§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising on Friday, 19th December, do adjourn till Monday, 19th January.—[Mr. Shore.]
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I would like to give one or two reasons why I believe that the House, although it may adjourn for the Christmass Recess on 19th December, should come back long before 19th January. Although I had several reasons for this before I rose, I have been given a further important reason by the statement made a few moments ago by the Minister of Technology about this further loan of many millions of pounds to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.
Near my constituency, in Leicestershire, there is a firm of aircraft manufacturers, who make an excellent light aircraft called the Beagle aircraft. As the Minister will know, it has recently gone into liquidation. The Government have declined to give any financial support, and before this House adjourns, or at any rate as soon as it comes back after Christmas, an opportunity should be given for hon. Members who represent hundreds of workers of this company to debate this matter in the House and to see whether some action can be taken at the eleventh hour to save this excellent light aircraft.
The liberality of the Government towards Upper Clyde Shipbuilders—and they have been very liberal indeed with the taxpayers' money, handing out almost £20 million so far—compares poorly with their niggly attitude towards the Beagle Aircraft Company. One of my hon. Friends has suggested that the reason why the Government have been so liberal towards Upper Clyde Shipbuilders might be a political one. I have not suggested that. But I do say that it is a possibility, and no more, that one of the reasons why the Government have been so niggardly and uncooperative and uninterested in the Beagle Company is political. They believe that people in the area could get work elsewhere and, since we are buying most of our aircraft, certainly military aircraft, from America, we might as well com- 672 plete the job and buy the lot there, including light aircraft.
The Beagle is an absolutely first-class machine. It has been exported to many countries and it compares favourably in performance and price with many overseas competitors making sophisticated machines. I would like to see an opportunity given for the House to return a few days earlier, for this and other reasons, so that we could have at least a day's debate, not only on the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders decision, not only on the Government's open-handed treatment of that company in handing out £20 million of taxpayers money, but also on the niggardly, cheeseparing and penny-pinching attitude of the Government towards the Beagle Aircraft Company.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not drift too much into the merits of the case he is advancing. He must relate his remarks to the Motion before the House and say why we should or should not adjourn until 19th January.
§ Mr. Farr
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would like a debate soon after Christmas, early in the New Year, so that the Government's attitude towards the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders can be compared with their niggardly attitude towards the Beagle Aircraft Company in Leicestershire.
I want us to come back not a day or two early, but ten days early, because there is so much to do. So much lies before the House that it is choked with prospective legislation. There is so much disruption in industry and in the country generally that I would like us to return a week or ten days early to discuss some of the loose ends which the House will leave untied when we adjourn for the Christmas Recess.
Another reason for an early return is the situation in Rhodesia. We have had a most extraordinary example this week, mentioned a moment or two ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir F. Bennett). On Monday of this week, my hon. Friend and I asked the Foreign Secretary how many countries still retained official diplomatic representation in Rhodesia, and the Foreign Secretary replied that 13 were represented. On Wednesday, my hon. Friend put a 673 Written Question to the Foreign Secretary asking how many countries had withdrawn their representatives. He was told that four countries had done so, and each was named.
It gives some idea of the confusion which must be cleared up in an early debate, that the Foreign Secretary included Belgium on Monday as one of the countries which had diplomatic representation in Rhodesia and yet, magically, on Wednesday Belgium was included in his Written Reply as one of the countries which had withdrawn representatives. There is obviously confusion which must be cleared up.
During the week in which I hope we shall return early after Christmas, a debate on Rhodesia would be very welcome. There is a tremendous expansion of foreign activity in Rhodesia. The South Africans are moving in apace, they are buying up land and engaging in launching new business enterprises. Many other countries, not only the 13 listed as having diplomatic representatives in Rhodesia on Monday, are engaging in trade in Rhodesia which was formerly the prerogative of this country.
In addition to the trade which we are losing in Rhodesia, it is costing us a great deal to continue our abortive sanctions policy. We should have an early full day's debate, preferably in the first ten days of January, on Rhodesia and all the implications—the cost of sanctions, the cost of flying Shackletons daily across the Indian Ocean to try to spy the sanctions busters, the undercover work by other countries in promoting their exports and yet officially denying that they are doing anything of the sort. The debate would also allow the Foreign Secretary an opportunity to clear up the utter confusion which has resulted from his Oral reply on Monday and his Written reply on Wednesday.
There are many other reasons why I should like us to come back earlier. I have listed the Beagle Aircraft Company and Rhodesia, and I should like to add the Common Market and the prospects which now face the country in this connection. Very shortly, in the early months or perhaps towards the middle of 1970, the country will enter into negotiations, we understand, with the Common Market. But where is the necessary detailed and skilled information which hon. Members 674 on both sides of the House must have before they can apply themselves to this problem?
I should like at least one of the seven or eight days which I hope we shall have tacked on to the beginning of the Session after Christmas alloted to what I would call an interim debate on the Common Market, and I should like hon. Members on both sides of the House before that debate takes place to have in their hands the Green Paper of which the Prime Minister spoke this afternoon. There is some confusion about whether it is a White Paper or a Green Paper, but, whatever it is, we understand that we are at last to have authoritative figures on the implications for this country of the cost of entry.
My belief is that if we could have this early debate and be supplied beforehand with this document by the Treasury, so alarming and illuminating would the cost of entry be seen to be, that hon. Members on both sides of the House would be appalled by the consequences of our burying ourselves within the Community. But what we all beg for is an early opportunity to debate this vital issue and the early provision of the necessary statistics to which we may refer.
Yesterday my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) introduced a Bill relating to the desirability of a referendum before the country took this mammoth step of going into Europe—
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington) rose—
§ Mr. Farr
My hon. and learned Friend sought to introduce a Bill relating to the desirability of a referendum about whether this country should go into the Common Market. If the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) had waited a moment or two, he would have seen how I was to complete the sentence which would have made what I intended to say exactly correct. It is an extraordinary fact that that was the only debate, and it was not really a debate, on the Common Market which the House has had for the past 12 months.
675 I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckingham—
§ Mr. Farr
I apologise for being rude to my hon. and learned Friend. I know that he and one or two hon. Members opposite were present, but it is extraordinary that when we have an issue of this magnitude, when the country is poised at a historic crossroads, there should be no early opportunity for a discussion on the valuable information which we hope to get from the document which the Prime Minister said this afternoon we are to have around Christmas, or early in the New Year.
