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Commons Chamber

Volume 228: debated on Thursday 8 July 1993

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House Of Commons

Thursday 8 July 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

BRITISH RAILWAYS (No. 4) BILL (By Order)

Question, That the British Railways (No. 4) Bill be now read a Second time, put and agreed to.

Read a Second time, and committed.

Croydon Tramlink Bill Lords (By Order)

East Coast Main Line (Safety) Bill (By Order)

Woodgrange Park Cemetery Bill Lords (By Order)

London Local Authorities Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 15 July.

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Gatt

2.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will meet her American counterparts to discuss the impact of GATT on agriculture.

I hope to find an opportunity for a meeting. GATT, negotiations would certainly figure in such discussions.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. While she will be aware that the Labour party has consistently supported a GATT agreement, is she also aware that we share the concern of the National Farmers Union that the Blair House accord could involve much higher rates of set-aside? Will she make it clear, in any meeting with her American counterparts, that we find that totally unacceptable?

On the whole, I would share the hon. Gentleman's misgivings, were such rumours likely to be true. I think that they are unfounded. I believe that the GATT agreement on agriculture, based on the Blair House accord between the European Community and the United States, is likely to be a good outcome for the EC and I hope that the ground rules laid down in that accord will prove to be the foundation for the GATT agricultural agreement.

Will my right hon. Friend continue to support and fund Food From Britain, which champions the cause of exporters in this country? Is she aware how important exporting is to our producers, as they export approximately 25 per cent. of their produce and, to do so, need the openness in trade that an eventual GATT deal will engender?

It is encouraging that such good progress has been made on GATT negotiations in Tokyo and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has played such an important part in achieving that. Like my hon. Friend, I champion the export achievements of Food From Britain and the work of that excellent organisation. As she says, exports are an important part of our agricultural trade. We are not doing well enough, though. Our £6 billion trade gap is far too big and I hope that all our producers, and especially those represented by Food From Britain, will tackle the unacceptably large gap.

Is the Minister aware that the Labour party warmly welcomes last night's agreement as an important step along the tortuous route to a GATT agreement? Will she confirm, however, that although the French Government have endorsed the Blair House agreement on oil seeds, they have refused to accept the agriculture agreement, which would be essential to an overall GATT package? Will she give the House an assurance that there will be no question of the British Government agreeing concessions to French farming that would discriminate in any way against British agriculture and British jobs?

I am more than happy to give the House that assurance. I have already taken the opportunity of making those points to my French counterpart. I expect to meet him in about a fortnight, when I will repeat them. Since France is third in the world for exports, the French will surely recognise that their own interests would be served by a successful outcome to the GATT round.

Integrated Administration And Control Scheme

3.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much subsidy has been distributed to farmers following the implementation of the IACS scheme.

Payments under schemes covered by IACS forms are expected to amount to £1·2 billion for British farmers this year.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her interesting answer. Does she accept that farmers have encountered considerable difficulty in filling in the IACS forms and considerable cost in obtaining maps from the Ordnance Survey? Will she confirm that next year's procedures will be considerably easier to follow than this year's? Will she also acknowledge the debt that we owe the National Farmers Union, which has consistently helped farmers to fill in their forms?

I agree that the NFU has played an important part in giving advice to farmers who had difficulty completing their IACS forms. The NFU has also praised the effort of MAFF staff in area offices who have performed an equally useful and helpful role. There was a problem with maps. In cases where people genuinely could not obtain the relevant maps, the IACS forms were acceptable without them.

I entirely accept my hon. Friend's point about next year's forms. By then, we shall, of course, have established a database, but we are asking the industry to suggest ways in which the forms can be made more user-friendly and entirely sensible for next year.

Fishing (Days At Sea)

4.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when she last met representatives of the fishing industry to discuss compulsory days-at-sea legislation; and if she will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Michael Jack)

On 8 June, my right hon. Friend the Minister and I met representatives of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and I recently met the fishermen of Brixham. Further meetings are planned.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that I speak on behalf of all hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies in welcoming his announcement yesterday evening that there would be a relaxation, or at least a postponement, of the tie-up regulations under the Sea Fish Conservation Act 1992? May I plead with him to recongnise that the most sensible way forward now would be to suspend the Sea Fish Conservation Act and use the ensuing period to ensure that there is a reasonable dialogue between all sections of the industry and the Government and then to introduce a conservation package that has the support not only of the Government and the Community but of the fishing industry itself?

I thank the hon. Lady for the conciliatory tone of her question and in particular for her welcome for the postponement of the introduction of the days-at-sea policy. We are all joined in the common purpose of finding ways to sustain the availability of fish for the benefit of the fishing industry. I certainly accept the hon. Lady's point about dialogue. In fact, I am urgently filling my diary with engagements, including meetings with representatives of the Scottish fishing industry, and will take into account some of the important points raised by hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies in last night's debate.

I cannot, however, suspend our policy for ever or even beyond the period that I have specified because we have to find ways of achieving our multi-annual guidance programme and that set of targets is narrower than the overall desire, which hon. Members on both sides of the House share, to conserve our fish stocks.

Does my hon. Friend agree that all parties involved in the fishing industry accept that some steps must be taken to conserve fish? Will he confirm that limiting days at sea is only one of the ways in which the Government are seeking to restrain fishing effort? Will he further confirm that studies have shown that, in some instances, more than 300 days at sea have been allocated in response to fishermen's applications and that the threat of limiting days at sea is not as fierce as some Opposition Members may want fishermen to believe?

My hon. Friend speaks with a sure knowledge on these matters. I can confirm that some fishermen have received days-at-sea allocations up to that level. The particular concern, though, is for those fishermen who may have received the minimum allocation and are uncertain about their future. There may be problems with records, but we have already indicated many different ways in which those fishermen can submit further appeals to see whether their days-at-sea allocation can be enlarged. My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that we are pioneering other ways in which to limit fishing efforts. That is why the House last night approved a decommissioning scheme with a budget of £25 million attached to it.

I am a little disappointed to find the Minister resiling somewhat on what seemed to be the hopes of last night. Does he agree that it would be far better to provide for proper conservation by stopping the pillaging of our grounds by foreigners—in particular, Spaniards—than by stopping our vessels putting out to sea? In that connection, is it correct that, although as many infringements of fish conservation provisions in our grounds are being discovered by the fisheries protection fleet, fewer of them are being brought to court this year because his Department does not have the money for litigation? Is it also correct that the Irish Government are doing far more than ours to stamp out the secret fish holds that the Spanish are using?

We are spending some £20 million on the enforcement of fishing regulations and policy. I wish that we did not have to. I wish that people would play by the rules and not hide fish in hidden and dark holes, as every time somebody cheats on the fishing rules they deny another fisherman a living. As to prosecutions, the hon. Gentleman will realise that I cannot comment on specific cases. It is important, though, that when people break the rules they are properly prosecuted and that that information is made available.

May I join the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) in congratulating my hon. Friend on his statement last night. It clearly shows that, in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food we now have Ministers who listen. That is welcome. What proportion of the fleet is affected by the maximum limit of 80 days? If it is a relatively small proportion—I assume that it will be —could not the limit be increased to, say, 100 or 120 days without a significant effect on fishing efforts?

First, may I welcome my hon. Friend's kind comments about our announcements last night? On the subject of the number of vessels affected by the minimum allocation of days at sea, approximately half the applications that we have received are affected. I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that some 84 per cent. have already appealed against the minimum allocations. He will be aware that his proposition to increase the minimum number of days at sea was one of many helpful ideas that were put forward during the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members were invited to explore that among themselves and with their fishermen and to put forward their ideas during the period of consultation so that we may consider them.

Land Access

5.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement about improving access to set-aside and country stewardship land.

We have issued proposals for a scheme to open up new areas of suitable set-aside land for public access to the countryside. Strictly speaking, as I think the hon. Gentleman will know, the countryside stewardship scheme, which makes provision for access to a significant proportion of sites, is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does she agree that, if land is not used for intensive farming, it is important that it is used for the community at large and that giving people an opportunity to walk peacefully across the land is important? Will she confirm that it is possible for farmers to receive income from the schemes in exchange for supposed access, but that the general public do not know that they have rights of access to that land?

Mistakes have been made in the countryside stewardship scheme, some of which were about giving adequate publicity. We will certainly learn lessons from the way in which the scheme has worked. However, there is no question of forcing farmers to allow access to land beyond public rights of way, as there are costs involved. The meadowland scheme, which is a new scheme proposed under the agri-environment regulation will provide an incentive and, as the hon. Gentleman has said, the public will benefit.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that most farmers are perfectly reasonable when it comes to people requesting access to their land so long as their behaviour is legitimate? Does she further agree that when people invade their land, farmers have far too few powers under the law to remove people who disrupt lawful activity? Will she therefore undertake to liaise with the Home Secretary to improve the powers of farmers to remove new age travellers and those who wish to disrupt a lawful hunt?

I agree with the examples that my hon. Friend gave to illustrate his point. I am happy to liaise with the Home Secretary on that and other points about law and order in the countryside. Most farmers are reasonable about allowing public access to their land. It is a two-way process. Those who seek access should treat it as though they were going, for example, to a place of work. They should be expected to behave responsibly and in return we would expect farmers to be reasonable.

Is not it an indictment of our society that the set-aside schemes were set up by the Common Market in order to destroy food and to allow farmers to watch the grass grow at £100 an acre while millions of people in the Sahara, other parts of Africa and other countries are starving to death? Is not it a fact that the royal family, including the Queen and the Prince of Wales, have had more than a quarter of a million pounds out of those tax avoidance schemes? It is no wonder that the Queen has offered to pay tax; she is using taxpayers' money to do it.

The fun was quickly over. Far from it being a case of a barrel of lard, it is one of sour milk. The hon. Gentleman has been second to none in requiring surpluses and intervention to be tackled firmly by the EC and set-aside and the CAP reforms do just that. I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman is not welcoming this move forward.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that farmers in my home village of Whimple in the constituency of Tiverton have been refused permission to hold fund-raising public events on set-aside land, the money from which would go to registered charities and the local church, for the sole reason that it is set-aside land? Will my right hon. Friend look at that case?

