§ [FIRST DAY]
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
I beg to move, 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.Although it is more than 20 years since I exhausted the indulgence of the House as a maiden speaker, I hope that today I may ask for a revival of a little of that indulgence, because this is the first time that a Member for Coventry has had the honour of moving this Motion. The honour of doing so at the opening of this historic Parliament is one of which Coventry's three Members will be equally sensible. It is, above all, an honour for the city itself—that proverbial city which is as famous for its fortitude in war as it is for its energies in peace.
Coventry is a city of tradition married to change, and its radical reformers reach from Lady Godiva to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Lady Godiva, it will be recalled, was an early taxation reformer who took drastic action against the odious taxes of Leofric. My right hon. Friend's rating measures, touched on in the Gracious Speech, will, I am sure, be at least as effective, even though they will not be quite so dramatic.
Perhaps I may refer in this connection to three of my predecessors whose qualities have benefited the nation as much as the City of Coventry. The first is the little known William Williams, who sat as a radical for Coventry in the early part of the last century. He was a courageous Nonconformist who championed Catholic emancipation, who defended the Midland Chartists and who then, when they were in gaol stricken with cholera, took care of them and tended them personally. He also voted for a Government grant to the Maynóoth Seminary for Irish priests.
I am sorry to say that for that courageous act he lost his seat at the following 50 election, though later his remorseful constituents presented him with a silver salver weighing 240 ounces and an illuminated address in which they referred to his defeat as "this undeserved requital". However, the Coventry Herald of the day took the more prosaic view that Mr. Williams had lost the contest because his canvass only began on the actual day of the election. However that may be, William Williams set an outstanding example of tolerance, which has remained a tradition of the city ever since.
It is no accident that Coventry, situated at the heart of England and with a history reaching back to Saxon times, should have welcomed, and, in turn, been enriched, by the men and women who, from the 1920s onwards, came from the depressed areas of the North, from Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and later from the Commonwealth. Nor is it an accident that Coventry should have been the first city in Britain to appoint a coloured policeman—and, more than that, to treat it as a matter of course.
Among Coventry's varied representatives—and I refer to him with a little diffidence—I must mention A. E. W. Mason, the novelist, who sat in the 1906 Parliament. He entered politics with enthusiasm—and left with alacrity. Parliament, he said, was too noisy and politics too fatiguing. So he joined an expedition to the South Pole.
There remains, more durably, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker), who represented Coventry from 1929 to 1931. To have been represented by a Nobel Peace Prize winner must add lustre to any constituency. My right hon. Friend has dedicated his life to the cause of peace and to upholding a system of international law. His work at the League of Nations and later for the United Nations will be fresh in everybody's mind. I think it appropriate to recall it this afternoon, in the light of the efforts of Her Majesty's Government for peace in Vietnam and to restore the rule of law in Rhodesia.
Coventry's concern for peace is natural in a city which has been so deeply wounded by war. It is fitting that the theme of the cathedral should be "Peace, unity and reconciliation". This theme, expressed in the setting of the cathedral's magnificent architecture, has made the 51 city and the cathedral a place of pilgrimage from all over the world. The cathedral also has a chapel which is dedicated to work, since Coventry is, above all, a working city—a city of engineers making motor cars, machine tools and aeroengines. It is a city of 100 different trades whose industrialists—and I mean craftsmen as well as employers—are very proud of their skills and crafts.
It was the ribbon trade which was once Coventry's staple industry and which inspired the proverb, "True as Coventry blue". Later, that proverb came to be shortened to "true blue". The term "true blue" acquired, and lost, a number of political associations. But Coventry quality still remains a standard of excellence wherever good workmanship is expected.
Nor can I end my references to the city without speaking of the trade unions and its remarkable civic leaders. With the inspiration of Labour's pioneers, the trade unions have now, after many battles, become an established part of the city's life. From their ranks have sprung many of those who have played a leading part in building the new Coventry where, appropriately enough, the Belgrade Theatre stands as near neighbour of the Coventry College of Technology.
The old Coventry still bore traces of the dark side of the Industrial Revolution, and I am particularly glad that during the course of the second Indusrial Revolution it is the Government's purpose consciously to avoid the carelessness and neglect of human values which occurred so much in the last century. Already, the new techniques of industry are changing the very appearance of our factories. The computer, the transistor and the numerical control machine have added new dimensions to our faculties.
In the past, technical progress meant human hardship, and the Luddite reaction of some workers who resisted the technical change was understandable. It is to the credit of this House and of the Government that the Redundancy Payments Act has removed a major fear of industrial change. Now the way is open for the exciting advances which are inherent in the National Plan. It will require an alliance of Government, 52 employers and workers alike to make it a really National Plan, and I am sure, therefore, that the Government's proposals will be generally welcomed.
The complexity of modern industry demands, also, that we should co-operate in industrial progress with our friends and allies in the United States, in the Commonwealth and in Europe as well. Our bonds with the Commonwealth remain strong. Indeed, their strength is assured by the Commonwealth tours undertaken by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip—both those successfully accomplished and those yet to be undertaken. I know that it would be the wish of the whole House now that I should offer congratulations to Her Majesty on her birthday today. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We hope, too, that the forthcoming visit alluded to in the Gracious Speech of Her Majesty and Prince Philip to Belgium will be attended by happiness and success.
It is in Europe that so many of our greatest opportunities lie, and I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to Her Majesty's Government's intention to develop our European connections. Britain cannot be excluded from a continent to which we are united by a thousand years of history. I hope that the functional links already forged with France in the aircraft industry will prove only a prelude to a renewal of an entente cordiale which will eventually embrace all nations of good will in Europe.
I would like to think that the Celtic background of my right hon. Friends the First Secretary of State and the "Minister for Europe" will stand them in good stead in their dealings with President de Gaulle. After all, it is, perhaps, not very well known that the President's maternal ancestors were the Flemings of Scotland and the McCartens of Ireland, and the President's Uncle Charles, after whom he is named, wrote the definitive history of the Celts in the nineteenth century. In addition, he spoke Celtic and Welsh with extreme fluency. I am not suggesting at this stage that our European negotiations should necessarily be conducted in either of those languages.
I will not dwell on the other points of the Gracious Speech. Whatever their controversial aspects may be, what is certain is that we have before us a massive programme of radical reform; a programme 53 which will be the subject of ardent debate through many days—and probably through many nights as well. The reinforcement of knowledge and experience from new Members of this House will be especially welcomed in this connection.
The Parliament of 1404, which met in Coventry. was called the "Unlearned Parliament" because the King demanded that lawyers should be excluded from it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] He found them too troublesome. But whatever else may be said of this Parliament, no one can, by any definition, say that it lacks learning. Nor can anyone have any doubt that we are now entering a crucial phase of Britain's history; happily, we do so with a young and a vigorous Parliament, eager to accept its responsibilities.
Over a hundred years ago, a Member of this House called on the youth of his day to dare to be great. The challenge was answered. Today, the call might well be renewed—dare to be great. It is in the faith that this Parliament, too, will dare to be great, that I have moved the Motion.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
I beg to second the Motion so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman).
In doing so, I deeply appreciate the great honour conferred upon my constituency of Halifax. In Halifax we have no Lady Godiva—they have only got me. I hope that the Prime Minister, himself a proud Yorkshireman, will share some of the honour. Yorkshiremen admit that in their spare time they produce the finest cricketers in the world. A Yorkshire Peer, Lord Hawke, once said, "I pray to God that I will never see the day when a professional captains Yorkshire." I suspect that he would change his mind if he could see the competent professional who sits on the Treasury Front Bench in charge of the whole of the nation's affairs today.
A different capacity in which I second the Motion is as a member of a very small group in this House—the doctors. During the last Parliament we were somewhat overworked—in our professional capacity, that is. "Is there a doctor in the House?" was a cry too frequently heard. We led a Jekyll-and-Hyde existence. After a hard day's night in this Chamber, it may have been our lot to auscultate, pal- 54 pate or medicate another hon. Member. This inevitably creates a unique bond of understanding between ourselves and our colleagues. Nevertheless, I note with great satisfaction the Government's undertaking in the Gracious Speech to develop the health and welfare services of the nation. Meanwhile, as a short-term remedy for this House, I gladly welcome the significant increase in the number of honourable and medically qualified Members—from ten in the last Parliament to eleven in this.
At this point I wish to pay tribute to another small group in this Parliament—the women Members. The psephologists, all of whom seem to be male, have decreed that the swing to female candidates at the election was greater than that to male candidates. Whatever the reasons for this may be, no hon. Member would deny that in the Government women are playing a successful part. We have come a long way from the time when militant suffragettes accosted Ministers in Downing Street and demanded the vote.
But this is not the end of the journey. While the passage in the Gracious Speech concerning the Government's productivity, prices and incomes policy is a most welcome one, the exclusion of any mention of equal pay for women will not pass unnoticed. I would respectfully remind right hon. Gentlemen in the Government that the railings around the Palace of Westminster can be used again.
The Gracious Speech proposes vitally important legislation to promote greater efficiency in British industry and also to increase productivity and competitive power. I am deeply conscious of the fact that the future prosperity of my own constituency is linked with these measures. Halifax manufactures 87 vitally important products—I shall not list them all—and is an essential component of the industrial backbone of Britain.
It is significant that some of the welcome Members who this afternoon have heard their first Queen's Speech are said to represent the new wave of technocrats. We are told that the age of chivalry has gone and that of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded. But I believe that in this new Parliament vision and idealism must and will prevail. A passage in the Old Testament reads:
—your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions". and55Where there is no vision, the people perish".Politics is not an exact science. Great thoughts spring from the heart and not from a computer. It has been said that politics is the endless adventure of governing men. The Gracious Speech is adventurous. It is bold and imaginative. It does not suffer from the unpardonable sin in politics, which is timidity.
The extensive Measures outlined in the Speech set hon. Members and Ministers alike a formidable task, but united there is nothing we cannot do. There are unlimited opportunities for change for the better. When the major review of social security has been completed, this Parliament will hold in its hands the powers to abolish all forms of human poverty. Secondly, in the sphere of educational reform the possibilities are boundless.
As the words of the Gracious Speech are translated into actions, they will enrich the lives not only of people in this country, but of millions throughout the world who look to us for help. Britain's influence abroad will be enhanced if she is strong and prosperous at home.
At one time Britain's leadership in world affairs was supreme. It was inspired by a spirit of adventure. Today that spirit is stronger than ever, above all among the young people. In reawakening it, I am sure that this new Parliament is destined to play a noble part.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
I think that many hon. Members will agree that the task of moving and seconding the Loyal Address in reply to the Gracious Speech is always difficult and delicate, but at no time is it more so than at the beginning of a new Parliament before the mood and temper of the House is known to its Members.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) and the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) on the way in which they have handled this difficult assignment this afternoon, very much to the enjoyment of the House. The hon. Member for Coventry, North is well known to us as a very senior Member. He is also very well acquainted with his 56 party and it was not for nothing that he entitled one of his political novels "The Fratricides" from his past experience. We have always appreciated the eloquence and lucidity of his speaking, and we have enjoyed it again today, but above all I think that many of us here have long admired his genuine, sincere and indeed almost passionate devotion to the European cause and the work which he has done to cement Anglo-French relations during his time in the House. It was therefore natural that he should devote part of his speech to that subject this afternoon. He knows as well as I do how much ground still remains to be tilled in his own party. I wish him every success in the tilling.
The hon. Lady has been in the House for only a short time, but she comes from a distinguished Parliamentary family and by her wit and her learning and her ability she has already made her mark in the House. We greatly enjoyed her speech this afternoon. I am, alas, not one of those who have yet enjoyed treatment by the hon. Lady. Perhaps it might be misunderstood if I said that I wished the occasion would arise. But it gives satisfaction to know that those hon. Members who may find themselves in this position will be so charmingly and ably looked after by her on that occasion.
I congratulate both hon. Members. They claimed it as an honour to their constituencies, and one of the enjoyable aspects of these occasions is that one constantly learns more and more about the constituencies of this country. They were right to make that claim. They also claimed it as a privilege for themselves. I wonder. Do they think that the Patronage Secretary is quite as simple as that and that he is merely a very distinguished collector of doodles from the Cabinet of the last Parliament. They should look to what happened to their predecessors in this distinguished task. There was the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) last year. We had the Finance Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "I cannot stand another Finance Bill like that. Let him propose the Loyal Address". He has disappeared into limbo and nothing has been heard about him. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) had begun to move a little too close to the hon. Member 57 for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). They let him second the Loyal Address. Not another word has been heard from the hon. Member for Woolwich, West.
I therefore feel that the two hon. Members today have been chosen for this task for a specific reason. The hon. Member for Coventry, North made a devastating attack on the Government's aircraft policy. How did it end? The Government's policy is a fundamental mistake, he said; we shall recognise the consequences only in the next decade. He had to be silenced somehow. The hon. Lady said that the Government's incomes policy is neither fair nor just if it does not include equal pay. She has stuck gamely to her guns. I am sorry that the Chancellor will not allow her to be heard again. She will disappear into limbo. But we enjoyed the remarks of both hon. Members today.
§ The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. George Brown)
Get on with it.
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Gentleman should not be so impatient. I am congratulating his hon. Friends. I should have thought that he would like to do that, too.
Next, I will make some preliminary remarks not about him but about the Queen's Speech. I will come to him later. I should like to make some preliminary remarks today about the Queen's Speech and we should like to discuss some of these matters in more detail during the debate. In particular, perhaps, I should let the Leader of the House know that we should like to discuss more fully the situation in Rhodesia, after some remarks today, and also to have a day on foreign affairs and defence, in addition to a general Amendment, should it catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, for the last day of the debate.
I wish that I could agree with what the two hon. Members said about the Queen's Speech. If I may say so, I found it vague and imprecise, on occasions I believe deliberately so, and I also found it dull, stale and very uninspiring. It is perfectly true that Lord Attlee might have put it even more concisely than I have done, but I am sure that he would share my views.
Why is this so, because we have now heard it three times—in two elections 58 and in three Gracious Speeches. All the Government's old favourites are still there—the Land Commission, leasehold reform, rating, building controls; and, of course, steel. That was the only item which, during the reading of the Gracious Speech by Mr. Speaker, secured a cheer of any kind from hon. Members opposite. Steel has had a rather chequered existence. It is in one Session and out the next. It is in this Session. No doubt the Left wing will see that this time it is carried through.
Some items are missing; they have fallen by the wayside. One of these is, to my regret, the Companies Bill. I hope that this means that the President of the Board of Trade is now having a completely new look at the problem of company law and its reform and will in due course introduce a comprehensive Bill, instead of the half-measure which was produced in the last Parliament.
Then the Measure to set up an ombudsman has also apparently fallen by the wayside. It may be that the Government are now giving second thoughts to that proposal.
I cannot leave the Gracious Speech without also calling attention to one of the most fatuous statements I have ever seen in any Gracious Speech. It says this:
The development of science will be continued.Who indeed is going to stop the development of science? Not even the Minister of Technology is capable of stopping the development of science, even though it is mentioned in the Gracious Speech. This is a very remarkable performance. I see that there will be 13 major Bills and this will undoubtedly provide enough business for the House for the next 18 months at least.
The main weakness of the Gracious Speech is that it shows no awareness of the need for the Government to produce fresh thinking and fresh policies to deal with the problems with which they are confronted, both at home and overseas. I have been able to congratulate the two back benchers who have taken part today. I am afraid that I cannot do the same for the Government. After a victory which they claim as a great triumph, there is still the same old Front Bench. [Laughter.] All right. Let them claim it. I do not mind. All I am pointing out 59 is that there is still the same old Front Bench—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where is yours?"]—grossly inflated as they are, and nowhere are the ravages of inflation seen more clearly than on the faces of right hon. Members opposite. There are 111 members in the Government, nearly one-third of the Parliamentary Labour Party. [Interruption.] "Quite enough", I heard someone say. I agree with him absolutely. With their Parliamentary Private Secretaries, more than half of the entire Parliamentary Labour Party are in the Government. Those who are at the moment examining the machinery of Parliament ought to look at facts like these from the point of view of the independence of Members and action on the Executive.
The Government are over-sized. How quickly the Prime Minister's views on streamlining Whitehall have changed since he took office. He created three new Departments in his first Administration. In the Gracious Speech for his second Administration he promises to abolish one of them—three steps backwards, one step forward. This is a very slow process. The Government are still over-aged.
But we must not give up hope. I have studied very carefully what the Prime Minister had to say, with the highest authority which he uses when he feels that only he can do it. I read from that now:It appears the formation of Wilson administration is to be conducted on the promotion and relegation principle of the Football League.There is to be a reshuffle next autumn and an annual reshuffle thereafter. In fact the Government propose to shuffle along from year to year throughout the whole of this Parliament.Ministers judged to have done well"—there is an authentic flavour about this phrase—will be rewarded with more senior posts. Others will go down to the 'Second Division' or disappear from the list.This, then, is to be the new basis of the Wilson Administration.
We have long known the Prime Minister's fondness for league tables. Many are the quotations we have had from them. Having pushed this country to the bottom of every international league table available, he now has to create his own.
60 Let us now look at one or two of the specific changes. Now I come to the important question of the First Secretary of State, who has undergone a change. The responsibilities which he had for incomes and prices have now reverted in part to the Minister of Labour, for incomes, and in part to the President of the Board of Trade, for prices. The President of the Board of Trade is still looking slightly stunned from that remark of the Prime Minister's during the campaign that the famous quotation, "The man in Whitehall knows best", was really a Tory slogan.
The First Secretary is therefore shorn of many of his powers, and prices and incomes now become the responsibility of at least five Departments in Whitehall—the Department of Economic Affairs, the Treasury, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, the Department of Technology, and perhaps many others. This is a very important change which I hope that the Prime Minister will describe in detail, because it is immensely important in our economic situation. While the First Secretary has always given the country the impression that his real job was just to spread that little happiness everywhere he could, this is just stretching failure more and more widely throughout the Departments in Whitehall.
The First Secretary may be shorn of his power, but his influence is extending in other directions; and I welcome this. The Prime Minister has been able to welcome the First Secretary's brother to the Government. The First Secretary has appointed his brother-in-law Chairman of the South-East Regional Council.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap"]—I am not protesting. I am not doing what the Prime Minister did when he was in opposition. I am just saying that it is nice to see the great Labour families following the traditions of English political life in the best Cecilian tradition. What about other Departments? First, the Foreign Office. The Foreign Secretary is not here today. There are now seven Ministers at the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
§ Mr. Rankin
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is under the impression that he is speaking in an English Parliament? Can he not bring himself up to date?
§ Mr. Heath
I am absolutely up to date. There are seven Ministers at the Foreign Office. One of them may be a Scotsman.
§ Mr. Heath
I was talking about the Foreign Office, not an English Parliament, nor a Scottish Parliament.
§ Mr. Rankin
The right hon. Gentleman said "English."
§ Mr. Rankin
§ Mr. Heath
This is a Scottish Parliament in which I am talking about the Foreign Office, which does not cover Scotland. The remarkable thing is that, as the number of Ministers increases, so the amount of foreign policy decreases in the Government.
The former Minister of Power has now been translated to the Colonial Office. We seem to be having a very rapid transition of Ministers in the Colonial Office. I congratulate the former Minister of Power on going there. How long will it be, I wonder, before he is standing at the Dispatch Box once again complaining bitterly that on arrival at the Colonial Office he has found a grave shortage of Colonies, due entirely to 13 years of Tory misrule.
So much for the Front Bench. I turn now to certain specific items in the Gracious Speech. I want, first, to refer to the question of the statement on Rhodesia. It has already been quoted, but it is a very important statement:My Government will pursue the policy of bringing the illegal régime in Rhodesia to an end, so that a peaceful and lasting constitutional settlement, based on the rule of law and acceptable to the Rhodesian people as a whole, can be achieved.That surely is the wish of the whole House, that there should be a return—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Indeed yes. Hon. Members opposite, if I may say so at the beginning of a new Parliament, will not succeed in achieving a peaceful 62 and just solution to this problem, one of the gravest which faces us, if they wish to make it a contentious issue throughout the whole of the Parliament. This is the wish of the whole House, and I assume that these wordsMy Government will pursue the policy of bringing the illegal régime in Rhodesia to an end…".includes the peaceful means of discussion to bring it to an end and to secure a return to constitutional Government.
I hope the Prime Minister can enlighten the House on a number of matters concerning Rhodesia this afternoon. There have been a number of very important developments since we last met. Action has been taken by the Government. I will say frankly to the Prime Minister that I think it was his responsibility to have made public at the time an explanation as to why the Government were taking this action, in particular because I believe it involves a change of policy by the Government. The debates before we rose will be in the memory of many hon. Members, and in particular the debate of 21st December in which the Prime Minister dealt with the specific problem of the oil embargo. I do not wish to quote from the debate, because it was a lengthy speech which many will recall, unless the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to do so.
I hope he will not say that during his speech in that debate he left a loophole which enabled him to take the action which he took while the House was not sitting. I hope he will say—because I believe this is what happened—that his statement reads as one continuous statement, at the end of which he declared that he did not intend to take the matter to the United Nations himself for mandatory sanctions. That is what happened, of course. I hope the Prime Minister will tell the House frankly why this happened, and will also declare that this is a change of policy from what he told the House on 21st December.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman in his explanation to state not only why he and the Government took this step but why other methods were not used in preference to it, and in particular what was the position of the diplomatic discussions going on at the time. We understood from the Press that the Minister at the Foreign Office was attending a meeting in Lisbon to discuss these very matters. The 63 Government appear to have taken the matter to the United Nations while the meeting was going on and, to judge from the information in the Press, without the Minister himself knowing that they were doing so. The consequence of this action can be of the very gravest nature. The Prime Minister himself realises this. This is the first time that action by the present Government has been taken under Chapter VII of the Charter. It is, therefore, the first time that the Government have declared that the situation in Rhodesia is a threat to peace.
I should like the Prime Minister to explain precisely in what way, in his view and in the view of the Government, the situation is a threat to peace. Following that, it means that the matter has been declared to be no longer purely a British responsibility. We have always accepted, with him, that this matter was discussed in the United Nations because of its implications elsewhere, its important ramifications in Africa and the impact on other countries. But all the time the Government declare their belief and intention that it shall remain a British responsibility.
That is no longer the case as a result of the Government's action. I hope the Prime Minister will not say that he took this action to forestall worse action or worse resolutions by other countries. In fact, by the action which he has taken he has opened the way to more serious resolutions and actions by other countries should they be determined upon it, because by declaring it a threat to peace it no longer remains a British responsibility. This is a very clear situation. The right hon. Gentleman has opened the way for action by other countries.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
§ Mr. Heath
Will the hon. Gentleman hear the end of the argument before interrupting? This may develop at the United Nations in the near future and, if it does so, it can only be stopped by the use of the veto by the British Government. Hitherto the Government have had doctrinal objections to the use of the veto in any circumstances, and in particular in these circumstances concerned with Rhodesia. But Chapter VII means that mandatory sanctions can be imposed, and 64 of the most severe kind, without the Government taking any action. This foreshadows immense dangers for the whole of Southern Africa and I cannot believe the Government are not aware of these. This lends additional emphasis to the point that we have made for some time that the Government ought to instigate talks with those in Rhodesia—
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of oil, will he tell the House whether he would have let the oil through to Southern Rhodesia and, if he was opposed to letting the oil through to Southern Rhodesia, what steps he would have taken to stop it?
§ Mr. Heath
I quite see that question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] If some hon. Members opposite were more accustomed to this House they would be aware that I propose to deal very fully with this point, because I have always believed Rhodesia to be a question of the gravest importance to which we must find a solution. The answer to the hon. Gentleman is this. I have faced up to this question. What I want to do is to stop the oil getting into Rhodesia. This is why I am putting to the Prime Minister deliberately the question as to what the diplomatic position was at the time, why this action was taken in the United Nations before the conclusion of the talks between the Foreign Office Minister and the Portuguese Government. We know that other means were available to the Government through the pressure which they were afterwards able to bring on Greece and Portugal in order to deal with this question.
The Government are apparently not prepared to make any balance between the consequences of taking mandatory action under Chapter VII and trying to secure the stoppage of the oil by other means. I believe that this is an all-important balance which has got to be struck, and I am asking the Prime Minister to tell the House what is the Government's view before we debate this subject fully, probably on Wednesday of next week. This, I believe, is the right way of proceeding in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
If the right hon. Gentleman will not answer my question 65 now—[HON. MEMBERS: "He has done."]—will he undertake to answer it by next Wednesday?
§ Mr. Heath
I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and after we have heard what the Prime Minister has to say we shall give our own answer to the House.
If the Prime Minister had made a statement publicly at the time we would have had all the information on which to make our speeches now. As he did not do so, I do not propose to deal with it any further. But I do intend to come to the question of talks in Rhodesia which I believe are equally important. I believe, as we have said before, that talks should be entered into without prior conditions on either side in order to achieve a constitutional settlement. Lord Bolton has been reported in the Press as saying that this is the view of the Governor of Rhodesia. It has not been contradicted in any way whatever by the Government or by the Governor himself.
What I want to ask the Prime Minister is what exactly is the position about the Governor in Rhodesia? We have had exactly the same information from other sources. The Prime Minister has constantly told us that he relies upon the Governor to guide him in this matter as to when there is an opportunity to carry on talks. Would he tell us what advice he is receiving from the Governor in this respect? It is very important that the House should know. If the advice is exactly the same as has been stated publicly and the Prime Minister has rejected it, he should tell the House so and he should give the reasons why he has rejected it. This is a matter which becomes the more important with the grave situation which can develop under Chapter VII in the United Nations. We believe it right that talks should now be held.
I could not help contrasting the situation with the passage in the Gracious Speech which says:A particular concern of My Ministers will be to use all available means to achieve a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Vietnam.—" all available means". The question of having exploratory talks to find out whether a settlement of the Rhodesian problem can be achieved is not put for- 66 ward in the Gracious Speech or by the Prime Minister as Government policy.
Why should there be this contrast between these two problems in world affairs? I must ask the Prime Minister to give us the fullest statement today, as a basis for our later debate. From the evidence of the hasty way in which the Government appear to have acted in going to the United Nations I must tell him that they appear to have no clear policy for dealing with the Rhodesian situation. It has drifted until now they have lost control of it as a British responsibility. The Prime Minister must tell the House what the situation is, frankly and fully. He must answer the questions I have asked.
Let me turn to domestic affairs. The Prime Minister told his party, according to reliable reports, that in this Parliament, for the first time since he became Leader of the Labour Party, he proposes to stop electioneering in domestic affairs. To many of us this was a very interesting statement. He felt, he said, that with five years ahead of him he could now really give up electioneering. Really? No more sudden aircraft flights, no more father-figure Ministerial broadcasts? No more winter emergency committees? No more non-events? We find this very difficult to believe. Is it really wise for the Prime Minister to give up electioneering? What else will be left if he does? Will not the people realise at last that the emperor had no clothes? I find it difficult to convince myself that the Prime Minister was right to take this decision. If he is not going to indulge in electioneering, then we could get down to the real problems facing us today. I propose to mention five of them which emerge from the Gracious Speech.
The first deals with the economy. At the election we put forward very clear proposals and policies for the five years ahead. [Interruption.] Of course they were always evaded by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I read with great interest this week that during the election campaign:Mr. Harold Wilson insisted eloquently on the higher value that should be given to education which he took as a major theme in preaching his vision of a modernised Britain. We refer of course to the election campaign of 1964, the last in which Mr. Wilson chose to expound his purposes.67 That is from this week's New Statesman. We have had nothing, since 1964, of the real purposes of the Prime Minister and his colleagues. This last campaign was the most backward-looking campaign, on the other side of the House, of any campaign since—[Interruption.]—It was not for want of trying to discuss these. This morning as we sat here in the arc-lights I thought that this was the nearest we had got to a confrontation for the last six months.
The position of the economy has been emphasised since the election by the poor trade figures which must cause regret to the Chancellor and to the President of the Board of Trade, and by the production figures published today. I should like to raise a point about the publication of the trade figures. They were published on the 11th of the month during the election, and they were very good. They were published on the 18th of the month after the election, when they were very bad. We all know that these figures are turned out by computers. They can be brought forward to an earlier date. I believe that the President of the Board of Trade ought to look at this matter and to fix a date on which the trade figures should always be published.
