HC Deb 06 November 1961 vol 648 cc624-33


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question[31st October:]

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:—

Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.— [Sir R. Robinson.]

Question again proposed.

3.38 p.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

As I was about to say on Friday, there are certain matters which my constituents wish to bring to the attention of the Government and this House, and in due course they will expect a reply from the Government. Let me say at once that I am grateful for the courtesy of the Opposition, to whom I have spoken, and also for the telephone call which I had from the Patronage Secretary this morning. I think that the subjects which my constituents have asked me to bring before the House are probably in the minds of a great many hon. Members.

My constituents ask, first, for a clear statement of Britain's position over atomic tests, Berlin, and disarmament— a clear statement; secondly, the restatement of Britain's policy towards the export trade and legislation against the unofficial striker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]; thirdly, a decision about building a new city of 60,000 people in my constituency at Dawley, and fourthly, the need to appoint a Parliamentary Commissioner and a Parliamentary Committee for Private Petitions for aggrieved citizens.

As for atomic tests, no doubt many hon. Members will have received from Women's Institutes and all the women's organisations in their constituencies letters concerning radioactive fall-out. Indeed, in Shropshire and in Wales there is additional concern because of the radioactive fall-out on high ground. I have, therefore, reread Ministerial statements, including those of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence and, as I understand the situation, there is absolutely no danger from the effects of atomic bomb tests so far to any of the things that we would eat or drink, including milk and fish.

My constituents believe that the Government's position on atomic tests is as follows. In no circumstances will the British Government undertake further atomic tests until there has been a further effort to negotiate with the Soviet Union and the United States. They also believe that the British Government will resume tests only if it is clearly proved beyond doubt that the Soviet Union has obtained a major security break-through with anti-missile missiles.

Many constituents have written to ask me, and it has also been asked in the House, why Mr. Khrushchev and the Soviet Government decided to break their word and conduct their recent series of atomic tests. It appears to me that Mr. Khrushchev took this action to impress his own "Pentagon", certain of his own Army leaders and the anti-West negotiation lobby inside the Kremlin. Therefore, when Prime Minister Chou en-Lai was told that Mr. Khrushchev intended to reopen negotiations with the United States and Great Britain he packed his bags and went straight back to Pekin.

I believe, therefore, there can be no possible excuse for the United States to need to test any atomic weapons in the air at this moment when negotiations are about to reopen. My responsible constituents feel that it is the clear duty of Her Majesty's Government to open negotiations forthwith with the United States and the Soviet Union on atomic tests for an interim ban agreement.

As for Berlin and disarmament, we ought to remember that Mr. Khrushchev, at least, knows something about the world outside the Soviet Union. How many others among those in power in the Kremlin know anything about the rest of the world? In these circumstances, therefore, we ought to push on with negotiations, because it would be disastrous if we failed to negotiate now and another Stalin arrived in the Soviet Union.

To turn to the export trade, the Soviet Union and Communist China have been in this market for a long time. They have been busy in our traditional markets and we have been doing business with them. The main impact from Communist trade techniques is yet to come. Surely the loss of major world markets either to these political manoeuvres or to our competitors could be just as dangerous to our economic survival as any radioactive fall-out.

I have to declare my interest in this matter. I work for an export firm in the City and, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin, I represent a large group of major British industries in the Midlands. Here is an extract from a letter typical of those which I am now receiving from industrialists in the Midlands. My correspondent writes: I feel absolutely certain that I am speaking also for the majority of businessmen who have attempted or succeeded in obtaining export business, if I tell you that their feeling towards the Government is one of barely contained rage. We have had ten years of Conservative Government, during which time very little has been done to encourage a dynamic attitude towards exports. Such phrases as "Export Joy", "Exporting is fun", indicate the remoteness of the Government to the difficulties and dangers involved.

Hon. Members

Come over here.

Mr. Yates

We had an example recently of an hon. Member opposite coming over to this side of the House.

My correspondent continues: My own company's experience of exporting, and I am sure that this is shared by many other businessmen, is that the selling expenses are much higher, the selling prices are much lower, the credit taken by customers much longer, and the risks much greater than in trading in the home market. If the businessman is going to take the risks of trying to export, then either he must be protected against loss, or the reward for successful exporters must be increased.…I would like to add finally, however, that it should not be necessary for initiative of this sort to come from businessmen. We have a right to look for courageous and dynamic leadership from a Conservative Government. I then turn to the Gracious Speech and find the following statement: They"— that is, the Government— will seek to strengthen the balance of payments by the measures already announced, including especially the vigorous promotion of exports. I want to know what that means.

Does it mean that the British Government will now sponsor more trade fairs throughout the world? Does it mean that the British Government will increase the number of staffs of commercial attaches in embassies throughout the world? Does it mean that they intend to revise the whole credit system for exports? Does it mean that they are to consider export incentive taxation regulations? What does it mean?

I shall require an explanation, and so will the leading industrialists of the Midlands require it, from the Government before the end of the debate. However, I do not want to be too uncharitable. We all realise that the E.C.G.D. is doing a valuable service for the exporter. We also realise that the new matching policy which E.C.G.D. now allows businessmen is a valuable contribution to the battle for long-term credit.

