As the hon. Gentleman is aware. the whole report is now before the House. He is also aware that it will be debated in the House before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy makes his decision.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the sentences that were passed in the Ealing vicarage case not only fall short of the guidelines laid down by the Lord Chief Justice, but also very much fly in the face of the way in which the public show their revulsion of such crimes? Will my right hon. Friend and her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary examine the present Criminal Justice Bill and consider how that can be strengthened to give effect to Lord Lane's proposals?
I am sure that the whole House shares my hon. Friend's deep concern about the dreadful crime of rape. As he knows, it is the Government's task to ensure that sufficient maximum sentences are available for the courts to deal with these matters. I think my hon. Friend is also aware that clause 29 of the Criminal Justice Bill before the House allows the Attorney-General to seek leave to refer to the Court of Appeal cases which seem to him to raise issues of public importance. This is intended to enable proper sentencing standards to be maintained. A similar clause has been before Parliament before, but that was lost in another place, greatly to our regret. We undertook to bring a similar clause hack before the House. That can now be found in the Criminal Justice Bill and it will allow the House the opportunity to secure sentencing guidelines laid down by the Court of Appeal.
I agree very broadly with the Prime Minister's comments about the sentences. I simply offer the view that, while it is necessary for judges to remain detached in the name of the law, sometimes they show an insenstitivity to the suffering of victims which is difficult to comprehend.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Democratic Members of the United States House of Representatives who unanimously condemned the United States nuclear test in the Nevada desert on Tuesday? Will she convey to President Reagan the regret and opposition felt by many in this country to the United States making that test? In the course of doing that, will she invite the Soviet Union to extend its 18-month moratorium on testing? Will she communicate with General Secretary Gorbachev and urge him not to make a precipitate response by resuming testing?
First, with regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the matter of rape and sentences for it, I must point out that in January 1985, in the debates on what is now the Prosecution of Offences Act, both the Opposition and the alliance voted solidly to oppose our proposal to enable lenient sentences to be referred to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney-General. I take it from what the right hon. Gentleman says that this time they will support clause 29 of the Criminal Justice Bill. [Interruption.] I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not like facts. He finds them embarrasing.
With regard to the United States underground nuclear testing, I point out that the United States, like the United Kingdom, sees substantial difficulties over verification before we can get a full, comprehensive test ban treaty. I understand that the arrangement agreed at Reykjavik was for a step-by-step approach to nuclear testing, and that should go by way of ratifying the threshold test ban treaty and the treaty on peaceful nuclear explosions.
May I first say — [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The right hon. Lady will want to reflect on the use to which she put the previous question, which I thought was a matter of common view among us. Notwithstanding her efforts to make party points out of what is —[Interruption.] The fact remains that the clause in the Prosecution Offences Act would not have had the bearing that I presume the right hon. Lady would want it to have on this kind of case.
May I say to the Prime Minister [HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] As the test undertaken on Tuesday was obviously outside the laboratory, has the right hon. Lady sought assurances from President Reagan that it was not connected with the star wars project, and therefore not in breach of the strict interpretation of the ABM treaty, which once again last week was wisely and strongly endorsed by the Foreign Secretary?
I have said that the essential item in the comprehensive test ban treaty is verification. I have part of the ABM treaty in front of me. Interpretation of it must be a matter for the parties who signed it. It is they who are best at interpreting it.
Will my right hon. Friend consider that the people of Scotland have enjoyed for the past 10 years responsible changes in the licensing laws not enjoyed by people of England and Wales? Will she acknowledge that the recent filibuster of a private Member's Bill to change the law in England and Wales did not represent the will of the House? Could she ask her business managers to allow a little more time to allow this modest Bill to go through the House?
Has the Prime Minister seen reports that senior figures in the United States Administration are pressing for an early decision to deploy part of the star wars system? As the Prime Minister has rightly and frequently endorsed the original, narrow definition of the ABM treaty, will she take every possible action to dissuade President Reagan from listening to the advice from those who seem determined to wreck the ABM treaty and kill the chance of an early summit meeting?