It cannot be said that the little debate which we had yesterday, which was introduced on the initiative of my hon. and learned Friend under the Ten-Minute Rule procedure, was in any way a substitute for the full and proper debate which the House must have. It was merely an address by my hon. Friend with a response, some say in opposition and some say in support, by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). The remainder of us were onlookers, spectators. None of us has the right and none of us can afford to be a spectator on this issue. What we must have at an early date is an authoritative debate backed up by the statistics which we required from the Treasury and which the Prime Minister said we would have around Christmas or early in the new year.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Would not my hon. Friend agree that another reason why we ought to have a debate in January on the whole question of the Common Market and the possibility of a referendum is that the decision and the vote yesterday may have been influenced by considerations of the manoeuvring for private Members' Ten Minute Rule Bills and that it would be a pity if that stood in isolation and went out to the world as an indication of the balance of opinion in the House on the subject of a referendum?
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful. As is usual with any intervention which my hon. and learned Friend makes, he has hit the 676 nail bang on the head. He brings me to another point which I want to make in support of my argument that the House should return ten days earlier. To do so would provide an opportunity for two or three more Ten Minute Rule Bills. It would give hon. Members on both sides of the House an opportunity of filling the three or four vacant slots for Ten Minute Rule Bills which would become apparent. I agree that the figures yesterday were misleading, because hon. Members opposite, with some justification—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member would not be in order in going into too much detail about what happened yesterday.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
On a point of order. Ifeel that I am slightly responsible for that. Would you not agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if one were arguing that we should come back early in January for a debate in order to correct a misimpression which was created yesterday, that would be within the debating range of the Motion?
§ Mr. Farr
That brings me back more or less to where I was. I was suggesting that if the House came back ten days or so earlier there would be an opportunity for several more Ten Minute Rule Bills and there would also be an opportunity for a full day's debate on the Common Market. Yesterday's debate was not good enough, and never would be good enough for an issue of this magnitude. It is surprising that the Government themselves do not seize this opportunity of giving backbenchers, and, for that matter, Front Benchers, the chance to express their views on the White Paper which we hope we are to get.
There are a couple of other reasons why we should come back early and which would make for a full Parliamentary week, in other words to return on the 10th January if not a day or two before that. If I can suggest five subjects for the five Parliamentary days, that would bring us back on 12th January.
677 The fourth subject which we ought to discuss at a very early date concerns motoring. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who do a lot of motoring will agree with me about the importance of the series of multiple crashes on the motorways in the last few days. I do not bring this reason forward in an idle moment. The M1 runs slap bang through my constituency. From junction 20 to about junction 25 on the M1 one has the pleasure of travelling through Harborough. There have been some terrible pile-ups in the fog and other bad weather conditions which we have had in the past week, not only on the M1 but on the M6.
It is becoming more and more apparent as we get further into the depths of winter and have to suffer more and more from this ghastly experiment with British Standard Time, which I hope will be abandoned at a very early date, that a motorway crash in poor visibility invariably leads to a series of crashes on the concertina pattern and that special legislation is needed to deal with this new problem.
Many suggestions have been made recently to make the motorways safer, particularly in fog. For example, it has been suggested that vehicles should carry rear lights of double intensity and that maxim um speeds on motorways should be more strictly limited in fog and poor visibility. I travel on the M1 twice a week. If fog is about I try to get off the motonvay because, however carefully one drives, one cannot cater for the madmen who charge along at 60 to 70 m.p.h., and this is done by both car and lorry drivers. When we debate the regulations applying to motorway speed limits, we must see how they can best be amended.
I do not mind in what order the subjects I have mentioned are discussed if we return a few days earlier. I suggest, however, that the position of the Beagle Aircraft Company should come first, with Rhodesia next. My next subject for debate would be agriculture, for it is a long time since we debate this subject generally. While we recently had the Second. Reading of a specific Measure affecting agriculture, which was attended by a few specialists and which is being mulled over at length in Committee upstairs, a general debate on agriculture is vital.
678 Many serious problems—some new, others familiar—have faced agriculturists in the last year. The codes of practice have received attention, but when we debated that issue we were confined to the codes; and when I tried to raise a somewhat different subject I was rightly called to order by Mr. Speaker. We need a full day's debate on agriculture to raise the thousand and one matters that need our attention. The conditions of farmers in some parts of the country in the last year have been appalling. In other parts the year began badly, but things have improved in recent months.
The Conservative Party's new policy for agriculture should be put before, and debated by, the House so that the country may know how effective our new policy will be in practice.
§ Mr. Farr
The nation should be aware not only of our target price system but of the guarantees to back that up. We also have important proposals to ensure that farmers have stability and security.
If we had the opportunity to debate agriculture generally, we could give many examples of the way in which cheap products are being dumped in this country, so endangering—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not, in anticipating the debate, debate the merits.
§ Mr. Farr
I hope that if a general agriculture debate takes place we shall discuss the dumping of cheap products and how the Conservative Party's new policy for agriculture would deal with the problem to the satisfaction of all concerned.
Not only in that debate but in a debate on the Common Market we could discuss the E.E.C.'s agriculture policy, the ruinous condition in which it stands and the tremendous surplus of butter that has been built up under its misleading and unhappy system of agricultural support. The C.A.P., as it is known—the Common Agricultural Policy—has caused vast surpluses of butter to be established. No wonder they want us to join. They want us in regardless of terms—they would like to compel us to join the club—so that they might shovel this vast surplus on to us—and for it the British housewife 679 would have to pay treble the cost of production.
In addition to the five subjects which could be debated on the five days which would be available to us if we returned earlier, an additional half-day might be provided to debate the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and the way in which that would be affected should we join the Common Market. This is a valuable little Agreement which we have not debated for a considerable time. It has worked well both for Commonwealth sugar producers and for the British housewife, who has been assured of ready supplies of best sugar. If we enter the Common Market, our cheap Commonwealth sugar will be banned because it will have to climb a high tariff wall. Sugar will treble in price—
§ Mr. Farr
If we returned five-and-a-half days earlier, a half-day could be devoted to the implications of our joining the E.E.C. from the point of view of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and what the repercussions would be for Commonwealth sugar producers and the British housewife.
I would not object if we returned nine or 10 days earlier so that we might tie up some of the loose ends that a Socialist Government traditionally leave at Christmas time.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
I have already had two goes today at my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on a subject about which I might be in a minority of one, but a further go will not go amiss.
I do not go as far as the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and say that we should return 10 days earlier. However, a number of vital subjects need urgent discussion. One is the Middle East. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) said earlier, another major war may break out in this area. The Middle Eastern crisis is real and must be debated.