There is regrettable evidence in the Press recently of leakages concerning the trade figures. This is thoroughly undesirable and all commentators now realise that when they are good the figures are put out early and when they are bad they are published late. As there can be speculation in these matters, is is desirable that the President of the Board of Trade should settle a date and put it forward. The Chancellor keeps on saying that it is not true. He has only to look back over these past weeks and he will see what has appeared in the Press in advance about the trade figures. People are now making deductions on the date on which they are published. As speculation in currency is thoroughly undesirable, I should have thought that the Chancellor would want to stop it.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. James Callaghan)
I agree that it is thoroughly undesirable that there should be speculation about these matters. It is quite wrong of the right hon. Gentleman to allege that the dates of publication are determined by whether the figures 68 are good or bad. I hope that he will withdraw that allegation.
§ Mr. Heath
Perhaps the Chancellor will explain how the figures came out on the 11th of the month when they were good, and on the 18th of the month when they were bad?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Certainly. The figures came out on 11th March because they were ready. On 12th March I said at the Press conference, when I was questioned about this, that they could not come out as early in April because of the intervention of the Easter holiday. I said that they would be later, and that remark was reported to the right hon. Gentleman at his succeeding Press conference.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]
§ Mr. Heath
I am not prepared to withdraw, because I know from my own experience in the Board of Trade that seven full days is not accounted for by the Easter recess, and I know that under the new system the figures are dealt with by computers and can be brought forward to an early date. What I am asking is, will the Chancellor accept that it is for him to fix a clear date upon which the trade figures are published?
§ Mr. Callaghan
It is quite true that the Easter recess does not account for seven days. It so happens that there is a convention, which may or may not be good—and on the whole I do not think that it is very good—that one does not publish the figures on either a Monday or a Friday. That should be looked at and we might consider this matter, especially if this kind of unfounded rumour is going to be put about. I do think that the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw his allegation that these figures are brought forward when they are good and delayed when they are bad.
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that I was President of the Board of Trade, and I know how these matters are handled. So does the Prime Minister. The plain fact is that one has only to look at the Press on the morning of the 18th, when these figures were published, to see exactly what the Press said about them, as a result of leakages or guidance received. This is thoroughly undesirable.
The second point I wish to raise is that the production figure is down for 69 February and has now been stagnant for 13 months. The real inflation is as acute as ever and this year will not see the balance of payments in balance. [Interruption.] All I am asking is that the Government should face up to this. There is a heavy burden of debt which has still to be repaid. It is to these factors that the Chancellor must turn in his Budget. There is no sign in the Gracious Speech of the realisation of the acuteness of all the problems, which we shall no doubt be discussing at length in the Budget debates.
The second point, which was not touched upon in the Gracious Speech, dealt with trade unions. There was no mention of action here. The Royal Commission drags on its long and weary way, and meantime the abuses which became public during the election campaign can apparently continue uninterrupted—[An HON. MEMBER: "What abuses?"]—because the Attorney-General has stated that he has no power to take action in these particular cases. I believe that action ought to be taken in this sphere, in the interests of individuals, and of the national economy. It is of interest to note the B.M.C.'s statement which should concern the Chancellor and the President of the Board of Trade.
The statement said that in the first 28 weeks of B.M.C.'s accounting year it lost 83,167 vehicles in production. Of these 23,120 were lost because of the gas stoppages in the Midlands and 60,047 were the result of unofficial strikes. The total value of this loss of production was between £30 million and £35 million. That single set of figures alone ought to bring home to the Government the importance—
§ Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)
§ Mr. Heath
—of this problem. Government action is required, yet there is no sign of it in the Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. Maxwell
The election is over.
§ Mr. Heath
Yes, but the Government still do not realise the issues. There is the problem of the social services. What indication is there in the Gracious Speech that the Chancellor or the Government are really facing up to the question of the future of the social services and their 70 financing? This has been emphasised again today with the publication of the figures showing an increase in the prescriptions bill of £42 million in one year alone. Every informed commentator in financial matters is asking, "How long can the Government go on with this?"
During the campaign we heard much discussion about this, discussion of a very low kind. Things were said then which were never said in debate in the House because the Ministers concerned did not have the nerve to stand up and say them. There was the general smear about the means test State. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech about taking off the rest of the Health Service charges. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer do that? Can he do it, with this load of debt hanging over him and the foreign bankers breathing down his back? Why, if the Government carry on the existing Health Service charges, are they benefiting the country and, apparently, if prescription charges are put on, we undermine the whole of the Welfare State? What is the logic of that? Of course, there is no logic in it.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows full well, as did his predecessor in the Labour Government after the war, that the time is coming when he has to face up to all these things.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The right hon. Gentleman bored the country with a succession of speeches like this. Why must we listen to this speech now?
§ Mr. Heath
If the right hon. Gentleman had had the courtesy to come to my meeting in Sunderland, I should not have told him all this now.
The facts which I have given have come out since the election, including this one on housing, with which I want to deal. Again, this was dealt with in the election. The February figures were known at the time of the election, but they were not published. They could have been published on polling day, like the half-yearly balance of trade figures, but they were not. The Prime Minister made a splendid statement at his meeting in his constituency in which he said:No reports or statements will be censored or delayed".But the Minister of Housing did not put out the figure because it showed a fall in completions during the previous month. 71 In six out of the last seven months the numbers of houses completed has been smaller than was the case in the corresponding month of the previous year. That is what is happening to the completion of houses under this Government. The Minister admits that he knew the figure, and he did not give it to the country.
The Prime Minister went on, up to the last, at Bradford, saying that more and more houses would be built and were being built. He emphasised it at Bradford with those famous words. He said that it was not "a lightly-given promise". Lightly-given promises can be discarded and thrown away. "This is a pledge", he said. He knew full well what was happening to the housing programme. We propose to look through every item in Labour Party literature to distinguish the lightly-given promises and the pledges. It is only the pledges with which we shall confront the Government in future.
The last point on which I want to ask the Prime Minister for further information concerns Europe. I hope he will give us a clear declaration of the Government's intention, regardless of what the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) may say or do. The statement in the Gracious Speech is not very encouraging or very optimistic. The Governmentwould be ready to enter the European Economic Community provided essential British and Commonwealth interests were safeguarded.From the use of the words "would be ready" and "were safeguarded", it does not seem as though the Government believe that the possibility is there at the moment.
We have studied the election addresses of the members of the Government Front Bench. In those of 16 of the present members of the Cabinet, from the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer downwards, there is not one word about Europe or the Common Market. Does this indicate enthusiasm by the Prime Minister and his colleagues for this great undertaking? I want the right hon. Gentleman, or the Foreign Secretary in our foreign affairs debate, to tell us what happened at the W.E.U. meeting. The Foreign Secretary announced afterwards that the French 72 veto had been removed. Naturally, this was received by the Press and everybody else as a major change in the situation.
I was asked what should be done in the circumstances, and I said that the Foreign Secretary, whoever he was, after the election, should discuss with the French Foreign Minister exactly what this meant, and should then discuss it with the other Foreign Ministers in Europe to see how the matter should be handled. I cannot find any justification for the Foreign Secretary's interpretation of the position. Nor do I find that other Foreign Ministers present took the same view. They believe that the situation remained exactly the same after what the French Minister had said as before. It remains the position, as the French Foreign Minister wrote in Le Monde, that Britain would be welcome and could enter the Community sans réservation. That is the situation, and unless the Foreign Secretary can tell us otherwise, I believe that he misinterpreted the situation at the W.E.U. meeting and in what he told the Press and the country afterwards.
The Prime Minister dealt with this matter in his Bristol speech. Perhaps the First Secretary can say whether or not that speech represents Government policy. If so, the Prime Minister is stating clearly that we cannot enter the European Economic Community with its present agricultural policy. [Interruption.] I have said frankly to the farmers what we would do—introduce a levy system. The Prime Minister must realise, in view of the very full statement which he made in Bristol—And those conditions require that we must be free to go on buying food and raw materials, as we have for 100 years, in the cheapest market.—means that this country cannot enter the European Community. Is it not, therefore, essential that the Prime Minister should make this clear, because until he does, and so long as this confused situation continues, it is damaging our position in Europe and any work which the First Secretary or Chancellor of the Duchy may set out to do.
I therefore ask the Prime Minister to make a clear declaration of the Government's intentions on the basis of the existing facts and his own statement at Bristol. Of course, I would ask him to avoid using the wrong premises. He was 73 wrong over Rambouillet. I wish, quite frankly, that he had admitted that he was wrong, because we all know that he was wrong. In Bristol, he made an unworthy statement about trying to make arrangements behind E.F.T.A.'s back. It is completely untrue. This does not worry me. I was concerned with the negotiations. Everybody in Europe was concerned with the negotiations and knows what went on. Therefore, anything of that kind does not worry me, because everything was done frankly and openly with E.F.T.A. the whole time.
I have put to the Government what I believe to be the five main domestic issues which face them. I ask the Prime Minister for clarification on all of them. But in particular, I urge on the Government the need for taking action in trade union affairs. These five problems are the real problems with which we are faced. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is faced with the gravest one of all—the economy—and he has to deal with it in his Budget. The Government, during their period of office, will be judged on what they do to deal with these five main problems. There is nothing in the Government's record which encourages us to believe that they can deal firmly and satisfactorily with them. There is nothing in the Queen's Speech which encourages us to believe that they have that vision for which the hon. Members for Coventry, North and Halifax called. The language of the Queen's Speech is tired and dreary.
These are the problems with which the Government are faced, and it is on the results that the Government produce that they will be judged. "No alibis this time", said the Daily Mirror. "No alibis this time", echoed the First Secretary. "No alibis this time", echoed the Minister of Labour. They did not mind alibis last time. They welcomed them; they used them; they seized power on them. [Interruption.] The Government got the vote, yes, but there will not be any alibis next time, not one, and we shall see to that.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) will forgive me if I do not follow his rather tired repetition of election speeches. We had it so often from him. It was no fault 74 of his that the country did not accept those arguments. He at least can be acquitted of not telling the people on every conceivable occasion what his ideas and remedies were to a point which went long past tedious repetition. But it was rejected. I will leave him to stand up in the House, giving us the same old speeches we have had for so long, and beguiling his time in the evening thumbing through our election addresses last time to see if he can do anything to relieve himself from looking a very pathetic figure, as he will if that is all he proposes to give the House for the next five years.
I support the right hon. Gentleman very strongly in the tributes which he paid to my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) and Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who moved and seconded the reply to the Address. I agree with him that my hon. Friends' speeches were in very highest traditions to which we have become accustomed. They were witty, and they were equally appropriately loyal to the constituencies which my hon. Friends represent with such distinction. Both of them rightly stressed the great contribution that Coventry and Halifax are making to national production and to exports. Both of these townships—the City of Coventry and the town of Halifax—were able to avoid the worst impact of the inter-war depression because of their diversification and they have maintained that record in the post-war years, when, because of their ability to modernise and to keep up with changing times in industry, they have been playing a growing part year by year in our national production and industrial modernisation.
Before I come to some of the points that have been raised by the Leader of the Opposition and the main items also in the Gracious Speech, I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to say a few words about the Government's proposals for this Session for private Members' time and other matters. On the question of the length of the Session, we have had to choose between a short Session lasting until the end of this summer or a longer Session extending into next year. It will be quite clear to hon. Members, now that they have studied the Gracious Speech, that clearly we were not expecting to get 75 all this legislation through by the summer of 1966. We feel, therefore, that it is the better course and more for the convenience of the House that the present Session should be prolonged until the autumn of 1967. In this we shall be following the procedure established with the Session which began in the spring of 1955.
On Private Members' time, the House will wish to know that because of the expected length of the Session that we have now entered into, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will next week be proposing a Motion for additional Fridays for Private Members' Motions to be begun before the Summer Recess. After the Summer Recess there will be the usual Sessional arrangements of 20 Fridays for Private Members' Bills and Private Members' Motions, together within the four midweek half-days to which we have become accustomed. As to Supply days, the House will be asked to approve an increase for the forthcoming Session from the usual 26 days to 32 Supply days.
The Government do not, however, intend that this provision of private Members' time, which broadly follows precedent, and of Supply days should represent all that we have in mind for a greater participation of Parliament in the processes of government. The last two General Elections have proclaimed the determination of our people that not only the government of Britain but the structure of our society should be modernised. From this modernisation process we cannot exclude Parliament.
For many years there has been argument and suggestions have been put forward from different quarters about closer identification of hon. Members outside the Government with the processes of administration. For over a century we have had the Public Accounts Committee, and this year we shall be celebrating the centenary of the Exchequer and Audit Act. The Select Committee on Estimates has produced most valuable Reports—increasingly valuable, I think we would feel—on public administration over a wide field at home and abroad. Again, the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries, inevitably a supercharged controversial field, or so one would have thought, also has broken 76 new ground with its constructive Reports of very great significance.
It can be said that whatever the temperature and passion of party debates in this Chamber, those three Committees, at least in recent years, have tended to concentrate on the specific problems of public administration almost without regard to party differences. I can certainly say as a former Chairman of the senior of these three Committees, as I am sure my successors, my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), can say after me, that we pay tribute to the approach of hon. Members of all political views in the meticulous examination of the problems which have arisen and the constructive Reports which have been presented to the House.
I believe the time has now come when we might consider an experiment to extend this system over a wider field of public administration. Accordingly, the Government will enter into discussions through the usual channels with the two Opposition parties on the suggestion of establishing one or two new Parliamentary Committees to concern themselves with administration in the sphere of certain Departments whose usual operations are not only of national concern but in many cases are of intensely human concern.
I do not want at this stage to enter into the argument whether this House should or should not move towards a system, such as one finds in the United States of America, of departmental committees covering all the main operations of government. Our systems are entirely different and no one would underrate the importance of our own unique system of Parliamentary Questions, to which you, Mr. Speaker, drew our attention when you submitted yourself to the will of the House earlier this week.
There is room for considerable argument about whether we ought to have Committees of this House dealing with major questions of foreign policy and of defence. There will be many who have yet to be convinced on this matter, as, indeed, I have still to be convinced myself. What we propose, however, is that we should enter into discussions about making a start in an experimental way by setting up a Committee or separate 77 Committees to inquire into administration in the fields of certain of our home Departments.
Let me quote as an example—obviously, it is only an example because it would be a matter for consideration with the parties opposite—the Home Office. There is no Department more relevant to issues affecting the freedom of the individual, to say nothing of a myriad of relationships between the State and the private citizen. It would be arrogant for any Government to suggest that on all these questions a particular Secretary of State, even one so enlightened and liberal as my right hon. Friend, or the expert officials advising him, have a monopoly of all the wisdom and, above all, all the practical and social experience that is needed in deciding the great issues involving the life and liberty of the individual and matters of social policy. One example with which the House was concerned some time ago is the children's service. One can think of other cases, particularly issues that are regularly raised in this House through Private Members' Bills and Motions.
I believe that on that kind of problem hon. Members in all parts of the House, not only in their representative capacity but in many cases, not least among our newer Members, through their personal experience have much to contribute to the processes of administration. At the end of the day, we are more likely to get the right answer to the problems by bringing this wisdom and experience to bear both on future legislation and on day-to-day administration.
Another example is education, which touches the welfare and the future opportunity of millions of our younger citizens. Again, while some issues may be determined by the priorities which any Government have the right and the duty to decide in relation to public expenditure, while there may be issues of great controversy, whether party controversy or not—for example, on comprehensive schools—nevertheless within that Department there is a great field of issues on which any forward-looking Minister would not only not resist advice and help but would positively welcome it, because in the case of education we have not only what must be a record number of hon. Members with teaching experience—we certainly have that—but 78 we also have a very large number, in all parts of the House, who have experience on local authorities, particularly on local education authorities. There are, of course, others whose interest in education, whether as parents or as ordinary citizens, qualifies them for a more active part in advising in the conduct of administration and in the formation of national policy.
Again, the field covered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government includes, for example, relations between landlord and tenant. There was important legislation in the previous Parliament, which necessarily involved differences on party lines. I would not say, however, that every problem in the relationship between landlord and tenant has been finally settled by that or, indeed, by any other legislation.
Another example is planning decisions, which are of vital concern to the future of the new Britain which we are all determined to create and which more and more lie at the heart of some of the problems affecting land values. In the concluding days of the last Parliament we had a vigorous debate on an individual planning decision, a debate which was initiated as a party Motion of censure. It was a good debate, but underlying this kind of issue there are many deep problems which I would not suggest that any Government, of any party, has yet really solved. This also, therefore, might be an issue on which the collective wisdom of this House might be sought upstairs in the cool and detached atmosphere of the Parliamentary Committee rather than in the fierceness of party debate in this Chamber, although that, of course, is never excluded from really controversial cases.
What we shall propose, therefore, for discussion is that a committee or committees be set up, responsible to this House, representative of the House as a whole, to review any issue which might be considered appropriate within the field of administration of some of our great social Departments and that in due course these committees should report their findings to the House. I can certainly undertake that Ministers, not necessarily in every case the senior Minister, because this is a valuable field in which junior Ministers can win their spurs, will make themselves available to these committees, whether as a Minister or as a witness will be a matter 79 on which we shall want consultation. Equally, senior officials will be available to contribute their expert advice, and it may well be that these committees will wish to call on the expert knowledge of persons outside this House and outside Whitehall who, through their record of public service and expertise, may have useful information to give.
We shall want to discuss whether Public Departments, in addition to the staff of the Clerk's Department, should help with the servicing and briefing of these committees and whether they might not gain if they were run on a more informal basis than the existing Select Committees and whether, perhaps, they might not be more effective if they were not required to publish all the evidence they receive and could act in a more informal manner.
We may have to consider whether, in order to prevent these expert committees from becoming subject to pressure groups or pork-barrel interests, some restriction should be placed on their ability to propose additional expenditure.
Anyway, let us have discussion. There will be defeatists who will say that this experiment will be doomed to failure. They may be right, but I would only rely on the valuable reports of those Committees to which I have already referred. If the new committees we are proposing were to degenerate into party brawls on the same old battlegrounds of past Parliamentary debates and General Elections it might be that this experiment would end in failure, but if, as I confidently expect, we get the same spirit from hon. Members as we have had in the other Select Committees, I shall be willing, and my colleagues will be willing, to join with other Members in suggesting an extension of this new system over perhaps a wider field of Government.
We are always being told, and rightly, I think—and this confirms our own experience and our own sensory perceptions—that Parliament is becoming more professional and more representative of the British people. If that is so, then I do not believe that any Government of any party can afford to ignore this vast reservoir of experience and expertise which hon. Members bring to the service of this House and of the nation.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The right hon. Gentleman is commenting 80 on a very interesting matter and it will have to be looked at. He has now gone rather past the point at which a few moments ago my intervention would have been absolutely appropriate, but may I put this to the Prime Minister? In considering the work of these extra committees, will he see to it that none of them proceeds with a fait accompli, as the Services Committee did in bringing the cameras into this Chamber today? We have had many debates in which there has been a general indication that Parliament has not been ready for this, and yet a Committee—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. An intervention should not be a speech.
§ The Prime Minister
I think, Mr. Speaker, you have already given guidance on how that particular important matter should be raised. I do not think that an appropriate intervention, since all I am suggesting is that there should be discussion between the parties as to how we might associate hon. Members in all parts of the House more closely and intimately with the administration of the great Departments of State.
I believe that not only the House but the country is ready for a more dynamic programme of Parliamentary modernisation, and we ought to be prepared to examine, through the usual channels, or through the Select Committee on Procedure if we so decide, other aspects of Parliamentary reform which we have inherited from the past and which may have outlived their purpose.
Another of these relates to the hours which we sometimes find it convenient to sit. Hon. Members in all parts of the House may enjoy all-night sittings, and sometimes all-night sittings are necessary and are even inevitable, but I do not think that the country as a whole as yet fully understands, as we, of course, all do, that the Government's business and the nation's business is best conducted at three or four or five in the morning by hon. Members who are not always then at their freshest. In any case, since no one would wish totally to exempt Ministers from the rigours of all-night sittings, one has to consider the effect on the public administration next day. I say no more than that this practice of ours might be considered afresh.
81 So might such questions as the time spent on voting, and even the method of voting, and possibly a more up-to-date procedure for the timetabling of Bills could be examined in a constructive all-party manner.
Another aspect of Parliamentary reform is I believe also in harmony with the desire of hon. Members in all parts of the House for a more progressive plan for regional development. The House is familiar with the operations of the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees, and indeed, hon. Members, particularly hon. Members opposite, from English constituencies, because of the imbalance of Parliamentary representation for Scotland and Wales, have served their time on those Scottish and Welsh Committees, perhaps with varying degrees of enthusiasm in individual cases; but, as in so many other issues, those of us here who represent English constituencies have never had a fair crack of the whip and I would hope that consideration might be given to the appointment of regional all-party committees covering all the areas of the country where the problems of economic and social development could be informally discussed and examined with representatives of the principal Government Departments concerned, submitting themselves to examination by and joining in discussions with hon. Members equally concerned with the problems of particular regions.
I have spent some time on this question because, dedicated as we all are to the modernisation of Britain, we cannot exempt the Parliamentary institution from these efforts. Modernisation, like charity, begins at home.
Now I turn to the Gracious Speech. I do not intend on this occasion to go into the various measures outlined in the Gracious Speech in the same detail as usual, but the House will have observed that these measures are likely to keep the House pretty busy even on the basis of the same assiduity shown in the past 18 months.
There are two central themes in the constructive programme embodied in the Gracious Speech. One, in the words of the Gracious Speech, is to give priority to restoring the equilibrium in the external balance of payments, to maintaining the strength of sterling and to 82 establishing a long-term improvement in the competitive strength of British industry vis-à-vis our industrial rivals abroad.
We have already laid the foundations for a considerable saving in foreign exchange not only through improvements in the balance of imports and exports over the past year but also by what has been done to hold down defence expenditure and to cut defence expenditure abroad, and further energetic steps are going to be taken to implement the defence review in this respect.
Now, almost as soon as the debate on this Motion is concluded, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget, which, as the House will confidently expect, will be directly relevant to the economic problems which the country is still facing, like all my right hon. Friend's measures. The consequential Finance Bill and other Bills to give effect to the White Papers approved by this House, the White Papers providing for industrial investment and regional development and especially for establishment of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, all these are likely to occupy the time of the House for some considerable time after the Budget. It is for that reason, that we shall be spending a very considerable amount of our time in the next week or two in that way, that I do not propose this afternoon to go into some of the questions raised on the economic situation, the more so as I understand that there will be a chance of debating these more fully next week.
I must, however, take up the point raised by the right hon. Member for Bexley on this question of the dating of the trade figures, and to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor referred in his intervention. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman and I myself have had experience at the Board of Trade and know something of the circumstances in which these figures are published, but since he has expressed so much concern—I do not think anyone would suggest there is any political advantage in not publishing figures on 11th March or in holding them up for a day or two when polling day was not until 31st March—but since he has expressed so much concern, I wonder if he would tell us how it came about that, 83 most unusually, on Friday, 16th October, 1964, there were published, a few hours after the polls closed, by far the worst trade figures practically in the whole of that year.
Now, it may have been that they were just thrust into his hands at that moment, but perhaps, in view of his great interest in this subject—which we are going to take, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in the months ahead—in view of the interest we all have in this, perhaps some day the right hon. Gentleman will take time off to tell us at what date and at what time he himself saw those trade figures which so mysteriously appeared when they did.
§ The Prime Minister
That is interesting, because they were, in fact, published at 12 o'clock on the day after the election, the 16th, and the right hon. Gentleman who was then Prime Minister did not concede defeat in the election or go to tender his seals of office until 4 o'clock that afternoon. If he resigned from his Department before the Government as a whole resigned, that is another matter.
§ The Prime Minister
I see. So the right hon. Gentleman did not know the figures at all; they were never brought to him. I must say that I had thought that most other Departments—we have had evidence of this—kept in the closest touch with Ministers even on polling day. I have often paid tribute to the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) who took very important action on polling day in an international matter. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman's grip on his own Department was not, for some reason, of the same kind.
§ Mr. Heath
Of course, the Department would have got in touch with me immediately there was anything urgent requiring my personal attention as Minister at the time, but it was perfectly natural, on polling day and the day afterwards, that one would not take an active interest in the Department, and it would not have been possible to have the trade figures then 84 because the computer system was not in action. It is now in action and can be used by the President of the Board of Trade.
§ The Prime Minister
That does not wash either. The right hon. Gentleman ought to tell us on how many days in 1964, when he was there, the figures were published, without the aid of computers, on dates earlier in the month than the 16th. There were two or three occasions earlier in the year when, quite simply, for political purposes—though we do not impute anything, as he does—they came out very conveniently when a Minister was making a speech in Glasgow or wherever it might have been. The right hon. Gentleman really must improve.
The other main theme of the Gracious Speech relates to the programme of social advance which the country has endorsed in two successive General Elections, and this is why, although the right hon. Gentleman finds it a bit repetitive, we attach so much importance, for example, to our proposals to create a Land Commission and in other ways to deal with the land problem, and why we insist on bringing forward early the measures which have to be taken to accord priority to the building of homes, schools and hospitals, which cannot be done unless one holds back less essential building and gives the right of way to the priority building programme. I am sorry that this is repetitive, but at least, we are doing it. The party opposite only talks about it.
We are moving forward in the housing programme. We shall not solve the housing problem unless we provide adequate local authority finance for this purpose. This is why we are asking the House to enact a greatly increased Exchequer subsidy for local authority housing, with particular provision for cities and towns in our great conurbations which face specially onerous problems of slum clearance and overcrowding. This is why, again, as has been said, because of the rising burden on local authorities, we shall ask the House to approve a reorganised system of Exchequer grants to local authorities so as to ease the burden on the domestic ratepayer, who, year after year for so many years, has borne a rising impost of rates.
We shall also introduce legislation in this Session to provide families of 85 modest means, either new owner-occupiers or those already paying for a mortgage, with relief in the financial burden of paying for their homes.
Also in this Session—the right hon. Gentleman referred to this as a favourite of ours, and he is right—we shall ask the House to approve our proposals, widely welcomed in many parts of the country, for dealing once and for all with the inequities of the leasehold system. I think that the right hon. Gentleman opposite who was housing spokesman referred to this as a "spivs' charter".
I do not propose this evening to deal with all the legislation which will be brought forward, but I emphasise that not only in legislation but in every way open to us the Government intend to give top priority to all measures which will have to be taken to increase industrial productivity and to hold costs and prices to the lowest possible level. Among these Measures will be the Bill to restore the main part of the iron and steel industry to public ownership and control, a Measure which, I believe, will be accepted in the country and in the industry as a final decision on the future of this industry. Equally, I think that no one in the House will underrate the importance of the legislative Measures we propose to improve efficiency and industrial relations in the docks as part of, but only part of, what must be done to implement the Report of the Devlin Committee.
As regards productivity and the related problems of prices and incomes—I come now to the point which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman—legislation can play only a limited part, although a part which in certain circumstances can be very important. Equally, the need to keep our costs and prices down to ensure the proper relationship of money incomes and national prosperity is accepted now by all sides of industry and by the Government. The Prices and Incomes Bill which will place the National Board of Prices and Incomes on a statutory basis and enable the voluntary early warning system to be given statutory backing, if the need arises, is being introduced. It is necessary to ensure that a vitally important instrument in our battle to expand production and maintain full employment will not be undermined by any shortsighted and self-defeating action in individual industries.
86 In due course, my right hon. Friend will inform the House of the Measures we are proposing for aiding more progressive managements to take advantage of the reorganisation finance which will be made available and of the continuing action which we shall be taking in that field.
There are those—for one or two moments last month, I thought that the Leader of the Opposition was succumbing to this temptation—who think that all our industrial problems can be solved by a simple diktat from Whitehall, a simple legislative enactment, as though the passing of an Act of Parliament or the setting loose in productive industry of a horde of lawyers, who cannot exactly be said to have solved all problems of restrictive practices and demarcations disputes in their own profession, would put everything right.