There is no reason to think that any decisions on deployment of SDI are imminent, and it is perfectly legitimate., I understand, under the treaty to go ahead with SDI research while arms reductions are negotiated. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that new systems are dealt with under agreed statement D attached to the treaty and signed by both sides.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this week a visiting Soviet delegation announced concessions that the Soviets are prepared to make on human rights, and they are most welcome? Does she agree that one of the main reasons for the concessions is that the West is insisting on remaining strong in defence and developing the strategic defence initiative?
Yes. I think that the fact that the West is staying absolutely strong in defence is bringing about many changes in the approach of the Soviet Union. Also, the Soviet Union has considerable internal difficulties which may be leading it to make some changes in areas such as human rights, where, otherwise, we have not got very far in previous years.
As the Prime Minister is on record as having said that she would be prepared to press the nuclear button, does she not think that it would have been more honest if, in the Government film to be circulated to our schools, she had appeared personally and repeated that? Does she not agree that millions of our people are deeply angry about the use of taxpayers' money to brainwash our schoolchildren with blatant party political propaganda?
I am coming to that.
A nuclear deterrent that has been the best peace policy of this century would not be a deterrent unless those in charge were prepared to press that button. It would not have been a deterrent in any previous Government who had it either. The hon. Gentleman wants to abandon the nuclear deterrent. We will not do that. Secondly, that film is not a party political film. It is a film on Government information—[Interruption.]
When the Prime Minister visits Moscow next month and meets Mr. Gorbachev, will she stand firm in her resolve to achieve peace through multilateral, rather than unilateral, disarmament? Will she also take the opportunity to point out to Mr. Gorbachev that the Soviet Union's record on individual human rights leaves much to be desired?
Yes, I shall be discussing with Mr. Gorbachev the prospects for arms reductions. Unilateral disarmament, which is the policy of the Labour party, would remove any incentive for the Russians to negotiate as well as expose this country's security to grave risks.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament would expose Britain to grave risks and abolish the nuclear deterrent, which has been the best peace policy for 40 years.
With regard to my hon. Friend's other comments, I shall, as in past discussions, have human rights issues very much in mind and raise them with the Soviet Government.
Is the right hon. Lady aware, in the light of Monday's debate on the Royal Navy, in which hon. Members from both sides condemned the disappearance of the merchant fleet, that the intention of the Secretary of State for Transport to increase light dues on merchant vessels and fishing boats is regarded with the gravest concern and may well be the death knell for what remains of the Merchant Navy? Does she agree that that is a real danger to national security?
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement on this matter some weeks ago because he was concerned about having sufficient officers and men in the merchant marine. He therefore made three proposals which will help to secure that end. I may also point out to the right hon. Gentleman, because we are often asked to reintroduce the 100 per cent. first-year capital allowances, that in fact the flagging out of the Merchant Marine came while we had those allowances.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports today that the Labour party has joined the Liberal party and the SDP — [Interruption.] — and re-affirmed its intention of making large numbers of home buyers pay much more for their mortgages? Is this not yet further evidence — [Interruption.] —that only the Conservative party and the Conservative Government will protect the interests of home buyers?
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. The Conservative party and Government are now the only people who do not want to limit in any way the present system of mortgage interest tax relief for home buyers.
Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that as a result of the raid on BBC Scotland the special branch now has in its possession a BBC memo that says the programmes made by Duncan Campbell would not damage the national interest and that there was no possibility of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act? Will the Prime Minister further acknowledge that, after the meetings between Duncan Campbell and the Attorney General, his attention was drawn to the fact that Duncan Campbell did not in any way want to damage the national interest, as the Attorney General requested? Consequently, Duncan Campbell acted in a responsible manner, and it is the Government who have acted irresponsibly.
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the police properly obtained the search warrant from the courts, which decided that it should issue it. With regard to any material taken away by the police, its use and decisions on any prosecutions are matters for the prosecuting authorities, not for the Government.