Secondly, we must debate the Common Market, either for one or two days; 680 thirdly, we must discuss Rhodesia; fourthly, two days should be allotted for a debate on public expenditure; and, fifthly, we must discuss the trouble at Tilbury Docks.
I am in favour of a long holiday at Christmas time, but with these vital subjects requiring our attention, I see no reason why we should not adjourn on, say, the 24th, rather than the 19th, and return a few days earlier. That would still provide us with a reasonable Christmas Recess. While I do not wish to embarrass the Government by pressing this matter, I trust that my suggestion will be considered.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
Although it is traditional for hon. Members to call for Parliamentary Recesses to be shortened, an extraordinarily strong case has been made out by hon. Members on both sides to show why this Christmas Recess should be shortened to provide time for vitally important matters to be debated.
I see the Minister smiling. I know as well as he knows that the Government will get their way and that we will recess for the time proposed. However, this will be an exceptionally long Christmas holiday—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—long in terms of these days of crisis under the present Government. We appreciate that the Government are anxious to keep my hon. Friends away from Westminster. The Prime Minister is particularly anxious to do that, and I do not blame him. It is here that we can try to get the truth from the Government.
While I am not anxious for the Recess to start earlier, I would not object to returning earlier so that perhaps four days would be available to discuss the topic to which hon. Member have referred, and perhaps a few more. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) referred to Europe and the Common Market, and I will not cover that ground again.
A Department, probably the Treasury, is to publish figures in the form of a Green Paper on this whole subject. Decisions will be taken in Europe, particularly about the C.A.P., in the early weeks of January. While the Six are making up their minds on this issue, the British Parliament should be declaring its attitude toward C.A.P.
681 We hope that at some time, when we have the ability and if the conditions are right, this country will join the Common Market.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I invariably speak for myself and stand by what I say. It is important that Europe should know our feelings on the evolution of the C.A.P.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough made a powerful case why we should return earlier to debate agriculture generally. A debate is needed quickly because the teams—Government and N.F.U.s—negotiating the Annual Price Review get together about the end of November and take decisions affecting the shape and pattern of the Review in the early weeks of January. Later, refinements are made, during the negotiations in February, but it is in the middle stage, in the first two or three weeks of January, that the Review takes its shape; and it is at that time that hon. Members need to put their views to the Government. When it is done later, it is frequently found to be too late.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that there is much unrest and anger throughout the agricultural community because of the lack of expansion and return on both landlord's capital and tenant's capital. Part of the constituency of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works is agricultural, and he must know full well that many of his smaller farmers are getting a poor return on capital. I am sure that he would be delighted to have a debate. I hear a mumur from the other side of "Tory policy". I would like to talk about Tory policy, but that is not an urgent matter now—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—because after the General Election that policy will be Government policy. Return on capital and expansion should be urgently discussed before the Minister of Agriculture gets to a position in which it is very difficult for him to change the shape of the Annual Price Review.
Like the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) I have been getting increasingly worried about the position in the Middle East. It has been building up in the last few weeks, with raids and counter-raids, and propaganda from both 682 sides. I do not mind the propaganda, but I do mind shooting wars, commando raids and air raids, and that is what is happening now. I know that we have just spent two days debating foreign affairs, but our preoccupation then was Vietnam and Nigeria. There was no time for either the Government nor the Opposition to put forward their views on the Middle East situation.
It is a matter of war and peace, and not only for the Middle East, because it could involve us as well. In the autumn, on my way to the East, I touched on the fringes of that area and found in the Gulf States anxiety about what could happen if the dispute between the Arab States and Israel were to blow up. I have no faith in the negotiations going on between the great powers. The Government should provide time for debate, so that we can seek to suggest a new method for taking some of the heat from the present position. If something is not done, we and our friends in the Middle East and elsewhere could suffer very grievously.
Time is needed to debate certain aspects of education. I want to see certain things put right in schools in my Derbyshire constituency before the children go back for the Easter term. In one part of my constituency there is a good deal of primary school and secondary school overcrowding. With classes of over 40 children. I know of 80 children being taught by two teachers in one room. As a result of bad dining facilities, 80 children have to eat their meals at their desks.
The Derbyshire County Council application for minor works programme has been cut from £500,000 to £325,000 and I understand that for 1971 it will be further cut to £275,000. Such a sum is not sufficient to carry out minor works that are so urgently needed. The House should return earlier than is proposed so that we may ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science to authorise the Derbyshire County Council to spend more on its minor works programme before 19th January, otherwise these primary school children will go back for the 1970 school year to exactly the same bad conditions as they now suffer. That will be quite intolerable.
Another aspect of education is the teachers' strike. If that dispute is not 683 settled at the Burnham Committee meeting next Monday, the House should resume earlier to discuss the reason for there being no settlement, the cause of the present position, and what needs urgently to be done to put the matter right. Let us hope that next week's meeting will be successful that the Government's good offices will be used behind the scenes—as the Secretary of State has already hinted may be the case—so that a settlement can be reached before Christmas and we do not face the prospect of a strike of two or three weeks duration in January. If a settlement is not reached hon. Members should be here to discuss it, and not dispersed throughout the country.
Derbyshire is in the North Midlands, where we can have severe winter weather. All the weather forecasters seem to think that we are in for a fairly severe winter. From what one reads and hears, it seems that the Central Electricity Generating Board is quite incapable of meeting the demand which would result from severe weather. We have already had load-shedding of between 5 per cent. and 7 per cent., and I am told that in severe weather we are likely to have even more. The constituents of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) would then be particularly affected, so I am sure that he will want to come back here earlier in January so that discussions can take place and decisions be made to try to meet what might happen.
There is no time for that to be done this week or next because the Government have made such an infernal mess-up of their programme—[Interruption.] We are not to have before Christmas a debate on public expenditure as was promised and undertaken, because the Government have, as I say, made such an infernal mess of their programme. Yet the question of electricity supply is urgent. I am not an expert in these matters, but it seems that faults have cropped up in some of the plant being purchased by the Board. Whether they are faults of design or of manufacture, or where the blame lies, I do not know, but we should discuss the subject and allot the blame. Because plant is out of action, generating capacity has had to be reduced. If this goes on people and industry will face 684 grave difficulties should there be bad weather.
Can we be assured that there will be sufficient supplies of different types of domestic fuel should the weather turn very severe. Are the stocks sufficient? Are they having to be diverted because of the necessity to use old-fashioned and out-of-date plant, thereby causing a shortage of domestic fuels? If so, we must talk about this before it happens. Under this Government we so frequently have to do the talking after the event. We need to anticipate events and to help the Government to take decisions before events take place.
