§ Motion made and Question proposed,
§ That this House, at its rising on Thursday, do adjourn till Wednesday 17th January.— [Mr. Crossman.]
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I be allowed, in view of the circumstances, to move a manuscript Amendment at some time during the debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for indicating to me yesterday, during the course of questions on the Business Statement by the Leader of the House, that he might wish to move a manuscript Amendment, which would substitute another date for that on which it is proposed that the House should reassemble. I am prepared to accept that manuscript Amendment. Indeed, it might clear the air if the hon. Gentleman moved it now.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Very often when we debate when and for how long the House should rise for a Recess it is a formal matter. Hon. Members make speeches—
§ Sir D. Glover
Hon. Members make speeches rather on party lines, but I hope that the Leader of the House will believe that I am very serious in what I say.
After devaluation, and the Prime Minister's threats about the sacrifices the country may have to make, it is an excessive adjournment for us to rise until 17th January. Nothing is more conducive to the lack of confidence which one sees in the exchanges, because people are waiting day after day for an announcement from the Government on their measures ':o deal with devaluation.
Every day that passes that lack of confidence in the Government's grip on our affairs gains more ground here and over- 1166 seas. The Prime Minister stated yesterday that an announcement of the deflationary measures would not be made before the House reassembled. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said a few minutes ago, it is six weeks since the Chancellor of the Exchequer's decision to devalue was taken. By the time the House reassembles 2½ months will have passed since then, and still the nation and the world do not know what steps the Government will take to deal with the problem. The Government have already been fairly lax in not making announcements long before now.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must address himself to the Motion. He is wandering off it at the moment.
§ Sir D. Glover
I was addressing my remarks to the Motion in saying that it would not have been necessary for me to speak if the Government had taken the action which they should have taken before now. They have said that we are to get no announcement about the restrictions on our economy before the House reassembles on 17th January. That is too long for the health of our society, the economy, our people and—far more important—for the buttressing of confidence in our economy in the overseas exchanges. Nobody knows what the Government will do.
From reading the newspapers, I have the impression that the foreign exchanges are very suspicious about whether the decisions will be those that are expected overseas, whether they will be sufficiently severe to transfer enough of our resources into exports, and whether the Government's measures will do the trick of getting us out of the straitjacket about which the Prime Minister talked in his celebrated television broadcast.
Therefore, it is wrong that we should go away for a Recess anything like as long as from 21st December to 17th January. I accept that to some extent the Leader of the House has reduced my argument, in that we are to reassemble on 17th and not 22nd January. That is five days' improvement. But if the Government have the will to produce the right measures the decisions should be made by the Cabinet long before we rise for Christmas. If they are resolute, it 1167 should be possible for the Government to make the announcements very early in January, if not before. But they are not resolute, and that is what creates the lack of confidence.
We should not accept the Motion as it is, because the House should reassemble, if only for 24 hours, for the Government to make their statement. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite have been carried into a state of euphoria in the past two days to accept all the Government's decisions. According to the Prime Minister, many of those decisions will be bitter pills for them to swallow, and before making too many speeches in their constituencies in the Recess they should know what they are.
Industry wants to know the decisions at the earliest possible opportunity. All the commercial activities of this country are now being stultified because no decision has been reached, and the foreign exchanges are worried stiff. There is no question of party bias about this: the House would be right to reject the Motion and ask the Leader of the House to move another asking us to reassemble very early in January, when the Government would announce their measures. Until they are announced, nobody can make firm decisions, nobody can plan. The party opposite is supposed to be the party of planners and, therefore, should understand this.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
The hon. Gentleman is presenting a most interesting argument. Do I take it that he is opposed to the suggestion by a group of businessmen that Parliament should be sent away for six months?
§ Sir D. Glover
It was rather foolish.
Parliament should meet much earlier, and I say that with great sincerity. I do not care what those businessmen say, but the fact that we are not coming back until 17th January reinforces their view that Parliament is not seized of anything like the seriousness of the problem that now confronts them because no firm decisions have been taken by the Gov- 1168 ernment since devaluation. It is for that reason that this Motion should be rejected.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I beg to move, to leave out "Wednesday, 17th January" and to insert "Monday, 8th January".
I had occasion to move an Amendment on the Summer Recess Motion designed with the same end in mind, namely, to cut Parliamentary Recesses— not Parliamentary holidays, but the time we spend away from this Chamber. My reasons tonight are similar to those I then adduced, that the House must increase its control over the Executive and that the more time we spend away from this place the less is the control that we exert.
It has always seemed to me that we have so much to do in this place and so little time in which to do it. We are always under pressure, or the Leader of the House gets up on Thursday and says the pressure is so great that he cannot allow a debate on this or that or the other subject, which might be a purely party matter or something transcending a party matter or might be a matter of purely personal interest to a minority of hon. Members.
At this time, it is singularly inappropriate for the House to urge everyone else to increase productivity, to work harder, even to come here on a Saturday morning—I would not go as far as that —and then to presume to go away ourselves for a month. It seems tantamount to saying, "Do not do as we do, but do as we say". I find this extremely hard to bear.
There can be no doubt that we could use the extra time very profitably between 8th January and 17th January. It would give us seven additional sitting days and there is no shortage of topics for debate. No doubt in this debate various hon. Members will make their own suggestions. I want to make one or two in general terms rather than in the specific terms the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) mentioned.
We set up last Session two Specialist Committees—the Select Committee on Science and Technology and the Select Committee on Agriculture. The first 1169 produced a voluminous Report on the nuclear power station programme and the latter a Report on agriculture and the impact on it of entry into the Common Market. That might not be as urgent now as it was at the time it was produced, but, certainly, the Report of the Science and Technology Committee is of very great and topical importance in view of the state of flux in the Government's fuel policy.
Incidentally, we have had no debate on the White Paper on Fuel Policy, although it has been made clear, in statements and in answers to Questions, that the Government have no intention of revising that White Paper. So, in effect, we have a White Paper on which the Government's fuel policy up to 1975 and perhaps to 1980 is to be based and we are not to have an opportunity, apparently, of debating it and its implications.
The usefulness of these Committees is impaired if we cannot find the time to debate their Reports. The whole point of setting them up was not only that they should make available to the House evidence and information which would not otherwise be available, but that their Reports should be debated on the Floor of the House.
There is also the case of the Estimates Committee, my own Committee. We now have the Departmental replies to two Reports, again very important, one on industrial training, which could not be more topical, and the other on the British space programme. We are also awaiting a Departmental reply on our Report on the situation of our prisons in the whole of the United Kingdom. In addition to these Reports, which should be debated, we have the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. Each Report from each of these Committees is of vital importance to the future economy of the country.
At the moment, we devote three days each session to reports from the Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. We are supposed also to devote three days to Reports from the Committee on Nationalised Industries, although in very few Sessions do we get those three days. So this is an additional reason for having the extra seven days suggested in the Amendment.
1170 We have had today a debate on arms for South Africa. The decision of the House, which I believe was right, is bound to have an impact on the hodesian situation and, therefore, it becomes of increasing importance that there should be a debate on Rhodesia.
Not least important, as the hon. Member suggested, we had from the Prime Minister yesterday what I would call naked threats of across-the-board cuts in public expenditure. It is interesting that no overall figure was given. I tried to ask my right hon. Friend a specific question yesterday: what overall figure did he have in mind? He might not have a figure in mind at all, however, because he said:… it will mean reductions in the growth of personal expenditure and reductions in the growth of public expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1967; Vol. 756, c. 922.]So it may well mean that there is still to be growth of public expenditure and I hope that this is so. I hope that my right hon. Friend meant that it is growth that will be reduced and that there will not be an overall reduction; but we do not know.
My right hon. Friend went on to say that nothing was sacrosanct. We do not know whether prescription charges, the raising of the school-leaving age, the education and hospital building programmes, housing and the roads programme will be exempt or not. We do not know whether any or all will be included.
This kind of filthy-looking evil-smelling pig in a poke is not the kind of present one should give the House at this season. I cannot accept it and I do not think that the House should accept that kind of thing without debate. The House should be given the opportunity of a very wide-ranging debate on our own particular sacred cows and our own plans for the slaughter. It might be found that some people's sacred cows were other people's lambs ready for the slaughter. I dare say that my own would differ from those of hon. Members opposite. I think that there is a great case for the slaughter of the F111.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has slipped over the border. He must keep his lambs and cows to himself.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I will slip back very quickly, Mr. Speaker. I was about to give examples of the kind of subject which should be debated and which could be debated if the Amendment were accepted and we had an additional seven days.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will recall that we had a similar debate on 25th July when he indicated that he was giving a good deal of thought to the division of our time over the year and when he said that in his view it would be better if we had short sharp Sessions and that the House tended to get jaded if we went on too long. I agree, but I should like to know what is in his mind and what progress has been made in his thinking in this respect. That is one of the reasons why I have moved the Amendment.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)
That was dealt with in our procedural debate and the Select Committee on Procedure has now been asked to make a report on the subject.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am much obliged, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will not leave it there but will give us the benefit of his personal view, because very often his personal views are far in advance of the views of his colleagues both inside and outside the Cabinet.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I have three reasons for suggesting that we should come back from the Recess far earlier than the Motion suggests. My three compelling reasons all have one common denominator which amounts to a lack of decision, a lack of direction and a lack of good government. Under those three headings there are a multitude of reasons why we should return earlier, but I will give three specifically.
The first is that urgent consideration should be given to the announcement from Brussels tonight about our Common Market negotiations which are of the most critical and urgent importance to this country. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), this is not some Parliamentary Specialist Committee which is reporting, but a Committee of the Common Market nations which, meeting in Brussels today, has formally rejected the 1172 application put in by a united House of Commons to join Europe. This is a matter which should be considered at the earliest opportunity. We have to decide where we are to go from here, what we are to do, whether we are to continue to hammer our heads against a brick wall, or formulate an alternative policy instead. This is not something to be shovelled under the carpet for a month or five weeks.
My second reason is in connection with the situation of our balance of payments. This is in a terrible state. The crude trade figures for last month alone showed a startling increase over the loss in the previous month to a record level, This, too, is something which the House should consider at the earliest opportunity. Hon. Members on either side may have useful suggestions about what should be done, but we should not all go off on holiday and do nothing.
