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Lords Chamber

Volume 416: debated on Thursday 29 January 1981

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House Of Lords

Thursday 29th January 1981

The House met at three of the clock ( Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough):

The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Homes Insulation Scheme

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that difficulties are being encountered by local authorities in administering the Homes Insulation Scheme 1980.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment
(Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, I assume the Question addresses itself to the availability of funds, in which case the position is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment recently allocated £24·6 million to authorities for grants under the scheme in 1981–82, an increase of 30 per cent. in real terms on 1980–81.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I recognise that the majority of the excess was, of course, for the special needs and I compliment the Minister on that. But would he agree that the success of his department's advertising campaign has encouraged more applicants than can be provided with a grant from the money made available for local authorities to distribute?

Yes, my Lords; I think that that is a fair observation. It is one of the reasons why we have allocated more money this time than we did previously.

My Lords, the Minister says that more money has been allocated this time than previously, but can he say whether, in view of the heavy restrictions on public expenditure, especially that of local authorities, he is satisfied that in every authority those people in special need are getting what they are entitled to under the legislation? Secondly—and I do not expect an answer to this question now—can he say how the ways in which local authorities are dealing with those who are not in special need, but for whom home insulation is very important, vary in different parts of the country? I remind the Minister, although I am sure he knows it, that this scheme also is an economy because it is a method of energy conservation.

Yes, my Lords, it is a method of energy conservation and it is also a matter of great importance. I think that we have shown that we feel that way about it by the introduction of the home insulation scheme which we introduced in 1980 with the various adjust- ments. I cannot tell the noble Baroness the position in each authority, because I just do not know what that is. But if at any time she, or any other of your Lordships, would like to bring to my notice any particular areas where there is a problem, we would always be glad to look at them.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us the average length of time between the application for a grant and its receipt?

My Lords, I cannot give the exact time, but I can say that the time lag between applications being made for an allocation and the firm application for the grant itself has been one of the problems that have caused administrative difficulties. That is why we have now introduced what we call the four-month rule whereby if you apply and are given an allocation but do not take it up within four months, the money is made available elsewhere.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us, although we know that there are financial constraints on local government, still hope that the Government will continue educating the public? I hope that the noble Lord, and the department which he represents so well here, will agree that when the public want something they are half way towards getting it?

My Lords, in that respect, is the Minister satisfied about the extent to which this scheme is being publicised? Can he give the House some idea of the steps which the Government are taking to publicise it?—because many of us must fear that a great many people do not know the details, or possibly even of the existence of the scheme.

My Lords, there is a current advertising campaign to give publicity to what is available, and we are continuing with that campaign. If the noble Lord would like me to let him have details of the whole of the spending and of the direction in which it is going, I would be very glad to let him have them.

My Lords, in view of the need to conserve energy and to obviate the difficulty that the Government might be accused of misleading advertisement, may I ask whether I heard correctly that the Minister said that if there are local authorities which have waiting lists of applicants who want to benefit under the scheme, he would give consideration to them?

No, my Lords; what I said was that if anyone wishes to draw to my attention any authority which is in particular difficulty at present, I would be glad to take the matter up.

Chemical Weapons Convention

3.6 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will propose to the United Nations Disarmament Committee at Geneva that they give priority to the conclusion of an international convention to ban all chemical weapons, including nerve gas, and whether they will indicate their readiness to ratify such a convention without delay.

My Lords, the United Nations General Assembly has just adopted a resolution urging the Committee on Disarmament to continue negotiations on a chemical weapons convention as a matter of high priority. We supported this resolution. The Government remain committed to seek a comprehensive, effective and fully verifiable chemical weapons ban and will actively pursue this objective.

My Lords, while welcoming that Answer I should like to ask the Minister the following question: Is not the alternative to an international convention now very dangerous? Has that not been illustrated in recent speeches by our own Secretary of State for Defence, by the talks between officials—British and American—in New York, by the adoption by the Senate of a vote of 5 million dollars to build a plant for nerve gases and by its request to President Reagan to make a report on the production of nerve gas early this year?

My Lords, the prospect of the widespread or even the limited use of chemical weapons is, of course, an appalling one, as the noble Lord has said. But in considering our reaction to reports of manufacture of these facilities elsewhere we do, of course, need to bear in mind that the Soviet Union has a massive capability in this field.

My Lords, would the Minister care to remind the House that some years ago this country drafted a perfectly practical plan for the banning of chemical and allied weapons which was generally received as a very feasible proposal by the then members of the old Disarmament Committee in Geneva? Would he confirm that that draft is now with the Soviet Union and the United States Governments who have still to report upon its feasibility? Would he help to speed up the delivery of their comments to the present Disarmament Commission in Geneva, which would seem to most of us to be the quickest way of implementing what is already proven to be a perfectly practical plan for the banning of chemical weapons?

My Lords, it is indeed the case that since 1976, I think, there have been bilateral talks between the Soviet Union and the United States on this matter and that, indeed, the draft convention put forward by, I think, the noble Lord himself, is with them to assist them in their discussions. These bilateral discussions, which have taken place since 1976, have progressed very slowly, largely due to Soviet refusal to allow adequate verification.

My Lords, while fully supporting any attempt to get chemical weapons abolished by all parties, may I ask whether my noble friend would agree that, so long as Russia has this massive capability, our own troops ought to have chemical weapons themselves as a deterrent against use by the other side?

My Lords, that is a view, but we certainly have no plans at present to acquire chemical weapons, or the capability to produce them, or, indeed, to base them in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, with the indulgence of the House, may I ask the Minister to confirm, as a good augury for the proposals relating to chemical warfare, that the biological warfare test ban convention has been acceded to, ratified, I believe, by the vast majority of the members of the United Nations, and seems to be observed in practice by them? That is a very good augury for the success of the chemical warfare negotiations.

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. The biological convention is, of course, now in force.

My Lords, arising out of this Question on chemical warfare and the supplementary question, in view of the fact that it is known that at least 25 per cent. of the Soviets' ammunition is equipped for delivering chemicals and even if we are not to have chemical weapons ourselves, what plans do the Government have for defending our own troops and civil population against the possible use of chemical weapons by the Soviets?

My Lords, I do not think that the House would wish me to go into the detail of our defensive dispositions in this matter, but I can assure the noble Lord that we have the matter very much in mind.

My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that, if, as we all hope, this ban may be possible to arrange in the comparatively near future, the ban by itself is no good? If it is to be a true ban, the chemical weapons which the Soviet Union possesses must be destroyed completely, otherwise the ban will be no good.

My Lords, as it happens, I think that a convention is already in force prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, and dates back to 1925. The ownership and manufacture of these weapons is the matter that is currently under discussion, and I have no doubt that the point raised by my noble friend will form part of any convention that is eventually agreed.

My Lords, although the verification of chemical weapons is difficult because they can be used for industrial purposes, is it not the case that the Soviet Union has accepted the principle of verification, and cannot this be followed by finding methods by which that verification can be carried out?

My Lords, I happen to think that such a convention without adequate verification procedures would be virtually useless. That is the line that we must pursue in these negotiations. The arguments about the difficulties of verification put forward by the noble Lord are the sort of arguments that we hear from the Soviet Union too often.

My Lords, following on from previous questions, will the noble Lord confirm that it is good policy to point out that it is the reluctance of the Soviet Union to agree to any kind of verification that holds up this whole matter? It is important that the public realise this and realise that it is not due to Western countries.

My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, quite right. We shall continue to press the Soviet Union to accept proper verification measures in Geneva and elsewhere.

Ministerial Papers: Confidentiality

3.14 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether newly elected Governments are entitled to see pledges or undertakings given by departments to the public or to local authorities which have been given during their predecessors' term of office.

My Lords, papers of the nature described by my noble friend would not normally fall within the long-standing convention that Ministers do not see any papers indicating the views of their predecessors of a different party.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for that reply because it clears the air considerably over a row that is going on at home. Can my noble friend now answer whether the replies given by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in a debate on Wisley airfield on 2nd December are not invalidated by the Answer given by my noble friend?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Trefgarne in fact made a Statement to this effect to the House immediately after that debate, which I think set the record straight.

My Lords, is the Minister really saying that if I reach a planning agreement with the appropriate department, as one does on occasions, a change of Government will mean that that department, with which I am agreed, is not to know that it has an agreement with me?

My Lords, it means exactly the opposite to what the noble Lord has said. It says that the incoming Minister can know of this fact. There are other matters which a Minister is not entitled to know on taking office. But that he is entitled to know, although of course he is not bound to pursue identical policies.

My Lords, if the old Government that gave the pledge subsequently returns to office is the pledge, as it were, ressurrected?

My Lords, long before that happens I have no doubt that the matter will have reached fruition.

The Nhs: Number Of Employees

3.16 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many people are employed in the National Health Service as at the latest convenient date; and what were the comparable figures in 1970 and 1960.

My Lords, the number of people employed in the National Health Service in Great Britain as at 30th June 1980 is provisionally estimated at 1,162,000. The equivalent figures for 1970 and 1960 were 719,000 and 550,000 respectively. These figures, which include both full-time and part-time employees, are based on a return made to the Department of Employment by all National Health Service employing authorities.

My Lords, do not those figures confirm the impression that the National Health Service is the biggest growth industry in the country? Do they not also indicate to my noble friend that there is room for some retrenchment there without any diminution in the effective service given to the patient?

My Lords, there is no doubt that this is a growth industry, and successive Governments have given increased resources in real terms to the National Health Service as a matter of policy. However, I make no apology for the continued increase in National Health Service manpower. If the country wants the benefit of medical advances, more intensive use of hospital facilities to reduce waiting lists and a better community health service for an increasingly elderly population, National Health Service staff numbers will continue to grow.

My Lords, is it not a good thing that it should be a growth service? Is it not true that over the last few years our hospitals have dealt with more out-patients and in-patients than ever before, and that it is highly desirable that they should continue to do so?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. There have been great medical advances and much more complicated treatments are given; and it is impossible to do this very labour-intensive work without increasing staff.

My Lords, as one who has recently been attending a much loved and close relative in hospital under the Health Service, does the noble Lord know that if he visited that hospital—the name of which I can give him—he would find young nurses working brilliantly, devotedly and with infinite good temper on older patients, and following in the finest steps of the nursing profession, and that they are over-worked rather than under-worked?—as most of the staff appear to be.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that observation.

My Lords, do my noble friend's comments also seek to justify the very substantial increase in the administrative services and administrative staff which—partly, no doubt, as a result of successive re-organisations—have greatly grown?

My Lords, I am afraid that all groups of staff in the National Health Service have grown, but in 1976 the previous Government started an exercise to reduce the proportion of management costs and they have now been reduced from 5·6 per cent. The target was 5·25 per cent. and it is actually down to 5·05 per cent., which is, I think, satisfactory. There has also been a small decrease in ancillary staff.

My Lords, could not the Government take heed of these figures and take heart from these figures, and, instead of boasting about not taking a U-turn, not only take a U-turn but do a somersault when thinking about unemployment?

My Lords, I am not sure that I am sufficiently active to do a somersault.

My Lords, can the noble Lord give us a figure of increase following the reorganisation which took place on the basis of the report made by the American efficiency expert brought in by the Conservative Government?

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would say that again? I could not quite hear him.

My Lords, can the noble Lord give us a figure of increase due to the reorganisation which took place based on the report made by the American efficiency expert brought in by the previous Conservative Government?

My Lords, I imagine that the noble Lord is going back to 1974. There was certainly a considerable increase there and I think many members of the Government have said that, although many of the things in the 1974 reorganisation were very well received, the introduction of area health authorities was not a good idea. As the noble Lord will know, we are now doing away with those.

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that, despite appearances, this country has one of the cheapest health services in the world, and that the national expenditure on health as a proportion of the national income is lower here than in most other developed industrial countries?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right, and I believe the figure is now 5·5 per cent. of the gross domestic product.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that increasing numbers of our people are now living to a ripe and happy old age? Is this not in fact largely due to the National Health Service? Therefore, should we not stop nagging about it?

My Lords, can the noble Lord give the House an assurance that the overriding consideration will always be the interests of the patients, and that any intended cuts in personnel will never be made at the patients' expense?

My Lords, that is the whole point of Patients First and the reorganisation by the last Health Services Bill.

My Lords, will the Government take this into account in the reorganisation with which we are now faced, and give an undertaking that this sort of problem will be constantly under review, because there is no doubt that there are other ways of delivering medical care than the one we have used in the last 20 years? We must prepare for the 21st century and a streamlined Health Service.

Yes, my Lords, it is permanently kept under review. So far as the worries which I know many noble Lords have about the number of unnecessary people, in their view, working in the National Health Service, cash limits do exercise a considerable discipline on area health authorities.

The Nissan Motor Company: Uk Project

My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 this afternoon my noble friend Lord Gowrie will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the motor industry.

Interpretation Of Legislation Bill Hl

My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for certain additional matters to be considered and principles to be applied in interpreting Acts of Parliament and other instruments. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 1a .—( Lord Scarman.)

On Question, Bill read 1a , and to be printed.

Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill Hl

Report received.

Social Security (Contributions) Bill

3.25 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. When moving the Second Reading of this Bill I said that it was an essential feature of the Government's economic strategy. This is because it is designed to achieve the following effects: first, it will raise considerable extra revenue and hence help to ease the pressure on the public sector borrowing requirement; second, it will bring about a very necessary adjustment in the balance of responsibility for financing the national insurance system; third, it will help to ease the pressures on industry by providing that employers' national insurance rates will not rise and their total contributions will reduce, in real terms; and fourth, it will restore the value of the National Health Service contribution.

It will achieve these effects by three means. Clause 2 will reduce the Treasury supplement to contributions, producing a reduction in the public sector borrowing requirement in 1981–82 of £529 million. The Government's case for this has been subjected to particularly searching scrutiny. The case for the readjustment in the balance of responsibility for financing the national insurance scheme, and for providing a measure of flexibility for the future which Clause 2 will bring about, has, I think, been made. Clause 3 will increase the element of national insurance contributions paid towards the cost of the National Health Service. Your Lordships will now be familiar with the case for this provision. The Government are determined to maintain the NHS spending programme and the clause is essential to this aim.

Clause 1 provides for increases in contribution rates to take account of the changes in Clauses 2 and 3 and of the expected increased demands on the national insurance fund from rising unemployment. Overall, in the case of the primary Class 1 employee contribution, the increase will be one percentage point. The increase of the self-employed contributions equates to the increase of the primary Class 1 rate, except that the self-employed will not be required to pay additional contributions to take account of higher unemployment because they do not qualify for unemployment benefit.

The noble Lord, Lord Spens, subjected the self-employed contributions to critical examination. I should like to stress, once again, that the position of the self-employed in the national insurance scheme will not be eroded by the changes in the Bill. It treats them as they have been treated in the past. Consideration of whether changes should be made to the method of calculating their contributions cannot take place until the response to the Government's consultation document is known.

The effects and provisions of this Bill, which I have briefly outlined, have been exposed to lengthy and detailed examination, both here and in another place.

I recognise that there are differences of opinion—very strong differences of opinion—about this Bill, but I believe that the Bill is necessary for the success of our economic policies and that the increase in contributions, though not welcome, will be accepted as necessary by employees and employers alike. I commend the Bill to the House, and I beg to move that the Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a . ( Baroness Young.)

3.29 p.m.

My Lords, it was my intention to apologise to your Lordships for running the risk of being criticised for making a Second Reading speech at Third Reading. But as my noble friend—and I say that advisedly—has done so, there is perhaps no need for me to apologise. There is a very good precedent, if I may say so, for anyone who wishes to review a Bill at this particular stage. I can recall having introduced into your Lordships' House some five years ago the Health Services Bill which came as a tremendous shock to noble Lords opposite. They contested it not clause by clause, but line by line. They were so upset about it that on the very last stage of the proceedings, when the Motion before your Lordships' House was that this Bill do now pass, the noble Baroness who led for the Conservative Party in your Lordships' House got up and made a speech and was followed by no fewer than 12 others. They took 2 hours and 24 minutes. It is not my intention to take quite that long today. However, I think it right to raise a matter on a Bill which causes at least some of your Lordships grave concern, and this stage of the passage of the Bill provides a legitimate opportunity to look afresh at what has been done, and I propose to do that, although I shall not take long over it.

I want in particular to deal with an amendment I tabled dealing with a 1 per cent. increase. Noble Lords may remember that I tried to persuade the Government to charge an increased contribution of 1 per cent. on those earning over £200 a week. In other words, I wanted them to pay an extra £1 for every extra £100 earned over £200. That seemed to me then, as it seems to me now, of supreme importance, but it made not the slightest impression on the Government, despite their continued protestations that all their policies are designed in the best interests of the community and, we are told, with the object of being fair.

My amendment to raise an extra 1 per cent. to be paid by those earning over £200 a week would not have been the end of the world for people earning that amount of money. However, with the usual approach of Conservative philosophy, the Government decided to squeeze the last penny out of those earning less, and they concentrated on those earning between £27 and £200 a week. It is not the amount but the principle that matters. The case for accepting my amendment could not have been stronger, and I want to say—and I want to be careful how I say it—that it was perfectly scandalous of the Government to resist that proposal.

It may not have brought in more than £40 million to £50 million, but the Government's attitude showed, as their record shows, a clear determination to cushion the highest paid people in our society from any form of increase in taxation, however it is employed. Perhaps that is understandable, considering that the Government draw most of their support from those earning over £200 a week. That extra 1 per cent. of insurance contributions now falls exclusively on those earning less than £200 a week.

I submit that there should be a sense of fairness in these matters. When moving my amendment I conceded that the Government must raise money. As a society, we are spending £5,000 a year for every unemployed person, and with 2½ million unemployed we are spending £12½ billion for no return to keep people idle. We who are in work—I use "we" in a general sense—are pleased to make a contribution, but that contribution should be made by the whole of the community and not by a small percentage, by those earning £200 a week or less.

Throughout the lifetime of this Government we have experienced one cut after another and there is not a noble Lord opposite who can point to where those cuts have affected people who are not hard up; they have fallen in the main on the shoulders of the have-nots while the haves have been able to get away without making any real contribution. I hope nobody will say, "Yes, but the higher income group pay increased taxation". Of course they do; but the amount of taxation paid by somebody earning between £27 and £200 a week is such that it falls more heavily on their shoulders than on those earning over £10,000, £15,000 or £25,000 a year. And we must bear in mind that the very first action of this Government was to give away billions of pounds in income tax relief to the higher income group. I am sorry to go on like this but it is a matter of supreme importance.

I know noble Lords opposite do not like it, my Lords, because the truth is hard to bear. We all know that, but it is sometimes very good for us. I am surprised at how many noble Lords opposite who I respect and admire and know well can just sit there and accept this sort of thing without bleating about it. How they can do that is a matter of great concern and surprise to me.

In any event, my Lords, one can take some comfort from reading in the newspapers this morning that some 20 Conservative Members in another place are getting so fed up with the Conservative Party that there is a suggestion that they might be joining the Council for Social Democracy.

Looking at you. My Lords, I appreciate that we joke and try to carry on our affairs in a friendly manner in this House, but I urge noble Lords to look at this legislation. There is nothing we can do about it now; the noble Baroness and the Minister have taken good care to see that we cannot do anything about it, so we must accept it. But for how long can we, as part of the Houses of Parliament, expect people outside to go on putting up with a constant erosion of their standard of living when day by day they see extreme wealth walking hand in hand with some considerable poverty? That is not the kind of society I want. Nor do I believe it is the kind of society some noble Lords opposite want. For the Government to have resisted an amendment which sought merely to take a bit more each week—£1 out of every extra £100—from those earning over £200 a week was petty, paltry and quite scandalous.

3.40 p.m.

My Lords, during our debate on the Bill we have had considerable discussion about the Government's case that the Treasury supplement to the national insurance fund has increased at a greater rate than national insurance contributions since 1975–76, and despite all that has been said about that from the Government Front Bench, I still feel that that argument is not valid and that the figures which were given in another place by the Secretary of State would not have suggested that had they not covered the period during which the new earnings-related pension scheme was introduced in 1978.

