Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising on Thursday, 3rd April, do adjourn till Monday 14th April.—[Mr Peart.]
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)
I rise to oppose this Motion, because I believe that there is at least one item which should be discussed in this House before we consider the dates of the Easter Recess.
On 17th March, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made a statement about the increase in mortgage rates. Hon. Members on both sides wanted to probe the reasons behind the Government's decision to allow the building societies to increase mortgage rates to 8½ per cent. I was one of them. Unfortunately, I was not able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on that occasion.
We debated the matter on Wednesday, 19th March. It was a truncated debate, as you remarked, Mr. Speaker. I felt extremely dissatisfied with it. The debate lasted, in all, 2 hours and 16 minutes, despite the fact that it was concerned with the effect of increases in mortgage rates on something like 3½ million people. Many aspects of the situation were not explored on the Floor of the House, and I protested at the quite inordinate length of time which was taken up by speeches from both Front Benches. Of the 2 hours and 16 minutes, over 1 hour and 42 minutes was taken up by four speeches from the Front Benches. There were three contributions from the back benches which, in all, occupied 34 minutes only.
I am asking that the Government should give more time for a discussion of the change in mortgage interest rates, and I do it against the background of what the Chief Secretary said on 17th and 19th March, with a view to exploring some of his remarks on those dates. Frankly, I am not satisfied with them—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot discuss the merits of what he is seeking to debate. He is arguing that we should come back during Easter week to continue what he said was a truncated debate. He can argue that.
§ Mr. Dobson
I realise that, Mr. Speaker. But I thought that I was in a position to advance some arguments to substantiate my point of view, without going back in detail over the debate of 19th March.
The points which I want to put before the House are, first, that there has been no adequate discussion in this House. I think that I have established that. However, if I am unable to raise the matter in any other way, this must be the best chance that I have of drawing the attention of the House to the situation—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I want to help the hon. Gentleman. I am sympathetic to his point. What he has to argue now is that we should not take the extended holiday which is proposed, his reason being that he wants to debate the increase in mortgage interest rates. But he cannot debate that now.
§ Mr. Dobson
I accept your Ruling, of course, Mr. Speaker. However, I am in some difficulty, because I feel that this is a matter which has to be raised—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Every hon. Member who takes part in this debate is in difficulty. There is a debate which follows it in which it is much easier to keep in order.
§ Mr. Dobson
Mr. Speaker, I feel that there is, or should be, an opportunity for me to say briefly why this House should not go into Recess between the dates set down on the Order Paper. I do not want to weary the House too long, but I feel that there is a matter of some public concern here which should be explored.
I am not making a case for or against the increase in mortgage charges. As you have rightly said, Mr. Speaker, that would be quite out of order. However, if this moment were allowed to pass, and we could have a debate on the basis which we are discussing, there would be no chance for me to raise it in this way. I think, Mr. Speaker, that you appreciate the problem to which I am trying to address myself.
I want the Government to say that, during the Easter Recess period that they propose, we will have an opportunity to give further consideration to the swingeing increase in mortgage interest 1273 rates. I want them to say, too, that during that period they will be prepared to adopt one of two courses of action. The first possibility is that they might refer the matter to the National Board for Prices and Incomes, if they considered that to be the right course. Although the matter was considered by the Board in 1968, we have never debated its Report on the Floor of the House. The considerations of the National Board for Prices and Incomes resulted in its Report No. 22. Surely that is another reason why it should be considered now.
If the Government feel at this stage that they are unable to refer the matter to the National Board for Prices and Incomes, another possibility is that they might report to the House on the likelihood of their setting up an inquiry to examine all the facets of this increase in mortgage charges.
Many suggestions have been put forward to meet the problem, several involving taxation changes and others involving different approaches. I hope that we shall have a clear assurance that the Government are conscious of the extreme anger, frustration and astonishment in the country at the fact that we in this House have not had adequate time in which to discuss this very important matter before the Easter Recess.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)
I have great sympathy with the point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson), and I think that we want some clearer indication from the Government on this matter.
However, my point is a different and far more simple one. I do not think that we should pass this Motion until we have a clear indication of the Government's intentions about the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. It is clear that, once we return after Easter, we shall be faced with the Budget debate and the Finance Bill, which we know takes up an enormous amount of time—[interruption.] I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) did not do that from malice aforethought.