It may be suggested, for instance, that import levies and export incentives should be increased or improved in some way, but that something has to be done to correct this terrible situation is certain. It is no use the House going away on holiday and enjoying a happy Christmas—
§ Mr. Farr
—and a prosperous New Year, thinking that devaluation alone will do the trick, because it will not. It is just one measure and it will not work unless it is followed by other sensible and forthright action and planning which should be decided straight away.
I have a rather more personal interest in my third reason than in the other two. It is the tragic and serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease which is ravaging the countryside. Two or three weeks ago we had a very useful debate, an interim debate, so to speak, from which great value was obtained throughout the country. For instance, it was drawn to the attention of the Minister of Agriculture that certain parties of people had access to the countryside and could spread the disease and, as a result of that information, the Minister rightly acted to stop such access.
In the intervening period since that debate the situation has not improved. 1173 It is now very serious. Another 10,000 animals were slaughtered today and on average 10,000 a day have been slaughtered since the last debate. While I admire the Minister of Agriculture as a forthright and well-meaning man, I am not satisfied that he has the situation adequately under control. What happens if, in a week or even less, we find that, once again, the number of outbreaks starts to increase from its present 20 or 30 daily outbreaks to 60 or 70 or 80? If the House is not sitting, there is nothing we can do. I am not satisfied that the Minister of Agriculture is quite the person to act with the necessary immediate energy and decision to do something emphatic to stop what could be a runaway outbreak with a general incidence of the disease throughout the country.
Those are three subjects which I regard with the utmost seriousness and which the House should discuss at the earliest possible date. There are others. In common with other hon. Members, I shall do my best to enjoy my Christmas, but it will be clouded by the realisation that the House does not intend to return for another month to discuss the extremely important and urgent matters which I have mentioned.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
I want to ask the Leader of die House, who is not present, one or two questions about the war in Vietnam. If there is to be any change or escalation of that war the House should certainly be recalled. Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity of a debate on Vietnam and many of us are deeply concerned that the Americans intend to stop the bombing of North Vietnam for only two or three days. I would have Hoped that before we rise there would have been an opportunity for proper debate. I look forward to the debate on Vietnam when the House resumes, and when I hope to be able to contribute to that debate.
I would like to ask the Government to give some assurance that if there is to be any change or escalation in the war the House will be recalled. Can the Leader of the House say whether Her Majesty's Government are putting any pressure upon the Americans to prolong the bombing pause?
§ Mr. Winnick
I accept that, Mr. Speaker.
One of the reasons why I would have hoped for a debate before the Christmas Recess is that we would have been able to have pointed out that if the Americans had not resumed the bombing of North Vietnam earlier this year the war could possibly have ended through negotiations. This is why many of us are so desperately worried that the Americans will stop the bombing for only two or three days and once again, throughout 1968, there will be this bloody war, without any pause.
There is a danger that the Americans intend to invade North Vietnam and, again, I would like some assurance that Her Majesty's Government are in touch with the American Government, expressing great fears that exist in this country about further escalation. I recognise that it is not possible to debate the Vietnam war [Interruption.] I am sorry if some hon. Members opposite seem to consider this amusing. I do not consider the Vietnam war to be amusing at all.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
The hon. Gentleman should not take himself so seriously. I was merely reflecting with some gratification upon the fact that it had at least sunk into the hon. Gentleman's head that he could not debate the Vietnam war on this occasion.
§ Mr. Winnick
I do take the Vietnam war very seriously indeed, and I make no apologies for doing so.
It would be quite wrong for us to rise for the Recess without the clear knowledge that the House would be recalled should the war escalate. This is vital. Secondly, we want an assurance that Her Majesty's Government are putting pressure on the Americans not just to stop their terror bombing of North Vietnam for two or three days, but that they should have a permanent bombing cessation which will bring about negotiations to end this shocking and horrifying war.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I, too, wish to argue the case that the House should return earlier than is proposed in 1175 the Motion or Amendment, but I do not particularly wish to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick), in his obsession with Vietnam, to the exclusion of many other matters which are of greater importance and relevance to my constituents, and, I dare say, to his.
§ Mr. Winnick
I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is most unfair to suggest, or to imply, that because I am deeply concerned with Vietnam, I am not concerned with my constituents' problems. I wish that he would withdraw that allegation.
§ Mr. Onslow
If the hon. Gentleman would listen with greater care to what others say in the Chamber and not only to what he himself says, he would realise that I said that there are other matters of greater interest to his constituents and mine. Not everyone is obsessed with Vietnam.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot debate, either irregularly or regularly, the relative merits of those subjects that hon. Gentlemen wish to debate if we come back earlier.
§ Mr. Onslow
I merely wish to suggest that among the subjects which might occupy the House and which would, parenthetically, interest my constituents, would be the future of the aircraft industry. We have just had a very important decision announced in the normal way, that is, by means of a Written Answer to a planted Question on a Friday, that the industry is not to be taken over by the Government.
This is some recognition of reality by the Government. It is a recognition that ownership of the industry is less important than whether the industry can make and sell aeroplanes. The crucial issue which now arises in the immediate context of this little item of certainty in an uncertain world is that the industry must know where it is to get the money to fund its activities and what profit it will get from those activities. Those are decisions which the House should not allow the Government to defer until 17th 1176 January or some uncertain date thereafter.
A second subject which is of great interest to the House, and again parenthetically, to my constituents, is the bureaucratic dropsy with which the nation is now afflicted—the swollen ranks of the Civil Service, 52,000 more in the last three years at an additional cost of £115 million a year. These are places where the axe must be sharpened and ought to fall before 17th January, or an indeterminate date thereafter. Those are two particular points, but I should also like to add a general point which fits in well with what was said by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). I do not believe that at this point in our history and, especially the history of Parliament, we should let this Government out of our sight for a minute longer than is necessary.
If it were possible to personalise the Cabinet, which, happily, it is not, if any such person existed and had behaved in the way that the Cabinet has behaved for these last three years, he would by now have been required to surrender his passport and report to the nearest police station twice a day. Unfortunately, we cannot make the Cabinet do this, but there is an alternative open to us, which is to force the Cabinet to report to this House four days a week. We cannot prevent it from doing a Sidney Stanley. We can insist that it should come back here and account to us constantly as of, to pull a date out of the air, 27th December, for its actions. We shall then be seen to be able to exercise control over the Government in the name of the people.
§ Mr. John Smith
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that there is a risk that the Cabinet may not come back at all?
§ Mr. Onslow
What a happy new year that would be! If there is to be anyone in control of our affairs in the new year the Cabinet should be here, and we should be here, able to question them.
The argument of inconvenience is always put forward by the Leader of the House who, strangely, is again absent. He says that this would be a great inconvenience to private Members. He is always so solicitous about private Members. In the summer, he says, "Off to the seaside. You ought to be there with 1177 your wife and children, on the sands." This time, no doubt, he is saying, "You ought to be skiing". Who can afford to ski? "You ought to be going to the races". There is no racing. "You ought to be occupied in some beneficial way". We want to be occupied here. This is what we are for, to serve the country in this House of Commons.— [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would like a General Election we know who would not be coming back.
The argument of convenience is always an argument on the Government side. The House will be prepared to accept considerable personal inconvenience to ordinary private Members if thus we were able to get this Government to return early and answer fairly. If we are forced to accept the Motion, I can only say to the Cabinet that I hope it will eat, drink, and be merry, because when the new year comes there is going to be a reckoning.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Henig (Lancaster)
I rise to give support to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who has moved the Amendment, because I, too, am concerned that Parliament so frequently finds no time to discuss affairs in which various hon. Members have expressed an interest. I wish to give a number of reasons why there is a strong case to be made for the House returning earlier from the Christmas Recess. There are a number of things which we ought already to have discussed, but because of the pressure of recent weeks and months it has not been possible so to do.
Some hon. Members will find a little obscure the first matter which I think should be discussed. I refer to one of our last remaining Colonies, British Honduras. I do not believe that there has been a debate on British Honduras in the House for a long time. Yet when I recently had the privilege, with other hon. Members, of being a member of a Parliamentary delegation to British Honduras, I found acute concern over the future of this colony being discussed in secret negotiations between Britain, United States and Guatemala.
The people in this Colony said that they wanted no power over their future given to Guatemala. They urged us to 1178 put forward their point of view when we returned to England. I said to them that although, not being a member of the Government, I was in no position to give pledges—[Laughter.]—when the House of Commons debated their future and independence and any treaty which might be made by the Government with Guatemala, I would personally ensure that the point of view of the 100,000 British citizens there would not go unheard. I appreciate that some hon. Members opposite think that British Honduras, being a long way away, is a subject for laughter, but when the future of 100,000 British citizens is at stake it would be very wrong if the House of Commons did not have a chance to debate the matter and to give its opinion before any irrevocable decision was made.
Mr. J. Bruce-Car dyne (South Angus)
The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that we were laughing not at the proposition which he put forward but simply at the fact that he appeared to imagine that even members of the Government could give pledges which would impress anybody at home or abroad.
§ Mr. Henig
This is too serious a matter to indulge in this kind of frippery. This issue is important because British colonial subjects are directly subject to decisions made in this House, and if we do not debate British Honduras before it is too late it will be a great disgrace and scandal.
I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in his absence— [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—to give an assure that the Government will not enter into any irrevocable undertakings concerning British Honduras before the House has been consulted and that, if necessary, we will be recalled earlier to give our opinions.
§ Mr. Henig
I am not sure that I have to answer that question, but I have not asked Mr. Speaker for an Adjournment debate because I do not wish to discuss the situation until I am sure that the 1179 Government have some proposals to make and wants to discuss the matter with the House in the spirit of giving and listening to ideas. Therefore, I hold my horses. But I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will do everything in my power to make certain that this issue comes to the Floor of the House.
I come to the second reason why I think it most important that we should return earlier. I support, strangely enough, the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Fair), who said that the House should return, earlier to debate today's events in Brussels. I am less well-informed than he is about what has happened and the nature of the decision, but no doubt he has his own private carrier pigeon. However, it could be said that things have happened today which profoundly affect the decision which the House took with such an overwhelming majority some months ago that Britain should enter the Common Market.
If something happens to thwart an intention clearly expressed by the House, we should be able to debate the new situation before the Government decide on a fresh course of action. At some point, the Government may very well feel that a fresh course of action should be taken. They may feel that a middle way is better than nothing at all and that some kind of association might be the answer; I do not know. I do not wish to overstep the limits of this debate, but I feel that before the Government say, "Since it has been all or nothing, and the French have said ' Nothing', therefore it is nothing", I and I believe other hon. Members would like a chance to say how we feel in the light of the new circumstances.
