Home Page

Column 649

House of Commons

Thursday 26 July 1990

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

PRAYERS [M r. Speaker-- in the Chair ] PRESENTATION OF BILL

Ministerial and Other Offices (Pensions and Salaries)

9.34 am

Mr. Speaker : Second Reading, what day?

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should have thought that a Bill involving pensions would be presented before most hon. Members had left for their constituencies. Much opinion has been voiced, especially by Opposition Members, since last night when we knew that the Bill would be presented. Having been subject to some pressure by Opposition Members, one might have thought that the Leader of the House would have considered presenting the Bill either earlier or after the end of the recess. Presenting it before the start of the recess, knowing that most hon. Members are away

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is purely a formal presentation. It happens regularly. We have yet to have the Second Reading, when the hon. Gentleman can object and put his points of view.

Mr. Powell : I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker. However, surely hon. Members, with a Bill which affects them, should be consulted about when the Bill would be presented. I am given to understand that what we would refer to as our shop steward for pensions and other issues that concern hon. Members has had consultations with the Leader of the House. Unfortunately, he cannot be here this morning, but if he had been, he would have made these objections himself. The Leader of the House should have given some consideration to this matter and should not have presented the Bill until after the recess.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : I can understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter, which is why I have kept in touch with the representatives of the major parties, including the trustees who are closely interested in it. Everyone has been anxious that the matter should come forward as soon as possible so that it could be debated and brought to a conclusion in the overspill. It is for that reason alone that we thought it right to secure the publication of the Bill today so that hon. Members might have the benefit of studying the matter throughout the recess. If I had postponed the Bill's introduction until the overspill, I might legitimately have been exposed to some criticism.

Perhaps I may have a word with the hon. Gentleman afterwards. As I have said, I have kept in touch with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who presides over the trustees, and others, and it is in accordance with the general wish that the Bill has been published today, so that it may be considered during the overspill.


Column 650

BILL PRESENTED

Ministerial and Other Offices (Pensions and Salaries) :-- Sir Geoffrey Howe, supported by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented (under Standing Order No. 48 (Procedure upon Bills whose main object is to create a charge upon the public revenue)) a Bill to make new provision with respect to the pensions payable to or in respect of persons who have held the office of Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, Speaker of the House of Commons or Lord Chancellor ; to relate the salary of the Lord Chancellor to that of the Lord Chief Justice ; and to provide for the making of grants to persons ceasing to hold ministerial and certain other offices and the payment of an allowance to persons holding those offices who are members of the House of Lords : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 15 October and to be printed. [Bill 195.]

STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS, &c.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Companies

That the Companies (Fees) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 1990 (S.I., 1990, No. 1368), dated 5th July 1990, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th July, be approved.-- [Mr. Goodlad.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Weights and Measures

That the draft Weights and Measures (Various Foods) (Amendment) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 29th June, be approved.-- [Mr. Goodlad.]

Question agreed to.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Ordered,

That Mr. Peter Temple-Morris be discharged from the Foreign Affairs Committee and Mr. William Powell be added to the Committee. [Sir Marcus Fox, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]

PETITION

Kirklees and Bradford (Boundary Proposals)

9.38 am

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : I beg leave to present a petition signed by some 2,160 of my constituents in Batley and Spen, opposing the local government Boundary Commission proposals to move the boundary between Kirklees and Bradford to the line of the M62 motorway.

The main effect of the proposals would be to move the communities of Birkenshaw, East Brierley, Oakenshaw, Hartshead and Scholes from the Kirklees metropolitan district council to Bradford city council. That is not acceptable to the residents of the villages, or to others in my constituency who would be affected by the changes. The Boundary Commission for England cannot ignore


Column 651

historical and family ties when boundaries are drawn on maps. Local preference and tradition must be taken into consideration. Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House will request the Secretary of State for the Environment to reject the Boundary Commission proposals.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc. To lie upon the Table.


Column 652

Young Offenders (Secure Units)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Goodlad.]

9.39 am

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : I want to focus attention on a need that exists throughout the country, although I shall demonstrate it in the light of Welsh experience and a recent sad episode of which many hon. Members are aware. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) is here, as it involved his constituent.

