§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That this House, at its rising on Friday 15th May, do adjourn till Monday 1st June.—[Mr. Peart.]
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I do not intend to delay the House for more than a few minutes, but one or two remarks should be made on the Motion to adjourn from 15th May until 1st June. It so happens that on 1st June the South African cricketers will, I think, arrive in this country. It is important that the House should have a full debate on that issue before they arrive, not least to ascertain the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition, who, I understand, is on record as saying that he welcomes the visit of these ambassadors of apartheid.
The regrettable decision made at the weekend by the Cricket Council, reaffirming previous decisions that the tour is to go on, is peculiarly insensitive to a vast body of public opinion which could be crystallised in the form of a debate in the House before the South African cricketers arrive in early June. I do not think that it is recognised in the country, still less by the M.C.C. and the Cricket Council, what the implications of the tour are for the race relations problem in this country.
Perhaps I might be a little more parochial and put to the Government the great importance of the tour being stopped for the sake of the Commonwealth Games to be held in Edinburgh in July.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot debate the cancellation of the tour. He can ask for time to debate it.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am not attempting to debate it, Mr. Speaker. I am hoping to produce a sufficient enumeration of the problems, without going into them in great detail, to impress on my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio the great importance of having a full debate on the issue before those gentlemen arrive here.
If that is not possible, a statement should be made before we rise that if the M.C.C. does not revoke its decision the Government will declare the South 828 African cricketers prohibited immigrants. If the Government do not do that, the least they can do is to give us another day during the suggested Recess so that those who are interested might have an opportunity to debate the whole problem and its implications for the multi-racial Commonwealth Games, which would be in jeopardy if the tour went on.
My second reason for wanting a shorter Recess is that we hear consistently when at Business Question time on Thursdays requests by hon. Members on both sides for debates on various problems of importance to them and probably to the country. For example, there are reports of Select Committees in which some of us are very interested. Some of them are extremely urgent in the light of recent events. The Report of the Select Committee on Privilege is extremely important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has continually asked for a debate on it and has repeatedly been put off. The Government have declared that certain recommendations of the report would require legislation, which seems to be all the more reason why we should curtail the Recess to put that legislation on the Statute Book.
In my view, the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure is even more important. It made recommendations on the public control of expediture and various committees that should be set up to deal with that very important problem. The Government promised that they would bring forward their proposals in the early summer. I am not sure whether they regard us as now being in that period, or whether they will bring forward their proposals at all before the General Election. This might be the last week of the present Parliament before the General Election, which is all the more reason why we should have at least a fortnight to debate some of these matters and take decisions on them.
The other important Select Committee on which we have had no debate and no Government proposals is the Select Committee on Members' outside financial interests. I had supposed in my innocence that the last day before we rose for the Whitsun Recess would be devoted to Members Adjournment debates, so I applied to get one of those debates. I had intended to select that Committee's 829 report as my subject because, while making placatory noises, the Government have steadily refused to give us a day for a debate on this extremely important matter, which is particularly urgent in view of recent events. The Government should provide at least one day to make up for the time they have taken away from back bench Members in the form of those Adjournment debates which we normally have on the last day before the Recess.
I say little of the international volcanoes on which we are to sit for a fortnight—the cauldron in Cambodia, the powder keg in the the Middle East and the happenings in Northern Ireland, on which the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) was presumably trying to seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9.
We should look more carefully at our recesses. They are primarily for the convenience of the Executive and not the Legislature. I know that my right hon. Friend will produce precedents. We know the jargon of these occasions. He will make nice, pleasing little noises for me and other hon. Members and we shall pass on to other business without a Division. The Government will get their way and we shall go away for a fortnight. We are probably the only professional people in the country that take a fortnight for Whitsun. It is high time we looked at the whole Parliamentary Session, including the Whitsun Recess, the Summer Recess, the Easter Recess and the Christmas Recess, and revamped it.
This proposal has been before the Select Committee on Procedure from time to time. It has not put any proposals before the House, but the Government should take an initiative and let us have more time to debate subjects of great concern to Members generally and vast numbers of people outside.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I wish to express strongly the view that the House should not rise for the Whitsun Recess without first debating the situation in Northern Ireland—a situation which has been deteriorating rapidly. At the weekend there were disturbances in my constituency which started on Saturday afternoon with an 830 open demonstration in the streets in a predominantly loyalist area—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member may not go into detail about a subject into which he will be able to go in detail if he destroys the Whitsun holiday and gets his debate.
§ Mr. McMaster
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Without embroidery or emotion, I want simply to state the facts of what happened at the week-end so as to substantiate my submission that the House should not adjourn. A demonstration was held in my constituency at the weekend under republican auspices at which a republican flag was flown. This demonstration purported to be held to protest against the imprisonment in England of a number of members of the I.R.A. who had been convicted of charges of the illegal possession of arms.
At the same time, a bomb was exploded in my constituency, causing substantial damage to a public house. A 4-ft. hole was blown in the wall of that house and a person inside was badly injured by flying glass, while substantial damage was done to the building itself. Also republican mobs attacked the police and units of the Army—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must not go into detail. If I allow him to do so, every other hon. Member will be able to do so. We are debating whether we should break up on Friday.
§ Mr. McMaster
I do not wish to go into detail beyond stating a catalogue of the facts which are known, and which appeared in the Press, to substantiate my claim that this is a serious matter—more serious than any incident which has occurred heretofore.
The attacks and rioting continued throughout the night. Twenty-seven soldiers and 13 civilians were injured. In the end, the Army had to use CS gas to clear the streets—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must argue why this issue is important and why the House should not rise on Friday or should come back some time next week.
§ Mr. McMaster
I will certainly argue that it is important. Already, there has been one tragedy in Belfast. A child 831 has been killed. The child was playing with a gun in her father's house and was killed. The gun was not discovered by the police, but—
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
On a point of order. Is not that case being investigated by the police at the moment and might it not be subject to charges?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not know, but whether it is sub judice or not the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) must argue why the House should not rise on Friday.
