches.

    Type 23 Frigates

    4.2 pm

    With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on a further order for type 23 frigates.

    The type 23 frigate will form the backbone of the Royal Navy anti-submarine surface force in the future and is, in addition, a highly capable all-round warship. Four are already in service and six more are under construction. In June we invited tenders for up to three more frigates. The benefit of our competitive tendering policy was clearly shown in the extremely keen prices offered, which are significantly lower in real terms than previous ships. The benefits of privatisation of the yards and the greatly improved productivity now ensure better value for money for our own defence expenditure and help the yards themselves to compete once again overseas, as the opportunities with Malaysia and Oman have shown.

    Before I turn to the outcome of the competition, I remind the House that the contract with the shipbuilder is for less than half the total estimated cost of the frigates. The larger part is made up by the host of specialised equipments that such a frigate contains. For some of those, contracts have yet to be awarded. But some are already known; for instance, the ships' 4.5 in gun will be ordered from VSEL—Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited—in Barrow, the machinery control equipment from Vosper Thornycroft in Porchester, the vertical launch Sea Wolf missiles from British Aerospace in Bristol. The two Spey gas turbine engines for each ship will be ordered from Rolls-Royce at Coventry, main gearing from GEC, Rugby and diesel generators from Paxman Diesels at Colchester. The shipbuilder will itself also have many sub-contractors. Hundreds of firms across the United Kingdom, large and small, will benefit from this order over the next few years, and its value will approach about £400 million.

    On the results of the competition, I can tell the House that the tenders produced a winner by a very clear margin. We have accordingly decided to place a fixed-price contract for three type 23 frigates with Yarrow Shipbuilders on the Clyde. The construction of the first ship will start in the second half of this year. These ships will join the Duke class and will be named HMS Somerset, HMS Grafton and HMS Sutherland.

    This is very good news for Glasgow, for Scotland as a whole, and for all the companies involved throughout the country. I recognise that it is, equally, a disappointment for the other yards which had tendered for the work, and for the people in those areas. However, this type 23 order is but one part of a substantial on-going programme of vessels for the Royal Navy. This will include a new anti-air warfare frigate, a second batch of Trafalgar class submarines and other significant vessels to ensure that we maintain a modern and effective navy in the future.

    This order brings to 13 the number of type 23 frigates ordered since 1984, and the number of vessels ordered for the Royal Navy since 1979 to 71. It is yet more evidence that the Government are committed to ensuring the capability of the Royal Navy's fleet and to the wider aim of ensuring that our forces of the future have the modern equipment that they need.

    I thank the Secretary of State for his welcome statement, made with great promptness, given the time scale. I offer my congratulations to the workers and management of Yarrow, who have picked themselves up after the bitter disappointment of losing the last order, despite having built the first of class and many of the subsequent ships.

    Can the Secretary of State give the fabrication start date, an important issue for the progress of work for the yard and for the timetabling of entry into service? What does the right hon. Gentleman consider to be the size of the fleet? It has been postulated at "around 40". Perhaps he is now in a position to be more precise. When will the tendering process be opened for the craft to which he referred in his statement? That must be of great concern to the yards which were not successful in the tendering process, whose problems will become similar to those that confronted Yarrow until this afternoon. When does the right hon. Gentleman expect the next tranche of type 23 orders, to which he did not refer in his statement, to be in the pipeline and when can we expect the next round of tendering to start for those?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. He recognises this for what it is—solid confirmation of the Government's determination to invest in the defence of our country. I will not go further than to say "around 40", but we certainly intend to implement the programme that we set out in "Options for Change". I can confirm that other ships are under way. We have a project definition of the landing platform dock. At present, other matters are proceeding, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman—I am grateful to him for seeking clarification—that in respect of a further order for type 23s, I expect that to be at a broadly similar interval comparing this with the previous order that was placed.

    Order. I say again what I said before business questions, namely, that there is heavy pressure on the next two debates. I shall allow questions to continue until 4.30, after which we shall have to move on to the debate.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the machinery control order is to be placed with that fine company, Vosper Thornycroft, will be very good news in south Hampshire? Does he further agree that the fact that 71 vessels have been ordered by the Ministry of Defence since 1979 confirms what my hon. Friends and I have always believed—that under the present Government the Royal Navy will continue to play an important role and provide a fine career in the foreseeable future?