These are some of the reasons why we should come back earlier than 19th January. I support wholeheartedly my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Watford. We should come back a week earlier for we could fill in the time profitably for the nation.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I am beginning to suspect that, even if we came back on Boxing Day, there would not be enough time for the long-windedness of some hon. Members opposite. I want to touch on two points which I consider of great importance and a very good reason why, if we adjourn on the day which is suggested, we should come back somewhat earlier.
I regard the situation in the Middle East as very grave and one which would justify a special debate, even though it was mentioned in the general debate on foreign affairs. There is great justification for the House to come back perhaps a week, or two or three days, earlier to consider the very serious and rapidly deteriorating situation in the Arab-Israeli war. There is a certain grisly irony in the fact that while we celebrate Christmas the land of Palestine should be still torn by a savage racial war involving killing and murder on both sides. While this goes on our country and other countries which have special responsibility in the Security Council for this matter go on interminably, with apparent leisureliness, discussing without producing effective action to bring this state of affairs to an end.
The House could demonstrate its acute concern about the Middle East by 685 returning somewhat earlier than 19th January, or continuing for a day or two after 19th December, so that we might apply our minds to the urgency and grimness of this problem. There is good justification for shortening the 31 days proposed for the Recess. I take exception to the use of the word "holiday". It is not a holiday but a period when the formal business of the House does not continue and when hon. Members have a great many things to do which they do conscientiously. There is a case for this. House to reassembly before 19th January and to apply its mind corporately to a part of the world in which a savage racial war continues.
I urge on my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to convey to his colleagues in the Government the very serious concern which hon. Members on both sides feel about the continually worsening situation and the continued failure by the Permanent Members of the Security Council to come forward with effective action to bring the two sides to their senses. I hope that this message of urgency will penetrate and that we will come back somewhat before 19th January to debate this problem. It lies heavy on my conscience, and I suspect on the consciences of many hon. Members, whether they are present in the House now or not.
Another matter on which there might be justification for reassembly somewhat earlier is the promise of a debate on public expenditure. I take it amiss that the Government should give a firm undertaking to the House that the extremely important White Paper on Public Expenditure should be debated before Christmas and then to find, for some reason I cannot accept as urgent in the context of the present situation, that the debate has to be put off so that we can discuss an entirely different matter. The Government could make good this omission by agreeing that the House should return on 12th January. I am not much in favour of the suggestion by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that we should come back on the Saturday, but we could come back on the 12th, 13th or 14th January to repair a very serious omission on the part of the Government in defaulting on a promise that this very important public document should be debated for two days.
686 The main reason for suggesting that we should come back earlier is not merely the intrinsic importance of the subject, but also because the Government represented that they were instituting an important new technique of debate on the whole business of public expenditure. I entirely accepted the Government's reasons and proposition on the matter. We have not traditionally spent enough time in constructive and informed discussion of the very important consequences which must flow from decisions made 18 months or two years before about capital and current expenditure. I welcomed the statements and promise by the Government that this traditional omission would be repaired this year and in good time by having the debate before the House rose for the Christmas Recess.
I am therefore all the more depressed that the dates of the Recess have been fixed in such a way and the business of the House for next week arranged in such a way that this promise cannot be kept. The Deputy Leader and his colleagues in the Government could repair the omission by summoning the House back a day or two before the proposed date of 19th January. That would give us more time to study and consider the rather complicated figures in the White Paper. It would make quite sure that the other urgent legislation which I gather is to come after 19th January does not have to be postponed because of the necessity to consider this extremely important document.
I took very seriously, as I believe other hon. Members did, the assurance given about this new technique concerning the study of our national financial arrangements. I therefore press on the Deputy Leader that I am not now concerned in this debate with a purely formal representation about the dates of the Recess, although they are important, but I am very much concerned that by some unhappy accident of Parliamentary busines what was promised has not been fulfilled and an important innovation in the procedures of the House may be in danger of escaping our grasp. We might he faced with a situation that another emergency occurs after 19th January which would again deprive us of debating something we urgently desire to debate.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will elaborate this point, which is crucial to the argument as to why it is important that the public accounts should be debated now before we move into the period of the Estimates.
§ Mr. Hooley
I am not sure that I need to elaborate my cogent, brief and forceful remarks. If I were to elaborate them and lengthen my speech to the extent of the speeches of some hon. Members opposide, we would have to return on Boxing Day; and I do not propose that we should do that.
However, I think that there is a case for recalling the House on 13th or 14th January so that the Government can make it crystal clear that they intend to implement the new procedural arrangement, to which I attach great importance, of enabling the House to debate, in an informed, coherent and sensible manner, the financial provisions which lie at the base of virtually all our social and economic policy, even though they may not have direct repercussions on some of our foreign policy. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will convey to his Cabinet colleagues my wish, and that of others, that the Recess should be shortened by two, three, four or five days so that this can be done.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I do not join the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) in suggesting that we should sit until 24th December. Nor do I think that in general a Recess of one month is at all excessive. My recollection is that the normal length of the Christmas Recess has been five weeks. I have never objected to that and have always been a little suspicious of those who have objected to it.
However, on this occasion I think that there are matters which warrant the House resuming earlier than 19th January. I cannot remember a time when there have been so many subjects of importance and interest to a considerable range of Members but for which there has been no time for debate. Things are moving rather fast in the world in general and in Britain in particular. The Leader of the House says repeatedly 688 that there is no time to discuss this, that and the other subject.
I greatly fear that when we return on 19th January, if we return then, we shall be up against the same kind of stone-wall batting. I do not blame the Leader of the House: he has his priorities and his difficulties, about which the Deputy Leader of the House will no doubt tell us.
If we were to return two or three days earlier than 19th January, my wish would be that those days thereby gained should be allocated, not to the general business of the Government, which rides like a juggernaut over all other considerations, but to other matters which are at present scheduled to be neglected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) made some attractive suggestions with which I agree. For example, he mentioned Rhodesia. Opinions vary on this subject, but it is a long time since we debated it; and there is no intention that we should debate it.
My hon. Friend suggested that the House should use a day in January to debate the Rhodesia question. The only particular in which I would differ from my hon. Friend is that I should like that day to be used for a Second Reading debate on the Rhodesia Independence Bill, which I presented earlier this week. This is a matter of urgency. The Government's Rhodesia policy is one of great folly. I would be out of order if I were to go into the merits of the policy or seek to discuss the folly of it, its absurdity in the context of the world today and the nature of modern governments, which are all illegal régimes, and the international considerations. There is no need for me to do that, however, because the folly and the consequences are self-evident.