If one takes the figures from 1975–76 to the year before that scheme was introduced, one will not find any disparity; and if one takes the figures from that year to today one will not find any disparity. It is only because of the change in the whole system in the middle of the period under review that it appeared as it did. In my view there is no disparity, but I do not think that it would be right for me to develop that argument any further this afternoon. We have from these Benches sought to make clear during our discussions that we do not agree with seeking to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement by means of increasing national insurance contributions for personal contributors.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the mention that she made of my fight on behalf of the sell-employed, but I feel that I must say a final word about the matter before we put the Bill to rest. What surprises me, and disheartens me considerably, is the fact that there has been no support for the self-employed from Government Benches, and when this morning I looked at the records of what happened in another place I found that there had been exactly the same situation there; there had been no support for the self-employed from Govern ment supporters. There was quite an argument from the official Opposition at the Committee stage about the Class 2 and Class 4 contributions, but there was no mention from Government Benches of the problems which those contributions bring.

We do not fight the Class 2 contribution—that is the flat-rate contribution which all self-employed people must make unless they have a very small income—even though under the Bill that contribution is to be increased by 36 per cent., from £2·50 a week to £3·40, whereas the Class 1 employee's contribution is to go up by less than 15 per cent. However, we do object to the additional Class 4 contribution which self-employed persons who make profits of more than a very small amount will have to pay besides their Class 2 contribution. Under the Bill they will find that they will be charged an additional 5·75 per cent. on their profits between the lower band of £3,150 and whatever they make, provided it is not more than £10,000 a year, which is the upper limit.

Let us take the middle figure there: the man earning £5,200 a year in profits—and remember, my Lords, that profits are not the same as salary. Profits have to cover much more than the takeaway pay which an employee can do what he likes with once he has suffered the tax deductions at source. The man with a profit of £5,200 a year is in fact making a profit of £100 a week, and in about 18 months' time he will find that he is suddenly to be assessed by his inspector of taxes with an additional £100 a year for Class 4 contributions on those profits. We are told that the self-employed person has to be compared not only with the employee, but with the employer, too, in terms of rates of assessment, but the employer's share of an employee's contribution can be deducted from tax before the employer's profits are finally reckoned, whereas the self-employed person's contributions cannot be deducted from tax. I believe that if the Government were to decide to allow the self-employed Class 4 contribution to be deducted from profits before tax was assessed, that would go a long way towards helping the self-employed to accept this additional burden.

I am not talking about the firms of accountants, solicitors, and barristers at the top end of the scale. I have half a dozen clients of my own who are selfemployed—the owner of a small corner shop, a market gardener, a sheep farmer, a saddler, and so forth. They are the people who arc making profits of perhaps £5,000 a year. They are assessed by the inspector of taxes on those profits and they see that they have to pay income tax like everyone else. Then suddenly they see at the bottom of the assessment an additional assessment in regard to Class 4 contribution of another £100, and they turn to me and ask, "What is that for? What benefits am I getting from the Class 4 contribution that mean that I have to pay it?" I have to reply to them, "I am sorry—you are not getting any additional benefits at all. All the benefits that you receive from your national insurance contributions come from the Class 2 contribution. What you are doing by paying your Class 4 contribution is helping other people to get benefits".

That is not a very good thing to have to tell one's clients, and no matter how much we have been blinded by science, by the Government Actuary's reports, to the effect that it is absolutely fair that the figures should be assessed in this way, I feel that it is a bad assessment and that we should not have to put up with it for very much longer.

3.48 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to say a word in reply to what the noble Lord, Lord Spens, has said. Of course, it is true that in this Bill the self-employed are being treated in the same way as everybody else. The calculations seem to work out against the self-employed, but this is because of their particular situation. I believe that the noble Lord is wrong in his complaint that he has not received any support from this side of the House. I suggest to him that if he looks back over the years, for example, to the occasions when my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and I had to deal with the up-rating, he will see that we were at pains to keep down as much as possible the contributions of the self-employed, because we recognised those arguments. I returned to being self-employed just at the time when the 1975 Bill was going through Parliament, and it was then that we were penalised so very heavily—absolutely astonishingly heavily.

However, this Bill is not seeking to deal with the self-employed as a separate case. I understand that that question is being considered separately at the present time; my noble friend will perhaps confirm that a committee is now sitting. I suggest that it would be absurd to anticipate the results of the consideration of the Green Paper that was published last October. A lot of evidence has no doubt been received with regard to that, and I suppose it will all be considered by the Government in the normal way. So I hope the noble Lord will not resent too much not being supported on this occasion. I think he will agree that he has often been supported by this side of the House, but he cannot expect to be supported every time. That, at any rate, is my experience.

As to what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said, of course we understand his particular position in this, but anyone who has had anything to do with the running of this fund knows how very delicate is the balance to be kept, and it is for that reason that one has an upper and a lower limit. Aside from what is called the earnings-related element, people pay in accordance with their earnings, and they all get the same benefit in relation to that contribution. But, surely, at some point in a scheme of that kind you must have and keep an upper limit; otherwise, there is no end to it. You could go on charging I per cent., 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. on earnings over the limit; there is no end to it at all, and it is not right.

This is something which should be borne by the taxpayers as a whole under the normal Exchequer arrangements, and under the Budget. If the noble Lord felt as strongly as this, no doubt he would make representations in that regard, that the higher rates of taxation should be increased by, say, 1 per cent. for this particular purpose. I do not know how it would be received, but that would be the logical way to do it. However, it is not logical to do it here in this Bill, however strongly we may feel about it.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether I am right in thinking that the man who earns £200 a week will be paying, on the 7¾ per cent., £15·50 per week national insurance, which is precisely the same amount as the man earning £300, £400, £500 or £600 a week will be paying?

My Lords, it is really a matter for my noble friend to answer, but I would have thought that if you express something as a percentage then it is a percentage in relation to wages.

My Lords, I will be very brief because I think the points that have been raised in the course of this Third Reading were those which were thrashed out very fully at the Committee stage of the Bill. In particular, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn for his intervention on this. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Spens, that we on this side of the House are very conscious of the importance of the self-employed and the contribution which they make to our economy, and we should like to do what we can to help them. It is precisely for that reason that we issued the consultation document in the autumn; we have invited comments by the end of March; and they are canvassing certain possibilities, such as changing the balance between the Class 2 and Class 4 contributions, making the self-employed eligible for an increased range of benefits and making national insurance for the self-employed voluntary. We are asking for comments by the end of March of this year; and, as obviously the noble Lord is very knowledgeable on this matter, I hope that he and those he is working with and for will comment, so that we may take their views into consideration when this matter is reviewed by my right honourable friend in the spring.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, could we have a clear answer on this? Is it not true that a person earning over £200 a week will in fact pay the same amount of national insurance as the person earning £200 a week?

Yes, my Lords; that, of course, is perfectly true. But that is the point of having the upper earnings limit. I think the noble Lord has made a great confusion about all this matter by describing the national insurance contribution as a tax. It is not it is a contribution towards a benefit, which is quite different.

On Question, Bill read 3a and passed.

The Nissan Motor Company: Uk Project

3.55 p.m.

My Lords, it may be to the convenience of the House if I now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry. My honourable friend's Statement reads as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the motor industry.

"The Nissan Motor Company has approached Her Majesty's Government to seek their views upon the company's intention, subject to a feasibility study, to establish a substantial car manufacturing operation in the United Kingdom. The Government have given a warm welcome to Nissan's proposal and are prepared in principle to give them their approval and support.

"Nissan's proposals are to start building a car manufacturing plant, including an engine manufacturing facility, in a Development Area or Special Development Area in 1982 and to begin production at the end of 1984, reaching the full figure of 200,000 cars a year by 1986.

"It is Nissan's intention to achieve a very high local content involving United Kingdom and other EEC suppliers; the local content at the start of production would be 60 per cent. and the company's objective would be to increase this to 80 per cent. as soon as practicable after full production is reached. The company is confident of achieving a high level of exports from the United Kingdom.

"The feasibility study is expected to last four months and to cover a range of matters, including location. Two matters of special importance in Nissan's decision will be the competitiveness of local component manufacturers and the prospects of establishing a good structure for industrial relations.

"The Government wish the company well, and hope the study will reach a satisfactory outcome."

My Lords, that concludes my honourable friend's Statement.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, for the brief Statement that he has repeated. He will of course appreciate that the matters, and indeed the principles, raised by this Statement are just as large as those raised by the Statement that he made last week concerning the future of British Leyland. I would therefore hope that the House will be afforded an opportunity to debate this whole question in very great detail. I had an uneasy feeling last week when I showered congratulations on the noble Earl in announcing his U-turn so far as British Leyland are concerned. I was a little suspicious at the time that there might possibly be a snag in it. Indeed, the snag has now emerged—the other side of the coin—because, of course, the Nissan Motor Company, the makers of Datsun, are apparently going to be accorded manufacturing facilities in this country.

A number of questions arise on this. It has been well known over a number of years that the Japanese have made very strenuous and successful efforts to penetrate into the United Kingdom market, and, indeed, into the EEC market generally. I am given to understand that negotiations have taken place with them with a view to the limitation of their imports into the EEC, and indeed into the United Kingdom, where there is a bilateral agreement already in force to that extent. I want to put it to the noble Earl: have the Government considered the possibility that this move may from the Japanese standpoint be merely one way of getting round the import ban on motor-cars into this country? I am well aware that the Government, in the words of the Statement, are:
"confident of achieving a high level of exports from the United Kingdom".
I would assume also that the Government have taken into account such extra vehicles that will come on to the United Kingdom market itself.

We on this side are well aware that any effort that is made to increase employment in this country is most welcome, particularly in this time of rising unemployment. But it will be of no benefit to the United Kingdom if employment is increased within this particular establishment that it is proposed to make in this country if at the same time unemployment occurs in British Leyland, Vauxhall, Ford or Talbot, which are established English companies. We should like to know whether the Government have given some thought to that aspect of the matter.

The other aspect is that it is the apparent intention of this company to establish its manufacturing capability in a development area or a special development area. I take it—and I should be grateful if the noble Earl will reply to this—that that means the company will be entitled to the full range of financial aids that are available to companies that establish themselves in these two types of area.

He will appreciate that under the existing regulations, and under the existing Act that deals with this question, sums as vast as £50 million or £100 million could be paid out to the incoming Japanese firm as part of the normal operation of financial assistance in the developing areas, and more particularly in the special development areas. I should be glad if the noble Earl could inform us of any estimate that he or the Government have made of the net increase in employment.

I should also like to know whether he has had any expressions of view, or whether there have been any prior consultations with, for example, Sir Michael Edwardes. After all, Sir Michael Edwardes has produced a plan for the production of BL cars and other vehicles covering the next four years. Was this one of the contingencies that was disclosed to Sir Michael Edwardes at the time that the plan to finance the BL operation was agreed? If the Government knew when they were having their talks with BL that they already had this other item up their sleeves, I wonder what the reaction of Sir Michael Edwardes would have been. Suffice it to say that in so far as we have been able to make contact with BL executives, the information there is one of considerable anxiety concerning the step that the Government have taken.

It is not proper on this occasion to delve into further detail because it would take too much time; but I trust that the noble Lord realises that we are dealing here with a very serious and important matter which extends far beyond the immediate relations between ourselves and Japanese industry.

4.4 p.m.

My Lords, we on these Benches should like to join in thanking the noble Earl for having repeated this Statement. We too wish to give it close study; but our first reaction is to welcome in general terms the prospect of more employment in a development or special development area, and to welcome also the intention expressed by Nissan to achieve a high local content, as the Statement has it, involving the United Kingdom and other EEC suppliers, and also a high level of exports from the United Kingdom.

There are some who will oppose this proposal because of its effects, real or imagined, on the British car industry. However, we on these Benches with our free trade background are in favour of having as few curbs as possible on international competition; and I would express the personal hope that this development will act as something of a stimulus to our own car manufacturers to improve productivity and, until such time as we can have an agreed long term incomes policy, for pay increases not to outstrip that productivity.

I have two questions to ask, both of which are related to the comments which have already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. We too have noted that there is no reference in this Statement to the question of money. Apart from the particular point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, in relation to grants available to employers in special development and development areas, may we take it that the absence of any reference to money in this Statement means that, at least in the preparatory stage, during the course of the feasibility study, no question of Government expenditure arises? If it does, perhaps the noble Earl will quantify it so far as he is able.

The second question is really to pin down a little more closely what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, was saying, as I understood it. Do the Government have in mind somehow to ensure that the actual construction of this new plant, if that is to take place, should be made conditional on Japanese cars in future being imported into the United Kingdom only if that is done in strict accordance with an agreed quota?

4.7 p.m.

My Lords, while I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that this is a serious and important matter, it takes a certain perverse genius on behalf of the noble Lord to look upon it as a snag. I can only say "Some snag"! He asked for an estimate of what the employment effects might be if, as a result of a feasibility study, this project were to go ahead. It is very hard to quantify and I think that I might mislead the House if I tried. But let us say that I would certainly expect it to be in excess of 20,000 jobs, which is a considerable amount in any industry at this time.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, raised the issue of British Leyland and wondered—to put it in shorthand—whether we might not be robbing Peter to pay Paul in this regard. I do not think that this could be the case, for with car production at its lowest for 23 years and with import penetration at a record 57 per cent. it would seem to me that there is plenty of room in this country for them both. From all I know of Sir Michael Edwardes, he is the last man to be afraid of competition. He is in any case, as is known, already in collaboration with another Japanese manufacturer, Honda. Indeed the whole nature of the motor car industry nowadays is for very considerable cross-border and cross-national competition.

Both noble Lords referred to the effects of this project, if it goes forward, on the inter-industry agreements about the limitation of Japanese manufactured motor cars. The Government continue to attach great importance to the continuation of voluntary restraint on direct imports and we monitor these all the time. There is no reason for any change in this as a result of Nissan's intentions to invest in the United Kingdom. On the question of Government financial assistance, again, these are early days with the feasibility study, which will be paid for by Nissan, to quantify what that might be. It would be the same as any inward investor or any British company, and of course the whole structure of regional aid is geared to achieving substantial net benefits. I do not think there should be too much concern there.

Of course I recognise that there has been much criticism of the level of Japanese imports into Europe and of the tendency of Japanese industry—from which we have a great deal to learn—to operate centrally and with great speed and adaptability. In this case I think I can say that Nissan is responding in the best possible way because its proposed development is to become a fully-fledged European producer, and that I think we can only welcome.

My Lords, since it is more than two years since I left the board of Datsun UK and therefore I have no interest to declare, may I ask my noble friend whether he would not agree that this means not only new investment but new jobs, new exports and a new stimulus to the industry as a whole? May I also ask him whether the 20,000 jobs to which he has referred represents 20,000 in direct employment or 20,000 direct and indirect together?

My Lords, I very much welcome my noble friend's robust reception of this and his recognition that this is thoroughly good news—the best news for a long time. I want to back-pedal a little bit on the figure of 20,000. It could well be more, but it is not direct employment: that would be substantially smaller, though still on a significant scale for today. The figures in the higher thousands, if I may put it that way, are based on the intention to achieve a very high local content in this new European manufacturer, but that of course depends on other things being equal and other things going well, upon the state of the components industry, the state of industrial relations, and so on. But, as I say, we hope this will come off and the Government can only wish this project, now in its early stages, every good fortune.

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that it is to some extent natural that at this moment there should be some people in the country who will be worried, whether it is Japanese or German industry coming into this country? I have no doubt that at the beginning of the last century, if there were American imports coming into this country after the War of Independence, there would have been resistance to that too. Would my noble friend not agree, however, that the vast impact of overseas investment, whether it comes from America or any other place, has had a terrific impact on this country, not only on employment but on all sorts of trade union and management problems, and has done nothing but good? Would he not agree that we have to accept these things and hope to grow with them?

My Lords, I very much share the view of my noble friend. These things do represent a two-way traffic and Britain is a very substantial investor overseas and we earn much of our living through overseas investment. I would hope, as I have said on many occasions, that now there is a new spirit of realism, to use shorthand, within British industry we would attract a great deal more inward investment. It seems an excellent time to come into this country, and I am very glad to see that this is the largest proposed Japanese investment ever in Europe.

My Lords, would the noble Earl confirm what he seems to have been telling us, that there has been no budget prepared of the total expenditure of Her Majesty's Government and the amount they might have to put into this enterprise, however good or bad it is? We have not had an answer to any of the questions that have been asked. I am not commenting on the total benefit but it would be interesting from the national economy point of view to know how much money Her Majesty's Government are investing in this one project.

My Lords, with great respect to him, I do not think the noble Lord understands the nature of regional aid in this country. It is only ever possible to achieve regional aid if, in the Government's judgment, there should be a benefit accruing; and that is the same whichever Government arc in office. The other point which I do not think he has altogether taken on board is that at the moment we are talking about a feasibility study. Obviously Nissan have to decide whether to go ahead on the basis of feasibility and so have the Government.

My Lords, may I just add one word of welcome for the Statement made by the Minister? In particular I think we should welcome the mark of confidence in the industrial future of this country which is so badly needed at the present time.

My Lords, may I just add my strong support to the information given in the Statement by my noble friend Lord Gowrie, declaring an interest as a director of a British-owned company that has operated in Japan for at least 10 years? This is not a one-way movement. We live in an extremely flexible world and we must recognise that. I believe this is an encouraging thing, in so far as we know what it is about. On the evidence of my own company, one can grow in other places as well.

My Lords, I am grateful for the point made by my noble friend, with which I partly agree and I am also grateful for the point made from the Cross-Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall: this is a very substantial vote of confidence in the industrial possibilities of this country by a major industrial country. Also, of course, it follows other substantive Japanese investments in other branches in this country; so it is a vote of confidence based, I would say, on experience.

My Lords, if I may also add to the general thanks which have been—

My Lords, on a point of order I think that at this stage we should have only questions to the Minister and not statements.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he can he totally assured that the local content, not only of labour but of materials, can be sustained? May I also ask what kind of assurances those are? Would he not agree that anything below 80 per cent. of material content at the start would be extremely damaging to our own components industry, which is already in decline and employing 350,000 persons? Can he also say whether or not the design centre for the new product is to be based in this country and at the place of development? Were it elsewhere—in Japan, for example—would he not agree that much of the advantage would be lost?

Finally, what assurances can he give to substantiate the rather vague estimates of employment, in so far as we know that a new motor assembly plant will be almost totally automated, so reducing the labour content?—and in such circumstances it would inevitably employ highly-skilled labour from the parent company where the technique is already well-known and practiced.

My Lords, I have noted, though it is not really a matter for me, the great interest in this Statement and also in the Statement I made earlier during this week on British Leyland. Perhaps it might be better if these issues were taken on in a debate, although that of course is not a matter for me. If I may just answer my noble friend's points very quickly and in outline, we would find it perfectly satisfactory for a 60 per cent. initial local content, with the objective of increasing this to 80 per cent. I cannot answer the design point, but I will look into it.

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that it would be a mistake to impose more rigorous conditions in permitting Japanese firms to establish subsidiaries here, than we require from, for example, American firms? Particularly in some of the engineering industries, such as the motor industry, the Japanese are now much ahead of the Americans and, indeed, the American industry is very severely threatened by Japanese competition in America itself. It is clearly very much in this country's interest that we should have efficient Japanese-owned enterprises here. There will be a fall-out effect from that, which can only have a good effect on British industry.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that from the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, as he is—I am sure often unfairly—sometimes associated with trade wars, protectionism and the like. Of course Japanese companies are welcome here. They are already here. But this proposal of their most substantial investment in Europe so far, on the same terms as other foreign firms and on the same terms as our own domestic firms, is generally for the good of everybody.

My Lords, will my noble friend give way? This is rapidly becoming a debate. I think it would be to the convenience of the House if we moved on.

Royal Assent

My Lords, I beg to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

  • Social Security (Contributions) Act,
  • Bearsden & Milngavie District Council Order Confirmation Act,
  • Churches and Universities (Scotland) Widows' and Orphans Fund (Amendment) Order Confirmation Act,
  • Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council Order Confirmation Act,
  • Dunfermline District Council Order Confirmation Act,
  • Peterhead Harbours Order Confirmation Act.