We are faced with this Bill to which the Government appear to attach a great deal of importance and to which some hon. Members attach less importance. If it is intended to proceed with it—and 1274 we have heard threats about recesses being curtailed—before agreeing to go away for a whole week, we ought to know whether it is the Government's intention to keep us sitting through August and September to make up for the week which we are to take off now and get through this ridiculous Bill. I hope that the Leader of the House will give us some idea about his intentions before we pass the Motion.
Perhaps he will also let us know whether it is his intention to get his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity to introduce a Bill about trade union reform for which many of us have been waiting with some eagerness.
It is clear that the Business of the Session has got into a terrible muddle. We are over halfway through the Session and there is no prospect of an end in sight. Therefore, we cannot allow the Motion without a clear statement about the Government's intentions.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham. West)
I simply want to protest against the practice of putting this Motion down on the same day as the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill and in front of it. The purpose or the use to which the Adjourn ment debate can be put is to enable back benchers to raise almost any subject they choose, other than legislation. There is a similar purpose, under a slightly different procedure, in the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, which we are to debate later—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With respect, the purpose is quite different. We are debating at the moment whether we should have a certain number of days holiday. This is all that we can do. Hon. Members have an opportunity of mentioning subjects as reasons for not having a holiday or for having a longer one. This is what we are debating.
§ Mr. English
This is precisely my point. I oppose the Motion because I think that there should be one extra day for the debate on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill. The Government have pinched one day from back benchers. I oppose the Motion for that reason.
I do not suggest that the Leader of the House initiated this practice, because it 1275 has been done, on occasion, before. Never-thless, it is a bad practice that the Government should pinch one or two back benchers' days by, in effect, putting them together, thus making them one.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
I support the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). This is time out of the back benchers' day. If the Government, to suit themselves, bring forward a Motion upon the precise length of the Easter Recess, which was formerly to Tuesday but for some reason which has not been explained is now to Monday, it ought to be out of Government time. This is one of the two days in the year which are for back benchers. Therefore, the Government are having it both ways, and it is very unfair on backbenchers.
The Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, by tradition, is back benchers' time. The Government have, as it were, put back benchers to their option: whether they are prepared to spend two or three hours, as is customary, on the Motion discussing whether we should adjourn for ten, eleven or 12 days, or whatever it may be, at the expense of very important subjects, such as that to be raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) on the Land Commission, and many others.
This is a cheat. Therefore, I support the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. I hope that the Government, and particularly the Leader of the House, will take note that we have spotted this cheat and that we will not have it any more.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I oppose the Motion on two grounds concerning Greece. I will be as brief as I can.
First, I do not think that the House should adjourn until there has been a statement by a Minister on reports which have appeared in Swedish, German and Greek Government newspapers and a Swedish television programme, that the British Government have decided to supply arms to Greece.
I will not go into the merits of the matter, because that would be wrong; but these reports have appeared and we have tried to get a statement from the Government on the matter. I oppose 1276 the Recess Motion until it allows time for this matter to be debated.
Secondly, I oppose the Motion because it is about time that we had a statement from the Government about their attitude on the meeting of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 5th May to consider the Resolution passed by the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe about Greece.
Again, I have no intention of going into the merits of the matter, but perhaps I might spend a minute or so setting out the timetable. The Council of Europe will meet on 5th May in London. This House will be in recess until 14th April. On 15th April and on several days following, we shall have the Budget Debate, so there will be practically no time, unless it is made before the Recess, for a statement on whether the Government will follow the recommendations of the Consultative Assembly that Greece should be suspended from the Council of Europe. Therefore, it is urgent that the Government should make a statement on this before the House rises for the Easter Recess.
There have been indications from the Government that they may want to put off a decision on 5th May on the grounds that they would first like to hear the report of the Commission on Human Rights. If the Government take that view of the matter, they are mistaken in using that as an excuse for delaying matters and waiting for the report of the Commission now investigating matters in Greece. This is because the reference to the Commission was something which preceded the Resolution of the Consultative Assembly; something done by the Scandinavian countries, when it was thought that expulsion was unlikely.