Of course, as we all know, and as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has said, industrial relations are human relations. That was a phrase used many years ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition when he was Minister of Labour. He has said a lot about strikes, which we deplore as much as he does, but he used that phrase in a period which was not particularly noteworthy either for freedom from industrial disputes or for programmes for tackling industrial restrictive practices. Indeed, taking the whole of the year and a half in question when the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister who preceded him were in office, one finds a pretty heavy record of industrial disputes, which all of us deplore, whichever party is in office. Quite frankly, I do not think that this is a party issue of that kind. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Why raise it?"] Why raise it?—because the right hon. Gentleman, half an hour ago, was trying to make the maximum political capital out of the report by B.M.C. about unofficial disputes in the British Motor Corporation.
We recognise, as we have always done, that there are tremendous problems within the field of industrial relations, within the trade unions and within the employers' associations, problems not only of organisation, efficiency or working practices but problems going to the very heart of the relation of the individual 87 to society and of the individual to the group to which he belongs. It was for this reason that, soon after taking office, we established a Royal Commission to go into these problems.
I do not believe that the right course is to legislate first—which, apparently, the right hon. Gentleman would have us do—and then wait for the Royal Commission to tell us whether we are right in the legislation we pass. Of course, it means waiting, but, with the depth, intensity and the human importance of these problems, I do not apologise for the fact that we have to wait for the report of the Royal Commission. If any apology is called for, it should come from those who had an opportunity over so many years to set up that Royal Commission but who did not do so. As we all know, the right hon. Gentleman himself, when Minister of Labour, turned down a proposal from his own back benches to set up an inquiry into these very issues in January, 1960.
But, whatever the importance of these human and constitutional issues, all of us recognise—this was the point I made before the 1964 election—that there were some urgent production issues, not a matter of law or of inquiry, which could not wait for a Royal Commission and which needed to be tackled industry by industry and, before we finished, firm by firm.
This is why we set up those long overdue inquiries: into the docks—the Devlin Committee; the aircraft industry—the Plowden Committee; and into the shipbuilding industry—the Geddes Committee. In all three, we intend that vigorous action should be taken in this Session. Our policy is that where-ever a restrictive practice is uncovered, whether by independent inquiry or in any other way on either side of industry, we shall do whatever is necessary to secure the removal of any impediment which may be found to increased production or to lower industrial costs.
We have already begun talks aimed at securing a wider linking of pay to productivity and productivity to pay, through appropriate changes in negotiating machinery, including the establishment, wherever possible, of Pay and Productivity Councils.
88 No one will pretend that this will be easy. There is a deep-rooted industrial attitude, on both sides of industry, deriving originally from years of unemployment and redundancy, which involves deep and understandable—if, in modern terms, totally irrelevant and inappropriate—resistance to industrial change.
We have to face urgent problems in the field of industrial training. In the last year of the Conservative Government and the 18 months of Labour Government it is true that we have at last begun to tackle the problems which have for so long confronted us. But we are still tragically short of the skilled labour we need. I would find it hard to conceive any greater condemnation of the drift and complacency of past years in Government and industry alike than the announcement last week that in one of our biggest shipbuilding areas—not an area of over-heating or over-full employment—vitally desirable orders have been turned away because major shipbuilding firms did not have the skilled labour necessary to fulfil those orders, and this meant, incidentally, that they were not able to provide employment for many others in the area who needed jobs.
Whether the problem here is that of increasing the numbers trained, or whether it is the problem of restrictive employment practices, whether it is a problem of bad discipline on the part of management, I give the House the assurance that whatever can be done within the power of democratic government will be done.
Mr. Deputy Speaker—and I should like to take this opportunity of enabling the whole House to wish you well in your first occupancy of the Chair—I should like to turn from the economic and social issues—which, I am sure, will be very fully debated in the next week—in order to respond to some of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman in the overseas field, with particular reference to Europe and Rhodesia.
On the problem of integration within Europe I have been deeply touched, as, I am sure, other hon. Members will have been touched, by the emphasis laid on this problem by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in recent weeks, because I recall that the manifesto prepared 89 by the Conservative Government in October, 1964, made no reference whatsoever to Britain's relations with the Common Market. I recall that during that election the then Prime Minister described the Common Market issue as a "dead duck." I recall that every time I challenged him on the position of the then Government I was told that it would be a matter of decision by the new Parliament—not a matter of the election or of the Government, but a matter of decision by the new Parliament—as though it would be decided by that Parliament on a free vote without any lead or proposition from the Government. So the issue was not, we were told, an important or relevant issue in an election supposed to be electing a five-year Parliament.
Recently, in the election that all of us in this House, in all parts, have just managed to survive—the hon. baronet the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) can, of course, speak for himself with authority—we have had a rather clearer indication from right hon. Gentlemen opposite about their position now. I think that they have made it pretty clear. We, equally, have repeatedly made clear that we are prepared—indeed, willing—to join the European Economic Community if the necessary safeguards for British and Commonwealth interests can be secured.
I think that it is the case—I have said it many times, and so have my colleagues—that some of the difficulties we outlined in 1962—the five conditions—have diminished. I think particularly of the condition which then looked as though it might apply with regard to association with the neutrals in E.F.T.A. I assure the right hon. Gentleman categorically that in speaking at Bristol I had no intention—and I think that if he studies my words he will find that they do not bear that interpretation—to negotiate behind the back of E.F.T.A. neutrals. I said we were not going to do it—meaning that we would not rush in on our own without negotiation with them. There was no implied criticism there of the right hon. Gentleman, although I well recall certain exchanges we had in the House when we got certain assurances about the E.F.T.A. neutrals.
I think, therefore, that that particular difficulty, and perhaps some others, has diminished, but that does not mean un- 90 equivocal acceptance on our part of any conditions that might be offered to us. In the whole history of the country I cannot recall any situation in which a British Government were prepared to undertake a major step—and no step could be more major than this—affecting our whole future, and take that step unconditionally and without negotiating, point by point, with full regard for our national interests. There can be a lot of argument—indeed, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, a lot of doubt—about what the prospects are at the moment, and some doubt about the interpretation of what the French delegation said at the W.E.U. meeting. There is plenty of room for that, but from the information available to me I think it right to say that there was a major change in position; on the other hand, considerable doubt about how short a period of time it would be before opportunities really presented themselves for negotiation.
In the reorganisation after the election, we have now made full provision for ensuring that any opportunities that do present themselves in Europe can be quickly seized upon so that they can be evaluated. We shall neglect no opportunity of finding out what the possibilities are. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State will normally represent Her Majesty's Government at principal meetings of European economic organisations, of E.F.T.A., and in meetings that may be called as a result of the E.F.T.A. initiative for bridge-building with the E.E.C., meetings with the O.E.C.D., and so on.
He will have working alongside him a senior Foreign Office Minister, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who, likewise, will seize every opportunity in the political field, in his contacts with European organisations—such as W.E.U., the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, and so on—as well as any bilateral opportunity that presents itself as a result, for example, of his responsibilities within N.A.T.O., to probe in a very positive sense the terms on which we would be able to enter the European Economic Community and its related organisations.
On a recent occasion when these matters were debated in the House there seemed to be general agreement that 91 we should not seek to take sides in the argument within the European Economic Community. I know that there are many who feel that we should make common cause with the Five against France on those particular issues. Equally, there are those who feel that the insistence of France on resistance to any supranational commitments is something we should endorse because it suits our book and our approach. But I think when we debated this last time we were all agreed that Britain's interests lay in making clear to our friends in Europe that we had the liveliest concern in their resolving their differences themselves without ourselves taking sides on the issues.
It is difficult to see at this moment what the possibilities are or what the timetable might be, but it looks at present as if it will be some time before any serious opportunity will emerge of our being able to engage in effective negotiations for British entry. When that time came, the decision would depend on the extent to which our interests could be safeguarded. But the point is that even though it may take some time before we can reach the point of deciding whether British interests are adequately safeguarded—and Commonwealth interests, too—I think that we now have the right Ministerial structure in the interim period for ensuring that no opportunity is lost for probing and determining the way in which we could move towards closer integration with Europe and in due course into membership of the European Economic Community—if we got the right terms, the minimum conditions on which I hope we would all insist.
Meanwhile, I would say just this about France, because although there are these difficulties about N.A.T.O.—and I think that no one will under-rate the difficulties resulting from France's decision in regard to N.A.T.O.—France is a major European Power and friend and ally of this country. We have continued to develop relations with our French partners and have been doing so on a progressive scale ever since my discussions with President de Gaulle a year ago. I believe that this bilateral approach is also an essential pre-condition of any constructive European policy for Britain.
92 We remember the terrible relations between Britain and France after the French veto on our entry into the Common Market in 1963. There were the virtual blocking of diplomatic channels, the cancellation of a Royal visit and other incidents. But I believe that we are now deployed, Ministerially and Governmentally, in a posture which will lead to much better relations with France, whatever may be the position about the E.E.C. If that is so, I am sure that no one welcomes this more than my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North.
Finally, I want to respond to the points made about Rhodesia by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I share his hope that, now that the General Election is over, this great issue of Britain's place in the world—this issue which is, as he himself called it, a moral issue—should, as far as possible, be regarded as a national problem above the normal interchange and currency of party politics. But the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have perhaps over-simplified the issue by saying that all we have to do is to embark on talks with Mr. Smith.
§ The Prime Minister
That was the simple message, as I understood it, that emerged from the visit of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) to Rhodesia. We now face a very serious and complicated situation and therefore I do not think that there is much point today in my going back into the question of how far this over-simplification by right hon. Gentlemen opposite—just as the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral's report and recommendation were an over-simplification—was related perhaps to some of the differences between right hon. and hon. Members opposite on the eve of a General Election.
I propose simply to examine the issue on its merits. I was one of those who hoped that this would be kept out of the General Election. At the beginning of the campaign, three or four very senior members of the Opposition Front Bench insisted, however, on making it a party issue, attacking the Government accordingly. For four days I refused to reply, although I was given every facility for doing so before very wide audiences, and 93 I asked my right hon. Friends principally concerned also not to reply.
But the challenges went on, including one from the Leader of the Opposition himself, and in the event I made a considered statement, hoping that this would end the argument. Now that the General Election is over I want to examine the proposition for talks on its merits. All parties in this House have condemned the illegal declaration of independence. Until a few weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition was saying that any negotiations should he preceded by the repudiation of that illegal act.
§ The Prime Minister
I said that the right hon. Gentleman took this view until a few weeks ago. I will be happy to look up the reference. His view was that the Rhodesian régime should repudiate the declaration before negotiations could be entered into. More recently, he has said that talks should be unconditional—although I note that he has taken the view, which I welcome, that there should be no question of dropping the economic sanctions while the talks went on. He has made that point clear but some of his right hon. and hon. Friends have taken up a different position.
I believe—and this is within the national policy on which we have been working together substantially in this House—that sanctions alone can bring the régime and its supporters to a recognition of the consequences of their act. My understanding of what the Leader of the Opposition was suggesting just before and during the General Election was that there should be unconditional negotiations.
I think that what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind was that sanctions should continue and that discussions, perhaps on a confidential basis, without publicity, should take place in which the British Government, while refusing to condone unconstitutional—indeed, rebellious—action would be prepared to talk about future constitutional action, while Mr. Smith or his representatives, while no doubt pressing for the legalisation of an illegal action, would not make such recognition a prior condition of the talks. I think that the right hon. Gentleman had it in mind that this would be action against the background of continuing 94 economic sanctions. But I have some doubts about certain pronouncements on sanctions by some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. The House will recall that there were some difficulties before Christmas, when some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite did not support oil sanctions.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
§ The Prime Minister
Surely the Opposition Chief Whip must remember that they did not. I understand that he has a difficult rôle. Some right hon. and hon. Members opposite would not support a policy of sanctions that they thought would be effective.
After the Christmas Recess, in a statement to the House, I indicated the basis on which we would be prepared to seek a constitutional settlement. I believe that this is the right basis for a settlement acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. They are conditions on which all parties and successive Governments in Britain have insisted. Such a settlement would be acceptable also to the wider international community which, while not directly concerned, is now involved as a result of the reckless action of last November.
In our debate on 12th November last year—the day after the illegal declaration of independence—I argued that this was a matter of British responsibility but of international concern, and that only to the extent that we were seen to be discharging that responsibility could we prevent it from becoming a matter in which others would seek to take over our responsibility—and not necessarily on the lines that we would consider appropriate or wise but perhaps on lines fraught with the gravest danger. We did not have the universal support of the House for that view.
I put the position to the House again in January. I do not want to make too many debating points about the contradictory utterances of Mr. Smith on the question of whether he does or does not want to enter discussions. I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral got the impression from his talks in Salisbury that, while negotiations would be extremely difficult—I think that that was the term he used—if not impossible, Mr. Smith might be prepared 95 to talk. The right hon. and learned Gentleman reported to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and he was very frank. But nothing in his report to my right hon. Friend suggested that he had brought back any basis on which a settlement could be reached. Nor did his report raise any new points on which Mr. Smith was prepared to move forward from issues rejected before last November.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (The Wirral)
I must challenge that statement by the right hon. Gentleman. He has made it before and I must challenge it now. I shall seek to catch your eye at a later stage, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when we debate this matter in detail. It is more suitable to argue the matter then than in an intervention.
§ The Prime Minister
I am sure that I have not referred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's findings inaccurately. Perhaps he is referring to my reference to the talk he had with my right hon. Friend. But certainly I have not been able to discover, in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about his talks with Mr. Smith, any hope of a forward movement which would enable us to solve this problem, recalling the issues on which discussions broke down so abruptly last November. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any points in mind which might be the basis of a settlement, even if he presents them belatedly now, I am sure that the House will welcome the chance to hear him should he catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
It has been very difficult to form any clear view about Mr. Smith's thinking on the possibility of talks. Two or three days before the General Election, he was reported to have made a broadcast which, according to the British Press, seemed to imply a flat rejection or repudiation of any idea of talks whatever. That was my impression and the impression of the Press as well. Some people thought that this broadcast was designed in some way perhaps to condition the votes of a few people during the General Election. But, a month before polling day, Mr. Smith had suggested—and this was widely reported—that if anyone now wanted talks, it was too late because the chance had gone several months ago. It is a fact 96 that leading members of the Smith régime at that time were categorically calling for a change of Government in Britain and announced their intention to do their utmost to secure one. Thus, Mr. Smith's statement could perhaps be put down as a kind of election fever caught from our own General Election.
On the other hand, last weekend, in an interview given to a Johannesburg paper, he is reported to have expressed full willingness to have talks. I do not want to make too much capital out of those contradictory utterances, but they are all that we have to go on in a public sense, and it would be wrong in any debates on this intensely grave issue to under-rate the problems and the pressures which Mr. Smith is himself facing in Rhodesia.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
Surely the information that the Prime Minister has to go on about Mr. Smith's intentions comes from the Governor and not from newspapers.
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, but not entirely; and we have some of the published statements which are made in a public sense and not communicated to the Governor or to anyone else, including the statement made last Saturday about the expulsion of the officials.
Members of all parties in the House have their own views about Mr. Smith's political philosophy, but we will be unrealistic in our approach to the problem if we do not recognise that in the present pattern of Rhodesian politics, by contrast with many who exercise influence there, Mr. Smith has to be accounted a relative moderate. He is not a moderate by the standards of this House, not even by the more extreme standards of the House, but in Rhodesian conditions there are good reasons to say that by comparison with some who have power there he must be accounted a moderate.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested talks. That was the thing which came out of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's visit. There has been nothing to prevent talks at any time since 11th November, and I can call in aid many statements in the House. But that is not all. The House will know that for a fortnight in March, a senior official of my right hon. Friend's Department was 97 in Salisbury. He went there because of the threat to expel senior British representatives from our Salisbury office. He was also able, obviously, and was specifically authorised, to receive any representations that the illegal régime or anyone else might have cared to make. Whether through the Governor or in any other way, Mr. Smith's administration were free to talk to him, as any other Rhodesians were, provided that that did not imply recognition of the illegal action of 11th November last. Subject only to that condition, there was no inhibition on any talks taking place.
I know that right hon. Gentlemen opposite think as highly of Mr. Duncan Watson's discretion and soundness as we on this side do. In the event, Mr. Duncan Watson, who had to meet officials of the régime to discuss the problems raised by the threatened expulsion of Mr. Fingland, also had discussions with the Secretary of the Rhodesian soi-disant Cabinet and with other high officials, including the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs. I have to tell the House that from those discussions nothing whatsoever emerged which even remotely suggested a solution which could have been acceptable by any responsible Member of the House. But Mr. Watson was there. Indeed, Mr. Watson informed the high officials with whom he was dealing of his willingness not only to talk to them but to meet Mr. Smith or anyone else nominated by Mr. Smith. Despite repeated inquiries and despite a return to Salisbury after some days in Lusaka, there was no response and Mr. Watson was left in no doubt that the régime had nothing to say at that time—and I stress the phrase "at that time"—to him or to the British Government. The House must draw its own conclusions from those facts.
Then again, after Mr. Fingland was expelled, another high official of the Commonwealth Relations Office was sent in his place—Mr. John Hennings. Mr. Hennings arrived in Salisbury on Good Friday. He was authorised to follow up the initiative that Mr. Duncan Watson had, with full Government authority, undertaken.
The Rhodesian régime, as we now know, have decided to expel Mr. Hennings and his staff, which we regret. 98 But Mr. Hennings, I trust, is going to be there for some time yet. It does not take effect immediately. Therefore, anyone in Rhodesia is free to approach him or the Governor, or both together, with proposals as to the basis on which a solution can be reached. But I want to repeat that that solution cannot be one which condones illegal or unconstitutional action. That is a point that I have fairly quoted from the right hon. Gentleman. There is a great deal that we are prepared to forgive and forget. We are not prepared to legalise an act of rebellion against the Crown. We are not prepared to compromise on the principles laid down by two successive Governments and two Prime Ministers of this country and accepted as a basis for negotiation by Mr. Smith when he had authority to negotiate on behalf of his country.
§ Mr. Anthony Barber (Altrincham and Sale)
Since the right hon. Gentleman has been prepared this afternoon to make public the advice which he received from a senior official of the Commonwealth Relations Office, will he also make public the advice that he has received from the Governor?
§ The Prime Minister
I have not made public any advice that I have received from a senior official of the Commonwealth Relations Office. I have been telling the House the instructions that he was given. It is our responsibility to give instructions, and it is appropriate in a very delicate situation like the present one to tell the House about them. We are in touch with the Governor. We get advice and, from time to time, we get views from the Governor. Some are made public. But we have had no further confirmation of what the Governor said or is reported to have said to Lord Bolton. However, the possibilities were there when Mr. Duncan Watson was there, and they are still there with Mr. Hennings' presence, quite apart from the standing freedom of any Rhodesian—Mr. Smith or anyone else—to go to the Governor with any proposals or ideas that he wants to discuss.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Do I understand that, when the Government here learned that the Governor in Rhodesia had said certain things to a member of another place, the Government 99 did not check up with the Governor about what he had said?
§ The Prime Minister
It would not be helpful if I said too much about the various methods of communication with the Governor, or about the frequency of communications or exchanges between us. I have been rather more forthcoming with the House than perhaps I should. [Laughter.] It is not an issue for joking. It will be recalled that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition several weeks ago was for talks on a secret and confidential basis. Therefore, I had to consider very carefully and seriously whether I was right in telling the House about the fact that these facilities were available in March and are available now. In saying as much as I have today, there is a danger that it might attract the glare of publicity, in the sense that the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly wished to avoid. Therefore, I think that I have been more forthcoming with the House than others might have thought right.
Nevertheless, so far as communications with the Governor are concerned, it would be a great mistake to go into too much detail about messages proceeding from him to the Government here or from the Government to him.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Barnet)
While I understand the difficulties of communications, according to the Prime Minister's information, is it true that the Governor believes that the time has now come for talks?
§ The Prime Minister
We have made clear on a number of occasions right from the beginning of November that there could be talks and should be talks. That was the view of the Governor, and it was our view. The Governor was there to receive representations and have talks in that way, and I have referred to the very special facilities which were provided in the month of March and which still exist. There has been no change about the Governor in that matter.
I want to turn now to the other issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman and deal with the problems raised by what was a very unscrupulous if ingenious attempt to defeat the oil embargo that was approved by the House last Decem- 100 ber and which, having been approved by the House, has to be regarded as being the law not only of Britain but of Rhodesia. So let us assume that, whether we voted for it or not, all of us now accept that the oil embargo is the law of Rhodesia.
It has been clear for several weeks that the illegal régime, by methods and means more appropriate to the more fanciful flights of 007 than the kind of world in which the rest of us are living, have been trying to break the ban on illegal imports of oil into Rhodesia.
I hope that no hon. Member will underrate the consequences if that embargo were to be broken, because, while Her Majesty's Government throughout these past months have reiterated in this House, in the United Nations, and in Commonwealth Conferences, our determination to keep the issue within our own control and to do it ourselves, a breach of the oil embargo through the reopening of the Umtali pipeline would not only be humiliating for Britain, or would have been, it would have meant that everything that we had set out to do by keeping the issue within our own control had failed.
Our naval forces had identified a tanker—a tanker on whose past murky history, despite its frequent changes of name, we had abundant information—which was approaching Beira. The Government in whose country it was then registered—it changed its registration with a rather high velocity of circulation—had already issued a decree forbidding its vessels to transport oil destined for Rhodesia, and that Government made every effort to turn it from its course by repeatedly drawing the attention of the master of the ship to this decree and warning him of the consequences if its provisions were violated.
Nevertheless we had no authority from the flag State ourselves to prevent the ship from entering Beira, the more so as the master had informed the British naval officer concerned that he had been ordered to proceed to Beira for bunkering and provisions only. We now know that this story was a lie, but nevertheless that is what he told the naval patrol.
In those circumstances, since the Resolution of 20th November of the United Nations was not mandatory, it would, in our view, have been contrary to international law to have used force ourselves, 101 for ourselves to have stopped that vessel going through into Beira on our initiative, not having been asked by the flag State to do so. Indeed, there was some doubt what the flag State was at that moment of time that afternoon, and not having been empowered by a United Nations Resolution, we therefore decided, rightly or wrongly, to let that vessel proceed on her way to Beira.
This was in accordance with what I had told the House in December would be our policy, that we would not operate a unilateral blockade on tankers seeking to enter Beira with oil for Rhodesia. I believe that we are open to criticism for letting her proceed to Beira, but I will defend our decision.
Behind the "Joanna" were other tankers, some of them already chartered and loaded with oil, any one of which, or all of which, might have tried to enter Beira after a similar record of deception—and it was a deception not only of ourselves but of the States to which they were supposed to owe flag allegiance. I believe that if we had meekly tolerated this breach of the embargo and let not merely one ship through, but all the others—and there were two or three by this time—the whole issue would have been taken right out of our hands so far as handling this was concerned.
When the House discussed these matters last December I said that if there was a seepage or leakage through the embargo which the House had approved we would not act alone, but only with international authority. But even before the tanker entered Beira with oil for Rhodesia, even before it reached Beira, action had begun on an international scale. The Committee of 24 had met. It was clear—because they said so—that they were determined to call for a meeting of the Security Council. They, and individual countries, both members of the Security Council and non-members, Commonwealth countries included, were determined on action—and I remind the House that this was before the "Joanna" reached Beira. The House can imagine what reaction there would have been if the "Joanna" had reached Beira and started to pump the oil. In these circumstances we decided to take the initiative with the United Nations.
102 What I said last December was that we would not operate a unilateral blockade. Despite the provocation—and it was provocation—we did not operate such a blockade. I said that if there was any leak through the embargo we would seek international action, and I warned the House that, whatever we did, there would be an initiative at the United Nations, and this matter cannot be dealt with by a simple application of vetoes, whatever the argument that might be applied one way or another for or against a veto.
The right hon. Gentleman rested his question this afternoon—a rather aggressive question I thought—on the fact that in an interchange during that very noisy debate I said that we would not promote such action. The position is that action had already been taken in the United Nations when we stepped in. Our Resolution was a response to our awareness that other nations were on their way to promoting a Resolution which would have been unacceptable to us, certainly to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I believe to the whole House. But I would be surprised if the right hon. Gentleman was going to mount an indictment on the fact that we took this action, because if he is critical of this action he really has a responsibility for responding to my hon. Friend and saying what they would have done, since they have accepted the need to make sanctions effective.
Right hon. Gentlemen opposite knew that a succession of tankers would have totally broken the oil embargo which this House had approved, and which was the law of Britain and the law of Rhodesia. They may or may not have known, but I can tell them, that six cargoes of crude oil had been purchased. We knew that, and there were reports that a number of tankers, running into double figures, had been, or were to be, chartered to break the embargo.
The question which we must ask is: if the Opposition want to make a thing of the interchange in the House on 21st December, would they or would they not have allowed these tankers to go in unimpeded? If they would not have allowed them to go in unimpeded, would they have intercepted them unilaterally on the high seas? From all they have said, I presume that they would not have done that. They would not have taken 103 a purely British action, and I said on 21st December that I would not feel free to do that. But do they, therefore, not agree that we were right to feel that we should have international authority to deal with this problem, because this decision of the United Nations was an essential condition to the solution of the Rhodesian problem? We were right to press our Resolution, and we were right to take a lead in rejecting amendments to it which might have had incalculable consequences.
But if right hon. Gentlemen opposite want to press this further in debate—and the right hon. Gentleman has indicated that he may wish to do so—he has, in fairness to the House, to the country, and to the Commonwealth, to state their alternative means of making sanctions effective, or their decision as to which of the two more extreme alternatives, the use of force or unconditional surrender by Britain, they would advocate.
§ Mr. Heath
The Prime Minister did not say that he would proceed by international action. It was not an intervention; it was in the main part of his speech. He said:The House can be quite certain that it would then be raised at the United Nations, and not by us. If there is a decision under Chapter VII in which it is suggested that a couple of frigates be placed outside Beira to stop oil tankers going through, this is what will happen, and it will happen by international decision. We do not ourselves propose to seek such a Resolution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1965; Vol. 722, c. 1919.]That is the operative part. The Prime Minister is not saying that he would seek it if somebody else went ahead, or that he would seek an international Resolution. This is clear. What the Prime Minister has done is to change his policy and I suggest that he should tell the House why he has done so.
I have two questions to put to the Prime Minister. First, is he saying that the country concerned was not prepared to allow the British Navy to intercept the tanker even though the country concerned wished to stop it going to Beira? I believe that it was the Greek Government. Secondly, is he saying that the Portuguese Government were not prepared to stop oil flowing even though 104 the Portuguese were trying to co-operate in the sanctions? Is the Prime Minister saying that both those countries would not co-operate?
§ The Prime Minister
I shall not attack our colleagues in that sort of language, but I will answer the questions. I am not saying that they were not willing to co-operate. The Greek Government were highly co-operative. They had no naval forces there. There was considerable doubt as to the replies they were getting from the master who swore blind that he was not going into Beira to unload oil for Rhodesia—though we now know that he was—and they had some doubt about whether they could accept what the master of the vessel told them.
In addition, there was considerable doubt as to which was the flag State at the time. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have read public accounts of this. We had no authority from the Greek Government ourselves to use naval forces involving a boarding party or firing across the bows of the vessel concerned to divert that ship from Beira. We had no authority to do that. But I would not like the right hon. Gentleman to conclude, to use his own words, that the Greek Government were uncooperative. They were highly co-operative, but I cannot say that they gave us authority on their behalf to intercept that ship by force.
With regard to Portugal—the other part of the question—and the right hon. Gentleman will know enough about what has been made public about this—we did not get then, and have not got now, any assurance whatsoever that they would agree to close the pipeline, whether as a result of a resolution of the company—in which they have a casting vote—or by straight Governmental action. I am sorry, but there was no assurance whatsoever that if that ship and others went in the pipeline would be closed; quite the contrary.
§ Mr. Heath
Were the Greek Government asked for authority to intercept, and did they refuse? That is the operative point.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is now taking us a long way into–[Interruption.]—I am sorry, but some of these matters are concerned with 105 the most delicate issues and dealings between nations. I have been very forthcoming with the House. This question was raised in connection with another vessel, and I can say that the Greek Government have been very co-operative. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the matter was frankly discussed between us then, but we did not receive authority to intercept that vessel. Despite the continuing discussions that we had had on the question of authority, the position is that we had no authority. Therefore, we decided not to take unilateral action to stop that ship going there.