§ Mr. McMaster
I did not intend to deal with that case beyond stating that the child had died. But I urge the House that these facts about rioting, a bomb explosion and the death of this child are sufficiently serious to warrant a full debate in the House.
The riots have been continuing over a period of eight or nine months. Each weekend they increase in gravity. Before more damage to property occurs, or more injury to people, the House should debate the steps which Her Majesty's Government must take to restore law and order to the streets of Belfast as quickly and effectively as possible.
For these reasons I suggest that the House should not adjourn before this matter has received full attention. I admit that this is the second occasion on which it has been raised and I justify this submission on the ground that the situation is deteriorating rapidly. I feel that we should not adjourn before the subject has been properly ventilated, before the Government have stated what action they are taking, and the House has considered them and has suggested what further action should be taken to bring back law and order to the streets in Northern Ireland.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Before we can make up our minds how to vote on this Motion we ought to hear from the Government at what time, before we adjourn, they intend to make a state- 832 ment to the House and to the country about any progress made in the international discussions between Governments and airlines on the very urgent question of the safety of international air transport.
On a previous occasion, not very long ago, with hon. and right hon. Members on all sides of the House, I several times urged the Government—once my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and on two other occasions my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—to give periodic reports to the House on the progress of those discussions. The House was told that there would be action at two levels: first, that of the main promoters of air transport, that is, the countries which are particularly concerned with international air transport; and, secondly, that of the airlines. The first level was to be between the airlines and their representatives and the second was to be between Governments.
I am particularly concerned this afternoon with the discussions between Governments. I cannot go into detail this afternoon about the very disturbing cases which have just occurred and I have no intention of doing so. Indeed, there is no need to do so, because they are clearly in everybody's mind. I have given the Minister no notice of this matter, and I therefore do not expect him to make a detailed statement on those cases this afternoon. But before the debate is concluded perhaps he will have consultations with the Leader of the House so that we can be given a definite time and day, before the House adjourns, on which a statement will be made on these matters. There might be demands during the next fortnight for a debate, but they could not be met if the House had adjourned, and the effective decision to give authority to adjourn is to be taken this afternoon. This is, therefore, the appropriate occasion on which to urge the Government to give us a time and day, before we adjourn, when we shall have a statement.
Moreover, it is clear from the reports in the periodicals devoted to international air transport that the discussions between Governments and airlines are meeting certain difficulties. This is not the time to go into detail about them, but in this very serious and urgent matter the Government must give an account of where 833 the discussions have led so far even though, before Friday, they may not be in a position to give us any conclusions about agreements which might be reached.
I add one last point. It is important that the House and the country be taken into the Government's confidence on some of the details of these negotiations. This is not a matter about which the Government can plead that they are engaged in highly secret political and diplomatic negotiations and that it would be harmful to those negotiations if they made a statement too early. These are matters of day-to-day concern to the travelling public—matters on which the public ought to be taken into the Government's confidence in detail at the earliest possible date.
I therefore hope that we shall be told definitely by the Government when a statement will be made, before Friday, which will give the greatest possible amount of detail about how these discussions are proceeding. This is a matter on which action must be taken between Governments and on which Governments must be held responsible for any criminal acts of sabotage against air transport which are prepared on their soil—now, unfortunately, including our Government. Unless there is agreement between Governments, no progress can be made in destroying this deadly menace before it gets any worse.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
I am opposed to the Motion because I believe that a lot more time should be given to some of the most urgent problems affecting the country. There are many problems still to be discussed before we go on holiday. I believe that the Government have failed, and failed miserably, over the last few months to deal with many of these problems, and that we have not had time to discuss many of them that I regard as extremely urgent. I go so far as to say that the Government are freewheeling on many of these issues.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member can say that the Government have not provided time for discussing those issues; that is what he is asking for. We cannot debate the issues when the hon. Member would dearly like to debate if we came back on Whit Monday.
§ Mr. Mills
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I am saying that time should be allowed to debate some of these important matters.
Agriculture is in a state of turmoil. For the first time, the farmers are withdrawing the use of the markets and selling stock, a most important and serious matter, but as yet we have heard nothing from the Minister of Agriculture. He has not even come to the House and promised to make a statement on this serious problem.
Agriculture generally is in a perilous state. It is vital that before we go into Recess, we should have a full debate on this subject, which is important not only for farmers, but for the future of the country, because if agriculture continues in its present state a serious recession could take place. That would not be in the interests of the country. Agriculture, therefore, is the first subject that we should debate before we go into recess.
I will not delay the House, but there are many other subjects which I could mention. The other one which I take very seriously is education, particularly in the primary schools, especially in the South-West of England, where serious problems are arising because of the number of pupils now attending these schools and the serious shortage of classrooms and facilities.
I consider that a full debate should take place before the recess so that we can discuss these important matters. It is no good delaying this any longer. I believe that children are being affected through lack of facilities. I have brought the point to attention in various ways and by means of Questions, but a full debate is needed so that we can air the real problems in our primary schools and we can hear what the Government intend to do about this matter.
I believe that at stake is the future education of many of our small children. I must declare an interest as my own children go to primary schools, where there are particular problems. The Government have not given enough attention to the whole future of education, particularly as it concerns primary schools.
Those two reasons—agriculture and education—warrant our giving time to debate these important subjects. That is why I am opposed to the Motion.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)
I delay the House with great regret and hesitation, and I do so only briefly, but I was so impressed by what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) that I want to raise a couple of points in support of what he said.
It seems to me that there is an urgent case for the House to have an early debate on the proposed cricket tour by the alleged South African team. There is urgency in having it during the next week or two for three reasons. First, if the foolish and unnecessary decision to go ahead with the tour is to be reversed in time, the reversal must be made quickly and the views of the House should be brought to bear on the subject quickly. There is an urgency about it. In that sense, it cannot wait.