Questions such as the damage to our economy, the detriment to British interests of the sanctions policy, and the injury to our sentimental ties and to the bond of loyalty between us and the Rhodesians, are relevant to the Question before the House, because time is of their essense: the damage, the injury and the detriment are all cumulative and they should be stopped at the earliest possible moment. This is why I should like a day in January to be devoted to debating the 689 Bill which I presented to repeal the Southern Rhodesia Act, 1965, abandon the policy of sanctions, and recognise the independence of Rhodesia.
I intervene principally to suggest three other questions which are urgent. The first is the repeal of the British Standard Time Act. Here I shall have widespread support on both sides—or I would have widespread support opposite if there were any hon. Members sufficiently interested in our proceedings to be present on the benches opposite to agree with me. I note that there are two nonofficial Members present on the opposite benches.
This is the subject which is most in order on the Question before the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) is hopeful that his Private Member's Bill will be accorded a Second Reading on 22nd January, but it is the second Order on that day and, therefore, unlikely to be reached.
This subject greatly concerns the public during the dark months. January is the month above all in which the impact of British Standard Time is greatest, when we most feel its inconvenience, its absurdity, its tiresomeness and its dangers. If the subject is not debated during the winter, and if we are not able to debate it until the spring or the summer, the other follies of the Government begin to fill the foreground and, because the days are lighter and warmer, preoccupation with British Standad Time begins to fade. It is not that pepole agree with it in the summer. It is that the subject is no longer at the top of their attention. In January it is. So it is in January that we should have a debate on the subject.
Furthermore—I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will make a note of this and put it in his portfolio, although, technically, I am not sure that he has one—we want a free vote on the matter. That is the point. If we can come back a few days early in January, those days will not be ordinary Government days; there is no reason why they should not be given for consideration of Private Members' Motions or Bills on important matters which would not otherwise be discussed. If we could discuss the repeal of British Standard Time without a Gov- 690 ernment Whip on, I have no doubt what the result would be.
The second matter which I should like to be taken in January because it is urgent is a Measure—I hope to present a Bill to deal with this matter next week—to empower the courts to impose upon those—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. and learned Gentleman to anticipate legislation which he intends to bring in? He has mentioned a Bill which he proposes to bring in next week. Surely, he cannot, on the Motion for the Adjournment, start to give details.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. It would be in order to make an incidental reference to the Bill but not to discuss its merits.
§ Mr. Bell
I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you appreciate that I should not dream of saying anything out of order on an occasion like this, or any other. I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), but I am sure that they will bear in mind that a declaration of legislative intention is not out of order in the House, and the Queen's Speech is almost nothing else. But I shall not give a list of my legislative intentions for the Session. That would take too long.
I was saying that one should empower the courts to charge the cost of the necessary extra police protection to those convicted before them of disorder with the intention of interfering with a lawful activity such as a football match. The cost of such extra protection should fall upon them, not upon the ratepayers or those going about their lawful occasions. This matter should be discussed in January, because disturbance of that kind is going on all the time and, apparently, there is a risk that it may grow in magnitude. The House should consider the problem and debate some of the statements which the Home Secretary has made about it in which he seemed to imply that he would not agree to the cost of policemen inside sports grounds being met out of public funds.
The House should consider also the right hon. Gentleman's statement, made in the House a few weeks ago, that the 691 use of stewards inside sports grounds is objectionable. If self-help is not to be allowed, and if the State will not make its officers available for the preservation of the Queen's peace, the Home Secretary should tell us how he envisages that the Queen's peace is to be preserved. The public would like to know at the first opportunity.
I should like the Home Secretary, on about 14th or 15th January, to explain why he thinks that people should be charged £10 a day for a policeman inside a football ground, a cricket ground or whatever it may be, to maintain public order. That happens to be almost exactly the same charge as is made for a private bed in a hospital. It seems rather odd if the Government, who say that an individual must not make private provision for treatment in sickness, say at the same time that they must make private provision for the maintenance of the Queen's peace. I should like to hear something about this in January.
The third matter which I should like dealt with in January is urgent and important, too. We should use, perhaps, the last Parliamentary day before 19th January to discuss proposals for dealing with the monstrous abuse of trade union organisation which we have been seeing in the last few weeks, this monstrous abuse of combination to coerce and hold the community up to blackmail, which seems to be growing every week, imperilling the national economy, and beginning to cause a disintegration of national sense of cohesion and unity.
The Government have no intention of allowing us to debate that subject in the immediate future. They propose to introduce an Industrial Relations Bill after Christmas, but that Bill is apparently, to be a kind of trade union benefit bill, whereas we want something which will protect the community from the kind of gangster activity which we are seeing every day. Everyone is now asking for a "dustman's settlement", and we know what that means. It means a settlement based on the price which the community is willing to pay to be relieved of the results of blackmail. This is an urgent matter, and it is not proposed, as far as I know, by Her Majesty's Government that we should discuss it at any time before or after Christmas. The 692 only way we can discuss it is by coming back early and having a debate on it in private Members' time, specially so arranged, and a free vote on it. Then we shall see, surprisingly enough, that there is a general consensus on both sides of the House, as there is in the country, that this is an enduring scandal about which Parliament must do something, and do it quickly.
In one sense I do not wish to come back early in January at all. But it is our duty to do so. If we could have one Parliamentary week in which we granted independence to Rhodesia, arranged for a referendum before going into the Common Market, abolished British Standard Time, dealt with the problem of demonstrations, and reformed trade union law, it would be a week well spent.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I should like to deal with the last few remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). Personally, I should not wish to come back early to deal with the need to stop the restrictive practices of the legal profession in its blackmailing efforts through its trade union, to which the hon. and learned Member referred, in making all the legal charges which lawyers insist that their clients must pay.
I agree that it is an important issue. I agree that the legal profession is a closed shop, and that it ought to have its toenails clipped. But I think that that can probably be done without our coming back a week earlier. I agree with the hon. and learned Member that the trade unions in the legal profession are, in effect, a blackmailing organisation, and I am surprised that the hon. and learned Member should be a member of that profession.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell rose—
§ Mr. Lewis
I cannot give way, because my Chief Whip has told me that he wants to get on with the Gas Bill, and I would not want to upset the Chief Whip.
I am not sure whether to oppose the Motion for the Adjournment or support it. At this stage, I am in a quandary. I want time to discuss a subject which, apparently, I cannot discuss next week, and I may have to oppose the length of the Recess so that we could, perhaps, 693 come back earlier and debate it. I refer to Ronan Point. I think that the Deputy Leader of the House knows quite a lot about it.