The right hon. Gentleman has been reading out part of what happened on 21st December—and in a moment I want to explain to the House the consequences of this kind of semantic logic chopping and word chopping which is a large part of the right hon. Gentleman's contribution to the solution of the Rhodesia problem. I repeat what I have already explained to the House. I am prepared to read it all out, and the right hon. Gentleman must take into account the statement made on the subject and also the reply that I made to the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) in the intervention which was part of the reply which I thought gave him part of his case.
Paraphrasing what I said, I made it clear on that occasion that we would not seek a unilateral British blockade. I said that I hoped that there would not be a seepage or a leakage, but that if there was there would be international action—and that the House could count on it—and that it would not be raised by us, but by other people. I said that there would probably have to be a Chapter VII Resolution, but that we would not promote it. I have carried out these undertakings completely, by not taking unilateral action to stop that ship going to Beira—despite provocation—but we could not have continued in that position because we knew that there were other vessels going there.
The matter was raised in the United Nations in a dangerous and devastating sense. The right hon. Gentleman should study what happened in respect of the Committee of Twenty-Four concerning demands for a Security Council Resolution that all of us would have found very dangerous. In those circumstances, a 106 meeting of the Security Council having been asked for, we went ahead and tabled our Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman can say, "Is that promoting or is it not promoting a Resolution"—[Interruption.] The position is that, faced with this situation, I honoured what I said to the House, namely, that there would not be a unilateral blockade.
As for the question of raising and promoting Resolutions, I believe that we were entitled to promote the right Resolution without going back on what I said in the House. [Interruption.] I am not sure who intervened, but I hope that hon. Members opposite will realise the seriousness of the international issues with which we are dealing. They dealt with an international issue once, in the past, in a rather different way. We happen to have the United Nations on our side on this occasion. We refused to act until we were able to act under the rule of law, and not against the rule of law.
Our action has been completely consonant with our international obligations, and it has gone further; it has recognised—as the right hon. Gentleman once said—that we are dealing here with a vital moral issue. Should we have waited to recall the House and then have had a semantic debate on what was meant by the word "promote", or should we have taken action? If we ought not to have taken the action we took, what action does the right hon. Gentleman think we ought to have taken? [Interruption.] I want to deal with the Leader of the Opposition. He speaks for his party on this matter. I cannot be sure that anybody else who rises to speak will speak for his party. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties. These difficulties have been apparent from 11th November. Although he conceded that this is a moral issue, I am not sure that he has fully seen the extent to which it is an international issue.
We had a debate on 12th November when a lot of ribaldry was displayed by hon. Members opposite when I said that my right hon. Friend was going to the United Nations. I said that although it was our responsibility it was a matter of international concern. I deplore the fact that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are so niggly and are trying so much to extract the last possible meaning of a particular word.
107 This is one of the most difficult problems which any Government have ever had to face in this country in this century; it is far more difficult than the one they tried to solve, 10 years ago, because the complications are due to the fact that Rhodesia is at the point of interception of a number of distinct circles which cover vital Commonwealth interests and vital economic interests for Britain—and the economic interests cut more than two ways—covering Britain's standing in the new world. This issue is at the centre of that area of the new world which is dominated by race conflict, racial intolerance, and the ever-present danger of a race explosion. [Interruption.] We have been told that there will be a debate next Wednesday, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to get in then. Wrong decisions here, or the failure to take the necessary action because of the fear—as the right hon. Gentleman might say—that we had split an infinitive, could have touched off, and it still could touch off, a new division in world affairs based not on ideology but on colour. That is why these issues cannot be dismissed in terms of semantics and probings.
§ Mr. Heath
The Prime Minister started this section of his speech by saying that he wanted to get the greatest possible accord in the House, but he could not have gone about doing so in a worse way. The plain fact is that he said in his speech—[Interruption.]—the Prime Minister has given way to me. I have been listening to what he has said, and I am going to say my piece now. On 21st December the Prime Minister clearly said that he would not seek a Resolution. That is not logic chopping or semantics. It is clearly set out in HANSARD. If he said that in the situation in which he found himself he decided to seek a Resolution the House would accept it. That is all that we are asking. Our responsibility is to probe. We want to know whether he did everything possible, before undertaking the hazards of Chapter VII at the United Nations. We are not satisfied with his reply and we shall go on pressing him.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to do so. He has 108 read it out. Sometimes an alternative Government—if that is what he thinks his party is—might have the duty of telling the House what they would do when they reject the course that is being taken by the Government of the day.
We were asked whether we would seek a Resolution or not. We did not seek it; a Resolution was forced upon us by the fact that once a ship was on the way, even before it got near Beira, other countries took the initiative within the United Nations. I shall ask the right hon. Gentleman what he would have done in that situation. Anyone can read two sentences and put his interpretation on them, but there are much deeper issues here than the interpretation of two sentences. As for the right hon. Gentleman's reference to keeping this matter out of politics, we have been reading in the Press for the last fortnight that we would be condemned or even censured in respect of this action—and that did not come entirely by spontaneous combustion on the part of the Press. We shall go through with this issue, since the right hon. Gentleman demanded it.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I wonder whether the Prime Minister can say why his noble Friend was dispatched for talks with the Portuguese Government and why no reference was made by him to the actions that Her Majesty's Government were taking in the United Nations, although those actions were taking place at the very time when his right hon. Friend was discussing these matters with Portuguese Ministers.
§ The Prime Minister
Because a vital decision had to be taken with every speed after the repeated movements to and fro of that vessel—the assurances had been given that it was not going to Beira and then we found at the last minute that it was—and because of the speed with which things were moving at the United Nations. Our contacts with the Portuguese Government over a long period of months gave our Portuguese friends plenty of time before then and on that day to give us assurances which would have meant that it might not have been necessary to take the action which we did at the United Nations.
I will try to see now where the Opposition stand on this. I have told them where we stand and they know where we stand. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] We 109 took action. I thought that that was the complaint, that we took the action. If they do not agree with it, no doubt they will put down a Motion of censure. If they want to pursue it, they must take this course. They can please themselves what they do. I have tried to analyse their position. The Leader of the Opposition rejects the illegal act and has never been equivocal about that. He recognises that once one rejects the illegal act, there are three main avenues of choice for this country.
One would be unconditional surrender by this country to the illegal régime and acceptance of the act and all that would follow for Britain's standing in the world—[Interruption.] I should like to have the right hon. Gentleman's attention, although I know that he has to indoctrinate a new Front Bench spokesman on these matters. There was a good deal of doubt on this very question in the United Nations as to who did speak for the Opposition a fortnight ago. I gather that there was trouble about it.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to give us his attention, because I feel that throughout he has been unequivocal about rejecting the illegal act of 11th November: there is no question about that. There are, therefore, three choices. One would be unconditional surrender, and the right hon. Gentleman himself by this time must know what that would mean for Britain's standing, not only in the Commonwealth and the United Nations, but in world opinion generally. He must know that by now, even if he has frequently appeared rather to discount it.
That is one course. I assume that he rejects unconditional surrender. The second one—he has been completely consistent in rejecting this also—is the use of force in terms of a military intervention to impose a given constitutional settlement. He has opposed this and so have we. In the speech which he quoted, I sharply distinguished between the use of force in that context with the measures which might be necessary on an international basis to deal with oil-running activities by international spivs. To say, as he has done, that we have gone back on our stand against the military use of force and to say that we have used it in this case is a complete twisting 110 of our words in the House. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman laughs. He can get up in a moment and he can read out to me what I said on 21st December, distinguishing between the use of force to impose a constitutional settlement by invasion and whatever might have been necessary to maintain an international blockade. I made that distinction. When I refused the use of force, it was in the first sense. He understood that last December. Why is he sniggering now, when I use the exact words which I used in that context?
I could read out the whole relevant part of my speech on that occasion. I do not want to weary the House, so I hope that he will accept that, if he turns to column 1916 in HANSARD, he will find it. If he or right hon. Members opposite do not feel that I am reporting it fairly, of course I will read it out. If the right hon. Gentleman rejects unconditional surrender and also military intervention to impose a constitutional settlement, it leave us only with a third, middle course—no other has been suggested in the House—and which is repugnant and hurtful, that of gradually tightening economic sanctions to the point where the régime must recognise not only the virtually unanimous anger of mankind, but the determination of mankind—and especially of Britain—to deal with the action which they have taken.
Repeatedly, the right hon. Gentleman has expressed his support for sanctions. He said this afternoon that, in any talks with the Rhodesians, sanctions should continue. Therefore, he cannot with any logic, and certainly not if he has been thinking about the importance of the matter in world affairs, tolerate activities specifically designed not only to weaken but to destroy those sanctions. The logic of both our positions—they are close together here—is to see that these sanctions are not destroyed by action of the kind presented by the action of the "Joanna" and the "Manuela".
If he is to argue that, for any reason, we were wrong to stop the oil trafficking to Beira, he has the duty either to say how the sanctions would be made effective or, if he cannot do that, of stating unequivocally which of the other two alternatives—unconditional surrender to illegality or the use of force—he would advocate, when we know perfectly well that 111 he has, quite rightly, I believe, rejected both. I know his difficulties, but it was he who insisted on raising Rhodesia. It was he who insisted on devoting a whole day to it next week, with possibly a Motion of censure. However, because of the difficulties which we know he may be suffering here, if he cannot help in this very difficult situation, I believe that he would be best serving the nation and the maintenance of the values which are at stake by not hindering, either.
§ Mr. Heath
I should like to ask the Prime Minister about his own logic. As the Press reports that oil is going out from South Africa to Rhodesia, will he therefore support a Resolution in the United Nations for a blockade of South Africa or the whole of southern Africa? That is the logic of his position.
§ The Prime Minister
When the right hon. Gentleman gets into this sort of state, he always wants to make things as difficult as possible for good relations between this country and every other country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer the question. I have answered what happened about Portugal. We are in discussion with the South African Government at this time. We have had two series of exchanges and there will be more exchanges. We must await the result of those exchanges. I will not be pushed by the right hon. Gentleman, on grounds of logic or anything else, into stirring up unnecessary trouble with another country, just because the right hon. Gentleman's entire contribution to the debate this afternoon has been to criticise what we did and provide no alternative solution to this specific problem—the challenge presented to us by the breaking of an oil embargo which I thought hon. and right hon. Gentlemen now supported.
This is—[Interruption.]—I know that some did not support it, but I thought that it was the logic of the position of all of us that we had to make these sanctions effective. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman says, "I support sanctions so long as they are not effective". Of course he means that they should be effective and these had to be made effective.
112 I do not apologise for spending longer than I had intended on the subject of Rhodesia. This is a vitally important issue and it will be clearly an issue of conflict between the parties. I am sorry if that is so, but I have defended our position and I have asked for any advice or the suggestion of any alternative course of action. If right hon. Gentlemen opposite want to push this matter forward in debate, we shall be ready to meet them and try to educate them to the fact which they have not yet learned—the importance of this issue. It was once understood by the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) when he was Colonial Secretary, and by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) when he was Colonial Secretary, but they seem, since they arrived on that side of the House, to have forgotten the whole lesson of the wind of change which they used once to proclaim.
They may understand it, but some editorial articles in last year's Spectator provided some of the most disgraceful interpretation of the issue and provocation to the extremist elements below the Gangway in the Conservative Party which some of us have ever had the misfortune to read.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman basically understands these things, whatever the temptations at that time, and I think that further debates will give us the opportunity to bring home to hon. Gentlemen opposite what this means to Britain's standing in the world, for relations between us and other countries and for the colour question, which could explode in the most dangerous way, and where our duty lies in dealing with these responsibilities which, through no fault of ours, history has thrust upon us.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
May I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on this your first occupation of the Chair. I also join those who have congratulated the mover and seconder of the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. I turn straight away to Rhodesia. I find it inconceivable that anyone who thinks that sanctions should be made effective could think that we could sit by and allow a succession of oil tankers to break the embargo.
113 I do not share the view that the ultimate disaster is that the matter should be raised in the United Nations. I do not even share the view that it would be altogether a bad thing if the Red Army were to be found in blue berets. I would rather that they wore blue berets than red berets going about the world. In any case, I cannot imagine how anyone who thinks that sanctions must be made effective could have taken no action when, obviously, oil would have poured into Portuguese territory.
There is a strong feeling in the Conservative Party—I have no doubt it is a sincere feeling—that sanctions should not be made effective. I believe that there are many people in that party who think that sanctions should be imposed on Rhodesia as a gesture of disapproval. Whenever they start to bite one finds a continual murmur in the Conservative Party that this is extremely unfair. If sanctions are to be effective, they will hurt. It is no good blinding oneself to this fact. If one objects every time sanctions begin to bite, and if one objects to every particular act to make them effective, what one is saying is that we do not want sanctions to work but that we merely want to keep sanctions as a gesture of moral disapproval.
§ Mr. Heath
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this question, which I put to the Prime Minister, which is a question of logic? If the right hon. Gentleman takes that view, is he therefore prepared entirely to blockade Rhodesia, which means a full blockade of the whole of Southern Africa? He may well be logical and say "Yes", in which case I would respect his integrity, but I would like to know.
§ Mr. Grimond
I concede that the right hon. Gentleman would like to know. I am honoured that he should ask me. In the last Parliament we ran the Government; perhaps we shall run it again in this Parliament. Speaking for the Prime Minister—although it is he who should say this—I believe that we must make up our minds to make sanctions effective through taking steps to see that the rest of the world makes them mandatory. I do not deny that this is a difficult decision—
§ Mr. Grimond
I am answering it. I am saying that if a gap is broken in the sanctions to such an extent that the whole policy is threatened with failure, this country is right to go to the United Nations and say, "You must give us authority to plug this gap."
§ Mr. Heath
The question is plain and simple. It is known that oil is going into Rhodesia from South Africa. The South African Prime Minister has stated that if sanctions are made mandatory under Chapter VII, South Africa will not co-operate. Is it the position of the Leader of the Liberal Party that he would have a blockade of the whole of South Africa? If so, let him say so clearly.
§ Mr. Grimond
We are waiting for the Leader of the Opposition to tell us what he would do. However, I will answer first. I understand that the Government are at present negotiating with South Africa to see whether this leak can be stopped. I fully accept the Prime Minister's view that he does not want to prejudice those negotiations, which I understood him to say were going on, by making a premature announcement in this House.
My view, however, is that if there should persist through South Africa such a flow of oil or other commodities into Rhodesia as would make our policy totally ineffective, this is a matter we should have to take to the United Nations. I would not act illegally and unilaterally, but we would be right to do as I have just said. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) does not agree with the whole policy. I do not agree with, but I respect, his point of view. But what is the Conservative point of view? The Conservatives are simply sitting back. They want sanctions, but they would allow them to fail. For a party which went into the election saying, "We want action, not words", surely that is ridiculous.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
When the Leader of the Liberal Party says that we should go to the United Nations to enforce these sanctions, that is absolutely right. We should have to try to persuade 115 the United Nations to back our will by international action. It is not a question of them forcing us. If it were a question of the 24 or anybody like that seeking international action which was not asked for by the British Government, that would be immediately vetoed by the Americans, by the French and by a majority in the Security Council. Furthermore, we would have the utmost difficulty in persuading the Americans to support us in advancing sanctions against South Africa. It is not the other way round with us being pushed. It is a question of whether we can push the United Nations.
§ Mr. Grimond
That may well be so. I fully give the Leader of the Opposition the point that my personal view is that the Prime Minister has been far too cautious in his constant statements that he would not do this and that. I believe that Mr. Smith—not us, but Mr. Smith—has unleashed in Africa a force which may lead no one knows where, and that it is impossible to say exactly what action may or may not have to be taken in this situation.
I pass now to the question of talks. The Prime Minister stressed—
§ Mr. Heath
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this important point, may I ask him this? He is quite prepared to see that arrangements are apparently made with South Africa or that discussions are carried on. Surely, he must also recognise that the Opposition are entitled to try to satisfy themselves that other action was properly explored, and possibly taken, before the Government went to the United Nations. It is an exactly similar position. We are perfectly entitled to satisfy ourselves about that, and on that we are not satisfied.
§ Mr. Grimond
I do not blame the Opposition for this, but it is they who are constantly calling on others to make their position clear without themselves saying, on the major issue, whether they want the oil to get into Rhodesia or the sanctions to be effective.
We in the Liberal Party want the sanctions to be effective. I give the Leader of the Opposition credit for having said that Mr. Smith is running a police State, and that this is a moral issue, and so on. Having said that, however, he should 116 surely say that he is determined to stop this major breach in the sanctions, and then he can ask what preliminary steps have been taken. That would be legitimate. I detect, however, a fundamental wobbling about whether the Conservative Party want the sanctions to fail.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am glad to know that the Leader of the Opposition wants them to succeed. He wants the oil to be stopped. He is a little uneasy, I understand, about whether it might have been stopped in some other way.
My evidence is that white people all over Africa, in Rhodesia and in other countries, who are, so to speak, pursuing the policy which is supposed to be agreed in this House, are finding their task made much more difficult by this constant carping of Conservative opposition and by the feeling that if the Conservatives were in Government they would come to some agreement or make things easy for the Rhodesian Government and, therefore, that there is no solidarity of view that Mr. Smith is a rebel and is pursuing policies which we cannot tolerate.
I turn now to the question of talks. The Conservatives themselves talked to Mr. Smith for a year and they found that any proposals which he had for the future of Rhodesia were quite unacceptable. The Prime Minister then talked to Mr. Smith and found that Mr. Smith's proposals were quite unacceptable. It is common ground between all parties that after long negotiations with Mr. Smith no basis upon which there could be agreement for constitutional advance in Rhodesia was possible.
Has anything happened to make anyone think that Mr. Smith has now changed his mind so significantly that it is worth opening talks again? I have never found this. No one has explained to me that there is any new factor in the situation which would justify us in saying that where the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) failed and where the Prime Minister failed, Mr. Smith has now so altered his view that it is useful to start talks again.
The Prime Minister stressed that we cannot condone an illegal act. The point which I would rather stress is that we are 117 in Rhodesia as trustees for the black majority. This is not a revolt by the majority. It is a revolt by a very small white minority. We are there to see that the black majority, in not too distant a future, get their rights granted to them. We are all agreed about that. I do not believe that it would be any good to go into any form of conversation, talk or negotiation with people who fundamentally deny that. I strongly suspect that the great majority of Mr. Smith's illegal régime deny it and have no intention within the foreseeable future of giving the majority of the native black population of Rhodesia the position in their own country which everybody in this country believes that they should have.
Before coming to the question of Parliamentary reform, one other matter to which I should like briefly to refer is the Common Market.
§ Mr. Paget
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that subject, if Mr. Smith were prepared to agree to terms containing reasonable sanctions which would provide for a transition to African majority rule within a period of, say, 12 to 15 years, would those terms be considered reasonable by the right hon. Gentleman and would he accept them?
§ Mr. Grimond
If Mr. Smith came forward with definite proposals saying that there should and would be African majority rule within 10 years, I certainly believe that he would be listened to, but I have never seen an indication that Mr. Smith would come forward with a proposal anywhere near that. Certainly, if he did, the matter would have to be examined.
I leave that subject because I do not want to detain the House for long. There is a sentence in the Gracious Speech which is almost as remarkable as that about the development of science. It is the sentence which states:My Government will continue to promote the economic unity of Europe and to strengthen the links between the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Community.Has it been a major policy of this Government to promote the economic unity of Europe? I doubt if the Europeans think this. I doubt whether the surcharge is considered to be a contribution in that direction by Europe and I doubt 118 whether economic unity in Europe has been promoted by the Government's attitude to the Common Market.
Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, I take it that the sentence means that there is a move in the mind of the Government towards being rather more favourably disposed to the Common Market. However, the following words read:They would be ready to enter the European Economic Community provided essential British and Commonwealth interests were safeguarded".That is an extremely vague phrase, and one must ask whether the words in the Gracious Speech referring to the Common Market means anything or nothing.
When the Prime Minister says that the Government will be ready to enter the European Economic Community, does this mean that the Government, having shelved their reservations about the political implications of such a move, are prepared, for example, to accept such things as the voting system in the Community and that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the Community as we know it exists and not about a different type of Gaullist organisation which might be brought into being? I take it that the expression of solidarity means acceptance of the ideals of the E.E.C. and of its basic principle. If so, I am glad to have it, and I trust that in the debate on foreign affairs that fact will be made abundantly clear.
I turn to a matter which is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech but which figured in the speech of the Prime Minister. It is the question of Parliamentary and Governmental reform. This morning we had what appears now to be a step in the direction of televising the House of Commons. I very much regret the form in which it took place. Those of us who hold the view, as I do, that the proceedings in the House of Commons should be televised, thought that the whole idea came near to being sabotaged.
I entirely concur that the House of Commons should be consulted before such a thing happens and that it should have been consulted before this morning's television broadcast took place. I understand that the battery of arc lamps to which we were subjected is not necessary to televise our proceedings, but that they were necessary this morning because a 119 colour film was being taken. I further understand that it is not necessary to concentrate huge cameras on a particular point or points of the Chamber, resulting in a curious desert being created in one corner of the Chamber because hon. Gentlemen opposite, those retiring flowers, felt that they might not be within camera shot.
It is exactly that sort of thing—a congregation of prima donnas angling and shuffling to get into the best places; to be within camera shot—that worries many hon. Members when they think in terms of televising our proceedings, and, alas, that nearly happened this morning. Fortunately, a few respectable hon. Members like myself, who happen to be in shot anyway, sat where we always sit. None the less, a certain amount of ammunition was provided for those who are against televising our proceedings, and this is a great pity.
We must come to terms with the latest mass media of communications. Most of the arguments used against televising the proceedings of the House were no doubt used in the eighteenth century against HANSARD. It would be a good thing for the public to see what goes on here, and I am sure that if that were done it would improve our proceedings. I hope that experiments will be carried out to see if our proceedings can be televised without the paraphernalia of arc lamps and so on that we had this morning. If the first experiments fail, I trust that other attempts will be made. I am equally in favour of the affairs of Committees being televised. I trust that experiments will continue, but not in the form of this morning's effort.
On the question of setting up committees, the Prime Minister was careful to say that he was only giving examples. However, it seems strange that this should not have been mentioned in the Gracious Speech, because I believe it absolutely vital for Parliament to get its proceedings in order and reform itself, so that we have a better method of conducting our business before the Government tell everyone else in the country how they should run theirs. I am strongly against steel nationalisation, but even were I in favour of it I would rather see the modernisation of Parliament taking precedence. We would have a much 120 more fruitful debate about steel nationalisation if we reformed our procedures first so that we could be given more information. We should have new methods of dealing with matters before embarking on them.
Would the Prime Minister say whether the committees about which he spoke are to be permanent? In other words, if a committee is set up within the Home Office, will it report on the machinery and so on of the Home Office and then be dissolved, or will it go on to other things and be a permanent committee? Will such committees have power to examine not only the Department or office which is under examination, but particular cases or policies? Many hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Northampton and I, have time and again asked questions about the Expiring Laws covering, for example, immigrants. Those Measures will come up in a few weeks' time. We have constantly pressed that a continuous watch should be kept on how those Measures are administrated.
Will these committees discharge that sort of task? Who will appear before them? We were informed that junior and possibly senior Ministers will appear before them, but what about officials? Will these committees have the right to examine officers and officials, and will they have far better sources of information than are now open to them? If, for example, a committee is examining a financial matter, will it be able to call on its own staff of accountants? If it is examining a scientific matter, will it have scientifically trained staff at its disposal, rather than merely at the disposal of the Department which it is examining?
When we consider the regional committees, it must be remembered that the Scottish Grand Committee is not the type of committee which many hon. Members wish to see set up. That is not an expert committee which can deal with a matter on a non-party basis. It is a microcosm of this House and can deal with anything on only a strictly party basis. In the Scottish Grand Committee the Government of the day have a majority and affairs are conducted rather in the manner of the Chamber of the House.
I take it that these new committees will be sitting not in the way we think 121 of Committees of the House but rather around the table, similar to the Estimates Committee, getting down to a detailed examination of whatever is under review. If that is the sort of committee set-up the Prime Minister has in mind, we will have a valuable departure, one which will enable a non-political examination to be conducted of any matter, rather than having a duplication of, for example, the Scottish Grand Committee.
The Prime Minister referred to our hours of business. It is no good changing our hours of business unless the House is relieved of some of its business. I say that because at various times most hon. Members are in the building in the morning, very often in Committees. Televising Parliament would probably help to show the public the amount of work that hon. Members must do in this building when the House is not sitting—dealing with correspondence and so on—and that we are not strolling through Green Park.
§ Mr. Maxwell
Like many hon. Members, I immensely enjoy listening to the right hon. Gentleman. Would he be good enough to answer this question? Now that the Liberal Party will no longer be running for Government, what will the Liberal Party be doing in this Parliament? Does he propose to implement his proposal to resign as Leader of the Liberal Party, since there is a firm Government who will be in power for the next five years?
§ Mr. Grimond
I am prepared to discuss that and any other matter with the hon. Gentleman, but at the appropriate time. At present I am embarking on a speech of my own, and, on this occasion, I will continue with it, taking care not to give way again to the hon. Gentleman.
As I was saying, if the House is seriously to consider its procedure, it must come to terms with the basic problems. The tradition of the House of Commons is an old and very simple one. It is that we have a Government which is responsible for all decisions and a House of Commons comprised of people who are sent here to criticise and check that Government after the decisions have been taken—decisions for which the House has no responsibility. My view is that that is out of date. It does not meet the need for a managerial side of Gov- 122 ernment, and it does not meet the need to deal with subjects like the Health Service, education or the nationalised industries, matters which were totally outside the Government responsibility in the days of Simon de Montfort. Let us be clear that the whole British governmental system is quite simple. There is the Executive which is not directly elected. There is the House of Commons which is directly elected to keep an eye on the Executive. Do hon. Members want to continue that system or not? If we change it, then we must share responsibility with the Executive. If we have a specialist committee and it supports a Minister, the Minister is entitled to say, "We discussed this and you agreed." I know that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) wants to stick to the present system. I believe that this is the fundamental core of the matter.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
I should be very sorry to see any such development. I should not like people to think that the right hon. Gentleman was correct in saying that I am against reform of the House of Commons. I am in favour of reform of the House of Commons, but regard the setting up of Select Committees which will prevent the House from working properly as a step of retrogression. I want changes which will enable relevant, topical, urgent matters always to be debated on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Grimond
It is very important to bring out this point. There is a genuine point of disagreement. I am not certain which way the new committees will move. I suspect that they are moving in the direction in which I want them to move in the sense that we shall get certain things discussed in a committee, in a non-frictional atmosphere. There will be a blurring of responsibility. Some responsibility for decision will remain with all parties, and we shall not get it clear-cut. I favour that for this reason. I think that there is a whole range of managerial subjects over which there is no great party clash, but there is a great demand by our constituents that we should examine more closely what is happening in regard to the nationalised industries, Exchequer accounts, education and so forth. This is a growing demand of the country. I point to the importance of the Public Accounts Committee as 123 showing that the demand is being, to some extent, met already even in this House.
It is also important to improve the grip of the House over the affairs and to make its criticism of Government more effective. A very large subject is our power over finance, which has slipped from us. The Estimates are passed on the nod. We must find a way of dealing with this.
I should like to see an extension of Question Time. I should like to see that when the Order Paper shows that some subject is bulking large in the minds of hon. Members—as a result of the number of Questions tabled—we could have a short debate, limited, to say, an hour, at the end of Questions on that subject, and these occasions should be determined by Mr. Speaker or, if necessary, by simply a reference to the number of Questions on the Order Paper. I regard Question Time as being extremely valuable, but an hour of simple Questions and supplementary questions is very often not enough to ventilate particularly urgent topics. Now they may have to be put aside for weeks and then discussed at great length in a full-scale debate when they may have lost all topicality. The enormous set speeches which often open a debate can kill it by six or seven o'clock at night.
We ought to have far better information. It is ludicrous that one cannot find out what the business of the House is going to be more than eight days ahead. There are topics on which hon. Members should have access to information through the Library or Government Departments. Far more detailed information than at present should be available. Anyone who reads the amount of defence information available to Congress must be struck by the ludicrous thinness and insufficiency of our own Defence White Papers. Even for the purpose of keeping tag on the Government, it would be valuable for the House to have its own expert advisers. If it is to do its job of criticism, it must have a type of expert at its disposal which was unnecessary when our procedures took shape.