Secondly, it is a matter of great national importance which, during the last week or two, has been debated in other important and representative assemblies. It has been debated in the Church Assembly, by the T.U.C. General Council and by the General Council of the United Nations Association, to mention but three important bodies, all of which have come to the conclusion that the tour should not take place. It is somewhat absurd that the House of Commons should not debate a matter of this importance when other bodies are doing so.
Thirdly, the matter is urgent because, during the last week or two, some members of the Cricket Council have become dimly aware of the potential damage that might be done. Some of them, for example, have been meeting High Commissioners from Commonwealth countries who can bring a point of view to bear. I do not think that they have realised as yet—some still do not—the potential danger to international and race relations, the danger to sport, the appalling extra strain on the police, despite their difficulties, and all the other dangers surrounding the tour.
For those reasons, it is a matter of urgency that the House of Commons should discuss this matter. It will be a great pity if we adjourn at the end of the week without having the opportunity to do so.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Sir John Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
I, too, oppose the Motion, for the reason that I do not think that the House should adjourn until it has had an opportunity of discussing the many and important reports of Select Committee which remain totally undiscussed.
I echo every word that was said on this subject by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). In my view, it is a farce to set up Select Committees if we do not debate their reports. Secondly—and I speak as a member of a Select Committee—it is an insult to members of Select Committees it time is not afforded to discuss their reports. As the hon. Member for Fife, West has said, the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration), in particular, is helpful to the House.
I am grateful to the Library for giving me a list of 15 major reports of Select Committees outstanding from the 1968–69 Session alone. Among those of the current Session are two Reports from the Select Committee on Procedure, as well as the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration), two Reports from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and a Report from the Select Committee commenting on one of the Parliamentary Commissioner's Special Reports.
I have an interest to declare in opposing the Motion. In the list of outstanding matters not yet discussed there are at least three on which I would seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. As I am not standing for Parliament again, if Parliament was dissolved, I would look on it as a personal attempt by the Prime Minister to frustrate my attempts to speak. Therefore, for this reason alone I feel that the whole House will join me in thinking that we should sit next week and the week after.
On Thursday of last week, the Leader of the House said:Every report which is published cannot possibly be debate. We have to decide priorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1970; Vol. 801, c. 588.]If that is so, priorities should be established by not setting up Select Committees unless ultimately we debate their reports.
I feel particularly strongly that we have not discussed the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I quote in this 837 context an article in The Times last week by Mr. George Clark, referring to the growing concern at the inability of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to get his activities properly publicised.
I remind the House that we have had no debate on the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner since the Sachsenhausen debate on 5th February, 1968. On 25th June last year, the Parliamentary Commissioner published a Special Report, House of Commons Paper No. 316, which in certain respects criticised the Board of Trade and the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who at that time was President of the Board of Trade. Despite this, a debate was not immediately forthcoming, pending consideration by the Select Committee.
This was extremely unfair to the right hon. Gentleman, who had received much adverse Press comment and who, I am quite certain, wanted a debate: so much so that in another place in July, 1969, the Minister of State, Board of Trade, said:I know that my right hon. Friend is anxious to react publicly to the criticism in the Report as soon as possible, although, as the House is doubtless aware, the Report is now before the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 15th July, 1969; Vol. 304, c. 249.]In this House on 17th October of last year, the hon. Lady till Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said:My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) not only wish to come and speak to the House when the Parliamentary Commissioner's Report is debated, but they feel strongly that they would have liked the opportunity to do so before the Summer Recess. They will have a strong case to make when I assure hon. Gentlemen that the matter taken up on the than that felt on this side [OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th October, 1969; Vol. 788, c. 727.]The Select Committee reported on 3rd December, 1969, but w have not yet had that debate. No doubt, in the interim, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby has continued to press his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—totally unavailingly, apparently—for a debate. I want to know why the Leader of the House has denied to his right hon. Friend the opportunity 838 to answer these charges. I therefore consider that the House should not adjourn as proposed.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)
You will recollect, Mr. Speaker, that on an Opposition censure Motion a month or so ago we had a vigorous debate on civil aviation. On that occasion the President of the Board of Trade announced that he had had a change of mind and had decided to withhold approval of the B.U.A.-B.O.A.C. merger on the grounds, so he told us, that new facts had come to light. He felt that he had to give an opportunity for the various private operators concerned to complete discussions and negotiations with a view to the establishment of a viable third force.
You will also doubtless be aware, Mr. Speaker, that these negotiations have, so it would seem, been fruitless—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not drift, or glide, into a debate on the merger of B.U.A. and B.O.A.C. He may ask for the House not to be adjourned so that that debate may take place. It is not taking place now.
§ Mr. Kerr
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, you anticipated me by seconds. I had intended to descend to the glide path about two seconds after you intervened.
As I say, those negotiations have apparently been fruitless, and now that it is obvious also that the workers, certainly of B.O.A.C. and overwhelmingly of B.U.A., are desirous that the proposal should go ahead, I ask that the House be not adjourned unless my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade can tell us this week that his approval has been given to the proposed merger.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan) produced, I thought, the most persuasive argument that we should not adjourn, namely, the opportunity of listening to him for a fortnight while he dealt with the various matters he enumerated.
On the whole, I am in favour of this Motion, with one reseservation. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East 839 (Mr. McMaster) has described the situation in Belfast as serious, and I do not think that it would be in dispute that the political situation in both North and South Ireland is potentially very grave. But I do not think, and here I disagree with my hon. Friend, that the matter would be improved by prolonged debate in this House. What is required—and here, perhaps, the Minister might help—is that before we adjourn for the Whitsun Recess, and before we pass this Motion, there should be a further reiteration by the Government about their policies.
I found this weekend that the events in Dublin and the subsequent events in Belfast meant that a good many people in Northern Ireland had become extremely apprehensive about the extent to which guns are or are not being run into both areas—to put it that way. A reassurance from the Government that the security forces of the Crown will make every effort, human and superhuman, to see that arms, if they be there, be found, and that arms, if they be on their way there, be stopped.