Now those events have been overtaken by the Resolution passed by an overwhelming majority of 92 votes to eleven in the Consultative Assembly. Nobody is now in the slightest doubt that there has been a breach of human rights and Greece ought not to belong to that organisation and ought to be suspended. I hope that the Government will make a clear and unequivocal statement that they support that recommendation and will, in consultation with their colleagues in the Council of Europe, press for the Resolution to be followed up.
1277 I know that the Government are in some difficulty about taking the initiative, but there are many countries in the Council of Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries, which are prepared to take the initiative. All I want, before the Recess, is a statement that if they do that, the Government will support them.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I oppose the Motion on three grounds. I will put them briefly, for reasons which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) made clear.
First, we are about to have a debate on the Land Commission, but the Minister, only a short time ago, told the House that the working of the Land Commission was under review. I can only conclude that whatever debates and arguments are adduced during the course of the afternoon the Land Commission will continue to be under review.
I should think that probably every hon. Member has by this time been inundated with cases of suffering due to this preposterous legislation. It is, therefore, wrong that the House should go into recess for 14 days, allowing this review to go on without any kind of pressure on the Government to bring it to a conclusion. Therefore, first and foremost, I think that we should stay here so that we can continue to press the Government to come and explain what they are doing about this monstrous Act.
Secondly, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) that we should urge the Government to bring forward proposals on the reform of industrial relations. I do not think that the House should go away leaving that matter unresolved. We hear plenty about it from week to week, but nothing happens. Now, only a few days after the end of the disastrous Ford strike, the men are out again. We have statements from Ministers saying that the Government cannot allow anarchy in the motor industry, but it is already happening despite an agreement with the Unions against victimisation which was reached only days ago—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member cannot debate now what he will be able to debate if he carries his opposition to the Motion and we come back in Easter week.
§ Mr. Hastings
I have said enough to indicate my reasons why there is no justification for this House going away for a holiday until the Government get to grips with this question. The economy will not recover until they do.
Thirdly, and again in pursuance of a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, although perhaps our interests differ: in intensity what about the Parliament (No. 2) Bill?
What is going to happen? I take a serious interest in this Bill which I believe to be dangerous to the Constitution and to the future of this country. We hear rumours that there is to be no Whitsun Recess, that we are to sit here throughout the Summer, that the Christmas Recess is in danger, and so on. All this so that this wretched Bill can be passed through the House, yet now we are to go away for a fortnight without being given any explanation whatsoever.
Now let the Leader of the House give us a full explanation on these three points.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) has miscalculated. He referred to our having 14 days for the Easter Recess. The fact is that we shall be away for six Parliamentary days, of which two are Fridays. The Parliament Bill will depend upon the filibusterers, and perhaps I might give my right hon. Friend a word of advice. He should accept the strictures of the hon. Members who want extra time to debate those Measures, call their bluff, withdraw the Motion, and let us go right through without a stop, and let us all have a miserable Easter.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)
I should love to answer all the points which have been made, but I would be out of order if I were to become involved in debating them. My concern is centred on the Motion for the Easter Recess, during which some of us will have to work. It is good that we should have this Recess. There has been no argument to the contrary. Indeed, one of the main arguments put forward by one of my hon. Friends was that the Government should 1279 examine all these matters carefully and objectively and then come to a conclusion.
I shall not waste the time of the House by arguing about the Motion. I believe that hon. Members require an Easter Recess. It will be good for them. I shall enjoy my Recess, and I hope that all those hon. Members who have spoken today will enjoy theirs. I have noted what has been said about the Parliament Bill, about Greece, and about the 8½ per cent. mortgage interest rate. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) could have put this subject down for debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Had he done so he would have had an opportunity of arguing the case in full.
Rather than argue about altering the duration of the Recess, I say to my hon. Friends on both sides, "Let us have a pleasant Easter". I shall examine the arguments which have been put forward, but I hope that the House will accept the Motion.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Barnet)
I think that the Leader of the House is being pretty cavalier about this. I know that this is a fairly formal occasion, but the right hon. Gentleman has had put to him reasons why hon. Members think some important things should be done. The right hon. Gentleman should answer their arguments.