There is also the question of saving time. I believe that the last two days have been a complete waste of time. It is not as though swearing in was dignified. It is extremely undignified. It is not a 124 tradition that lends any diginity to the House. There are many other such customs. I am in favour of keeping basic dignities which help our procedures and help to preserve order, but there is this type of time-wasting of which I have given only one example. There is our procession to the Lords when Bills are approved. These are things which do not lend any very great prestige to our House.
I couple this with electoral reform. I put this position forward quite seriously. If we are to have specialist committees and, therefore, blur the party lines and the lines of responsibility, the case for electoral reform becomes much stronger. I accede that so far as we have an absolutely rigid party system and a rigid chain of responsibility through the constituency and hon. Members up here and to the individual Minister who is forced to come here at Question Time and answer out of his own mouth—it is a unique system—there are objections—but I do not think that they are conclusive—about electoral reform. The case is made stronger if one is to have Parliamentary reform.
I link this with devolution for Scotland and Wales and democratic elements in regional development. It is not enough to have the Scottish Grand Committee or the Welsh Grand Committee or any other regional committee of this House. We want new centres of decision-taking all over Britain. One of the causes of over-centralisation of the country is that everything has to be decided in London. We shall never redevelop the under-developed regions until decisions are taken there by the people themselves. These are big questions which I hope will be debated further in this Parliament.
One of the most important things which ought to be in the Gracious Speech was merely mentioned in the Prime Minister's speech. The House had better devote a considerable amount of time to how it can make itself work better before it has any right to talk about modernising fishing, agriculture and horticulture, as mentioned in the Gracious Speech. If it cannot modernise itself, no one will believe that it can modernise anything else.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
As the first ordinary back-bencher to speak in 125 this debate since its opening, may I add my congratulations to those which have already been offered to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I should have liked to explore the many subjects raised in the extremely interesting speech by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. J. Grimond), but I have promised to be brief. I want to touch on only one of the points that he raised, the experiment in television and filming this morning.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me this early opportunity of amplifying and perhaps slightly clarifying, though very briefly—for three or four minutes—the point made on the same subject earlier this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). As Chairman of the Select Committee which was, in the last Parliament, considering the whole question of the broadcasting of our proceedings, I was surprised to learn that this experiment had been authorised. I was still more surprised to read one or two reports to the effect that this had been done on the recommendation of that Select Committee. This was inaccurate. No such recommendation was made, as hon. Members can see for themselves if they will be good enough to look at the interim Report and Minutes of the Select Committee's Proceedings published just before the dissolution of the last Parliament.
As we now know, and as my right hon. Friend mentioned, the experiment was carried out on the recommendation of the House of Commons Services Committee. I make no criticism of that. The Select Committee on the Broadcasting of Proceedings in the House of Commons has, of course, not yet been reconstituted, and I must not seem in any way to prejudge or anticipate any findings that the Committee may make—I hope with all possible speed. All that I would respectfully say now is that hon. Members generally should also refrain from prejudging the general question of principle solely on the basis of this morning's experience. It must not be assumed that either the lighting or the type of camera used today is at all comparable with those that would be required in this Chamber should the Select Committee make certain recommendations and should the House accept them.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
As the first back bencher to speak from this side of the House, I join with the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) in extending to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, our very sincere good wishes on your election and wish you every success in your high office.
My initial reaction when reading the Gracious Speech earlier today was that it embraces a legislative outline covering almost everything that could conceivably come within the scope of Parliament and Parliamentary time. I do not think it unfair—certainly it is not meant to be unfair—to say that there is literally something for everyone in the legislative programme. This House is quite clearly in for a legislative marathon in the next 18 months. Therefore, the remarks of the Leader of the Liberal Party were particularly apposite when he was referring to suggestions for Parliamentary reform. I go quite a long way with him in what he said, for I am rather partial to the American system, perhaps with the exclusion of the Rules Committee.
There are six points in the Gracious Speech on which I wish to comment. The first is to be found in the fifth paragraph where there is a reference to reorganisation of the Army Reserve and Auxiliary Forces. In this regard the Government's record in the last Parliament was particularly disturbing. I trust that their original ideas, which were tantamount to decimation of the Territorial Army, have been modified in the light of the numerous discussions which have taken place between members of the Government and the T.A. Council.
Speaking for Northern Ireland—I am not competent, nor do I pretend to be, to speak on reactions elsewhere in the United Kingdom—the Government's original plans would have torn the heart out of the existing Territorial Army structure and would have created considerable civilian unemployment in T.A. associations. As for the existing high morale, that would have been considerably undermined. The Territorial Army in Northern Ireland, and no doubt elsewhere, is highly efficient and many of its units are up to combat strength. To destroy these carefully built up units would be nothing short of tragic.
127 Not only does the Territorial Army occupy a very valuable place in the defence structure of the country and offer a most effective Army Reserve force, but it also provides—as seems often to be forgotten—a most valuable vehicle for Regular Army recruiting. Again referring to Northern Ireland, if one compares Army, Navy and Air Force recruitment figures for 1964 with those of 1965, one finds comparable figures for the Navy and Air Force for the two years, yet for the Army there was a substantial fall-off in recruiting during 1965. This can be attributed only to the effect which uncertainty about the future of the T.A. had on Regular Army recruitment.
With the Regular Army stretched to capacity all round the world looking after global commitments—I certainly am not criticising them in any way—it is very important that we should have an effective defence force here at home. Time without number one has read and heard of the Territorial Army being likened to an insurance policy. That is a perfectly valid comparison. If one has an insurance policy against burglary or fire in a house and there is no claim for 10 or 20 years, that is no earthly reason for cancelling the cover, or even reducing it. The vast majority of people would like to see some economy in defence expenditure, but a penny-wise policy whereby a very few million £s are saved and which would destroy an existing and proven defence force structure would be the height of folly and would be extremely short-sighted. Mr. Robert McNamara, the outstanding American Secretary for Defence, has likened defence expenditure to an investment gamble and has said that the choice is to gamble with resources or gamble with lives. I should not choose to gamble with lives.
On the final page of the Gracious Speech there is a most welcome reference to further stages of the Government's review of social security to ensure to pensionersa fair share in the country's rising living standards.I very much hope that this will at last include those for whom no pension provision whatever is currently being made. It is nothing short of a disgrace that there are tens of thousands of very elderly 128 persons—they cannot be under 84 years of age—who retired before the National Insurance Act, 1947, and who, through no fault of their own, are deprived of receiving a single penny in State retirement pension merely because of an arbitrary dateline which had to be drawn in the 1947 Act.
It is quite unreasonable to blame those people for retiring at a predetermined date! It is absolutely monstrous that those people, who perhaps through frugal living when they were employed were able to set aside a few £s for their retirement, should have their hard-earned savings subjected not only to continuous rises in the cost of living, but also to depreciation of the real value of money. These people have been forgotten. They are completely powerless to cushion themselves against rising prices. I hope that the review will contain something for them.
One of the unfairest provisions in current social security provisions is the arbitrary age limit for widows under 50 which prevents over 120,000, who have not been in employment for many years, from getting any pension at all. There can be no social justice in a system which is so rigidly applied. If there were to be flexibility in the application and administration of the age level of 50, many widows would get some benefit. The cost of reducing the age from 50 to 45, which would benefit 60,000, would be £10 million. Expressed in another way, it would be 1d. on the insurance stamp. To abolish the age restriction altogether and to benefit about 120,000, would cost £20 million—2d. on the insurance stamp. I cannot believe that anyone in employment today would begrudge those two pennies on the weekly insurance stamp if it were to give a reasonable pension to those bereft of husbands while under the age of 50.
There is no mention in the Gracious Speech of whether the Government intend to accept or otherwise the recent Geddes Report. It is noteworthy that at this time of the year when company accounts and annual reports of companies are coming out almost daily, those which have come from companies in the various shipyards show that none has had a particularly good financial year. The reports from each of the chairmen forecast nothing very encouraging, but 129 shipbuilding is a vital national industry. It is not only a massive employer of labour, but is an effective earner of foreign currency. I hope that the Government will accept the Geddes Report and will see that there is an effective case for doing something on the lines of the Shipbuilding Credit Scheme, even if not exactly on those lines. The value to that basic industry in 1963 when the scheme was in operation was proved many times over.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made reference to the fact that the Companies Bill does not make a reappearance in the Gracious Speech. I am delighted that it is not to be reintroduced, unless the format of the Bill is changed substantially before it re-emerges in this House. There was one particularly severe—I might almost say vicious—provision in that Bill. That was the requirement that small private companies should declare to the Registrar their turnover and their profits. I come from an area which is predominantly a small company economy. Eighty-five per cent. or 90 per cent. of Northern Ireland companies are in the small exempt private company category. For such firms to have been required by law to reveal their turnover and their profits would have been to have given to would-be take-over bidders for the price of a one-shilling search fee information for which otherwise they would have paid thousands of £s. It would have had the most disastrous effect upon small companies all over the country if that thoroughly pernicious Clause had been retained.
I wish to refer now to a point to which there is no reference in the Gracious Speech. I hope that I shall be in order in referring to it. So far as I know, no legislation at present covers this point. I refer to the extending practice of private issuing houses discriminating in the banks on whose cheques they will accept applications. Recently there have been quite a number of cases of share issues made by private issuing houses where at the bottom of the form it has been stated that cheques drawn on Northern Ireland banks will not be accepted.
Apart from the understandable and justifiable indignation felt by many Northern Ireland investors, the practice of restricting investors in this way is manifestly unfair. First, Northern Ire- 130 land is part and parcel, economically and politically, of the United Kingdom. Secondly, most Northern Ireland banks are either subsidiaries of the Big Five or have banking arrangements with them. To my mind, it is vicious to say, "Unless you have a Great Britain bank account, you cannot apply for shares". To put it bluntly, such a statement implies that Northern Ireland investors are not credit-worthy. No other construction can be placed upon the application form statement.
A few years ago this was a practice which was experienced once or twice a year, at the most. Over the last three months I have come across it on no fewer than seven occasions. It would seem that the practice is growing. I hope that remedial action will be taken against it. It is nonsense to say that someone with a Birmingham bank account can apply for certain shares but someone with a Northern Ireland bank account cannot. I appreciate that there was a factor some years ago which made this argument justifiable, namely, that it took longer—four days—to clear cheques drawn on Northern Ireland bank accounts than it did for mainland cheques. Those were in the days when the date by which a share application had to be submitted was only 24 or 48 hours before allotment. Now more than a week elapses between the closure of receipt of applications and the allocation of shares. Therefore, although that argument might have had validity at one time, it is no longer valid.
I turn now to say something about the economic section of the Gracious Speech, if it may be so described. All of us on this side appreciate that there was a political necessity for the Government to include a reference to steel nationalisation. I hope that the Government will try to get their priorities right and put the nationalisation of steel low in the queue. The almost hysterical greeting which the magical words referring to the nationalisation of steel received this afternoon was somewhat illuminating to this side of the House, and I hope that it is not a true reflection of the Government's idea of priorities.
If the Government are prepared to stabilise the economy, they must be prepared to do so without fear or favour. How can they justify putting at the top of the queue, or near the top of the 131 queue, a Bill which will make a basic national industry into nothing more nor less than a political Aunt Sally. I am not trying to be fractious or needlessly controversial, but I cannot see any good economic reason for nationalising steel. Throughout the recent election campaign, the Government were less than frank in their revelations about the state of the economy. Unless we can become economically strong and self-reliant, it is rather academic for us to talk about all the other things that we would like to do in various other important spheres.
In the light of the trade figures published on Monday and the production figures published today, it must be recognised that we are again up against the difficulty that there is a continuing imbalance between exports and imports and a continual virtual stagnation of production. The Government must be prepared to take tough measures to get the economy back on to an even keel.
It is no good taking half-measures and apologising for so doing. This was the pattern far too often over the previous 18 months. At this stage, even though these may be only the early days of this Parliament, the bankers of the world and our industrial competitors all over the world are looking for a clear insight into whether the Government mean business in their economic policy—in a word, their economic sincerity. The deteriorating position of the British economy requires action which is unencumbered by political dogmatism. Pious exhortations and declarations of intent, well-meaning though they may be, are wholly insufficient to take the heat out of the economy.
The reference in the Gracious Speech to encouraging exports is most welcome, but to be effective the encouragement must be allied in some way to penalising those companies, of which I am afraid there are quite a number, which find it easier to sell in the relatively easier domestic market than to go out and sell in the competitive markets abroad. Many companies find it so easy to sell at home that they are not trying to sell overseas. This is something which exhortations will not alter. I do not know whether it is practicable to devise a system whereby vigorous exporters are positively assisted whereas those who neglect the export 132 markets, almost wilfully, are correspondingly penalised.
I hope that the reference in the Gracious Speech tosecuring balanced growth in all parts of Great Britainmeans "all parts of the United Kingdom". There is a distinction. I very much hope that the Government's development plans and their assistance to the various regions will extend to Northern Ireland. If across the board restrictions are imposed, whatever form they take, there is a danger that, although in the Midlands and in the South-East—the over-heated areas—the desired result will be achieved, the very same measures will achieve the converse effect in areas like the North-East of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, which are the areas of above-average unemployment and the very areas where across the board measures could easily result in a positive escalation of unemployment to very high levels. Therefore, any restriction, of whatever form, must be on a selective basis—selective encouragement, selective discouragement.
It will be very interesting to learn next Tuesday week if the Government are going to be timid or to pussy-foot or to hide behind political dogma in what must be the most crucial Budget for a very long time. We are now at the point when bankers and industrialists all round the world are asking, "Is Britain determined to fight her way out of her present economic difficulties, or will she succumb? Does she mean business or does she not?" The time for reaching a conclusion on this is fast running out. We are rapidly becoming uncompetitive, and this process must be arrested immediately. Half-measures are of no use at all. The Government have got to come clean and say, "We are sorry, this is going to hurt, but it has got to be done if we are to get the economy back on its feet." It is a case of now or never. Which are the Government going to choose?
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)
I am particularly pleased to follow the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) and, as this is the first day of great fundamental functions in this new Parliament, I feel highly honoured and deeply grateful to have been called upon to address the House.
133 The hon. Member for Belfast, South spoke on a wide range of subjects. One in particular which interested me concerned military matters. I, too, intend to deal with military matters, but from an entirely different aspect. In the meantime I hope that the House will bear with me.
Whether as an argument or as an embellishment, it will probably be accepted that we are moderately proud of our ancient institution. In fact, the whole atmosphere of the opening of Parliament lends itself in great measure to the lore of history. I also think that Parliament has given the highest human incentive to the progress of political education and enlightenment among the peoples of this nation. It may fairly claim, too, that it has facilitated the way to a higher national life. Next, and not least, it may be said that the past struggle and all the discussion that has rendered possible the acquisition of the valuable right of freedom of speech testifies to all the intelligent interest by affording a process of sifting to create a much better economic and social order.
In this respect the Gracious Speech furnishes us with an opportunity to distinguish and judge its numerous references, particularly when the conditions of passing from one stage of progress to another are, at any rate, sufficient to prove that we are again embarking on the great ocean of human affairs with earnestness and purpose. The task and the burden must involve the exercise of judgment and arduous duties. They must comprehend everything that is dear and valuable to us, because I believe that it is the requisite of true renown by which great national and international work may best be performed. I suppose that in the larger and more important aspects of Parliament, in political warfare as in the region of military action, tactics and thoughts have their place. But by means of thought we become aware of things in reality. We also wish to know, understand, conceive and recognise things in their very nature. But the faculty of thought could be regarded as work, and, like every other form of work, it requires an object to which it has to be applied.
It is therefore through the conscientious connection of thought that I must dwell 134 on the reference in the Gracious Speech which states:— My Government will promote a more positive system of investment incentives to improve the efficiency of those parts of the economy which contribute most directly to the balance of payments and to encourage development where it is most needed.We are habitually reminded that before we can advance our standard of living or even maintain full employment, we must pay our way in the world and get out of the red. We on this side of the House are in general agreement that it is the urgent business of the Government to make up their mind on what is for the best interests of the country. But however enthusiastic they may be, they can only achieve their paramount objective and purpose within their means equal to their purpose and resources that are adequate to their commitments. That makes it all the more important when we must consider investment to renovate not only manufacturing industry and expanding for growth but in the whole system of transport and communications, in our schools, in our hospitals, and other forms of social capital investment.
My view is that as it is equally significant that Britain is at a stage at which its industrial survival depends critically on productivity, the short and essential way to boost up industry and channel money in the right direction in other spheres of the national interest is to spend far less and chop off more millions of pounds that are spent on military expenditure. I do not pretend to be a great expert on matters connected with defence and military expenditure, but, having had personal experience for some years on the Select Committee on Estimates dealing with such expenditure, I have always tried to retain a lively interest especially in military expenditure overseas.
It is against this background of work investigating military expenditure that I appreciate that the Government made a clear saving of £300 million on the last review and are now planning to cut £400 million off the estimates for 1969-70. We cannot, however, sit back and sigh with relief, as the Government must continue to achieve further tremendous savings, since without this the Government will lack a yardstick by which to measure their ideals or their ways and means of protecting and promoting them.
135 I believe that the great function of the Government is peace-keeping, but the built-in resistance of the military men has over the years prevented the cutting down of military expenditure. It had increased steadily over the years, out of all proportion to military expenditure involved in other countries. We should now announce a target date for the withdrawal of armed forces and offer aid to the United Nations for the setting up of an international police force that could help keep peace; and, by means of security pacts vouched for through the United Nations, we could prevent military adventurers moving into the vacuum which would undoubtedly be left. With the money that we would save we should offer help in the form of grants to the new independent Governments in the areas concerned which would help them on the way to stable Government. This is the only constructive peace-keeping rôle that is applicable to the world of today. In this sense while I do not doubt that the Government will rise to the level of their responsibilities, I fully realise that they must be guided by a policy of knowing their limitations and their place in the scheme of things, with the determination to apply it.
It would not be invidious to single out for special mention the reference in the Gracious Speech which states:In consultation with industry, the National Economic Development Council and the regional Economic Planning Councils, My Government will take action to stimulate progress in implementing the National Plan and in securing balanced growth in all parts of Great Britain.To speculate on this, I think all the elements in weighing the need for industrial growth must be taken together. It could be said that man and his understanding are progressive, and for this reason we must progress by experience of meanful conceptions. As a consequence, I want to take as a starting point the conception arising out of the significant and chronic state of industrial change in my constituency. On the evidence, I feel quite justified in asserting that conditions are undermining the way in which so many people have earned their livelihood. It does not take any cast-iron intelligence, as experience reinforces the outlook, to realise that jobs are ceasing to exist for them. For many 136 years now from these benches I have been hammering away time after time on this thorny problem. I am reminded of reading Sir Walter Scott:When a man has a good reason for not doing a thing he has a good reason for letting it alone.In the circumstances which I have referred to I am fortified with the reason to revert once again to this issue.
I do so in order that the Government may fully understand the position. It cannot be easily explained in a few words, but, whatever share is attributed to the gloomy state of affairs, the salient fact that I want to draw attention to is the flood of further redundancies to come, especially in the mining industry. And in this case, it explicitly illustrates that trying to fight against extinction is like trying to fight against the influence of the stars in their course.
The remarks which I am venturing to offer are simply deductions from the present position. It therefore naturally follows that many visualise being stranded with a life which will rob them of what would normally be the main excitement, namely, employment. From this there leads a straight line to prove that the objective must be to secure continuity of employment. I could multiply instances to show how dependent we are on industrial development.
In trying to measure the impact of industrial change which affects my constituency I hold the conviction that most people are, after all, very reasonable: they do not run their heads against stone walls; they will adjust their state of mind on industrial value, and their expectations to the real economic possibilities in their surroundings. The very point of tracing ideas to their source is always a very comfortable belief that people will adapt their attitudes somehow to their real prospects and we cannot afford to ignore everyday psychology in this respect.
However, I want to pass to the other side of the problem. We know that the bringing of industry will not be achieved by songs, sounds of angel voices from the midnight skies, and to be more acquainted with the drive for industrial development I very much appreciate the principal Measures introduced in the last Parliament, and mentioned again in the Gracious Speech today. The offer of 137 increased financial inducement to industrial firms to go to development areas constitutes part of the effort and responsibility to get industry on the move.
Having accepted that such a policy is designed to achieve a better distribution of industry to revive the fortunes of those areas which are suffering from industrial regression, the establishment of this standard leads me to another point of method. Just as there cannot be two mountains without a valley, I also fully recognise that the Government made a good beginning by setting up the regional planning councils to overcome the neglect of the under-developed areas. I think the House will agree that it is impossible to separate the social from the economic case to justify priority treatment for the distribution of industry. Changes must be sought and achieved. They can only be developed by a process of trial and error, and, in the face of difficulties, overcoming them one by one; but in seeking to carry through a far-reaching economic reconstruction, and open the way to a different industrial future, I am bound to say that present circumstances in my constituency demand a much more co-ordinated control between the regional planning board, the Board of Trade and the local authorities.
The local authorities in my constituency have set themselves the vital task to attract new industry. I want to put this criticism of the obstacles that are standing in their way. None of the authorities is at any time ever approached by the regional planning board, the North-East Development Council, or the Board of Trade. I think it is highly desirable that there should be much greater co-ordination to ascertain circumstances and, if necessary, advice when planning the pattern for future industrial development.
It is often said that onlookers see the best of the game, but having in mind that the Government previously promised to encourage the development of new industry in areas affected by the closure of uneconomic pits, I strongly appeal for the Government to make much greater effort, with all the Departments concerned, to arrange for the closest consultation, by examining the changes in trends and the effect of the changes which so far have not been met—I must say this—in order to make effective use of the 138 available manpower to provide the maximum possible contribution towards the objective of industrial growth.
But speaking of co-ordination and co-operation, I was given a lesson during the election campaign. A by-election for the local council had been held at the beginning of March in Blaydon. There I met a very pleasant and dignified lady constituent who said she was sick of putting crosses on a ballot paper, and she further said to me, "Why don't you fellows be like the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury and get together and save all this bother?" I thought she had a point, but, nevertheless, after conversation with her, she unhesitatingly said she was going to vote for me at the election.
For my part, while chiefly concerned about the major problem in the future livelihood of workers and their families in my constituency, I do not want to appear to be pontifical, but I am reminded of Chapter 25 in Leviticus:And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him, yea, though he be a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with thee.I am confident that my constituents would support whatever action is required to overcome the difficulties which I have tried to outline, and they will find a greater contentment and deeper satisfaction in so doing. I feel sure that, if the Government live up to their intentions, with obedience to a sense of responsibility, it will be along that upward path that progress will be maintained and demonstrated beyond any dispute in the future now lying before us.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I am very glad to have the unexpected opportunity to make a speech on this the first day of the new Parliament, particularly after the speech of the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) I recall that the last occasion when I heard the hon. Gentleman was after last year's Budget. About an hour after the Chancellor had finished speaking, the hon. Gentleman made his speech as though he had known everything beforehand and his words were perfectly prepared. One gained the impression that the hon. Gentleman must either be a prophet or a quick thinker. Today, in the same way, his speech gave the 139 impression that he had full knowledge of the proposals at least a week ago.
The Gracious Speech itself is of less than usual interest because, with one exception, every item in it was envisaged in Bills uncompleted in the last Parliament or in White Papers. The only exception is the rather strange proposal to reorganise water supplies in Scotland, where, so far as I am aware, there is no great problem and, certainly, far greater problems fall to be dealt with. Nevertheless, one must accept that the Government are facing rather difficult problems, but before the election we had the wrong answers put to us and we seem to be about to move once more in the wrong direction.
Before coming to the details of the Gracious Speech, I refer, first, to what the Prime Minister said today about reorganising the structure of Parliament, in particular the structure of our Committees. I was appalled at his outrageous suggestion that what we wanted was, so to speak, regional committees similar to the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Grand Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman is approaching the question of Committee organisation in that way, he is working along entirely the wrong lines. The Scottish Grand Committee does not exist because Scotland is a region. It exists because we have in Scotland a separate legal system and we have separate Bills for Scotland. Clearly, we must have a special committee to take the Committee stage of these Bills.
In addition, there is a further function for the Scottish Grand Committee, a simple talking function. On several days each year, the Scottish Grand Committee meets to consider several general matters in Scotland, but no decisions can be taken at these meetings, which are simply a forum for hon. Members to let off steam about Scotland. Any new committees set up for regions in Great Britain would not have the function of dealing with Bills such as we already have in Scotland. They would simply be other committees to talk about the problems of particular areas, and this, I suggest, would be quite pointless.
I had hoped to hear some proposals for what might be done to improve the Scottish Grand Committee, in particular. It is quite outrageous that, under our 140 present organisation, we should meet simply as a Committee to discuss Bills and occasionally have a general chat about Scotland in which, in some ways, we appear to fail to identify ourselves with the people of Scotland and their essential interests. Several steps could be taken to improve this situation.
I come next to the question of the membership of any proposed new committees. If we have some system for the whole of Great Britain such as we have in the Scottish Grand Committee, we may well find Scottish Members on the Government side represented on a Sussex Committee and Scottish Members on this side on a Greater London Committee discussing local problems. This is a quite outrageous approach. Even if we were to have new arrangements about voting and the like, we certainly should not want a Scottish committee or a regional committee in England to have among its members hon. Members who had been press-ganged and who might not have enormous interest in the questions arising.
If the Scottish Grand Committee is to be a meaningful committee which can identify itself with the interests of Scotland, ought we not to investigate the possibility of its meetings taking place not here in London but in Edinburgh or some other place in Scotland? This would be an excellent idea. Even if we were not taking decisions but were simply talking about Scottish problems, we could, by holding meetings in Scotland itself, identify ourselves with the country more effectively and, in addition, give an opportunity for people and organisations in Scotland to make representations on particular matters which were coming up or which needed to be tackled in Scotland. The period of meeting might well be for one week. There would be no question of taking decisions outwith the House of Commons; there would simply be an opportunity for all Scottish Members of Parliament to meet together with organisations representing the Scottish people and, we hope, promote their best interests.
I am particularly disappointed that the Gracious Speech contains no proposals for changing certain parts of the structure of the nationalised industries. Coming from Scotland, I am appalled that, under the present structure, almost every public service provided by a nationalised industry makes a higher charge to Scottish 141 citizens than to citizens elsewhere. I cannot accept the logic of having a nationalised industry organised on a national basis, and, apparently, taking account of social factors, while at the same time charging extra for its products or services in Scotland—extra for gas, extra for electricity, and so on. On 1st May, there is to be a new price structure in Scotland so that the domestic consumer will have to meet a further additional charge for coal.
This occurs in almost every nationalised industry, and I want the Government to bring forward proposals to make the charges to consumers for the products of the nationalised industries equal throughout the country. I want this done not just to give a benefit to Scotland but to give an equal benefit to every person in Great Britain. Certainly, if we accept that there is a need for development in Scotland, we should take action along those lines. I realise that the present system cannot be blamed on the present Government. It is something which stems from the original nationalisation of industry. But I want to see a change made, and I would be glad to see it made by any Government, whether of my own party or of the party opposite.
I am a little alarmed by the Government's proposals, allegedly, to improve industrial relations. The only reference is to the taking of some unspecified action on the Devlin Report—and about time, too—and to proposals to go ahead with the Prices and Incomes Bill. If hon. Members think that they have the answer to our industrial relations problems in going ahead with the Prices and Incomes Bill, they are in for an unfortunate awakening. In fact, the Prices and Incomes Bill as now designed will simply produce unfairness and eventually lead to anarchy in our industrial relations.
During the election campaign, although our views were much misquoted, our party put forward two specific proposals. One was that we should legalise procedure agreements, a very important step, and the other was to give legal backing to agreements concluded voluntarily between both sides of industry. Only where an agreement was concluded freely and voluntarily would that agreement have the backing of law. This would be a good 142 step forward, and it would be the right policy to pursue.
Hon. Members involved in industrial relations must realise that many strikes in this country stem not from irresponsibility but from delays in negotiations and from the fact that, sometimes, a troublemaker appears to be able to get a meeting faster than someone who approaches matters in a fair and constitutional way. As a first step, we must have a procedural agreement laying down a specific timetable for the resolving of disputes in industry. This, of course, would be a good step forward, and it was strongly urged by my party.
