§ [First Day]
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
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.As is traditional, I say immediately how honoured is my constituency of Birmingham, Northfield to be associated with the privilege of moving this loyal Address. I doubt whether any other constituencies are so obviously linked with this stage of our history and economic recovery. Since the Middle Ages, Birmingham has been a centre of the metal-working industries. Smiths and Cutlers were busy in Birmingham in the 16th century and the House ought to be glad to remember that in the Civil War, Birmingham sword blades were supplied exclusively to the Parliamentary forces, to the anger of His Majesty and the Royalist forces, who ordered the town to be burned as a result.
During the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the great Birmingham of today was created and we boast many names in the industrial history of the country—Baskerville, whose type faces we depend upon here; Priestley, who discovered oxygen; Murdoch, who brought gas lighting; and, more important, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, who had a showpiece factory in Birmingham way back in 1774, employing at that time no less than 1,000 people producing coinage, buckles, steam engines and, curiously enough, Sheffield plate.
Birmingham remains the workshop of the world. My constituency, which, until half a century ago was only a collection of small villages and suburbs, stands out today because we produce that symbol of latter-day industrial society, the motor car, and many of its components. Several hundred thousands roll off the production line in my constituency every year and half of them, I am glad to say, go for export.
12 When we remember that the industry, as it strides ahead at last, will this year be accounting for £1 out of every £6 of our exports and will alone be adding £100 million to our export total, we can truly say that my constituency is at the spearhead of the drive foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech towardsa continuing and substantial balance of payments surplus".If we had another half-dozen great industries able to produce this surge in the current period, our balance of payments problem would be over.
I say this, however, in view of current rumours. We take seriously in my constituency the implied pledge of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, another Birmingham Member, who knows these things at first hand, that he will in future seek to use his powers of control over the economy to avoid making the motor industry into the regulator of the whole economy. I have said before in the House of Commons, and I say it again today, that one cannot knock an industry for six one minute and the next minute expect it to break all export records in earning our bread and butter.
Our close links in Northfield with economic recovery are exemplified, also, in the nature of the company which owns that motor car factory. Both sides of the House are, I think, agreed on the need for larger units if we are to compete effectively in world markets. The merger under Sir Donald Stokes, who is respected in all parts of the House and has made British Leyland into the largest motor car firm in Europe, came none too soon for this country. We have seen in recent days the near-merger between Fiat and Citroen, two giant competitors. The next stage—and I say this as an ardent European—may be for European mergers involving British firms and enabling our engineering and technological knowledge to join with others in truly European companies to the mutual advantage of all our national economies.
If I may intrude a personal note, it is on this very subject that I am being sent, in the coming days, from the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, for discussions in Brussels in what progress Europe is making.
Thirdly—and here I come back to the Gracious Speech and the paragraph concerning the Royal Commission on Trade 13 Unions and Employers' Associations—my constituency is the centre of one of our great national problems, that of industrial peace in industry. We await the Government's proposals with interest. In the meantime, we honour my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity for her success in getting a council which, with representatives from both sides, will examine in detail the whole of the bargaining and negotiating machinery of the car industry in an effort to streamline and simplify it and to do what it can to end the tragedy of unofficial strikes.
My constituency does not like unofficial strikes any more than any other, but I say this advisedly after 17 years there as its Member. Men do not strike frivolously. My own evidence of the pressure on them, and on me from their wives and families, indicates full well that practically everyone wants to outlaw the unofficial strike, as outlaw it we must if we are to pay our way in the world. We must, however, do it by ending the frustration, the inflexibility of the machinery, the confusion and the negotiating delays which today cause the unofficial strikes.
I hope that I am right in assuming that the honour accorded to me today is meant to be shared not only by my constituency, but also by the Select Committee on Procedure, in which I have been privileged to take the Chair in recent years. I hope that it is a tribute to the Committee's work, because during the past few years there have been more reforms and changes in this place than during any period since the early years of the century. The Gracious Speech itself, however, seems by tradition to neglect this part of our activity in the Commons.
The popular word today is "participation". General de Gaulle, I understand, sees it as the total cure for France's social malaise. In many countries the cry for participation is found behind student unrest. We find the word implicitly here behind proposals in the Gracious Speech—in the key sentence, for example, about a wide-ranging constitutional Commission to look into the government of the countries and regions of Britain, and presumably the Commission would examine possible devolution; in the proposals for the vote at 18, in the proposals for 14 regional development; and again, in the Bill to transfer public transport in London back to local government—the first, perhaps, of many moves to transfer services back to democratic control.
I say this to my fellow back benchers in the House: what about some participation for the House of Commons? What about a revolution here in this Chamber? One-third of our time is spent in discussing Government legislation, but when we in this Chamber get the Bills we find that every interested body down to the smallest in the land has been consulted—except us. I actually thought of volunteering to lead an unofficial strike on this matter, a good sit-in strike here in the Chamber, to emphasise the need for our revolution. But I reflected that, following the reforming zeal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), when he was Minister of Public Building and Works, it would not be much good having a sit-in strike here, because we actually control this part of the building now and there would be nobody to throw us out. We might be just left sitting here. The public, so accustomed to our stupidity in working through days and nights, would, perhaps, not notice the difference if we sat on and on and on and merely claimed that we were on strike.
More seriously, coming back to the word "participation", I suggest that this is a field for reform in the coming Session. The Select Committee on Procedure has pointed the way with ideas—I do not know why they have not been discussed before—for pre-legislation committees to consider difficult social problems and draft Bills; ideas for altering the very debate we are now starting upon so that it is upon a series of White Papers giving preliminary ideas for coming Bills; the suggestion that Specialist Committees should look in advance at some Departmental Bills, and the idea that some Standing Committees should become smaller and more informal, round-the-table discussions of Bills with Select Committee procedure. This would bring the process of participation in the House of Commons to the back benches. I hope that during the coming Session some of the work of the Procedure Committee will cover devolution that we give to Scotland and Wales; it 15 is time we had a look at what is going on in the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees.
Last of all, may I mention one more controversial proposal? I hope that we may get so far one day as to reconsider whether all initiative for tax increases must, under our procedure, lie with the Government, a shackling procedural convention which limits all our work and which may be at the heart of a possible far-ranging reform which might enable the Commons more effectively to share with the Government in the real management of our economy.
There is much more I could have mentioned. The Gracious Speech, for example, does not even mention one of the most joyful reforms we had looked to see, the proposal from the Select Committee, worked out in detail and worthy of pride of place on a grey October day, that we should adjourn for the summer every year on 10th July. I would have thought that that would not have seemed out of place in the Gracious Speech today.
More seriously, the Gracious Speech does mention many things which please me, as outlined, for example, in the paragraph about our European policy. I am glad that the Foreign Ministers of the Five are heading for consultation with us on practical proposals to build European unity despite the French veto. I welcome the proposals about immigration appeals, and, 60 years late, I welcome the proposal for reforming the Lords, for modernising old houses, and for earnings-related pensions.
I come to the end of what I want to say today, but I hope that it is not out of place in the tradition of the speech which I am making, to mention pride of party. We here are all party men, but that does not make us cyphers, rubber stamps, or evil and corrupt little men. We give our lives here for the great constructive principles which are basic to our party beliefs. I shall leave this House at the next General Election. I shall leave it with pride as firm as that of any other Member wherever he sits in any part of the House, pride in our party system, pride in our democratic process, pride in the renewal and steady modernisation of our laws and institutions, which are the basis of every Gracious Speech which comes before us 16 and which make our democracy the most stable and the most successful in the world.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
I beg to second the Motion.
I think all will agree that the Motion has been ably and delightfully moved by by hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman).
It is almost 14 years to the day that I first entered this Chamber. It was a day I shall never forget. I came in as the result of a by-election. My Chief Whip put me through the usual drill of five steps forward and bow, five steps forward and bow, and so on. Rather timidly, I asked him where I could sit in the House and he replied rather airily, "Oh, you can sit where you please". I took my seat—I shall never forget it—and I looked upon the face of my right hon. Friend. He was aghast; he had a look of horror. I thought my right hon. Friend was going to have a fit—I had taken my seat between my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and the late Mr. Sydney Silverman. I would warn hon. Gentlemen opposite. The name of my Chief Whip was Whiteley. Looking at the name of their Chief Whip, I would think "law" has a far more ominous ring than "ley".
Much more importantly, I shall not forget this day because it bestows on my constituency a great pride and honour in which all my constituents, whatever their political allegience, can share. My constituency consists of two urban districts, Mountain Ash and Aberdare. In its time, it has returned many distinguished Members to the House, two of whom I knew personally, the late Viscount Hall and the late Mr. Emlyn Thomas. I shall refer, for historical reasons, but very briefly, to two others.
It is fortuitous that this year Aberdare is celebrating the centenary of the election to this House of a man who is, perhaps, forgotten now, but who was a most sincere and able man. His name was Henry Richard. A hundred years ago the name of Henry Richard was known in practically every country of Europe, and well beyond; indeed, he worked unceasingly for mutual respect between nations. He endeavoured to 17 bridge the gap—perhaps this is the lesson for us now—between pure nationalism, as distinct from a narrow nationalism, and an international outlook. His name may be forgotten now, but he acquired and merited a description which has stood the test of time, in the language of my country, Apostol Heddwch, the Apostle of Peace. Justifiably he has been acclaimed as the forerunner, or one of the forerunners, of what ultimately became the League of Nations and is now the United Nations.
The second name needs no introduction, although it is sad to think that it is 53 years since he passed away. I am proud that my constituency returned here from 1900 to 1915, when he died, James Keir Hardie. No Labour constituency could wish for a greater honour.
Since it is an industrial area, my constituency has experienced the vicissitudes of two industrial revolutions. I say two in the context that I think the present changes that are taking place are the second. The first saw the emergence of the coal era in the valleys of South Wales, when men and women from all parts of the United Kingdom—and I stress the United Kingdom—flocked into our valleys. Until the end of the 1930s mining was the major industry. It is still the major industry today in my constituency and shares about 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the industrial complex. I am also proud to say that it is profitable, and I hope for many years to come it will contribute to the nation's wealth.
Naturally, contracting basic industries, and particularly in South Wales coal and steel, bring serious problems, and I am therefore glad to quote the Gracious Speech, which states:My Government will develop policies to encourage a better distribution of resources in industry and employment and to make fuller use of resources in the Regions.In this connection, the major problem is that of timing and phasing. I ask the Government to pay special attention to this aspect.
There is a general misconception that the South Wales valleys are ugly, humdrum and often parochial. Nothing could be further from the truth, as those who have visited the South Wales valleys know. My own town, Aberdare, is known as the Queen of the Hills, and the Cynon Valley is most beautiful from 18 beginning to end. Industrial scars remain, and I am glad that one of the items of the Gracious Speech, to which I will refer in a moment, has been included.
Speaking in a cultural sense, in the latter part of last century my own valley was known as the Athens of Wales, and that is no mean compliment. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is, I am glad to say, visiting Mountain Ash shortly, and I can assure him that he will receive a heartfelt and warm welcome. I warn him that if he seeks to have any enduring monument in my constituency he will have to display some cultural attainments. I am proud to think that the main monument in the centre of my town is not to a forgotten general or politician, but to a musician. Certain instruments come to mind; the harp in the hearts of the Welsh people and, perhaps, the violin in the hearts of hon. Members opposite.
The whole House will welcome with me the proposals for implementing the recommendations of the tribunal appointed to inquire into the tragic disaster at Aberfan. This must strike a sympathetic chord in all hearts. I know that none will take exception to my expression of gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his personal interest and sympathy in this; equally to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who has shown such patience and humanity in this difficult matter. We must hope, as a result of the proposals included in the Gracious Speech, that the sacrifice that my compatriots made will not be in vain, and that many industrial scars can be removed from the face of the fair valleys of my country.
I will strike a discordant note, I am sure, when I say that I welcome the Government's courage in its decision to reduce the age of voting to 18. I believe that this is long overdue, in spite of objections from those of us who are over 18 and well past it!
In a constitutional sense, the most important proposal is that a Commission be appointed to consider the Constitution. In recent months many irresponsible statements have been made, but I am glad to think that responsible people in Scotland and in Wales—a majority in 19 Wales at least—will welcome the opportunity to have a full and public scrutiny of all the facts. This will enable a calm judgment to be taken, not one based on mere slogans. The Government deserve to be complimented on this move, which, although I speak without authority, is I think unparalleled in the history of the United Kingdom.
I now come to my final point, on a most important matter; a lamentable omission from the Gracious Speech. I warn the Government that they will hear a lot about it in the months ahead. To my mind and in the minds of many of my compatriots, it dwarfs into insignicance references to such matters as non-proliferation treaties, and so on. I can best refer to it by relating briefly an incident which occurred to me.
Not long ago I addressed a meeting in a neighbouring constituency. I was reciting the large number of splendid achievements of my Government and, as all hon. Members will agree, it took a long time. I was encouraged by the attentiveness of the audience to expect a lot of questions, but when the time came for questions there was a long embarrassing pause. At long last a voice in a pejorative tone shouted from the back:Those things are all very well, but what about the sheep?One has to live in the valleys of South Wales to realise the significance of this. I would say that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Chief Whip, is taking a keen interest in straying sheep.
The French have an appropriate idiomatic expression for this. When they want to get away from irrelevancies, the non-proliferation treaty and so on, back to things that matter, they use the phrase "aux moutons"—back to the muttons, back to the sheep, back to the things that matter.
Some years ago, I endeavoured to introduce a Bill in the House to deal with this problem, and it had what I thought were illustrious beginnings. The proposals came from the Lord Chancellor's Committee of 1953. I moved my Bill at about 15 minutes to 2 o'clock on a Friday afternoon, and I was intrigued and delighted by the interest shown by hon. Members opposite who were then on this side of the House. One after 20 another they kept on talking until the hour struck four, and that was the last of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir Barnett Janner) has tried on a number of occasions to introduce a similar Measure.
I sit down with this happy and hopeful thought. One of the most important items in the Gracious Speech is the last one:Other Measures will be introduced.May I dare to suggest that the Government will tackle this. As the French would say, "aux moutons ", back to the sheep, and may the blessing of Almighty God rest upon their counsels.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of this new Session, on behalf of my right hon. Friends—though I am sure that the pleasure is shared by the whole House—I offer our congratulations to the new Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. At the same time, we join with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House in the thanks that he has expressed to the right hon. Member for Islington, East (Sir Eric Fletcher) for his work as Chairman during Sessions which were heavily burdened with Parliamentary business. We would like to voice our appreciation of what he did, because he always showed unfailing courtesy and consideration to every hon. Member. The positions which the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman occupy contribute a vital element to the working of our Parliamentary system. From this side of the House, we assure them that we will do our utmost to sustain them in the arduous task which they have now assumed.
I also welcome this first opportunity of commenting on the events in London last Sunday. We all appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had some very difficult decisions to take. He alone had the information on which to base them, and he alone could take them, If London had become a shambles last Sunday, he would have borne the blame in this House. It is, therefore, right that we should recognise and openly acknowledge the way in which he carried his responsibilities and the support that he gave to the police in carrying out their duties. We would also pay our tribute to the police for their calmness, firmness 21 and discipline. While acknowledging that the great mass of those taking part in the procession remained peaceful, we deplore the violence, particularly that which developed in Grosvenor Square, and the hazards to which the police were subjected. We must not overlook the fact that some Londoners were put to some inconvenience last Sunday afternoon and bore it with characteristic cheerfulness. Difficult questions of this kind may arise again in the future, but on this occasion the House can feel glad that such a demonstration passed off with comparatively little damage to our reputation as a country for toleration and fair play.
Once again we are confronted with a debate on a statement of what purports to be Government policy. It is the fifth statement by this Government. I am afraid that every adjective which can be used about these statements is already exhausted. Dreary, unimaginative, irrelevant, unrealistic: all have been used. In moving and seconding the Motion for the Address, even the hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and Aberdare (Mr. Probert) have been hard put to produce any convincing support for the Queen's Speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They have both had very long service in the House. I listened to their speeches with the utmost care, and what struck me most was the reiterated use of the phrase, "But, to be serious for a moment, Mr. Speaker". We have been trying to treat this Government seriously for a very long time, but I agree that it is almost impossible to do so.
I congratulate the two hon. Gentlemen for making the best of their opportunities. The mover did it most skilfully by devoting the greater part of his remarks not to the Gracious Speech but to the Select Committee on Procedure, over which he presides with great distinction. It is true that there have been many changes. They were not always reforms, and many of them were overthrown by the initiators. Nor do I see any need for back-bench hon. Members to be able to propose increases in taxation. The hon. Gentleman's own Government can do that, without any help.
However, the hon. Gentleman addressed us with his customary lucidity and good humour. He was rightly sceptical of his Government's undertakings about par- 22 ticipation. He also told us that he has decided not to stand again. This indicates that the Patronage Secretary's selection of him to move the Motion for the Address today may quite rightly be described as a sort of Chief Whip's farewell. He has joined the ever-lengthening queue, of which the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) is the latest. Anyone with less than an 8 to 10 per cent. swing which can be sustained is already joining those hon. Gentlemen.
When the hon. Member for Northfield leaves, we shall miss him. He has contributed greatly to matters of procedure here as well as to many other subjects. He has always been well-informed. He has shown courage individually on a number of occasions. He has always addressed us with eloquence and persuasiveness, and we thank him for an agreeable speech today.
Equally agreeable was the hon. Member for Aberdare. He spoke very warmly of his constituency and, with great practical knowledge, he held our interest. Without exception, we greatly enjoyed what he said. He, too, showed wit and humour. Whether his constituents will feel complimented by the explanation that he gave of his very large majority is a matter for them to sort out between them. Certainly we enjoyed his speech, and I hope that those of his constituents who read it will as well.
To judge how completely unrelated this Government's statements are to reality, it is only necessary to look back at the last Queen's Speech and at what has happened in the year since then. Certainly it has been a disastrous year for Britain. The key sentences were:The principal aim of my Government's policy is the achievement of a strong economy. This should combine a continuing surplus on the balance of payments sufficient to meet our international obligations and to maintain the strength of sterling with a satisfactory growth of output and with full employment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1968; Vol. 753, c. 5.]That was the commitment of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government to the House and the country a year ago. What a year it has been. The Gracious Speech referred to:a continuing surplus on the balance of payments".23 In the quarter in which the Queen's Speech was delivered, there was a deficit on visible trade of £332 million and, overall, a deficit of £365 million. So much for the continuing surplus on the balance of payments. For the year following the delivery of that Queen's Speech, the visible trade deficit was £880 million and, overall, for the three quarters following the Queen's Speech, the deficit was £859 million. That is the Government's continuing surplus on the balance of payments.
Then I come to the obligation to maintain full employment. Since that Speech, we have had the highest seasonal unemployment since the end of the war.
The Speech referred to the aim to maintain the strength of sterling. Within three weeks, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had devalued. He had devalued sterling, he had devalued the international £, he had devalued the £ in the housewife's pocket, and the Prime Minister had devalued himself.
We now know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he had decided already to devalue the £ a week or 10 days before the policy statement in the Queen's Speech. It was not just an answer by the Chancellor to some temporarily embarrassing question from an hon. Member. It was a deliberate policy statement, after the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself had decided 10 days previously that he would devalue sterling. When people hear that, is it any wonder that they become cynical about the operations of members of the Government? Having decided, apparently a month before, that he would devalue, why the delay, with all the risks involved in that? How can he ever be forgiven the monumental bumbling incompetence with which he handled devaluation when it came, having given himself a month after taking the decision in which to work out the effective handling of one of the most difficult financial operations in the country?
In the year which followed devaluation, we had the panic withdrawal from East of Suez against the Government's own policy arguments, abdicating responsibilities to friends and allies, all in a vain attempt to placate those who objected to the reintroduction of prescription charges.
24 It has been a year in which the toughest Budget ever imposed in peacetime has been placed upon the British people. It has been a year of industrial unrest, and one in which two senior members of the Cabinet resigned because they could not stand the Prime Minister any longer. It has been a year in which our international indebtedness piled up. The Chancellor was forced by circumstances—[AN HON. MEMBER: "This is Enoch Powell."] The Chancellor was forced by circumstances to negotiate the Basle Agreement. But the Prime Minister has come forward with his usual explanation: that wicked people outside—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Enoch Powell."]
§ Mr. Heath
—that wicked people outside last July were trying to create a crisis; that is the right hon. Gentleman's explanation now. He says that I was trying to create a crisis. But, as the White Paper on the Basle Agreement which the Chancellor has published shows, there was a serious crisis, and it was a continuing crisis since devaluation. It says:Diversification of reserves by sterling area countries increased and, in contrast to earlier periods, there was a significant fall in the total of officially held sterling balances as considerable sums were switched into other forms of reserves. This movement was particularly marked in the second quarter of 1968, when holdings of sterling by central monetary institutions of the sterling area were depleted by £230 million.That was in the second quarter alone, and it was only official holdings. That was the reason for the crisis. It was created by a lack of confidence in sterling even after devaluation. Of course, the Chancellor was forced to negotiate the Basle Agreement, and he has to recognise that the obligations which he has assumed are more onerous on Britain and on any Government than before that negotiation was completed.
However, one month's good trade figures in the middle of the summer were enough for the Prime Minister to stump the country, letting out whoops of delight about an economic miracle. But the next month's bad trade figures turned that dream into a nightmare. Now consumer expenditure is increasing. We read of the Chancellor being advised to take additional measures of restraint. Perhaps I 25 might ask the Prime Minister to deal with this in his speech today. Will he say whether the Chancellor will be taking these measures; will he deny that any measures are to be taken; or will he just leave it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to announce it after the Bassetlaw by-election? There is no need for that. The right hon. Gentleman can announce this afternoon, if he wishes, that he will take these measures, or he can deny it.
The improving balance of trade has to be set in the context that we need not an improvement so that there is still a deficit of £30 million a month, but a surplus of trade of £40 million a month continuously for at least 40 months; and a surplus of invisibles has to be added to that, as the Chancellor well knows, if we are to meet our debt repayments by the time appointed. That is the real task facing the country. Our criticism of the Government is that they have never proclaimed this task in its true size to the British people.
What does the Queen's Speech propose to do about this situation? Is there action for fresh incentives to enterprise, to employers and workers alike? None. Is there action for new inducements to save? None. Is there action to enable agricultural expansion to reduce imports? None. Just more general platitudes. Is there action to improve industrial relations? None. Just a White Paper. Will the Government act on industrial relations? I suspect not before the end of this Parliament.
At least we have been spared action to nationalise the docks. The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) has been ignored both in his policy and in the recommendations of his Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries.
The only positive proposal to deal with the economic situation is to convert the General Post Office into a public corporation. If the Bill is produced—for the second time of asking—the Postmaster-General will become redundant. This is devoutly to be hoped, both for his sake and for ours, for redundancy is a passport now to the Cabinet table. The biggest administrative fiasco of modern times which we have seen over the two-tier post fully entitles him to a place at that table.
26 The Government embark on this Session with a Cabinet of 23. In the Prime Minister's words it is, "excessive in size". At the Foreign Office we have nine Ministers. The less foreign policy we have the greater the number of Ministers in that Office. It is unequalled in size in any foreign office in the free world.
Five Ministers have now made themselves responsible for broadcasting. The Minister of Technology, whose rather crude expressions were rejected by the Prime Minister last Thursday at the same time as he repudiated the Minister.
The Secretary of State for Social Services, who commented, after his lecture, that it was so subtle that no one would have understood what he was really getting at—so he got away with it.
The new Paymaster-General. What does the right hon. Lady actually do? I hope that the Prime Minister can tell us a little about this. After all, she has been there for a fortnight so he should be able to tell us a little about what she does. The right hon. Lady has given a charming variety of explanations—including the fact that she is the Minister of Information and also supervises Ministers' speeches.
§ Mr. Heath
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) had better be careful. If he ever aspires to become a Minister he will not only need a licence; he will be vetted by the Paymaster-General.
The Postmaster-General has responsibility for broadcasting. And, of course, the Prime Minister, who has rightly rejected any introduction of control of broadcasting. I am sure that he is right about that. But he prefers to maintain his own vendetta with the B.B.C. by bullying producers in Blackpool hotel rooms.
On that part of the Queen's Speech dealing with foreign affairs we hope that it will be possible to have a day devoted to that subject in the course of the debate on the Address. May I ask the Prime Minister whether he is yet able to give the House any further information about the situation in Rhodesia and whether the Minister without Portfolio will be 27 going out for further talks with Mr. Smith?
There are some proposed Measures in the Queen's Speech which though not major ones are nevertheless welcome, though we will scrutinise the legislation carefully. One concerns the development of tourism, which I hope is not just another gimmick but a real recognition, however belated, of the immense importance of this industry to our balance of payments.
We welcome an increase in the pensions of retired members of the public services and their dependents. We have put forward proposals and we shall judge the Government's legislation, when it comes, against them.
We welcome the encouragement of the repair and improvement of older houses and their environment.
We also welcome legislation to give rights of appeal against decisions taken in the administration of immigration control. This legislation is unlikely to be controversial, but we shall wish to discuss it in detail.
A major omission from the Queen's Speech is any proposal for school education or higher education. Perhaps this is not surprising. As a result of the Government's mishandling of local government finance, the education service today is facing its worst crisis since 1931. Hon. Members on both sides who are in touch with their local authorities know that to be true. No doubt the Government will try to push the responsibility for this on to the locally elected Conservative local authorities, but we shall make certain that the blame is pinned where it really belongs.
If the Government really believe in participation, as the hon. Member for Northfield said they do, or wants them to, let them acknowledge the views of the local authorities which were elected much more recently than were the Government themselves. There can be no true participation when their views are overruled in housing and in education as the Government are doing.
For the rest of the Queen's Speech, it is a case of "kept under close review" for social security, and "give special attention" to the health and welfare services.
28 I think that the most extraordinary statement I have seen for a long time in a Queen's Speech is that the Governmentwill begin consultations on the appointment of a Commission on the constitution.It is not "action on the constitution", or "appoint a commission", nor even "conclude consultations for the appointment of a commission", but for a whole Session justbegin consultations on the appointment of a Commission.What a contrast with those 100 days of dynamic action, and those 1,000 days as dynamic as the first 100 to which the Prime Minister was looking forward. All they hope for now with the constitutional Commission is something to see them out for the rest of this Parliament.
In this Session they are again proposing the reform of the House of Lords. No doubt the Government will publish a White Paper containing the Prime Minister's proposals. I hope that the Leader of the House will give us an opportunity fully to debate the White Paper on such an important constitutional question before the legislation is published. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to give us that assurance this afternoon.