Disused Burial Grounds (Amendment) Bill Hl

4.23 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—( The Lord Bishop of London.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [ Disposal of human remains]:

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 29, leave out from ("body") to ("and") in line 30.

The right reverend Prelate said: I hope, for the convenience of the Committee, that I may speak to all four of the amendments, since the substantive amendment is No. 3 and Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 4 are merely consequential upon it. These amendments neither add to nor subtract from, in any way, the powers and intentions contained in the Bill. What they do is to make clear a point which is already in the Bill, but which is not quite as clear as otherwise it might be.

As the Bill is drafted, the fact that it also applies to a subsequent owner of a burial ground, which was formerly owned by a church or other religious body, emerges only rather obscurely as a subsection of Clause 2, which deals with the disposal of human remains. The purpose of the new clause and the amendments is to bring this important point out into the open, so that it can be readily seen and understood by the reader and, therefore, to remind him clearly of a subsequent owner's rights, powers and duties. I beg to move.

As the right reverend Prelate has said, such an important matter as this one merits a clause on its own, and from this side of the Committee we agree with the right reverend Prelate that the present wording is a great improvement on the old.

The Government also see no objection to these amendments and, like the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, see them as improvements to the Bill. As the right reverend Prelate has pointed out, the new clause would not alter the substance of the Bill in any way. It aims to cover more prominently, and more precisely, a provision which is at present tucked away. The new clause would make it quite clear that, if a church sells a disused burial ground before carrying out the procedures laid down in the Bill, the new owner will have to complete them before building can take place. We would agree that the words which the right reverend Prelate proposes to delete in Clause 2(3), about the position of subsequent owners, are, in consequence, otiose.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 34, leave out subsection (4).

The right reverend Prelate said: This amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

moved Amendment No. 3:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

(" Rights, powers and duties of subsequent owners

. Where a church or other religious body disposes of an interest in a disused burial ground, then the owner for the time being of that interest shall have the same rights and powers and be subject to the same obligations, restrictions, duties and liabilities conferred or imposed by this Act on that church or other religious body, as if that interest had not been so disposed of.").

The right reverend Prelate said: I have already spoken to this amendment and I think that I have fully explained the reason for it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [ Determination of questions]:

moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 4, line 30, leave out ("3") and insert ("4").

The right reverend Prelate said: This amendment is consequential on what we have already decided. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses and the schedule agreed to.

Title agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Representation Of The People Bill Hl

4.28 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is intituled:

"An Act to require every elector to be treated, for the purpose of the right to vote in parliamentary and local elections, as resident at his main residence only".
This is a very short Bill to remedy a serious defect in the law on the voting rights of citizens of Great Britain in local and parliamentary elections. The present state of the law gives unfair and unjust advantages to a limited class of persons in this country; namely, those who are able to maintain two or more residences, one of which is usually referred to as their main or principal residence, and a second home, which is often termed the holiday home or the weekend cottage.

Under the present law, which is based on the Representation of the People Act 1949, a person with a second home, or holiday home or weekend cottage, is legally entitled to be entered on the register of electors for voting purposes, in each of the districts where these homes exist, at local as well as at parliamentary elections. I shall refer to this legal right, to be registered in more than one district, as the right to dual registration. I hope to satisfy your Lordships that in these modern times this legal right requires to be modified, as it can result in a gross abuse of voting rights. It tends to undermine the democratic rights of those citizens who normally live in many districts where second homes exist.

I shall contend also that the right to dual registration is politically and morally wrong. As usual, I choose my words carefully. I say that it is based on property rights in such a way as in effect to constitute an outrage upon the modern democratic and political rights of citizens, as exercisable at Parliamentary and local elections.

This Bill has as its object to require every elector who has a second home to choose or to declare which of these is his or her main or principal residence. He or she will then be entitled to be entered on the electoral register in relation to that one residence and that one residence only. At the present time the procedure is that the owner of a second home is required in advance to enter the names of persons residing at that second home on a qualifying date, usually about 10th October. If the form is not returned by the owner of the second home, the usual practice is that the local authority's returning officer leaves the entries as they are on the previous register without further investigation.

There is plenty of evidence to show that most owners of second homes are not themselves resident at their holiday or weekend homes on the qualifying date, although they may have entered their names and in many cases those of their relatives on that form. The signing of this form gives all the people on the form the right to be registered on the electoral register, subject to objections being raised. These are usually very difficult to maintain. Many holiday homes are sublet to other residents who themselves are probably denied the right to vote because it is the owner of the premises who is obliged to complete the initial registration form.

This kind of dual registration is becoming more and more common. I have here a copy of a statement by the housing officer for North Cornwall, as reported in the Cornish Guardian of 13th September 1979. This statement says that if the present trend continues there will be more than 3,500 holiday homes in North Cornwal alone by 1984. In that area, second home ownership is increasing by 4 to 5 per cent. each year. This trend is followed in many areas of Scotland, England and Wales. It is well known that many of these second homes remain empty for many weeks in the year. In some of our villages they constitute a large percentage of the housing accommodation. The lack of available housing in many rural and seaside areas is often due to the high number of these second or holiday homes. As your Lordships will be aware, in parts of Wales in recent months, there has unfortunately been a considerable amount of militant action against such homes.

I am not concerned today with the social consequences arising from lack of housing which may be accentuated by second home ownership. I am concerned with the injustice which arises from dual registration which enables a limited class of person, those who have holiday or weekend homes, to exercise voting rights, if they so choose, in an area where they do not themselves reside for most of the year and cannot therefore have much knowledge of local conditions because their main residence is situated elsewhere.

Extensive research has shown that there are in general two types of elector with dual registration. The first type comprises those who do not let their second homes commercially. These properties may be empty for 40 weeks a year. Alternatively, they are often let to friends and relations. Usually they are empty for most of the winter months. Some are occupied only for a limited number of weekends in the year.

The second type of second home comprises those let or advertised for letting during the periods when the owners are not in occupation and who therefore, by their letting contract, could not, even if they wished, occupy the dwelling at election times. There is also considerable evidence to show that some owners advertise their second homes to let, even over the registration period. Many estate agents have confirmed that that is the position. Checks have been made in many places which show that visitors are in residence over the registration period, or that the property is empty at that period. In some areas there are regularly hundreds of objections to the registration of electors with second homes. As soon as the electoral register is published there is a statutory right to object within a given time. It is very difficult to secure amendments to the register, but in 1980 I am told that 700 objections were raised to the registration of persons with second homes in North Cornwall and that 300 of those 700 were accepted and the names struck off the register. Such dual registrations are still accepted without investigation on the signing of the standard form claiming residential qualification. Application to the courts in these matters is notoriously expensive to pursue.

I think it is fair to say that in general it would not occur to many second home owners to register for electoral purposes in the district of their holiday or weekend home, but in marginal seats there are many cases of political agents regularly writing to second home owners asking them to apply for registration in the district of their second home. These political agents are often very helpful, because they even supply the owner of the second home with a copy of the requisite form to fill in.

Although dual registration occurs widely, there is little evidence of dual voting. This is difficult to check. I am not in any way suggesting that any political agent of any political party does other than sometimes actively to promote dual registration in certain areas. In my submission, it should be the main concern of all political parties, as a matter of basic principle, to limit entries on the register to the district of the person's main residence and not to permit dual registration, as at present. As I have said, in my view it is morally wrong that persons who are absent for much of the year should be permitted to vote, if they so choose, or if they are pressed to do so, in a district where they cannot have adequate knowledge of the locality because it is not their main residence. The right of a limited number of persons to dual registration because they have second homes can cause distortion of the true electoral position in a district.

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to read a short letter that I have received from a person living in a village just outside St. Ives in Cornwall. The letter is dated 13th January 1981. If the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, at any time wishes to see it, I can make it available. The writer is first kind enough to congratulate me and give me support in putting forward this Bill. He says—and I quote:
"It is in my opinion, and I know it is the opinion of many Cornish people, a reform long overdue. We are sick and tired of having our democratic rights as a distinct part of the United Kingdom undermined by those who only live among us for a tiny portion of the year and therefore cannot possess adequate knowledge of our local needs and conditions. A case in point is within this very village—Lelant—where a particular house is occupied for one month of the year only, this being only one case out of several locally but probably the most irritating because of the shortness of the actual stay of the owners, who presumably have the usual voting rights".
Then he thanks me for putting forward this Bill.

I will now revert to the terms of the Bill, which are quite short. The first clause amends the Representation of the People Act 1949, and says:
"Where, apart from this Act, a person would fall to be treated for the purposes of sections 1 and 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1949 as resident at more than one place, he shall after the passing of this Act be treated for those purposes as resident at his main residence only".
I pause there because I realise that there may be some Committee points—some problem arising out of a definition of "main residence". My advisers on this Bill and I discussed the position of students, and we feel that if there is a question as to what is the main residence of a student at university, that is a matter which can be dealt with quite adequately at Committee stage. I should also like to remind your Lordships of something that you probably know quite well. The term "main residence" is well known in the field of capital gains. However, so far as this Bill is concerned there is no hardship in somebody declaring what is his main residence for registration on the electoral register.

Clause 2 of the Bill has three subsections. One is its Short Title, that it shall be called the "Representation of the People Act 1980". Subsection (2) says:
"Nothing in this Act shall affect the validity of the electoral registers in force at the passing of this Act".
Then the third subsection deals with the extent of the operation of the Bill, and says:
"This Act shall not extend to Northern Ireland ".
In my view, now that the numbers of second homes have increased so considerably, the time has come for the right to dual registration to be abrogated. Persons should be registered on the electoral register in respect of one place of residence only, as is the practice for the majority of citizens in the United Kingdom. There is no hardship in this matter, as it seems to me. No serious administrative problems should arise. A person must decide what is his main residence and then he can get on to the electoral register in that way. In conclusion, may I say that the well-known democratic principle of "one person, one vote" should not be allowed to deteriorate and perhaps be sullied by lapsing into "one house, one vote" for a limited class of persons, namely, those who maintain a second home. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran.)

4.46 p.m.

My Lords, I first have to apologise on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, who should have been speaking on this Bill from the Dispatch Box, but he has intimated that, unfortunately, he has been detained elsewhere. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, not only for putting forward this Bill but for explaining it so lucidly and so effectively putting forward the democratic principle that is involved. Concern has been expressed by large numbers of people for a long time that it is possible for a person to be included on electoral registers for more than one constituency, where-ever that person has a residential qualification. We know there are instances where some persons have a London flat, a residence outside London and, also as the noble Lord has said, an additional holiday home which is used for occasional visits and for holidays. There may be other persons who have a number of residences in various parts of the country. I emphasise quite clearly that legally these persons have a complete right at present to be registered in more than one constituency where they can claim to have a residence.

It may be argued, why should we worry about it because the law makes quite clear that a person may vote in only one constituency at a general election? I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, made a very good point when he stressed the position of holiday homes. There have been a number of election courts which had to be convened to deal with the question of holiday homes and as the noble Lord has said, there is considerable concern among other residents about the position of the Parliamentary vote in those constituencies.

As one who has been involved in running elections all my life and trying to get the maximum vote, I know what can be done in a marginal constituency. To make it quite clear, there have been some constituencies in which large numbers of persons have registered at their holiday homes and have affected the result in a marginal constituency, because persons may decide in which constituency they will exercise their vote if they are registered in more than one constituency. Of course, a sensible person says, "Where can my vote best serve the party I want to support"? So, even if it is only a holiday home which he visits for only a few weeks a year, that is the marginal seat in which he will vote. Whether he is Liberal, Conservative or anybody else, that is where he will exercise his vote.

There is a deeper point involved. Say a person has, legally, three electoral registrations in three separate constituencies. I know that in the last twelve months we have been very fortunate in that we have been free from by-elections but there could be a Parliamentary by-election in each one of those three separate constituencies and a person may legally vote in each by-election even though he cannot vote in more than one constituency at a general election. That would mean that a person would have three votes for a representative in Parliament. Surely that cannot possibly be justified by anyone and therefore in that respect the Bill is a further step towards fairness in parliamentary elections which I am sure all your Lordships will support. The whole point of our election law is to try to bring fairness and the maximum amount of democracy into our elections.

I have said that election courts have been held to consider objections and claims. The test, of course, is whether a person has a room or a house which he is entitled to occupy as his own and to which he can go at any time. It is on that principle that persons have more than one registration and residence is not even broken by being away for some time.

That brings in the question which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, as to the position of students. We are concerned with the position of students because it happens now that a student has a proper registration in the university or college town where he or she is studying and does not know that the parent has included his or her name on the household form "A", so he finds himself registered in more than one constituency. So he or she decides in which constituency he or she will exercise the vote. Most students are at their university town or college town for longer periods than they are at what might be termed their main residence. This is a point which should not prevent us supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, but it is a point which can properly be dealt with in Committee. I hope that is the course that your Lordships will decide to take.

I have not the slightest idea what attitude the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will take on behalf of the Government. It may well be that he will put forward the position of registrations for local government. If a person is qualified by residence to be on the register, it could be argued that, therefore, that person must be a ratepayer, because the house is occupied, and he has a right to be registered in more than one local government area. By law although a person may vote only in one constituency at a general election he may vote in as many local authority areas as he can reach by car from one place to the other. In fact we know of persons who have been members of a county council and also members of more than one district council, quite legitimately. This is a point that might be put forward in opposition to the Bill. But I would argue that this is another point which we can deal with quite easily on Committee.

Under the present law Peers who cannot vote for Parliament are on the electoral register with the letter "L" beside the name, which indicates that they cannot vote at a parliamentary election. The same system could be adopted if it is felt that this local election argument is an important one. Therefore, despite these two provisos which can be dealt with adequately, I believe the noble Lord has put forward such a powerful case for the democratic principle of one vote only, and one registration only for a parliamentary election, that I hope the House will support the Second Reading of the Bill.

4.53 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to oppose this Bill, which I think is a bad Bill, for reasons which I hope to give in a very few moments. It extends beyond the acceptance of the principle of one man, one vote. It lays down where that man should exercise his right to vote and it says it must be his main residence. I think that is unfair in certain cases. It raises a question, which I will touch on in a moment, on what is a main residence.

Let me take the first instance where it is unfair. A man has a house in London; he owns it. At the same time he has an interest in Scotland, he has considerable agricultural interests, but his only residence there is a small crofter's cottage. The Government of the day come along and make some extreme proposal as regards Scotland. According to this Bill, if you accept that the man's main residence is in London he is not able to exercise the right to vote on some great Scottish national issue, or on important local Scottish issues, because Scotland is not his main residence. Yet it may be very much more important to him, and possibly to the country, that his single vote should be exercised where his greatest interests lie; his interests not only of his personal pocket and his agricultural land, but also what he feels is right for the country. Let us remember that Caithness and Sutherland was once a constituency with a margin of, I think, three or four votes when Mr. Gandar Dower beat Sir Archibald Sinclair, as he then was. I cite that as an instance of where the single vote of a man entitled to vote by reason of his large property interests has a national importance which he should be free to exercise, and which he could not exercise under this Bill.

The other point I want to raise concerns main residence. Who defines what is a main residence? So far as I am aware, the only body in this country that exercises the right to endeavour to define what is a main residence is the Inland Revenue, when property passes from husband to wife. There is no capital gains tax, but the capital gains tax is assessed and comes into operation when the wife dies. Who is to say that the small property the man owns in London should be subordinate to his much larger Scottish interests with only a small crofthouse? I think it is a new proposal to put into law, a main residence without any definition of what such residence is. When the man comes to cast his vote under the present principle of one man, one vote but with the restriction of locality which this Bill proposes, I think it will be very unfair on the man. I sincerely hope that if this Bill gets a Second Reading today it will die a natural death during the course of its endeavour to reach the statute book.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and only because his speeches are always so clear, may I ask him to clarify two points he made? First, is it not a fact that where a taxpayer owns two residences he can at this moment elect with the Inland Revenue to choose one of them as his main residence? Does not that answer one of the noble Lord's points? Secondly, would he not agree that if the gentleman who lives in London and has the great landed estates in Scotland does not own the crofter's cottage but stays at a local hotel, under the present law he would not be able to vote in Scotland even though his landed interest in Scotland was a very pertinent electoral issue?

No, my Lords, I am afraid I would not agree. We are not in Committee, so I will not take the argument further. I may add that I think there has been far too much talk by the mover of the Bill about holiday homes. I am thinking of people who have great interests in two places, the greater interest not being in the small home he has in London which may or may not be defined as his main legal residence.

5 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to say a word or two about this Bill because I think, as in so many cases, it is highly confusing, and a great deal of what has been said so far this afternoon has merely added to my confusion. I find it most extraordinary that we should be starting this Bill in this House. I know that we complain that Bills far too often start the other end and then come up to us. But here we are starting a Bill in this House on people voting in general elections when not a single Member of your Lordships' House has a vote in a general election. Therefore, we are really fishing in waters which ought to be quite different.

However, I slightly object to the theory that you have to choose your main residence because if you happen to have a second home you might vote in the second home either because you happen to be there or for any other reason and you did not really know anything about it. I know thousands of people who have only one residence or who might indeed choose a residence as their main residence, and who do not know anything about it either. If you are going to try to say that your residence is the basis of your intelligence, I find it difficult to comprehend!

Other points have been made that seem to me to be equally odd. For instance, one such point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I know that the noble Lord has the most enormous experience in running elections throughout the country. I have had only a certain amount of experience as regards running an election in one particular constituency. One of the factors was that we had a great many people who were non-resident in the large county of Argyll. In the areas where they were most prevalent—I think that perhaps the Island of Tiree would be the one that had most croft houses owned by families living in Glasgow, Canada and other places—their average voting percentage was about 17 per cent. So, I find it difficult to believe that holiday cottages swing votes to any very great extent.

I think that we are on a number of pretty bad points. The fact is that it is perfectly right in our democratic system for people to say, "I want a Liberal Party or a Conservative Party or a Socialist Party elected at this election. Where can I go that gives my wishes the biggest chance of success?" I know that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would entirely agree with me that if he could help in an issue of that kind he would do so in order to help his candidate—

My Lords, I should like to interrupt for one moment. It is quite true that under the present law I would do so because the law is there. But that does not make the law right; it ought to be abolished.

My Lords, it does not make it right to change it. What the noble Lord is then saying is that what you have got to do is vote for a Member of Parliament and not for the Government. Perhaps I am biased, but looking back over the last 20 years I think that the calibre of the candidates, and therefore of the Members of the other place, has deteriorated quite enormously. It might well be that I would want to vote much more for the party than for the local Member who was standing for election, and I see no reason why I should not do so. For those reasons and indeed many other reasons, which are mainly Committee points, I think that this is an ill-thought out Bill, and I certainly do not think that it should start in this place.

5.4 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, for the clear way in which he has introduced this Bill, the purpose of which, as he has described, is to prohibit multiple registration of electors in Great Britain.

The noble Lord is establishing something of a reputation in this House on electoral matters. In this Parliament the noble Lord has already seen on to the statute book the Representation of the People Act 1980, dealing with the voting arrangements for spouses of service personnel residing in the United Kingdom and for the correction of the electoral register after it is published. That was something which all of us very much welcomed. But, despite the habitual persuasiveness of the noble Lord this afternoon, I cannot offer the same degree of enthusiasm with regard to this measure. My noble friend Lord Glenkinglas in his speech just now said that we were on to a number of pretty bad points. The speech which I have in front of me says, rather more gently perhaps, that this is, we think, an undesirable change in our electoral laws and one which could present certain practical difficulties.

As the House will know, the persons entitled to vote at an election in Great Britain are those British subjects and citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are 18 years of age or over on election day, are entered on the electoral register and are not otherwise disqualified from voting. This franchise is common to Westminster and to the European Parliament elections and to local elections.

