§ [FIRST DAY]
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.To be chosen to move this loyal Address is not only an honour, but a joy to me, because the House expects me—indeed, it encourages me—to talk about my constituency, a place that I love dearly and where I have many friends.
Thurrock, in Essex, is an urban district, the largest urban district in the country, larger than many cities and boroughs. One writer has called it, not Thurrock, but Thamesside. That is a fair and accurate description, because the longest boundary, nearly 20 miles of it, is the River Thames, beginning at Purileet, flowing along by Grays and Tilbury and then out to Shellhaven and the sea.
The motto on our coat of arms puts it neatly and succinctly, Secundum Tamesim quovis gentium, which, being interpreted, means—at least, this is my interpretation; the Latin is rather concise—"along the Thames to all the world".
Some parts of Thurrock are quite new. They were not there even when I arrived, and that was only 18 years ago. About 6,000 houses were built there in the 1950s by the old London County Council, the good old L.C.C. of happy and hallowed memory. Another 6,000 have been built there since the war by the local authority, a remarkable achievement for an urban district council—a record achievement, we think.
Much of Thurrock, however, is old. There are old churches and old villages, with old names like Fobbing, Mucking and Horndon-on-the-Hill. Indeed, although the district has changed more in the last 20 years than in the previous 1,000 years, much of it remains unchanged. Much of it remains just as it was when the first Danish invaders landed there. This is true, unfortunately, 9 of some of our main roads. It is only fair to say that the Minister of Transport at last is beginning to do something about them, but a great deal remains to be done.
Down the centuries historic events have taken place in Thurrock. I choose to mention only one. I choose it, first, because it was splendid in itself, but also because, although it happened nearly 600 years ago, it is perhaps relevant to our present condition. In 1381 there occurred the Peasants' Revolt, and it started in Thurrock—at least, in the South-East it started in Thurrock, in the parish of Fobbing, which I mentioned earlier.
The peasants were very angry. They had den-tanded higher wages, to meet the increased cost of living, but Richard II and his Parliament refused. Worse than that, they slapped on another tax—a special lax, an employment tax. Well, that did it! The men of Thurrock revolted. They liquidated all the local tax collectors, and they began their exultant march on London, led by the local man, Jack Straw. I do not want to draw too close a comparison with some recent taxes, nor do I wish to draw many lessons from history, but it may do no harm to remind ourselves that history is past politics and politics is present history.
Modern Thurrock is a very busy place. Its industries are numerous and varied. It has the oldest and basic industry, agriculture. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture visited farms in Thurrock about three months ago and expressed delight at all he saw, as well he might.
But other industries are there in a bigger way. The largest shoe factory in Britain is there, and the largest paper mills, and one of the greatest oil refineries in Europe. We make there a margarine which, it is said, many people cannot tell from butter, though I personally have never heard anyone say this. We make soaps and detergents whose names are familiar to anyone who has a television set.
And we make cement, lots and lots of cement. Nearly all the cement—at least, most of the cement—used in Britain is made at West Thurrock. But the people of West Thurrock take neither pride nor pleasure in this, for cement dust interferes with their lives; their houses and 10 their gardens and the washing on the line are fouled by the dust from the tall chimneys. For years and years we have been asking successive Ministers of Housing and Local Government to do something about it, and we will continue to ask.
But the industry which one usually associates most with Thurrock is, of course, the loading and unloading of cargo at Tilbury Dock. The men who do that work at Tilbury have a reputation second to none for efficiency and good sense, as the Minister of Labour would be the first to agree, especially in the light of recent events. Tilbury comes under the Port of London Authority and, therefore, is regarded as a part, and sometimes perhaps as an annexe to, London docks; but we do not think so, and very soon nobody else will think so, either. Millions of pounds are being spent at Tilbury to build there the most modern dock in Britain and to make Tilbury one of the really great ports of Europe; and Tilbury will become even more important when we enter Europe.
That is why I was delighted to hear in the Queen's Speech that negotiations are shortly to be reopened on our entry into the European Communities. The gravest mistake that this country ever made, in my opinion, was in not joining the European Communities at the very beginning and in not taking part in the negotiations. Had we done so there would have been no Treaty of Rome; there would have been a Treaty of London, and we would have been the senior and most respected partner of the alliance. Much harm has been done; we have lost much; and we shall go on losing till we take our place, our natural and normal place, inside Europe.
I was specially delighted to hear in the first sentence of the Gracious Speech that the Queen intends to visit Malta. A lovely place, Malta, and lovely people, the Maltese. I have met many of their leaders, ecclesiastical and civil, of the Government and of the Opposition. They have always been so friendly that I am bewildered whenever I read in the Press that they quarrel on their beautiful island in the sun. Well, the Queen's visit should remind the people of Malta of the abundant affection which everyone on this island has for them.
11 Now for a quick look at the whole of the Government's legislative programme—and what a full and comprehensive programme it is. It includes roads, railways, inland waterways, farms and factories, schools and polytechnics, the Post Office, and the House of Lords, employers and trade unions, public health and welfare services, family allowances, the gaming laws, the laws of property, of theft and of evidence, family laws, company laws, justices of the peace, and sundry other matters.
Two words, above all, riveted my attention and gave me joy. The two most important words in the Queen's Speech are "full employment". For more than 30 years the sight of unemployed men has filled me with dread. I was out of work myself for a very long time. So were most of my friends and neighbours, and the signs were that we might remain out of work for the rest of our lives. I know that that was a long time ago, and that for the last 22 years I have had a pretty safe job here, but, nevertheless, that traumatic experience has left us permanently psychologically scarred. We would not want to see the men of another generation scarred like that. This is why I rejoice that the Government declare that full employment will be restored and maintained. This gives me great joy.
Indeed, the whole programme does. I agree with it all. Since I am not allowed to be controversial on this occasion, I agree with every word of it. I have agreed with it right from the start—in fact, from the moment when I read all the details in The Guardian last Saturday morning. I look forward eagerly to its realisation.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the honour which has been done me today, and I thank the House for the very kind reception which it has given to me.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I beg to second the Motion which has been so ably and so agreeably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). It is a great honour for me to do so as a representative of the City of Stoke-on-Trent, and it is warmly appreciated by its people 12 and the three hon. Members who represent the city.
Our three predecessors were extremely well known in the House. They served with dedication, and they are remembered with affection. The present three hon. Members are relative strangers, but, as one of their main anxieties is to avoid expensive by-elections in Stoke-on-Trent, they will become familiar figures in the House. Though the number of years envisaged may well make the most tolerant hon. Member blanch, at the end of this century, with nearly half of our service to successive Governments completed, we hope to become familiar figures in the House, no doubt peddling the advantages of experience over youth.
The fame of Stoke-on-Trent rests partly on the literary skill of Arnold Bennett, but primarily on the industrial and artistic skill of its people. Any vivid literary portrait of a person or place tends to assume an enduring wealth of its own. Its very accuracy guarantees its inaccuracy as times and places change. So with the Stoke-on-Trent of Arnold Bennett.
Arnold Bennett was born 100 years ago. He was christened Enoch Arnold Bennett. As a progressive and enlightened young man, he decided to drop the name Enoch, no doubt because it was too old-fashioned for that period. It seems that the Enochs of 1867 felt that they had cause to rebel; at any rate, they were not rebels without a cause.
Arnold Bennett catapaulted the five original towns of Stoke-on-Trent to international fame, thereby exposing his inability to count, because there were six. The sixth lies in my constituency, peopled by men and women of sensibility and sagacity who voted for me. But the six towns have retained their individuality whilst blending and unifying themselves into a great city. In fact, the city's motto, which I am empowered to loan the House for a slogan as it seeks entry into Europe, is "United Strength is Stronger". It would be appreciated if that motto could be returned without waiting until President de Gaulle welcomes us into Europe.
This unity, which frequently we are privileged to observe in the House at Prayers, has enabled the people of Stoke-on-Trent to transform the six separate towns of pots and pits into a major and a progressive city. It is a city with names of world renown like Wedgwood, 13 Doulton, Spode and Minton. It is a city which tries to combine old traditions with new ideas, and I believe that that is the great challenge facing not only my city but our nation: how to retain the valuable traditions of a distinctive past while meeting the exciting challenge of the modern age.
This challenge is not a golden thread running throughout our national affairs waiting to be woven into a new and more colourful national tapestry. I believe that it is a hard, tough stinging nettle which awaits us in every sector of our national life, in our industrial relations, in our economic affairs, in our social problems, and perhaps, above all, in our international relationships. It is a nettle which the timid will fear and the foolish will fumble, but one which I believe can be grasped by a cool appraisal of our past and a more confident assessment of our future.
If I may say so with the utmost respect, in no other institution of our national life is that challenge more clearly defined than in this House. We have a rich heritage of which we are rightly proud. Centuries of tradition embody the wisdom of the distinguished and the ordinary but dedicated men and women who have served in the House.
This cannot be dismissed by a passionate tirade against knee breeches. In fact, it cannot be dismissed at all, because we are the product of our history. But my plea is that we do not become the prisoners of our history, enmeshed and cocooned in attitudes and procedures which are irrelevant to this modern age.
Those of us who are relatively new but who have already come to love the House are convinced that it can meet the challenge, though it must be admitted that we are somewhat less convinced of the adaptability of the other place, whose problem, it seems to me, is not so much how to meet the exciting challenge of the modern age, but how to avoid getting too excited about this modern mini-skirted age.
I appreciate the proposals in the Gracious Speech regarding the other place, though some may think that it is rather like shearing a shorn sheep of dubious vintage. I welcome the proposal basically because, in a democracy, one must be governed by democratic means. I believe that these 14 proposals help a vague platitude to become a clear reality.
I turn briefly to the recent shadows of industrial unrest which have brought industrial relations back into the political dialogue. I warmly welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech. The reform of the trades unions means different things to different people. Those who wish to cripple the trade unions no doubt will be disappointed by the Gracious Speech. I should like to see a strengthening of the trades unions and a change of emphasis from national to shop floor bargaining. They are changes which are long overdue and ones which would assist substantially in the improvement of industrial relations.
I remember vividly, as a shop steward some years ago, the sense of outrage when my own employers refused to recognise our union. We were ignored completely. The employers refused even to discuss the legitimate grievances of our members. I remember with regret the sense of vindictive bitterness which arose between us, and, inevitably, that bitterness had one end. In that factory in the North of England we had molten metal bubbling in every furnace, and from one of them the metal was gushing into a convoy of containers. We paralysed the factory with a lightning strike. The strike damaged the furnaces. It damaged the employer. It damaged us, and in its own small way it damaged the nation.
Looking back, I feel a sense of retrospective regret that we found it necessary to damage each other, but regret is no substitute for action to try to improve industrial relations, and this is why I warmly welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech. The proposal in the last Gracious Speech to establish a Royal Commission was warmly welcomed, and the commitment in this Gracious Speech to act on the Commission's report is a courageous one.
I have, necessarily, touched on but a few elements in the Gracious Speech. The many diverse proposals create a unified and constructive policy for the House to discuss. I wish only to address one point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, namely, that for me the two qualities which characterise this Gracious Speech are courage and compassion. I can pay my right hon. Friend no higher tribute 15 than that. I know that these qualities will commend themselves to hon. Members on both sides of the House during the debate to come, but before the controversy begins may I thank the House for its great indulgence.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
I doubt whether at any time since 1945 the Gracious Speech from the Throne has been read in a more dangerous situation overseas, or one more disturbing at home, than confronts us at the present time, but before I come to deal with these aspects it is the privilege of the Leader of the Opposition to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Motion for an Address on their speeches.
They were two very well-contrasted speeches. I congratulate the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) on a most witty and entertaining speech which the whole House thoroughly enjoyed. At times, I wondered whether he was describing the events of some centuries ago, or looking back to the more recent spring G.L.C. elections, but we very much enjoyed what he said about his constituency. The hon. Gentleman skipped quickly over the Gracious Speech, and quite rightly so, but we realise now what we lost when he became silent as a Whip about 15 years ago. In those immortal words, we look forward very much to hearing him again in the future.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) gave us a most sincere and moving speech, speaking very largely from his own experience, and this, too, the House greatly appreciated, as it always does, coming from a Member such as himself. I think that perhaps the hon. Gentleman was a little optimistic in his reading of the paragraph in the Gracious Speech on trade union reform. In my study of it I do not find any specific commitment to action, but only a commitment to consider the Royal Commission's report when it arrives, and then to place before the House any conclusions which the Government may, in due course, reach. We all hope that the hon. Gentleman's optimism is justified. [Interruption.] It may be sensible, but it is slightly unusual for the Government to say in a Gracious Speech that they propose to consider the report of a Royal Commis- 16 sion. On behalf of the House I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South.
When we look at the situation overseas, we see that our ally the United States of America is still engaged in a massive war in South-East Asia. Alas, the nearer it gets to a presidential election, the less likely it seems that Hanoi can be brought to the conference table before that date. We see, too, that China is now moving more rapidly than was thought to the construction of an inter-continental nuclear capacity. In Africa there is conflict still, concerning some of the Commonwealth countries, and in Rhodesia there is a long drawn out struggle.
I welcome the words in the Gracious Speech that the Government will continue to seekby all practicable means to bring about a return to constitutional rule in Rhodesia.It seems to me, from some of the sounds from hon. Gentlemen opposite, that perhaps this paragraph is liable to two interpretations. I hope that when the Prime Minister speaks of the multiracial principles approved by Parliament he is referring to the six principles which he has described on many occasions, and that these can be the basis for a constitutional return to legality, but if he is to speak on this issue perhaps I could put to him the point which I have previously put in public, namely, that he and the Commonwealth Secretary should look at this from the point of view of moving forward to a new legality, rather than an insistence on a return first to the old legality before moving forward to a new one.
In the Middle East, the Suez Canal is closed, and as far as we can see is likely to remain so. On the Aden question, we read some rather ironical words in the Queen's Speech:… My Government intend to bring the peoples of South Arabia to independence.Is that really a description of what is happening at the moment in the Federation of Southern Arabia? Is it not that the Government are abandoning the area to a grave danger of chaos and civil war?
The United Nations has failed to recover from its setback of last summer, but I welcome the Government's support for it. As there is no specific mention 17 of the U.N.C.T.A.D. conference, I hope that this will be included in the Government's activities, and that they will strongly support the efforts of this body to help the developing world.
There is no real diminution in East-West tension. The United States is embarking on a great programme of antiballistic missile. She has announced her intention of doing so, but this has hardly been discussed, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will say something about it, because the impact on Europe of the two super Powers having their own system of anti-ballistic missiles, and Europe not having any, could, politically, be very considerable indeed. And, economically, the situation abroad is equally threatening.
Looking at the situation, we find that Her Majesty's Government are deliberately, openly, and frankly opting out of their responsibilities. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to change that. As a result of this declared policy of the Government, never before has a British Government exerted less influence on overseas affairs than Her Majesty's Government do today.
The situation at home is equally difficult. Unemployment is at its highest level at this time of the year since the 'thirties. Industrial production has shown no increase since January, 1965. Prices continue to rise despite the selective statistics of the Prime Minister. Industrial unrest is the worst for many years, and I do not think that it can really be explained by blaming it all on Communist plots. But what matters is not so much the number of days which are affected by strikes, as where the industrial unrest is impeding the country's economy, and in these last few months we have seen this on a more serious scale than ever before.
When I was Minister of Labour, I believed and hoped that the problem of industrial relations could be dealt with by the trade unions themselves. I have since come to the conclusion that this is not possible, and that it can be dealt with only on the basis of a fresh framework of trade union legislation. As a result of waiting for the Royal Commission it means that another three years will go by before any action taken by the Government can be effective in this 18 matter. That is my long-standing criticism against the action of the Government.
Again, foremost in the economic field at home there is the question of the balance of payments. No doubt the House will have an opportunity of discussing this later in the debate. There can be no doubt about the seriousness of the position. Many commentators are anticipating a balance of payments deficit again this year of £200 million, and perhaps more, so it is a serious situation which confronts the country, with capital investment down, prices continuing to rise, industrial unrest and heavy unemployment.
It is in this context that we have to consider the Queen's Speech. There we see a long series of Measures which are drab and dreary and almost frivolously irrelevant to the present economic situation. Nothing that the hon. Member for Thurrock or the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South could say in their speeches—admirable though they were—was able to disguise that fact.
What do the Government propose as remedies for this situation? Will it be further nationalisation, in one form or another, whether in transport—welcomed, in passing, by hon. Members opposite—which itself will remove freedom of choice in respect of a very important item of costs and will put the additional burden of losses on the taxpayer, or by means of Government intervention in free enterprise? Her Majesty's Government's economic policy having had a deleterious effect on industry itself the Government now believe that they should step in still further and take part in the decision-making of commercial enterprises.
For the rest, what is there to deal with this situation? Nothing. We find that the emphasis in the Queen's Speech is on the reform of the House of Lords.The Government have a tremendous and important legislative programme which will fully occupy them for the next two or three years. In my opinion they would be lacking in a sense of proportion at this time if without adequate justification they diverted their energies to dealing with this relatively minor aspect of the power of the Lords.That was from a letter to The Times by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on 11th May, 1965. There has been no justification, and the noble Lord was very wise in his judgment.
19 The Government have decided otherwise—no doubt as a suitable sop to the Left wing. It is a diversion. It is an attempt by the Government to find one promise which they can carry out in their General Election manifesto. It is a diversion from the development areas and from winter unemployment. In fact, it seems to me that this must be the first and only proposal to come from the ill-fated Winter Emergency Committee.
I now want to address myself to the proposal which the Government have put forward. It is put in a somewhat strange way. Her Majesty's Government appear to state what they intend to do, and then suggest consultations. It is traditional in our constitution that any major change of this kind should be done by consultations between the parties—certainly in the first instance. If it can be arranged by agreement, so much the better. If it cannot, the Government always have power to act if they so wish.
If they are merely saying that they intend to inform us of their intentions there is no point in consultation. This would be even worse than the treatment of Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues over the British Museum by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. If, on the other hand, the Prime Minister makes it plain this afternoon that he wants full and proper consultations, as have been held in the past, we shall be glad to take part in them.
The Conservative Administration introduced certain reforms in the Lords themselves, with the creation of life peerages in 1958—of which the Prime Minister has taken full advantage—and the surrender of peerages in 1963. In the past, we have accepted proposals for the reform of the composition of the House of Lords. But the important question is what powers a reconstructed House will have, because proposals are to be worked out whereby important and responsible people are to play their part in a reconstructed House and they cannot be expected to do so unless that House has responsibilities as well. As I have said, these are matters which I hope will be for full and proper consultation between the parties. If that is what the Prime Minister is to make clear this afternoon we will gladly discuss them with him.
20 I now want to address myself to the question of Europe, also mentioned in the Queen's Speech. The Foreign Secretary gave his account last Wednesday. He summed up the Government's position and said that Her Majesty's Government wished to join the Communities as they are. That shows how far Her Majesty's Government have come even since they made the application to join the European Economic Community. The Foreign Secretary expects negotiations to begin—he hopes that they will begin, and he is quite right to do so—at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 20th November.
I suggest that these discussions at the meetings of the Council of Ministers may take some time. They may not be settled on 20th November, and in this case Her Majesty's Government must accept it. It would be right to see what the outcome finally is. The timetable of the Government has been wrong throughout. The idea that negotiations could begin before the end of July and that the Government would know what the position was before Christmas has proved to be transparently wrong. The Government would be right to persevere with discussions until the outcome of whether there will be negotiations is clear.
Was the Foreign Secretary right to say that there has been no setback to the Government's plans, in the light of the statement of the French Foreign Minister? Is the Foreign Secretary being realistic about this? Many people must have doubts whether negotiations will be allowed to begin.
I think, also, that what has row come up—known as the Chalfont affair—has not made things any easier for the Foreign Secretary. Leaving aside the reports from the capitals, it has done some harm. Everything possible must be done to limit the possible damage. I suggest that the best way of doing this is for the Prime Minister to tell the House quite frankly what happened and to make his own position clear about the questions of policy involved.
It is clear from the accounts which have now appeared fully in the Press that Lord Chalfont gave a briefing to certain British correspondents, which is in no way unusual and which he is fully entitled to do. But at this briefing he discussed, it is said, a possible British 21 withdrawal from Europe if we did not become a member of the European Economic Community. This was not just an odd sentence, produced off the cuff. Apparently it was a full and detailed discussion about the matter.
I think that Lord Chalfont has been unwise to say that this came to the notice of the country only because of the activities of the anti-European Press. It appeared in newspapers such as the Sun and the Daily Mirror—always strong supporters of a European policy. It is clear that Lord Chalfont also gave these as personal views, but he stated that he wanted them published. This was emphasised clearly by the Press correspondents. There is the example of the Financial Times—a reputable newspaper with a reputable correspondent.
We must ask why Lord Chalfont wanted his views published, except, as he thought, to aid his negotiating position. This, surely, was a very foolish thing to do. First, it produced exactly the reverse result. It did not aid his negotiating position; it damaged it. Secondly, it played into the hands of Her Majesty's Government's critics, who say that they are not really European at heart. Thirdly, it has put our friends in the position of being told that they are being pressurised into support for us instead of doing it freely and voluntarily. Fourthly, it was foolish because it is, in fact, an empty threat.
Everyone knows that it is the security of this country which must govern the Government's policy. I do not believe that the Government would wish to withdraw from Europe in the case of our not being admitted to the European Economic Community, and if they did wish to do so I do not believe that the people of this country would allow the work of the last twenty years to be wrecked in this way.
I have come to the conclusion, therefore, that a briefing of this particular kind, or a discussion of this particular kind, was a very stupid thing to do. But, after all, Lord Chalfont is only a Minister of State. He is inexperienced both in politics and in diplomacy. It seems to me that his views, as put in this way, would not have received great prominence were it not for one thing—that many correspondents believe that he was not in a position and would not have put forward 22 those views unless there were others in responsible positions who held them, too.
That is why it is only the Prime Minister who can clear this matter up. I therefore hope that he will tell the House frankly what happened. It may, indeed, have been foolish, but there is no reason why we should not know about it in detail. The Prime Minister can make it absolutely plain that he has no intention whatever, that his Government have no intention whatever, of withdrawing from Europe and that these matters will always be dealt with only on their merits. The more quickly this is cleared up, the more quickly we can get down to the real problems which confront the Government in this sphere at this moment.
The real problem is this: how should the Government handle the situation which has arisen as a result of the French declaration? I hope that they will not try to ignore it, as the Foreign Secretary has so far tended to do. The five other members of the Community can use persuasion, but they will never be prepared to break up the European Economic Community in order to enter into negotiations with us. It is fundamental that the Government should recognise that.
Before the Government began their exploration I said that in addition to the Treaty of Rome it would be necessary to discuss four issues—the international indebtedness to the I.M.F., the sterling area, and the political and defence organisation of Europe. I proposed that those should be discussed before the negotiations were entered upon, and I did so because this would have avoided the possibility of a public rebuff a second time, which would be in the interests of those in the House who want to see the European policy succeed. The Government chose their own way, as they were absolutely entitled to do. The Chancellor has now offered to discuss sterling in the negotiations, but, of course, the spotlight of publicity will now be upon it, with the subsequent strain on the currency. If this is accepted, then I believe that there are still the questions of the political and defence organisation which can be raised as subjects which have to be thrashed out.
I express the hope that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will not underestimate the power of the President 23 of France to mean what he says. These are subjects which have to be discussed if they are to be successfully negotiated. It is, therefore, evident that the negotiations will take a considerable time. There can be no short cut. Any matters involving such great issues as the international indebtedness of this country, the sterling area, politics and defence are bound to take a considerable time. I hope that the Government will recognise that, because the policy on which they have embarked is a long-term policy.
But, of course, it may be necessary to face the situation in which negotiations are not allowed to begin. If that happens, then the object of all those in the House who have supported this policy is to minimise the impact of that, in particular, on Europe as well as on the people of this country. It may be easier to do that this time than it was last time because we have not yet been through a long period of negotiations. I suggest to the Government that they should work out patiently and in confidence solutions to the problems which are outstanding.
But what the Government have to consider is not only the impact on Europe, but also the impact on this country and on the people of Britain. It may be that many of them will feel repulsed and that they will drift away from the idea of a European policy. It is the responsibility of the Government to show that they still believe that this is the right policy for this country to follow in the long-term and that they will not be diverted from it.
But it means that every businessman in this country will have to fight for his life not only in the E.E.C. and in E.F.T.A., but also in North America and the Commonwealth. That is the future which faces us as a country on our own if negotiations are not permitted to begin. And what I find lacking in the Gracious Speech is any recognition that Her Majesty's Government have learned the lessons of the last three years or that they are prepared to provide an efficient framework in which enterprise can flourish and in which they are able to give opportunities to men and women here comparable with those which they can find overseas.
Above all, there is nothing in the Queen's Speech which inspires confidence 24 at home or trust abroad in the Government's intentions to reinvigorate the British economy. Nor do I find that surprising, because the Government have lost confidence in themselves, and their own supporters demonstrate up and down the country that they no longer trust the Government.
There is nothing in the present situation, which we have endured for three years, which cannot be put right by the British people themselves, given the opportunity, given the will power and the determination, given the encouragement and given confidence in themselves—nothing whatever. We have to make ourselves strong by our own efforts and then, if we are now rejected, the time will come when Europe will want us in the Community because of our own strength which we have built up ourselves. In the Queen's Speech the opportunity has been missed to make that absolutely clear. It is the task, I believe, of the whole of Parliament to give that leadership to the British people, and it is a sad thing that it is not to be found in the Gracious Speech from the Throne today.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
I should like to begin by most warmly joining the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in the compliments which he paid—and I know that it was no formality on his part—to my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) and Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on their speeches in moving and seconding the Motion for the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. We have come to expect a very high level of speeches in successive years in moving and seconding the Motion in reply, but most hon. Members will agree that today we have had speeches even above the quality which we have come to expect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock showed his deep loyalty to his constituency to which he was, I think, in Northern terms,"a comer in". He has adopted it and it has adopted him. We heard about its geography and its history. We learned much more about Thurrock than some of us knew—more about it, ancient and modern. We heard of the work being done in the constituency and the work which needs to be done there. We all join in congratulating 25 him on the prospects for his constituency with the tremendous development of what may well be the biggest container port which is to be built anywhere. Although his speech was marked by the characteristic sense of humour which we on this side of the House have had cause to know and enjoy for 20 years, his concluding words about employment were particularly moving and all of us know how sincere they were.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South equally took full opportunity to trumpet forth the virtues of his constituency. Of course, advertisement is easy when the product is good. His city has long mastered the ability to show to the world the blend of industry with art. In visiting the potteries one never knows whether one is talking to industrial workers or to artists. They have learned to blend productivity with design, and because of their outward look on the world one can understand the great support which a constituency in that city gives to the internationalism which my hon. Friend expounded this afternoon.
It is customary at this point to say something of the Government's proposals for the work of the House in the new Session. I begin with private Members' time. It will be proposed that the now usual 22 days will be allotted, but we shall suggest, if this has the support of the House, that the balance between Private Members' Bills and Private Members' Motions should be altered so that more private Members' time is devoted to legislation, if the House so desires.