While the Secretary of State is considering the question of public access, I draw attention to the review group considering the possible privatisation of Forestry Enterprise and the Forestry Commission, on which her Department is represented. Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Countryside Commission's submission to that review group stated that public ownership has been an effective means of achieving public benefits? It went on to say that the disposal of some or all of the freehold estate, which comprises 40 per cent. of all forested land in Britain, is likely to lead to the loss of unrestricted, free of charge public access to the land in question. Does the right hon. Lady agree that public access to woodlands is best preserved by public ownership and will she ensure that her Department makes representations to the review group to that effect?

I was aware of those views and I think that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the review will consider forest land from the point of view of its commercial management, public access—which is important—and the protection of our heritage. Those three aspects are at the heart of the review and I keep an open mind about its findings.

Small Producers

6.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps are being taken to help small producers.

An important source of help to small producers is their ability to be able to claim arable area payments under simplified arrangements that do not require any land to be set aside.

I welcome my hon. Friend's reply and the assistance to small producers, but could not more assistance be given to some of our organic farmers, many of whom are small producers, perhaps via lower limits through the organic aid scheme?

I am pleased that my hon. Friend mentions organic farming, which is an important and developing area. However, it is equally important that, in developing, it does not swamp the available market for its excellent produce. A recent consultation document that we put out showed that a minimum eligible area of 10 hectares, and 50 hectares in the less-favoured areas, might be a possibility. As a result of the responses that we have received to that consultation document, we are considering whether a lower limit might be possible without excessive administrative cost.

Common Agricultural Policy

7.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent meetings she has had with her European counterparts to discuss financial aspects of the CAP.

Will the Minister confirm that the common agricultural policy costs each family in Britain approximately £18 per week extra in food bills and that part of the money is due to the absurd subsidies that continue to be paid into areas such as the tobacco mountain, which, even two years ago, cost £70 million? Does she agree that the Government's reluctance to address those absurd subsidies is a result of the sweetheart arrangements that they have with tobacco companies?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman—the cost of the CAP is far too high. I am sure that he will be delighted that the United Kingdom has consistently argued that its cost is too high and that it hampers the efficient allocation of resources in the economy. May I take it that his enthusiasm for lower costs shows a change of heart by Opposition Front-Bench Members over the whole range of policy?

I reject entirely the hon. Gentleman's accusation of sweethearting. Certainly tobacco excesses and tobacco mountains should be tackled in the same way as other surpluses have been tackled in the EC.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that good financial control depends on the famous level playing field, or level ploughing field in this case? Did she see the letter in Farming News recently which described a British farmer visiting a French farm after 20 years and finding that nothing had changed, that the farmers had never heard of the set-aside scheme or health and safety regulations, that they were still making butter in the kitchen and selling it at the farm gate and that the village slaughterhouse had not changed either? How can we be more certain under the new rules that financial control is to be applied equally across the European Community?

I totally agree that we should aim for a level ploughing field as well as a level playing field. One hears the accusations that nobody keeps the rules but us in every member state in the Community and in every policy area. However, there is no doubt that the agreements reached at Edinburgh will help the tightening-up and monitoring of the rules, and not a day too soon.

The Minister confirmed that the average cost to a family arising from the CAP is £18 a week. She has congratulated herself many times on the recent renegotiations of the CAP. Will she confirm that the renegotiations have increased the figure to more than £18 per week?

It is the case that the figure has increased and much of that is to do with exchange rate mechanism realignments. The package was negotiated within the agricultural guideline that expects and looks forward to agriculture taking up a decreasing amount of the EC budget.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the worrying aspects of the set-aside scheme is its adverse effect on the employment propspects of workers in agriculture? Do the financial arrangements of the CAP, to which we, as a nation, make such huge contributions, make any provision for paying compensation to agricultural workers who lose their jobs because of set-aside?

No. There are no such arrangements in the CAP. However, my hon. Friend will know that while in this country, as elsewhere, agricultural employment is declining, growth of population in rural areas is increasing and, with it, prosperity and jobs.

Has the Minister had the opportunity to discuss with her European partners the free-market pricing arrangements that exist in New Zealand, which have some support in the British farming community and some support in interested quarters of the House of Commons? Has she any preliminary views on those matters?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the recent CAP reform package represented a move towards more market-orientated arrangements. I recently met representatives from New Zealand and I was most interested to hear from them about the way in which things were working. I lose no opportunity to press on my EC colleagues the need for farming and agriculture generally to look towards the markets because that is the only sure way in the future.

Fish Conservation

8.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans she has to consult further the fishing industry over its current concerns about the requirement to reduce fishing effort.

I announced last night a postponement of the introduction of days-at-sea restrictions which will give us the opportunity to consult the industry about the need to reduce fishing effort. I already have plans to visit fishermen in Humberside next week, and further visits and meetings are being arranged. I look forward to an early and positive response from the industry.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the fishermen of Poole will welcome the opportunity to make their contribution to devising sensible—I underline the word "sensible"—conservation measures? Will he assure the House that he will not introduce conservation measures in this country until he has a firm and binding agreement that our EC partners will introduce them at the same time? It is ridiculous that our fishermen should have to watch fishermen from other EC countries blatantly flouting regulations that they are expected to obey.

I very much welcome my hon. Friend's kind comments on our announcements last night. Everyone in the industry shares the desire to conserve fish stocks. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance on the policy announced, especially with reference to days at sea., that we should not dream of going beyond the proposals I outlined last night without clear signs that our Community partners are making an effective attempt to reduce their fishing effort.

Is the Minister aware that, having read carefully his remarks last night, I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is right to point out that the hon. Gentleman is today putting a different gloss on his announcement? Surely he understands that the fishermen are considering bringing forward additional technical conservation measures as an alternative to compulsory tie-up. Will he accept that, during the postponement, the Government should look at all the options? Can he give us an assurance that one of the options is the complete abandonment of the days-at-sea restrictions?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance on the complete abandonment of days-a t-sea restrictions. I remind him of the words in his own document "Marine Harvest", in which he couples with his support for a decommissioning scheme the need for effort reduction. Days-at-sea restrictions have an important contribution to make.

However, I said last night that we should look at all the ideas put to us for modifications of the details of the days-at-sea restrictions. I gave the undertaking, which I am happy to repeat this afternoon, that we should continue to work with, for example, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, which is undertaking a conservation review. We shall also look at any ideas that others put forward on the subject of technical measures which might be tradeable against effort reduction. However, I make it clear that we cannot say whether those ideas will be accepted in terms of our multi-annual guidance programme target. The only people who can do that are the Commissioners. However, I give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that we shall discuss sensible ideas with the Commission.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, this morning, the wives of the fishermen in Hastings and Rye marched through the town and presented a petition warning of what they think will be the hardship that they will face because of the introduction of days-at-sea restrictions? Does he agree that that is a welcome sign of a vibrant democracy? Will he please give me some idea of what reassurance he would give the wives, who are very disturbed at the thought of the impact of the restrictions?

I had some flavour of the feelings of fishermen's wives when I met them today after my right hon. Friend the Minister and I had given evidence to the Select Committee on Agriculture. They were forceful in the views that they put to me and I was left in no doubt of their feelings. However, I was able to reassure them, as I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend's constituents, about the minimum 80 days, which worried them. I pointed out to them that those who, for example, did not have complete logs or who had been fishing for non-precious stocks, such as crabs, would have an opportunity to have their allocations reviewed. I also said to them that we were interested in a sustainable and viable fishing industry. I said that if there were good ideas, in terms both of fishing policy in general and of modifications to days-at-sea restrictions in particular, we should look at them. I urge the wives in my hon. Friend's constituency to sit down with their papers and to let us have their ideas without delay.

Animal Transport

9.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans she has to improve the welfare of animals transported from the United Kingdom to the rest of the EC.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Nicholas Soames)

We have maintained strict national rules to safeguard the welfare of animals during transport, both within this country and for export.

We are pressing for these rules to be extended throughout the Community.

As there are no official figures that show the number of British farm animals that are exported, we must rely on the estimates of the trade, which suggest that there has been a huge increase.

Does the Minister accept that at risk are not only the welfare of animals but the jobs of British meat processors? Instead of watching a year-on-year increase in the number of animals making long journeys abroad, will the Minister fight for meat to be exported on the hook rather than on the hoof, for slaughter to occur as near to the point of production as possible and for a maximum journey time of eight hours?

The hon. Gentleman did a good job in getting all the salient points into his question—I congratulate him. The British trade in animals is important. Statistics for 1992 show that the live export trade—mainly of cattle, sheep and pigs—is worth more than £160 million. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a strong demand for British beef and lamb because they are outstandingly good beasts which command a premium on the continent.

Our European friends prefer that the animals be slaughtered on the continent because they particularly like their butchers' cuts. The hon. Gentleman should be equally aware that the export trade keeps a great number of people employed on farms to raise the animals. I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about abattoirs, which is a regrettable side effect. On balance, the trade is important for British farmers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the incomes of lowland livestock producers have fallen dramatically during the past few years and that those producers are worried about the future of their industry? In his future negotiations with EC colleagues, will he take great care to agree to nothing that could disadvantage the United Kingdom livestock producer?

My hon. Friend has my complete assurance that the Government would never do such a thing. As I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy), the trade is important and expanding. Nevertheless, the point that the hon. Gentleman made about the welfare of animals during travel is relevant and is one of which we are most mindful. We intend to bring the rest of the EC up to the same high standards of animal welfare that we have in this country.

Woodland

10.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions she has had about introducing long-term non-rotational set-aside relating to woodland.

I have received many representations about the importance of allowing woodland planting on non-rotational set-aside. As recently as last week, I raised the matter at the informal agriculture council in Denmark, and I shall continue to press for it to be allowed.

Does the Minister appreciate that a higher rate of set-aside may be necessary to establish environmentally friendly schemes, such as the Greenwood community forest in north Nottinghamshire? Will she continue to press the EC to have such a scheme established quickly?

The European Commission at the moment is rather negative. It feels that such a scheme might allow marginal land to count against set-aside. We do not agree. The way forward is to make a link with the community forestry measures and arrangements for set-aside to allow farmers to enter the land in the farm woodland premium scheme. The farmers would not receive set-aside payments as well, but they would have a long-term guarantee. I shall continue to press that case.

