HC Deb 01 April 1982 vol 21 cc526-42

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Motion relating to Adjournment (Easter and May Day) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour. —[Mr. Lang.]

Question again proposed.

Mr. Fitt

The one-party State that we then had led to the conflict which ensued and which led to the abolition of the Stormont Government.

Having said that, having been the leader of the SDLP for nine years, and having left that party because I believed that it had become a totally nationalist party and had forsaken all the beliefs of the SDLP, I do not believe that there is anyone in Dublin, Washington or London who can bring about the cessation of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland.

There are people in Dublin—particularly the leader of the present Government, Mr. Charles Haughey—who believe that by wielding a big stick or by adopting a threatening attitude to the British Government they will be able to intimidate and frighten the Unionist-cum-Protestant majority in Northern Ireland. That is not possible.

By the same token, the Right wing of the British Conservative Party will not be able to intimidate the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. Whether it be the Right wing of the Conservative Party in Dublin, or the Ted Kennedys of the Democratic Party in America—wherever they may muster their support—any attempt to back one community against the other is doomed to failure. The only place that the conflict will be resolved is in Northern Ireland, and particularly on the streets of Belfast. Any attempt by one community—either the majority or the minority—to impose victory or defeat on its opponents is doomed to failure.

I am telling the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that we still have tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday before the statement is made in the House. I believe that he—with his experince of that particularly turbulent five months—should impress upon his colleagues in office that any proposals that are brought forward must contain provisions for the protection of the Catholic minority and the Protestant majority. The impression must not be given that this is a victory of one community in Northern Ireland over the other.

We all recognise that whatever proposals are brought forward will be met by cries of "traitor". When I returned from Sunningdale, leaving the SDLP, I well remember that we were met by cries of "traitor". The right hon. Gentleman was at Sunningdale as well. We were told that we had sold out and were members of the Unionist Party.

Similar charges were levelled against the late Brian Faulkner, who was told that he had sold out and become a Republican. After the years that have elapsed, I can say that both of us were trying desperately to bring some sort of sanity to that terribly difficult situation, which had been brought about because of 400 or 500 years of Irish history. Brian Faulkner is no longer with us. I only wish that there was a man of his calibre still within the ranks of the Unionist Party—someone who could live with the realities of 1982.

What is required is not simply a military solution, as advocated by the hon. Member for Londonderry. It is simply not possible to use all the military hardware at our disposal in an attempt to capture all the IRA men. We must find a formula that will win the hearts and minds of the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

I am not sure what the Government's proposals will be. The Secretary of State may belong to a party to which I would give little if any allegiance, but I believe that he is trying to do what he can. One can only wish him success, and I shall have something further to say next week.

10.6 pm

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), whose courage is greatly admired in all quarters of the House.

I am wearing a black tie because today I attended the funeral of Lord Gretton, who for two years served the constituency of Burton in this House and was much loved and admired by all who knew him.

I rise to advance my plea that the House should not adjourn before it has got clear in its precisely what is happening on the West Bank and in the State of Israel. Although many hon. Members on both sides of the House are friends of Israel, and many are friends of the Arab countries, the Israeli case often seems to go by default, partly because the Israelis seem long since to have given up the belief that they need to justify their case in the councils of the world.

Very often one gets the feeling that the Israelis do not care too much what the rest of the world says about them, but that does not mean that their case is not good. It is just, because they want peace while their enemies want the annihilation of the State of Israel, if necessary through war.

For the past months the Israelis have pursued the Camp David agreement with great courage and in a most generous and praiseworthy way. They are giving up the Sinai in accordance with the agreement. They are handing over the aircraft bases, which means that they can be attacked in 10 minutes instead of 28 minutes. They are giving up all the oil that would have made them self-sufficient in two or three years. They are also handing over their outlet to the Red Sea and Sharm el Sheikh. They have experienced great opposition from their own settlers in Yamit. Yet Israel has been quietly trying to work out the basis for autonomy with the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank.

The Israelis have introduced a civil administration, the purpose of which is to begin to get the Arab citizens of the West Bank accustomed to being governed in a nonmilitary way, and to come together with Israel to discuss autonomy so that they can take over the governance of that part of the world themselves. That is what the autonomy pledge which Israel entered into in the Camp David agreement is all about.