The third reason why other hon. Members and myself think that there is a case for our returning earlier, or, if we do not return earlier, for receiving an assurance that irrevocable and irreversible decisions will not be taken before we return is this. It applies to the cuts in a variety of items of expenditure referred to by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. No one doubts the urgency of the situation. I do not believe that I could say to the Government Front Bench, "Do not do anything about this until after 17th January because we will be here then and will think with you", 1180 but if they wish to think about the matter beforehand and to make decisions we should be consulted. They will find that there is a lively division of opinion between hon. Members opposite and we on these benches and that it would be useful to them to know, for example, that there is an overwhelming feeling on the Government back benches that, if there is a choice, it is the F111 and other projects which must go—
§ Mr. Henig
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I was indicating what the Government might discover if they allowed a debate on these matters.
In conclusion, I would say this to my absent right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he? "] My right hon. Friend is also entitled to go for a cup of tea. I do not hold that against him, although hon. Members opposite seem to do so. They take a rather churlish attitude to this matter. The message will reach him that some of us on this side of the House are most anxious that we should have a chance to express our opinion on a large number of important matters which will happen in the immediate future. Since no one could possibly argue that their urgency is such that they should be deferred until we return, the only practical solution seems to be that the House should return a few days earlier and I have no doubt, from our frequent sessions with the Leader of the House on Thursday afternoons, that there will be no shortage of business to conduct if we do that.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. N. R. Wylie (Edinburgh, Pent-lands)
I should like to adduce as briefly as possible a further reason why the House should resume rather earlier than is proposed. I wish to draw attention to what I regard as a very serious social as well as criminal problem in Scotland, namely, crimes of violence. I had better make it clear at the outset that I have at no time suggested that this matter should be debated, and that I am referring to it now because only a few days ago I received a letter from the Secretary of State for Scotland, in reply to a letter which I had written about two months before, saying that he was unable to accede to my proposal to amend the law 1181 relating to the possession of offensive weapons.
This is a tremendous problem in Scotland. Only yesterday I read that one of the judges of the High Court in Glasgow made specific reference to the tragedies which follow the widespread habit among young people, in particular, of carrying offensive weapons. The Scottish criminal statistics for last year are quite shocking. I hope that I am in order in referring to them briefly, to illustrate the gravity of the problem. Last year, the number of persons proceeded against for murder was exactly twice the number in 1965. When we get the criminal statistics for 1967—and unfortunately, for some reason, they never appear to be avail able until about August of the following year—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. and learned Member is tempting himself to debate the issue which he wants the House to debate if we come back earlier.
§ Mr. Wylie
I apologise, Mr. Speaker.
I am merely trying to underline the gravity of the problem in Scotland and the reason why it should be discussed at length now, because, unfortunately, the Secretary of State for Scotland appears to be the only person in Scotland who does not appreciate the gravity of the problem. It has been said by his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that even if the right hon. Gentleman approved of legislation in this direction he could not give any indication of when the time would be made available.
I would like to see the House resume earlier so that Scottish hon. Members, on both sides—this is certainly not a party political matter—could impress upon the Secretary of State the gravity as well as the urgency of the problem.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I, too, would like to join in the desire to return to the House a little earlier than is indicated by those in authority, and, of course, by agreement of the House. One of the strange features of this assembly is that once it has taken a firm decision it immediately begins to have second thoughts and thinks that it has acted wrongly and would like to come back a little earlier than it had 1182 previously determined. How much exact truth that represents is always a matter of doubt.
I am very disturbed about happenings in the aircraft industry. They have been reinforced by the reported decision that at Brussels today it has been decided unanimously, I gather, to reject the application by this country to join the Common Market.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member, but it should be made clear that the decision was not unanimous.
§ Mr. Rankin
Then I do not know why the hon. Member is interrupting me if what I say is correct. Naturally, it very much disturbs one's thoughts about the future.
The aircraft industry represents employment for 260,000 people in Great Britain. It provides employment particularly for 14,000 people on the engine side of the industry in the area where I live and adjacent to the area which I represent. These are obviously serious matters, because we are seeking to tie ourselves closely to what is called the Common Market in Europe. It affects many productions in the aircraft industry which were made independently by ourselves, providing us with a great income from the aircraft which we produced and from the exports that we earned. That income was very high indeed.
The sales of our aircraft are worth noting. One of them, the Viscount, earned £152 million. Another, the Britannia, earned £27 million —
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With respect, we cannot discuss the future of the aircraft industry or the implications of the Common Market decision on the future of the aircraft industry. The hon. Member must link his remarks to the Motion and the Amendment.
§ Mr. Rankin
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I can, however, say that on the income side, from exports and in direct earnings, the aircraft industry has served the country well. It has also served those who serve it well.
If this attempt to join the Common Market, with which I agree, leaves us stranded in the particularly important world of aircraft research, design and production, we must be careful in our own interests and not do ourselves serious injury by prosecuting a cause which, if what we have heard is true, may do us damage beyond repair.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will rethink the date of return after the Recess. The decision which has been taken is one of tremendous importance for us. It raises the issue in every mind in the House whether we should continue with what would appear to be a fruitless search if, in the course of pursuing it, we render to our own country an injury in employment, exports, national income and the rest, from which it may take a long while to recover.
I therefore urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to take note of this situation and the dangers that now cluster round it and to give thought to our demand that Parliament should return to consider this matter earlier than it is evidently meant to do.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
I am in sympathy with those hon. Members, on both sides, who feel reluctant to leave the Government out of their sight for even a few days. We have seen, as one has never seen before, the Government like a drowning man clutching for a life raft as they see the Recess approaching.
It is not merely in the House of Commons that there is a lack of trust in the Government. It is outside, as well. The recent by-elections have shown that the vast majority of the electorate equally has no confidence in the ability of the Government to govern properly. Therefore, I am sure that they would welcome our being here much earlier after Christmas than is planned.
In addition, since those by-elections we have now had the decision about arms to South Africa which will have a big 1184 impact on many people. There are many in my constituency who work for Hawker Siddeley and I understand that as a result of the Government's decision on South Africa they will not now get about £40 million worth of orders. Those people will be even more distrustful of the Government. Indeed, they may wonder why the Government appear to think it more important to consider the interests of the United Nations than of the people of this country. I remind right hon. Members opposite that it is the people of this country to whom they have a duty first and foremost and not to the United Nations.
As has been mentioned, the South Africa decision also affects the question of Rhodesia. This is something else which is likely to move to a crunch before we meet again. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentlemen opposite are aware—one would not have thought so from the behaviour of the Commonwealth Secretary recently, when he seemed to go out of his way to make it less likely that he will succeed in any negotiations with Mr. Smith—that the Constitutional Commission will be reporting in the near future. Nobody knows exactly when it will report, but it may be before the House returns on 17th January. When it does report the last opportunity for a negotiated settlement will have passed.
I hope that the Leader of the House and the hon. Member who tut-tuts so happily on the Front Bench below the Gangway understand that this is the last opportunity for this House to influence events in Rhodesia. However much hon. Members may regret that Rhodesia today is independent and is prepared to move towards a republic, if a negotiated settlement is not reached we shall have no influence upon it whatever. Therefore, before this Constitutional Commission reports there is an opportunity for the Government to come to some terms which will enable this House of Commons to have some influence on the constitution of Rhodesia and its future. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in the House will recognise that this is a matter which could well crop up before the House reassembles and, therefore, is something on which we ought to know what the Government is thinking if we are to go away even for a week or so.
1185 In addition, there is the whole question of I he effect of recent decisions since devaluation upon the defence of this country. The right hon. Gentleman from the Government Front Bench wound up on the subject of South Africa without a single thought to its effect upon the defence arrangements of this country: the protection of the route round the Cape, the protection of the Atlantic, and even the Indian Ocean. These are matters which are vitally affected by the Government's decision on South Africa.
We also had a bald statement recently that there was to be £100 million worth of cuts on our defence expenditure. But now we are told by the Prime Minister that there are even more to come, and not just on the home front. The right hon. Gentleman nods his assent.
It is monstrous that in these conditions we should not have had a debate en the whole aspect of defence which is presented by this complete change of policy at a time when the Government, only a matter of weeks ago, were saying that at last we had our obligations and commitments on the one side and our forces and weapons in complete balance on the other. So the position is reached where we know that risks are to be taken which affect the safety of our troops throughout the world, and, indeed, that decisions will be taken which may well affect the ability of the Government to recruit people in the Services.
There comes a point where there is no longer a worthwhile career in the Army, the Air Force, or the Navy. If people begin to think that the Government, under the pressure of the Left wing, will run headlong in the direction of further cuts on equipment and on defence generally, there is a grave danger of the whole question of recruitment collapsing and there being a gradual snowball rundown of the Armed Forces whether the Government wish it or not.
These are most important matters which should have been debated before the House rises for the Christmas Recess. Far more important are they than the Transport Bill, which is to be bulldozed through the House tomorrow while the Government can still keep a grip on their majority. It is to be pushed through the House despite the fact that it has grave implications for our economic future.
1186 I hope that it may yet be possible for the Government to decide that the time has come for them to change the date and allow us to come back and keep a very close eye on what they are doing.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
After the strong demonstration of support which the Government have had today, it seems singularly unconvincing for the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) to suggest that Government support is in any way in question.
§ Mr. Goodhew
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to be convinced, I can do it very easily. The reason is that he and his hon. Friends have been bought off on the subject of South Africa and they will find the price unattractive when they come back.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for thinking that the pressure which, in a democratic way, we bring to bear on the Government is as effective as he suggests. It is right and proper that it should be, and I hope that he is right.
I have previously suggested to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the consideration which he gives to the timetabling of the House is one which he should extend not only to the question of the day, but to the year. I know that his consideration of suggestions concerning the ordering of our day have not been universally and entirely successful, but he should not be deterred by this. I hope that he will give consideration to the spread of our time over the year.