The other Bill of importance is that to give votes at 18. It strikes me as surprising that when the Government feel so passionately about these constitutional reforms they should be so coy about the reform of Parliamentary boundaries. The Gracious Speech contains no reference to implementing the proposals of the Boundary Commission. I think that one can imagine a reason why. It is widely expected that all the recommendations will be submitted this Session, although I know that the latest date is November 1969. Perhaps I might remind the House that in 1954 the boundary recommendations were submitted to the Home Secretary on 10th November, they were laid before Parliament on 18th November, and debated in the House on 15th December, a period of five weeks in all. Surely there is no reason why there should be any greater delay over the recommendations on this occasion.
The Government are enthusiastic about votes at 18, but reluctant to make democracy in this country really representative. How can it be representative when the vote of one man in the 29 smallest constituency is equivalent to the votes of five men in the largest constituency? Let us look at the practical position of the largest constituency, Billericay, the figure for which is now 109,000. If the Bill to give votes at 18 is passed, anything between an additional 5,000 and 10,000 voters will be added to the constituency, making the figure nearly 120,000. There can be no possible justification for delay by the Home Secretary or by the Government in implementing these recommendations when they come, and I ask the Prime Minister now to give an absolutely firm assurance that they will be implemented at once.
The other thing which is so puzzling about the Government's attitude is why they should be so keen to give votes at 18 when, as a party and as a Government, they have so little to offer the younger generation. They have nothing better to offer in education. Look at the cuts which are being carried through now. They have nothing to offer as a better means of saving, and no bigger incentives to offer through reducing taxation. They offer no encouragement to people to develop their own potential, to build up their own businesses, or to stand on their own feet. There is no enthusiasm or sense of purpose from the Government, and a party without that cannot claim the allegiance of the younger generation. Their own party's youth movement demonstrates that more clearly than anything. The Queen's Speech offers nothing to the younger generation, nor to the country. It is the work of tired men who should now be allowed to take their rest.
The House and the country know that the political health of the nation demands an early dissolution, and an appeal to the country. Whichever Government sit on that side, they should be clothed with the authority of national support, not a party fatally eroded in by-election after by-election and in every test of public opinion to which it has been subjected. The Prime Minister knows that those are not my words, but his own. Let the Prime Minister for once take his own advice.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
While not necessarily following the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) in all the points that he has 30 raised, I associate myself wholeheartedly with the first three, after which I thought the right hon. Gentleman's speech seemed to deteriorate a little.
The right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the retiring Chairman of Ways and Means, and offered his good wishes, and those of his hon. Friends, to the new Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. All of us join the right hon. Gentleman in that.
I thought, also, that the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the events of last weekend in London, and what he said about the police and his generous reference to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, again echoed the feelings of us all.
Then again, although I thought that the right hon. Gentleman did it a little less enthusiatically than usual, I associate myself with what I know was his genuine tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), the mover and seconder of the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech. As usual, listening to my two hon. Friends the House as a whole became more learned in the various aspects of history and geography of the two constituencies represented, and the House emerged from the speeches instructed and entertained.
It is always an occasion, when the Address is moved and seconded, for the hon. Members who have the honour of being chosen to do that to refer to their constituncies above all. My hon. Friend the Member for Northfield referred to the major industry in which his constituents are engaged, and I think that he and his constituents will be glad that the figures published only yesterday morning for the car industry's progress in September show that, despite being badly hit by strikes, the industry last month achieved an all-time record output, and an all-time record of production for exports—38 per cent. up on last year.
On the face of it, there could hardly be a greater contrast between the constituency of my hon. Friend to whom I have just referred and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare. A generation ago, with areas like North-field attracting new industry, Aberdare and Mountain Ash were classic examples 31 of the misery, the distress and the mass unemployment of the Welsh valleys. There were young men who never had even a chance to work, with a whole generation growing up almost without hope. It is because those memories still strike deep, not only in Wales, but throughout the other development areas that Her Majesty's Government are giving, and will continue to give, unremitting attention to every possible means of bringing full employment to these areas.
The unemployment figure in Aberdare is still 4 per cent., still too high. Before 1964, six collieries were closed in my hon. Friend's division without a penny compensation or help in redundancy from Government funds. Now, as a result of the Government's fuel policy, and the Coal Industry Act, which was passed last session, any redundancy following colliery closures in South Wales or elsewhere will attract much more humane and generous treatment.
Long-service miners over 55 who are unable to find alternative work will, for three years, draw up to 90 per cent. of their average take-home pay before closure. But our main concern is to get alternative work in these areas, and this, with the help of new incentives without parallel in the history of development area legislation, we are determined to do.
I think that the House should know that special discriminatory assistance to the development areas this year, including the additional investment grant differential, is running at £250 million in our national expenditure, compared with about £150 million last year, and a mere £18 million during the last year of the stewardship of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when the right hon. Gentleman himself was President of the Board of Trade and had a much longer title than he has now.
Before coming to the main proposals of the Gracious Speech, it is usual to say a word about Private Members' time and other domestic affairs of the House. We propose that the usual 22 days should be allotted, but suggest that the experiment we tried last Session, under which more Private Members' time is devoted to legislation—and I think that the Opposition agreed about this—should be continued in the new Session.
32 On Supply, the provision in Standing Orders of 29 days will apply, and we shall be continuing the arrangement introduced last year under which four half-days may be taken at short notice for business which the Oppositon deem to be urgent. I must warn the House that the programme set out in the Gracious Speech is a very full Session's work. It may be less rich in highly-controversial legislation than in recent years—this we shall have to find out—although the House is not likely to get bored. The Chamber still echoes with the forgotten controversies of previous years.
Last year, in the debate on the Address, we met under the threat of a great Opposition campaign to fight the Industrial Expansion Bill. Not only the Opposition but private enterprise was told by the right hon. Gentleman to fight that Bill. But that is all forgotten now. The Bill has been law for less than six months, but already its powers have been used, for example, in helping to bring about the formation of International Computers Ltd., the biggest computer complex outside United States ownership.
Its powers have already been used to make possible the siting of the three aluminium smelters in the Scottish, Welsh and northern development areas. The great Parliamentary storm of a year ago has produced an Act which is now accepted by the whole House, just as earlier we had that great controversy on the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Bill, which hon. Members opposite fought right through the last election and went on to fight both by day and by night in this House.
The I.R.C. is fully established—almost part of the Establishment itself—fully accepted and responsible for a wide and growing range of measures of industrial reorganisation. It has had, is having and will increasingly have, a powerful effect in modernising industry and in sharpening our attack on export markets. I make bold to say that by this time next year, perhaps, it will be possible to say the same thing of another highly controversial Measure—the imaginative and constructive Transport Bill. It was hard-fought in this House and in another place. It is now law, Now the task of modernising our transport system can go ahead. Indeed, it will be carried forward by the legislation, announced this morning, to integrate transport in London 33 under the control of the Greater London Council.
The right hon. Gentleman asked—he was anxious about this—about the Government's proposals for the establishment of a more efficient and effective ports organisation for the major ports, on a basis of public ownership. I can set his anxieties at rest by telling him that the Government intend shortly to lay before the House a White Paper setting out our proposals with a view to subsequent legislation.
The theme of the Gracious Speech is continuing action, legislation and administration to speed the long-overdue modernisation of Britain. I have summarised elsewhere the main modernisation themes—and before the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) rushes from the Chamber to the Table Office I hasten to assure him that the speech to which I have referred is still in the Library.
Law reform, industrial modernisation, regional renewal and regeneration, the modernisation of our social institutions, and institutional reform, with Fulton—and with Maud and Donovan to follow. And this Session, legislation about Parliament itself. A Parliament containing a House whose greatest charm is that its form and composition still whisper the last enchantments of the Middle Ages stands in urgent need for more fundamental reform.
The House will know of the decision a year ago to convene a conference of leaders of the main political parties in both Houses in the hope, which became more confident as the talks progressed, that it would be possible, on the basis of a great deal of give and take, to reach an all-party agreement about the place, composition and powers of the Second Chamber in this day and age.
By the summer the conference had reached agreement on the main outlines of a comprehensive scheme for Lords' reform and had also made a great deal of progress with details of its implementation. The House will be aware of the events which led to these discussions being broken off. When I announced this on 20th June, and said that we would put our own proposals forward, I said that we could draw on the experience of this all-party conference. Later 34 this week I hope that the Government will be publishing a White Paper setting out our proposal—and in reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I agree that there should be a debate in the House after the publication of the White Paper at a mutually convenient time, before any introduction of legislation.
All I feel it right for me to do in advance of the White Paper is to stress the principles on which we have approached the problem. We started from the standpoint that any reform should be based on the following propositions: first, in the framework of a modern Parliamentary system the rôle of the Second Chamber should be complementary to but not rivalling that of the Commons; secondly, the reform should, therefore, be directed all the time towards promoting the more efficient working of Parliament as a whole; and, thirdly, that once the reform had been completed the work of the two Houses should become more closely co-ordinated and integrated, and the functions of the House of Lords should be reviewed.
Specifically, the Government believe that reform should achieve the following objectives: first, the hereditary basis for membership should be eliminated; secondly, no one party should possess a permanent majority; thirdly, in normal circumstances the Government of the day should be able to secure a reasonable working majority; fourthly, the powers of the House of Lords to delay legislation should be restricted; and, fifthly, its absolute power to withhold consent to subordinate legislation against the will of the Commons should be abolished.
I now turn to the broader aspects of constitutional reform. The Gracious Speech announces—the right hon. Gentleman had a little good-natured fun with this—that the Government will begin consultations on the appointment of a Commission on the Constitution to consider the changes that may be needed in the central institutions of government in relation to the several countries, nations and regions of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman seemed worried that we would not conclude them this Session. We are going to conclude them in this Session, and get on with the job. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that we shall not be able to conclude 35 them if we do not first begin them. One of the reasons why on this as on another matter about which he complained about delay—namely, Donovan—is that his Government never even began the process.
The House is aware of the strong feeling, not only in Scotland and Wales but in many parts of England, of a greater desire for participation in the process of decision-making, nearer—wherever this is possible—to the places where people live. In Scotland and Wales these feelings have developed far more extreme forms and no one in this House would discount the national emotions which have been aroused and, as some would feel, unscrupulously played upon by the leaders of these movements. The House is aware of some of the more extreme demands which the majority of hon. Members from both Scotland and Wales would feel highly prejudicial to the future of Scotland and Wales. That is particularly the case with economic development, where some ideas and slogans would seem to preclude the harnessing of the economic resources of Britain as a whole for the good of Britain's constituent parts and countries.
But these are not the only problems. There are urgent problems in Northern Ireland on which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I will be meeting the Northern Ireland Prime Minister and some of his colleagues next week. Also, there are special problems which have aroused considerable anxieties in the areas concerned, relating to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The terms of reference to be recommended to Her Majesty will be a matter for consultation, and if I now indicate to the House a possible form of words these are our first thoughts and are subject very much to amendment as a result of the consultations.
The Government feel that the terms of reference might well be on some such lines as these—although these can be amended and discussed:
to examine the present functions of the central legislature and government in relation to the several countries, nations and regions of the United Kingdom;
to consider, having regard to developments in local government organisation 36 and in the administration and other relationships between the various parts of the United Kingdom, what changes, in the interests of prosperity and good government, are desirable in those functions or otherwise in present constitutional and economic relationships;
to consider, also, whether any changes are desirable in the constitutional and economic relationships between the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
I have read those out rather quickly. The House will probably want to study them. As I say, there will be further consultations.
Hon. Members will be concerned that the Commission should be so constituted that there will be on it sufficient members to be able to speak with authority about the different constituent parts of Britain, and to be capable of evaluating widely differing viewpoints. One way of achieving this might be to draw on the familiar practice in connection with Royal Commissions of some years ago. I am thinking, for example, of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, where, in relation to the Commissioners, full or part-time Assistant Commissioners might be appointed. This will enable the Commission to constitute panels which could study in still greater depth the problems of individual countries or areas.
The Commission will inevitably take some time to report. This might be thought to constitute a bar to action on matters which lie within its terms of reference or even on their periphery. It is for this reason that we have tried to import into the suggested terms of reference a degree of dynamism and movement, so that this House and other authorities concerned will be free to take action on urgent questions even ahead of the Report of the Commission. The Commission would be required to take account of decisions of this House while the Commission was sitting.
What I have in mind, to take one example, is this: in the near future we hope to receive the reports of the Royal Commissions on Local Government in England and Scotland respectively. Action to be taken following those Reports ought not to have to wait until the Constitutional Commission has finished its work.
37 On the other hand, decisions taken following Maud and Wheatley may well have some bearing on the Commission's consideration of some of the central issues referred to it and may help it in its thinking. Again, the Commission, in its work, will need to take into account any action, legislative or any other, which may need to follow the talks with the Northern Ireland Government, to which I have referred.
Many of the problems in all the constituent nations of the United Kingdom are of great urgency, and Parliament must be free to act while the deeper issues, some of them the most emotive, are being studied. One decision that does not need to await the setting up of a Commission refers to further administrative devolution.
§ Mr. Heath
Would the Prime Minister clarify one point about the Commission? Does he adhere to the pledge which he and Mr Attlee, when he was Prime Minister, gave, that there should be no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland without the free assent of the people of Northern Ireland?
§ The Prime Minister
It was not exactly in those terms, as the right hon. Gentleman may remember, but the pledge given by Mr. Attlee in the debates on the Ireland Act, 1949 has been repeated by me and stands, in the words in which Mr. Attlee and I were quoted.
This does not prevent this House and this Government discharging their responsibilities and expressing very real concern for what has been going on in Northern Ireland during these last few weeks and years. The right hon. Gentleman's concern about "one man, one vote", which he expressed in another context, sounds very odd when laid against the background of Londonderry.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in this context he is only speaking about the situation with regard to the Border and not about any other situation in Northern Ireland?
§ The Prime Minister
The pledge given by Mr. Attlee—I do not have the text in front of me—referred to the question of partition and required the assent of the Northern Ireland Parliament. I think that that is the exact term of the quota- 38 tion, but, obviously, this is too important to be the subject of an interchange in the middle of a speech. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman should feel free to follow it up on another occasion.
I was talking about administrative devolution, not in Northern Ireland but in Wales. While the Secretary of State for Scotland is already responsible for health and agricultural services in Scotland, there has, as yet, been no corresponding devolution in respect of Wales. We now intend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales should assume responsibility for health services in Wales. The Welsh Board of Health should in future report to him and we also intend that the Secretary of State for Wales should share with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food responsibility for working out agricultural policy and for the administration of agricultural affairs in Wales.
The appropriate transfer of function Orders will be laid before the House in due course. The new statutory tourist boards, which we take very seriously indeed, which it is proposed to establish for both Scotland and Wales, will be responsible to the respective Secretaries of State.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
The Labour Party also undertook to give the Secretary of State for Wales responsibility for education. Is that also to be done?
§ The Prime Minister
I have said that these matters are continuously kept under review. The last time that I refused to do anything about health or agriculture I said that there were good reasons then, and there were. In my view, there are still good reasons why there should not be a full transfer of responsibility in education. One of them is the very heavy expenditure required to come out of the national Exchequer for education.
I turn briefly from the constitutional point to law reform. Even given the acute pressure on Parliamentary time that we have had, this House and another place have good reason to be proud of the achievements in law reform over these past few years. There has been the establishment of the Law Commissions which, slowly but surely, are getting on with the massive job of bringing our law 39 up to date. In the long term their work may have as much effect on the social life of Britain as any other reform in recent years. The Gracious Speech makes it clear that legislation will be introduced to make reforms in the administration of justice which will provide for an increase in the jurisdiction of the county courts and will enable cases involving points of law of general public importance to go direct from the High Court to the House of Lords.
Hon. Members will have noted the other very wide-ranging series of measures introduced in the sphere of justice and law reform and I will not weary them with further details now. They will be very fully explained by my right hon. and learned Friends when they come before the House.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford on Avon)
The Prime Minister has said that, so far as law reform is concerned, he will wait for the proposals of the Commission. He has said that as to constitutional reform concerning the relations of the various parts of the United Kingdom he will wait for a Commission. As far as the constitutional powers of this Parliament in both Houses are concerned, he is proposing to deal with this by unilateral legislation, without consultation. Would it not be better to have a Royal Commission on the constitution as a whole, concerning the power of the Second Chamber as well?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member has misunderstood the position. What has happened is that there were very full inter-party consultations, which were advanced a very long way, when unilateral action was taken in another place, totally contrary to the spirit of those consultations. I have said that in preparing our White Paper we have taken full account of the all-party discussions. When the House sees what we have proposed, particularly those Members who were on the all-party committee, it will be agreed that what I have said is very fair. The House will have a chance further to debate this matter. We have had very full consultations which were broken off only in June—
§ The Prime Minister
I have already explained, many times, why that was done, because the other place was being used as the poodle of right hon. Gentlemen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They proudly claimed that at the time, until it went wrong.
I turn from reform in our constitution to modernisation in our provision for social security. The past four years have seen great reforms in our provisions for the less privileged and the casualties of our industrial and social system. The House has debated and passed legislation on, for example, increased benefits, the earnings rule for widows, resettlement allowance, redundancy payments, earnings-related supplements for short-term unemployment and sickness, on the pre-1948 compensation cases, and the rate rebate scheme, which has already helped about 1 million low-income households, and on the absorption of the National Assistance Board into the Social Security Department.
That is a proud record in four years. None of these things had been done during the 13 preceding years. This next Session we shall be settling the next great step forward in the administration of the National Health Service, following public discussion on the Green Paper published by my right hon. Friend in July.
We shall be bringing forward the Government's proposals arising out of the Report of the Seebohm Committee on Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services, and we shall be informing the House of the implications—I presume that there will be implications; I certainly hope that there will—for still greater humanity and efficiency in the operation of the social security and welfare services, which may be possible as a result of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government. And in preparing recommendations to the House on all these matters, we shall be greatly assisted by the merger which takes effect this week of the two principal Ministries in this field under my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Social Services.
But what I believe will make this Session historic in the field of social welfare and the development of the national social service system will be the publication of the Government's proposals for relating the whole of National 41 Insurance contributions and benefits, including retirement pensions, to earnings. This study is now very far advanced. The Government believe that this structure will meet the needs of modern society better, more efficiently and, above all, with more humanity than the present National Insurance scheme. In particular, the change will mean increased scope for improved benefits without penalising the low-paid contributor.
The Government will publish their plans this winter and will give full opportunity for public discussion of proposals which may well condition our social security system for the remainder of this century. This will be a scheme which in its very size and conception is as great as Beveridge—but more radical than Beveridge. The Government intend, given acceptance by the House, to have the legislation on the Statute Book within the present Parliament. In the meantime, of course, we shall continue to keep benefit levels under the current scheme under close review.
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr (Rochester and Chatham)
Will the Prime Minister be kind enough to say whether the basic retirement pension can be raised immediately?
§ The Prime Minister
I should not like to raise my hon. Friend's hopes in that context at this time. I ask her to await the consideration of this and all other matters in the White Paper when it is published, I hope in a few weeks' time.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
The Prime Minister expressed the hope that the new social security arrangements would pass through Parliament during the lifetime of the present Parliament. Does that imply that it is the intention that they shall be in operation before the end of the present Parliament?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman had better wait and see the White Paper and the whole timetable which is involved. We want a full debate on the White Paper. We shall then proceed to legislation, and I hope to get it through. But the right hon. Gentleman had better wait and see. He has great authority on these matters and he will form his own view when he sees our proposals.
42 Also within the social services field are the Measures relating to education. The right hon. Gentleman expressed his disappointment that there was not to be a new, major Bill on education this Session. I can tell him that work is going on with a new and wide-ranging education Bill, but, clearly, that must wait for the Royal Commission on Local Government. It is so much involved with local government reform that it is right for that Bill to await conclusions until we have—as we hope to have shortly—the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government.
The right hon. Gentleman's statements about the educational position in the country were extraordinary, coming from him. He knows of the very big increase in provision for education under the present Government compared with the time when he was a member of the Cabinet rather more than four years ago. For him to complain that we are making inadequate financial provision for local authorities at this time when there is an all-time record in respect of the figures—which I have given on many occasions—is astonishing.
For him to say that we should be giving a lot more to education and, at the same time, to campaign throughout the country on the basis that he will reduce taxation, is also astonishing. When he speaks like this of education, defence and other matters, it means that those pledges which he gives merit the comment which he himself applied to the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in the North-West, when his right hon. Friend pledged himself to halve Income Tax.
Within the field of education, the principal Measure to be laid before the House relates to the educational element within the urban programme which I announced last May in a speech at Birmingham and about which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave details to the House in July. Under that programme, providing for additional grant aid for local authority expenditure in urban areas of special social need, the Government have made nursery schools and classes a first educational priority. There will be no disagreement with my right hon. Friend's insistence that nursery education can make a contribution to the well-being of 43 young children which is disproportionate to the not inconsiderable cost involved. For young children from deprived homes, this importance goes far beyond purely educational benefits. Still more, it can be measured also in social, health and welfare terms.
In yet a third area of modernisation within the social field, I draw the attention of the House to the announcement in the Gracious Speech about legislation relating to the repair and improvement of older houses and their environment. The purpose of the legislation will be to give effect to the White Papers published by the housing Ministers, "Old Houses into New Homes" and "The Older houses in Scotland—a Plan for Action". Hon. Members will know from recent surveys that the condition of many of our older houses is worse than has previously been admitted or supposed. There are more slums, more houses in serious disrepair and more in need of improvement than our predecessors' estimates had shown.
We have always taken the view that in many areas the problem is so widespread that it cannot be handled except on the basis of dealing with whole areas of old houses and that local authorities must take the lead. Substantially increased costs will rank for grant aid where owners improve their property—and in many cases that will come to as much as two-and-a-half times the present levels. Local authorities will be given clear powers to improve the environment of housing areas and a new specific grant to help them.
There will be provision for fair rents with safeguards for the tenant; provision to give local authorities power to ensure that houses are kept in reasonable repair; and in the case of closure or clearance of owner-occupied houses, provision for compensation providing for full market value—instead of just the site value—for owner-occupiers in the general case which will be covered under the Act.
I turn to provisions relating to industrial modernisation. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary, following the consultations with industry on the conclusions of the Donovan Report, and the Government's own searching reappraisal 44 of British industrial relations in the light of that Report, hopes to lay a White Paper before Parliament before the end of the year.
Dealing with individual industries, we shall have the major Bill to transfer the management of the Post Office from a Government Department to a public corporation, a process which began under our predecessors seven years ago, when they separated its finances from the Treasury, but completing it in perhaps a more radical way than was then envisaged.
In another important industry, merchant shipping, the Government intend to get rid of the absolete and archaic provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, which related to the conditions of service, of seamen. Those of us with constituencies with a large seagoing community know how this obsolete legislation, now in its 75th year, has poisoned and aggravated relations within the industry and how necessary it is that we should now legislate.
In accordance with precedent I have tried to devote as much time as possible to giving the House fuller information that is possible in the Gracious Speech about the major legislative proposals with which the House will be dealing in the new Session. I am not intending to cover the whole ground, but there is the Immigration Appeals Bill, which is to give effect to the recommendations of the Wilson Committee; the Bill to provide assistance for hotels and thus help the tourist trade; the Bill to implement the recommendations of the Aberfan Tribunal; the legislation on fisheries; the Measure foreshadowed this morning on increased pensions for public servants—and other forthcoming Measures. My right hon. Friends, in this and subsequent debates, will, of course, put the House more fully into the picture about what is proposed.
This coming Session, like the last, will continue to be dominated by the economic situation, and by the measures which are still as necessary as ever if we are to secure the required balance-of-payments surplus and to reinforce that improvement for the long-term future. I repeat that, whatever encouraging signs we have seen in recent months, there is 45 still a long way to go. In a rather backward-looking speech, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be blind to the encouraging signs. But whatever the encouraging signs we have seen in recent months, there is still a long way to go. There can be no question of let-up or easement until economic viability and independence are firmly assured.
I do not propose to deal with all the aspects of the current economic situation, despite the temptation presented to me by the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Although this is obviously fundamental to what the House will be concerned with, I do not propose to go into the matter at the length at which the right hon. Gentleman discussed it, since I understand that it is likely that we will be debating the economic situation on an Opposition Amendment to the Address. I congratulate the Opposition on having summed up sufficient courage at last to mount an economic debate—away from which the right hon. Gentleman so sharply marched his troops last July, having spent the previous month, with much preliminary trumpet-work, getting them to the top of the hill. It is wonderful what a whiff of Blackpool air can do for one.
Taking the immediate issue of the economic situation and trying to bring it slightly more up-to-date than did the right hon. Gentleman's speech, it is worthy of note that, during the summer, hon. Members expressed some anxiety about the continuing high level of imports, and they were right to be concerned. However, at that time and since then we have had a continuing strong upward trend in exports. During the last three months, exports have been running at the rate of 25 per cent. higher than in the second and third quarters of last year; that is, before dock strikes began to affect comparability. [Interruption.] I am referring to 25 per cent. over three months and not over any one month. Of this 25 per cent., 15 per cent. represents an increase in export volume. I will come to exports again in a moment.
Production has started to rise. The Board of Trade investment survey shows prospects of a sharp improvement in industrial investment. The prices and incomes policy—despite the enormous difficulties of operating such a policy in a free society and despite the controversy 46 which has attended so much of my right hon. Friend's work—is showing real results, particularly in terms of a much greater concentration by both sides of industry on productivity. Productivity during the last three months for which figures are available appears to have been nearly 7 per cent. above the same period of last year, both for industry as a whole and for manufacturing industry. I wonder why, for example, the right hon. Gentleman could not find it in his heart to mention that?
We warned that prices would rise as a result of devaluation. They have risen, but prices have shown greater stability in recent months. The Retail Price Index, following the post-Budget increases, has risen by under 1 per cent. during the past four months. The right hon. Gentleman referred to unemployment. Like him, we have been watching the trend in the summer with some concern. The level is still too high, but now the trend appears to be turning downwards again.
I repeat that our policy here is full employment, both nationally and with a progressively sharp diminution in the employment gap between the prosperous areas and the rest of the country. It is not merely a question of achieving full employment, but of safeguarding it for the future, and that is why the House has supported us in so many unpalatable Measures.
I referred to exports. The House will have read day by day the reports in the business sections of the Press, in the C.B.I. Industrial Survey and in the statements of leading industrialists of the extremely encouraging volume of new orders to a very wide section of industry. I have referred to the motor car industry and computers—both able to take advantage of increased export orders because of Government-aided reconstruction under the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Act. Hon. Members will have seen the statement last month—I recall the gloomy forecasts three years ago when TSR2 was cancelled—by the aircraft industry's own trade association, to the effect that by the end of this year the industry will have received orders worth well over £800 million.
Last week, the Financial Times recorded new orders in shipbuilding worth £327 million, £100 million more than a year ago—again, made possible only because 47 of reconstruction following the passage of the Shipbuilding Industry Act. Last week, it was announced that export orders in the engineering industry generally were picking up again; indeed, were about 8 per cent. above the average for 1967.