I want to emphasise the need to ensure that 15 and 16-year-olds who are certified as unruly by a magistrates court should not go to prison. I shall argue the case and demonstrate that there is virtual unanimity in support of that argument. No one suggests that young people should not be punished. Much of the argument involves the type of secure accommodation that should be available for young people. I shall quote from the House of Commons Expenditure Committee which puts the case more clearly and effectively than I could : "We condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of certificates of unruliness as a means of achieving secure accommodation. We recommend that the practice of remanding young persons to adult prisons should cease forthwith ; alternative arrangements must be made."

It is clear and unequivocal and most of us would probably agree with it, but that report was published in 1975 and we are still waiting for action on it. We are still consulting on the problem in England and Wales 15 years on. The recent sad case illustrates the cost that is being incurred.

In the past 20 years, six 15 and 16-year-olds have died in prisons to which they should not have been sent. In the past couple of weeks, there was the youngest ever suicide in a prison in the United Kingdom. A 15-year-old, Philip Knight, committed suicide in Swansea prison. He should not have been there in the first place. He was sent there only because nowhere else could be found for him. There was no adequately secure place available at the time. There is a major gap in provision throughout the country ; in Wales it is a complete gap. We have just three small units, two of which have two cells each and the third has three cells. The Government have dismissed those units as unacceptable and suitable only for confining youngsters for a maximum of seven days.

The young lad who committed suicide had been in Swansea prison for three weeks. On the day he committed suicide, he had gone to court for sentencing. He and the prison authorities expected that that was the last he would see of the inside of Swansea prison. It was expected that he would be sent to suitable secure accommodation for young people aged 15 or 16. However, he was sent back to prison because no suitable accommodation could be found.

The hon. Member for Pembroke has asked whether he could have a few minutes of this Adjournment debate. I am willing to agree with that if he should catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, as the case involves his constituent. We all recognise that questions need to be asked. It is not for us to take over the coroner's role, but we should put down some markers.

The governor of the prison and his staff, the prison officers, were every bit as angry as the hon. Member for Pembroke and I that the young lad was sent to Swansea prison. In a broadcast that the prison governor and I did together and in other interviews, the prison governor has


Column 653

made it clear that prisons are not intended for young people of that age. In the past nine months there have already been two suicides at Swansea prison involving young offenders aged between 17 and 21, so it was the third suicide in that time, but the only one involving a youngster in that age group.

It is even sadder that the lad was still in prison although apparently he had made an attempt earlier to commit suicide. It seems that he had cut his wrists about a week before he eventually hanged himself. One is bound to ask with what he cut his wrists when he was supposed to be in a secure prison. What did he use, and why was it available? He then went to the prison hospital where there was an overnight guard because, as is normal in prisons, there was no overnight medical attendant. It has been suggested that the guard did not even have a key. I understand that, according to normal prison procedures, under special watch B, which involves a prisoner being watched every 15 minutes, a sealed package containing the key is available for whoever is on duty overnight, but it has been suggested that no key was available, yet the youngster had already made one attempt on his life and might have needed instant attention. In view of the immaturity of the boy, why was he not placed under special watch A, which involves constant supervision? Not only had the youngster attempted suicide in prison, but, according to reports, he was suspected of trying to commit suicide before he was even sent to prison. It has been suggested to me by people with great experience in the prison service that, although special watch A--the constant watch facility--is available in theory, it is virtually never used simply because it costs so much, the lack of resources and staffing levels. Yet constant supervision is essentially what a 15-year -old should have had after a suicide attempt when clearly he was in a severe emotional condition, having returned from court that day after sentencing and having expected not to be sent back to the prison.

I emphasise that the criticisms that I am making and the questions that I am asking relate to the system. I am not in any way pointing fingers at individuals. I received a sad letter from someone who retired from the prison service some time ago in which he said that even now, many years later, he still worries about suicides of adult prisoners within the prison and wonders whether more could have been done to save their lives. In this case we are entitled to ask why the system was not operating more efficiently. The individuals involved were operating the system as they were required to do, but it was not enough.

The tragic death of a youngster took place 15 years after the House of Commons Select Committee on Expenditure made its conclusive recommendation that youngsters under the unruliness certificate--that put Philip Knight into Swansea prison--should not be placed in prisons in future. An even sadder twist to the tale is that on 17 January 1989 the clerk to the magistrates in Haverfordwest, the area from which the young boy came, wrote to Dyfed county council and copied the letter to the Lord Chancellor and the Home Office. He did that because he knows that the scale of provision required would be too large for a county such as Dyfed to undertake. In that letter he said :

"It is highly desirable that secure accommodation be available so as to prevent the offender running away and sometimes even adding a further list of offences to those which he or she already faces."