On Supply, the provision in Standing Orders of 29 days will apply, but the House will be invited to endorse a Select Committee proposal that four half days may be, taken at short notice for business which the Opposition deem urgent. Next week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House hopes to bring forward proposals for reforms in our procedure dealing, among other things, with sittings of the House, both late at night and in the morning hours, Standing Order No. 9 Adjournment Motions, the reforms of procedure relating to Public Bills presented by the Select Committee in its Sixth Report published just before the Summer Recess, and also the Government's suggestions for the Select Com- 26 mittees which the House may wish to appoint for the coming Session.
I now turn to the Gracious Speech. The House will recognise, having now studied it, that we are inviting hon. Members to embark on a programme which is constructive, workmanlike and practical. Among less controversial matters, I think all hon. Members will welcome our decision to tighten up the gaming laws where the actions of a minority have brought the present system to the level of a major social abuse, and to expand and extend the Race Relations Act to deal with discrimination in housing, employment and insurance and credit facilities, and also to expand the range of places covered by the present Act.
There will, I think, be a general welcome for the decision to go ahead with a further Bill for the protection of consumers, and all hon. Members representing rural areas will welcome the proposals on agriculture, especially our intention to provide for compensation to displaced tenant farmers, and our new proposals for land drainage. I believe that there will be wide support for our provisions to implement the Government's decisions on the recommendations of the Brambell Committee on animal welfare. Hon. Members concerned not only with agriculture but with industry will welcome the Bill to strengthen the machinery for dealing with the dumping of farm and factory products.
Another very important Measure is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Bill, the National Loans Fund Bill, about which he will hope to give the House information at an early opportunity. The Countryside Bill, I think, will also be welcomed, as will the Bill on town and country planning to help to speed and further the work of local authorities in their land use planning, to speed the work of hearing appeals, and at the same time to provide a more satisfactory and no less fair means of dealing with them.
One of the main Bills this Session—we do not know yet whether it will be controversial—will be the Transport Bill, the main lines of which were laid down in the White Paper in July last year, designed to provide an integrated and comprehensive framework for the whole inland transport system. It will contain measures designed to secure a more rational use of the country's road and rail freight services: it will 27 lay down a more realistic structural and financial framework for the long-term development of the railways. On this, the question of railway working structure, my right hon. Friend will be presenting a White Paper in a few days' time, which will provide for the reorganisation and reinvigoration of public passenger transport, giving power for the Ministers to create new authorities responsible for the planning and provision of the whole range of public passenger transport services in wide areas, because, of course, transport needs, like the broader requirements of town and country planning, far transcend existing municipal boundaries.
However, whereas the Bill's main theme will be efficient and economic operation, it will provide for the maintenance of passenger services which are socially necessary, even if uneconomic against a traditional bookkeeping test. It will also provide for the full development of inland waterways for amenity purposes.
I do not believe that the House would wish me to go through all the important Measures in the Gracious Speech, but it is right that I should give the House more information than there is in the Gracious Speech about a subject to which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition also referred, the major constitutional reform which we are proposing—our proposals concerning another place.
Since the theme of this Gracious Speech and those which have preceded it is the modernising of our country, we cannot ourselves, as a Parliament, lay ourselves open to the charge that we are failing to modernise Parliament itself—and not only the elected Chamber. I was not quite clear where the right hon. Gentleman stood, whether he was for it or against it—[HON. MEMBERS:"What?"] I understood that he was for consultation, but I was not sure whether he was for the words in the Gracious Speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "What do they mean?"] I am about to tell the House what they mean.
I refer to the words in the Gracious Speech which relate to action to deal with the powers of another place and the elimination of the hereditary principle. The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us whether he thought that was good or not——
§ The Prime Minister
Oh, then the right hon. Gentleman wants a different hereditary principle. This is going to be very interesting. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, great moderniser that he is—or always regards himself as—would have come down to the House and said, "We welcome this." But, of course, the right hon. Gentleman's experience of modernisation began and ended when he accepted a ten-year-old brief from the Board of Trade, which had been peddled to every previous President of the Board of Trade, on resale price maintenance. So, I will tell him what is proposed and then, before the debate ends, perhaps we will know whether or not he supports it.
I begin with powers. The other place, on a strict reading of our Constitution, has vast powers not only to amend legislation passed by the elected Chamber but to delay it, to reject subordinate legislation in the form of Statutory Instruments and, if it so wills, to frustrate on matters of great urgency the decisions of this democratically elected House. This is the present position, and so vast are these powers that they are virtually unusable. Leading Opposition spokesmen in another place, conscious of the voting power which they could no doubt summon up in large matters and small, have had an unwelcome restraint forced on them by their legitimate and honourable desire to avoid precipitating a constitutional crisis.
The other place has an important rôle in improving our legislation and in debating issues of great moment. Their debates—if we are fair we must accept this—sometimes transcend the quality and depth of debates even in this House. But having said this, it is an anachronism that a House not responsible to the electorate should have the powers which the other place has, and it is an indefensible survival from the centuries that one of the two Houses in our modern Parliamentary constitution should, whatever its powers, be based on the hereditary principle.
We have made it clear that we intend to introduce legislation this Session to deal with powers and also with the composition of their Lordships' House. We 29 intend that this legislation shall be introduced in good time for it to become law this Session.
Equally, however, on a matter of such constitutional importance, we feel that there should be discussions with the other political parties in both Houses, and we propose—indeed, we have proposed—to open these discussions immediately. My right hon. Friends and I hope that a broad measure of agreement can be reached on the means of giving effect to the principles laid down in the Gracious Speech, and we do not intend to make detailed proposals unilaterally ourselves, unless the prospect of agreement in the consultations seems so unlikely or so remote in time as to rule out agreed legislation this Session.
I must make it clear that, if agreement is not reached and in adequate time, the Government will then go ahead with legislation this Session. There is plenty of time to make the consultations a reality; what we cannot accept is either a veto or the use of the consultations for an unconscionable period of delay such as that in the existing Parliament Act.
I should now like to turn to another Measure foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech, the Industrial Expansion Bill——
§ Mr. Heath
In fact, the right hon. Gentleman has said nothing more than appears in the Gracious Speech; that he will reform the House of Lords and that he wants consultations. Do I understand that he will put forward principles on which the reform should be based or that he will put forward practical proposals for it? Is he telling the House that he is genuinely prepared to consider the views of the Opposition parties in this matter?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes. We will put forward principles and proposals. It would have been a discourtesy to those who will be taking part if we had put forward cut-and-dried plans this afternoon—before the consultations had taken place. We shall be ready to consider any alternative suggestions made by right hon. Gentlemen to achievce the same objectives and principles. The consultations will be real consultations. What I said was that if it became clear that no agreement was possible or that if the consultations were unconscionably delayed so that agreed 30 legislation would not be possible this Session, then I thought it right to give notice that, in those circumstances, the Government would do as the right hon. Gentleman said, and go ahead with their own legislation. That is the position.
The Industrial Expansion Bill, it has already been suggested, will become controversial. Certainly that was indicated in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, although I do not think that it would be controversial if its purpose and contents were properly understood and if it was approached by hon. Members in all parts of the House in a judicious way, free from ideological preoccupations; though, to judge from what the right hon. Gentleman said, we have some little way to go before that becomes possible. The right hon. Gentleman made things rather difficult for himself—and for this judicial approach—by rushing in several weeks ago with a condemnation of the Bill before he even knew what would be in it. Frustrated a year ago by his attempt to instruct the T.U.C. to reject the Government's prices and incomes policy, on this occasion he thought it more helpful to address his instructions to the Confederation of British Industry." Private enterprise", he said, "must fight"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—all this before he knew what was in the Bill.
I remember how hon. Gentlemen opposite made fools of themselves last year over the Industrial Reorganisation Bill, which was then, and which has ever since, been accepted by industry. [Interruption.] Warned by that experience, one would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, before rushing in to condemn a Measure which he had not yet seen, would have entered upon a period of transcendental meditation. After all, he got it wrong last year when he and his hon. Friends had the Bill to study. This year he had only his own imaginings and nightmares to tell him what was likely to be in the Bill, and then he got it wrong. That being so, I will enlighten him.
This Bill will be an essential instrument in the Government's partnership with industry—[Interruption.]—and on a voluntary basis. It starts from the proposition that a vigorous and successful private sector within a competitive economy is essential to our success. With 31 the present pace of technological advance, more and more companies are in need of finance for carrying through necessary development and for the launching of their products.
Where they are able to get the finance required from their own resources, helped, as in many cases, by general schemes of fiscal incentives approved over many years by this House, or from other commercial sources—existing financial institutions—all well and good. We have no intention of displacing these sources of finance. But, increasingly, special assistance is required if we are to keep in the forefront of technical advance.
This is not a new problem. When in power, hon. Gentlemen opposite regularly provided aid of various kinds for projects which they considered desirable. The House knows of other cases where we have provided finance—in cases where the benefits to the economy were greater than the short-term profit expectations of the companies concerned. I am thinking of, for example, the assistance we have given to computer and micro-electronic development and pre-production orders for machine tools. Again, the resources of the N.R.D.C. have been enlarged.
However, even this is not enough. Quite often firms approach us for help and sometimes it is they who suggest a Government equity participation. It is becoming increasingly possible now to identify growth points in the application of new technological methods and the Government must be able, more directly and more flexibly, to support industry in overcoming obstacles in the fields of production—with all the risks involved—as well as in research and development.
In many cases decisions must be taken by the Government Departments concerned quickly, sometimes in the Recess as well as when the House is sitting. And even when the House is sitting it is not always possible to get a Bill through with the requisite speed if other pressing legislating must be cleared. At any particular moment it is not possible to forecast what proposals will be put to us by individual firms or industries or what proposals will emerge from, for example, the work of the Economic Development Committees, the "Little Neddies". For 32 this purpose a new instrument is needed, an instrument which is capable of quick and flexible action, but with adequate Parliamentary control to protect the public purse.
This will be the purpose of the Industrial Expansion Bill. There will be full Parliamentary control of each scheme under the Bill and we shall also provide machinery for seeking the advice of practical businessmen and of technical and economic experts in examining the merits of schemes. There is certainly no preconceived notion that the provision of finance will, in any particular case, carry with it a share in the equity. I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that if, as they obviously think, there is a deep-seated, sinister, ideological desire to grab blocks of equity shares here, there and everywhere—and I would inform them that there have been a number of cases over the past year when it would have been only too easy, if we had wanted to do so; in one case we were offered a share in the equity, not excluding the possibility of a majority shareholding but where, on the merits of the case, we decided not to seek a share in the equity—under the Bill every case will be considered on its merits and he subject to Parliamentary control.
If the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that in no case should the Government have a share in the equity—I think this was the burden of what he said in a speech to the country—regardless of the merits, then this seems to me to be the parading of an ideological obsession on his part. A few weeks ago the City Editor of the Daily Telegraph, commenting on what was then known of the likely shape of the Industrial Expansion Bill, said:This will lay the Government open to 'backdoor nationalisation' charges, but it is of course no less than any merchant bank would expect from a company borrowing its money. No projects will be forced on to firms, and generally the initiative is expected to come from industry.The basic conception of the Bill is that it is concerned with projects in the national economic interest but which cannot command sufficient finance on a purely commercial basis, because of the discrepancy between the national benefit and the short-term benefit, setting profit against risk, to the individual firms.
33 Some of these ventures will inevitably be fraught with risk, however much they may be in the national interest, in advancing technology or in some way helping our national balance of payments; and fraught with risk precisely because production for the market, no less than research and development, may raise unpredictable problems in some of these new fields.
This would be the case where some new technical advance may be capable of making major inroads on a market in this country which is at present securely held by foreign capital. It is equally the case where—recognising the small size of our British market for exploiting these new developments, until our industry is able to market these on a Europe-wide basis—exploitation of some of them might involve an unacceptable risk for a small or medium sized firm; and the danger is that, because of their size, these advances will not be exploited on an adequate scale.
Since there is a risk in the use of Government money for these purposes—and this means the taxpayers' money—it is undeniably right that the public purse, which has made possible a successful enterprise, which stood to lose if things went wrong, should have a share in the profits. [Interruption.] There is not a merchant banker in London who would not proceed on the same basis, and our approach is no more doctrinaire than that.
Where it seems reasonable for the Government to have equity participation, it will be for this reason that we shall be doing it. There will be safeguards to ensure this. For example, hon. Gentlemen opposite will be aware that one proposal we shall be considering for safeguarding industry is that the equity share may be taken in a company formed to promote a particular project and not the shares of the parent company. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman, when he sees our White Paper and when he sees the Bill, will decide that he was a little precipitate in his condemnation before this industrial audience somewhere in the North, and that he will agree that it is a Bill which should be in the national interest.
§ Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I take it that the Government are preparing to 34 undertake industrial risks that the merchant banks will not take because they fear losses? Who is going to safeguard the Chancellor of the Exchequer's money and ensure that these risks are not unreasonable? Will the risks be measured in terms of social desirability or profitability?
§ The Prime Minister
The protection of the taxpayers' interest will be a matter for the Government and for Parliament Of course, the proposal that in appropriate cases one should be able to share in the profits of a successful undertaking to offset the riskier ones is one of the reasons for drafting the Bill in the particular way that we intend. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he has many times voted for cases where his own Government, for example, put in vast quantities of money to help particular firms and organisations—one thinks of some of the extremely costly aircraft projects—without any means of protecting the taxpayer against the cost involved, still less of getting any of the money back.
Now I follow the right hon. Gentleman in referring briefly to some of the international problems that he has raised. At the outset of his speech he fairly made clear that it is a very sombre background of world affairs against which this Gracious Speech is being considered today. I do not think it is necessarily the most critical since the war, as he suggested. Some of us remember the Queen's Speech of 1956 when we were not able to give the Speech the normal debating that we generally give it because that was the very day of the crisis in Suez with which the right hon. Gentleman was so intimately associated.
Sombre though it may be, I think it was something of an exaggeration to say that it is the most critical since the war.
Perhaps I ought to mention first, in relation to Aden, which was not mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, it was."] I am told that it was. I understand that it is the hope of all parties in this House to debate foreign affairs later in the week, I think on Thursday. I do not want to anticipate that debate, but my right hon. Friend was prepared, if it was for the convenience of the House, to make a statement tomorrow on Aden in advance of the debate. I gather that discussions 35 which have been held show that it would be more convenient if he made a full statement on South Arabia when he speaks in Thursday's debate.
This question of Aden has been a matter of deep controversy. It is right to say now, in anticipation of the more detailed information which my right hon. Friend will give the House, that the Government are resolute in the intention which we have so frequently proclaimed of leaving South Arabia, of evacuating our forces from an area where they no longer have a mission to fulfil and of according early independence to the people of that area. This decision has aroused and attracted hard words, not least from the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), and, indeed, from right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway. It is right and fair to say that our task has been made immeasurably harder by the fact—this is not a fact of our creation; it is an inherited fact—that we have had to deal and we have loyally dealt with a Government which, it is clear, did not command the support of the people of South Arabia.
Right hon. Gentlemen have talked about terrorism. They have their own responsibility to bear. But I must ask right hon. Gentlemen, before they express a view on what the Government are doing in the Aden sector: have they not learned, as we have said all along, that no base is viable where Britain is not wanted by the local population? Have they not learned, after all their own experiences in other areas where, perhaps belatedly, time after time, they did finally show a recognition of the facts, that we are not living in a world where Britain's historic mission of decolonisation—for that is our historic mission—cannot be fulfilled through unworkable federations based on feudal and even pre-feudal concepts?
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
How did our American allies manage to have a quite successful base in Castro's Cuba?
§ The Prime Minister
That is a matter, I would have thought, for amicable settlement between our American allies and the Government of Cuba. So far as I know, they have not been pushed out of that base. What their motives are for 36 keeping it is a matter for our American allies. What we are not going to do is to go on wasting money year after year in bases where we are not wanted and where we have no rôle to fulfil.
The other overseas territory to which I want to refer before I come to the question of Europe is that referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, Rhodesia. No one in these debates will want to make the task of my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary more difficult. I welcomed the fact, as I said last week, that the right hon. Gentleman at Brighton insisted on the need for a constitutional settlement based on legality, that he once again asserted the vital necessity of insisting on the fulfilment of the multi-racial principles to which this House is committed as a basis for any settlement. I interpret this to mean that if others reject those multi-racial principles he will join with us in refusing to surrender our position on what—he used the phrase I have—is a moral issue.
I told the House last week that our exchanges following the mission of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, have not been encouraging. Lord Alport recommended that we should concentrate first on the constitutional issues upon which agreement was reached, at any rate, on board H.M.S. "Tiger", though subsequently that agreement was reversed in Salisbury. Lord Alport brought back from his talks with Mr. Smith the impression that there were only minor amendments to consider. Since then we have sought to elucidate what those minor issues were because—we have been through this so often—it would not be a minor issue for Rhodesia Front leaders to seek a braking mechanism on African political advancement which would frustrate the first and second principles on which all parties in this House have insisted.
Public statements by Rhodesia Front leaders have recently, while these exchanges have been going on, cast doubts on their adherence to so many of these principles—the first and the second, the third which they have never accepted anyway, and the fourth, and now the fifth which seems to have been cast in doubt by these statements—that I would not feel it right to encourage excessive hopes that an honourable settlement can be achieved. But I hope and trust that the attitude which seems to lie behind 37 these pronouncements, whatever motive there was for making them, will, in the discussions which my right hon. Friend will be having, give way to a realistic attitude which can be capable of being commended to this House, and which can also he recommended to world opinion to which as the sovereign Power we are accountable.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
Whilst entirely agreeing with the Prime Minister that we hope for a realistic attitude in Salisbury, may we also hope that the Commonwealth Secretary, on instructions from the Prime Minister, will be entitled to adopt a realistic attitude about the demand for Nibmar, which, of course, is totally unrealistic?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman, as we know, has changed a great deal since the days when he had responsibility for these matters. So far as Nibmar is concerned, I have nothing to add to what I have said many times in this House. We should want a real and substantial guaranteed change of circumstances to feel it right to go back to our Commonwealth colleagues so far as that question is concerned. I hope that whatever the outcome of my right hon. Friend's discussions, whatever disappointments we may have to meet, this time there will be a more constructive approach——
§ The Prime Minister
In a moment—I hope this time there will be a more constructive approach to whatever situation we have to face.
§ Mr. Faulds
I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would clarify that statement a little. Would he care to reiterate clearly that there will be no independence for Southern Rhodesia before majority rule?
§ The Prime Minister
I have answered this question many times for my hon. Friend. We agreed at the Commonwealth Conference—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I know that some hon. Members are quite prepared to see the Commonwealth break up on this issue. [Laughter.] Yes, it is not a laughing matter. We agreed with the Commonwealth that the Rhodesians should be given one last chance and plenty of time to do it or reject it; otherwise, the Nibmar declaration would 38 be made. It was made. I should need a very big change in circumstances to go back to he Commonwealth Conference for an agreement to vary that declaration.
I was a little concerned about what the right hon. Gentleman said today, which, I thought, seemed to go back a little—I hope that I was wrong about it—on what he said at Brighton. I refer to what he said about legality, a new legality, rather than returning to the old legality. I cannot understand what the right hon. Gentleman meant by that. It is either legality or it is not. Or does he mean simply recognising the unilateral declaration of independence, which his Government condemned in advance and which we all condemned at the time, by clothing it with a semblance of legality, pretending that in so doing we are insisting on constitutional principles? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that in the debate on Thursday, at least, we are told exactly what is this medieval theology about the difference between a new legality and an old legality, and do he and his right hon. and hon. Friends still stand by legality.
I come now nearer home, to talk about Europe, of which we are a part. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I made clear the position of Her Majesty's Government following the reports which we had had of a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the E.E.C. at Luxembourg. What my right hon. Friend and I said to the House stands, and it will stand. No other course, other than what we said last week, has at any time been considered by any of us. But the House will expect me—the right hon. Gentleman referred very fairly to this—to deal with the situation which arose last weekend and the Press reports which were published.
I shall not criticise representatives of the Press in Lausanne for doing their job in the way they felt it their duty to do it, but I shall state the facts which I know. My noble Friend the Minister of State, at an off-the-record non-attributable discussion, was asked a number of hypothetical questions. Most of the points made in subsequent Press comment came from the Press itself. It was a free-ranging discussion, not an interview. My noble Friend repeatedly made clear that if, contrary to the hopes of most people in Europe, a veto were 39 imposed, or if in any other way negotiations on British entry were indefinitely frustrated, we should still regard our selves as unequivocally committed to our main purpose. We should still pursue an unequivocal European policy based on Britain's adherence to the Community.
My noble Friend was asked a number of speculative questions about problems and pressures of public opinion in this country if this were to be the situation. It is not the situation at this present time. He made clear, and I do again today, that there is no Government decision or thought of a decision, even on a contingent basis, to change the course which we have set ourselves. That is Her Majesty's Government's position.
I am well aware of the anxieties which have arisen as a result of the reports which appeared. I think it right to tell the House that my noble Friend, on his return to London last weekend, and conscious of the uncertainty which had been created by these reports, immediately and honourably offered to place his office at my disposal. I think it right to tell the House also that, in forming my own view about this, I had, in addition to the Press reports, which varied very considerably one from another, three independent statements by three officials who were present at the discussions concerned. The House must know that, if there had been in my mind the faintest scintilla of doubt that anything my noble Friend had said, in whatever circumstances, might have weakened our purpose and the understanding of that purpose by our perspective partners, my duty would have been clear.
I know that there have been anxieties in this country, which have been expressed seriously and reasonably by several right hon. Gentlemen opposite, not all of whom spoke on the radio or television. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) put the matter very fairly on Sunday night. They will be reassured when I tell them that at no point in any of the exchanges which we have had with our friends in Europe, during last weekend and since last weekend, has any doubt whatever been expressed of Britain's purpose and intention to main- 40 tain and vigorously pursue our decision that Britain must enter the European Communities, and, equally, no doubt whatever has been entertained about Britain's determination to continue with the policies in relation to the Alliance and in relation to Europe in a wider sense, policies which for years have been a central theme of Britain's basic approach to world affairs.
The right hon. Gentleman said very fairly today that it was unimaginable that the case could be otherwise, because our approach to the problems of the Alliance and these wider problems is based on Britain's interest and our interest in peace, and those policies never were and never have been considered to be part of a system of arrangements for getting into the European Economic Community. Indeed, they long predate the growth and development of the E.E.C.
I think that the House will be reassured, too, by the robust scepticism on the part of the European Governments about the reports which they have read, not least by the statements of the German Government spokesman last weekend stating that reports of what had been said to him or to other European leaders were "sheer rubbish", and, in the name of the Federal Chancellor, the statement that they were "completely untrue". I need hardly say that this statement was made in the light of our talks last week with the Federal Chancellor, and I fully endorse it.
I hope that that deals with the question raised by the right hon. Gentleman. If not, my right hon. Friend will be prepared to deal with it in greater length on Thursday, if that is considered necessary. The basic issue now is the one raised by the right hon. Gentleman about the course of conduct and the policy to be followed in the weeks and months which lie ahead. On this issue—which, after all, is an issue on which the House, by one of the largest majorities in Parliamentary history, made clear its view last May—the will of the House as a whole would be that we should deal with the problem continuously, no matter what the disappointments, on a cool and calm basis, directed to the end in view and not getting into a panic, not getting into a wrong kind of attitude because of temporary disappointments or frustrations.
41 I was a little concerned to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about the need to discuss sterling, the maintenance of the reserve currency rôle, and so on. I was not sure whether he was saying that we had got our timing wrong, whether we should have delayed our application until these questions could have been discussed. I can tell him that, for example, in Paris—as in every other capital—last January my right hon. Friend and I, in discussions with the French Government going on for the best part of a day, dealt in the greatest detail with al t the issues which have now been raised about the sterling situation and made clear what the position was regarding sterling, regarding the reserve currency and sterling as a trading currency. Moreover, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has repeatedly shown his willingness to discuss these matters with Ministers of the Six and has made clear statements in the House about them.
It would not have been right to insist on further discussions about sterling before making our application. I believe that the Government are right to say that we are willing to discuss all these problems, if they are problems in the minds of our prospective partners, in the negotiations, and, therefore, the sooner the negotiations start the better.
I turn now, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to the economic issues facing Britain. No one in any part of the House—certainly not the Treasury Bench—would under-rate or has under-rated the effect of the measures which were necessary in the summer of last year on the rate of industrial activity, on investment and on unemployment, though many of the fears which were expressed last winter have turned out to be exaggerated. For example, the House will recall exchanges at Question Time between the right hon. Gentleman and myself about investment in 1967. At that time, the C.B.I. was warning of a possible recession of between 15 and 25 per cent. in industrial investment, and the right hon. Gentleman poured scorn on the Board of Trade estimate last winter that the reduction would be 10 per cent.
The latest estimate we have—nothing like the figures the right hon. Gentleman had in mind—is that the volume of investment by manufacturing industry in the private sector this year will be 6 per cent. 42 below what it was last year. The right hon. Gentleman poured scorn on its being a 10 per cent. fall last year. In fact, the figure this year is likely to be higher both by value and volume than the rate of industrial investment in 1964; the total of industrial and commercial investment, private and public, for this year is likely to be higher than last year—there is no fall at all—and an all-time high in the history of the country. So some of the forebodings have turned out to be just a little exaggerated.
I think that there is widespread recognition, as some of us said a few weeks ago, that the economy is now on the turn. This is still to be fully reflected in production figures, which come pretty late on the scene, but the past two months' unemployment figures suggest a turn-round in the employment situation. I do not disguise, and have not disguised, the anxieties we all feel about the position this winter, when bad weather and other seasonal factors add their toll to the basic level of unemployment. But whereas in the spring and summer months the seasonally-adjusted figure of the numbers wholly unemployed was rising by an average of 16,000 a month, from August to September it rose by 4,000 and from September to October it fell by over 21,000. Every allowance must be made for the freakish effects of seasonal calculations from one month to the next, but those figures, combined with the fact that in September unfilled vacancies—vacant jobs—also rose on a seasonally-adjusted basis for the first time since April, 1966, and that this continued in October suggest a change in the economic climate. This is supported in a qualitative sense by reports from a number of industries now facing very different prospects this winter from what happened last year.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the balance of payments. I understand that the House is likely to have a further economic debate next week, which we shall welcome, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will no doubt deal with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I shall merely make two points on that. First, our hopes of a big increase in exports, which we might have expected during a period when the home market was slack, have been to some extent frustrated by the absolute decline in industrial activity in 43 some of our principal markets. Total imports from all sources into the United States and Germany, for example, have fallen this year due to the slackening economic activity in America and a fall in economic activity in Europe. More recently our monthly figures—and this will be particularly true of those for October when they are available—have suffered a costly disruption through the dock strikes. But now prospects for exports to our biggest markets are clearly improving.
The other point is that there has been a worsening in our overall payments position due to the Middle East crisis. Try as he may, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can blame the fighting there, the closure of the Suez Canal, the increased cost for a month or two of the oil we had to buy from other parts of the world and the increased tanker freights, on what he and his right hon. Friends like to call economic mismanagement. We would not take that kind of criticism from those who had a responsibility for things in Suez ten years ago.
