§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.I know that I speak for every right hon. and hon. Member when I express the hope that the visits which Her Majesty and His Royal Highness are to make to Canada and Australia will be happy and fruitful. Perhaps I may also be allowed to express the hope that those royal visits will be so devised as to allow proper opportunities for leisure and relaxation.
My constituency has been greatly honoured by many highly agreeable royal visits over the years, but there was one which was not so agreeable. Colchester had a visit from Queen Boadicea, the first of the royal equestrians. She took the town by storm, razed it to the ground, wrought great havoc, and gave no compensation for the destruction or for her compulsory acquisitions. I am glad that the Gracious Speech deals with these matters. Her visit was in stark contrast to that made recently by Princess Anne. She, too, took us by storm, but in an entirely agreeable way. She made a great impression on the young of Colchester when she opened our Youth House, spending as she did a great deal of time talking to the members, with us more aged citizens being very much in the background.
Now the House confers great honour on my constituency by permitting me to move the loyal address, and I am deeply grateful. The Colchester constituency can in many ways be regarded as a microcosm of the country as a whole, because it draws its strength and its vigour from many of the main streams of our national heritage. Colchester itself is surrounded by fine agricultural land, where efficient farming and horticulture are carried out in settings of great beauty. There is the unique English charm of 9 Dedham, Boxted, Langham and Horkesley, which charm has been perpetuated with such brilliance by John Constable. Then there is the wildness of the saltings in the south, where our superb oysters come from, oysters that were a magnet to the Romans in past times and that have been coveted by discerning gourmets ever since. I am happy to say that included among their number are my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Either of them can down a dozen at a stroke, but I am bound to say that the effect on the pound in their pocket would be considerable if they were so to do.
The House, however, would be wrong if it were to think that my constituency is all oysters and roses. At the centre is Colchester itself, a vigorous town where the Roman walls, the Norman castle and the Georgian houses remind us of the past, but where our factories provide the lifeblood to sustain us today. From Colchester salesmen go out to all parts of the world to sell our diesel engines, our lathes and fans, our sensitised paper and a host of other commodities. They go out not fearing competition so long as it be fair, and it is up to us to see that it is fair.
Our industries help us to sustain a life in Colchester which is rich and varied. Not many towns have a fine new theatre like our Mercury Theatre, a technical college where music and art are studied together with an enormous range of practical subjects, and a football club capable of beating mighty Leeds United. We have, too, our university. I have had my difficulties here, but I believe that now that its disciplinary procedures are more satisfactory the excellent work which has always been done by the majority will be able to be more readily recognised. Essex University, like every other university, must be a place where all shades of opinion can be expressed without fear of intimidation. Let us have no no-go areas in our universities.
The Colchester constituency has its particular problems. For example, we are determined to see that the new airport, I think rightly sited at Maplin, is so organised as not to cause major inconvenience to those who live in North-East Essex.
10 In common with the rest of the land, we have two shadows lying deeply over us. The first is that of inflation. I pray that the Government's efforts to stem its evil spiral will be successful. The country will not readily forgive any person or body of persons who adopt an intransigent attitude. The second shadow is that of violence. Violence begets cruelty, and that cruelty in turn begets more violence. The horror of violent crime is with us increasingly, and I am glad that the Gracious Speech makes specific reference to the pursuance of policies for the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders.
I am glad also that we are not to legislate at once on the important recommendations made in the Criminal Law Revision Committee's Report. I agree with most of those recommendations, but it would have been wrong for the Government to burst into legislation before Parliament had had a full opportunity of considering all that is there set out. We are dealing here with the fundamental rights of our people, and we must not act hastily.
However, the shadow of violence which lies more deeply over Colchester than over some other parts of the United Kingdom is that which is created by the tragic Northern Ireland situation. Mine is a garrison constituency, and many of those serving in Northern Ireland have Colchester as their more permanent place of posting. I paid my fifth visit to the Province during the recess. To experience personally stoning by children not even in their teens is salutary. In paying now, as I do, a tribute to the troops, I would like to include in that tribute their families. They are desperately worried and concerned, but are most especially exercised to see that their worries do not increase the burdens sustained by their men-folk. Today I leave it there, save to say that I believe we are entitled to look to those who count themselves our friends, in the North and in the South, to help us try to put an end to this awful situation.
Over ten years ago, following the by-election in Colchester, I was introduced into the House by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). He gave me certain advice about the ceremony involved in taking one's seat. He said "Tony, get your bows right. Bow like a soldier, not 11 like a lawyer: bow from the head and not from the body." I though that this showed a certain mild prejudice against lawyers, but I am bound to say that over the years in the House I have always received extreme kindess from the House for which I am very grateful; but I have never been more grateful than I am today for the exceedingly kind way in which the House has received what I have had to say.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I beg to second the Motion so wittily and agreeably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck). In doing so, I am sensible of the honour paid to me and, through me, to my constituency of Aberdeen. It is an honour which I and my constituents appreciate the more since it was one granted to the previous Conservative Member, my noble Friend Lady Tweedsmuir, who served Aberdeen so dedicatedly and with such distinction for 20 years. I know that she, like me, will very much welcome that part of the Gracious Speech which reaffirms the intention of the Government to preserve and protect the right of British fishermen to fish on the high seas off Iceland.
In seconding the Motion, there is customarily something of a revival of the traditional elements of a maiden speech. For my part I welcome the indulgence which—I hope—the House will give to me, and no doubt the House for its part will appreciate my speech the more I adhere to the tradition of brevity. You, Mr. Speaker, may feel that this latter tradition is one that could be extended far beyond the limits of this occasion —that is, if I have interpreted aright those occasions, not infrequent, when your fingers have begun to drum with increasing rapidity on the arm of your chair.
However, there is of course another traditional element in such a speech as I am called upon to make today, and that is that I should dwell to some extent upon the past virtues and present delights of my constituency. There are few things which could be more easy or more agreeable for me than to do this for the handsome city of Aberdeen; to elaborate on the long roll call of its famous men, its ancient university, its traditional fishing industry, the lovely countryside 12 that surrounds it and the quality of hard work and thrift for which the men and women of Aberdeen are renowned.
All these things I truly cherish. But I hope that I shall not be in breach of the non-controversial requirements of this speech when I say that I sometimes think that this tradition can be overdone. It is easy to elaborate too much, to dilate too long, on the historic or geographic minutiae of one's own constituency in a manner which places an unfair strain on the intellectual interest and curiosity of hon. Members about constituencies other than their own. Therefore, I should like today to direct the attention of the House not to Aberdeen's past but to its future, a future which I believe will surpass in importance anything which the past has known.
The reason for this is the discovery of North Sea oil, with Aberdeen as its major centre of exploitation. That discovery is the greatest piece of pure good luck which the country has had for generations. Its final extent—vast as that extent already is—is not yet known. Its true importance, which will not be confined to Aberdeen or Scotland or even to this United Kingdom, cannot yet be fully appreciated.
There are voices that would play down its importance, for reasons which range from understandable commercial tactics to other reasons deep embedded in Scotland's industrial history. But I predict to the House that the discovery of North Sea oil will prove a turning point of the greatest significance in the history of our economy. In particular it must give hope to the people of Scotland that the curse of unemployment which for so long has hung over us will be lifted; that the sad historic trends of emigration may now be reversed; that life and vigour will return to long-depopulated areas; and that Scotland will know a greater prosperity more greatly spread.
But we cannot expect that the benefits of the new prosperity will fail to bring their corresponding problems. The Queen's Speech mentions further action to protect the environment. In Aberdeen we have already seen, at least in part as the result of the advance of oil interests, the virtual destruction of what was once a picturesque fishing village that looked back to the traditions of simpler times. 13 More and more, development decisions will have to be taken where conflicting values of the aesthetic and the commercial cannot be precisely quantified; where long-established ways of life will be threatened with disruption; and where places of great natural beauty—and in the Highlands of Scotland we have places of great natural beauty—and in the Highlands of Scotland we have places of natural beauty unsurpassed—will be threatened with desecration, all in the cause of material progress. But perhaps at least to recognise that such difficulties and genuine divisions of opinion exist is to go some way to their right solution, and perhaps at least we can establish the principle that the man with the most money does not always, necessarily, win.
I would mention one last subject in the Queen's Speech, and that is the conference on security and co-operation in Europe. I shall say no more than that I hope this conference will find the ways to increase the true friendship and the widest co-operation between all European nations, of East and West, whatever the natures of their present Governments, in the belief that the nations of the East are as inescapably European, by virtue of long and common history, as are the nations of the Common Market, and that their futures cannot ultimately be separated from our own.
Those of us who sit here today sit in an historic Session of Parliament. Even those, on both sides of the House, who oppose our joining the European Economic Community will scarcely cavil at the use of such an epithet to describe this Session in which we shall join. I would affirm my belief that just as the discovery of oil in the North Sea has opened new prospects for my constituency in Aberdeen, so, in a manner infinitely more complex, does a Europe working ever more closely together, open new prospects of prosperity and influence for our country.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
It is my privilege to be the first to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Address. When I say that, it is not an idle or a formal compliment. I recognise that that is a phrase that I have used before, as the Prime Minister has, from the Front Bench opposite and from this 14 Bench. There may come a time, in whatever capacity, when he or I may find it inappropriate to use it, but the fact is that over the past few years the opening speeches in the debate on the Address have been of a uniformly high quality.
It is unlikely that we shall often hear a speech so elliptic and contumacious as that of the former Member for Uxbridge, the late Mr. Charles Curran, whose death is a loss to us all, irrespective of party. However, both hon. Members who have spoken today may find encouragement in calculating over the years the statistical probability that a good speech on this occasion is followed by reasonably speedy entry into the ranks of Government. That happened last year following a good speech by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott). On today's showing, speedy promotions of both hon. Members combined with corresponding and appropriate demotions can lead only to a strengthening of the Treasury Bench.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) addressed a House which is aware of the high level of representation, regardless of party, that we know his ancient borough has provided. Lord Delacourt-Smith, whose tragic death Members of all parties in both Houses have mourned, and Lord Alport set a high level of precedent for the hon. Gentleman.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to oysters, and he paid tribute to the Prime Minister and myself on successive visits to the Colchester Oyster Feast. But even before the hon. Gentleman was Member for Colchester—this would have deserved a much greater tribute—I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) at that same feast downing not one dozen but four dozen oysters at a sitting.
If the hon. Gentleman wanted any compliment from me, he might perhaps have not referred to football. There is not only the case of Leeds United. I remember than when Colchester were not even in the League just after the war they heat a very distinguished team from the North.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) also follows distinguished predecessors in this House. He was right to refer to the future of Aberdeen and to the hopes for the future. He concentrated 15 on the future much more than on the past in relation to the discovery of North Sea gas and oil. We all hope that these will be developed in the wider interests of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland and the nation as a whole.
The hon. Gentleman also referred inevitably and rightly to the fishing industry and to the situation facing the fishermen of England, Scotland and Wales in Icelandic waters. On this question, apart from the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) from this Bench a few days ago, this continuing act of piracy on the high seas seems to have been smothered in a cocoon of diplomatic protocol. I ask what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government side, to say nothing of the predominantly Conservative Press, would have said if a Labour Government had reacted to such provocation and continuing danger of loss of life without firm action by that Government. Even the presence of the Royal Navy there seems to have been inordinately delayed and, once there, presumably under Ministerial orders, it has been confined to a passive and governessy rôle.
Before I come to the issue which will dominate this and perhaps all the debates of this Session, as it does our national life—the state of the nation and the state of the economy—I shall deal briefly with the Gracious Speech. I think that that is all I need to do. For once, there is no need to dwell on it at any length.
In language so often used on these occasions it is a thin Queen's Speech, with the traditional reservation that the sobriquet refers to the speech and not to the Monarch. It is the thinnest Queen's Speech since cattle grids. I have now referred to speeches of both parties in Government, and any hon. Member who recalls the cattle grid Gracious Speech must be respectably long in the legislative tooth. With my customary generosity on these occasions, I describe the Gracious Speech as moderately worthy legislative vacuity.
Before turning to the legislative proposals I want to ask for some clarity—and perhaps the Prime Minister can reply to this—about the basis on which this debate takes place. I should like confirmation that after the debate ends next week we shall have at an early date a debate 16 on the Government's discussion paper on Northern Ireland, in Government time. On that assumption I withhold comment on it today, and we shall not ask for special time ourselves in this debate on Northern Ireland affairs, though hon. Members catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, may wish to speak on it.
Secondly, we shall expect an early debate on the Government's extraordinary document on immigration rules under which Commonwealth citizens, whether from Australia, Canada, India or Jamaica, can become second-class citizens compared with prospective immigrants from Europe and their families to whom the doors of our ports and airports are flung wide open. I warned in a speech in April, 1971, which was much criticised by the Tory Press and the Market Press, that this would be so. If I read these rules aright, the reality is worse than my forecast. We shall expect the Government to provide time for a debate.