Column 654

Referring to young offenders, the letter goes on :

"They are sometimes being committed to custodial sentences or remanded to remand centres or prisons in circumstances where perhaps a custodial sentence or remand would otherwise not have been ordered if secure residential council accommodation had been available." Therefore, that letter anticipated events and 18 months earlier the clerk to the magistrates in this lad's area had drawn the attention of the county, the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor to the gap in provision.

The Lord Chancellor's Department forwarded the correspondence to the Welsh Office which replied to the letter. The reply is dated 20 February 1989 and is from a Mr. B. J. Collins. It reads : "Your letter of 18 January addressed to the Lord Chancellor's Department and concerning secure accommodation in Dyfed has been passed to the Welsh Office for attention. Accordingly, we are currently undertaking a study of the scale and nature of secure accommodation in Wales."

That was more than a year and a half ago.

Yesterday I saw the Secretary of State for Wales and asked him about the result of that study. I had a telephone call from him just before I came into the Chamber. He told me that the study, which started 18 months ago, has now been completed, and a consultative document is with the directors of social services. Therefore, 15 years after the original Committee recommendation and 18 months after the attention of the Welsh Office, the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor had been drawn to the gap in provision, we have a consultative document. The result of that consultation is not expected before April 1991. One can hardly accuse anybody of undue haste in the way in which they are trying to deal with the problem. There is an appalling lack of urgency and almost a lack of awareness.

I had an incredible answer a week ago from the Welsh Office. On 19 July I was told by a Welsh Office Minister :

"We have not received any representations which call for the provision of a secure unit for young offenders."--[ Official Report, 19 July 1990 ; Vol. 176, c. 662. ]

That is despite having received the correspondence forwarded from the Lord Chancellor's Department and having allegedly set up a study 18 months ago.

That is what the hon. Member for Pembroke and I face in dealing with the problem in Wales. However, it is not just a Welsh problem, and that is why a Department of Health Minister has been courteous enough to attend the debate instead of his Welsh counterpart. The problem in Wales is reflected throughout the country.

In October 1989 the Minister for Health, the hon. Member for Surrey, South- West (Mrs. Bottomley), produced a discussion document. I am not criticising her because it was recognised long before her ministerial appointment that she had a keen interest in social need. She pursued that interest when she was appointed a Minister. The document was for England and Wales and was entitled "Secure Accommodation in Community Homes". The Government's policy is stated. They say :

"The Government accept that the use of secure accommodation remains necessary for a relatively small proportion of young people because they are a major risk to themselves or other people. The policy view of the Department is that the secure placement must be a last resort, never because no other placement is available at the relevant time." Yet Philip Knight was in Swansea prison because no other place was available at the relevant time.

The Government are trying to shuffle a responsibility that should be theirs on to the councils. There remains a legitimate Government interest in the extent of the


Column 655

national stock of secure accommodation in its scale and location. I do not think that any of us would dissent from that proposition. However, it runs contrary to some of the points that arise later in the document.

The Government are clear about the type of provision they recommend. They rule out the type of accommodation already available in Wales. They said :

"If greater impact is to be made in reducing the number of juveniles remanded to custody, secure facilities need to be made accessible for those parts of the country which are presently under resourced. Such new units should provide a minimum of eight places or multiples of eight and up to a maximum of 24 places."

The Government point to the inadequate nature of the small existing secure units which provide between two and six placces. There are many of those in England, but in Wales we have only units within the unacceptable category.

The document goes on to say that, because of the limitations of size, they provide a poor quality of life, inhibit the staff in providing the quality of care that they strive to attain and are totally unsuited to the task of holding young people for more than a limited period. That unsuitability is recognised by the seven-day rule that applies to holding people.

The accommodation that is condemned in the document is the only type of accommodation available in Wales. In fact, for other accommodation we have to go foraging in England, but England has its own problems of trying to find suitable accommodation for its young people. The Government say, "Because these units of eight are too big for one county council social services department's requirements, we need a multi-council approach." In the document, there is a long screed giving the reasons for a regional basis, a regional bed bank and regional databases. It says :

"The Department's Regional Social Services Inspectorate should play an active enabling role in bringing together local authorities within regions to develop coherent local strategy."

That is all very well, but the Government abandoned the regional approach in 1982.