The other matter that has pre-occupied the Israelis is that none of that will happen unless it is done with the cooperation and support of Arab leaders among the Palestinians on the West Bank. So they have been carefully nurturing the village leagues—a body of Arab leaders who do not wish to be told what to do, or to be threatened or intimidated by the PLO, but who themselves wish to take control and govern the West Bank, their areas, in peace.

However, as the PLO is pledged by 26 of its 32 articles of the covenant to annihilate the State of Israel, civil administrations which bring together the Arabs and the Jews, Arab village leagues which bring together the Israeli Government and the Arab village governments, are anathema to the terrorists and the warmongers in the PLO. So there has been a systematic and determined campaign of intimidation, which has involved the assassination of 17 moderate Arab Palestinian leaders in the past year and the deliberate disruption of the civil administration. That is why the Israeli Government had to sack the mayors of Nablus, Ramallah and Albirah, because they were obeying the orders of the PLO and not doing what mayors should do—administer their towns for their people. If mayors do not do that, all the social services and municipal activities break down in their towns.

The bitterness with which the PLO and its followers have pursued this campaign can be seen by two statements. One was from the "Voice of Palestine", which plays a leading role in the incitement of the Arab Palestinians. On 22 March it said: Advance in the direction of the forces! Draw close to the storm! Scatter the flocks of enemies! Change the map! Cast down the lamps of treason and surrender! Break, as you know how, the glass of bottles in the face of the soldiers". That is the trash that comes over the radio and incites the Palestinian Arabs to violence.

Then there was the order issued by the Jordanian Prime Minister, Mr. Mudar Badran, on 10 March condemning to death any individual who continued his membership of the village league. There is the intimidation. That is the cause of what is happening on the West Bank now, and must also be the cause of great embarrassment to the Foreign Secretary, who has, by chance, chosen this time to be there. I believe that the Israelis are much encouraged by the Foreign Secretary's visit. The Conservative Government have been showing a much friendlier face towards the State of Israel. They have declared that they stand by their determination that the State of Israel shall remain safe and secure within its proper boundaries. The Government said that they would do nothing to diminish the autonomy talks and would support the Sinai settlement to the ultimate degree. They are doing what they can to encourage moderate Palestinians to talk to the Israeli Government, without which there can be no possible settlement.

Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to bear in mind the one matter to which objection can be taken. I ask the Government to stop repeating that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is in some way unlawful. I shall not use the time of the House by explaining why, by international law, that is simply not so. Suffice it to say that the League of Nations mandate gave a much larger area than the existing State of Israel to provide a Jewish home.

When the mandate territory was split, trans-Jordan was given what amounted to three quarters of what was originally intended to be the Jewish home. The West Bank territory was not included and therefore was invaded by Jordan illegally in 1948. Therefore, Jordan was a belligerent. It is said that the Israelis are also belligerent because they repossessed the West Bank. As between the belligerents there is no superior right vested in Jordan. The only other element in that area is the PLO. That is not a State and it has no entitlement to ownership of the West Bank.

Whatever might be decided by an international court of law, it would be wrong to continue talking about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as though it were in some way a breach of international law and illegal. Of course there must be a settlement of peace. That peace will occur only when the moderate Palestinian Arabs talk and agree with a moderate Israeli Government. The only uncompromising stand that the Israeli Government take is that they will not be told that they can no longer exist, by Palestinian Arabs, dictated to from Beirut. They must talk and negotiate with Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank not subject to the PLO to achieve peace.

If the Government bear those matters in mind, I am sure that they will continue to be helpful in bringing peace to that troubled and torn part of the world.

10.18 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

Before the House adjourns, I shall draw attention to important matters which have still not been dealt with, although we have been waiting for four years—the regulation of data banks, control over the misuse of personal information and protection of personal privacy.

The Lindop Committee reported on these urgent matters in 1978. However, the Government have still not issued a statement about them. They have been promising a White Paper for some time. Perhaps that is now in the offing. I want, even at this stage, to raise several critical questions about the Government's thinking on this matter. That was revealed in the speech of the Minister of State, Home Office on 11 February, to the INFO conference.