§ Mr. Peart
I said that it would be wrong for me to get involved in the argument about Greece. This is a traditional debate, when hon. Members can raise subjects of their choice. I am responsible for the length of the Recess. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to oppose the Motion, he should say so. I agree that hon. Members have this traditional right. What I am saying is that I have noted carefully the arguments which have been advanced in relation to the Parliament Bill, to Greece, and to other matters, and that I shall convey the views of hon. Members to the Ministers concerned.
I hope that the House will accept this Motion, and that hon. Members will enjoy their Recess. That is not being cavalier. I hope that when hon. Members have enjoyed their Recess they will carefully examine all the issues which have been raised today.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
Last week when I raised with the right hon. Gentleman the possibility of a strike by B.O.A.C. airline pilots he said that he would ask his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to say something about this to the House this week. This strike may or may not start next Tuesday. If it does, the country will be put to great inconvenience. Millions of £s of foreign currency will be lost. Nothing has been done about that possible state of affairs, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman owes it to everyone here to clarify the situation before we go away for the Easter Recess.
§ Mr. Peart
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that this is a serious matter, and we shall watch the position very carefully. If there were a serious political and economic crisis in our affairs, we would, inevitably, have to think about recalling Parliament, but I hope that that will not be necessary.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
As far as I can recollect it has been traditional on a day such as this for the Leader of the House not merely to say, "It is my responsibility whether the House goes into Recess for six or seven days", but to answer the arguments which are put forward from both sides of the House about whether we should stay here to deal with one subject or another. As far as I can recollect, on previous occasions the Leader of the House has said, "I hope that we shall be able to deal with that matter during the first week after we return", or something of that kind, to relieve the anxiety of hon. Members. With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I say that he has rather brushed aside the arguments.
§ Mr. Peart
I respect the hon. Gentleman very much. I have not brushed aside the arguments which have been advanced. I have not brushed aside what was said about the situation in Greece. I know that many hon. Members feel strongly about this issue, and I shall convey their views to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I listened carefully to the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) about the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. I am aware of the feeling about this Measure, and I am not dismissing it. I have taken careful note of what has been said. All 1281 I am saying is that we are proposing a short Recess. I hope that during this Recess hon. Member will reflect on many of the points which have been raised, as the Government and as Ministers must do. It is not for me to get involved in arguments relating to the merits of the matters raised. I shall convey the views of hon. Members to the Ministers concerned.
§ Mr. Hastings
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer one specific question? We have heard rumours that because of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill the Whitsun Recess is to be done away with. Is this in the right hon. Gentleman's mind? If it is, why are we proposing to adjourn for Easter? Why not deal with it now?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot prevent this debate from continuing, albeit in a rather ragged way. Sir Harmar Nicholls.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The right hon. Gentleman said that he had not brushed aside the arguments and that he intended to bring the merits of the arguments which have been advanced to the attention of the Ministers concerned, but there is one argument which the right hon. Gentleman did brush aside. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) made a valid point when he said that this debate is normally one of the perks of back benchers, when they can raise subjects relating to their constituents. There was a time when back benchers had a whole day in which to do this. It is an established part of the rights of back benchers that they can bring to Parliament the grievances of their constituents. The right hon. Gentleman agreed that this was normally a back benchers' day, and that this Motion was truncating the time given to back benchers. This Motion is the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility. He need not tell any of his hon. Friends about that. Will he provide us with another day to make up for the time that he is taking by this Motion?
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I have listened in astonishment to the right hon. Gentleman. His attitude seems to be supremely casual and indifferent. The longer this debate continues the more 1282 back benchers will be forced to eat into their own time, and this is the right hon. Gentleman's fault. He should not attempt to cover up the consequences of his folly by telling back benchers that they are penalising themselves.