Then there is the fact that there is no arrangement for a debate on foreign affairs. The Opposition have the right to ask for one, of course. But in view of the absence of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and in view of what I think was an invitation held out to us that if we did not debate it in his absence it would be possible to have a foreign affairs debate very quickly after the end of the debate on the Address, we feel it right to postpone, though not because the situation is not urgent. There is the point raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South about the imminence of the European security conference preparatory meetings. I think that hon. Members in all parties will have urgent issues in foreign affairs to raise, and we understand that we shall get that debate quite soon.
Again, though we shall insist on debating poverty and the social services in the debate on the Address, we do not regard the Government's very important paper on the tax credit scheme as appropriate to this week's debate. But we should not feel it right to refer the document direct to a Select Committee for examination without a wide-ranging debate in this House first, not least on what some of us regard as the quite wrong proposal to take family allowances from the mothers. I hope that we can have the 17 promise of a debate on this question —[Interruption.] The matter was left open for a Select Committee to recommend, but family allowances always have been handled by the mothers, and the matter was left as an open question. Therefore, there is a proposal either to take them away or transfer them. We think it wrong to take them away.
On the legislative proposals, such as they are, I am in the main content to leave these to the debates on the individual Measures. All I say now is this. First, on the social services, I am appalled by the dryness of the terms in the Gracious Speech:Legislation will be introduced to reform the finances of the national insurance scheme and to encourage the more widespread development and improvement of occupational pension schemes.There is not a suggestion of a desire to crusade against poverty. There is no concern and no compassion: simply "reform of the finances" and "improvement of occupational pension schemes". All that we have is the Government's White Paper of the preceding Session, which seems to be no more than a prescription for the continuance of two nations in old age—indeed, a widening of the gap between them.
We are promised a Bill on the Health Service. Let it be different from the Green Paper that the Government have issued, which is authoritarian, bureaucratic and undemocratic, in sharp contrast to the Green Paper of the Labour Government—our second attempt, I admit. Our view is in favour of a more democratic approach, including the predominance not of "hierarchical management" but of more elected representatives in a democratic service.
One of the key sentences in the Gracious Speech refers to law and order and justice. This was picked up by the hon. Member for Colchester. We should like an early debate on this matter, not least on the deep anxieties of the undermanned, overworked, excessively neglected probation service. But here—perhaps this may divide us from some hon. Gentlemen opposite—we insist that any policy for order and decency and freedom under the law must pay at least as much attention to the removal of the social causes and tensions which lead to a disregard for law and order as to the means of 18 dealing with breaches of the law and punishment of offenders.
It may be for the convenience of the House to say that on Monday and Tuesday next we shall have Amendments on the Order Paper on the state of the nation in both its social and its economic aspects; that is, on Monday poverty and housing, and on Tuesday inflation and the state of the economy.
The reality we face in this debate, and which we will continue to face, is the economic situation. Even the Prime Minister, after his election promises, his wrecking actions immediately after the election, his assertion of the laws of the free market, his sabotage of industrial relations, his set-piece confrontations with the unions and his use of the unions in speeches to the Tory faithful—even in this House—to excuse his cynical breach of his clear election pledges on both prices and unemployment, must recognise that the events of the past few weeks provide for him the moment of truth, because his announcement on 26th September is a total admission of the breakdown of his policies.
Prices were not dealt with "at a stroke", or at any other time, in nearly two and a half years of the present Government. On the contrary, action after action of this Government—food levies, rent increases, school meal and prescription charges—was deliberately designed to raise the cost of living of the average family.
The latest retail price index is for September. The October figures, including the increase in council rents and further food price increases, have still to come. Nor have we yet seen the effects on prices of the devaluation which began in June and is still continuing.
From June, 1970, to September this year the cost of living has risen by 18.9 per cent. In 27 months it has increased by more than it did in the last 43 months of the Labour Government, which covered the whole post-devaluation period. The Tory index has barely begun as yet to reflect the consequences of their devaluation.
The food price index is unfortunately available only to August, because I understand there is an industrial dispute and we have not yet got the Department of Employment Gazette which will give us 19 the figures. Even so, taking the official figures only to August—that is, 26 months of this Government—food prices rose by 21.7 per cent. That is a greater rise than in the last four years and a month of the Labour Government. Under this Government the cost of food is rising at nearly double the Labour rate of increase. Recalling "at a stroke", recalling the speech by the right hon. Gentleman to the housewives of Leicester, he really should, I think, express some sense of shame when he addresses the House this afternoon.
Of course, we have had anodyne after anodyne from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On 5th June, when there was great concern about the record beef prices and the free export of cattle to Europe, he told the House that this would all turn out all right as soon as more grass-fattened cattle became available. "As soon as more grass-fattened cattle become available" sounds like a synonym for Tory lobby fodder. As for the grass-fattened cattle, they came and they went—some went to the abattoirs; some went to Europe—and they turned out to be the same bum steers as have constituted the right hon. Gentleman's stock-in-trade since he became Minister, because they have not reduced beef prices.
I have here The Times shopping report for 2nd June and that for last Friday. I am sorry that the Minister does not appear to be here. The price of beef today, trading cut for cut and joint for joint, is marginally above the price ruling when the Minister made that confident forecast in the House. The Minister knows, and the Prime Minister knows too, of the deep anxiety, even in Europe—perhaps especially in Europe—about the likelihood of further price increases for beef. So much for beef and the promises that we were given. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman just arriving. I have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that he will want to catch your eye during the debate in order to explain why that, like all his other forecasts, was wrong.
House prices have risen by 45 per cent. in two years of the present Government. In some regions they have risen more: in the Eastern area by 58 per cent., in the Southern by 67 per cent. and in the South-East by 71 per cent. In the first 20 half of this year the average price of a new house was rising at an annual rate of 34 per cent. and that of an existing house by 36 per cent. How the right hon. Gentleman can blame the price of houses already built on current wages and the unions defies all credibility.
The Prime Minister, of course, had wept tears of commiseration in and before the election about the problems of young married couples getting houses. The council house building programmes have been slashed, so those seeking a local authority house have seen their problems greatly increased. Private houses and apartments have been taken out of the house-renting market in favour of speculative sale, often after the unscrupulous use of public money for improvement grants. Houses for owner-occupation have been priced out of the reach of the average young couple. Every hon. Member must know of instances of children, other relatives and the children of friends saving, skimping and taking on night work to raise the deposit, only to be priced again and again out of the market.
Mortgages. Can the right hon. Gentleman, when he speaks this afternoon, undertake that, as a result of this new free-market crazy pattern of interest rates in the City, and the Government's recent warnings about interest rates, mortgage rates will not rise yet again? As he will know, the Nationwide Building Society, whose statistics are the source of the Government's figures on housing, has just published figures showing that the 11,000 new borrowers between March and May this year were on average already spending 23 per cent. of their income on mortgage repayments. Gazumping on the deposit; 23 per cent. on repayments. This is the "Better Tomorrow" that the right hon. Gentleman promised them.
And all this in a country where the Chancellor has handed out hundreds of millions of pounds in tax remissions to the rich and the very rich, where fortunes are made—as one property speculator boasted on television recently, £250,000 could be made in one afternoon on land and property deals—where we read of house prices rising from £3,000 to £30,000 in four years as a result of speculation and the unscrupulous use of improvement grants for these purposes— 21 one house, which has been mentioned in the Press, with 12 profitable changes of paper ownership in 12 months, remaining unoccupied throughout and denied to young people looking for a home.
The Prime Minister knows, too, another reality—the reality of our trade and payments position and our vulnerability. In June, 1970, he sought for electoral purposes to falsify our record balance of payments success by saying that we had passed the peak and were facing a crisis in our balance of payments. In fact, as he knows, the £612 million surplus we had announced three days before the election rose to nearly £700 million for the year 1970 as a whole and to close on £1,100 million for the year 1971. But in the last few days of the election he seized on a single month's trade deficit—later proved to have been much exaggerated, because the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry gave the correct figures—as the harbinger of disaster. The right hon. Gentleman would go into ecstasy today if he could feel that the average trade deficit for the next six months would be no higher than those figures which he used to try to win the election in 1970. I hope that he will tell us today, or the Chancellor when he speaks next week, what the hurried dismantling of the sterling area means now for our vulnerability.
The right hon. Gentleman inherited a record surplus, on its way to more than a billion pounds, and he has frittered it away—for nothing. It is not as if he had used it. We were pledged to use part of it, once it was assured, for more rapid growth and to reduce unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman has not used it to reduce unemployment. He has presided over the worst Tory debts since the £800 million deficit, he has presided over the worst unemployment figures since the war and last week we read headlines of the Chancellor, at the Mansion House, being euphoric at an unemployment rate of 845,000. He was excited about it. There were tremendous Press cuttings about it. The Government's election promise was thatWe shall reduce unemployment at a stroke",yet now the right hon. Gentleman thinks that an unemployment figure of 845,000 is something to get excited about.
Against that background we had the Prime Minister's statement of 26th 22 September. And suddenly, with yet one more of those policy U-turns which are making even his supporters car-sick, we find the scourge of the trade unions sitting down and wooing them. There has been hardly a month since he became leader of his party when there has not been one more strident exercise in this ranting demonology attacking the trade unions—
§ Mr. Wilson
I have been reading the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, and the hon. Gentleman will have to listen to one or two quotations in a moment.
As recently as the end of May the right hon. Gentleman was at Luton Hoo challenging the unions to mortal combat—the railway unions as it happened, and we saw what happened to him then. A few weeks later, in June, in the House, he was describing trade union leaders elected to office during the Labour Government as "extremists". That is what he said. It is in HANSARD. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that? [AN HON. MEMBER: "It was rubbish."] It was rubbish, but he said it. Now, for as long as it lasts, these extremists are industrial statesmen, invited to share in the higher economic direction of the national economy. Now the right hon. Gentleman pours out drinks for the extremists.
What a change we have now. Confrontation out, consultation in. Two years ago, incomes were to be settled in a free market by what the right hon. Gentleman's manifesto called "general pressures". That was all the party opposite had to offer—general pressures, whatever they were. No more was needed. For prices, we were told that competition was a universal cure-all. In the House in July, 1970, when we condemned the dismantling of the Prices and Incomes Board and the Consumer Council, Minister after Minister said that competition was the best way to deal with prices—competition in oil, petrol and all the other goods. HANSARD is full of quotations.
But now it has all changed. The right hon. Gentleman now says that we need a prices and incomes policy, we need vetting machinery and we need consumer protection. He is a changed character 23 —for the moment. The set-piece confrontation, the invocation of provocative and irrelevant law, we are told, has gone. The bluster has gone. The right hon. Gentleman has been cooing at the trade union leaders for all the world as though he had been taking a vacation course during the recess under the supervision of Jack Scamp and the Official Solicitor. And yet, at this most delicate point in the Prime Minister's negotiations, the National Industrial Relations Court—the right hon. Gentleman's creation—is ploughing ahead with yet another contempt case and he is powerless to prevent it. He will do doubt pray for the Official Solicitor who has already bailed him out twice. [An HON. MEMBER: "What would the right hon. Gentleman have done?"] We should not have introduced that law. The right hon. Gentleman will have to tell us this afternoon whether he is prepared to sacrifice the possibility of his anti-inflationary policy by his commitment to these matters or whether he will alter the legislation.
I do not propose to quote all that the right hon. Gentleman said in opposition or since about his attitude to a prices and incomes policy. To do that would be, as Aneurin Bevan once said in the context of Suez, an act of a bully. But it would also mean an all-night sitting, so I shall restrict myself to three things that the right lion. Gentleman said and that I want him to recall while he is considering his policy.
At Carshalton on 8th July, 1967—and the right hon. Gentleman was attacking voluntary policies as much as statutory policies—he said:If by an incomes policy is meant a general educational programme"—not what we are getting now—demonstrating the relationship between incomes, productivity and prices, this is something which we can all support, though it needs to be carried through more effectively than anything yet attempted. If it means the Government pursuing a policy of relating incomes and prices to productivity in those spheres where it has direct responsibility, that too is practicable and desirable. Over a period of time these may make a marginal but nevertheless valuable impact on the economy as a whole. But if by an income and prices policy is meant Government control over all incomes and prices, disguised as a voluntary effort, but in fact under threat of Order in Council and therefore compulsory, this is not only imprac- 24 ticable, but unfair, undesirable and an unjustifiable infringement on the freedom of the individual.The following statement appeared in the BBC Election Forum, 1970 Election, and the House will want to listen to this gem of unfulfilled expectations:We opposed the compulsory wage freeze all the way through and we've been proved right, We said that it would make relations—industrial relations with the unions—much worse. It has. We said it would play into the hands of the extremists, it did. And we also said that as soon as you tried to change the situation and remove a compulsory wage freeze the ban would be lowered and then we would get an enormous increase in wages, this is what is now happening. And so as a policy it has proved to be futile. What we want is a new approach …".That was in 1970.