The House will have seen reports of the speech made yesterday by Sir Donald Stokes. I hope that he does not get into trouble with the right hon. Member for Bexley for using the word "miracle". The right hon. Gentleman, for about the fifteenth time, referred to my use of that word, obviously because he did not study the speech. [Interruption.] The right Gentleman got it wrong again today. He said that I had referred to an "economic miracle" on the basis of one month's figures. He must know that the figures could not have been known to me when that speech was prepared. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is not always accurate on these matters. I trust that he will look at the dates again.
If the right hon. Gentleman will study that speech, which is very much in the Library—I would be glad to send the right hon. Gentleman a copy—he will see the precise context in which the phrase was used. I trust that he will read it. He will find that it was a specific reference to what is happening in industrial modernisation and restructuring and that it was based on the proposition that this time—because it takes time; it takes some years for an industrial miracle of this kind to come true—we are not leaving it to the other side to reap the fruits of what we have done. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Who is paying the bill?"] We have been paying the right hon. Gentleman's bill for the last four-and-a-half years.
The statements I have quoted and the figures I have given relating to export orders are the views of industry about export prospects. In other words, they are not Government statements but industry's statements. They are encouraging, although it is right that I should say that export orders will have to be fought for in a highly competitive world, particularly if the present favourable conditions created by booming world trade were to give place to a slower rate of world economic activity.
I emphasise—the Government have repeatedly emphasised this—that we still 48 have a long way to go to reach the surplus which we have set ourselves in our balance of payments and before we have ensured that that surplus remains secure. That is why there can be no question of any easing up for a long time ahead. That is why, equally, we must recognise that everything we are in the process of achieving would be at risk if we were to let up on our policy for productivity, prices and incomes. That is why, too, many of those industrialists to whom I have referred have qualified their encouraging announcements by expressing continuing concern about the effects of unofficial strikes, and they have been right to express that concern, as we have done; the effects not only on the fulfilment of the orders we have won, but on our ability to be able to win those orders a second time should they be frustrated now.
What industry has achieved so far is the result of firm and clear short-term policies of demand management, including control over public expenditure and firm budgetary and monetary policies. Without these policies, there could have been no achievement to record.
Equally, however, what has been achieved by industry so far in taking advantage of the post-devaluation situation is the dividend of all that we have done over the past four years to restructure our key industries—I have referred to some of them—restructuring which has been deliberately designed by the Government to secure the economies of large-scale production, of industrial specialisation, and at the same time to ensure that the best in British management is given its head.
It is the dividend, too, of the work of the once-derided Ministry of Technology—I recall the sick jokes we got from hon. Gentlemen opposite every time technology was mentioned; perhaps they have seen the report in the Financial Times this morning—carrying through what that paper this morning has called the greatest research and development effort outside the United States and Russia; and on the basis not of rusting prestige projects, but of economic projects which will be justified by the cash they earn for industry and for Britain.
All these things are being won at a price including, for millions of our people, the painful consequences of industrial 49 change and readjustment. What is being so painfully achieved must not be imperilled, and it is with that determination that I commend to the House the policies set out in the Gracious Speech.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is usual in these matters for announcements to be made whenever they are considered to be necessary. As my right hon. Friend has made clear many times, we are keeping a continuing watch on this matter; and as and when corrective action is needed it will be taken.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I do not propose to follow the Prime Minister into many of the subjects he has dealt with. I want to concentrate attention on the devolution of central government. It is no accident that there are nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, since there is great unease and worry about the system of the governmental machine throughout the United Kingdom.
The people in Scotland are able to align their unease on the fact that Scotland is an ancient kingdom and, of course, the same applies to Wales. But it is true to say that there is the same unease in Lancashire, part of which I represent, in Yorkshire and, indeed, all over this country. I want to address myself to some thoughtful and, I hope, uncontroversial observations.
It has not escaped my attention, nor that of many other hon. Members, that only a few nations are able to run what is known as social democracy. They include the Scandinavian countries and Holland and Belgium. It seems, indeed, that the general fabric of social democracy begins to break down once the nation's population is above about 10 million people, because above that figure the people begin to feel that they are so isolated from the point of decision that they are merely ciphers.
There is no doubt that, in the United Kingdom, what is exemplified in Scottish and Welsh nationalism is also held in other parts of the country. One often 50 meets people who say that, without being heptarchists, they would like to re-establish our ancient kingdoms. I myself would like the great nations of Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex to be re-established. Of course, one worrying aspect for me and for others living there is that Lancashire was not an ancient kingdom but no doubt we could evolve a nation, perhaps called "Palatine".
When the Government and others talk of devolution, the argument is about devolution of functions. Nothing is said about the devolution of the right to raise taxation. Power lies where the money is, however. Both the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition are great devolvers. But all their thinking on this subject is towards regional councils or some other amorphous organisation. But I suggest that, unless such an organisation had the power to raise taxation and to control the expenditure of money—and, therefore, the collecetion of taxes for education, health, etc.—there would still be a feeling of frustration. If the money were still to come from the centre, through, for example, a block grant, the power would be still in Whitehall. There would still be the same feeling of isolation which, no matter which party is involved, exists to-day.
I am not trying to produce a blueprint but I see no reason why we should not judiciously re-establish not necessarily the old ancient kingdoms but sensible regional authorities. But I say to the Prime Minister and to my right hon. Friend that, if they were to establish such authorities, they would not get people of the calibre needed to serve on them unless they were entitled "regional Parliaments". I do not believe that we would get the right people if these were merely called "regional authorities" or "regional councils". We would have to give those serving on them the prestige of being members of Parliament in Northumbria, or Wessex, or wherever it might be. We would also have to give them the power to raise taxes and to control affairs within their areas.
All this is somewhat revolutionary. It is against the thinking of many of us—thinking upon which we have been brought up. But such a system would also contain many safeguards which we have not got at present. Let us take as 51 an example the controversy over comprehensive education. I am somewhat on the sidelines here. I am not a great controversialist for the grammar schools
Under regional government, I think that we would probably get the Northern Region going all out for comprehensive education, Lancashire probably on the sidelines and the Midlands remaining grammar school orientated. But this would have an enormous advantage from the country's point of view. If the Northern Region showed a brilliant success with its comprehensive education, the other regions would follow suit. They would not all, as we are being forced to do now, have to follow suit before we knew whether comprehensive education was a success. There would thus be great advantage in devolution.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
The hon. Gentleman has got himself into a serious contradiction. Perhaps he would answer a major question arising from his thesis. If power is where the money lies, how would the poor regions raise the money for education, health and all the rest of the social infrastructure as compared with the richer regions? The hon. Gentleman's thesis would lead the country into a division far more serious than that which now exists.
§ Sir D. Glover
The hon. Gentleman is helping me with my speech. Of course I am dealing with a thorny problem. I am sure, however, that both the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition would like to put it into the Gracious Speech. I realise that this subject is highly controversial but I do not think that its solution lies beyond the wit of man. I know that the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) comes from the Northumbrian area and, of course, I accept that that region is not as wealthy as the Midlands and is, therefore, afraid that it would suffer as a result of regionalisation. I accept that, but I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of sensible people who are not ideologically hidebound to say that the central Government would provide the funds for arterial roads and all manner of other services, weighting those services in favour of Northumbria as against the Midlands. It 52 is not beyond sensible argument across the table to work that matter out once the principle is established.
I should never espouse this cause on the Floor of the House if I thought that it would mean that Northumbria, for which I had an enormous respect and admiration, or Lancashire would be swept, so to speak, in to the discard and be the poor relations of the rest of the community. But the fundamental argument and the sense of frustration, the frustration lying behind a good deal of the protest march on Sunday and in the minds of so many people who come to see one at interviews, stems from the way in which decisions are made, so much so that there is today an enormous sense of frustration throughout the whole of Britain. Whether they be Scottish Nationalists, Welsh Nationalists, Lancastrian Nationalists, Northumbrian Nationalists or anything else, people are saying, "Look here—you are the Member of Parliament; can you not do something about our sense of isolation and the way decisions are made in Whitehall?".
The problem can be solved, and it ought to be. There is not much party ideology in it. We must accept that, if it is to mean anything, devolution must carry with it the right to raise taxation. This question has never been discussed in my party, so far as I know, or in the party opposite. During the past two or three years, we have talked about regionalisation and the establishment of regional authorities, but no one has ever grasped the nettle of saying that those regional authorities will have no more power than a county council or county borough unless they have the right to raise taxation. This is the fundamental point about power: power is where the money is.
When we were in power, we in the Conservative Party tried to give the local authorities more discretion, and to that end we introduced the block grant. I do not want a horse laugh from the other side now, but, with ten years' experience of how the block grant works, I do not believe that anyone would assert that that gave the county councils or county boroughs any more feeling of independence than they had before it was introduced, because they know that the money still comes from Whitehall.
53 Why is there so little interest in the elections for county councils? The reason is exemplified in my own area. The Lancashire County Council, the second largest authority in the country, has a spending budget of £180 million a year, and out of that about £140 million a year comes from Whitehall. It is no use the electors going to the county council and asking why nothing is done about this or that. All the county council says is, "I am sorry, chum, but it is all the decision of Whitehall". Unless the regional authorities are allowed by the House to raise their own taxation, they will be just as much ciphers as the county councils and county boroughs are now.
A solution to the problem is not beyond the wit of man. In Australia, Canada and the United States there has been a great drive to reduce the powers of the States and to increase the powers of the Federal Parliament, but I see no reason why this development should carry the conclusion that we cannot take the opposite course. We should not start from the point from which they started. They started with the States having all the power and the Federal Government having none. All that happened there is that the Federal Governments now have a good deal more power than they had 30 years ago. We, on the other hand, start from the point of the Federal Government, in my premise, having overwhelming power and the areas having none.
Therefore, whatever conviction I may carry to hon. Members in this argument, there is no risk that we shall have excessive devolution. We shall not, for example, have the Palatine—of which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is a distinguished representative—as an independent community signing treaties with the United States of America or deciding not to join in the policy regarding Vietnam. There is no danger of that. But we should be devoluting and giving some power to the areas. In both political parties now—I say this with great respect to the Liberal Party, which does not appear to be interested in the argument anyway—we are now, after 300 years of centralisation, terrified of decentralising as we should.
I do not pretend to be a great intellectual, but it strikes me as significant 54 that there are only about five countries in which social democracy works. Three are the Scandinavian countries, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and the other two—not nearly as efficient but with a good deal of justification—are Holland and Belgium. None of those countries has more than 10 million people. It seems to me that if we are to have an overwhelming welfare system, we cannot run the show, in such a way that people do not feel frustrated, unless we divide things down into units of, say, 5 million or 10 million people. Without that, an enormous sense of frustration must develop.
My argument today has nothing to do with being a member of the Conservative Party or the Labour Party. I am certain that every Member of Parliament finds at his interviews that he constantly meets people who come to him as the appeal of last resort because the machine has beaten them. This is my impression month after month at my interviews. However just the machine may be in its major principles, however just it may try to be, time and again individuals are crushed and they come to their Members of Parliament asking them to try to remedy the injustices which are caused because the machine is too big.
The cause of the problem stems largely from the emphasis on scale. We are dealing with 54 million people. It would not be nearly so big a problem if our education and health services and a great many other social services were devolved to not a regional authority but a regional Parliament.
I suppose that I am probably the first person to enunciate this principle in the House. I do not want it to be taken to far. For instance, I should not like the Kingdom of Kent to be re-established. But I should not mind a bit if the Heptarchy of the ancient Kingdoms of Britain were re-established as a system for devolution. As I say, I should not like it to be taken too far; I think that Kent would have to be amalgamated with Wessex, for example, and I should not like to see a Kingdom of Cornwall unless it were amalgamated with Devon. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's position and mine would be over Lancashire, because when those kingdoms were established, there was no one living in Lancashire, but I suppose that the Palatinate would be a fairly distinguished title.
55 But the important thing is that we could, without much division in the House, divide England into regional authorities which would make sense. The real bitter and pungent argument here would be about what powers they should have. I am disappointed that the Prime Minister has not gone further on this. Time is not on our side. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) was taken ill, but I am told that, as soon as the Gracious Speech was read, she left the Chamber in disgust. We cannot leave this on one side.
The Scottish Nationalists feel frustrated, as do the Welsh, the Lancastrians and the people of Yorkshire—[AN HON. MEMBER: "We are frustrated as well."] I know we are, because this system has become far too centralised. We should devote far more time to the problem of decentralising it and stopping the loss of authority by Parliament. We could give the public a far greater sense of participation if we were not frightened of losing our paramount position as the mother of Parliaments, but were prepared to say that many things which happen in Northumbria, Lancashire or the Midlands could be far more easily handled by the people in that area.
So many decisions seem to be taken centrally contrary to the views of those concerned in the area. I do not want to enter into the problem of Northumbria, for instance, being poorer than the Midlands. That would not be a practical problem if we were determined to devolve and give the areas the power to raise taxation to cover the bulk of their education and health and so on. We have enormous information from Australia, America and Canada to show that one can make certain of fairness in this respect. Those countries which have devolution are more dynamic and have a greater sense of identity and are growing faster: there is not the same frustration as we have—
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Is the hon. Gentleman trying to prove why we should have votes at 18? I hope that he has the point that he must not try to argue that other countries, which have a tragic record of fluctuations and discontent, should be matched against our general stability and progress. No hon. Member would accept that.
§ Sir D. Glover
The hon. Member is entitled to his point of view and I do not mind if I am the sole representative of mine in the House; that is my privilege as a Member of Parliament. Many an hon. Member who has been the one isolated voice, 10 years later finds the whole House going into the Lobby to support his views.
I do not want to get involved in talking about votes at 18—
§ Sir D. Glover
Not at all, I know what the hon. Member is saying. I am a little inhibited because I was a member of the Speaker's Conference and it is a long-established tradition that one does not enter into controversy across the Floor of the House when one has been a member of a Select Committee. I therefore cannot say what my view about this is and I hope that the hon. Member will acquit me of trying to avoid the question—
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
What my hon. Friend was trying to say was that, by his very presence, the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) had given us the best argument for votes at 18.
§ Sir D. Glover
The hon. Member puts me in even greater difficulty, by almost forcing me to say that I do not oppose votes at 18, which I cannot say, because I was on the Speaker's Conference. There is a great deal to be said for this proposal, but I do not wish to be forced to disclose what should be confidential. The question anyway is not votes at 18, since 50 per cent. of the people will not vote until they are 22. I have said enough to show I am no opponent of the proposal.
A great many of our fundamental problems are not party controversies but are due to the fear of both parties of attacking something which the great bulk of the public want tackled. This is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech or in any party manifesto. We all talk about devolution, but not about the fundamental of devolution, which is that one can produce as many authorities as one likes, but, unless they have the power to raise the money for the services for 57 which they are made responsible, they will still be subservient to Parliament.
This can be laughed off in party meetings, but unless some system is evolved to enable those authorities to raise taxation to cover their health and education and so on, if they are still expected to get money in Whitehall grants, then Whitehall will still be the piper who calls the tune and the frustration will continue. It is not impossible. It is quite simple and we should be devoting far more time to devolution.
We must, first, overcome the in-built 300 years' antipathy towards the idea, because this might mean that we should have to create regional Parliaments. We play about with regional authorities or extended county councils, but there will never be the class of person to go on to a regional council as we could hope to get for, say, the Northumbrian Parliament. Hon. Members may laugh it off as much as they like, but we shall come back to it in three or four years. If that regional Parliament has the right and power to raise indirect taxation and therefore control matters of education and health, there will be a great variety of development in the country. One authority will take up comprehensive education and another will not, but we shall be able to see how it works. There will be more diversification. If this matter is imaginatively tackled—and this is the basic reason why we are all here—we shall have a far more contented and dynamic society.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
What the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) said justifies the passage in the Gracious Speech concerning the proposal for a Commission to look into the question of the constitution. I wish to take up one or two other points later, but first I wish to deal with one important question in connection with the constitution which should be discussed. It concerns a statement made by the Leader of the Opposition at the Tory Party conference. He said, according to a report in the Sunday Times of 13th October:Even in Britain, the very birthplace of Parliamentary democracy, the process of democratic Government could not survive another battering of the kind received at the hands of Labour over these past four years. What is at issue when the people of Britain 58 come to make their solemn choice is nothing less than the survival in anything like its present form of democratic government itself. This is something which transcends the normal give and take of political debate".What exactly did the right hon. Gentleman mean when he made that speech? For three quarters of the time since we have had adult suffrage, since 1885, we have had Governments in power dominated by the Tories. When we have had Tory Governments in power, they have been a constitutional party. They have supported and sung the praises of the constitution. But when they have been in opposition they have not had anything like the same enthusiasm for the constitution. In fact, their record has been extraordinarily bad.
Let us consider what happened after 1906. The House of Lords was brought in to overturn a decision of the people in the House of Commons. The Tories lost three General Elections in succession—in 1906 and two in 1910. After that, we had the Curragh threat of mutiny and the Tory Party's encouragement of this unconstitutional action. The result was that we had an Irish reaction and the troubles in Ireland from 1916 to 1922. The troubles in Ireland stemmed almost completely from the unconstitutional action of the Tory Party during the period that it was in opposition from 1906.
I remember also what happened in the 1920s when Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, was fighting elections and praising Mussolini from time to time. I recall when I was a student a very good skit on the Tory Party when Mr. Baldwin was its leader and there was a song with the refrain at the end: "I believe in democracy so long as the people vote for me". That is the position of the Tory Party which has been restated now by the Leader of the Opposition.
What would the Conservative Party do if it lost the next election? Will we see its members taking up the leadership of Mr. Tariq Ali and talking about extra-parliamentary democracy and being unwilling to accept the people's decision if the votes go against them once more? The people should be awakened to the danger of Toryism moving away from constitutionalism, as it has done so often in the past.
There is talk in the Gracious Speech about electoral reform. I am all in favour 59 of electoral reform. I hope that when the Government introduce the Bill it will make uniform throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, the same franchise for local government elections to operate throughout the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Ormskirk spoke about the need for variation in different regions. It is important that certain standard rules should be laid down by the United Kingdom Parliament which should affect all regional Parliaments and all local government. The same franchise and the same rules about the franchise should apply in all these areas if minorities in different areas are to be treated fairly.
§ Sir D. Glover
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to convey the impression that I was expressing an opposite view. I did not suggest that there should be differences between one area and another. It was only a question of balancing taxation.
§ Mr. Parker
If we are to have any kind of regional government, we must learn the lessons of Northern Ireland. One of the lessons of Northern Ireland is that there is a minority there which feels itself to be persecuted and not to have a square deal. If we are to create further examples of regional government, or national government in Wales and Scotland, certain rules should be laid down by the United Kingdom Parliament which should apply throughout these different institutions.
It is fashionable to decry Westminster. I take the point of view that it is often much easier to get a fair decision from Whitehall on individual grievances than it is locally. Often there is very considerable local bias against individuals. Centrally, one can get away from that bias and much fairer decisions are reached in many cases. I have always taken the view that if constituents have grievances against local authorities I should have the right to take those grievances to Ministers, whatever their political complexion, and have them reviewed. When we consider any constitutional changes, there must remain the right of appeal from local decisions and from the bias of local people. In particular, the right of minorities to a fair judgment from the centre must be preserved.
60 I hope therefore that a Clause will be included in any electoral reform Bill to make uniform throughout the United Kingdom the same laws for local government franchise. At present—and here I give the figures which have been given to me by the Northern Ireland Labour Party—adult suffrage of the Westminster Parliament is 891,107 and local government residents and their spouses, the normal voters in local government elections in Northern Ireland, is only 648,417. There are about 10,000 additional business and company votes.
That is the point with which I quarrel. Whatever laws in respect of local government franchise apply in England, Scotland and Wales should apply in Northern Ireland. That should be borne in mind in any electoral reform which we propose.
I welcome the proposal for reform of the House of Lords. It is high time that we dealt with this matter. There are two points which are essential to such reform. One is the total abolition of the hereditary principle, and the other abolition of the right to delay legislation passed by this House. I hope that those points will be incorporated in any proposals made by the Government.
I regret that there are no proposals in the Gracious Speech for dealing with the question of housing finance. I represent part of one of the largest municipal housing estates in the world, namely, the Greater London Council estate at Becontree, which was built between 1924 and 1933. Therefore, the houses are, on the whole, old. They have not all the modern conveniences. The rents on the estate have been drastically increased, yet the rents paid the cost of building the estate long ago. Over £1 million a year comes in in revenue. It goes into a pool which does not, to any great extent, benefit the existing tenants. The G.L.C. uses the pool largely to keep down the rents of new houses elsewhere.
This is a big problem not only in the Greater London area but all over the country. Unless the problem of local Government finance for housing is tackled local authorities will be discouraged in building new houses. If the rents of older houses have to be steadily increased to help keep down the rents of new houses, local authorities will, sooner 61 or later, curtail their building programmes. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government should go into the whole question of housing finance.
It may be reasonable that existing tenants should make some contribution towards further house building, but, in the main, the cost of building new houses should be met by the taxpayer or the ratepayer at large. All citizens have the right to obtain a council house, and it is only right and fair that they as a whole should finance them and that the cost should not be placed mainly upon existing tenants. That is an all-important point in the current controversy concerning rents.
There is a strong case for looking once again at the whole question of local government housing finance and doing justice to existing council tenants in this regard. It is not right or fair that the main charge of providing new houses for other people to settle in, many of whom are not council tenants or the children of council tenants, should be placed upon existing council tenants.
We were told that one of the reasons for creating the Land Commission was to obtain more land more cheaply and easily for local authorities. Many of us feel that it is high time that the Commission got on with the job. It is not working anything like fast enough. I hope that my right hon. Friend the new Minister will push it along. If it is to succeed, it must provide land at a reasonable price to local authorities.
I understand that the Treasury has given instructions that the Land Commission must make a profit. Of all bodies, why should the Land Commission make a profit? It may be reasonable that other bodies, which are set up for commercial reasons, should make a profit. It is reasonable for the Land Commission to cover its expenses, but it was specifically set up to cut through the high expense of land in private ownership being sold to local councils. It should obtain the land and pass it over to the local authorities at no profit, to enable them to get on with their housing programme. Unless that is done, no benefit will come from the creation of the Land Commission.
§ Sir D. Glover
Would the hon. Member cite one case in which the Land Com- 62 mission has saved even £1 on the purchase of land?
§ Mr. Parker
I have no figures with me, but I understand that the instructions that were given to the Land Commission were that it must make a profit on its transactions. I am prepared to withdraw that statement if figures to the contrary can be produced. That, however, I understand, is the instruction from the Treasury. The whole purpose of the Commission should be to obtain land easily and cheaply for local authorities and builders generally.
I saw an interesting experiment in the buying-up of derelict land in multiple ownership in the area of one of the Medway towns with a view to making it available. I hope that the scheme goes ahead. On the whole, however, I am sure that my hon. Friends take the view that the Land Commission should get on with the job and speed up its work. I am sorry that there is no reference to the Land Commission in the Queen's Speech. I hope that the new Minister will get on with the job and see that it succeeds.
On the whole, the measures outlined in the Gracious Speech are good steps forward, and I shall give them my support in the coming Session.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Weatherill (Croydon, North-East)
May I, first, offer you my congratulations, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your new appointment. On the whole, I regard the Queen's Speech as being very dull. I am sure, however, that there is some "meat" in it. The Prime Minister was right in saying that it will keep us busy. Nevertheless, it is easier to regret the omissions than to work up much enthusiasm for what it contains.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition fairly made the point that there was, in the Gracious Speech, no fresh inducement to enterprise. In the situation which faces the nation today, that is an absolute essential. I am very sorry that there is nothing in the Speech to give any encouragement to a group of people whose interests I have attempted to defend and uphold ever since I became a Member of this House—that is, the interests of the small and smaller businessmen.
It is a sad fact that, since the war. Government interference in business has 63 been growing. Some of it, I accept, is good, but some of it has been downright bad. I fully accept the need, which the Prime Minister mentioned this afternoon, for modernisation and rationalisation in industry. There is undoubtedly need for much bigger units in some industries, and I welcome this. What worries me, however, is the increasing tendency of big Government to talk to big business. All too often we hear of Ministers seeking the views of senior men of a few leading companies and assuming that they are typical of the thousands of smaller businesses which form a fundamental part of our economy.
Statistics about smaller companies are difficult to come by, but the Confederation of British Industry recently conducted a survey and pointed to the fact that we have something like 80,000 small companies; that, if they were to close tomorrow, no fewer than 2½ million people would be thrown out of work overnight and over £6,000 million of industrial output would vanish. It is, therefore, a substantial and important segment of our economy.
There are, both in this House and outside, those who feel that small companies are inefficient and incompetent and that they are unable to export. A number of hon. Members may have had their eyes opened about this if they read a booklet recently put out by the C.B.I., entitled "Britain's Small Firms". That document pointed to the fact that the average profitability of small companies increased by 40 per cent. in the ten years to 1964 compared with the average for British industry as a whole of only 21 per cent.
It points to the fact that size and efficiency are not necessarily synonymous, and that although 45 per cent. of Britain's exports comes from 150 large firms, they would not be in business at all were it not for the thousands of smaller companies which supply them with their components. Seventy per cent. of every British car is made by subcontractors.
It may be difficult for those 150 large companies to increase their export, but it should not be beyond the capacity of the thousands of small businesses to increase theirs and so provide a lasting solution to the balance of payment problem. They must, however, be given the 64 right encouragement and the right incentives.
In February last year, I was lucky enough to win first place in the Ballot for Motions, and I moved a Motion drawing attention to the problems of small businesses. Since that time, it is true that the Government have set up a pilot scheme in Glasgow and Bristol to encourage management efficiency. The Rural Industries Bureau has enlarged its scope and is now called the Council of Small Industries in Rural Areas and does a splendid job. I fully accept that the industrial liaison officers of the Ministry of Technology also perform a valuable function, but very much more is needed.
I am sorry that the Government have not seen fit to set up what, I believe, would go a long way toward solving the problem, a Small Business Development Bureau. I visited America last year, and I think that I have been to virtually every other country in the capitalist world, other than Japan, which has an organisation of this kind, to see what those countries do to help small firms.
Here in Britain, especially during the last four years, small business has been harried and depressed rather than encouraged. I regret that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech today that will give it any encouragement or help. If it is not too impertinent I would be very willing to put my investigations into the hands of the Government if they will do something about them.
The Small Business Development Bureau ought to have five functions. First, it should give positive help to small firms in solving their financial problems, and do this through the existing agencies if possible, but include a revolving fund if that should prove necessary. Secondly, it should help small firms to grow by encouraging maximum management efficiency. Thirdly, it should secure for small businesses a guaranteed share of Government purchases. In the United States 20 per cent. of all Government purchases are specifically set aside for small businesses to tender for, and I believe that in this country the Government, as the biggest customer, should also use their purchasing power to force efficiency. Fourthly, the Bureau should widen export activities of small 65 concerns and increase their interest in import substitution.