It is entry on the electoral register which is the key factor with which we are concerned now. We are all familiar with cases where, despite considerable publicity, people who are otherwise qualified simply have not checked—perhaps they have not taken very much trouble—and then find that on election day they are not on the register and cannot vote. Such cases, affecting as they do the most basic rights of the citizen, are deeply regrettable. We all very much hope that, as a result of the earlier Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, going on to the Statute Book, this situation will happen far less frequently.

Overall, however, I think that there would be widespread agreement on the general integrity and accuracy of the electoral registers which we have in this country. That accuracy is something which is all-important, not only because of the effect on the essential rights of individual citizens to have their entitlement to vote protected, but also because the canvass for the electoral register is our only annual survey of population in this country.

I should like to stress that the Government really are not complacent about the quality and the accuracy of our electoral registers. As part of the secondary legislation necessary to implement Lord Lloyd's earlier Bill, to which I have referred, the Government have proposed substantial changes to the various electoral forms which are in use, to make them more readily comprehensible and easier to use. In conjunction with the British Youth Council we have conducted publicity campaigns to encourage young people, eligible for the first time, to ensure that they are entered on the electoral register and we have done other things besides.

At first sight, this Bill which the noble Lord is putting before your Lordships' House may seem consistent with that policy to which I have just referred—the policy of trying to see that the register is as good as we can possibly make it. By providing that an elector will henceforward be registered only in respect of his main address this Bill would—so the noble Lord is arguing—apparently eliminate multiple registration and make registers of electors a more accurate reflection of the true electorate.

But, if I may say so, I fear that the noble Lord's argument begs two questions. First, is it right that a qualified person should only be able to be entered on one register? Like my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye I shall argue that this is not such a self-evident proposition and that in certain cases multiple registration is arguably desirable. Secondly, in imposing this first requirement of registration only at the main residence, is there not a danger that the essentially simple process of electoral registration will be complicated so as to make the end result more inaccurate? If I may, I shall argue very briefly that if the noble Lord's Bill were implemented less, rather than more, accurate electoral registers in Great Britain could very well be the result.

But, on the first question of the statutory entitlement to be registered on more than one electoral register, I should point out that it is, of course, necessary that the electoral registration officer should be satisfied that a person claiming to be entitled to be registered was resident on the qualifying date—10th October in Great Britain and 15th September in Northern Ireland. But the term "resident" is not defined in any statute, but is decided on the facts of each case by the registration officer according to principles established in case law. And, against all decisions of a registration officer there is a right of appeal to the courts.

It has been established in successive judgments that while a person is not to be registered for an address where he or she is staying temporarily on the qualifying date, a person is to be registered for his normal place of residence even though he may be temporarily absent from it on that date. The term "constructive" residence has also been used in several judgments to denote where someone's residence at an address is not interrupted by mere absence if he intends to return and has the right to do so at any time—for example, if he goes away on a business trip.

One principle which has underlain judgments on residence is that a person may be able to claim residence at more than one address. If you are not resident continuously for the whole year at a particular address, the present law allows you to register by virtue of establishing constructive residence both at that address and at one or more other addresses which you may habitually use. It is that opportunity—of registering at more than one address—which, of course, the noble Lord's Bill would remove.

In his speech the noble Lord told us of the registration officer in Cornwall rejecting some 300 out of 800 applications for inclusion on the register. If I may say so, that shows that the correct principles were being applied by the registration officer. But this Bill strikes at the concept of constructive residence on which our electoral registration legislation is built.

There are, after all,—and we are talking in practical terms—several groups of people who might legitimately claim to reside in more than one place. There are students, for whom this Bill could cause particular difficulty, although of course I go along with what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, that many matters can be looked at closely in Committee, and of course always are in this House. However, I think that the Bill would create some very real difficulties for students. There are people who have perhaps temporarily left home, which they still regard as their base and to which they return regularly, to look after sick relatives or to assist in a family business. And there is the group which the noble Lord and, I think, other noble Lords have had in mind; they are the people who own, or who rent, or who otherwise are occupiers of two homes. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, will acknowledge that there is a very clear law in this country against double voting in elections to the same authority. It is unlawful for any person to vote more than once in a general parliamentary election, no matter on how many electoral registers he is entered. Indeed, the noble Lord very fairly recorded this in his speech. There is thus, if I may say so, no elite group—as the noble Lord also suggested in his speech—based on property, of parliamentary electors in the sense of persons who have more than one vote. I think that we would agree that there is no suggestion of that.

However, let us look for a moment at local elections, to which the Bill also applies. My noble friend Lord Glenkinglas said that perhaps we were fishing in waters in which we ought not to fish at all because we are talking about general elections in this Bill. This Bill talks about waters in which your Lordships can fish, when there are local elections when we do have a vote; and I think that, therefore, we take particular interest because this Bill also applies to local elections. There we find that electors may vote in separate elections to different authorities so that, for example, a businessman living both in London and Devon is entitled to vote in both local authority elections. Again—I am afraid that I am robust about this—I do not think that that is necessarily undesirable. Yet it would be prevented if this Bill became law. An elector who lives in two different places—and many of us who work in politics have to live in two different places—will use local services and will be personally affected by the administration of local matters. I think that many of us would consider it a retrograde step if such persons were simply to be deprived of the local franchise. Any reduction in the capacity of informed people to involve themselves in local affairs is, in principle, undesirable.

However, the noble Lord's Bill would confine any elector's right to registration to his main residence; and this is, I would suggest, a more complicated change than has been suggested so far this afternoon. For, if the franchise is to be restricted in this way—and certainly this business of the main residence has been criticised by my noble friends—then someone will have to decide whether a person's application for registration is truly in respect of the main residence.

The noble Lord has perhaps overlooked the fact that in our present system the registration officer relies to a considerable extent on the forms submitted to him by householders. It is not every individual elector who actually submits the registration form. Thus, it will apparently fall to the householder to determine whether or not persons in the household are being entered in respect of their "main" residence. Of course, I acknowledge that, in the case of a family, that is absolutely straightforward. But in other cases, involving landlords and tenants or large residential institutions, it will not be so simple. Difficulties cannot easily be resolved by the registration officer. He may notice that a person has been left off the form in comparison with previous years; but is this because the person is no longer qualified, or has left the area, or because the address in question was never his main residence?

In case I may sound as though I am starting to nit pick, this point was made by the Working Party on the Electoral Register, which reported in 1977. A very distinguished member of that Working Party—before we had the pleasure of welcoming him to this House—was H. R. Underhill, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to whom we always listen so carefully on these occasions. The working party, of which he was a member, felt that the prohibition of multiple registration, as provided in the Bill, would conflict with the registration officer's statutory duty to register all persons in the district appearing to him to be qualified. I agree with the conclusion which the noble Lord and his colleagues on the working party reached. I would only add that in our view the noble Lord's Bill would certainly complicate the registration officer's job and make the process of electoral registration more difficult and more expensive.

The working party to which I have referred went on to make another criticism of the proposed prohibition of multiple registration, which I think is also worthy of consideration before we complete this Second Reading. The working party said that:
"Enforcement [of such a provision] could be difficult without some process of correlation between different registers, which itself could involve questions of compatibility between different computer-held records".
It is certainly difficult to see how a ban on multiple registration could effectively be enforced. Unlike Northern Ireland, there is, of course, no centralised registration record in Great Britain. Only by having precise advance knowledge could a dual registration be discovered. Although in Northern Ireland, where of course multiple registration is prohibited, it is relatively easy to cross-check several entries on one register, that would not be possible for the 400-odd registers in Great Britain. In any case, the fact of dual registration would not necessarily be conclusive evidence that there had been a deliberate offence. It is quite possible for a householder to put on the registration form names of tenants and others without their being involved in any way.

Therefore, it is precisely for the practical reasons which I have described that the Government believe that the noble Lord's Bill would introduce a complicating and, I must say, I think an unnecessary factor into our electoral legislation. It would make more difficult the task of electoral registration officers, on whom of course there is the statutory duty to see that the register is made up properly. It would, in certain instances, impose onerous tasks on individual householders. It seems to the Government that the mischief against which the noble Lord believes his Bill to be directed is, at least in local government terms, not a mischief at all; and, in parliamentary terms, is certainly only an arguable and not, I submit, a proven case. Therefore, I cannot undertake that the Government will support or assist the passage of the Bill, although I thank the noble Lord for the opportunity which we are having to debate what I think is an important matter.

5.20 p.m.

My Lords, may I first of all generally thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this interesting debate, which the noble Lord the Minister has said is a very important matter. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for his support. He is, of all noble Lords, the most expert in these matters as the one-time national agent of the great party to which he belongs. I think that he paid a great tribute to the Bill, for which I thank him, when, to use his words, he said, "This is a further step in the progress of parliamentary democracy. It brings fairness and maximum democracy to our land." He very fairly raised two points, which I have always had in mind and which are Committee points, as he accepted, and they related to the position of students, and also to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in regard to multiple voting, and multiple registration therefore, at local elections. I think it is agreed in this House that both of these are important points which can be dealt with on the Committee stage.

I was most interested in, and grateful for, the powerful contributions by two distinguished Peers of the Realm from Scotland. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for the example he gave of a problem arising with a man who had a house and lived in London and interests of the kind he indicated in Scotland. There again, I think that perhaps he was asking that this Bill should not apply to Scotland. Again, this is a point which can be dealt with in Committee. He also referred to the definition of "main residence". As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was good enough to interpose, it is for the person concerned to elect to the Inland Revenue for capital gains purposes what is his main residence. Also the question of what constitutes a main residence arises when you try to get mortgage arrangements in respect of loans in regard to a house.

The noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas, was good enough to say that perhaps I was completely out of step in encouraging your Lordships to consider this matter in this House. But the very fact that we are not allowed to elect at a general election would appear to me to justify our taking up this point, because how could there be clearer objectivity in discussing a matter of this kind when none of us has any interest of whatsoever kind. But I entirely agree with him that there is this problem regarding local government. Again this can be dealt with in Committee.

I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for his kind words about another Bill in which I was concerned, and which eventually came on to the statute book, in regard to the form of entry on the electoral register of spouses of members of the armed forces. The noble Lord referred to a commission which discussed matters a couple of years ago, of which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was a member. He quoted from the report of that commission, saying that it would appear that certain aspects of the present Bill were objected to by that commission. I console myself that the same argument was raised against me in the Bill on the representation of the people as regards services' spouses, and happily I was able to overcome the objection raised on the basis of that commission's report.

I think all noble Lords who have participated in this debate have indicated that most of the points they have raised arc points which could be dealt with in Committee. Therefore, I am not going to go into detail to deal with all the points raised, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will not think I am being discourteous at this stage in not endeavouring to deal with the substantial points he has raised on behalf of the Government. In these circumstances, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

5.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill be now read 2a ?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 46; Not-Contents, 77.


Airedale, L.Kilbracken, L.
Auckland, L.Kirkhill, L.
Avebury, L.Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Aylestone, L.Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. [Teller.]
Balogh, L.
Banks, L. [Teller.]Lockwood, B.
Barrington, V.Longford, E.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.Melchett, L.
Birk,B.Mishcon, L.
Boston of Faversham, L.Noel-Baker, L.
Brockway, L.Peart, L.
Collison, L.Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.Rochester, L.
David, B.Segal, L.
Davies of Leek, L.Shinwell, L.
Foot, L.Stone, L.
Gaitskell, B.Strabolgi, L.
George-Brown, L.Underhill, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L.Whaddon, L.
Gosford, E.Wigoder, L.
Hale, L.Winstanley, L.
Jeger, B.Winterbottom, L.
Kaldor, L.Wynne-Jones, L.
Kennet, L.


Abinger, L.Hornsby-Smith, B.
Allen of Abbeydalc, L.Hylton-Foster, B.
Ampthill, L.Ilchester, E.
Armstrong, L.Killearn, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L.Kinnaird, L.
Belstead, L.Lauderdale, E.
Bessborough, E.Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Boardman, L.Long, V.
Boothby, L.Lyell, L,
Caithness, E.Mancroft, L.
Cathcart, E.Marley, L.
Chesham, L.Merrivale, L.
Cork and Orrery, E.Mersey, V.
Cottesloe, L. [Teller.]Middleton, L.
Craigavon, V.Morris, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L.Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Dacre of Glanlon, L.Renton, L.
Daventry, V.Rochdale, V.
de Clifford, L.Sackville, L.
De La Warr, E.St. Aldwyn, E.
Denham, L.Salisbury, M.
Derwent, L.Shannon, E.
Elles, B.Sharples, B.
Elliot of Harwood, B.Skelmersdale, L.
Energlyn, L.Somers, L.
Faithfull, B.Spens, L.
Falkland, V.Stanley of Alderley, L.
Ferrers, E.Stradbroke, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L.Strathclyde, L.
Gainford, L.Strathspey, L.
Gisborough, L.Sudeley, L.
Glenkinglas, L. [Teller.]Swansea, L.
Gormanston, V.Swinfen, L.
Gridley, L.Teynham, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)Vickers, B.
Vivian, L.
Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Hanworth, V.West bury, L.
Hawke, L.Wootton of Abinger, B.
Holderness, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion for Second Reading disagreed to accordingly.

Trees (Replanting And Replacement) Bill H L

5.34 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. With the exception of a few details, this is very much the same measure as that which I introduced towards the end of last Session and which was passed by your Lordships but too late for it to reach the House of Commons. I am introducing it again with a few minor changes, and it is those changes about which I wish to speak. I have reinserted the words at the end of Clause 1:

"of the same genus and of the same or a similar species".
I will explain why I have done that. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was kind enough to write to me explaining his opinion on this, so I know he is opposed to it. I must point out that the whole reason originally for introducing the Bill was that I wished to stem the gradual decline in the number of hardwood trees—

I apologise for interrupting, my Lords, but did I hear the noble Lord refer to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran? I think he meant to refer to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken.

Yes, my Lords, and I beg the noble Lord's pardon; I was of course referring to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken. The whole purpose of introducing the Bill was to stem the gradual decline in the number of hardwood trees which in normal circumstances would not be replanted by local authorities because they are so slow growing, and naturally they wish to see a fairly rapid return on their work. As a result, it is practically impossible for the average person to get hardwood—I expect it is more available for professional users—and of course trees such as the oak, ash and beech are such a typical feature of the English countryside that they should be preserved. I have reinserted words so that if a tree of that variety is destroyed, a tree of similar species will appear in due course. The only other alteration to the Bill is the insertion of Clause 4, which I think is the nearest one can get to a penal clause. I have had legal advice on this and I believe that as it stands it will prove strong enough. It is not absolute, but it should prove strong enough to make the average local authority respect it. There is little else to say, except that I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading and that it will not be too mutilated in Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Lord Somers).

5.38 p.m.

My Lords, I do not have a great deal to say about the Bill, except to say a cheerful hallo, to give a welcome return to an old friend and to wish the noble Lord, Lord Somers, success with it. He has pointed out the alterations he has made since a similar Bill was before us last Session and how he has retained certain amendments that were made on its first appearance. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, and I had a hand in tabling some amendments, some of which were successful and some were not from our point of view, and as the Bill stands now I feel quite happy with it.

I sometimes wonder a little whether the noble Lord is in fact attacking the right enemy. I entirely applaud his intention. I think that the noble Lord. Lord Kilbracken, feels a little more strongly on this than I do, but I do not know whether local authorities are at fault to any great extent in not replanting trees. On the whole, in many cases to my knowledge they do exceedingly well. I am quite prepared to believe that there are some local authorities, possibly many, which do not; but I simply do not know about that. However, local authorities are probably not the greatest culprits in this area.

I suspect that the private developer, who cannot be caught by this Bill, nor probably by any other, is a greater culprit. He is able to cut down large numbers of trees in order to build something, whatever it may be, and he escapes; he is not compelled to replant. Perhaps the greatest culprit of all (if no one takes exception to that particular noun, as applied to it) is the Forestry Commission, which is constantly planting conifers, which I personally do not care for very much, the soft woods, all over the place, and the hard woods disappear, as the noble Lord so justly complained. However, there it is, and to say that a more worthwhile target might have been selected is not to complain about the one that the noble Lord has selected—that is to say, the local authorities. For that reason I hope that your Lordships will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.

5.41 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, should be congratulated—even if he got my name slightly wrong—upon persevering with this Bill, which had a somewhat protracted passage through your Lordships' House last year, in the course of which it was changed, and I hope improved, as a result of amendments put down by the noble Earl who has just spoken and myself. One of those amendments left it free to the local authority to decide what species, or indeed what genus, of trees were to be planted as replacements, and now the noble Lord has returned the Bill to its previous form. I hope that he will think about it again, first, because I think that the local authority should not be hampered in its choice of trees, but in particular, because, as I have often found, one can plant a particular species and then find that for some reason or other it is quite unsuitable for that piece of ground. That is obviously often the case with poplars, which need rather wet ground. If a number of poplars—to give only one example—have to be felled because they are failing, it would be ridiculous to plant more poplars. Perhaps those words cannot be left out of the Bill altogether, but I feel that the wording has to be changed. There are also one or two other minor points which I should like to raise at the Committee stage, with the sole hope that when the Bill goes to another place, as I hope it will, it will be even better than it is now.

There is not much more to say, except to mention that I await with interest the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, and I very much hope that this time the Government will see fit to give the Bill something of a fair wind in its journey towards the statute book. Last year the earlier version of the Bill reached another place, despite the Government who seemed to think, as the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, has suggested might be the case, that it is unnecessary. I wish I thought that it were unnecessary.

Of course, there are many local authorities which are very scrupulous in this matter, which mind about trees and plant as many as they should in places where trees have to be cut down. But it is not for them that one is legislating. I think it is a very great mistake to say merely that most local authorities are pretty good about this, and therefore we need not bother about it, because I believe that there are a great many local authorities, just as there are a great many individuals, who do not care about trees, who cut them down in a most deplorable way, and do not replace them. Therefore, I feel that this is not an unimportant nor an unnecessary Bill, and I very much hope that the noble Earl will be able to indicate some degree of Governmental support. With those words I wish the Bill a fair passage.

5.45 p.m.

I am afraid that I cannot give the Bill in its new form any warmer welcome than I gave it last time. I am well aware of the deep concern for the landscape of this country which motivates the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in introducing the Bill, and I cannot believe that there is one of your Lordships here today who does not share his concern. Yet I cannot believe that the Bill will do the cause any good. I should explain that I work for a local authority, the Greater London Council. Indeed I am the council's director of recreation and arts, and therefore I have within my sphere of influence what used to be the old parks department. So I have a great deal to do with a very large amount of open space in London. I should also explain that I do not in any way this evening speak for the Greater London Council, but only for myself.

I say that I cannot welcome the Bill because, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, I believe that it is unnecessary. I believe that, by and large, local authorities do very well without enforcing legislation. They certainly do very well without being compelled to keep additional records. I feel that that clause of the Bill in particular is especially unwelcome at a time when most authorities are struggling to maintain their open spaces with ever decreasing manpower numbers, and that an additional bureaucratic burden of this kind is particularly uncalled for at this time.

I should also like to echo the objection of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, to the inserted phrase about trees being of the same genus and preferably of the same species. I recently had an experience of exactly the kind that he described. It was on the North border of Wormwood Scrubs, where we are trying to plant a large tree screen. We tried a number of hard -wood trees in the slightly pathetic hope that they might take, although the soil is extremely unsympathetic. Not entirely to our surprise, we found that they did not take, and we have now resorted to other forms of trees which have a better chance. Had this Bill been an Act and been in force, I would have been compelled for ever to repeat my mistake, and I do not think that that is a tolerable situation.

I am also slightly alarmed by the very nature of the mathematics involved. I can see basically the reason for replanting two trees where one is felled. Indeed, in many cases we plant more. But as I explained on the previous appearance of the Bill, there are times when this is simply illogical. For example, it is often the case that in planting an avenue, one double plants it early in its life because one knows that the mature spacing of large trees will perhaps be 20 feet; but until they are mature a 20-feet spacing will look particularly "mini". The avenue will be rather a sad spectacle in its early life, so one double plants it, and at some point, depending on the growth of the trees, every other one is chopped down. If the Bill were passed, every time that process took place one would have to plant another avenue and quite soon one would run out of places in which to plant trees. So I cannot believe that that proposal is even remotely logical.