    I certainly confirm my hon. Friend's comments about the quality of the work at Vosper Thornycroft, which is the basis of its competitiveness and why it has achieved the order placed directly by my Department. It confirms our commitment to a substantial number of ships in the future. Hon. Members could easily have been misled by referring to a previous Hansard which shows that a substantial number of ships are on order but fails to reflect the Government's commitment to naval shipbuilding. An unfortunate misprint in Hansard says that the value of the ships on order is £4.6 million whereas the correct answer should have been £4.6 billion.

    It would be churlish to do anything other than welcome unreservedly the Secretary of State's announcement, and I willingly do so. He will appreciate that there will be not only a sense of relief at Yarrow, but a great sense of pride that the company has been entrusted with that order. The Secretary of State mentioned in his statement the disappointment that others might feel. When will he be in a position to make a firm announcement about the placing of an order for the fourth Trident submarine?

    I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his comments. My announcement is a tribute to the shipyard's competitiveness and productivity. I remember walking round that shipyard some 30 years ago. A transformation has taken place in the productivity of British shipbuilding because of privatisation, because there was no bottomless pit to which shipyards could turn, and because of the sheer reality that none of those yards would exist unless there had been a quantum change in working practices. The competitive procurement policy of the Ministry of Defence has been good news not only for the Ministry and the taxpayer but for the yards. A discussion is currently taking place on the contract for the fourth Trident boat. We intend to proceed and shall resolve the contract at the earliest possible date.

    It is clearly in the interests of the Royal Navy and of the taxpayer that there should be competitive tendering to obtain the lowest price. Will my right hon. Friend give me a categorical assurance that that order was decided solely on price? Would the cost have been significantly higher if the order had been divided? Finally, is it still the Government's intention to proceed with ordering a large helicopter carrier, known as an aviation support ship? Swan Hunter's experience of shipbuilding for the navy makes it well placed to win a contract.

    I can confirm my hon. Friend's first point. Nobody has fought harder than he for the interests of the shipyards of the Tyne and for Swan Hunter. I know that today's announcement will be a disappointment for them, and that those on the Tyne recognise that the response to all that they asked for previously was fair play. Yarrow was a clear winner in the competition. I also confirm that a clear benefit is that of batch ordering. We did not merely see three ships come sailing by: ordering in threes has shown significant benefits and economies. Furthermore, we intend to invite tenders for the building of an aviation support ship shortly. That is of great interest to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members, and Swan Hunter will clearly be one of the real contenders for that.

    As Yarrow is the flagship in my constituency and the biggest private employer in the whole of Glasgow, I hope that the Secretary of State will accept my sense of relief and—yes—gratitude that the Ministry has made that decision today. I am also grateful for the Secretary of State's confirmation that the order was won on merit and is a testament to the ability and dedication of the management and work force at Yarrow Shipbuilders. When the Secretary of State worked in Glasgow in a previous life, he grew to know the value of the stamp, "Clyde-built". Today's order confirms that. When is the work likely to start? Notwithstanding the good news, many hundreds of the workers at Yarrow Shipbuilders have already gone down the road and it would be helpful if we could proceed quickly.

    I have just one quibble: could we not consider naming the ships HMS Stewart, Lang and Forsyth in memory of three Ministers who, notwithstanding that good news, are likely not to be in office much longer?

    I am appalled at the flippant way in which the hon. Member addresses the serious matter of the continuing equipment of the Royal Navy. I can confirm, however, that the company would not have won this order except as a private sector yard which will have to incur the costs if it makes losses. Such losses will be borne, not by the Government, but by the company. I do not think that it is in any way insulting to say that the epithet, "Clyde-built", which was a badge of quality in the last century, was getting somewhat tarnished during the post-war years. The efforts of the management and the work force now in the shipyards on the Clyde and in Yarrow's have done a great deal to restore that badge of quality, which was in danger of slipping away.

    Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that this is wonderful news for Glasgow and for Scotland and a great tribute to the work force and management, some of whom were in the House this week to meet an all-party group? As we have had some rather rough news in the past few weeks, it is a real shot in the arm and the country will be grateful for the announcement.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend and he is right to recognise the importance of the announcement. He is right also to say that the value is not just for Yarrow. Hundreds of subcontractors, in Scotland as in other parts of the country, will benefit from this announcement. My hon. Friend will also know the value of the more competitive and effective approach of the yard. It is currently in the final stages of negotiations for a very important order from Malaysia which, had it not been the competitive and effective yard that it now is, it would have had no chance of getting.