The first and crucial point is that the Home Secretary has already made it clear that he will not implement the central recommendation of the Lindop report—that a data protection authority be established. Instead, he proposes to set up an independent registrar, assisted by about 20 civil servants. Frankly, one distinguished person who, no doubt, will be chosen from the list of the good and the great, plus 20 officials, all of them internally recruited, are simply not up to the task of supervising and regulating the vast array of personal information that exists, the sheer magnitude of which the Government seem unwilling to take on board. Even at the time of the 1975 White Paper, there were no fewer than 220 functions of central Government involving computerised personal information with data banks containing anything from 10,000 to 1 million names each. The complacency of the Government's thinking is only too well revealed by the Minister of State's speech when he declared: Breaches of personal privacy are likely to be rare. The fact is that breaches of personal privacy are likely to be anything but rare. The threats to personal privacy are considerable. I believe that they are growing and that they are growing from many sources—from the storing and distribution of information which may be inaccurate or out of date, from the collection of data that may be done illegally or without the consent of the person concerned, as I know from my experience recently with regard to The Sun, from the transfer of information for a different purpose to that originally intended when it was collected and from allowing—or at least not preventing—others having access to private and confidential data to which they should not have access.

Secondly, the Government seem to be proposing that the independent registrar and his tiny staff would be limited to responding to complaints. They would not be undertaking regular and systematic supervision over the whole range of existing and new data banks to ensure that they complied with the appropriate codes of practice. This is surely a major defect when the great majority of people are probably wholly unaware of the vast range of data that is held on them, of the possibility of its misuse, of the right questions to ask to check on this situation and of whom to ask them. Trained and experienced inspectors are required to act on the public's behalf. The only way in which there can be an assurance that information has been properly collected and stored and not abused is through random checks from time to time across the whole range with inspectors regularly and anonymously probing particular data bank systems to ensure that standards and safeguards are properly adhered to.

Thirdly, it is surely crucial that the codes of practice should be mandatory. The Government, according to what their spokesmen have said, seem to have made it clear that they will be simply voluntary or discretionary. Lindop recommended that there should be 50 or more codes of practice to be made by the data protection authority which should have the force of law as regulations. In the absence of statutory force behind the codes, I believe that there is a real risk that serious abuses will continue to occur. Bodies like the BMA have rightly made clear their strong opposition to anything short of statutory regulations in sensitive areas, for example, in the whole area of clinical records. I hope that the Government, even at this stage, will think again about this important matter.

Fourthly, the Government are making a serious mistake through their apparent intention to restrict this whole exercise to computerised information. There is every bit as much a threat to personal privacy from the wrongful or inaccurate collection, storage and use of manually collected or stored data. I ask the Government again to reconsider what I think will be a fundamental omission from their White Paper is they do not include this element.

Fifthly and lastly, there is the whole question of the derogations and exemptions from the application of the independent registrar's supervision. Nobody doubts that genuine matters of criminal intelligence and national security should be exempt. Of course, that would he right. But it is vital that the exemptions should not be any more than are absolutely necessary. Certainly they should not be used as an excuse for blanket exemptions going far wider. It is on that point that there are serious grounds for concern that I should like the Government to consider.

It has been revealed that MI5 from its MOD-X computer centre at Mayfair taps freely into the files of other Government Departments according to a charter under licence from the Prime Minister. This charter and other links between Government-held personal files have enabled officials to begin building up what could ultimately become a comprehensive national filing system on every individual. In view of the immense significance of that and of its 1984-type potential, there is an urgent case that those responsible for such operations should be accountable to a special parliamentary Select Committee. Will the Government consider that point in making provision in their White Paper which will no doubt soon be published?

There is more than a suspicion that the Government will exclude the police from controls over how they use computers. This again is disturbing, because already we are into the era of mass surveillance of the population by the authorities. Indeed, 1984 is going to come well on time. The regulation of this in the public interest is essential.

We are seeing the development of a comprehensive range of police computing and the evolution of a comprehensive command and control computer system by the police. No fewer than 39 of the 51 constabularies have now got local police computers. In many areas there is the development of a capability for collation of local intelligence data which, despite all the strenuous denials by Home Office spokesmen, is clearly intended to link up with the police national computer for a countrywide intelligence network when the political climate is judged to be right.

Lest my remarks are misinterpreted, I should say that like every law-abiding citizen I am completely in favour of an efficient criminal detection system. But what is emerging is something distinctly different. Ease of access to information is gradually but steadily changing the pattern of policing from checking after a crime has been committed to random checks without reasonable grounds for suspicion. That is a worrying development.