I cannot believe in even the period of one year as proposed in the Bill. If one cuts down, let us imagine, a large area of trees because it is a desert, it is one of those neglected areas which requires total reclamation, re-landscaping and replanting. If that is done in September, then according to the Bill, one is obliged by the following September to have replanted two for one all over. But that effectively gives one not until the following September, but until the end of March, because lifting and planting for anything except container-grown trees—and by and large in this sort of quantity we are talking of nursery-grown trees—has to be carried out within the planting season. It may well be that the land needs not merely much more work on it before replanting, but also fallow time. It might need chemical treatment and the clearance of all kinds of undesirable weeds and undergrowths before replanting starts. In many cases a year simply will not be enough; it will not be possible to comply with it.

Finally, it seems to me quite illogical to say that even if trees are felled because they are a danger or a possible source of danger to traffic or pedestrians, they must nevertheless be replaced. I understand quite well that there are certain circumstances in which the danger arises merely from the condition of a tree. It becomes old, it becomes dangerous, and you have to cut it down to prevent damage. But if the very siting of the tree is the cause of danger, if indeed it is a danger because you cannot see traffic round it, or the very place in which it is set is automatically a danger, then it is clearly absurd to be obliged to replant it.

My Lords, if I might interrupt the noble Lord, the tree does not have to be replanted in the same place as the other one was felled. That is under Clause 2, I suppose.

My Lords, I appreciate the point that the noble Lord is making, and that is quite true, of course, but there are plenty of circumstances in which the only planting area one is talking about is the same planting area. Obviously, one could go and plant two more trees quite elsewhere, if that were the case; but it still seems to me an illogical provision. Therefore, I must say that I believe the Bill is unnecessary in general and, in detail, is restrictive, and I cannot honestly hope that it will receive a Second Reading.

5.52 p.m.

My Lords, I apologise that I did not put my name down to speak, but I wonder whether I may be permitted to say a few words. Having had a considerable interest in forestry for most of my working life, this Bill interests me. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill, and to his intentions behind it, I am afraid I could not support it. I agree, in the main, with the views expressed by the last speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. I do not think that the local authorities are in any way largely to be blamed for the lack of trees in the urban areas which they own. I think that to a great extent local authorities are very good at replanting trees wherever it is possible to do so.

The loss of trees in general in the British countryside is not due to the work of local authorities, or even to the work of developers who build factory sites, houses and so on, because very often trees are planted on those sites, generally by order of the planning authority when giving their planning permission. They say that certain trees have to be preserved, and that other trees have to be planted. I think that, in the main, the loss of our trees—and I am talking about arbori cultural trees, and not silvi cultural trees—is due to two things. One is disease. In my area we have suffered an enormous loss of trees in the last two to three years from Dutch elm disease. They were stupid enough, in years gone by, to have Dutch elm trees planted—I am sorry; to have elm trees planted. I am sorry I said "Dutch elms", because there are 32 different varieties of elm, I believe. Their loss has caused a great loss of shade and appearance.

The other loss of trees in the countryside is due to the disappearance of hedgerows and the cutting of hedgerows by mechanical means, which has made quite sure that young trees which grow up to replace the old dead ones in the hedgerows cannot survive, because they are cut off by these machines. Of course, farmers do not want trees, generally, in their hedgerows because they take up space and cause shade, and land is intensely valuable now; and you cannot always regard them as being of use for shelter belts, such as you have to have in more windy areas further north and in our upland areas. So, on those general lines, and with the greatest respect to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill, I am afraid I cannot support it because I do not think it is necessary, nor do I think that it covers the problem.

My Lords, before taking part in this debate, may I first of all declare an interest? I am a member of the Economic Forestry Group. Coming to the Bill, I applaud the Bill and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has brought it back again. It has been amended, and it will be changed even now, probably, in Committee; but I believe it is basically a good Bill. It will help considerably in the countryside. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, has strongly criticised it, but when I think of my own area of Cumberland in the North, and the rural authorities which are affected very much by forestry, I think of Bassenthwaite, in particular, near where I live.

This Bill will, I think, make people realise that our forestry heritage is important. That is why I thought that, in his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, hit the nail on the head. He said that we have to think of reversing the decline in hard wood trees, and he went on to talk about the difficulties of oak, ash and the beech, and our typical countryside. What ever arguments we may have, and whatever pre-judices, I still believe that this is a good, positive Private Member's Bill. I am not going to take up any more time; I wish it well.

5.57 p.m.

My Lords, it is a welcome addition to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill to be talking today on the Trees (Replanting and Replacement) Bill instead. Having earlier today talked about the sites for burial grounds being unused, I felt that this Bill might be rather applicable to that Motion as well. While the Government are very keen that a great many trees should be planted both in urban areas and in the countryside, we do not believe that this Bill is the right way of achieving this objective. The Bill is similar to the one introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in the previous Session. Certain changes have been made which are an improvement on the original Bill, but I would remind your Lordships of what was said by my noble friend who was standing at this Dispatch Box on that occasion, my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, in the Committee stage last May. He said that we in the Government do not see much point in trying to turn this measure into one which we can support, because at the end of the day we shall probably not be supporting it.

Our main objection, as previously, is that it runs counter to our policy of reducing the statutory duties of local authorities. We believe that authorities should have as much discretion and flexibility as possible in matters such as these, and I should like to take the new Clause 4 as particularly running counter to this policy. I agree with many of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, said from the Cross-Benches, and I wonder, perhaps, whether he would not like to move behind me to support us on this particular measure.

We believe that this Bill is unnecessary because most local authorities already plant a substantial number of trees each year. Here I think we agree with my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery. Although it is the Government's policy that local authority expenditure should be kept down, we have seen no evidence to indicate that authorities are cutting back drastically on their planting programmes, and I hope and believe that they will take a long-term view and continue to provide a reasonable level of resources for this work. Perhaps if the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has some examples to the contrary, he might like to give them to your Lordships when we come to Committee stage.

However, what the Bill would do is to cause local authorities to spend resources on the unproductive work of recording all the details about trees felled and planted in accordance with Clause 3—a point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett; and the Bill now has an enforcement provision which would involve central Government in monitoring the local authorities' work, and in taking action in cases of apparent non-compliance. As I said just a minute ago, it is our policy to reduce bureaucracy, not to increase it—as this Bill does.

Another objection that we have to the Bill's provisions is that, by specifying that replacements have to be of the same genus and of the same or a similar species, it unnecessarily restricts local authorities in their choice of replacement trees. If the Bill gets to a Committee stage, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, will put down an amendment. I have some examples here in that many authorities may have too high a proportion of trees of a particular genus or species or types of trees involving a heavy maintenance responsibility in urban areas, and when they fell these trees they may well want to replace them with other genera. The subject of elms has already been brought up. As my noble friend Lord Bellwin said in the Second Reading debate on 16th April (at col. 395 of Hansard):
"We want to encourage the planting of as wide a range of species as possible, in order to give greater variety to our environment and to lessen the chances of diseases spreading".
For these reasons we cannot support the Bill.

However, I should like to take this opportunity of reiterating our support for the extensive planting of trees and for our support for the national tree campaign launched last year by the Tree Council; a campaign which aims to have planted one tree per head of population by 1983. Last November, on the occasion of National Tree Week, there was a very interesting debate on tree planting in another place. I am sure that many of your Lordships have read the report of this debate. My colleague in the department, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Hector Monro, and the originator of the National Tree Planting Year in 1973, the honourable Member, Mr. Sidney Chapman, who has done so much to arouse interest in trees, referred then to the valuable part being played by public bodies. But, as they indicated, tree planting needs the active involvement of the whole community. Much valuable work is already being done—and I should like to encourage even greater effort in the future—by civic societies, school-children, naturalist trusts, other voluntary groups, and by families and individuals. The private sector can be most effective when working in co-operation with, and using the advice of, local authorities with their conservation branches and parks departments.

While I have sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Somers, is trying to do, I believe that an extensive tree planting programme can best be achieved by the sort of community effort and co-operation to which I have referred, and not by imposing statutory requirements on local authorities, as in this Bill.

6.3 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate. I must confess that some noble Lords do not seem to have read the Bill thoroughly. The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, raised the point that if you plant an avenue and had to plant the trees close together, once they had grown the trees in between would have to be chopped down. But what about Clause 7? It says:

"This Act shall not apply where, in wooded areas, thinning of the trees is necessary ".
I should have thought that that applied to that.

I think that is making it over-difficult. It could be so defined that any wooded area is an area which has more than one tree, presumably. Regarding Lord Kilbracken's objection to the same species, without that this Bill would be completely pointless. That is the whole reason why I introduced it, as I said in my opening speech. It is these hard wood trees which are not being replanted.

The noble Lord should imagine himself on a local council, having to replant trees. Would he advise the tree planter to plant trees that he was not going to see during his life? If so, he is a great deal more farsighted than many local councils, I am afraid. Without that provision, the Bill is a normal tree provision Bill. There is no need for that. Local governments have their own perfectly good tree protection provisions and I would not think of trespassing on them. There are some which are not quite so responsible, certainly; but the vast majority of them have excellent tree protection provisions. I cannot say that I think the objections to the Bill are very valid, but I must leave it to your Lordships to say whether you wish to have the Bill read a second time.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Pet Animals Act 1951 (Amendment) Bill Hl

6.7 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. This Bill proposes to amend the Pet Animals Act of 1951 in one particular only. The 1951 Act regulated the sale of pet animals. Its main purpose was to do with the licensing of pet shops, laying down proper conditions for keeping and caring for animals on sale in pet shops. It provided for inspectors to see that these conditions were complied with, the inspectors being officers of the local authorities. Another provision was that pets were not to be sold to children under 12 years of age.

The section of the 1951 Act which I propose to change relates to the sale of pet animals in streets or public places. The Act of 1951 made it an offence to sell pets in the street or any public place except from a stall or barrow and by a person who had been granted a licence to do so by the local authority. My Bill seeks to revoke street trading altogether. I want to remove the trade in pets from stalls or barrows in streets or public places from the licensing provisions of the 1951 Act.

I want to stress that this Bill does not affect pet shops or anything else in the 1951 Act except that. While there are probably other provisions in the principal Act in need of attention, I am deliberately confining this Bill to one reform only. It is pressing and I think that it should come first. I must also keep in mind that if your Lordships see fit to pass this Bill it has still to find a place in the business of the House of Commons. Before it can become law it must of course pass through both Houses. I have referred previously to the curious situation in which your Lordships' House always finds a place for a Bill which comes up from the House of Commons, but the House of Commons do not always find a place for Bills which go from the House of Lords. I wish to make the task of sympathetic Members of another place easier by confining this Bill to this one clause.

Moreover, there is another good reason why I am doing this. It is that the pet shop proprietors have now formed a pet trade association. They have their own channels of approach and recommendation to the Home Office on matters which concern them; so they prefer that I should not extend the scope of this amending Bill any further than I have done, in order to leave them free to pursue their concerns through channels which are open to them. They are neutral on this Bill because some of their members are stall-holders as well as pet shop proprietors.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships for too long, but I think the history of this legislation will be of interest, especially when Governments say, as they often do, that they have no intention of introducing legislation to bring about some reform or other. It does not mean they are not interested, but that they are probably willing to let a Private Member do it. The original Act of 1951 was a Private Member's Bill. It was the work of Sir Ronald Russell, who was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Wembley, South. He tried first to introduce this Bill to regulate the sale of pets in 1949, but failed through lack of time; but in 1951 he was successful and his Bill was passed in June 1951. It became operative from April 1952.

It is interesting to note that the Bill, when introduced into another place, was moved by the late Sir Ronald Russell and was supported by our colleague in this House, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, by the noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, and by the noble Lord, Lord Reigate. No fewer than eight members of the Standing Committee which dealt with that Bill in another place are now Members of your Lordships' House. I think it is interesting, as I say, to recall their part in formulating a Bill which has done so much good over the last 30 years. I notice the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, is in her place; she was one of the supporters. Others were the noble Viscountess, Lady Davidson, the noble Baroness, Lady White, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and the noble Lords, Lord Holderness, Lord Boyle, Lord Pargiter, and Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath.

By 1969 Sir Ronald Russell was of the opinion that his Bill of 1951 did not in this respect go far enough, and he introduced an amending Bill which, unfortunately, made no progress in another place through lack of time. This Bill which is now before your Lordships' House is exactly the same Bill as the one Sir Ronald Russell sought to introduce in another place in 1969. There is, therefore, nothing very hasty about what it is proposed to do. Sir Ronald became badly disabled in his last Parliament, 1970–74, and he died in 1974: otherwise I am sure that this Bill would have come from another place to your Lordships' House on his initiative. Anyway, it falls to me to introduce the Bill almost by proxy.

Now for the merits of the matter. I want to preface my remarks on them by reflecting on the change in public attitudes towards animal protection and welfare during the 30 years since 1951. Public interest and concern for all animal life has increased enormously during that time. What was acceptable in 1951 may not be acceptable today. Since then we have had legislation on standards in boarding establishments and kennels; we have had legislation for the protection of birds; we have before the House at the present time a Bill for the protection of laboratory animals—the first to be passed by either House on this subject for a hundred years. Other Bills on animal welfare are coming forward. Political parties are now pledged to bring about reforms in this field. The present Government are probably more committed to improving the conditions for animal protection and welfare than any previous Government at any time; and that is to their credit.

Public interest obviously has been met and stimulated by more television and newspaper coverage of animal life than ever before. Such people as David Attenborough have made a very big contribution to this. Young people with a passion for change and for a better society frequently express themselves in noisy demonstrations and occasional breaches of the peace. They are impatient with the slow pace of parliamentary business and they complain to me that nothing gets done here—it is all talk; there is no action, only delay and frustration; everything takes too long.

My Lords, it is no good ignoring the young people when trying to gauge public opinion, because they are part of it and they are the people who will count in the years to come. When I was at Club Row last Sunday morning a number of young people were demonstrating there, but it was not for my benefit because they have been demonstrating outside this marketplace every Sunday morning for the last 11 months. It appeared to need a number of police officers there to see that everybody behaved properly, and I thought it probably took more than a little courage on the part of some of the stallholders to be carrying on their business to the din of incessant barracking. That is how it looked to me.

But before condemning these demonstrators—and I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, is not present, because this is his obsession—I think we have at least to be thankful that these young people are never football hooligans or drunken louts at closing time; they are not rapists, muggers, burglars or pickpockets. They are not even pickets, trying to intimidate other people into stopping work. They may do wrong but they are never evil. Call them extremists if you will but, like it or not, they are part of the present climate of opinion on animal welfare—an active, vocal, noisy and even militant part, but they cannot be suppressed.

In this field, as in many others, if moderate leadership bears fruit, extremism can be contained: if it does not, then more militant action follows. It is those who say "No" to demands for moderate change who have to pay the higher price in the end. These young people are sweeping into the animal welfare societies. They are taking them over, and many of them are making heavy personal sacrifices for the work they are doing. I admire them in so much of what they are doing; I only wish I was young so that I could live with them to see it through.

However, I think I ought now to turn to a cool, objective look at the street trade in animals, and at what it is about it that we think justifies the proposals in this Bill. One consideration is: Does this assist responsible pet ownership? There are strong doubts as to whether this form of selling pet animals is conducive to responsible pet ownership. Too many puppies and kittens are bought by children in a passing fancy, or because they fall for the appealing look of an engaging creature whose attractions are irresistible.

But the glamour can wear off, and pets can be a chore and an expense. As they grow up, they lose some of their endearing qualities and may become a bore or a nuisance; and probably the adult members of the family want to get rid of them. There is a danger that these animals may be eventually turned out, rejected, dropped on a motorway—anything. It is amazing what terrible things people will do to animals which they have called their pets.

I think that people, who would buy a pet or acquire one, should be encouraged to go direct to breeders, to licensed pet shops, to the RSPCA or to a reputable animal rescue centres, where a purchaser has a positive and premeditated purpose in mind, and will not buy on impulse or on a wave of sentiment. Sales in open markets tend to be to the passer-by, and the likelihood is that a person who has to enter premises to buy will be a more responsible pet owner.

The next point we have to consider is: what about responsible selling? Responsible selling is not likely to be found in street market trading, and it will not be up to the high standard we expect from licensed pet shops and others who are running bona fide establishments. There are kennels, breeders' premises, voluntary societies and the rest. I ask your Lordships: Would you buy a pet from a stall in the street? If your answer is No, then it is my answer, too. I do not think that this kind of selling should be encouraged.

The main risk, of course, is on health grounds, and it is on that that I have received most complaints. I have had complaints about the pedigree and condition of pets. Many people who acquire pets in this way very frequently find that they have to take them to the vet very shortly afterwards, because they are sickly and probably fatally ill. Vets have been critical of the number of people who have gone to them, having acquired pets in this way, without proper safeguards about the health of the animal they were buying.

There are also complaints—very occasional, I must say—of kittens and puppies being dumped on the rubbish heap at the end of the day. Kittens have been found. I have photographs here of kittens which have been picked up from the rubbish heap in an open market. Last Sunday, when I was at Club Row in Tower Hamlets, a woman came to me with a picture of a collie and asked "Have you seen this dog in this market"? I had not. She was looking for a dog which she had lost and had gone to that market believing—hoping, probably—that she would see it on sale. Some people have bought animals from these market places, not because they wanted an additional pet or were particularly attracted to what they saw, but because they took compassion on an animal which they thought was in a very uncomfortable condition.

Another point is that dealers frequent open markets much more frequently than they go into pet shops. Some of them are known to be supplying research laboratories, and the sooner we stop research laboratories from going out into the streets, here and there, to get their animals, and require them to get them from bona fide breeding establishments, the better.

I have a letter from an RSPCA superintendent, who has given me an account of what he thinks is wrong with an open market such as Club Row. He mentions that that,
"area is perhaps one of the principal outlets in the country for illegal trade in wild birds ".
He also says:
"It is suspected that pet stealers dispose of their ill-gotten gains at the market to innocent members of the public".
He said that at that time last year when he wrote the society had two pending prosecutions against those responsible. He said:
"Traders sell or attempt to sell puppies and kittens at too early an age".
They should, of course, have been weaned, but there is no strict condition as to how that is to be determined. He went on:
"Some licensed traders occasionally trade in exotic animals, including fox cubs".
But they are perfectly entitled to do that. The superintendent continued:
"The market creates a serious problem in relation to contagious feline and canine diseases, i.e. distemper, hard pad and enteritis. As I am sure you will appreciate, at the time of the sale an animal may appear to be"
well, but it soon becomes sickly.

The Evening Standard of 17th November disclosed a new danger in connection with open markets; that is, in the certification of vaccination. It published the name and the photograph of a vet who was signing blank forms of certificates of vaccination. This vet said "The animals were examined all right. There is no doubt about that. But I could not spend all Saturday afternoon, when I wanted to look at a football match on television, filling in the details. So I signed the forms, handed them over to the dealers and they had to put in the details".

Part of the difficulty is that on Saturday all this trade builds up for the Sunday morning, and we can understand the problems of the concentration of work on a Saturday, in order to open a stall on the Sunday morning. The period of vigilance is a very difficult one. It is too short to see all that is going on. I think that the Evening Standard and the Star newspapers have done a public service in drawing attention to much that they have seen in this and other market places.

I now come to the next heading of our examination of this problem: the conditions in open markets. As I said, I went to Club Row last Sunday. It is primitive and scruffy. It was a fine Sunday morning with little wind, though rather cold. But what if there had been a blizzard, a high wind or pouring rain? There were plastic covers to the stalls, blankets hung at the side and Calor gas heaters looking rather dangerous amid so much straw. It was not a very pleasant sight.

The conditons in these markets are the responsibility of the local authority. They lay down the conditions and it is their responsibility to enforce them. But the RSPCA superintendent complains that, owing to the laxity of oversight of the conditions, it falls to the RSPCA to do it for them. There is an officer of the RSPCA on duty at that market all the time. I do not see why the voluntary societies should undertake a job which is proper to the local authorities or to the police.