If the right hon. Gentleman introduces a Motion, he should be prepared to defend it. He has said that some of the arguments for or against the Motion may or may not be good, but that he will pass them on to the Ministers concerned. The right hon. Gentleman is acting as a sort of post box. He has made no attempt to answer the points which have been raised.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member does not give way the right hon. Member must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Onslow
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to me, because he seemed anxious to try to exculpate himself and I want to pin the blame on him. If we have an opportunity to deploy arguments, and if hon Members feel seriously about them—which presumably they do otherwise they would not put them forward—the right hon. Gentleman should not merely say, "There, there, it will be all right. Let us pass this Motion, and thereafter I shall have a word with my colleagues. When I see them next, which may or may not be until after Easter, I shall tell them what has been said". The right hon. Gentleman need not tell his colleagues that. They can read it for themselves in HANSARD. What does he see his function as in this context? Does he think that he has any responsibility to Parliament or is he sitting there like a puppet trying to get out of all the responsibilities of his high office? Why do we not have an answer from Government spokesmen to points which have been seriously made and merit consideration?
§ Mr. Peart
If I may have leave of the House to answer.
The hon. Member said that I have been a post box, but it is important that Ministers should be reminded of matters raised in the House, not only in this debate but at business question time. Of course Ministers can read this in HANSARD, but it is right for the Leader of the House to say personally to Ministers, "Hon Members feel very strongly about this subject or that." If this is to be a post box, I accept that. I see nothing wrong in conveying the feelings of hon. Members to my colleagues. I do not wish to disagree with the traditional method of debate on this Motion. Hon. Members can raise their own points, but it is not for me to get involved in the merits of the arguments. I will certainly convey the points raised to my right hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Maudling
I speak by leave of the House. No one wants to oppose the Motion, but the right hon. Gentleman has put himself in a difficulty of his own creation. Although this may be a traditional exercise, hon. Members on both sides have put serious points. It is not a question of arguing the merits of the arguments; hon. Members are saying that the House should not rise until these things are dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman must show reasons why the House should still rise. To say that a nice holiday is good for us is far too frivolous. The right hon. Gentleman has created this difficulty by treating a traditional occasion far too frivolously.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
I want to put a different point of view. I think that the holiday is too short. We should have a longer holiday. The Government are having a short holiday because they want to legislate more and more. The longer holiday that we have from legislation by this Government, the better it is for the country. I would like to see this Recess and any other treated differently. The right hon. Gentleman should think of this. It is especially applicable when we are cutting into private Members' time.
1284 Why does he not have a Recess for Easter on Government legislation for about three weeks or a month? Give us a week's holiday, those of us who want it, and let the rest of us who want to come here get back on Government Ministers on the kind of subjects which have been raised by his own back benchers, and many others which we should like to raise, so that we can have all the debates that we want. Instead of half an hour or an hour on each subject, as is the practice on the Consolidated Fund Bill, we could then have a debate with the Minister here for half a day or a day. This would give Parliament the chance to get at the Executive.
But it would also stop the Government legislating. What we will be brought back early for is to allow the Government to push through new legislation or finish off old legislation much of which the country does not want. From that point of view, the Recess is far too short.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I must apologise because I was not here for the beginning of the debate. I had not in tended to speak until I heard the Leader of the House rumbling like an injured volcano with discontent and hurt. It is strange that he is not prepared to explain before we go the Government position on various important matters. I think particularly of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying that he notes the views of the House. He has had unlimited op portunity to do that, but it does not make the slightest difference. The Government have never been so deaf to argument as in connection with that Bill—
§ Mr. Peyton
No, Mr. Speaker, I would not intrude that filthy subject upon your attention. Perhaps I may respectfully congratulate you on your good fortune in having been in no way responsible for the conduct of our debates in Committee—
§ Mr. Peyton
You threw the hook, Mr. Speaker, and I took it.
1285 What I am concerned with is why the Leader of the House cannot explain the Government's intentions before we go. We have been told that we will have three days next week on this matter and the indication is that he will steamroller through the House a Bill to which all the expressions of opinion which he has heard show almost united hostility, modified only by the tramp of well-disciplined feet through the Government Lobby—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss the merits of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill now. He can only ask what the Government intend to do with it. That is all.
§ Mr. Peyton
I would be in a difficulty, Mr. Speaker, if I wanted to discuss the merits of that Bill—
§ Mr. Peyton
The right hon. Gentleman owes the House an explanation of the Government's intention over this Bill.
The question of a possible strike in B.O.A.C. has been mentioned. What is the Government's view on this? Will they let the thing slide until another disastrous situation affects our balance of payments?