About 18 months ago, there was a great disaster, and even now nothing tangible has been done about it. I have tried, by Questions and other means, to get the Government to act, and they have done nothing.
This is important to my constituents and to those of the Deputy Leader of the House. If we do not come back early, I shall not be able to debate the Government's miserly and niggardly proposals which, if implemented during the Recess, would land my constituents with 60 per cent. of the cost of a disaster which was no fault of theirs—either on the rates or on their rents or by a combination of both. This is grossly unfair.
My constituency is one of the finest in the country. I know that every hon. Member must think this of his own constituency. It is highly industrialised. It has always suffered. It is part of the London docks, and it was the worst-bombed borough during the whole war. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House is in a similar position, because he represents Tower Hamlets, which is a similar constituency. Our people were bombed out and lost their homes not once, but dozens of times. They had just got over the suffering and started to rebuild, and this disaster happened. One would have thought that the Goy ernment would meet the cost—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot debate now the question which he would debate if we came back earlier.
§ Mr. Lewis
I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is why I am not going into details. I was saying that, if we came back earlier, I might be able to have a debate on this subject and save my constituents the additional cost of 60 per cent.
Unless we have a debate in the next two or three weeks, this might not be possible. I would not want to have such a debate on Christmas Eve or New Year's Day, since very few hon. Members would be here. But this is a very serious matter. I am in a quandary about whether to support hon. Members opposite who think that we should come back earlier to 694 enable us to debate various subjects, because then I might be able to raise this matter in detail.
I hope that my right hon. Friend can give me a definite assurance that the Government will take some positive action here before the Recess, because this has been outstanding for 18 months. I have been tipped off privately that it could be two years before action is taken. If that is true, I warn the Government that I shall be very annoyed and will take the most serious action open to me. Every opportunity I get, I shall try to hold up Government business, and, if the Whips try to interfere, I shall resign the Whip, because I do not want to be a supporter of this Government if they do not do the right thing by these people. This is not a threat, but a request to the Government to do the right thing.
There are other subjects which I could also raise if we came back early. For instance, almost 12 months ago, the Attorney-General promised me an investigation and the publication of a report into cube-cutting. Again, my right hon. Friend is affected—
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Member would like me to go into details of cube-cutting, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not allow that. It is a racket worked by the shipping and forwarding agents, whereby they have their cake and eat it. An investigation has been going on for about 12 months.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South has left. He was saying how terrible the trade union movement is, and I wanted to point out how terrible it is that the legal profession takes so long to deal with simple matters. This investigation into cube-cutting has been going on for 12 months and we still have not had a report. What has happened about the report and the Attorney-General's promise of a statement? Will we get it before the House rises? This might be another reason for me to oppose the Adjournment.
Another matter which arose only today was the strange statement of the Leader of the House, which he said we would have only an hour and a 695 half to debate. That is not very long, considering that almost every hon. Member will want to take part in such a debate—on the Services Committee's Report on Members' salaries and secretarial assistance.
To help me decide how to vote on the Motion, perhaps my right hon. Friend could tell me how many stenographers in his office earn £500 a year or less? He might also find out how many officials of the House are in this situation, since I can find none. He might also find out how many civil servants get 6d. a mile or less for their travelling. This would be useful, since I have found no one, in local or national government, or working for any of the boards, who is in this situation.
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South, has now returned, since I wanted to refer to the legal profession and a matter on which I am sure that I will have his support. Only last week, the Attorney-General was asked some serious questions about pornographic literature being sent through the post, quite unsolicited, to juveniles and old people. He said that he and the Director of Public Prosecutions had considered this and that nothing could be done.
Since then, one of my constituents, a nurse, has had some really filthy pornographic literature sent to her. I have referred this to the Attorney-General, but have told my constituent that, in view of his reply on similar matters, I was not sanguine that anything would be done.
If we came back a week earlier the Attorney-General could, through what we euphemistically refer to as "the usual channels", get a Bill agreed to, which could go through almost on the nod, giving him the legislative powers to deal with these purveyors of filth. Thus the week could be used not just by back benchers, but by the Government.
§ Mr. Farr
The hon. Member is on a good point. Is he aware that the other day a constituent of mine, a young girl aged 12, received one of these pieces of trash through the post, addressed to her personally? Is he further aware that when I called the attention of the Attorney-General to the matter, he said that I could take some very strong and 696 definite action against this firm, that I could really upset it, by instructing my constituent to send the letters back to the firm? If that is how the right hon. and learned Gentleman views the problem—in such a light-hearted way—I do not think that we have much hope
§ Mr. Lewis
I accept the hon. Member's words, although this is an ex parte reference. I have not asked the Attorney-General whether he said that, and I do not know the facts. But I do know that in the House the Attorney-General said that he would not take any action and went on to say that he could not, because he did not have the legislative powers. He can get legislative power whenever he wants it. If the Government supported us and came back a week earlier, my right hon. and learned Friend and his legal luminaries could introduce a Bill on this matter that could go through within 24 hours.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
The hon. Gentleman is now on a point concerning a number of us. I had a leaflet sent to me, received by a constituent—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This intervention is stretching the Motion a bit too far. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman some latitude in dealing with the subject, but we must move on now.
§ Mr. Lewis
I have made my point and will leave it there.
Hon. Members have rightly referred to the tragic situation affecting what I call two of the best types of employees, namely, the teachers and the nurses. I do not know how long ago it was since we had a debate on teachers' or nurses' salaries. If we came back early we could debate these subjects and perhaps prevent further strikes. I am not like hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not condemn these strikes although I regret them. I am sorry that they have to take place and for the pupils and the parents who have to suffer.
Only this week in the House, the Minister of Agriculture had to admit that, unfortunately, price rises were taking place. I drew his attention to the fact that 250 food prices will rise in the new year. This is another reason for returning early, because these increases will not help the prices and incomes policy.
697 Then there was the Prime Minister's promise of a White Paper on all the aspects of entering the Common Market. This was promised by the end of the year and he now tells us that it will be in January. If we came back early we might be able to get the White Paper earlier. I am surprised that it has taken so long. The Daily Telegraph has published its report, as has the C.B.I.
I went more democracy for Members of Parliament. Before every Recess we have this kind of Adjournment debate and not one hon. Member on either side is consulted about what they want. The "usual channels" get together and decide how long we shall be in recess and then the Government table a Motion, and we are told that we can reject or accept it. I am not sure that this is the best way of doing it. The Government should practise in the House what they preach in the country, namely, good industrial relations. There should be consultations. I would like to see them negotiating with Members and asking them what are their views, whether they feel that a Select Committee should deal with this or that, whether we should have a Recess until 19th January. If they did that they could find a consensus and reach a decision which was agreed by most hon. Members.