It is absolutely essential that this House should not adjourn without a statement from the Government that the Queen's peace in Northern Ireland will be kept and that it is the Government's determination that it shall be kept. If the Minister will give me that assurance—and, in the light of what the Government have said before, I do not imagine that it would be a difficult assurance to give—I will be in favour of the Motion.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
Only one voice has so far spoken in favour of the Motion: all the other speakers have said that we should not adjourn for a fortnight. I always feel rather drawn to oppressed minorities, so I find myself now in the position of supporting the Government.
The Government obviously need two weeks of quite contemplation. On a number of occasions recently, when we raised matters of great importance, and some have been raised in this debate, the reply from the Treasury Bench has been, "We are giving consideration to the matter". Obviously, the Government need time for consideration. If Ministers 840 are tied down to regular appearances in the House; to the answering of Questions, and, perhaps, to forestalling supplementary questions which may be put unexpectedly, they are at a disadvantage. Therefore, for the sake of the Government's own peace of mind, I suggest that we let them go away for a fortnight; that we let them have the peace and the quiet contemplation they obviously need.
Over and over again, when we on this side have asked for various things to be done we have been told, "The matter is receiving attention". In reply to questions from the other side, the Government's reply is, "We are doing better than you did—and in any case, what would you do?" That is very clever and smart for the first week or so, but we are getting a little tired of that type of reply. I believe that the Government require time to bring forward their own proposals; and to enable the Opposition to bring forward their proposals as a riposte to the Government.
Reference has been made to reports of Select Committees and to White Papers. I have never shared the optimistic view of the setting up of the Select Committees. I think that they were set up to produce reports as a substitute for action and not as a prelude to it. It is, therefore, futile continually to ask that every report that has been prepared—as I think, to keep back benchers quiet and employed for several months—should be the subject to a days debate. A Select Committee has sat, its report has been prepared and produced, the report is filed and the dust piles up on it, and that is the end of it. In any case, by the time a debate is thought of the report is obsolete; conditions have changed.
I recommend the House to accept the Motion arid, much to the surprise of every hon. Member who has already spoken against it, I am quite sure that it will be carried.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Despite the very persuasive remarks of the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger), I oppose the Motion. I do not see why we should give the Government a fortnight's holiday in which to cogitate when they will shortly have five years in which to do so.
841 I seriously oppose the Motion. I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Goole said about Select Committees. Parliament has appointed those Committees, they have produced very weighty reports, and so far Parliament has not debated those reports. Parliament ought to have time to debate them, or time ought to be found to debate, what is perhaps equally important, whether there should be so many Select Committees. Hon. Members who were on Select Committees during 1968 and 1969, and have not had debated the reports they have produced, should be able to tell the Government that unless their reports are debated they will not serve again on a Select Committee.
I also have a great deal of sympathy with what was said by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). I disagree with a lot of what he says, but I agree with what he says about the House of Commons. I do not see why we should work to a timetable which has existed for over 100 years. There is no law of the Medes and Persians which say that we must have a recess at Easter, another at Whitsuntide, and a Long Recess in the summer.
Every other organisation manages to give holidays during the summer without having all those concerned away at the same time. I see no reason why in this House, where there is a very good pairing system, the practice should not be accepted whereby in May and June everyone could have a holiday but the proceedings of the House would go on. Then there would not be the necessity for Sittings going on until say, 2 o'clock in the morning. If every industrial and commercial concern can organise its affairs in the way I have described, I do not see why the House of Commons should not do the same. It could work perfectly well to the benefit of the whole nation.
I object for other reasons to the House's rising for a fortnight. We have not had a debate in this Parliament on the appalling genocide in the Southern Sudan, where thousands are being killed and there are a quarter or a half million refugees. The House should be seized of this problem, but we have not debated it. We are disturbed about the action 842 of Americans in Indo-China. I do not know what the situation will be, but I am certain that if there should be an escalation of the war in that war-torn land, the House would not be doing its duty if it were in recess at that time.
Some of my hon. Friends have spoken about the situation in Ireland. With the parades which inevitably take place in that island at Whitsuntide, there will be a very tricky situation over the period and something might happen necessitating the Government's taking action. I hope that that will not happen. If we were doing our duty such a decision would have to be formalised by Parliament within 24 hours, so Parliament ought to be sitting at that time in case such a situation arose.
It is not as though Parliament has nothing to discuss if the matters I have described do not arise. There are plenty of others which need discussing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) said, the agricultural industry is in turmoil. The policy of the Government is by no means clear. The whole question is riddled with lack of decision and firm government.
All these matters should be debated. Parliament will be less than worthy of its responsibilities if, now, when there are so many crises, some of which are close at home, we go away for a fortnight's holiday.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills). The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland should come here before we adjourn to explain three points which are of vital interest.
The first is the important issue of the dramatic escalation in prices since the Price review. That is increasing week by week. Before the House adjourns the Minister should explain whether or not he intends to bring in a special Review to deal with this exceptional situation. Secondly, after he has discussed it with the Minister of Transport, he should explain the situation regarding drivers' hours with reference to livestock auction marts. This is causing extreme difficulty, and on occasion almost chaos.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is drifting into debating what he wants to debate if we do not have a holiday.
§ Mr. Monro
I was trying to explain how vitally important it is that the Minister should give the House an explanation. If he went to an auction mart, I think that he would come here next day and explain what he thinks should be done. I hope that he will deal with this matter before we adjourn.
Thirdly, the Minister and the Secretary of State should explain the situation which has arisen over the price of wool. In the Price Review, the Minister said that there would be no change, but in recent weeks the Wool Board has brought the price down 2d. or 3d. a lb. Farmers will begin the wool clip before we return in June and they ought to hear what the price should be. These matters are all of extreme urgency. I hope that before we adjourn we may have an answer on them.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I apologise for being absent from the Chamber for a few moments. I had to go to an Estimates Committee meeting. I wanted to hear the whole debate, but I was unable to do so. However, I heard my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and I wish to support their remarks.
