HC Deb 20 December 1972 vol 848 cc1367-423

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 22nd January 1973.—[Mr. Prior.]

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I am not sure that we should agree to the motion. I am not sure that we can trust the Government, in view of their record, to run the country for four whole weeks with no Parliament to scrutinise its business day by day.

The Government have been in office for 21 years. They were elected on a fraudulent prospectus. In that 2½ years they have reduced the economy to a dangerous, parlous state. They have reduced millions of our fellow countrymen to poverty, and reduced industrial relations to an all-time low.

I have been re-reading that fraudulent prospectus. It is called of all things, "A Better Tomorrow". I want briefly to compare some of the promises with the record. Then hon. Members can decide whether they feel that the Government are to be trusted to govern for four weeks without a Parliament.

I shall make a number of quotations from "A Better Tomorrow", which was published in 1970. It said: There were more strikes in 1969 than ever before in our history. It is true that in 1969 6.8 million days were lost through industrial disputes. But up to October 33.3 million days had been lost through industrial disputes this year —four times as many—and most of those disputes were deliberately provoked by the Government.

The fraudulent prospectus said this about industrial relations: We will introduce a comprehensive Industrial Relations Bill … It will provide a proper framework of law within which improved industrial relations between management, men —that has a nice old-fashioned tang about it— and unions can develop. After two years, and after we have had the Industrial Relations Act, industrial relations are more soured, more embittered than ever. The law has been brought into disrepute, and we see a major trade union being hounded by the Industrial Relations Court. What the Court is doing may well be legal, but it is contrary to all the principles of justice which have previously obtained in this country.

Thirdly, the false prospectus said: Before the election, —the 1966 election— surplus and smiles. Afterwards, a headlong plung into deficit, devaluation and debt. Let us look at the balance of payments. In 1969 there was a surplus of £444 million. In 1970 there was a surplus of £681 million—and that was the year in which the Prime Minister said that the trend was downwards. He knew that he was not speaking the truth when he said that in the election campaign. In 1971 we had the biggest surplus in our history, £1,040 million. It is estimated that this year there will be a £100 million surplus, and next year a deficit of £300 million. In addition, we have had a devaluation of at least 10 per cent.

Here is another quotation: We will stop further nationalisation, and create a climate for free enterprise … That was followed by the Rolls-Royce affair. I am in favour of nationalisation. I am simply comparing what the Government said with what they have done.

Next, We will not go into Europe without the full-hearted consent of the British people. The Government have made no attempt whatever to get either the full-hearted or any other consent of the British people to go into Europe.

Again: We want an economy based on more jobs and lower costs. The number of jobs in the United Kingdom between 1970 and 1971 fell by one-third of a million. Let us look at unemployment. Even accepting "fiddled" figures, on 13th November the unemployment figures in the North-West Region were 4.4 per cent., in the North Region 5.9 per cent., in Wales 4.8 per cent. and in Scotland 5.9 per cent. These figures are a dismal commentary on the Government's regional policy. In the manifesto the Conservatives said: We will introduce effective regional development. That is the result.

Again, the manifesto said: We are not prepared to tolerate the human waste and suffering that accompany persistent unemployment, dereliction and decline. The number of people who have been unemployed for six months or more in 1970 was 168,000—too many. In the third quarter of 1972 there were 303,000. The Tory Government have achieved the highest unemployment figures since the 1930s.

Another quotation—one of the choicest: We will reverse the decline in building … make home ownership easier again … We are now told that the number of houses built in 1972 will be the lowest since 1963. There will be 34,500 fewer council houses completed this year than in 1971, and we shall be lucky if on 31st December this year we end up with 1,000 more private houses than were built last year. I have taken those figures from The Guardian of 5th December.

Then there is the scandal of house prices. I took the trouble to telephone six estate agents in Sutton and Cheam. I was told that it was imposible to buy a semi-detached house with three bedrooms in Sutton and Cheam for less than £15,000. That figure is double what it was 12 months ago. I asked what mortgage would be available to a young couple with an income of £3,000 and I was advised to ring up a building society, which I did. I was told by the building society that if they were very lucky they would get £9,000 and no more. A salary of £3,000 a year is more than is earned by most people, but that young couple would have had to find a deposit of £6,000 to enable them to buy a three-bedroom semi-detached house. What a disgrace! Does that make home ownership easier?

The manifesto said: We utterly reject the philosophy of compulsory wage control. We want instead to get production up. Here we are, 2½ years later in the middle of a deep statutory freeze, buttressed by the Prime Minister's extra-legal activities.

Before the 1970 election the Conservatives said: Britain now faces the worst inflation for 20 years. This is mainly the result of tax increases and devaluation. In implementing all our policies, the need to curb inflation will come first. What have we had under this Government? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House bears a large part of the blame for it because he is the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We have had the steepest rise in prices in any two years of our history. The index of all prices has gone up by 18.9 per cent.and food prices to October of this year have gone up by 22.5 per cent. Do we trust this Government to run the country for four weeks without Parliament?

I read in a local newspaper in Newcastle this weekend that the price of beef has reached an all time high. It has never been higher than it was in Newcastle this weekend, after 2½ years of Tory rule. Throughout the six years of the Labour Government the average rise in both indices was 5.1 per cent.—that is too high, but it is nothing compared with the increase under this Government. It is a phenomenal, almost Weimar-scale, inflation that has reduced old people and lower paid workers to poverty.

In the debate on the Queen's Speech I referred to a long queue of old-age pensioners in Tyneside who could never afford to go into the butcher's shop and were queueing to buy bones—after 2½ years of Tory rule. In the European league table only Spain has a worse record.

The price rises we have had so far will be as nothing compared with the price rises we shall get in 1973. There are three factors in this. There is the common agricultural policy, the 10 per cent. devaluation, at least, which has not yet shown up in our prices in the shops and the introduction of VAT on 1st April. What will be the total effect of these three factors on prices in 1973? The outlook is grim indeed.

On education, the Tories said: We will maintain the existing rights of local authorities to decide what is best for their areas. What has the Secretary of State for Education and Science done? In one scheme after another—including one in her own constituency—she has interfered and used—in some case abused—her powers under the 1944 Act to destroy secondary reorganisation schemes by approving the whole scheme except for the ending of selection in certain schools, thus destroying the scheme. The result is that, after 21.- years of Tory rule, tens of thousands of children throughout the country are still to be subjected to the gross injustice of the 11-plus, which is one of the greatest remaining social injustices in this country. That injustice has been perpetuated by the Government.

The whole thing is summed up in this quotation from "A Better Tomorrow": The aim of these policies is to create a new opportunity for a better tomorrow. A better tomorrow for all: … for the unemployed, for the children still in poverty … We have recently been given a figure of 2 million children in poverty: … for the old and the lonely. They are the ones who now queue for bones: A better tomorrow with greater freedom: freedom from Government interference… What about the Prime Minister's letter? How does it fit into that slot? … freedom of choice, freedom from fear of crime and violence. One dare hardly go out at night for fear of being mugged—after 2½ years of this Government with all their talk about law and order.

If we compare the promises which I have quoted from "A Better Tomorrow" with the record, there can be one of two explanations. Either the Conservative Party was thoroughly dishonest in making these promises or the Government are thoroughly incompetent in not implementing them. Their record in these two-and-a-half years has been a miserable record of utter incompetence and failure. So should we agree to the motion? On second thoughts, perhaps it would be as well to agree to it, so that my hon. and right hon. Friends can go back to their constituencies and explain to young people why they cannot buy a house, explain to school leavers why they cannot get a job for six or nine months, explain to the one-third of a million who have been out of work for six months or more why they have been out of work, explain to the trade unions why the Industrial Relation Act has reduced industrial relations to chaos, explain to the people of this country just what kind of Government we have got—thoroughly incompetent, and miserably ineffective.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

The speech of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) reflected some degree of partisanship. Nevertheless, I detected within it all the elements of a pillow fight because when it comes to dealing with the motion which is now before us we all know that it will pass unchallenged by the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman will show himself as lacklustre in his conduct of opposition in this respect as was the Labour campaign in the recent Sutton and Cheam by-election.

A motion of this character always gives Parliament an opportunity to turn briefly to the serious considerations of time which inevitably touch our proceedings —and perhaps more topically on this occasion, because during the Christmas period we shall move into membership of the Community. The recess covers that period and we shall return to the House only a matter of days before the first tranche of the transitional period towards full implementation of the Common agricultural policy. That will be on its way from 1st February.

The House must spend a few moments considering whether in the disposition of our time we are giving ourselves a sufficient period to carry out the proper scrutiny of the emerging laws derived from Brussels in a way in which we can maintain both a self-respecting role for Parliament and some kind of trust with our constituents who have sent us here because they think that it is in this House that the essential democratic process is put into effect in whatever context, continental or national.

I shall confine my brief remarks to the issue of animal health regulations, which has been given a topicality by the recent outbreak of swine vesicular disease. Nobody is more enthusiastic than I in paying tribute to the work of the Ministry officials in controlling the disease Therefore, in nothing I say shall I attempt to suggest that there are more grave implications than have already been suggested. Happily, all the indications at the moment are that the disease will be nothing like as rampant as we might have thought last week.

When the disease first broke out it was diagnosed, understandably but in the event wrongly, as foot-and-mouth disease. It so happened that at the very time when we were thinking about a recreation of the foot-and-mouth epidemic here our Minister of Agriculture was in Brussels agreeing to new arrangements which would have resulted ultimately in a substantial relaxation of our animal health regulations and of the controls which we seek to put into effect against foot-and-mouth disease. This is a subject, because of its topicality and also because it is a good illustration of the sort of dilemma that we face, to which the House will wish to return to again and again. Nobody should have any doubt about the seriousness of the animal health regulations or about their political implications and consequences.

When it was thought that the swine vesicular outbreak was still foot-and-mouth disease, the National Farmers' Union on 15th December issued a statement, part of which I quote: At the same time the Union reiterates in the strongest possible terms its total opposition to any form of vaccination, and reminds Her Majesty's Government of its assurances when accepting the recommendation of the Northumberland Committee of Inquiry that vaccination would only be considered as a last resort in the face of a major outbreak and then with due consultation with the Union. My anxiety is that that position, which is the present policy, could be eroded in time as a result of agreements which have recently been concluded in Brussels—agreements which have never been reported to or debated in this House. The interesting statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster this afternoon was comprehensive and I welcomed it, but it did not touch on this specific issue. I fully appreciate Ministers' difficulties. So vast is the law-making capability of Brussels that Front Bench spokesmen are faced with serious problems and limitations.