    The Secretary of State said that he was mindful of the atmosphere in yards which had competed and failed. Will he share with the House his thoughts about the atmosphere that he thinks will now prevail in Cammell Laird, which finds itself unable to compete for naval orders? Is he aware that, under British Shipbuilders, Laird's was classified as a naval yard, and other yards not so classified were given intervention funding? Laird's now has to go into battle without any chance of getting either naval orders or intervention funds. Does the Secretary of State believe that the action of the board of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. in disqualifying us from competing for this work is fair to Cammell Laird? What does he think that that does for the Government's competition policy?

    I understand very well the point that the hon. Member raises, having worn another hat previously when a major shipyard was one of my biggest concerns. The question whether one had a naval involvement or access to the intervention fund was very critical indeed. That yard, privatised and sold to a new owner and with access to the intervention fund, now has a substantial number of new orders. I would rather not answer across the Floor of the House the serious point that the hon. Member has raised, but I will certainly look into it and come back to him.

    While the Secretary of State's announcement is good news for Yarrow and the Clyde, it is none the less a disappointment for the other three shipyards that submitted tenders, not least VSEL in Barrow, although the order for the 4.5 inch gun would be welcome.

    The Secretary of State referred to Trident. To pursue the question put by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), the Secretary of State will be aware that the long lead orders for the four Trident submarines were placed some time ago and that construction is quite well advanced. Is he able to elaborate on the answer that he gave to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East? Can he say how evaluation of the tender is progressing? I understand that progress is good. Can he give some sort of time scale, given good will on both sides, and when the order may be expected to be placed?

    I obviously understand the disappointment. There is no question but that VSEL strived genuinely to compete for the order, and put in an effective bid. Unfortunately, from the company's point of view, it was not so competitive as that from Yarrow, but it was certainly a very responsible offer. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that the outstandingly successful 4.5 inch gun produced by VSEL is a source of further valuable orders for it.

    As my hon. Friend rightly said, the construction of the 08, the fourth boat, is currently under way and authorities have been given for the long lead items. The contract is being evaluated. The House will understand that, although we prefer these matters to be resolved by competitive tendering, in this case we are effectively talking about a single supplier, so it is vital to get the contract right. That is why we must ensure that the contract is properly dealt with—otherwise, the Public Accounts Committee, among other bodies, will have a lot to say. We must deal with the matter carefully. I am anxious that the question should be resolved as soon as possible. Although I cannot give a date, we intend to proceed just as soon as we can resolve the question of the contract.

    As a Glasgow Member, I add my own expression of delight and relief, and I congratulate the Yarrow management and work force. They certainly deserve their success. Anyone who has spoken to them recently knows of the problems with which they have had to cope. May I add one small point? I was surprised to hear the proposed names for the three frigates. As the memory of the clearances lingers in Scotland, I suggest that the Duke of Sutherland is perhaps not the most popular name that could have been chosen.

    Given that the announcement is outstandingly good news for the hon. Lady and her constituents, it is unfortunate that she should wish to introduce a divisive note.

    I congratulate Yarrow on its good fortune in securing a contract for three ships at once, but I must express some dismay on behalf of Vosper Thornycroft, Southampton, which has built many naval ships in the past.

    I have a query about the fibreglass minesweepers. I understand that my right hon. Friend has just been to Oman, so perhaps he can give the House some information. Vosper Thornycroft, Southampton, is anxiously waiting for confirmation of the order from the Sheik of Oman for a fleet of minesweepers.

    I confirm that I returned from the Gulf late last night. I spent some time in discussion in Oman, not about the minesweepers but about the much more valuable corvette order that the Omanis are seeking to place, and I was given very satisfactory assurances by His Majesty the Sultan about those orders. Details remain to be resolved and I hope that it will be possible to resolve them quickly.

    When the Secretary of State listed the areas that would benefit from today's announcement, he made no mention of Tyneside. He has now ordered 13 type 23 frigates, four of which either were or are under construction at Swan Hunter on Tyneside. I understand that type 23 frigates are grouped in fours around the fleet auxiliaries. AOR1 is the first auxiliary oil replenishment vessel and AOR2 is currently being constructed on Tyneside. As the Secretary of State has now ordered 13 type 23 frigates and has only two AOR vessels, does he not need to order another AOR vessel? When will he make an announcement about AOR3?