My right hon. Friend will know that the new national forest in the midlands is centred on my constituency of Leicestershire, North-West. Additional incentives are required if farmers are to set aside land to encourage the creation of the wondrous new forest. Will my right hon. Friend impress on those in Brussels that the forest is of national and European significance?

There is a link between those proposals and the proposals for non-rotational set-aside on which we expect the Commission to introduce proposals by the end of July. My hon. Friend may rest assured that I will continue to press that case, not only for woodland but for rules on set-aside that our farmers need now.

Common Agricultural Policy

11.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations she has received on financial aspects of the common agricultural policy.

Given that the Minister conceded earlier that the scheme costs £18 per family in Britain and as the CAP serves the interests of neither agriculture nor the consumer, is it not time that she stopped merely talking about it and took some action to get rid of that obscenity of a policy which suits no one, least of all Britain?

I find that fairly rich, coming from an Opposition Member. The cost is too high, as the Government agree. It would be good if, for once, someone from the Opposition supported us when we wanted to cut costs in any area.

Has my right hon. Friend received any representations about the financial aspects of CAP in association with incentives to create environmentally sensitive areas?

Part of the CAP reform package included several incentives for what we call the agri-environment package. We have consulted widely on that package and we expect to announce some schemes in the autumn.

In the light of the Minister's response on the costs of CAP, will she confirm that the costs are due to increase this year by £1·3 billion and that it is expected that by 1995 they will have increased by some £4 billion? How does that equate with the statement made by her predecessor that the CAP reform was good for the taxpayer and the consumer? Will she give us an assurance that the Government will oppose those unacceptable and unjustified increases?

I explained to the House that the £1·3 billion increase was the result of various exchange rate mechanism realignments. The hon. Gentleman may possibly have missed that. The important thing is that agriculture continues to take a decreasing proportion of the European Community budget as a whole—which it is doing—and that it keeps within the guidelines set by the EC and approved by the House. That is also happening, but I agree that the cost is too high. I am delighted to have such support from the Opposition in cutting public expenditure.

Produce Marketing

12.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made with the marketing of British agricultural produce.

The Government are committed to encouraging the agriculture and food industries to improve and enhance their marketing. That is why we have established the market task force within the Ministry, introduced the group marketing grant and promoted the Agriculture Bill.

Does my hon. Friend agree that even though food exports are now increasing at a faster rate than food imports, it is vital that we improve our trade position in food? Does he further agree that, given the competitive exchange rate, all the help that is given to producers with marketing and processing and all the help from Food From Britain, it is up to food companies to make the most of the opportunities that are available to them?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. There is no doubt that dazzling and glittering prizes are available for the food industry in its export markets. It is one of the industries in which Great Britain truly leads the world. I wholly endorse my hon. Friend's view that we look to the industry for greatly enhanced performance in marketing.

I refer the Minister to his earlier answer on the welfare of animals that are transported in awful conditions. Those conditions have no place in today's modern society. Is the Minister aware that the export of sheep from Britain has led to the closure of a modern abattoir in my constituency with the loss of 35 jobs? Surely the Ministry should encourage the export of farm produce chilled rather than on the hoof.

I explained to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) why our continental friends prefer the export of animals on the hoof. The hon. Gentleman must understand that the business is important for our farmers. Equally, he is perfectly right to highlight the important welfare aspects of the business. That trade can take place only if the conditions in which it operates are honourable and have the integrity of properly enforced rules. I deeply regret the closure of the abattoir in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I am afraid that that is a function of the marketplace and, for the moment, the very admirable British stock is commanding very high prices abroad.

When my hon. Friend meets those who buy British goods in this country, will he urge them to plan their purchases carefully and as gently as they do when they plan purchasing goods from abroad?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Naturally, we always hope that our British—[interruption.] I am grateful to the House. We always hope that our British goods, which are so very reasonably priced and so excellent in quality, will always command the support of the housewife wherever she buys them.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Ql.

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 8 July.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the G7 economic summit in Tokyo where he has played an important part in bringing about a major step forward in resolving the GATT round.

Given the citizens charter, is the Lord President concerned that Regional Railways has cut its publicity budget by 30 per cent? As a result of that, many small stations in the east midlands and East Anglia no longer appear on the timetable. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure rail users that those stations will stay open after privatisation? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the problem? With no platform, no timetable and no sense of direction—that surely sounds like this Government.

The Government's sense of direction is very clear with regard to the vigour with which we have carried the rail privatisation proposals through the House to pave the way for further improvements in rail services. That is what we shall see.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as a result of the Government's trade union reforms, substantial power has been handed back to individual trade union members? Does he believe that there are other parts of union activity that could benefit from the introduction of one man, one vote?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's point about the effect of the trade union reforms that we have carried through in respect of returning power to individual members. I can think of quite a number of other reforms that should be carried out, but, unfortunately, they depend on the success of the leader of the Labour party, which he is not exactly having.

Bearing in mind that pensioners already face value added tax on their heating bills and the prospect of having to pay prescription charges, why is the Prime Minister in his speech in Tokyo adding to their very genuine fears by threatening even further curbs on social spending?

I must say that I am not suprised, in view of the contrast between my right hon. Friend's success in Tokyo and the right hon. and learned Gentleman's catastrophe in Bournemouth, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should—[Interruption.] In Tokyo, my right hon. Friend was making the point that all western countries face rising pressures on their welfare budgets. Few would argue in this country that the current Department of Social Security budget of almost £80 billion is necessarily spent in the best way possible and that any Government are not entitled and right to review policy and spending patterns. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman disagrees with that, may I say that I have just been quoting, to all intents and purposes, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar).

Is not it now absolutely clear from the Prime Minister's speech in Tokyo and the documents issued by the Secretary of State for Social Security that the Government have embarked on a blatant attempt to soften up the public for cuts in public spending? Does he not appreciate the justified anger of pensioners who have paid tax and insurance all their lives and hear these threats to their pensions? Does he not think that it is monstrous that these people should be asked to pay the price of the Government's economic improvidence?

What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has published this morning is a range of information to inform the debate which, in my view, everybody in this country agrees must sensibly be had. It is a debate which the right hon. and learned Gentleman undertook in setting up his social justice commission and in his own manifesto statement for the Labour party leadership. Pensioners have an absolute guarantee from the Government that we will maintain our commitment to uprate the basic retirement pension in line with prices and that we will not do what the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government did—fiddle the uprating figures and abolish the Christmas bonus two years running.

On the subject of guarantees, can the right hon. Gentleman remind us of what the Government said at the election about guarantees on value added tax?

The Government made it clear at the election that they would maintain the commitments to pensioners that I outlined. What I want to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and have not yet heard at any stage, is why the Labour party left VAT on fuel out of the list of those things that it was determined not to do.

The whole House will wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his considerable success at the G7 economic summit—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—the sensible ones, anyway. Will my right hon. Friend, on his return, look at the ever-increasing number of directions and regulations coming from Brussels, because, surely, what we really need to meet and beat world competition is a lightly regulated, free-trading economy?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. That, indeed, is another of the points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has underlined, not only time and again in discussions in Europe but now in the discussions in Tokyo in relation to the G7 summit. It is clear from the response from one country after another, most recently from President Clinton and the United States, that that crucial British message about the need to ensure the competitiveness of our economies is beginning to hit home all around the world.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 8 July.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

I remind the Leader of the House, in relation to the questions put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), that the Government were absolutely explicit about not extending the ambit of value added tax. Now they impose a hypothermia tax, which will mostly hit people with modest savings and small pensions and people on the margins of poverty. Because the Government did that, why should anyone believe what they say about not whittling away pensions and making pensioners' incomes means tested? Surely the Government's problem is that their clock has now struck for the 13th time.

The reason that pensioners should believe the commitments that we have made about their pensions is that we have consistently honoured our commitments to pensioners in a way that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members cannot possibly claim to have done.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming not only the excellent news from Tokyo about the proposed tariff cuts—which will, of course greatly increase trade and jobs—but the fact that at present the pound is regarded as the strongest currency in Europe? Does he agree that the right response to those two positive developments is to do everything possible, not to manipulate the exchange rate up or down but to maintain our competitiveness, build a good infrastructure, keep down inflation and manage our costs very tightly, and that that is a very promising way forward for this nation?

Again, I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. Alongside my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's success in contributing to a further step forward in an important deal for world trade is his success—and that of the Government—in emphasising and carrying through in Britain the policies to which my right hon. Friend has referred, and which will leave us particularly well placed to take advantage of the increase in world trade that will result.

Can the Leader of the House, speaking on behalf of the Government, tell us whether, at the intergovernmental conference today, the Government will contend that the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland should not be ridden over roughshod any longer but that those people should be treated as part of the United Kingdom?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman, and he would expect no less from me, that the Government remain totally committed to the principle that any change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of a majority of the people who live there, and I repeat that commitment this afternoon.

Did the Leader of the House read in The Guardian this morning an article that stated that the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Irish Republic attempted to pour petrol on Ulster fires by endorsing the Labour party proposal for joint authority and putting forward a further proposition for a commission, with representatives from the Dublin Government, Her Majesty's Government and the European Community, taking charge of Northern Ireland? Will the Leader of the House rebuke, as strongly as the Prime Minister did last week, the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister for making such a suggestion?

I have noted that report. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is meeting Mr. Spring this afternoon and will seek clarification of what he said. What I can do, and have just done for the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), is to repeat clearly and emphatically the British Government's position in this matter. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) can no doubt speak for the Labour party, but the British Government deplore the Labour party's position as well.

Do the Government yet understand that typhus and cholera are shortly to be added to shells and bullets as the means by which the people of Sarajevo will be condemned to die? Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that mere words from the G7 in Tokyo will be sufficient to save them?

The G7 summit in Tokyo has clearly reaffirmed our and other countries' commitment to the territorial integrity of Bosnia and to a negotiated settlement based on the principles of the London conference. It has made it absolutely clear that we cannot agree to any solution for Bosnia dictated by the Serbs and Croats at the expense of the Muslims. As the whole House would wish it to do, the summit has underlined our commitment to the urgent implementation of safe areas and to improving the flow of humanitarian aid.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that during the past 14 years the Conservative Government have shown real determination and courage in carrying through their reforms with the trade unions? Does he agree that the Leader of the Opposition singularly lacks those qualities in dealing with the same matters?