Lastly, it should be the "voice" of small business. Big businesses fully understand the need to lobby and to bring their points of view to bear, but small companies have no such chance. It is perfectly true that the Smaller Businesses Association and the C.B.I, have done a splendid job, but they have at any one time in their membership only a tiny proportion of the total number of small firms in this country. I firmly believe that if the close company provisions of the Finance Act, 1965 had affected big businesses or unions or farmers or lawyers in the kind of way they have affected small businesses there would have been such a Parliamentary row that the whole proposal would have been quietly dropped.
Few of us realise the revolution in which we are living. It has been estimated that total knowledge is now doubling every 10 years, and that within the next 10 years 40 per cent. of the world's manufacturing capacity will be concerned with things which at this moment have yet to be invented. To keep up with change at this pace we must ensure that industry is as flexible as possible, and to do this we shall need a high proportion of small firms. Many of the inventions of the last century came from small companies. They will do so again. We cannot afford to put obstacles in the way of the people on whose genius and ability our national future depends.
Last Session we had many—and many heated—debates on immigration; we did not hear very much about emigration from Britain. It is a sad fact, I believe, that thousands of our most energetic and enterprising young businessmen, and women, too, probably, have been leaving these islands. They are fed up with the frustrations and the artificial obstacles which have been put in their way. We shall never know what this has cost us in economic terms. I appreciate the tendency to look critically at Government bodies, however beneficial they may be, but I suggest that a Small Business Development Bureau is one Government body which this country, given the circumstances which I have described, cannot afford not to have.
66 The next Conservative Government has promised that they will set one up. I urge the present Government to forestall us. I would like to see it happen this year. Perhaps, as the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) suggested of something else, it might be introduced under the general heading, "Other Measures will be laid before you".
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
Having completed convalescence only this morning I am not feeling up to my normal self and I do not propose to speak for more than two or three minutes, but I want to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I express my thanks to the Chair for calling me early, and I hope that it will not be thought a discourtesy, especially to any Front Bench speaker, if I am not in my place later this evening.
Reference in the Gracious Speech to a constitutional commission tempts me to return to a matter which I raised in The Times a few weeks ago and, indeed, made the theme of my first speech in this House some two and a half years ago, and that is the problem which has arisen in the last 15 or 16 years out of the decisions of Governments to uproot the positive legislation of their predecessors. For the most part it has been the Conservative Party uprooting the legislation of the previous Labour Government, but it could arise the other way round should the present Government hold office for a number of years longer. In general, of course, this is a problem which arises with a party of the Right, which, on the whole, does not initiate much positive legislation, although I know it does some, rather than a problem which arises because of a party of the Left, which normally is the vehicle for producing new, positive legislation in this country. For the most part this has been a problem of denationalisation.
I wrote to The Times a week or so back, drawing, I hope, the attention of the Government to the fact that they should no longer treat what happened in the 'fifties about steel, the Raw Cotton Commission, and large parts of transport and civil aviation, as a passing phenomenon or a piece of political pique and pettiness following the frustrations of a long period of Socialist or socialistically inclined 67 Government, and I included the wartime Coalition very much in that context, but that they must now treat the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) a little more seriously than, perhaps, they were inclined to do, because whatever, to their credit, the leading members of the Conservative Party have done about repudiating the more nauseous observations of the right hon. Gentleman on racial matters, so far from repudiating him in this matter of denationalisation they have, to a large measure, endorsed what he has said.
The real nub of the problem is this. It is not just that many of us on this side of the House would regard denationalisation as a retrograde measure inasmuch as it would widen the field in which people can supplement salaried incomes by other, windfall, methods of obtaining money, methods which can produce for a few very large sums of money which no one can earn in salaried employment in a lifetime, however responsible that employment may be. It is simply this—that if every time a Government take office they proceed to rip up most of the work, or most of the work of importance, done by their predecessors, there must come a time when the Government of the day, seeing their measures likely to be threatened, will be less and less inclined to want to share the privilege of Government with their opponents.
I would like to know from the Government how much longer they expect the present controversy over steel nationalisation to continue. Many times when this party was in Opposition hon. Members of the Conservative Party used to complain that the consequence of the Labour Party's threat to renationalise steel was that it injected a measure of uncertainty into the industry. There is a great deal in that. It was bound to happen. If this process continues one cannot see an end to the problem. I hope, therefore, that the constitutional Commission will consider among other things the possibility of a written constitution.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), in complaining about the tactical advantage 68 which the Prime Minister of the day has to dissolve Parliament at any time that is favourable to him, was also recently asking for a written constitution. I wrote to the Daily Telegraph to support him, but he has not returned to the subject. It may have escaped my notice, but I do not remember any Conservatives during the 1950s and the early 1960s advocating a written constitution and fixed Parliament; it suited their convenience not to do so. For my part, I would be prepared in the last analysis to forgo that political advantage. The day has come when the power to dissolve Parliament at the whim of a Prime Minister can endanger democracy, and that is one of the things on which I would wish to see a safeguard incorporated in a written constitution.
§ Mr. Huckfield
Does my hon. Friend not agree that the American system of fixed elections, under which election campaigns can run for at least 18 months, is far more damaging to democracy than is our system?
§ Mr. Lee
Although I see my hon. Friend's point, I do not agree with him. The answer is in a much stricter control of expenditure at elections. The reason why American elections are the indecent carnivals that they are is the lack of restriction on the amount of money which can be spent on promoting the candidature of each candidate. My suggestion would do much to take away the frustrations to an Opposition that can arise and which arose towards the end of the long period of Conservative rule, a period in continuous office longer than any party has ever enjoyed since the Reform Act. One wonders, if there had been no "Profumo affair" and if the Conservatives had been returned in 1964, whether the whole idea of Parliamentary democracy might have turned sour.
If I make that concession, that the party in Government should be prepared to forgo the advantage and now to fix the date of the next election as part of a new Parliament Act, I think it would be a reasonable act of reciprocity if the Conservatives were to agree to a written constitution which entrenched existing nationalised industries and protected them from the constitutional effects that are involved. It may be very difficult. 69 The present Government are not markedly enthusiastic about nationalisation; they are less so than were the Attlee Government. They spend far more money on subsidising private industry and far less on setting up statutory corporations, of the kind we had immediately after the war. From that point of view it will not be a great sacrifice, but at least it would help to remove a constitutional impasse which does no credit to democracy at the moment.
There are many other constitutional aspects which have given rise to anxiety, and several of my hon. Friends will want to know what is in store for Northern Ireland. If there is not much in store, there will be a great deal of restlessness on the back benches on this side, but even the importance of Northern Ireland and our responsibility to it is of secondary importance to the problem which I have put before the House.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
In following the hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee), may I congratulate him on the remarkably good recovery he has made from the sick bed and on showing such resilience that in a few hours he is taking part in a debate in the House of Commons. May his progress continue until perhaps the last day of this Parliament. If I may be allowed to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I, in succession to my colleagues, add my congratulations to you on appointment to your higher duties.
This day seems to have begun rather tamely and there has been a rather quiet debate upon the Address. In listening to the Gracious Speech one could not see the dynamite of its predecessor of this time last year. Yet when one comes to read into it one sees that there is more meat to come later in the Session, and from one or two references made by the Prime Minister in his speech it seems that this may be a Gracious Speech that in terms of legislation will have as much substance as the one with which the House has just dealt.
The Prime Minister, who covered a wide field, made no mention of electoral reform. The House has already had exchanges at Question Time, and implications have been made across the Floor 70 of the House that such legislation may run a certain course in the proceedings on the Floor of the House. I do not know why the Prime Minister should fail to mention something which is likely to be a most debatable matter, not in terms of the reform of the House of Lords, which I consider to be almost a Parliamentary matter and not of much excitement or debate at the grass roots of constituencies, but in terms of the change in the franchise, which will be a matter of enormous debate. Our thoughts upon this matter are now based upon the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference on electoral reform. The body of hon. Members of this House who wanted to consider a change in the franchise thought in terms of three years; should the age remain at 21 or should it be lowered to 18? Yet those colleagues of ours drawn from both sides who took a long hard look at the subject of a change in the franchise surprisingly recommended that it should be reduced by one year only, to 20.
It is said that this is a divided Conference. Is it? The conference voted on the question that the age should be 20 years, and the result was ayes 24, noes 1. A Motion that the minimum should be 18 years had been rejected; ayes 3, noes 22. So a small fraction only of our colleagues from both sides of the House came down to a minimal recommendation of 20 years.
§ Mr. Huckfield
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House the average age of the members of the Speaker's Conference?
§ Sir R. Cary
I do a little research, but my personal researches have not taken me as far as that. For us all, it raises an individual problem. We have all been through the exercise ourselves. We have all voted in General Elections, and we all have young members of our families asking the same questions about these matters. It is a continuing part of family life.
I recall that, on the Somme in 1918, when I thought that I had committed quite responsible acts in command in the field, I was told that, if I were back home, I would not be allowed to cast a vote in the Coupon Election of that year. I made no protest, but it seemed slightly wrong.
71 Two or three years ago, I had the privilege of sponsoring the annual dinner of the Hulme Grammar School in Room A downstairs, as is the annual custom of so many schools and institutions. Having opened the proceedings after dinner, I was followed by the headmaster and, in the course of his remarks, he said, "I find today at Hulme Grammar School that members of my sixth form are two years more mature than I was at their age." I nudged the Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University, who was sitting next to me. I asked him if he agreed, and he said that he would make one or two qualifications. However, it is interesting that, within my own family circle, my 18-year-old son is more like 21 in terms of maturity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill) made an observation about the techniques which have been imposed on the modern world. For that reason alone, it is important that our young people are more mature than we were at their age.
It is interesting to recall taking part in a brains trust with the editor of The Guardian, a local bishop and a former distinguished Member of this House, Mr. Kenneth Lindsay, under the chairmanship of Stephen King-Hall. Our audience was composed of members of sixth forms drawn from 30 surrounding schools, and it is not surprising that it required the Free Trade Hall to accommodate them all. One of the questions which excited them most and our answers to which most intrigued them was whether the voting age should be reduced to 18.
The matter falls into two compartments in the Gracious Speech. The first passage reads:A Bill will be brought before you to reduce to eighteen the age for voting and to make other reforms in electoral law.Then one sees another paragraph:Legislation will be brought before you to reduce the age of majority to eighteen.In reducing the age of majority to 18, I hope that the Government will allow any decision to be taken on a free vote. There may be difficulties about it, but I think that it is essential to the House. With the assistance of our Research Department, I have tried to discover if 72 there is any precedent whereby such an important step has been taken without a free vote. After all, if the Government recommends legislation to the House of Commons, that is their recommendation to the nation, and they will wish it to be decided in its entirety. It might even wait until after Second Reading. When we come in Committee to consider the Clauses dealing with the franchise, they could be made the subject of a free vote without impairing or destroying the Bill. However, these are matters for Parliamentary engineers who are much more skilled than I am.
In view of the strange proceedings of Mr. Speaker's Conference and the contrast in its voting, I hope that the House will be given an opportunity to decide any change in the franchise on a free vote.
§ Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)
The hon. Gentleman continues to stress the findings of Mr. Speaker's Conference. Does he think that that conference reflects the composition of this House, in terms of seniority, age and experience? For example, no doubt he is aware that no hon. Member who came to the House first in 1966 is a member of that conference.
§ Sir R. Cary
I concede all those matters. They are quite fair and proper points to raise. However, I am trying to establish that, although any change is important to hon. Members of this House, we are not directly concerned, and it is much more important to the younger members of our families and constituencies. None the less, it is essential that we, the older element of the nation, should be allowed a free vote on it. With respect to the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray), when we come to take a long hard look at the proposal, I think that the surprise of any decision taken on a free vote may equal the surprise of the recommendation of Mr. Speaker's Conference.
I want to turn now to another subject matter. The Prime Minister referred to the Transport Act and supplementary matters which will flow from it. I join with the right hon. Gentleman in what he said about the admirable speech by the hon. Member for Birmingham, North-field (Mr. Chapman) in moving the 73 Motion on the Address. He told us about the circumstances of the industries in his constituency, dominated as they are by the motor car industry, and he went on to elaborate upon the activities in that industry and supplementary matters. He said, "What we dread in the area, as we are arriving at such high peaks of production, is the unofficial strike", and he went on to say that men do not strike frivolously.
Following the passing of the Transport Act, the indication is that work meters will be installed in the driving cabs of long-distance road vehicles. At the moment, we are suffering from the effects of a large-scale unofficial stoppage of work in Manchester. It may be restricted to Manchester, Liverpool and the Newcastle area at the moment, but no doubt it will spread. This clumsy imposition of a method of measuring work has caused a great deal of resentment. It is always dangerous to impose such measuring devices on the true working bench element of our population.
I have been looking through back numbers of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and on 16th November, 1937, I see that I was involved in some exchanges with the Minister of Labour about the introduction of the Bedaux system in our factories. That system concerned time and motion study and supervision on the factory bench.
What we want today is industrial leadership. If the intention is to impose it by a time clock, unless it is done delicately and diplomatically and at a pace which may not be altogether suited to our needs, there is grave danger of widespread industrial unrest. The installation of meters in the driving cabs of long-distance lorries is not the way to go about it. A lot of men are on strike. So much money is being lost and so much trade is being damaged. I hope that this problem does not grow.
The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), who played such a great part in Committee on that long Transport Act, must have preoccupied his mind sometimes with these matters. Let us be dedicated and diplomatic in the application of new techniques, some of which were indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised this point. I 74 think that he might accept an interpretation of the tachograph position, as he described it. Unfortunately, all Governments make the mistake, when they pass legislation, of not understanding how it is to be implemented. I should not like to see the tachograph just pushed into these lorries without consultation.
§ Sir R. Cary
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that. Although some operators may require to do this at once, I hope that it will be done gently and in reasonable time and on the maximum basis of consideration for the people who have to drive these heavy vehicles. I should not like the task of driving some of the loads being carried on these heavy vehicles driven by long-distance drivers. They have a long day, a long haul. It is a hard life.
I appreciate the enormous improvements that have been made in the driving cabs of these vehicles—the ease of gear-changes and some of the automatic equipment—but I still think that a long day in the driving cab of a heavy vehicle, be it a public service vehicle or one of the heavily loaded vehicles mentioned in the Transport Act, is a hard and heavy day's work. Therefore, I hope that measures of this kind imposed on those who have to discharge these important duties to the nation will proceed gently, though not too slowly, and with full co-operation of the people involved.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Symonds (Whitehaven)
I rise this evening to pay tribute to the Loyal Address which has been so ably moved this afternoon.
I am greatly interested in two points in the Queen's Speech. The first concerns the economic situation of the country. It may be all right for those in the South-East and in other places to have a nice, comfortable living and to be able to state that the comfort they have derived has been obtained through hard work, of which no British man at any time has ever been afraid. But it is hard when, on a Monday afternoon, a man is given notice because a particular firm has failed through lack of correct management.
I refer to the failure of the Cranley Group, at Millom. We have all heard what happened at Millom. I am told that there was a loss of over £1,700,000. When I made inquiries and asked what the loss 75 would be if the Government took it over, I was told that it would be an additional £400,000 per year over the following two years. Because of that failure men who have worked hard at a particular job all their lives have been thrown out of work. Is it right that these men should be told that they must go to Scunthorpe, or other places in the country, and that Cumberland, which I have represented over many years, should be denuded of its manpower and industry?
Several hon. Members opposite have spoken of Northumbria, Lancashire, Mid-Yorkshire and the Midlands, but no word has been uttered about what is happening in Cumberland. It does exist, and it will exist in future. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) spoke about lorry drivers working 11 hours per day at their hard, tedious job. Men in Cumberland are asking for a job of work to do; not to sign on at the employment exchange. I shall be told that Cumberland is too far to the North-West. Do the Government intend to ignore the whole of Cumberland? Is it to be a write-off? Have we got to sacrifice the Lake District? Have we got to sacrifice the lives of men, and women, too, and send them to other parts of the country, thereby making it a dormitory area?
The Government have helped to a certain extent in West Cumberland. Last year, when one of the mines closed, 800 men were thrown out of work. What is the position? Employment has to be found for all those men or they will have to transfer to the Midlands, Kent and other coal fields. I submit that that is not right. What will the boys and girls of 16 to 18 do? They will have to find employment elsewhere.
The firm that I have in mind must have known that these things were happening. I am told that it was receiving £1,000 a week from the development premium which could have alleviated the position if it had had better management. If it had not been anxious to obtain too much profit from selling pig iron the works would have been saved. It could have had sold between 50,000 and 100,000 tons of pig iron abroad providing the firm was prepared to accept the international price. It was not prepared 76 to do that because it wanted more profit from the industry. It did not care about keeping the men employed so long as it could find a profit. Profit was the ulterior motive. Therefore, the Millom works closed, The firm sacrificed 6 million tons of iron ore that can be produced in Cumberland. It has to be produced in Cumberland.
Now is the opportunity for the Government to do something for the people of Cumberland, particularly West Cumberland. What do we find? This afternoon the Prime Minister spoke about reducing imports. I understand that imports are to be reduced to 25 per cent. or less. There is a huge amount of iron ore coming into this country. A certain amount of it could be used in Cumberland in the area that I have mentioned. In fact, at the Beckermet mines high-class ore is being produced for the steel works at Workington.
If it is good enough to be used there, it is good enough to be used in any other part of the country. A newspaper report says:The highest output of crushed ore since the crushing plant opened in February, 1967, was recorded at the Beckermet, Cumberland, mines for the week ended September 20th…And the hematite ore was of an exceptionally high quality.Why should the Government, through the British Steel Corporation, import ore when this excellent type of iron ore can be obtained in Cumberland, and thereby keep men at work? I know that Florence and Ullcoat mines are closed. If the Government are anxious to assist, they could help the men at Cleator Moor and the remaining parts of Whitehaven.
Why am I making this appeal for my people? I am sure that when I explain the position hon. Members will understand the reason. As the Member for Whitehaven, I know that 13.8 per cent. of the men at Cleator Moor are signing and that 15 per cent. of the men at Millom are signing on at the employment exchange to enable them to draw the appropriate benefit. This is an extremely sad state of affairs, particularly when the Government are asking the nation to increase production. Here is one way in which production can be increased, and thereby reduce imports. I have already sounded out the men in this area, and I 77 know that this ore can be obtained because it is of such good quality.
The Government have promised that where private enterprise fails in areas such as those to which I have referred they will step in and do something. Here is a chance for the Government to help. I do not want to be told that the Government intend to do this, that, or the other. Two advance factories were built at Cleator Moor, but have only now been occupied after lying vacant for 18 months. Hon. Gentleman opposite have asked that small industries be given a chance to succeed. Why is it that these small firms have not gone to Cumberland? If hon. Gentlemen opposite know of firms which want factories to be built for them, we are prepared to give them all the land they need, and thus help to keep our men at work. Hon. Gentlemen opposite claim that nothing is being done for private firms. Here is a chance for something to be done, and I ask that this challenge be accepted so that men and women in Cumberland can be kept at work.
I remember an occasion in 1936 when I sat in the Gallery and heard the then President of the Board of Trade, Sir Walter Runciman, say that Jarrow had to go back and work out its own salvation. That was typical of the Tory attitude. Not long ago, in 1964, when the present Leader of the Opposition was President of the Board of Trade, I was a member of a deputation which visited him to ask that some money be given towards publicising Cumberland so that we could attract industry there. We did not get the money. We had to work out our own salvation. The record of our discussions is available, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite look at it they will find what I have said is true.
What do we now propose? The people of Millom are not going to be moved, and I agree with them. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would not like to be told that they had to move house and home to some other place particularly if they were buying their houses and were in some difficulty. There are vacant houses in the possession of Hematite Ore.
If a man, having signed on at the employment exchange, refuses a job which is offered to him, his benefit is disallowed for six weeks. If private firms, with all the inducements which are available, will 78 not move to Cumberland, they should be punished, and if they still refuse to go to that area the Government themselves should establish factories there.
We know that the Government intend to spend £2,000 million during the next five years for G.P.O. purposes. Surely, in justice to the men who I have mentioned, if private industry has failed, the Government have a duty to set up a factory in that area to manufacture some of these telephones, instead of allowing all the profit to go to private enterprise as we know is happening now.
In addition, a caravan site could be provided in the area to develop the tourist industry. The Government must now step in and held us. If they do not, people will lose confidence in them, and they will have a difficult task proving that they are in earnest when they talk about wanting to help these areas.
How can the Government help? It has been said that it is no use us asking for something if we are not prepared to help ourselves. We are prepared to do just that. The Cumberland County Council has already carried out a feasibility study on the crossing of the Duddon. Such a route would shorten the Barrow—Millom—M.6 journey by up to 26 miles. It would also mean that a considerable amount of land would be reclaimed, in addition to providing increased water resources. I intend to bring the findings of this feasibility study to the notice of the Minister concerned.
The Report says:In an investigation as part of the Morecambe Bay Economic Study by the four planning officers of Cumberland, Lancashire, Westmorland and Barrow, they have indicated that a road crossing of Morecambe Bay, together with a road crossing of the Duddon Estuary, could materially benefit West Cumberland and stimulate development, particularly in its southern parts…This could not only increase commuter traffic between the two places, but make Millom more attractive as an industrial location besides facilitating recreational traffic flow around the Duddon Estuary.That would help industrialists, since they could get there more quickly. It also means that Lakes traffic could come up the M.6 and go down by the West Coast road right across through Lancashire and let people see how beautiful the Lakes are. If some of my good friends have not visited the Lake District I should 79 like them to do so, to see how beautiful Cumberland is. They would then be only too ready to support this planning idea. There are 200 acres of land in the vicinity of Millom which could be used as a caravan site to help the tourist industry.
The men and women of Cumberland are not lacking in knowledge and ability if they can submit schemes like this. What they want is a recognition of the fact that we are a proud county? Paul Jones tried to invade this nation at Whitehaven—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who?"] The hon. Member has never heard of him. He does not know his history. Paul Jones was the American who got the money from France, and he was bred and born in Whitehaven. He tried to invade this country but the people of Whitehaven, with great courage, threw him back to his ship and did not let him land. If they have the courage to do that, they have the courage, through their Member of Parliament, to say, "It is not doles we want, generous though the Government have been to men out of work, but a job of work, so that we can take our rightful place in the export drive."
No one will be more able and willing and quick to respond to this appeal to work hard in any industry which might come than these people. I hope that industry will come quickly and not just be promised and then forgotten. We will not be forgotten. I appeal to the Government to do something for Millom—not in six months, but now. Charity will not be accepted, but an honest day's work will be done by every man in the area.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
I join with my colleagues, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in expressing my personal good wishes to you on your elevation to higher office.
I was particularly interested in the remark of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds), about an invitation to visit the Lake District. I was in his neighbourhood a fortnight ago and looked forward to a visit to the Lakes, but when I got up into the hills the fog came down and I could not see five yards. I hope that he will invite me in the future.
§ Mr. Pounder
That may be so.
In advance of the issue of the Gracious Speech, we read many Press reports which led us to believe that there was a strong possibility of a reduced volume of legislation in the coming Session. My initial reaction to the Speech is that we are in for an extremely heavy legislative programme. This was underscored by the Prime Minister today.
Everyone in the House must welcome the Government's intention to strengthen the economy, but I wonder whether the way in which the Government's policies have been progressing makes this anything but a pipe dream. Although Governments can assist in the creation of an economic boom, they cannot by themselves establish the necessary conditions. That is up to industry. One of the easiest ways in which industry can be assisted is to reduce the burden of taxation, which has become extremely heavy in recent years. I am thinking not so much of the big companies, which can probably bear it, but rather of the small companies which make up about 80 per cent. of the economy. Their burden recently has been monstrous. Recent events have shown that the existing policies will not do. Should we therefore assume that the Government will adjust their economic policies in this Session? I look forward with interest to developments.
Again, everyone would welcome the sentence which offers help in the development of tourism, but it does not make much sense to say that legislation will come in, presumably to give grants for hotel construction, and so on, when the industry is at present suffering the burden of Selective Employment Tax. Surely the best way in which this industry can be helped, in the short term at any rate, is to lift this monstrous tax burden from its back. I speak as one who comes from an area with a developing and prospering tourist trade, which was doing well until the imposition of that tax.
It was also interesting to read the undertaking to convert the Post Office from a Department of State into a public corporation. In view of recent developments in the Post Office—I am thinking now not merely of the substantial price 81 increases introduced recently over a wide field of its activities, but rather of the deterioration in the standard of service offered by his Department over the last few months—I would have thought that we have had enough experience of public corporations to know that, once the Post Offices ceases to be a Department of State and, therefore, no longer subject to direct parliamentary accountability and control, we will see it go the same way as so many other statutory bodies and corporations. It is certainly not an encouraging thought.
Something which has been the subject of bitter and legitimate complaint from the Northern Ireland business community is the two-tier postal service. The propaganda which accompanied its introduction said that second-class mail would "normally" be delivered on the day following that on which first-class mail was delivered. The first-class cross-channel mail appears to have worked fairly smoothly and is being delivered to Northern Ireland the day after posting, but it is not so with second-class mail. That is not arriving a day later. It is now going by sea instead of by air and the minimum period that one can expect mail from England to arrive in Northern Ireland and vice versa is three days. It is outrageous that the business community in Northern Ireland using this service should have to face a 200 per cent. penalty on top of that applying to their colleagues on the other side.
On a personal note—the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) will bear me out on this—we recently had occasion to post mail in Nairobi. It reached Belfast in two days, yet mail from this House to my home takes three days.
I also noted the sentence in the Gracious Speech which said:Our social security schemes will be kept under close review.For four years now we have been waiting for the Government's promised review of social security legislation, which everyone accepts is, in its existing form, riddled with anomalies which have grown up over the years. No one has engaged thus far in the comprehensive survey which is required if we are to iron out the social security benefit structure.
Probably the structure will never be perfect, but at any rate there are now circumstances which are clearly utterly 82 inequitable. I am thinking not only of elderly citizens who retired prior to 1947 whose minimum age must be 86, and who, through no fault of their own, are thus deprived of entitlement to a single penny of State retirement benefit. Even if one excludes that category which I do not there is also the outrageous situation of the no-shilling widow—the person bereaved under the age of 50 and who is securing at best a pittance, but, more often, nothing at all.
There are 120,000 such persons in Britain today and it would cost less than £20 million completely to remove the age restriction on widows pensions. Expressed in another way, it would mean an extra 2d. on the insurance stamp. Is anyone seriously suggesting—certainly in the light of the many and substantial increases which have been made in insurance contributions in recent years—that we should begrudge an extra 2d. to give these 120,000 people a pension to which I would have thought, by any yardstick of social conscience, they should be entitled?