Our second proposal was to give legal backing to voluntary agreements. What is proposed under the Prices and Incomes Bill is quite different. Nothing is suggested to help in the speeding up of negotiations. There is no suggestion that voluntary agreements should have the backing of law. All that is suggested is that if people come to a voluntary agreement, or if someone is thinking of putting in a wage claim, the Government can say that it must be referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. No matter how long this may take, so long as the claim is before the Board anyone who goes on strike or talks of doing so or holds a meeting to consider the possibility of strike action is liable to a fine of £500 with the prospect of imprisonment eventually.
§ Mr. Maxwell
The Gracious Speech makes clear that the Government are thinking in terms of voluntary restraints and no longer the kind of thing that was introduced in the last Parliament.
§ Mr. Taylor
The hon. Member may seek to make that clear, but the Prime Minister did not make it clear and the Government have not made it clear. The Gracious Speech says that the Government are not going to overturn the general principle of voluntary agreement. It has been made clear by the Government, and this was done during the General Election, that they intend to go ahead with this and reserve powers to themselves to do it.
This is crazy. It means that if the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs or anyone else in the Government takes it into his head that an agreement needs to be investigated, people in the industry and involved in the negotiations will be 143 subject to the possibility of individual fines of £500 and, if they have not the money, of going to prison. But if it is an industry which does not have a wage claim passed to the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs one can have all sorts of threats, strikes, go-slows, and so on and no action by the State is possible.
I feel that this is particularly bad because we have a Government who believe that we ought to have an incomes policy related to a particular figure more than the figure of productivity itself. It will mean that we shall have enormous problems and enormous restraints from the law over only a section of industry. It will be exteremely dangerous, and the more so when this is coming after an agreement concluded voluntarily.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just been saying. If the Bill as introduced last Session—which is now dead—were to come along, I would agree with him that the bad effects which he envisages would be feared. But that Bill is dead. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) was on a fair point in saying that the wording of the Queen's Speech is inconsistent with the reintroduction of that Bill in its original form. Therefore, the words of wisdom which the hon. Gentleman has uttered have sunk in in advance in high places.
§ Mr. Taylor
I wish I had the confidence of the hon. Member. Members of his own Government have not said this. As a member of the Labour Party, he will know that when the Labour Government put something down one has to read it very carefully and sometimes three or four times before one appreciates some of the implications. The Gracious Speech says that the Government will have proposals to reinforce the policy. Are we to have legislative proposals to make negotiations more friendly? If one has legislative proposals to bring in new actions, they can only be along those lines. If the Government drop the proposal, there will be a great deal of eating of words uttered during the campaign and today. In our hearing, the Prime Minister said that the Government would press ahead with their Prices and Incomes Bill. He did not speak of a new Bill.
144 I do not want to be diverted from my point, which is what we can think of the position of a trade union leader or organiser who, after restraining the people in his union and eventually getting agreement with the employers, finds that his activity is sabotaged because the Government step in and say, "This sum will not be paid. Negotiations will not proceed until the Prices and Incomes Board has looked into the matter". That will make the position of trade union organisers and leaders impossible, and we shall not be able to hope for more responsibility to be shown by them. Some of them have an extremely difficult position at present.
I hope the Government will not press ahead with the Bill but will bring in legislation to give legal backing to procedure agreements whereby, if there is delay in negotiations, the employer can be fined, and if there is an unofficial strike by the men while the claim is going through the procedure, they or their union can be subject to the same penalties. This is the sensible way to approach the matter, and it would be more acceptable to the trade unions generally and the workers than that outrageous Bill, which can only produce anarchy.
There is no specific proposal about the speeding up of house-building in the Gracious Speech. During the 1964 General Election I was very pleased to see the Prime Minister's statement that he would tackle the housing problem on the lines of a military operation. If fair-minded people look at the record of the Government, they will find that if the Government have handled the matter like a military operation it has been like the Retreat from Moscow. We have made no progress. The figures published in the last few weeks and months show that the position next year may be even more serious than it is now. Scotland was promised a dramatic advance in housing. What happened in 1965 was that we built 2,000 houses fewer than in 1964. The figures have been getting more serious month by month. In my mail today I had information from Glasgow that our monthly total was at an all-time low for the period. So we must do something about housing.
What are the Government proposing? They have brought forward proposals 145 allegedly to assist local authorities. It has been suggested that their plan will involve a great increase in local authority grants. Several hon. Members had said that this will be of great help. But this also is a most dangerous proposal. What will happen under the Bill for Scotland—there is a similar one for England—is that if interest rates generally come down to 4 per cent. there will be no housing subsidies, and if the average interest rate charged is 5 per cent. the actual amount given out will be the same as under previous legislation.
What is needed is a new method to speed up the hearing of planning appeals. Industrialised building may speed up house construction by two or three weeks. If we could manage to speed up the hearing of planning appeals, we should save a year in some cases. I am not suggesting that we should interfere with the rights of individuals, but I cannot understand why six months should be taken by a Government Department in coming to a decision on a planning appeal. This holds up progress and sterilises land, and land is a key factor.
We must give real encouragement to private builders in every part of the country. The materials exist. We were told by the Prime Minister previously that the answer to our housing problem was planning. What has been the result of planning? When the Government came to power we had a shortage of building materials with the industry going flat out. Now we have a glut of bricks all over the country. That does not please me, the building industry or anybody else. In particular, it does not please the thousands of people living in slums or insanitary conditions in my city or elsewhere. We were promised a crash operation, a military operation. We were promised new measures. What have we got? We have poor progress, fewer houses and no real plans which will help, I hope that the Government will bring something forward very soon.
We have no proposals for stimulating production. Something on these lines is essential. We have had a year of stagnant production. What is the Government's answer? I should like to see a policy decision that one of the ways in which this would be tackled would be by reducing the burden of individual and company taxation. At the moment 146 we have increased taxes, increased expenditure and no growth. We shall not have growth in the future. I should have liked to see in the Gracious Speech a specific commitment that the Government would aim at lower taxation. I am convinced that this would bring the increase in production that the Government's other activities certainly have not brought.
The Prime Minister talked a great deal about the policy which had been pursued over Rhodesia, what he had intended and what had happened in the past. What worries hon. Members on this side, and particularly what worries the people, is precisely where we are going, what will happen if the Government's policy works and what will happen if it does not work. As we see it, the present policy of sanctions can lead only to two possibilities if pursued as they are. The first is that the sanctions will not succeed and that various nations will, in some mysterious way, manage to beat the sanctions and the oil embargo, certainly to their financial advantage. If that happens, the Smith régime will survive and will inevitably link itself politically and economically to South Africa. That would be the worst of all possible solutions and is not wanted either by the Government or by the Opposition.
Secondly, there is the possibility that sanctions will gradually work, with the result that law and order will break down in Rhodesia. Such a situation could only lead to a blood bath in southern Africa. There are only these two possible results from the present course pursued by the Government and this is why we have suggested negotiations. But the Prime Minister told us that there has been the possibility of talks opening up all the time—indeed, that some have already taken place. He said that these have shown that there is no prospect at present of a solution by such talks. If he makes it a precondition that the talks must succeed there will never be any talks and no solution to the problem. We want an unconditional commitment to talks as a means of investigating the possibility of a peaceful and constitutional settlement.
Generally speaking, I am disappointed with the Gracious Speech. It is a continuation of Government policies which have proved wrong, have brought disastrous consequences, and I am sorry 147 that we are again to go in the same direction, which is the wrong direction.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)
I believe that in a maiden speech it is the convention to speak briefly and on matters that interest one closely. This I shall try to do. In the Gracious Speech, I welcome the suggestion that we shall negotiate our way into the European Economic Community. It has long been my view that a Labour Government would conduct us into Europe, and I hope that we shall see this happen in the next 18 months.
Certainly, this will be a great advantage to the town of Yarmouth, as the directors of Birds Eye Foods, one of its most prominent local light industries, have declared. I also think that it will be an advantage to the rural part of the constituency, providing that during an interim period agricultural and horticultural interests are both safeguarded. For East Anglia, indeed, this is the only solution, for otherwise we shall face the alternative of having to consider East Anglia as a special development area. The average wages in East Anglia are about £11 to £12 a week.
Today is the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, and when I read that a salvo of guns had been fired in her honour I was reminded of a speech I heard in Hyderabad by Mr. Bhuptesh Gulpta, the Bengali Communist leader. He criticised what he called the "poetic sentiments", of Pandit Nehru on the Commonwealth and the fact that Mr. Nehru had given instructions that on the Queen's Birthday a salvo of guns should be fired by the Indian fleet. He went on to say that in England, on the birthday of the President of India, not a pistol shot was heard throughout the country.
Of course, unfortunately, with the death of that great Socialist statesman, poetic sentiments on the Commonwealth are certainly dead in India as well. Our relationship with India in the future must rest on common interests and ideology. The Foreign Secretary, speaking on another occasion, said that in the world arena of power politics, given the choice between China, Russia and the United States, on the ground of personal and civil liberties we had to stand with the 148 United States. Certainly in Vietnam we have bent over backwards in our loyalties. I personally would have liked to have heard some criticism, for example, of the bombing of the rural population.
At the same time, I accept the logic of my right hon. Friend's argument, and I apply it to our relationship with India. In India we have a country which is a Parliamentary democracy, in which elections are contested by political parties on the kind of basis that we recognise here. Surely we should have, with such a country and with its Congress Government, deep ideological sympathy.
I think that the Indian Government and people have some reason for the disillusioned feelings that they have expressed during the past three to four years. When the Labour Party came to power here a great burst of enthusiasm swept throughout the whole of India. Indians expected from this country ideological sympathy, material support and identity of view, but I suggest that we have not extended to India the same kind of ideological support that we have extended to the United States.
As I believe that the future of this country is and must be as a European Power, as I believe that if our economy is to be made healthy we must cut back further on defence and must withdraw from defence commitments east of Suez, so I believe that we must build up throughout the world a series of strong friendships based on interests and ideology. I suggest that the corner stone of our Asian policy must be firm friendship with India and Ceylon rather than with countries which do not have Parliamentary democracies of the kind that we know here.
I would like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, and right hon. and hon. Members for their indulgence and to say that it is an extremely happy occasion for me finally to have the opportunity to address this House.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
I have been the beneficiary of a most astonishing coincidence. In our perambulations from this place to another place, I found myself walking in company with a distinguished-looking hon. Member who, I realise, must be a little newer 149 even than I. Now I am in the happy position of following his maiden speech.
I am singularly unqualified to pay compliments to maiden speeches because my own experience is so small—and paying a compliment implies that one is in a position to make a judgment, which I do not feel able to do. However, I have been here long enough to recognise two things. The first is a speech of high quality when I hear it, and the second is a speech of admirable brevity when I hear it—both of which qualities, I am afraid, I am incapable of following to the same high standard as that set by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray). It is a great pleasure to have the hon. Member here, and judging by what we have heard his contributions will be distinguished and much looked forward to by all of us.
I was not expecting an opportunity to speak at such an early stage, and I welcome the chance. I want to say something about the contentious and important question of Rhodesia and to follow this with a few words on the equally contentious question of prices and incomes and on the great unmentioned item of the Gracious Speech—the modernisation of ports.
Perhaps I should start with Rhodesia. It seems to me that most of the discussion we have heard today arose from a perfectly foreseeable situation. Certainly some of us foresaw it. We said that if the Government did certain things—and we asked the House at that time not to consider the moral question but simply the likely flow of logical consequences—they would find themselves in the situation in which they find themselves today, following, firstly, from the action for which Mr. Smith is himself responsible, and, secondly, from the actions for which we are wholly responsible, with the imposition of economic sanctions and their extension, and finally the imposition of oil sanctions. Those have had inevitable consequences which are grave, and we are now being called upon to consider them and to consider what our position should be.
On occasions of great national importance, we are entitled to speak for ourselves and for what we know to be an important section of opinion in the country which may not necessarily have a 150 particular party manifestation in the House of Commons. There are many people who consider that the imposition of oil sanctions was a grave mistake. I consider that it was a grave mistake, and I still do. I still think it is something we ought to reverse if we can, and I shall proceed to argue the case why I think that.
When I was a small boy, which seems a very long time ago, my friends told me that those who won prizes in geography were not really at the top of the class. People who won prizes in mathematics and abstruse subjects of that kind, deservedly, possibly, were considered to be the boffins of the class. Those who won prizes in geography were not looked up to in the sense that they would have liked. I accepted that at the time, but the more one considers some of the problems of an international character, the more one begins to think that the people who won prizes in geography or who have at least managed to keep their geography reasonably fresh have more to contribute to the times in which we live than mathematicians.
One of the grave mistakes in the treatment and handling of the Rhodesian question and that of sanctions in Southern Africa is to consider the frontier with the Limpopo, which apparently is crossed at only one point by a bridge, as being a major international frontier somewhat in the nature of the Iron Curtain and to consider Rhodesia as a completely separate national sovereign State, South Africa as a completely separate national sovereign State and the frontier along the Limpopo as being something which follows closely the pattern of frontiers in Europe. I suggest that that is a grave mistake, and it has led to other grave mistakes. The sort of frontier that exists between South Africa and Rhodesia is much more parallel to that existing between England and Scotland. It is not as old, but it has the same lack of significance and meaning for the two peoples.
From what the Prime Minister has said, it seems to me that he believes that he is going to divide et impera, or divide and rule, and separate Mr. Smith and Dr. Verwoerd in matters which they both regard as being fundamental to their separate and collective survival. If the Prime Minister really thinks that, he is mistaken, because he will not succeed 151 in separating them. Their interests coincide too greatly. Their interests have coincided for a long time, and they will continue to coincide. That is a fact of life which has no bearing on what our views may be in the House of whether Mr. Smith's racial, social and economic policies or Dr. Verwoerd's racial, social and economic policies are the sorts of policies which we would like to see their countries pursuing.
I would not be here if I thought so. I abhor apartheid, and I abhor many of the things that Mr. Smith has done. But the acid test of any policy that our country has now to develop and apply is, quite simply: Will it succeed, and what will it succeed in doing? Will it succeed in re-establishing for the United Kingdom a measureable and significant influence over the conduct of affairs in Southern Africa? That is the only aim that we can conceivably regard as worthwhile.
I cannot see that policy succeeding because, if economic and oil sanctions are the key weapons and they succeed, they will succeed at the price of the destruction not of the Rhodesian economy alone, because I do not believe that that can be divided off; they will succeed at the price of the destruction of everything that Europeans have created in Southern Africa in the last century, and I submit that that is too great a price to pay, how-every great the pressures and however great our emotions and the feeling of obligation that now is the time to exercise a moral judgment and that we are the people on whom the responsibility falls and who must discharge it.
§ Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)
In view of the grave risks that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) has outlined to the future of Southern Africa, does he not agree that it is in Dr. Verwoerd's interest not to support Rhodesia?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am very glad to have an opportunity of dealing with that point, because there are a number of people who think that Dr. Verwoerd could be persuaded by logical arguments, within South Africa as well as outside, that he should throw Mr. Smith to the wolves, as the Russians threw their youngest child off the end of the sleigh when pursued by 152 wolves. If the net result is to call the whole pack on one, I do not think he would consider it is right to do it.
I do not believe that Dr. Verwoerd will do it. If one assumes that Rhodesia can be segregated and these policies succeed against Rhodesia, then, given the general climate of opinion in the world about South Africa and apartheid, the same broad range of policies must be applied to Dr. Verwoerd, whether or not he has aided and assisted Mr. Smith. The ruling of the world court on South-West Africa may impose on us the opportunity of making up our minds on that important issue.
The Prime Minister has suggested from time to time that it is not a question of the mere choice between imposing sanctions or allowing them to fail and letting Mr. Smith get away with it. He has suggested that lurking in the background is the graver threat of what others will do which needs to be brought out into the open. We hear of the United Nations, of Russian troops in blue berets, and of all those great, vague and imponderable forces which might be launched into Southern Africa.
What does it mean? Which are the Powers in the world that could deploy themselves successfully in a military posture north of the Zambesi? Is it suggested that Russia is one? I understand that at the height of the Congo crisis the Russians tried and failed to maintain any significant presence in the Congo. I am not, of course, suggesting that, should they so decide, the Russians would be completely incapable of maintaining an effective presence on the Zambesi. Of course they could do so. But I do not think that the Russians would choose to deploy themselves on the Zambesi in such a way unless they took the basic decision that they were prepared to see it through at whatever cost to themselves, in whatever circumstances. They know that the circumstances of such a conflict would be complicated and unforeseeable. If the Russians are not prepared to hazard world peace over a situation like Cuba, I cannot see that they would be prepared to hazard world peace over Rhodesia, which is a far less significant matter to them.
Let us leave Russia, and consider this great Afro-Asian bloc at the United 153 Nations. What does this mean in terms of an effective military force on the Zambesi? Asia and China are about 9,000 miles away, with no logistic capacity worth talking about, and no sea-power worth talking about. Are the Chinese in a position to deploy troops on the Zambesi, or to keep them there, even given the fact that they are in some sort of diplomatic and other sense present in Zanzibar? I do not think that they are. If there is any cohesion in the Communist world, I cannot see the Russians allowing them to do so, nor can I see them acting independently.
§ Mr. Maxwell
Is not this really the same point that was made during the war when Stalin, having been reminded that the Catholics were a power in the world, asked, "How many divisions does the Pope have?".
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Ghana is the country which led the Military Committee of the Organisation of African Unity in preparations to use military force against Rhodesia. Since the fall of Nkrumah it has become public knowledge that the Russians have been building up secret airfields.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. These interventions are becoming suspiciously like speeches. Interventions must be brief.
§ Mr. Maxwell
The Russians have been building up military facilities which could guarantee a Russian capability on the Zambesi. Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to risk that?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I think the answer is simply that I doubt whether the Russians would choose to put life into any theoretical military capability which they may have developed. The hon. Gentleman's information may be better than mine on an issue of this kind, but I cannot see them choosing to do so, because I cannot see them taking the risk of applying their forces in this part of Africa, across N.A.T.O., where, if anything really went wrong, they could be pincered off without much difficulty.
To come back to the other section of the United Nations, when the Prime Minister talks, as I think he does somewhat glibly, about the United Nations and endeavours to conjure up a picture of great forces other than ourselves, the 154 question we have to ask is, what is left? There is Western Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. I am told that if we were to impose successful sanctions against the whole of Southern Africa we would need a carrier force of about eight carriers and 100 other support vessels. This is beyond our naval capability, which leaves the United States, or possibly ourselves in combination with the whole of Western Europe, and I doubt whether we could do it there.
What is the position of the United States? In evidence to the Congressional Committee on Africa four weeks ago Mr. Mennen Williams, who would generally be accepted as being no particular friend of the Europeans in Southern Africa, made what I consider to be profoundly interesting statement about Southern Africa. He went on record, quite unequivocally, as saying that it was not, and would not be, the policy of the United States to support a general expansion of sanctions against South Africa. He developed this argument at great length, and I think with great conviction, because at the end he came back to the point which I have made, namely, was it the objective of the United States to impose a solution by force, and he then put the question which I put to the House: Have any solutions to the problems of multiracial societies imposed by force ever endured?
I think the answer must be that even within the United States, if one looks fairly and objectively at the Southern States of the United States, one must confess that although the principles of the equality of man have endured—and how right and wonderful it is that they have—the practice has not, because the practice was imposed, or an endeavour was made to impose it, by force. Mr. Mennen Williams concluded, and I think we must conclude, that if the ultimate victory of these sanctions means extending them to the point of destroying the economy of Southern Africa, or that to make the sanctions effective one applies military force because this is the only way to make them effective, it means that one has fallen into the trap.
What is our greatest ally in Southern Africa? What is most likely to work in the long-term along the lines which both 155 sides of the House would like to see developed? We would like to see effective, sane, democratic, and liberal, multiracial societies emerging in southern Africa. This requires a great change of heart on the part of all the peoples there. What is our greatest ally in producing this change of heart? I stress that it is a most simple and materialistic thing. It is economic forces, because it is economic forces working in Southern Africa which so far have kept this volcano from blowing up. It has been prevented by the constant rise in incomes and the spread of incomes, and anyone who goes there must admit that this is so, whatever he may think of Dr. Verwoerd and his general philosophy.
Anyone who goes there must concede that the general rise in national incomes of the peoples of Southern Africa is conspicuous. In fact, one can make the case that it is the most conspicuously successful part of the under-developed world. This is something which we do not like to admit because we do not like some of the means which have been employed to achieve it. We hesitate to concede the particular economic relationship of the Europeans and Africans in these States. But it is this point which we have to consider much more carefully.
Finally, I come to the question of oil supplies. Why are we so reluctant in the House and in the country to admit the technical possibility of supplying Rhodesia across the Limpopo? We see in our newspapers from time to time reports that either more or less oil is being supplied across Beit Bridge, and this seems to indicate merely that the people who are observing the flow are more or less efficient in their observations. But do they know the whole broad character of the frontier between Southern Rhodesia and South Africa?
When I flew over it five weeks ago, the Limpopo was empty. It had no water in it, and it is possible to cross a frontier of that type at dozens of places. It is possible that the Limpopo is full now, but I do not think that this will stop the South African Corps of Engineers, who are involved in considerable plans to beat this challenge, from achieving an effective supply. Why are we reluctant to admit it? Why do we think that by stopping the "Ioanna" and the 156 "Manuela" we have solved the problem? I do not think that we have.
Let us be fair, frank and realistic when we discuss the problem. Let us admit that the technical problem of supplying Rhodesia with all the oil and petroleum which she needs is virtually nil. It can be done. It is not a technical problem. It is a policy problem, and, as I suggested to the Prime Minister several weeks ago, the key to the policy lies in Cape Town. The Prime Minister has admitted it, in my view several weeks too late.
Now I turn to possibly a less contentious matter in the Gracious Speech, and that is the question of prices and incomes. I think it can be agreed between most parliamentarians in most democracies that if there is one problem which has defeated Parliamentary Government it is the problem of controlling inflation. This was bandied about a good deal during the election, and league tables were traded, and so on, but the other day I was interested to read that in the model country of Holland, which preceded us in developing what was regarded as a highly efficient mode of controlling wage costs, they are suffering very much worse wage cost inflation than we are. The same applies to Italy.
Is there no possibility of getting on top of this? Have we exhausted all possible technical expedients? Have we exhausted all new economic ideas? I do not think that we have. We have reached a stage in the United Kingdom where it is not a question of shares being of no par value, but of pounds par being of no par value; not a few £s, but all our £s, and at the end of each year we are not certain what will be the par value of the £s which we use in relation to the £s at the beginning of the year. Is this necessary? I am sure that it is not. I suggest that we should now begin to think in terms of a mechanism which would segregate the £s that we pay ourselves to increase our incomes from those that we pay ourselves as our basic incomes. I am sure that it would be possible for all increases in salaries, dividends and wages, for a stated period onwards—and a mechanism would have to be set up for this purpose—to be paid in £s of no par value.
Hon. Members opposite may say that this would be impossible. How could we 157 ask a wage-earner to wait for six months or a yeas for the value of his increased income to be declared, so that he could cash it in the bank? This is not necessarily a consequence of what I propose, but if at the end of the year the Bank of England said that the gross national product had increased by 3½ per cent. or 4 per cent. and that therefore the ratio of the additional income which the community has chosen to pay itself to the additional production which the community has achieved suggests that these £s are either worth 17s. 2d., say, or 24s., all those who have held them for that period could cash them at their banks and, ultimately, the Bank of England, for the declared value. This would immediately solve the problem which now haunts us because we will not wait until we know what the position is.
I want to revert to the question how we can persuade large numbers of people to wait for perhaps a year. This would not be necessary. It would be possible to create a free market in £s of no par value. Some people would take an optimistic view of the economy and say, "I will give you 21s. for this piece of paper." Others would say, "No. If you want to cash this now I do not think that there will be any increase in productivity this year and I will let you have 17s. 6d. for it." People, according to their needs and judgment, will decide whether or not to take advantage of the free market. If they choose not to do so and wait until the full period has elapsed, they will find themselves in a position to cash their increased incomes at the real value which the community has created that year.
There would be no further arguments or fuss, and the Chancellor would not have to attempt to persuade the House of Commons, year after year, that three-quarters of his problems are caused by something other than inflation—because at least three-quarters of his problems are caused by inflation.
I have suggested a scheme which hon. Members opposite will no doubt find to have many flaws, but something of this kind must be developed and deployed. I would have thought that the highest priority could be given to the development and deployment of a scheme of this kind by the Prices and Incomes Board, because that Board at the moment is in the position of a physician who is always 158 chasing symptoms. All the cases referred to the Board represent symptoms of a general failure to meet the problems of inflation. We must go beyond this and get down to the real causes. Once we have discovered the real causes we can devise really preventive cures, and then we shall not have so many symptoms of uncontrolled inflation.
Finally, I want to refer briefly to the question of the docks. During the election campaign, when we have stopped on people's doorsteps, many of us must have been told, "Go away. We have heard it all on television. We do not want to hear what you have to say. We are tired of this economic and political debate. Come back in four years' time." Many of us must have felt that this was a pity, because there are some basic issues which should be discussed and which a General Election should provide the country with an opportunity of discussing.
One of these issues is the fundamental question of the efficiency of the country. To some extent, the debate about efficiency is a matter of fashion. We talk about the cases where inefficiencies have been exposed and have become common knowledge. We do not talk about those inefficiencies which have not become exposed and have not become common knowledge. I suggest that if there is one sector of our economy on which we should concentrate our wholehearted attention during the next four or five years of this Parliament, it is our docks and their efficiency.
I hope that in concentrating our attention on this problem the House or the Government will not be diverted by the question of who owns these bits of property—whether it be port authorities controlled by shares deposited in safes in Whitehall or the Port of London Authority, or port authorities owned by private shareholders, or some quite separate source of ownership. This is an entirely irrelevant factor.
What we must concentrate upon is the question whether our major port systems in the United Kingdom are to be able to cure themselves within the next four or five years. I do not extend the range beyond that. Will they be able, in that period, to carry out the sort of cargo-handling operation which anyone who has been to Port Newark, on the other side of the Manhattan River, in 159 New York, will have seen. There we can see an average rate of loading and discharge of cargo of about 700 or 800 tons an hour being steadily achieved over a large volume of about 2 million tons a year. This is very different from and very much better than anything that we have averaged in the United Kingdom, with the possible exception of a few coastal container operations.
Unless we can gear ourselves quickly to take advantage of these techniques, so that our trade, outwards and inwards, is not hamstrung by what must be about the most obsolete example of technology that one can find anywhere in this country, many of our pious appeals in the House will have very little effect on our national fate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope that I shall carry the House with me in this Parliament when I point out that long speeches prevent other hon. Members, who have equal rights to be called, from taking part in debates.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)
I do not propose to go over the points made by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) except to say that the views which he and some of his friends take on the issue of Rhodesia are tantamount to supporting treason. This is quite extraordinary, having regard to the fact that they must know that if we were to abdicate responsibility over Rhodesia Mr. Smith and his régime would not be allowed to survive. They would fall into far worse hands and to far bigger enemies—to people who might bring about a conflagration in the African continent, and possibly a war between the races. These are not issues over which we should bandy words and say that we should let things take their natural course.
I wish to deal with that part of the Gracious Speech relating to the Government's promise to reintroduce the Prices and Incomes Bill, this time preserving the vital voluntary principle on which negotiations between trade unions and employers have been built up over almost a century. This is undoubtedly a change on the previous Bill on this subject, and I welcome it. But if the Government introduce a Bill accepting 160 the voluntary principle success can be achieved only by striking a bargain with the trade unions to accept a new and important principle for themselves, namely, that they also have a responsibility for productivity. Until now, the trade union negotiators have said that they are paid by their members in order to ensure that their members receive maximum wages, and to ensure that conditions of employment are improved. When management speaks to the trade unions about productivity, the trade unions say that this is the responsibility of management. In the past that attitude of the trade unions was quite understandable, because all along they have feared, and still fear, a return to unemployment.
The Labour Government have pledged themselves to maintain full employment. In spite of the fact that we have suffered and are still suffering a severe economic crisis, we have managed to maintain full employment. As a Government, we have introduced the Redundancy Payments Act, and retraining, and for all these reasons the Government can rightly ask of the trade unions that they should now accept the responsibility also for bringing about an increase in productivity.