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East probably wishes that he was in Tokyo and had not had to go to Bournemouth. Since he left Bournemouth with what looked to me on the television news last night as a rather sheepish expression on his face, he has, of course, suffered a further significant reverse with the vote that the Transport and General Workers Union took this morning to reject his plans.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 8 July.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

What would the Lord President say to the firefighters in Pendle who, over the past 14 years, have seen their pay formula scrapped and the imposition of a 1.5 per cent. pay limit, when the chairman of North West Water has received a 43 per cent. increase, taking his salary to £267,000 a year? Why is it that those who douse the flames are worth so much less than those who provide the water?

I would say to the firefighters of Pendle or anywhere else that they should not listen to the kind of overheated rhetoric in which the hon. Gentleman indulges.

Reverting to the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), may I ask my right hon. Friend to accept that reaffirmation of itself is a cruel hoax unless it is followed by action? There is nothing to stop Sarajevo being saved. Can something now be done?

My hon. Friend has taken a long and honourable interest in these matters. He knows the difficulties of proceeding in quite the way he has often suggested. I would do no more at this stage than repeat what I said in an earlier answer—the British Government will continue to do everything that they properly and responsibly can to achieve a settlement that will stop the bloodshed in Bosnia.

Local Government (Scotland)

3.31 pm

With permission—[Interruption.]

Order. Will right hon. and hon. Members take their seats? The Secretary of State is waiting to make a statement.

With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement about local government in Scotland.

The Government's proposals for local government reorganisation in Scotland have been the subject of detailed consultation and discussion for the last two years. Throughout that time, support for the concept of single-tier local government has been strong and sustained. I have received a great deal of valuable comment from a wide range of individuals and organisations.

I am publishing today a White Paper which sets out our decisions on the new structure. I am also publishing a leaflet, which will be made widely available in Scotland, and summaries of the responses that I received to our second consultation paper on local government reform and our paper about the future of water and sewerage services. I have placed copies of those documents in the Vote Office, where they will be available in the usual way when I have completed this statement.

The Government have decided to establish a single-tier structure of local government throughout Scotland, comprising 28 authorities. The details of those authorities are set out in the White Paper. The new authorities will vary significantly in size and character, reflecting local wishes, circumstances and requirements.

We intend to re-establish the four Scottish cities as unitary councils and to create powerful new authorities on their outskirts to act as a counterbalance. In the more rural areas of Scotland, the new authorities will inevitably cover substantial areas, but areas for which our consultation has shown there is an established identity. The three islands authorities will remain unchanged.

The new authorities, whatever their size, will be encouraged and expected to pursue actively the adoption of schemes of decentralised management and administration to ensure that decisions are taken at the most local level practicable, enabling people to discuss problems with their council without having to make a long journey to its headquarters. I shall be asking authorities to prepare and publish comprehensive schemes of decentralisation.

The new authorities will all be responsible for providing the full range of local authority services, including education, housing and social work. The Government consider, however, that the reporter service for children's hearings would be more effectively provided as a national service, and I am proposing to establish a new body for that purpose. In addition, economies of scale available in the water and sewerage industry point to fewer, rather than more, bodies responsible for those services than we have at present. Further, customers should be able to benefit from the efficiencies and investment in the water and sewerage infrastructure which can be provided by the private sector.

The existing police forces and fire brigades will be retained. Some statutory co-operation will be required for their oversight and for the management of the Strathclyde passenger transport executive. In all other respects, it will be for individual authorities to make appropriate arrangements for the delivery of services in their areas. I shall expect to see a considerable development of the enabling role of authorities and a willingness to explore further the possibilities of co-operation with the private sector as they explore new ways of delivering services more efficiently. I shall be looking also for a greater willingness to share the expertise of specialist staff.

The changes I have announced will, of course, have implications for local government staff. I have already announced the Government's intention to establish a staff commission in Scotland to oversee the transfer process and to provide me with appropriate advice. Early retirement or redundancy compensation will be available in cases where particular staff are not required by the new authorities under the new structure and further decisions about those arrangements will be taken in due course.

I have, of course, made it clear that I expect the new structure to cost less than the present two-tier system. Savings of up to £65 million per annum can be expected from the new structure and those savings are likely to pay back the inevitable transitional costs within four or five years. The actual level of savings achieved by the new structure will ultimately depend upon the actions of the new authorities themselves.

The main objective of the reorganisation is not:, hòwever, to cut costs; it is to increase the effectiveness of local government in arranging the delivery of services and responding to local needs and concerns. I believe that the new structure will make local authorities more accountable and responsive to the people they serve and will help all authorities to achieve the standards already reached by the best. It will remove the confusion which undoubtedly exists over which council is responsible for which function, so that users know where to go when they are dissatisfied. It offers local government in Scotland the prospect of a bright, dynamic future. It will give a major boost to the implementation of the citizens charter in Scottish local government.

My intention is to introduce a Bill to implement those arrangements. Subject to the parliamentary consideration of the arrangements being completed, I hope that it will be possible for elections to the new authorities to take place in the spring of 1995, to give them until 1 April 1996 to establish themselves and to prepare for the assumption of responsibility from existing authorities on that date. Thereafter, election to the new councils will take place every three years.

The proposals I have announced today are of the utmost importance to everybody in Scotland. They reflect the strong and growing support for all-purpose councils in Scotland. They represent a tremendous opportunity to improve and strengthen our local government system and the delivey of local services and they are a great stride forward for local democracy in Scotland. I commend the White Paper to the House.

We have listened to a statement from the Secretary of State and we are being asked to consider a White Paper for which there is no consensus in Scotland, no support and no demand, and which runs counter to the stories from the Treasury that it faces—because of its policies—a £50 billion deficit. Where will the right hon. Gentleman find the money for his absurd and unwanted proposals? Which services does the Scottish Office intend to cut?

On water privatisation, the people of Scotland are entitled to claim that at least this unlistening Government have, in some respects—but some only—heard their voice, but only because the Secretary of State has abandoned his ludicrous proposals for outright privatisation—[Interruption.] If that is not the case, and if the Scottish Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)—who appears to have undue weight in these matters—takes a contrary view, perhaps we will hear it before the end of our questions on the statement. The Government's ludicrous extremes over water have at least been restricted for the moment. Nevertheless, in the light of Government betrayals over so many Scottish issues—from Rosyth to Ravenscraig—we are entitled to ask specific questions on water, and we do.

Why has the Secretary of State taken water out of local authority control? How will board appointees keep charges down even when they must provide profits for private financiers? What guarantees can the Secretary of State give on the future ownership of water and on protecting Scottish consumers from the threat of water disconnections—a subject that the right hon. Gentleman seems reluctant to discuss?

Why does the Secretary of State disregard the overwhelming view of the people of Scotland when he says that he takes that as much into account in Eastwood as in Edinburgh? Eighty-nine per cent. of the people oppose water privatisation. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman end the argument by saying that the matter is finished and final?

The Secretary of State's somewhat thin statement is in contrast with a document of 30 pages that reeks of dogma, centralisation, and policies that the Scottish people utterly reject. That dogma involves education, social work and essential local services and does not disguise—and nor can members of the Government Front Bench—the hidden agenda of centralisation, commercialism and privatisation which flies in the face of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland.

I ask the Secretary of State, who represents a minority party in Scotland, to justify his statement that there will be no joint boards, when he intends to have police and fire services in Strathclyde run by joint committees from 10 different councils. How can he justify the massive destruction of Scottish local government on the ground of the efficient provision of social services, and at the same time take upon himself the power to impose joint boards where he thinks fit? Where is democracy and accountability there? Who in Scotland made representations to the Secretary of State in response to his document, saying that is what they wanted?

How can the Secretary of State justify the centralising of reporting to children's hearing services in advance of producing comprehensive legislation later this year, as he promised earlier?

Of less importance to people's lives but more outrageous is the gerrymandering that the Secretary of State's proposals represent for Scotland's future. They are unashamedly and undisguised not proposals for local government reform, improving the quality of the delivery of service, cost efficiency or local democracy. No one in Scotland is fooled into thinking that. The proposals are about Tory revenge on the Scottish people and on Scottish local government, which the Government clearly utterly detest.

As the hon. Member for Eastwood has often said, Thatcherism still rules—and it is no more acceptable in Scotland today than it ever was. How can the right hon. Gentleman expect the House to take seriously the Eastwood solution to these important matters—the creation of safe havens for the beleaguered minority of Scottish Tories, which at present account for an absurd 16 per cent., seeking to impose dictatorial policies on us?

How can he expect anyone to take seriously his plans for Greater Eastwood, Greater Berwickshire and Greater Milngavie, and his plan to put Stirling district and Perth district on a par with Fife and with Highland region? How can we take seriously proposals for the reform of local government that ignore the thoughtful and constructive Wheatley commission, and the thoughtful and constructive debate that followed?

This is a disgrace to local government and to the way in which we deal with national government throughout the United Kingdom. This is a bankrupt policy from a bankrupt Government, unrepresentative and unworthy of the Scottish people. It will be as utterly rejected today as the Tories were in April last year.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) said that there was no consensus for the policy for the reform of local government. I suggest that he look at some of the submissions that we have received in response to the consultation process, which has gone on in great detail over the last two years. They have shown increasing support for single-tier local authorities.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Treasury, as though seeking to imply that the exercise was Treasury-driven. I have come under no direct pressure from the Treasury in regard to my proposals. The Treasury, like other Government Departments, has taken an interest in the proposals and has expressed itself content with them. I am not surprised, because we are not talking about an additional cost of £600 million, as the hon. Gentleman claimed; there will be transitional costs which, on the greatest present estimates, will be less than a third of that. We are talking of savings of up to £65 million a year—over £1 million a week—as a result of the contraction of local government that we are comtemplating.

As to water, the kindest thing that can be said about the hon. Gentleman's remarks is that he must have written his response before he had even read last week's issue of The Scotsman, let alone heard my statement today. The hon. Gentleman has totally misjudged this campaign, and has attributed to the Government a policy that we have not adopted. Like the grand old Duke of York, he has led his men up the hill, and now he must turn round and lead them down again.