When I returned from Iraq—and this has been confirmed by industrialists in my constituency—I had the impression from both the Board of Trade and the Treasury that the British Government will not get themselves involved in credit or subsidy battles to help the small exporter. Do the Government understand that this is precisely the field of battle on which world trade is now taking place and that it is selected not only by the Communists, but also by our European competitors? I am assured that there is a feeling of savage frustration among many of our smaller exporting firms in the Midlands. It therefore behoves me, after having seen them, to make some suggestions to the Government.

Will the Government kindly, and at once, form a committee drawn from exporting firms, the T.U.C., the E.C.G.D., the Treasury and the Board of Trade and examine without delay the intensive export methods adopted by France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, and thereafter recommend a system which would benefit our exporters in Britain?

Nevertheless, it is not fair for industry to use the Government as a whipping boy for the entire time. From experience abroad, there is no doubt that from time to time British firms fail their customers. Indeed, I have had the opportunity of reading some of the letters of complaint. The sort of "could not care less" or "take it or leave it" attitude, in some cases, as in Kuwait, is very serious and frightens me, but I regret that, in general, the prime cause for the failure to honour a contract to our suppliers abroad is due to an industrial dispute, and almost invariably to an unofficial strike.

The Opposition need not think that I am going to be uncharitable towards the unions. I want to strengthen them. They have had plenty of time in the last ten years to assert their authority, but it is clear to some of us in industry that they are easily outwitted by trained Communist agitators. I want the power of the unions increased at all levels—on the floor and in the wage negotiating machinery at national level. It is time that the Government paid further attention to this at once.

I cannot think why the Government have been so long in appointing a Royal Commission to examine trades union law and practice in the late twentieth century. Surely, after the E.T.U. case it was abundantly clear that this was necessary. If the Government do not think it necessary, there are those whom I know who think it is. I am, therefore, anxious for certain alterations to be made in the law, which I believe would strengthen the hands of the unions, and, indeed, of the employers.

I should like to see a law passed, which laid it down that the election of any union official who had been before a court and judged to be a person who either created an industrial strike or was responsible for a breach of contract, be declared void on application to the courts either by the union or by the employer. This is a sensible way of dealing with the problem. It means that when the employer comes across a man whom he and the trade unions know to be responsible for causing trouble, it will be possible for the employer to take him before a court and obtain a copy of the record written of the judgment that he was, in fact, guilty of causing an industrial strike or breach of contract.

Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)

That is what they do in Russia.

Mr. Yates

It does not matter what they do in Russia. The object is to strengthen the hands of the unions and of employers. Far too many strikes in this country are caused by people who have no loyalty to the working man or to Britain.

I leave that suggestion for the Government to think about. No employer wants to claim damages for breach of contract by one of these people, but he does want it laid down in the judgment of a court that he was responsible. Finally, I do not think that any strike can be, or should be, termed a "legal strike" until it has been approved by secret ballot by those who wish to strike. The Government ought to bring in a law which lays down that all strikes will be legal only after a secret ballot has taken place.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman say what action he advocates for dealing with a lock-out? What action would he take to prevent employers breaking conditions without notice to workers, and what action should result?

Mr. Yates

The hon. Gentleman is one of our greatest lawyers. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the law of contract permits a union, or a man with help, to bring an action against an employer, but it does not allow an employer to bring an action against a union. Is that correct?

Mr. Hale

It will take a long time to answer that. The hon. Gentleman said that no one wants to bring a collective action for damages. The reasons are obvious. Doing this only ferments more trouble. The unions are in a similar position about bringing an action for damages through individual members, or a thousand of them, against an employer, and face as much difficulty. There must be justice on both sides.

Mr. Yates

I am not seeking to put this forward in any party spirit. I do not believe that party matters should enter our industrial disputes. We must try to improve the position as soon as we can for the good of the country.

Now I must deal with the Minister of Housing and Local Government. When will he come to a decision about building a new town at Dawley for 60,000 people? It has been under consideration for two years. Surveyors have been there all summer. Why cannot my right hon. Friend give a decision? Surely the survey reports must be complete.

Our point of view about receiving the Birmingham overspill is simple. We welcome the people from Birmingham. We hope that they will be as happy as those who have already come from Birmingham and are working in our industries, but, if we are to have a new city, may we please have some of Birmingham's industry with it? We do not want the Birmingham rate money left behind.

I ask the Government to give this matter consideration almost at once. How is my right hon. Friend to manage this new city with the roads one finds in Shropshire, with no by-passes at Hadley, Dawley and Newport, and heavy export traffic going up the main roal, which is so narrow at Cold Hatton? Surely all these supply problems must be dealt with.

It is all very well for the Transport Commission to paint Wellington Station in advance of this new arrival. It is a valuable thing to do, but why cannot the Transport Commission do something for the station staff who work in offices which look as though they were erected in 1894? I ask the Transport Commission and the Government to think about the railway problem if we are to have a new city.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that in the Dawley area he has brought local government to a halt? It is paralysed until a decision is taken on this matter, and it is unfar to the local authorities to keep them waiting so long.