We are geared to a timetable over the course of the year which is probably in order for the days of an agricultural community travelling by coach and trap from distant constituencies, but that has little relevance to our modern distribution of time and our modern possibilities of travel. Therefore, I think that it would be a good idea if we were to look at our whole year.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I was thinking of Wednesday, 17th January, which is the date suggested for our return. I was about to suggest—of course I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that if we 1187 were to come back a little earlier and were to spread necessary breaks over the year in shorter periods of time it would be better than leaving the Government un-surveyed over longer periods. No Government should be totally bereft of the benefit of the advice and help of the House for any long time. If any Government were to be so deprived, I would prefer it to be this one. I would certainly not wish to leave a Government composed of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite unsurveyed for even a moment. However, I do not think that we need fear this, because it is most unlikely that they will ever return to this side of the House.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend that we are returning on 17th January and not, as was originally proposed, at a later date. In consequence, we shall be able to have a day's debate on South-East Asia.
§ Mr. Crossman
My hon. Friend's congratulations should not be directed to me, but to the mover of the Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9.
§ Mr. Jenkins
If I am incorrectly distributing my congratulations it is because I am of a generous frame of mind, but I am prepared for them to be shared by my right hon. Friend, because I would not want to deprive him of such credit as is due to him for acceding to the proposition.
On our return, we are to have a debate on South-East Asia and I have no doubt that that debate will touch to a large degree on the problem of Vietnam. This might arise during the Recess, because the situation is developing in a manner which is extremely disquieting. The American Government appear to have reached the conclusion that their present policy of a limited war is one which is not going to bring them—
§ Mr. Jenkins
I was about to suggest reasons for believing that it might be necessary for the Government to recall the House before 17th January. It seems possible that during the Recess a fundamental change in American policy may 1188 take place, and I am seeking an assurance from my right hon. Friend that, if such a change of policy took place, he would not hesitate to recall the House to deal with it. I was about to suggest, as a reason for keeping the Government alert during the Recess, that if negotiations do not take place, the policy of escalation will be pressed very hard upon the American Government and that that may be the point of time at which the Government should decide to recall the House.
As has been said by other hon. Members, there are further problems which may arise during this time. There is the question of the Common Market, and of decisions of profound importance being taken while we are away. I hope that the House will be recalled if there is any fundamental change in the situation. It has been suggested that the application which the Government decided to make to join the Common Market has been rejected.
This will be a welcome decision to me, but, whatever may be the case about that, there is no doubt that the consequences of such a decision will be of great importance to the future of our country economically, politically, strategically, and in every other way. Some might suggest that some form of association might come about, but I hope that if a change of this kind occurs the Government will not hesitate to recall the House so that it can express its views on this matter.
I am sure that while we are away the Government will not go into hibernation. They will be considering what proposals to bring before the House concerning the cuts which have been referred to—the Prime Minister himself referred to these—which are to be borne by our people collectively during the coming year. There has been some talk about various people's sacred cows. I have no doubt that we all have our sacred cows, but I hope that when the Government are considering these matters, and when they come before the House in the New Year, they will take into consideration the views held by hon. Members on both sides about sacred cows.
If they do, they will find a curious factor. They will find that we on this side of the House are prepared to sacrifice our sacred cows which are overseas, 1189 while hon. Gentlemen opposite want to sacrifice sacred cows at home. I hope that when the Government are considering the matter they will decide that it is the overseas cows, our defence expenditure, which ought to be sacrificed, and not our home ones, our social services, which are precious to us, but apparently not so precious to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Those are some of the reasons why the House should be kept in close touch with the Government during the Recess. I hope that during this time my right hon. Friend will not hesitate to recall the House if the situation should develop in any of the matters which I have referred to, in any of the ways which I have suggested, so that the Government can seek the advice, help, and counsel of the House. I believe that on behalf of all hon. Members I can assure him that we will be happy to return at any time.
§ 8 3 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
I have always been somewhat reluctant to intervene in these debates, because it has often seemed to me that hon. Members are inclined to advise a foreshortening of the Recess, but would be very regretful if their advice were accepted. This is not unreasonable, because we have obligations to fufil in our constituencies during the Recess. I am thinking particularly of those who represent Scottish constituencies. When the House is sitting, we cannot be present in our constituencies during the week, and hon. Members may have entered into obligations which they want to fulfil during the Recess.
The suggestion from the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and one or two other hon. Members about short and sharp sessions, and the suggestion that this is the sort of idea which would appeal to the Leader of the House, fills me with alarm, because to allow the right hon. Gentleman to tinker with our arrangements is about as sensible a proceeding as allowing a "hipped-up" 16-year-old to take charge of an "S" type Jaguar. The result is chaos, total and unconfined. I hope that we will not hear too much of these brilliant suggestions being foisted on the right hon. Gentleman who is totally incapable of dealing with them sensibly. 1190 Nevertheless, it seems to me that on this occasion there may be valid reasons for arguing, not that we should decide here and now to return before 17th January, but that under certain circumstances we should be prepared to do so. Various suggestions have already been put forward, and I find myself in agreement with a number of them. In particular, I think that it would be desirable to have the opportunity, which we have not yet had, and which we are not to have before we rise for the Recess, to debate the new situation which has been caused by the entirely predictable rejection of the Government's application for membership of the E.E.C. This is a matter which we should debate at an early opportunity, but, given the way in which the Leader of the House normally handles our affairs I do not see that we shall necessarily have such an opportunity soon after our return.
There are one or two other possibilities which might arise during the Recess, and, if they did, I believe that they should call for the recall of the House. First, I suggest that there is a considerable possibility—I do not put it any higher —that during the Recess we may witness a change in the leadership of the party opposite. During the last few days we have seen an obvious attempt by some right hon. Gentlemen opposite to preempt the decisions which the Prime Minister is naturally incapable of taking himself. The attempt has failed, but I suggest that it is conceivable that these right hon. Gentlemen may draw the conclusion from this experience that there is no way out from our present morass so long as the Prime Minister holds his present job and may, therefore, decide that they should engineer his removal during our absence from the House.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
The hon. Gentleman must allow me to complete what I am saying, and then I will give way.
Far be it from me to suggest that there would be anything objectionable about the removal of the Prime Minister. I believe that it would be the greatest boon and blessing that could be conferred on this country, but it seems to me that if this happened during the Recess it would be a matter of the utmost importance, 1191 and I am sure that I carry hon. Gentlemen opposite with me when I say that if the Prime Minister gets the hatchet during the Recess, the House should be recalled to discuss the new situation which will arise.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept it from me that all of us on this side of the House have no desire to change the leadership on that side.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
That was a completely frivolous and irrelevant intervention. There is no prospect whatsoever of that, but the suggestion which I am putting forward is a serious one. I wonder whether I might have the attention of the Leader of the House for a moment. I hope that, when he winds up the debate, he will give an assurance that if there is a change in the leadership of the party opposite the House will be recalled to debate the new situation.
My second point relates to the situation which has already been touched on by one or two hon. Members, and which arises as a consequence of the decision which we debated earlier today. I find it a little difficult to believe that the Treasury and the Bank of England will be able to hold the situation for four weeks in an extremely tense foreign exchange market. Since devaluation we have had one announcement, and one only, from the Government to say that they are forgoing an export order worth £250 million. We have had today an exhibition of conscientious self-indulgence and all that we have had to balance it is a few vague, uncertain promises of penances to come. This will be a very difficult balance for the Treasury and the Bank of England to sustain for four weeks.
There have been various references to sacred cows. I suspect that, if the situation which the Government's conduct over the past week has created is to be controlled, before the four weeks' Recess is up the sacred cows may have to be slaughtered. The Government may have to rush forward proposals for re-imposing prescription charges, postponing the raising of the school leaving age, axing the public sector building programme or a wage freeze. These are the sort of possibilities which the Government may now 1192 be forced to face very quickly if the situation in the international monetary markets deteriorates as rapidly as I fear it may. I have no objection if these sacred cows are slaughtered. It is essential that most should be, but I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree that the House should be recalled to debate the slaughter.
On the other hand, there is a third possibility which I would regard as even more dangerous. That is that, just as the Prime Minister has in the last few days succeeded in imposing a sacrifice of £250 million in export orders as part of a sordid little backstage Cabinet manoeuvre, so, when the decisions have to be taken on the slaughter of the sacred cows, he may treat them in the same way as he has treated the issue of arms for South Africa. This at any rate is a fear which those who observe us from overseas may well have.
There might, for instance, be a decision during the Recess, at the Prime Minister's insistence and with his eye firmly fixed on those hon. Gentlemen be low the Gangway, to concentrate all cuts in Government spending in the field of defence. I was intrigued to see that the Leader of the House nodded with smug satisfaction when someone on this side talked of the threat of cuts in defence. I have long believed—and have made no secret of the fact—that there is a time for retrenchment of Government spending overseas, but it is, of course, ludicrous to think that any cuts, however extreme or severe, in Government spending over seas at this time could operate quickly enough to save the Government from —
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
Order. The hon. Member is now getting out of order. His own views about the situation are not relevant to the debate.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I accept that Ruling completely, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I was going to say that I fear that the Government will concentrate all the economies which they might announce during the Recess in defence, where they could not possibly operate quickly enough. That might satisfy hon. Gentlemen opposite, but there again it is essential that the House should be recalled if this should happen so that we could try 1193 to impress upon the Government—though heaven knows it is an uphill struggle impressing anything upon this Government —that cuts confined to defence could not work under these circumstances. It is urgent and important that, if the Government adopt this course during the Recess, the House should be recalled to enable hon. Members on this side to try to show the Government the folly of their ways.
The fourth possibility which might arise during the Recess concerns the situation in Scotland. We are already faced, as a result of the decision for which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, many of them from Scottish constituencies, voted earlier today, with the prospect of a rapid rise in unemployment, for instance on the Clyde. This was already forecast yesterday by one of the leading manufacturers in the Clyde shipbuilding industry, and this is the situation which will begin to develop during the Recess.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Scotland put out a circular to local authorities telling them that they must make further economies in their spending programmes. An important point is that he said in this circular that the spending programmes on housing and schools in Scotland would be sacrosanct from any cuts. Of course, the Prime Minister yesterday said precisely the opposite—
§ Mr. Crossman indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
The Leader of the House shakes his head, but he should read the OFFICIAL REPORT of yesterday's proceedings. The Prime Minister said that no sector, including house building and school building, would be sacrosanct, and he made no geographical distinctions between Scotland and England.
Here again, if cuts in these building programmes in Scotland are to be announced during the Recess, it is essential that the House should be recalled to discuss them as soon as they are announced and, indeed, so that it can pronounce upon them before any decision is taken.