We in Wales have to send our youngsters to England. Mid-Glamorgan sent four to England last year and still cannot place two youngsters. Clwyd uses Hindley, Gwent sometimes has to place young people as far away as county Durham, and of course there are Cardiff and Swansea prisons.

The point that emerges from the document is the uneven spread throughout England and Wales of units with a minimum of eight places, which the Government say we need. The Government will provide only capital grant aid, not running cost aid, and they are even withdrawing some of the capital aid for converting existing units. Far from being more helpful, they are being less helpful. The problem is exacerbated--I do not say this in a party- political sense because it is a financial reality--by the financial constraints of the poll tax. Authorities facing capping are reluctant to take on the capital and running-cost commitment of units whose occupancy rate is less than 80 per cent., yet the Government say, "We will not meet the running costs of these units because it is the responsibility of local authorities."

It is worth bearing in mind that it costs the Home Office about £1, 000 a week to keep a youngster in prison. It


Column 656

agrees with councils that they should not be in prison but says, "We want you to bear the cost of providing accommodation." Where is the legitimate Government interest in the national stock of accommodation and its location and in meeting the running costs of these units?

The Government emphasise in the document the need for central initiatives, central co-ordination and central planning provision, and although they can provide all those functions they are dodging their responsibility. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the Howard League for Penal Reform, prison governors, councils, social services departments and even common sense are against youngsters of this age group being kept in prison, yet 15 years after a categoric recommendation of a Select Committee we are still consulting and talking, and no one is doing anything. 10.3 am

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Minister for allowing me two or three minutes to raise the important case of Philip Knight, who hanged himself in Swansea prison on Friday 13 July.

Philip, who was 15, had been sentenced by the magistrates court and had arrived at prison earlier that day. He was seen alive at 9.30 pm but when he was seen again at 10 pm he was found hanging in his cell. Unfortunately, attempts to revive him failed and he was adjudged dead on arrival at Singleton hospital.

The bald facts of the tragic case of Philip Knight raise considerable worries about how young juvenile offenders are treated by the prison system and how potential suicide cases such as Philip Knight are supervised. As the right hon. Member for Swansea, West said, he had previously attempted to commit suicide by trying to slash his wrist. The first question that we must ask, although I recognise the difficulties for the prison service, is how young people and other prison inmates are assessed as a suicide risk and supervised when they arrive in prison.

The treatment of suicide-risk cases is set out in Home Office circular instruction 29/1989, which states that special procedures must be followed for a potential suicide or a high-risk suicide case. As the right hon. Gentleman said, this can be 30 minutes observation, 15 minutes observation or, in high-risk cases, continuous supervision.

The question that I want to ask on behalf of my late constituent's parents is, why was there not continuous supervision of Philip Knight as he had already attempted to commit suicide?

Circular instruction 20/1989 provides suitable instructions that should be followed by the prison service. It is of particular concern, first, that a youngster of this age should be in an adult prison and, secondly, that, given his history, he was not under supervision. I hope that the Home Office, in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Welsh Office, which is responsible for such matters in Wales, will seriously consider this case and any lessons that can be learned in the light of the coroner's inquest and what additional co-ordination is necessary to ensure that tragic cases do not occur in the future.

10.6 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Stephen Dorrell) : The issue raised by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and discussed


Column 657

by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) is of considerable importance for the treatment of young people charged with offences. The Government do not dispute the seriousness of the issues that they have raised.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, West began by quoting the report of a Select Committe in 1975, which emphasised the unsatisfactory nature of the certificate of unruliness procedure. The Select Committee recognised that juveniles on remand should not be committed to prison. That is not in dispute ; indeed, the Government are as committed as the Select Committee and the right hon. Gentleman to the phasing out of the remand of juveniles to prison department establishments as soon as resources permit. That statement of policy was made not in 1975, when the Government were not in a position to make a statement on policy, but in a report to Parliament on social services for children in England and Wales between 1979 and 1981. As a statement of policy, there is no division between the right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend and the Government. We are committed to the elimination of this admittedly unsatisfactory procedure.

Wherever possible, local authorities strive to provide accommodation within the child care system for alleged juvenile offenders on remand. In the present circumstances, however, that is not always practicable and, regrettably, some young people are remanded to a prison department establishment while awaiting trial or sentence. We acknowledge that this is the least desirable of all the options, and none of us would wish it to be used, except where no other option is viable.