I now deal with the Minister's wider planning powers, and, indeed, the ever extending powers of the Executive and all Government Departments. This is best described by Mr. Utley, in his book "Occasion for Ombudsman", when he says: …the life of society which falls under the authority of the executive has tended rapidly to increase, and there is no evidence that this process, in spite of some interruptions, is coming to an end. Hence, the increasing demand that Britain should build up and enforce a code of administrative behaviour. My conscience is sometimes troubled by some Government actions. I have already got three people out of mental institutions, and I am very doubtful whether two of them ought ever to have been there. I find that there are sometimes serious troubles in local government because a local authority or an official has taken a certain action for which a constituent has no means of obtaining redress. "The Chalk Pit Case" in Essex, is a fine example of this, and I am also wondering what the Minister of Housing and Local Government makes of headlines in this Birmingham newspaper saying, "Democracy Itself Must Be In Peril".

Counsel, complaining about one of the Minister's decisions, is reported as saying: I say that because the history of this case has demonstrated beyond doubt, and it must be realised in the Ministry, that where the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is concerned democratic administration is dead, not mourned by the Minister's predecessor, but killed by his own Ministry. If this sort of thing is being said about the Government and the Executive it must in the long run bring the Government and this House into contempt. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, not us, perhaps, but the Government, certainly —or even us, for not taking sufficient action. Headlines like this cannot do the Government or Parliament any good whatever.

The Government have said that they are waiting for the Report of Sir John Whyatt. I have it here, so they need not wait any longer. I suggest that they should make a start, at the end of this debate, by considering the appointment of a Committee drawn from the Government, the Civil Service and the judiciary. I can see no reason why the Report's recommendation for the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner, on the same lines as the Comptroller and Auditor-General, should not be put into operation.

In addition, I feel that such a Parliamentary Commissioner should report only to a Committee of this House, known as the Committee for Private Petitions, and that petitions should be brought to the Parliamentary Commissioner or to us, or to a Member of the other place, for investigation. People may say, "What you are trying to do is to get at the Civil Service by having inquiries like this." The Civil Service need have no anxiety about the Parliamentary Commissioner. The system has worked very well in other countries. I understand that such an office will be introduced into the Parliament of New Zealand.

I have already referred to the chalk pit case. In a letter written on 9th September or thereabouts three gentlemen wrote to The Timessuggesting that the Minister was withholding evidence which they required to bring before the tribunal. Should not the people who wrote that letter be sued for libel, or the people be told whether the Minister is suppressing evidence?

The Birmingham Post,reporting on another case, printed the headline, "Secrecy About Reports 'Deplored'". We shall get no confidence in Government or Ministerial Departments until we can clear up some of the feeling that secrecy exists between various Government departments. Therefore, I feel that it is time the Government turned their attention to the question whether the office of Parliamentary Commissioner should be instituted.

I echo the most interesting conclusion of Lord Shawcross when he writes: I venture to express the earnest hope that those concerned with these matters will give it early and favourable consideration and that before too long a time has elapsed we may see a Bill embodying the proposals made here on its way to the Statute Book, there helping to reconcile the needs of organised society with the rights, liberties and privileges of the ordinary individual. It must be the work of every back bencher here and now to use all his energies to push this through against those who are in favour of official bureaucratic organisations.

In conclusion, I want to express one or two general ideas. There is no doubt that the Conservative Party and the Government have made a break-through to a new political philosophy. On many occasions we have noticed, in Government speeches, and in Conservative speeches throughout the country, the right sort of thoughts, expressing the right sort of approach to the problems that we have to face, but very often those thoughts are not put into action, or they are thwarted. Some people have suggested to me that the administrative machine is now so powerful that some members of the Government who are supposed to be the political heads of their Departments are unable to put into action the policies they talk about, which are decided by the Cabinet.

If it is true that the power of the bureaucracy or the officials is such that Government policy is being obstructed by them, the Prime Minister should take immediate steps to see that the forward-thinking policies of the younger generation are put into operation. I know that some may say, "You cannot retire So-and-So, because he has done very well, and he has only four years to go for his pension." In my view, he should be given a lump sum and told to go, because he is obstructing Government policy.

I am not happy with the Treasury. One of the greatest difficulties the Government are facing is the fact that too much power is in the hands of too few Treasury officials. Anyway, having spoken to responsible Conservative industrialists and to ordinary Conservatives in my constituency, I can tell the Government that they see these things going wrong and want the Government to put them right. I shall go through the Lobby in support of the Government, trusting them to put these matters right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is better to go willingly, anyway. I am prepared to trust the Government.

I was impressed by the article written by Field Marshal Montgomery, on defence. I am not sure that we are using our manpower correctly. There is too much power on paper. It seems to me that paper empires are being built. It could not do much damage if the new C.I.G.S., together with Field Marshal Montgomery and others, had a good look at our manpower situation and considered where it is being used in our Armed Forces. I therefore ask that the deficiencies in our security organisation which were so lamentably shown up in July, are put right, together with the deficiencies in the Army of the Rhine. I am prepared to stand by the Government until they do this, but I can tell them that the British people are saying, "Gentlemen, make amends or pack your bags."

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