What we are proposing is a sensible way forward for water in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman asked why it was being taken out of local authority control. The answer is that 28 water authorities would be extremely inefficient, lead to wide variations in costs and impose extra burdens on consumers. What we are proposing with the three authorities, using the private sector for future capital investment, will lead to the efficient delivery of water and raise the necessary investment, without imposing an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. It was the Leader of the Opposition who said that the question of ownership was irrelevant.

The hon. Gentleman said that I was reluctant to speak about disconnections. I draw his attention to what I said as recently as yesterday, which is that we have no plans for any change to the present arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman questioned the future of the reporter to children's services. We are anxious to deliver an efficient service without imposing excessive burdens on local authorities, many of whose departments in this regard would consist of only one or two individuals. That would not be a cost-effective way of delivering the services.

As to joint boards, I know that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed because, yet again, we have shot one of his foxes. We do not intend to increase the number of joint boards in Scotland; we see no need for more boards. We will continue to have joint boards for fire services, for police services, for the passenger transport executive and for the assessors. We are leaving the rest to local authorities to arrange what best suits their needs and the interests of their residents. The right way forward is to encourage responsible behaviour in local authorities.

As to the map, I encourage the hon. Gentleman to study our proposals more carefully before he rushes into a judgment. There will be no safe havens for bureaucracy, for duplication or for waste of taxpayers' resources.

The whole story of the hon. Gentleman's reaction to our important proposals for the reform of local government over recent months has been one of scaremongering. Last autumn, he claimed that we had a hidden agenda for a national police force, water privatisation, spending cuts, job losses, greater central control and a Treasury veto. On every one of those issues the hon. Gentleman is now seen to be wrong. What we are proposing is for the best future of local democracy in Scotland in the 21st century.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm welcome from my constituency and the constituencies surrounding mine for the abolition of Strathclyde regional council? My constituents have never identified with that council. I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to the responses, which have allowed the establishment of a Kyle and Carrick council. My constituents will identify with that council and will feel that they can influence the activities and accountability of the councillors elected to that body and exercise some control. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that, like me, he will welcome the re-emergence of many of the old county names in what we are now proposing for the future structure of local government. I agree with my hon. Friend, as, I am sure, does the Labour party, on the abolition of Strathclyde region. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the Leader of the Opposition, said:

"When we look at all the services provided by local government—both personal and protective—there can be no possible justification for the size of the Strathclyde region. It varies from being two and a half times to five times too big." —[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 25 January 1973; c. 207.]
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will welcome the replacement of Strathclyde region with no fewer than 10 independent local authorities.

Well, well, was it all worth waiting for? After all the hype we have a document that has been lying on the press desk for the past week and is only now being presented to the House.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has no right to introduce single-tier local authorities in Scotland without setting up a Scottish Parliament to look after the affairs that he now holds undemocratically in his hands? With hindsight, does he agree that this will be a costly exercise, that he has laid himself open to the charge of political manipulation and that he should have had an independent commission to investigate all the matters of local government reform?

I believe that the Secretary of State's announcement about water is just the beginning of the road to privatisation. Is he not aware that 94 per cent. of the submissions to his office were against his plans for water? How many letters and submissions does it require for him to listen to what the people of Scotland have said?

This is a complete mess. We have overlapping councils and parliamentary seats and overlapping local enterprise companies. We have mixed-up water and police authorities and there is no coherence or stability. I reject it, and I believe that the people of Scotland will reject it also.

I am surprised that the hon. Lady has made no mention of the future of Argyll and makes no attempt to reflect the interests of her constituents. Argyll district council expressed its keenness to have a single-tier structure and a willingness to take into Argyll pieces of neighbouring territory if that were thought appropriate.

The hon. Lady asked whether the statement was worth waiting for. My answer is an emphatic "Yes". I am certain that the people of Scotland will warmly welcome the implementation of these proposals and the improved delivery of services that they will bring.

The hon. Lady mentioned the setting up of a Scottish Parliament before local government can be reformed. The policies of the Labour party for setting up a separate Scottish Parliament would drain power from local government. I have it on the authority of Mrs. Jean McFadden, the leader of Glasgow district council, that
"There may well be a tendency for a Scottish Parliament to suck up power from below."
That is the fact. These proposals will be welcomed in Argyll, as they will be welcomed elsewhere in Scotland.

Order. I shall try to call as many hon. Members as possible but I ask for the House's co-operation in the form of brisk questions and brisk answers to help me to do so.

In welcoming the advent of the proposed single-tier local authorities and my right hon. Friend's sensible and realistic proposals for water services, may I ask whether he will fully consider any representations that he receives from constituencies such as mine about the effective local delivery of services in larger rural areas? During the Committee stage of the Bill, will he be willing to reconsider the splitting of the Mearns from the former local county of Kincardineshire?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for the underlying thrust of our proposals, which I am sure will be of great advantage to the north-east of Scotland and, indeed, to the rest of Scotland. As for the detailed proposals, such issues will come up for consideration as the Bill goes through the House and, in due course, once Parliament has decided on the map, the Local Government Boundary Commission will immediately go to work on them. There will be plenty of opportunity for my hon. Friend to advance any thoughts that he may have on the precise nature of the boundaries.

Who does the Secretary of State think he is kidding? Does he not realise that the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland will recognise this as a squalid job creation scheme for Tory councillors and quango members and that everyone responsible for it, including the Secretary of State, is corrupt and unfit to hold public office?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will carefully examine the proposals for his part of Scotland and for the rest of Scotland. We are removing unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication, improving local accountability and creating greater accessibility and clarity in the delivery of local government services. If the hon. Gentleman does not share my objectives, he should be considering his own priorities.

I take points of order after statements. If the House were not so noisy, we could hear what hon. Members said. I think that there is some concern that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) used the word "corrupt". I did not hear it—[Interruption.] Order. If the House were quieter, we could all hear what was going on. I did not hear the hon. Gentleman. He may have used the word but if the House were quieter, I could hear. Unless the Speaker hears, there is nothing I can do about it, so I ask the House to remain quiet so that I and everyone else can hear what is going on.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be met with a thunderous roar of approval by the people of the city of Aberdeen, who have long campaigned for an all-purpose city council, and that includes the ruling Labour group of the present city district council? Does my right hon. Friend agree that what he has announced is subsidiarity in action, giving local decision makers the right to make local decisions in local communities, which is far removed from what is on offer from the Opposition, who would take decision making away from local communities and transfer it to a central belt in Edinburgh?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that the city of Aberdeen will be a strong and effective all-purpose authority. I also believe that the surrounding area of Aberdeenshire will provide an effective counterbalance and that there will soon be a vibrant and extremely efficient local government system in north-east Scotland.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his wish that the White Paper should be regarded as a sensible reform of local government would carry more credence but for his ill-conceived decision to have the whole process carried out by the Scottish Office, not by means of a proper inquiry? Does he accept that there will be considerable dissatisfaction in the Grampian area about the break-up of Grampian regional council, which I hope he will concede has done a great deal for fishing and the rural areas of north-east Scotland? Although there will certainly be great satisfaction at the restoration of a single-tier authority for the city of Aberdeen, what is the rationale for the new addition of Westhill, other than his determined gerrymandering to dilute Labour control of the city?

Yes, Grampian has been an efficient region, but we had to make decisions as we examined the map of Scotland. We were told at one stage that the whole excercise was a plan to abolish the regions of Scotland. It was no such thing—indeed, four of the regions will survive under our proposals, some in slightly reduced form. We have sought to find the most effective pattern and structure for each part of Scotland. We are not imposing a blueprint, but considering the circumstances of each area and finding the right solution. Although Grampian has been a successful and effective region, I believe that the new authorities that we shall set up in the north-east will be more effective. I should say that there was little support for the continuance of Grampian region.

Does the Secretary of State understand that everyone can see that the document is a paving Bill for stealing Scotland's water through Tory quangos? This is the end of the road for the Westminster system, and the Secretary of State has no place left to hide. His gerrymandered map is an insult to democracy and an affront to Scotland. Every Scottish Member of Parliament worth his or her salt should oppose it. It is an insult, a betrayal of democracy and a betrayal of Scotland. It must be rejected.

May I say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] By leaving the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have not only scored an own goal, but have left me with an open goal. He left because he was so deeply embarrassed about the fact that Angus district favoured a single-tier authority based on Angus, which is what we propose.

Is my right hon. Friend surprised that those who were reluctant personally to pay for the cost of local government are so interested in the structure of local government?

My hon. Friend is right. It is incumbent on all parties in the House to raise their horizons above party self-interest and to look to the future interests of Scottish local government.

Does not the document represent a kind of "electoral cleansing" —a desperate effort by a discredited Government to sweep together as many Tory voters as can possibly be found to form a kind of East Renfrewstan, as we have in Eastwood? Would it not be better if the Government went the whole hog and allowed Tory voters to opt out of the local authority in whose area they live and to choose another more suited to their political tastes? Better still, why do they not rent an island somewher off the coast of Scotland —Rockall, for example, would be big enough—where all the remaining Scottish Conservatives could be collected, and could live in the wild blue yonder thereafter?

Is not the truth that a Government without popular support—they have less popular support now than the risible amount that they polled in April 1992—cannot possibly command the authority for proposals of such magnitude? Is not the only way forward a referendum for Scotland and a parliament in Scotland, so that the Scottish people can decide how and where they are governed?

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Fifteen months ago, he and his hon. Friends were talking about the Tory party being wiped out in Scotland. Now, simply because we are reforming local government, they seem to think that we are suddenly going to sweep the country. The Conservative party has always been a modest participant in local government in Scotland, and the suggestion that we could construct a scenario to benefit us at the expense of other parties is preposterous. I am surprised that the Labour party seems so uncertain of its prospects at the next local government elections under the new arrangements.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that many of his colleagues in England will look enviously on the new streamlined structure of local government in Scotland, and that we hope to catch him up soon? If my right hon. Friend is thinking of renting islands, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) suggested, will he rent a Greek island and put the socialists—what is left of them —on it?

I shall leave my hon. Friend's latter suggestion hanging in the air, but I welcome his support for my proposals. I believe that they represent an effective, coherent and clear-cut solution which will meet Scotland's needs. I hope that England will be as successful in its activities as we shall be in ours.