Then there was the infamous statement of 16th June, 1970, two days before polling day, the "at a stroke" statement. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman recalls these words, but he took full responsibility for them. He said:Either we do nothing and wait for the crisis to break—in which case it will be the old, the poor and those least able to protect themselves from rising prices who will suffer.… Or we can go back to the policies which failed to prevent this situation arising and may well have been the root cause of it. This would involve the return to an ineffective voluntary incomes policy or an unfair and inevitably temporary wage freeze.Then the right hon. Gentleman went on with the threat and dangers of higher unemployment and all the rest of it, and he said:The danger in complacency now is therefore that it will mean a further four years of austerity which in all probability will lead, as happened in the aftermath of the 1966 freeze and squeeze, to a further devaluation".That is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman has had.
But it was not only his speeches. There were his votes on incomes policy. The Conservative Party voted against every item of legislation introduced by the Labour Government on prices and incomes—Second Reading, Committee, Report, Third Reading, against the affirmative Resolution bringing legislation into effect, against nearly every order on wages, salaries and prices made under that legislation. Hon. Gentlemen opposite opposed our decision to bring council house rents under control. And in the 25 last election the right hon. Gentleman campaigned for an open-ended increase for doctors.
This is October, 1972, and in September, 1972, the right hon. Gentleman made his proposals. We considered them one-sided and insufficiently supported by any real sense of social justice, still less of willingness to sacrifice doctrinaire prejudices, but they had the merit of simplicity and it was right that they should be fully discussed with an honest aim on the part of all concerned to reach a workable and fair agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that at no time since 26th September have I sought to interfere or to make the task of agreement more difficult. The right hon. Gentleman knows that my message has been—[Interruption.] We cannot have a situation where the House of Commons cannot debate the Prime Minister's initiative, and I shall tell him how to get an agreement if he listens. The right hon. Gentleman must know that my message at Blackpool was that the talks should proceed in the hope and with the aim of reaching agreement. I still say that, and that was the theme of a speech delivered to more trade union leaders and trade union executive members than the right hon. Gentleman has ever met, or probably will meet, in his life. I did not attempt to lay down terms, still less to specify figures. I took exactly the opposite line from that taken by the right hon. Gentleman in 1966 when he appealed to the TUC to reject the policy of the then Labour Government.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that when I distinguished in that speech between the issues that must be raised in any short-term emergency crisis of this kind, whatever the nature of the Government, I separated them from what might perhaps have to be assessed for a long-term continuing agreement, because this is a continuing programme for a very long time. In doing that I made clear that it was not right to ask, for example, on the short-term, one-year agreement for fundamental changes in taxation and for the reversal of some of the Chancellor's Budget proposals and the Finance Bill.
We cannot accept that we cannot debate this matter. In this situation the 26 House has a right and a duty to discuss these issues. They are now matters of public debate in the Press, on television and on radio. The Chancellor himself was on the radio on Sunday, not helping, perhaps, when he was throwing epithets such as "humbug" in the direction of the unions. Now the issue is before the House.
I want to begin with prices and, first, manufactured goods prices. These are important. It is certainly true that the CBI has honoured its undertaking of July, 1971. But manufactured goods prices are very different things from shop prices. Secondly, manufactured goods prices form only a relatively small part of the family cost of living. There is food—other than processed food made by manufacturers—housing, travel, fuel, State and local authority services, taxes, rates, and many more items.
But for manufactured goods which are sold in the shops, as well as other shop-traded goods—and still more for food—there is a danger in the Government's aridity on price control. No one, when price control is mentioned, is talking about every item that is sold—every tack, drawing-pin and so on. It is the essentials that matter.
I have some knowledge of this matter —perhaps more than any other hon. Member in the House—[Interruption.]—having been responsible, for three-and-a-half years, for price control at the Board of Trade. With that experience I agree —and I have often said it—that it would not be practicable—[Interruption.] If those hon. Members who do not know about it would listen they might learn about it from those who do know. I agree that it would not be practicable to reconstruct wartime and post-war price control such as we had in the Board of Trade, and which I had from 1947 to 1951, over anything but a short period. Changes in specification, design or fashion may be inimical to control for periods of a year or more, and it would be impractical to launch a new Utility scheme.
We must get rid of this bogey about rationing. When the Chancellor raised this bogey in his broadcast I can only describe it—using one of his favourite phrases—as manifest humbug. The Chancellor did not have much experience on 27 this side, and I do not think that any official adviser to the Prime Minister or himself can have had responsibility for post-war price control at a senior level. It is therefore important to deal with the point about rationing, because it has become a bogey.
It was after I had abolished clothes rationing that I announced in the House, on 29th July, 1949, a 5 per cent. reduction—2 per cent. in producer prices, I per cent. in wholesalers' prices and 2 per cent. in retailers' prices—over the widest range of textiles, clothing and footwear. That was 5 per cent. off prices at a stroke. It is true that import costs following devaluation eroded this—as devaluation under the present Prime Minister is tending to erode prices—and the Korean war, with raw wool prices rising to 16 times the pre-war level, ended our hopes. [Interruption.] I am trying to educate hon. Members in this matter. If wool prices rose 16 times one would not expect to hold down shop prices.
It is at times of rising world prices, such as we have now, that we need protection and such price control as can be applied to protect consumers against exploitation. The right hon. Gentleman knows that at present these prices are rising partly because of world costs and partly because of the floating £ and devaluation. If we look at world commodity price increases in sterling terms, we see that last week they were 34.8 per cent. up on last year for all commodities. Food was 31.9 per cent. up, fibres 69.8 per cent. up, metals 6.9 per cent. up and miscellaneous prices 43.7 per cent. up. Last week's figures—the House will have seen them—were 6.1 per cent. up in a single month, which is equivalent to an annual rate of 72 per cent. if continued. The lower the £ goes, the worse this becomes.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)
Is the right hon. Gentleman quoting prices on world markets?
§ Mr. Wilson
World commodity prices, priced in sterling in London. The cost of newsprint is due to rise on 1st January by 8 per cent. because of the devaluation of the £ to 2.40 dollars. No allowance is made for devaluation below 2.40 dollars. If the cost of news- 28 papers rises by even a decimalised half-penny on a popular newspaper it is equivalent to a 16 per cent. increase.
There will also be the effect on prices —particularly on food—of our entry into the Common Market on the Government's terms. This has still to be faced. The House will know that our main food prices are now being fixed in European gold dollars, and that each point the £ moves down in the index the higher will be the cost of living here. There is nothing that we can do about it.
It is at times of external cost rises that price protection is most needed. Despite the efforts of the CBI and the retail consortium, voluntaryism is unlikely to provide adequate safeguards. On retail prices, while we must welcome the retail trade's undertaking about maintaining gross percentage margins, we have to face the fact that when import costs rise, or food costs rise, a fixed percentage margin must mean a higher cash margin and an unearned benefit, which cannot be tolerated.
When the Government reject percentage wage increases they cannot accept retail prices fixed on a percentage basis. So there must be enforceable controls over the essential shop items which enter significantly into the cost of living.
I understand from this morning's Press —and this is a step in the right direction—that the Government will go for maximum cash margins above a certain figure rather than for a continuation of gross percentage margins. But when the Government keep appealing to what they think public opinion ought to be it is no good saying to the trade unions "You must accept this or that" when the wives of trade unionists say "We were diddled over decimalization"—[Interruption.] They were; they were diddled by decimalisation, because we had decided to keep in being, the Prices and Incomes Board and the Consumer Council, and because we rejected the Tory Greater London Council's demand to put up fares because of decimalisation. We said that we would not allow it, but the right hon. Gentleman allowed it as soon as he came into office. That is the difference.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Prices and Incomes Board which he abolished had price powers after investigation, especially of items important 29 to family living costs. If it is necessary, as I believe, to provide enforceable—and that means statutory—price control, there is plenty of material for study in the postwar period from the National Board for Prices and Incomes and no less from current policies which are being successfully pursued abroad and which the Government refuse to introduce here.
Ministers have tried,to trace a causal relationship between wages and prices—and there is one. But I draw attention to some recent figures. In manufacturing industry, taking the second quarter of 1972 against the same quarter of 1971, unit wage costs were up by 4.6 per cent., import costs by 0.6 per cent., wage and import costs together by 3.3 per cent. and prices by 4.9 per cent. Profits, therefore, did quite well—prices rose more than wages—even if investment out of these profits went badly. Prices per unit rose more than the wage elements in production.
What worries me is that whereas the price of manufactured goods rose by 4.9 per cent. the retail price index rose by 6.2 per cent. and food prices by 7.7 per cent. This underlines the importance of other components in the family cost of living. The Prime Minister is talking about only the CBI and manufactured prices, with some monitoring in the shops, but there is the question of fares, prices and charges of public industries and services which will have to be held down, and I have seen prodigious estimates of Government expenditure. I shall come to that in a moment.
I must ask the Prime Minister now to answer a question which was not answered in the last debate and which is vitally important to this. Will he now tell us the effects of the steel prices? In the pre-summit debate on the E.E.C., I quoted comments that the commitment accepted in the entry negotiations to raise steel prices to the E.E.C. level—failure to honour that commitment, apparently, means being brought before the European Court—is totally incompatible with the price stabilisation proposals.
Steel, like road transport, now rising by between 10 and 15 per cent., goes right through the economy. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us today whether he will carry out his Common Market obligation, which will mean driving a coach and 30 horses through his price policy, or whether he will push on with his price policy and break his Common Market commitment?
As for rents, it is inconceivable that any Government who were serious about the cost of living should have proceeded with the housing finance legislation. For millions of families there is anything up to £1 gone out of the £X—whetherit be £2 or any other figure—over the 12 months' currency of the agreement, and that leaves very little for food, fares, fuel, lighting and rates.
Any agreement must involve the limiting of all rents. If the Prime Minister cannot announce a freeze on rents from now preferably with back dating from when he announced the policy, on 26th September, from when it was understood that the public sector freeze was starting —the housing freeze should have started from then, too,—let him at least undertake that all rents, private and public, will be held down to a limit of 5 per cent. over the year, compared with the present time.
He should also deal with the sale of new or existing houses. This can be done. It is being done by many councils which have stopped or restricted the resale of houses. There must be firm action to deal with land and property speculation as part of any agreement, including the buying and selling of houses for letting or sale—apart from the owner-occupier himself.
For the duration of the incomes-prices agreement, there should he an excess profits levy. That phrase is not mine. It was invented by Sir Winston Churchill in 1951, and the Conservative Party fought the election of 1951 on it. That levy should be as near as possible to 100 per cent.
In view of the figures that I have quoted on mortgages, there must be a limit on building society mortgage rates, and this, if necessary, may mean subsidies. The Government should not reject this on the ground of the sanctity of the freedom of the City.
Rates—another key component in this index—must be kept within the limit. For a start, the Government could restore to its full value the Labour Government's subsidy to the domestic ratepayer of 5d. in the pound for each years from its inception. Also on housing, 31 the Chancellor should consider the working of his new ratchet mechanism for interest rates, including the likely effect on house mortgages.
Perhaps the Prime Minister will tell us how, in the very week when he was locked in discussions with industry and warning of inflation, the authorities came to permit the lunatic injection of £300 million to £350 million of inflationary power to a section of the community by the free-scattered issue of credit cards. This is inflationary to the extent that money is spent which is not earned. It is demand-inflationary to the extent that shops and restaurants and so on pay a 5 per cent. commission to the banks, so consumers will have to pay higher prices.
It is cost inflationary and it is provocative. To the lowest paid and the average wage earner the Prime Minister is saying "Whatever you or your family may want, you must wait." To the three million consumers and their families the banks are saying "Take the waiting out of wanting." Did not the Chancellor know about this? Did he not realise that it had serious relevance to what the Government were calling for—that it would recklessly imperil the achievement of his counter-inflationary policy?
Taking in the misuse of development grants, the preponderance of property speculation rather than job creation in the use of the thousands of millions of new money created by the Government, the free issue by banks and merchant banks of money for Stock Exchange and property speculation, the manoeuvrings in housing finance, the free-for-all in money and interest rates and the alacrity with which banks and borrowers have seized on the Chancellor's exemption of bank interest from taxation, the asset-stripping, the insider deals—with all these it is surprising that the Chancellor has not produced a very different policy for dealing with inflation.
In any agreement there should be full dividend restraint, but since deferred dividends, unlike wages, later accrue to the shareholders, there should be provision for allocating the excess, over any increase in new investment, to some industrial-social purpose such as industrial health and welfare, industrial training or workers' participation.
32 While referring to city matters, if we are now to have threshold agreements which recognise a degree of inflation—this was the right constituent in the Prime Minister's package—should we not now have index saving bonds, which have always been rejected because they also recognised a degree of inflation as a continuing fact?
To end the list of required action in any agreement, there are VAT and pensions. The Prime Minister cannot justify implementing the VAT legislation within the life of any prices and incomes package which may emerge. It is inflationary, and provocatively so. It is not even necessary within his European policies; Italy has survived years of non-implementation. In any case, the Government announced VAT on its supposed merits, outside the European context, in April 1971—long before they knew what terms they were getting. Preferably, it should be suspended: at any rate it should be reduced. How can the right hon. Gentleman ask for restraint in wages when, to take only one example, children's clothing, for the first time in our fiscal history, will be subject to ad valorem taxation?