I did not like what I saw, but I cannot say that in those conditions I saw anything which made me feel deeply angry. Nevertheless, I came away fully convinced that a street market is no place to sell pets. It is a relic of the 19th century, when shops were few and markets flourished. But it will not do today. The risks, under all the heads that I have mentioned, are too great. Living animals are not merchandise. They are flesh and blood and have feelings and emotions.

I have to ask noble Lords whether in all the circumstances they feel that this is a Bill to stop the sale of animals in open market places. The question we have to ask is whether we are justified in ending altogether this trade and having done with it. My answer to that question is, Yes. Quite apart from public opinion, I think our own attitude towards animals should enable us to reach a judgment. I have not received a single letter saying that these markets should be kept open: not one. I have seen scores of letters, and the evidence with them, in which the writers complain bitterly about the conditions they have seen. The RSPCA strongly support the Bill and the British Veterinary Association warmly welcome it. Both are sources of respectable support.

Finally, would the total ban on this trade cause unjustified loss of freedom and income to those who trade in open markets? Are we justified in interfering, or are we content merely to doll it up? I think we are justified in ending the trade. Since 1951 the pet shop business has grown enormously. So far as animals are concerned, street markets are a thing of the past. They are probably on the way out. In Club Row there are 35 licensed sites for stalls to sell animals, but last Sunday only five were being used. Not more than seven or eight appeared to be in pretty frequent use. Some of these stallholders already have pet shops. Some of them claim to be breeders. I do not think they require that kind of retail outlet.

We cannot escape the possibility of hurting somebody if in the interests of the animals themselves we are to make a change. The Government are pledged to follow a reformist path, but so far they do not have a great deal to show. They will soon have to produce something, or their election pledges will not look quite so attractive as they did. This Bill gives them a bit of a boost. On a higher plane, if human beings are striving for the attainment of noble ideals, then we must persevere in promoting an enlightened and compassionate relationship with the animal kingdom in all its diverse forms. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)

My Lords, I rise to give a welcome from these Benches to the Bill. We shall give any support we can to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. The noble Lord has covered the whole field. It will take me, at the very most, only a couple of minutes to endorse what he has said.

In this country there is now a major problem about pets. More and more people are becoming aware of it. More and more people feel that they have a responsibility. It is too easy to buy pets on impulse, too easy to keep them without licences, too easy just to let them loose to roam the countryside, abandoned to do what damage they may, to cause what accidents they may, to die in misery as they may.

The numbers involved are very large. It is estimated that there may be a million dogs at any particular time which are not under complete control or without homes, and that every year probably at least half a million are killed as surplus, abandoned. This is in addition to any which are killed because they are ill or because they are old. These numbers are quite horrifying. It is time that there was a proper look at the problem and a proper reform of the system. I hope that this Government, or a future one, will turn their minds to the problem before it is too late. In the meanwhile, we have a one clause Bill which stands, I hope, some chance of becoming law. It will tackle just one small facet of the problem.

There is no doubt that, despite all the efforts of the RSPCA, there is considerable, mainly minor ill treatment in some of the markets where pets are sold. Nobody in your Lordships' House would like it to continue. The markets tend to be too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. The risks of cross-infection can be very high. They are not subject to the same kind of control as are individual shops. As a result there can be a high incidence of disease. Sometimes there is minor deliberate cruelty, as a result of which animals are left unfed and unwatered in order to reduce fouling which might possibly reduce sales.

There is no good reason why these markets should be retained but there are a number of very strong reasons why they should be done away with. I wish the Bill a very speedy and successful passage through both Houses.

6.37 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, would like to join the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, in welcoming the Bill. It is one which is greatly needed. There are many others, particularly to do with dogs, which are not within sight.

In this market Bill everybody is looking at urban areas. The Bill concentrates upon street markets. I come from what might be termed a deep rural area. There are markets all round us, but not street markets. They are well organised. In those markets, apart from cattle and sheep, you find poultry being sold and also animals which could well be classified as pets. Dogs are sold in those markets.

My wife and I went to the market in Tenbury to sell some geese. What did we discover? We discovered in a wire cage, with nothing under them, three little puppies which could not have been more than seven weeks old. The conditions in which they were being kept were disgusting. It was just a wire cage, with no bottom to it and with about seven strips of straw in it. We could not find the owner or anybody who was prepared to take any responsibility for those puppies, but they were there to be sold by auction. There is another market, not so far away, in which are sold geese, ducks, chickens and guinea fowl. Ferrets, rabbits, goats and other items like that are also sold there.

In those markets you find people walking around with very nice puppies and young dogs under their arms. I am not saying that in every one of the markets there is ill-treatment. This Bill, if I have the wording correctly, refers to selling animals in any part of a street or public place or a stall or barrow in a market.

What I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is, first, where do we draw the dividing line, other than with dogs? What is a pet, and what is not? Some ferrets are kept as pets; some rabbits are kept as pets; some goats are kept as pets. Where do we make the division? When we come to a well organised market and we find such things as I have described to your Lordships, are we in a public place, to which this would apply? At the moment this is not very clear to me.

I am a supporter of the Bill and I am not trying to stop it, but I should like some clarification of this matter because everybody has been looking at the urban areas, where the matter is quite simple; but when we go into the rural areas it is not quite so simple. Perhaps a little later we might clear up these small matters, while not preventing this Bill from going to another place, with all the difficulties which we know are liable to arise.

6.42 p.m.

My Lords, I think we should all congratulate my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby for introducing this Bill. He has really made his name in the defence of animals and we all wish him well in his campaign. I believe that this small Bill will be an important step forward. I agree with everything that my noble friend said in his speech and I suspect that he also has had a communication from a friend who has given me evidence, picked up by the RSPCA, showing what happens in that part of the market that we have been talking about. They say that the RSPCA have been very concerned about Club Row for many years, and quite rightly. As my noble friend said, many of the animals sold there are sick and diseased. There appears in the report that I have here the words:

"Contagious feline and canine diseases, such as distemper and enteritis are rife".
Many animals are sold with incomplete or false vaccination certifications and pedigree certificates This is really a terrible situation and therefore I think action must be taken.

This situation is not confined only to Club Row. I understand that similar conditions exist in many parts of the country, so I hope that this Bill will go through, and so again my noble friend will be praised for getting animal welfare forward a stage further. Without further ado T wish him well with this Bill, and I hope we shall all see that it is not impeded.

6.45 p.m.

My Lords, with characteristic modesty the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, gave credit to others for the history of previous legislation in this field in the last 30 years or so, but I join with the noble Lord, Lord Peart, in acknowledging that, although on occasion I am in a position where I have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, none the less I recognise always the motives of the noble Lord in wishing to help animals; and he is this evening seeking to persuade your Lordships to agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. Having said that, I think it is worth bearing in mind that the sponsor of the 1951 Pet Animals Act, the late Sir Ronald Russell, made three attempts to amend the 1951 Act between the years 1969 and 1974 in another place and there are reasons, which I am going to deploy now, to show why I think there are problems in trying to do this.

This Bill seeks to effect a small but nevertheless significant amendment to the 1951 Act. But, as with many things, it needs to be seen in perspective and, if I may, I should like to say a few words on that particular aspect. Section 1 of the 1951 Act requires any person carrying on a business of selling animals as pets to obtain a licence from the local authority. By virtue of Section 2 the carrying on of such a business in any part of a street or public place is prohibited, except at a stall or barrow in a market. Market traders are therefore permitted, under licence, to sell pet animals. Before issuing a licence, the local authority is required to have regard to a number of matters in the interests of the animals' welfare. These include the need to secure that at all times the animals will be kept in accommodation suitable as respects size, temperature, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness; that they will be supplied with suitable food and drink; and that mammals will not be sold at too early an age.

Local authorities are required to attach such conditions to the licences they issue so as to ensure that these objectives are met. And of course they may refuse to issue a licence if they are not satisfied that the conditions will be met. Licences are issued for up to 12 months only and must then be renewed. There are also provisions for inspection, for the penalties of fining and imprisonment and for cancellation of a licence and disqualification of a licence holder. I have ventured to refer to the provisions of the 1951 Act in a little detail because I suggest that in considering its amendment we need to keep fully in mind the mechanism and the checks which Parliament has established to regulate the selling of pet animals, including those sold from stalls or barrows in market places.

I should like to draw attention to two other Acts which are relevant to the welfare of animals in market places. First, the Protection of Animals Act 1911 makes it an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to a domestic or captive animal, whether in a market or elsewhere. Second, it is an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 for the owner of a domestic animal to abandon it in circumstances likely to cause it unnecessary suffering. I agree absolutely with what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said on this particular aspect of the subject this evening.

I turn now to the Bill and to the reasons which I know have prompted it. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to Club Row, which has been designated a market for the purpose of lawful street trading and is licensed and controlled by the London borough of Tower Hamlets. I believe I am right in saying that there has been an open street market round about that location for several centuries. The situation at Club Row has on a number of occasions given rise to concern. The noble Lord doubted whether it could be possible for the general standards required by the 1951 Act in the interests of animal welfare to be met there when the animals are exposed to the vagaries of the weather.

Furthermore, concern has been expressed that Club Row is one of the principal outlets for illegal trafficking in wild birds; that it is a centre for the disposal of stolen pets; that there have been frequent attempts by members of the public to sell or abandon their pets in the market; that the market represents a serious problem in relation to contagious cat and dog diseases, in the way referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Peart; and the unlicensed traders are operating there.

I have made it my business to find out what the view of the police is because the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, very fairly recorded, when he paid his recent visit, that the police were there, and very evidently there. I understand the local police commander believes everything possible is being done by his officers to prevent contravention of the law. There are, however, particular difficulties in enforcing the law in this kind of situation, and I admit that. In addition to a police presence at Club Row, however, RSPCA officers are also in regular attendance.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, was critical in his speech of the Tower Hamlets Borough Council Environmental Health Department, which is immediately responsible for the licensing arrangements. They do, of course, have a central role in this situation. They are fully aware of the situation, and their evident concern has, I understand, prompted the Tower Hamlets Borough Council Environmental Health Department to impose from this month stricter conditions on licensees which they believe will be in line with the recommendations of the British Veterinary Association in their booklet Pet Animals Act 1951: A Guide for Local Authorities.

This, therefore, is the general picture, if I might add to what Lord Houghton has given us at first hand, of the situation at Club Row. It is a situation about which much is known because it has attracted a good deal of attention and criticism. The position at all the other street markets throughout the country which the noble Lord mentioned is of course not so well documented. I acknowledge that the RSPCA consider that at a good number of these there are similar problems. Nevertheless, it is Club Row Market rather than the others which has been the focus of particular criticism.

The solution advocated by the noble Lord in this Bill is to ban the sale of pet animals in all street markets throughout the country and make it an offence. I do not seek to minimise the concern about the welfare of animals at Club Row in particular or at any other street market where there are problems. But it should be recognised that the sort of ban which would be in this Bill if it were to pass into law would be total. It would hit far more than its target. It could put out of business also all those street traders who are properly licensed to sell animals and who are going about their work in accordance with the requirements laid down about the welfare of the animals in their care. In these circumstances, and given that the 1951 Act is aimed at safeguarding the interests of animals sold at market places and that those interests are further safeguarded by the Acts of 1911 and 1960 which I mentioned, some observers might reasonably ask if the drastic solution proposed in this Bill is really necessary.

It is a question which deserves an answer, because we are talking about the welfare of animals. I do not think a wholly convincing answer in support of the Bill has yet been given, and that is the reaon why the Government have no plans to amend the 1951 Act. Nevetheless, this has been a useful debate in drawing attention to the trading of pet animals in street markets. It has given us an opportunity to consider the position specifically in relation to Club Row, but I do want to reiterate that the case for the Bill requires consideration in the light of the overall picture and not merely on the basis of certain particular examples where the situation leaves something to be desired. It is with that attitude that I will be speaking at any other stages which your Lordships may grant to the Bill if there is a Second Reading of it this evening.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he come away from Club Row and all those places? What is the position in the normal regular market? Is that a public place, in a rural market?

My Lords, all the other markets to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred, and indeed to which the noble Lord, Lord Peart, referred, are subject in the same way as Club Row to the provisions of the 1951 Pet Animals Act and the Acts of 1911 and 1960 which I mentioned.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for dealing with this matter in a moderate and quasi-sympathetic way. I will not take up more than a minute or two, because I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading and I shall be very glad at Committee stage to go further into some of the points the noble Lord has raised. In particular, I hold in my hand a copy of the regulations introduced by the Tower Hamlets authority for Club Row as from the beginning of this year. They relate mostly to pet shops, and there are eight pet shops within the precincts of this particular market; it is the pet shops to which these regulations really relate. All the safeguards against fire and other contingencies which are mentioned in these regulations have nothing to do with the conditions in the market place. I can demonstrate that the conditions which inevitably prevail in the market place are really in contravention of the full intentions of the conditions laid down in these new rules—animals on the floor in the streets, with dust and paper; it is a rubbishy place. I believe that open market places and the barrows and stalls in streets, even though licensed, are not suitable places to sell young animals according to the standards of hygiene and of treatment of the present day.

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 deals with cruelty. I am not dealing with cruelty which would form the subject of proceedings or conviction under the 1911 Act. I am talking about ill treatment, discomfort, misery, due to the conditions under which animals are exposed for sale. I fully sympathise with those who are renting stalls in market places to sell animals, but is this a legitimate trade any longer from the point of view of animal welfare? That is the question.

Anyhow, I sincerely hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading. I am quite prepared to undergo fresh questioning on this matter at the Committee stage. I would be quite prepared to offer a longer period of deferment of effective date of the Bill in order to make the transition easier. But, above all, I would sincerely hope that this Bill may go to another place in due course in order that it may he considered there by those who are more closely connected with markets in particular areas and who are anxious to have the opportunity of dealing with this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Sugar From Commonwealth Countries

6.59 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take to ensure continued access of raw sugar from Commonwealth countries under the Lomé Convention, in view of the closure of the Tate and Lyle refinery in Liverpool.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so I would like to make it very clear that I am not raising this matter in any way as a spokesman for Tate and Lyle, nor indeed am I raising it on behalf of the British Sugar Corporation, the two great giants which control the sugar destinies not only of this country but of others. But perhaps I should declare an interest in that, as I think some of your Lordships already know, I am a producer of sugar beet in this country. I should also make it clear that although I farm also in the West Indies, I am not a producer of sugar cane in that area and nor, indeed, does the island where I operate produce any sugar at all. So I hope that I can claim to approach the matter with a certain degree of objectivity.

The reasons why I thought it right to bring this matter to your Lordships' attention and to elicit, I hope, from the Government a satisfactory reply are as follows. My first reason is the serious increase in unemployment that inevitably will arise from the proposed closure of the Tate and Lyle plant in Liverpool—an area which your Lordships well know has already a frighteningly high level of unemployment. Secondly, I am a very strong and fervent believer in the Commonwealth and this matter has a very direct effect upon Commonwealth countries. Thirdly, I am an equally fervent believer in the importance of helping the less developed parts of the world and minimising, in so far as we are able, the gap in wealth that there is between the North and the South. And, fourthly, I believe very strongly, as I am sure all your Lordships do, that Governments, no less than individuals, should adhere both to the strictly legal interpretations of any undertakings that they have given and that this country has given, and also that they should adhere to the wider beliefs that lie behind those legal undertakings. Those are my reasons for raising this matter.

Having mentioned undertakings, I should like to remind your Lordships of the undertaking which was given by Mr. Geoffrey Rippon at the time of the negotiations for our entry into the EEC, he then being the Minister in charge of those negotiations. He said that there would be

"a secure and continuing market in the enlarged Community on fair terms for the quantities of sugar covered by the Common wealth Sugar Agreement in respect of all its existing developing countries".

He further went on to say that:

"If quotas for beet sugar production were increased in such a way that imports from Commonwealth countries were threatened, it would be a breach of the undertakings by the Community. The Community's regulations clearly laid down that production in excess of quotas must be disposed of on the world market, and therefore could not be a challenge to Commonwealth cane sugar".

Those were the undertakings given by Mr. Rippon and accepted by this House, by the other place, and by the country as one of the cardinal points in our negotiations for entry into the Common Market. Those are my reasons for raising this matter and reminding your Lordships of some of the past history.

There is no getting away from it—sugar is an enormously complex problem. It would be impossible even if I had the knowledge—which I do not claim to have—to go into all the ramifications of the world sugar market and the Community sugar regulations (let alone our own fairly complex system for sugar in this country) in the space of a reasonable speech to your Lordships. It would require not a long lecture, but a long book to deal with that matter. So, of necessity, I shall give only a very cursory view of the position.

Certain figures can make the situation reasonably clear. At present, the consumption of sugar within the United Kingdom is approximately 2·3 million tonnes per annum. Of that 1·15 million tonnes come from our own production of sugar beet. I ask your Lordships to remember that figure of 1·15 million tonnes and compare it with the 900,000 tonnes of sugar which was produced from sugar beet at the time of our entry into the Common Market. In other words, since that time there has been an increase of approximately 20 per cent., which is a significant figure. While that has been happening, our consumption of sugar for a variety of reasons, which I shall not go into now, has declined. In addition to the 1·15 million tonnes from our own sugar beet production we import between 150,000 and 200,000 tonnes annually from the Community—primarily, in fact, from Denmark and not, as many people think, from France. There therefore remains a market for cane sugar of 1 million tonnes in round figures. That should be compared with the 1·3 million tonnes under the Lomé Protocol or the 1·2 million tonnes or so which should come under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, and the Lomé Protocol as its successor.

As I understand it, up until now the capacity in this country—which as it happens is entirely in the hands of Tate and Lyle—for refining that sugar has been ample to cope with this amount of 1·1 million tonnes or 1·2 million tonnes. But, with the closure of the Liverpool refinery, that capacity is reduced to something slightly over I million tones—perhaps 1·1 million tonnes. In other words, there is a shortfall of refining capacity at this stage of at least 100,000 tonnes, assuming that the ACP countries, the successors to the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement countries, take up the full amount of their quota.

They do not always do that, because of the variations in climate in their countries. For example, Mauritius recently suffered severe damage from the weather, as a result of which the amount that they have been sending here has seriously declined, but only for one year. The actual amounts which have been coming in over the last two years—and there is some variation depending on how you assess the figures and which particular period of 12 months you take—have been hovering around 1·2 million tonnes or something of that sort; but they have been sticking pretty close to their 1·2 million tonnes. So we are now faced with the fact that as things are at present there is a shortfall of refining capacity in this country of at least 100,000 tonnes. Those are all facts with which I think the noble Earl the Minister will agree.

There are some other facts, which I think your Lordships should know to put this matter in the context of the effect of any difficulties in disposing of sugar on various of the countries concerned. I shall not go through the long list of those involved. There are quite a few Commonwealth countries that are very serious and major exporters of sugar to this country. I shall mention only three: the small country of St. Kitts, where 69 per cent. of its export earnings comes from sugar; Fiji, where 76 per cent. comes from sugar; and Mauritius, where 85 per cent. of its earnings come from sugar. So from those figures it is quite clear that any interference with the market for sugar inevitably must have a very serious effect upon the economies of those countries. Even more so, I think noble Lords will agree when I tell them that in Fiji and Mauritius one-quarter of the whole workforce is, in fact, engaged in the sugar industry, while in St. Kitts the figure is 43 per cent. Therefore, to these three countries sugar is of vital importance; it is also of very great importance to many other countries, including Swaziland, Jamaica and Trinidad, although it is not of such great importance as it is to those three countries.

Why has this situation come about? Why have Tate and Lyle been forced, for purely commercial reasons which I do not for a moment question, to close down their Liverpool factory? As I have already mentioned, it is partly because there has been quite a substantial decline over the years in the United Kingdom's consumption of sugar. Of course, there has also been the introduction of isoglucose which has been an additional factor which must be taken into account. However, there has also been this very significant increase in the United Kingdom's production of sugar, an increase of approximately 20 per cent.