If it were thought advisable to limit this to some extent, it would be possible to reduce the age from 50 to 45 so that benefits could be given to 60,000 people. This would cost £10 million. But let us do the thing properly and scrap entirely this outrageous age entitlement restriction in respect of widows pensions. The average widow has been a housewife for many years and then she is tragically bereaved. She is not in a position to obtain a reasonable job. I can speak from experience in my own constituency when I say that employment opportunities for these people are of the most menial kind. I hope that this Session will see the bringing into force of the comprehensive review which we have been promised for the past four years.
Moving on from that, but still on the subject of pensions, the reference to an increase in public service pensions is extremely welcome. But what I am not sure about, from the wording of the sentence in the Gracious Speech, is whether the Government are thinking in terms of the pension increases which we have seen at roughly three-yearly intervals in recent years or whether they will try to recast the entire structure of public service pensions in order to achieve 83 parity. This is one of the main grievances of public service pensioners. Pensions should be geared to length of service and the post or rank held regardless of the date of retirement. The estimated cost of achieving parity is £100 million. I agree that this is a somewhat daunting figure, but more than £100 million has been spent on many projects of less merit.
When the Measure comes before the House I hope that it will not merely be an upgrading of public service pensions to take account of the substantial increases in the cost of living which have occurred in recent years and since the last adjustment. I hope that the Government will also pay attention to that section of the public service which has so far been ignored completely—the section consisting of persons described as quasi-Government employees who work in semi-government institutions abroad. These persons are largely recruited by Crown Agents on conditions of service and pay almost identical with those of the old colonial service.
In 1962, provision was made in the Pensions (Increase) Act to take account of the position of the colonial servant, and he was graded as a public servant and, therefore, was a public servant for pension purposes, nothing has been done for the lady or gentleman running in parallel with overseas officials—the quasi-Government employee.
Coming from a development region, I was delighted to see the reference in the Gracious Speech to a better distribution of the resources of industry and employment and a need to make fuller use of the resources in the regions. I do not need to elaborate on the fact that Northern Ireland has a level of unemployment which has been consistently higher than that prevailing in other parts of the United Kingdom. But it is often overlooked that Northern Ireland also has the second highest birthrate of any area of the United Kingdom, coupled with the lowest percentage of persons leaving employment on attaining retirement age. This inevitably presents an employment problem which is causing great difficulty—a problem which will became worse if we look at the progression of the statistics of school leavers over the next five years.
84 It is understood by everyone in the House and outside that the development areas—areas like Northern Ireland—which have good basic services and a surplus of good quality labour, are not liabilities but assets to the nation. A fuller use of the resources of the underutilised regions could make a significant contribution to the overall national growth without imposing further inflation.
Investment in these areas is of great national benefit. These areas can expand without straining the national economy as a whole. Inflation has been a consistent problem for years. Every time a boom in industry has been generated there has been an over-concentration of industry in the Midlands and South-East. The key to the control of inflation in boom conditions lies in further development of the under-utilised industrial potential of the regions.
This is a two-edged weapon. The hon. Member for Whitehaven will agree that when factories come to areas such as his or mine they are mainly branch factories with head offices in the Midlands or South-East. We welcome them because they provide valuable employment, but in times of economic squeeze, when the companies concerned ask themselves, "Where can we contract our activities with minimum loss?" they conclude that they can best do so in grant-aided, Government-built factories. This is not said as a criticism; it is inevitable. Nevertheless, it is a point that tends to be underappreciated and it is, therefore, important to remember that we must try not only to get industry to come to the under-developed regions, but also to encourage them to stay there.
My last point arises from the Prime Minister's statement that he stands by the pledge made by the Attlee Government, of which he was a member, with regard to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in respect of which it was stated, in October, 1948, that no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will take place without Northern Ireland's free agreement. I am interested not only in this very valuable undertaking that the Prime Minister has reiterated, but also in it in the context of devolution. It appears that an examination will take place of the possibility of further parliamentary devolution away from the central Government. I should 85 welcome this. I hope that it is not arrogant to say that Northern Ireland has nearly half a century of experience on this and I have no doubt that my colleagues and the government of Northern Ireland will be willing to offer assistance on this point.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would remind the House that almost every hon. Member wishes to speak. So far speeches have been reasonably brief. I hope that we can carry on in that way.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) referred to devolution. I am pleased to note that the Gracious Speech told us that a Commission would be set up to consider the question of devolution for Wales and Scotland. I am happy that reference has been made to this controversial matter. I was fortunate enough to catch the Chairman's eye at the Labour Party conference, at Blackpool. In that debate we were given an assurance by the Home Secretary that the Government were mindful of the many things being said, especially in Scotland and Wales, about this serious problem.
I remind the House that a national opinion poll made it clear, by a very substantial majority, that the people of Scotland were not in favour of a separatist policy. We as a Government should take cognisance of that. What we have failed, miserably, to do is to tell the people of Scotland and Wales what has been done by this and by the previous Government. We have been so busy playing at party politics that we have lost sight of the many things which are being done for Scotland. I am second to none in my allegiance to Scotland. I was born in Scotland and I represent a Scottish constituency, and I am deeply concerned about the people in my constituency, as I am sure every Scottish Member is concerned about the people in his constituency.
We have a bounden duty, both the Opposition and the Government, to spell out clearly to the people of Scotland and Wales what we have done and what we intend to do. I have made many speeches on the subject recently in my constituency, and at no time has the challenge which I offered in those speeches been accepted by the supporters 86 of so-called Scottish nationalism. What we have to ask the Nationalists is this question: do they for one moment think that if we separate from the United Kingdom the development grants which are forthcoming at present will be forthcoming? The answer is "No".
My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) spoke about the very serious unemployment in his constituency. We should remind the country that of the £46 million spent by the Government in the development areas, £16½ million went to Scotland. The next highest amount went to the North-East, which received £13½ million.
I note from the Gracious Speech that the Government are determined to continue the pursuit of a regional policy. I make haste to point out that the regional policy which is to a degree in operation at the moment is proving beneficial if not to Scotland as a whole at least to the people in Lanarkshire. I am happy to say that when I saw two of the industrialists on Friday I heard that one of them had announced that a further 300 jobs will be brought to my constituency. Another announcement will be made next week that a further 400 jobs will be coming to a firm in the constituency which manufactures computers. All of these firms are playing an important part in the economy of the United Kingdom.
I met the board of directors of another firm in my constituency, who informed me that at the end of September they had surpassed the previous year's production figures, although the present fiscal year has another three months to run. This firm has already received the Queen's Award for Exports and there is no doubt in my mind that it will receive that award this year, too.
I am mindful that it is not only the industrialists who play an important place in British industry. That can be said for every country. But some people are so much concerned about getting after trade unionists that they lose sight of the tremendous work which is done by the workers in the factories and by the unpaid union officials operating in British industry. I can say, as an ex-shop convener, who operated with no remuneration at all, that I always accepted my responsibility and carried out my negotiations in a responsible 87 fashion. This can be said of most of them.
I turn to the reference in the Gracious Speech to the Donovan Report. The Prime Minister told the Leader of the Opposition that before any reforms of the House of Lords were introduced a White Paper would be issued and would be debated in the House. The Leader of the Opposition extracted that assurance from the Prime Minister. I ask the Government to agree that before they introduce any legislation on the Donovan Commission Report they will submit a White Paper, not only to give the House an opportunity to discuss it but also to give industry and the trade union movement an opportunity to consider it. In fairness to the Government, it must be said that they have grasped the nettle and intend to do what the previous Government talked about but were never prepared to do—introduce a White Paper and legislation on this important subject.
I am very much in favour of young people being given the vote at the age of 18. After all, by the time they are able to exercise that right a large percentage of them will have passed the age of 18 and may even be 21. The fact that people are given the right to vote at the age of 21 under existing legislation does not mean that, in practice, they can vote at the age of 21. Some of them are as old as 23 before they cast their first votes. Perhaps I may repeat a statement which has been made many times but which is well worth repeating: if a person at the age of 18 is good enough to fight for his country, he is good enough to cast his vote.
§ Mr. Donald Williams (Dudley)
I agree with the hon. Member. Indeed, the situation is even worse than he supposes, as I can show from personal experience. I was 25 when I cast my first vote. Under the present law many people are 25 years of age before they can vote for the first time.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I thank the hon. Member. That underlines the point which I was making. I take it that he, too, is in favour of young people having the right to vote at the age of 18. Indeed, I believe that the majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House are in 88 favour of such legislation being introduced. To talk in terms of a voting age of 20 instead of 18 is to move away from the consensus of opinion.
I have implicit faith in the young people of this country. Many ask whether they have reached the age of maturity. Let me put a question to hon. Members and ask them all to be honest when answering it, for this is the kind of appreciation which we must make when considering this subject: can we say that all the people in our constituencies, irrespective of the age at which they vote under the existing legislation, have reached the age of maturity? Can someone define for me what is the age of maturity? Some of us take longer to mature than do others.
We realise that our young people are a focus for attention at the moment because of a very small percentage of irresponsibles among them. We lose sight of the activities of the many responsible youngsters at our universities and colleges as well as those working in industry. Last Sunday night I addressed youngsters in my constituency attending a meeting of joint youth fellowships. Two ministers of the Church were there. I only wish that at every meeting I address I have such an attentive and intelligent audience as was made up of the 100 youngsters at last Sunday's meeting.
I am pleased that the Government intend to bring up to date the town and country planning legislation affecting Scotland because it is now generally accepted that many of the weaknesses in the existing legislation require immediate attention. Hon. Members who have served in local government recognise the problems confronting local authorities. I could discuss many of them, but in view of your remarks, Mr. Speaker, about the number of hon. Members who wish to take part in this debate, I will curtail my remarks and refer only to the problem of caravans.
In my constituency and throughout Lanarkshire we are being beseiged by people designated as gipsies. They move on to land the owners of which are unknown to the local authority. The result is that the police merely take those who position themselves on the land to court, and the following evening another set of people move on to the land. We need 89 legislation to allow local authorities to act on a mandatory basis, otherwise their efforts will be abortive. Local authorities should have sites for this purpose.
Under present arrangements it is possible for someone to start a building and then, upon receipt of a notice of rejection, apply for planning permission. The notice of rejection is then withdrawn, but the planning permission is not granted. They have the right of appeal, and before all the procedure is exhausted 15 months at a minimum can elapse. It is appreciated that when some legislation is introduced a period of trial and error is necessary, and it is to be hoped that the weaknesses which exist in the existing legislation will now be put right.
I welcome the Gracious Speech. Contrary to what the pundits and scribes forecast, it contains some valuable legislative items, which I hope will become law this Session. I particularly hope that something will be done about the graded superannuation pension scheme, especially in view of what was stated in the Labour Party manifesto on this score in 1966. Whenever I address a meeting I am always asked, "When will the Government divorce themselves from the graded superannuation pension scheme?" When we come to debate this matter hon. Gentlemen opposite will not have much joy, since they introduced the scheme, which must be one of the worst pieces of legislation ever to have appeared on the Statute Book. I trust that the scheme will be declared null and void before this Session is out.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Esmond Wright (Glasgow, Pollok)
I will not discuss all the topics raised by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton), although later in my speech I will take up his opening remarks about the whole issue of the future of the Government of the country.
First, however, I regret the absence of any reference in the Gracious Speech to law and order and the subject of the police and the size of the police forces in Scotland. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) will wish to reinforce what I say, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.
In Glasgow and throughout Scotland—but particularly in Glasgow—there are 90 now serious problems, and each winter makes them more serious. In 1963, there were only 131 vacancies in the Glasgow police force. In June of this year there were 489 and at present the figure stands at just over 500—this despite the amount of money spent on equipment, despite the reduction of the minimum height from 5 ft. 9 ins. to 5 ft. 8 ins., and despite the establishment of a cadet force.
I must register concern when there is no mention, either in the Gracious Speech or in the attitude of the Government, of what is a basic matter of law and order, particularly not least when we had a dramatic indication last Sunday of what could happen, although happily did not happen on that occasion.
Second, this curious phrase appears in the Gracious Speech:
…the law relating to education in Scotland"—will be broughtinto line with current developments.I do not know—one does not these days—who drafts and who checks drafts when they come from the Government. But there is an element of heresy creeping in, if it is to be implied, at a time of the heyday of Scottish nationalism, that Scottish education has anything to learn from current developments anywhere else. I will not rehearse any of the topics that might be implied in the phrase "current developments", but I imagine that it means that there is to come before us some proposal to withdraw Section 1 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1962. Is that the case?
Can I stress that there is an acute problem concerning education in Glasgow and throughout Scotland. There has been a 30 per cent. increase in the number of children getting part-time education in the last year. There are now in Glasgow 2,722 children getting part-time education, mainly in the east end of the city. Some of these are in Catholic schools and there is an acute shortage of teachers, especially in Catholic schools. More than this, however, there is a serious problem concerning secondary education, and this is highlighted by the Swann Report. I fully expected to see some reference to that Report in the Gracious Speech. Scotland is suffering acutely from the loss of staff by retirement, particularly in secondary schools.
91 I accept that the Gracious Speech says gracious things about nursery education. I hope that these will be honoured in the doing, but there is a serious problem concerning secondary schools. There is especially now a shortage of mathematics and science teachers—a shortage of about 1,500 staff throughout Scotland. I would have welcomed—indeed, I had expected—some reference to this in the Speech.
The other day I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether or not he was satisfied with the extent of the development of technical education in Scotland. He replied that there were only four institutions in Scotland—the Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology, in Aberdeen, the Dundee Institute, the Paisley College of Technology and the Scottish Wool and Technical College, in Galashiels—submitting students to courses and enabling them to get degrees from the National Council for Academic Awards.
If one compares that puny offering in a country which has such a distinct and proud educational history with the situation in England, where there are now 55 undergraduate courses and 12 post-graduate courses being offered at 44 institutions, then I suggest that the time has come for the Secretary of State for Scotland or whoever guides him in his educational thinking—the Paymaster-General, or whoever it may be—to pay some attention to the acute need for developing technological education in Scotland.
I want to deal with several implications behind this passage in the Speech about education. If it means that there is to be imposed from St. Andrews House, or from Westminster, by decree, a scheme described as comprehensive or territorial, there will be a hue and cry from all who value Scottish education—and I am sure that there are hon. Members on both sides who share my view.
I shall not say that it represents interference with local authorities, although it does—and, incidentally, Glasgow Corporation has tried to brush the issue under the carpet for a long time. I shall not say that it constitutes interference with parental choice, although it does. It certainly constitutes interference with the whole character of Scottish education.
92 At a time of economic stringency it is crass economics if there is, behind this phrase, an indirect threat to the 29 direct-grant schools in Scotland. The parents who send their children to these schools are contributing about £2 million a year on the education of their children to the Scottish economy, and it is absurd that, at a time of economic ill-fortune, this sum should be transferred to taxation or the rates.
There is, however, a deeper problem, and I doubt whether any hon. Member on either side has fully considered the American parallel. Are we seriously going to push territorial schooling at a time when we are having these tremendous rehousing developments? I speak again particularly of Glasgow. We shall end up, if we do push it, with a ring of schools, located in the suburbs and in new housing areas and lavishly provided with equipment but seriously understaffed, which will draw their students from one single class—on the whole, the children of transferred poorer citizens while the direct grant or fee-paying schools will be located in what the Americans would call "white suburbs", the wealthier areas.
This would be the real danger, that, 10 years from now, there would be poor territorial schools and rich territorial schools, with no social mixing or no chance for the disappearance of a class system. Indeed, there would be an inducement to a class system, if anything.
I ask the Government to realise, when they are thinking through their proposal, the dangers of trying to impose a comprehensive system of education on Scotland based on English assumptions and history. I remind hon. Members that Glasgow High School is older than Eton and far more distinct in character and that it should not be interfered with.
I come now, third, to the reference in the Gracious Speech to the setting up of a constitutional Commission. When questioned about this, the Prime Minister said that there should be the beginning of a discussion and a report this Session. I do not know whether he had thought out the implications of that statement. Do we seriously understand that, by October, 1969, we shall have drafted a written constitution for this country for the first time in its history?
93 Do we realise what we are saying here? Other countries can offer parallels. For 700 years, people like your good self, Mr. Speaker, have presided over the deliberations of this body, and this is the sovereign body in this country. What Parliament does no man can undo.
The Government are running the risk of imposing on us, Lords and Commons alike, a supreme court of some sort. I do not go along with the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee), or with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), in thinking that government by lawyers is necessarily the best form of government. I want to see sovereignty remaining in this institution.
If we get regional Parliaments in some form, there is a risk that there will have to be a court of interpretation, a supreme court, looking at cases and case law. That would be contrary to the character of British history. So I join with the hon. Member for Bothwell in expressing misgivings about some of the implications of this development.
I am concerned not merely about the question of a supreme court, but about the economic unity of the British Isles. Suppose there were a barrier at the Tweed or some other place. I was intrigued by the references made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) to "Northumbria". Northumbria once stretched from south of Manchester to well to the north of Edinburgh. Presumably, that is not the Northumbria he had in mind.
However, even with a well-defined border on the Tweed, I shudder to think what would happen to Scotland or to Wales if they were not part of the United Kingdom. I agree that, out of those who favour separatism for Scotland, only 20 per cent. want total separation while the other 80 per cent. want economic unity to remain under devolution, regionalism, or whatever it may be.
If we are to trespass on the constitution-making of the 1787 American parallel, with a group—inevitably—of lawyers shaping and phrasing the legislation, it is imperative to include in that constitution a. Bill of Rights to defend the citizens of this country. I say this with all the vehemence at my command. The Bill of Rights was the first 10 amend- 94 ments in 1790 to the American Constitution, establishing freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and other rights, and ensuring their preservation. There is a danger today of big government—a greater danger than ever before, but a danger under any Government. Already we need "ombudsmen" in varying fields of Government activity.
If we take the step, with all its risks, of drafting a constitution, I hope that a Bill of Rights will be included in order to defend the rights of John Citizen throughout Britain from the tyranny of elected men whether in Westminster or anywhere else, including—dare I say it?—Edinburgh.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
I congratulate the new Chairman of Ways and Means, who is a neighbour of mine in constituency terms. I hope that he will keep a neighbourly eye on me on the back benches.
The Gracious Speech was received by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in a tame manner. He got passionate twice only in his speech. The first time was about the Boundary Commission, and the other on the question of the new Paymaster-General. I am certain that he will get a response on neither.
One of the most important points of the Gracious Speech is the proposal to lower the age of majority and of voting to 18. In my constituency, the change in the age of majority will be greatly welcomed. Northfleet Urban District Council was the only urban district council in the country to give oral and written evidence to the Latey Committee and the Clerk of the Council, Mr. Bunkall, will be gratified that the Government are at last moving on this issue. I am sure that my constituents will be pleased that the Government are to introduce votes at 18. That move has long been overdue.
If we believe that representation should go with taxation, it is obviously right that there should be the vote at 18. One could almost make a case for having the vote at an earlier age because of the way in which many young people have to pay Income Tax even before they are 18. However, I greatly welcome the intention to introduce the vote at 18 years of age.
95 Not only this Government but this Parliament will go down in history as the one which made a great many radical changes in our society. Certainly, the Conservative Opposition would never say that the changes brought about in our society between 1964 and 1968 were not radical, whatever they might have to say on other aspects.
One of the radical changes which we shall see fairly soon will be the move to a decimal currency. I am a little concerned that we are not doing enough in publicising the nature of this major change in our way of life. Youngsters now at school and those soon starting school will be able fairly quickly to adapt themselves to the new system, but I am worried lest older people are not given enough information about what will happen when the change comes. I hope that the Government will make sure that more publicity is given between now and 1971 to show people exactly what is to happen when we move to the decimal currency. I am thinking particularly of pensioners. A printed note in their pension books or other papers could well be of help to them in explaining, by tables and the like, what the new system will be.
I thought at first that there had been a printing error in the Gracious Speech where we are told thatLegislation will be introduced on the composition and powers of the House of Lords".I felt sure that "composition" should have read "abolition". Just to tinker about with the House of Lords, as the Government seem likely to do, is no good at all. If we do not make radical changes, the only alternative will be to abolish the Second Chamber as it is now. I hope that the Government will make the necessary radical changes so that we do not have just a tinkering with the other place and, in the end, much the same rose by some other name.
There is a reference to regional policy in the Gracious Speech, and in the debate so far several hon. Members have spoken about regions which are under-developed and which face difficulties of one kind and another. I hope that the Government, when considering their regional policy, will not altogether ignore the South-East region and the London region. Everyone 96 tends to think that there is over-full employment in these areas and no difficulties in regional terms. In fact, we face difficulties in the South-East both in employment and in the location of industry. For example, my own constituency of Gravesend has a higher rate of unemployment than most other areas in the South-East. Moreover, as a result of mergers such as the A.E.I.—G.E.C. merger, people have been made unemployed in the South-East, and, as many of the industries in the area are likely to become automated, more redundancies occur, too.
I suggest that the Government might well reconsider the 40-mile limit around London which is applied in connection with the restriction of office building. In my view, that area is too large. In such places as Gravesend and the Medway towns, we could do with more office development, and more industrial development, too.
Before the 1964 election, the Labour Party pointed out forcibly both on political platforms and in publications that the graduated pension scheme was a swindle. I well remember as a candidate then reading and using the document which showed what a swindle the scheme was. Yet here we are, four years after the election of a Labour Government in 1964, still with this swindle hung round our necks. I want the Government to abolish the graduated pension scheme. Even if we do not immediately have the better scheme which we are promised in its place, we ought not still to be saddled with a scheme which we forcibly showed was a swindle four years ago.
Perhaps the most important phrase in the Gracious Speech is that which tells usOther measures will be laid before you".I hope that one of the Measures to be laid before us will do something about comprehensive education in Britain. This also was one of the planks of the Labour Party platform in 1964 and in 1966. At present, about 15 per cent. of our schools in Britain can be called comprehensive, and within that 15 per cent. there are a good many which, though calling themselves comprehensive, are nothing of the sort in fact. Some of the schemes which the Government have accepted under Circular 10/65 are sham comprehensive schemes.
97 I am sure that the Government will make no progress here unless they introduce legislation. Various schemes have been submitted from all over the country, and some authorities have not submitted schemes without a great deal of pressure. There was the story of the Bournemouth Council and the difficulties which the Department of Education and Science had there in getting a scheme submitted. Surrey County Council was adamant. Moreover, I am sure that many education authorities have submitted schemes which do not measure up to what we in the Labour Party envisage as comprehensive education. The Government will have to do something about that.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
How does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the Government will speed up the movement to comprehensive education without more funds being made available to provide what he is advocating, namely, proper comprehensive schools?
§ Mr. Murray
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will admit that, even if we provided all the necessary funds, we still would not have all the comprehensive schools which we need because of the Conservative Party's ideological approach to the whole question. The hon. Gentleman needs only to look at the recent history of the Inner London Education Authority and its approach to comprehensive education under the Conservative Party.
I am sure that, as the remaining 2½ years of this Parliament run and we approach the probable election date, Tory local authorities will do less and less about changes in education and, wherever they can, they will blame more and more on the Government. I can give an example. The Kent County Council, because, so it says, of Government economy measures and because it must not go more than 3½ per cent. above last year's expenditure, is now making alterations in the charge for adult education classes—I refer to recreational classes, not vocational classes—and the fees for 1969–70 are to go up from £2 8s. a term to about £9. It is said that the county will save about £225,000, which is less than ½ per cent. of its education budget of about £37 million.
I am sure that Tory authorities will try to do that sort of thing more and more. 98 In this valuable sector of education, that is, adult education in recreational classes—languages, keep-fit classes and the like—they will price many people out of the market by the fee increases which they are about to introduce.
This Government have had an outstandingly fine record in the legislation which they have introduced over the past four years. Although we have on occation been maligned, our record in legislation and the changes which we have made in society has been outstanding. Although there are defects in and omissions from the Gracious Speech, such as the one I have just mentioned regarding comprehensive education, the legislation which it foreshadows will continue that fine record.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
First, I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on the fortunate fact that you have another very capable Chairman of Ways and Means to assist you in your arduous work.
The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) could hardly expect me to agree with much of what he said. I was surprised that he did not blush when he said that this Government had produced a great amount of good legislation. The Transport Act will always be a blot on this Government, a primary reason for the increase in the cost of living. If he thinks that taxes like S.E.T. and others are any credit to the Government, he could not have listened to our Budget speeches. If he thinks that the Prices and Incomes Act is popular or necessary, he must be a very simple follower of his Whips.
I cannot go through all the legislation of four years, or I should be disobeying your request, Mr. Speaker, and annoying all hon. Members. I already had a note to refer to comprehensive education and I shall do so in due course.
However, to soften my attack on the hon. Member, I agree entirely with his criticism of the restrictions on office building. As a result of that mistake by the Government, rents in the City of London for business premises have risen enormously. He might say that people could move to Croydon, where they would be welcome and where the offices are pleasanter and the rents lower, but many 99 businesses, like banks and those connected with the Stock Exchange, must be closer to the centre and cannot be. If it had not been for that legislation, new buildings could have been built high upon the sites of old ones and rents would not have quadrupled or, as in some cases, gone up five times.
We have been told that there were no leaks of the contents of the Gracious Speech, as there often are. Of course there were not: there was nothing to leak. We knew about the House of Lords proposals because they had been much discussed and canvassed, and about lowering the voting age to 18, since the Home Secretary referred to it in our debate on electoral reform only a few days ago. Leaving aside those public matters, there was nothing to leak. There is virtually nothing in the speech except a lot of platitudes.
It repeats once more the information that we will withdraw before the end of 1971 from Malaysia. Singapore and the Persian Gulf. Fortunately, that can be partly reversed before that date. Do hon. Members realise what they are saying when they talk about this withdrawal? Some people may wish us to lead the life of Switzerland, a pleasant little country with no outside commitments, but, unfortunately, we cannot do so. We are a nation of 50 million in a small island with interests, investments and dangers in all parts of the world. That is a fact which we cannot escape.
It may be right for us to have forces with N.A.T.O. to protect our more immediate interests, but Singapore and Malaysia border the Pacific, an area which every country of consequence borders—Russia, China, America, our great Dominions of Australia and New Zealand, Japan and others. The only people who are clearing out and washing their hands of any interest there are ourselves. That is a matter on which I base the greatest criticism of the Government and I am astonished to find it in the Gracious Speech—because, although they have said it before, I am surprised that they should be proud of it.
The economic situation is one of the most vital matters with which we are concerned. It was dealt with by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the 100 Opposition and I will not repeat what either said, but I wish to draw attention to one matter which is being reported in the newspapers, which has not been contradicted, and which shows the great danger in which the Government are placing this country.
We talk about our industries and exports and imports, which are all important, but our great invisible exports are in the sphere of banking, insurance and international trade. There is no place in the world for that like the City of London. Foreigners do their deals in sterling, and English banks get a "rake-off". That means that insurance, bills of lading and other matters connected with shipping and so on come to this country and form invisible exports.