I wish to raise one or two matters which I think ought to be debated. I appreciate that I cannot deal with them at length now, but I shall touch upon subjects which I consider ought to be debated before we go into recess.
One is the astounding situation in which a person has been prosecuted for an alleged offence under the Official Secrets Act while the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) not duly admits that he has sent prima facie evidence to the Attorney-General but requests a prosecution and has not been prosecuted. I should like us to have a debate on the whole subject of secrets and the Official Secrets Act, how it appears to be used against some hon. Members and not against others, particularly when the right hon. Gentleman, 844 as he has said, has given prima facie evidence which warrants his prosecution.
Another matter which should be debated is the growing practice of Ministers deliberately evading answering Questions and giving false information to the House. That ought to be dealt with, but we cannot deal with it if the House is in recess. Last Thursday, I put a Question to the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity. I asked her to announce the appointment of the Chairman of the Commission for Industry and Manpower. She said that she could not do so, but next day, in a Written Answer, the reply to my Question was given in part. It is dishonest for a Minister to say on a Thursday, that she cannot give the Answer and, on the following day, to give a Written Answer answering that Question in part. I do not mind Ministers being dishonest with me, but I do not like it when they are dishonest with the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not drift into the merits of the powerful debate he would have on this topic if we did not go away for the recess.
§ Mr. Lewis
There is a misapprehension, Sir. I am not suggesting there is any merit. There cannot be any merit in it. The right hon. Lady did not answer my Question fully, although she could have done.
We learned from Press reports that the chairman will receive£18,000 a year—an increase of 20 per cent. over his previous salary. This subject should be debated. The increase for nurses was held up, but before the chairman of the new commission even gets into the job he gets a 20 per cent. increase on a 20 per cent. increase granted a few years ago. We are also told that he is to tour the Eastern countries—Czechoslovakia and Hungary—before taking the job.
The Government can afford money for these high salaries, but not for laudable things such as strengthening tower blocks, which is urgently needed in Newham, for instance; we are told that the Government cannot afford to give more than 50 per cent. towards that.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is entering into the merits or the 845 demerits of what he wants to talk about if he gets his debate. He has not got it yet.
§ Mr. Lewis
In this case I merely touched upon the demerits. There are merits in the council in question having an increase in grant, but I did not seek to explain the merits. It appears that some people can get money from the Treasury without any trouble—without even being appointed to a job and without undertaking to work—whereas these people, who have laudable reasons for obtaining money from the Treasury, cannot get it.
Next, there is the question whether we do or do not look after the aged and the sick. Today, I tried to ask a supplementary question. Unfortunately, I was not called, but I make no complaint about that. I want to ask the Secretary of State—unless there is a debate on this subject, I shall not be able to do so—whether he can find out what it would cost the Treasury to give all the various increases in social welfare payments which the Opposition were talking about earlier today and which they have boasted about throughout the country. I want to know how this could be done without increasing taxation and without increasing Government expenditure.
We should debate this important question. The Government should be given the opportunity of paying these large increases to the sick, to the disabled, to those in urgent need, and to do it in such a way that there will be no increase in taxation or in public expenditure. The Minister without Portfolio should consider the question of these people having increases in their limited incomes.
Lastly—this is a point which is even more important—if the Motion is agreed to I believe that during the recess discussions may proceed about our joining the Common Market. If this is so, we shall not be able to put any questions or take any part in the discussions.
I want the Minister without Portfolio to be at those discussions, because he would be an asset there. I have read his interesting speech on this subject. It is one of the best speeches I have heard from the Government on this subject. I should have liked an opportunity to debate the 846 question why the Minister without Portfolio could not be released from his present job for the whole period of the Whitsun Recess so that he could take part in these discussions.
If this could be arranged, and if my right hon. Friend would assure me that he could go on this trip, I would suggest that the House should adjourn not merely for the proposed period, but for a longer one, because he is the man I would like to release from the job he is now doing so that he could get on with the job of negotiating in the E.E.C. on the basis that he and I know that most other people in the country would like to see.
For these three reasons I, too, oppose the Motion.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I am sure that the attitude of the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) towards me is friendly, but it is possibly ambivalent. I cannot make out whether he is a Robespierre or a Scarlet Pimpernel endeavouring to save me from the slow machinations of the Government's tumbrils.
A debate on Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is obviously overdue. I have written what I have to say on this subject in The Times. Perhaps I had better not add to it. There is a danger that what should be used as an Act of Parliament could be used as a means of Government convenience. In view of what the hon. Gentleman said about Ministers sometimes deceiving the House, this is a very serious point.
I had the pleasure of debating with the Foreign Secretary at the Oxford Union. I went down there bitterly opposed, as many people know, to the Foreign Secretary, but ended shoulder to shoulder with him on the issue of free speech. I posed one question to him at the end of my speech, which was just audible, suggesting that the time had come when we should have a report of relief operations in the East Central Nigerian State.
Whatever the rights or the wrongs, about£3 million of taxpayers' money has—quite rightly—been put to relief. I am sure that the whole House would like to know how the money has been spent and how effectively. At the conclusion of the speech I made at the Oxford 847 Union, I suggested to the Foreign Secretary that there should be a statement in the House and, also, that General Gowon should now agree that the international Press should have a chance of seeing what went on where so much of the British taxpayers' money has been spent and where, as we all know, such tragic circumstances occurred.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) has given a compelling reason why the House should not adjourn for such a long recess. I want to advance a more domestic reason.
Beginning this week and for the whole of this week farmers will boycott the markets. This is clearly a matter of some public interest. It is the farmers' purpose to highlight the plight agriculture is in. This was a matter of some acrimonious debate at Torquay by the meat traders, who said that if the farmers were to persist in this attitude the public would abandon the kind of meat they had been traditionally eating and resort instead to other kinds and would be permanently weaned off the kind of meat they are eating now.
