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Is the Minister aware from his conversations in Scotland of the anxiety that exists over the auctioning of the licences at the end of the day? Is he further aware that the Peacock committee was divided on that, and that the majority which went for auctioning nevertheless said that the licensing authority should be able to accept a lower tender if it thought that that was in the best interests of the area to be served? Before he reaches the definitive point of legislation, will he take that on board, particularly in relation to-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Renton : I stress that it will be necessary for all those who apply for franchises under Channel 3, the regional channel, first to satisfy the Independent Television Commission of their ability to cross quality hurdles to show programmes of quality and of regional origin. We are in the consultative period on the White Paper on broadcasting and it was in that context that the other day, for example, I met the Independent Television Association, which has already raised many points with me which we shall be considering further.
Mr. Teddy Taylor : Since the SNP is now in favour of Scotland in Europe, would it be helpful if that party were to make it abundantly clear whether, given the legislation for which it voted, it is in favour of the sale of STV to French, Italian or Greek companies as proposed in the legislation?
Mr. Buchan : I presume that the organisation that the hon. Gentleman discussed gaelic broadcasting with was An Comunn Gaidhealach and presumably he showed it the bratach bana in the process. In considering the amount of programme time to be given to independent producers, will he recall that not all Scottish programmes are derived from Scotland? Will the percentage be based on the total or on the percentage produced in Scotland? Secondly, when talking about independent productions in Scotland, will he ensure that we are not planning to auction off only to the national large-scale organisations?
Mr. Renton : I am not certain that I heard all the hon. Gentleman's question. I took my pronunciation of Comunn na Gaidhlig from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) who was responsible for bringing the deputation to see me. Thereafter, I think the hon. Gentleman was talking about the amount of independent production in Scotland geared to the Scottish audience. Border Television, about one third of whose audience is in Scotland, has increased its independent production facilities for use by others from about £40, 000 a year to over £3 million. BBC Scotland is now producing 228 hours a year of network programmes and 584 hours of programmes specifically directed at the Scottish market.
Mr. Bill Walker : Is my hon. Friend aware that in Scotland, especially in the north-east, there is a fondness for Grampian Television? That lies behind part of the questions asked by Opposition Members. Is he aware that in the discussions that many of us had with the Scottish broadcasters there was an acceptance and an awareness of the opportunities that will arise as a result of cable and microwave broadcasting? That will make it possible to produce programmes with more Scottish content and more local programmes for different parts of Scotland, because the Highlands are different from the Lowlands or the Borders.
Mr. Renton : I agree with my hon. Friend on both points. I recently read an interesting study by Grampian which emphasised the extent to which programmes such as Scottish documentaries and local Scottish news are of particular interest to Scottish viewers. There is no doubt that the arrival of more microwave television, as suggested in the White Paper, will, on a local basis, provide great opportunities for distant communities in Scotland to receive more television services in the future.
Mr. Steel : Surely the Minister should have specific discussions with the Scottish broadcasting authorities because under the auction proposal small companies such as Grampian and Border will have no chance at all. There is spare capacity in Scotland and, therefore, there is a good case for awarding Channel 5 north of the border.
Mr. Renton : As I have already said, I have met representatives of Scottish Television recently. The managing director of Scottish Television was one of those who came to see me recently. If any Scottish organisations representing broadcasting want to come to see me in the coming weeks, they are welcome to do so.
10. Mr. David Davis : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the proposed pilot projects to use electronic monitoring for people on bail will commence ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Davis : I congratulate my hon. Friend on his humane innovation. Will he reassure the House that there will be no increase in the proportion of people receiving bail under the scheme who are accused of certain crimes of violence for which the scheme may not be appropriate? Will he reassure the House that people who break the terms of their bail under the scheme will be sent back to gaol by the courts?
Mr. Madden : Does the Minister have any plans to place an electronic tag on Umberto Fiore who is wanted by the Italian authorities? They have been seeking to extradite him from this country for the past seven years in connection with the bombing of a train that resulted in the deaths of more than 80 people.
11. Mr. Dykes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has received any requests and representations from representatives of the Kindertransport group in connection with its planned 50-year commemorations in 1989.
Mr. Renton : In November my right hon. Friend received, and officials acknowledged, an invitation from the chair of the Kindertransport committee to open its planned 50-year commemorations in June 1989. My right hon. Friend will not be able to attend as he will be at a meeting of European Ministers of Justice in the Hague, but I am pleased to accept the invitation on his behalf.
Mr. Dykes : I thank my hon. Friend for his and the Home Office's response in encouraging and supporting the venture and for accepting the invitation. Does he agree that it will be a moving occasion--it will take place in Harrow leisure centre in June 1989--when Jewish refugees who were given permission to come into Britain 50 years ago by the then Home Secretary will be commemorating their survival of the evils of Nazism and the fact that the United Kingdom lived up to its honourable tradition of providing a haven for political refugees?