Can the Secretary of State explain to the House the principles according to which he links Eastwood and Barrhead, which are five miles apart and have no direct bus link, instead of putting Eastwood where it ought to be, in the city of Glasgow, where its people work and where they use the leisure facilities and the halls? Under his proposals, the people of Eastwood will pay nothing towards those services. Is it not an act of political cowardice—giving in to his junior Minister and to those selfish, greedy electors he represents, who are not prepared to pay for the services they use?

I am glad that we have been able to revive the county of Renfrewshire, and that it is of a size that enables us to propose two authorties in that county, as we are doing in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and other parts of Scotland. I believe that what we are proposing is the right way forward for those areas and for Scotland as a whole. Those matters will be fully debated as the Bill goes through Parliament.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that there was wide support for single-tier authorities, and that he has listened carefully to representations? Does not the success of Conservative Members of Parliament, in their representations on behalf of their constituents, show the difference between the right honourable whingers on the Opposition Benches and Conservative Members who put forward logical cases?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I can assure him that there was substantial support for single-tier authorities in our initial consultation process. That support has increased considerably and, in the most recent opinion poll, was shown to stand substantially higher than that for alternative solutions.

The Secretary of State's undistinguished statement this afternoon says little or nothing about jobs and inward investment. It is not clear to me how local enterprise companies will sit with the new authorities. Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about that? Is it not the case, for example, that the new towns with development corporations will be covered by local enterprise companies? Where will Dunbartonshire enterprise boundaries end in the new structure as it affects the new town of Cumbernauld? Will the Minister say something generally about the new towns?

I am glad to do so, and the hon. Gentleman mentions a significant point. We shall consider the boundaries of local enterprise companies, health boards and other such organisations and, where appropriate, we shall propose the rationalisation of boundaries.

Under our proposals, there will be one new town—Cumbernauld—in north Lanarkshire, and one new town —East Kilbride—in south Lanarkshire. The new towns will benefit from the change because they will deal with one local authority instead of with two, and that will also improve inward investment relationships with local government.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his carefully crafted proposals for local government in Scotland, but is he aware that some Conservative Members will be a little disappointed that the water industry is not to be speedily privatised? Can he confirm that the resources necessary for the much-needed investment in the water industry in Scotland will not come from the public sector pot—where obviously the priorities should be schools, hospitals, roads and so on—but rather from the private sector?

I hope that you have noticed, Madam Speaker, that I have followed the advice you gave me yesterday about the need for moderate language. I have not said a word about Monklands.

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that the circumstances in Scotland are different from those in England, where water authorities had existed for some years. At present, water in Scotland is a local authority service. We are proposing the establishment of water authorities, but they will raise most of their resources for new capital investment from the private sector, which will reduce the demand for resources from other areas of Government expenditure.

The Secretary of State talked about reviving Scotland's counties. Does he accept that East Lothian can never be part of the Borders, let alone part of West Lothian, and that he has no right to split the historic county of East Lothian in two? What community of interest is there between Cockenzie and Coldstream, and what about the non-existent link between Prestonpans and Livingston, for goodness' sake? Is he aware that the geographical centre of his proposed Tory mini-Bantustan, composed of Berwickshire and the eastern part of East Lothian, is a place 1,000 ft up in the Lammermuirs called the Hungry Snout, which is quite a good description of the expensive, unworkable and squalid set-up that he is proposing?

For all I know, it forms part of the hon. Gentleman's estate. East Lothian is not part of the Borders under our proposals, any more than it has been historically. What we propose is broadly in line with what used to be a parliamentary constituency and—most interestingly—seems to conform to what the independent Boundary Commission now proposes for the future parliamentary constituency.

Does the Secretary of State recall that yesterday his ministerial colleague rebuked me for extravagant language and urged me to wait for the proposals? Now that I have seen them, I marvel at my moderation. They are the most corrupt proposals presented to the House by any Government during my time in this place.

As regards the Borders area, the Secretary of Stale will remember putting two options in his consultation document. What he now proposes is neither of those options. How does he justify that? What was the point of the consultation? As he has always told us that the Borders region is doubtfully viable, with a population of 100,000, why does he now propose to chop it up and take Berwickshire out to satisfy a few local government Tories?

We made it clear when we published the consultation paper that we were including four illustrative options and that we were not suggesting that the choice need be confined to them. We are talking not about a handbook for six-year-old schoolchildren, saying, 'Pick one of the four," but about illustrative options from which guidance could be given to people replying to the consultation exercise and making their suggestions.

The right hon. Gentleman used extreme language today. I note that he used similar language in his criticism of the Boundary Commission following its proposals for the area containing his constituency and that of his neighbour. I have to suspect the hon. Gentleman and his party of gerrymandering the future parliamentary boundaries in their area.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the people of Scotland on the magnificent fight that they have put up against his proposals for all-out water privatisation? Will he be assured that they will not be fooled by his proposals for privatisation by the back door?

Will the Secretary of State justify the fact that there is no commission to look at Scotland's local government boundaries, and explain to me how, in his reforming of Renfrewshire, he has come up with proposals for two councils, one of which consists of the only Tory constituency in Renfrewshire plus the only two Tory-held wards in Paisley and the other of which consists of four Labour-held constituencies, with populations of 88,000 and 265,000 respectively?

Will the right hon. Gentleman further confirm that in reality he put his proposals not to this House today, but to The Scotsman last week?

I can confirm to the hon. Lady that I did no such thing. I deplore the leaking of any Government document. As the hon. Lady knows, we never comment on allegedly leaked documents.

For water, what we propose is a Scottish solution suitable for Scottish circumstances. I believe that it will be effective in the delivery of water services in future.

The hon. Lady referred to Renfrewshire. I should have thought that she would welcome the restoration of Renfrewshire as an area of all-purpose authorities in its own right. I am glad, too, that we have been able to divide it into two authorities. They do not need to be numerically equal any more than they need to be geographically equal. What we need is a proper and sensible division between east and west Renfrewshire, and that will no doubt be debated further as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.

Before the Secretary of State reminds me of the fact, may I make it clear that I have always advocated an all-purpose authority for the city of Dundee, but we do not want it under the present gerrymandered proposals.

Do you, Madam Speaker, feel as disturbed as I do at the fact that Ministers preface every statement that they make about Northern Ireland by making it clear that no change will take place without the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland, but that we get no such statements from the Secretary of State for Scotland? Is it not extremely relevant that, in the period leading up to 22 July, it is repeatedly being emphasised that change will not take place in Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority? Why does not the Secretary of State fight his and Scotland's corner in the Cabinet?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming what the Government propose for Dundee. I suppose that he will be accusing me of gerrymandering next. As we have eight Conservative councillors out of 40 in the area that will form Dundee council, I hardly think that such a charge would be credible.

It would be less than honest of me not to welcome one part of the White Paper—the recognition that Cambuslang and Rutherglen are separate communities in their own right. However—as the saying goes—let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friends and I will be defending the continued existence of Strathclyde regional council, which is one of the best councils in the history of local government in Scotland. If the process is not to be devalued and defiled as a gerrymandered issue, will the Secretary of State explain why no separate council has been recommended for Cambuslang and Rutherglen, which are in my constituency and have a similar population to Eastwood, Stirling and Berwickshire? What is the difference?

That area is traditionally part of Lanarkshire and it will go into south Lanarkshire. I am surprised to find the hon. Gentleman defending Strathclyde. I would be surprised if he found strong support for that among his constituents. I believe, as does the Leader of the Opposition, that Strathclyde is too large.

The 10 independent self-governing local authority areas that we propose will be widely welcomed throughout the Strathclyde area.

I was brought up in Glasgow, and have lived in the north side of the city all my life. I am not all that familiar with the south side, but it has always been my understanding that King's Park and Toryglen were part of the city of Glasgow. Why has the Secretary of State sought to take those areas out of Glasgow when he claims that he is trying to make local government more accessible to the people?

I mean no disrespect to the people of Giffnock and Newton Mearns, but the vast majority of those who are lucky enough to be in a job work mainly in the Glasgow area—sometimes in businesses, sometimes in lawyers' firms—sometimes in the Strathclyde region. Why is the Secretary of State allowing Eastwood to become an authority? The only conclusion that I can reach is that his ear has been bent day after day by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). If the Secretary of State accepts that all of us are equal, why does the Under-Secretary of State have more say than any other hon. Member?

As the hon. Gentleman can imagine, Toryglen is a place after my own heart. I understand that, historically, some 85 per cent. of Toryglen and King's Park have formed part of Lanarkshire. The hon. Gentleman suggests that we propose to make Eastwood an all-purpose authority on its own. That is not part of our proposals.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the private sector is already describing his proposed water authorities as business units which will promote the franchising and market testing of Scotland's water by as early as 1995? Does he not yet understand that, having failed his own market test in Scotland at the last general election, he has no democratic authority whatever for any of the changes that he has announced this afternoon? Therefore, when he introduces the Bill, he can expect not just token opposition from us, but unrelenting hostility, resistance and obstruction to ensure that these measures never see the light of day in Scotland.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for promising to take a close interest in these matters.

Will not the reforms result in Scotland being run largely by quangos staffed by Tory party members and those prepared to pay into Tory party funds? Does the Secretary of State accept that, by attempting to gerrymander councils that the Tory party can control, he is corrupting the political system in Scotland in a way that would have done the former eastern European communist system proud?

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong on both points. I feel certain that Edinburgh, which has been widely welcomed in the area as an all-purpose authority, will be extremely successful in advancing the interests of his constituents.

Scotland will see the statement for what it really is: a piece of political chicanery of the worst kind. As others have said, it is a form of political corruption.

Will the Secretary of State explain why it is right for Stirling, with a population of 81,000, and Eastwood, with a population of 88,000, to be given an authority in their own right while my area of East Kilbride, which has the same population and is economically stronger, is denied that right?

In drawing up the map we took account not just of individual areas but of their relationship to neighbouring areas and the way in which they fitted in to the overall map for Scotland. I believe that it is right that we should be willing to reflect the diversity and variety of the demography and geography of Scotland. We have sought to do that with the proposals. We have always made it clear that size, in geographical and population terms, would vary. I believe that that is generally widely welcomed.