I appreciate that the Leader of the House might find this slightly awkward. I suspect that the worm might turn in die souls of some of his hon. Friends from Scottish constituencies in the face of this kind of proposition, but he has an obligation—especially to those of us from 1194 parts of the country which have suffered particularly severely from Government policies over the last three years—to give us an opportunity to discuss any such decisions about school and house building programmes in Scotland.
Briefly, although I hope that we can go away for four weeks' holiday with a clear conscience, the odds are substantially against it. I was impressed by the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith), that, if we left the Government for four weeks, they might go away and not come back. That is an attractive suggestion, but, unfortunately, the more likely prospect is that they will get into deeper and deeper mischief while we are away.
If this should happen, it is essential that we should be recalled. I hope that the Leader of the House will give assurances tonight that we will be recalled in the circumstances which I have specified.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
I do not accept any of the reasons advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) for having a shorter Recess. It is mischievous to suggest that hon. Members do no work in the Recess. It is, in fact, a most valuable time for them to go about their constituencies, to do the reading which they could not do during the Session and to travel abroad and thus to make themselves better informed to debate issues when the House is in session.
However, I feel that the House should not adjourn without a statement from the Government about their attitude towards the crisis in the Press. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has many times over the past week or two resisted attempts to have a debate on this subject, but the situation in the Press is serious and has been made ever more so by last night's announcement by the President of the Board of Trade about the effect of devaluation on newsprint. The announcement was to the effect that the cost of newsprint would be increased by £7 a ton. I should like to know what assessment the Government have made of the effect of that on the Press before we adjourn. Is it expected that the whole 1195 of this sum will be absorbed? Many newspapers are, financially, on the borderline. Have the Government had any discussions with newspaper interests? Is it possible that the price of newspapers will go up? This is an extremely serious matter, particularly since, if it has not been properly considered, some newspapers may got out of existence before we resume after the Recess.
Another reason why it would be inadvisable for us to adjourn—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The House has already agreed to adjourn on Thursday. We are discussing on what day we should resume.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I regret expressing myself imprecisely. I was not suggesting that the House should not adjourn on Thursday but that we should resume a little earlier to debate this matter; that is, unless my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can make a statement on this topic before we adjourn.
An important decision has been taken today about the Common Market. It would appear that we will have no opportunity to debate this important decision before we adjourn, and unless—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot give reasons why we should not adjourn. The House has agreed to adjourn on Thursday. He may discuss only the date when the Recess should end.
§ Mr. Roebuck
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I had been allowed to complete my sentence, I would have said that, unless my right hon. Friend makes a statement on this issue, we may need to return earlier to discuss it. This may not be necessary if the Leader of the House is prepared to make a statement on the matter and to say, for example, for how long our application to join will lie on the table. He might also say whether any further thought has been given, since Question Time today, to the possibility of summoning a meeting of Commonwealth trade Ministers with the object of boosting trade with the Commonwealth as an alternative to our joining the Common Market.
Another reason why we should return earlier is to get an answer from my right 1196 hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works about how much it is costing the nation to maintain my noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in a residence in Brussels. Several attempts have been made to elicit this information, but unfortunately it has not been forthcoming.
Perhaps the Leader of the House will give a positive assurance that if it should happen that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is deposed before we come back, he will, before recalling Parliament, declare a national day of mourning on behalf of members of the Labour Party.
§ 8.24 p.m.
Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The Leader of the House may think that we are being somewhat ungrateful to him because, having made a concession about shortening the Recess, he is finding that hon. Members on both sides of the House are pressing him to shorten it still further. He tried to imply that this was not a concession, but that the debate under Standing Order No. 9 had caused him to cut the Recess. He must be aware that that debate was of three hours' duration, while he has shortened the Recess by three days. I hope that he will not object, therefore, if I continue to call it a concession and assure him that we are grateful for it.
I never thought that the time would come when I would find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). Some of his arguments convinced me a great deal. Certainly, there may have been a case for having long Recesses when we had a sound and capable Government in office. We could trust them to make the right decisions at the right times. I am referring to the old days, when Conservative Administrations were in power. At that time, we could go away for three or four weeks knowing that the economy was in safe hands and that the country was being steered on a straight and even course. We cannot do that in present circumstances. We can no longer afford to take that risk.
One reason why it is vital that we should not stay away for so long is because one cannot be convinced that the Government's economic measures will be steering us in the right direction during 1197 the Recess. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) said so eloquently, what will happen when the sacred cows come home to roost, and we find that the worms are turning, after all?
The Government have suggested that we should go away for a month while they work out the spheres in which expenditure should be cut. They will, we have been told, be looking at the issues of housing, schools, prescription charges and every aspect of Government spending. The Prime Minister said yesterday that we might come back a little earlier if he has worked out the programme. So the Government are asking us to go away for as long as they require to work out the spheres of public expenditure which should be slashed.
We have not been elected to go away while the Government make all the major decisions and present them to us when we return. The Government's suggestion is entirely unreasonable and I hope that the Leader of the House will give an assurance that he will shorten the Recess for the length of time that is required to enable us to take the necessary decisions, or at least offer our views, on these matters before the Government take their final decisions.
As the Leader of the House knows, there are many important and urgent issues which should be discussed and which can be discussed only if we return earlier. Consider, for example, the question of the amount of time available to hon. Members to discuss important Bills. Tomorrow, for one day, we will be debating the Transport Bill. It would be out of order for me to go into the rights and wrongs of that Measure, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that, if we came back a week earlier, we could have two or three days in which to discuss a Bill which involves the spending, allocation or writing off of £1,922 million.
Is it fair and reasonable, when these large amounts of Government spending are being slashed, for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "We will have a month's Recess, but we can spare only one day in which to discuss this Bill?" After all, it is really seven Bills in one. Its result on Scotland could be devastating. It involves enormous sums. It is nonsense to allot one day to debate such 1198 a Measure and then recess for nearly a month.
If we returned earlier we could have more reasonable hours of work in the House. Those who support a shorter Recess are not saying that hon. Members are lazy or that they intend to go away for three weeks' grand holiday. Almost every hon. Member will be spending a great deal of time at engagements and functions like businessmen's lunches, guild meetings, party meetings and all the other gatherings that go on. If we were to shorten the Recess we could make our working hours here more reasonable and proceed in a better way, instead of being a crowd of sleepyheads discussing major industries like the coal industry at 7 o'clock in the morning.
We should come back earlier to discuss the rather acute situation in the shipbuilding industry in the Clyde and the general industrial situation in Scotland. If we were to return earlier we could have at least one day to discuss this subject. Today, we have discussed the cancellation of a major shipbuilding contract, part of a total arms spending of £200 million. Is it not a tragedy that because the Christmas Recess will continue until 17th January we have time to discuss that decision, but no time at all to discuss its implications?
If the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) were accepted, we could come back to discuss the acutely serious job shortage in the Clyde shipyards. Today, more than 1,000 shipbuilding workers are unemployed in the Glasgow area alone and 100 men were told on Friday that their jobs will finish when a major Clyde job ends on 5th January. Two major shipbuilding yards in the Clyde Glasgow area are now each building their last ship. Apart from that, they have only some fitting out work.
It is right and proper that we should consider the implications of a decision to turn away work that could have guaranteed employment to about 600 men for three years. Should we not discuss the implications of the decision as well as the decision itself? I think that the Government's decision to turn away such work was irresponsible. One of our engineering works—Davy and United—tells us today of the loss of a major order as a consequence of the 1199 Government's decision, which could result in the closing of its factory in Glasgow. Is it not madness to adjourn until 17th January, and not to have an opportunity to discuss an acutely dangerous situation in Glasgow and the dangerous state of affairs in the shipbuilding yards of the Clyde?
The Leader of the House has in some of his ideas shown a great deal of courage and imagination. For instance, he gave us morning sittings, for which I voted. I thought that they were sensible. Unfortunately, they have gone. The right hon. Gentleman has the imagination to think beyond the 17th January, to a radical reorganisation of our business which would ensure that we had more reasonable working hours and more time to discuss these important matters.
At the root of the Motion is the Government's feeling—and it has been the feeling of too many Governments— that the House of Commons can, in some ways, be a nuisance; that the Government's job is to run the country and to make decisions; that the Government's job is to take every little decision and to keep the House of Commons away while they are doing it. When the Government are appealing to industry, commerce and exporters to make a supreme effort at a time of crisis to the nation, it can be no encouragement to those forces for the Government to say that we should disband the House of Commons for about three and a half weeks. That is nonsense. Such a Recess would have a very bad effect on the country, and I hope that the Leader of the House will give serious consideration to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Fife, West.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I apologise for once more raising on the Adjournment Motion the subject of Greece, but it seems to be the habit of the colonels in Greece to cause consternation and rebellion when we are about to go into Recess. We should not adjourn until 17th January unless the Government give a number of assurances on the subject of the new régime in Greece.
The first assurance should be that no recognition will be accorded to the new regime before the House returns. I 1200 understand that on the last occasion when the problem of recognition was raised, we were told that because the ambassador was accredited to the King, and since the King remained Head of State, no problem of recognition cropped up. That fiction, as fiction I think it was, has largely disappeared. The King is out of the country, and we do not have an ambassador accredited to the new Government.
I hope that very serious consideration will be given to this subject. For my own part, I hope that no recognition at all will be accorded and that no steps will be taken in that direction until the House is able to resume its business. This is important, because we should not act entirely by ourselves. Other nations will have to consider the same subject and nations, when according recognition, very often act in concert. I therefore hope that we shall not just make our own decision but will act in concert with other nations who also hold democracy and freedom dear.
We should not adjourn for so long unless we are given an assurance that during the Recess the Government will again give extremely urgent consideration to endorsing the reference already made by Scandinavian countries to the European Commission on Human Rights on the subject of the abrogation of certain civil liberties in Greece. I apprehend that the reference is on matters which are suspendable in emergency, and that the Government will have to consider whether adding their names to the reference may embarrass their influence in Athens. For about 30 years from the inception of the Greek nation in 1821 the ambassador was sending messages to the King, but all to no avail, until the King was overthrown by rebellion in Greece.