Coupled with that—and it is of significance in this matter—there is the huge EEC surplus overlying the whole picture. We cannot divorce our own sugar beet production and our sugar beet industry from that of the Community as a whole. I fully agree that if the Community decides, in its unwisdom, that the quotas for sugar beet throughout the Community should be increased, there is no reason why the United Kingdom should be denied a share in that increased production. But the question that we must ask ourselves is: Why should there be any increase whatever in the amount of sugar which is produced within the Community? Let us remember those words of Mr. Rippon which I have already quoted:

"If quotas for beet production were increased in such a way that imports from Commonwealth countries were threatened, it would be a breach of undertakings by the Community".

Therefore, I suggest to your Lordships that it is essential—as your Select Committee underlined in their report last year—that the total sugar production in the Community as a whole should, if possible, be reduced and certainly should not be increased in any way; and there should certainly be no increase in the amount of quotas for the United Kingdom itself. I know that there are some people who say that this matter will soon disappear, that things will work out right because, after all, Greece is now a member of the Community and will undoubtedly take any of this surplus, because it is only a matter of 50,000 tonnes or 100,000 tonnes, so there is no need to get worried about it.

But although at times Greece has been a net importer of sugar, in fact for the last four years Greece has been, in a very modest way, a net exporter of sugar. In evidence before your Select Committee, which is contained in the report submitted to your Lordships, the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture made it quite clear that the effect of Greece would be no more than neutral in this respect. So I think that one can, possibly in advance, dispose of any argument that may be brought forward that all will be all right because of Greece.

I do not think I need say very much more. I hope the general point has been made that this is a serious problem and one of growing seriousness—one which will not go away simply because no action is taken. I hope that we shall hear the Minister say tonight that the Government still stand by Mr. Rippon's pledges—both those that I have read out—and that they accept that it is the responsibility of both the EEC in Brussels and Her Majesty's Government in this country to ensure the implementation of the pledge given at that time. It is not the responsibility of Tate and Lyle; it is not the responsibility of the British Sugar Corporation; it is not the responsibility of private enterprise. The responsibility must rest upon the EEC and upon Her Majesty's Government.

I should also like to make this final point. It is no good saying that this is only a matter of 50,000, 60,000 or maybe 100,000 tonnes, which can easily be absorbed by French refineries or elsewhere. I agree that on this occasion such surplus as has existed has been absorbed by other refineries, particularly in France. But there is no guarantee that that will continue. It may well be that the French will have a larger crop coming from their own departments overseas. It may well be that they have other ideas about it. So the problem cannot simply be fobbed off in that way.

What is more, one must realise that cane sugar refined in this country can only be sold satisfactorily and economically if it is sold within this country. Whereas some five or six years ago the share of British sugar beet was in the neighbourhood of 30 per cent. of the total market, it has now risen to nearly 50 per cent., which means that sale of cane sugar has dropped by the corresponding amount. That is a factor which must be taken into account in any proposals for improving this situation.

The fears in the Commonwealth countries and the Lomé Convention countries are very great indeed. They know that this is not just an isolated instance. It is not the thin end of the wedge for them, because the thin end has already been inserted. We must remember the closures that have already taken place since 1976; in the past four and a half years three refineries have been closed, and Liverpool has been reduced in its throughput. So this is a continuing process in the eyes of the Commonwealth countries and of those countries that depend so very heavily upon sugar. Their fears will not go away unless and until we hear, as I hope we shall, from the Minister tonight that those fears are true fears, are fears that he accepts and are fears that he and his Government will deal within in whatever way they see best. l hope he will say that they accept the responsibility for ensuring that at least 1·2 million tonnes of Commonwealth sugar beet can still come into this country and can still be bought under the undertakings given by Mr. Rippon, and that there need be no fear on the part of the Commonwealth countries as to their future ability to dispose of their sugar in that way.

7.20 p.m.

My Lords, I take part in this debate for the simple reason that I have been attending all the committee meetings that we have had on sugar, which were chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Walston. I also take part to back him up in every way in the speech that lie has just made. He has in fact said exactly that which our committee is anxious for the Government to realise. It is an appropriate moment for him to put down this Question, because it was a year ago, at the time we were first discussing this question of the production of sugar and refineries, and so on, when we were warned when the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was giving evidence to us from Tate and Lyle that, if the import of cane sugar went down any further, Tate and Lyle would be in the unfortunate position of having to close the factory.

That was slightly more than a year ago. Since then, as we all know, the problem has got a good deal worse. Further refining factories have been closed, culminating in what is a serious closure; the one that has just taken place in Liverpool. That is not saying that we blame Tate and Lyle in any way. They can only operate when it is a satisfactory and commercial enterprise. Therefore, it is not for that reason that I mention it, but simply because it is most important that we should all realise that our committee, and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, particularly, are trying to warn the Government that unless something is done now we may be faced with more problems in another year's time.

I should like to support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has said, about the ACP sugar. We are dealing with countries to whom we have an obligation as members of the Commonwealth, whose export of cane sugar is absolutely vital to them; far more vital than it is to the European countries. Therefore, it is essential that they should be assured, as the noble Lord has said, that we in this country, and our Government, are going to be certain to continue with the same imports of cane sugar for refining as we have up to the present time. If the ACP countries got that assurance tonight for a further period, that would be something which would give them great confidence.

When we were discussing this matter and interviewing different people with regard to the sugar situation I asked a question because I have always been worried about it. Noble Lords will remember that in 1974 there was suddenly a great shortage of sugar. Sugar went up in price. It was difficult to get. The consumers got thoroughly worried about it. People started to buy sugar and to store it, and so on. I inquired from the Department of Agriculture, who were giving evidence to us, whether such a thing could possibly happen again. The reply I got was:
"the difference between shortage and over-supply [in sugar] is very small indeed, and that was even so in 1974. Much depends on the behaviour of the big suppliers and the big consumers. If the Soviet Union becomes a big buyer in the market and the Cuban production has gone down, that changes things immediately from a state of over-supply to shortage. The other factor, of course, is that sugar production responds quite rapidly to a period of high prices, and this causes the supply to swing quite sharply."
That makes it very difficult indeed for the whole policy of sugar, and one wonders whether there is any possibility that at any period more sugar will be required in Europe, or in the world, which would of course be of enormous value to the ACP countries, and also of course to those who produce sugar beet. Whether that is possible or not is pure speculation, but it is something which was mentioned when we were asking the question of how much sugar can be consumed.

I have often thought on the EEC committees that we are always learning, or always hearing, about surpluses—mountains of butter, mountains of beef, or whatever it is—and not enough attention is given in the EEC among all the many producers on how you can sell; how you can dispose of the food that is produced. The consumer does not play a big enough part in EEC discussions. I may be wrong, but that is the impression I have when I go to Brussels. I hope that in this particular commodity we will study the consumer and the possibility of increasing consumption, even although at this moment it may not seem very possible. Certainly it would be of great advantage to the producers, whether they are producers of cane or whether they are producers of beet sugar.

In our discussions on our committee at one point we were talking about the question of the surplus. Again we felt in our discussions that the increase of beet sugar which has been allocated to European countries, more particularly Germany and France, and not allocated to the United Kingdom was something of which we did not approve. We said so in our findings. We do not think that there should be more beet sugar produced when at the moment there is a surplus. If that is granted to certain European countries and not to others, again it seems to us that it really is not fair.

One of our recommendations too in this last of our reports, the one that came out only the other day, was that we should encourage the British Sugar Corporation to join the International Sugar Agreement because all the production of sugar would then be under one umbrella, as it were, and that we feel would be a very good thing indeed. There is an important and big problem here. When we see the effect that something like the reduction is going to have on employment, for instance—certainly in Liverpool it will mean a big reduction in employment—and in other ways, it is extremely serious.

I am sure that the Government will respond to our report, and I hope that we shall get some assurance on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has raised and on which I entirely support him. I hope very much that we will get those assurances because we are extremely anxious that this crisis shall not continue, or if it does continue that we should be well aware of what will happen if it gets any worse. I hope that the Government will realise that we are most anxious to be helpful, but that we think it is important that they should realise that this is not something that is going to disappear in a night, and we have got to think of it as policy that is going to last for a long time.

7.28 p.m.

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for introducing this debate. Despite the fact that it is a late hour and that the House is rather thin, nevertheless this matter is of vital importance. It is a classical example of how a hitherto prosperous country can export its own unemployment. The chairman himself has expressed as one of the saddest things in his life that this firm have had to close this factory down because of excessive losses.

The reality of existence is this: whether you like it or not, if you enter into the political field, whatever party you belong to, you cannot by a magic stroke and words create magical systems of society. We are dealing with Tate and Lyle, an historic firm, in which the investments of many people exist, and unless those investments show some return—this is a fact of life in the world in which we live, and we on this side are trying to find some answers to this historic problem—the organisation cannot carry on and will close down, and even trade union funds sometimes have to be put into organisations.

We must remember that the site of the sugar refinery in Love Lane itself creates difficulties in that it is not right at the dockside; lorries must be used to carry the raw material to the point of manufacture. Let us also not forget that the present situation has not arrived on the scene magically, simply to create headlines in the newspapers. In this connection, I was delighted when the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, quoted from the committee on EEC sugar policy, of which she is an assiduous member. Tate and Lyle were interviewed and they put forward a memorandum to Session 1980–81, and it appears in the 8th Report of the committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, is the able chairman. In that memorandum the company said:
"In general, Tate and Lyle strongly opposes the latest proposals by the European Commission for the Community's 19801985 sugar régime".
The first fact to impress on us is that that régime in Brussels is, as they point out, from 1980 to 1985; there are issues of sovereignty and everybody knows where I stand on the Common Market, and I do not want to create any dissention in this debate. There are issues which we should be considering because we are faced with the problem that if the policy has already been set down in the Community and the régime for 1980 to 1985 has been established, what legitimate weapons or approaches have we within European law to change the situation so that a firm like Tate and Lyle would be in a position to process the cane sugar?

Let us remember that they did not come into this simply on a gentlemen's agreement basis for the Lomé Convention. In this connection, the House must remember that many many people changed their minds regarding the Common Market when we were given guarantees that parts of the hitherto British Commonwealth like Australia, New Zealand and other areas noble Lords have mentioned, would be protected in the various commodities produced by them. Indeed, Article I of Protocol No. 3 of 28th February 1975 says:
"The Community undertakes for an indefinite period to purchase and import, at guaranteed prices, specific quantities of cane sugar"—
mark those words—
"raw or white, which originate in the ACP States"—
that means the African, Caribbean and Pacific states—
"and which these states undertake to deliver to it".
I will give the list but not the figures because I do not want to bore the House. That refer to all parts of the hitherto British Commonwealth: Barbados; Fiji (which I know quite well, with between 163,000 and 164,000 tonnes; most of the employment there is concerned with this product and great railways have been built to deal with it); Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, the Congo, Swaziland, Tanzania, Trinidad and Uganda—all producing and in many cases dependent on selling cane sugar. I will not bore noble Lords by saying to what extent they are dependent on this crop. In some cases it is 25 per cent., in others 70 per cent. and in others 80 per cent. That is the reliance they have on it for their prosperity and standard of living.

It is no good blaming Tate and Lyle for the present unemployment problem because the warning was there months ago, and something needed to be done about it then. They say in their letter, and I will quote only parts of it to save time:
"This position may well imperil the Community's, and particularly the United Kingdom's, ability to absorb the tonnages of the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) imports to which it is committed for an indefinite period".
Mark the words "for an indefinite period"; we used the word "indefinite" in the treaty. They continue:
"By the same token, if the proposals are put through, it will be difficult to avoid some further reduction in the UK's cane refining capacity, which"—
and here is the 64,000 dollar problem:
"if closed, would occasion further job losses in areas already suffering from very high unemployment. Finally, there must be doubts as to whether the level of guarantees to Community producers will enable the Community to engage in meaningful negotiations to join the International Sugar Agreement".
I would bore the House if I read more of that, and I will now develop my argument as a result of that quotation. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, made a constructive point when he said that we must search for a constructive answer to these problems, and the present Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Walker, has tried his best to get a new attitude towards them. Tate and Lyle have, as I have pointed out, made some constructive points, asking why they have the problem and why they have to suffer. They argue that the sugar régime of the EEC,
"was constructed to facilitate beet sugar production, which was the only source of sugar in five of the original six countries in the Community".
They argue:
"Although France had about 300,000 tonnes of cane sugar refining, this was used for cube manufacture and was of little significance compared with France's very large beet sugar produc tion. When Britain joined the EEC there was no framework for obtaining a good margin on cane sugar refining, and this position still persists".
I remind noble Lords that I am quoting from Tate and Lyle's own documentation:
"The result is that beet enjoys a margin which is up to £30 per tonne more profitable than cane…".
There right away is the worm in the apple of cane sugar production, that it is in a disadvantageous position compared with European farmers' sugar beet. We in Britain have had with sugar beet a bonanza in farming, as has been the case throughout the Common Market. If we believe in helping the third world, we should put more heart in trying to find answers to difficult problems of this kind, problems which will not be answered by Tate and Lyle, for example, saying, "We will run it, despite the fact that we are losing £10 million", or, We are in a disadvantageous position to the tune of £30 a tonne".

Are there any answers and are there any opportunities for Tate and Lyle to increase sugar refining? It must be admitted that they know their job; whether I like their politics does not matter because we are looking at the realities of the situation. The firm state what possibilities are considered:
"(a) Increase UK sugar consumption".
That is the difficulty. I was glad that the noble Baroness mentioned 1974. My dear wife was alive then, and whenever I was driving through a village she said: "Try to buy a pound of sugar on the way home". I nearly had to swap my motor car in one village for a pound of sugar. Then,
"(b) Win market share from British Sugar Corporation by aggressive marketing".
Well, by golly! we know what that means.
"(c) Persuade British Sugar Corporation to export 300,000 tonnes of beet sugar, thereby leaving room in the UK market for the Tate and Lyle surplus capacity to be used.
"(d) Reduce white sugar imports from continental Europe".
All those possibilities would have a rough effect on our neighbours in the Common Market.

I believe that we are forced to secure a top-level discussion on this problem—and it does not apply only to sugar; it applies to other commodities and other activities, too. I am interested in one part of the commodity world, which happens to be platinum, but that does not feed people. What I know is that there is an absolute need for those who support the Common Market, and even those of us who have been kicked screaming into it, to get down to the brass tacks of feeding the Western world, and, through feeding it properly, to keep our promise to those other parts of the world which have much lower standards of living.

I see that I have been speaking for 12 minutes, and I should like to trespass upon your Lordships' time for another minute or so. I do not want to reiterate the arguments that have been made before. I am trying to distil in the alembic of the politics that we use in this House some answers to this problem; and I believe that the answers need looking into.

The Economist puts one of the points quite neatly. I had better be sure of my facts, and so I shall quote the Economist:
"Four British sugar merchants are claiming that the price advantage which the EEC gives to beet sugar is enabling"—
this is not the Labour movement, nor Davies speaking—
"the British Sugar Corporation to squeeze out its competitors. They fear that the BSC will soon have a monopoly".
I cannot go into the birth of the BSC; there is not the time. But this is a knowledgeable House, and your Lordships will know about the birth of the British Sugar Corporation. The article continues:
"…under Articles 85 and 86 of the Treaty of Rome"
there was an
" 'abuse of dominant position'.
"Until Britain's entry into the EEC its market was dominated by cane sugar imported from the Commonwealth. Three firms, Tate and Lyle and Manbre and Garton for cane, and the BSC for beet…".
Now the BSC has taken over completely and it has got rid of the merchant system. People working in the commodity market will know that merchants sitting down using the Telex and other things can do a lot to keep prices down. But in the sugar trade the BSC is being accused of eliminating the old merchant dealers who used to know their job and deal. That monopoly is a dangerous one, and four of the great merchant groups have asked for the Monopolies Commission to look into it.

I have spoken for 14 minutes, which is long enough at the end of a tiring week. All I wish to add is that I am quite sure that Tate and Lyle—whoever the firm may be, and whoever all their directors may be—do not look on this as something that they do willy-nilly. Much thought has been given to the matter. It has been pointed out to the Government, it has been pointed out to committees for a long time that this problem needs investigation. I beg of the Minister who is to reply to take this little debate seriously, because it is important to Britain, it is important to the Common Market, and in the name of heaven!, it is important to those little countries where 30 per cent., 50 per cent., 70 per cent., and 25 per cent. of their living depends on cane sugar. I thank your Lordships for listening for so long.

My Lords, I should like very briefly to give my support to the Question that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has put down. As befits a most excellent chairman until recently of Subcommittee D (which prepared the report to which so much reference has been made) he has covered the ground very fully and I have little to add, except to say that I hope that the Minister gives proper reply to the various points that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, made. I should also like very much to support the remarks of my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, as well as some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I shall not elaborate on where there is any difference.

I think that the key factors which really require an answer are these. First, is this the end of a rather disastrous situation, or is it just going to continue little by little as the European Commission develops its policies which apparently allow our European colleagues on the mainland of Europe to produce more and more beet sugar as time goes on? The point is made very clear in the 8th Report, to which reference has been made, that this is a danger which we see and which really must be halted, indeed must be reversed, if things are not going to get worse. That is the first point.

The second question is, if the process of increased beet sugar production in Europe is not halted, how can the Commission continue to maintain its obligation to the Lomé countries? That is the second big question, because that surely must be continued. Quite apart from the moral obligations that we have to those countries, there is also the undertaking given by the European Community, which cannot be reneged on, and it is not reasonable on anybody's part, even if they are Dutch, German or French farmers, to expect the countries of the Lomé Convention to develop alternative means of earning their living in the world market. The figures were given by the noble Lord, Lord Walston.

However, the principal point is that perhaps over a very long period of time these countries should develop a more diverse basis on which to earn their international living, but they cannot be expected to do it shortly, and it is extraordinarily unreasonable of the farming communities of the Nine—now the Ten—to go on developing schemes and arrangements which are working directly and positively against the wellbeing of these overseas countries, to whom we have these obligations.

Poor old Tate and Lyle—if I may say that in the presence of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe—is really the unfortunate jam in the sandwich in this particular business. They are getting squashed out of the edges of the sandwich, and their workforce is suffering. I think it is extremely hard on them. But in the long run what the Community must do is to ensure that its position in the wider world community is one that can be respected by all the other poeple in it, and that is a situation which will not continue if we go on producing too much of our own food in a selfish kind of fashion, as has been made clear in the many reports of the Select Committee relating to these matters. I very much hope that my noble friend will be able to provide positive answers to the three key questions which I have sought to underline.

7.50 p.m.

My Lords, my non-conformist conscience will not allow me to remain seated without saying a word or two in this brief debate. I do so because to my mind, as has already been stressed by both my noble friend Lord Walston and other speakers in this debate, this is really a moral question as much as anything else. We are committed. I recollect very distinctly, when we were discussing in the early 1970s whether or not we should remain in the Community, that this question of our obligation to certain territories was one of the sticking points for some of us who had had long associations with certain parts of the world.

That was because we knew that, as the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has rightly emphasised, while possibly over a generation or two it might be possible for them to change the basis of their economy, in any short-term period that just is not possible for them; whereas it is possible for farmers in the temperate zone of Europe at least to grow some alternative crops. They are not absolutely bound to beet sugar in the way in which the cane farmers in the Caribbean, Mauritius or Fiji really have nothing else that they can produce which can be sold on the world markets. The most specific pledges were given, as my noble friend Lord Walston indicated, at the time. We were told, "Have no apprehensions, everything will be done; you need have no concern about this, it need not weigh on your conscience, because arrangements are going to be made", and so on.

I appreciate that the fact that in this particular respect the European Community has a collective selfishness, which is how it appears to me, makes it difficult for the Ministers in the United Kingdom to deprive our own beet producers of opportunities which are available to beet producers in other Community countries. But one would hope that Her Majesty's Government would take very seriously the anxiety and concern of so many people that we should be able to hold our heads high and say that we have done everything that we possibly can to make sure that the moral obligations on us towards countries which are far poorer than we are, and which have no viable alternatives, should be fully honoured; and that we should use every opportunity to endeavour to influence our Community partners, who may not have quite such close connections with those parts of the world, to recognise that if you are talking about North or South, or one world, this is one of the most striking examples of how one can try to carry out the obligations of our common humanity in the most practical ways possible, and if we evade this so strikingly significant moral obligation then I feel that we shall be failing in our international duty. I hope we shall be reassured by the Minister tonight.