As a result of realising that new foot-and-mouth and animal health regulations were being elaborated in the Community —information of which I became aware merely through reading the Financial Times—I sought to inform myself as best as possible about what was happening. The Library was able to supply me with a copy of Agence Europe, the daily bulletin. It said that two new directives had been concluded, one concerning intra-Community trade in fresh meat, and the other relating to health problems connected with the importation of pigs, cattle and fresh meat from third countries. The bulletin contained: The main aim of this directive is to ensure that only such meat as is obtained from animals which have spent less than 21 days in the EEC before slaughter may circulate freely, and, even then, provided that no cases of foot-and-mouth or swine pest etc. have been recorded in the abattoirs concerned… Regarding the importation of livestock and meat from third countries, the procedure for the enforcement of the directive is more complicated… The directive will be applicable from 1st January 1976, except for cases in which the Member States are bound to third countries by certain bilateral agreements, when the time-limit can be extended for a year. I come to the important sentence: As for the new member countries, they will have to apply the directive as from 1st January 1978. What that bulletin was saying in its commentary on the animal health regulations, which touch matters such as foot-and-mouth disease, was that one has to recognise that, in comparison with the very strong laws which are enforced in the United Kingdom, Community texts represent a retreat and are less demanding.

Confronted with that evidence I went to the Vote Office and on a green form completed a request for this directive so that I could inform myself on a matter which is of intimate and direct concern to constituents. I received a letter from the Library which is worth quoting. It said: We have not yet received our copy of the Journal Officiel carrying the texts of the two directives, one on health controls in the intracommunity trade in fresh meat and the other on health problems connected with the importing of livestock and meat from third countries… I assume the delay is due to the recent strike of Commission staff. Following the evangelism of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his statement today, perhaps I should read the rest of the letter: Unfortunately the animal health section of the Ministry of Agriculture is unable to supply copies—their representative did not bring back texts from Brussels and they too await the Journal Officiel. These things can happen in the best-run houses, but the fact remains that at a time when we have renewed interest in the animal health regulations which are germane to the whole agricultural industry of this country—which has a matchless record in pedigree livestock exports—and when changes are in prospect, we as Members of Parliament cannot obtain the directives on which subsequent legislation may be presented to the House.

I am quite unashamed in taking this opportunity to say that before we politicians go to the four corners of the country telling industry and commerce that they had better shape themselves up and get themselves ready for the challenges which lie ahead in the Common Market, we should be looking at our own procedures and arrangements to inquire whether we as legislators and Members of Parliament have even begun to appreciate some of the implications and consequences of potential membership of the Community.

I feel that this has been an appropriate occasion on which to raise the matter, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will understand that I do so out of no sense of disagreement or dissatisfaction with what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has undertaken. However, I believe that the vigilance of this House is the very least that we can contribute in this situation.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes in raising with the Leader of the House a matter to which I drew attention in the course of business questions last week. It relates to the tax anomaly which injures our soldiers who have fought gallantly in Northern Ireland.

On 6th December the Welsh Guards returned from Germany where at least 17 of their number had purchased motor cars. Last week I asked the Leader of the House to ensure that a statement was made early this week to remove what I regarded as a grave and scandalous anomaly.

The practice hitherto has been that when a soldier or, for that matter, anyone else has purchased a motor car or any other article subject to purchase tax more than 12 months before and has remained outside this country for that time, that article has not been liable to tax when he has returned to this country.

Unhappily, in the last 12 months of the two-year period of the Welsh Guards in Germany their service was broken by a four-month period in Northern Ireland. These ordinary guardsmen had bought their motor cars in Germany and kept them there for more than 12 months. They were sent to Northern Ireland on an unaccompanied tour leaving their families and belongings behind in Germany. Because the 12 months was broken by a period of service in Northern Ireland, when they returned to this country with their motor cars they were obliged to pay in one case £103, in another £110 and sums of that kind. A shock of that kind must be a major tragedy for the finances of any serving soldier, and I want to know why there was this change of practice on 6th December.

In the meantime, I have tabled a number of Questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army. I am told that 23,000 soldiers from Germany have served in Northern Ireland in the past three and a quarter years. That means that any one of those who bought articles subject to purchase tax in the last 16 months of his service—well over the 12-month period—is at risk because obviously he will lose his tax concession if for any part of his last 12-months' total service he is obliged to serve in Northern Ireland. In the past three and a quarter years hundreds of soldiers who have come back from Germany have made purchases in the usual way.

We know how the families of our soldiers have to move from one end of the land to another at great expense, some of which is recouped, of course, but one of their "perks" is that if they are out of the country for more than 12 months they can stock up with articles free of purchase tax. If they are called upon to serve in Northern Ireland they are denied this privilege. As a constituent of mine has put it in a letter to me: Because they have been called upon to serve and to fight for the State to maintain law and order in Northern Ireland and because they have done it in the course of a 12-month period in Germany they have been obliged to pay the State for the privilege of serving the State. This is what it amounts to. I want to know from the Leader of the House why there have been no complaints before. Is it because no one has been charged before? Is it because there was a change of practice on 6th December? I have received the bland reply from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that these cars have to be owned and used abroad for a minimum period of 12 months. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman to intervene and to ensure that the four-month period of service in Northern Ireland should not be counted as an interruption in service abroad denying these soldiers their privileges.

In replies to the four questions that I have put down, I have been told what the position is. I want to know whether the door is closed. Are Service men to be denied this privilege, or will the Government make an early statement to the effect that they will look at the position again to ensure that our soldiers are not called upon to pay as they have been in the past few weeks?

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

I shall not detain the House very long, either. I intend in the main part of my speech to follow on much the same theme as that propounded by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen).

Perhaps before that I might comment on the speech of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short). It followed his letter in The Times on the same theme. I kept that letter, and last weekend I went through the Conservative election manifesto in order to see how much of what he said in the letter was right, how much was fair and how much was unfair. I must confess that on one or two matters he was probably right. However, that manifesto was for a whole Parliament. While one or two matters might look a bit "dicey" now, there is time for my right hon. and hon. Friends to pull up again so that when we go into the next General Election those rather dicey-looking undertakings will have been fulfilled.

Standing back from that, however, the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was very much the sort of speech which, when my party was in opposition, I used to make, a good deal less efficiently but much more aggressively, about his party and about its manifesto, which was a well-thumbed document in my library.

Comparing our two speeches, it is fair to conclude perhaps that parties are a little unwise to be over-specific in their election manifestos. They should cast them in rather more general, though not misleading, terms because, whichever party we are discussing, the fact is that if parties do not honour their pledges at election time, or if they positively dishonour them, the voters will say that the political parties are not to be trusted since they say one thing at election time and do the opposite when they are elected to office.

I am one of those who simplistically perhaps, attach great importance to the honouring of election pledges by the party which succeeds in an election. Therefore, I hope that one or two of the dicey undertakings will be implemented and that we shall go into the next election having honoured all the pledges that we made at the last one.

I return to the purpose of this debate, and I make the ritual noise that I think we should not adjourn before we are satisfied that machinery exists in the House of Commons so that this House can be serviced as from 1st January with all the Common Market papers. So far I am not satisfied that this machinery exists. I want an assurance that it will all be organised before we go away for the Christmas holidays.

Among all the papers that I receive from the Vote Office, when I find the pink form and remember to fill it in I get EEC regulations and directives. To-Today they are coming through dated September, June and August 1972. By no means are they up-to-date. Clearly, by the time that we get to 1st January all the regulations and directives must be available in the Vote Office, and we must be brought right up-to-date in the English language. It would be terrible if that were not to happen, because we would not know the laws which were applicable to this country under section 2 of the European Communities Bill.

From 1st January we shall want to see all the draft regulations made available in English in the Vote Office. I mean 1st January, not 22nd January when we come back. I shall be calling at the Vote Office, if not on 1st January, certainly on 2nd January, to collect all these documents, so that, by the time we get back on 22nd January, I shall be well briefed to raise many of these matters in Parliament and, I hope, occupy much parliamentary time over them.

Before the House rises I should like an assurance that Members of Parliament can be given or can obtain copies of the Official Journal from the Vote Office. I should also like an assurance that we shall he able to obtain copies of Agence Europe to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry referred. That is not the sort of Private Eye of the Community, but it is full of leaks. It knows what is going on and what is being talked about. It is a very useful document. There is copyright about it, but hon. Members ought to be able to indent in the Vote Office for a photo-copy of one issue for which the House of Commons has paid—it is quite expensive—so that we can keep up to date with thinking in the Community.

The next thing we must demand, if that is not too strong a word, is to be informed of proposals which the Community may have. I refer not to draft directives but to the proposals. My right hon. and learned Friend, now Secretary of State for the Environment, on Second Reading of the European Communities Bill said: publicity is given to all proposals of any significance so that those interested may know of them when they are still only proposals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th Feb. 1972; Vol. 831, c. 274.] I have not heard of any system whereby the House of Commons is to be informed immediately when a proposal is made. We want to make our views known in accordance with that assurance given by my right hon. Friend.

Those are just a few of the matters which must be absolutely 100 per cent. tee-ed up and tied up by 1st January. If not, there will be a grave breach of the undertakings which were given on Second Reading. In addition to the draft instruments, about which we had an assurance, and the Official Journal, we shall want many debates on these matters. We were told on Second Reading that we would be able to debate them.

I should like to make a helpful suggestion to my right hon. Friend. If he cannot guarantee that this assurance will be honoured, he can do one simple thing. He merely needs to send a courier to Rome to withdraw the ratification, which has been deposited, until such time as he is ready and then to go back and deposit the ratification again. That will then be our joining date. That is, if he is not ready. Parliament and the Government ought to have been ready. That solution has an advantage. The French are to told their elections in February or March. The French Prime Minister, M. Messmer, has clearly stated that if the Socialist-Communist Front gets back into power that will be the end of the Common Market. Therefore, I suggest we would be wise to withdraw our deposit of the ratification until after the French elections in case that should happen. It would be a pity to pop in for a couple of months and then have the thing break up. After all, the Communists and Socialists are leading the Gaullists in the opinion polls. If the Gaullists get back we can go ahead. But, if not, we would never have gone in and my right hon. Friend would have had the wonderful experience of preparing to produce all the papers for which I have been asking in the House of Commons.