One of the reasons why for months it was difficult for Britain to be listened to in the Middle East crisis was that people there remembered what was done last time. When we had to deny the big lie about British participation in the Israeli attacks, they did not believe it, because last time the same denials were made about complicity and, as we now know, all the denials were completely specious. Things had happened. One of the big reasons why this year it was very hard for us to get acceptance or understanding there was what happened 10 years ago. Right hon. Members opposite should not try to make too much of our economic difficulties arising out of Suez, because so much of the responsibility lies not on our shoulders but on theirs. There is no one on our side of the House who misled the House and gave wrong facts about Suez, as later came out from those who have given their testimony of what happened on that occasion. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the dock strikes?"] The hon. Gentleman probably does not like to hear about Suez. I shall come to the docks in a moment.
Turning first from the balance of payments situation to the unemployment problem. I can say that there are signs 44 that the main development areas, which have shown a smaller proportionate increase in unemployment than other areas, are sharing in the recent improvement in the economy. My right hon. Friends and I have made it clear time and again that our attack on the problem of unemployment and our strategy for achieving and maintaining full employment on a permanent basis centres on the unprecedented measures we are taking on an ever-increasing scale to quicken the tempo of industrial advance in these areas.
I shall not list all the measures taken both before and since the House adjourned in July, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, later in the debate, will have the opportunity of giving the House a fuller account. But I want to repeat that a more even distribution of employment between the regions holds the key to the problem which has dogged successive Governments in this country for nearly two decades. The problem has been that in those short periods of feverish industrial expansion, such as 1955, 1959, 1963 and 1964, a famine of labour, unskilled as well as skilled, developed within a very short time in the more prosperous regions, and this led to inflation. It crippled our exports because of lengthening delivery dates. It led to an upsurge in imports of manufactured goods, because these regions dominated our overseas trade, and because of overheating there, successive Governments of both major parties were forced to introduce a freeze which rapidly spread to areas which had barely begun to warm up from the previous chill.
There are the strongest social and humanitarian reasons calling for the highest possible stimulus to the development areas. But this is not all. Sharp and clear discrimination to help the development areas, which the Government have considerably widened in their coverage in the past three years, is an economic as well as a social imperative. That is the answer to the arguments about the need for what is sometimes callously called a pool of unemployed. It has been possible in the past to argue that a reserve of labour was needed on a permanent basis simply because of the overheating which develops in every period of expansion in the prosperous 45 areas. But this was only because of the intolerable differential in economic activity and unemployment between development areas and the rest. To the extent that we can reduce that differential, which is the main purpose of such measures as R.E.P. and differential investment grants, it will be possible to avoid a famine of labour in the prosperous areas without plunging the rest of the country into depression.
The closer we can get to eliminating the differential, the closer we shall be to a regular level of unemployment in the country year in and year out which reflects no more than the frictional movement of workers from one job to another, seasonal factors and the short-term effects of structural change—a higher but utterly tolerable figure in the prosperous regions than the unmanageable 0.5 per cent. and 0.6 per cent. in Midland and Southern regions at times of boom, and a figure a great deal lower in the other development area regions.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Does my right hon. Friend mean that he is repudiating the statement made by the Governor of the Bank of England, and will he recognise that many of us wish to have that statement repudiated, particularly because the Governor stated that he was speaking on behalf of the authorities at home?
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think it is a question of repudiating that statement. I am making it quite clear that provided we can narrow the differential, which we are doing, there is no need to talk of a reserve of labour, a pool of unemployment. This was brought about in the past, and the arguments for it were put forward in the past, because there are figures of 0.5 and 0.6 per cent. unemployment in the more prosperous areas. Bring the two together, and any question of the need for any kind of pool beyond what I have mentioned—the frictional, seasonal and structural—becomes unnecessary. To that extent, I repudiate anyone who talks about a pool of labour. Later in the debate my right hon. Friend hopes to give the House more information on further Government measures for localities within development areas where the unemployment problem is exceptionally difficult, especially that resulting from collier, closures and other manifestations of rapid industrial change.
46 The Leader of the Opposition referred a number of times to the training programme and the need for training. Compared with 25 G.T.Cs. three years ago, we now have 38, and a further 10 are under construction or planned for the coming financial year. In 13 years the Conservative Government build 12 G.T.Cs. Our achievement and immediate programme is for 23. The programme is heavily biased in favour of development areas. In those areas 21½ per cent. of all our male industrial workers live at the present time. Our present programme, when it is complete, will provide that 43½ per cent. of the G.T.C. training places—double that figure—will be in or on the fringe of development areas.
Finally, I come to an issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman—industrial disputes. He was right to stress this, as he has stressed it on a number of occasions, and as indeed we on this side of the House have stressed it. But it is necessarily to get this problem into perspective. When he was Minister of Labour the right hon. Gentleman got it into perspective but he is now possibly a little myopic about some of these questions and his myopia varies depending on the time at which he is speaking. He can look at exactly the same facts or figures and, depending whether they are pre- or post-October, 1964, he can draw totally different conclusions from them.
On the balance of payments, an £800 million deficit in 1964 was a mark of superlative economic management whereas a deficit of £175 million in 1966 was a national disaster. It is the same when he deals with the figures of man-days lost through disputes. With man-days lost through disputes—serious then and serious now—he does the same thing. He smartly turns his telescope the other way round and concludes that the same problem, with the same figures, has suddenly become ten times as big.
He spoke this afternoon of "the worst industrial unrest since the war." He was Minister of Labour admittedly at a relatively easy time for industrial relations. It was during the aftermath of the 1959 election boom, and, of course, at such a time employers were prepared to settle wage disputes much more readily than they usually do. During the ten months that he was at the Ministry of Labour—admittedly he inherited the job from his 47 right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod)—from October, 1959, to July, 1960, 2,150,000 man-days were lost through disputes. That was when he was at the Ministry of Labour.
How many have been lost during the last ten months which he has described as a period of "the worst industrial unrest since the war"? During that period the figure was 1,787,000—about 17 per cent. less than in the period of his stewardship. And those last ten months have included part of the absolute standstill on wages and also disputes stemming from men's desire to protect their jobs in a period of structural change. The right hon. Gentleman has turned his telescope the wrong way round. He should have looked backwards, he should have looked at the disputes under his predecessor at the Ministry of Labour, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West. He was Minister of Labour for nearly four years, and during that period 19 million days were lost through disputes, an annual average of 4,950,000 days, double the average rate of that for the three years that we have been in office.
§ The Prime Minister
I have given way many times and I must finish. I could give the House comparative international figures, and indeed it is right that they should be given. I will give them briefly. Whether we pick 1966 alone or the last 10 years, Britain's strike record is a great deal better than that of the majority of the principal industrial countries listed in the official figures. In 1966, Britain's 180 days lost per 1,000 persons employed was 25 per cent. below the average for the previous five years and it was better than the record of Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, India, Italy, Japan, and the United States.
It is right that those things should be set in perspective, but, having said that, we have to recognise that in the Britain of the 1960s every day lost through dispute is a cost to the nation and a cost that we cannot afford. What is particularly serious today is the high proportion of strikes which are unofficial, and by their very nature, because they are unofficial, infinitely harder to settle. 48 Up to the end of September this year only about 5 per cent. of the strikes, about 20 per cent. of the man-days lost through disputes, have been due to official strikes. The rest have been due to unofficial strikes. The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to stress the urgency and the gravity of the situation.
What he exaggerates, however, is the ease of dealing with this problem by some of the legalistic methods which he outlines in his speeches up and down the country. Of course, in those speeches his suggestions are plausible, rational and logical. What they ignore is the fact that when we are dealing with a situation such as the recent dock strikes, the problems are not logical but psychological. They are human problems involving a long record, very often, of grievances and bitterness.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me for a moment to take a case which I know well and which my hon. Friends know—the Liverpool dock strike. That strike should never have happened. It was a tragedy that it should have been associated with the introduction of what every docks leader and Merseyside Member of Parliament has fought for for a generation—the ending of the evil, vicious system of casual employment. But there were accumulated grievances, very real ones, and both sides up there bear a heavy responsibility for that.
But could the lawyers have settled this strike? Not only had the official leadership lost control, but for a time last week even the unofficial strike committee appeared to have lost control. No one was in control. Anarchy threatened. In the event, wiser counsels prevailed.
But what would the right hon. Gentleman have done? Would he have put 9,000 Merseyside dockers in gaol or tried to do so? Would any system of attachment of earnings and penalties for breach of contract, after the men had returned to work, have led to an earlier return, or would not, perhaps, this have increased the bitterness? Let us be realistic: in any case would not the condition for a return to work, when it finally came, have been "no victimisation, no penalty"? The right hon. Gentleman is dealing in pure legalistic theory.
49 My right hon. Friend has made clear many times that we do not rule out substantial changes in industrial law, and the Gracious Speech pledges the Government to put our conclusions before Parliament when we receive the Report of the Royal Commission—not before. Parliament will be asked to debate these matters and we shall then proceed to draft whatever legislation is seen to be necessary and appropriate.
Yes, this process takes a long time, and no one is more impatient than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who wants to get cracking at the earliest possible moment. But, I put it to the House, we are more likely to get the right solution, including any legislation that is needed, from a Royal Commission, many of them practical men with detailed knowledge of industry and of the human problems involved, than by rushing into legislation on the basis of a draft prepared by the Inns of Court Conservative Association.
After all, on his own admission this afternoon, the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to do something about it. He understood then one thing that he now chooses to forget. Speaking from this Box in 1959, he said,Industrial relations are a problem of human relations…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1959, c. 659.]They are not a matter of legal relations. But when the crunch came, he specifically and in terms rejected a proposal for setting up a Royal Commission on trade unions.
That is the real condemnation of the right hon. Gentleman. He has changed his mind since he left office. Indeed, we know that he has changed his mind on many things since he left office. But sometimes when I hear the language which he used this afternoon, I wonder why, when he had the responsibility, he specifically and in terms decided in January, 1960, not to appoint a Royal Commission. If he had decided otherwise we should have had the report years ago and action flowing from the report would have been taken by now.
We reject the charges which he has made and, of course predictably, his right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Conservative Party. I am glad to see the latter here this afternoon. We were 50 told on television by his Leader that he now had a full-time job. For either of them to attempt to make political capital out of this grave national issue of strikes, as the right hon. Gentleman has been doing, invites the charge that if there is one man, or two men, responsible, then it is the two right hon. Gentlemen who held the position of Minister of Labour, who had the power to act and who failed to act and who therefore threw the problem on our shoulders. We took action and set up the Royal Commission and we shall act on it. The party opposite had 13 years in which to do all the things that the right hon. Gentleman now preaches, but it did not do them.
Today, the new Session has been launched. I was deeply moved to read the accounts of the right hon. Gentleman's gathering on the South Coast the other day. He gave us an indication of what we must expect in this new Session. I did not agree with the whole of the speech—I was rather busy with the dock strike in Liverpool at the time—but one passage I read left me deeply moved. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was in favour of the sea, the sand, the cliffs and the countryside. I want him to know that we support him in this bipartisan approach. I want him to know that, if there is anything that we can do to help, we shall be glad to do it.
Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that, while we have perhaps been backward ourselves in making speeches on this touching theme, we too are concerned to see that the British people as a whole shall have a right to enjoy this ancient heritage, so I hope that he will back us up in all the actions we propose to take in order to prevent private interests denying them that heritage.
We have helped with money, which has already assisted the National Trust to purchase substantial areas of the coastline for preservation against speculative development. We have taken action with all the planning authorities to ensure that coastal amenities—the seas, the cliffs, and the sands—are safeguarded against such development. The National Parks Commission has taken action in the countryside with full Government support. In Scotland, thousands of acres have been reserved from public use because they had been pre-empted for so-called sporting 51 purposes by a minority of landowners, so the right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that the Countryside (Scotland) Act, passed in the last Session, will enable the public to have access now to thousands of acres which have hitherto been denied them and to savour the delights of our—what was the phrase?—British countryside.
Therefore, even if he disguised it today, I know with what pleasure the right hon. Gentleman really welcomes the Gracious Speech and how warmly he will support the Countryside Bill foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech. I know that he will support this practical Measure to make his words a practical reality, even if the Bill was planned before he spoke.
Another thing which struck me as significant in his speech at the coast was his annual promise—we have had this predictable break-through every year at one or another seaside place—of a new and more abrasive attack on the Government and all their works as soon as Parliament resumes. What was the phrase this time? "… by day and by night." Obviously, not the mornings, because only two days after that declaration was made, when the House met to debate the economic situation facing us this coming winter, the benches opposite were practically empty. The only contribution made to the task of stimulating the Government to still further efforts came from the Liberal Party and from my hon. Friends.
But today the new Session has been launched. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite will have their opportunity to join with us, by day and by night, in examining the legislation that we shall bring forward. [Interruption.] We shall discuss later whether late at night or early in the morning.
But, whatever their brave words at the seaside, right hon. and hon. Members opposite must recognise that an Opposition without a policy on any basic major issue is an irrelevance and that the best contribution they can make to the future of the country, about which they have spoken so movingly and so sincerely, is to co-operate with us in our programme of building the new, fairer and juster Britain set out in the Gracious Speech.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
It may not be easy to begin after the observations which have just been made by the Prime Minister, but perhaps I might at least say that it was symptomatic of the Gracious Speech which the Prime Minister himself must have finally settled that it finished with proposals on the law of theft.
The Gracious Speech opened with a series of statements of complete vacuity. We have had addressed to us suggestions by the Prime Minister for dealing with the seaside and the land. But a number of us on this side of the House have already made a number of suggestions to him this year about what might be done to advance the pursuit of leisure and the interests of the tourist trade. Our suggestions have been denied, however, and I take this opportunity to repeat that it is time to appoint a Select Committee of the House to consider the bipartisan Measures to which he has referred. The right hon. Gentleman referred to them in humour, but in all seriousness they could be valuable contributions to the encouragement of the tourist trade and could also set up and provide a real policy for leisure.
If there is one activity in which we could, I am sure, secure a bipartisan approach, it is in the great need to improve opportunities for leisure in our countryside and at the seaside, for caravanning, and in the arts and amenities and to improve the very considerable tourist potential and the pleasures derived from sport.
The paragraph in the Gracious Speech referring to the principal aims of the Government says:This should combine a continuing surplus on the balance of payments … and … maintain the strength of sterling … with full employment.Those words, as so construed, remind one of a three card trick which might be operated by a punter on his way to Southern Ireland racecourses. Whichever way one reads them, they come up with totally different meanings. If one reads those words as being an aim in the view of the Government, they are a pious promise. If they imply, as they are clearly intended to imply, that there is a continuing balance with our balance of payments and that it is proposed to carry out a strong sterling policy and to 53 maintain full employment, the statement certainly does not say so, and I believe the facts.
In the first half of the Gracious Speech are a number of pious expressions—for example:My Government will continue to work through the United Nations for a just and lasting settlement in the Middle East.But there is not one single word as to whether there is to be any other policy of the Government in the Middle East which is of their own independent showing. The fact is that we have abdicated the whole of our policies in the Middle East. I believe that this was the first time I have ever heard the Prime Minister of this country saying that the Government have no mission to fulfil in the Middle East.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I think that if the Prime Minister reads his words tomorrow he will see that he was saying that we no longer have any mission to fulfil in Aden.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I apologise, because I recognise that that was my own mistake in widening the sphere to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
I believe that Aden is the pivot of the real policy in the Middle East and the Trucial States. The existing Governments in the Trucial States have a real part to play in the future in maintaining the balance of power in the Middle East, but our influence there has a tremendous opportunity to continue the development of our trade not only in the Trucial States but throughout the whole of the Middle East.
Therefore, there is a true mission, both a trade mission as well as a defence mission, which is part of the British rôle which should continue and which should be based upon Aden. I do not believe that we should withdraw our troops from Aden any more than that we should withdraw the whole of our influence in that area in the way that is bound to arise.
Turning to one or two of the later matters dealt with in the Queen's Speech, a real criticism is the remarkable lack of action which is foreshadowed in almost every aspect of policy. I share very 54 strongly the view put forward by our own Leader that almost the most important aspect of policy today lies in the question of our jobs and, therefore, in our attitude to industrial relations and the set-up of the trade union movement.
There are four factors with which this Queen's Speech ought to have dealt. The first is jobs; the second is the need to show true enterprise; the third is matters relating to fiscal reform; and the fourth is to ensure social advance.
In none of those four spheres has the Government in the Queen's Speech introduced any action by way of positive measures designed to assist. It is no argument for the Prime Minister to say that in a couple of years' time, if there has not been another General Election, he may come to the Dispatch Box to discuss measures on trade union reform. After all, in 1964 the Crathorne Committee reported, and nothing has been done since.
In the event of the Royal Commission on the Trade Unions and Employers' Associations reporting, he has not told us whether he will try to expedite its efforts so that it will sit daily at long and regular hours in order to give us the report at the latest by next summer so that we can be assured of consideration and debate in the current programme this year with a view to having measures in next year's Queen's Speech.
The right hon. Gentleman had a tilt at my own association, the Inns of Court Conservative Association. It is a fair tilt, but we at the Bar are not only concerned with legalistic measures. Many of us are concerned solely with trying to uphold human values and character. We have opportunities of meeting a great many members of the trade union movement and frequently advise them on their problems.
We recognise that the most important single factor today is to secure true human relations in industry. To do this a great many of us believe that it will be essential to go back to a situation where we honour contracts. The honouring of agreements is an essential basis both for the improvement of the trade unions and for the benefit of employers. It is essential to give that contractual basis and all employers and men should have to pay financial damages for any breach of contract.
55 It is essential to strengthen the trade unions; not to weaken them. The trouble today arises from the loss of the power of the leaders in the unions. Therefore, it is essential to have constitutional reform of trade union structure and, in particular, to give the leaders of the trade unions, once they have been duly elected, greater and not lesser powers.
It is particularly important that this should be reiterated from Conservative benches, because our aim is so to alter it as to give secret ballots for the election of officers, to ensure that as regards the set-up of the friendly societies proper rules are laid down and settled and put before the Registrar and that, with the changes in the constitution, greater power should be obtained during the period of office of its officers.
This whole matter is too wide-ranging for general discussion this afternoon, but I do ask the Prime Minister to give us an early opportunity, not too far ahead, to raise and discuss matters to which the Royal Commission can then listen, before it reports. I would ask him to give both sides of the House a chance to draw attention—because most of them will not give direct evidence to the Commission—to matters which we believe would secure a beneficial change. We do not wish to break down the strength of the trade union movement. We wish to build it up. Therefore, we say, "Go away and modulate the position with a 'Dash' of bitters and then come back and recognise that this problem could be solved by next year" and, with its solution, one would then get the major factor, which lies in the loss of power and increase in ill discipline in the whole of the work situation in the country today and in some industries, in particular, corrected.
We cannot continue with success in the promotion of exports without a thorough-going fiscal reform. The Selective Employment Tax is a hideous monstrosity which anyone who has anything whatever to do with the tourist or many other industries knows now to be a complete failure. It must be thrown out of the window this year. It may be the Chancellor wishes to replace it with some other instrument. I commend to him a change at the same time in Purchase Tax—to get rid of that—and to go straight towards the form of value-added tax which they have 56 in Europe and from which he could then introduce measures to get rid of both Purchase Tax and the iniquitous Selective Employment Tax, and recognise it for the miserable failure that it has been.
There are other matters of fiscal reform. We are reaching an absurd situation now if executives who are being paid £10,000 to £15,000 in the end are finding themselves living on about £5,000 a year with the education of their children. The whole system of fiscal reform needs looking at and it ought to receive the attention of any Government of whatever complexion now. Otherwise, there could be no enterprise for the future.
It is an incredible factor to find for the first time a Labour Government who make no mention of any action in the sphere of social services, with the exception of a plain statement that they will increase family allowances. That is wholly wrong. It is wrong at a time of credit squeeze to make an indiscriminate increase in family allowances to all and sundry while taking no measures whatsoever to ensure an adequate family allowance for the large families of people who are really hard up. I have more than one child. I do not want to receive a further increased family allowance for the other children any more, I am sure, than do a great many other hon. Members of this House and members of the public outside.
We feel, on the other hand, that there should be some selective increase in family allowances to those who are in real need. We feel that the Government ought to have put forward some other measures to indicate that they are thinking and that they have some proposals to make for an advancement in the social services generally—but not a word of it.
That being so, I turn to the tail end of this vacuous document. I find that proposals are to be put forward to amend the law of theft. It came as no surprise to find that regarded as something of importance by the Government. I am sure that it will be a good legal Measure. It is proposed to reform the law of gaming. But there is not a word about reforming matters affecting the lives of our people, such as shopping hours, Sunday trading and Sunday observance. I find no proposal at all for measures 57 designed largely to increase the tourist trade, or anything about loans or grants for continuing the policy of increasing our hotels, modernising their accommodation, and so assisting what is now our third largest industry, and our biggest dollar earner.
It is right that we should reform the law of gaming and it is something for which I hope the Government will be able to take real credit. Here, at least, is something that is bipartisan. I have given this subject a great deal of thought, and have had the advantage already of making representations to the Government as to the method that ought to be used. It is fairly simple, and I refer to it briefly now because I may not have another opportunity and it may be of some advantage if these observations reach the Home Office before it finally drafts its Bill.
It is quite clear that the right approach to this kind of social legislation today is through the setting up of a specialist board similar to the Levy Board. It is right that the board so set up should have complete control over the grant of licences to establishments that are then selected and permitted for the purposes of gaming. It is manifestly necessary that an inspectorate should be appointed, because that inspectorate can ensure that there is fit and proper staff, and adequate and proper control and supervision of the standards of play and conduct in the premises. In this way one will get rid of the evils which may at present exist because of unscrupulous people, and people, perhaps, from overseas, seeking to get control of particular establishments.
What is fundamental to this process is that it will make enforcement simple by taking it away from the police. The main reason why the 1960 Act was not able to continue effectively was that the police were unable to carry out enforcement, which presented great difficulties. It presented greater difficulties because, although it was possible, the police are not specialist trained staff and have no desire to be. By removing this duty from them one will be able to achieve success in this direction and secure effective enforcement.
It is of the greatest importance that the Government should not interfere with the players themselves in the establishments, 58 but should give them a fair amount of freedom in the clubs that are set up. In this way we should be able to continue without the undesirable facets of what I call the "continental" type of casino—and, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will recall our debates on this matter in 1960 when, as I remember well, you ventured to play your part.
It was and it has been the failure of the staff or the police to engage in enforcement and the additional duties imposed on them—which, frankly, they have not wished to fulfil—which has now made it necessary to see that the law of gaming is modified and amended. I believe that it is along the lines of a separate board, with an inspectorate, that I have put forward that we shall achieve success.
I invite the Government Front Bench to carry away the thought that in the following year we shall have plenty of time to debate various matters, because the general legislative programme is, in the main, slender. There is little if any real guts in it other than, obviously, the great battle that will ensue over the public ownership of transport. Apart from that topic, which one can see will be highly controversial, there does not appear to be a great deal of controversy. False misdescription of goods, false labelling, the law of theft and the law of evidence—all these matters may be of importance to lawyers, but certainly will not lead to any great controversy in the House.
One of the things that the House should consider this year is our own procedures. We are to have an opportunity, apparently, to consult, and then debate about the future of another place. It is now more than seven years since I and many of my colleagues suggested in this House that we should reform the House of Lords by having there what I called a selected elected body of about 200 members who would elect from amongst themselves those who would have their own voting power.
I believe that this should be done. Peers should have a proper Chamber, which is, in fact, selected by them, in which to debate and in which only those Members should have the power of vote. I must, however, point out that that step carries with it the right of the hereditary peers then to be able to stand for election 59 to the House of Commons. They must then have their rights protected by being able to seek a place here: otherwise, they will be disfranchised.
I think that it would be the greatest mistake to get rid altogether of the hereditary principle. I agree that it should very seldom be necessary to create new peers—new marqueses or new dukes, or whatever it may be—but I must venture to point out what I do not believe the House has seen so far, which is that if we take away the hereditary principle entirely we isolate Her Majesty and the Royal Family as a complete anachronism. One cannot deal in this way with the hereditary system of peerage without at the same time, by implication, showing up the anachronism of the monarchy, which would then become the only remaining example of the hereditary principle left—because why guarantee the hereditary principle for the monarchy if one is opposed to that principle for the rest of the country? These are just a few of the submerged political icebergs of an extremely difficult problem, and I mention them now, not to arrive at a solution but to point out what a very wide problem here presents itself.
Personally, I feel bitterly the loss, in the main, of the power of the speeches and debates in this House. I feel bitterly the fact that in the course of the year the Press and television are interested far more in what takes place outside this Chamber than what takes place inside it, however good the standard of speeches and debates may be. I should, therefore, like us to go back to another vote on having television and wireless in the House. I also particularly want to ensure that we have more work done through the Select Committees. Thank goodness, we have got rid of the morning work in the Chamber, but that gives us an opportunity to have more Select Committees, particularly for work in which there are not too many elements of controversy.
I come back to what I mentioned earlier. It seems to me that apart from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries we should try to find a method of giving a service to the public and of giving them an opportunity to get their grievances over in the House which they do not have at the moment. I want to 60 see set up a Select Committee for the tourist industry, so that we can correlate the efforts and get the thoughts of hon. Members and have an opportunity to take evidence from the leaders of the tourist industry, and many suggestions that will improve both it and the pursuit of leisure.
I hope that this year we shall have an opportunity to change our procedures, and to continue with the evolution of Parliament not only in this House but in the Upper House, and that we may also see to what extent we can derive benefit from people giving evidence and bringing forward matters so that we can shape our future legislation successfully for our country.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)
I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). He always has a great deal to tell the House. I never doubt many of the cogent arguments he advances, but, whatever validity there is in many of the suggestions, opinions and criticisms he has just advanced, I hope that he will accept that the Gracious Speech has been presented at a time when the world is strangely perplexed.
That point was made more or less by the hon. Member's right hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), at the opening of the debate, and it was endorsed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It is clear that the present tragic state of affairs is direct and overwhelming. We try to watch through abundant channels of information what takes place day by day and almost hour by hour. In the light of many disturbing and frightening events, a stupendous amount of thought needs to be given to all the happenings.
It is our concern that we should not be remote or aloof from the unfortunate world in which they are taking place. It needs no profound professor to grasp the fact that the world in this day and generation is in one of the greatest periods of reaction. The lust for power and power at any cost is exhibited in undeclared military wars which are now being waged. While grave international events disturb the peace of mind, economic war is also serious. One must, of course, take into account a great variety of factors, but 61 this is a most relentless and insidious enemy of mankind. It has enormously increased the complexities involved in the struggle for a living.
Everywhere we hear or read of economic motives, economic ideas, economic tendencies and economic disasters and the word has now become part of our everyday discourse. What I believe to be important is the fact that the yielding of satisfaction in the sense of human wants must make itself felt in the product of human effort. It is noticeable that the Gracious Speech provides an initial impulse in that direction. The Speech is a broad survey of affairs which will enable hon. Members to exercise their dominant feelings.
I believe that the way we set about the affairs of life is conditioned by the way in which we think. Going on to one particular aspect of thinking, I hope that the House will forgive me for expressing regret at the omission from the Gracious Speech of any reference to any Exchequer grants structure for local government purposes. This is a subject of crucial importance to Durham County Council, which, in its logical picture of events, recognises that everything must have an adequate cause—but, to go a step further, I must say that a cause cannot be physically separated from its effect. It can be a means of assisting explanation to suffice for comprehension and requirements.