Are the Government stopping the use of sterling for those purposes? There is no loss of sterling in these transactions, which merely mean that a deal is done in sterling and no money actually passes. I cannot believe that any Government would be so stupid as to place a brake on our invisible exports to that extent. This has not been announced in the House, so I may be wrong and hope I am, but it has appeared without contradiction in many newspapers. Fears should be put to rest by a contradiction, or else the Government should abandon that idea altogether.
The Gracious Speech mentions assistance to tourism, which is very important to all countries as a means of getting overseas currency. I would like us to attract as many tourists as possible, as we have been increasingly successful in doing. We must not always think of tourism in terms of Americans staying at five-star hotels and spending a great deal of money. Some come shorter distances with less to spend.
What are the obstacles to increasing the number of our tourists? Some may like our climate, but it is not exactly an attraction and no Government can change it. But some of our hotels lack the attractions of those abroad. It is not entirely their fault; they are short of capital, which is a criticism of our taxation system. But there are other burdens. Tourists cannot understand our drink laws; and they cannot get a drink when they want one.
101 I do not suggest that we should alter that for tourists and not for our people. The Catering Wages Act puts a tremendous burden on smaller hotels in providing services for tourists. S.E.T. has put a load on smaller hotels—
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Since this is an important matter, in what way does the hon. Member believe that the Catering Wages Act puts a burden on small catering establishments?
§ Mr. Doughty
Because of the enormous increase in the cost of the services which they provide. I cannot debate the matter, but am merely answering the hon. Member—
§ Mr. Leadbitter rose—
§ Mr. Doughty
The hon. Gentleman asked me a question and I am giving him the answer; which is the enormous increase in cost in providing the service which the tourist requires. One of the results is that they have to cut off the service at particular hours. That may not apply to the very large and expensive hotels, but for smaller hotels it imposes a great restriction on the service which they can provide for the money which they charge.
The Gracious Speech refers to givingassistance to the deep sea fishing industry and for the policing and conservation of fisheries.Fisheries are being grossly over-fished by the trawlers of many nations. The modern type of net like the Japanese nylon net simply hauls the fish out of the sea. It does not give them a chance to increase their numbers. Whether an international convention can be not only formulated, but enforced, which is the difficulty, to preserve our stocks of sea fish, I do not know. I only hope that it can. If any hon. Member does not believe what I say, let him go and see the average size of herring brought to our ports by the trawlers. A few years ago, they would have been called sardines. These fish have not even had a chance to spawn.
I cannot see the necessity of interfering with the House of Lords in any way. The only occasion on which it has interfered in this House was over the 102 Rhodesia Order, and then it did not do it very cleverly. The Order went through a few weeks later with a majority of nine. Is it worth bringing in a special Bill to alter our constitution? Or is it possibly and merely thrown like a bone to the Left wing of the Labour Party? That is what will be said.
In this country, instead of making sudden changes, they gradually evolve. By introducing the principle of life peerages, we have gradually evolved from the hereditary principle while not making an immediate break. Therefore, I do not agree with this part of the Gracious Speech. The House of Lords has been of great assistance in amending Bills and in advising and generally checking without interfering with the proceedings and legislation of this House.
I wish to deal with two matters relating to the reduction in age from 21 to 18. When Governments, whatever their composition, wish to alter the voting rules and to avoid the obvious criticism that they are doing so for their own politcial ends, it has always been the practice to have a Speaker's Conference. By an overwhelming majority, Mr. Speaker's Conference agreed that the age should be reduced to 20. The Government refused to accept that decison. They are going in the face of the criticism that they have done this for their own political ends, and that criticism is entirely unjustified, because they know that they will not get a lot of support from people of 18 to 21 years.
The Government know what happened to their League of Young Socialists and how long that lasted. They know that the Young Liberals are always referred to as "the Red Guard". They know that one of the strongest bodies in the country is the Young Conservatives. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may think that funny, but there is nothing funny about the Young Conservatives, as they will find out. There are many very funny things about the Young Socialists, who have to be abolished from time to time. Therefore, the Government will suffer criticism which they do not deserve; but it is criticism which they will have just the same.
A reduction in the age of majority from 21 to 18 is a different matter altogether. The only practical result will be that these people will be able to 103 get married without their parents' consent and without having to appear before a magistrate. That may be an advantage. No doubt hon. Members have their views about it. I have no strong view on it. But it will remove the protection which people of 18 to 21 years of age now have. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no good hon. Members opposite saying "Oh". When these youngsters enter into contracts, often very stupidly, they are protected by law. If what is proposed happens, that protection will be removed.
§ Mr. Huckfield
Has the hon. and learned Gentleman ever thought what a disadvantage it sometimes is to people of 18 to 21 years of age who have to get someone else's consent to sign a contract? Has he ever felt the disadvantage which many such people obviously feel when they wish to buy furniture, cars and many other things?
§ Mr. Doughty
There is nothing in law which compels a person of 18 to 21 years of age to get somebody else to back his contract. A great many firms, such as hire-purchase firms, may require it, and they are still entitled to continue to require it. This makes no difference. That is the only result of lowering the age in this case. If the Government want to do it, good luck to them, but I do not think that it will make a great deal of difference.
I refer now to two omissions from the Gracious Speech. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition gave very fair, generous and accurate congratulations and praise to the Metropolitian Police for the way in which they dealt with the troubles last Sunday. But there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of the maintenance of law and order. In these days of quick transport, be it on a motor cycle or in a special train, many people can congregate at one place at the same time, and these people can, and often do, cause a lot of damage and expense. I am not referring particularly to last Sunday's happenings. I am thinking more perhaps of such people as "mods" and "rockers".
We are told, probably accurately, that last Sunday's affair cost £500,000 of Government and private money for overtime for the police and the hire of extra 104 people to protect premises, and so on. Although the police maintained order, there were considerable breaches of law and order in Grosvenor Square. What will the Government do about the maintenance of law and order, and not only in London? The first responsibility of any Government is to maintain the defence of this country. The second is to maintain law and order. There is not a word about that in the Gracious Speech and there was no mention of it in the Prime Minister's speech today.
One matter which I am very pleased to see is not in the Gracious Speech is compulsion on schools to go comprehensive. We were threatened with it and we read about it. We were told that it was to come. However, it is not in the Speech, and I am pleased about that. I am not opposed to comprehensive schools in the right place. There may be many appropriate places for comprehensive schools. Perhaps a new school built on a housing estate should be comprehensive. That is one thing. But to compel education authorities to amalgamate a number of secondary and grammar schools when they are often a mile or a mile and a half apart and say that they shall be one comprehensive school is ideological nonsense. To force that upon education authorities, whatever their political complexion, is quite wrong. I am glad that the Government have seen sense in this regard.
Whether the proposed legislation will take us a long time to deal with only time can tell. We do not know what the financial provisions in the next Budget will be. However, I hope that the Government will bear in mind that increased taxation is a brake on all efficiency and business, and that if they want to encourage the soundness of the £ and increase savings and the prosperity of this country they should so arrange taxation that hard working people are able to save after being taxed.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
I am tempted to address myself to some of the comments made by the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), but if I attempted to do so I would automatically find myself back in the 19th century. I will, therefore, carry on with what is more pertinent to this debate.
105 The Queen's Speech should interest hon. Members both for what is in it and for what is not in it. This naturally covers a wide field, but in selecting one or two points in each of those directions I hope that at the end of the day, when the debate is assessed, the general feeling will be that for most of the day we have listened to useful constructive contributions—with, perhaps, one or two exceptions.
The other exception was the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), who began with the rather interesting idea that power is where money lies, the old theme that if one has it, one can tell people what to do, how to do it and when to do it, but never why. The hon. Member used that particularly interesting idea to suggest that we should go back to the old days of Northumbria and Mercia and that kind of regionalism and instead of having the centralisation which we have in the corporate body of Westminster, we should have regional taxation.
Therefore, I again challenge the hon. Member for Ormskirk, as I did earlier today, but I regret that I must do it in his absence. I shall try, however, to address myself to the idea and not to the personality. The idea is rather contradictory, because if we try to project from the theme that power is where money lies to that of regional taxation, we have to answer the simple question: how on earth do we get parity of servicing, of education, of housing and, indeed, the building up of a healthy infrastructure within a healthy regional economy when we already have a base of poor and rich regions? It would seem to me that if power is where money lies, equally a lack of power to do the things we want to do exists where we do not have the money.
It so happens that before 1964 there was created the term "the two nations", the rich and the poor. The interesting point was made in the great debate on the two-nation idea concerning the antecedents, as it were, of the poorer elements of the economy such as the northern region, Scotland, Merseyside and Wales, that in the industrial revolution they had in large measure made the major contribution to the national wealth. In the twentieth century, however, they 106 were exhausted and were the poor partners, one of the two nations.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk, in his little historical diversion into the trappings of Mercia and Northumbria—he included my constituency in that lot—committed the greatest boob of the day in his examination of the Queen's Speech. In other words, he was propounding a thesis which was in itself contradictory.
Unfortunately, the second occurrence was an embellishment of that kind of thing by the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East.
§ Mr, Doughty
The hon. Member associates me with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). May I say that I disagree with everything that my hon. Friend said about regional government?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I agree with the hon. and learned Member, and one must not be too unkind. After all, the hon. and learned Member did sufficient harm himself without my putting upon his shoulders the thinking of his hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk. Both are out of date in their attitudes of thought.
I come from a part of the world where, before 1964, we had the highest unemployment figures in the country. Indeed, my constituency of Hartlepool had 12½ per cent. unemployed. In the four years which have since passed—I am addressing myself to the fact to gain some lessons which might be helpful in revealing the thinking behind the Queen's Speech—we have had more new jobs created in Hartlepool than in any similar period in 100 years. We have had more factories built or existing factories extended during those four years than in any similar period.
When we had about 4,000 men out of work, an appeal was made to the then Lord Hailsham, now the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), who came to my constituency. He did so in great fashion, wearing a cap. When we addressed ourselves to him, because the Government of the day were talking in terms of having a regional policy, the extent of his thinking about my constituency was, in his own words, "You must not worry if you become a dormitory town".
107 In the great debate in the House of Commons, without fear or favour, we are, in effect, talking about the difference in policy between the parties. I make the claim that the same policies as are projected within the language of the Queen's Speech have translated the Hartlepools from a state of desolation, despondency and sheer despair to a place of new hope, of vigorous direction and buoyancy of the kind which now presents itself as an example throughout the country.
At this moment, the amount of capital investment in the area has reached something like £150 million, including the nuclear power station announced by the Government, within a few days of which we had the announcement of the saving of the Furness shipyard. I put it to hon. Members opposite: when was there a day when a ship-building yard was saved by the Tory Party? There are two instances in four years when my party has saved the jobs of men in shipyards, one in Scotland and one in recent weeks on Tees-side, where 500 of my constituents work.
Whatever else is said, Government intervention, initiative and a deep concern to solve the problems of regions such as the North have resulted in that kind of success. One of the most modern shipyards in Europe—the Furness yard—has been saved by the Government, where private enterprise had abysmally let it down.
The case is therefore made out that in four years great strides have been made in the regions in improving the general economy and, as a consequence, in improving the social infrastructure of the regions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) said, there are of course still major outstanding problems. He said that in Millom 13 per cent. of the men are out of work and he told us of the desperate need for direct Government intervention.
But what are we talking about? We are talking simply about the immensity of the problem which confronted this Government and which, for the past 10 years or so, has existed in the regions and with which the Conservative Government failed to deal. They were spending on the roads in the northern region in their last year of office. £4 million. This Government are spending about £20 million. 108 Look at the Conservatives' record in housing. Lord Hailsham said, in the region, "You must not build 18,000 houses—knock it up to 25,000." We are building far more than that. We gave the local authorities money to build. Lord Hailsham said, "Increase the number of houses," just like that, but he did not give the local authorities the wherewithal to do it. We are building more hospitals and we are certainly building more schools.
Much more, I agree, has to be done under regional policies, but where have the successes come from—if successes there are, as I have tried to claim that, in my constituency, there are—have they come from the policies of the Labour Government or the policies of the previous Administration? We do not have to argue that. Hon. Members know. They have only to read the headlines in the newspapers, in the popular Press as well as The Times and the Daily Telegraph, in the several years preceding 1964. They will tell hon. Members the position as it was. We do not have to debate it. The facts are there, that this Government, against the background of a national crisis which we inherited—we did not buy it, we did not even know the strength of it until after we were elected in 1964 and saw the books—this Government have a great and proud record in the regions.
There are one or two things which I should have liked to have seen in the Queen's Speech but which are not there. First, I should like to have seen the abolition of the graduated pension scheme. The Labour Party described the scheme as a swindle—as it was. It still is. We have not only a moral obligation, therefore, but, in terms of insurance principle, a strong economic reason why we should get rid of it. There is no question about it, and I should have liked to have seen that in the Queen's Speech.
Secondly, I should have liked to have seen proposals for radically changing the Selective Employment Tax. I have reached the point where I agree that it may be impossible to remove it altogether, because of the great amount of revenue which the tax brings in, but there are two things at least which could be done with it. First of all, remove it from the industrial classification list, because many of the anomalies arise out 109 of attaching it to that list for collection purposes, although, as everybody in the House knows, that list was designed for purposes other than taxation.
Secondly, there should be a very pertinent attempt to have consultations with Members of the House about it. We sometimes have situations, if I may say so, in which some Ministers think they are God's gift to this place and, after their appointment, assume they have inherited a kind of wisdom which they did not have before. However, there are other Members of this House who have addressed themselves in detail to this question of S.E.T., not on political grounds but in a sincere search for ways to get rid of the anomalies and to make it acceptable. So there should be discussions about making Selective Employment Tax what its name says it ought to be—selective.
The third thing which ought to have been in the Gracious Speech is legislation to abolish prescription charges. I think this is the first time they have been mentioned today. My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), chairman of our health group in this House, who has done a lot of work on this, and who knows that I have taken an interest in it with him, no doubt will be making some reference to this later. I am sure he will, but certainly it is time the Government stopped listening to their economic advisers. Some of these people have been the bane of our lives. Some of them are academic nitwits. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I cannot understand why hon. Members opposite are shouting, because their advisers were worse. The advisers of the previous Administration were unfortunately a great tragedy, but all Governments in a democracy seem to be saddled with peculiar advisers.
I am saying this in all seriousness because of the situation which we have now about the prescription charges. There is the amount of time which is spent in filling in the forms, and helping dear old ladies who cannot read what is on the back of them, and people who go for prescriptions for their friends but not knowing what to do; there are chemists who would be saving a lot of time and money if they were not burdened with all this paper paraphernalia. The benefits of the present scheme to the nation are 110 so highly marginal as to be questionable. I do not believe that the savings which the Government are now saying we have made because of the introduction of prescription charges are what they say they are. During the past few months the proposed savings have diminished considerably, and so many people are exempt from the charges anyway that we have a whole national machine to deal with only a handful of people. Let us get it off our backs.
More than that. We gave our word to the electorate in 1964—and in 1966, if I remember aright. One of the things which politicans today have to try to face is that our credibility is being questioned by ordinary decent people outside. Back benchers do not appear on television so often as the prima donnas. We cannot say to the public so much on television, "We are some Members of Parliament who feel like you do". Therefore, we say to the Government, not only get it off our backs but let us have some sense, and let the public see that when we give our word on precise matters such as this our word is our bond.
The economic academic advisers are not important in this context. Politics are never run on their backs; politics are run on the ability of politicians and leaders to appeal to the people and to gain a response. I feel terribly vexed about this, and it is time that the Government listened to the majority of the voices. In the Cabinet there is a handful of voices; a lot more than a handful of voices are telling the Government not to be silly and to get rid of this non-sense.
The fourth point I would like to see in the Queen's Speech is legislation to meet the urgent need to deal with the injustices of the financial burden of responsibility arising from an antiquated rating system. This we have said we will deal with. The rating systems is cock-eyed. It is over 300 years old, and there are wealthy people living in such situations that their rate contribution is far less than that made by people who are much poorer. The days of the mansion have passed, and there are people now living in houses where the rating calculation is such that their contribution to the general servicing of the local community is anomalous. Injustices are created, which are not solved 111 by handing out charity to the poor, no matter how necessary such charity may be in the short term. The rating system must be knocked into shape so that it is acceptable in modern terms. People cannot understand why we put up with the existing system.
The fifth thing I would like to see in the Queen's Speech is legislation to provide for transferability of superannuation schemes. This again is long overdue. Many people are tied down to their occupations for the whole of their lives, not because they like their jobs but because they are tied by their superannuation schemes. They are hanging their future on the hook of a pension. The pension should be mobile so that the man with his skills, talents and initiative is able to move and has the incentive which comes from the ability to take with him his savings in terms of a pension.
The sixth matter on which I should like to see something in the Queen's Speech is the subject of equal pay.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Equal pay. I thought that I was speaking loud enough, but if I am not careful this will get tied up with Aberdeen, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) is sure to pin on to this when he speaks.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will be called if he does, as I am about to do now, congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, upon your appointment. I am very glad to see you in the chair. I suggest that my hon. and learned Friend is bound to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before 9 o'clock.
In this country 37½ per cent. of the working population are women, the majority of whom work in conditions which are not up to standard and earn less than 5s. per hour. This is wrong, for a number of reasons, but there are two obvious ones. The first is that where 112 women are the predominant part of the labour force in an industrial unit it is their wage levels which keep down the men's wage levels, and that is obviously bad for the men.
The second reason is that there are many examples of equal pay having fulfilled its promise and common sense, namely, in the Health Service, where specialists receive equal pay; in the hospital services; teachers; non-industrial civil servants who had equal pay over a 7-year period between, I think, 1954 and 1961. The wages structure overall in all these cases was proven not to have been altered so radically as to create the kind of worries which concerned people who opposed the application of equal pay.
Related to equal pay is my seventh point which I would like to see included in the Queen's Speech, and that is legislation to remove discrimination against women in the sphere of taxation and social security. Here there should be no argument. It is nonsense that the wages of a man and a woman should be aggregated for the purposes of taxation. It is nonsense that the woman should be treated as if she were not a whole, dignified, first-class citizen. Worse than that, not only are the earnings aggregated but a rebate granted to a wife goes to her husband. I know I must not go into too much detail, but just pinpoint injustices in order that the bell shall ring.
Why should women pay different social security contributions from men and have less benefit? There are different classifications of widowhood, and anomalies exist between the married woman who is looking after dependants, the married woman without children, the separated or divorced woman and the widow. The whole complex of womanhood is tied up in our social security and taxation legislation in such a way as to make one feel that it must have been madness to provide it and expect it to be accepted. Therefore, I hope in taxation and social security some sense can be injected into the legislation.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Meriden)
I am very much with the hon. Gentleman in heart, but will he tell me whether he believes that women should receive retirement pensions at 65 or whether men should get theirs at 60?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
To give a precise answer to that question would be unwise. The problem is more complex than the question presupposes, and the answer is not as simple as that. There is one constant that one ought to accept, that whatever the age of retirement, both should retire at the same age. I do not think that there is an argument for 60 on the one hand and 65 on the other hand. In view of the longevity tables and the obvious willingness of many people to continue working after the normal statutory retirement age, people are thinking in terms of 70 and 65 now, but in order to get consistency into our social security and taxation legislation we should have one retiring age with an open end. I mean by that an ability and willingness for retired people to take up part-time work. For that reason, I would like to see the age exemption limits extended even further.
The next item that I would like to see in the Queen's Speech is a Measure abolishing the undignified process of maintenance orders. The number of women who have to crawl along the cold corridors of magistrates' courts each week because their maintenance orders have not been met is legion. On top of that, that they should have to go then to the Social Security Commission is a matter we should stop quickly. There ought to be some legislation to deal with this very serious situation.
I notice in the White Paper a reference to the administration of justice. In that connection, I hope that there will be some serious thinking about the method by which justices of the peace are appointed. At the moment, it is unfair as well as unreasonable. In too many cases it produces the wrong people. I hope that I shall not be considered critical of the good work that many of them do, but unfortunately the system produces some magistrates who act like martinets in their courts. It creates a good deal of public resentment.
I hope, too, that another way can be found to deal with motorists accused of minor offences. At the present time, we have in operation a silly system whereby motorists appearing for what I might call non-endorsable offences are often treated worse than thugs by magistrates' courts. It is time that motorists got a better deal.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow East)
Has my hon. Friend considered that it might be an idea to experiment more with magistrates' courts sitting at night? At the moment, many of our courts sitting to hear minor offences keep defendants and witnesses hanging about for hours, causing considerable loss of productivity. If they sat in the evenings, not only would that problem be eliminated but, in addition, it would enable many more people to take up important work on the Bench.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I agree with my hon. Friend, but his point serves only to underline the need for some serious thinking to bring our courts up to date and provide them with the means to do their work better. The way in which thousands of non-endorsable motoring offences are dealt with by our courts is too silly for words, and some of the fines imposed on offending motorists are harsher than those handed out to thugs.
The next subject that I would like to have seen mentioned in the Gracious Speech concerns getting rid of anomalies existing throughout the country in the way which students make claims for awards and bursaries to attend universities and colleges. Every local authority has a different scheme, and each authority lays down certain requirements. In some, a student needs two A-levels, and in others it is more. There are some authorities which require a combination of examination results, taking into account O-levels and other qualifications.
The result is that a student's chances of getting into a university depend on where he lives. The same applies to would-be entrants to grammar schools, because we still have not a nationwide comprehensive system. There was a time when education depended on the amount of money one had. That has been got rid of to a large extent and replaced by a situation where the extent to which educational fortunes can fructify does not depend on qualifications but on where the student lives. Means should be found to establish one standard set of qualifications so that the area in which a student lives no longer decides his educational fate.
This Government talk about the need to restructure industry. By that, they mean that people will have to move from place to place. In such a situation, it 115 is hard on the son or daughter of a man with sufficient qualifications to succeed in gaining a major award or bursary from the authority in whose area he lives at present to find his father obliged to move to meet the country's labour requirements to an area where his qualifications are not acceptable, with the consequential denial of university training and occupational success.
Those are the kinds of matters that I would like to have seen dealt with in the Queen's Speech. I am only sorry that I was not asked to help to write it. I feel that the inclusion of some of the points that I have made would have been helpful.
The subjects raised by hon. Members in this debate bring us back to the very foundations of Government policy, including the future of the regions and the restructuring of industry. It so happens that none of the matters referred to can be entirely successful in an enlightened and vigorous society unless the grass roots of our economy are fertilised to the point where there is an equilibrium throughout the country. It seems quite wrong that £158 million is spent by the Ministry of Technology on research and development, yet only £1.8 million of it in the northern region. It cannot be right for the national public investment programme to be such that, even today, the percentage devoted to the northern region is less than the proportion of the national population in the region.
We should tackle the problem of training centres, and in saying that I recall how my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) spoke out with great emotion and feeling for his constituents. The Government must sponsor industrial activity, if private enterprise cannot do it, in the areas where people need work and where traditionally the largest contribution to the national wealth has been made in the first and second parts of the industrial revolution.
The Queen's Speech is a continuing dialogue over the four years of this Government. It does not include all that I would like to see, but certainly right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have nothing to complain about.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—116
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. I am sure that hon. Members will adhere to Mr. Speaker's request for short speeches.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I join in the congratulations already extended to you on taking the Chair. I am not sure by what happy coincidence I have been called immediately afterwards, but my association with you goes beyond the bounds of this House, and I am particularly happy to offer good wishes from this side. We are all delighted about your appointment. In looking after the House, I hope that you encounter no greater problems than you experienced with the one side of it that you looked after before coming to the Chair.
In following the speech of the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), I would pick him up on two points only. During the greater part of his speech, he was looking back and speaking about the legacy which the present Administration inherited from the previous Tory Government. In looking at that legacy I thought it significant that, though he talked about what the Tories had passed on to this Government, the hon. Gentleman took great care to forget, conveniently, the current position of the Government. He took care to forget the current trade deficit position, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said this afternoon. He conveniently forgot the £3,000 million additional debt into which the Government have put the country. He conveniently forgot the £2,000 million extra taxation which the Government have put on the shoulders of the people of the country. In looking back—and this is the only matter on which I intend to look back tonight—let the hon. Gentleman judge previous records against the record of the previous Government as well.
Let me also remind the hon. Gentleman, concerning regional development, particularly so far as industry is concerned, that one of those responsible for laying the foundations of regional development was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in his post in the previous Tory Government. A great deal has been done in the past. What the hon. Gentleman has tried to 117 claim has not just happened in the last four years.
In the second part of the hon. Gentleman's speech—and this is typical of many speeches from the other side of the House—the hon. Gentleman made no mention of what was in the Queen's Speech. He had to hang on to things that he would have liked to see in it. To my mind this merely helps to highlight—
§ Mr. Leadbitter rose—
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
—the barrenness of the Speech, not only so far as we feel, but even so far as the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues feel.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I did refer to what was in the Queen's Speech. I referred to the administration of justice, which is in the Speech, and I referred to regional policies, also contained in the Speech.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
Yes; but I am looking at the hon. Gentleman's 10-point plan—I think that he reached 10 points—which was not related to what was in the Queen's Speech. What was not in the Speech took by far the greater part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. He cannot very well duck that one.
It is not only the barrenness of positive dynamic proposals for legislation in the coming Session. What strikes me is how very platitudinous are so many of the statements in the Queen's Speech. For example, agriculture. We have the statement:My Government will continue to promote the development of agriculture's important contribution to the national economy.That statement is no different from statements we have had in past months and years from Ministers. I do not think that there will be any encouragement whatever in merely seeing this statement repeated once again instead of action, proper things being done, to give agriculture the opportunity to replace imports. The Prime Minister spoke of import saving in his speech. Yet what positive action or incentive is given to agriculture to do this? We have nothing but yet one more statement.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Norman Buchan)
I think that the answer is that if we look at agriculture and what is being done for it following upon this kind of statement in the 118 Queen's Speech, and it is later implemented through our measures at the Annual Price Review, the hon. Gentleman will realise why the farmers are supporting the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I think that the hon. Gentleman, even though he is responsible for agriculture in Scotland, is taking a very naive attitude, and is out of touch with the feelings of farmers in Scotland. I do not suggest that we should pass more legislation than in the past. It will take a long time to assimilate the Meat and Livestock Commission. I wish it success. But we know the attitude of the industry to what has been imposed on it, for example, through the Agricultural Training Board. It is not more legislation of that kind which the industry wants. It wants the implementation of the kind of promise given by the Prime Minister in his devaluation speech last year when he promised to give agriculture an opportunity to replace imports.
What has happened since? Dairy imports are coming in at a higher level than for many months. What does the Minister of Agriculture do about it? He initiates discussions back in August, which are still continuing. Nothing happens. No wonder the farmers are wondering how genuine the Government's intentions are. If they would only do something they would get respect, and the Labour Government might then collect a few of the votes which the Under Secretary is so hopefully thinking they already have.
The great lack in the Government's programme in the Queen's Speech is that we have so many platitudes which bear no relation to what the Government are doing to help, whether it be agriculture or other industries.