Mr. Renton : I thank my hon. Friend for the remarks at the beginning of his question. I am well aware not only of his work but of that of his wife in helping Jewish communities throughout the world. Like him, I hope that this will be a memorable and moving occasion to commemorate a time when Britain responded to its traditional obligation to look after refugees.
Column 1078introducing legislation which would require parents to stand trial alongside under-age members of their family brought to court for criminal offences.
Mr. Hurd : Parents can already be required to attend the court with children under 17 and to pay fines, compensation and costs imposed on such children. I wish that this provison were better known, and more widely used.
Mr. Gill : Will my right hon. Friend consider making parents' attendance at courts in these circumstances mandatory? Does he agree that the quality of our society would be best improved by stressing the individual's responsibilities to it? Does he agree that for too long now we have stressed the individual's rights in, rather than his responsibilities to, society?
As regards my hon. Friend's first point, it is best left to the court. One can imagine family circumstances in which it would not be reasonable to make it mandatory to attend or to pay fines and compensations. But parents attend or pay now in only 21 per cent. of cases. My hon. Friend is right that that is too few ; I hope the courts will seek to increase it.
The Prime Minister : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Day : Will my right hon. Friend agree to convey to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the warm congratulations of the House on his blunt demand that the Irish Government review their extradition procedures? Does she agree that the fight against terrorism demands the wholehearted support of all parties in the House--not the often half-hearted attitude manifested by the Opposition?
The Prime Minister : Yes, it will give me great pleasure to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We have also had a clear assurance from the Taoiseach, repeated in the Dail this week, that the Irish Government's extradition procedures will be looked at again if they prove unsatisfactory, as they clearly have done.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend about the performance of Opposition Members. It is a great pity that we cannot rely on their support in the fight against terrorism.
Column 1079"most of the egg production in this country is infected with salmonella".
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food says :
"it is not the case that most eggs are infected."
Will the Prime Minister clear up the confusion and tell us which of her Ministers is right?
The Prime Minister : We are aware of the deep problems facing the egg industry. We think that we have a duty to give greater publicity to the advice that the Chief Medical Officer has already given, which I repeated to the House at Tuesday's Question Time. We are already taking measures under the new code of practice of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to tackle the new strain of salmonella. We are also urgently considering the representations that have been made to us.
Mr. Kinnock : Is it not obvious from that answer that the concern expressed by the Prime Minister's right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as by Opposition Members, is well founded? Is it not also obvious that £500,000 is much too little to repair the damage done to the egg industry, and much too much to spend on saving the face of the Under- Secretary of State for Health?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman knows from the answer that I gave last time that there is a problem, and that salmonella is connected with and has been traced to eggs. There have been about 49 cases affecting more than 1,000 people. It is our bounden duty to give the Chief Medical Officer's advice to everyone in a way that can be clearly understood. As I indicated, we are also considering other matters.
Dame Jill Knight : Following yesterday's statement by Mr. Yasser Arafat, in which he recognised Israel's right to exist and unequivocally renounced violence and terrorism, does my right hon. Friend share the hope that the way is clear for an international conference to settle the problems of the middle east?
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I believe that Mr. Arafat's latest statement justifies our insistence since 1985 on three conditions being met before the PLO could enter into negotiations. They are, first, that the PLO recognises United Nations resolutions 242 and 338 ; secondly, that it recognises explicitly Israel's right to exist behind secure borders ; and, thirdly, that it unconditionally renounces violence and terrorism. It seems that all three have been met, and I join my hon. Friend in hoping that that will enable negotiations to go forward within the framework of an international conference, which proposal we have also supported for a considerable length of time.
Mr. Ashdown : Has the Prime Minister read the report stressing once again the dangers of global warming that was published last week? [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister did not hear me. I asked whether she has read the report once again stressing the dangers of global warming. Does she recall that a little over a month ago-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister recall that a little more than a month ago, she agreed with me that there is an urgent necessity for an energy conservation programme? Does she recall setting a target of 2 per cent. for energy conservation in Britain? Will the Prime Minister say now what the Government will do about that?
The Prime Minister : Yes, we recognise the dangers that could arise from the greenhouse effect. We acknowledge that joint efforts to tackle it are required on the part of all nations. It is only partly a matter of energy efficiency ; it is also a matter of preserving tropical rain forests, which use up carbon dioxide better than anything else, and of replacing some coal energy production by nuclear energy. Yes, it is important to achieve energy efficiency. Most people are aiming to do that, because it leads to lower costs. However, it is not the only factor, and many additional aspects must be tackled jointly with other countries. The subject is also tied up with chlorofluorocarbons, which can aggravate the greenhouse effect. We shall have a conference on that aspect in this country next March.
Mr. Bowis : Is my right hon. Friend aware that it will be widely welcomed if she is able to announce that her Government will make a contribution to the mayor of Wandsworth's appeal for the victims of the Clapham Junction rail disaster and their families?
The Prime Minister : I understand that the mayor of Wandsworth has set up a disaster fund. Her Majesty's Government will contribute to it the sum of £250,000. We hope that that will encourage others to make further contributions.