For these reasons, certain safeguards are necessary. In addition to a special Select Committee we should adopt the Swedish system whereby even police and security files can be checked out by a duly appointed security-cleared officer. That is another point that the Government should consider before they produce the White Paper.

We should also consider outlawing the technique called free text retrieval for personal data applications. Lindop in its report thought that the use of this brought, in its words: a new dimension of unease to police computing, it all depending on how exactly the information was to be used as to whether there was an abuse of the information. For that reason, it is worrying that the Lothian and Borders police, without waiting for the conclusion of the public debate on data protection, have gone ahead and implemented an operational free text retrieval based system. Even more worrying is the question of where all this is likely to lead. The West Germans have an integrated security service and police computer network. Without adequate control, the British police and MI5 could do the same. Is that what the Government intend for this country?

I accept that there is unlikely to be any direct response from the Government to my comments before the White Paper is issued, as I believe that publication is probably imminent. Nevertheless, this is a vital subject which will have a close impact on the lives of citizens of this country and which touches on profound issues of freedom and civil liberties. I hope, therefore, that even at this stage the Government will reconsider the structure of their proposals on data protection and personal privacy. From all that we have seen so far, the signs are that at the moment their proposals are sadly defective.

10.31 pm
Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

The Leader of the House may welcome my rising to speak now, if for no other reason than that it signals the end of his long, patient vigil from 7 o'clock until 10.30, listening to speeches on a wide range of subjects. I believe that mine is the penultimate speech from the Opposition, and I propose to take a much shorter time than others have done.

I shall resist the temptation to follow earlier speeches, except for a brief comment on that of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr.Stokes). I do not wish to be patronising in any way when I say that the hon. Gentleman is a unique character. He combines the ability to say the most outrageous things and to come to the most erroneous conclusions with retaining the respect and good will of most Members of the House. I hope that it will be a long time before the hon. Gentleman, or anyone else on his behalf, draws his death grant. When the time comes, however, I am reasonably certain that he will go to the Christian Heaven of which he spoke in passing and will find there good friends from all parties. He may then have the shock of his life, or rather his death, when he bows before the throne of Jesus and looks up to see, smiling down at him, a brown, Semitic face. He may then realise that some of the people whom he has criticised are his brothers no more and no less than anybody else.

It is proposed that the House should go into recess from 8 April to 19 April and from 30 April to 4 May. In normal times, those breaks from our duties here would be welcomed by everyone. I have always welcomed them, and in 17 years I have not sought to take part in a debate of this kind. Such breaks give us the opportunity to go to our constituencies, to do things that we cannot do when engaged in the everyday duties of the House and to spend a little time with our families. For the first time in 17 years, I now suggest that at this time of this year changes may have to be made in those dates even in the course of the next week.

Briefly, we are all aware of the dangers and difficulties that have developed, have increased over the past 10 days and are still increasing for British citizens and British interests in and around the British Falkland Islands and the Falkland Island dependencies. Those dangers are likely to become greater before, one hopes, they become less. In a situation in which not only British interests but British lives are at risk, I am wholly in favour, as I believe the whole House is, of a considerable degree of restraint in the questions that we ask, the comments that we make and the answers that we might expect. We shall have the right to inquire about any possible Government failings later, but not tonight. Our aim should be to do nothing that could make the position worse.

However, some things must be said before the House goes into recess—things that will do no harm, but may do some good. I hope that the Government will have such matters in mind during the next days and weeks whether we are in recess or in session. First, I ask the Leader of the House to accept that the first duty of the House and any British Government is to ensure the safety, security and defence of British citizens in British territories here or beyond the seas. The Falkland Island dependencies are British, the people of the islands are British and intend to remain British. We must give them every possible support.

No less important is the fact that the people of the Falkland Islands are good neighbours to one another, and wish to be good neighbours to the people of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and all other countries on the South American mainland. Britain, the Falkland Islands and South American countries have much to gain from cooperation, trade and better understanding. The present difficulties are not of the Government's making nor of the making of the people of the Falkland Islands. It is in everyone's interests in the South Atlantic that there should be co-operation, not confrontation.

I hope that the Government will continue to make every diplomatic effort to obtain a speedy resolution to the problems, and I hope that they are taking the advice of two people with special knowledge of the difficulties and opportunities in the area. The first, who I believe is known to the Leader of the House, is His Excellency Mr. Rex Hunt, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the British Falkland Islands. The second is Captain Barker of HMS "Endurance".