The main point with which I wish to deal concerns the tourist industry. Here again, as with agriculture, we have had from the Government, as, indeed, from previous Governments, a lot of statements about the value of the tourist industry, about what it can contribute to the balance of payments by way of its earnings of foreign currency and about what it can contribute generally to regional development in particular areas. Yet we are left wondering, even after the Queen's Speech today, exactly what new incentives and encouragement the 119 industry will get. I have found—this applies to the industry in Scotland—that there is great worry in the industry about the future.
Are the Government in what they propose in the Speech—I appreciate it is not specific and I hope that we may hear more in answer to the debates on the Address—offering more money? Presumably one thing will be to implement what was promised in the White Paper in May on hotel development incentives. I hope that that is so. If so, I hope that we shall also hear more details of what is taking place. I should also be interested to hear how many applications for development have been received, because when the Government published the White Paper they said that new work started since March this year would qualify for the incentive. I should like to hear what response they have had from the industry on this and whether it will encourage development of hotels.
Concerning the scheme being administered in England by the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas and in Scotland by the Scottish Country Industries Development Trust, what response has there been from the tourist industry about loans for the smaller hotels? In the country areas, in terms of regional development, it is the small hotel which counts. I am interested in what help the Government are able to give the small hotels compared with the bigger hotels in the big tourist centres. At what stage is it intended to bring in legislation and when are payments expected to start?
This is very important. Many hoteliers to whom I have spoken are not prepared to take action and modernise or expand a hotel solely on the promise of grants in future. They want to see the grants agreed by Parliament before they do it. This may be irrational to some extent. If it has been promised they should hope to get it, but I know some who hold back until they know that the grants are definitely coming. I hope that this is not delayed. If we are to take advantage of the tourist season next summer the tourist industry ought to know what is happening as soon as possible. I did not like what happened when the refund of Selective Employment Tax to certain hotels was left to the end of the tourist season 120 before becoming effective rather than during the tourist season when it would have helped them. The tourist industry in areas where the trade is seasonal will have to wait a whole year before getting the full benefit of the refund of Selective Employment Tax.
Whatever plans there may be for expanding hotels and improving facilities for tourism, no one will invest in the industry or take advantage of what grants may be offered unless the return on investment is adequate. In this respect, the report that we had from the "little Neddy" on the hotel and catering industry pointed out that the return in the industry is not high. Unless the Government, by their general economic policy, can encourage a higher return on investment we will not find the industry taking advantage of the grants offered.
I propose to deal next with the question of S.E.T., but only in passing. I do not intend to make an issue of this subject, because we have discussed it in great depth on other occasions. The cost of labour in the hotel industry accounts for about 30 per cent. of the turnover, yet there is this additional burden on what is already one of the largest items of cost. We won a concession during the discussion on the last Finance Bill, purely because of pressure from the industry. The refund was extended to an even wider area than before, but anomalies still exist, and as long as we have this tax they will continue to do so.
As the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is present, perhaps I might give an example from my constituency. Ninety per cent. of my constituency qualifies for refund, but five hotels within the county do not, because they come within a slightly different employment exchange area. They do not qualify because they are close to Aberdeen. I do not follow the logic of the Government's argument. There might be reasons for hotels in a city not being exempted—I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will not agree with this—but many of these hotels just outside Aberdeen cater for the same tourist trade as do the hotels which are a greater distance from the city.
There is the curious anomaly of hotels six miles apart, with exactly the same type of trade, being treated differently. 121 One qualifies for refund, while the other does not. The only way to right these anomalies is to get rid of the tax altogether and give the industry a chance to earn the money that it deserves to earn. In that way we shall get the investment that is needed.
What do the Government intend to do about the organisation of the hotel industry? In particular, what do they intend in relation to the Scottish Tourist Board and its future rôle in assisting the development of tourism in Scotland? In its last annual report the Board said that it was prepared to make way for a much stronger body which had more backing and more power. Is it the Government's intention to follow that through? We want to know whether we are to have a strong central body in Scotland which can speak for the industry, give it the advice that it needs, maintain the standards that are necessary, and, above all, which will have the finance to conduct the necessary publicity to attract people to Scotland and take advantage of the tremendous tourist potential there.
The Gracious Speech says that the Government willbegin consultations on the appointment of a Commission on the constitution.What a judgment this is on the barrenness of Government thinking if so far they have only arrived at the consultation stage. It shows how blind the Government have been to what has been going on in the country over the last year or so. I believe that this displays genuine complacency and a lack of urgency on the Government's part.
Having said that, I welcome the fact that the Government are approaching this issue within the whole context of the reform of government itself. I believe that this is right. I do not think that we can consider this issue as a purely narrow matter of regional nationalism. The remoteness felt by people in Scotland and other areas is not a question just of geographical remoteness, but of remoteness from Government. If we can carry out reforms to bring people closer to the Government, to try to get rid of the attitude of "us" and "they", we will answer many of the problems which have been raised during the last few months by narrow nationalism.
To that extent I believe that the Government's approach to this question of 122 nationalism through the whole machinery of Government is the right one, and I hope that in the end it will come up with the right answer.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
Before discussing the Gracious Speech, may I extend my congratulations to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and recall that this is the tenth anniversary since we were "new boys" together listening to our first debate on the Gracious Speech. May I also put on record my congratulations to the Chairman of Ways and Means, a member of the Co-operative Group, and say that I regard it as a great compliment that yet another member of that group has been called to an office of high responsibility.
I hope that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely into the problems of agriculture. I am a London Member, and, as I have said before, I have one farm in my constituency. It is owned by Messrs. Guinness, which produce a beverage other than milk, and, therefore, my knowledge of agriculture does not go very far.
If we look back over the record of the agriculture industry since 1945, we realise that since then it has been put on its feet. No one can claim more credit for that than could my late friend Tom Williams, who was Minister of Agriculture from 1945 to 1950. He gave the industry a new outlook, so that farmers were no longer the poor dispossessed but people who rode around in Daimlers and Rovers.
I am glad that when he referred to what he called the toughest Budget ever the hon. Gentleman gave credit for the hotels in Scotland being released from the payment of S.E.T.
§ Mr. Pavitt
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) had a lot to say about the faults and failings of the Post Office. I think that that is one of the easy ways of giving vent to frustration and difficulty if one does not at the same time give credit for the tremendous amount of work that is done 123 in the Post Office. I have the privilege of having the Dollis Hill Research Station in my borough. We have led the world in Post Office inventions and innovations and in the systems that have been adopted all over the world. Every Christmas most of us see the tremendous amount of hard work done by postmen, sorters, and everybody concerned to shift the mail, and we are grateful and yet on the slightest provocation people are apt to criticise and say that a letter posted two days ago did not, for some reason or another, arrive at its destination on time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) made a powerful speech. He asked the Government to take over factories in regional areas in accordance with development schemes put forward in the Gracious Speech. I suggest to the Government that there is one very good case for taking over an empty factory that is for the manufacture of mercury batteries for use in hearing aids worn by people like myself. The House will recall that there is a monopoly in the manufacture of these batteries. Last year, there was a 78 per cent. increase in price for one type of battery, and a 50 per cent. increase for another. The Prices and Incomes Board was able to persuade the company concerned to bring its prices down, but even the revised figure represents a 25 per cent. increase, one of the largest that the Board has ever met.
There is no alternative source of supply for this article, because not only is there a monopoly in this country but there is an international cartel agreement. Even countries as far away as Japan cannot export batteries to this country because there is an agreement with the American firm which produces mercury hearing aid batteries. I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven. In a situation where there is a distinct monopoly or international cartel there is a good case for ensuring that the Government have an alternative source of supply which provides competition, thereby enabling deaf people not to be at the mercy of a single firm.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) made a very powerful speech—and quite a long one. I do not dare to make another speech on 124 the subject of prescription charges now, but I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said. I was not surprised that this subject was not referred to in the Gracious Speech, because last year's Speech did not mention that prescription charges were to be imposed, so there is no reason to be surprised that there is no reference this year to their being taken off.
I agree with my hon. Friend, especially about the economics of the matter. If we include all the hidden costs that are incurred in respect of hospital and dispensing pharmacists' accounts it is proable that instead of bringing in income prescription charges actually create a deficit. We have to remember the exemptions, the reprinting of the E.C.10s, the £65,000 spent on advertising exemptions in the newspapers and the 1.6 per item increase in pharmacists' prescribing. However, I must not be tempted to make a speech on prescription charges.
Every time I have had the privilege of addressing the House previously in the debate on the Gracious Speech I have dealt with subjects such as home and health affairs. They are matters which affect my constituency. On this occasion, I welcome the provision which will enable old houses to be rehabilitated. I welcome the fact that for areas like mine legislation will be introduced to implement the recommendations for the improvement of older houses. Since most of the houses in my constituency are old ones, this provision will be of great help. I also welcome the possibility of local expenditure in areas where difficulties have been encountered.
On previous occasions when I have addressed the House in the debate on the Gracious Speech I have referred to the question of immigration into my constituency. The proportion of immigrants there is probably higher than in any other constituency. Up to 1962 one in every nine of the West Indian immigrants came to West Willesden. I visited three of the schools in my constituency during the recent Recess. In one, 68 per cent. of the children were immigrants; in another the percentage was about 50 per cent.; and in another over 52 per cent. We need a higher ratio of teachers, and our special problems will be considerable eased by the provision 125 of additional finance contained in the Gracious Speech.
I now turn to the aspirations expressed at the beginning of the Speech on the question of our continuing efforts for world peace and the way we work through the United Nations. In 1964, the Government were responsible for a number of initiatives, which were welcomed. The striving for peace is a long and rather arduous job, and I suggest that the time has come when the Government should be seen to be active and taking initiatives.
This necessity arises from the basic change that has taken place in the international situation since 1962. We have reached the stage where the big wars are no longer acceptable to either of the two giants. That has been proved to be the case since 1962, after the confrontation in Cuba. But there was then also the implicit agreement that little wars were permissible, and that if a little war was going on one could intervene to help one side or another.
We have now reached the stage where little wars are no longer permissible, because they escalate into big wars. Yet we face the situation, in the last half of this century, when it is inevitable that social, political and economic changes will affect two-thirds of the world's population. It is no longer acceptable for those changes to take place in the time-honoured way, by means of rebellion, because the rebellion of yesterday becomes the interventionist war of the next day, and all the large Powers use the interior forces as pawns in the greater worldwide struggle.
The challenge to the United Nations, the challenge to peace, and the challenge to the world today is to find some way—in circumstances when there is a Vietnam, or Rhodesia, or Guatemala, or Cuba—of solving conflicts without violence. The only way in which this can be done is by accepting the inevitable changes which are bound to occur socially, economically and politically, and consciously working towards a constructive solution of the problems that they bring with them.
In respect of the aspirations mentioned at the beginning of the Speech, the Government should now be seeking new ways of solving these problems and of initiating new forms of activity that will seize the imagination of the ordinary people in 126 Britain when we face the problems of the world in all the trouble spots and especially in all the developing countries. We require an amount of overseas aid based on more than 1 per cent. of our national gross product. We need to consider in much greater depth the way in which the changes which are inevitable in a modern technological and shrinking world can be achieved without violence between two sides.
I therefore welcome the reference to Rhodesia in the Speech, because that is a case in point, a situation which could flare into violence at any moment and which the Government have been seeking patiently to resolve without a full-scale war between black and white or between Government and guerrillas. If the Government will be patient and pursue that end—time is on our side and not on Rhodesia's—this will not only help to solve Rhodesia's problems, but could be one of the starting points in dealing with similar situations in which we do not want to unleash the dogs of war.
If, in non-violent ways, uncomfortable and difficult as they are, we can resolve the Rhodesian situation, this may be the start of similar techniques in areas of acute difficulty, by using the weight of economic sanctions, worldwide opinion and persuasion to achieve peaceful settlements. Unless this Government and all Governments can find that kind of solution, it will be a bleak outlook for our children and our children's children, for the simple reason that any future explosion cannot be limited and we do not know where the end will be.
The other international point which I wish to take up is the pursuit of our entry of the European Economic Community and the fact that we are to promote further efforts to that end. Time and again last Session, the Prime Minister told us that we had met a road block and that we should wait until it had disappeared. That road block, I believe, is in no individual person but in hard economic facts. I urge this on the Government: there is nothing that one can do to change their minds about having that application in, but, while it is there, a whole world of economic and political development is being neglected elsewhere.
We still have immense opportunities in export and trade with the developing 127 countries and the Commonwealth and there is still the possibility of building on E.F.T.A. But, on the political side the greatest matter which the Government should be considering in this stalemate situation is the further promotion of a wider Europe, 28 countries, and not six or seven—29, if we take General de Gaulle's concept and include part of Russia as well.
Two or three years ago, together with two other Parliamentary Private Secretaries—this was before I got the sack—we on this side of the House tried to organise this approach to a wider Europe and to the problem of how to break down the barriers between different economic and social systems, between nation and nation and between group and group, instead of how to build them up. It is time the Government addressed themselves again, despite the difficulties during the Summer between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, to this problem. The position is ripe for further developments along these lines, both economic and political.
Reading The Times today, I am concerned at the way in which the E.E.C. remains an inward looking structure. In the 1930s, my formative years of political education, one of the nonsenses which annoyed us all intensely was that, in the hungry 'thirties, produce and grain was being burned and destroyed all over the world because there was no market for them. There were starving people, on the one hand, and the destruction of food, on the other.
According to both The Times and The Guardian today, the plan in the E.E.C. is to change its farm structure and it envisages taking about 12 million acres at present being farmed complete out of production by 1980. To meet the most pressing immediate need, that of the surplus production of dairy products, it would be necessary to take 4 million or 5 million cows out of dairy production.
This is an age in which for some people luxury is to have a small piece of meat or fish as an addition to the daily bowl of rice, an age in which two-thirds of the world's population are on the starvation line, with an expectation of life of between 35 and 37 years. Yet, faced with the immense problem of world 128 poverty, in the rich quarter of the European Common Market plans are being discussed to take 12 million acres out of production and to reduce the number of cows producing milk by four million or five million—milk which could produce useful protein foods, such as cheese and save children's lives.
If that remains E.E.C. policy, purely concerned with their own internal prosperity—"I'm all right, Jack. I am inside the Six, and it doesn't matter what happens outside"—that is an added reason why the Government should reconsider their policy towards the Common Market. I do not expect that my words will move them any more than did my words in the debate two years ago, but I urge upon the Government, four years after a Labour Government have been in office, that the young people of this country, the 18-year-olds, are more and more willing to seek an imaginative approach to our problems, with fewer of the old, sterile arguments of the past.
If the Government would pursue a foreign policy along those lines, their defence policy would fall into place, because defence policy is only the other side of the coin of a successful foreign policy. If they do that, then this Gracious Speech can be the inauguration of an era of popularity for the Government which I, naturally, would welcome.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
May I join in the congratulations and good wishes to yourself, Dr. Deputy Speaker?
One of our preoccupations during the Session, foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech, will be legislation to convert the Post Office from a Department of State to a public corporation. I hope that in spite of the distractions of this legislation the Postmaster-General will make it his main task to rebuild the shattered reputation of the Post Office, because it gives none of us pleasure to see the Post Office going through its present troubles.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) in the admiration which he expressed for so much of the work being done by the Post Office, but it is no good shutting our eyes to the fact that the two-tier system has been a sad chapter of blunders so far. The publicity was ill-conceived. But 129 more than that, it is the working of the system which is enraging the public, who feel that it is nothing more than blackmail to make them use the 5d. post.
I do not want to weary the House with examples of what is happening. We all know about the delays and inconveniences to business firms, and we know of instances of postmen emptying letter-boxes and then putting back some of the 4d. letters. We know of problems in country areas where 4d. letters which previously could be delivered direct from one village to another are being routed away to some centre and then brought back again to the country area, no doubt at greatly increased cost.
The effort of the Post Office to maintain the efficiency of the first-class mail is being made to some extent by a deliberate delaying of second-class mail. Surely that is a restrictive practice of the worst sort. So much for the white heat of the technological revolution. In the few weeks it has been in operation, as well as raising the charges, the system has lowered the standard of service and, just as important, has lowered the morale of the postal workers. The Postmaster-General has been big enough to admit certain mistakes and has made a start in putting them right, but it will need a massive effort if public confidence in the Post Office is to be restored. I hope that the Government will give that the very highest priority during the months ahead.
The Gracious Speech says nothing about the gas industry. We were led to expect that there would be some proposals this Session for a reorganisation of the gas industry. I hope that during the debate a Government spokesman will explain what the position is and will clear up the mystery. Whether or not there is to be legislation this Session, a vital task faces the gas industry—and here there is a parallel with what I have been saying about the Post Office. It is the administrative task involved in carrying forward smoothly the transition to natural gas.
My constituents, along with others, are looking forward to the advent of natural gas. During the Summer Recess I had the privilege of visiting a gas-works in my constituency and of talking with officials there about the present situation. 130 I was impressed by the care which they are obviously taking over these problems of transition. However, I was alarmed recently by signs that the operation of conversion may be unduly rushed. In one area the conversion of 36,000 appliances led to complaints being received from no less than 20 per cent. of the consumers concerned. To his credit, the chairman of the Eastern Gas Board has admitted that mistakes have been made. I cannot help feeling, however, that the gas industry would be wiser to spread the operation of conversion over a longer period.
Another matter on which the Gracious Speech is curiously silent is that of education, or nearly the entire sphere of it. I welcome this so far as the reorganisation of secondary education is concerned, although there were some dark hints by the Prime Minister this afternoon of what might be in some future Bill. I hope that the Government will continue to resist pressure for compulsory comprehensivisation such as was advocated by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray). The recent Report on comprehensive education by the National Foundation for Educational Research contained some important lessons, well summed up in the Observer last Sunday, when it said:The only result of trying to force through quicker changes would be to increase the number of unsatisfactory makeshift schemes which would merely detract from the reputation of comprehensives. It would be best to drop the pretence that there may be some miraculous short-cut method of going comprehensive.Let the Government admit the folly of trying to force the pace and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, let them respect the judgment of the local authorities.
The final matter on which I will touch is the reference in the Gracious Speech to legislation to reduce to 18 the age for voting and majority. I do not wish to go into the merits of the matter tonight, but I hope that we will, when we discuss it, consider the proposals coolly and not let our judgment be coloured by lurid stories of student behaviour which are all too frequently spread by television and Press.
I condemn absolutely the efforts of a tiny minority of students to disrupt the 131 universities and overthrow some of the other institutions in our society. I condemn even more some members of university staffs for aiding and abetting. But in the crisis which the universities are facing, we can best help not by indulging in the easy game of knocking all students but by understanding and supporting the efforts which are being made by both the university authorities and responsible student leaders to speed up desirable reforms and thwart the disruptive activities of a handful of extremists.
I believe that there are hopeful signs now that the mass of moderate, hardworking students are reacting in a vigorous and vocal fashion and that their counter-protest is gathering strength. I will give three recent examples of this. Last week there was a courageous statement by the National Union of Students advising students not to get involved in the London demonstration. Also last week many hon. Members will have read a letter to The Times from half-a-dozen freshmen at Oxford dissociating themselves from the extremist protest at the matriculation ceremony. Referring to the antics of the revolutionaries, the letter concluded:Theirs is a miserable and inadequate concept of social involvement. Violence has nothing to do with progress; extremism nothing to do with reform.Thirdly, I am glad to say that, this week, nearly 500 undergraduates at Cambridge turned up to a Union debate and carried, by a majority of more than ten to one, a motion that violence as a form of political protest cannot be justified in Britain today.
As we come to discuss the proposals about the voting age and the age of majority, I hope that we shall recognise and encourage this growing movement for moderation in our universities.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I add my congratulations to those already voiced in the debate to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on your new appointment. I note that you have already adopted the procedure laid down by your predecessor of always calling me at ten minutes to nine, and for that I am grateful. I wish I could curtail my remarks to shorter duration than the 25 minutes I usually take, but I shall try.
132 I find it difficult to pursue the rather paternalistic line about the younger generation taken by some hon. Members opposite. I find it particularly hard to sympathise with some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane). Having taken part in the ridiculous matriculation ceremony at Oxford, my sympathies go out to those who would like to see it repealed. Having, before coming here, taken part, both as student and as a member of the staff, in a number of college activities at three or four universities, I find that many of the things being advocated by students and some of the staffs—though not the methods—would certainly bear examination, even by the hon. Member for Cambridge.
I want to speak on behalf of a whole generation which so far does not have a voice in this House—a generation which has made Gene McCarthy its hero in the United States. I want to say something on behalf of the students of Germany and France and of young people in this country, who so far do not feel able to participate in the Parliamentary system.
But in saying that, I dissociate myself strongly from the cult of violence advocated by a minority, from the cult of revolution and, of course, from the drug cult put about by other minorities. While, with some of their ambitions, I might have certain sympathies, with the methods by which they want to achieve these things I cannot agree.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging to find this kind of sentiment being expressed and I would be very worried if such sentiments were not expressed. It has been to my horror, in taking part in university debates, particularly on motions of confidence in the Government, to find young people of 18, 19 and 20 at some universities actually passing motions of confidence in the Government. This, to me, at that age is a retrograde step. I go further. It is also a pity that that generation does not have a voice in this House, because it happens that it is the most educated, the most affluent and the most idealistic generation that this country, and indeed most countries, have yet produced.
Speaking, therefore, if I may, on behalf of this generation, it seems to me that, while we have heard so many representations today about "no taxation without 133 representation", we are discussing a whole block of people, many of whom are unable to exercise their first votes until they are 24 or 25 but who are affected by so much of the country's more important legislation.
It gives me particularly great pleasure that we in this country are in the vanguard of giving young people a chance to express their feelings through the Parliamentary system. I am also glad to see that, in a recent speech in the Presidential campaign: Vice-President Hubert Humphrey has stated that he also intends in future to make this issue one of the planks of the Democratic Party's programme. I do not know whether he will have the chance to put that into practice. My hope is that we in this country will give this first chance to young people, offering them the means of expressing their opinions in such a way that, instead of warning to bring about changes through violence and revolution, they will want to do it through the Parliamentary system.
Although I cannot offer to this generation the possibility of direct representation by one of their spokesmen in the House as a result of the voting age coming down to 18, my desire is that we shall pass the necessary Measure and at last give young people the chance which they should have. Their feelings at the moment are such that, as they cannot vote and because they feel alienated from the present Parliamentary system, they have to participate in many of the demontrations and other forms of protest which we have recently seen. I hope that the chance we give them will mean that some of that protest, some of that energy and some of that pressure for change, which is sorely needed in this country, will at last be absorbed into our Parliamentary system.
Second, I very much welcome the reassurance we had in the Gracious Speech that regional policies are to be used in the pursuit of full employment. We have heard some passionate speeches in the debate from hon. Members on both sides whose constituencies happen to be in development areas. We heard a particularly passionate speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds), and I must say, having recently been to Whitehaven, that I very much 134 sympathise with him in the ambitions which he has for his constituency. However, I must add that the impression which is sometimes given that it is only places in development areas which suffer is quite wrong.
My constituency of Nuneaton and Bedworth, which is not in a development area, has many of the problems which were mentioned by my hon. Friends today. Over the past eight years, we have seen about 10 colliery closures. At the moment, in the North Warwickshire area we are sitting on top of a rather high-cost coalfield. We have the prospect of natural gas coming in. We have the prospect of opencast mining, though I very much hope that that particular opencast project never comes into operation. All these factors add up to a situation very similar to those which have been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven and other hon. Members on both sides today.
I do not claim that we have had the sudden closure of a shipyard or the sudden closure of a steel works, but I do claim that, because we have had a much accelerated rate of colliery closures and because the alternative employment prospects just are not there, my area too needs a certain amount of special attention. I am glad that only last Friday we had a visit from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs as some recognition of our need. I only hope that we shall have a lot more recognition in the future.
One of the most pitiful sights in my constituency is that of men who have been in the mining industry for 45 years puffing and panting their way round factories and labour exchanges trying to find work. These are men who are skilled in one industry, men who in many cases can not break the habit of getting up at five o'clock in the morning, men who are deeply imbued with the industrial tradition of going to work. These are not skivers or shirkers; they are men who genuinely want work and who cannot find it. This is the great pity in an area like mine which does not command the kind of grants, which very often does not command the kind of attention, and which does not command the kind of special favours which are given to places in development areas.
135 I know that my right hon. Friends in the Government are waiting upon the outcome of the Hunt Committee and that they will closely weigh its report. I hope that, when they receive its evidence and recommendations, the Government will remember that there are areas even in the so-called prosperous Midlands which call for special attention. North Warwickshire has the highest percentage of unemployment in the whole of the West Midlands, a percentage which in many instances rivals some of the percentages of wholly unemployed which are, unhappily, notched up in the North, in Scotland, in Northern Ireland and in South Wales.
I am sad that there is no direct reference in the Gracious Speech to nationalisation of the ports. Speaking as a one-time long-distance lorry driver, it has always been a source of concern to me that if I wanted to get back from the docks the same day I had to make sure that I was not 98th in the docks queue. The situation has not improved since I have been a Member. It is a situation which people have been tinkering with for many years, but to which no basic solution has been found. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that that basic solution is nationalisation. That is the only thing which will produce the kind of changes on the scale we need to get our docks moving once again.
If we consider Rotterdam and even Antwerp and most of the American ports, and compare them with our own efforts at ports, apart from Tilbury, we realise that we have a long way to go and that some revolutionary changes are needed. This is where the revolution is needed, and I think that nationalisation is the only means of bringing it about. Furthermore, this is a change which the majority of the transport industry will favour and support. Even some of the most ardent opponents of the Transport Act, which I am pleased to see on the Statute Book, even some of the most ardent defenders of free enterprise in the Road Haulage Association, and, I suspect, even some of the most ardent of free enterprise supporters on the benches opposite—people who have always been violently against many of the proposals put forward as part of the Transport Act—are coming round to 136 agreeing that simply by tinkering with piecemeal and ad hoc solutions will not do what must be done to the docks.
We live by our exports. We do not live, unfortunately, by our imports. It is a sad commentary that we seem to be able to cater a great deal more efficiently for imports than for exports in our docks system. I want to see a docks system which will make sure that we are not by-passed by Rotterdam. I want to see a docks system which will make sure that we can handle the kind of container traffic which we shall have in future. I want to see a docks system which can help to give this country not only a viable current account on the balance of trade but a viable balance of payments.
I congratulate myself on having set an all-time record for brevity, especially for me. I hope that it gives some hon. Members opposite a chance to say their piece. I am much in favour of the majority of the Gracious Speech. I am particularly pleased that at last we have a Government who are prepared to recognise that we have in this country a generation which is trying very hard to make its voice heard. I hope that this Gracious Speech will help to give that voice at least the chance to be heard.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Meriden)
I join my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite in congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, upon your new appointment. Perhaps it is fortuitous that my speech follows that of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) because the centre part of his speech might well have been taken from my notes. He and I have much in common when it comes to the problems of North Warwickshire and the problem of unemployment.