Finally on this subject I should like to mention a matter of mechanics. On 7th December I asked my right hon. Friend if he will make arrangements for adequate staff to be available in the Vote Office so that those hon. Members who wish to place a standing order for all European Economic Community papers can receive such a service. It would be extremely useful to those who are determined to watch what is going on to be able to say, "we would like every paper emanating from the EEC to be sent to us."

My right hon. Friend replied: The facility of placing a standing order has been requested in the past for papers other than EEC documents and has been refused for reasons of economy. In view of the substantial additional cost involved. I cannot agree to a departure from the existing practice."—- [OFFICIAL REPORT. 7th December 1972; Vol 847, c. 520] Here is this great so-called adventure of going into Europe and the House of Commons cannot afford one clerk who could function as a producer of documents on a standing order to hon. Members. It is absurd when we bear in mind that £350,000 is being "blown" in about two weeks on the "Fanfare for Europe", including some curious expenditure of £25,000 paid in compensation for cancellation of concert halls for the "Fanfare for Europe" concerts. If £25,000 can be paid out for that kind of ridiculous action, surely we can afford to hire a man at £2,500 a year for 10 years, which would amount approxicately to what the "Fanfare for Europe" under Lord Goodman has paid to acquire the use of halls. It is a near scandal that we are not allowed to indent on the Vote Office for a regular supply of documents on a standing order basis.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will think again on this matter and, if necessary, go to Lord Goodman and say "Dear Lord Goodman, may we please have back £10,000 from that 'Fanfare' money to that we can employ one person to help Members of Parliament to get to grips with the Common Market with which this 'Fanfare' is concerned?" I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could answer the questions which I have posed.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)

I shall not detain the House very long. I am unhappy about the motion because it means that the House will be going into recess for four weeks, and, of course, we shall be on full pay. I am deeply concerned about those people, particularly on Merseyside, who will be spending the next four weeks as part of our unemployed. For that reason, I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) was right to spotlight unemployment and the effect that it is having on our people.

On Merseyside there are between 56,000 and 60,000 unemployed. At June 1970 we had 29,000 unemployed. That was much too high a level. But within two and a half years the position has deteriorated so much that we have twice the number of unemployed on Merseyside than when the Labour Government went out of office.

I want the House to think about the effect that unemployment will have not only on the workers involved but on their families, their children, their wives and relatives during this period of so-called festivities when they are on the dole. Of course, many of them have been unemployed for well over six months and others for over a year. A high percentage of workers are now long-term unemployed.

Those affected are skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Many young people who left school 18 months ago have not yet had jobs. Middle-aged people in the full vigour of life have no work. Elderly people who left work at 50 or 55 years of age now know that if this situation continues they have no prospect of ever working again. It is wrong for the House to rise for four weeks when that kind of situation exists not only in my part of the world but also in areas such as that represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central. The situation is disgraceful.

There has been—no one has denied it—a slight upturn in the economy, but in a discussion that I had recently with the Minister for Industry he admitted that the upturn had not affected Merseyside, that it was still the worst area in the whole of the North-West and that unemployment had continued to increase although there had been a slight improvement in other areas. It is, therefore, clear that the outlook for Chrismas and the new year is bleak indeed for the workers there.

During the last two years the ship-repairing and shipping industries have been bady affected, and we are concerned about what will happen when we enter the Community. Liverpool has one of the biggest sugar refineries in the country, and I have had correspondence with the Minister about the future of Tate and Lyle, because the workers there are worried about what will happen to them. We are told that the whole situation is being investigated and that there will be some sort of final report, but the workers are deeply perturbed because they realise that this old-established industry on Merseyside could be adversely affected by our entry into the EEC.

There is also the question of the designation of the central areas. I have probed the issue with Minister after Minister. Will Mersey be designated as part of the central area, and if it is, what aid are we likely to get?

The Lucas CAV workers have been sitting in at their factory for eight weeks. The reason is that 1,200 workers are to be thrown out of employment because the Lucas management has decided to close that factory. Some of the products now being made there are to be made in the South-East, while others are to be made in Spain—both areas which are geared to the Common Market.

Is Merseyside to become a backwater once we enter the Community? We are already suffering from a decline in our traditional industries through no fault of our own. It is not our fault that there has been a decline in the passenger shipping trade. Many people now travel to America and elsewhere by plane, and travel by sea is on a very much reduced scale.

A number of purpose-built factories in our area are lying empty. The Minister for Industry told us that he would use the Industry Act to the full. That being so, will the Government give a guarantee that if they cannot get employers to move into these purpose-built factories they will themselves introduce industry to them, not only to provide employment for the CAV workers but to help solve the general unemployment problem there? If the Government do not wish to do that, will they again approach Lucas with a view to getting the company to expand LIE a second factory which is part of the group in my constituency, by giving it financial aid?

We are told that Merseyside must improve its image. We are told that industrialists do not like to go there because the workers are always going on strike and demanding better conditions of work, and so on. The House may like to know that the management of one factory in my constituency—Read—which proposes to sack 100 workers after Christmas wrote to me saying that this had nothing to do with industrial relations, which are the best possible at the factory. This factory does not have a bad image; yet these workers are being thrown out of work.

The Government must face the problem. It is not just a question of the image of Merseyside. The fact is that over the last two years unemployment has increased because of the failure of the Government to provide the necessary resistance. We are now beginning to get assistance, but we need a lot more. There is still a terrible housing problem, yet on Merseyside there are thousands of unemployed building operatives—many of them highly skilled—roaming the streets looking for employment. People are crying out for houses, and the Government must provide financial aid to local councils on Merseyside to ensure that houses are built and the workers are put to work. The same is true of schools. We have old wooden schools which ought to be swept away and replaced by new schools, the building of which would provide employment.

We ought not to go away from this House for four weeks. There are vital issues to be dealt with, one of the most important being that of providing employment for our people. They do not face a nice, happy Christmas. They are worried about the future and about their prospects for employment. They want to know when they will be employed, and I want to know when the Government intend to do something positive for areas such as Merseyside in order to bring work there and to give my people the work which they so urgently need.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)

I am in favour of this motion as an act of mercy and charity towards the Opposition, who, I am sure, will be grateful for the opportunity of going away for a month and trying to sort themselves out before returning to this place.

I am moved to speak this afternoon because of the fairly tale told by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short). At the beginning of his speech the right hon. Gentleman announced that the Government had reduced thousands—or was it millions?—of his fellow citizens to poverty. One would have thought that anybody with integrity would have had the grace and decency to acknowledge the many respects in which the system of social security has been extended since 1970. There is, of course, always more to be done—there will always be more to be done—but surely it is right to acknowledge that it is only under this Government that cash aid has been given to the family supported by the low-wage earner as a result of the introduction of family income supplement.

It is surely right and just and fair to acknowledge that this Government have given widows' benefits to widows who were not entitled to benefits before. It is surely right and fair to acknowledge that many pensioners over the age of 80 who were not entitled to pensions under the Labour Government are entitled to pensions as a result of measures taken by this Government.

It is surely right and fair to acknowledge not only the marvellous work done by the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), who is present today, in the field of help for the disabled, but the fact that this Government implemented the constant attendance allowance. It is surely right to acknowledge that it was this Government which introduced the invalidity benefit. Last, it is surely right to acknowledge that the old-age pension today, although most of us would like it to be of much greater value, has much more value than it had under the Labour Government.

So let us at least acknowledge the facts and acknowledge that, although much remains to be done, this has been a humane, just Government, which set out to expand the social services and have had a fair measure of success.

The right hon. Gentleman then referred to the number of days lost through strikes since 1970. It may be very unjust to the Opposition, but the public have gained the impression that almost every strike since 1970 has had the enthusiastic support of many hon. Members opposite. The right hon. Gentleman, referring to the Industrial Relations Act, said that the AUEW was being hounded by the National Industrial Relations Court. How ridiculous can one get? The AUEW has only to observe the law and go before the court and there will be no hounding. It only has to act in a law-abiding, lawful fashion, like the rest of us, to have no more troubles in that direction.

One of the great scandals perpetrated by the Labour Party and the trade union movement over the last few months has been that, as a result of the attitudes adopted by hon. Members opposite and the trade union movement, many working people who are entitled to compensation for unjust dismissal under the Industrial Relations Act are being denied representation before the court by the unions whose duty it is to look after their interests in that and other directions.

I am proud of this Government's work in introducing the Act, the full worth of which is not yet evident—

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

Thank God.

Mr. Waddington

—but which at least—I hope that hon. Members opposite will remember this—has extended the rights of the individual in many most important respects.

Many people may think that Mr. Goad is a crank. Many people may find cranks difficult to live with, but at least this Government have passed a measure which allows cranks—and people who are not cranks, people who feel that their proper interests are not being looked after or are being abused by their trade unions—to go before a court and obtain redress which they never had before. That is something of which I am proud.

When he talked of the decision to enter the EEC, the right hon. Gentleman did not of course mention that the application which has now been successful was put in by the Labour Government, another of the real scandals of the last two-and-a-half years is that hon. Members opposite, who supported entry throughout the time of the Labour Government, ratted on their commitment as soon as they went into opposition, because they thought that they could get some cheap political advantage by so doing.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer), who unfortunately has left, talked about unemployment. Of course there are problems of severe unemployment, but I should have liked him to hear me say that the record that Merseyside has for bad industrial relations does not help it. There has been a great deal of discussion in North-East Lancashire recently about the decision by Courtaulds some years ago to open a new factory in Skelmersdale and about the announcement by Courtaulds not many months ago that, because of the appalling industrial relations in that factory, it had decided to cease operations there. It has now had second thoughts, but the point is no less good.

The point is that time and time again I and many other people in this House and outside have been told that no sooner did Courtaulds commence operations in Skelmersdale than the trouble makers in Merseyside moved out of Merseyside and into Skelmersdale—and things never went right from that day.

One has to acknowledge that, although we are still faced with a terrible unemployment problem, there is a lot that hon. Members opposite and many people on the ground in places like Merseyside could do to ease the problem if they had the wish to do so.

Furthermore, it is significant that in Nelson, for instance, although there are many people on the books of the employment exchange, when the post office was looking for temporary help during the Christmas rush it could not get a single person from the labour exchange to do that work. I should like to see a much more far-reaching inquiry into the way in which we compile our unemployment statistics, for instance. I have been told how an employer asked for a certain number of workmen to be available for work the following Monday and how, in spite of the number of people on the books of the employment exchange, he could not get one to do the job. Other employers have had five men start on the Monday, three have turned up on the Tuesday, and none has been left by the Friday.