Will the Government bear in mind that the chances of a speedy and peaceful settlement are enhanced and not diminished if Britain is clearly shown to be supporting her citizens and protecting her territories with the considerable naval, air and military capability available? If that is done, the negotiations that must continue to take place will be conducted from a position of strength, not weakness.

Although I ask no questions and expect no answers about the capability available to the Government some people, both inside the House and outside, might be under a misapprehension about the total support available. At Question Time earlier this week the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) completely underestimated the capability of HMS "Endurance". She is not the clapped-out ice-breaker that he apparently believes her to be, and the fact that a former Secretary of State for Defence can make such a statement should be taken up with him direct. She is a much more powerful vessel. However, I shall not go into questions of which country possesses the biggest clout. All that I say is that people outside the House, especially in Argentina, would be under a great misapprehension if they were to assume that British capability in that area or anywhere else is less than it should be. We are talking about negotiations from strength and equality.

The Davidoff affair will probably go down in history. We must inquire as we go along whether it was a miscalculation or whether it was premeditated. I ask the Leader of the House to note that, if it is possible to have a statement before the recess, it will be welcome. There will be caution on both sides about what is said, but our interest will continue. We expect the British Government to continue to look after British citizens and interests whether the House is in session or in recess.

10.39 pm
Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

The debate has taken its predictable course. A number of major and crucially important issues have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Some hon. Members have adduced seemingly compelling reasons why the House should not adjourn. Then, as you can observe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they have disappeared from the Chamber, presumably lest they were taken at their word.

I wish to pursue a number of the points raised. I was impressed by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). He raised the two important issues of unemployment and of the need for an early parliamentary statement on the report from the observers at the elections that have just been completed in El Salvador. The decision to despatch British observers involves the status and standing of this country. The House is not being unreasonable in demanding an early statement.

My hon. Friend said that 61 per cent. of the people unemployed in the West Midlands have been unemployed for six months or more. The same argument applies to the North-West, the Northern region, South Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales. Economists talk of the contraction of manufacturing industry. Most of our manufacturing is in the regions. We have seen the virtual collapse of manufacturing in the regions. Men over 40 who are declared redundant may never work again. Parents see their children still searching for their first job. That is the real cause of concern. The Government treat unemployment as inevitable. Our constituents do not accept as inevitable. They demand Government action to deal with the problem.

I was impressed by the sincere contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who highlighted two problems. The first was soliciting. He drew attention to a legal contradiction. Legal action is taken against women found guilty of soliciting, yet men guilty of kerb crawling do not attract legal action except in isolated cases.

My hon. Friend also drew attention to the continuing crisis in Cyprus. The Government joined in sanctions against the Soviet Union because it invaded Afghanistan. It is a contradiction for them not to take action as a guarantor power over the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The Government are anxious to get Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. They should be even handed and try to persuade the Turks to get their troops out of Cyprus.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Turkish invasion of Cyprus occurred under the Administration of whom he was a member.

Mr. Morris

It did. With a number of my hon. Friends, I urged lines of action on the Government, but at the same time it was not a Labour Government who took the stand on sanctions against the Soviet Union for the invasion of Afghanistan. It is that issue of action of principle that I believe, if the Government are to be even-handed, should be applied to Cyprus.

I share the view of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) that British people are amazingly kind and tolerant. The British people will need to be amazingly kind and tolerant when they hear on the air and read in the national newspapers and in Hansard his singularly offensive comments on the coloured population and communities in this country. Rarely have I heard such a singularly offensive speech from any hon. Member. The hon. Gentleman talked about the need for coloured people to have a community commitment. He lectured them on patriotism and on the fact that they should be willing to die for their country. I served in the Army in the last war. It was not exclusively white soldiers who died for their country.

If we look around the communities in which we live, go in the hospitals and ride on the buses and on the trains, we find the coloured community making a real contribution, yet the hon. Gentleman lectured them on patriotism. With the greatest respect, I hope that he will think again about the speech that he made this evening.

The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) about the death grant were absolutely right. I hope that the consultative document will be the subject of early debate. There are many features in it. Most people believe that when they contribute to the National Health Service scheme their contributions gives them benefits as of right. The consultative document shows that the Government's policy will be that benefits as of right will be transferred and interpreted as benefits by poverty standards. That is not good enough.