Mr. Ewing : If the Prime Minister does not want to visit my constituents, may I, in all seriousness, ask if two of my constituents may visit her at 10 Downing street? Both have been widowed for a long time, and I wrote to the Prime Minister about one of them. Neither of them will be allowed to transfer from the widowed mother's allowance to the widow's pension. Both have to live on £35 a week less than they did before the recent changes in social security regulations. As I admit to complete failure in my attempts to tell them how to survive on £35 a week less, may I have those widows meet the Prime Minister--so that she may tell them how their families can survive over Christmas on £35 a week less than they had in the past?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows that a decision on any particular case is made not by the Government but by independent statutory authorities within the framework of legislation passed by the House. He is also aware that the guarantee that those pensions will be protected against inflation is now firmer than at any time in history, and that more generous income support has been provided than ever before. I hope that he will tell that to the lady concerned.
Mr. Carrington : Is my right hon. Friend aware how much pensioners in my constituency are now looking forward to Christmas? They received their Christmas bonus last week, and are secure in the knowledge that heating costs for the winter are included in their income support. If we have a particularly cold spell this winter, more people than ever before will receive additional assistance to pay their heating costs.
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is correct. The Christmas bonus is now an annual event, as it was not under the last Labour Government, when pensioners did not always receive their bonus. The uprating of benefits in line with inflation is now not only annual but related specifically to the RPI, and is more assured than ever before. The heating allowance has now been included in income support, so pensioners can be sure of receiving it, and there is a better severe weather payment than ever before. That is all because increasing prosperity has enabled us to be more generous to such people.
Mr. Sillars : May I refer the right hon. Lady to the Government's political guarantee to 16 and 17-year-olds that they will obtain YTS places? If they do not do so, they are rendered penniless. Why does the right hon. Lady not make that political guarantee a legal guarantee, and thus give 16 and 17-year-olds real rights?
The Prime Minister : In my answer to a question a few days ago, I made it perfectly clear that there are more YTS places than there are applicants for them. As that is true in all regions, I cannot see what the hon. Gentleman is complaining about. He must be hard put to find a critical question.
Mr. Bennett : Has my right hon. Friend seen today's announcement of the latest substantial fall in unemployment, which brings the figure down by 1 million from July 1986? It is down for the 28th consecutive month. Has she also noticed that in Wales, which has had 20 per cent. of all inward investment, the figure has fallen faster than in the United Kingdom as a whole?
The Prime Minister : Yes, unemployment is indeed falling everywhere, but, as my hon. Friend says, Wales is doing particularly well, as are the west midlands and the north-west. The position relating to the long-term unemployed is particularly encouraging, with a record fall of some 450,000 in the past two years, and there are more people at work than ever before.
Mr. Buchan : In the course of her busy day, has the Prime Minister had a chance to read the statement issued by the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), in which he calls into question her nuclear policies and, among other things, describes her mean-minded response to Mr. Gorbachev's offer of unilateral reduction last week as "a bronchial whisper"? Will she shout her response a little louder?
The Prime Minister : I had a chance to read the statement, and the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that I disagree with it. As he is aware from the figures on conventional weapons that I gave last time, the Soviet Union still has between two and three times as many tanks and weapons as we have. It has reduced its weaponry by about 10 per cent., but its superiority is still enormous.
We shall keep our independent nuclear deterrent. We remember when we gave up chemical weapons unilaterally and the Soviet Union stepped up chemical weapon production, both in modernisation and amount. Hope is not a basis for a sound defence policy.
Mr. Walker : Has my right hon. Friend seen the interesting and very acceptable news from Europe about whisky : that 40 per cent. is to be the correct proof for whisky throughout Europe? Is not that, in conjunction with the Scotch Whisky Act, clear evidence that this Government and the Conservative party are the best custodians of Scotland's interests?
The Prime Minister : Yes. The recent agreement in Brussels, after six years of detailed and difficult negotiations, mark a major step forward for the Scotch whisky industry. The regulation provides a clear definition of whisky and minimum alcohol strengths for all spirits, including the 40 per cent. alcohol by volume for all whisky that was sought by the Scotch Whisky Act, which was sponsored by my hon. Friend in the last Session. I agree with him that this shows the Government's determination to safeguard this major exporting industry.
Mr. Ernie Ross : Will the Prime Minister go a little further than she went when she replied to her hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight)? Given that the American Administration is to meet the Palestine Liberation Organisation at ambassadorial level, and given also that the PLO has met all the commitments that the right hon. Lady set down, will she now instruct her right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to meet the Palestine Liberation Organisation at that level to encourage the process of moderation that will eventually lead to the resolution of the middle east conflict?
The Prime Minister : We have no immediate plans to do so, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Minister of State recently met the PLO representative because he had already accepted the three points that were later accepted by Mr. Arafat. I agree that this is a considerable step forward, and we most certainly wish to encourage it.
Column 1084Mr. Skinner rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. The same rules must apply to every hon. Member. The House knows that points of order are taken after Question Time and business questions. [ Hon. Members :-- "Not always."] The Secretary of State is here.