It makes me wonder whether we are doing justice to ourselves in the way in which we compile these statistics. My guess it that, although many more people are unemployed than there should be, the genuine unemployed are very many fewer than would appear from a glance at the figures published each month.

Referring to education, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be very cross about the way in which the Secretary of State for Education and Science has conducted her duties. Looking at the figures, what is really a matter for surprise is how few schemes for reorganisation have been rejected by her. The vast majority of schemes put forward by local authorities have been approved. I should have thought that there was very little to complain of in that.

The right hon. Gentleman also fulminated about the price of houses. I should like my right hon. Friend to deal with this subject, if he has time. My understanding is that, in spite of the escalation in house prices, more young people are buying houses today than have ever bought houses in the past. In other words, although the price of houses has risen, the increase in earnings and prosperity among young people has more than compensated for that. More people are buying houses; more are getting loans from the building societies.

In short although not all the pledges made in our election manifesto have as yet been honoured, I am very proud of the progress that has been made on the many subjects which I have just mentioned; in particular, on industrial relations. Therefore, I support the motion, believing that good work has been done here and that we shall return refreshed in January to carry on with the task.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

I shall not try to follow the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) in his rather routine, party-political speech, though I agree with him that the full value of the Industrial Relations Act is not yet apparent to many of us.

I want to suggest that it would not be right for the House to adjourn for four weeks when, as several hon. Members have already said this afternoon, the legislative effect of many of the decisions now being taken in Brussels affecting our interests is far from clear.

I take as an example the extraordinary situation created by the statement this afternoon by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the subject of the allocation of lorry licences. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to answer the questions which the Chancellor of the Duchy was unable to answer earlier today.

The fact appears to be this. At the meeting of the Council of Ministers in the last two days, the French brought forward a scheme for the distribution of lorry licences between the members of the enlarged Community which, according to the Minister for Transport Industries, was grossly unfair to this country. I state the Minister's view rather than my view, but I do not dissent from it. However, apparently this proposal, regarded as unacceptable by us, was adopted by the Council of Ministers and took the form, we were told, of a directive.

What, surely, the House and the country should know when we are proposing to adjourn in this fashion is whether or not this directive becomes legally effective as from 1st January 1973. It is really no answer to this to say that someone is setting up a working party which is to consider whether that directive might or might not be amended at some later date. What we surely want to know, and what indeed the courts must know, is whether, without any further decision by the House, this directive becomes British law as from 1st January next.

It is a somewhat extraordinary situation that we have now reached. We have legislation in secret by the Council of Ministers without any report of what has happened or what was said. As has already been said today, we have no documents, so far as I know, regarding the exact terms of this directive, so it is also legislation which is unknown to us, except in a paraphrased summary by the Minister, and at present we do not even know whether this legislation becomes binding as from 1st January.

We were told that this was a directive, not a regulation. According to the European Communities Act, regulations are directly applicable. They become the law of this country without any further intervention by this House or by the British Parliament. Directives, on the other hand, so we have always understood, according to the Treaty of Rome, require a further legislation act, normally an order approved by the House, before they come into force. If this is, as the Chancellor of the Duchy says, not a regulation but a directive, presumably it cannot acquire the force of law in this country until the appropriate order has been laid before the House and approved. Will the Minister tell us whether that is correct? The House should know this before we adjourn. Will the Minister say whether, therefore, this decision on the allocation of licences would at any rate not have the force of law until the necessary order has been laid before the House, presumably after Christmas and approved? We should at least know that.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

I hope to follow the example of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) in his brevity if not in his arguments. I wish to touch on something which has not been properly discussed in the House, and we ought not to adjourn until this matter has been at least raised.

A threat hangs over this Parliament. I refer not to the threat about which the right hon. Gentleman has just waxed eloquent but to a different sort of threat. We shall all be glad to get through the quagmire outside for the last time for a month when we leave this building in two days' time. But if we spend a few moments during the next two days in the Committee Corridor, we shall see a model of a far bigger mess—the new parliamentary building. If that is built, not only will our Parliament Square be destroyed and the centre of the Commonwealth be changed beyond recognition in an ugly, undesirable and unharmonious way, but we shall also be wasting a great deal of time and taxpayers' money in the process.

I believe that many hon. Members are already having second thoughts about the car park extravaganza. But it is too late to do anything about that. It is being built at enormous cost and with enormous mess, although with great ingenuity on the part of those who are building it. But if we look at the new building which is threatened, we must see that this would be the most monstrous intrusion into this fair city. London has been almost destroyed in many parts over the last few years, but still Parliament Square is its crowning glory. It would be destroyed by building that enormous, ugly, gaunt, bronze façade, which is totally incongruous. It would, perhaps, be appropriate in Milton Keynes or some other new town or city, but not here. I am certain that no one could justify it on aesthetic grounds.

The cost is estimated to be £8 million at present, but by the time it is built I would bet that the cost will be double that figure. Can we, as Members of Parliament, pretend that our conditions are so had that we ought to spend the best part of £20 million on making them better? It is not necessary.

We recently had a very enlightened announcement from a very enlightened Government when they told us about New Scotland Yard. There can be very few hon. Members who did not cheer the announcement of the reprieve of that building. There is accommodation which could be adapted and adopted for the use of Members of Parliament. The facilities we have are totally inadequate, and we need individual rooms so that we can do our jobs properly and attend to our constituents' needs. But we do not need this new building. New Scotland Yard, adapted and adopted, would more than fill most of our needs.

And surely it is not absolutely necessary that the Treasury has to stay in the centre of London. Many of our other Departments are being spread out. The Department of the Environment is a little way away, in Marsham Street. The Department of Education and Science has recently moved from Curzon Street. No law says that the Treasury must remain in Whitehall, so if changes have to be effected let the Treasury be moved somewhere else—perhaps to Centre Point—and we could occupy the Treasury building if New Scotland Yard does not provide all the facilities we need.

In the four weeks that we have been graciously given, we ought to think about these alternatives and about how we can meet the needs of Members of Parliament and, at the same time, save the taxpayer a lot of money and save London and our fair Parliament Square from desecration.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

There was talk earlier in the debate of pillow-fighting and of ritual noises. Such charges are, of course, standard practice in debates of this kind. Synthetic anger and posturing were the stock-in-trade of many right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side when they occupied the benches on this side of the House. I hope it will be agreed by the hon. Members for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and for Banbury (Mr. Marten), among others on both sides of the House, that the point I am now about to raise is a deeply serious one.

I feel very strongly that the House should not, indeed must not, rise for the Christmas Recess before we have had a statement either from the Secretary of State for Social Services, or from the Prime Minister, clarifying the Government's fund of £3 million for severely congenitally handicapped children. There is still a disturbingly high number of unresolved questions about the fund. I hope that the Leader of the House will now be able to tell us that the Secretary of State for Social Services, or the Prime Minister, will be answering these questions before the recess.

We need to know how many children will benefit from the fund and who the children are. There is a duty upon the Government clearly to define the phrase "very severely congenitally handicapped children" for the purposes of the fund. We want to know whether the Government are still satisfied, in the light of all the representations which they have received since the debate on 29th November, that £3 million is adequate for the needs of the thalidomide and other very severely disabled children and their families.

The Secretary of State, or the Prime Minister, must also tell us what is the Government's response to the latest offer by Distillers (Biochemicals) Ltd. Right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side are very much involved in the future of this offer. There is, quite properly, widespread public interest in this matter. The public want to know how the Government will respond to the revised offer that has now been made by Distillers Ltd. The company is assuming tax concessions. I have argued in earlier debates that the Government are deeply involved in this matter on other counts. Thalidomide was prescribed under the National Health Service. The drug was also exempted from purchase tax because of its exceptional efficacy. Distillers Ltd. has said that the Government ought to help the company with a major financial contribution to increase the amount they are offering. We must be told how the Government respond.

There are thus many questions which urgently require answers before the House rises for the Christmas Recess. It is not enough to try to dispose of this matter in a written reply to an inspired Parliamentary Question. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor) put to the Secretary of State for Social Services a Question, which seemed to me to be inspired. The Question was answered on 15th December. The reply from the Secretary of State left undetermined many of the questions raised by the parents of very severely congenitally handicapped children. The hon. Member for Newbury is, of course, a very close friend of disabled people throughout the country. He is the secretary of the all-party disablement group, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) is the chairman.

I am sure the hon. Member for Newbury agrees that we must have answers to the questions I have raised before the Houses rises for the recess. I ask the Leader of the House to note very carefully that this is not a party point. I ask him also to recognise that there is no question of pillow-fighting or shadow boxing on this issue. We do not even know yet why the figure of £3 million was decided upon. Is it all that the Government thought was necessary? Is it all that the Government thought they could afford? Before we are asked to go away for four weeks, will the Government now reply to the questions which are being asked by the parents of heavily disabled children, as well as by many hon. Members on both sides of the House?

I appeal to the Leader of the House to address himself to these points. I ask him to give a definite assurance that there will be a verbal statement from the Secretary of State for Social Services, or from the Prime Minister, before the House rises for the Christmas Recess.

6.8 p.m.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)

I wish to make two points to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House explaining why I am unhappy about our adjourning for the recess. One reason is that my right hon. Friend has not visited Louth despite two invitations. If he manages to do this before Friday, I shall be only too happy to support him in the motion.

I am sure the whole House will join me—particularly as it has already been said that many of these points are not party political—in congratulating my right hon. Friend on his first Session as Leader of the House. It is not an easy job; no one is ever satisfied, but I am sure the whole House will agree that my right hon. Friend deserves praise for his efforts.

Will my right hon. Friend try to influence my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in seeing a deputation from the Humberside area? We have accepted Humberside, albeit reluctantly, but we are now disappointed to find that we have one regional council which is so large that it will be almost ungovernable in a truly local sense. I am sure the House will forgive my mentioning places. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House knows Lincolnshire well. Other hon. Members may not understand what I am saying but my right hon. Friend, knowing the area, will know the parts to which I am referring.

The new district to which I am referring, called district 2, will stretch all the way from the outskirts of Grimsby down to Boston, which is two parliamentary constituencies. I am asking my right hon. Friend to pass on to the Secretary of State for the Environment that that area is too big to be governed at a truly local level and that it would be better served by two councils with a firm division just above Alford and Horncastle. If this could be done it would make us feel that we in the Lincolnshire area are not always the ones who are treated as if we were out on a limb and that people do not care about us.