Strict criteria govern the use of penal establishments for such people. Over the years, this route has been progressively closed to all remanded girls under 17 and boys under 15. Only juvenile males aged 15 and 16 can now be placed in penal establishments on remand. This is a significant advance on the position when the Select Committee reported in 1975. They must either have committed alleged offences carrying a maximum sentence of 14 years or more in the case of an adult or have been charged with a crime of violence or have a previous conviction for such a crime. I emphasise that the Government remain committed to the complete abolition of penal remand for juveniles as soon as resources permit.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke referred to the case of Philip Knight and cited it as an example of the continued operation of this admittedly unsatisfactory procedure. Clearly I cannot disagree in general terms with the proposition that Philip Knight should not, in an ideal world, have found himself admitted to the prison. The specific questions which have been asked about his case are the subject of an inquiry by Dyfed social services department, which will make a report to the social services inspectorate in Wales. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West recognises that it would be inappropriate for me to discuss any of the specific circumstances surrounding that tragic case.

In response to the points raised by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke, I should like to comment on the general development of policy in penal establishments in England and Wales for the reduction of the risk of inmates committing suicide. The prison service is constantly looking to improve its suicide prevention strategy. Present initiatives include a planned trial for the use of closed


Column 658

circuit television, the continuation of the family ties programme, a proposed experiment at Winchester prison in the use of card phones by remand prisoners and a pilot scheme to reduce routine censorship in category B establishments. The risk of suicide is acknowledged to be and clearly is a problem in penal establishments. Serious work is being done to eliminate the risk of people committing suicide, particularly juveniles, whom we acknowledge should not be there in the first place.

The core of the charge made by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West is perhaps summed up in his phrase that progress towards the achievement of the ideal objective defined by the Select Committee in 1975 has not been going forward with "undue haste". The right hon. Gentleman quoted the discussion documents issued by the Welsh Office and by my Department as evidence that we were more interested in talking about the problem than in resolving it. I do not accept that charge. To some extent, the right hon. Gentleman misses the point of the discussion documents.

He went on to say that the core of the problem is that the Government are not providing sufficient resources for the development of a network of secure units. The Government do not believe that the solution lies necessarily in the creation of more and more secure units. The discussion documents were directed to the questions of establishing the scale of need of secure units, how we can use the units that exist more effectively, and how we can eliminate the unnecessary remand of juveniles to them.

Mr. Alan Williams : I understand that. The hon. Gentleman stated the Government's policy in 1980-81, when they recognised that they wanted to end the imprisonment of these youngsters. Why did it take until October 1989 even to produce a consultative document?

Mr. Dorrell : As the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say, my hon. Friend the Minister for Health cannot be responsible for everything that was said and done in the intervening period. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman might welcome the fact that some serious work is being done and the commitment to address the problem to ensure that there are sufficient secure units across the country and that they are used effectively.

I should like to refer to the provisions in chapter 8 of the recent Home Office White Paper "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public" relating to young offenders. This noted the encouraging development in some parts of the country of bail support schemes offering close supervision of, and constructive work with, young people on remand on bail and expressed the Government's view that such schemes offer a valuable means of avoiding the undesirable effects of remanding a young person away from home.

The White Paper acknowledged also that the arrangements for remanding juveniles charged with criminal offences are unsatisfactory in certain respects. While falling short of proposing complete abolition of penal remand for juveniles, it suggested that the unruliness certification procedure would be replaced by a more stringent test for a remand in custody, which would be more closely related to the need to protect the public from the risk of serious harm or from repeated alleged offending.

I hope that I have been able to show the right hon. Member for Swansea, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke that there is no division of principle


Column 659

on these difficult issues, and that the Government are addressing them as substantial issues. Their importance is highlighted by the tragic events which have been brought to the attention of the House.


Column 660

Multi-fibre Arrangement

10.15 am

Sir John Farr (Harborough) : I should be remiss if I did not offer the congratulations of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) on his recent promotion. I understand that he is about to make his maiden speech in his new post. I hope that, in answering my points, he will bear it in mind that he has the good wishes of all hon. Members for a successful and long term in his important position. My hon. Friend is in a responsible position, because 500,000 jobs in the apparel industry are under threat because of the threatened abandonment by the Government of the multi-fibre arrangement.