    I do not have any comment to make on that ship at the moment, but the hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) about the aviation support ship, for which Swan's is obviously one of the real contenders. That could be an important ship for Swan's. I took the trouble to look at what the hon. Gentleman said last time, when Swan's was successful. He said magnanimously, "All that we ever ask for is fair play." I can assure him that fair play is what he has got in this case. I am sorry that he is disappointed that the order did not go to Swan's, but I can assure him that there was fair play and it has gone to Yarrow.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that the order and the announcement will be widely welcomed, particularly by the work force and managment of GEC, Rugby? It is good news for jobs and it is good news for the town. Can my right hon. Friend say what is the global worth of the contract, and does he agree that it represents a vote of confidence in British engineering?

    I can confirm that. This statement differs from previous statements in that it spells out the main contractors. There is a tendency for people to approach this matter as though it were one entirely for the shipyard concerned. In fact, the larger part of the value of the contract is not in the hull itself but in the components, a significant proportion of which will be provided by GEC in Rugby. Obviously, for commercial reasons, I cannot disclose individual contract values. However, I can confirm that the overall value of the ships with equipment that I have announced today approaches £400 million.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that his Department takes an adequate interest in the subcontracts? Is he aware that the chain and cable industry in this country is widely accepted as being the best in the world in terms of both technology and workmanship? Will he ensure that it is not unfairly excluded as a result of the foreign dumping of inferior chain?

    My right hon. Friend will be aware that HMS Norfolk—the first of the Duke class—has been accepted into the fleet and has been completing work-up at Portland. Past colleagues of mine who are still serving in the Royal Navy tell me that she is an outstanding success and a tribute to British shipbuilding. Indeed, she is a foretaste of what we shall be getting in these other ships. Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement about vertically launched Sea Wolf will be most welcome to British Aerospace in Bristol? I know that in this regard my feeling will be echoed by my hon. Friends with responsibility for Bristol constituencies. It is regrettable that, yet again, the Labour Member for Bristol has not bothered to turn up.

    I did notice the absence. I know that my hon. Friend, who takes a close interest in these matters, understands the importance to Bristol and to British Aerospace of this decision and this order. Bearing in mind his experience and his information, I am pleased to hear his tribute to the quality of HMS Norfolk—as it happens, the first of class, built at Yarrow. The news that my hon. Friend has given the House is encouraging.

    Does the Secretary of State accept that this news is very welcome indeed? It is a tribute not only to the management at Yarrow but to the workers, who have spent a long time removing ill-considered demarcation practices—and it is as a shipbuilder that I say that. Will the Secretary of State concede that one of the things that this will enable Yarrow to do is to keep its essential design capability, illustrated by the fact that it produced the first of class? Will he continue to allow it flexibility in respect of other markets?

    I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I have to make the point that it will not be possible to keep any design capability, any warship-building capability or any manufacturing capability for the sort of defence components that we need unless the Government are prepared to fund the defence programme at a sensible level. While I am far too gentle and decent a person to criticise any Opposition Member who has joined in the expressions of appreciation of this action, I have to say, in the kindest possible way, that if the defence policies to which the Opposition subscribe—I include all the Opposition parties—were implemented, we should not be ordering a rowing boat, let alone three frigates.

    I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's statement because it demonstrates the Government's commitment to a better equipped fleet for the future, even though the fleet manpower is contracting, and because jobs will be provided in the Portsmouth travel-to-work area. Many people wish to write down the opportunities which exist, but under the present Government there is a future for many of the defence-related industries in my area.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, I know, appreciates the situation very well. We have announced changes, including some reductions in numbers. It is true that the new type 23s, because of their greater capability and efficiency, will operate with smaller crews. They show very clearly that the Government are ensuring that, while we may reduce the personnel numbers in our armed forces, we are increasing the relative proportion of funds spent on their equipment to ensure that in the future they have the equipment that they need to perform the tasks that we set them.

    I join the whole House in paying tribute to the work force and management at Yarrow on winning this vital order against such stiff competition. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the competition was won on price? And can he reveal whether the tendering process says anything about the level of profits being made by VSEL in the manufacturing and construction of Trident submarines?

    No, I cannot comment on that, but it is relevant to the contract negotiations for Trident 08—we must protect the public Exchequer precisely from the problem of a monopoly single buyer.

    I can certainly confirm that the contract was placed on merit; it was won by a clear margin in a competitive tender.

    Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is good news for the Ansty Rolls-Royce plant in my constituency which manufactures Spey engines? This is welcome news for the employees and management of that company. Will he also accept that his demonstration of confidence in the plant's high quality power unit is most important for the company when it seeks orders abroad?