Thirdly, if we are to adjourn until 17th January we should have an assurance that the Government will give urgent consideration to making their own reference to the European Commission on Human Rights on the abrogation of Article 3 of the Convention, which relates to the torturing of political prisoners. During Question Time the Prime Minister has referred to barbarous methods of the present régime. I do not know whether he was referring to political methods or to the physical treatment of prisoners. I have had the opportunity of going to 1201 Athens and speaking to political policemen there and to people who have interviewed those who have been to the police stations. I have heard stories, in the somewhat euphemistic words of a policeman, of prisoners who were not treated "softly". From other sources I have heard of people having their fingers broken in order to extract confessions from them. It is common knowledge that people detained on the islands are treated extremely badly, that they have no water supply and so forth. I hope that the Government will consider this with information they can obtain from reliable sources.
Article 3 of the Convention cannot be suspended, even in a state of emergency. I hope that if we are to remain in recess until 17th January the Government will find some means of making representation to the Human Rights Commission to add the right to be free from torture. I hope that the Government will consult with our N.A.T.O. allies about a concerted policy towards the junta in Greece. Greece is an extremely isolated country. Turkey cannot be relied upon as an ally of Greece. The Greek junta and the people of Greece are well aware that they stand alone in the Eastern Mediterranean and that they need the support of Western European states and the umbrella of N.A.T.O. They are likely to take note of a concerted view expressed by allies. It is not sufficient that each individual member of N.A.T.O.—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is not allowed to pursue that subject further on this Motion.
§ Mr. Fraser
May I abbreviate my remarks by asking that the time in the Recess shall be taken for a concerted representation to the junta? There is now a watershed in these affairs. Now that the King has left—
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)
I have only one thing to say, but I want to say it several times. Of course we must come back earlier because we must address ourselves immediately to the most urgent task which has faced us for the past 30 years.
We have debated here the rights and wrongs of South Africa, it is suggested that we should debate Greece and Vietnam, and we have debated the rights and wrongs of Rhodesia; but we are like men arguing on a raft which is being swept out to sea. We have no influence whatever on these matters. We should address ourselves to the need to recover our influence; and we have no influence because we are weak. I do not mean weak in terms of military power, but commercially.
Unless we come back early and tackle this problem we shall be repeating the fatal errors of our predecessors here in the 1930s. They debated, with long Recesses, whether to add four squadrons more to the R.A.F. or no squadrons more; and all the time unimaginable forces were being built up against us abroad. In just the same way now, while we are trying to put the world to rights, unimaginable commercial forces are being built up against us abroad. We sit here—and, unless we tackle this in the new year, we shall continue to sit here—sniping and sneering at industry, which is the only thing which will bale us out.
Just as in the 1930s we needed military rearmament, we now need commercial rearmament. We do not now admire those pipe-smoking Governments of the 1930s. Our successors here will not admire us if we sit here, complaining about being insulted abroad, discussing new ways of spending more money on ourselves, and generally treating industry as the Billy Bunter—the fat boy—of Britain, greedy, stupid and good for a little bullying.
We succeeded in the past—both militarily and commercially, because one depended upon the other—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is not obvious to me how the hon. Gentleman's remarks are related to the length of the Recess.
§ Mr. Smith
I was a little out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is tremendously important that when we return we address ourselves to these problems and tackle them. When we return—earlier, I hope—we must change our own frame of mind towards the creation of wealth. We must respect, honour and emulate those who create it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We are not discussing what we should do when we return. We are discussing the date on which we should return.
§ Mr. Smith
The earlier we can tackle this the better. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) was far too moderate in his proposal that we should reassemble on 8th January. We must tackle this problem immediately and create a new frame of mind in the country. We must start by trying to convert hon. Members opposite, so that we can polarise our own energies, and thus those of the country, as we did 30 years ago in a military sense. When we return, we must discuss how we can do that now in a commercial sense.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
I want to make three points very briefly. First, I am concerned about the length of the Recess, and therefore support the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), because I believe that the longer the Recess the greater will be the delay in establishing the Select Committee on Agriculture. As the Leader of the House knows, I raised this issue in a question on the Business Statement last Thursday, asking that the membership of this Select Committee should be announced very soon. I trust that there will be an early announcement of its membership. For me, the sooner the announcement is made the better, because the work of this Committee has already been delayed long enough since this Session started in November.
Why has there been this delay? Have the Government been embarrassed by the Report this Committee made last Session? Is there a problem over membership? As far as I can gather, hon. Members who served on the Committee last Session are ready and willing to start work on the Committee again. Last Session, the Committee did not start work 1204 till well into the Session. It therefore had to compress its work into a very short timetable. I do not want the same to happen again this Session. If the work of these Committees is to be successful, as I believe that the Leader of the House wants it to be, and as many hon. Members on this side want it to be, it is vital that we be given sufficient time in which to do our work.
For this reason, for a start, I hope that we can return earlier so that, following the announcement of the setting up of the Committee, we will have more time in which to do our work. If the Leader of the House does not see eye to eye with me about this, I hope that he will consider allowing the Committee to work from Session to Session instead of its merely being appointed for the length of each Session.
My second point is also related to agriculture. We have already discussed the effects of devaluation on agriculture and the question of what measures the Government should take, but the Minister of Agriculture has so far brought forward hardly any definite proposals which would give the industry a lead for the role it is to play in our country's economy. He has said that an announcement will be made, that he may have something to say before the Recess, and so on, but there seems little prospect of that in the time left now. Therefore, I hope that the date of our return from the Christmas Recess can be brought forward so that the Minister of Agriculture will have more time and better opportunity to announce his proposals.
This is particluarly urgent for the livestock sections of the industry. We all know how things are moving in livestock farming, with the effects of foot-and-mouth disease, and so on, and we know that, as a result of the necessary restriction of imports of beef, for example, the price of meat in this country is tending to rise considerably, and it is likely to rise further early in the new year. The danger in this situation is that many farmers will be tempted, because of the higher prices, to market fat livestock which, perhaps, ought to be kept for increasing the size of the breeding herd.
Any delay in the Minister's announcement of measures to help the livestock industry, therefore, jeopardises its future 1205 and the contribution which it can make by import savings not just in the next six months but in the next year or two. The industry will not respond to exhortations alone. We must have definite proposals from the Minister, and the sooner the better.
I endorse what has been said by my hon. Friends who have spoken about our situation in Scotland. Great concern has been expressed in the morning newspapers today about the circular from the Secretary of State telling local authorities to bring forward proposals for cuts in their expenditure programmes. It is vital that we have an opportunity to discuss in the House what these cuts are to be. There is no time between now and Thursday next. We should, therefore, come back earlier in order that hon. and right hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies may have an opportunity to debate this vital question.
What are the cuts to be? Are they to affect schools? Is the school-leaving age to be changed? Are the cuts to come on hospitals or on roads? All these are vital to Scotland. In the past, at times of economic stringency, the Secretary of State has assured us that Scotland would be excepted. He has not made good his assurance. Have we any better assurance this time that Scotland will have better treatment?
Apart from the question of local authority expenditure programmes, the state of industry and employment in Scotland today gives us great cause for concern. We must know what the Government's proposals are for development areas such as we have in Scotland, particularly at a time when so many economic difficulties have to be faced. In my constituency, unemployment is high and industrial activity is not nearly as great as many of us would like it to be. We want to hear as soon as possible what the Government's proposals are so that we may form a proper judgment on them.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
May I put a question to the Leader of the House? During the past two days, we have had three different suggestions as to the date on which we should resume our duties in the new year. 1206 The first date was 22nd January. It was then suggested that we should bring it forward to 17th January. Now we have the latest, and controversial, proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), that we should come back on 8th January.
In considering these matters, will my right hon. Friend consider the whole Parliamentary year and the arrangements for all Recesses? It seems ridiculous that, because the London of the seventeenth century—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman ought not to ask the Leader of the House to embark upon that subject in this limited debate about the length of the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. Ogden
May I, then, take this particular example of the uncertainty of our Parliamentary Recess at Christmas? We have had three different dates suggested. Hon. Members have duties both at home in our constituencies and here in the House, duties which we try to fulfil as well as we are able. Uncertainty about the date of any Recess, but particularly this one, makes it difficult to fulfil our obligations to constituents.
If we came back one day earlier perhaps it would be possible through the Select Committee on Procedure or the usual channels, or in some other way, to have early discussions to decide how to spend our Parliamentary time and to divide up our Recesses through the whole year.
It may save time if I tell my hon. Friend that about an hour ago I told another of my hon. Friends that the matter had already been dealt with in our procedure debate, and that the Select Committee on Procedure will be considering it.
§ Mr. Ogden
Perhaps my right hon. Friend could have said that a little earlier. If we had the internal broadcasting system that he wants, I might have known that. It will not be the first time that hon. Members have repeated each other because of temporary ignorance of what has happened in the Chamber. I welcome my right hon. Friend's assurance. Some things get abroad much quicker than others, but the assurance he has given is welcome.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
I find myself in the unusual position of supporting the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). I do so because I should like to make one or two points that were forcibly brought to my notice in Scotland this morning.
The Leader of the House may be unaware of the full impact of the decisions of the past few days on the situation on Clydeside and throughout the development areas of Scotland. There is an onslaught against the progress which was being made in them, and we have been adversely affected by almost every piece of recent legislation. We are now expected to go away for a number of weeks without discussing to the full the implications of the most recent legislation brought before us.
There is to be a debate tomorrow on the Transport Bill, but I wonder whether it is understood that its implications will not be considered until the House reassembles. I should have thought that for that reason alone there was a powerful argument for considering its implications in detail and not to skate over them, as will be done in the debate tomorrow.
It is no use the Leader of the House frowning at me. I come from Clydeside, and I know what I am talking about. Last week, I spent two hours talking to the shop stewards. Perhaps the right hon. Gentlemen had the same opportunity when they came here a week ago today and pointed out that in one factory alone 700 men will become redundant because of the Government's policies before we return here. It is no consolation for men who will lose their jobs during that time to know that their political masters are in Recess, when they will undoubtedly consider that they should be here. I therefore support the hon. Gentleman's Amendment.
I wish to make one further point on those redundancies. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) has left the Chamber, because he mockingly suggested that 1st January would be an appropriate day to recall the House. Will he mock so readily when he knows that that is the date when those men will receive their redundancy notices? For as long as the position on Clydeside is as bad as it was represented to me this morning, when I 1208 was there, it is the duty of the elected Members of the House to be here to discuss its problems. I should welcome our re-assembling a week earlier, as the Amendment suggests, because I believe that that would represent a true token of interest in the people to whom we pay lip service—none more so than many hon. Members opposite.