At business questions today, my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and, during the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), referred to the action taken by the Secretary of State for Transport in announcing a major departure from Government policy in a written answer reported at columns 139 and 140 of Hansard for 31 March 1982. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East said that it was a long answer. It covered one and a half columns of Hansard. It has all the characteristics of a planted question. The cut of £15 million represents a major departure from present Government policy.

The annual grant to British Rail has been rising in real terms during the period of office of the Government and of their predecessors. The cut will increase significantly the possibility of forced sales by British Rail of its assets in property, hotels and shipping in order to survive financially.

For those reasons, we are entitled to a parliamentary statement. I know that the Leader of the House will honour the undertaking that he gave in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford when he said this afternoon that he would look into the matter. I hope that he does so seriously.

Mr. Snape

Will my right hon. Friend reiterate the point that I made about the Government's common practice of slipping through controversial matters by means of a written reply? Does he agree with me that it is deplorable that this major change in policy should be so treated?

Mr. Morris

I agree with my hon. Friend.

I move on to the speech made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Ritt). He has the unique gift of conveying graphically the reality of the continuing tragedy in Northern Ireland. I am always impressed by the balanced views with which he conveys his thoughts on the subject. He talks with great experience, and over the years he has demonstrated a remarkable courage and moderation in the comments that he has made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is right to demand an early White Paper and a debate on the findings of the Lindop committee report. In the last Administration I had some ministerial responsibility for the Government's central computer agency. The Lindop committee, even at that time, was looking forward to an early White Paper. Not only did the previous Government end without bringing forward a White Paper but this Government have now been in office for two years and we still have not had a White Paper dealing with data processing and computer privacy.

All these issues demand the attention of the Government; and I am confident that the Leader of the House will bring the attention of his right hon. and hon. Friends to the points that have been raised.

10.52 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)

For the last three and three quarter hours we have had an unusually wide-ranging debate in which hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised a number of issues, including many substantial ones. No particular theme has emerged from the debate, and if I were to deal substantially with each issue I should turn this into an all-night sitting, which, I suspect, is not what the hon. Members who have taken part wish. All the constructive ideas that have been put forward tonight will be passed on to my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I am sure that they will wish to consider them.

The hon. Members for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke on the subject of Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Belfast, West said, it is an exceptionally compelling issue as well as a dangerous one. It is one about which I have thought, and continue to think, a great deal. I echo what the hon. Member for Londonderry said about the casualties that his constituency unhappily suffered today. I am sure that the House will join me in expressing our revulsion at these murders and in extending our sympathy to the families of the soldiers killed today. I assure the House that the security forces will relentlessly pursue those responsible and will do everything possible to bring them to justice.

Both hon. Members referred to the security forces. The hon. Member for Londonderry in particular referrred to the level of the forces. I assure him that this is always under review. It goes up and down according to circumstances and can be adjusted at short notice if necessary. However, it would be wrong of me to make any reference to a statement, and the proposals in it, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make on Monday. To that extent, the hon. Member for Londonderry expressed a view without knowing exactly what was to be proposed.

Any initiative in Northern Ireland is extremely important. The Cabinet and my right hon. Friends, especially the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I have spent much time considering what would be the best way of making progress and whether it would be better to make a move or to wait. As is known, we have come to a conclusion and the proposals will be presented to the House on Monday. Thereafter there will be various opportunities to debate them. I do not think that it would be right for me to comment in detail about the new proposals.

The first foreign affairs issue to be raised was E1 Salvador. It was referred to by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who opened the debate. The fact that we have sent observers does not mean that there is any question of our accepting any responsibility. The hon. Gentleman continued rather accusatorialy to say that the Government should be bringing the parties together. We cannot do that if we are not there. From that point of view, the hon. Gentleman should concede that there was a certain amount of common sense in sending observers. In any event, we sent them because we felt that there was a need to make an independent assessment of an important event in a country that is of increasing concern here and in other countries. Our observers are completely free to report whatever they have found. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall publish the report when it is produced.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to the West Bank and the encouragement that has been given by the visit of my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary. The West Bank is important and relevant to a foreign affairs debate, which I hope might be arranged before Whitsun.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) spoke about the Falkland Islands. I have arranged for the House to be kept informed of the developments so far, and I shall continue to do that. I am sure that the entire House shares the hon. Gentleman's anxiety and will wish to echo his call for co-operation. We shall do everything that we can to look after British interests, and we are taking all diplomatic measures at our disposal to achieve a satisfactory and peaceful resolution of the dispute. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for calling attention to the issue.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North began by talking about unemployment in his constituency. It was the only reference to unemployment save for that of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris). I agree that it remains perhaps the most important domestic issue. The Government are tackling it fundamentally. Much of it arises from the economic weaknesses from which, as the entire House knows, we have suffered for many years--low productivity, lack of competitiveness and paying ourselves more than the value of what we produce. That is part of it. The world recession is also a contributory factor.