Points of view may be altered according to the interest concerned, but, as nothing is so familiar as that which is common to us all, it will be convenient to take cognisance of the fact that the Government's general policy on grants to local authorities is not likely to be changed until the Royal Commission on Local Government reports. It is chiefly with that in mind, and also having accepted the fact that the Local Government Act of 1966 has made radical changes in the system of Exchequer grants to local authorities, that, without wanting to distort such a construction, Durham County Council had hoped—with good reason—that any new grant formula would reintroduce specific grants at least in respect of major services.
By analysing the principle involved, it is now widely understood that, far from sweeping away the general grant and reintroducing specific grants, the Govern- 62 ment's policy is not only to retain a general grant, but to make it a much greater and more significant means of Exchequer assistance than it ever had been previously, while, at the same time, abolishing the specific reimbursement of school milk and meals expenditure and most of the grant for county roads and bridges.
It is true that the grant has been given another name, a separate title, "the rate support grant", but, considered in disadvantageous terms, the county council is of the opinion that its distributive structure is almost certain to afflict the county in a most detrimental way. I must add in fairness to the county council that it is not unmindful of the relief which the Local Government Act 1966 has given to domestic ratepayers. We fully recognise that this relief inures to the benefit of domestic ratepayers throughout the country, but it is the county council's submission that the relief is not relevant to the exceptional financial problems which it faces.
I think it also important to stress that as a consequence of Government Departments' urging financial retrenchment on local authorities, Durham County Council took it in the most serious way possible, with the result that a reduction of £1,492,000 in capital expenditure was made last October. In responding to the national call for economy, it is quite apparent that the county council could not have done more without putting its services into grave jeopardy. At present, the county treasurer estimates that if the grants and reimbursements for 1967–68 had been distributed on the same formula as they were in 1966–67, £1.3 million more would have been received by the county council than the amount notified in the current year.
This leads me to point out that the highly disturbing effect of the revised arrangements may first be tested by comparing the proportions of its expenditure met by Government grants. For the years 1965–66 it was 71.15 per cent.; for 1966–67, 70.63 per cent.; and for 1967–68, 66.49 per cent. Such a profound underlying difference represents an increase of 4.14 per cent. borne by the rates, and in terms of money it amounts to £1,859,000.
63 This also gives rise to the county council's concern about the grave worsening of its financial position. It is for that reason that we must distinguish Durham County Council in terms of rateable capacity, because it has all the characteristics of an old area of heavy industry in decline.
I freely admit that Durham County is not isolated in this respect. There are other areas which show the same pattern of low rateable value per head. There is, however, much disturbing evidence to show that in Durham County the introduction of new industries has not been rapid enough to keep up with the continuing decline in certain industries.
When we enter more thoroughly into an objective account of the collosal loss of industry and the loss of revenue from rates, we find such internal changes hard to sustain any lofty enthusiasm, especially when caught up in a whirlwind of coalmine closures—and many more to come—and that eventually will mark the end of an incomparable era.
Having had the advantage of the rate deficiency grant payable to Durham County Council to 1959–1960 to 1966–1967, which was in respect of its expenditure on general county purposes, the House will be aware that from 1st April this year that system has been replaced by the resources element of the rate support grant which, on a broadly similar basis to its predecessor, is payable to county and country district councils alike.
Having said that, I think that it is important to keep quite distinct in mind the fact that the resources element of the rate support grant is quite different from the rate deficiency grant upon which counties could confidently rely in the past. The subject may appear to be as complex as the recent Russian automatic space link-up, but one of the differences lies in the fact that, whereas the old grant meant that the payment of a determined percentage of residual expenditure was completely certain, the new grant has been fixed in relation to a pre-determined estimate of expenditure and, if the actual expenditure exceeds the estimate, the grant will then be diluted.
It is against this background that we have to consider how the current Indus- 64 trial outlook in Durham County is closely associated as a development area. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister outlined this afternoon how it is the Government's intention to replace industry lost through the closure of coal mines. The Gracious Speech contains this passage:Further measures will be taken to stimulate economic advance in the development areas and to promote a more even distribution of employment in all regions, as a means to national expansion.Durham County is an area where the unemployment rate is twice the national average. In the circumstances, I wonder why such an area is expected to sustain an insupportable reduction in the share of Government aid to which it feels that it has the strongest possible entitlement. I much appreciate what the Government are doing by way of grants and loans under the Local Employment Acts to attract industry to provide employment in development areas, but to speak of special measures to help a county or a district as a development area whilst, at the same time, introducing a new grant structure which makes it reduce its standard of services and to curtail their much needed development is a very strange contradiction indeed.
Having to focus attention on what are the ends to which methods are geared, and by endeavouring to put aside all passion and prejudice, seeking just the truth, however unpalatable, it is little wonder that Durham County Council sees the outlook for the future very bleak indeed, unless something special is done to help. The council is faced with the problems already arising from its having arrested the growth in essential services: special local problems have arisen which are not typical of other parts of the country. These are problems which cannot be properly recognised by any general grant formula, coupled with the prospect of much diminished balances available in aid of rates.
The alternatives are these. Either the county council will have to reduce the quality and standard of its social services, or local rates must escalate to a figure which will become unduly burdensome.
This being the crux of the matter, it is possible accurately to prognosticate the foreseeable trend in an area where, if the policy of attracting industry is to succeed, 65 it is more than ever essential that rates be kept at an acceptable level.
It was in the light of what I have tried to tell the House that the handling of this problem was undertaken by the financial advisers of the County Councils Association. They tried very hard to ameliorate a situation that is fraught with bad implications for the County of Durham and other similar industrial areas. Unhappily, they failed to achieve their desired objective with Government Departments.
Therefore, I appeal to the Government to embark upon a calculated course of action, one which will give transitional assistance before the Royal Commission on Local Government reports and one which will enable there to be flexibility of manoeuvre and resourcefulness to meet events that are indeed hurrying at an ever greater and dizzier pace than was ever expected and which deserve the fullest attention of the Government.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
My initial reaction to the Gracious Speech is that the House seems to be faced with yet another legislative marathon this Session. Although there are many points on which I should have liked to comment if there were time, I will restrict myself to five.
Judging by the reception which my right hon. and hon. Friends gave to the Prime Minister's reference to the forthcoming Industrial Expansion Bill, it is already apparent that the Bill will probably be one of the most controversial of the Bills to come before Parliament this Session. Despite the Prime Minister's attempts to allay our anxieties, this proposal reeks of nationalisation by the back door and, if implemented, will result in the most insidious form of Governmental interference in private industry. My reaction is therefore one of hostility to this proposal. Although I listened carefully to what the Prime Minister said, I regret to say that my anxieties were in no way allayed.
The capital grants to industry programme has been very successful and has been of immense value in encouraging industrial development. In Northern Ireland, the area I know best, capital grants have provided the key to our in- 66 dustrial progress in recent years and have been invaluable in attracting new industry to the Province. However, grants without strings are one thing, but interference in industry by means of acquiring shareholdings is not a proper function of government. Where government has tried its hand in running industries, it has not been, in my view, conspicuously successful—for instance, in coal, electricity and steel.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Alan Williams)
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) can hardly call it interference when the initiative has to come from industry, when industry itself has to ask the Government for this form of help.
§ Mr. Pounder
Asking the Government for this form of help was basically the system under the scheme for capital grants to industry, but this was "no-strings" assistance. The current suggestion is that it should be a "with-strings" form of assistance and that is somewhat abhorrent to me. I could not tolerate the proposed injection of the dead and smothering hand of Whitehall.
I am delighted to hear that legislation is planned to safeguard the welfare of farm animals, particularly those reared by intensive methods. I may be soft hearted about animals but I make no apology for it. Cruelty to animals, no matter what form it may take, whether it concerns farm animals incarcerated in battery cases or in sweat boxes, or whether it concerns those animals which are exported for vivisectional research abroad in conditions which would not be tolerated in this country, is utterly abhorrent to me and I hope that the forthcoming legislation will not be a half measure, but will implement in full the recommendations of the Brambell Report.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), I was surprised that there was no direct reference in the Gracious Speech to legislation further to improve the country's social services. I was looking forward, as I have been for the last two or three years, although with ever diminishing hope, I regret to say, to some pension provision for those who are currently in receipt of no pension at all. It is nothing short of a national disgrace that there 67 are tens of thousands of very elderly citizens, none of whom is currently less than 85 years old, who retired prior to the National Insurance Act, 1947 and who, through no fault of their own, are deprived of entitlement to a single penny of State retirement pension merely because of the arbitrary dateline laid down in the 1947 legislation.
It is absolutely monstrous that these senior citizens, who, through frugal living when in employment, were thereby able to set aside a few pounds as a nest egg for retirement, should see their hard-earned savings ravaged by the continual and seemingly uncontrolled rise in the cost of living coupled with the inevitable depreciation in the real value of money. These people have been forgotten. They are completely powerless to cushion themselves against rising prices.
Another unfairness in current social security provision is the arbitrary age limit for widows under 50, a limit which prevents more than 120,000 such ladies from receiving any pension. There can be no social justice in a system which is so rigidly applied. If there were some flexibility in the application and administration of the age level of 50, many widows would get some benefit. The cost of reducing the age qualification from 50 to 45, which would benefit about 60,000 widows, would be about £10 million. Expressed another way, it would cost roughly 1d. on the insurance stamp. Personally, I would like the age restriction to be abolished altogether. That would benefit about 120,000 widows and the cost would be about £20 million.
Bearing in mind the considerable increase in National Insurance contributions which became payable yesterday, I cannot believe that anyone in employment would begrudge 2d. on the weekly insurance stamp if thereby a reasonable pension could be given to those bereft of husband and whom often after many years of full-time housekeeping have been thrown on to the labour market unable to secure employment other than of the most menial kind. Something could and should be done for these unfortunate widows.
I hope that I shall be in order in dealing with my next subject which I sought to raise in last year's debate on the 68 Gracious Speech. It is a matter which is still causing considerable irritation in Northern Ireland. It concerns the growing practice of private issuing houses discriminating in the banks on whose cheques they will accept share applications. In the past year or so, there have been a number of occasions when at the foot of the application form issued by a private issuing house it has been clearly stated that cheques drawn on Northern Ireland banks will not be accepted. The practice of restricting investors in this way is manifestly unfair and has caused understandable and justifiable indignation among Northern Ireland investors. It should be remembered that not only is Ulster economically and politically part and parcel of the United Kingdom, but the Northern Ireland banks are either wholly owned subsidiaries of the "Big Five", or alternatively have banking arrangements with them. A few years ago, it was only once in a blue moon that one encountered a share application with this form of restricting qualification, but it is now developed into a considerable and growing practice. In the last two months, I have seen nine such cases, and there may have been many more.
I hope that some action will be taken to remedy this vicious practice. I know that it falls into a kind of administrative no-man's land between the Board of Trade and the Treasury. I am not saying who should take it up, but I should be only too glad if one or the other would accept and take some interest in the matter. I know that it has been argued that cheques drawn on Northern Ireland banks take considerably longer to be cleared than those drawn in, say, Manchester. I decided to do an exercise on this for myself and I found that cheques which were presented in London, one drawn on a bank in Belfast and one on a bank in Manchester, were both cleared on exactly the same day. More often than not there is at least a week between the closing of the application list and the allotment of shares so that the cheque-clearance time argument is now wholly invalid.
I want finally to refer to that part of the Gracious Speech to which the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) referred. He and I both represent outlying regions of the United Kingdom. As hon. Members well know, for many years 69 Northern Ireland has suffered from a level of unemployment substantially higher than that prevailing in other regions of the United Kingdom. Currently our figure is about 6,000 more than the corresponding figure for last year.
It is often overlooked that not only has Northern Ireland the second highest percentage birthrate of any area of the United Kingdom, but also it has the lowest percentage rate of persons leaving employment on attaining retirement age. This inevitably presents a problem which will get considerably worse, bearing in mind the trends for school leavers and so on which can be projected over the next five or seven years.
Despite the dramatic increases in employment in the Province and the continued attraction of English industrial concerns to our area, we are heavily dependent on branch off-shoots of British companies whose headquarters are often in the Midlands, or in the South-East. While these firms are immensely welcome, a problem arises in times of squeeze and restraint. When a firm has to consider contracting its activities, it is only human nature that it should first consider its branches in the regions and in grant-aided Government built factories, simply because it can do so with less loss to itself than would be the case with factories and branches where more of its own capital was invested. I am not saying that as a complaint or criticism, but simply as a statement of fact the consequences of which cannot be overlooked.
Allied to this is the problem that in times of deflation such as we are now going through the effects of deflationary policy are felt in the outlying regions initially much more slowly than in the Midlands or in the South East, the regions of so-called over-employment, where the effects are much more immediate. I was interested recently to read a speech by a Scottish Member in his constituency when he said that there was a time lag of between six and nine months between the imposition of a squeeze and the percolating of the effect to his part of the country.
I was particularly interested, because the same conclusions have been reached in Northern Ireland. Consequently, the July, 1966, measures did not really bite 70 last winter—there are all the indications that this winter will be appreciably worse, economically, than was the pattern of 12 months ago. It is quite unrealistic to contend, even with the best will in the world, that it is possible to insulate the regions from the full blast of deflation. It is a pity that the regions cannot be so insulated, but it is the case.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) made some fairly critical observations about the Selective Employment Tax and I agree fully with him. I am thinking of the tourist industry, particularly in Northern Ireland, which has been flourishing, developing and expanding at a satisfactory rate in recent years, only now, when it is really going well, to be struck down by the imposition of the S.E.T.
But when all is said and done—and this applies to quite a number of the regions of the United Kingdom where there is a predominance of small companies—these small companies have been hit by the Corporation Tax and by the effects of the squeeze.
They realised many of their hard-earned resources last winter in order to stay in business and in the intervening period there has been no appreciable economic improvement. This year they will have great difficulty in staying in business. During the summer, because of thin order books, they were unable to replenish their depleted reserves in any way. Naturally the onset of winter is viewed with understandable anxiety, particularly in view of the recent increase in Bank Rate.
A recent C.B.I. industrial survey showed that 78 per cent. or 79 per cent. of the firms questioned were no more optimistic about industrial trends than they were four months ago. If that survey had been restricted to Northern Ireland I would venture to suggest that the figure would have been appreciably higher. Lest anyone should think to the contrary, I am not crying wolf, nor do I regard my province as a begger pleading for crumbs from the table of Whitehall.
All I am seeking to do is to detail, unemotionally, and I hope fairly, some of Ulster's economic anxieties which, I believe, are shared by other regions distant from London. My comments are particularly within the framework of paragraph 1, page 2 of the Gracious 71 Speech. The development of the unutilised resources of the regions can make a substantial and positive contribution to the overall national prosperity without in any way imposing economic overheating or causing any inflation of the economy as a whole.
I hope that embodied in the Government's regional policy, if necessary, will be further assistance for the shipbuilding industry. I am thinking particularly of the contracts placed for the two super tankers which Belfast received recently, and which were a tremendous boost to that company. One has to remember that quite a number of shipyards in the United Kingdom are not only builders of ship-hulls but they have engine works allied or connected to them in some way.
Harland and Wolff's Belfast yard combines both these functions. If, for any reason, Harland and Wolff, or any shipyard is required to buy in marine engines, having traditionally been a manufacturer of these, it will be a considerable tragedy for that firm, quite apart from the employment rundown which would be inevitable once the engine workshop floors have less work.
Also there is another point to be borne in mind when considering marine engine builders and that concerns the breakup of design teams which it has very often taken many years to mould into the excellent unit which they now are. Once one allows one's engineering design team to break up an engine works quickly becomes little more than a garage. Should the circumstances arise I hope that the Government will look favourably upon those yards, particularly the Belfast yard, which is concerned with keeping together both its hull construction and design functions.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
My hon. Friend has advocated help for shipyards. Will he join with me in asking for help for shipyards in all parts of the country, whether or not in development areas? I am sure that he will be aware that there are some, not in development areas, which have been savagely discriminated against by this Government's policy.
§ Mr. Pounder
I would certainly go along with my hon. Friend's request. I have been brought up in the shipbuilding 72 industry, having been closely associated with it through family connections, and although my remarks were geared to the development areas, I certainly share his views with regard to the shipbuilding industry in all parts of the country.
In conclusion, on the basis of previous freezes and squeezes, after 18 months of deflation, this country should once again be on the threshold of a period of considerable economic expansion. This does not appear to have happened on this occasion, nor does there appear to be any significant sign of it happening. This has caused anxiety to everyone in Northern Ireland and I believe that the fears of my countrymen are more than amply justified.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
It was interesting to note that two hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have stated, in the case of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), that the Gracious Speech contains very little of legislative content—he called it a vacuous document—while the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) thinks that there will be a great deal of legislation.
Judging by a certain amount of experience, I tend to the view of the hon. Member for Belfast, South. There seems to be a tendency to churn out more and more Statutes. On a mere reading of this document I would not be prepared to hazard a guess as to whether it contains very much legislation or very little in terms of hours of work in this House, but I would have a definite prejudice in favour of the view taken by the hon. Member for Belfast, South, that this will be a rather heavy Session, because the work seems to increase every year.
It will, perhaps, be a wonderful Session too from the point of view of Parliament. There is a great opportunity here for us to set our house in order. We have had certain experiences in procedure recently, and let us hope, we have benefited from them. There is a proposal to deal constitutionally with the other place, and there is a good chance that any proposals that have been made by the Government in this direction will get off on the right foot.
73 There is such a different atmosphere now with regard to discussions in this place about that other place and there really is the hope that some good will come from this, from the point of view of the Constitution and the country—something which will benefit all and be accepted by the great majority of the people.
I want to refer to that statement in the Gracious Speech in which the Government expressed their hope for the early opening of negotiations to provide for Britain's entry into the European Communities. The Government's attitude in the face of the most recent aberration of the President of the French Republic has been wholly admirable. There has been a quiet dignity, no recrimination, at any rate in public, and there has been a persistent expression of the view that the Government must go on with the course that they have set, on the assumption that they will succeed.
I hope that the Government and this House will not lose patience having regard to what has happened and to what has come out of France latterly. The loss of patience by our people is precisely what the President of the French Republic wants. He does not want us in the Communities and will do anything that he can to stop us. Whether he will succeed is quite another story, and I will come back to that in a moment. I am certain that what he wants is that we should lose patience and say: "Stuff your Common Market where you like." If we do, he will gain his end without risking the disruption of the Communities. If we can avoid doing that, I believe that there is every chance that we shall get into the Common Market without too great a delay.
I have been chairman of the Franco-British Parliamentary Relations Committee for some years and I have some experience of the way that views are developing in France. I hope that we shall not blame the French for what has happened. That would be a ghastly mistake. We can blame the President of the French Republic as much as we like. It is well known that he scraped through only by a hair's breadth at the recent elections. It is well known that the Opposition wanted us in, but what is, perhaps, not so well known is that a great many Gaullists want us in, too.
74 We in the Franco-British Parliamentary Relations Committee had our annual conference shortly before the Summer Recess. At that conference, which included members of both French Houses and of virtually all the French parties, there was passed a unanimous resolution hoping that we would get in soon and pledging all the members there to do what they could in their own Parliamentary spheres to see that we did get in. I would hazard the guess that probably a majority in France are in favour of our going in.
It would be a terrible tragedy if we allowed what has happened hitherto to push us into thinking that we are necessarily enemies of the French, and vice versa. That simply is not true. We ought at all costs to avoid the consequences to future Franco-British relations of allowing ourselves to drift into thinking that the French are to blame for what has happened. Do not let us think it, otherwise we shall begin saying things which show that we think it and doing things which may well be disastrous for a long time into the future for Franco-British relations.
As for prospects, I am not a particularly good prophet in anything, least of all in relations between neighbours. Relations between neighbours are always more difficult than relations between distant people, because neighbours are rubbing against each other all the time. Again, however, in the Franco-British Parliamentary Relations Committee we had the advantage—I will not mention names, it would not be fair to him—of close contact with an extremely acute mind who has been very close to the centre of things in Paris for many years. That was only a few months ago.
The person to whom I am referring, who spoke after long thought and with great deliberation, said that in his opinion de Gaulle knew perfectly well that the time had passed when he could keep us out of the European Communities. When pressed—I thought a little harshly—by some of our friends to say, "If that is your belief, when do you think that we will be accepted into the Community", he said, again after long thought and with great deliberation, that he thought that the negotiations proper would begin early next year and that we should be in the Community in September. I am not 75 giving those as my views—I am not qualified to speak—but I pass them on to the House from one who is a most acute thinker and who almost cut one in two, so clear were his thoughts, and who has been extremely close to the centre of things in Paris for a very long time.
There is only one other thing I would like to say concerning the Common Market. If I were opposed to this country being accepted into the European Communities, one thing which I should want to do would be to press the Government as often as possible to say what they would do if we were not accepted. I hope that that will not be done by those of my hon. Friends or those elsewhere who do not want to go into the Community.
That would indeed be a backhand method of opposing our entry, but it is one which a recent episode has highlighted. The headlines in the paper only this morning were that as a result of that recent episode there were unconcealed joy amongst officials of the French Government. Naturally there would be, because that is the most damaging thing we could do, to state what will happen if we are not accepted. People abroad are intelligent enough, just as they are here, to be able to make up their own minds about what is likely to happen if we are not accepted. There is no need to say anything about it now. By all means let us think and plan ahead, but we should say as little as possible about the possibility of failure.
There are immense reserves of good will abroad for us still. We have every right to be proud of this fact even though we may think that we do not always deserve it. Nobody who goes abroad to inter-Parliamentary or any other conferences can have failed to recognise that whenever reasonableness is wanted, whenever fairness is needed or whenever know-how is required about how to make Parliamentary democracy work, it is to the British that vast numbers of people abroad turn.
We have absolutely nothing to fear in driving ahead to press on our claim to be part of Europe and to help Europe, nothing at all in the way of contradiction to fear when we claim that we can strengthen Europe. There are far too many Western Europeans who know this 76 is true to make it an unprofitable exercise on our part to go ahead. That has been my experience in a small way in such bodies as the Inter-Parliamentary Union, where I have seen this happen again and again and where it is to the British delegation that so many people turn, not only in Western Europe, although certainly in Western Europe. It is those experiences which lead me to believe that we have a rosy future in Europe, and I hope that the Government will persist in seeing that we are in Europe as soon as possible.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
The whole House will have listened to the thoughtful speech of the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) and I am sure we all hope that the conclusions he has drawn are right. I have no doubt that the sooner we can get into the Common Market the greater will be the industrial expansion in this country in the years to come.
I wish to speak briefly on some of the aspects in the Gracious Speech which affect Scotland and to note some of the omissions which are obvious to those who come from Scotland. The points which are of the greatest importance in the Queen's Speech should come within themeasures … to stimulate economic advance in the development areas and to promote a more even distribution of employment in all regions, as a means to national expansion".That is the most important matter in Scotland, where we are running a high rate of unemployment and the outlook for the coming winter does not seem to be good.
The Prime Minister touched upon the additional problem of colliery closures, to which I will come presently.
I am glad that the Gracious Speech contains a reference to legislation for the social work service and, indeed, to cover the Kilbrandon Report. Important work was done by that Committee. I think it would be most valuable to the House if we could have the debate on the whole theme of social work before the Bill is introduced. There is such a conflict of opinion in Scotland at this moment between social work officers and probation officers on one hand and, on the other, the local authorities; they are all at some odds as to what would be the best plan for implementing what is a very desirable Report. I do hope the House will 77 have an opportunity to discuss this before the Bill is drafted. Otherwise we shall end up with a most complicated Measure and see a repetition of the unedifying position of the Government in being too stubborn ever to change their Bills, despite sometimes very strong pressure in the Scottish Committee.
I do, too, view with grave concern the announcement of a Bill to reorganise the transport industry. Scotland is different from other parts of the United Kingdom in that we have vast distances to cover in our homeland. I hope that the suggestion which has been noted in the Press about C licences and a 100 mile limit of range is not to be brought in a Bill to this House, because it would have serious repercussions on transport in Scotland, which is already seriously handicapped by the high cost of fuel, both petrol and diesel.
I also view with concern the suggestion at this stage before a Bill has been published, that uneconomic railway lines, though socially desirable, will be kept open. The cost of this is, of course, the crux of the matter. If it were to fall on the local authorities I would view that with great concern. It would be something that I think they could not carry.
In general, the paucity of legislation proposed in the Queen's Speech for Scotland is singularly depressing. It is very much in keeping with the Government's performance in that country over the last few years.
It is no argument to say that Scotland has been hit less by the economic measures of July, 1966, because there is really no need for any part of the United Kingdom to be hit more or less than any other, and there is no reason why any area should be hit at all, if the economic policies of the Government are right. We are constantly told about jobs in the pipeline, of huge areas of factory space which have been provided; we constantly have announcements about advance factories, and how they have been built. If this is so, why do we continue to have high—far too high—unemployment in Scotland? It is something which no Scottish Member of the House is prepared to tolerate for very much longer. Where, indeed, are the promises of the Socialist candidates at the last election about high 78 employment and prosperity? No one living in Scotland can see that in the country at the moment.
§ Mr. N. R. Wylie (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
Would my hon. Friend not agree that the figures of unemployment in Scotland would be very much higher if it had not been for the high level of emigration going on for the last two or three years?
§ Mr. Monro
Yes, indeed. We know that the figures published last year were the highest recorded, well over 40,000. That was something of which all of us felt ashamed. This month we had the much-heralded visit of the Prime Minister, who came up and had a very quick tour of some of the areas with high unemployment. We expected to have some constructive announcement at the end of his visit. All that apparently was offered was an expansion for planting of £3.3 million by the Forestry Commission over the next nine years, and some money made available to local authorities to spend on roads and other urgent works throughout the winter. Scotland expected more than this visit has so far yielded.
The Prime Minister, as my hon. and learned Friend said, spoke of unemployment, a figure of 83,700 in October, which was one which caused us all grave alarm, particularly when we bear in mind that it was 48 per cent. higher than the figure 12 months before, in October, 1966. Yet the Prime Minister had the effrontery to come to Scotland and to say that, seasonally adjusted, this figure was down on that of the previous month.
§ Mr. Buchan
It is not a question of many people believing this or not. It was the case that for two months, seasonally adjusted, the figure had come down. The hon. Member may also take into consideration the general satisfaction with the visit which was expressed by the Scottish T.U.C.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to make a speech later on in the debate and try to refute some of the statements made by the Prime Minister in Scotland.
The point I want to come to now is that of pit closures. This, of course, is a very serious problem indeed, not only in Scotland but in other parts of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister announced that there would be no closures before Christmas. This, of course, was an obvious fact, because from the time a closure is decided upon it takes rather over three months to close the pit, and so, judging by the normal stages of closure, the indications were that the pits could not be closed before January in any case. But what has happened since? After all, these pits will close in the early part of the year, and certainly before March. What is happening? This is, I think, the most critical thing in Scotland at the moment. How are those miners who are to lose their jobs between now and the end of March, perhaps earlier, to have an opportunity of other employment in time for the final closing of their pits? Nothing is happening that is visible to the public in Scotland, nothing which indicates that this problem will be solved in time.