I ask my right hon. Friend to think of the second subject of which he has personal knowledge, the immense controversy in the Lincolnshire area concerning Anglia Television. We know that we are to lose Anglia Television to Yorkshire Television in 1975. The people in Lincolnshire look to the south, not to the north. They would like to receive Anglia Television rather than Yorkshire Television. All 25 hon. Members representing the area are at one on this issue and seek his support. My right hon. Friend will rightly say that this is not a matter for the Government and that this is not a decision he can take. I wish he would bring his considerable influence to bear on the Independent Television Authority, perhaps at a personal level although that may be impossible, or say that 25 hon. Members feel very strongly and would like a future choice between Yorkshire Television and Anglia Television or, if there has to be one choice, that it should be for Anglia.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has no authority, but it would be foolish to pretend that he does not have influence. As he does not live 150, 300 or 1,000 miles away from the area I am discussing, he will know the arguments on this subject. I wish to rally his support as well as that of all hon. Members representing the area.

If my right hon. Friend finds it possible to visit my constituency and the two areas concerned before Friday night, and also finds it possible by Friday night to establish Anglia Television permanently in our area, I shall not think that our time has been wasted. We shall then find even more pleasure in welcoming my right hon. Friend to our district.

6.3 p.m.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I associate myself with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) that we should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess until something has been done about the question of land and house prices. The House will want to know from the Lord President when he replies why the Government have refused to include in the statutory price freeze powers to control land and house prices.

A house is the biggest purchase that most people make. It is of particular significance in that it occurs when young people start out in life, when their funds are not extensive and when they are shattered by the news of gazumping or excessive price increases. The price squeeze is not being observed in any voluntary sense by agents or builders. Speculators have been cashing in in this area, which is exempt from the squeeze.

The Minister told us earlier how the average house mortgage had increased in size. The recent building societies' statistics show that for the first quarter of 1971 the average house mortgage was £3,823. For the third quarter of 1972 it was £5,698. Who is pushing up the prices?

I take one example from my area to illustrate why there is a need for urgent action. I hope that the Minister when replying will give assurances that action can be taken to set at rest the minds of hundreds of my constituents who have been made miserable by the activities of house builders. A number of constituents have written to me, to the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) and the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), who wished to be associated, although we do not belong to the same parties, with the matter I raise.

I refer to Messrs. J. S. Bloor Limited of Measham. This firm has recently raised house prices to young couples who paid deposits many months ago. The house prices were raised suddenly by almost as much as 40 per cent. in some cases. Reservation deposits were paid to secure these plots at Midway. The ambiguity of the name is reflected in the ambiguity of the behaviour of the builders concerned.

Since house and land prices are not included within the scope of the statutory price freeze there is no way in which my constituents and the thousands of people throughout the country in this predicament can seek redress. None of these people has received a contract although many pressed for one, until November 1972 when the talks between the Government, the TUC and the CBI were reaching their final stages. It was then, when the imminence of the price freeze was clear, that builders such as J. S. Bloor increased their house prices in some cases by over £1,500, an enormous sum for a young couple to raise. There were other tragic cases.

The people concerned inform me that they were abruptly told by the agents that the prices of their houses were being increased by between £1,380 and £1,830, by over 35 per cent. in some cases. The same is true of many other cases throughout the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) knows of one case in which 100 per cent. gazumping occurred.

Many people have written to me to the effect that they were informed by the land agents that they would secure their houses at the advertised prices. In the case of my constituent Mr. Budgen the advertised price was £3,950. He wrote: At the beginning I was told … I would get the house at its advertised price of £3,950. Then when I placed my deposit with them the agents hinted it could go up by £100 or £150. As late as 9th November 1972 my solicitor's paper work from J S. Bloor Limited still had the £3,950 first advertised price. Because of the imminence of the price squeeze the prices were drastically raised. These people were given six weeks to obey, to sign their contracts or otherwise to get out. That is a scandalous state of affairs. It is scandalous that builders behave in this way during the Government's price freeze, which I support. It is scandalous that this firm and many others throughout the country can behave in this way.

What happens when people write to the Government requesting action? One of my constituents wrote to the Department of the Environment. The reply, in part, reads: The value of a house at any point in time is what somebody is prepared to pay for it at that point. … This does not necessarily mean that in a seller's market the builder is making an excessive profit, as might appear at first sight. Since construction costs are not directly affected by demand an increase in the value of a house implies that the market is attributing a higher value to the land on which the house stands—and hence to the land to be used for future houses. If the builder does not charge the price that the market puts on its houses at the time he makes the sale, he is in danger of not being able to buy fresh land for his future house building. If builders are speculating in land, inflation will continue unchecked. If builders now believe that because there is no control over the constant escalation in house prices they have to allow for this factor and the constant expectation of rising prices, the spiral of inflation will continue unchecked. But it is just the same with the sale of a pound of tomatoes in a supermarket if there is no control, as with a house sold on the open market, where the commodity will fetch what the market will bear.

Unless the Government are prepared to take powers to deal with this matter it is unlikely that the present statutory prices and incomes freeze will work as long as there are these extraordinary exceptions which mean so much to many people in the course of their lives and affect the largest purchase they will ever make. Sellers and purchasers are caught in the grip of an inflationary expectation, so that the freeze will not work.

Another of my constituents, Mr. Franklin, has said that he has not yet been gazumped. He is waiting, while the price of a house on a plot nearby has been increased by £1,500. He can obtain no answer from the building firm about whether his plot will be gazumped. This is part of the spiral of expectations of future inflation and future price increases.

It should not be left to local authorities to apply retrospective sanctions on firms like this by refusing to sell further land to them or to give further contracts to them, as may be done in the case of J. S. Bloor. It is up to the Government to act by including land and individual house prices within the freeze if we are to have adequate action to protect working men and women.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I wish to refer to two matters which ought to be discussed before the House rises for the Christmas Recess. The first concerns the Shelton steelworks which may be closed by the expected Government announcement. If it is closed it will be a disaster for North Staffordshire and Newcastle-under-Lyme. If the steelworks is only partially closed there will be serious repercussions and the good will of many years will be dissipated. In addition it will be an economic disaster for the area.

North Staffordshire has the finest labour force in the country. There has been no substantial industrial trouble there for many years. It is a strike-free area and the men are highly skilled. If this steelworks is closed it will be economic madness and a social outrage. It is a profitable works and with the electric are furnaces which it is hoped to install it will be one of the best in the world. It has great natural assets which I hope will not be wasted by the Government.

There have been rumours that there may be natural wastage of the labour force in the steelworks and I hope that if this proves to be the case the jobs that are lost will be replaced as soon as possible in other industries. I hope that there will be massive retraining in Stoke as soon as possible to replace jobs which are lost.

I want to punch home this last-minute demand for the Government to face this serious situation in North Staffordshire because the men there, including the hon. Members representing Stoke-on-Trent and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) are very angry indeed. We are prepared to fight for full employment in the area. At this late hour I urge the Government to think again. I hope we will find time to debate this vital local issue before we rise for the recess.

The second matter I wish to raise concerns the new offer by the Distillers Company to the Government over the thalidomide children. The country is absolutely sick of the haggling in which this company has indulged. I hope we can debate this matter before the House rises. The company has asked the Government to agree to a new scheme which in reality is designed to enable the Government to get the company off the hook. What the company would be doing with the new offer is paying exactly the same amount of money—£5 million—as it was offering to pay before. That offer is related to the 1968 settlement which provided for only one-fifth of the children's actuarially estimated needs.

What these children need is £20 million in terms of today's cost of living to cover their lifelong requirements. I hope that the Government will emphatically reject the company's offer and demand that it should double its input, from £5 million to £10 million. Then and only then the Government should accept the scheme put forward by the company which will mean that the children will get £20 million. I ask the House to remember that for the company to double its offer will simply mean the loss of four weeks' profit, which is absolutely nothing in terms of great commercial profits.

I hope that if that is done the company will agree to reassess the settlements made by the families in 1968, because it is important that that matter should not be regarded as closed. I trust that we can find time to debate this because Alex McDonald, the chairman of the company, is being badly advised by little men with a Maginot Line mentality who are being outmanoeuvred by the parents and, oddly enough, the shareholders. Now, thanks to the House of Commons, they are being outgunned too.

These advisers are suggesting to the chairman that he can save a few thousand pounds here or the odd £1 millon there and that by this or that legal device the company can be saved a little money. These are the wrong tactics.

What we need above all is a magnanimous and imaginative gesture from the company—an offer of £10 million to stop this haggling. The company should not offer £6 million, £7 million, £8 million or £9 million, but should offer £10 million. This figure is not negotiable because we do not negotiate about gravely deformed children.

I ask the Government to call a meeting of hon. Members of both sides of the House, parents of the children and the Editor of the Sunday Times, Mr. Harold Evans, who had has done so much to help these children. Next I ask that the Government's financial advisers should help these children in arranging their financial affairs. If this is done I believe that we shall see the end of this terrible saga. The House will hear no more about it and neither will the country. The company will have acquitted itself of any charges of failing to face up to its moral responsibilities. This is the solution. The sum of £10 million from the company will end all the haggling and heartache and I am sure that the Government will respond as readily as possible. If this is done, I believe that the House will appreciate it warmly.

6.27 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I am sure the whole House will support my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) whom we all admire so much for the campaigns he has run and the way in which he has conducted them. I very much hope that he will have complete success in this case, as he has in the past. We have plenty of experience from our own constituencies of the anxieties being expressed over the real meaning of the offers made both as regards the thalidomide children and the somewhat wider Government scheme. This is a matter of deep concern to many constituents who are naturally anxious about their children.

I entirely support the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend about the industrial prospects in his own constituency. We must all seize this opportunity of making our problems clear and of insisting that before we rise for the recess these issues of deep concern to our constituents should be fully borne in mind.

I make no apology for raising an immediate problem affecting my area. On Tyneside, and particularly in my constituency of South Shields, we suffer from some of the heaviest unemployment in the country. Instead of prospects looking brighter I am afraid that the immediate prospects at any rate are grim. I have tried to extract some undertaking from Ministers about a whole series of events that are about to occur, so far without success. There is the case of one firm employing about 800 people which we are told is to be closed in March. Yet we have still had no assurance from the Government about the independent inquiry that should by now have been under way into the circumstances affecting the closure of the biscuit works which was taken over.