There is no point in dressing up unemployment by producing false jobs. We must make ourselves competitive so that we can create real orders and real jobs, and that is what we are trying to do.

Mr. Winnick

When the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), made his last ministerial speech in replying to a similar motion prior to the Christmas recess 1980, when he went out of his way to defend the Government's employment policy, it did not do him much good.

Mr. Pym

I do not know the relevance of that intervention.

My hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) and Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to immigration. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) asked for a debate on the subject. There was a debate on the Scarman report, which is only one aspect of the immigration problem. However, last Session the British Nationality Bill was passing through the House, and there were many opportunities when the subject could have been debated.

My hon. Friend complained that the merits of immigration had not been discussed for some time. Throughout the 1960s, when it mattered, immigration was continually debated. I attended the debates. More than one Bill was enacted and there was considerable discussion and controversy. However, the merits of debating immigration now seem weaker than before. Last time we debated such matters, my late hon. and learned Friend who was the Member for Beaconsfield, Sir Ronald Bell, made the same request. I was unable to give him a very encouraging reply and it would be wrong to say that I foresee an opportunity in the near future for a substantial debate on that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood referred to the immigration rules. As he probably knows, the Government expect the British Nationality Act to come into force on 1 January 1983. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering the changes that will be required in the immigration rules and will announce his decision nearer that time. However, I do not know whether he will do so before the May day bank holiday. We believe that we have a strong argument for resisting the challenges made under the European Convention on Human Rights, and such matters are very much in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) referred to local government and to value for money—fundamental issue in the minds of many hon. Members. He referred to privatisation and to reducing the size of the public sector. That is very much part of the Government's strategy and purpose. However, such matters can perhaps best be dealt with, to some extent, in the context of the rating review, which is all about local government finance. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will take account of the useful ideas put forward by my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned prostitution in his constituency. No doubt the problem affects other constituencies. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary does not think it right to make any decision on the need for legislation or on the form of legislation before the Criminal Law Revision Committee and the Policy Advisory Committee on Sexual Offences complete their review of the present law. I understand that the Criminal Law Revision Committee hopes to publish a working paper within the first half of the year, inviting comment on its provisional proposals. Prostitution is a continuing problem and it is difficult to deal with it. The hon. Gentleman proposed that the police should be given certain additional powers. I shall bring that point to the attention of the Home Secretary so that it can be considered. A review by the Law Commission is the right way to proceed and that will be forthcoming within the reasonably near future. That is the next stage.

The hon. Member for Tooting also referred to Cyprus. He is right to say that it is taking a very long time to resolve the issue. Of course, several parties are involved. However strong our desire and however hard we work at achieving it, that in itself is not enough to resolve the problem. However, the intercommunal talks under the auspices of the Secretary General of the United Nations are continuing in Nicosia and the Government are giving their fullest support to that work. We cannot necessarily be optimistic about the outcome in the immediate future, but we shall make efforts and take every step possible to resolve the issue. That is the best answer that I can give.

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North referred to the death grant and the consultative document that has just been published. In preferring the course outlined in the document, the Government's objective is to devise a new system that helps those most in need and at the same time makes the best use of available resources. It is a consultative document. The hon. Gentleman thinks that we should have decided something and done something, but we think that the subject is more controversial than that. The idea is to allow a period of three months or a little more for consultation.