Another point which is vexing and irritating my constituents and those of many other hon. Members is the wretched betterment levy. It is a source of torture to many people who are in no position—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is entering into the merits of a subject which he is at the moment preventing the House from debating.
§ Mr. Peyton
I am not trying to discuss the merits of this, Mr. Speaker. I am saying that a statement is urgently awaited. I was present throughout Question Time this afternoon when the Minister for Planning and Land told us, in those far from unique words, that the operation of the Act is now "under active consideration". That sort of assurance, in those time-honoured hack words, carries us very little further.
We hope that, before we rise—I would not want to agree to this Motion without it—we will get some far more satisfactory assurance. The right hon. Gentleman 1286 must be able to tell the House and all concerned about this important matter that the Government will make a statement next week. I hope that he will. It is simply no good bombarding us with phrases like "the matter is under consideration". It is a great nuisance to be told that. Everything is always under consideration and no progress is ever made.
I hope that on these three matters—first, the Parliament No. 2 Bill, that major obscenity to which we have devoted so much time; secondly, the possibility of a B.O.A.C. strike of serious dimensions although I will not discuss B.O.A.C.'s inept handling of the matter; and, thirdly, the betterment levy—we shall receive statements and assurances from the Government.
Reference has been made to the Price Review. I have today received a large number of letters from constituents asking me to protest at the disappointing award which was promulgated last week.
The Government are not giving us a fair chance to voice the widespread indignation that is felt throughout the country about their inept handling of our affairs. Although the Leader of the House is good natured and courteous, he has the misfortune to represent a Government who have shown monumental ineptitude in handling the nation's affairs.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I wish to add my misgivings to those expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) about the Motion.
On 19th March, confirmed in a Written Answer to a Question by me yesterday, the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity has shown that there is a completely new criterion against which incomes will in future be judged. We have not received an undertaking from the Leader of the House that an opportunity will be provided for hon. Members to debate this important subject before the Easter Recess
In the statement which the right hon. Lady made after the Ford dispute she said that savings from continuity of production could be an important element in a productivity agreement. She is, therefore, instituting an entirely new criterion into the incomes policy, and it 1287 is against this that she must base her attitude towards the claim of, for example, bank employees, dock workers and B.O.A.C. pilots. This new criterion must be added to the criteria contained in the White Paper. One might call it the "strike more, strike hard and strike now" criterion. It is saying, in effect, "If it is likely that an increase in pay can produce avoidance of strike action, that can be taken into account".
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is drifting into the merits of the subject about which he wants an assurance or a debate to take place before the Easter Recess. He must address his remarks to the Motion.
§ Mr. Page
I apologise for being blown somewhat off course, Mr. Speaker.
It is important for those engaged in industrial relations to have absolute clarity about what should or should not be allowed as the criteria for wage increases. I hope that we will have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that his right hon. Friend will make a statement about this or, alternatively, that there will be, say, a half-day debate so that those engaged in negotiations may know where they stand. At present they are in a fog of bewilderment, and such a state is, I believe, quickly spreading through the Ministry concerned.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
I, too, join hon. Members in expressing concern at the House recessing at a time when so many important matters remain to be discussed.
I appreciate that I may not be popular with my hon. Friends in saying that we should remain here to discuss these vital matters, but hon. Members must have been horrified to read in, for example, The Times today that the Government are unable to repay our overseas borrowings without finding further borrowings from elsewhere. In other words, we are having to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. One of the major causes of this situation is the industrial anarchy which is spreading though the country.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Earlier in the discussion of the Motion, when the hon. Gentleman was not in his place, I reminded the House that hon. Members 1288 could not discuss the issues which they were suggesting should be discussed if the period of the Easter Recess were reduced. The hon. Gentleman must address his remarks to the Motion.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I thank you for your guidance, Mr. Speaker.
I seek an assurance from the Leader of the House about the Government's proposals for dealing with industrial disputes. We received an assurance in the White Paper that provisions to put the C.I.R. on a statutory basis would be included in an Industrial Relations Bill which the Government intended to present to Parliament as soon as possible. That was said some time ago, yet there are no signs of that legislation. What do the Government mean by "as soon as possible?" May we expect action before the Recess?
§ Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)
I wish to help the Leader of the House. If he will guarantee to make statements on the following matters before we rise for the Easter Recess—or that the necessary statements will be made by the relevant Ministers—I am sure that that will satisfy the House.
We want statements about the Parliament No. 2 Bill, the latest situation in Anguilla, the Common Market, the Land Commission, the financial situation, trade union relations, the B.O.A.C. threatened strike, Gibraltar, Nigeria and Rhodesia. If he will arrange for statements to be made on those issues we would all be most happy to approve the Motion.
§ Mr. Speaker
I remind the House that the traditional day for the Consolidated Fund Bill stretches ahead of us, if we can get to it. Mr. Mitchell.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)
I, too, will find myself in some difficulty in supporting the Motion because legislation is urgently needed, certainly on one topic, and it seems that that legislation will be squeezed out if we adjourn for the period proposed.
Unlike the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) I consider that much of the Government's legislation is extremely important. One particular piece of legislation which should come forward urgently is that 1289 designed to revise the Merchant Shipping Act, 1836. Legislation on these lines was promised in the Gracious Speech at the beginning of the Session, and although a number of my hon. Friends have questioned the Leader of the House on Thursdays about this matter, we have not been able to obtain a definite answer from him.
It would appear that while a great deal of Parliamentary time is being wasted on the Parliament No. 2 Bill, we could be dealing with the urgent legislation to which I have referred. I hope that this legislation will not be squeezed out because of a lack of Parliamentary time, particularly when the time during which we will be in Recess at Easter could be used for this purpose.
§ Mr. Peart
With the leave of the House, I will reply to some of the points that have been raised.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) that I have carefully noted his remarks about the need for a Merchant Shipping Bill. He will recall that I replied to him the other day on this matter. I agree that this is an urgent subject. When the Bill is ready it will be presented by my right hon. Friend. I hope that, with that assurance, my hon. Friend will not feel inhibited from supporting the Motion.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) argued very cogently for having a longer period of recess. I am afraid I cannot accept that, but I understand from the argument he put forward that he is afraid of legislation which might be deleterious to sections of the community. He put that very firmly. I take a contrary view and that we should have the short recess proposed in this Motion.
I always listen carefully to what the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) says, for he is a distinguished Parliamentarian. [Laughter.] I really mean this. He has played an important part in putting a point of view on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. It is not for me to get involved at this stage in arguments about the Bill. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) spoke strongly about this, and in Committee he has spoken strongly against the Bill. 1290 I say to both hon. Members that there are hon. Members on this side of the House who take the view that the Bill should be dropped, but if they examine the Division records carefully they will find that the majority of the House are in favour of the Bill.
We should carefully examine arguments put forward, but I cannot deploy them at this stage. I shall be making a business statement later about the programme for next week, which hon. Members will have to consider very carefully. I believe the majority of opinion in the House as expressed in the Divisions is in favour of the Bill—[Interruption.]—but I must not get involved. The statistics are there and the Division records show this to be true.
The question about the B.O.A.C. dispute has been raised. I accept that this could be very serious for the economy and that the Minister concerned should be aware of this. We should report continually to the House whenever possible, but in spite of the short recess there will be opportunities for Ministers to keep hon. Members informed.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The strike is due to take place next Tuesday. We are asking that the House should be informed or that there should be a statement before then.
§ Mr. Peart
I think that is right, and I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the need for this. I am not acting as a post-box. I do impress on my right hon. Friends the opinions of hon. Members. I thought it wrong of an hon. Member who has now left the Chamber to use that rather offensive phrase. I do my best to protect the interests of hon. Members.
I know that hon. Members feel strongly about the betterment levy. This, I understand, will be the first subject to be discussed in the debate on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill. Other hon. Members have raised matters affecting productivity. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) takes a great interest in this. He also asked me to convey to my right hon. Friend the need for a statement. He knows that I will do this as I did on another important matter that he raised. He knows of my personal integrity and that I shall do so in this case.
1291 The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) raised important matters relating to the C.I.R. I cannot get involved in that at this stage. This is a matter for legislation. I note what has been said. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) mentioned many matters which are traditional, but I hope that in view of the extension of the time we may now have this Motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Thursday 3rd April, do adjourn till Monday 14th April.