Nor is it an answer that the abolition of purchase tax and SET will cancel out the effects of VAT. The combined effect of cancelling SET and purchase tax and introducing VAT will be highly regressive, because VAT-taxed commodities include more necessities; purchase taxed articles include more highly taxed articles, which are less necessary.
Hon. Members will have seen the estimate of the Economist this week that… businesses are expected to pocket about 60 per cent. of the SET they are relieved of.Therefore, I hope that, when the Prime Minister is considering this widening of his package, he will look very carefully at VAT and, if he cannot suspend it, he will at any rate sharply reduce it, just as I and the whole House hope that he will do more on pensions in this year than is indicated in the Gracious Speech.
Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I can understand hon. Gentlemen not liking some of these reminders of the truth—I now intend to deal briefly with the Prime Minister's argument of yesterday, his tidy formulation of wages 33 and prices. No statutory control on prices, straight or fall-back, he said, without the same for wages. If there is voluntary control for wages, he said, then there must be voluntary control for prices. That is how I understood what the Chancellor said last night. It sounds, prima facie, reasonable and logical, but it is spurious, and for this reason.
The CBI can talk for only a small proportion of prices and only a small proportion of the goods entering into the family cost of living. The TUC is expected to cover all wages. The CBI can exercise effective control only over the ex-works prices of manufactured goods—it has shown that it can do that. The TUC, given an agreement which is shown to be fair, I believe, could deliver. There might be one or two difficult cases, but substantially they could honour an agreement. [An HON. MEMBER: "It will be the first time."] It is no good saying that it will be the first time. because the right hon. Gentleman is asking for this. The hon. Gentleman had better attack his right hon. Friend, not me, for saying that. The CBI cannot even control retail prices of its manufactured goods, still less prices outside the manufacturing sector of industry.
There are five main components in family living costs—first, manufactured goods of the CBI type, second, the main foods, like bread, milk, meat, butter and imported foods. There is no control whatsoever of most of these, at either wholesale or retail level. Many are fixed abroad, by market costs and the sterling rate.
Housing is the third component, with rents, rates, mortgage interest rates. Again, there is no control here. Fourth, there are public industry costs—fares, gas, electricity, coal and postal charges. They are within the Government's control by way of financial assistance.
Fifth, there are all the other items—petrol, insurance, car repairs, sports ground admission, which will be put up again by VAT, the cost of meals eaten out and so on. These are very big elements in the cost of living index. While the CBI can partly influence the manufactured goods, it can cover less than one of these five components of prices, while the TUC is being asked by the Government to cover practically the whole 34 range of wages. Any fair agreement must mean much more attack on prices.
I want to refer to the right hon. Gentleman's speech to the housewives of Leicester. Since he claimed to be able to control prices for his deal with the TUC, I remind him that in his appeal to the housewives of Leicester he mentioned 14 items entering into household expenditure. Of these only four can be affected by the CBI and even two of these, sausages and jam, involve the cost of living. But the other item he mentioned was children's clothing, which he is now taxing for the first time. So, of 14 items of the sob-stuff of his speech to the housewives of Leicester, only four are remotely controlled within his new prices package and the other ten are outside control altogether.
The crisis we are facing—and the right hon. Gentleman has made his approach clear to the TUC—is by no means limited to Britain, although Britain's response to it, or failure to respond to it, can powerfully affect the prosperity of the Western and the wider world, on which as an exporting nation we in our turn depend. Should the £ slide too far, or arbitrarily be fixed too low—I have publicly stated my belief that it is not overvalued—we could once again enter an era of sauve-qui-peut competitive currency revaluations redolent of the sort experienced in the 1930s. Everyone knows that danger. We faced it a year ago between President Nixon's August, 1971, announcement and the Smithsonian Agreement. More widely, again mirroring the thirties, we could see the growth of competitive, self-seeking protectionism, from which no country would suffer more than Britain.
Western nations are counting on a revival—I hope rightly—in world economic activity. So may it prove, but we must shortly face another development. We have all prayed for the achievement of peace in Vietnam, too long delayed, but we have yet to see the consequences of an American domestic economy which for 25 years has been geared to either a cold war economy or a Vietnam hot war economy. There are at present in the United States no built-in peace-time stabilisers to offset the damping down of military production, and this is one reason, with the danger of worldwide trading and currency troubles, why the 35 search for a counter-inflationary policy is so essential. The Prime Minister is right to seek it but we have to tell him that he has forfeited the right to seek to unite this nation. He has divided this nation. Where there was a common purpose, the Prime Minister imported conflict; where there was consensus, he imported confrontation; where there was social purpose, he imported the doctrine of self-seeking.
Now, in or out of the Common Market, the Prime Minister knows that our strength depends on what we do for ourselves in this country, as he himself has said. But we are facing a critical situation at home and a dark and confused economic situation abroad. The message not only of two years ago but even of this past month is that the Prime Minister and his Government have forfeited the right and the capacity to lead.
The right hon. Gentleman has tabled his proposals for an incomes and prices policy. It is in our view unworkable; the cost of living for the average family under his proposals is likely to rise more than he dare admit. It is a programme, even so, in which he cannot fundamentally believe, since it is a reversal of almost every speech and commitment he has ever made.
I challenge the right hon. Gentleman. He has indicated his policy and his programme. I challenge him to submit that programme and his record in Government, including the terms for entry into the Common Market against the wishes of the British people, to the test of a General Election. [Interruption.] We read almost every day of brave talk from the Government, of how, if they cannot get what they want, if they cannot get the unions to accept an unfair package, they will go to the country. I have stated today what our proposals would be. Let the right hon. Gentleman submit his proposals and we will submit ours to a General Election. Let the people decide.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)
I join the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in his congratulations to my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Mr. Buck) and Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). They made two admirable speeches which com- 36 plied with the custom of the House in dealing interestingly with their constituency matters and yet being brief and to the point on matters which concerned the Gracious Speech. I think the House will agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester was both modest and witty. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South made a forward-looking speech about his constituency, and the future of Scotland in the light of the oil and gas resources recently discovered in the North Sea and also its relationship to Europe. So I am sure that the House will join me and the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating both of my hon. Friends on their speeches, which gave a lively and stimulating start to our debate. At least, I thought they did.
I have noted the various requests which the Leader of the Opposition made both at the beginning of his speech and in his moving peroration. I will deal with one particular request for a debate a little later, and we have taken note of the other requests he made.
I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman giving in detail his own view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Green Paper on the proposed tax credit system. I think it is right that we should be clear from the beginning that we presented it as a discussion paper. On family allowances, we have put three options. We are not in any way committed to any one of them and we say clearly that the choice and method of payment will be made in the light of public discussion and the findings of a Select, Committee I hope, therefore, that we may approach in this spirit what was a serious attempt to provide the material for full discussion, both in Select Committee and in public. Then we must take account of all the views which have been expressed.
It is two years since we started out on a programme of legislative reform without parallel in recent history—[Interruption.] I see hon. Gentlemen are indignant that we should have carried it through, together with what is in the present Gracious Speech. The right hon. Gentleman described this as a "thin" Gracious Speech, but when he comes in the course of this Session to see the legislation presented as a result of it he will change his mind and recognise the real substance of 37 the reforming legislation which is being introduced in this third Session
Of all the underlying problems which have faced us none has been more terrible than the situation in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman touched on the fact that yesterday we published the discussion paper which gives our analysis of the possibilities open for the future government of the Province. Of course we recognise that the House will wish to discuss this and give its views about it. It is a discussion paper which has set out as fairly and impartially as we can, on a subject which has been a matter of controversy through the centuries, what the possibilities are for Northern Ireland.
It takes full account of the views put forward by the various parties and the bodies of opinion in Northern Ireland, views which were put forward at the Darlington conference and at meetings which my right hon. Friend and I have held. I think the House will agree, and will be pleased, that this paper has been well received by spokesmen of many different points of view. No one who is properly informed can doubt the determination of the Government and of the security forces, backed on all sides in this House, to deal effectively with terrorism, from whatever source it comes.
Equally, no fair-minded person can now doubt our readiness to pursue in a practical and constructive way an agreement commanding the widest possible support on the way that the Province should be run. I would just say this to our Ulster Unionist friends and the other Northern Irish Members and to all others in Northern Ireland: I wonder whether it is really necessary any longer in public, either in this House or elsewhere, to give to a somewhat unbelieving country the figures in tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are prepared to fight in Northern Ireland apparently to retain it as part of the United Kingdom when no party in this House is suggesting for one moment that it should leave the United Kingdom.
The fullest undertakings have been given, and repeated in the consultative document, that this cannot happen without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. Provision is made in the Gracious Speech for the legislation by which the 38 plebiscite can be held. I would therefore say: would it not now be wise for all to concentrated on the future of Northern Ireland and help us in these months which remain available from the year under direct rule which we took to bring together all the views and expressions of opinion so that we may jointly decide what is the best administration in the future for this trouble-torn and strife-torn Province?
When I look back over my years in this House and all the debates I have attended or taken part in, it seems that there have been two main subjects not on the whole connected with the passage of legislation which have dominated the attention of the House, two subjects which most Members in that time have believed to lie at the centre of our national interests.
The first has been the achievement of a high and steady rate of economic growth and the second has been British entry into the European Community. Both of these, in the methods of achievement as well as in policy, have been controversial. Whatever our particular interests or enthusiasms, there has over most of this long period been a considerable measure of agreement on both sides of the House that these should be our objectives, even though they were hard to attain; that each of these possibilities was in itself of enormous importance; and that taken together, they could transform the prospects of the nation. These two are no longer possibilities; they are facts.
The economy of this country is today growing at the rate of 5 per cent. a year. In his analysis of the economic situation, this was a major factor which the Leader of the Opposition omitted. It also means that the real standard of living of the people of this country is improving faster than it has done during the past seven years.
The second fact is that we shall join the European Community on the 1st January, and we have shown already that we are playing our full part in its counsels. These two things have not come about except through the consistent purpose and determination of the Government and those who supported it. Now it is the task of this Government, together with all the support which we can muster, to 39 make these two achievements secure—the rate of growth and an effective membership of the European Community—and ensure that all the people of this country obtain the benefits which a great majority of this House has believed to be possible.
This is why I worked to bring about the Summit meeting in Paris the week before last. I went to Paris determined to show our new partners that we can join with them in completing the next stage of European unity, and determined also that when we spoke on behalf of British interests and British requirements within the new Community our views would be listened to and respected.
This is not the occasion to analyse in detail the results of that meeting but I would like to make one constructive comment on the reactions to it. Some people seem to be disappointed because everyone went away from the Summit reasonably satisfied with the achievements of it and their part in it and because there were no victors and no vanquished. In my view, that is not a valid criticism, that is a justification of what took place at that meeting.
The Community is not an arena for gladiators in which it is the weakest who go to the wall; it is an institution—and we shall learn this more and more and take part in it more effectively, I believe —where Ministers meet, where they represent the interests of their peoples as well of the European Community as a whole, where they argue and debate, fiercely from time to time, but where in the end they agree on common measures which they believe will advance the interests of everyone in the Community. That is how the Community has grown up and how it has prospered, and that is the true meaning of "Community". That is the spirit in which the Government will work within the Community to secure the benefits which membership ought to bring to the British people. Equally important and requiring even greater energy and imagination, as the members of any Government over the past 25 years or more will agree, is the task of securing the benefits of economic growth at home. We have seen this as a task, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, not only for the Government alone but 40 for the Government representing the whole nation, as any Government must, together with those who represent the two sides of industry.
In seeking to achieve this I believe that we have had the overwhelming support of the people of this country. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman appeared pained at times that we were able to carry on these discussions with the TUC and the CBI over recent months. Far from refusing to debate this matter in the House, I am only too delighted to debate it, and I intend to deal in some detail with the general proposals which have been put forward.
There is just one thing I would say to the right hon. Gentleman. As the House will recall, he said on many occasions in his speech today "this is a requirement for agreement". I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he is not really in a position to say that. This is a discussion which is being carried on between the Government, the TUC and the CBI. This is a matter on which he is fully entitled to comment either while it is going on or afterwards, but he is not entitled to say "this is a requirement for agreement". A matter of agreement is something to be negotiated between the three parties taking part in these discussions.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson
What I said was that it has to be a fair agreement. Is the right hon. Gentleman now saying that the Opposition are to be gagged on a matter of this importance? We are as entitled as anyone else in this House to say what is required for a fair agreement.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, entitled to express his views, but I repeat that he is not entitled to say what an agreement shall be which is to be negotiated by the three parties.
If that is accepted I want to go on to discuss with the House the matters which are under discussion in these talks.
I fully recognise that it must be a pre-condition that the individual person, whether he is young or whether he is old, whether he is in a minority or not, feels that his interests are being furthered. This is where the situation is different from previous occasions: it is possible to do 41 this to a greater extent than before because of the degree of economic growth which is going on. Neither the Government's record nor the programme for this Session which is put forward in the Queen's speech can be criticised as being deficient in putting forward legislation to look after the interests of individuals, because never has a legislative programme contained such a wide-ranging series of measures for this purpose.