It was not made clear at that conference what those speakers were getting a—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot debate what happened at the meat traders' conference in Torquay. The hon. Gentleman can do so, if he persuades the House to vote against the Motion and get time for such a debate. He must ask for time.
§ Mr. Body
My purpose is to explain why either next week, or, at the latest, the week after, we should be debating this matter, while it is fresh in the minds of the public. We should not wait until some time in June or thereafter. Indeed, as matters now stand, a grave state of affairs having been reached, the Government may be unwilling to give any more time during the summer for further debate about agriculture.
The campaign by the National Farmers' Union this week is a matter of concern not only to farmers and butchers, but to the public as a whole. Both the facts and the case which ought to be before the House this week or next can 848 be stated shortly. For 10 years, farm gate prices have been stagnant, whereas in that same period incomes for the rest of the community have risen by about 60 per cent.
Everyone knows that this week each housewife is having to pay a good deal more for her food than she did 10 years ago—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. On this Motion the hon. Gentleman is not permitted to debate the merits of what he would wish to discuss if the House were to meet sooner.
§ Mr. Body
What the House should debate next week or the week after, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is how agriculture is to survive in these conditions. No other industry would tolerate this situation, and none has ever been called upon to do so. This country alone of all industrial Powers allows a free market in surplus food—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must pay heed to what is said by the Chair. I have already ruled that one must not discuss the merits of the case in detail.
§ Mr. Body
My point can be concluded in this way. It is urgently necessary that political and parliamentary action be taken about the present situation in agriculture. It is an impossible burden upon farmers to have to face the present state of affairs for much longer, and it is right that in the next week or two, while the campaign is being conducted by the N.F.U., the House should turn its attention to it.
The other reason why I oppose an Adjournment for such a long period was touched on by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). Some of us may think that the Common Market issue is a bore. Indeed, for more and more people it is becoming boring, but this week—
§ Mr. Body
—officials from all the Ministries of Foreign Affairs are to gather in Brussels to plan future ideas for a political union within the E.E.C. We know also that, later this week, the 849 Foreign Ministers themselves will gather to consider not only that problem but their relationship to the Commonwealth and the common attitude which they should adopt towards the Commonwealth in the negotiations which are to take place.
It would be helpful to those taking part, and essential for our own interests, if the House were to debate those few subjects before the Foreign Ministers of the Six concluded their talks, as they will conclude them before the House reassembles.
For those two reasons, I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about the Recess and enable the House to reassemble after just one week instead of two.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
It is not unknown for attention to be drawn to matters of outstanding business when a Motion such as this is before the House, but one aspect of the matter has barely been touched on, if at all, in all the admirable speeches so far against the Motion and in the one admirable speech in favour of it.
We have today, perhaps, the biggest list of outstanding business and unanswered Questions which the House has ever managed to compile at a time when it was due to adjourn for a recess. There are more really serious Questions unanswered, to which there seems no prospect of answer, than on any similar occasion that I can remember.
§ Dr. Bennett
But there is one important element which is unique to this occasion, namely, that there seems to be every indication that, after the House adjourns at the end of this week, this Parliament will disappear and there will never be any answers, at least from the present incumbents, to any of these outstanding Questions. It is most improper for a Government just to evaporate and disappear without attempting to give answer on the problems which they have left to the country. In all decency, even those Ministers who may wish to answer Questions instead of evading them should be glad of an opportunity in the next 850 fortnight to give an account of their stewardship before dissolving themselves and Parliament as they seem likely to do.
I plead with right hon. and hon. Members opposite to take note of this point and use the next fortnight to give the account of themselves which they would, surely, find necessary if they were seeking to test the opinion of the nation about their term of office. The House should, therefore, continue to sit during the next fortnight, if at no other time, so that we may reach conclusions on these important matters.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
I apologise for missing a minute or two at the beginning of the debate, as did another hon. Member. No discourtesy was intended, and I hope that it will be understood that I was engaged upon other parliamentary business.
I oppose the Motion on the same grounds as were put by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and the right hon. Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan). It seems that I am turning into an ecumenical movement the campaign for proper debate on reports of Select Committees.
I shall refer to two Select Committees in particular, first, the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration). It has become manifest as a result of various events that it is essential that a way be found urgently, before we go into recess, for making clear to the public what the financial interests of hon. Members are. We on this bench have already done this by preparing a register of all the financial interests of Members, and we have asked members of other parties to do likewise.
I understand that some are willing to do so on a voluntary basis. Nevertheless, we should have an early opportunity, and before the House rises, if at all possible, to debate this important subject. It is a subject not wholly unconnected with the question of recesses, for the question has been raised of how Members spend their recesses, which countries they go to, who supports them on such visits, and so on. A debate on the matter before the House adjourns would, therefore, be valuable.
851 Second, there is the question of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. His very title is becoming something of a misnomer if his activities are never to be debated in the House. There was once a limited and, if I may say so, rather premature discussion of one of his reports, that to do with the Sachsenhausen case, two years ago, but apart from that there has been no parliamentary debate on the workings of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, although he has been at work for upwards of three years.
It has been made clear that the Commissioner's work suffers from a certain lack of publicity. It is clear from the nature of his reports that he himself feels that he cannot give full publicity to certain of the matters upon which he reports. A debate in the House would afford a solution to that problem because it would be a method of publicising the work which he does and the kind of maladministration which he has been able to discover, in addition to enlightening the public about what the Parliamentary Commissioner can or cannot do.
It would be a way of providing information about his activities. I am aware that we all work very hard and need a rest. Many of us would spend the recess on important constituency work. It is right to say that if we delayed the Recess to discuss certain matters of this kind such as the reports of the Select Committees on Members' Interests (Declaration), or on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, debates of this nature would not necessarily require the attendance of all hon. Members of the House. Such debates could be of great value, to those who participate and to the public, because they would receive information from them.