The former Leader of the House told me that he could not do this because if Members were consulted in advance it would leek into the Press. Every day of the week we have everything leaking into the Press. I knew next week's business before it was announced here, I knew about the length of the Recess long before this Motion was tabled. I do not see why we should debate a subject like this. It is known weeks beforehand to the Press, to everyone except hon. Members. We are never asked or consulted.
I suggest to the Deputy Leader of the House that he might consider meeting various Members and asking them what they feel about this. It might save a lot of time and help the Government to get their business more speedily.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)
I was in considerable sympathy with what the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) said earlier, that if one cannot debate one's chosen subjects it becomes all the more important that one 698 should have at least accurate and full information in response to Questions. The hon. Member and I know some of the difficulties that have arisen over a period of time. Earlier today, I referred to my strong feelings about this. Before the House rises the Foreign Secretary or another Minister should come to the House to explain and apologise for inaccurate Answers given to Questions put by me this week.
I have been in the House for 18 years, with only a brief break of some months half-way through, and I cannot remember an occasion when a request of this sort would have had to be made. Normally, if an hon. Member has the courtesy to point out to a Minister that an inaccurate statement has been made, the Minister takes the earliest opportunity to come to the House to deny the accusation, if that be the case—it cannot be denied in this case—or else to give an explanation and an apology.
I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take this seriously, because it reflects on more than just a party point and I am sure he will agree that normally if a Minister, from either party in power, gives inaccurate information in Parliamentary Answers he takes the earliest opportunity to come to the House to correct it. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if he were sitting on this side in Opposition he would be among the first to press for exactly this to happen.
I know that I may not go into the merits of this matter, so I shall curtail my remarks to the bare facts of what took place, but it is only fair to the Minister that I should give the facts for, otherwise, he cannot ask his right hon. Friend to come to deal with them.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member may not go into the details of the matter that he wishes to debate. We are debating the length of the Recess which we shall take. The hon. Member may argue that we should not take the Recess till he is satisfied on the matter with which he is concerned, but he may not go into the details of that matter.
§ Sir F. Bennett
I appreciate the difficulty in which I am, and in which I may put you, Mr. Speaker, if I stray outside the rules of order, but I do ask you to indulge me as far as is fitting, for it is 699 difficult for a Minister to know how to give answers if one does not state some facts, and without going into detail. I shall strive to avoid that—
§ Mr. Speaker
It is a difficulty which every hon. Member has to avoid when he debates whether we should adjourn for a Recess or not, or for how long.
§ Sir F. Bennett
Very briefly, without going into details, a number of hon. Members here, certainly two of my hon. Friends, have already said how very worried we are about the progress of events in Rhodesia, and, with particular reference to the imposition of sanctions, to the question whether they are being effective or not effective, and whether other countries which are involved are playing the game or doing no more than paying lip service to the United Nations resolution.
In this context it is very important that, before we rise, the Minister should come to the House and make a statement, as I hope he will, and give us more light than I have been able to extract so far by way of Question and Answer. These are two all-important issues. The first is: are sanctions really working? Secondly whether they are working or not, is Britain's trade suffering while that of other countries is gaining at our expense by their increasing their trade? These are very important issues and I want the Minister to make a statement about them before we rise for the Recess.
It is obviously very important that the Minister should give us accurate information on what representation these other countries still maintain in Rhodesia when we have withdrawn our own representative there. It is obviously very pertinent to the main issue that I want debated before the House rises, or about which I would like a statement made before the House rises, that on Monday of this week, when I pressed for an Answer on this matter, I was told that there were 13 countries—no fewer than that—which have diplomatic representation there. I shall not name them, but they were listed by name. The Foreign Secretary, in defending his point, went on to say that there was a large number of other countries which had had representatives there before U.D.I. but had since withdrawn them.
700 I then proceeded to ask which they were. It is a strange fact—and this is where I have to refer to a detail—that one and the same name appears on the list of those which have diplomatic representation there but, two days later, was also given as one country which had withdrawn.
I asked the Foreign Office to explain. I was given an astonishing answer, that in the second case the name was wrongly given, because the diplomatic representation concerned had moved from Salisbury to Bulawayo. It seems hardly relevant to the question of diplomatic representation in Rhodesia whether the representation is in one town or another. I was also told that a large number of other countries had withdrawn their diplomatic representation, but in his own Answer the Foreign Secretary, after admitting earlier that there were 13 still there and there were only three which had withdrawn. Is that a very large number—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member may ask for more light, but may not himself in this debate give us light.
§ Sir F. Bennett
May I, then, just ask for more light—how that number is a large number? I have been given another answer, which was put into my hands less than half an hour ago, and it says that there were five which had taken their diplomatic representation away. So I have had three contradictory answers in three days.
I would like my question to be answered before we rise for the Recess, or else, perhaps, we could come back earlier, but it seems to me absolutely essential as a matter of principle that we should debate the whole question of the imposition and the effectiveness of sanctions, and whether this country is being discriminated against, or not, because of their ineffectiveness. What I am asking the Minister or his right hon. Friend to do is to throw more light on this matter, because I have recently had a succession of the most contradictory answers that I can remember in 18 years as a Member of the House.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Ought we not to come back a little earlier in January to have a debate on what is apparently the very interesting subject of what constitutes a large number?
§ Sir F. Bennett
I should like to do that, but I think that that would be asking more than Mr. Speaker would be prepared to tolerate. We might also have a debate on the conduct of a Minister who makes a false statement and does not correct it, which would be more relevant to the point, but I must not trespass upon the indulgence which Mr. Speaker has given me.
I hope that the Minister realises that this is about the only opportunity one can get to obtain rectification of a most serious Ministerial error. I hope that we shall get a statement before the end of next week.
§ 6.26 p m.
§ The Minister without Portfolio and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Shore)
I feel that I should reply to some of the points which have been made so far in this brief debate. There have been seven speeches and I have heard them all. Inevitably, there tends, in a debate of this kind, to be a certain amount of repetition as hon. Members put forward those points of great concern to them and give reasons for thinking that the House should continue to sit or to come back at an earlier date, but I think the general temper of the debate has been an agreeable one; indeed, some rather good speeches, I thought, were made.