Indeed, it is the theme which is running through the whole of the Gracious Speech—protection of people against the huge size and unresponsiveness of the Government machine itself, whether it is central Government or local government or the National Health Service, as it impinges on each individual citizen. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that these proposals, far from being undemocratic, are more democratic, and particularly those for the ombudsman now to be provided for local government administration and the National Health Service, as well as for representation on the health service boards.
Of course, there can be controversy as to whether the representation is large enough or whether it is properly balanced, but it is a democratic procedure. There are measures for protection of the worker against the effects of structural change through an effective industrial and regional policy, and rapid expansion and reform of training services. Of course there is change, and change is painful, and it must be our purpose to try to make it as smooth as possible. Then there is protection of the elderly through annual reviews of pensions—never before arranged by any Government—and protection of the consumer by proposals which will be the toughest and the most important range of measures to promote competition ever proposed in Britain. This will be for debate later in this debate on the Address.
I wish to draw to the attention of the Leader of the Opposition that, far from our having abandoned any interest in or concern with competition, he will find that these proposals in legislation will be the toughest ever brought forward to ensure the best and most direct benefits for the consumers.
Then there are measures to protect all our citizens against the fear of the 42 thug and the terrorist both nationally and internationally.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will have been greatly impressed by what the Gracious Speech says on the subject of terrorism. Could the right hon. Gentleman say with regard to the events which have taken place this week whether it is the intention of the Government to break off diplomatic relations with Libya, or do the Government intend to cut off air services to Libya, which has harboured both terrorists and the murderers at Munich?
§ The Prime Minister
The Government have not taken a decision to do that. As the hon. Member knows, there are very wide-ranging considerations. What we have done is to sign the conventions which have already been agreed, and we shall be bringing forward, as is stated in the Gracious Speech, a Measure to give effect to the Montreal agreement as well. I think the House will agree that no Government or country have done more to try to help try to deal with terrorism in all its forms than this Government have.
Above all, as the right hon. Gentleman emphasised, if we are to devote our full national energies to maintaining this economic growth which we have set out upon and are now getting, we must deal effectively with inflation. We cannot hope to sustain a high rate of growth—there have been bursts of growth in the last 25 years, but there has never been sustained growth—and improve the living standards of all our people unless we master this problem.
First, I deal with that part of the matter which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with and which he dealt with for the same reasons. The cost of labour is the largest single element in costs and prices, and we cannot hope effectively to reduce the rate of increase in prices if the rise in incomes is untenable.
The right hon. Gentleman, in the remarks he made on various aspects of this, dealt with food prices—right at the beginning of his speech. Before the passage of his speech when I interrupted him he did not deal with the rise of world prices not only of food but of raw materials and other commodities. What 43 he has to recognise and acknowledge is that many of these prices are not concerned with our entry into the Community; nor are they concerned with policies pursued by this Government. They are the consequence of bad harvests in some cases and the high level of world demand for some commodities, such as cereals. If the right hon. Gentleman takes this into account when he is dealing with food prices he will help the House and these discussions to get nearer to a solution of the problems.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
With reference to what the Prime Minister has just said with regard to prices, there are stores in Ealing Broadway—[Laughter.]—now laugh this one off—which have two price labels, one with the existing price, and the other label advises people that they should buy everything now because the label will carry increased prices on 1st January when we have to take VAT into consideration.
§ The Prime Minister
Surely the hon. Member knows that VAT does not come into operation on 1st January. The shopkeepers know that. I do not think the housewives will be tricked by a label of that kind into buying today things which they do not really want.
However, the facts concerning the rate of growth, of wages and salaries and prices, over the past four years, can be simply stated. Between June, 1968, and June, 1972, average earnings went up 50 per cent., over 12 per cent. a year; retail prices went up 30 per cent, over 7 per cent. a year. These are facts for those four years, two of the last Government and two of this Government. Wages rose much faster than either prices or productivity. Wages cannot go on rising at this rate without further unacceptable increases in prices.
I must in passing just touch on one thing which the right hon. Gentleman said. He said that he and the housewives had been diddled over decimalisation. Well, whose fault was that? It was his Government who insisted on having the £ instead of the 10s. unit, which was pressed upon them at the time and which would have allowed the changes to come in so much more 44 smoothly than they have done by concentrating on the £. It was the right hon. Gentleman who insisted upon it.
Since the middle of 1971 we have had success in bringing down the rate of increase in prices, and I want to emphasise the contribution which the Government have already made to the bringing down of the rate of increase in prices not only by tax changes, by purchase tax changes, SET and other tax changes, but also by making it possible for the nationalised industries to limit their price increases. [Interruption.] I would say to hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they want to help the trade unions to reach an agreed solution to these problems they would be wiser to deal with the figures and the facts of the case, which the TUC and others have themselves got. I do not believe that people yet understand that prices—
Mr. Eric S. Haffer (Liverpool, Walton)
What about rents?
§ The Prime Minister
I am dealing with the nationalised industries. I do not believe that people yet understand the price which is paid by the taxpayers of this country for the contribution of the nationalised industries to the policy of keeping prices down. In the current year it amounts to £240 million. This is the total deficit. It is not what the figure would be if one took into account what they ought to be earning on their capital. It is purely the deficit. If the amount which should be earned on capital is taken into account, the figure is nearer £500 million.
This figure would be increased if the proposals which we put before these tripartite discussions were to be accepted. They would be greatly increased, and the impact on the nationalised industries, and on the managements of those nationalised industries, is very considerable, because both management and unions wish to run their industries in a businesslike and efficient manner. But all the time they are being asked to limit their prices in this way they recognise the burden which the taxpayer has to carry to enable them to do so. Like the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I should also like to acknowledge the contribution which manufacturing industry has also made in response to the CBI'S initiative last year.
45 But wage settlements are now running at very high levels and price increases remain too high. It has become increasingly clear that if nothing were to be done both prices and wages would begin to rise again more steeply. The Government have set themselves to achieve and sustain a rate of economic growth of 5 per cent. a year. We have achieved that rate; but we shall not be able to sustain it unless we can not merely stop but reverse the undue pace of increases in prices and incomes.
That was the background to my invitation this summer to the CBI and the TUC to join the Government in discussions on the objectives of economic management in this situation and on the methods by which those objectives should be pursued. I am glad that both felt able to do it, and we have had discussions over the past three months. It seems to me a rational way of setting about dealing with matters of economic management in a democratic society: for the Government and the two sides of industry to sit down together, to discuss what needs to be done and to work out together how best to do it.
It has been said many times in these discussions by the two other parties taking part that at no time in British history, to their knowledge, or under any British Government, have they been offered such an opportunity of discussing the management of the economy together, nor have they had the figures put before them in such a way previously. Both parties have greatly appreciated that.
At our first two or three meetings we were concerned with identifying the issues which we should tackle and the objectives which we should pursue.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall be describing them. I shall be describing the discussions for the benefit of the House.
§ The Prime Minister
We were able to reach agreement on our objectives for economic management in the present situation, and these were three.
46 The need for faster growth in national output and real incomes was the first objective. The second objective was the need for an improvement in the relative position of the low paid. That is a matter to which many in the House have constantly given their attention, but while many may agree with this in principle, they have also to face the fact in practice that if the relative position of the low paid is to be improved those who are better paid cannot gain similar advantages. In that respect I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, when we are dealing with questions of rents and moving to fair rents, to consider—all the figures show this clearly—the impact of the rent rebate system in helping those who are the lower paid in preference to the higher-paid workers. If we are genuine in our desire to see the relative position of lower-paid workers improved, this must be taken into account. As the Gracious Speech says, provision is now to be made, under pressure from both sides of the House, for rebates to be paid for rented accommodation, and this, too, will help the lower paid.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on this very important point?
§ The Prime Minister
No, I am sorry. I must be allowed to develop the argument so that the House can hear about the discussions as a whole.
The third objective was the need to moderate the rate of cost and price inflation. Those were the three objectives, and all three parties to the discussions were, or seemed to be until the meeting on 16th October, at one in wishing to approach these three objectives on the basis of voluntary arrangements. That was the basis on which we started the discussions, and it was the basis until the meeting after I put forward the Government's proposals. Having thus agreed on the objectives, the two other parties asked the Government to formulate a set of proposals for achieving them. I presented the Government's proposals at the meeting on 26th September.
We took as our starting point the two objectives of a growth rate of 5 per cent. over the next two years and the containment of the growth of retail prices resulting from increases in domestic costs over 47 the next 12 months to 5 per cent. We calculated the amount by which wages and salaries could increase in the year ahead, if these two objectives were to be realised, to sustain the growth and to keep down the increase in prices. We suggested that the increase in wages and incomes should take the form of an equal flat-rate increase in pay of £2 per week over the whole adult working population. Allowing for what is known as wage drift, an across-the-board rise of £2 per week would be compatible with earnings on average rising £2.60 per week. The flat-rate increase would give higher proportionate increases to the lower paid than to the better off, and so achieve the objective of a relative improvement in the position of the low-paid.
I repeat that we are genuine in wishing to see the relative position of the lower paid improved. It was agreed that this was the way to do it, so we put forward this positive proposal in this form.
§ The Prime Minister
I am going on to describe the question of safeguarding the increases in incomes which would result. In order to safeguard them we made two further suggestions: first, that the price increases on manufactured goods should be held within a limit of 4 per cent., and secondly, that there should be threshold clauses in wage agreements made in accordance with the proposals. I want to emphasise that this is a genuine safeguard. There are those who criticise threshold agreements and say that they can be inflationary. In certain circumstances they can be, but we do not believe that the form in which this proposal has been put forward and discussed is inflationary. If one takes a situation in which there may be price increases for reasons outside the control of the parties concerned and which go above the anticipated level, then the real safeguard is the threshold. The safeguard is not to take the extreme possibility of what might happen and to demand wage increases on a corresponding level or even more.
In a discussion of this kind, the right way is to form the best judgment one can on the movement of prices, to see the ex- 48 tent to which they may be limited, and then to say that there must be a safeguard. The safeguard is the threshold agreement, which we propose should be of 6 per cent. If the increase rose above 6 per cent., then pay should automatically be increased, and we proposed that it should be increased by 20p for each 1 per cent. This is a matter which is being discussed and can be discussed in its relevance to the total arrangements made for increases in incomes in view of the increased growth. But we wanted to put forward a proposal which met the conditions as we had been given them. I want to emphasise that I believe that this is a most important safeguard.
The Government also made it clear that we should be prepared to take further action to limit price increases where we have the ability to do so. There are some spheres in which no Government can act, but we shall do so where possible.
Finally, we expressed our willingness, as part of a tripartite approach, to ensure that in the coming year pensioners would also have the benefit of a share in the nation's prosperity. This is a matter to be discussed in the context of the figures we have put forward for wages and incomes of all kinds. Obviously, to the extent to which prices can be kept down, to the extent to which incomes correspond to national growth, the more we can do to help the pensioners. That is the position which we have taken up and it can be discussed.
I want to emphasise again that this was a programme for the next 12 months and it sets out the priorities for the next 12 months. We all realised that we could not solve all the problems in this coming year. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition has very fairly said so. The intention was that during that period the Government, the TUC and the CBI would meet regularly at all levels to see how the programme was progressing, take action to deal with unforeseen circumstances and discuss the objectives and the priorities for the ensuing phase—the second year—and how best to achieve them.
In other words, these proposals represented the first phase in what was intended to be a continuing process of tripartite consultation and action. In this 49 I think it is different from the discussions which had previously been taken on in what I would term the regular NEDC forum. I repeat that the three parties would meet at the top level to discuss and agree upon economic objectives and the means of securing them.
There was agreement in the discussions on the need for new machinery on a tripartite basis to advise on the problems of traditionally low-paid industries and to help to improve the position of the low-paid in other industries because, although we recognised that we were giving priority to help the lower-paid, we also knew that there would still be problems in the low-paid industries. In fact, for some of them, especially what I might term the wages council industries, the burden we were placing upon them of the overall flat-rate increase would be very considerable and we did not want this to be reflected in price increases. Therefore, we said that we would set up special machinery to help these industries with their problems.
Therefore, the flat-rate increase and our commitment to equal pay—as the House knows, many of those working in the low-paid industries are women—added up to a more far-reaching attack on the problems of low pay than had ever been attempted before.
In addition, there would be a tripartite body to monitor retail price increases, and we should need a continuing organisation to watch over the implementation of the proposals, to undertake work for the main tripartite meetings and to report to them. This arrangement, agreed by the CBI and industry and the retailers, gave the TUC for the first time a full and equal part in the process of monitoring the whole of the price structure in this country. For the first time that is offered to them in this arrangement. Both the CBI and the TUC accepted these proposals as a basis for further discussion.
I think the House will agree with me that I can fairly claim that the proposals have attracted strong and widespread public support, for one reason to which the Leader of the Opposition pointed quite fairly—namely, they are simple, straightforward proposals, and it was evident that they would meet our declared objectives in a fair, businesslike and realistic way.