There are special areas, and ones for which some special sympathy should be given, such as that of the Michael Colliery in Fife which has run into exceptional difficulty following the tragic fire recently. I think Scotland will join in expecting that the Government should make a maximum effort in that direction, and I believe they are, but there are other collieries which, as I say, under the normal closure procedure, will finish before 31st March.
I want a very extra effort made by the Government in my own constituency, at Fauldhead where there are 750 men employed, or 66 per cent. of the male employees in the district. If that pit closes it will be a terrible disaster, as all can 80 see, to that area of Dumfriesshire. The only quick solution to the problem that I can see—although the advance factories have been built, they are lying empty—is for the Government to try and instil confidence into the economy and make it buoyant once more. The only way of getting quick expansion into these areas is through private industry. We cannot direct industry there. Industrialists must have an incentive, and the best one is for them to see a buoyant economy and the certainty that all will go well in the years ahead.
We have seen with concern the Press releases from the C.B.I. We noted in the June statement that it hoped that the setback of the Measures of July, 1966, were coming to an end. However, its October statement indicated that its expectation had disappeared. The new orders which were expected had not come through as quickly as had been hoped, indicating that measures to reflate the economy should be taken as soon as possible. Throughout the South of Scotland, the Borders and in Dumfriesshire, which form the heart of the woollen and knitwear industry, short-time has been worked for the first time for many years because of the lack of orders. There again, some stimulation of the economy is essential. There is worry. too, that the capital goods industries are less optimistic than the consumer goods industries. Machine tools, which are the most sensitive barometer, are having a pretty lean time.
The Government should help capital investment, which is so important, by reinstating free depreciation. They should consider incentives to industry to go to the old development districts—these areas of colliery closures. We know that the whole of Scotland bar Edinburgh is a development area, as are the North of England, parts of Wales and the South-West. That means that industry can choose any area and get the same grant and incentive. However, I feel that the old areas, with fewer amenities and other difficulties such as long haulage routes, should now have some extra incentive on the lines of those given to the old development districts. That would narrow the field considerably.
The Government have spoken many times of what they intend to do for Scotland, but where are the great projects 81 which the Conservatives brought to Scotland, such as B.M.C., Rootes, the pulp mill and major features like the Forth and Tay bridges? Hon. Members opposite, quite rightly, have been to see the Secretary of State for Scotland in order to impress upon him how essential it is for the new aluminium smelter to come to Scotland. We on this side of the House feel it equally strongly, but we should have thought that it was of such paramount importance to the Secretary of State to win the smelter for Scotland that it was not necessary for us to waste his time by going to see him. If he does not win the smelter, he knows the views which the whole of Scotland will hold about the efforts of his Government.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I would not like my hon. Friend to become too obsessed with Scottish views on this matter, because the Tyne and the North of England also want the smelter.
§ Mr. Monro
That is the one advantage in this whole story, because there are two smelters in the pipeline—one for Scotland and one for the North-East. We are certain that they will bring immense benefit to both countries.
When the Secretary of State is considering Scotland, I hope that he will bear in mind the position of all areas in Scotland and give them a fair chance. There are areas in the South-West such as Stranraer where the unemployment rate is just as high as it is in the Highlands and where the smelter would be of equal value.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that, in the event of the smelter being placed in Cumberland, that would meet the wishes of his constituents?
§ Mr. Monro
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) is quite right, and I should be delighted, but I also know that a deep water harbour is necessary, and I cannot claim that such facilities exist in the Solway. In addition, I am speaking for the whole of Scotland and not only on behalf of my constituents.
We all want to be optimistic about the coming winter. On the evidence before us, it is very difficult. We cannot bet on a hunch, least of all on the false pro- 82 mises which we sometimes hear. In their three years of office, the Government have failed Scotland. The sooner that they take action, the better. The important point to bear in mind is that we want jobs for our Scottish unemployed now. It is no good saying that they are in the pipeline.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I know that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) will forgive me if I do not follow him into Scotland. This is a wide-ranging debate where everything is in order. If it is in the Gracious Speech, we can talk about it. If it is not in the Speech, we can say why it should be.
In the main, I intend to talk about consumer protection. Before I come to that, however, I wish to refer to some earlier remarks about our entry into the Common Market, particularly the point made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he said that, irrespective of day-to-day setbacks, we shall continuously pursue negotiations to enter the Common Market. I hope that "continuously" does not mean "eternally." In my experience, the only time when pursuit without consummation is acceptable is during adolescence. Britain is a grownup nation.
May I touch on a point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)? I respect him very much because, as my Chairman when I was on the I.P.U. Executive, I came to realise that he is second to none in the House in his knowledge of international matters. However, to blame de Gaulle as being the only factor in the attitude of France is excessive. There are real reasons, economic and otherwise, why the French nation wishes to keep us out, just as there are valid reasons within France of others who wish to have us in. In the same way, there are real reasons in the House why some hon. Members are anxious for us to go in and which others feel should make us stay out.
At some future time, I should like to take up my hon. Friend's challenge about what we do if we do not go in. It is not the only possible economic solution. As a wider European, I hope that we shall pursue a number of possibilities with a view to improving social and economic ties throughout the 28 countries in 83 Europe. Especially at a time when penetration by Japan into the Commonwealth is reaching the level that it is, we should increase our exports of industrial goods to Commonwealth countries. There is a market in India of 500 million people which will become more and more important in the next thirty years. In Pakistan, the market potential is represented by 100 million people. Both countries are as yet under-developed, but in future years they will require transport in all forms, including cars, lorries and buses, machine tools and other manufactures which this country can supply. These are the markets which we should not be prepared to let slip through our fingers while we pursue the possibility of going somewhere else. It would be on all fours with the adolescent who sees his first blonde and thinks that she is the only girl for him. There are always others and I have previously stated in the House why I am against this choice.
As I said in opening, my main purpose is to talk about consumer protection. I for one am delighted that, after three years, the consumer is receiving some attention in the Gracious Speech and for the first time we can see the likelihood of legislation reaching the Statute Book. This has been a neglected sector of our economy. In 1964, a Bill was introduced in Parliament. Unfortunately, it fell to the ground for lack of Parliamentary Lime. The last Queen's Speech contained nothing about introducing Measures to protect consumers, and I am, therefore, delighted that after three years something is to be done to help them, and we must remember that in practical terms it is the housewife who is the main consumer.
There is no real "lobby", or strong pressure group to act on her behalf, though I recall there was a certain amount of pressure in 1951 for purely political purposes. When it comes to deciding on policy for the country's economy, a good deal of attention is paid to productivity, incomes and especially wages catch the headlines, but prices fail to attract much notice. The essential part of the Government's prices, incomes and productivity policy must start with prices, because if these can be contained the rest of the pattern can be fitted in to what is needed by the country.
84 The legislation referred to in the Gracious Speech will deal not so much with the price of commodities, but with the value that one gets for the money one pays out. I am delighted—because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) I read The Guardian on Saturday morning—to see it foreshadowed that this Bill to protect consumers will deal not only with goods, but with services, because it is here that a good deal of protection is needed.
To illustrate my point, let us consider the average car owner who takes his car to be serviced. The servicing of most cars is done on the basis of surrendering coupons, each of which sets out the work to be done, but what protection has the car owner that all the items set out on the coupons have in fact been dealt with? If he finds that, out of 10 items listed, one has not been dealt with, what confidence can he have that the other nine have been properly attended to?
A constituent of mine bought a new car. He ran it in according to the maker's instructions, and had it serviced at the stipulated mileages, but when he had done less than 10,000 miles he found that we was involved in an additional expenditure of £17 for new brakes, yet this item, which is basic to safety, should have been attended to in the ordinary course of servicing.
I hope that in the Measure to which I have been referring the question of services will be very much to the fore. I hope that we will consider not only the size of the packs containing the goods, but whether people are adequately covered when, for instance, a television set goes out of order. I hope we will ensure that they are able to get the right kind of service. It is not sufficient to provide merely legal protection. The Consumer Council, and the Consumers' Association, through "Which?", do a marvellous job, but we must go further to ensure that consumers have the kind of information, supporting facilities and protection to which I think they are entitled.
We have all come up against the problems encountered by people who book holidays with travel agents. Nowadays people have to book their next year's holiday before Christmas of the previous year. They are offered marvellous package deals, but what protection have they 85 that they will get the kind of holiday they are offered? They are told that they can look forward to a marvellous holiday under the sun, with swaying palm trees, and golden beaches, but how often do we hear of people having to spend their holidays in third-rate hotels and eat poor quality food?
I hope that the Measure will also deal with the problem of electricity charges for tenants in multi-occupied houses. This is an acute problem in my constituency. If there is one family upstairs and another downstairs, with the meter on the ground floor, quite often the person upstairs is charged at a rate different from that laid down by the Electricity Board. Quite often the middle man, as it were, exploits the tenant upstairs, and I hope that this problem will be dealt with by the Bill.
I understand that the Bill will deal with the problems arising from the false descriptions of goods. When someone is trying to sell an article, he explains its attractions in glowing terms. It is only rarely that I watch television, because, like most hon. Members, when there is a good programme on we are in the House of Commons, and when we are at home it seems that there is nothing worth looking at, but when I do watch the commercial programme I often see a stream of advertisements which almost convince me that many advantages will accrue to me if only I purchase this or that article. I know that there is a code of advertising, but there is no way in which the consumer can really be protected by it because there are few real sanctions against those who break it.
I hope, too, that the consumer will be protected against the persuasiveness of a good salesman who explains the value of what he is trying to sell with such fluency—at times one is reminded of the vocabulary of a turn on the old-time music halls—that at the end of the day one is convinced that the article he is trying to sell will give satisfaction, only to find, having bought it, that it will not.
I have a particular interest in protecting those who buy hearing aids, and I regret that the Government do not intend to bring in a Measure similar to the one which introduced last Session. Old people, in particular, are vulnerable to high pressure salesmanship. Every deaf 86 person wants to hear, and this makes him particularly vulnerable to what I might almost call the wicked advertisements in the newspapers which tell people that they are not really deaf. They might just as well say that a person is not really blind, and provided he has a white stick he will be all right. Some fantastic claims are made for these hearing aids. I do not think that the Measure referred to in the Gracious Speech will deal with this problem but I hope that if I get another chance to introduce a Bill similar to my previous one the Government will back it.
We are all users of transport, gas, and electricity. The Labour Governments of 1945 to 1951 wisely said that people who used these services should participate in the running of them. As a result, the Government set up the transport users' consultative committees, and gas and electricity committees, which gave us the feeling that the consumer had a voice in what was being done. Unfortunately, the form was there, but very little substance. It is one thing to have the ability to do something it is another to have the capability to do it.
I hope that the Government will ensure that people who are asked to take part in the committees for the provision of goods and services get over the feeling that all they have to do is to attend a consultative committee meeting once every three months and have their names on the appropriate notepaper. I believe that democracy fails by default when one has the form, but not the substance. People who are called in for consultation must be given the power to take action when they consider it necessary.
The Gracious Speech foreshadows legislation to protect consumers of medicines. I am delighted that the promises made by the Labour Party when in opposition are to be fulfilled, and that the Dunlop Committee is to be given some teeth. There must be a proper investigation into the distribution of medicines, and into safeguards against the possible side-effects of new drugs.
This legislation is bound to be complicated, but I hope that it will contain sufficient of the Sainsbury Committee's recommendations to safeguard the State as a consumer. The Sainsbury Committee's recommendations would save the State a 87 considerable sum of money, and enable more satisfactory arrangements to be made for the purchase of medicines not only for people in hospitals but also for those being treated by general practitioners.
I presume that the major consumer protection Bill will contain proposals to lay down that each commodity should be described with a standard price of each article according to the unit of weight. I can never understand why it is not possible to have packets of biscuits all weighing 8 ounces instead of odd amounts like 6¼ ounces and 5¾ ounces. I have in my constituency a well-known firm of biscuit makers—McVitie and Price—and every one of their packets is 8 ounces, no more and no less. If McVitie and Price can do this I cannot see why other manufacturers cannot. These matters never make headline news, but the young housewife who goes shopping on Friday or Saturday needs some help to ensure that she does not buy a large packet with a small quantity in it.
Allied to this legislation I hope that there will be Government support for the strengthening of the powers of consumer officers in local authorities. I was distressed to find that Liverpool, who had made a first-class appointment in this respect, decided to abolish the department, which was giving advice to consumers in Liverpool. In my Borough of Brent we have appointed such a consumers' officer. The weights and measures department, which has the major responsibility in these matters, does not have a large enough staff and cannot adequately deal with all the local complaints. These complaints can be dealt with more effectively at the local level than through a Member of Parliament. I hope that, following the legislation, an attempt will be made to strengthen local activity on behalf of consumers, to ensure a square deal for the housewife.
At one time in our economic studies we were told that the consumer was sovereign, because the law of supply and demand meant that whatever the consumer said eventually decided the market production. For a long time, however, this has not been true. We are brainwashed, organised, and subjected to advertising techniques. Group demands are isolated and tabulated. I hope that now we shall also be consumer protected.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
I admit to a feeling of disappointment with the general content of the Queen's Speech. What is the Government's world aim for this country? I do not believe that they have one and in the belief that activity prevents their supporters from thinking, they have produced a very large programme of valueless legislation. That is the reason for the two points of view that have already been expressed about the Speech—one that there is nothing in it and the other that there is a great deal in it.
Both points of view are accurate. There is a great deal in the Speech, but nothing of any great importance, or anything which contains any stimulation for the country's economic performance. I deplore this lack of aim on the part of the Government beyond the aim of paying our debts. I deplore the drift that arises from that lack of aim. My verdict on the Speech is that a Government which have failed are continuing to pursue failure. Their opportunity is to present an example, but their practice is to continue to seize control.
I take as an example the proposed Measure for industrial expansion. The Prime Minister made a great play with what he called ideological preoccupations against the Measure among hon. Members on this side of the House. In the course of this, he made it plain that he and his Government had become suddenly seized of the values and advantages of turning themselves into a merchant bank. My reaction is that if the right hon. Gentleman feels that a merchant bank has such a valuable function he is welcome to join one.
Ordinary people in Britain now are past the stage of thinking that what the Government are doing is for their good and that, therefore, the Government can be trusted to use their powers wisely. What guarantee shall we have that a Government which must soon begin to blush at their demands on the people's purses by way of increased taxation are not beginning to look round for easier and more popular ways of finding their spending money and are finding it—like any other collection of men pushed for cash—in a lucrative and well-run concern into which, with the powers they can give themselves 89 by legislation, they can buy their way until they control its operations?
The wording in which this projected legislation is couched could hardly sound more innocuous—the extension of the Government'spowers to assist financially in the modernisation and technological advance of industry and in the expansion of its capacity".It is very reasonable. The argument that this legislation is essential if aluminium smelters are to be established makes it even more reasonable. But I do not believe that the fact that the Government must be enabled to buy a controlling share in any industry is a necessary prerequisite for the establishment of an aluminium smelter. That has never been so in any large industrial operation in the past.
I still believe that control alone is the purpose of these proposals—control for the sake of control. This impression is enhanced by the proposals on transport, which particularly affect Scotland, with its greater distances to contend with. Exactly what these proposals are is still unknown, butthe better integration of rail and road transport within a reorganised framework of public controlspeaks for itself. I hope that it will be resisted.
There is also talk about road hauliers being held down to a range of 100 miles. This will ruin them, and it may ruin Scotland. The Government may know that a considerable mileage of railway line in Scotland has already been closed and that much of what remains is not always distinguished for its efficiency or for the consistency of its working operation. The one thing that has saved the fish trade in my part of the world—and it is a very important trade there—from recent strikes has been the ability of road transport to organise an alternative service and to send the fish south by road. If that goes not only will the fish trade run the danger of not being able to move its fish; there will be no competition and prices are bound to rise.
For Scotland, to whom distance is one of the g-eat hurdles in the development of our economy, these proposals arouse dismay. It is no good producing pious phrases about stimulating economic advance in the development areas if, at the same time, we are making it im- 90 possible for industry in those areas to compete.
It is exactly the same mistake that the Government made in the case of the Selective Employment Tax. The setting up of the Highlands Development Board on the one hand and the introduction of the Selective Employment Tax on the other was actually worse than robbing Peter to pay Paul. Incidentally, considering the winter that lies before our country, it is incredible that the Government should not have included in the Gracious Speech a proposal to abolish the Selective Employment Tax in Scotland.
Scotland asks for no more than a chance to make her way. At the moment, she asks in vain, and there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to give her consolation.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Will Owen (Morpeth)
I am surprised that in their speeches so far hon. Members opposite have made observations concerning the limitations in the legislation proposed for next Session. Members who have served in the House for many years must have realised that the content of the Gracious Speech has inevitably meant that the Parliamentary pipeline was over-full. We have always been faced with the problem of not having sufficient time to carry through the legislation originally proposed for the Session.
I am hoping that those who are now seeking to examine the proposals submitted will take into account their relevance to the existing economic situation at home and the difficulties that confront us abroad. We should undertake a realistic assessment of the situation and legislate to ensure a modicum of progress when we face the 1967–68 Parliamentary Session.
May I emphasise a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) and join him in welcoming that section of the Gracious Speech which calls attention to the urgency of the need for consumer protection. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon adequately projected the need for that legislation. Three years ago the House endorsed the principle, and then the lack of Parliamentary time frustrated the achievement. Some years before 1964 the Co-operative Party put on record the idea of the establishment of a Ministry of 91 Consumer Welfare. That, we felt, in those days, to be necessary and desirable.
I hoped that we should find in the Gracious Speech an acceptance of that idea in recognition of the fact that the consumer in Britain at this stage merits top priority. In this way a Ministry might be established to undertake the examination of the multitude of problems mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West and known, I am sure, to almost every hon. Member. There is an urgent need not only to control prices, but to assess the quality of the goods offered to the consumer and to frustrate the fraudulent developments which creep into business practice. I therefore hope that when the Bill is presented it will deal effectively with the issues which directly affect the consumer these days.
My main purpose in speaking today is that of other hon. Members from the development areas who have already directed the attention of the House to the need for a fuel and power policy. I am concerned that there is no reference in the Gracious Speech to Government intentions concerning legislation for a fuel and power policy for this country. In the mining community we have been told that this matter is receiving urgent attention.
In reply to a Question last week, the Minister concerned assured me that the matter would be dealt with next Session—which is this Session. I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends at the Ministry of Economic Affairs will be in a position before the end of the debate to assure us that serious consideration has been given to this matter and that legislation will be forthcoming to deal with it urgently. If not, I respectfully warn them, they will lose the reservoir of good will which abounds within the mining communities of Britain, which has been built up over many years and particularly over the past three years in an expectation that some measures would be introduced to safeguard the position of coal in the changing pattern of the economy as we move into the later years of the twentieth century.
I assure the House that the mining communities are not striving to continue to work in the bowels of the earth, but they wish to have an assurance that, as 92 their industry declines, there will emerge in those localities alternative fields of employment for them. Is that unreasonable? These men have rendered first-class service over a lifetime. When we speak of prices, incomes and productivity, we should remember that those who have toiled below ground have demonstrated their acceptance of our plea. They have produced a greater output per man in the mining industry than in any other comparable industry in our economy. They have, therefore, earned the right for some consideration by the House and by our Government in the existing circumstances.
I know that my hon. Friend, the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), who is with us today, together with the Prime Minister, visited the north-eastern area and that they are probably familiar with the difficulties, with the projects and with the feeling of the people there. When we were faced with pit closures in the early part of September, the Prime Minister made a dramatic statement, "Stop the pit closures." But for how long? For three months, to take us over the unpleasant implication of unemployment during the Christmas festivities.
But to stop pit closures for three months is not the solution to our problems. In my area, Newbiggin Colliery was due to be closed. It will continue for three months. In Ashington Colliery, 600 workers were due to receive their notice. They have a reprieve for three months. Do hon. Members realise what is happening in the homes of those people? There is anxiety, fear and a lack of understanding about what is to happen at the expiration of three months. Do hon. Members realise that until we have an assurance—and this is the assurance for which we have a right to ask—that while the pit closures proceed we shall gear the slow-down of the mining industry side by side with the emergence of alternative sources and centres of employment, we shall not be satisfied.
I am grateful to the Board of Trade in that over recent years they have worked, for instance, in establishing advance factories in the South-East Northumberland coalfield area. That is very welcome. But an advance factory represents a small unit of production which tends to employ more female than male labour and therefore does not help 93 us out of our difficulties. That is why I plead with my hon. and right hon. Friends in the Ministry of Economic Affairs that they should look at the position more realistically in terms of phasing the decline of the basic industry together with the development and the encouragement of more effective growth industries in our area.
There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who understand the problems from Tyneside to Whitehaven, from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea to Berwick-on-Tweed. There we have a vast reservoir of social capital expressed in terms of schools, of hospitals and of roads, and in terms of industry, commerce and productive units. That vast area is seriously concerned about its future.
The county council has spent considerable sums on the development of new towns—an imaginative twentieth century project. Now, in those new towns, we are struggling to attract industry. The basic industries of coal mining, shipbuilding and other heavy industries are declining and with them our rateable values are also declining. Where will we get the resources to undertake even the elementary services which those areas will need in the years ahead?
The county council is an enterprising educational authority. It has developed first-class new schools, new educational facilities and opportunities, but we still have serious problems with older schools which need to be changed in terms of an expanding education policy. Can this work be undertaken with a declining economic base and no prospect of a reservoir of rate services which will enable us to plan ahead? This is the main problem which concerns us when we read of the appointment of a Minister with special responsibilities.
I wish my friend the Minister with special responsibilities all the good services, facilities and opportunities that he can command to fulfil his basic job, but I hope that he will not once again simply make a statistical inquiry and a reassessment of our area and consult this or that body. We have been doing this for ten years and we know the problem; what we now want is some action, some co-ordination of the various Ministries for the development of basic, new, expanding industries in our areas.
94 I say this with respect to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon). We have been told that if private enterprise does not succeed or does not accept the facilities, the invitations and the opportunities to enter our area, public enterprise will go in. I have pleaded with the respective Ministries, as I know have others who have led delegations there, and we have heard of their efforts to induce private industry there, but it has not come in. There is an advance factory in my area, 25,000 sq. ft. standing idle for months. This is social capital and no one is coming to occupy it. This is a scandal, because this is the people's wealth and money which is not being used as we are seeking to use it in a new and dynamic technological age.
If private enterprise cannot do it, with the many inducements which it has been given, public enterprise must come in to provide an economic base. I see the decline of that basic mining industry and look at the notices which have been given and then see the shifting of the labour force from one side of Northumberland to another. We are told, "The N.C.B. will absorb you; we regret closing that colliery, but you will be absorbed in another, although not those of 60 and over". We now have an army of men aged 60 and over, who one week would be earning £15 and £18 on the basis of which they have undertaken family commitments, but who the next week will be unemployed, with a considerable drop in their earnings. We should register that in terms of human anguish and anxiety in those people's homes as a measure of social progress.
How far are we contributing to the increasing happiness of the people? We are not doing it unless we accept the responsibility for those who have made their contribution and are now on the industrial scrapheap. I make this plea: if we cannot employ them at 60, then the Minister of Social Security must have another look at the responsibilities which knock at her door and she must be willing now to increase these people's income so that they do not jump from one status of living dramatically to another.
The House has some responsibility for the development areas and this Government's acceptance of a social philosophy for which I have spent a whole lifetime 95 of service means that they have a special responsibility to areas in the Northern group, in Scotland and in Ireland. I hope that, from the legislation proposed in this Gracious Speech, there will emerge a real contribution, which will assure us of security and welfare and a future for our people.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
Listening, as I have often done, to Gracious Speeches, I find it a problem to choose what portions I shall deal with when it is discussed in the House of Commons, and there is no difference in that respect between this Gracious Speech and those of the past. It is difficult to know which path to follow, but I have greatly appreciated hearing the speeches of the hon. Members for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) and Morpeth (Mr. Will Owen), because we are all in this together in the northern area.
I should like to deal, first, with the Gracious Speech as it relates to our possible entry into the Common Market. I am not in the habit of walking out with either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, but, like most hon. Members, I have my own grapevine and I listened with great interest to the Prime Minister's attempt to denigrate part of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition about our entry. The information has come to me through my grapevine, which is linked with the Secretariat of the E.E.C., that it would be unwise, on this occasion, to blame General de Gaulle entirely for the present debâcle.
This is a view held by the Secretariat, because, it has been explained to me, when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made their fascinating tour of the European capitals earlier this year, the Prime Minister, with his great powers of talking, and talking without meaning anything, talked a great deal without concentrating on what is absolutely essential to those in the Community—persuading those countries that we are serious about ensuring that our economy is stable, that sterling is stable and that our balance of payments will be put right. This is the considered opinion of those in Europe who look at the scene as officials and not as politicians.
I therefore took great exception to the way in which the Prime Minister de- 96 veloped his argument this afternoon, for he seemed to think that he and the Foreign Secretary had completely convinced everybody in Europe about our determination to put our economy in order. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he has a great deal more satisfying to do in Europe and that he had better get on with doing that instead of concentrating entirely on the awkward situation which has arisen through General de Gaulle's comments and the French view. I have made these remarks because I wanted to reinforce what was said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the failure of the Socialist Government in our negotiations to enter Europe.
I have recently returned from my second visit to New Zealand. The House will be aware that the New Zealand economy is going through a difficult time at present. As we know, both the present Government in Britain and earlier Conservative Governments gave firm pledges to New Zealand that when negotiations started for our entry into the E.E.C. —I understand that these have been accepted in Europe—we would produce special terms to meet the difficult position in which New Zealand would find itself.
The time has come when hon. Members should be given an indication of how these pledges will be kept when the negotiations start, as I am sure they will. The New Zealanders accepted those pledges in the right spirit and have been generous in their understanding of our position. It would be in their interest, as well as ours, if we were given an indication of the special terms that we have in mind.
Most countries are sick and tired of talk and more talk. They want some of the pledges that have been given and the talk that has emanated about those pledges to be given meat. They want those pledges put into specific terms so they can take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that their economies will be adequately and properly linked to what will be involved in our entry into Europe. I appeal to the Government to look at the position of New Zealand and to ensure that the pledges that have been made will be put into effect.
The hon. Member for Morpeth and the hon. Member for Blaydon were correct in referring to the Prime Minister's visit to the North-East. The right hon. Gentleman made a dash to Newcastle for a short 97 visit and stunned everybody by appointing the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to act as a special Minister in this matter. Because I always hope, even in the face of tremendous inefficiency on the part of the present Government, I had hoped that something would arise as a result of the Prime Minister's action. I certainly hoped that, when he appointed the Chancellor of the Duchy, we would be able to address questions to that Minister on the remit which he appeared to be given at the time of his appointment.
We are able to address questions on any matter referring to Scotland to the Secretary of State for Scotland. We can address any question about Wales to the Secretary, of State for Wales. Northern Ireland has its own way of making its representations. But we in the northern area have a Minister who is dumb. He cannot answer Questions in the House. Any Question we wish to ask must be put down to the appropriate Departmental Minister. The view of many people on the North-East Coast is that the appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy was one of the Prime Minister's gimmicks—one of those gimmicks he is keen on producing at the psychologically right moment.