In the past, my hon. Friend the Minister, with whom I have had several dealings, has always proved receptive to common sense. I hope that he can reassure me. As recently as 12 January this year, we had a full Friday's debate on the multi-fibre arrangement. It will be no surprise to him, therefore, that a number of hon. Members were disappointed with what we thought was the very ineffective view taken by the Government. Time has passed rapidly. On Tuesday this week, the final round of negotiations began in Geneva, and we are still not satisfied that the Government's voice, which is part of the voice of the 12 EEC nations, has been heard. We are still not convinced that the Government are aware of the critical importance, if there is to be an apparel manufacturing industry in Britain, of not throwing out the window what we have in the MFA.

Hon. Members are not prepared to accept a whitewash. Experts among Opposition and Conservative Members are not prepared to accept something that is not as stringent as the MFA. Half a million United Kingdom jobs are involved, including 2,800 in my constituency, which is a trivial number compared with the numbers in other

constituencies. The future of the 500,000 jobs in the United Kingdom, and a total of 5 million jobs in Europe, will be decided by the EC's posture in this round of negotiations, which is to terminate in December.

I remind the House that, at the moment, the inustry is protected by MFA 3. From what I have heard in the House and in answers to questions, the Government unfortunately appear to be committed to the dismantling of the MFA, despite warnings from all sides. It is said--I hope that the Minister will by now be able to tell me that I am wrong--that the Government are leading that school of thought in the EC negotiating team that not only calls for the scrapping of the MFA but would allow that to be done without ensuring suitable safeguards in GATT following the ending of the arrangement.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me that I am wrong? I know of no hon. Member on either side of the House who has not heard from his constituents that the multi-fibre arrangement or something equally strong is absolutely essential to the continuance of full employment and to Britain's massive industry. If the MFA has to go, it must be replaced with GATT regulations that are just as strong. For far too long, the industry has suffered from distorted conditions of international trade. We have been made to appear the bad man of Europe. We have suffered from illegal subsidies, dumping, the closure of potential markets and the theft of intellectual achievements.


Column 661

As a major exporting industry, with overseas sales worth £4 billion in 1989, we favour freedom of trade, provided that that freedom is mutual and not one sided. Unless the Uruguay round of GATT negotiations results in real success in demolishing such trade distorting practices, there can be no question of the multi-fibre arrangement being phased out or even weakened.

If the negotiations are, indeed, finally successful, the Government and the European Community as a whole are committed to accepting an eventual phase- out of the multi-fibre arrangement. What worries me is that the Government appear to be giving support for an

unrealistically short transition period. [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] My hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) and for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) are also worried. A substantial weakening of the multi-fibre arrangement is to take place almost immediately. That appears to be acceptable to the Government but I can assure the Minister that it is totally unacceptable to hon. Members.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate. Does he agree that even if proper safeguards are obtained and incorporated within the GATT rules, it would be wholly unacceptable to all of us if the MFA were phased out in less than seven years? Does he agree that that is the absolute minimum?

Sir John Farr : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has long been a great supporter of textiles and who has done much for his constituents in this respect. Of course, seven years is the minimum. The hon. Gentleman touches on another of my fears. I have it on good authority- -I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does, too--that the Government are pressing for a short transitional period from a strong MFA to something unknown, devised under GATT. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support.

Another of my worries is that the United States Congress is ready to pass into law a Bill to control textile and clothing imports, including those from the United Kingdom and the EC. If the Geneva negotiations are unsatisfactory, the Bill will undoubtedly be introduced in the United States, as it was passed by a large majority in the Senate on Tuesday last week.

I wish to deal with another important matter--what is known as linkage. As I said, the industry is concerned that in the Uruguay round too much concern is being shown for wider interests such as agriculture and services and too little regard is paid to jobs in Britain, especially in the apparel industry. We are facing the prospect of a commitment to phase out the MFA without achieving statisfactory improvements in GATT rules and disciplines in line with the Punta del Este declaration, which launched the round in 1986. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have stressed linkage as a crucial element more congently and ably than I can. But I should warn my hon. Friend the Minister that our bottom line is that, in the absence of effective linkage being achieved, there cannot and must not be any commitment to weaken, let alone phase out, the MFA. With the MFA abolished and without effective safeguards plus an effective anti-dumping code plus an effective clamp on

trade-distorting Government subsidies, a further major cut in the current employment level of 480,000 in the United Kingdom textiles, knitting and


Next Section

  Home Page