50 Of course there was room for differences of opinion about various aspects of the proposals. I want to explain these to the House. The TUC thought that the flat-rate pay increase should be higher than £2 a week because it considered that our proposals allowed too small a share of the increment of national income for wage and salary earners. This is an intricate problem which has been deeply discussed, and I will not weary the House with it. The proportion has always varied with the different period of the business cycle. What we did was to take the average of 10 years, taking the whole of the period of the business cycle to get the figure. That has been a matter for discussion.
The TUC also argued that the rate of growth should be pushed still higher to 6 per cent. The CBI, on the other hand, feared that too little was being allowed in the calculations for the investment needed if we were to sustain a high rate of economic growth. Again there was agreement between all three parties that profitability is necessary to get investment to get sustained growth and that, although we may already have got spare capacity, it is now being used up with growth. If the three parties are aiming at sustained growth, there must be more investment, which can come only from profitability and profits.
The CBI felt that to try to push the growth rate yet higher would endanger steady growth in the longer term. It is a view which the Government share that the pattern of the past has been that on those occasions when we have had a sudden spurt of growth it has led to a stop. It is better to aim at a sustained growth rather than at too much to begin with. We were able to discuss these differences.
It became apparent there was another difference of a more fundamental kind. The TUC representatives argued that, in a completely voluntary system, prices were more likely than wages to rise by more than whatever might be agreed, because prices are determined unilaterally by manufacturers and retailers while wages and salaries are determined bilaterally by employers and trade unions through the machinery of collective bargaining. The TUC took the view that, if agreement was reached on a set of proposals, the TUC would be able to ensure 51 compliance on the incomes side. It insisted that the only way of making sure of compliance on the prices side was by the imposition of statutory controls on all retail prices, particularly on retail prices of food—[Interruption.] I understood that the House wanted to have a full account of these very important discussions.
It was pointed out in discussion that a system of detailed statutory control of the kind envisaged would be unworkable without the reimposition of wartime-type controls on quality and on supply. It would require an army of inspectors and administrators and it would have the perverse effect of leading to higher prices in the more efficient shops. It would lead to the disappearance of some goods from the shops and the development of black markets. I think that the Leader of the Opposition will agree that, at a time when there are rising import prices of some materials, these consequences would follow unless the system was a general one which could be monitored and unless one had a general limit to prices and not a limit on every price in every shop in the country.
Apart from that, the proposal for statutory controls on prices and not on incomes was inconsistent with the agreed objective at the first meetings of voluntary arrangements. We were sure that a voluntary arrangement which people had freely undertaken to observe and which was monitored by a tripartite body of TUC, CBI and Government could be no less effective—and, indeed, would probably be more effective—than a statutory system with all the difficulties of trying to fix it and operate it, under which people would be concerned only with the question of obeying the Statute. But this was a disagreement about methods and not about objectives. We are agreed that the increase of prices should be limited, and it was a question of how best it could be done.
Before this disagreement emerged as a major difficulty we had already been in discussion with the CBI and representatives of the retail trade about voluntary arrangements for limiting price increases. Last week we were able to improve still further on what had already been agreed. This was the part which was missing from the speech of the Leader of the 52 Opposition. I will tell the House what we were able to put forward at the end of the week as the price element in any tripartite agreement which might be reached.
The CBI said that it would recommend to its members to undertake not to increase prices of manufactures over the next 12 months at all except where unavoidable from causes outside their control, and to keep any unavoidable price increases as small as possible, recognising that as manufacturers they have the advantages of increased productivity at a time of rapid growth.
No increase was to take place sooner than 12 months from the previous increase. The intention would be that the increase in the price of manufactured goods should not exceed 4 per cent. on average over a period of 12 months. Over the whole field of manufactured goods limits would be set to any price increase. For increases beyond the limits special justification would have to be made to a joint monitoring body on which employers, the TUC and the Government would be represented.
The Government agreed to ask the nationalised industries generally to limit their price increases to an average of 4 per cent.
As to retail prices, over 90 per cent. of the British retail trade agreed to reflect the price restraint which it had already been agreed to ask the manufacturers and the nationalised industries to observe and to hold their gross percentage margins at no more than the current levels. In addition, 80 per cent. of the leading firms in the high streets of the country set an example by giving further important undertakings. On food, they agreed to collaborate in operating a system of maximum retail prices for certain foodstuffs, which are obviously the important ones. These maxima were to be increased only if the monitoring body—the TUC, the CBI and the Government—agreed. On goods other than food, they undertook not to increase their cash margins on individual items by more than 5 per cent. without the approval of the monitoring body. That, I think, deals with the point which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition raised.
I believe that it would be hard to devise more extensive and comprehensive 53 arrangements for limiting price increases in a voluntary way. They had the advantage of being fully agreed with the CBI and the retail organisations concerned, which undertook to ensure that they would be carried out.
But the representatives of the TUC still believe that statutory arrangements were required. Late in the evening of 26th October, or it may have been early in the morning of 27th October, during the last but one of the tripartite meetings, the Director General of the NEDO, in an attempt to break the deadlock, suggested that the parties might consider agreeing that the Government should undertake to come to Parliament and ask for statutory powers if necessary to deal with any significant breach of any element in voluntary agreement. Of course we recognise that this poses certain problems. But an alternative which we also considered was that the Government should ask Parliament for enabling powers which could then be activated by an order laid before Parliament by a Minister.
At the resumed meeting yesterday, the CBI representatives made it clear that they retained a strong preference for completely voluntary arrangements over the whole field. This was the basis on which they thought all the parties had entered into the discussions. Nevertheless, they said that if it would help to secure tripartite agreement they would be prepared to recommend their members to agree that such arrangements as I have set out should be reinforced by statutory powers on either of the bases which had been considered. They were either that the Government would ask Parliament to grant powers which could be exercised in the event of a breach of the agreement in any sphere or that the Government would ask Parliament straight away for enabling powers which could be activated later if necessary. The CBI made the proviso that these powers should apply to all parts of the arrangements, to incomes as well as to prices, and anything else which was included in the arrangements.
I made it clear that I did not believe that Parliament—or, for that matter, the country—would accept a proposal for statutory powers in relation only to one part of the arrangement—in relation only to prices but not in relation to incomes. 54 It was not just that such a proposal would be unbalanced and one-sided; many people would think that in those circumstances it would be unrealistic.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is extremely important. May I ask a question about the monitoring body? As I understand it, the proposal was that any increase over the agreed 4 per cent. would have to be accepted by a monitoring body on which the TUC, the CBI and the Government would be represented. Are we to take it that that monitoring body must be unanimous in its recommendation for an increase, or does it mean that the TUC or CBI representatives would have a veto?
Mr. Prime Minister
No, it was not proposed that anybody should have a veto. It was agreed between the three parties that this should be the machinery if agreement was reached. The actual numbers have not been decided. But none of the parties saw any difficulty about that. It was not visualised that any party should have a right of veto in its own interest.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)
Does what the right hon. Gentleman has said mean that he is prepared to recommend to Parliament legislation relating to both prices and incomes, despite everything that he has ever said about rejecting any compulsory policy on wages?
§ The Prime Minister
What I am saying is that the two parties have been discussing whether they should ask the Government to come to Parliament and ask for back-up powers or ask for a voluntary agreement. These would be back-up powers which would not be brought into operation until part of the voluntary agreement had broken down. I see nothing wrong in this. Anyone who listened to the quotation of the Leader of the Opposition will be aware that that is not in conflict with his quotation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must sit down if the right hon. Gentleman does not give way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If I tell the hon. Gentleman that he must resume his seat, he must resume his seat.
§ The Prime Minister
I have already given way to two of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends. However, if he will maintain the same high quality of questioning, I will give way to him.
§ Mr. Skinner
The Prime Minister has been dealing at great length with the question of monitoring these price increases. Will he tell me this? In the event of a local authority refusing to implement the Housing Finance Act, and a proposal being made to impose a 50 per cent. increase in the rents paid by the local authority tenants, will that be included in the new monitoring system; and if not, why not?
§ The Prime Minister
Because the question of rents is covered by the statutory position. This is a question of retail prices which are being monitored jointly by the TUC and the CBI. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has no right to draw that conclusion. The question of rents is covered by Statute and it is not being discussed by the three parties in the context of the monitoring machinery.
I want to continue dealing with this phase of the discussion about the general attitude. The TUC representatives have assured us that there will be no breaches in relation to wages. But other people outside the discussions would require to be convinced—not least the CBI and not least those who are ready to accept price limitation but whose prices are largely determined by labour costs.
The question was therefore asked: why should statutory powers be thought to be indispensable for the control of prices, despite the CBI's proved success 56 with voluntary restraint in the last 15 months and despite the major undertakings which the retail trade are now prepared to give, and yet a statutory power is thought to be unnecessary in relation to incomes, even though the leaders of several unions affiliated to the TUC are publicly proclaiming their refusal to be bound by any agreement which may be reached?
That is the question which was posed by the CBI, which said that many people would find it difficult to understand why there should be a one-sided arrangement once the voluntary sphere was left. I said that I did not think I could justify to Parliament a one-sided arrangement of this kind. The question was, therefore, whether the TUC was prepared to accept either completely voluntary arrangements, which was the basis on which we started, or voluntary arrangements backed by statutory powers over their whole range. It was clear that this issue was so fundamental that, as the CBI said, it would be pointless to go on discussing other matters of detail until the answer to this was known.
Representatives of the TUC said that they could answer this question only after reference to their General Council, and they wished to refer the matter to the General Council. So the other two parties agreed fully with the request and we agreed to adjourn the meeting for this purpose. The TUC representatives will consult their General Council tomorrow morning. Then the three parties will meet again later in the day, and we have agreed to continue thereafter, day by day if necessary, until a conclusion is reached.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson
I am sorry to press the right hon. Gentleman, but he seems to have left the housing point. Did I understand him to say that housing has not been discussed at all because it is covered by the statutory position? Does that mean that until further discussion the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to discuss any question about a limit on rent increases or on mortgage rate increases or any aspect of land? Is he ruling this out, or is he telling us that the TUC and the CBI do not want to discuss it? Will he also answer the question that I put about steel prices?
§ The Prime Minister
The matters which the right hon. Gentleman has raised have not been discussed in the talks so far in any detail or even generally. We have not ruled them out. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, some of them appear in the document prepared by the TUC. The CBI is also entitled to raise these matters if it wishes to do so, but they have not yet been discussed.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the question of steel prices is the British Steel Corporation's affair, in so far as it is affected by entry into the EEC. However, it is a matter also which the British Steel Corporation will, I have no doubt, consider in relation to what is happening in other spheres as well. The Government have given their undertaking that nationalised industry prices in general will comply with the arrangements with the CBI, and the CBI has said that if it is asked for any particular increase it has to be monitored by the tripartite arrangement.
§ The Prime Minister
I am sorry—no. I have given way a good deal already. I am glad that the parties have agreed now to meet day by day, because it is urgent that we reach a conclusion to these discussions. Because we were able to hold them and because of the progress which we were known to have made, people throughout the country have allowed themselves to hope and expect that we will be able to deal on a rational basis with prices, incomes and inflation. We owe it to ourselves, we who are taking part in the discussions—all three parties—and to the country to bring the discussions to a speedy conclusion.
Our standard of living is rising faster than at any time in recent years. We have the prospect of sustaining this faster rate of growth if we do not allow inflation to ruin it. It is expansion which determines the prosperity of all the people of this county. It is expansion which enables us to give more help to the sick, to the pensioners and to those in need. It is expansion which enables us to build more houses, more schools and more hospitals. It is expansion which enables us to provide better prospects for young people and to create higher living stan- 58 dards and a better environment for us all.
By competing with each other to pay ourselves more, we do not increase that expansion—indeed, the reverse: we create the conditions which will prevent us from sustaining it. What we are seeking in these talks is to relate the growth of incomes to the growth of output and so to reduce the rise in prices. We are asking people to accept a programme which will secure the growth of prosperity which it is now within our power to achieve. I believe that that point together with the priorities on which we have agreed for this year is now well understood by the British people.
It is these fundamental issues of economic and industrial policy which are the basic matter of our discussions with the representatives of the TUC and the CBI. They recognise that there are other issues of political and social policy in which they have an interest as citizens and members of the body politic but on which, in the end, the Government are responsible to Parliament.
They fully recognise that, and they fully recognise that we are carrying on the talks on the basis of trying to agree upon an arrangement which takes account of that. They also recognise the immense significance of the fact that in these discussions the Government, the representatives of employers and the representatives of workers are sitting together round the same table to agree upon objectives for the management of the economy and industry and to work out how those objectives can best be realised.
The whole House will recognise that there is a great prize to be gained—a prize of immeasurable benefit, not to any particular section of the community but to the whole nation which we represent. That is the prize of steadier prices and of a decisive check to the inflation which, through successive Parliaments and under successive Governments, has been diminishing our achievements as a country, spreading unhappiness and anxiety and aggravating social tensions and unrest. At a time when we have achieved rapid economic growth, when we have achieved entry into the European Community, at this stage of our history everyone in this House will, I think, recognise the immense rewards which would flow 59 from a decisive success against inflation from these talks.