The debates would not interfere with important constituency work and for these reasons I join those who have suggested that the recess should be cut short, either at the beginning or the end, to enable these two important outstanding matters to be dealt with.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
I rise to underscore the remarks made a few moments ago by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South 852 (Captain Orr), who requested a statement before we rise for the Whitsun Recess. His argument was that there should he a further reiteration of the adequacy of security arrangements in Northern Ireland.
It will be within the memory of hon. Members that certain events have occurred north and south of the border recently which have tended to increase suspicion and fear. The easiest, simplest way of eradicating those twin diseases would be by a statement in the House, either before we rise, or, alternatively, to sit an extra day so that the statement could be made, making a clear reiteration of the adequacy of security arrangements in Northern Ireland—a statement backed not only by the Minister making it, but by the whole weight and strength of the British Government. This would be most helpful at this difficult time in Northern Ireland.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
Before the Whitsun Recess it is right that as a Member for North-East Essex I should raise the problems which my constituents are having to face because of the increase, not only in rail fares, but also in bus fares. I quite understand that the railways have to raise a considerable amount of capital because of the lack of maintenance, but if this has to be met by an increase in fares, over and above the heavy increase in the cost of living, it is something which concerns me very much, particularly with the summer season approaching.
Bus fares are also affected and the increase in these particularly affects the older retirement pensioners in the rural parts of my constituency. This, again, has occurred because the companies want to raise capital to buy better equipment. It is of great concern to me that the Government are not able to do more to help with capital rather than force people to raise it in this way which bears so hard on old-age pensioners.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Peter Shore)
By leave of the House, I will reply briefly to the points which have been raised in the debate.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) anticipated, I will attempt to put the proposed 853 Whitsun Recess in context and remind the House that there is nothing unusual about the length of time for which we are seeking to adjourn. The length of the proposed break is 16 clear days, including three weekends and a public holiday. I am informed that there have been four previous Whitsun Adjournments of this length since the war, 10 when the break was longer—17 or 18 days—and nine when there have been shorter periods. The Motion covers what can be described as a normal length of break at this time.
Much as I recognise the importance that hon. Members attach to the issues they have raised, I find some difficulty in accepting the view that the proposed break is too long. In considering the matters raised I begin with a comment on the issue which has excited most comment during the debate, and that is whether sufficient time has been allowed, or whether we should curtail our recess, to debate more of the reports of the various Select Committees which have been published during this and previous Sessions and for which so far we have not been able to find time.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has made clear on a number of occasions, the difficulty is that there are many important demands on the time available in the Chamber and that a judgment has to be made about priorities. It is true to say that the number of reports from Select Committees has considerably increased in recent years while there has not been and cannot be any corresponding increase in the time available to the House, if we are to have Recesses of a reasonable length. I noted what the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) said in his interesting suggestion that we should remain in permanent session. I felt that this might be an individual, even a maverick view, rather than one that commanded wide support.
I also noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) said, that in his judgment it was possible that Ministers occasionally needed sometime to refresh themselves. I have no doubt they do, but I can assure him that we need it no more than any other Government have needed it. He must not assume that when the House recesses Ministers also recess. That is not always so.
854 To return to the question of Select Committee reports, this is a problem to which neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can find any immediate solution. I would like to assure the House that the fact that a report is not debated does not mean that it has no effect. These reports have been of great interest and have been given close consideration by the Government and individual Members. As hon. Members who have helped in framing the reports would agree, they need the close consideration of the Government. All of us are grateful for the time and consideration which hon. Members give to these reports. The absence of a debate on a report by no means indicates that it has not been useful.
To turn briefly to the important question of Northern Ireland and the recent disturbances there—
§ Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point about Select Committees, will he not agree that there is a difference when a report criticises Ministers?
§ Mr. Shore
These are matters that have to be weighed up. It is difficult to give priority to particular reports. When that report came forward, I have no doubt that the question whether time could he made available was considered and that the then President of the Board of Trade was anxious for a debate to take place, but, obviously, it proved not possible at that time.
If I may return to Northern Ireland, I fully understand the worries and anxieties expressed by the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) and Down, South (Captain Orr), who asked for a statement by the Government. The Home Secretary recently had an opportunity to give a lengthy and considered reply to a Question and to answer supplementary questions on Northern Ireland, and he dealt specifically with the illegal movement of arms.
I believe that my right hon. Friend will also have an opportunity to answer questions later this week. I repeat the assurance which we have given on so many occasions, that it is our intention to do all that is possible to maintain peace end order in Northern Ireland, and that we believe that we have the capacity and the forces to maintain order there.
855 My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West expressed the view that the South African cricket tour should be debated and, if need be, that we should curb the proposed Recess in order to do so. I have considerable sympathy with them in their wish to debate this matter. I understand their concern and their great displeasure at the prospect of the visit by the South African cricket team. My feeling is that this, again, is a subject on which there have been many exchanges, both in this House and across the whole nation. If we were to have a further discussion on this, not much additional information would be forthcoming about peoples' positions and what the consequences are likely to be.
Most people have declared themselves in their attitudes towards the South African cricket tour. The Government have made clear that they take the view that the sports bodies in this country should decide for themselves which teams from overseas they invite to play matches here. That is not the end of the matter. A number of Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have made clear their own personal view that the Cricket Council is acting unwisely in pressing ahead with its invitation to the South African team, when obviously large bodies of opinion in this country oppose it and wish that the tour would not take place.
But we have not moved beyond the position of making clear our view, as have other bodies, and I certainly hope that the Cricket Council has not completely closed its mind to the weight and quality of opinion which has been expressed, and that it will still think again about the wisdom of the tour.