Frankly, however, I thought that the tone was generally marred somewhat, to put it mildly, by two remarks. One was a remark made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) not in his main speech but in his intervention later, when he interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) and imputed to the Attorney-General words, which he quoted, which he said the Attorney-General had spoken, in what context I do not know. The general effect of his intervention was to suggest that the Attorney-General's attitude to questions of pornographic literature was flippant. I think that that impression which the hon. Gentleman gave is an impression which he did not mean to give, and if that is so I hope that he will make the point clear now.
§ Mr. Farr
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. No. What I actually said, and I repeat it, was that I 702 received a letter—I said, from the Attorney-General. It was either from the Attorney-General, or from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. I am speaking from memory. This letter quite clearly said that the only course my constituents could take was to send the letters back to the firm from which they originated. Quite frankly, I do not consider that good enough. I repeat what I said earlier.
§ Mr. Shore
I think that the hon. Member has made himself rather clearer and that with the general tone he has used now he has helped to clear the matter up.
The second remark which I thought was a little unfortunate was made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), when he used extravagant language to describe what I think he described—what was the word he used about my right hon. Friend?—
§ Mr. Shore
Inaccurate, false, misleading. Yes, well, I think from the material I have seen—and I have been studying this rather hard during the last half hour or so—the strongest phrase that could possibly be used on this is "slight confusion". If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I hope to explain why I believe he is confused—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Even the Minister cannot debate now what he could debate if the Adjournment Motion were defeated and we had no Christmas holiday.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has already made his plea in a speech, and I am sure that the House has listened to it with gravity.
§ Mr. Shore
You are absolutely right to draw my attention to this, Mr. Speaker. The point I was seeking to make in my opening remarks was that I did not think there was any need for the House to remain in session or to curtail the Recess to clear up what I believe to be a slight confusion in the words used in answer to a Question put down by the hon. Member for Torquay.
703 Although, with regret, I have to admit that it would be out of order for me to put this matter right now, I am certain that the hon. Gentleman will receive a reasonably satisfactory explanation within a short time.
§ Sir F. Bennett
. The Minister said that I would get an explanation. Will it be by a statement made publicly?
§ Mr. Shore
Then I shall have to consider how best the hon. Gentleman's problem can be met at the earliest moment.
I turn to the main issues which have been raised. Virtually all hon. Members who spoke expressed anxiety about the situation in the Middle East, and I well understand why. It is an unhappy situation, but, as hon. Members know, the four-Power talks are at present active in New York. I can add nothing further except that Her Majesty's Government and the other Governments concerned are together discussing the situation, and I am sure that the anxiety of hon. Members and the urgency with which they regard this matter are fully understood by the Government. On the other issues of foreign policy which were raised, I have already made a brief comment on Rhodesia and I do not think that I can add to that.
Several hon. Members expresed interest in the forthcoming information about the Common Market. We must see that document and have time to study it before we can have a useful debate. There are difficulties here which I think the House will appreciate. The situation in the Common Market is not static, but very active, and the shape of policy is constantly changing as important matters are renegotiated among the Six, especially the common agricultural policy.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
There has been confusion about when the document will 704 be published. Will the Minister give an approximate date? May we hope that it will be during the first week in January?
§ Mr. Shore
I cannot go beyond what has already been said, which is that it will be as early as possible in the New Year.
On the domestic issues that have been raised, the hon. Member for Harborough thought that five and a half days could be usefully filled by debating the matters which he suggested. I believe that there is a good prospect of some of these subjects being discussed when we reassemble in January. That is not a specific promise, but hon. Members may have a chance to debate the Common Market and Rhodesia and there will be opportunities to debate the strategy of Government aid to industry. The hon. Gentleman clearly did not wish to take the point which he was making about the Beagle Aircraft Company in isolation, but in the broad context of Government assistance to industry to be judged against the background of aid for other industries, such as shipbuilding. I am sure that opportunities for such a debate will arise in the ordinary course of events.
I noted with great interest what the hon. Gentleman said about Conservative agricultural policy. The House will be most interested to know of this and to have an opportunity to debate it, but I do not think that we need to come back early to do so. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a word with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, to see whether a Supply day, or part of a Supply day, could usefully be occupied in telling the House and the nation precisely what the Conservative policy is.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) expressed anxiety about electricity power supplies. It is natural that this subject should be raised at a time like this, particularly in view of the recent interference with supplies. We entered the winter in a strong position in terms of capacity—better than for some years. It has been our misfortune that problems have been discovered with the new, large sets which are being introduced which are having teething problems and need to be worked in. This is a perfectly legitimate problem, and I am 705 advised that, given a reasonable winter—although our winter is sometimes unreasonable—we need not anticipate the breakdowns which the hon. Gentleman had in mind.
The problem that was put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North was near to my heart. My hon. Friend speaks on many subjects which, geographically, are very close to my constituency, and I am conscious of and involved in several of the matters which he raised. On Ronan Point, discussions with local authorities are still proceeding which it is hoped to bring to a conclusion in the near future.
There are many different layers of the problem. One matter with which my hon. Friend is concerned involves the kinds of regulations which should be laid down, the specifications for new buildings and the repair of existing ones. Secondly, there are the problems which he faces in his constituency of the decanting of certain people while repair work is being undertaken. Thirdly, there is the matter of compensation for the tenants who were disturbed, and, lastly, is the question of the financial arrangements to be made by the Government and the councils involved.
These are complex matters. I understand my hon. Friend's impatience. I will do my best to hurry on any conclusion of these discussions. I am as interested in this matter as he is.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said. Can it be taken that this hurrying up will mean that we shall have some action quite soon, because the matter has now been outstanding for 18 months, getting on for two years?
§ Mr. Shore
We will do so as far as we possibly can. As I have said, I understand my hon. Friend's impatience, but in the nature of the problem it is not easy to accelerate matters.
I conclude by dealing with two further matters. It was alleged by hon. Gentlemen opposite that this Christmas Recess was excessively long. The House will know that this is not the case. We are to adjourn for 30 days. My information 706 is that on only one occasion during the 13 years of Tory rule did they have a Christmas Recess lasting for less than 30 days. Interestingly enough; it was the last year of their rule when, no doubt, they felt that there was a great deal of business left undone with which they had need to catch up. I recall one occasion when they had no fewer than 52 days of Christmas Recess. Let us be clear that there is nothing exceptional or extraordinary in the present length of Recess. This is, as it were, the Labour average and tends to be considerably below the period previously established.
Finally, I give the usual assurance that if events move in a serious way and representations are made to the Government for a recall of Parliament then, obviously, we will consider the matter most carefully. Such a power exists and we shall approach the authorities in the proper way.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Friday 19th December, do adjourn till Monday 19th January.