However, there is another prize which might in the long run, if it can be secured, prove to be of even greater worth. That is the prize—which would belong to all parties in the years to come, which would belong to those working in industry, whether in management or unions—of having a more sane, more rational and more peaceful method of organising the whole of our national economy.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I found it disappointing that there should be no reference in the Queen's Speech to the need to provide greater opportunities for people to participate in sport during their leisure time. This country is one of the most backward in providing such opportunities. We all honour the people who achieved successes in the Olympic Games, but given the size of our country and its sporting traditions the results were disappointing when compared with the achievements of other countries.
Dr. Bannister, the Chairman of the Sports Council, drew attention recently to the need to provide more opportunities, and compared this country unfavourably with some other countries, particularly some in Europe. The cities of Hamburg and Birmingham have similar populations, but Hamburg has 280 sports centres and Birmingham has only three. The Dutch spend £1.78p per head on sports facilities. We spend 47p per head.
A recent survey in the North-West of this country indicated that 60 per cent. of those who would like to be able to take part in sport were unable to do so and were bitterly frustrated by the lack of opportunity to do so. There is a growing increase in leisure time and a need for filling the leisure time of those who wish to be active. There is reference in the Queen's Speech to the need to maintain law and order. But one must expect many young people to kick over the traces if there are not opportunities for constructive sports, games and entertainment in their areas. It is very necessary that we provide more opportunities as the amount of leisure which people have at their disposal increases.
60 There is a great need to provide more playing fields. In my constituency, Dagenham, there is a sports centre and we have recently provided a new swimming pool and other facilities. In comparison with many other industrial areas, Dagenham provides quite a number of playing fields for young people to play football. There is a great football tradition in the Dagenham area. None the less there is an enormous demand which remains unsatisfied for sports fields, particularly for football.
Dr. Bannister has said that 50 sports centres have been provided and that 100 are in the pipeline, but that 800 are needed. That is the minimum number required to satisfy the immediate need recognised by the Sports Council. There should be active provision of sports facilities for young people by both central Government and local government. In the past, the people who have contributed to our achievements in the Olympic Games and other such events have largely been drawn from favoured sections of the population, from the public schools, the teaching hospitals and so on which enjoy good facilities for games. Such facilities should be provided for the whole nation on a more generous scale if we are to give young people an opportunity of taking part in sport.
Objection may be raised as to where the money would come from to provide this expansion. There is a growing feeling that the sharp increase in transfer fees for football players is seriously damaging the game and I suggest, therefore, a graduated tax on these fees. Among some of the recent transfer fees was the £250,000 which Manchester United paid in order to obtain McDougal from Bournemouth, £160,000 paid by Crystal Palace to Swindon to get Rogers and the same sum recently paid by Arsenal to Coventry for Blockley. These astronomic sums are damaging the game because they make it impossible for small clubs to build up their resources and to compete against the bigger clubs. We should have a graduated tax which would provide money for the Sports Council and for the general expansion of sport facilities.
We have the habit of nationalising industries when they are failing. We 61 should nationalise some of the prosperous industries in order to provide money for sport. Why could we not take over the betting shops? The nationalisation of off-the-course betting would produce a large sum for the expansion of sport. Why should we not nationalise the football pools? Money could be derived also from this source for the development of the sport.
It is announced in the Queen's Speech that some steps are to be taken for the protection of the consumer. I am pleased that the Government are changing their policy in the matter. I have received complaints from my constituency on two particular issues. One concerns carpets. It has been argued that if the housewife buys a carpet she can tell whether it is bad or good but I do not believe it is possible for the housewife so to judge until the carpet is on the floor and she can see how it is wearing. I suggest that she should be provided with a guarantee stating the quality of the carpet so that she knows what she is buying. The housewife does not buy a carpet every day and when she buys one she spends a great deal of money. Rigorous standards should be laid down for a number of such household goods so that the consumer knows the quality.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
Is the hon. Member aware that the traditional carpet manufacturers—those making Axminster and Wilton carpets—and the manufacturers of the new tufted carpets have an agreement to categorise the types of carpets they manufacture as to their suitability for use in the different parts of the home? Great effort has been made by the industry to make the public aware of this system and generally to advise the consumer. Whether the Government should do that or not is another matter but the industry has been trying to advise the public.
§ Mr. Parker
I am pleased to hear that, but many housewives still complain about the quality of the carpets they buy. The Government should step in to see that quality is described so that when people buy goods they know what they are getting.
Another area of complaint is in the purchase of frozen food, particularly poultry, and quite a number of reputable firms are concerned. When the consumer 62 buys a frozen turkey or chicken he frequently pays not only for the poultry but also for the frozen water inside it. In the normal process of preparing poultry for the market a great deal of the water used for cleansing tends to freeze inside the bird. Quite reputable shops will offer a turkey of, say, 10 lb. for sale and state the price. But when the housewife purchases the bird the weight is then shown as 11 lb. The housewife therefore has to pay for the extra pound of frozen water.
I have had complaints about reputable companies such as Dewhurst and Ross Poultry. It is an abuse which should be stopped if the housewife is not to be cheated. Inquiries have shown that frequently 8 per cent. to 11 per cent. of the final weight of frozen poultry is frozen water. Sometimes it is as low as 5 per cent. but this is still a very high figure. I hope that any legislation brought forward to increase the protection of the consumer will deal with the problem.
Another issue which affects my constituency particularly is the problem of large Continental lorries, many of which come into the country through the port of Felixstowe and travel through the East End of London on their way to the Midlands and other parts. I am sorry that there are no suggestions in the Queen's Speech for more drastic control of heavy lorry loads. It is a problem which should be vigorously tackled. Heavier loads are allowed on the Continent than in Britain and we should keep our independence in this sphere, whatever regulations may apply in the EEC.
One solution is to license all motor vehicles for their suitability to use particular types of roads. Such a system applies to the Army, so why should it not apply generally? Lorries in excess of a certain weight should be allowed only on motorways and on roads designated as suitable to carry such heavy traffic. The Government should give grants to local authorities and to industry to assist in setting up lorry parks near industrial premises or near large towns where large lorries—and the containers carried by many of them—could be unloaded and these loads distributed on smaller vehicles which would carry the goods into our cities and towns. Such an arrangement has been made for liner trains which 63 have collection and distribution points for goods.
This is a problem which must be faced if the heavy goods vehicle is not to destroy our towns by travelling through the narrow streets and shaking the buildings to pieces. Bypasses must be provided around towns which have narrow streets. It is no use widening the streets to carry heavy traffic if by so doing we destroy the character of a town. Heavy road transport is an important industry which should be planned nationally. The needs of industry and the needs of our towns must be taken into account in order to provide a rational system.
Another problem is created by heavy lorries parking in residential areas. My constituency was largely built when it was not thought that the working class would have motor cars. Many people now have cars, but although the streets are narrow we find that lorry drivers, either returning in the middle of the night or departing early in the morning, park their lorries in residential quarters, very much to the annoyance of the inhabitants. The lorry drivers do it so that they can leave early or possibly avoid having to pay for lodgings. They park in such a way that if an ambulance or fire engine were called at night it would find it very difficult to get along the narrow streets. If bans are to be imposed upon heavy lorries being parked in central London, there will be even more of them parked in the outer areas of London.
We need more drastic regulations and laws to prevent the parking of heavy lorries in residential areas. The point is linked with what I said earlier about the need for parking places for lorries all over the country to meet the requirements of our heavy lorry traffic. This is one of the questions which should have been faced up to in the Gracious Speech. I hope that the Government's reference to other Measures to be introduced includes steps to deal with the whole problem of heavy lorry traffic and the parking of heavy lorries, so that the heavy lorry does not continue to destroy the life of our country in the way that it is doing.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)
I shall not try to follow the 64 speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) too closely, but I must say that his proposal to nationalise betting shops is not altogether tenable in view of the Tote's lack of financial success. I wonder whether the huge resources that he hoped would be ploughed back into youth services would materialise.
We have heard a great deal today about the economy, about control of wages and prices, and the means of combating inflation. They are vital subjects, but I should like to deal with two other important aspects of policy which are dealt with in the Gracious Speech and deserve the attention of the House.
The first is the reference to international co-operation with other Governments in combating international terrorism. The events in Munich over the weekend, and the even more tragic events in Munich in the summer, illustrate the importance of that part of the Gracious Speech and show how essential such action has become. If ever there were an international problem, this is it. It may be too much to ask for truly international action to combat it, but what is not too much to ask for is European action to combat it. We hear a great deal about the potential for European co-operation. Here is a desperately important area where that potential can be realised, where it is very much in the interests of the Governments of Europe to come together and take action.
The great trouble is that we are all too often responding to what is happening. We are always tending to react, always conducting inquests after the event has taken place. For example, we have not worked out a common European policy or a common policy of any kind to cover the sort of situation which the German Government confronted last weekend. Different nations respond in different ways, and, therefore, the advantage is with the terrorists.
The most important thing we should be doing now is to work out a policy to prevent crime. That was the point made first by Sir Robert Peel when he set up a police force, that the primary object of a police force is to prevent crime. The kind of crime that we are now presented with is an international threat, and it remains very much the aim of policy to try to prevent that threat. Presented with 65 the threat, we need international action against it. Our task must be to see whether the structure for international police action is sufficient to combat the new kind of threat that we have seen in Europe and throughout the world over the past few years.
My contention is that the structure of international police organisation and cooperation is not adequate to meet the new demands and the new threat that has presented itself. People sometimes refer airily to Interpol as if it were an international police force, which it is not. It is simply a means of co-operation between police forces. It has no executive arm, but is a means of co-operation, a means of communication by which information from a police force in one country goes to another country. But what is wanted is exactly an executive arm, exactly some form of international police squad to combat international terrorism.
There is no reason why the countries of Europe should not combine to provide such a squad. It would be a logical extension of the regional crime squad organisation that we have and that France has had for many years. We should aim to create an international police squad made up of specialist police personnel and controlled by a committee composed of European police leaders. Its job would be to prevent international terrorism by taking preventive action against the terrorists, by detecting terrorists operating inside Europe, by keeping intelligence upon them—in other words, by applying in the broader context of Europe the normal police practices that we apply in a national context. It is true that even that plan falls considerably short of truly wide international action, but on the European scale it would be a considerable improvement on the system, if such it can be called, that we have now.
The other side of the problem that deserves urgent attention, not only by the British Government but by the other Governments of Europe, is the apparent ease with which terrorists can obtain arms, ammunition and explosives. Let us remember that Black September is not the only international terrorist organisation, and not the only terrorist organisation operating inside Europe. We have a terrorist organisation operating very much nearer home, the IRA, which has used murder, wounding and destruction 66 as political weapons. It has clearly had no substantial difficulty in obtaining the tools for the destruction that it carries out.
Throughout Europe the trend is one of a rise in armed crime. In Germany the problem is one of long standing, but even the German people and the German Government have never been more concerned about armed crime than they are today. In Holland only a few years ago armed crime was totally unknown, but today the police and public are deeply concerned about the trend there. Nor can it be said that in Britain there is a continuation of the old tradition that the criminal did not go armed. Let us take one figure from the statistics, that for robbery in London. In 400 out of 2,700 robberies last year the robbers were armed with firearms. To put the matter in another way, in London in 1965 one robber in 12 went armed; the figure today is one in seven.
I suggest that this problem deserves urgent attention by the Government, and indeed by European Governments generally. Unless we want to slide the way of the United States, I believe that urgent action must be taken. This will involve common laws and regulations governing the availability of firearms throughout Europe. Unless this is done, we shall find that when the international frontiers come down one weak country which does not have sufficient control over its firearms, will be enough to threaten the whole of Europe.
We should take careful note of frontier controls which apply today. It is all very well having a system of open frontiers, but it has its dangers. The danger today is that it is easy to drive from Amsterdam to Rome or from Amsterdam to Vienna virtually without check, and almost certainly without any kind of realistic check which would reveal arms smuggling. Therefore, at the very least the probability is that we must have better control on our internal frontiers and strict external controls on the frontiers of Europe.
The second area of activity with which I should like to deal is that part of the Gracious Speech which promises vigorously to pursue policies for the prevention of crime and is particularly concerned with the increase in violent crime. Again, 67 it is right for the Government to concentrate on this matter. The fact is that, however we measure crime in this country, the trend in the last 15 to 20 years has been steeply upwards.
What is sometimes ignored in the generalisation of criminal statistics is that it is in the most serious crimes where the largest increase has occurred. For example, in 1950 there were 250 robberies in London, in 1960 the number was 770, and in 1971 the figure rose to 2,700—a ten-fold increase in 20 years. The incidence of serious crime—and this is the aspect of criminal activity which the public consider to be the most serious—has increased by much more than the average in the last decade or so.