If they will accept this, perhaps the best way to proceed is that wage negotiations should be conducted on a national basis only for minimum national scales and that any additional increases should be achieved by negotiations on a plant-to-plant basis. The unions would have on their staff paid officials who would be concerned with advising their members and the employers how to bring about increases in productivity. Where, on a plant-negotiating basis, one can bring about savings in manpower or increases in productivity, the share out between the workers and the plant might be on the basis of a third for increased wages, another third put into a fund for modernising the plant or buying new equipment, and the other third to the shareholders.
The Conservative Party's proposal to deal with this matter—the unions to accept the responsibility for productivity, avoid disputes and unofficial strikes—by introducing legislation which would fine members of unions who go out on unofficial strikes, will not do. Our gaols would not be big enough. This type of 161 legislation has been tried in Australia and it is in effect in the United States. Its net result in both countries is that they, unlike us, have far more strikes, both official and unofficial, per million man hours or days or shifts worked—whatever statistics are taken. Legislation of the type which the Conservative Party wants to introduce has failed in Australia and the United States and it would be bound to fail in this country.
I am certain that the way in which our Administration proposes to tackle this—by getting, the trade unions to co-operate on a voluntary basis, by persuading them that they have a responsibility for bringing about an increase in productivity—is a better way of doing things than that which the Opposition have in mind. While we have an urgent need to increase productivity and while these negotiations and talks with the trade unions and management are bound to last several months, I wonder whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I know that he is in a very tight situation over his Budget—could look at the possibility of bringing in legislation about overtime earnings to give for a period in those industries which are short of labour, or where export orders are held up some tax incentives or advantage. This may be the only way in which these orders can be fulfilled and in which these industries could attract the extra amount of productivity and time. I put this forward as a suggestion for my right hon. Friend to consider.
I am disappointed not to find in the Gracious Speech steps that the Government propose to take to limit imports and to persuade British industry and the consumer not to buy foreign goods and services on the kind of scale which we are doing. Whether we like it or not, we shall have to give up the import surcharge. I fear that, once that is done, there will be an even greater flood of imports into the country.
I suggest that the Government should set up a committee with the same kind of powers and purposes as the National Export Council. This committee's business and function would be to encourage British industry and to encourage the consumers to buy British, instead of relying, as we appear to be on a very large scale, on imports which are often 162 of an inferior kind and which we can hardly afford.
It is seldom that I agree with the Leader of the Opposition, but I must admit that the wording in the Gracious Speech about science is rather fatuous:The development of science will be continued.That is a remarkable statement. I have a great deal to do with scientists and I know that they will be tremendously disappointed that this is all that the Government propose to do for science and for this to be put in this fatuous form.
I am afraid that our present set-up for the organisation of science and technology leaves a great deal to be desired. There is a number of problems and opportunities which have become visible in recent years which yield neither to the traditional approaches nor to the efforts of established organisations, either at the Ministry or of Technology or any other which we have.
These include the obsolescence of the public systems on which our well-being depends—for instance, transportation in our great conurbations, urban design and services, crime prevention and control, public health, water resources, waste and pollution control; our increasing dependence on the social, economic and political development of other countries; the opportunity for our educational institutions to prepare people for adaptive and creative contributions to the modern world; and the opportunity for organisations, including universities, Government agencies and business firms, to develop management skills adequate to respond adaptively to the problems which confront us.
These problems and opportunities require technological innovation. They require social change and renewal in interpersonal, organisational and political areas. These problems and opportunities require not only studies and analyses, whose product is reports, but the commitment to long-term work on the process of bringing ideas to reality. Only through direct participation in these processes can we gain new insights and develop new skilled resources.
There are first-rate people with skills in social and technical innovation in groups of varying sizes scattered throughout the country. I should like to see the 163 Government—perhaps the Ministry of Technology—bring them together in larger and more effective groups, so that we can tackle these problems in an effective form. To give an example, we still do not have a technique or a method to get the facts on which a Minister could base his decision as to when a particular research laboratory or even a Ministry has come to the end of its useful life or the end of its mission. What use does one then make of the manpower and the machines? What task can one set these people to do? We have not begun to understand or to plan these things, and I should like to see, through the Ministry of Technology, a considerable increase in support of research and development by a group of people who could do this type of work.
I am glad that the Government are to continue to give the highest priority to maintaining the parity of sterling and to increasing exports. It is amusing to note that in this debate the speeches from the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Members opposite have been made as if they were still carrying on the General Election whereas hon. Members on this side of the House have been concerning themselves with the issues which matter.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I find it difficult, as I am sure does the House, to stomach the hon. Member's observations in view of the fact that he has not been in the Chamber for most of the day.
§ Mr. Maxwell
Then there must be two Chambers. I am sure that any fair-minded person will bear me out—and anyone will find this to be so if he reads HANSARD tomorrow—when I say that hon. Members opposite have been continuing their election speeches. Right hon. Members opposite must realise that they have been defeated quite decisively. The House is not interested in electioneering speeches, nor is the country. We have to devote our energies and resources to trying to get the country on the move. Finally, as a back-bench Member, I warmly welcome the Prime Minister's suggestion of additional committees to see how the "know-how" and resources of back-bench Members can be harnessed to various Departments.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I think that I am the first back-bench Member, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who has spoken in the present House with you in the Chair. May I, with respect, wish you the greatest success in that position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Following our acquaintance over the past Parliament, I assure you with the greatest respect that there are very few hon. Members I would prefer to have in the Chair.
I do not intend to follow closely the arguments of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell), but I want to take up one point which he made when he criticised Conservative proposals for legislation to compel unions—and I would point out that it would include employers' associations, too—to follow negotiating procedures. He said that they have this system in Australia and yet Australia has lost far more days in industrial disputes than we have lost in Britain. I lived in Australia for a few years, and although I was not in very close contact with the industrial side of the country, I saw something of it. What he said is true, but the days lost there are lost in official strikes. The days lost in unofficial strikes are practically negligible, and it is my view that it is the unofficial strikes which do the damage in this country. It is the unofficial strikes against which we are trying to legislate. The law in Australia compels the unions to order their men back to work, and they may be fined day by day if they are not successful. Such is their hold over their union members in Australia that they are usually successful in getting them back to work.
In addition, the legislation to compel adherence to the negotiating machinery is only part of our plan. There are other parts, too. That is very important to note. I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not follow his argument any further.
May I turn to one or two other points in the Gracious Speech. One or two hon. Members today—and many times in the past—have stressed that it is important for us to reduce our defence commitments, particularly east of Suez. I appreciate their approach to the problem, although I do not agree with it. Some of 165 them have repeated the argument today. I do not know whether this is the beginning of a split in the Labour Party. It is very early in the Parliament for that to start. But we read in the Gracious Speech:They will continue to assist Malaysia and Singapore in their defence against Indonesia— They will also support Britain's other alliances for collective defence, and press forward with policies designed to enable Britain to play her full part in the promotion of peace throughout the world—.Personally, I agree with that. I appreciate the arguments of hon. Members who want to withdraw from these commitments, but I agree with the statement in the Gracious Speech. In view of their recent pronouncements on defence, I ask the Government how long they think they will be able to do this and with what. We are told that this Parliament may last its full five years—which is a long time. Shore bases are increasingly at risk. They have been at risk for many years. Perhaps the most famous base which we lost was Suez, but we have also seen Libya go and our bases in East Africa; Aden is to go in two years and there is even talk of moving out of Singapore in due course.
In the process it has given me enormous irritation to see the vast sums spent on these overseas bases—not only by this Government but under previous Governments, too—only for them to be surrendered because of a change in political circumstances. I believe that this tendency to lose our shore bases is continuing.
I read in a newspaper the other day that when the Minister of Defence was visiting Australia and was speaking of Singapore, he made the remark, "If we leave Singapore and we have nowhere else to go, then we shall have to go home." Of course that is not so. It is the case if we have no land bases, but if we have mobile bases we can operate in many parts of the world. Admittedly, we also need rear bases, perhaps thousands of miles from the operational areas. They will be very few in number. But provided that we had these rear bases, then with mobile bases we could operate in many areas and carry out our obligations. I believe that in the long run we could carry them out more cheaply than if we had permanent shore bases.
166 But the core of a mobile base is the carrier, and I ask the Government most sincerely to think again about the provision of a carrier for the Royal Navy, linking it with a need for mobile bases should our shore bases have to be given up. I hope that the Government will consider this and not get confused by talking about east or west of Suez. The Navy, without a carrier—the core of its defence and attack—is not a navy. If it has carrier forces then it becomes a navy, whether it operates east or west of Suez.
I turn to the question of our economic position. It is a cliché to say that our strength, whatever it is, depends on our economic strength. The Prime Minister said that electioneering is over. I agree. We should now admit that our economic situation is very grave, and it is stated in the Gracious Speech:—My Government— will renew their efforts, in co-operation with trade unions and employers' organisations, to increase the productivity and competitive power of British industryWe then read:—My Government will promote a more positive system of investment incentives to improve the efficiency of those parts of the economy which contribute most directly to the balance of payments—.How will the Government do this? We are always worrying about increasing incentives and we know that it is on this issue that our economic future largely depends. However, we should think more about why people invest. When in Opposition, the Prime Minister always talked about investment going to the wrong places. In one Measure, hon. Gentlemen opposite hoped to direct investment. For example, the construction and road haulage industries were left outside the investment allowances. The fact remains that industry invests because it is profitable to do so. The way to make industry invest is not constantly to offer incentives, financial or otherwise, but to try to ensure that those industries are profitable.
Investing a large sum of money is a risk. If it is not profitable, investment will not take place. One of the greatest disincentives to investment is that if a company or an individual is successful the profit is creamed off by taxation. Thus, the way to get investment is to stop talking about direct incentives in 167 the sense of offering direct financial aid and to reduce direct taxation.
We heard a lot in the last Parliament about the Fairfield's shipbuilding yard. I do not know much about it, apart from what I have heard from hon. Members. I understand that although it had plenty of orders it went bankrupt. I believe that one reason for that was the amount of taxation on the company, including a heavy rate burden which was recently imposed on it. I believe that the same could be said of other shipbuilding yards which, I understand, are also in considerable financial difficulties, despite their efficiency.
At the end of 1964 the Chancellor of the Exchequer increased taxation. It had the effect of putting up prices, although I do not for a moment believe that it increased productivity and the competitive power of British industry. I hope that this time the right hon. Gentleman will resist the temptation to increase direct taxation again, although I am not very optimistic about that. We have had threats of increases, although it has been said that they will not be too severe. We have also been told that when they come they will be placed on the shoulders of those who are best able to bear them.
I recall the Chancellor stating in the last Parliament, rather sadly, I thought, that whatever he did, rising prices always seemed to be with us. They always will be as long as incomes continue to rise and as long as money is pumped back into the pockets of the people. It is there that we must tackle the problem. It is an extraordinarily difficult one to solve and the Government will need courage to tackle it.
The Government control a large sector of the working population. It is no good them giving way in that sector and expecting industry not to follow suit. Hon. Gentlemen opposite frequently criticised my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) for the measures which he took when Chancellor. I believe that he acted courageously and I urge the Government to study his example.
The Gracious Speech makes the future of the so-called incomes policy as we have known it in the last 18 months extremely vague. No one could have worked harder 168 than the First Secretary in trying to implement that policy. However, despite his efforts, the incomes policy as we understood it during those months has received very much a back place, from what one can gather from the White Paper. We must admit that it has largely failed. Its failure has occurred not, I believe, because of the First Secretary's efforts but because of the failure of the Chancellor to operate on the level of demand. That, in effect, is what an incomes policy does; although the incomes policy as we have known it has endeavoured to make this rather more painless by making it voluntary.
The Chancellor must take over from the First Secretary and it is on this that the Government will be judged. If they fail, the results will be disastrous for the country. I do not believe that they will go to the country if there is a financial crisis, but they will almost certainly need the support of my hon. Friends. They will have the right to ask for that support if they act courageously. There must be no double-talk—there must be no telling the country one thing and the foreign bankers something different. There must be no remarks like the Chancellor made in the last Government when, on imposing the 7 per cent. Bank rate, he said he hoped that it would not work through the economy. He must make it clear that he intends to control the level of the economy. He must control the level of demand and the amount of money going into the pockets of the people. He must make that clear to the country as well as abroad what he is doing.
On the whole, the Gracious Speech is largely irrelevant to the main problem facing the country and I await the Budget with acute interest.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
It is my peculiar privilege, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and honour, to be the first back bencher from this side of the House to welcome you to the Chair. I know that you will serve the House with distinction, with ability and with fairness. I hope that you will remain in the Chair as long as you wish, and that your tenure of it will be happy.
And it must be a peculiar pleasure for anyone taking part in it that this debate 169 ranges over a whole wide field of topics, and deals both with particular problems and with general problems, with constituency problems, and with Service problems such as that raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) on the Navy. This gives the debate a great spice and a peculiarly House of Commons flavour.
I had intended to raise two foreign affairs matters, but one of them—Rhodesia—has been so thoroughly dealt with in the early stages of the debate, and is again to be dealt with, I gather, fairly soon, that I will merely say how very gratified I was to find that the Government had used the United Nations in this matter, and had obtained the co-operation of the United Nations to a quite singular degree having regard to the difficulties in the circumstances there. This seems to me to be entirely in keeping with all that my party has preached, and I am glad to see that the Gracious Speech states it to be one of the Government's main aims to work through the United Nations. I leave the matter there, congratulating the Government not only on having co-operated with the United Nations but on having prevented that oil from getting to Beira. I sincerely hope that they will succeed in preventing all other oil from getting into Rhodesia from whatever source.
The other main subject on which I wish to speak is the durability, the stability, of the peace that we are supposed to enjoy at the present time. This is the real stuff of foreign affairs. What do Foreign Offices exist for if not to work towards a stable peace? Nevertheless, I am sure that most hon. Members will agree with me when I say that he would be a bold man who could assert at the present time that peace is stable—and will remain stable for the next 100 years.
I want for once to pay a compliment to the Foreign Office. I have said hard things about it in the past, but those working there give me the impression of being competent and devoted to their duties. Nevertheless, I say that they are an irrelevance to this question of the stability of world peace, and they are an irrelevance because they have never been given the tools necessary to do the job of making our peace stable. The business of working for a stable peace through the enforce- 170 ment of world law should now be the most important and first business of all civilised Governments.
Foreign Offices and Governments do their by no means negligible best in such situations as arose in the Congo, in Cyprus and in Rhodesia, but in spite of that not negligible best the world lurches from one crisis to another, and as soon as one is dealt with another crops up. All the time the people are kept on edge. They live in fear and in hopelessness, and sink into ever-deeper neuroses. And the gap between the "have" and the "have-not" peoples of the world increases.
When will we ever learn? Surely, it is plain now that peace inside nations is the result of government. Does not common sense and reason suggest that exactly the same thing must be true in the world, that world peace must be the result of world government to enforce world law? Yet, at the present time, world law is virtually non-existent. It is true that at Nuremberg, after the war, a big step was made; but in a tiny area. It is one that can be developed. We have the United Nations, we have the World Court, but these things are not to do with human beings but with Governments. They are to do with international law, not world law. The Charter itself of the United Nations is hardly emerging from the category of international law, and is almost exclusively to do with that.
I believe that the time has come for Governments, parties, statesmen and individual politicians—mere politicians—to attempt to translate their pious assertions of their belief in some form of world Government into concrete proposals for its achievement. How else are we to achieve general and complete disarmament? How else are we to banish fear of nuclear war by accident or escalation, even if, as I think, we can rule out the deliberate causing of a nuclear war by a particular Government? How else are we to find the resources which can even begin, by a proper investment in under-developed countries, to dent that problem that exists between the "haves" and the "have-nots"? If the experience of the last 50 years in the field of disarmament is anything to go by, surely we should see that sovereign States are never going to disarm in the absence of any system of security alternative to arms. Laudable and strenuous efforts have been 171 made by this present Government in the direction of non-proliferation and complete test bans, but these things are not to do with disarmament. I see that the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) yawns hard when we discuss disarmament.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
The hon. and learned Gentleman does me an injustice. I am only yawning because it is cold in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I am glad to hear that it is an injustice and I withdraw my remark with apology. I agree that it is cold.
§ Mr. Rankin
Does the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) want more heat?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
There has been a tremendous draught in this part of the Chamber for most of the afternoon. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that something will be done about it in due course.
I do not believe that the particular things for which the Government rightly claim credit for working towards—a complete test ban and non-proliferation agreement, desirable though they are—are to do with disarmament. If they are accepted and agreed upon there will not be one single fewer arm in the world as a result. Although the Government have done good work on these things, I feel sadness, having regard to the very lukewarm paragraph in the Gracious Speech on this subject, that the Government seem to me to have virtually shelved their efforts towards disarmament. That is a tragic thing to have to say.
It is not because they do not want disarmament; I am certain they do, but they do not think they can get it. They do not think it is any use going to the United Nations or anywhere else and making a proposal of the sort which would make disarmament capable of being brought about, that is to say, of producing a system of world security, in such a way as would permit sovereign States to disarm. So they are pegging away at these two excellent objects, a non-proliferation agreement and a complete test ban. The Government do not seem to have realised, or if they have they certainly have not shown it, that although they know that peace internally within 172 a nation is the result of government they know that world peace must also be the result of world government.
In the next five years of the Government's power I hope they will not be afraid of raising the standard of world government in the counsels of the world even if they think they will be refused and will get a rebuke. Only by raising that standard can we see what support there would be for it. I expect to see in the realm of foreign affairs in the next five years the Government acting with competence and courage. I am sure that we shall see both these; but I want to see more. I want to see imagination. I want an ability to see the wood in spite of the trees. I want to be sure that the Government will live up to their claim to believe in world government and will relentlessly pursue the aim of establishing a world authority capable of enforcing world law. Because on this, all other good things depend.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I am sorry that we have been subjected to a somewhat cold atmosphere in the Chamber for the last hour and half. I shall do my best to warm things up.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who seconded the Motion, is no longer present. I think she was taking a great risk and was on dangerous ground when quoting from the Book of Proverbs, because when one looks into that volume one finds that it is full of useful quotations, such as:The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.That is not meant to be a reflection on hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, but it is a solemn thought which could be applied in two directions. I certainly do not despise wisdom and instruction. I look forward to being guided by the House if I have not got it right in regard to the Queen's Speech. There are plenty of hon. Members opposite to put me right.
Before coming to domestic matters, I wish to refer to Rhodesia. I say this as one who has studied this subject, as I am sure all hon. Members have in giving their votes. I cannot for the life of me see how the present policy of 173 the Government will lead to the negotiations which the Prime Minister himself says he wants. I cannot for the life of me see how punitive sanctions aimed to bring the Smith régime to its knees and to destroy the economy of Rhodesia can possibly lead to the sort of negotiations which will result in a lasting settlement to the benefit of all the races in Rhodesia, and indeed to the whole of southern Africa.
I find the methods of the Government and the Government's intentions completely contradictory. I believe the sanctions policy was a mistake, that the Government did not realise where it would lead and that they have no idea where it will end. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have to think long and hard to discover a solution to this great problem. The Government are not on the right lines at present.
There are many words in this Gracious Speech. The Prime Minister took 92 minutes to give us his views upon it, and there were still many questions left unanswered. In the domestic field, it does not take an economist to realise that the proposals made here are not going to solve all our problems. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell), who has now left the Chamber and with whom I crossed swords earlier, should think that I did him an injustice by suggesting that he had been out of the Chamber a great deal. I also have been out of the Chamber a great deal during the day, and I always seemed to be coming across the hon. Member. Perhaps that was only a coincidence. He said that imports were the key to our problem, whereas other hon. Members have said that exports are the key. Both are vital.
The surcharge has been mentioned; that has to come off. The hon. Member said that some other way had to he found to prevent people indulging in frivolous imports. The Government have this problem before them and must tackle it. There are no alibis now. It is not any good blaming anyone else. The problem is there, and the Government must deal with it. It does not take an economist to realise that the present Government's measures, whatever their good intentions, are not likely to strengthen the economy. We shall not get people 174 to work harder if we tax them more heavily.
The remedy sought for the present situation, foreshadowed by the Chancellor, is even more taxes. The Government have got the economy into a pretty bad state if they are to go on piling up heavier and heavier taxes. We can all see where that will lead in a year or so. I am sorry to have to keep referring to the distinguished contribution of the hon. Member for Buckingham in his absence. He deplored the fact that scientists were not getting together enough and that therefore we were not making the progress we should. He said that many scientists were going abroad. Why are they going abroad? It is because it is not being made worth their while to stay here. Many of the best people in all walks of life are being positively encouraged by the present Government to leave our shores as it is not worth their while staying here. That is a matter to which the Government must certainly address themselves.
I have marked a number of paragraphs in the Gracious Speech to which I hope to refer. I see that the next is something to do with the nationalisingof the main part of the steel industry".I do not propose to go into the argument at any length, but this proposal seems to be an irrelevance compared with all the grave problems which face us and which are mentioned later in the Speech. The next paragraph says thatLegislation will be introduced and other measures taken to improve efficiency and industrial relations in the docks".That is a field in which Government action is vitally necessary and in which this Government must succeed. It will be no good their leaving it to their successors. This is a matter on which this Government can have no alibis. They must act. There have been endless reports and commissions. The Government have all the information. They say that they will legislate and take "other measures". I hope that the "other measures" will not be another series of investigations, committees or reviews. A slogan was used at the election by one of the more distinguished political parties—"Action, Not Words". Let us have a little action on the subject of the docks.
I represent a great industrial city with a magnificent system of docks which are happier in their labour relations than 175 some others. However, they still have problems. It is fair to say that over our dock industry we are hag-ridden by restrictions. It is even the case that a manufacturer can take his lorry to a dock where there is a dispute and where his merchandise is lying on the side of the dock; he has men on the lorry ready to pick up the merchandise, put it on the lorry, and take it away, but he dare not do that for fear of reprisals. I know of a case where a manufacturer's men were told that they would be thrown in the dock or be beaten up if they dared to touch the stuff. Such things as this must be stopped. This Government have always said, "Labour can talk to labour". Labour had better do a bit more than talking. Labour had better take action.
§ Mr. Rankin
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us where this place is that he is talking about?
§ Mr. Cooke
It is in the Port of London. I have considerable experience of what happens to some manufacturers in the West Country. This leads me to my next point. Manufacturers have found that, because of the difficulties in the Port of London, they can get better conditions elsewhere. Some of them have found that the unions are so organised that they can prevent those better conditions continuing by taking reprisals. A manufacturer finding that one dock is very troublesome may decide to go somewhere else where there has been less trouble. Because the unions discover that this is a man transferring his work from a place he is fed up with, they make it just as difficult for him at the new place. This is intolerable. This Government, who say that they have so much power and such a splendid mandate from the people, must get on with the job.
The next paragraph in the Gracious Speech concerns the question of local government finance and reorganising Exchequer grants to local authorities. I want to make a suggestion to the Government which can do much to solve the difficulty of local expenditure. The Government should separate the local expenditure which is wished upon local authorities by the national Government from local authority expenditure which is a local option. Things like education which are nationally agreed projects 176 should be substantially paid for from the centre, although there should be a local contribution to make for local responsibility. If a local committee is to administer a service, it must be prepared to pay something, otherwise it can hardly expect to have local control. Some of the vexatious actions of some local education authorities make some of us in the House wonder just how much longer local control can go on. However, we must persevere. Local people obviously must be given freedom to choose the type of education they want for their children.
Those services that are wished upon local authorities by the national Government from Westminster should be substantially paid for from the centre. The other expenditures should be wholly paid for by the ratepayers. There should be no grants. In this way there would be absolute responsibility in local expenditure and a very good working relationship between ratepayers and local councillors. There could be no possible excuse for extravagance. Indeed, it would not take place. There would be a very real practical relationship. The ratepayer himself would vote just how his money should be spent. This suggestion is well worth investigation. The Minister of Housing and Local Government is something of an erratic genius but he likes to think that he is a great innovator. Perhaps he might like to consider this proposition.
I see thatA Bill will be introduced to regulate privately sponsored construction.I assume that this is another way of saying that the Building Control Bill will be reintroduced. There is now a new Minister of Public Building and Works. No doubt he will have a slightly different approach from that of his predecessor. I hope that the Government have learned from their experience on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committee that many of the provisions of the original Bill were quite unworkable and would be most damaging, both to the construction industry and to the economy as a whole. I hope that, if the Government persist in trying to introduce building controls, they will make them legal and commonsense.
We are told that theGovernment will promote further progress in the development of comprehensive secondary education.177 I hope that, where a comprehensive school is the answer to the local education problem, one will be soon constructed and that the funds will be made available. However, what is happening up and down the land is that local authorities are being urged by this Socialist Government to rush ahead in making comprehensive systems where none now exists but where perfectly good other arrangements now exist. As a result, many fine direct grant and maintained grammar schools are suffering. I want to say something on the basis that the Government intend to persist in their policy of destroying these schools and imposing a comprehensive pattern. Let no hon. Member opposite smile at this, because I have in my constituency in the City of Bristol more direct grant schools with splendid educational records than any other hon. Member.
§ Mr. Joseph Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I am not smiling at the thought of the destruction of such schools. I am smiling at the thought that the hon. Gentleman should so completely have misinterpreted the policy, which is to extend the benefits of this type of education to all who could benefit from it and not merely to a limited number.
§ Mr. Cooke
The hon. Gentleman is an idealist who does not know what Bristol City Council has been doing in this matter. While one does not want to get involved in a wrangle across the Floor of the House about the activities of a local authority, it is fair to point out that far from widening the benefits obtained from direct grant education in the schools in my constituency, the Socialist-controlled local authority in Bristol has refused to take up the places and has prevented children in the city from getting these benefits. I am delighted and grateful for the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), who has such a distinguished record and knows the problem well.
If one is to have a comprehensive pattern imposed, the money must be provided. Hon. Members want to have this comprehensive pattern, and quickly. Then they must provide the money. But where they are going to get the money from to do this, as well as to build all the roads, 178 the hospitals which are not mentioned in the Gracious Speech and the houses which they did not build before and which they are not finishing now—where all this is coming from in the present parlous state of the economy I should like to know. I hope hon. Members who follow me will be able to deal with this matter.
I would be dangerously near making an election speech if I were to ask any more rhetorical questions, but I think I have covered quite a number of paragraphs which are open to question in the Gracious Speech. Many of them are vague, and those which are precise are in my view somewhat dangerous. One of the paragraphs in the Gracious Speech states:My Ministers will complete further stages of their major review of social security.The Prime Minister said that this Gracious Speech outlines the activity of the Government, that it is to provide the blue-print for a Session of 18 months. That is the best of the workable part of a Parliament. We all know that it is in the first two years that real achievements can be made and that after that one has to look over one's shoulder. The Government, I have no doubt, will he doing just that. Things will begin to break by then.
Quite a lot could be done in the first two years, and that is what the Prime Minister intends. In the first 18 months he will be able to proceed withfurther stages of their major review of social security.But it is action that one needs, and I hope above all that a new Ministry of Social Security will positively seek out those people who really need help and who do not get it under our present arrangements, because that is sadly lacking and it should certainly be done first of all. We have a large framework of social security, but this is a point which is well worth immediate action.
The final paragraph of the Gracious Speech deals with law enforcement, penal reform and the reform of the administration of justice. There are plenty of theorists in the Home Office field, but I imagine that we shall always need prisons in our penal system. I have a prison in my constituency. I went to quite a number of prisons when I was attached to a 179 Minister in the Home Office some years ago. It is heartbreaking for those who are trying to run our prison service to find them so inadequately equipped. I am talking now about the older prison buildings in particular. We have several new institutions where new theories are being tried, but so long as we are to have straightforward prisons—maximum security or otherwise—it is heartbreaking for those who work in them to find that all the improvements that they want are so slow in coming. Plans and promises are made and then suddenly they are withdrawn. I hope that the Minister who is taking a note of the points made in this debate will bear in mind that whilst one wants to try all the available new methods, recognising that crime is a wide subject involving many factors, our prison service should not be neglected.
I have covered many points and I have made it clear that I come from Bristol. I find myself for the time being the only Member for Bristol on this side of the House and I want to leave the House with the thought that Bristol, like a number of other provincial cities, is a great commercial and industrial centre. I hope the Labour Party, as now constituted in the House, is not so old-fashioned as to be completely suspicious of the interests of commerce and industry and to regard the business man as some wicked bogey. The livelihood of every single person, man, woman and child, in the City of Bristol, and in any other great. commercial centre, depends on the success of business in that city.