There is deep anxiety among thousands of men working in the Tyneside shipyards where no new orders have been placed in the last year. There is this deep and natural anxiety among my constituents and among many others on Tyneside about the future. Although the Minister gave an account of the prospects in the industry a few days ago he could not or would not say anything precise about the position of the yards on Tyneside. At the moment they employ large numbers of people. They are efficient yards which have vastly improved their productivity in the last couple of years and yet the result of that improved productivity appears at the moment to be that the men are working themselves out of jobs. We must have a clear understanding of the Government's position on the issue of employment.

There is deep concern about prospects of the heavy engineering industry which is the other main employer in the area, providing work for thousands of people. Again it is an efficient, vigorous industry which has been relied upon in the past. It is forward looking. It includes firms like Reyrolle Parsons which are household names not only in the North of England but throughout the world, yet they are imperilled at the moment because of Government policy on the ordering of major plant. There are threats of further redundancies in the works about which an assurance is desperately needed.

These are all matters of prime importance which should be dealt with before the House goes into recess. My constituents would not understand if we were to recess without these matters being discussed as urgently as possible. They want to see something of the better prospects that the Government have spoken about but of which we have seen no sign.

I also wish to refer to a matter for which the Leader of the House used to be responsible concerning the export of livestock and the Community regulations applying to livestock and beef products. I am concerned at the application of Common Market regulations to the export of meat and the way in which inspection is likely to be carried out in future under the Community regulations. I speak as one who is, on balance, a supporter of entry. But I have been deeply concerned about the way in which there has been no opportunity to discuss the details of the Common Market regulations.

In this area, about which the right hon. Gentleman will know a great deal, representations have been made to the effect that if we accept the Common Market regulations the system of inspection of meat by health inspectors, and in future possibly the inspection of poultry and other food, may be swept aside or, at least, seriously threatened. So far it has been impossible to secure effective discussion about the implications of these developments and there have been warnings that under the Common Market system veterinary officers might be required to carry out work which is now normally carried out by the health inspectors.

Although there are relatively few veterinary officers in this country who would be available for such work, it is said that that problem could be solved by encouraging large numbers of Common Market veterinary officers to come and work here. One can imagine only too well the reaction from those employed in this work in this country if such a proposal were implemented. I stress that the proposal might refer not only to meat and meat products but also to general food inspection as well. Some time ago the Minister and his Department emphasised, in answer to questions, how well satisfied they were with the work, the training and the qualifications of the public health inspectors in these matters. I ask the Minister therefore to take the opportunity to put people's minds at rest and assure us that there will be a full opportunity for discussion of the matter in the House before regulations of this kind, which might affect the work of so many people, are introduced.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

May I quietly, gently, without vituperation and perhaps briskly raise four subjects which I would ask the Leader of the House to discuss with the Prime Minister. They have two things in common in that they will not wait, and they are all complex. Three of them are on foreign affairs but the first is a matter of home affairs. It concerns aliment, which was the subject of my Ten Minutes Rule Bill.

I shall not abuse the time of the House by setting out the arguments for the Mechanics of Payment of Aliment Bill which was objected to on Friday by Government Whips, because this is neither the time nor the place to do so. But there is one particular issue which I should like the Leader of the House to raise with the Prime Minister preferably before the Prime Minister comes to answer Question No. 02 to him standing in my name on the Order Paper tomorrow which deals with this subject. Should not the Prime Minister give some reflection over the recess to the time-scale of the functioning of Royal Commissions in this country, and specifically should not the Government turn their attention to what has happened to the committee looking into the problem of the one-parent family under the chairmanship of Mr. Morris Finer, QC?

I do not cast aspersions on Mr. Finer. He is a very distinguished and able lawyer. But the fact remains that on 6th November 1969 he was asked to be the chairman of a committee set up to examine the urgent problem of the one-parent family. On that occasion it was specifically put to him by the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) whether or not he would have the time to carry out this task. I understand that assurances were given that he would have the time so to do. It is now three years and one month since that time and every hon. Member, in the meantime, has been presented with pathetic cases of aliment awarded by court order which does not find its way to the deserted woman for whom it is intended.

After constant nagging questions to the Department, the like of which I do not like putting down, the answer has been "Wait for Finer". The former Secretary of State for Social Services, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, writing in The Times today, draws attention to the subject and candidly admits that he perhaps made a mistake in handing the problem over to the Finer Committee rather than legislating himself.

I do not want to plug my Bill. However, many of its sponsors have taken a most serious long-term interest in social security affairs. Indeed it has the support of other hon. Members who for various reasons I did not see in time to enable them to act as sponsors—for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris). Among the sponsors are my right hon. Friend the Member for Sower-by (Mr. Houghton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle).

Why do I draw the matter to the attention of the Leader of the House? I do so because the Government—and I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Social Services, who has taken a deep interest in the matter and has discussed it with helpful Treasury Ministers and helpful Home Office Ministers—in their helpful approach to the matter decided in their wisdom to send me to see Mr. Morris Finer. I make no personal complaint about that, but the fact is that it was not possible to arrange a meeting because he is busy with the Trident inquiry.

This is a matter which concerns the higher echelons of the Government. There is an acknowledged urgent problem. Should it be passed over for three years to a man who is involved in one inquiry after another as a busy lawyer? No man can deal both with the Trident inquiry and one-parent families. It is unreasonable to expect him to do so.

It now appears—I am not breaking any confidence—that the report is nothing like in draft form. Had it been so, it would have been a cynical action to send me, palming me off, to see Mr. Finer. However, I am sure that the Secretary of State for Social Services was not cynical when he made that suggestion. It reveals, corroborated by other evidence, that the report is possibly 18 months to two years away. There must be added to that time the two years which we all know it takes to draft legislation and to go through the whole process. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe knows about the sheer difficulty of putting the matter into legislative form.

I ask the Leader of the House to discuss with the Prime Minister whether this urgent problem, which concerns us all, could not be dealt with after Christmas, through the vehicle of the Ten Minutes Rule Bill. It is a problem which in a sense stands partly on its own. I leave it at that.

The second issue about which I shall talk gently, as vice-chairman of my party's foreign affairs group, is Vietnam. I do not suggest to the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister should try to be a mediator. The fact is that at the time when Mr. Kosygin was here, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was negotiating with Chet Cooper and others, if there had been any chance of British mediation in the Vietnam war my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when he was Prime Minister, would have been successful. Personally, I never thought that the Americans meant business. I was one of those who wanted my right hon. Friend to succeed but who were sceptical as to whether he had an earthly chance of doing any good in Vietnam.

The British Government should not try to pass as the great mediator. The Labour Government did not succeed and it would be wrong to talk seriously on the subject and ask another Government to do so. However, the fact remains that Britain is co-Chairman with the Russians of the Geneva Convention. We have some responsibility.

I have been by no means a Vietnam extremist. I am as friendly with America and with Americans as any hon. Member. The truth is that we thought the war, until a week ago, was being scaled down. But now, alas, there is an entirely new situation! The resumption of bombing is as horrifying to us as it must be to many Americans.

What should the Leader of the House do about it? I should like him to give an undertaking that he will talk to the Prime Minister about the possibility of a private visit to Washington. I do not even expect any communiqué. In 1967 I had the good fortune to go to Washington and to have a long interview with Walt Rostow in his operations room under the White House. It revealed how isolated the men in power in Washington can become. With the great superstructure of power that is federal Washington, people in such positions become extremely isolated.

It is not up to me to defend the virtues of the Prime Minister. Indeed I ought to be critical. The fact remains, however, that the present British Prime Minister probably has a relationship with President Nixon, which was forged when Mr. Nixon was out of office and did not look like recovering. The Prime Minister can at least talk to him. I understand that they have a genuine affinity. It may be that the American President can let his hair down to the British Prime Minister and talk about the situation as a way that he might find difficult as President of the United States with many of his countrymen.

The belief of some of us is not so much that the American leaders are evil—although that is a sustainable argument—but that they depart from reality if they think they will bomb the North Vietnamese to the conference table, let alone into submission. How wrong and mad can they be. I had last year the good fortune to go to China. Let us be under no misapprehension that not only will the American relationship with the Chinese deteriorate but that any relationship that the Foreign Secretary and others want to build with the Chinese will also deteriorate. Although it is true that there have been improved relations between Peking and Washington, that was brought about on the assumption that the Vietnam war was running down. That assumption has been shattered. Britain, as co-Chairman of the Geneva Convention, has a responsibility to do something. I am not unaware of the difficulties of co-operating with the Russians on this matter, but there is no reason why a British Government should not take some kind of initiative, private though it may be. The Prime Minister must find some excuse to get himself to Washington.

My third subject, about which I think the Leader of the House should talk to the Prime Minister, is the endless nagging questions about the post-Apollo programme and co-operation with the Americans. Today the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping is in Europe talking to our European partners, the technology Ministers, on the possibilities of European participation in the post-Apollo programme. It may be that the talks could settle something, but I do not think they will. Furthermore it is incontrovertible that even if the Minister gets the European Space Agency, which is but a gleam in his eye, it is at least four years off. Time is not on our side. If British firms are to get any of the major design, engineering or feasibility contracts in the post-Apollo programme, decisions must be made at the latest in the spring of next year, 1973. It will be too late after March.

This may seem an esoteric subject to some but it is not to Hawker Siddeley, the British Aircraft Corporation and many contractors throughout the country. I therefore hope that after the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping returns tonight, at least in early January there will be discussions in the Cabinet, where they must take place, as to whether we are to go it alone on a national basis or whether we are to go after this empty notion of doing it on a European Space Agency basis. If we do this on a European basis, we will not do it at all. Therefore, this subject, is urgent.

Fourthly and finally, I come to the question where we have a direct responsibility. This is the question of nuclear tests in the Pacific. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to say at Question Time, as he has on several occasions now, that the policy of the Conservative Government is no different from that of the Labour Government. That may be true, although even that is disputable. We are three, four and five years on and much has happened in the climate of the world since my right hon. Friends rightly or wrongly took their decisions. There is a general difference in world view about the environment and pollution.

Not only that, but it is just not sufficient to say that this is not a problem about which we can do anything. When my right hon. Friends were conducting these negotiations with the French on tests, they were not within two or three weeks of joining the European Economic Community.