Do we remember, when we consider the effects on Clydeside of this disastrous decision yesterday, that only 25 per cent, of a ship is constructed in the yards? What about the 75 per cent, constructed in the small factories in my constituency, where redundancy again is already all too evident? I think of one factory employing 300 people to whom one boiler order might have made all the difference between redundancy and continued employment. Am I to go into recess and find, before my return, that these men will have been paid off, with no opportunity to bring their points forward in this House?
These are but a few instances of the redundancies taking place as a direct result of the policies of the Government. We know that worse is to follow and it will soon become apparent throughout the country. For these reasons, I support the Amendment.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
I hope that the Leader of the House will take the criticisms and suggestions made in the debate very seriously. I know that, before every Recess we have this debate. It is probably to some extent a traditional part of Parliamentary life when hon. Members suggest that the coming Recess should be shorter than planned by the Government. But I hope that, on this accasion, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that hon. Members are right in saying that this Recess is exceptionally inappropriate in length and that we should not be going away for as long as a month.
Indeed, it would be hard to think of a more inappropriate time for the House to go quietly off for a full month. I do not suggest that hon. Members do nothing during a Recess. There are many important things to be done. But surely the time of a national crisis, of all times, is a time when the House should be sitting and seen to be sitting to consider the problems facing the country.
1209 It is just a month since the momentous and disastrous step of forced devaluation was taken by the Government and that means that it is probably six weeks since the decision was taken within the Government. By the time we come back on 17th January, two and a half months will have elapsed. It is in these two crucial weeks in January which are to take place before we come back during which we should, in all conscience, be here to discuss what should be done to put right the country's affairs.
This might be a most helpful thing for the Government. A great debate is going on, and will go on, about what is to be cut in Government expenditure to save the economic situation. Such debates are not uncommon within Governments and are usually accompanied by bitter bargaining between the Ministries. Would it not be immensely helpful to the Government to have the views of the House in some detail as to what the majority of hon. Members feel should bear the brunt and what the majority do not favour for bearing the brunt? Would it not give an indication to the Government in their difficult decisions if they knew the feelings of hon. Members? If the right hon. Gentleman ponders on that, he may feel that this point of view may appeal to the Government as well as to the back benchers.
There is the desirability to be flexible about the dates of a Recess. We get approximately one month at Christmas purely, because it is the custom, but, I was horrified by the Government s proposal that, at this time of all times, we should go away on a rather longer Recess than usual. I wondered whether the Government had even begun to realise what an incredible mess the country is in. Surely this is a time when we should throw aside the convention that we have a whole month for the Christmas Recess.
By all means let us balance it, if the Government so wish, by having a longer Recess at Easter, but surely this critical period, two months after devaluation with all these decisions piling up and the country wondering what is to go next, is a time when the House of Commons ought not quietly to sit back taking its ease.
I should like to add a brief plea in addition to what my hon. Friends have 1210 already said so eloquently about the need to debate numerous aspects of the problems which face Scotland as a result of devaluation and the general slackness in the economy. What about prices? During the last three weeks more than 400 individual price increases in the shops in Scotland have been announced. Is not that a matter which the House should discuss? Should not time be given for us to give details and to get the Government's view about what should be done?
§ Mr. Onslow
On a point of order. Would it not be courteous, now that the Leader of the House is here for a change, for him to listen to my hon. Friend's speech?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am sure that the Leader of the House is always courteous and gives an example in courtesy to the House.
§ Mr. Younger
I thank my hon. Friend for trying to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to what I am saying.
These things are important and if we had time we could discuss the numerous price increases over the last few weeks, and I am certain that my concern is shared by every hon. Member. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Government at least to come back a day earlier in order to discuss this subject. Surely that is not a revolutionary proposal, but is something which the Government should consider.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) spoke of the circular which the Secretary of State for Scotland has sent to local authorities asking them to consider cutting back projects. Are we to leave that "lying on the Table", as it were, for a month without any chance for us to raise the problems which this circular will create for the local authorities in our constituencies? Are we to leave them to bargain privately behind the scenes with the Secretary of State at St. Andrew's House, in Edinburgh, about what projects should or should not be touched? Are they to have no voice in Parliament, which is set up for the purpose of hearing the difficulties and grievances of people all over the country? Here is another reason why a day spent in debate of these subjects would be of benefit to everyone.
1211 My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) mentioned in great detail the problems facing industry on Clydeside with the loss of jobs directly attributable to the decision on South African arms which we discussed earlier, the loss of orders for equipment which will directly lead to the loss of jobs in an area where the unemployment rate is still nearly twice that of the United Kingdom as a whole.
The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) pointed out that we have still not had a debate on the White Paper on Fuel Policy, a debate which hon. Members have demanded week after week through the Session so far, and yet we are to go for a Recess of four weeks and still not be given time to discuss it.
The right hon. Gentleman may feel that this is all sound and fury, signifying very little, but I can tell him that not only the Government but the House of Commons is blamed when we are unable to discuss such things as this. If he were not in the Government, he would find that it was not just the Government but the House of Commons as a whole which got the blame. People all over the country ask why we are doing nothing about this, that or the other, and it is no use our saying that we cannot discuss that subject. They know that we are going off for four weeks' Recess and that it would be perfectly easy for the Government to give us an extra day or two to discuss these important subjects by arranging for the House to come back a little earlier. We cannot expect people to take lying down the fact that the people whom they elected are apparently prevented by this system from discussing these vital matters which affect all of them every day.
If the right hon. Gentleman could address himself to his primary duty as Leader of the House as the protector of the interests of back benchers, which is what the Leader of the House has always traditionally been, he would realise that there is combined pressure from back bench Members on both sides of the House to have the chance to come back even a few days earlier to discuss some of these vital matters. If we did that we would do a service not only to the Government, but to the cause of raising 1212 the status of Parliament, something which we all want.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Barnet)
There have been many excellent speeches during the debate. I do not know whether I am more impressed with their eloquence, or the skill with which the orators kept their speeches within the bounds of order. This is one of the traditional exercises of this debate. There seems to be a pretty widespread school of thought on both sides of the Chamber that this Government should not be let out of our sight. I rather subscribe to the opposite school, that we cannot stand the sight of them any longer.
Nevertheless, the fact is that many points have been raised that are of considerable importance, and it is very impressive to see the array of problems— the Scottish problems, Clydeside, which was raised so frequently, the problems of the aircraft industry, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), Rhodesia, foot-and-mouth disease, Vietnam and many others, demonstrating how great are the responsibilities of this House and how great are the problems pressing in on our country and the present Government.
I want to pick out three points and put them to the Leader of the House. Several Members have spoken of the aircraft industry and defence. It is now widely believed that the Government have taken a decision to cancel the F111. A decision of this character would have a widespread effect upon our whole defence arrangements. It would be entirely wrong to announce this at a time when Parliament was not sitting. If the decision has been taken I am quite certain that, with this Government, it will not remain a secret for very long, although they might wish it to do so.
I should like the Leader of the House to ensure, if such a decision has been taken, that it will be announced to the House before we rise, or that it will not be announced during the Parliamentary Recess.
My second point is to do with the state of the economy which has been referred to in a large number of speeches, particularly from this side of the House, starting with the initial speech of my hon. 1213 Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). There is no doubt at all about the urgency of the economic problems. We can see quite clearly, looking at the present state of affairs, that the world-wide ripples caused by the British sterling devaluation are still spreading.
The constant flurries in the gold market, the uncertainty hanging over every other currency, the inability to deal in a number of important currencies, the fact that £ sterling in forward dealings is still extremely weak, are all pointers to this. The truth is that the whole international monetary situation has been gravely disturbed by British devaluation and the other sad truth is that even this act of devaluation has not restored the measure of confidence in sterling we want to see.
This will be restored only when the Government have announced measures about which they are constantly talking, particularly the measures of retrenchment. In passing I might say that it is conclusive proof of the fact that devaluation was not a deliberate act, but one so forced upon the Government that they were totally unprepared to announce the necessary consequential action. It is becoming more urgent every day and the more the Government make threatening noises about the dreadful things they are:o do, the more damage is done. Day by day we are seeing a flight out of money into equity shares, property, goods in the shops and every way people can turn their money into goods before the blow falls upon them.
This is doing great damage and will continue to do so until the Government make their announcement. As I understand it the Prime Minister gave an undertaking that none of these things would be announced until the House reassembled. That means that nothing can be announced until the House reassembles, upon the Government plan, on 17th January. This is a very long time and it may be that the Government cannot do it any earlier, they cannot make up their minds any earlier. In settling the day of reassembly as 17th January, and committing themselves to making no announcement before that date, they are taking a very grave risk with our economy. This should be noted.
The third point which I wish to make is about Rhodesia. This is a matter to 1214 which we on this side of the House attach very great importance indeed. I reiterate our conviction that there must be made now, and urgently, a final attempt to reach a solution by agreement. Time is getting very short indeed. Whatever we may feel in the House, I believe that there is a widespread suspicion in the country and in Africa about the Prime Minister's intentions. There is a wide spread suspicion that something of a decisive character may be done or announced during the Recess. I wish to press the Leader of the House particularly on this matter. Can he give a firm undertaking that the Government will not use the occasion—I hope that he will be able to answer it, if I may have his attention for a moment; I have asked for it only once—
§ Mr. Maudling
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Would he make it clear that no action will be taken during the Recess to bring the negotiations with Rhodesia to an end and that no major change of policy on Rhodesia will be made without the House being recalled? We on this side of the House attach the utmost importance to receiving a very firm assurance on those two points.
This has been an excellent debate. I do not wish to weary the House by making further points. Wide-ranging points have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will endeavour to answer all of them. I put to him, first, the point about the F111 and an announcement; secondly, the urgency of measures to cope with our economic difficulties; and, thirdly, and very specifically, the undertakings for which I asked on Rhodesia.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I, too, think that this has been an interesting debate. It has taken its normal course. I will try to answer as precisely as I can all the points put to me. I will deal, first, with the three points made by the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) and take the others subject by subject.
1215 No decision has been taken concerning the F111 aircraft. I do not think that there is any question of announcing a decision during the Recess. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained, before the decision to return a week earlier, that, if necessary, Parliament would be recalled. If we were to make a decision which could be announced earlier, we would recall Parliament to make it earlier, if possible. We want to announce the measures on the economic situation as soon as we can.