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the fact that, if he wishes to retain the links between communities, the severing of the links between Falkirk, Alloa and Stirling stands ill beside the retention of Fife region virtually in its entirety? Could that be because he is more concerned about the political fate of his ministeral colleague than he is about the good governance of the area? Will he also reflect upon the fact that, within Clackmannan district, there are Catholic children who go to school at St. Modan's high school in Stirling, and there is no provision in the White Paper for cross-boundary help for youngsters for whom there is no educational provision in the proposed areas?

It is always the case with boundaries between local government authorities that some services overlap and sensible relationships are quickly and easily arrived at. Clackmannan and Falkirk are compact and industrialised areas, widely different from Stirling, which is largely a rural area. Our proposal to revive much of the old Stirling county will be warmly welcomed there. I was most impressed by Stirling district council's submission to me.

Does the Secretary of State for Scotland think that the House believes that this document is about local government democracy? Is it not a cost-saving exercise? The Secretary of State for Scotland has gone on about the saving of £65 million, but he does not tell us who will pay the penalty. Thousands of employees, men and women, in Strathclyde and all over Scotland have dedicated their lives to local authorities. If the right hon. Gentleman was really serious as Secretary of State for Scotland, he would have set up a commission similar to that in 1975 when Wheatley considered management and corporate structures.

In going for option D on water privatisation, the Secretary of State is inviting the private sector to invest, but the people of Scotland do not want anything to do with the private sector, franchising or anything else. Nor do they want anything to do with this gerrymandering, this jumble sale of boundaries, which has nothing to do with democracy, and we shall oppose it. If anybody is to do anything about local government reorganisation, it should be a Scottish Parliament.

I shall certainly answer the two new points that the hon. Gentleman raised. First, with regard to whether this is a cost-saving exercise, the hon. Gentleman should have a word with those on the Opposition Front Bench who for the past few months have been busy trying to persuade everyone that this exercise will cost a fortune. The fact is that it will save money. It will save up to £65 million per year—about £1 million a week. With regard to redundancies, there will be fewer employees in local government, because we are contemplating reducing the number of authorities from 65 to 28. That means less duplication and less bureaucracy. But we estimate that the number of employees will be reduced by less than 1 per cent.

The Secretary of State has now confirmed that when the Prime Minister said after the last general election that he would take stock, what he really meant was that he would take the mickey. That is what this gerrymandering statement means to us today. Yesterday, the Secretary of State asked me to contain my soul in patience until the statement was made about the number of councillors that he proposed in the new local authorities—

Order. I am trying to contain my patience, but I am now listening for a question rather than a statement. Will the hon. Gentleman come to a question, please?

Will the Secretary of State now tell us what he refused to tell me yesterday—the number of councillors that he proposes for the so-called new local authorities?

I envisage that, taking districts and regions as they are at present, the number of councillors will fall from over 1,600 to over 1,200.

Will the Secretary of State accept a warm welcome for the fact that water will remain in public ownership and that there will be no law of disconnection in Scotland? Does he accept that the people of Scotland, led by the Labour party and everyone else who is prepared to campaign in that direction, will keep it that way this side of a general election, and that the general election in Scotland will be fought largely on that issue and on the issue of returning water to public accountability?

Will the Secretary of State also consider that, when I say that the ludicrous proposal to call Ayrshire north Ayrshire when it stretches all the way down to Dumfries and Galloway is a falsehood, an absurdity and an offence to reason, I am joined not just by everyone in the Labour party, not just by everybody with any common sense in Ayrshire, but by the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the Tory party? Does he further accept that there will be an intensive cross-party campaign against the gerrymandering of Ayrshire?

The hon. Gentleman need not bother campaigning for the return of water to public accountability, because it will not have left it. On his point about the name of the Ayrshire authorities, the document makes it clear—I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has not had the opportunity to read it—that the Government will welcome suggestions for any changes of name.

I have an inkling towards all-purpose authorities. An obvious all-purpose authority would have been Ayrshire, with Kilmarnock as its capital. I cannot see for the life of me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ask a question."] I cannot understand why the Secretary of State saw fit to divide Ayrshire into north and south. Is that divide amendable, and if there is to be a separation, may we propose that Ayrshire should stand as a single, all-purpose, tiered authority? Will the Secretary of State assure us that he will give that consideration? I am sure that the majority of people in Ayrshire would wish to suggest that, if they have not already done so.

The combined population of what we propose to be north Ayrshire and south Ayrshire will be 376,000. We felt that that would be too large for a local authority covering that geographical area, and that it was possible to divide Ayrshire to create a more accountable local authority and to enable Kilmarnock, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, to become a central town in the Ayrshire local authority structure. I believe that that is right. In seeking to divide Ayrshire, we decided that one of the best boundaries was one that was established by Lord Wheatley and his commission.

Will the Secretary of State answer this question honestly—I know it will be a change: will he confirm that, during the consultation, the vast majority of people from Ayrshire wanted an all-Ayrshire authority, including Enterprise Ayrshire, the health board, the chamber of commerce and most of the MPs and councillors, and that the only people who wanted the Kyle and Carrick authority were the few discredited Tories there and the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie)? Will he therefore pay attention to the consultation? It is not a question of names or viability—Ayrshire is a viable authority. Will he accept the views of the people of Ayrshire and agree to an all-Ayrshire authority?

The hon. Gentleman was sufficiently honest to concede that there had been support in Ayrshire for Kyle and Carrick as a unitary authority. Kilmarnock and Loudoun also supported its proposed unitary status. What we propose strikes the right balance between local loyalties and the need for authorities to be large enough to ensure the efficient delivery of services.

Even the Secretary of State will agree that nobody in the House would accuse me of over-statement, but there is almost unanimous agreement that we have heard a pathetic response to the demands of the people of Scotland to have a say in their own affairs. The Secretary of State for Scotland has waved a paper, a document, to the House that represents appeasement of Scotland's interest which we find utterly repugnant.

For that reason, and in view of his weak and pathetic response, may I say, through you, Madam Speaker, and with great respect to you, that my hon. Friends will proceed to Downing street to ask for the resignation of this pathetic Secretary of State. He has yet again destroyed Scotland's interest. In the words of Leo Amery to Chamberlain's Government:
"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing … In the name of God, go!"—Official Report, 7 May 1940; Vol. 360, c. 1150.]—
[Interruption.]

I am not sure whether there is very much to reply to. There are certainly no Scottish Labour Members to whom to reply. They will be disappointed. I suppose that they will reach Downing street about 10 minutes from now, but they will find that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is not there. As most of the rest of the country knows, my right hon. Friend is still in Japan. I am sure that the messenger on the door will be happy to take a message.

Business Of The House

4.30 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

MONDAY 12 JULY—Report stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on the International Development Association (Tenth Replenishment) Order.

TUESDAY 13 JULY—Remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on the Education (Assistend Places) (Amendment) Regulations.

Motion on the Partnerships and Unlimited Companies (Accounts) regulations.

WEDNESDAY 14 JULY—Assuming that Scottish Labour Members are back from Downing street, Opposition Day (17th allotted day).

Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate on Scottish local government and water privatisation, followed by a debate on debt, trade and development after the G7 summit. Both debates arise on Opposition motions.

THURSDAY 15 JULY—Until about seven o'clock, remaining stages of the Welsh Language Bill [Lords]s.

Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Irealand) Order.

FRIDAY 16 JULY—Debate entitled "Tackling Fraud and Abuse in Social Security" on ass motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 19 JULY—Supplemental timetable motion on and consideration of Lords amendments to the Education Bill.

I regret that I am not in a position today to announce the precise dates of the summer recess. However, it may be for the convenience of the House to know that Government business will be taken in the week commencing 26 July.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 14 July at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows: Committee A, document No. 6744/93 relating to non-rotational set-aside and document No. 7033/93 relating to arable land set-aside. Committee B, document No. 4148/93 relating to the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.

[Wednesday 14 July:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: 6744/93, non-rotational set-aside; 7033/93, arable set-aside. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 79-xxix ( 1992–93 ) and HC 79-xxx ( 1992–93 ).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: 4148193, patenting of biotechnological inventions. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 79-xix ( 1992–93 ).]

I thank the Leader of the House for telling us the business for next week. Will he consider again the amount of time being allocated to the Education Bill? As I understand it, there are 622 Government amendments and 14 amendments that have been tabled against the wishes of the Government. Apparently the amendments include 34 new clauses. If the Education Bill is so bad that it already requires so many amendments, surely it is a mistake to try to bulldoze it through the House by force of numbers. Surely it would be better to get it through by force of reason. That would require more discussion than the Leader of the House seems to be willing to allocate. However, at least we shall have some discussion on education matters.

The Government tell us that public expenditure is the largest single concern of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, yet we have not been allowed to discuss the details of the Government's public expenditure plans for last year, let alone for this year. A debate is long overdue. I reiterate the Opposition's call for such a debate.

May we also have a debate on some of the reports now emanating from the Public Accounts Committee? There is a report on major defence projects and especially on the AR1 scandal, or HMS De Lorean, as I understand it is known in the industry. May we have a special debate on the National Audit Office report on the Welsh Development Agency, which will be considered by the Public Accounts Committee?

In particular, I ask the Leader of the House how it is possible for a man with three previous criminal convictions for deception to be appointed to a senior post in the Welsh Development Agency. Does the Conservative party regard that as qualifications? How can a former international director of that agency not only work as a private consultant as well, but be paid off with a £230,000 golden handshake? Those are outrageous states of affairs which the National Audit Office has uncovered. The House should discuss them at an earlier moment. Will the Leader of the House at least assure me that Doctor Gwyn Jones will be suspended from his other public appointments, pending a further inquiry into the matter?

Finally, I wish to raise an issue that ought to command consensus in the House. May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Opposition's support in principle for the unified budget statement and for the investigation into the procedures that will be adopted by the Procedure Committee? However, I deplore the fact that the Government are trying to pre-empt the Procedure Committee's work by making amendments to this year's Finance (No. 2) Bill that effectively take some of the major decisions well before the House, or even the Procedure Committee, has had a chance to consider the matters. Even at this late stage, I urge the Leader of the House to persuade his colleagues on the Treasury Bench to drop the offensive clause 202 from the Finance (No. 2) Bill pending its consideration by the Procedure Committee.