I do not pursue this argument too far other than to say that some of us voted on 28th October 1971 as we did partly at any rate because we believed, rightly or wrongly, that we would have some kind of political say in the general foreign policy that would be conducted by Western European States. It is shattering for a man like me who voted in that way to hear the British Prime Minister say on a subject on which civilised opinion throughout the world is more or less united, and remembering that we initiated the test ban agreement, that we have apparently no influence with the President of France.

Mr. Jay

I told my hon. Friends so.

Mr. Dalyell

My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) is perfectly entitled to cry "I told you so"; I must accept that. I am merely saying that some of us who voted as we did care about the Commonwealth. Many of the Prime Minister's supporters who are pro-EEC also care deeply about the Commonwealth. It is humiliating to find that Australia and New Zealand, against whose passionate wishes that French decision was taken, are now asking whether we cannot do anything about the French tests.

I hope that certain specific agreements can be reached when the Secretary of State for Defence goes on tour to the Far East in early January. I hope that he will return having had long discussions with the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the Pitcairn Islands. We should not forget the smaller States which are even more directly affected.

I hope that when on 30th January 1 ask the Prime Minister in Question No 1 whether he will make an official visit to Murorua Atoll he will be able to say that he has had discussions and has been able to influence the President of France.

Therefore, on these four subjects—aliment, Vietnam, post-Apollo and nuclear tests—I hope that we can have at least the assurance that there will be some discussions with the Prime Minister.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the Minister for his kindness, because I understand that there was an unwritten understanding that the right hon. Gentleman would rise to wind up at about 6.45 p.m.

The main question that I want to raise is that of the homeless, and in prosecuting this question I promise not to be partisan. There has, unfortunately, always been homelessness in the big cities, particularly in London. It is getting much worse.

The Minister should call for a transcript of last Monday morning's "Today" programme on Radio 4 and listen to the tragic case of a woman who comes with her husband from the East End every night to sleep on the Embankment because she cannot get a roof over her head. This woman explained to listeners that she wraps herself in papers and cardboard in a pitiful endeavour to fend off the cold. In the morning she goes to the toilet in Embankment Gardens. She does gardening odd jobs to earn enough to pay for a bath.

That woman is only one of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who have no homes to go to and who sleep out. Shelter has sent to every hon. Member the "Grief" report on homelessness. Hon. Members who have not already read it should do so during the recess. It is the greatest of tragedies that towards the end of the twentieth century young couples with children must sleep out in cars, on open spaces, on commons.

There are many homeless in my constituency. There is no room for them in halfway house accommodation or in local resettlement camps. Many of them have not got the money to pay economic rents.

I have taken up the case of a woman who was evicted 10 days ago. I got no promise of support from the Department of the Environment and the Home Department. I took the matter up with the Prime Minister, but he could not help.

Twenty-five thousand Ugandan Asians who were evicted and who were also homeless came here. They were temporarily rehoused, some of them in good officers' quarters. I understand that 10,000 have gone from the resettlement camps to other types of permanent or semi-permanent home. Rather than that they should have to sleep out on the Embankment, in motor cars, or in the open, our own homeless people should be given offers of accommodation in these camps, where there are now 10,000 vacancies. This would help to achieve assimilation between the two races as well as give these wretches a roof over their heads.

The Home Secretary tells me that it is intended to close these camps down. Why? They have served a useful purpose in housing Ugandan Asians. They should now be used to provide homes for our own homeless, not all of whom would want to accept. The lady whom I heard on the radio on Monday would much rather have a place like that than sleep out on the Embankment. Many of the homeless in my constituency would welcome the opportunity to go to some of these officers' quarters, if only on a temporary basis.

The Secretary of State for Social Services replied to Shelter in these terms on 13th December, inter alia: I would like to consider with him"— that is the Minister for Housing and Construction— your suggestion of an early meeting and if we think it would be useful I will ask my Private Secretary to get in touch with you. The Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing and Construction should meet these people and discuss the subject, if only to show that the Government really care and in an effort to see whether something can be done to rehouse these people at any rate early in the new year.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I should like to refer back to an exchange at business question time this afternoon, when the Leader of the House was asked by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) about the setting up of the Standing Committee to consider the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. I understand that the Committee is possibly due to be set up tomorrow. At any rate, it is expected to sit immediately after the recess. News in the Lobby tonight is that it is likely to consist of 30 Members, and not to include a Liberal representative. We regard that as an extremely serious matter, because we reprsent three of the 71 Scottish constituencies, and by any standard the Bill is a major piece of legislation affecting every party and every part of Scotland—certainly, the areas we represent.

There have been long and protracted discussions between the parties about the composition of the Committee. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock suggested this afternoon that it might be increased to 39, which would give my party as of right one representative. We should regard that as a perfectly acceptable solution.

Another possible solution, which has precedent, is that the number of 30 might be added to by one to allow a Liberal representative. That was done in this Parliament when the Committee considering the Immigration Bill was set up and we made representations to have a Liberal included. Our case was much weaker than it is now, but it was accepted, and a Committee of 31 was set up. Has that been considered as a possibility here?

The Committee as proposed will be without representation from any of the island areas to be set up under the Bill. It looks as though it will be without representation from the Border region, one of the seven regions of Scotland created in the Bill.

There is quite different consideration which does not concern the Liberal Party as such. I think that it is no secret that if we had a place on the Committee we would wish to appoint my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), for the very good reason that he was one of the three hon. Members who toiled away on the Royal Commission on local government reform for three whole years. He is the only one now available to serve in the passage of the legislation, because Mr. Tom Fraser is no longer a Member and we now know the other as "Mr. Deputy Speaker". Therefore, it is a House of Commons matter as well as a Liberal Party matter that the one hon. Member who served on the Royal Commission is apparently to be denied the opportunity to give the benefit of that experience to the Committee dealing with the Bill.

This is the only opportunity I have to raise the matter, on which we feel very strongly. We are not prepared to accept that my hon. Friend should be excluded from the Committee, and I do not think that the people of Scotland would accept it as fair that that should be the result of the deliberations between the parties.

Therefore, I invite the Leader of the House to say now how the Government will get out of the difficulty and how my hon. Friend can be added to the Committee, as I believe he can be with co-operation between the two major parties.

7.4 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving me one minute flat to say just two sentences. He will know that there has been an accumulation of disturbing evidence of corruption on a massive scale within the National Coal Board. I hope that he will use the month's recess to set up an independent public inquiry into the matter.

7.5 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

Seventeen hon. Members have taken part in the debate, which is quite a large number in the space of time for which we have been discussing the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess.

Three hon. Members, my hon. Friends the Members for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and Banbury (Mr. Marten) and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), raised various points about the Common Market and the papers available. My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry also mentioned the problems of the animal health regulations.

The directive approved recently on animal health was similar to the directives agreed in the Treaty of Accession, which was accepted by Parliament when it approved the legislation. The modifications we secured to protect our position paralleled those secured in the negotiations on accession. They provided for the directives not to take effect here until in some cases four years' time and in other cases five years' time. During that period the position will be fully reviewed in the Community with a view to arriving at common provisions which will be entirely acceptable to us. I think that there is a feeling on the Continent that our animal health regulations are better than theirs, and I hope very much that they will come into line with ours.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury raised a number of points. He wanted to have copies of Agence Europe available. He rather likened it to Private Eye. Agence Europe is just as available in the Library as Private Eye, except that it is probably not pinched from the Library quite so often. I suggest that that is the right place for it rather than in the Vote Office.

Arrangements have been made for the authentic English texts of binding Community legislation to be made available. Unfortunately the strike of Community staff in Brussels and Luxembourg is causing some delay, especially in respect of legislation enacted since 9th October, the date when the Commission and the Council assumed the responsibility for publishing in English in the Official Journal at the same time as in the existing Community languages. All the same most of the English texts should be published within a few days of our accession, and the remainder should become available shortly afterwards, I hope before the House returns from the recess. Therefore, if my hon. Friend cannot get them on 2nd January, as he wanted, he should be able to get at least some of them very soon after and the majority in good time for him to enjoy reading them during the holiday.

The Official Journal, the Community Bulletin and special volumes of secondary legislation will all be available to hon. Members under the green form procedure. We shall also need an adequate number of copies in the Vote Office. There will be other publications that hon. Members will need, such as copies of draft legislation. These will also be available under the same procedure. Government Departments are fully alerted to the importance of material being readily available to the House, and the Stationery Office and the Vote Office are working together on the mechanics. Therefore, we are making some progress.

The hon. Member for South Shields asked a question about meat inspection. I do not have a full answer but my recollection is that some of the regulations at present, such as those on New York dressed chickens, would not be suitable for us, and we shall seek to have them changed. The whole question of whether there should be veterinary inspection of meat as opposed to public health inspection is one that we have still to consider. I believe that we can reach a compromise, but I understand the anxiety and the fact that time will be needed for discussion of this and many other matters over the coming months.

Mr. Blenkinsop

May I take it, therefore, that no decision about the acceptance of the regulations will be taken before the House resumes, so that we can discuss the matter more fully?

Mr. Prior

I think we have had to accept some regulations under the Treaty of Accession, but we are now seeking to have some of those regulations changed. If I have either gone not far enough or gone too far in my reply I will get in touch with the hon. Gentleman, but I think that that is the position.

The right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), who gave me notice that he had to leave early, raised the question of the troops who on being posted to Ireland from Germany have had to pay purchase tax on their cars. He asked whether the door was closed. I give him and the House the assurance that the door is not closed and that, with my right hon. Friends, I will have another look at this matter. The right hon. Gentleman has made a strong case.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) and the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) raised housing matters. I was distressed to hear of the cases put forward by the hon. Member for Derby, North. It has never been possible to find a method of controlling house prices, which are subject to open auction, and house prices were excluded from the operation of the standstill. That does not prevent me from saying that builders should act with responsibility. I will convey in the strongest possible terms to my right hon. Friend the views of the hon. Gentleman and of many hon. Members on both sides of the House that some present practices are undesirable and that action should be taken wherever possible. I cannot go further than that, but I sympathise with the hon. Member over the cases he has presented to the House.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne referred to home ownership generally. We have to get this in proportion. Last year there was a record number of home loans, 114,000 more than in 1970. About 31 per cent. were loans to families earning not more than about £30 a week. In the first six months of this year, compared with the last six months of the previous Government, 31 per cent. more first-time purchasers, 30 per cent. more borrowers under the age of 25 and 40 per cent. more on or below the average industrial wage obtained mortgages. Despite all the problems we have had, that is not a bad record, and I strongly support what my hon. Friend said.