As the hon. Member for Morpeth said, the Chancellor of the Duchy has been visiting the North-East Coast, making a round tour. He need not make that journey. I could ask him about specific matters affecting the North-East and a number of vital questions affecting the interests of the North-East to which we have not been given answers. He need not study these matters again. Evidence about them is continually being produced by hon. Members on both sides. There have been deputations, arguments and conferences on these issues and it is time that these important questions were answered. Instead of rushing around the North of England, studying things which dozens of people have already studied and about which the facts are known. t would be more to the advantage of those who live in the North-East if the Chancellor of the Duchy would go to the respective Government Departments and get the answers to the questions we have been asking.
While I agreed with most of the speech of the hon. Member for Morpeth, I could 98 not agree with him when he said that if we were not to have private enterprise entering the northern region, we should have public ownership. He must be aware that one of the great anxieties of the northern area is the future of the Consett Iron Company, which is now nationalised and which comes under the British Iron and Steel Corporation. We are still unable to get a satisfactory answer about the future of the Consett Iron Co.
Consett is not even a small area. It is an important, modern, up-to-date iron and steel working area and the Consett Iron Company employs about 7,000 men. Rather than being a new town, it is an old-established town built out of private enterprise with the co-operation of the steel workers, their unions and employers. We are getting towards the end of 1967. What will happen to the Consett Iron Company? We hope that things will turn out all right for it, but for a long time we have been anxious about its future; whether the Corporation would maintain the company in full operation and similar questions.
It does not help our position and problems on the North-East Coast to have the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster visiting the area and asking for information which has already been supplied for many years. We now want the answers. I cannot even ask the Chancellor of the Duchy if he has visited the Consett Iron Company, whether he will see the Chairman of the Corporation, Lord Melchett, and whether he will force an answer from the Government on this issue. After all, the right hon. Gentleman is not even in the Cabinet.
What is to happen to the Port of the Tyne? When I asked the Minister of Transport what proposals she had for the future protection of the Tyne and the workers on Tyneside she said that no proposals had been put before her. But the Port of the Tyne cannot make any proposals, and until we know what is to happen to the Consett Iron Company nobody can move forward on this issue. The new port authority could certainly make progress with a new deepwater berth if it had permission to get on with it, but the work is held up by lack of a decision about the Consett Iron Company by the new nationalised board which now runs the iron and steel industry.
99 I have a very uncomfortable feeling that the Government now intend to concentrate on Teesside to the detriment of Tyneside. It is no part of my purpose to argue against the development of Teesside—we all know what we owe to it and the magnificent work that it has done, and we wish it well and hope that it will go from strength to strength—but I would object to the Government developing Teesside at the expense of Tyneside. Everything that has happened lately, such as the amalgamation of what was the old London and North-Eastern Railway with the Eastern Railway, and the moving of the centre from Newcastle to York, is against Tyneside.
We have had conferences on the subject. Tyneside can develop as an enormous new developing port in the new concept of regional government, but until we get a decision on the Consett Iron Company no one can move forward. This is a great blot on the Government's policy—and I do not care two hoots for the Prime Minister's chatter, chatter, chatter, because his great asset in political life is that he has so much to say that he can talk himself out of anything and no one knows what he is talking about or what he means.
Again, we suddenly have the announcement from the new nationalised board that the price of steel to ship builders is to be increased. This seems to be a most extraordinary way of helping the industry. I suppose that the hon. Member for Morpeth will argue that if the shipbuilders cannot obtain orders to sustain their shipyards—on the Clyde, the Tyne, Merseyside, or wherever it may be—there is now legislation whereby equity shares in the industry can be acquired by the Government. I would regard that as a move forward towards nationalisation.
If the Government's action is intended to embarrass shipbuilders in their competitive tendering for orders in all parts of the world, they are doing a very bad service to the industry, and to me it does not make sense, in the same way that the Prime Minister does not make sense in any way in our area. This is a very retrograde step.
I want to know what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancashire did, because if he was out to help shipbuilding on Tyneside—and, presumably, on Teesside, also 100 —he should have protested loudly against this increase in the price of steel. Has he made any protest, or is he so busy looking at everything he has not had time to put in a report? I hope in due course to put down a Parliamentary Question in order to find out what the Government have then done about the report which I presume the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will put in after his peregrinations on the North-East Coast.
I want to know what is behind this extraordinary development with regard to the transformer section of C. A. Parsons. I know that the Socialist Government of the day think that they are the only people who represent the trade unions, but I am very glad to say that many trade unionists visit me and other hon. Members. I have a lot of constituents who work in Parsons Marine and who are very anxious about what appears to be the building up of a new company to take over the building of transformers which is at present done by C. A. Parsons. It is said that the work will be moved to Manchester.
These men say that it does not make sense for any Minister to talk about doing something in a development area, giving inducements and encouraging industry to come in if, at the same time, the Government are arranging for an old-established industry in the area to be transferred. I agree with the hon. Member for Morpeth that the mining industry is causing us all a great deal of anxiety, but C. R. Parsons has been one of our standbys and one of our proud industries for more years than many of us can remember. If the Government start breaking it up and taking it from our area to Manchester, then the Prime Minister will have gone mad.
I want an answer on this point. It is quite impossible to wait while the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster fiddles about, because I believe that the decision is now almost imminent. My informants tell me that it is very likely that, whatever the decision, a new company will be formed next month, so we have very little time. I should like to know what, if anything, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said to the Government about this absolutely ridiculous situation.
I am not in the least impressed by what the Gracious Speech had to say about the future of the development 101 areas, nor do I trust the plans of the Prime Minister or anyone else connected with the special areas. These major problems in our part of the world very greatly affect the employment and the human happiness of people working in these industries. There was no need to appoint the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The problems have been standing out a mile all this year, and none of the representations that have been made have produced any results at all. It is about time we knew what is to happen to us and what our future is to be.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
Whatever alterations or additions some of us would have liked to have written into the Gracious Speech I am sure that there is wide agreement on this side at least about some of its contents. For three or four Measures there can be nothing but unqualified approval on this side.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) about the inclusion of legislation for consumer protection. This is long overdue and legislation will, if carefully drafted, confer a great deal of benefit on a great many people for many years to come. It is rather extraordinary that the last time the law governing the sale of goods was revised was as long ago as 1893. We have since had this enormous upsurge of consumer spending and particularly of the growth of hire purchase, though hire purchase, admittedly, is covered to some degree by special legislation. The fact remains that we have not had a proper reorganisation of the law relating to contracts of sale of goods this century. I therefore hope that the legislation envisaged will be really comprehensible and far-reaching.
My hon. Friends and I will all welcome the inclusion of a Bill to strengthen race relations. It must be a strong Bill and it will be a controversial Bill. It may tread on a few corns in some places, but that does not matter. It will be a token of earnestness and will, I suppose, to some extent be a gesture of atonement to some of the more miserable aspects of anti-immigration legislation introduced at various times in the last few years. I shall be watching to see that this Bill 102 really gives all that we who take a particular interest in racial matters would expect.
I also give an unqualified welcome to the proposal to improve the gaming laws. I do not quite know what this actually means. I think it suffices to say that of the many disservices which Mr. Harold Macmillan rendered to this country as Prime Minister, the loosening of the law in regard to gambling was one of the worst. I am no Puritan, but I hope that this law will be tough.
Another piece of legislation to which I look forward with great interest is a transport reorganisation Bill. I do not suppose this will commend itself to hon. Members opposite, but hon. Members on this side of the House believe in a transport policy. I represent a constituency which suffers acutely from lack of co-ordination of its roads and its railways are under-used.
We in Reading look forward especially to a drastic reorganisation of transport. Although our position will be improved when the M.4 is finally through, one of the consequences of the building of motorways—welcome and beneficial as they are—is that they tend to encourage congestion at the points at which feeder roads join them. Reading, being the first major town outside London apart from Slough on the route west, will have several feeder roads. This will have the effect, at least in part, of attracting a great deal of traffic. We shall, therefore, still be faced with a major acute road congestion, albeit perhaps less severe than we have suffered for so long now.
I want to concentrate most of my time on one particular aspect of the Gracious Speech, the reference to the proposed reorganisation of another place. I am intrigued to know why this is included at this stage; not for the reasons some hon. Members opposite seem to think, but for the reason which was succinctly embodied in a remark by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology a few years ago, when he was doing battle to keep his seat in this House. He said, "Let sleeping lords lie." I have never seen any reason why we should do anything to tamper with the other place until and unless the time arrives when we finally have to get rid of it.
It cannot be said that a Measure to reorganise and reform the constitution 103 of the House of Lords will do anything to speed up the actual progress of legislation. Every bit of legislation which goes through one House has to go through the other House. To that extent, although there are marginal advantages in a few more people making a close scrutiny of the text of various Bills, by the fact that we duplicate one another there is little argument in having another Chamber for the purpose of revision.
We have noticed that various Bills, whether they be agreed or disagreed with, are often badly drafted. Much time has to be spent in Standing Committee in putting right blemishes in drafting and eliminating ambiguous phrases. But I cannot see that any drastic reorganisation of the composition of the other place would make any difference to that.
Over the last few years there has been a steady infusion of life peers. I think that it would be generally agreed on both sides of the House that many are people of considerable distinction. Undoubtedly, such people have been able to use their membership of another place to help in the task of scrutinising legislation practically. What I am afraid is that this proposal—although no doubt this is not intended by the Government—may mean an increase in the prestige of the other place because its composition will become, at any rate marginally, less absurd than it is at the moment.
It would have been far better for the Government to have left this matter severely alone until and unless the time comes—as no doubt is bound to happen sooner or later—when the prudent self-control exercised over the last three years by the Conservative majority in the other place at last gives way and they succumb to the temptation of rejecting legislation. If and when that occurred there would be but one answer which would be acceptable to hon. Members on this side of the House—the total abolition of the other place.
I fear that another anomaly may arise out of any kind of piecemeal reform. We are told that the hereditary element is still to be represented in the same rather curious way that is provided for the Scottish peerage at the moment and which used to be provided for the Irish peerage. I cannot see that this would advance us 104 any more towards a democracy. Either an hereditary peerage is ridiculous as most of us on this side agree, or all should participate.
It must be a reasonable inference from the proposals that the Government intend to leave the peerage in existence as a legal entity, indefinitely. I should have thought that if this country is ever to become a democracy in the fullest sense one of the measures necessary is that the whole idea of privileged title should be abolished—not merely that the other Chamber should go, but that when the other Chamber goes the whole of the titles should go with it.
§ Mr. Lee
Yes, that is exactly what I do advocate. I thought that I had made myself quite clear. I also make quite clear that I think there is only one title needed; that is the title of a commoner.
One of the troubles about the Prime Minister's peerage policy over the last three years is that precisely by creating a large number of life peers, although these have marginally improved the quality of legislation in the House of Lords, it has made the institution a little less ridiculous, but it has also added a certain degree of social exclusiveness through the existing hereditary peerages. The best service which Conservatives ever rendered to the dukedom rank was to cease recommending to Her Majesty the creation of further dukes because that gave the existing bearers of the title a scarcity value. The same applies to marquesses, and to some extent to earls although a few of these have been created in recent times.
§ Mr. Lee
I do not know whether it would be in order to do so, but, again, I think that is something which should be left alone. We have many much more important things to do. Whatever we think about the headship of the State, it has a function to perform whereas the hereditary peerage has no function to perform, and it is about time that that nonsense was disposed of.
105 I am inclined to agree that the way that Asquith was very nearly tempted years ago to create a large number of peers should be repeated, because it would be a very good preliminary to final abolition. I believe that the Prime Minister should recommend to Her Majesty the creation of several hundred, or even several thousand, hereditary peers, particularly of the higher ranks, with the intention of ridiculing the thing out of credible existence and then of abolishing it.
I turn now to the industrial expansion legislation, which will obviously be the most controversial legislation of all. It is distressing to hon. Members opposite, but we on this side expect Socialist legislation from a Socialist Government. Some of us are not always as pleased with what we get as we might be. Therefore, if it is indeed to be back-door nationalisation some of my hon. Friends and myself will welcome it most heartily. What I fear about this legislation is what I fear about the legislation concerning the House of Lords, namely, that it will be another half-measure and that what will happen is, just as the other place is to be propped up inadvertently by half reform, so private enterprise will be propped up inadvertently by subsidies from the Exchequer.
I hope that during the course of the debate we shall learn a little more about exactly what the Ministers concerned with economic affairs have in mind. The Prime Minister said that he looks at it with the eyes of a merchant banker. That does not tell us all that much. It certainly does not tell us whether the equity capital that is to be taken by the State is to have preference over every other kind of capital. If this exercise is to be indulged in, the least we can demand is that the taxpayer comes at the top of the queue—first, in the case of preference shareholding rights, and, secondly, by having preference over any other claimants in the event of winding up, should it turn out that any of the ventures into which Government money is to be injected fail.
There have been in the past instances of what a recent Labour Party election manifesto called "the begging bowls of capitalism". As the initiative for this kind of exercise is, we are told, to come from industrialists themselves, there will obviously be many instances where the 106 enterprises seeking financial assistance will be those that are the least stable and in some cases not necessarily those that are particularly meritorious. We shall therefore want to know what preliminary methods are to be used to scrutinise applications.
I have noticed the way in which the Ministry of Aviation has been conned by the aircraft construction industry year in, year out, into pouring millions of pounds of the taxpayers' money into ventures that have gone off half cock. I should hate to think that, for all the formal protection which might be obtainable through equity buying, we shall be landed in the same position again. If any organisation merits the injection of public capital in this way, the Government should aim, first, at putting such capital in a position of absolute preference over any other investors and over any other creditors in winding-up petitions. Further, a condition of the equity buying should include at any rate one seat on the board.
I do not regard this proposal as very satisfactory. I would much prefer that we fall back on the criterion set out, again, in a fairly recent election manifesto of the Labour Party, which the Prime Minister will well remember, that, if private enterprise fails, the Government should take over. If the Government can take over, no doubt by buying all the shares, this would be a sensible method of doing it. There is no reason why we should have to underwrite other people's inefficiency or other people's risk capital.
That reminds me of one other aspect which I think I am in order in mentioning. Some of us on this side, while recognising that merger and amalgamation is very necessary in a large section of British industry, are watching with a certain amount of cynical amusement, but also with some concern, the antics between G.E.C. and A.E.I. If there is a case on economic grounds in the national interest for the merger of the two organisations—I think that we must assume that this is so from the refusal to refer this to the Monopolies Commission—the terms should be negotiated by the Government, otherwise all that will happen is that the bid will be raised again and again and either it will be fought off, as Courtaulds fought off I.C.I.'s bid by promising to pay out more of 107 its profits to its shareholders, or G.E.C. will succeed and many shareholders will make a lot of money that they do not deserve to get. The President of the Board of Trade would do well to look into this question.
I come, finally, to the Common Market negotiations. This is not the time or place to go into the merits and demerits of what is going on. Most hon. Members have had the opportunity to ventilate their views one way or the other. I think that it would be politically wise, apart from anything else, for some limit to be set on the length of time that we are to be strung out in this exercise. It cannot be of any electoral benefit, and I think that it would be electorally unwise, to expose Britain month after month to humiliation and insult from the French Government.
I am rather pleased that the French Government are doing what they are doing, simply because I never wanted the negotiations to start, anyway. Whatever view one takes, it seems to me that to go on standing outside the back door, as a former Member of the House, Mr. Roy Wise, has said, waiting to see whether the servants will turn the dogs on us is not a posture which will commend itself to the electorate and it is a posture which the Prime Minister would be well advised to get out of very quickly.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the question of the peerage. However, I can follow him to a large extent in his observations about the Common Market.
The standard for this debate was set with remarkable accuracy and with great ability by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). His was one of the most able speeches on such an occasion that I have heard in my 12 years in the House. I shall not be out of order in adding my congratulations to those he has already received on the ability with which he proposed the Motion.
Coming from Northern Ireland, I am a bit of a rebel—a different sort of rebel from the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I find myself on 108 occasions being a bit of a rebel in that I have the curious belief that hon. Members on both sides of this ancient and honourable House are, in their different ways, trying to achieve the same objective, which is the future welfare of the nation and of the people in it. That is germane to our debates in the House, and it is something which over the centuries has retained for our democratic institution the respect in which it is held throughout the world.
I do not want to go into a diatribe on the advantages of the British constitution. All I shall say at this stage is that I would find it very difficult to follow the hon. Member for Reading when he proposes that there should be merely one House to consider national matters of moment, that there should be no revising body and no body which in certain circumstances could delay so that better thought might prevail before a matter reached final determination.
However, I want to follow the pattern which was set early this afternoon by the hon. Member for Thurrock. This first day debating the content of the Gracious Speech is perhaps the one day in the year when one can be forgiven for referring to constituency matters. That has been done quite blatantly in the course of the day by a number of hon. Members, and I say that in no disagreeable sense.
I come from one of the most distressed of the distressed areas from the point of view of unemployment. I need not quote the percentage figures. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland has the highest percentage unemployment of any part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has a total population of just over 1,250,000 scattered throughout the whole of the province. Of these some 750,000 live and work in Belfast, the major city of Northern Ireland. That fact adds greatly to the difficulties, because there is the problem of transport, transport to the outlying areas and to the farming areas and to towns around the outskirts. With this great centralisation of the major part of the population there is the burden of freight and other costs of one sort or another. Another difficulty is that we have no indigenous raw materials, no coal, no ores. All our raw materials must be shipped across the seas to be worked in Northern Ireland and then shipped to 109 be sold in the markets of the world. Considering this background, Northern Ireland has had a remarkable achievement in doing as well as it has. We look to Westminster to provide the economic climate in which the Government of Northern Ireland can carry on to the best advantage in the administration of the industries in the territory and in the administration of the affairs of the territory.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House today have said that we are going through a period of grave difficulty for the economic setting and background for our industries. I welcome some of the proposals in the Gracious Speech. For example, I welcome the proposal to consider the dumping of goods, a matter which can greatly affect Northern Ireland. In the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), for example, this legislation could have considerable import for the shirt-making industry. But there are many other industries which could be affected by some limit on the dumping of cheap foreign goods on the markets for which our manufacturers are manufacturing.
I also welcome the proposals for the future of the economy and taking care of the balance of payments. We all have a common interest in these matters. No matter on what side of the House we sit, we all desire a strong economy and a secure balance of payments. Without those our trade cannot progress, our social benefits cannot be paid for and our people cannot be kept in employment. We have this common bond of needing to do whatever may be possible to secure the prosperity of our economy and the security of employment.
In the 1930s and the early 1950s it used to be said that an idle pair of hands was a drain on the nation. That was very true. Productive hands are an advantage to the nation while idle hands are a drain on those still in employment. Our great ambition has always been to secure some system whereby employment could be kept at its full limit but without the recurrent crises which we have had every 10 or 15 years when there has had to be a run down in the economy, which has inevitably led to a measure of unemployment throughout the country. All parties have searched 110 for the solution, but we have still a long way to go before we find the answer and are able to prevent the necessity for a measure of unemployment periodically in order to stop the overheating of the economy. I speak for every hon. Member when I say that whichever party can produce the solution to this problem will have a large measure of support, not only in the House, but throughout the country.
The next sentence of the Gracious Speech says:Further measures will be taken to stimulate economic advance in the development areas and to promote a more even distribution of employment in all regions, as a means of national expansion.I have mentioned the overall unemployment situation in Northern Ireland. It is more dense in some areas than in others. I am very fortunate in my constituency, for in North Down we have almost completely full employment.
We are situated close to the city. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry has a difficult situation in his area. It is way out on the fringe, on the very edge of Northern Ireland. There are other areas, such as Newry, and the extreme west, where this problem of high pockets of unemployment exists. The Northern Ireland Government are doing their utmost to direct or induce industry to go to these difficult areas. I often think that we here, when we set the pattern, sometimes forget that the actual deployment of industry in Northern Ireland is really the responsibility of the Government of Northern Ireland.
We can provide the means, we can provide the economic situation in which industry can prosper, but we must leave the working out of the actual situation of industry to the Government of Northern Ireland, who are immediately in touch with the situation and have immediate knowledge of what can be done, having regard to transport and other factors to do with the location and situation of industry. I often think of what the late Sir Winston Churchill said. I paraphrase it, but he said that a Member of Parliament's first duty is to his constituents, his second duty is to his country, his third duty is to his party and his fourth duty is to himself.
I sometimes feel that the first duty of a Member of Parliament, whether of this 111 Parliament or the Parliament of Northern Ireland, is to try to persuade the Government, whether here or in Northern Ireland, to situate appropriate industry in his own area. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry does this. He has brought up on many occasions in this House the question of the submarine school and other matters in Londonderry, and if his example was followed by Members of the Northern Ireland Parliament to the same extent we might, perhaps, have a more equitable distribution of industry there.
§ Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)
Will the hon. Gentleman comment upon what appears very perplexing to many others in this House, that at a time when on the fringe areas of the province, as he has rightly said, there is very serious unemployment, there appears to be a marked lack of enthusiasm for the siting of such things as new towns and universities in those areas?
§ Mr. Currie
One of the reasons why I made reference in my speech to this matter was because of the sort of criticism that we have to meet with sometimes about the siting of industry, new towns and new housing development. On housing the great difficulty is not one of discrimination; it is one of a shortage of capacity to build houses. I was hoping that in the Gracious Speech, where there is a reference to the financing of this sort of development, that for Northern Ireland there would be the possibility of the provision of funds for housing purposes at a cheap rate of interest, such as we used to have in pre-war days from the Public Works Loan Board.
I am quite certain, and I have lived now for some considerable time, that there is not discrimination in the way which is sometimes charged against us. I am certain that the trouble about the allocation of housing is that the greatest need lies in the areas where one has the people who consider that they are discriminated against, and that the number of new houses each year which become available is too small to meet this great need. I do not want to refer to Protestant areas or Roman Catholic areas or Nationalist areas or Sinn Fein areas. I want to state the bald fact, which is that the greatest populations, for the most part in 112 Northern Ireland, are in the areas remote from Belfast and the greatest shortage of housing naturally occurs there.
From my own experience—and after all I ran the risk some years ago of losing my seat because I had a Member of this House over to stay with me who did not belong to my party and to my religion—I would say that at no time in my life have relations been as good between the sections of the community in Northern Ireland as they are now.
I only hope that inflammatory observations made in this House will not be allowed to impair in any way the building up of this new relationship. I hope that the Government's proposals for housing will be extended to Northern Ireland, the administration being carried out by the Northern Ireland Government, but cheap money being made available from this House.
I would like to make a special appeal on behalf of one industry in which the Government have a particular responsibility. The Government are, it is true, a minority shareholder, but a very large shareholder, in the firm of Short Bros. and Harlands. Some of that great undertaking is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East, (Mr. McMaster) and the remaining part of it is in my own constituency. In my constituency we are mainly concerned with the missile side of the industry. There is a great need for work on repair and construction and development of aircraft. I was very sorry indeed, when I listened to the Gracious Speech, to discover that there was not one word about the future of the British aircraft industry.
Why is it that this country, which has led the world in the most remarkable inventions and developments is today allowing itself to take second, third or fourth place to the United States and to Russia? We have invented and developed the jet engine and the hovercraft. Even in Northern Ireland we developed the pneumatic tyre for the bicycle. Why is it that today we seem to be unable to carry our inventive skill through to the construction of the actual machine, the construction of which could lead to greater advantages for our country through sales in overseas markets? It was a great disappointment to me this afternoon to find no reference in the 113 Queen's Speech to the future of the aircraft industry or the development of our inventive skill in that direction.
I am aware that other right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. I close by repeating what I said earlier. I know that all of us, on both sides, are trying in our devious ways to achieve the same purpose for the good of the people and the future of our great nation.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I do not intend to make a party controversial speech, nor do I intend to say anything about the other side of the House if I can avoid it. I want to speak about the right use of time and to point out that the Gracious Speech indicates that the Government have been a very short time in power and have done a great many remarkable things.
In foreign affairs the Government have not spared themselves. Her Majesty has visited many foreign countries by air and sea, and so also have her Ministers. They have brought foreign potentates and Ministers to this country with a view to achieving world peace. They have had long and fruitful discussions and issued constructive reports and they have published a great many things of great advantage to the world in national and international affairs.
In Commonwealth affairs the Government have implemented the doctrine of self-determination and regionalisation. At the same time, they have maintained in its essentials the solidarity of the British Commonwealth of Nations, which is a precious brotherhood of man. Even in Rhodesia, the one misguided place which sought to achieve constitutional change by illegal means, our Government have been generous and kind and have given that country every opportunity of trying to find a legal method of achieving its aims.
In home affairs the Government propose to apply the same high principles of democracy to the problems of trade, industry, commerce and employment; in markets, harbours and shipping; in education and teachers; in criminal punishment and criminal reclamation; and in gambling, if I might permit myself to say this, seeking to cure the evils which the previous Government brought upon the country by their gaming laws.
114 The Gracious Speech indicates that the Government will seek reform in many spheres of law. I would welcome further ways of reform— in regionalism, for instance. In litigation, it would be of advantage if Scotland's Court of Appeal in Edinburgh were made a Supreme Court to save litigants the trouble, expense, labour and inconvenience of traipsing down to London to have their appeals heard. For a country like Scotland, it is undignified and improper that they should have to go outside their own borders to have their legal affairs determined.
In support of that view, I quote what Viscount Haldane, a distinguished lawyer, said as far back as 1926 about the then developing Commonwealth. Scotland, of course, is not a dominion and, therefore, is not part of the Commonwealth in that sense, but pari passu what Lord Haldane said applies to Scotland. He said:It is obviously proper that the Dominions should more and more dispose of their own cases.There are other examples which will occur to hon. Members, but I promise to be brief. I am always brief. Nature has made me short in height, and I venture to suggest that there are other spheres in which time could be saved. One is in the work of the House of Commons. An experiment was tried in morning sittings. It did not succeed in shortening the hours of work of Members of Parliament. They came early in the morning hoping that they would be able to get home early at night, but they did not. The experiment of morning sittings has failed.
I suggest that some other way might be found. It might be found in regionalisation, in allowing the Scottish Grand Committee to develop into a Scottish Parliament and sit in Edinburgh, thereby saving Scottish Members of Parliament the expense, trouble, time and labour of coming to London to sit in this House. The same kind of reasoning might apply to Wales. I do not know whether Wales wants a Parliament of its own—I am in no position to speak for Wales—but a great deal of the time of the House might be saved by developing the idea of regionalisation, not only in the law courts, not only in litigation, but 115 also in the work of legislation in which we are so active.
Again, I venture to quote and to adapt words which in 1926 were applied to the British Commonwealth of Nations and to the Dominions. A report on that occasion said:They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.I realise that Scotland is not a dominion and that Wales is not a dominion, but in the interest of the right use of time—and that is the argument which I am presenting as briefly as I can—those considerations might be applied. Indeed, that idea is emphasised by the fact that we have as Members of the House today two nationalist Members of Parliament, one from Ireland and the other from Wales. There are a number of nationalist candidates in by-elections which are pending. That seems to indicate that the idea, not of nationalisation, but of regionalism, has something to be said for it and is a growing idea.