I cannot guarantee to find more time for discussions on the Education Bill, but of course I am, as ever, content for the matters to be further discussed through the usual channels. I say that with perhaps some scepticism about what the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) said about allowing the forces of reason to prevail. The Government, of course, always allow the forces of reason to prevail. There has not been much reason shown by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on this and other matters.

I cannot add to what I have said about public expenditure on previous occasions. But I draw attention again to the fact that there will be a substantial opportunity to debate those matters on Third Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill next week. The hon. Gentleman's

points about the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office will be noted, I am sure, by my right hon. and hon. Friends. They may also be noted by the Chairman and the members of the Liaison Committee in considering what other subjects should be recommended for any estimates days at some future stage.

I would not want to pre-empt the consideration that my right hon. and hon. Friends will give to the various reports, and they will respond in due course. In return, I hope that the Opposition will acknowledge that, while it is right that the report should be studied, it should not detract from the fact that the Welsh Development Agency, for example, has a record of outstanding achievement in promoting new investment and jobs to the benefit of the people of Wales.

I will make sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends are made aware of what the hon. Gentleman said about the unified budget. It must be right to take advantage of the fact that we are passing a Finance Bill to make changes that are seen to be necessary to the process on which we are embarking. That is without prejudice to my right hon. Friends having their attention drawn to what the hon. Gentleman said.

Is any progress being made towards the implementation of the all-party Jopling report? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the way that we conduct our affairs in the House is regarded with derision by the public and with bewilderment by other countries? Most hon. Members want the reforms—

With the exception of a minority of jurassic dinosaurs, hon. Members of all parties want the reforms. It is high time that they were put into effect.

My hon. Friend speaks for many hon. Members on both sides of the House. He will be aware, as I mentioned last week, that there have been disturbing reports of the proceedings on the matter in the parliamentary Labour party.

The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) has written to me about the matter, although not with the straightforward yes that my hon. Friend would have wished to hear.

Does the Leader of the House accept that the statement about local government in Scotland made this afternoon by the Secretary of State for Scotland was deeply controversial, to put it mildly? Notwithstanding the welcome half Supply Day that the official Opposition will have next week, will the right hon. Gentleman give us an undertaking that, in the spillover Session when we return from the summer recess, once people have had a chance to digest the proposals for local government in Scotland, and before Second Reading, there will be a debate in Government time? That would enable the force of feeling in Scotland to be brought to bear on the Government about the results that some of the proposals will have.

I assume that the Government will give an assurance that, if local people demonstrate beyond peradventure that they are against the proposals, their objections will be borne in mind before the proposals are finalised and the Bill is introduced.

I can safely observe at least that I did not need the hon. Gentleman to tell me that the proposals were controversial. I had observed that in the past few minutes. In response to his specific question, I cannot give him the undertaking that he requests. Let us see how we get on in the debate next week. Then we can give further consideration to these matters.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a full debate on the proposal to extend the selected list scheme for pharmaceuticals? The matter has not been discussed in the Chamber since the Government proposed the scheme in November last year. It is widely rumoured that the Government intend to lay three orders next week which will extend the list. The methods used by the committee are causing considerable anxiety to doctors and patients and, indeed, to the pharmaceutical industry. I remind the House that I have an interest in the matter.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. His interest in the matter is well known. The proper thing for me to do is to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Given that an event took place yesterday which has fundamental implications for the rule of law and for justice and democracy in this country, and that an action was taken by the Home Secretary which is usually taken only by dictators, why has no statement been made to the House and why has no time been allowed to debate the issue? I refer to the case in which a young constituent of mine who had been held for months on a serious charge with no evidence was told by a magistrate in Britain's so-called respected courts that he left the court without a stain on his character. Before he got to the door he was handcuffed. The Secretary of State for Home Affairs had signed an exclusion order. There has been no debate of any description on the matter.

More than 3,000 people have died on the streets of Northern Ireland. Does the Leader of the House agree that if that were happening on the streets of Britain, it would be discussed every day of the week by a packed House until the problem was resolved? Does he agree that the fact that it is discussed only occasionally late on a Thursday night to let British Members have a long weekend shows clearly that, in spite of the repeated guarantees that the Government give—such guarantees were given often in the past week to buy votes on 22 July—[Interruption.] No, on 22 July—the social chapter. Is not the lack of discussion a clear sign that the Government have psychologically withdrawn from Northern Ireland?

No, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of those matters. I can only say, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said, that for him to make an exclusion order he has to be satisfied, in accordance with criteria laid down by Parliament, that someone has been involved in the commission, perpetration or instigation of acts of terrorism connected with Northern Ireland. My right hon. and learned Friend reviewed all the information before him, including material that would not be admissible as evidence in court proceedings. On the basis of that information, he was satisfied that the statutory criteria were met.

My right hon. Friend will recognise that the defence White Paper published on Monday was one of the most important documents published in the post-second world war era. Does he agree that Britain is at a crossroads in defence terms? It either remains a global power with a right to a seat on the Security Council or it becomes a backwater—a small island off the north coast of Europe.

Bearing in mind the importance of that defence White Paper and the implications for Britain's defence needs in the future, does my right hon. Friend accept that there is an urgent need to debate the issue? Will he give an assurance to the House that he will break with convention and that we shall not have to wait for 12 months to have such an important debate?

May I make two points which echo something that I said last week? I think that I am right in saying that the convention is that, following the publication of the defence estimates—I entirely accept that the White Paper is a significant document—the first step is for the Defence Select Committee to consider it and, if it wishes to do so, to make a report. That is appropriate in this case. I shall certainly make every endeavour—I underline that—to ensure that the new defence estimates are debated rather more rapidly than proved possible with the previous set of defence estimates.

Will the Leader of the House invite the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House next week following the statement made by the High Court about Derek Bentley? I believe that it is the wish of the House that the Home Secretary makes a statement about the case. There is widespread support both in the House and outside for a posthumous pardon.

The hon. Gentleman will understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is considering the text of yesterday's court judgment and will decide what action to take in the light of it. He clearly needs to give it proper and careful consideration. I would not want to go beyond that this afternoon.

Will the Leader of the House prevail on the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House next week to make a statement on the ammunition ordering programme for the next five years in the light of the short-time working announced today at the royal ordnance factory Birtley?

I cannot undertake to bring my right hon. and learned Friend here to make such a statement next week, but I understand the reasons why the hon. Gentleman raises the point. I shall ensure that it is drawn to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Does the Leader of the House recognise the urgency of the need for a debate on the Welsh Development Agency? The Public Accounts Committee report is a remarkable account of corruption, incompetence and nepotism in a public body. The great urgency arises because the two men responsible still hold public office. One is the chairman of the Broadcasting Council for Wales. The other is the Secretary of State for Employment. We must root out those two people. The report proves that neither of them is fit to hold public office.

I made some comments on that matter earlier in these exchanges and I shall not add to them. The report has been published. The hon. Gentleman referred to it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has issued a press release today in which he makes it clear that he will examine carefully what the report says. That must be the right course.

Will the Leader of the House think again about the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) for a debate on the WDA and the report published today by the Public Accounts Committee? While I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about the excellent industrial record of the WDA, will he bear in mind the fact that it had that excellent record before it introduced rip-off, expensive, private motoring schemes for executives, before it introduced a quarter of a million pound redundancy package complete with gagging clauses, before it spent a third of a million pounds on privatisation proposals that were concealed from Parliament and before it appointed a professional conman as marketing director to join the amateurs who were already at the WDA?

Whatever may be appropriate in terms of careful examination of the recommendations and comments made in the report, it is rather unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman should use language of that nature about people. He would probably have to be rather more careful with his language if he were speaking outside the Chamber. Leaving that aside, I repeat that my right hon. Friends, not only in the Welsh Office but elsewhere, will carefully study what the report says. That is the right course.

Will the Leader of the House press the Prime Minister to make a statement next week on the Government's policy on Bosnia quite separate from any statement on the outcome of the G7 conference? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that, bearing in mind the fact that the people of Sarajevo have been hit by an average of 500 artillery shells a day over the past year and are now without water or electricity, his description of Government policy at Prime Minister's Question Time will be judged as pathetically inadequate?

Will he impress on the Prime Minister the fact that it is now time for the British Government to press on the international community a course of decisive action that will lift the siege and allow the people of Sarajevo to overcome the attack on them by Serbian forces over the past year?

As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, the issues to which he adverts have been discussed at the G7 summit in Tokyo and have been the subject of comments and statements from there. It would seem to be appropriate, if the hon. Gentleman so wishes, to raise the matter in relation to any statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may wish to make about the G7 summit as a whole. I am certainly not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman undertakings beyond that at present.

Will the Leader of the House give us some Government time to discuss the coal industry, and in particular the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation? If the coal industy is privatised, many dependent disabled miners and others will lose out if that organisation is dismantled. When the right hon. Gentleman provides that time, could he drop a little note to the leader of the Liberal Democratic party, who made that special effort in Hyde Park in October to support the miners, and tell him to turn up to vote for the miners because, on a vital vote last Monday, he was nowhere to be found?

The second part and punchline of the hon. Gentleman's question appeared to be directed at the Liberal Democrat Bench behind him, where I see that there is an appropriate messenger in the form of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), the Liberal Chief Whip, to transmit that message to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), and no doubt he will do so. As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I am sure that he will be able to raise that matter further in the context of any discussions we may have in due course about the Government's privatisation proposals.

May I press the Leader of the House about the need for a statement from the Home Secretary in respect of the case of John Matthews? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition Members who have consistently made clear their total detestation of all forms of terrorist violence, not least from the provisional IRA, nevertheless remain very concerned indeed about the exclusion order made against Mr. Matthews, bearing in mind what was said earlier—that that person left the court without a stain on his character? The case is very serious and it concerns civil liberties. I hope that the Leader of the House will try to persuade the Home Secretary to come to the House on Monday and explain precisely why he decided on the exclusion order.

I will, of course, in line with my usual practice, draw the Home Secretary's attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said. However, I must repeat what I said earlier—that Parliament provided the power of exclusion as an exceptional measure against the grave threat of terrorism. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has set out how he has acted in accordance with the requirements of the law in that case.

Mrs. Barbara Roche
(Hornsey and Wood Green)