The Government will welcome not only comments on what is in the document, but constructive alternatives. If there is a better alternative, it is open to the hon. Gentleman—or, indeed, to anyone—to put proposals forward. However, what the hon. Gentleman has said, and the constructive comments that he has made, show what a complicated issue it is and how sensible it is for us to proceed in this way. In the end, whatever is decided will be to some extent controversial. It seems to the Government that on such an issue we should have the broadest support possible.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Is the Leader of the House saying that the Government are prepared to reconsider the preferred option within that consultative document? Are the Government saying that at this stage they have a competely open mind on the question of the death grant?

Mr. Pym

I am saying that the Government are open to suggestions and are ready to discuss alternatives to the White Paper. We have thought about it a great deal. It has taken a long time. That criticism is completely fair. It is not only we who have taken a long time; the Labour Government were no less guilty than we are. That in itself is perhaps evidence, if anybody wants it, of just how complicated this matter is.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East raised the issue of the railways and the grant to be made to British Rail. I said this afternoon that I would look again into the question of the written answer, and that I will certainly do. However, when I looked into it before it seemed to me to be a perfectly normal and proper way in which to inform the House. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not wish to avoid an oral statement being made or a discussion in the House. However, we must limit the number of oral statements. Today we were debating under the guillotine and it seemed to me that adequate time would have to be given to the completion of the remaining stages of the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill.

The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the steeply rising costs on the railways the effect that they might have on some of the branch lines and the shortage of resources. That is absolutely true. However, he made no suggestion about where any extra money should come from. Our resources are limited nationally and all Governments have the job of deciding their priorities. Our purpose is not to provide more money from the taxpayer, but to try to help the railways operate on as commercial a basis as possible. There is no way that some fare rises can be avoided in the future. The taxpayer, the ratepayer, and all who contribute public money would say that we do not want any more burdens in order to pay more out to the railways.

I say again what I said this afternoon. This seems to me to be a wholly suitable subject for the Opposition to suggest for debate on a Supply day. The general topic of public transport is of wide interest and of great importance and it causes much anxiety. However, the Government will do everything that they can to help British Rail and other public utilities operate to the maximum extent on a commercial basis and with the greatest possible efficiency.

Data protection is another particularly complicated subject. It is quite true that the Government have said for some time that a White Paper will be published soon. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made it clear that it is a highly complicated subject. He expressed a number of rather strongly held personal opinions. I think that when the White Paper is published, and when the House comes to grips with the complexities of this subject, it will be found to be difficult.

Perhaps it will give the hon. Gentleman some encouragement to know that the intention is to publish the White Paper next week. That will be the beginning of a substantial series of debates, certainly in public, and, no doubt, at some point in the House, on what is a vital, intensely interesting and highly complicated matter. I think that the news about the publication of the White Paper next week is the best answer that I can give to the hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) referred to the South-West regional boundaries. He gave an excellent description of the distinctive and exceptional character of the far South-West within the South-West region. I am not sure whether it is simple to change the definition of a region for statistical purposes. In fact, that might be administratively quite difficult. However, I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend also referred to discussions in Brussels about Commission proposals. Those discussions are still at an early stage. We would not wish to see the introduction of any new scheme that would put Devon and Cornwall at a disadvantage. The discussions will continue and will take some time, but my right hon. Friend will keep my hon. Friend's point very much in mind.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) referred to property in London and made a strong case about the condition of housing that is now the responsibility of Hackney. He said that that authority has very little money available to repair those properties and that not enough resources are available. The hon. Gentleman expressed the problem graphically. I do not think that my right hon. Friend will be able to conjure up additional resources. Indeed, his principal struggle at present—the Government give him their full support—is to restrain the ever-rising temptation of all authorities to spend too much money. That does not alter the importance of what the hon. Gentleman said about the standard of the housing to which he referred and the need to do something about it. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) referred to the price of petrol in rural areas. I know that he has returned to his constituency. I shall certainly take that matter on board.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) spoke about the tourist industry and the need to help it. That is perhaps the sort of note on which we should end a debate such as this. I know that some hon. Members will spend the Easter Recess fairly modestly by staying at home and minding their own business, which I always regard as the soundest advice anyone can give a Member of Parliament.

I hope that the House will feel that the proposal in the motion is entirely right and that, come the end of next week, the recess will be welcome. All the important matters that have been raised will receive the thought that I am sure they deserve.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising on Thursday 8th April do adjourn till Monday 19th April and at its rising on Friday 30th April do adjourn till Tuesday 4th May and that this House shall not adjourn on Thursday 8th April until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.