Half of the Socialist theories being put about, and contained, if not in words yet by implication, in the Gracious Speech, do not match up to the practicalities of business. A wages policy based on exhortations or pious hopes does not work. It is nonsense. It is economic forces which make sense. I hope that there are a number of practical men of commerce as well as theorists returned at this election on the opposite side of the House. There are a great many university lecturers, I believe; very good men, I have no doubt, and I shall be delighted to hear their views. There is an hon. Member opposite who is burning to make his maiden speech, and I am sorry that he is not doing so this evening. However, practical men of commerce must be considered, because they are the men on the 180 ground who are doing the job, and it is on their efforts and their success that all else depends.
The City of Bristol has been referred to as the capital of the West Country. The whole future of the West Country depends on communications. What have we had from the present Government? They promised a further extension of the line of the motorway from Bristol to Exeter. We have heard from the local planning officer that it now ends in a field nowhere near any other main road of any kind, and the only advantage of the road is that it runs near one of the larger and more prosperous public houses in an otherwise rather isolated part of the countryside. This, of course, was all announced during the election. Well, I hope that words will be translated into action, because the West Country above all other places is dependent on communications, and they are at present not good enough.
Bristol also depends on another vital scheme which the Government have shuffled about and shelved from month to month, and that is the Portbury dock scheme. The Prime Minister came to Bristol but told us little about it. We know about the pressure from South Wales—there are many hon. Members from South Wales on the other side of the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer included—with not much money for public expenditure. The Government have pushed it off as long as possible. I hope the Government will not be deaf to the protests which have come not only from myself but from other hon. Members from Bristol, now mostly on the other side of the House, and I hope that the Government will give us the dock scheme. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), and I am looking forward to joining with him in the fight in the interests of Bristol in getting its dock undertaking approved. I look forward to fighting with him and the other four hon. Members for Bristol in the interests of our city right through this Parliament.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I am sure that no one in the House will disagree with the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) when he proclaims the need to attend to the 181 practicalities of life. We want bridges, we want food, we want communications, we want roads, we want schools. We want all these things, but we shall not get them without the vision which is so evident on this side of the House and was so obviously lacking on that side of the House, the vision without which, the prophets tell us, the people perish. The people of Britain have had 13 perishing years under the Tories.
We have come along with a programme of the nature outlined in the Queen's Speech illuminated by ample vision. Adorned with all the practicality of a good programme, we hope, out of the ruins which were bequeathed us, to build that better type of Britain that even the Tories would like to see. So with those kindly words—
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Gentleman must give me time to start. Time is an important factor. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), who had such a narrow escape, wants to interrupt, he must follow the courtesies of the House and at least rise from his seat. However, I hope that hon. Members opposite will not rise more than one at a time.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by saying that, if he carries on speaking until 10 o'clock, he will be able to start again tomorrow. The question I wanted to put to him is this. What have he and his hon. Friends been doing during the past 18 months? He talks about 13 years. What about the last 18 months?
§ Mr. Rankin
If the hon. Gentleman does not know that there is a difference between months and years in terms of Parliamentary performance, I must leave him to try to bring himself up to date by a few days of quiet reflection. He can retire into purdah or somewhere else and think over some of these matters. I have some observations of my own to make and I shall, therefore, leave the hon. Gentleman in the comfort of the seat which he has now resumed.
The programme set out in the Gracious Speech is outstanding because it starts with the clear statement that the Government's aim is peace. That is an ideal, 182 I agree, but it is something to which the Labour Government pledge themselves in the very opening words of the Gracious Speech. Theywill continue to work for peace",and they conclude by saying that they will devote themselves also to dealing with the poverty which still exists in Britain.
These are two aims which the Socialist movement has pledged itself to for all the years before I ever became a member of it and all the years since, to try to bring about peace in the world and to abolish poverty within our own shores. All of us, particularly those associated with industrial constituencies, know that poverty still exists in Britain. We want to cure that poverty, a poverty which goes with housing in which it is a disgrace to see human beings living in this age. These are the practicalities. I am confident that the Labour Government, during the period of power which the country has given to them, will make a notable contribution towards the achievement of both peace abroad and the abolition of poverty at home.
Many other matters in the Gracious Speech attract my attention. I welcome the statement thatFurther steps will be taken to assist My peoples in the remaining Colonial territories to reach independence or some other status which they have freely chosen.In welcoming this statement, I think of our fellow citizens in one part of the Commonwealth which I know very well, Hong Kong. I have been there twice. I have paid the longest visit to it of any Member of Parliament, including members of the Government. I was received with great kindness and treated very well by a kindly people living in conditions which are a shame to this House. Poverty is widespread, the standard of living is low, and the place is over-populated to such an extent that 40,000–50,000 persons cannot get homes on the ground and have to live on the roofs of their fellow citizens' houses. Standing there, I often wondered what would happen if someone awakened in the middle of the night on the top of a five-storey building and had an urge to go quickly to the toilet. I wonder whether any of us here think of that painful situation. It is a real situation, and thousands of our people live in such conditions.
183 We have read a great deal recently about riots and violence in Hong Kong. There has just arrived within reach of my voice a distinguished person from Hong Kong whom I know well. I have talked to the people there. I have spoken to bigger meetings in Hong Kong than I have ever had here. I still find it difficult to believe that people paid to hear me. No one pays anything to hear me in this country. An admission charge of 10 dollars was made—it included dinner—and the meetings were large. The people felt that they would listen to someone who had something to tell them which would be helpful. I hope it was.
The riots are almost wholly due to the widespread frustration among ordinary persons in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a dictatorship. When the people there have troubles—housing, food or any other sort of trouble—they have no one to go to. In previous Parliaments I have advocated—I did it in Hong Kong, and no one there disagreed with me—that in our democratic Commonwealth the right to elect two representatives to the Legislative Council should be given to the people of Hong Kong.
The Gracious Speech says that the Government will assist the peoplein the remaining Colonial territories to reach independence or some other status which they have freely chosen.How can we honestly say that the people of Hong Kong can freely choose a status when, at this moment, they have no one in "Legco" to talk for them? One simple request made to me was, "Could we not have an ombudsman in Hong Kong?" We have been asking for an ombudsman in this country. If we think that he would he useful here, could we not grant to Hong Kong such an office, which would enable people there to have someone to whom they could tell their simple, sad stories?
Every hon. Member knows that one of his main functions is to listen to the stories—and I do not mean "stories" in any false sense—that constituents have to tell about injustices. Yet our fellow members in the Commonwealth in Hong Kong have no such outlet. I am pleading for the House to consider this sympathetically and I ask the Government to think again about Hong Kong. If the 184 Government believe, as they say in the Gracious Speech, that we want to see our Colonial Territories independent, then first of all we must give them the machinery of being independent, even in the modified form that I have been suggesting. It is a wrong that must be righted some day and the sooner a Socialist Government start to right it, the better it will be for our reputation.
I could say a lot more but sometimes people think I talk too long. I do not believe that. There are unkind people who say that I am in a minority of one. But I do not want to talk too long—I never do. However, there are one or two things to say.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Gentleman will make it worse.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor
Could the hon. Gentleman explain the serious point of what will happen to democratic institutions in Hong Kong when the territory is returned to Red China towards the end of the century?
§ Mr. Rankin
I am glad the hon. Gentleman asked that. Only the "new" territories are affected—not the whole of Hong Kong. Perhaps I should say that in 1956 I raised this issue with Mr. Chou En-lai in Peking. History since then has shown that what he said to me is still true. He said, "So long as Britain is in Hong Kong I am happy and so is China. But if you allow the Americans into Hong Kong the situation will become radically different."
I am deeply sorry that the American Embassy in Hong Kong is the biggest spy agency in the Far East. I did not want to say that but now I have said it. It is true and a lot of people know it.
I want to say something about Scotland, my own country, because it would be a poor Scotsman who had nothing to say about Scotland. I seize on that part of the Gracious Speech which says:My Government will take action to stimulate progress in implementing the National Plan and in securing balanced growth in all parts of Great Britain.Those words are important:… securing balanced growth in all parts of Great Britain.When the Highlands Development Bill was going through its Committee stage, 185 I said that it was our duty to develop the Highlands of Scotland and remove from them the grouse-shooting and stag-hunting Tories, freeing the land of the Highlands for the people so that we could bring in industry and get the people of the Highlands away from the greedy, grabbing Tory landlords who for so long have suppressed them. That is not just Socialist exaggeration. It is true.
I do not want to go into the history, but, if I am tempted, I shall. The number of Highland people living in my constituency of Govan is quite remarkable. The number of Highland people in Canada and in the United States is also remarkable. They have been driven from the Highlands by the landlords, and we want all that stopped. However, we have to get more into the Highlands than the supply industries. It is all very well to produce aluminium and crops, and they are necessary. It is all very well to have pulp mills, and they are necessary. The supply industries cannot be done without. But if we are to join in the scientific revolution that is now taking place we have to get the breeder industries into the Highlands. In addition to the supply industries, unless they have breeder industries which are the foundation of so much in the scientific and metallurgical industrial world of today, the Highlands will miss the scientific revolution just as they missed the Industrial Revolution and they will not have the balanced growth that is happening in other parts of Great Britain.
Having said that brief word for Scotland, I turn to the next paragraph in the Gracious Speech on which I wish to comment. It raises the subject about which I spoke at every single discussion that I had with my fellow trade unionists in my constituency at work gate election meetings, and I had them every day like my colleagues.
It says:My Government will continue to develop, in consultation with management and unions, the agreed policy for productivity, prices and incomes. Proposals for legislation to reinforce this policy, while preserving the voluntary principle on which it is based, will be laid before you.I spoke about that policy at all my meetings with my colleagues in the workshops. When I put my point of view before them, no one disagreed with the 186 idea. They all accepted the view that if increases in incomes had to come about, they could come only from increased production and increased productivity. They all accepted that there was no point in giving a man more money at his work if the increase was taken out of his wife's purse when she went to the shops. They all accepted that, but the one thing which stuck in their throats was that compulsion might be used to attain our objective.
I am a co-operator, a nominee of the Co-operative movement, and we do not want coercion, we want co-operation. I do not know what is in the Bill, but I am pinning a lot of faith on the phrase… while preserving the voluntary principle on which it is basedas meaning that we will get the co-operation of our brothers in this matter, and that we will achieve our objective without coercion.
There is only one other matter on which I propose to touch, and this I think is the most important of all, because so much depends on it. We have heard a lot about Rhodesia. I do not disagree about the importance of Rhodesia in the scheme of affairs. I think that this is an important matter, but in many ways I think that Vietnam is more important.
In reply to a suggestion that Russia or even China might come into the Rhodesian affair, one hon. Gentleman said that he did not accept that possibility. I think that the danger of a world war arising from the situation in Vietnam is far greater than from the situation in Rhodesia. Tonight's Evening Standard contains an article by Mr. James Cameron in which he says:The people of the United States have caught on to the fact that almost all their assumptions about Vietnam have suddenly become invalid, that their credit account of Asian friendship has virtually evaporated, that they can rely on no one—except perhaps the British Government which is an irrelevancy.It will be a sad day if we become the only country on which the United States can rely with regard to Vietnam.
According to the Economist of last weekend, Senator Russell of Georgia said on 8th April:If it becomes clearly evident that a majority of the Vietnamese do not want our help I would favour withdrawing immediately both military forces and economic aid.187 The same weekly paper made the following observation in its issue of 16th April:Few can now be found"—this was referring to America—whether in Congress or in the Administration to deny that Mr. Johnson's embrace of General Ky was a thumping mistake.How can we continue even giving the appearance of supporting what America is doing in Vietnam when Americans themselves are saying that… Mr. Johnson's embrace of General Ky was a thumping mistake."?The same newspaper points out thatThe idea that a future Government in Saigon might seek a compromise with the Communists using its power to demand an immediate withdrawal as a bargaining counter to secure acceptable terms has been implanted and may persist. Not everybody in the Administration finds this a shocking thought. If the war cannot end as President Johnson wants, it will have to end in something else.When Americans point out things like that it is time for us to begin to think about giving the Americans some friendly advice in turn on what they should do in Vietnam now. They have been finding difficulty with the Communists there, and they are now finding difficulty with the non-Communists. How will they tell the difference between Communists and non-Communists?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Will the hon. Member turn and address the Chair?
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I am just coming to a conclusion. If these things can be said by the Americans about this war it is time for us to speak a little more openly than we have been doing. They offered us good advice at the time of Suez, and one good turn deserves another. Perhaps we can now offer them some good advice, and tell them that it is time for them to get out of Vietnam. If we think that they may not like that, perhaps we can provide them with an example.
We all remember Russia withdrawing from Cuba, and how it was said—this was in almost every newspaper that I read—that the Russians had suffered a severe rebuff, and that their prestige had been damaged. But within a month the whole world was hailing Russia because it was said that she had preserved the peace of 188 the world. If America were to follow that Russian action now she would do more for the peace of the world by withdrawing from Vietnam than she is doing by carrying on and seeking to justify war in South-East Asia.
§ Mr. Speaker
For the second time, I must remind the House that long speeches prevent hon. Members who have been waiting all day from having a chance of being called.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I am very happy to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, at a moment when the Postmaster-General is in the House, because some of my comments have a bearing on his Department. I want to start, however, by making some more general comments on the Gracious Speech and by reminding the House that it is not many weeks since the Prime Minister said that 1966 would be a "make or break" year for Britain. We all know the elements in our economy that could make it a "break" year and I had hoped to find in the Gracious Speech some indications of Government action which would give the country a better opportunity than it has had for the past 18 months of making this a "make" year.
I was sadly disappointed. Anybody reading the Gracious Speech in the context of our present economic position must feel that a very heavy responsibility has been left upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer in respect of the measures that he must take in his Budget. Nothing in the Gracious Speech is calculated to give a positive stimulus to desirable action of the kind that must be taken if we are to make progress in the months ahead. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) in some of his comments. I should like simply to touch on his mention of the fact that he hoped to see the abolition of poverty completed and speeded up. This will be made very much easier when the nation's production starts to rise again.
One of the things which is most worrying about the present condition of the country is that the level of manufacturing industry's production has been stagnant for the past 13 months. The sort of steps which could be taken to give us positive stimulus are measures to increase and 189 encourage the level of savings. I hope that, as this matter has received no attention in the Gracious Speech, the Chancellor will not neglect it when he introduces his Budget.
There is also a need to increase and facilitate flexibility in British industry. There are distressing signs that our industrial structure is, in many ways, becoming ossified. The high level of employment combined with a stagnant level of production is one pointer towards this. I see in the Gracious Speech that Government intervention in industrial and economic affairs is to be widened by no fewer than six new Measures.
I believe that, as a matter of principle, the Government should think very carefully before they widen the field of Government intervention in the nation's affairs, because the more they widen it, the less effective the intervention is likely to be. When one sees no fewer than six Measures in a programme for one Session which will widen Government intervention in the nation's affairs, one has considerable cause for concern.
Another step which is required is to ease the pressure on our manpower resources, either by increased efficiency or by increasing the manpower resources available to the nation. There was at least a reference of a very general nature to this subject in the Gracious Speech. We read:In consultation with industry, the National Economic Development Council and the regional Economic Planning Councils, My Government will take action to stimulate progress in implementing the National Plan and in securing balanced growth in all parts of Great Britain.We on this side will not quarrel with the reference to the National Economic Development Council, which was the creation of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), and no one has done more to stimulate regional studies than the Leader of the Opposition.
Hon. Members will recall that one of the significant features of the National Plan was its reference to the manpower gap, to the fact that there would, on the assessment of the National Plan, be a manpower shortage of some hundreds of thousands by 1970, unless there was an increase in the efficient utilisation of manpower and womanpower available. The 190 use of manpower is usually measured by the unemployment figures for the country or for a particular area. My point is that too little attention is paid to the activity ratios for various areas. The number of people of working age who actually enter employment varies very widely.
This has always struck me, particularly as I was born in Lancashire, worked in Lancashire, and represent a Lancashire constituency where the proportion of people who follow full-time employment and those who follow part-time employment is probably as high as in any area of the country.
If we are to solve the manpower problem we must consider it not only in terms of whether unemployment exists but whether there is manpower and womanpower available which could be drawn into employment. This is particularly true of seaside towns such as Morecambe, which I represent. In such towns, the activity ratio is notably low. This is not due to any lack of desire on the part of the people to enter employment but to the lack of variety of employment often inherent in the structure of the economy of this type of district. There is usually a shortage of employment, in particular, of an administrative or clerical nature or employment requiring a high degree of skill or training.
Large areas of the United Kingdom will be eligible for development area aid under the Government's new proposals. I think that this is a mistaken policy. I have had considerable experience in Lancashire of development area policies at work, and I believe that the Conservative Government's policy of concentrating on revitalising growth points was a sounder policy. I shall not pursue that tonight. But if great tracts of country are to qualify for development aid, then seaside towns should be included where conditions warrant it, and often the conditions warrant it far more than is superficially evident from the unemployment figures. Certainly industrial development certificates should be freely granted where they will diversify employment opportunities in such areas.
May I turn to the point which I wish specifically to raise in relation to my constituency. At a time when the Government are laying great emphasis on securing greater efficiency and a more efficient use of the nation's manpower resources 191 they should be very careful how they themselves measure efficiency. I draw the attention of the House to the case of the Post Office Savings Division in Morecambe and this is why I am pleased that the Postmaster-General is here, because I know that he has taken a very sympathetic attitude personally on this problem, and why I am also glad to see here the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) who has only just entered the House but who, I have no doubt, will give me his full support in what I have to say.
The proposal is that the work of the Post Office Savings Division as a whole should be concentrated in Durham by about 1969. I have no doubt that there is a strong case on grounds of efficiency of the Department as a whole for this step and yet, at is were as a by-product, it will lead to the less efficient use of the staff of the branch of the Post Office division which has been situated in Morecambe since the war and which I understand has discharged its functions with complete efficiency and satisfaction to the Department. This step will result in the staff and the work of this department being transferred to Durham.
The point which I put to the House is that while this may be sensible when viewed against the background of the efficiency of a single department, it is deplorable when viewed against the background of national efficiency and the full use of national manpower resources. At present 350 civil servants are employed in the Post Office Savings Division in Morecambe. Many of them are married women with family commitments. Many of them have been there many years and have deep personal roots in the locality. For this reason it is impossible for many of them to transfer to Durham.
Because in my experience they are extremely loyal members of the Civil Service, they recognise that it is a normal undertaking of people entering the Civil Service that they should be prepared to transfer as their service requires. But they are at a particular disadvantage in Morecambe because of the shortage of alternative Civil Service work in the area to which they can transfer. This means that a much higher proportion of the civil servants in Morecambe will have to transfer to Durham than I understand would be necessary in respect of the main section of the Department in London.
192 I am concerned because of the personal hardships of my constituents, but I am also concerned because the removal of this Department will narrow very severely employment opportunities in the area and will remove a nucleus for a future expansion of employment. This may be extremely important at a time when much thinking is taking place about population movements in the County of Lancashire and when the area of North Lancashire is being looked upon with increasing favour for an expansion of population and an expansion of employment. I hope that the Department of Economic Affairs will have a particularly close look at this proposal against the broader background of national efficiency and the full utilisation of trained manpower because I know that the Post Office has tried to provide alternative employment, but I am afraid that I have had only qualified encouragement from the Treasury.
This, I believe, is a case where the Government should themselves set an example of using manpower efficiently. They should not take action which will have the direct result of some people falling permanently out of useful employment for the nation. It is also wrong to solve the unemployment problems of one area by aggravating an unsatisfactory employment situation elsewhere.
There is no doubt that the employment situation is already unsatisfactory in Morecambe. In September, 1965, the Lancashire and Merseyside Industrial Development Association published the results of a detailed survey of employment prospects in the coastal towns of Lancashire. The survey commented on the fact that unemployment in Morecambe for a considerable part of the year was now higher than it was 10 years ago. I ask the House to view that against the generally extremely low level of unemployment.
The Association specifically referred to the contribution which the establishment of further Government offices could make towards the achievement of a more satisfactory employment position by the provision of additional employment opportunities. I hope that the Ministers concerned will take the view that for the exact opposite to happen—to remove Government employment from the district, to narrow the range of employment 193 opportunities for young people with the qualifications necessary to do this sort of work—is in direct contradiction to the policies which the Government are commending to the nation generally and which, they say, they are carrying out.
The Government should also set an example as a good employer. We talk in the House a great deal about the importance of removing the fear of change. This is of fundamental importance for the country. We must remove from people's minds the fear of change in the economy because it is a great obstacle to progress. We have heard references to the Redundancy Payments Bill and wage-related unemployment benefits. The Government are not entitled to point to these Measures with satisfaction in their own support if they are taking action which is reducing the full use of manpower.
More attention should, therefore, be paid to the activity ratio when considering this question and work should be steered to areas of low employment activity as well as to areas of low registered unemployment. The Government should avoid taking away employment from areas which are already short of employment opportunities. I hope soon that we will have concrete evidence of the concern of the Department of Economic Affairs with the manpower gap and that an announcement will be made that either the Post Office Savings Division branch will not be moved or else that alternative work for civil servants in Morecambe will be provided so that their services will be available not only for the Government, because they are employed in the service of the Government, but also because these are services which are valuable to the nation as a whole.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
I welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech, although two of them do not go far enough. The first is the paragraph which was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) about the prices and incomes policy:Proposals for legislation to reinforce this policy, while preserving the voluntary principle … will be laid before you.This is a weakness because the voluntary principle just does not work and, as far as I am aware, it does not exist in any 194 other piece of legislation that has ever been introduced.
The voluntary principle has not so far worked to a satisfactory level in regard to prices and incomes. I admit that it was the first serious attempt made by any Government to control prices. It succeeded in keeping price increases down to approximately half of what they were before the Board was established, but that is not good enough. We must do better. I believe that there is a danger of its becoming too much an increases policy and not enough a prices policy. The wrong end is being tackled first. We should first tackle prices. It has always been a loophole in the set-up in this country that people wanting an increase in wage or salary must justify it to someone, but that people wanting to increase prices do not have to justify that to anyone at all. They just increase the price to what the market can stand—that is the only limitation. If people manufacture something that is in short supply, they can make exorbitant profits and no one has any right to question it.
I hoped that the prices and incomes policy would take care of such a situation, but it is not happening. I sent for consideration by the Board a case where the tenants of establishments like private hotels and boarding-houses, providing a bed-and-breakfast service, had to meet increases of over 200 per cent. —not at one establishment but at a whole series of establishments. I offered to send the details to the Board. There was no justification whatever for those increases, because the tenants already not only had to keep the building in repair but had to insure it, pay for its upkeep, and everything else. Nevertheless, they had to pay a 200 per cent. increase, which is totally unjustified. The Board does not have time even to look at that case, but when groups of workmen, whether they be railwaymen, bus drivers, or anyone else, seek an increase of about 6 per cent., that has to be very carefully examined by the Board—there is plenty of time for that.
As I say, this is developing too much into an incomes policy and not enough into a prices policy, and I should like to see the voluntary principle withdrawn altogether. First, I do not think that it works. Secondly, what is the point in being able to say to someone, "At first 195 glance, we consider your proposed price increase to be too much. We want to refer it to the Board"? When it is referred to the Board and the Board finds that the increase is too much and is quite unjustified, what can the Board do about it? It can do absolutely nothing except impose a three-months' delay, after which a quite unjustified increase can go ahead. It is all very well to say that the Board can also delay an incomes increase for three months, but if it is a service controlled by the Government there is no limitation on the delay because the Government can use various methods to refuse it.
It is a one-sided arrangement at present, and the policy must be looked at in order to get much more emphasis on the control of prices. The Board ought to be capable of investigating unjustified increases, particularly when they are of the order of 200 per cent. because, after all, what happens at the end of the day? It is the working people in London who eventually have to pay for this unwarranted 200 per cent. increase in bed and breakfast charges. This is something which should be engaging the attention of the Prices and Incomes Board. It is something which the Board should have time to investigate, but apparently it has not time.
The Gracious Speech also says:You will be invited to approve a measure designed to promote greater safety on the roads.So far as I can see, this is the only reference to transport. It has to be noticed that the paragraph refers to "a" measure. If the measure is to deal only with the question of drivers under the influence of alcohol, that will not be going nearly far enough. What contributes most to road accidents? A common cause is that of a person getting in the path of a vehicle. This danger can be eliminated. We now have pedestrian ways for shopping so that people can be segregated from vehicles. There is no danger of them being involved in a road accident there.
In certain places local authorities build handrails along a curb to prevent people accidentally stepping in front of a vehicle. That could be done to a greater extent at no exorbitant cost. It could be done particularly where accidents have taken place. In my constituency a railway 196 bridge crosses a main road and there is a very narrow footpath on either side of the road. From time to time someone would step off the footpath and be knocked down by a vehicle. I persuaded the local authority to put handrails on either side of the length of road under the bridge. That cost about £16 and there was never another accident there. That kind of thing could be repeated in other areas, and it is within the power of local authorities to do it.
Another thing which causes serious accidents is vehicles proceeding in opposite directions and colliding. Two vehicles colliding when going in the same direction rarely produce a serious accident. How can we eliminate the kind of accident caused when they are going in opposite directions and collide? According to certain car manufacturing associations the only way of doing so is to provide more motorways, but there is another system which can be used to cure the problem, and it is not so costly. That is by means of a dual carriageway which has nearly all the advantages of a motorway. When a motorway is built another road is required because the motorway by law cannot carry some kinds of traffic, but a dual carriage road can carry all kinds of traffic and on it the hazard which causes so many accidents is obviated.
More dual carriageways should be constructed. I think particularly of the road bridge over the River Forth and the road bridge over the Tay. There is an astonishing mass of roads connecting the two. They should be constructed on the dual carriageway principle. That is an example of where a dual carriageway would be extensively used and would serve a very useful function.
There are many fairly wide roads where a railing, a buffer or bumper could be built to segregate traffic going in opposite directions so that vehicles would not collide. This could be done as a temporary measure. Temporary measures are justified in circumstances when over 1,000 people are killed or seriously injured every day on the roads. Consideration must be given to temporary measures, especially measures which do not cost too much. There must be segregation, first between pedestrians and vehicles and, secondly, between vehicles moving in opposite directions.
197 Much of the congestion on the roads is caused by parked cars. Yet the Government give no assistance to local authorities to provide car parks. Many local authorities would be willing to pay a fair share of the cost of providing car parks, if the Government gave some assistance. In many places which now suffer from traffic congestion the roads could cope with the traffic if decent and adequate car parks were provided and if they were used. Parked cars cause congestion, but so far the Government have done nothing and they make no proposals in the Gracious Speech for giving any assistance to local authorities in this respect.
We are told that this congestion is largely caused by commuter traffic. The Government have said that they want more people to travel on public service vehicles Although the Government want more people to travel on public service vehicles, these vehicles still bear a fuel tax which is higher than any luxury tax. It is nonsensical that this extraordinary high fuel tax is imposed on public service vehicles if the Government really want to encourage people to travel on such vehicles. These two aspects of Government policy are contradictory. The day is long overdue when the matter should be rectified.
I admit that the last time the Government increased fuel tax they devised a method whereby public service vehicle operators did not have to pay the in- 198 crease. But public service vehicle operators were still left having to bear a tax of 250 per cent., which is excessively high if it is sincerely desired to encourage people to travel on public service vehicles. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should consider this matter seriously. I know that he could not abolish the tax overnight, but he could start to reduce it now.
The real solution is to provide more roads. How would we start paying for more roads? This Government are spending more on roads than any previous Government, but it is still not enough. We are spending on the roads less than one-third of the revenue from fuel tax and road fund tax. The amount of revenue from these sources increases day by day. We should be increasing at the same rate the amount spent on the roads.
If it were said merely that the Government would set aside from now on all the extra money which comes from fuel tax and from road fund tax, before long we should be well on the way to solving the problem and we should certainly have solved it in time. However, there seems to be a marked reluctance even to say that new revenue which the Government have never had before will be set aside to provide better roads, adequate roads, roads which would prevent accidents.
Debate adjourned—[Mr. Whitlock.]
Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.