You will recall that there was a debate on Tuesday into the matter of the warrant which was issued for the search of the BBC premises in Glasgow. There emerged in that debate a very sharp difference of opinion between the Solicitor-General for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Scotland as to the involvement of the Law Officers and the duty they had in respect of the issue of that warrant.
This clash and difference of view is still unresolved and was very evident during the course of those exchanges. The Lord Advocate yesterday in another place made a statement which made it clear that, in his view, the Secretary of State for Scotland was wrong in his opinions, and confirmed the views expressed by the Lord Advocate. It seems to me to be a very unsatisfactory situation that matters of fundamental importance and of great public concern should have been ventilated in another place and should have arisen directly out of a debate in this House when Members of this House have no opportunity of probing or examining the principal actors in that dispute. As there is no sign of a statement from Ministers, may we have your help and advice on how we can get at these important issues?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that it is fair to point out that my noble Friend the Lord Advocate in another place, when expressly asked, confirmed that in his view there was no disparity between what he said and what I or my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland had said.
The Lord Advocate perhaps did not read the debate as carefully as did hon. Members. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the Secretary of State for Scotland—I use this as just a representative quote — said:
the width of any warrant sought is a matter not for the police or for the Lord Advocate but for the courts.
Clearly, throughout his speech, he was trying to imply that there was no ministerial involvement, while the Solicitor-General for Scotland said that the Lord Advocate was
there to ensure that … the warrant … does not go beyond what is required."— [Official Report, 3 February 1987; Vol. 109, c. 852–57.]
It is clear from that that there is a complete incompatibility of view as to the duty of the Law Officers between the Secretary of State and the Solicitor-General. If — I make this point because it is important—the Solicitor-General is correct and there was a direct ministerial responsibility in the hands of the Law Officers, the way in which that warrant was drafted, and the very different way in which it was drafted in Scotland as against England, lies at the heart of the public controversy and alarm, and the House should, in the form of a statement from the relevant Ministers, have a chance to debate it.
Order. It cannot be further to that point of order. The point of order was put to me and I was prepared to answer it, but in my place the Secretary of State for Scotland volunteered a comment. I allowed a response. There can be nothing further to that point of order.
On a new point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was clearly under the impression that you prefaced your remarks to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Carscadden (Mr. Dewar) by asking whether his point of order arose out of questions and he said that it did. As it is quite obvious that it did not arise out of questions, was that not an abuse of the so-called point of order? Indeed, some of us on the Back Benches would never get away with that, so why did the hon. Gentleman?
I think that it did arise out of the previous question. If I ask an hon. Member whether his point of order arises directly out of questions and he says that it does, in honour I accept that, and I believe that that point of order did so arise.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do I understand that your ruling means that when you ask an hon. Member whether his point of order arises out of questions, provided that it arises out of questions that day, last week or some other Question Time, it becomes in order? Or does that apply only to the Front Benches?
Let me spell it out clearly to the House. I take points of order immedately after questions if they arise as a result of questions. Otherwise, I take them after any applications under Standing Order No. 20.
Order. Would the hon. Gentleman kindly look at me please? May I make one other comment which I think the whole House should have reaffirmed? Points of order must be matters on which I can rule. With all charity to the hon. Gentleman, I am not responsible by any stretch of the imagination for what any judge at the Old Bailey may say.
I have never sought to go against your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Therefore, the point that I am putting to you for your ruling is as follows. How can this House pass legislation about sentencing when our judges live in a different world?
Yes. You will have heard the Prime Minister speak about the defence policy of the Labour party as unilateral disarmament. It is not that: it is unilateral nuclear disarmament. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you are sensitive about the wording that can be used in the House. If the Prime Minister or any Conservative Member uses that term again, would it be in order to call them liars?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the word liar is unparliamentary. Unilateral disarmament or unilateral nuclear disarment are not unparliamentary terms.