We have heard a lot about what is not in the Gracious Speech. One thing which concerns me is that, as far as I am aware, there is no mention in it of the problems of fuel and power. This I find extraordinary as it is a year since we had the White Paper on Fuel Policy. Since that time there have been a number of shifts and changes in policy. There has been a number of inquiries, certainly into the run-down of the coal industry. I should have thought that there would be some indication in the Gracious Speech 137 about what the Government intend to do concerning this very important sector of the economy.
The White Paper of 1967 made clear forecasts about the coal industry and the rate of run-down. It is true that, in the past, Governments of both persuasions and the National Coal Board have been over-optimistic about consumption in the coal industry and have constantly pitched their targets too high. But I question very seriously whether the 1967 White Paper is too pessimistic concerning the coal industry.
Certainly, the Report of a Committee of this House which has looked into the question of natural gas and coal, the independent Brookings Report from America and the Report of the Economic Intelligence Unit all tend to suggest that we are now running down coal too fast and that we could be building up trouble for ourselves in, perhaps, 10 or 15 years' time, particularly with, in my view, over-reliance upon natural gas.
We know that there has been a conference at Sunningdale between the heads of the nationalised power industries and eventually, no doubt, we shall hear what came out of that conference. Perhaps the problems were highlighted by something which recently happened in my constituency, when the Minister of Power told me that the proposal by the Central Electricity Generating Board to convert five boilers at Hams Hall "C" power station to natural gas had been rejected in view of the present state of the coal industry. I welcome that decision, not least for the fact that if it had gone against coal and in favour of natural gas, certainly one, and, possibly, two, of the remaining five collieries in Warwickshire would have been closed in the very near future, in an area which, as the hon. Member for Nuneaton has said, has experienced unemployment of about 5 per cent. for a considerable time. This could have pushed up the figure to 7, 8 or even 9 per cent. Nevertheless, it highlights some of the problems which we are facing.
At best, one can regard this as buying time for the coal industry in Warwickshire. It is not a question of production. Not a week goes by without new production records being established by Warwickshire coalfields and miners. Indeed, outputs of 60–70 cwt. per manshift 138 now take place every week. This is considerably above the national average for the coal industry generally. It is basically a problem of marketing the coal. Unfortunately, in Warwickshire we now have 2 million tons of coal stockpiled in different parts of the county.
Equally, there is a problem of the differential pricing policy of the Coal Board and the Central Electricity Generating Board. I hope that this will have been discussed at the conferences between the leaders of the nationalised industries, because it means, apparently, that it is more economic and convenient to send coal to Hams Hall "C" Power Station, only a mile or two from the Warwickshire pits, from South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire or elsewhere. This seems to me to be extraordinary.
There is an enormous problem here. We talked glibly about the closing of pits and unemployment figures. Many of the men who are being put out of work in Warwickshire have themselves come down from Scotland, Durham or elsewhere in the North. They were guaranteed jobs in the industry in Warwickshire virtually for their lifetime when their own pits up North had closed. They were told, "Come to Warwickshire, and you have a guaranteed job." They have gone to pits in the constituency of the hon. Member for Nuneaton and at Arley or Kingsbury, all of which have closed, and they have been shuffled around like so many cattle trucks.
Not unnaturally, morale in the industry in that part of the world is now shaky. When one goes from one part of the country to another and from one pit closure to another, one wonders what the future foretells. I recently met a miner aged 26 who at that early age had worked in four pits, all of which have been closed.
From a national as well as a social point of view, the Government should again look closely at the whole question of the rundown of coal, taking account of all the individual reports. Obviously, I speak with a bias because I have thousands of miners in my constituency, but the E.I.U. Report and the Brookings Report are certainly deserving of much closer scrutiny by the Government.
We are talking about unemployment, particularly in areas which, as the hon. Member for Nuneaton said, are not 139 development areas, which do not get the special investment grants and special assistance from the Government. I know that we are to have the Report of the Hunt Committee, but in the meantime I put forward the suggestion that when an area, which is not a development area, has had unemployment at a level of 4½ or 5 per cent. for three or six months, or whatever period is considered appropriate, it might be advantageous to raise the upper limit or the lower limit for industrial development certificates to 100,000 sq. ft.
In other words, a factory up to 50 or 100,000 sq. ft. should be built in the area for a temporary period till the unemployment situation gets that much easier. There are areas which get no other special help from the Government at all. I recognise the fact that I.D.C.s are not the complete answer and that one has to have investment confidence and many other things which are within the power of the Government and of which we have not had much over the last year or so, but there is the question of psychology. It is quite clear in the Midlands that many people in Birmingham and other parts of the Midlands who perhaps wished to move out have been deterred because of the question of I.D.C.s, and such a move would give a psychological boost to miners and people in industries likely to be run down and give help to the region.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield
I think the hon. Member will agree with me that despite the fact that there are certain basic difficulties about the issue and application of industrial development certificates they would still remain, and I think he will agree that there has been a certain amount of flexibility on the part of the Board of Trade. I am not saying that it is enough, but there has been increased flexibility recently by the Board of Trade in taking note of our problems.
§ Mr. Speed
I am grateful to the hon. Member and I agree with him in that, in my dealings with the Board of Trade in the last month or so, I have found a greater willingness to help—greater, I gather, than was the case a year ago.
However, there is still the psychological barrier. I know it, the hon. Member knows it, one or two factories in my 140 constituency know it; but I believe that there are many other people in Birmingham who still do not know it.
I do not want to overstate this point because there are many other factors to be borne in mind. All I am saying is that one should not close a coal mine overnight, as, apparently, sometimes happened in the past. On the contrary, this is something which has to be planned. If one is suddenly to put 800 or 1,000 men out of work, purely in economic terms apart from all the social consequences, since redundancy payments and unemployment payments come to a very considerable amount indeed, how much more sensible it is to try to plan the job so that when an undertaking is closed down there are jobs for the displaced men to go to.
No party has succeeded altogether in solving this problem, but I think certainly the time has come to look at it, particularly in the grey areas, so that one can try to phase the rundown, if there has to be a rundown, with the creation of new jobs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench will pass to the appropriate Minister what I am personally concerned about, the dramatic and, in my view, over-hasty rundown in the coal industry.
I turn briefly to one of the other problems, which has been touched on by a number of hon. Members, the question of votes at 18. I asked the Home Secretary a Question last week as to what the effect of having the vote at 18 would be upon constituencies of different size. He gave a blanket answer. To sum it up, it was that the constituency electorate would, if the vote at 18 were introduced, increase by 6 per cent. In other words, a constituency of 100,000 would have an additional 6,000 voters. I personally favour having the vote at 18, though not altogether for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Nuneaton. We need not go into that now, but what I am desperately concerned about is a very important, practical, constituency, political point—the question of redistribution. We have received no assurance from the Government at all on this point.
I am quite convinced from my own researches, which, I hasten to say, are not completely exhaustive, although in any case we can all call upon our own experience in this matter, that votes at 141 18 will disproportionately increase the already very large constituencies while the very small constituencies, which tend to be the decaying ones in the centres of cities, will have a disproportionately lower number of people between 18 and 21 who will be enfranchised. In other words, the introduction of the vote at 18 will exacerbate the present situation where we already have some constituencies of only 18,000 to 20,000 electorate and the larger constituencies where there are over 100,000.
I must declare a personal interest in this. So far, when we have been talking of large constituencies, everyone has talked about Billericay. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) has had to cope with this problem for a number of years. He may rest assured that within the next two years he will not represent the largest constituency in England because my constituency will be the largest constituency in the whole United Kingdom. If votes at 18 are introduced, with the present growth plans, by 1971 my constituency's electorate will be between 140,000 and 150,000. In sheer terms of population my constituency's population will probably be greater than that of the European population in Rhodesia. I do not say that we will declare our own U.D.I., but we might well have grounds for doing so unless there is redistribution. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Ioan L. Evans) will probably know what I am talking about because much of this growth is taking place in the overspill development very near his constituency.
As a Member of Parliament, leaving party politics completely on one side, I already find it difficult to give the service that I ought to give to an electorate of about 95,000. When my electorate increases to 140,000 or 150,000, nearly three times what is reckoned to be a reasonable size for a constituency, I shall find it almost impossible, apart from the financial cost that will be involved. There is a clear correlation between one's correspondence, postage and general queries and the size on one's constituency. Of course, we do not have to become Members of Parliament and I can always drop out if I cannot stand the pace, but more important are the electorate in the constituency.
142 Is it fair that 150,000 people should have one Member of Parliament when at the other end of the scale perhaps only 15,000 or 18,000 have one Member of Parliament? Patently, however much one is a superman, however much one works for one's constituency, one cannot give the same individual attention to 150,000, or even to 100,000 people as to 18,000 or 20,000 people. With an electorate of 50,000, 60,000 or even up to 70,000 a Member of Parliament ought to be able to cope easily, but once that last figure is exceeded one runs into severe difficulties.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out this afternoon, when we last had redistribution at the end of 1954, within six months the redistribution proposals had been tabled in this House, and they were in operation for the 1955 General Election. I am sure that we can repeat the same process this time. If the proposals were made at the very latest date, which is November 1969, that would still take us through to the early part of 1970. In other words, if we had a general election from mid-1970 onwards then I see no reason, looking at what happened in the past, why it should not be on the basis of the new boundaries. As most hon. Members know—it has been hinted at enough in the Press—the Boundary Commission is well ahead with its work, and my guess is that the proposals will be placed in the Home Secretary's hands before November 1969.
There is an important constitutional point here. I hope that the Government will not gerrymander and have political considerations at the back of their mind. It is much more important that Members of Parliament should be able to work and represent their constituents properly. It is not the time now to go into the facilities which are available for Members of Parliament to do this, but I know that it will be impossible for me, or indeed for whoever may take over from me if I lose my seat next time, to represent my constituents properly with an electorate in the realms of 140,000 to 150,000.
I shall vote for votes at 18 when the matter comes before the House, but at the same time it should be made clear that this will exacerbate the present situation between very large and very small 143 constituencies. From the point of view of constitutional propriety, from the point of view of trying to keep Members of Parliament alive and, most important of all, from the point of view of the service that the electorate are entitled to expect from their elected Member of Parliament, I hope that the Government at some time, and during this debate if possible, will make it clear that if they possibly can they will incorporate the redistribution proposals, lay them before Parliament and act upon them just as soon as they receive them from the Boundary Commission.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The criticism to which the Gracious Speech has been subjected from both sides of the House compels me to say that, in my 23 years' experience of Parliament, I have never come across a better one. Both expressly, and by implication, it indicates the needs of the nation. My hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) was one of those who have criticised it. I would ask him what kind of Gracious Speech he would have preferred. Should it be an Encyclopaedia Britannica or a glossary of the nation's needs?
The Speech indicates what the nation requires, and I want to refer only to four items appearing in it. The first refers to the fuller use of resources in the regions. Could anything be wider in scope than that? Another paragraph refers to tourism in Great Britain. Everyone knows that tourism is a great and growing industry, and the Government are right in seeking to develop it. A third paragraph appeals very much to me in that it deals with assistance to the deep sea fishing industry and the policing and conservation of fisheries. Those are matters of great concern to my constituency. Then, again, a fourth paragraph in the speech which is also of interest to my constituency is that which concerns the amendment of the Merchant Shipping Acts.
I say that merely in a prefatory way, because I want to speak mainly about the application of science and technology to Scotland. The country has large open spaces which are not utilised and which could be in this technological age. There was some excuse for not dealing with 144 them in the past, but today, when science can leap over mountains and other boundaries, the distance between Northern Scotland and the South of England is no longer insuperable.
We are confronted by a remarkable constrast when we realise that money which is scarce in the Treasury is being used for a Channel Tunnel to connect South-East England with France. The South-East is already over-populated, and the tunnel proposal is yet another blow to Scotland in that it increases the drift of workers and craftsmen from Scotland to the overcrowed South-East. But, although frequently I urge Ministers and particularly my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, to provide the means of increasing transport between North-East Scotland and Scandinavia, that has not been done.
The position of trade, industry, commerce and employment in North-East Scotland could be improved greatly if it were done. In Aberdeen, practically at our doors though separated by the sea, we have Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and North Germany. Further afield, we have Russia and China in the east, and, in the west, Canada and the United States of America. Why is the North of Scotland not developed in such a way as to improve communications with those countries?
That might have been difficult, or even impossible, in an earlier day when science and technology had not advanced as it has now. But today we have Hovercraft. It is suggested that there should be development of the hovercraft industry as though the hovercraft would be able to cross the Atlantic, the Pacific and even the Indian Ocean.
I rely for authority on a very distinguished scientist. Britain spends £1,000 million yearly on research and development, but I submit that Scotland does not get its share. Sir Solly Zuckerman, that famous scientist, said:The actual pattern of distribution between different fields of science and technology has been determined not on the basis of an up-to-date assessment of needs, but through a series of unrelated decisions taken in the past, many of them hardly explicit.This is a very real grievance in Scotland. Some of the relevant facts which I have elicited from Ministers by Questions in the House indicate that better 145 and more scientific production in Scotland is possible, that facilities for greater exports of Scottish products are possible, that attractive working conditions for workers in Scotland are possible, and that definite steps to diminish and stop the drift to the South are obvious steps which should be taken.
I have referred to the amount of effort and money that has been spent in other ways. It is true that Scotland has its Dounreay Experimental Station, that Aberdeen has its Torry Research Station, and that the Government have their Ministry of Technology. They have all these means at hand by which to concentrate on the particular and urgent needs of North-East Scotland. I am not criticising the Government. They cannot do everything in a day. They are confronted by many problems of a great variety and kind, but these are problems which should be dealt with at once for the sake of North-East Scotland and for the sake of Britain as a whole.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
I always listen with great interest to what the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) says, but I know that he will forgive me this evening if I do not follow him in what he has been discussing, namely, the problems of Scotland.
I should like to occupy the House for a very short time with that section of the Gracious Speech which reads:My Government will continue to support Britain's alliances for collective defence and will play an active part in the North Atlantic Alliance as an essential factor for European security. The development of My Government's relations with the countries of Eastern Europe which took part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia has necessarily been set back, but it remains their aim to work for genuine East-West understanding.Events abroad over the past 12 months have made it necessary, in my view, that we should have a new look both at the level and strength of our Armed Forces and at our foreign policy and commitments overseas. I understand that our foreign policy has, in the present Parliament at all events, been based largely on the assumption that a war in Europe was not now possible and that Russia had nothing but friendly intentions towards this country and other Western countries, but particularly Britain.
146 This has all been changed, and very radically and drastically changed. The Russian attack on Czechoslovakia, coupled with the Russian threat to Yugoslavia, the build-up of Russian naval forces in the Mediterranean, and the naval espionage around the coasts of Britain, not to mention the espionage which has just come to light in Western Germany, make it obvious that Russian intentions towards this country and towards the Western nations are no longer peaceful.
The events in Czechoslovakia are obvious to the whole world. The threat to Yugoslavia is also obvious. It is true that the size of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean at present is only the equivalent of the size of the French fleet, but we have reliable information that almost daily additional units of the Russian fleet—guided missile cruisers—are coming to join the Russian fleet there.
The Russian fleet is active not only in the Mediterranean, but throughout the length and breadth of the world, and the question at once arises: why, if Russia's intentions are peaceful, is such a large fleet being gathered together, is under construction, and is being dispersed throughout the oceans of the world? Russia has no overseas territories to defend, no lines of communication to protect, and no need for such a large fleet throughout the world if her intention is peaceful.
I believe that the answer to the Russian entry into the Mediterranean lies partly in the Russian realisation that over the past few years the policy of the communisation of the world through peaceful means has been a flop, and partly because they realise that with the planned withdrawal of British forces from overseas bases a vacuum is being left, into which she intends to move. I believe that those are the two simple reasons for this Russian build-up of her fleet. They are getting ready to step in as soon as we move out.
I believe that the Russians and the Kremlin have now discovered that they are making no progress through peaceful means, and that they now intend to get themselves into a position where they can make progress when the time comes by means that are other than peaceful. Recently, within the recollection of most of us here I think, President de Gaulle 147 visited Russia with the hope of bringing about a new entente cordiale between his country and Russia. He is reported this week as having said, before he went to South America, that "war in Europe is now possible".
That is a complete and utter change in his attitude, one which, I believe, is in accordance with a very real possibility today. I believe that what he said is true, and that a complete reappraisal of our own level of defence forces and our foreign policy is now overdue.
Our first purpose in such a reappraisal must surely be the necessity of reinforcing our Armed Forces, particularly in Germany. Redeployment to meet the new situation created by the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Russian troops is a matter of some considerable urgency for this country.
Our next objective must be to counter the Russian threat in the Mediterranean area. It is true that N.A.T.O. has proposed the creation of a Mediterranean command structure, but I pose the following questions: what vessels are to be allocated to this command? Who is to be in charge of the new command? Where is the new command to be based? Is the new command intended to cover the whole area of the Mediterranean from Turkey through Israel, Egypt, and the whole of this coast of the Mediterranean? Finally, what is to be regarded as a hostile act by the Russian forces?
At present, as far as is known, the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean is based on the Port of Alexandria. As most of us recollect, during the last war Egypt was a most important theatre of operations. I have only to mention the Battle of El Alamein to recall the strategic importance of Egypt in that war. The question arises: what part, if any, would Egypt take in any future conflict between East and West? Where will Israel stand in any such conflict? Where will the countries bordering Egypt and Israel stand?
The time has arrived when, through diplomatic channels, we should find the answers to these questions. We should make a new approach to Egypt. I have recently returned from Egypt after a visit which lasted just over a week, when I met 148 many leading personalities of the Egyptian Government, as well as ordinary members of Egypt's Parliament, and discussed some of these problems with them. I found that there was a great feeling in favour of a new association between Egypt and this country, and a very warm feeling towards this country, despite the Suez operation, which is now almost forgotten.
Our Foreign Secretary or our diplomatic channels should make urgent contact with Egypt to discover where she will stand in any future conflict and, if possible, to enter into an agreement with both Egypt and Israel to secure this flank of the Mediterranean. As a result of my visit I am very much aware of the deep anxiety and desire on the part of Egypt to join this country in the defence of the future peace of the world.
It is true that Egypt has received substantial financial aid from the U.S.S.R., as well as armaments, but I found a marked feeling that she had no intention of joining the U.S.S.R., politically or in any other way. There is a marked feeling in favour of the West, and this feeling should be strongly followed up through our diplomatic channels.
The time is ripe for a new approach to Egypt, with a view to cementing a new friendship and arriving at some form of treaty. I believe that, some months ago, I was the first hon. Member to raise the question of the resumption of diplomatic relations with Egypt. I asked the then Foreign Secretary—the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown)—whether the time had not now come when diplomatic relations should be resumed with Egypt, and he gave me a fairly satisfactory answer. Within a few months of my asking that question diplomatic relations were resumed.
With a view to stabilising the Middle East and securing this flank of the Mediterranean, I suggest that a diplomatic approach should be made to Egypt, Israel and the other countries concerned. One predominant thorn is obvious in the situation—the conflict between Israel and Egypt. A serious attempt should be made to solve the problems which remain between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and the other Arab countries. The mission of Mr. Jarring, who was charged by the United Nations with trying to secure 149 some compromise in the conflict, should now be taken to have failed.
Therefore, our Government and as many others as could be persuaded to join should offer to act as mediators. Egypt accepts the full terms of the United Nations resolution; it is only Israel which is standing out and refusing to accept them. The real trouble seems to be an unwillingness on Israel's part to give up territory which she has taken from the Arab nations. This has been called an expansionist policy. But the time is ripe for a new approach from this country, since we had special interests in the area—the mandate of Egypt and that of Palestine, which give us a special duty in this matter. We made the Balfour Declaration and we have an important rôle to play in bringing peace to this part of the world.
On my trip I also visited the British ships trapped in the Bitter Lake. What a tragedy it is to see them locked in that lake, again through the intransigence of Israel. At Ismailia, I saw the damage done as a result of Israeli shelling of an open town with no defence forces. As a result of my visit—I visited the Canal Company Authority—I came home with the firm view that the canal is closed today not through the desire of Egypt but through the wilful acts of the Israeli forces. I press upon the Government the urgency of taking steps to terminate this situation through negotiations and urge that the clearance of the canal should be one of the objectives in these new approaches. If the objectives are achieved, it is obvious that Russia will no longer have any reason to remain at Alexandria or in the Mediterranean area at all.
On this trip I also visited Jordan and saw some of the camps for refugees who were driven out or fled from the areas occupied by the Israelis, first of all to the edge of the Jordan Valley, where they were put up in camps, and were shelled by the Israelis, and who are now in camps close by Amman. The numbers are fantastic. Altogether, there are 700,000 refugees, spread over a number of countries. There are 50,000 refugees under canvas near Amman. I visited that camp and saw the people there. Many of them are little children. This is an area in which it is unfit for human beings to live under canvas even in present climatic conditions.
150 I ask the Government to make some financial provision towards a supply of hutments for these refugees who are now under canvas. The children cannot survive winter weather under canvas. There is no doubt about that. The provision of hutments to the extent of half-a-million dollars by the Government would make all the difference in the world to the future of these children. Indeed, it might save the lives of many of them. The only financial help that Jordan is receiving for the provision of these hutments is through U.N.R.R.A. and West Germany. In fact, West Germany has made a donation of half-a-million dollars' worth of hutments. If West Germany can do it, why cannot this country do it? The Government should look at this problem seriously with a view to saving the lives of these young children in Jordan.
While in Jordan I had talks with the Minister of Construction and Development, who gave me the figures which I have quoted, who is in charge of the operation of housing the refugees. Her Majesty's Embassy in Amman is the obvious vehicle through which arrangements could be made to help house the refugees, and I ask the Government to request His Excellency the British Ambassador to make contact with the Minister of Construction and Development to see what is required and to ascertain whether provision could be made to meet the requirements.
From what I said earlier, it is obvious that the Government must re-examine the whole of the country's military situation, the size and strength of the forces which we maintain in Germany and our overseas commitments, as well as the vaccuum which is being left and which is attracting Russia. In my view, there should be a reappraisal of the Government's decision to withdraw from our bases in the Gulf and in the Far East. If that could be achieved we should be performing a useful task.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
I am tempted to follow some of the arguments of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) if for no other reason than to create an atmosphere in the House at this time of night. I will, however, resist that temptation. The need for brevity means that I cannot 151 follow him very far, but it is dangerous nonsense for hon. Members opposite to draw attention to the fleet of the Soviet Union sailing round the world, much as we dislike it, without recognising that the American fleet has been doing precisely that for years—and, as far as I am aware, America has no overseas possessions. But it is not my intention to stray into considerations of foreign and defence policy.
I have found it slightly depressing to listen to the efforts of hon. Members opposite to scrape together some criticism which they could make of the Gracious Speech. We have heard the usual trivial comments, such as those on the Selective Employment Tax, and about hotels being taxed when others a few miles away did not have to pay tax.
One hon. Member suggested that the reputation of the Post Office had been damaged by the two-tier system. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have condemned the Gracious Speech for what they have described as its lack of content. That is not how it strikes me. I would have thought that the reference to the Post Office in the Speech gave us a wonderful opportunity to use our talents to suggest new ideas and possibilities to make the Post Office more successful. No doubt ideas concerning manufacturing being undertaken by the Post Office would not be welcomed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Perhaps the Post Office could develop other services, parallel to those contained in our recent transport legislation. I am not dogmatic about the Post Office, but I suggest that it is wrong to condemn the two-tier system without suggesting alternatives.
The proposed legislation to give 18-year-olds the vote is of major significance. It is surprising to see hon. Gentlemen opposite now regarding votes at 18 as being not as unpopular a step as they first suggested. When the proposal was first mooted they were scared stiff. Now—leaving aside the question of which party will gain the most votes at the next election—they are beginning to realise that only a foolish person would resist the youngsters' demand for this privilege.
I agree that difficulties are bound to arise, but this step must be taken in view of the frustration which is being felt not only by youngsters, but by many of our 152 supporters, particularly at the failure not of the Government but of the world to solve many of its basic conflicts, whether in Vietnam, Rhodesia, or the Middle East. Young people are desperately anxious to believe that people, irrespective of race, colour and creed, are able to live together in peace.
These are trying times for people holding these ideals, particularly with the present frustrations facing the world. Young people are anxious to build a new society and they have every right to wonder what the older generation will leave behind. I do not reproach them and say that I have all the answers. When youngsters ask me, "What are you handing on to us", I realise that I do not have much to boast about.
We can sometimes overdo the emphasis that is placed on student demonstrations. Apart from the students, I am concerned with the plight of deprived young people, some of whom tend to get into bad company and commit crimes, however minor some of those offences might be. Much attention has been focused on the situation in Easterhouse, in my constituency, but I will not dwell on that subject tonight.
By wishing to grant the vote to youngsters of 18, the Government are showing that they have imagination and are looking ahead, not just to the number of votes that we may get at the next election but to the problems which we and the younger generation face.
This links up with another important passage. I am surprised that the general tone of hon. Members opposite suggests that there is nothing in the Speech, but perhaps that is traditional for an Opposition. The passage reads:A measure will be laid before you to provide for a specific grant towards a programme of additional local authority expenditure in urban areas of special social need. This will include additional provision for children below school age.I can understand why the Opposition do not want us to draw attention to this passage. I find it refreshing, whatever the implications, that some local authorities are even considering dispensing with part-time teachers because they are almost fully staffed. It has been suggested that this is being done because of Government restrictions on expenditure. But it is interesting to note that 153 there has been a vast change in the availability of teaching staff compared with four or five years ago. This must be related to the passage in the Gracious Speech dealing with the special needs of certain areas.
I am not being unrealistic. I do not expect the Government to catch up with the great backlog of decay, neglect and lack of interest inherited from the past. I am not attempting to make a party debating point. I shall not refer to the 13 years of Tory neglect. But we cannot build new cities in a matter of a few years. We cannot recover from bad planning within a short time. For example, in terms of nursery education, during at least 10 of the 13 years—if not during the whole period—of Conservative administration there was restriction on the building of any new nursery schools.
Hon. Members opposite display some cheek in giving the impression that the Gracious Speech contains nothing of value or substance. The Speech gives recognition to the fact that at least the present Government have a much more realistic sense of social priorities, despite all the difficulties of the economic situation. We recognise that the economic situation is the key to our ability to provide all the things we want and that we cannot provide everything we want all at once.
Once again, the Opposition's reaction to the Gracious Speech demonstrates that it would be a tragedy—and I address these remarks to those professing to support the Government in the trade union and Labour movement—if, by actions or speeches on our side, we were responsible in any way for the return of a Government composed of hon. Members opposite, for they have again demonstrated today how out of touch they are with modern problems and the thinking demanded of a dynamic Government.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Harper.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.