A number of hon. Members put to me the problem of cuts, and what their attitude to them would be. I would agree that it is absolutely vital for the Government to have the cuts seen in the light of the views of the House, and, as hon. Members urge, when the decisions are taken, and when the cuts are announced we shall have to have them debated. I should have thought that it was better to wait for the announcement and then to debate it than to debate the situation before the announcement. That is my reply to the hon. Members for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith), who said, rightly, that debate is helpful, but it is more helpful when we have something concrete to debate. I therefore ask them to bide their time with a certain amount of patience.
The right hon. Member for Barnet asked about Rhodesia. I think that I can give a quite unequivocal assurance that there will be no basic change of policy on Rhodesia, and certainly no sudden or abrupt breaking off of the possibility of negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary made a very clear statement on the situation and expressed a pessimistic view about the possibilities of an improvement, but, as the right hon. Gentleman noticed, he did not close the door. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like me to say again that he is determined not to close the door from this end. It will not be from our end that the last chance is gone. I give that assurance.
I turn to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), and supported by the hon. Member for Glasgow, 1216 Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) and the hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) to the effect that we should return a week earlier. It is an interesting proposal. The implication in the suggestion, that it was hypocrisy to urge increased productivity if we did not increase the number of our debates, seemed to be that hon. Members did nothing when they left this place. It was suitably answered by several hon. Members—
§ Mr. Crossman
In that case, I misunderstood as much as three other hon. Members. The impression was created that our only productivity lay in our debates. I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean that. If he did not mean it, he was supported by several hon. Members who pointed out that when hon. Members leave this place they have many jobs to do outside, and are not judged only by the number of times that they speak in the Chamber.
I was asked a number of questions about procedure, and I was grateful for the kind remarks that were made about it. It was suggested that we should postpone the Recess to settle our annual timetable. I again say that this is something which cannot be reformed fast. We shall ask the Select Committee on Procedure to consider it again, because it depends on the time of our annual party conferences in October. At least a year would be required, therefore, before any change could be made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West made some good suggestions about the need to discuss such things as the Report of the Committee on Science and Technology and that of the Committee on Agriculture. I am considering—I would like advice on this—at what point the debate is best conducted on a big report like that of the Committee on Science and Technology. Should we do it straight away, or should we wait for the Minister to make his departmental answer before having the debate?
I am sometimes tempted to say that we should allow the Minister to answer quickly, because the report is of interest when it is first issued. On the other hand, the debate should be better, and 1217 better conducted, if we waited for the official White Paper from the Department which is criticised. I fancy that we shall take the second course with the report of the Specialist Committee on Science and Technology, because it is a formidable document and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power wants to make a reasonable reply to the Committee. I would suggest that the time to discuss the Report of that Specialist Committee would be following that reply.
The hon. Member for Cathcart, who was very polite, said that he would like to have two days of debate on the Transport Bill. Some of us, also, would like that. At one time I made suggestions for it, but they did not materialise. I agree with the hon. Member that it would have been good if we could have had two days of debate. On the other hand, I can only reply to the hon. Member that, as I said on the business statement, I am sure that he, like me, feels that with a Bill as important as this we must not waste the opportunity for Committee.
The great advantage of our getting the Second Reading tomorrow will be that we will be able to get straight into the Committee stage—and have an extra week in Committee—which we have arranged for the hon. Member when he returns from the Recess. I know that he longs to be in the Committee working line by line to improve one of the most important Measures to be put before the House. We know that his constructive mind will be working on improvements to the Bill day and night, probably more by night than by day. I am looking forward to it.
Many hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Barnet, referred to the problems of shipbuilding and unemployment. I will certainly communicate with my right hon. Friends and tell them of the urgency and importance which was felt by hon. Members, on that subject.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) asked about the grave situation in Glasgow, or, it may be, throughout Scotland, owing to the possession of offensive weapons being, as I learned tonight for the first time, twice, as great in 1966 as in 1965. One always learns a great deal by listening to a debate of this kind.
We, south of the Border, are not always as educated as we can be about what 1218 happens in the part of Britain which matters. I have talked to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. He tells me that he is fully apprised, as I knew he was, of the situation, that special studies are being made and he did not need to be reminded of it. The matter is in hand and is being dealt with in the usual vigorous way of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I turn now to three foreign affairs matters which were raised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) asked about the Common Market negotiations. I have learnt from the Foreign Office that there will be a statement on this subject tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, because the conclusions have now been reached. It is too early to say exactly what they are, but I gather that Herr Brandt will be seeing our Ambassador later this evening, and that the matter is being discussed in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary hopes to make a statement to the House about the situation tomorrow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) asked about the situation in British Honduras and the state of negotiations for some form of association with Guatemala. He asked for assurance that nothing final will be done without the House being consulted. I have asked the Commonwealth Office, and I have been told that it will be safe for me to reply on the following lines. Since I am not personally deeply conversant with this subject, I shall read aloud the following statement from the Department:I am not aware that any decision is to be taken on the future of British Honduras during the Recess. My hon. Friend can rest assured that this House will have an opportunity to consider any change of status for the Colony.With that, my hon. Friend should rest content.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) that I share his deep emotional attachment to Greece. I cannot add much to what the Prime Minister said. It is still too early to decide whether we recognise that Government or not. No action of any kind is being taken by the Embassy to prejudge that issue by any form of de facto recognition. The matter is being kept, in that sense, on ice. We must await 1219 exactly what is happening in that country before a decision is taken. I echo what the Prime Minister said about the bravery of the King and the disappointment that some of us felt on the lack of success of his efforts to restore the constitution to Greece.
I will discuss with the Foreign Secretary the matter of the European Commission on Human Rights and the problem of torture.
Turning to the foot-and-mouth epidemic, which was raised by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns and the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Fair), my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will be making a statement on Thursday. He wants to give the latest information possible to the House before the Recess. I think that, if I touch wood, I can say that the situation is easing slightly, and that by Thursday we may be able to go away with less anxiety than we had a fortnight ago about this epidemic.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns raised the subject of the Select Committee on Agriculture being restored. I must apologise to him because I was talking to the Chief Whip, as I wanted to get a firm answer about it. I, too, would like to see it restored. We have been increasing its size and changing the quorum. I am hoping that we can get the names down before the Recess, but, if not, it will be done immediately upon our return. I am as keen as he is to see that Committee going. There is no ground for suggesting that we are afraid to see the Committee functioning. Otherwise, we would not have resurrected it for a second year. We are keen to see it doing its job, but we want to be sure, in enlarging it through proper channels, that we get the right Members on it.
The statement on the livestock industry is one to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture referred in his speech in the debate on agriculture. I have not been able to check with him, but I assume, since he said he would make it, that he will be making it on Thursday, too. I entirely agree—and here I must declare a personal interest— that anybody concerned with livestock knows that we must have a statement on the future of the industry before Christmas if people are not to make 1220 drastic decisions about sales which will prejudice the national herd during the period immediately ahead.
§ Mr. Crossman
I have put together the foreign affairs matters, but I regret that I have left out the Vietnam problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) and my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) asked about Vietnam and wanted an explicit assurance that if there were an escalation of events in Vietnam, or, for instance, an American invasion of North Vietnam, we would recall the House. In our last debate on the Christmas Adjournment I gave that assurance unequivocally. I give the assurance again that the House will, of course, be recalled if a situation of that gravity develops.
§ Mr. Winnick
I also asked my right hon. Friend whether any sort of pressure was being applied by our Government on the Americans not just to discontinue the bombing for one or two days, but whether there would be a permanent—
§ Mr. Crossman
I was trying to answer my hon. Friend's Question about the Recess. I have given an assurance about that. I think that what he has just asked is a matter of policy, rather than a question of the business of the House.
The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) asked again about Rhodesia, and I can repeat what I said to the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman says that this may be the last opportunity for us to influence the Rhodesians through negotiation. It is also possible that the Rhodesian affair could be influenced by there being no negotiations, but I repeat the assurance which I have given, that there will be no major change in Rhodesian policy during the Recess, and without consultation with the House.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that if there is no negotiation, and Rhodesia declares, herself a republic, this Parliament will fail thereafter to have any influence whatsoever on future constitutional arrangements in that country?
I gave the assurance that there would be no major change of policy by the Government here. I cannot make predictions about major changes of policy by the purporting Government in Rhodesia. I cannot give that assurance, but I have given the assurance that a major change of policy here is something that we shall not have without consulting the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East asked about the crisis in the Press, and the increase in the newsprint crisis, and the effect of this on newspaper prices. This is being looked at carefully. I expect that during the Recess something might happen in the newspaper industry which will reduce the risk which my hon. Friend mentioned, that of one of I he newspapers going out of circulation. I am not at liberty to say what will happen, but it is likely that during the Recess the newspapers will respond to the crisis by measures which will reduce the risk of the weaker papers going out of circulation.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I hope that the light hon. Gentleman will give the assurance for which I asked, namely, that if there is a change in the leadership of the party opposite the House will be recalled to discuss the new situation.
§ Mr. Crossman
I have to admit that in my reply I have tried to avoid otiose repetition by not replying to what I regard as facetious comments which are unworthy of hon. Members.
That concludes what I have to say, and I hope that the House will now be content—
§ Mr. Roebuck
My right hon. Friend spoke of certain measures relating to the Press which he hopes will be taken. What will be the situation if they are not? Are there any plans to come back and debate the matter in that event?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am prepared to say that we do not have to take that precaution. I give the assurance that it is in the highest degree unlikely that any newspaper will go out of circulation during the Recess. If one does, my hon. Friend can hold me responsible for failing to summon the House for that purpose.
With that explanation, I would like the House to allow us to go into recess. Mr. Speaker, you have reduced the period 1222 of the Recess by one week by acceding, to the demands made under Standing Order No. 9, and so have enabled us to rearrange our business in a way which I see is pleasurable to hon. Members, and I shall be back a week early to have the pleasure of their company.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
I hope that it is in order, at the end of the debate, to add one additional reason why we should return early from our Recess. It is to discuss the whole broad subject of our relationship with Australia, the loss of whose Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Holt, will be keenly regretted by many hon. Members.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House, at its rising on Thursday, do adjourn till Wednesday, 17th January.