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, would allow me to intervene for a brief moment. I did not put my name down on the list following Lord Walston this evening because I felt it really almost improper for me, as my interest in this matter is so patent, to itervene, however briefly. But I feel moved to spend just two minutes expressing my own feelings on this subject. First of all, I should like to make quite clear to your Lordships' House the deep sense of responsibility which, as chairman of the company concerned, I must feel towards the company, its management, its shareholders and, above all, its employees.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, was kind enough to quote a warning which Tate and Lyle gave in the autumn to the sub-committee over which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has so efficiently and effectively presided. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to quote a warning which I personally gave to that same sub-committee over a year ago. It is very brief, and it is as follows. I was talking about the Commission's then proposals, which would have meant a United Kingdom beet sugar quota of 936,000 tonnes, and I said:
"If the Commission's proposals for the United Kingdom are not accepted, I find it very hard to see how it will be possible for us in Tate and Lyle to avoid the closure of yet another refinery, and that in an area of intolerably high unemployment. In the short time since I have been chairman of Tate and Lyle I have presided over the closure of three refineries and the severe curtailment of a fourth "—
that was Liverpool—
"and I find it very hard to reconcile myself to yet a further closure".
My Lords, I have found it very hard indeed to reconcile myself to yet a further closure.

The second thing I should like to say very briefly to your Lordships is how much I agree with what the noble Baroness has said about our moral responsibilities and our political responsibilities to those developing countries which produce sugar. One can argue whether the guarantee which is embodied in the Sugar Protocol of the LoméConvention is a Community obligation or an obligation on Her Majesty's Government. My Lords, the answer is obvious. It is a dual obligation; not least of' Her Majesty's Government in view of the fact that those guarantees were an essential condition of our entry into the European Economic Community.

I should like to say only this in conclusion. If at this late hour it were possible for that original proposal, for that original United Kingdom quota, proposed by the European Commission, to be accepted, there would be no need for us to close the Liverpool refinery. If, alternatively, at this late hour it were possible for some arrangement to be worked out by which surplus beet sugar over that limit were exported, there would be no need for the closure of that refinery, with all that that means to the people of Liverpool, and to our employees. But if for any reason those suggestions, at this 13th hour, are unacceptable, I would implore Her Majesty's Government—and I do this (in the hallowed phrase) with all the force at my command, but I mean it—to do all within their power to ensure that there is no further erosion of the position. I say that bearing in mind the interests of our employees in Tate and Lyle and also bearing equally in mind the interests of the ACP sugar-producing countries.

7.58 p.m.

My Lords, it certainly would be no part of my intention, in my brief intervention, to criticise in any way the performance and the policy of Tate and Lyle. We all know that the noble Earl, who holds a position of high distinction and great respect in this House, is more concerned and more saddened than anybody by the possibility of the closure of the Liverpool refinery.

I think this debate has served to pinpoint our very deep and varying concerns about what may have to happen, and the first is this. Some of the oldest of our Commonwealth partners face the still further erosion of the major part of their economy. In some cases, as we have heard, a very high percentage of their life and of their economy turns upon the production of cane sugar, which is refined mainly in Britain. There is some refining done in Europe, but by far the greater part is refined in Britain. It is a major industry in Britain. So the first point is that we owe to these cane sugar producing countries the obligation to assure them of a market in this country for refining which will maintain their economy at least at the level to which the original agreement acceded.

The figures have been given. A matter of 268 million tonnes would about settle it. I think the noble Earl has indicated to the Government how this can be done with little difficulty and with far-reaching advantage to the countries concerned, and to Liverpool, and not least also to the refining industry which is a major industry of long-standing in this country. That is the first point.

The second point of concern is that we are all pledged to assisting the third world countries, the developing countries. But it seems to me somewhat the economics of madness to pour money very often into non-rewarding projects in some of these countries or pour in money at the rate of something like £700 million a year into these countries but with little effect or practical result and at the same time, as the noble Baroness showed, to cut the very roots of the indigenous prosperity of those countries. So the whole question of third world policy, of meaningful help from the North to the South, is under query because of this development in Liverpool.

The third point is that there is rivalry between beet and cane but they are both interdependent in the sense that if somehow a monopoly emerges it can only be at the expense of the housewife and it can only be at the expense of running the risk of seasonal shortages arising very often from climatic differences of the origins of supply. What affects supply in Lincolnshire is not the same factor that applies to the seasonal output of cane sugar, say, in Barbados. We have seen how both are necessary in proper proportion to maintain consistency of supply both to the domestic and industrial consumer without the ups and downs of scarcity and surplus and of rise and fall of prices.

While these countries may well find an outlet for their sugar in other parts of the world—and indeed through the Commonwealth—there is the constant uncertainty with which they are beset, the lurking doubt as to whether they will follow the New Zealand road. That was another cast iron undertaking we gave to an old and valued comrade in the Commonwealth which we have minimally observed. In the ACP countries, as I know from experience, there is always this lurking doubt whether this constant erosion of the guarantees will proceed so far that finally there is nothing left in Britain for them; that in fact anything is organised and directed towards Europe and nothing towards the old Commonwealth. There is no need for this. Insufficient attention has been given to the comity of production and distribution of both cane and beet sugar within Britain—the question of exports—so that all producers, whether indigenous to this country, in Europe or the ACP countries, can proceed with forward planning and have confidence in investment. Indeed, a confidence that they can undertake insurance out there because the Commonwealth countries are all very much more at the mercy of season and climatic hazard than we are here.

I want to put one or two questions to the noble Lord who will be replying. The first relates to Liverpool. Here is an area of very high unemployment indeed. Mr. Ogden, the Member for West Derby, has very kindly supplied me with certain figures because he and I worked together when he was my Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department of Trade. So I imagine that Mr. Ogden knows his way round these kinds of statistics.

The total registered unemployed in Merseyside is 109,483. That represents 15.8 per cent. of the working population at the moment. This will increase to 20 per cent. if we add from the refining process, 1,600; from the transport services associated with Tate and Lyle in Liverpool, 200; from the docks, 700; and from other associated activities, 130. That would add, approximately, another 2,000 people and raise the percentage of unemployed to 20 per cent. One in five of the people of Merseyside may be unemployed not entirely because of this development but partly because of this development.

There is further unemployment at risk in the immediate environment of the refinery—the biscuit, confectionery, sweet and other comestible group of industries which draw heavily on Tate and Lyle in Liverpool. There is major activity related to machining and paper, transport, the manufacture of soft drinks, and so forth. That would add another 4,500 making a grand total as a result of this closure of an additional 6,500 and raising the percentage to over 20 per cent.

I make the Liverpool point because I think that there is growing in every part of the House and every part of the country a belief that there must be some modification of the rigid monetarism which so far the Government have conducted in the economic affairs of this country. Unless areas like Merseyside—already on the way to an unemployment percentage of 20 per cent.—are to be irredeemably ruined, and a population created which has no hope either there or in other parts of the country of useful work, there must be intervention.

I agree entirely that it is partly a Community matter and partly a matter for Her Majesty's Government. I cannot address myself to the Community; I hardly think that they would listen to me or to my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek. But I can address myself to the Government of the day and especially to the noble Earl who is to answer. He too is a man of deep compassion on these social matters and I have never considered him to be doctrinaire.

May I ask him first whether he will draw the Government's attention to the need to do in a minor way for Merseyside in this specific instance—which means the saving not of a firm but of the industry of refining—what they have quite rightly decided to do in a major way for the motor industry?

The second point is this: Will he take the sense of the House to the Government, that we expect them to honour their commitment to the cane sugar-producing islands? This is really an expectation that moral obligation, as my noble friend Lady White has pointed out, will be sustained by this country. If the Government do so, as we have every right to expect, they must preserve enough sugar refineries in this country to carry it out. This is not a question of doles; it is a question of making it possible for an industry, specifically in Liverpool, where it has been a flourishing industry employing thousands for 112 years, to continue.

So far I fear that what the Government have done is to agree to the EEC pursuing arrangements which have undermined the viability of our refineries. We could go into that, but we will not. In turn, the refineries have either closed down or reduced their labour force; and Liverpool is the latest example. I therefore make a plea for a major adjustment of policy designed to save an entire industry specifically in what is probably its home in this country—Liverpool. Thirdly, unless the process is arrested, unless we deal with the quota as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, so reasonably suggested, are we not in danger of creating a situation of monopoly in this country, and may we not be in contravention of Article 86 of the Treaty of Rome?

This is a question which occurred to me as soon as I heard of the intention of the Government to allow this to go ahead, because its only final result could be a monopoly situation, meaning a higher price for domestic and industrial users leading to a contraction of demand, with redundancies in secondary industries using sugar and not simply in what is left of the refining industry—and, finally, in a primary industry of supply, sugar itself, which would be effectively a monopoly. So I join with my noble friends on all sides of the House in pressing the Government, first, to come to the aid of an area which is sorely beset by unemployment and one where the social effects of unemployment are to be seen every day, and getting worse; secondly, to save an old industry, an efficient industry, producing an excellent commodity; finally, and above all, to show to the world, and certainly to the sugar-producing world, that this country means to discharge its moral obligations to it.

8.14 p.m.

My Lords, I have found this debate of prime importance and, if I may say so, a sad debate, because it is a worrying situation all round the clock. That has been expressed by everyone this evening. I have found it a moving debate for the concern which has been expressed by all noble Lords on a whole variety of matters which are involved. We have had the privilege of hearing my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, who was a distinguished Leader of your Lordships' House and, if I may say so, a very agreeable one, and who is now the leader of a very distinguished company which finds itself in very difficult waters. It is his unenviable task to try to guide that company aright.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, quite rightly, put down this Question which covers a matter of hugely important domestic Commonwealth and Community concern. When one sees closures of factories such as those which have primed this debate, that cannot be anything other than a cause of sorrow, regret and concern. And when one thinks of the unemployment which is involved in an area which the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, quite rightly referred to as an area of very high unemployment, one thinks of the personal hardship, sorrow and despair it can cause. This is a matter of great concern.

There is no simple answer to the sugar problem; it is a hugely complex answer and anyone who tries to find a simple solution to a simple part will merely find that that solution interacts against another part of it. I suppose that, in what I have to say, I should declare my interest in that I am a farmer and a grower of sugar beet. I hope that will not make your Lordships feel that I am necessarily biased to any degree in what I have to say.

I think I should begin by stressing that the Government, like their predecessors, continue to have the interests of the sugar exporting ACP countries firmly at heart. I shall come to this later on, but it is of absolutely prime importance and has been mentioned by a number of speakers. We are concerned to see that the Community commitment under the Sugar Protocol to the Lomé Convention is fully implemented, and we will continue to strive to ensure that any decisions which are taken in the Community and which could, either directly or indirectly, affect that commitment are compatible with its fulfilment. I think I would carry every single noble Lord in the House with me on that.

The recent announcement by Tate and Lyle of the imminent closure of their Liverpool refinery is one which I, like the noble Lord, Lord Walston, find acutely distressing. Nevertheless, the decision was a commercial one and one which the company felt it had to make: if it did not do that it would risk putting the whole of its business in jeopardy. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe said that that decision caused him the greatest concern—those were not his words but that was his meaning. I can understand that.

In the context of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, the decision needs to be looked at from two angles: first, in respect of its effects on the United Kingdom situation and, secondly, with regard to its effects on the position of the ACP exporting countries. Perhaps I might be allowed to take the United Kingdom angle first. Sugar which is refined from imported raw cane sugar has long been an essential part of our supply, and it will continue to be so. It is true that the total United Kingdom consumption, nevertheless, has fallen over the last few years from 2·7 million tonnes in 1974–75 to 2·3 million tonnes in the year 1980–81. This, together with the loss of most of its refining business for raw sugar in the world market, has meant that Tate and Lyle have needed less capacity. I speak with some hesitation on these domestic matters of Tate and Lyle, when we have the advantage of my noble friend being here. I hope he will not consider that I am misinterpreting anything or in any way telling him or his company what should be done.

There are similar constraints as a result of reduced consumption which are imposing themselves on United Kingdom sugar beet producers. The optimistic aim of about 1·3 million tonnes of sugar which was to be produced from sugar beet—this was included in the White Paper Food from our own Resources, which was published by the Government of the noble Lord, Lord Peart, when he was holding a very distinguished position—and which was the target figure to which the British Sugar Corporation's recently completed capital investment programme was related, has now had to be revised in the light of the changed position. There is no longer a United Kingdom market of 2·7 million tonnes, of which United Kingdom production of 1·3 million tones—about half—was to be from beet.

So far as sugar beet is concerned—I mention this as it is a very relevant part of the issue, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone asked whether we find ourselves in the position of being part of the EEC's efforts to boost beet sugar production—we have made it clear that we are prepared to accept a reduced United Kingdom quota under the European Community's sugar régime. Our present quota is 1·326 million tonnes, which was agreed by the Labour Government of 1974. Her Majesty's Government are prepared to accept a substantial cut in the United Kingdom's quota, if reductions can be made for all member states on an equitable basis. My right honourable friend the Minister has indicated that in a satisfactory settlement he would accept a United Kingdom quota of 1·15 million tonnes, which is about half our production potential. This should permit a reasonable balance between the interests, then, of beet sugar and cane sugar.

At present levels of consumption, and given Tate and Lyle's new capacity at that time which, with time and a certain elasticity could possibly be enhanced, our market would normally be supplied half and half as from beet sugar and cane sugar; the position in which we anticipated being when the market was at 2.6 million tonnes. There would not normally be any danger of a shortage with these three established sources of supply, if one includes the small element of European sugar which we import and which is a matter of only 150,000 tonnes.

Perhaps I may turn to what one might call the ACP angle. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, said that we must stand by our commitments to these developing countries when we joined the European Community. I think Mr. Rippon said at the time that the Community's offer to safeguard the interests of those countries, whose economies depended on sugar, represented a firm assurance of a secure and continuing market in the enlarged Community, on fair terms, for the quantities of sugar covered by the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, in respect of all the existing developing countries. He went on to say that if quotas for beet sugar production were increased in such a way that imports from Commonwealth countries were threatened, it would be a breach of the undertakings. That was the fundamental platform on which the Lomé Convention for sugar was based and that still remains.

Important though Lomé sugar is to the United Kingdom as part of our balanced supply, it has a special importance, also, to the developing countries who supply it and who, as noble Lords have said, depend heavily on it for their livelihood. As the noble Lord, Lord Walston, knows, this was recognised under the original Commonwealth Sugar Agreement with its price and access guarantees. This is now covered by the sugar protocol to the Lomé Convention which, in the same way, has price and access guarantees, but which differs from the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement in that it is the Community as a whole and not just the United Kingdom which is the importing party.

This strengthens the position of the developing countries considerably, because imports no longer depend only on the United Kingdom; other European countries can, and do, take part in the Lomé total. Indeed, Tate and Lyle's contracts recognise this and allow a degree of flexibility to suppliers. if necessary, if a commercial contract cannot be concluded in any Community country, the Community is compelled to buy even into intervention any ACP raw sugar which cannot find a home. Obvously, no one wishes to see that happen, but it provides the ultimate guarantee of access of ACP sugar to the Community market, regardless of what happens in individual countries.

Many of your Lordships have expressed anxiety. The noble Baroness, Lady White, said that it is a moral obligation. So it is. It is a moral obligation to continue to undertake to fulfil the imports to the European Community, which the Lomé Convention permitted. If I may add this, those agreements of the Lomé Convention were indefinite, without finality, unless they were agreed to be altered by all parties. So I give your Lordships the assurance that the United Kingdom will do all that it can to see that the European Community continues, as it is bound to do, to fulfil the agreements of that Lomé Convention. In doing that, we shall have fulfilled what has been described as the moral obligation towards developing countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said that we must honour our commitments to the developing countries and that we must not always think only of Europe, because there are other countries to consider as well. That will, in fact, be so. My noble friend Lord Mottistone asked specifically: Will the European Community renege on its undertaking to the developing countries? No one can say what others will do. All I can tell your Lordships is that we in the Government intend to sec that that Community obligation is kept.

The developing countries, the ACP suppliers, are of course accustomed to dealing with the United Kingdom and, in particular, with Tate and Lyle. Provided all the parties concerned give priority to ensuring that the traditional patterns of trade are maintained, I can see no reason why this should not continue. Tate and Lyle have themselves made a statement which I welcome in which they say that they will do their best to continue to take all the sugar for which they are at present contracted, possibly passing to other European countries any small quantity which they themselves may not be able to refine. The company's ability to fulfil this commitment will obviously depend upon their reduced capacity continuing to be profitable in the future.

I should like to emphasise that the Government are aware that it is important to the United Kingdom and to these developing countries that supplies of Lomé sugar should not be disrupted. For over 50 years, the United Kingdom market has relied on a mixture of home produced beet and ACP cane sugar to meet its needs. This arrangement has been satisfactory to both sides. For the importing country it has provided security of supply, since it is rare for both beet and cane crops to fail in the same year. For the exporting countries it has offered a guaranteed outlet for one of their major products, and that has contributed to the viability of their economies. These are very important facts in a difficult and awkward situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said: Would the Government do to the sugar industry what the Government have done to British Leyland? By that I think he meant: Would the Government give money to keep this refinery going? Even if they did, it would not solve the problem. The problem is the diminished requirement in this country for sugar. I explained at the beginning that it was a drop of 2·6 million tonnes to 2·3 million tonnes. Merely to keep going an organisation would not necessarily be a right application of money. Whoever runs that business has to make a commercial judgment as to whether the business itself is viable for the operation which it has to do.

My Lords, in very precise and generous terms the noble Earl has given one part of the undertaking for which we have asked; namely, so far as Her Majesty's Government can achieve this, the European Community is going to honour its obligation to the ACP countries. Lomé is going to be upheld, and we are very grateful to him for being so definite on that point.

The second part of what at least some of us are after is this. We seek some kind of undertaking that the British refining industry is also helped so that it may continue. One can envisage the flow into the European Common Market of a certain amount of ACP sugar. The process of the erosion of the British refining industry has been going on for some time, partly because of the pricing arrangements. All this would need a separate debate to go into.

May I leave the point with the noble Earl in a twofold way. We welcome what he has said about the obligations of Europe, because the obligations of Europe are those of Lomé. We hope that he will bring out some of the arguments which have been put forward tonight in favour of assisting, strengthening, bringing back to its previous position the British refining industry, otherwise that, too, will go to Europe.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has asked a very pertinent question and I will do my best to give him a reasonable and full answer. I will certainly look at it. So far as one can ever gauge what is likely to happen in the future—I have explained that even after what was done in 1974 the facts altered—half the requirements of this country for sugar should come from beet processing and the other half from cane refining. That is likely to be, in the fullness of time, 1·1 million tonnes of each, with about 150,000 tonnes coming in from the Community. I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, any further guarantee than that. Indeed, it is not a guarantee because one cannot guarantee the future. However, this is the Government's hope and intention. Of course we want there to be a refining industry but we cannot guarantee its size.

I have tried to answer not all the questions—I think that would take too long—but the drift of the questions and to deal with the anxiety which has been expressed, and rightly so, this evening. The Government are always willing to discuss the problems of the ACP countries with them. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture undertook in June of last year at a meeting with ACP representatives to hold further consultations with sugar supplying countries should a situation arise in the United Kingdom market which was harmful to their interests. Despite the anxieties which have been expressed, I do not think that at the moment we are in that situation and that any special measures are required to ensure the continued access of Lomé sugar to the United Kingdom. But if such anxieties are held by the ACP countries, then of course my right honourable friend will be only too happy to speak with them and to help them.

I conclude by saying that I am grateful for what your Lordships have said this evening. Considerable anxiety and disquiet has been expressed. That anxiety and disquiet is shared by the Government. I hope that we shall be able to see both a successful sugar beet part of the United Kingdom and a successful sugar cane refining position. The two are interlocked. I hope that will come about.