Several hon. Members, mainly from the other side of the House, spoke on agriculture. The hon. Members for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills), Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) spoke, rather extravagantly, I thought, about what they were pleased to call a crisis in the agricultural industry. My information does not suggest that it is sensible to talk of a crisis. We are talking of an important industry which certainly has had problems in the last year or two, some of which were brought 856 about by the bad weather of the previous year, but I do not think that, after the admirable Price Review which was presented earlier this year, the industry can fail to look ahead with substantially greater confidence about the coming year and the future than it could have felt for some time past.
§ Mr. Peter Mills
The right hon. Gentleman says that we are exaggerating, but I remind him that, for the first time in the history of agriculture, the farmers are virtually on strike for a week, and that about 200 or 300 farmers a month are going out of business. Is this exaggerating?
§ Mr. Shore>
I think that hon. Members will realise that this is a period in which there is rather more unrest in industry, including agriculture, than there has been in the past. This is not confined simply to industry. People nowadays tend to demonstrate and forcefully present their problems and complaints to their fellow citizens. We should not necessarily conclude that the volume of demonstration and complaint is in direct relationship with the magnitude of the problems which are experienced. There have been during the last few weeks substantial occasions for discussion of matters affecting the industry.
Even now the Agriculture Bill is going through the other place—
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) raised the point of the much more recent crisis concerning the new regulations about road transport and their effect on the carriage of livestock, which it was not possible to raise on the Agriculture Bill.
§ Mr. Shore
I cannot help the hon. Gentleman on that. The normal ways and processes are open to Members of Parliament to pursue these matters.
I would like a brief word on the remarks of my East London neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram). He said one 857 thing which did not please me. He was being a little ungenerous when he said about my right hon. Friend—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis rose—
§ Mr. Shore
I apologise to my hon. Friend for this slight confusion. I meant my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis).
I do not think that my hon. Friend is being fair to my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity. Notice is needed of these matters in order to be quite clear, but I think that he will probably find that my right hon. Friend was not able to give a firm reply at the time my hon. Friend put down his Question. This happens on many occasions. A Minister may be unable to give a definite reply at one moment, but will be able to do so a little later. I ask my hon. Friend to suspend judgment. If he presses his inquiries, I think that he will get an answer which will satisfy him.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
If my right hon. Friend is right, perhaps he can explain why, after my Question was down for the Thursday, the Department sponsored a Question on the same day. My Answer was in the negative and the Answer on the following day was in the affirmative. If the Minister did not know, the Minister could have asked me to sponsor the Question. That was a bit of sharp practice, in my opinion.
§ Mr. Shore
There may be a much more innocent and straightforward explanation than the one which my hon. Friend is attributing. I ask him only to suspend judgment until the facts are looked at.
As for his personal suggestion that I should play some part in the negotiations for membership of the Common Market, I appreciate his confidence in me, but 858 there is no connection between the Common Market negotiations and the question before us, whether we should adjourn for a fortnight or less. No timetable which I have seen suggests that negotiations are likely to begin until well after the period for which we are seeking to adjourn.
I fully appreciate the interest and concern of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) in the course of events in Eastern Nigeria since the end of hostilities. Further information on this can be elicited from the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, but, on the more general question of relief operations in Nigeria, these are the responsibility of the Federal Government and are not and cannot be a direct responsibility of Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
About£3 million of taxpayers' money was generously given to these operations. It is only proper that the taxpayers should be told how it is being spent.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis rose—
§ Mr. Shore
No, that is something which my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone must put to the Attorney-General and not to me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) asked about the important question of safety in aeroplanes. There is to be a meeting of the I.C.A.O. in mid-June and I understand that the Government will take a leading part. The meeting is primarily about the acts of violence against Israelis and Israeli aircraft, but it will also deal with this widespread and regrettable outbreak of hijacking which has affected many other airlines. Her Majesty's Government are putting in a paper which will propose an international convention to deal with acts of violence much like the convention now being discussed to deal with hijacking. I cannot add much more to 859 that, but I will, of course, draw my hon. Friend's interest in this matter to the attention of the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
My right hon. Friend will have seen the expressions of opinion in newspapers, since the most recent very regrettable incidents, which could have led to a great deal of loss of life, that the delay is not acceptable to many people in this country. Therefore, I press my point—that the House and the country should have a statement from a member of the Government before we adjourn on Friday.
§ Mr. Shore
I cannot agree that we are delaying this: we are moving ahead with all speed. The meeting of the I.C.A.O. is to be held in June, but this does not mean that measures cannot be and are not being taken at airport level to do all that is possible to preserve the safety of the aircraft and the security of those who use them.
On the B.O.A.C.-B.U.A. proposed merger and the possibility of mergers between B.U.A. and other airlines, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) would have liked an early statement on the outcome of present negotiations between the independent airlines and B.U.A., but I cannot tell him yet when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be able to make a statement. I must ask him to be patient.
I have tried, not to answer all the points that would be an enormous task—but at least to cover most of the matters which hon. Members have raised. In commending the Motion to the House, I would wish all hon. Members a well-deserved and enjoyable Whitsun break.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Waver-tree)
I apologise to the House for intervening at this very late stage in the debate, but I have only just heard about what the Post Office has done. It is in the recollection of the House that I had the honour to be the chairman of a committee to raise money for the Winston Churchill statue appeal. The Government have ordered a site in Parliament Square. I have only just heard that, of cheques from 14 sponsors, no fewer than four have been lost by the Post Office, which seems to me to be an unduly high percentage.
The cheques have had to be stopped. The appeal is going very well, but if this happened to that proportion of 14 sponsors, I wonder what is happening to the other people throughout the country who have given money to this appeal. There should be a debate on the inefficiency of the Post Office before we adjourn.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) knows full well that there is a way of dealing with this issue—by getting in contact with the Chairman of the Post Office Corporation and bringing this to his notice?
§ Mr. Shore
My hon. Friend, who has great experience in these matters, is absolutely right. I am always very reluctant to make instant judgments on instant pieces of information which we have had no time to assess critically. But I will see that this point is brought to the attention of those responsible.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House, at its rising on Friday 15th May, do adjourn to Monday 1st June.