The right hon. Member for Battersea North (Mr. Jay) asked me a question which earlier this afternoon he had put to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The agreement reached by the Six on vehicle sizes was a regulation, and we shall seek to get that regulation changed as a result of the working party that has been set up.

Mr. Jay

Has not the right hon. Gentleman confused two things? I was not inquiring about vehicle sizes or about that regulation. I was inquiring about the allocation of licences for lorries to operate within the area. That is what the Chancellor of the Duchy spoke about today. He informed us—he may have been wrong—that this was a directive and not a regulation.

Mr. Prior

I am sorry if I mixed up the two things. I was on a different point. I am told that the licences are dealt with in a regulation.

Mr. Jay

Is the right hon. Gentleman correcting what his colleague said earlier this afternoon?

Mr. Prior

Without referring to HANSARD I cannot tell what my right hon. Friend said, but I have had the position checked and my notes state plainly that it is a regulation.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about people trotting out the same old political arguments. My goodness, when the right hon. Gentleman gets off his record on to another we shall all be much happier. He is always on a Common Market gramophone record.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) asked about the parliamentary building and said that we should not adjourn until we had discussed it. I cannot promise him a discussion between now and Christmas, but I recognise that hon. Gentlemen will want to discuss it. I hope that they will not judge the naw building by the unfortunate happenings over the car park. It would be a great mistake to get the two things mixed up emotionally.

My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) asked me whether I would visit Louth between now and Friday. I cannot do that but I shall be in his constituency on Boxing Day—and that is not bad going. I will see that his views on the problems of Humberside and the great variation in Humberside as a result of its enlargement are conveyed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Representing as I do an East Anglian constituency, I hope that the Chairman of the IBA will look again at the question of Anglia Television. There is absolulety unanimous support on both sides of the House by every hon. Member representing an East Anglian constituency. We are in fairly close touch with our constituents and if they want to have the choice of Anglia or Yorkshire television, as we know they do, they should not readily be denied that choice. The Chairman of the IBA knows my views on this but I shall, as a constituency Member, be writing to him again before long on this subject.

The hon. Members for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) and Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) raised with me the question of the £3 million fund set up by the Government and the problems of thalidomide. It was suggested that a great deal more information should be made available about who was to receive the money, how the grants were to be made and other matters. The hon. Gentleman will know from the answer to a parliamentary Question that the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust will administer the fund and that the help is intended for those parents who have not the resources to help themselves. Those eligible will be parents of children under 16 who are very seriously congenitally disabled, either physically or mentally, either before, during or immediately after birth, including thalidomide children, those suffering from spina bifida, spastics, the mentally handicapped, the totally deaf and the totally blind. Exceptionally, help may be given at the descretion of the trustees to parents with very severely handicapped young people over the age of 16.

The number of parents who will be eligible for help cannot be estimated in advance, since need for help will depend on the parents' circumstances and the services they are receiving from other sources. The trust will be guided by professional advice in the assessment of the severity of the handicapped. The number of children in the categories instanced is thus no guide to the number that the trust will help.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is it not scandalous that we do not know how many severely congenitally handicapped people, including thalidomide children and their families, will benefit from this fund? Surely policy-making is blind if the right hon. Gentleman is unable to say how many people will be included.

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, because we have both taken an interest in this distressing subject for many years, that there have been difficulties in obtaining accurate statistics. Therefore, in this context I do not think that he should use words like "scandalous". We are not so much concerned with the numbers involved but with those who will need help. This will take some time. The scheme is due to begin operating on 1st April and I do not think that many of the people who benefit will feel that a scheme announced only on 29th November and due to start on 1st April has been the subject of any delay.

Mr. Edward Short

I should like to press the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), who is on a very real issue in stressing that we do not know the number of children involved. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that in June 1970 the present Prime Minister said that if the Conservatives were elected they would carry out a proper inquiry? I have pressed the Secretary of State for Education and Science many times since that date to set up this inquiry and my request has always been refused. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to do so, I can send him a facsimile copy of the Prime Minister's letter. Will the right hon. Gentleman look at this matter again, because nobody seems to know the full size of the problem involving handicapped children and we shall not do so unless there is a major Plowden-type inquiry.

Mr. Prior

I shall look at any information sent to me by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short). Some years ago there was a sample inquiry which was designed to illustrate the size of the problem of disability generally. I am not certain how far that was extended. I am prepared to consult my right hon. Friend to see how much further we can carry the matter.

I turn to the subject of the Distillers Company and the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South. No formal approach has been made by the Government to the Distillers Company. If an approach is made, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to consider any question of a change in the tax law.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked me four questions. They were all matters which the hon. Gentleman asked me to convey to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the form of what he described as four Christmas messages. None of them is particularly easy to solve, but nevertheless I suppose they are messages for all of that.

The first point dealt with the work of the committee under Mr. Finer on the subject of one-parent families. I shall consult my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Social Services on the points raised by the hon. Gentleman about the work of that committee. I have noted the point about delay in any report from that committee and I will see that that message is conveyed.

On the questions of Vietnam, the post-Apollo programme and nuclear tests, the hon. Gentleman recognised the difficulties contained in all these matters for any British Government. Again, I can only promise to let my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister know about the exchanges which have taken place this afternoon.

The hon. Gentleman should not consider that he made a mistake by voting for EEC membership in the belief that, in time, Britain would have more authority and influence over its European partners. I am certain that that will happen. I am equally certain that if we stayed out there would be no earthly chance of our having any influence over anybody. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman need have no worries about the action he took on that occasion.

Mr. Dalyell

But is it not a little disheartening to find that on an issue on which the overwhelming opinion of the civilised world is against tests we do not have any influence, and is this not a humiliating experience for us?

Mr. Prior

I have no doubt that the French Government are well aware of the views expressed on this matter in this House and in other places. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knows of these views. The hon. Gentleman suggested that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence should consult the Governments in the Antipodes when he makes his tour at the end of January and the beginning of February. Again, I shall see that my noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence is made aware of those views.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) asked me to obtain a copy of the transcript of a broadcast which was made last Monday on the subject of homelessness. I shall certainly do so, and if my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Social Services and the Secretary of State for the Environment have not read the transcript, I shall draw it to their attention.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) raised the question—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of homelessness, may I remind him that I have raised with the Prime Minister and with the Department of the Environment a case involving a constituent, and nothing has been done about it? Could the right hon. Gentleman give me some hope on this case?

Mr. Prior

Most of these matters should be dealt with by local authorities. I recognise that there is a serious problem of homelessness, which we all deplore. A number of people are homeless because for one reason or another they prefer it that way, but there are a number who are homeless through no fault of their own. This is a blot on society which we should do everything in our power to put right.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles raised the problem of the Standing Committee on the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. The Government would have been willing to have seen the Committee's membership increased by one Member to 31 Members. This would have meant that the Committee compared very favourably with that which considered the Local Government Bill relating to England and Wales last Session. The extra place under the rules would have provided a place for a Liberal Member. Unfortunately this is not possible under the rules without the co-operation of the Opposition. If the Opposition are prepared to co-operate, we can have the extra Member; but if they are not prepared to co-operate, I am afraid that it will not be possible.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I am sure that the Liberal Party is not seeking any particular privilege on this point. A total of three Liberal Members in Scotland are being denied a place on the Committee and I regret it, but it should also be emphasised that 30 Labour Members are being denied a place. Every one of them would have been very concerned to take the extra place. The solution to this problem is easy. The Government have only to increase the size of the Committee from 30 to 39. That would provide more places for the Labour Party, it would provide a place for the Liberal Party and it would also give more places to the Conservatives. It is as simple as that.

Mr. Prior

It is not as simple as that. Last Session on the Local Government Bill for England and Wales there were 35 hon. Members serving on the Committee. I must emphasise that 30 Members on the Local Government (Scotland) Bill is a considerable number. This could be solved by agreeing one extra on the Committee and in the case of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, who is a member of the Wheatley Commission, I do not think that it would be carrying things too far. I am sorry if we cannot agree about this, and I suggest that we have one more try to reach agreement. For the time being, I am afraid that I have to say that 30 is the number.

Mr. David Steel

As I said earlier, either solution or, indeed, any other will be acceptable. But I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make one more effort at getting agreement. It would be outrageous if at the end of the day the Liberal Party were denied a place on the Committee because of some internal wrangle.

Mr. Ross

The Labour Party considers it outrageous when we have 44 Scottish Members, and when there are 25 Conservatives, three Liberals and one Scottish Nationalist, and we are limited to 14 Members. That is the difficulty. Until a few years ago every Scottish Member of Parliament was entitled to be on a Committee considering the Committee stage of a Scottish Bill or on the Scottish Grand Committee. That was altered only last Session, and I am afraid that I do not recollect any Liberal Member being with us. We objected to the reduction in the size of the Scottish Committee. The Government must bear the responsibility. The solution is theirs, without creating any privileges, to increase the number by nine to 39.

Mr. Prior

I do not think that that would be a reasonable outcome. One cannot have every Scottish Member on a Standing Committee. If that were so it could be argued that every hon. Member from an English or Welsh constituency should have been on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill for England and Wales. We had better try to see whether we can reach agreement. One extra Member would not make that much difference to the representation on the Committee and, in view of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles having served on the Wheatley Commis- sion, I think in this case it would be fair. But I am not pressing this point. We cannot do it without co-operation. If we cannot have co-operation, I am afraid that we shall be unable to agree.

The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) got his point on the record, and I have no doubt that it will be noted.

I turn finally to the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, who opened the debate in a highly political manner. No doubt he was trying to show the unfortunate Labour candidate at Sutton and Cheam just what we should have said and to prove to his colleagues in the Tribune group that he knew what he was talking about. But having said that, if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side use the Christmas Recess to consult their constituents I am certain they will find that they have many questions to answer, not least why the Labour Party has stood on its head on every policy issue that it pursued in government—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Lame ducks?

Mr. Prior

—and why the country is refusing to support a party which is concerned with rather fractious opposition.

Mr. Lewis

No unemployment?

Mr. Prior

I conclude my remarks by wishing the House and all the families of people in the House a very happy Christmas. I couple with them all those members of the staff who serve us so well.

Mr. Edward Short

May I add one word, with the leave of the House? I do not intend to make another speech. I think that this is a rotten Government, but that does not deter me from associating myself with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in wishing all Members of the House and their families and the servants of the House who serve us so well a very happy Christmas and all good things for 1973.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 22nd January 1973.