I do not carry regionalisation as far as to apply it to our entry into Europe. Britain should enter into Europe. Britain is a great country, and the British Commonwealth of Nations is a great international entity, and it will be well able to look after its own interests if it enters Europe, as I hope it will. We have produced great men, Shakespeare, Milton, Wellington, Nelson, Churchill, and "Monty" today; and Scotland, also, has produced "Robbie" Burns and Sir Walter Scott, its great men in various spheres of human endeavour. Northern Ireland has produced its great men, and Southern Ireland, Eire, has produced its great men.
In literature, science, art, and in every field of human endeavour Britain will always be able to hold her flag high if she enters Europe. We are so great that we shall be able to maintain our individuality and our strength if we enter Europe, as I hope we shall.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Esmond Wright (Glasgow, Pollok)
It is a great honour to follow 116 the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). I always recall him as one who sits for the safest Labour seat in Scotland, but from the tenor of his remarks I gather tonight that he is a little afraid of that 20,000 majority falling a little if a Scottish Nationalist stands against him in three years' time. I am sure that he has no reason to be afraid.
Let me turn to the Gracious Speech itself and try to forget the various adumbrations on it made last Saturday in the pages of the paper one is still apt to call the Manchester Guardian. It gave a great deal more information than does the Gracious Speech itself. The day before I was trying to foresee what the Speech might contain. I remembered the remarks of Lord Palmerston when asked what could be put into a Queen's Speech. He paused for a long time and then said:You cannot, you know, go on adding to the Statute Book ad infinitum. A little law reform, a little divorce reform, a little bankruptcy reform, perhaps; but you cannot go on legislating for ever.I discovered when I read the Speech itself that there was a very great deal here that was passing well beyond divorce law reform or bankruptcy reform, a daunting amount of legislation. Indeed, I wondered whether there would be enough time to devote to the contents of the legislation coming forward. I remembered the hurried drafting of the S.E.T. and, if I may mention it, the hurried drafting of the Abortion Bill in recent weeks.
Looking at the legislation and the scale of it I am appalled that so little attention has been paid to Scotland. In the Speech itself Scotland appears once:Legislation will be introduced to reorganise the social work services in Scotland.I will not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) except to remind the House—and I am sure that one Member present here, the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) will not need reminding—that the Kilbrandon Report is a contentious document, a document which divides the professions in Scotland, and it is one on which we shall welcome a great deal of consultation and information.
117 The second striking feature of what is said in the Speech are the references to transport. Again, I will not go over familiar ground except to say that, patently, very little information is given here, and quite obviously we in Scotland, particularly in the North, are worried men, if "integration", a favourite word of the present Government, is going to hurt not only the purveyors of services, but the consumes of services, the people of Scotland, of the Highlands and the Islands.
However, I am much less disturbed by what is said than by what is omitted, and, in my view, strikingly omitted from the Gracious Speech. There is, for instance, no mention whatever of the problems of the Highlands. I was an historian and I was not a Member of the House at the time, but I do recall that throughout the 13 years of Conservative government there was always in the Gracious Speech a paragraph clearly devoted to the Highlands of Scotland and that it seems now to be disappearing.
§ Mr. Wright
The Highlands are omitted. There is no reference to them in the Gracious Speech at all, and yet we know that the Selective Employment Tax has added 8 per cent. to the hotels' wages bills in Scotland; it is hurting the hotel and tourist trades, and all who live in Scotland know it.
There is no mention whatever of the work of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, since the point has been made by the hon. Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey). We would have liked to have seen some strengthening of the Board, a Board which is taking upon itself the task of acquiring an area which is geologicially not in the Highlands at all, a Board which is not, in my view, qualified to cope with that particular mandate.
§ Mr. Buchan
The hon. Member said he would have liked to have seen some strengthening of the powers of the Board. Would he recall that his own party fought ruthlessly against the Board? Is he saying that his own party really wants an extension of its powers?
§ Mr. Wright
We had an acrimonious debate in the Scottish Grand Committee 118 and in this House on this subject. What I am saying is that, if the Board is to be given powers to carry through the programme we believe it is to be charged with on the Moray Firth and Invergordon, it has to be a stronger body than it is at present.
Moreover, I would point out a second omission from the Gracious Speech, and that is any reference to the Birsay Report. Here I have to declare an interest for I happened to be a member of that Birsay Committee. For two and a half years we toured the Highlands and Islands, we visited almost all the 220 medical practitioners, and we submitted that Report some six months ago. I have not yet heard of any action which is being taken upon it.
The Report contains a number of important proposals. I mention simply two, to remind the House. One is the total recasting of the method of financing and remuneration of general practitioners; and the second, I think equally important, the idea of matching the Highlands and Islands Development Board with a Highlands and Islands medical board based on Inverness. It seems to me important—and I am speaking not only for the medical profession—that there should be action taken on that Report as soon as possible.
I have mentioned two clear omissions. The third is the indifference to, the barely passing mention of, the problem of employment, and there is the striking omission of any reference to the achievements, actual as well as potential, on the Clyde, where shipbuilding mergers are taking place. It seems to me that the yards on the Clyde are worthy of congratulation for the mergers which they are seeking to carry through. Particular yards like Yarrow's and Lithgow's are especially worthy of commendation, for they were yards which needed no merger, but were surviving foreign competition.
What I am concerned about is what is to happen on the Clyde, the upper and lower reaches alike, when these mergers take place. Let us leave aside the contentious problem of how far the Government will move into either of those mergers, how far the Government participation in Fairfield's produces a different situation for the privately controlled yards.
119 Let us leave that aside as being a difficult problem in itself. I am trying to suggest that there was an opportunity here not merely for congratulation on remarkably good men-management relations and improved public relations inside the industry, for which Fairfield's in particular ought to be congratulated. There was an opportunity in the Gracious Speech to say that the Government proposed to take one of these yards or part of one and make it a Government retraining centre for the shipbuilding and engineering trades.
That would have reassured the industry and attracted engineering and shipbuilding employers to Scotland not only from Britain but from other countries. In addition, it would have given an opportunity for what is already implicit in the Fairfield's experiment, the participation of the two neighbouring universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde and the chance to build there a retraining centre for the industry. But this is a problem which is not Clydeside's alone. It is one which affects Tyneside where, by the end of the year, about 3,000 people out of a 12,000 labour force will be unemployed. Obviously, there is an opportunity here for constructive government which has not been taken.
There are a number of references to education in a general sense. What I was hoping to see and what I have not heard from the Government in my all too short time in the House is what they intend to do for the content of education by 1970 for those in the 14, 15 and 16 age groups. It is a fundamental problem. It is much more important than whether there will be enough teachers and, if there are not, whether it is legitimate to increase the school-leaving age.
That is a difficult problem in itself, and it is one which we must accept and face We need more brain-power in the country, wherever it may go, and we must face up to the task of raising the school-leaving age in 1970 to 16. However, the content of education in those last two years at school has to be recast. It has to involve activity and participation, it has to be modern in every sense of the word and reflect the 120 world in which we live, and it has to be "actuality" education. I would welcome something along these lines from the Government in the next two years.
It has become the fashion in this debate to trespass on to constituency matters, and I wish to raise one which is quite as grim as unemployment and, in some ways, is more disturbing than anything that I have yet heard today. We are now at the end of October, and there are two more months to go this year. Unless there is some drastic change in the next two months, 1967 will have been the worst year for murder cases in Scottish history. There have been 45 murders reported to the police thus far; that is to say, one a week, which represents an increase of 50 per cent.
So far this year, 60 people in Scotland have been charged with murder. In September, there were five sentences of life imprisonment for murder passed by th High Court in Edinburgh. It was the worst month in the historical records of that city, and they go back a long way. To that, one must add the accompanying violence. The police say that, by the end of the year, unless there is some drastic change, it is expected that 800 people will have been charged with carrying offensive weapons. That is another record, and a great many others have not been charged but are known by the police to have been guilty of the offence.
The Glasgow magistrates have asked for powers of arrest and on-the-spot search of people suspected of carrying offensive weapons. I am always subject to correction, but, as I understand it, the Secretary of State for Scotland has refused that request. All day, we have talked about legislation for this and that. Government is a matter of law as well as legislation. Governments that govern—a familiar phrase—carry out law and preserve order. Does the Secretary of State for Scotland still say "No" to the police in Glasgow after the events of last weekend in which one youth who happened to be a constituent of mine was stabbed to death, in which two men were victims of attempted murder, and in which 12 others were seriously assaulted?
The map of these crimes is something like a map of the 15 constituencies of Glasgow. I speak with feeling and I am sorry to raise so difficult and tragic a 121 matter. However, it is a fact which concerns government. There is an urgent obligation here not merely of improved pensions for the police, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries suggested last week, though I support him in what he said. It is not merely a question of more civilians going into the Glasgow Police Force to enable more police to go out on the beat. It is a matter of improving rapidly the pay, conditions and service of the police, especially in Glasgow, and of restoring policemen to the beat to provide security for women and children in particular.
Anyone who has campaigned politically in Glasgow knows that one door in three is chained against any knock after 6 or 7 at night. In my constituency, buses on certain routes are not serviced after 8 o'clock on Fridays and Saturdays because the crews will not take them into certain housing estates. Someone must speak up loud and clear for the preservation of law and order in Glasgow and in Scotland if we are to call ourselves a civilised society.
My final point concerns Glasgow itself. I do not want to join the long queue from Tyneside, Blaydon and Morpeth asking for aid to the regional areas. In Scotland, we do not think of ourselves as depressed, and we are not a region except in the technical B.B.C. sense of the term. However, there is a sense in which the problems of Glasgow are bigger than the city can cope with.
At present, one in every three people in Scotland live within 10 miles of Sauchiehall Street. Its effective population, as distinct from its internal population, is about 1½ million people. By the end of the century, the number will have dropped to 1 million in outer Glasgow and ¼ million in the city itself, as a result of "Operation Overspill". For the most part, the ratepayers of Glasgow are carrying the financial responsibility for overspill and all that goes with it. It is an excellent scheme which is long overdue. We need to hurry it up and extend it.
There are regions in the United Kingdom which are in urgent need of financial assistance from the centre. I should have liked to have seen some reference to that in the Gracious Speech. That and the preservation of law and order and 122 security are the problems which my generation in the Lowlands of Scotland must tackle.
I received some clarification from the Prime Minister when he implied at the end of his remarks that the Opposition party was the party of principle and ideology. I salute him for so describing us. I believe that it is true.
Looking at the content of the Gracious Speech, it seems to be a patchwork quilt of odds and ends, or, to use an eighteenth century phrase, a tessellated pavement without cement. I believe that the Government were hunting for ideas and hit on one, the reform of another place, which is likely to get a great deal of dramatic attention during the next few months. But I believe that they are a Government without a great idea, without the old-fashioned word "enterprise", and by this I do not mean merely in the cliché sense, but in the sense of buoyancy, of zest, of effort, of pride in work, because it is pride in oneself which builds great societies. I would have liked to have seen a sense of that in the Speech. I confess to being disappointed.
§ 8.31 p.m.
Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
If I might follow the line introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) on the question of grants to local authorities, I, too, had hoped that the Gracious Speech would contain some specific grant proposals for city centre redevelopment. It should be clear to the Government that regional capitals like my own native city, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, cannot hope to redevelop on the scale required without direct help from the Government. In an area such as the North-East it is imperative that our cities, which developed with the Industrial Revolution, should now be redeveloped for the technological revolution in which we want to share and in which we feel we are not getting a fair share at the moment.
The alternative to direct Government assistance in the form of, say, an interest-free loan for a given period of years until the redevelopement becomes revenue earning must surely be to leave our city centres to the jungle of private enterprise, and we all know that when it comes to city centre redevelopment the yardstick of private enterprise is the profit motive 123 rather than area amenity value first and profitability second. No one in this Chamber has not seen the results of the activities of some of our national development companies—boarded up shop fronts in large over-developed shopping centres months and even years after the completion of the development. This is the kind of thing which we have all seen in post-war redevelopments in cities and suburban areas.
I had further hoped that a proposal for a revised system of grants for trunk roads would be submitted. During the debate on the last Gracious Speech I suggested to the Minister of Transport that she might care to consider this issue. When does a trunk road cease to be a trunk road? The answer is when it traverses a county borough? The Al is about 400 miles long, and goes all the way to Edinburgh. All but six miles of it has been brought up to semi-motorway standards with the help of a 100 per cent. grant from the Ministry of Transport. These undeveloped six miles are in the County Borough of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and the County Borough of Gateshead. This stretch of road will be far more costly to redevelop as an urban motorway than scores of miles in the county area, yet the ratepayers of Newcastle and Gateshead will have to find 25 per cent. of the development costs.
I know the argument can be advanced that there is a higher rateable value in the borough, or county borough, area than elsewhere, but this is "old hat" when applied to urban motorways, because these motorways go a long way to destroying the rateable value argument. In fact a motorway can tear the heart out of a city, because it becomes like a railway line, with no access except by vehicular traffic. Where a major road passes through the heart of a city, and snarls it up, and destroys its commercial life, I think that it would be reasonable for the Government to provide a 95 per cent. grant on what is in fact a trunk road, and I therefore appeal again to the Minister of Transport to give further consideration to this proposal.
The construction of urban motorways within the city centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne will cost about £26 million at present—day prices. Before the redevelop- 124 ment is carried out that figure might rise to about £40 million. On the present grant system £10 million will have to be found by the ratepayers of Newcastle. It is unreasonable to make this demand on them, remembering that the A1 is a trunk road which serves the whole country and goes through to Edinburgh and even further north.
I applaud the assurance in the Gracious Speech that further measures are to be taken to stimulate economic advance in the regions, but I am dismayed that, with the experience of resistance to movement by industry, there is no proposal to implement what I consider to be one of our most important pledges during last year's elections, namely, the establishment of State industries in State factories.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Will Owen) said, and I think that it bears repetition, that if private enterprise will not do the job for the development areas, then the Government must. I understand that the Post Office purchases the major part of the output of the British telecommunications industry. Surely there is a case for some State intervention in this industry? Why not have Post Office factories in the North-East producing their own equipment? If the Post Office buys the majority of this industry's output, surely it is right for the Government to consider the possibility of the Post Office making its own equipment. If, for reasons of which I have no knowledge, the Government do not wish to intervene directly in the industry, then, on the basis that he who pays the piper calls the tune, surely there is a clear case for the industry to become foot loose, to transfer its production, research and administrative units to one or other of the development areas.
I am pleased to read that the Government want a rising programme of house building and to know that in the North-East of England we will complete more houses this year—both in the private and the public sector—than has ever been produced in that part of the country. Nevertheless, delighted though I am that the housing programme is getting a further shot in the arm and that next year we shall have a further record production of houses, as we have had in the previous two years, it still disturbs me that it is not generally 125 realised—I wonder how much the Government realise it—that for every £1 million spent on housebuilding in the North of England a fair proportion is directly spent in the South-East of England in the purchase of components for housebuilding.
I put a direct question to the Government: why should not one or two large factories be built in the North of England to produce building components in a big way, so that when London spends £1 million on housebuilding a fair proportion is spent in the North of England, whereas when the North spends £1 million on housebuilding the whole of it is spent in the North? That is the way in which the Government should seek to redress the absolutely immoral balance existing between the South-East and the North of England.
I welcome the proposal to integrate transport, but I am appalled that there is no undertaking to tackle the running sore of travel concessions. In the last Session I had the pleasure of introducing a Private Member's Bill which surprisingly very quickly received a Second Reading. Unfortunately, it died for lack of time. The purpose of my Bill was to iron out the anomalies which have existed for years but were brought to the attention of every old-age pensioner by the 1964 Travel Concessions Act, which amended the 1955 Act, under which only those living on a trolley bus or former tramway route were able to enjoy travel concessions.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) campaigned for years to get this Act amended so as to give those old people who lived on omnibus routes the right to travel concessions. Finally, with the return of a Labour Government in 1964, we had the Act, which has been a great boon to many thousands of pensioners and disabled people who had not previously enjoyed any travel concession.
Unfortunately, this has highlighted the fact that although there are now fewer people who are not entitled to travel concessions, they nevertheless exist—and they know it. In the urban district of New-burn, in my constituency, no old-age pensioner qualifies for the travel concessions that their fellow old-age pensioners over the boundary, in the City of Newcastle, enjoy under the 1964 Travel Concessions 126 Act. Prior to the passing of that Act none of the old-age pensioners in New-burn was fussy about the fact that old people in Newcastle had the travel concession, but now that every old person in Newcastle is entitled to that concession those who live across the road in New-burn are conscious of the fact that they are deprived of something which the majority of old-age pensioners have.
If the Minister of Transport doubts the strength of public feeling on this issue I am prepared to pass her my correspondence file, which consists in the main of letters from individual old persons, besides clubs and organisations working for old persons. Many of the letters which I have received are from old people who have been moved into the urban districts as overspill from big cities. I have heartbreaking letters telling me how they were brought up in the east end of the cities, how their families have settled down there and how it costs them 5s. to 7s. a week in fares if they wish to see their sons or daughters. That is the type of letter that I have received constantly since I introduced my Bill last year.
I hope the Minister will assure me that she has had discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that she will put a Clause in the Bill to avoid the necessity of my reintroducing my Bill this Session. But let me give her fair warning, conscious as I am that the elderly, the disabled and the parents of school children are far more concerned about travel concessions than about who owns their buses: if I do not get the assurance which I am seeking from the Minister, I shall try to reintroduce my Bill, if need be Session after Session, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, during the years of Tory rule, until I am successful in getting the Bill accepted by the Government, thereby giving every person entitled to a travel concession the concession which he or she deserves.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
One significant feature of the debate is the number of those hon. Members who have spoken who come from development areas, whether in Scotland, the North-East or elsewhere. In reading the Gracious Speech it seems to me that when we consider many of the issues raised in it, including 127 the major issue, that of reform of the House of Lords, we find little comfort for the unemployed in the development areas and little answer to the problems which have still to be faced there. Many of the problems in the development areas have been recognised and tackled in the past, but there is still an enormous amount of work to be done, much of which requires legislation.
I should like to draw particular attention to a point highlighted in a Government publication issued today—the "Digest of Scottish Statistics". This publication shows that the average household expenditure in Scotland—and this highlights the economic problems of some of the development areas—is well above the average for the United Kingdom for most articles in everyday use. At the same time, the average weekly income per household in Scotland is more than 5 per cent. lower than the United Kingdom average.
From this publication we see highlighted one of the economic problems of Scotland and of the development areas—the fact that the average household expenditure is higher than the average for the rest of the United Kingdom while the average weekly income is lower than for the rest of the United Kingdom.
Where is there recognition of this in the Gracious Speech? When we look into the detail of the items which make up the family household budget we find that the Government have direct control over many of those items. I will particularly mention fuel, light and power. The amount of money spent in Scottish households in this respect is over 28s. a week. One of the reasons is to be found in differential fuel prices. I have spoken about that from this side of the House, and indeed, hon. Members from the other side of the House, too. I refer not only to differential fuel prices, particularly coal prices, in that higher prices are charged in Scotland compared with England, but also to the fact that higher prices are charged the further North one goes in Scotland compared with those in the South of Scotland. In the middle of my constituency is the border of one of the price zones. On one side of a river a householder must pay more for coal than he would pay on the other side of the river.
128 The price of coal enters not only into household costs, but also into industrial costs. This is one of the raw material costs affecting the electricity generating industry. The higher cost of coal in Scotland goes right through industrial as well as household expenditure and has an effect on the attraction of industry. The Government should pay more attention to it than they have hitherto.
Another figure from the Digest of Scottish Statistics shows that industrial activity in Scotland in the first half of 1967 was down more than 2 per cent. on the first six months of 1966. This cold figure concentrates our attention on the economic and industrial problems which Scotland faces. From 1963 to 1965 industrial activity increased by 12 per cent. but this rate had fallen in 1966 to only three-quarters of 1 per cent. and this makes us wonder how this momentum was lost. It belies many of the accusations opposite about "thirteen wasted years" of Tory rule. We left Scotland with rising industrial activity and the last three years have seen this fall.
What can the Government do about it? Many suggestions have been put forward from this side of the House. One relates to the Selective Employment Tax, which we have often called totally irrelevant to Scotland's problems. Without repeating the arguments, I will draw attention to the publication of the British National Export Council's Committee on British invisible earnings which shows clearly the part which tourism can play in helping to earn foreign currency. This is not confined to England, but applies to Scotland as well, but this tax is a burden on that industry——
§ Mr. Buchan
We have been hearing this all day. The hon. Gentleman should consider that, in the hotel industry, provision has been made for passing on this tax. If anything, it is our good friends from England on holiday who have been paying the tax into the Highlands.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that foreign visitors also come to Scotland and that 129 they, too, must pay higher taxes? This is putting a tax on the industry and is causing shorter seasons in hotels. Has not he seen this himself? I suggest that he reads the Report of the Export Council, because it draws attention to the effect of S.E.T. and this burden on the tourist industry and other invisible export-earning industries.
The Government should also restore more incentives to industry on a more selective basis. I am going back, of course, to the principle—much maligned opposite—of growth areas. While many of us appreciate the extension of development area status to the whole of Scotland—only part of my own constituency was a development area before the extension—what is only now being realised is that these areas have nothing extra to offer over any other development area.
Therefore, in a town like Montrose, in my constituency, where a factory employing 150 people has closed, there is a particular problem. There is nothing extra which this town can offer over the central belt of Scotland, which has the advantage of being a large industrial area anyway. En Montrose we realise now that we are no better off than we were before we became a development area. We can offer to industry no extra incentives to enter this area compared with other areas in Scotland.
I should like incentives restored to industry on a selective basis, which will benefit those areas which are particularly poorly off and have particular economic problems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. WolrigeGordon) dealt succinctly with the problem of transport. I hope that the Minister will remember the greater problems which distance involves in Scotland and that already the Scottish rail services have been drastically curtailed. If the new transport legislation means a greater monopoly for British railways, and also a curtailment of the services now being provided by private road hauliers, industry and the public generally in Scotland will be in a difficult position.
This problem arose recently in my constituency in connection with the carriage 130 of fish by passenger trains. For reasons of economy—and a number of other reasons—British Railways made it economically impossible for the fishermen in my constituency, who work from small ports and cannot make up big loads, to send their fish to the South. This is an example of the way in which the railways, when given a complete monopoly, can place users in an impossible position. Only because the fishermen in my area were able to send their fish by private road hauliers were they able to solve their problem.
My fear is that the railways will take all the lucrative custom and leave the difficult trade to private road hauliers. We in Scotland are indebted to the services provided by the private haulage industry, and the more remote the area, the greater is the importance of these services. I hope that nothing in the proposed Bill will make the transport problems of Scotland more difficult.
The Gracious Speech states:Steps will be taken through the Council for Scientific Policy to expand and improve arrangements for scientific research…This is important, particularly to us in Scotland, because up to now too much Government-sponsored scientific research has been concentrated on stations in the South. For example, in defence research, all nine establishments are situated in the South, most of them in the South of England. These employ nearly 3,000 engineering and scientific staff. The result is that we in Scotland do not share in either the staff employment or money expenditure at these stations.
In the civil sphere of scientific research, out of the 15 Government-sponsored stations in Britain, two are in Scotland. They are the National Economic Engineering Laboratory at East Kilbride, expenditure on which totals £2 million a year, and the Torry Research Station, in Aberdeen, on which about £⅓ million is spent annually. We are glad to have these stations in Scotland, but they represent only a tiny share of the total government expenditure on scientific and technical research and in numbers of people employed on this work. I hope that, in strengthening their scientific policy, the Government will bear in mind the claims of Scotland for more Government-sponsored research north of the Border.
131 We welcome the survey commissioned by the Scottish Office, to be carried out by Professor Wolfe, of Edinburgh University, into scientific research in Scotland. I am sure that this will reveal the great success achieved by former Conservative Governments in attracting science-based industries to Scotland and the part that private industry is playing, along with the universities, in this matter.
However, when one considers the total amount being spent on research in Britain—the most recent figures I have been able to obtain are for 1962, when it was estimated that £634 million was being spent on Government, university, and privately sponsored research—and realises that, out of the total, the Government are directly responsible for about £136 million of it, one realises the tremendous influence which the Government have, not only in the total amount being spent on research but on where and how it should be spent.
I hope that the Government will pay attention to Scotland's claims in this respect. In recent months and years many of us have been disappointed in not seeing coming to Scotland some of the Government offices, such as the Mint, for which many of us pressed. We missed out on these things and other areas have gained them. However, let us not go back, but rather look ahead, make our claims now, and hope that in the extension of scientific research the Government will not be deaf or blind to Scotland's claims.
I have three points to make on agriculture. First, we are told that proposals are to be brought forward this Session to implement recommendations of the Brambell Committee on Animal Welfare. My plea here is that common sense will be allowed to prevail in the framing of the proposals and the subsequent debates, and that we will not be governed merely by emotion.
Secondly, I welcome the announcement that measures to deal with dumping will be strengthened. This opens up the whole field of the need for control of food imports. We must properly exploit the potential of home agriculture not only to provide our food but to save imports and help the balance of payments. The industry is ready to give us this service, 132 but until that potential is properly realised our farmers will not be given a fair opportunity to serve us as they should.
Thirdly, I regret the omission from the Gracious Speech of any reference to a problem that has been very much highlighted in Scotland in recent months and which will be highlighted in England in the months to come. I refer to the rating of intensive livestock units. The Under-Secretary knows the problem so I shall not dwell on it now, but I regret the omission of proposals to deal with the tremendous and acknowledged anomalies that are now arising.
I had the privilege last Session of serving on the Select Committee on Agriculture, as a result of which I feel, as, I am sure, do other hon. Members who served, a sense of achievement. We were able to investigate in much more detail than ever before the workings of a large Government Department. This gave us a much greater insight into the working of the Department and also, perhaps, more influence on the formation of policy. The Prime Minister has today referred to a possible extension of these Select Committees. I not only hope to see such an extension, but put in a plea that the Select Committee of which I have spoken should be allowed to continue its work this Session.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody (Falmouth and Camborne)
Although I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) in his detailed consideration of Scottish affairs, I very much endorse his last few remarks. I, too, was a member of the Select Committee on Agriculture, and I believe that it was a most useful and valuable experiment. It would be most unfortunate if it were not continued and its scope extended.
Practically every hon. Member today has referred to the problems of employment and unemployment facing the development areas. It is interesting that a comparatively small part of the Queen's Speech should produce such a response. Unemployment is a social cancer. As surely as cancer can destroy the human body, unemployment can destroy a community or a society. For the individual, unemployment means loss of human 133 dignity, depression, despair, despondency and demoralisation, but when unemployment strikes a whole community and there is a situation where persistent high unemployment continues week after week and month after month, something worse happen than the terrible effects on the single individuals. There is the disruption of a whole community and the breakdown of a society.
This is all the more likely to occur because in those areas with consistent high unemployment we nearly always find a very large proportion live in a limited area, they come from a small social group or one estate in the town. Then we find that society easily breaks up, crime flourishes and delinquency develops. For this reason, I welcome the reference of the Gracious Speech:Further measures will be taken to stimulate economic advance in the development areas and to promote a more even distribution of employment in all regions, as a means to national expansion.I hope that when the Minister from the Department of Economic Affairs participates in the debate he will be able to spell out much more clearly and in greater detail the intentions of the Government in this respect. I hope that he will also answer some of the questions which have been put to him in the debate and some questions which I put this evening.
The importance of an effective regional policy to help development areas should not only be seen from the point of view of those areas themselves. It is essential to make social, industrial and economic progress in the country as a whole. It is quite impossible to have a prosperous and rich nation which has poverty stricken parts. We can never have the Britain which we all want to see so long as we have the depressed areas which some development areas are today.
In the three years of Labour Government we have seen very real, worthwhile progress. We have seen the beginning of coherent regional policies and we have seen the means of attracting industry to development areas being increased almost month by month by advance factories, I.D.C.s and grants, regional employment premiums and improvements of one sort and another in the regional employment programme. All these measures have undoubtedly helped enormously and we have seen an improvement in infrastructure and in transport. But none 134 of us from the development areas are anywhere near satisfied, although we should remind ourselves that we are spending more on roads this year than has ever been spent before in our history. These are great advances, but there are still many problems in the development areas.
One of the problems is that of measuring the success of economic policies in the regions. There are two criteria which I believe should always be used to measure success. They are the level of employment and the rates of pay in the area. By these two criteria we cannot yet be satisfied with our regional policies. At a time when unemployment over the country is still higher than many of us would like it to be, in many development areas it is higher still. Very often the same parts of development areas which have suffered for 10, 15, 20 years or more are suffering today. They look to the winter months ahead with considerable apprehension and anxiety.
Rates of pay in development areas are on the whole much lower than they are in other parts of the country. I am trying this evening to avoid arguing a constituency or a one-region case too strongly, but in my area in Cornwall average rates of pay are the lowest of any county in the whole of England. There are few counties in rural Wales or in the North of Scotland which are at the same wage level as we are. No primarily industrialised area has to accept anything like the rate of pay that we have.
The time is ripe for new ideas and for a greater sense of urgency. We must distinguish much more clearly than we do at the moment between the short-term problems and the long-term problems in the regions, because the solutions to these two sets of problems are different. There are the short-term problems caused by unemployment which is the result of the economic difficulties the country has been passing through in the last two or three years. These problems should not blind us to the fact that many of the problems facing the development areas are of long-standing and are due to basic structural problems in the development areas which will not be solved overnight. The solutions must be carefully thought out.
I want to suggest some new ideas which the Government Departments concerned should be thinking about now. 135 There should be a much greater degree of selectivity in the assistance that is put into development areas. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns touched on this point when he mentioned a town in his constituency. The hon. Gentleman said that in Scotland it was difficult to distinguish between one region and another because the whole of Scotland is a development area. This is true not only within a given development area. It is equally true as between development areas, because the development area from which I come faces special difficulties. The way in which assistance is given to development areas takes no account of special difficulties. There is no effective means at the moment of giving the extra assistance that areas like mine deserve.
The assistance given is, perhaps, too black and white. For example, the Regional Employment Premium is a useful means of injecting about £100 million into development areas, but it will in a rather crude and blunderbuss way help manufacturing industries only, irrespective of the social, economic and industrial needs of particular development areas or of particular parts of development areas.
Much more flexibility, selectivity and sensitivity are needed in the aid given. Without these, we shall not cure the problem of the hard core areas, the difficult black spots. They will become even more difficult if we continue to give aid to the development areas in the present blanket fashion.
The next thing I ask the Government seriously to consider is using direct Government intervention to a much greater extent than they have done so far. There has been in the last few weeks the announcement of a works programme in the development areas to help tide us over some of the economic difficulties we face in these winter months. I would like to see the Government plans for the coming months considerably extended. I should like to see this measure used from time to time when short-term economic problems face certain parts in the development areas.
Mention has been made of empty advance factories in various parts of the country. When an advance factory lies empty for more than a certain time, and 136 when private industry fails to occupy the factory and provide the working places needed by the community, I cannot see why the Government should not intervene directly and put State-owned industry into the factory.
Another field in which direct Government action should be perhaps more enthusiastic than it is at the moment is in re-training. I should like to see a greater amount of re-training taking place in the regions. The expansion of re-training programmes has been very impressive in the last two or three years. This is particularly true in the development areas. There will be a need more and more for retraining facilities in the development areas in the years ahead. We must retrain people in the areas where we propose to employ them. If we propose to develop our development areas, we must provide re-training facilities in the same areas.
Another matter to which I would like to see the Government give some consideration is that of retaining existing industries in development areas. We spend much time, effort and money on attracting new industries to the development areas, but we have very little means by which we can retain existing industries in development areas. A number of cases have been mentioned of industries which have folded up and moved out of development areas. If this happens at anything approaching a rapid rate, it makes nonsense of many of our policies. We should be trying to discover some means of retaining existing industry in development areas, particularly where it is socially desirable that it should be there, even though from the point of view of pure economics or profit and loss it may not be quite so desirable.
I should like the Government to try to arrive at a scheme by which notification of impending closure of an industry should be given to the appropriate Government Departments some time before the closure could take place. This would give the Departments concerned time to go into the firm to examine its financial situation and problems and future. In those cases where there were social and perhaps economic reasons why the industry should be retained for the region, then either Government assistance could be considered for the firm or if the firm were determined to pull out, the Government could step in and run it as a 137 Publicly-owned concern. This sort of thing is essential if we are to have the social and economic progress which we would like in our regions.
Existing policy could be used to a greater extent to assist the existing regional programme by the use of the prices and incomes policy. In many development areas wage and salary rates are much lower than those of the rest of the country and yet these are the parts of the country where prices of goods in the shops and of services are highest. With the single exception of housing, development area costs tend to be higher than elsewhere and yet these are the areas with the lowest wages. The prices and incomes policy could be used to bring up wage levels in development areas so as to raise the standards of living in those areas which are also behind the rest of the country.
Government action is also necessary to improve co-ordination among Government Departments concerned with development areas. This has improved considerably in recent years but there is still a long way to go.
I want now to turn briefly to the particular problems of the development area part of which I represent, the South-West development area, which is the Cinderella of the development areas. The special problems which we face underline the difficulties which are being faced in certain other parts of development areas in the remainder of the country. These problems were implied by the Prime Minister when, talking about the very successful results of the regional policies, he used the phrase, "the main development areas". I suspect that that phrase excluded the South-West development area. The problems we face are extremely difficult. First, the area is very small not only geographically, but in terms of population and particularly small in terms of working population compared with other development areas. The next smallest development area has a working population five times as large as ours and the biggest town, Camborne and Redruth, has a population of only some 30,000.
Secondly, we are a less industrialised development area than any other and the industries we have are long established, old industries which are facing economic problems in some cases. Thirdly, we 138 are a development area where tourism plays probably a larger part in our economy than is the case in any other development area. I know that there is much tourism in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North, but it is probably nowhere near as large a part as is the case in Cornwall. The same is true of agriculture.
The fourth problem is that of geographical isolation, which means that we are much more dependent on transport and communication facilities. Finally, we are deprived socially. Over the years economic forces have resulted in this part of the country being left behind in housing and education and other social services.
These are the special problems being faced by my development area and they could be mirrored in certain parts of other development areas, and it is about these that we have heard something recently—West Cumberland and one or two parts of Scotland. These special problems have to be considered, because if we are to solve them we have to solve one of the most difficult problems in the whole of regional planning. There is considerable urgency about this matter.
This is now the last day of October. We are reasonable in the development areas to expect action, not only for the months and years ahead, but also action in the immediate future to try to reduce the burden that may have to be borne in the winter months. Let us remind ourselves of the cost of unemployment. At the moment it is costing us about 3 million working days per week. This is more than we lose by industrial disputes for the whole of an average year. The economic cost is much greater because the loss of production, the Social Security benefits that have to be paid, amount to many millions of £s. More than the economic cost, there is the social and human cost, which I have mentioned. There are social disruptions, demoralisation and degradation arising from men and women being left on the industrial scrap-heap for week after week, month after month, and in some extreme cases, for longer periods.
For far too long unemployment has been a consequence of economic policy pursued in this country. The Gracious Speech shows that we are now reaching a stage when we are beginning to base our economic policy on the right to work.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
As a West Country Member I must confess to having been a little frustrated, perhaps even infuriated, at the substantial procession of Scots and Ulstermen from this side of the House. Having had the pleasure and privilege of listening to their speeches I realise how great are the problems of those two countries, how assiduous are my hon. Friends in putting their case, and how much remains for the Government to do in those two spheres.
Because of the luck of the draw, I now have the privilege of following the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody), with whom I will cross swords on a number of issues. I also have the advantage of the presence of two other Members for the City of Bristol and I hope that I will carry them with me in some of my remarks.
§ Mr. Cooke
I am glad that the hon. Member has said that, because I hope to have his agreement in everything that I want to say about the City of Bristol, since all that I want to do is to make Bristol more successful and prosperous. This debate has resulted in a discussion of regional problems. Almost every speech has spoken up for one region or another and I want to speak about the West Country, of which Bristol is a part.
The Gracious Speech, in my view, seems to pay scant attention to the real needs of the West Country. It is true that we have had a great document, "A Draft Strategy for the South West". This is a new phrase, a draft strategy. It is not a plan, not a proposal, but something presumably that can be talked round. The great conclusion which came out of the draft strategy was that communications were the key to the whole of the West Country's problems. All Members for the West will agree that that was the big conclusion.
There is nothing new in that. We knew all that before. Despite the catalogue given by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, not one inch of motorway has been built in the South-West during the period of office of this Government. We have not advanced one inch. 140 There is great uncertainty now about the building of that part of the motorway for which the line was agreed before the Conservative Party left office. That alone condemns the present Government's actions in this vitally important region.
I pass now to the question of our industry, our livelihood. Taken as a whole, the region depends predominantly upon tourism and agriculture. The agricultural issue can be discussed on another day, but the Government have done nothing to favour the agriculture of the South-West as compared with any other part of the country. By their own admission, the Selective Employment Tax was a savage blow to tourism, which is vitally important to West Country industry. The Government have altered the provisions of the tax slightly so that part-timers are able to be employed for a little longer, and this is meant to help the hotel industry.
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne does not think that direction or coercion of labour is the main object of the Selective Employment Tax, having admitted on the B.B.C. against me last week that this was a magnificent revenue raiser.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody
Perhaps the hon. Member could suggest other means by which the £300 million obtained in revenue from this form of taxation could be obtained which would not affect the region in any way.
§ Mr. Cooke
Yes—stop spending, spending, spending, which is all the Government think about. Let people have a little more of their income to spend as they think fit instead of taking it all away from them and paying it out as the Government think fit.
We in Bristol are not a development area. We find that our opponents in business are being subsidised by the Government to drive us out of business. We have the case—the other hon. Members who represent Bristol would agree with me about this, because they have been doing what they could to help, but somewhat late in the day—of the Bristol shipyard, one of the few shipyards of consequence which is not in a development area.
All summer I pestered the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Ministers at the Department of Economic Affairs about 141 the predicament of that shipyard, because we were told then that there was a considerable chance that it would have to cease operations because its rivals were being subsidised by the Government's policies through the premium. Nobody believed me. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not believe me. He said from the Box that there was no truth in all this and that I had nothing to worry about. Now, the blow has come and the shipbuilding operations in Bristol are to cease by the announcement of the firm concerned.
I applaud the action of two hon. Members for the city who sit on the benches opposite in now going to the Government to see whether something cannot be done. This, however, is typical of what is happening all over the country. One does not have to cite specific examples. By interfering with the terms of trade and by seeking to help specially certain areas, great problems are created else where. This is something which Socialists do not seem to realise. Socialism has all sorts of theoretical benefits, but when it is carried into practice it often creates far more problems than it solves.
I want to pass to another aspect of national industry, partly based in the City of Bristol, where the picture is a little brighter. I want to talk about that great aircraft venture, the Concord, a splendid partnership between the French and ourselves about which there has been some uncertainty. There have been many probing Questions in the House, quite a lot of them hostile from the benches opposite suggesting that the whole project should be abandoned. Indeed, some hon. Members have done everything they can to frustrate the success of this venture.
Now, however, we see the prospect of the first prototype taking the air next February and the first paying passenger taking his seat in June, 1971. Our nearest rivals, the Americans, are by their own admission three years behind us and there is no evidence that the Soviet Union is producing an aircraft to challenge ours. This aircraft pushes to the limit the conventional methods of aircraft construction and fills a definite need in the carrying capacity which is required by the airlines of world.
Recently, the Minister of Technology has been a little more favourable towards 142 the project, but all the time we have had to drag out of the Government the sort of enthusiasm which I should have thought they should have had at the beginning. Nothing short of deliberate sabotage can prevent the prototype from flying next February, and I hope that now that the Government appreciate that all the work and research have come so near to fruition they will do nothing to frustrate the testing of the prototype, and will do everything they can to encourage interest in the project and thus ensure its commercial success.
We have another industry in Bristol under savage attack from the Government, the tobacco industry. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne has very strong views about this. I join with him in wishing to see that over-indulgence in tobacco should not shorten life or cause death. Indeed, I am a non-smoker coming from a tobacco city, and I find the habits of many smokers utterly repulsive. It is a sad thing to me that cigarettes are now considered more lethal than pipes or cigars, because to me a pipe or cigar anywhere near is lethal, and I try to get as far away from either as I can.
I sympathise with the hon. Member in his medical views. It is obviously right that the Government, if they find that there is evidence that a social habit is injurious to health, should draw people's attention to the dangers, but I think that what people do with their lives is to some extent their own affair, and that there is a limit to the nature of Government intervention in this matter.
What I want to complain about particularly is the way the Government are now trying to tackle the problem by the quite arbitrary proposal to ban the use of coupons in the sale of cigarettes, because this discriminates against the Imperial Tobacco Company, which has a very fine record as an employer, and also, indeed, in the public life of the city. That company has pioneered and made a great success of the coupons, a most popular way of saving by means of paying extra for cigarettes but saving coupons and exchanging them for goods. It is a most popular process, of which this company has made a great success, and its rivals in the trade have failed to substantiate themselves in this market. 143 By their action the Government are discriminating against my constituents—indeed, constituents of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), who is even more intimately concerned in this.
Incidentally, it is just possible that by producing a reduction in the price of what would have been coupon cigarettes they may even encourage people to smoke more. I merely mention all this because I think that this is an arbitrary interference with normal terms of trade, and a dangerous one, which probably will not have the result which the Government want, Perhaps the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne will think again about his support of this proposal.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody
If it will help the hon. Member I can assure him that I am more interested in saving lives than in saving coupons.
§ Mr. Cooke
Yes. That is, no doubt, a very neat little phrase, but it does not really get us very far. I am interested in saving lives. I conclude my remarks about coupons by saying that I thought that the Government's proposal might even encourage certain people to smoke more. Perhaps this is quite the wrong way to go about the problem.
I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) present on the Opposition Front Bench, because he has taken a great interest in another great national affair which has a link with the City of Bristol. I speak of the great dock proposal at Portbury, in which I hope that I have the enthusiastic support of hon. Members opposite who represent Bristol constituencies, though they want it nationalised.
Having had our grand design turned down by the Minister after much vacillation, there was an attempt to whittle away the need for the grand design by giving little bits of development to other ports in various parts of the country. As a result, we have come forward with a much more modest proposal. I do not wish to debate that this evening, but there is one compelling reason why the Government should authorise our comparatively modest scheme. Above all, it 144 is a renewal of existing facilities. If we are not allowed to proceed with the modified scheme, the Port of Bristol will fall behind other ports in the facilities which it can offer. I am sure that that is not the Government's aim, and I hope that they will reconsider their attitude to the modified scheme, because it is a matter of considerable urgency.
I have written to the Prime Minister about all these matters, except the point about tobacco, and I have received a charming letter in reply which does not go very far. I hope to pursue the matter further with the right hon. Gentleman during the Session.
I hope that even this Government will realise that they are more likely to achieve what we all want in the shape of improved conditions of life by trying to create a working partnership between national Government, local government and private individuals. The take-over bid with the suggestion that the State must run everything—or, if not the State, a regional or local authority—is not the answer, because the problems which we see in the South-West and in the country generally have arisen because the Government simply cannot leave people alone. I hope that they will.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I begin by saying how much I welcome the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), though the only matter on which I agree with him is the point he raised about the future of the Concord.
I have listened to various speeches putting forward cogent arguments for the development areas. We have heard hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies telling us how high the unemployment rate is there. We have heard Members from the West Country, from Scottish areas and other parts of the country. When I say that I represent one of the supposedly prosperous parts of the Midlands, I should not like it to be thought that we do not have our problems as well. We have unemployment problems in my part of the Midlands, but they are nothing like as serious as those about which we have heard today.
This is the first Gracious Speech which I have been privileged to hear. I was 145 pleased with much of the content of it and particularly impressed by some of the proposals put forward for transport. In that connection, I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) has finally turned up, perhaps to hear what I have to say.
There are one or two things which I hoped would be included, particularly in respect of the fuel and power policy for the country which I want to see. I represent about 5,000 miners, and I am sorry to say that their future prospects have not improved as a direct consequence of the Gracious Speech.
The future for the miners whom I represent, and those in other parts of the country, is still very uncertain. A couple of weeks ago the Economist reported that the National Coal Board's projected output was 120 million tons a year in 1975. Working on the Board's ratio of 2,000 jobs for every million tons of coal mined, this means that about 124,000 jobs will be involved before 1975, if we can believe the figures published by the Economist. The other thing which makes the future so uncertain is that we still do not know the final potential of natural gas and nuclear energy in this country.
There are a number of other uncertainties, too, hanging over the heads of the miners. Various targets have been put forward and then changed, and, as if there was not enough uncertainty about the future, the miners are faced with the complication of going over to a new national wage agreement, and the complications of mechanisation and redundancy. They have enough on their plates to contend with without interference, as they might put it, from other sources of fuel
What strikes me particularly is that the machinery which should be dealing with these problems is not doing so adequately. We have the Ministry of Social Security, Government training centres, and all the other machinery for dealing with these problems, but nothing appears to be happening. In 1962 some miners were transferred from Scotland to the supposedly flourishing Warwickshire coalfields. They were told that they were going to a long-life pit, but only four years later they found that this pit was to be closed. This is one example of the uncertainty in the mining industry in my constituency, and 146 the kind of problem which the existing machinery is not dealing with.
I blame the party opposite for a great deal of what is happening now. It was hon. Gentlemen opposite who issued licences for natural gas. They foresaw the possibility of using nuclear energy as a substitute for coal. They should have foreseen the tremendous social consequences which would follow this change in the country's fuel policy, but they built only 12 Government training centres during their 13 years in office.
§ Sir C. Osborne
It is unfair of the hon. Gentleman to blame this side of the House. Does he not recall that only a fortnight ago Lord Robens said that the coal industry could save the Minister of Power £500 million if he used coal-fired power stations instead of nuclear-fired ones? Why does not the hon. Gentleman support Lord Robens, instead of attacking us?
§ Mr. Huckfield
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I was talking about the social consequences of the changed fuel policy and not about the fuel argument itself. It was the Conservative Government who started building the first atomic power station in this country, so I think the hon. Gentleman is slightly wide of the mark.
I would like to see the industrial expansion legislation referred to in the Gracious Speech being used to provide alternative employment where and when it has to be provided, but until that happens I want the existing machinery to be strengthened so that men can not only be properly compensated, but retrained and have other jobs found for them. This is not happening at the moment. I want to see more machinery established to create greater confidence among our miners. We have a declining industry, but let us make sure that it declines without the terrible social consequences to which hon. Members have been referring this afternoon.
There are about 10,000 car workers in my constituency. I wish that the situation was a bit brighter, but, unfortunately, we seem at the moment to be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. I only wish it might be possible, if we had to close a pit—and I hope that we do not—to transfer men to the car industry, but we cannot even tell by the figures issued 147 by that industry what kind of future it thinks it will have. In one month we have some very optimistic figures but in the next we have some very bad ones. We seem to have reached the stage where short time and redundancy are regarded as a way of managing the industry.
We have also reached a situation in which there is a great amount of foreign intervention, especially from the United States. One or two mergers are coming along. This is the kind of background which leaves the car workers very uncertain. I would have liked to see in the Gracious Speech something about the decasualisation of the car industry. We talk about decasualising the docks—and I hope that we shall be successful in this, as well as in the building industry—but I would like to see the car industry decasualised.
I would support—and many people outside the House would support—a full-scale Government inquiry to discover what is going on in the car industry. I am sure that some people in it do not know, and that some hon. Members do not know. I would like to see more certainty restored to the industry, and also to the aircraft industry. We have had one or two references to the Concord project. I was surprised to hear one or two of my hon. Friends advocating its cancellation. I wish they had a few aircraft workers in their constituences, or that they realised something of the future of the aircraft industry. Aircraft workers at Bristol Siddeleys, who live in my constituency, are very worried about the future of the Concord. I support a "full steam ahead" effort.
Although I would have liked to see something more for the miners, the car workers and the aircraft workers in the Gracious Speech, I was pleased to hear those parts of it which referred to transport. With the setting up of passenger transport authorities we shall have local transport run by local people, which is the most important step taken in public transport since the 1930 Road Traffic Act, which set up the present system. We shall have local people deciding what local transport services they want to keep and what they want to expand.
I would have hoped that from some of the various people in the industry—particularly the bus operators—we would 148 have some technical knowledge of this matter, and that from the unholy alliance between the Opposition Front Bench, the Passenger Vehicle Operators Association, the National Union of Ratepayers Associations and the various bus companies we would have had by now some serious discussion of the matter, but all we get are the same old 1947 slogans about nationalisation and State monopoly. Nothing constructive is said about the future of public transport as hon. Members on this side of the House would like to see it.
We want to get away from the 1930 legislation, and I am glad that the Gracious Speech included proposals to do just this. I am also glad that the Speech included proposals to make a more precise separation between the commercial and social sides of the transport system. I only hope that with this kind of mechanism being operated by passenger transport authorities it will be possible to subsidise and retain those services which, on a profit and loss basis, may not be economical but which, when we compare total social costs and social benefits, are a paying proposition.
In my constituency there is a railway line running from Nuneaton, through Coventry to Leamington Spa, which, if the cost of the extra congestion, wear and tear on vehicles, people late for work, and the additional cost involved were taken into account, on a strict social cost-social benefit analysis, would have proved worth keeping open. I hope that the passenger transport authorities will permit us to do that kind of thing.
I am also pleased to see that we are to get more co-ordination in freight transport, because I have always deprecated the practice which we have seen whereby the private road haulier has been taking the cream, leaving the State railway system with the rubbish. I have always thought that it should be the other way round. If there is some cream to be taken, let the railways have a fair share of it, too.
I am pleased with the Gracious Speech and I think that we shall have a very full Session of legislation, particularly in transport, and, I hope, in the development areas through the Industrial Expansion Bill. There are other points, which I have mentioned, which I should 149 have liked to have seen included, but I hope that it will prove possible, on the basis of some of the matters already included in the speech, to rectify some of the problems which I have mentioned.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Weatherill (Croydon, North-East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) will forgive me if at this late hour I do not follow his speech closely. In the 10 minutes available to me there is only one part of the Gracious Speech on which I should like to challenge his remarks, and that concerns the Industrial Expansion Bill.
I listened very carefully this afternoon to what the Prime Minister said about that Bill, and even now I am not clear exactly what it is intended to do. He said that the intention was to put State money into companies in the new technologies. I wonder why it is necessary for the State to do that. There is no shortage of finance today. One has only to look at the level of the Stock Exchange index to see that we have too much money chasing too few shares. In any case, we have I.C.F.C. and N.R.D.C., both of which exist to put finance into the technological industries and projects, and they have done so with considerable success. Why do we need a State holding company?
The Prime Minister castigated my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for voicing the fears of industrialists. As a businessman, I believe that industrialists have every right to be anxious about the Bill, which will give the State power of arbitrary and selective intervention in private industry. We await the publication of the Bill with the greatest possible interest. I suspect that it will turn out to be a misnamed Bill and that it will have very little to do with expansion and a lot to do with Socialism. When will the Government learn that the only way to create expansion in industry is by providing the right incentives and that the best incentive of all is profit? That, above all, will encourage the industrialists and the traders to go out, to take risks and to get business.
I know that "profit" is not a word loved by the Labour Party, although one cannot, say that of all of them. I was 150 interested to read extracts from a speech the other day by the Minister of Labour. Speaking on 19th August, he said:It is only the expansion of our industry that can in the end prevent even more unemployment. I do wish so many of our comrades would stop equating profits with incest or lechery. If you have a profitable industry you have the means for further investment and further development and more jobs. If you have an unprofitable industry you do not expand and you do not get more jobs.My quarrel with this Bill is that I do not believe that it will provide any incentives. It is, therefore, not surprising that the business community views it with cynicism and suspicion. If private enterprise is not stimulated by incentives, competition and sensible laws, it will do less well than enterprise in other countries, whose Governments understand better than ours how to release their people's energies.
Back in 1933, Mussolini introduced in Italy a Bill which was not very dissimilar to the Industrial Expansion Bill. His idea was to put State money into private industry. I freely admit that the conditions in Italy then were different from those in this country now, but the dividing line between Socialism and National Socialism is obviously very thin indeed.
During the Recess, I went to Italy to see how this corporation had evolved in the conditions since the war. Today, the I.R.I., which is the Institute for Industrial Reorganisation, is floated on the Italian stock exchanges and its shares are available to the public, but it still has a monopoly in airlines, television and radio and still owns about two-thirds of all the steel manufacturing capacity.
It has, I agree, done an excellent job in bringing industry to the underdeveloped South and in financing the motorway programme through a system of tolls—something which we could borrow from them—but the conditions in Italy are very different from those here and I was very struck when, on the final day, we discussed this with the president of the corporation, he said to us, "Definitely not for export."
The Government have no need to take equity interest in private companies. They already have a 40 per cent, stake in every industry through Corporation Tax. Their main concern should be to create the atmosphere which will enable company 151 profits to expand. The more industry pays as a result of expanded profits, the less the individual need pay and the sure way to lower personal taxation is through the expansion of industrial profits.
In any case, the State is a bad trader. The record of the nationalised industries is enough to prove that. The job of trading—it is difficult enough—should be left to those who understand it, to the manufacturers and the traders. The Government's job is to act as a referee and not as a player. Their rôle should be to ensure fair play and to blow the whistle if anyone gets offside, but not to take part in the game. This Bill will turn out to be a "swizz". I believe that it has very little to do with expansion and that it contains all the elements of nationalisation by the back door. I know that the Prime Minister said today that it would be voluntary, but we know how voluntary the wage freeze has been.
Above all, I fear that it will be used to "take in" the public. In the Spectator 152 this week, Nigel Lawson had this to say about it:To the heckler who asks What's happened to all that dynamic growth you were promising?' the Government spokesman will only have to answer, `Well, we've passed the Industrial Expansion Act. 'The Tories,'he will add for good measure, may talk of expansion; but when it came to the crunch they opposed the Industrial Expansion Bill every inch of the way'.Our judgment must be reserved until the Bill is published, but I believe that it is an unnecessary Bill, and that if it is bad, as I think it will be, we have a duty to oppose it every inch of the way.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Harper.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.