Perhaps even more serious is the high return from crime that is available to criminals. The appalling fact is that too many criminals are getting away with it; they are enjoying the proceeds of their crimes. A survey conducted by the Security Gazette only this month shows that the total value of property and money stolen in the United Kingdom amounted to £74 million. Of this only £14 million was ever recovered—in other words, the total net tax-free profit for criminals was about £60 million in one year. If crime were treated in the same way as are corporations in terms of profit, crime would rank eleventh place among Britain's top thousand companies. In fact, I believe that even that figure is an under-estimate of the true position. The truth is that much crime even now goes unreported or undetected, and if we wished to put a financial measure upon the situation we should have to add many millions of pounds to that total figure. The loss from shoplifting, from goods in transit and in other directions is enormous in the United Kingdom. Since the financial losses from crime are so vast, the Government are justified in taking the situation very seriously indeed.
One added dimension to be borne in mind is that crime, as well as becoming more serious, is becoming more violent. Armed crime is increasing, and we now have the nasty and sometimes vicious phenomenon of "mugging" which we have seen appearing in this country in the last few months. There is no question that the violence which we are seeing in 68 our society is causing great concern to the British public. It is a concern which we in this House should recognise by doing something about the situation.
It is sometimes said that crime is not something of which politicians, and indeed politics in general, should take any notice. I totally disagree with that view. I believe that it is an area where the public has a right to expect its politicians to put forward sensible policies to deal with this problem. I do not claim to have any instant solution, and I doubt whether instant solutions exist. But, equally, it is not realistic to ask the public to wait until research projects, which have not even been set up, come to fruition. It is highly unlikely that even they will produce the kind of blanket answers that people sometimes believe to be possible.
I consider that there are three elements in any policy to combat crime which the present Government should pursue. The first is to strengthen the police force. One encouraging development in the last two years has been the heartening increase in police recruitment. Recruiting in recent times has been going better than it has been going since the mid-sixties. It justifies the policy which has been pursued by the present Government of lifting the restrictions which mistakenly were placed upon recruiting by the Labour Government.
The second thing that must be done is to improve and increase the strength of the prison and probation services, which in the last ten years have tended to be the forgotten services. They are now facing new pressures, as we saw from the disturbances in the prison service during the summer. When demonstrations were organised by PROP inside the prisons. I totally support the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in refusing to negotiate on any level with that organisation. What we must do is to concentrate on improving and strengthening the service, and also on rebuilding some of our older prisons. This has nothing to do with the comfort of prisons. It is simply facing the facts of life. It is easier to work in an efficient way in a modern prison, in the same way as it is easier to work in a modern factory, than in a prison that is a left-over from the Victorian era.
69 I listened with interest to what was said about the probation service by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and was glad to know that he recognised its worth. I must tell him that I believe that a great deal of the responsibility for probation service being under-developed and under-financed lies with his Government. Between 1967 and 1969 there was virtually no increase in expenditure on the service—a service which had been starved of resources for far too long. This fact is easily discernible by simply looking up the facts and figures. I welcome the entry of the right hon. Gentleman into Home Office and "law and order" matters, as they are often called, but I hope he will recognise that it is not easy to reverse the policies of a previous Government. I see the great contribution of the Conservative Government as one of giving priority to the probation service, of increasing its strength, of improving its conditions and pay and of putting forward new recruiting standards. I very much support the Government in what they are seeking to do.
An essential element in any policy of crime prevention must be the sentence of the court. It is right that the Government should concentrate on trying to keep people out of prison if they can be dealt with in other ways. For example, we know that alcoholics clog up the prison system at Pentonville, and prison is no place for them. I support that. I believe that it also makes out the case for an enlarged probation service.
The other side of the coin is that we are threatened by an increasing number of undoubtedly serious and professional criminals who are prepared to use any method, including violence, to achieve their ends. These people have to be dealt with very severely whether they are armed robbers or muggers. It is the duty of the courts to impose very severe and in some cases very long sentences. In the case of the serious criminal who is prepared to use arms, the safety of the public must come foremost in any policy to fight crime.
I believe that the Government are right to concentrate their policies upon the maintenance of law and order and upon tackling crime. It is a very grave social problem, and we must recognise it as such. We must also recognise that it is 70 a European problem. The Government have made an encouraging start in their policies to tackle crime, and I believe that they are right to continue to place priority upon this action.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) too far into the realms of crime and punishment, though I agree very much with the importance of the subject. However, I differ with a great deal of the hon. Gentleman's philosophy in drawing attention to this part of the Gracious Speech.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the growing incidence of international crime and the hijacking of aircraft. He may not be aware of the fact that the Inter-Parliamentary Union had passed an important resolution on this subject the privilege of being in the delegation which discussed the subject at some length. In my view it would be a good idea if the Government followed up the resolution passed at that conference and took a little more effective interest in the efforts of BALPA to get a speedy decision to impose sanctions on countries which harbour hijackers.
I regret that the hon. Gentleman was unable to resist the temptation to take a side-swipe at my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the probation service, because I agree with much of what he said. He was right when he said that until we are able to improve the pay and conditions of our probation officers, especially since the Seebohm Report has been implemented, we shall not be able to marry up our efforts to prevent crime with what is being done in the social services. The only way that this can be done effectively is by reorganising the service so that it is run on parallel lines to the work being done in terms of the welfare of the community, broken families, bad housing and so many other factors which give rise to the problems to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention.
I have had the privilege of listening to 14 Gracious Speeches. Following the first of them, I was able to make my maiden speech and, like most other hon. Members, I remember that one a good deal better than many others I have made 71 since. In view of that, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I remind the House that one of my main interests as a Member of this House has been the National Health Service. My maiden speech was on the subject, and I may say that I had a better audience than I have today, although I found myself speaking at a different time of the day.
It is a matter of profound regret to me that what I asked for in my maiden speech only now appears in this Gracious Speech as part of the Government's programme for the coming Session thirteen years later. The National Health Service is to be reorganised from a tripartite structure to a unified structure. My disappointment lies in the fact that, although the Government are doing what I have been pressing for over the past 13 years, they are doing it in such a bad way that I shall be busily engaged next Session trying to amend it, in view of the fact that the White Paper has already foreshadowed the legislation to come. The Prime Minister was quite wrong when he said that the reorganised Health Service would be democratic in structure. It is a completely top-to-bottom reorganisation that is proposed. Some 9,000 people at present serving on committees will be eliminated. Instead, we shall have very small committees, all responsible to the Secretary of State. However, there is a great deal more detail than simply that, and I do not wish to anticipate my Second Reading speech. But I am disappointed to discover that when I have at last got what I have long wanted, the proposals are so profoundly wrong that the greatest opportunity in 20 years of the National Health Service is likely to be missed.
I now wish to take up the point in the Gracious Speech that deals with consumer protection. There is one very important aspect here which is likely to be missed unless attention is drawn to it. Obviously the Government intend to rectify the mistake they made in getting rid of the Consumer Council and the National Board for Prices and Incomes. We do not yet know what will emerge, but something will. However, nothing has been said about the elimination of another very important piece of consumer protection. I refer to the Macgregor Committee.
72 Last year, the nation took 250 million doses of medicine costing 75p per dose. Until 1970 we had the Macgregor Committee acting as a watchdog. Its full title was the Standing Joint Committee on the Classification of Proprietary Preparations. At the same time as we sought to protect the health of the individual by having the Committee on the Safety of Drugs, we sought to have a committee to study the efficiency of drugs, to ensure that drugs coming on to the market were doing the job that they were intended for and to ascertain whether we were paying too much for worthless remedies. The Macgregor Committee managed to inspect more than 90 per cent. of all the drugs on the market. It had what it called its "Proplist" which classified drugs according to their usefulness, and it drew up a list of "B" preparations which it described as "undesirable". As a result, a large number of useless drugs were withdrawn. Two months ago the section of the Medicines Act, 1968, came into operation which laid down a final date for obtaining a "licence as of right" for a new drug. Prior to that date, applications were received for 3,000 new licences. As a result, there is likely to be a proliferation of useless drugs. A pharmacist has to hold shelf upon shelf of drugs many of which are banned by the United States Food and Drug Administration because they serve no useful purpose and we shall have to pay for them.
If the Government are serious about consumer protection, this is an area where it would be possible to save something from the £270 million that the nation spends by way of its household budget, about £80 million of it going on proprietary preparations. The least that the Government should do is to reconstitute the committee which they put to death so shabbily in the package deal of 1970. The only barrier to this freedom for the drug industry was the Macgregor Committee. At the time of the decision to disband it, Professor Macgregor commented:We were the naughty boys of the pharmaceutical industry, and now we have been put in our place.Another serious omission from the Gracious Speech is that of any reference to the Medicines Bill which has been under discussion for the last 18 months. 73 Since August of this year, 8,000 doctors have been struck off the medical register quite arbitrarily. This matter has been under discussion for some time, and a working party under Sir Brynmor Jones published a report on the subject some two years ago. Since then a joint working party of the GMC and the BMA has issued a first report. Perhaps it is as well that the Government are not hurrying forward with their legislation. At the present time the GMC has arbitrary powers. If there is to be any reorganisation, its function as well as its composition must be looked at, by which I mean what it is supposed to be doing and how well it is doing it. In that connection, the rights of the consumer as a patient are important. It must be remembered that at present this is a panel of doctors to look after the interests of doctors. However, the patient also has an interest, as has the ordinary citizen. This body should not be a private enclave of top level doctors looking after their own affairs. We should lift the curtain to see what goes on behind the scenes. More public participation is needed.
One big problem, because of the way that retention fees have been put up, is that 6,000 or 7,000 doctors may be struck off for refusing to pay the fees. What will happen if we lose 6,000 hospital doctors or GPs because they are not registered? I hope that the Government and the Secretary of State for Social Services will take action to ensure that it does not happen at this stage. Perhaps the most effective action would be to announce a full public inquiry, or even a Royal Commission, to look into the powers, the constitution, the functions, the rights and the balance of medical composition of that body concerning the service it should be giving to the community as a whole. When a Bill is brought forward it should be comprehensive and not just patch up the composition of the council. At the moment there is too much top brass interest and not enough interest at the lower level, and I am concerned that the junior hospital doctors shall remain as participants.
My last point concerns a purely constituency matter. I wish to refer to that part of the Gracious Speech which gives support to the people, the communities and the boroughs who are doing such a tremendous job in welcoming the 74 Ugandans with British passports who are fleeing from the concentration camps of Uganda.
My constituency is in the London borough of Brent which at the moment is top of the league for the number of Ugandan Asians it has received. In the 13 years that I have been a Member I have made many speeches in this House on the immigrant problem, because my borough is usually top of the league on most immigrant matters. In 1926 we had the Welsh after the General Strike; in the 1930s we had the Irish. From 1957 to 1961 we had the West Indians—Jamaicans and Trinidadians. We then had the Nigerians, the Indians and the Pakistanis. Then, of course, we had the Kenyans.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, when I took a deputation from my constituency to see her pointing out that we were likely to need at least one thousand school places for Kenyans for recognising the problem and granting special funds for that purpose. Since then we have the highest number of Ugandans with the same problems of education, housing, employment and community living. Therefore, I am pleased that the Gracious Speech underlines the fact that the Government will underwrite the good will of the people of Brent.
I am extremely proud of the way that the citizens in my area have dealt with a very difficult problem. We still have 7,000 on the housing list. We still have all the social problems which can be imagined in such a highly industrial area. There have been 6,000 redundancies in the last four years from closed factories because of the way employment has been rationalised—2,000 from GEC/AEI alone. So, on the back of already highly difficult social problems, the people of Brent have shown tolerance and good will in trying to get over those problems, meeting them without emotionalism or racialism, seeking only to tackle them in some practical way. For example, no school children will be overcrowded because of the welcoming of those who are incoming. Neither will any child go without education because we are opening temporary schools and employing special teachers. Because of the fine example that Brent has given to the whole country, being one of the first 75 areas to have a borough-sponsored integration committee, and the practical way that it is dealing with the problems, I welcome that part of the Gracious Speech which says that Her Majesty's Government will underline that with hard cash, because we need it.
I am grateful that over the last 13 years my constituency has been able to show that kind of tolerance to our problems. I am grateful to my local newspapers which, at a time when they were inundated with racialist letters, were able to provide a balance. I shall never forget the Willesden Chronicle, when racialism was at its height in the late 1950s, showing a picture of a coloured girl who had rescued three children from a fire. That picture was more effective than a thousand words. The country needs this kind of generous background in other areas than mine. This is a two-way business. We need to tackle the problem not only locally but nationally, with the Government giving us the funds and resources we need. On those lines, I welcome that part of the Gracious Address.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I used to live in the area of Willesden. Whether it was Willesden, East or West I do not know, but I know that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down speaks as the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt).
I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's affirmation of the responsibility with which people in his constituency, and the local authority in particular, have responded to the problem created by the emergence of the displaced people from Uganda.
Last week I was talking to my constituents in Canterbury—an entirely different area from where I used to live, an area where perhaps we do not have a single coloured immigrant—about the Ugandan Asians. One can expect in such an area as mine what I should describe as a reaction, without saying it is reactionary, to the problem. I said that as a country we would be remembered in future not for our economic success in 1972, but for our moral judgments and correct behaviour in humanitarian matters, as we always have been.
76 That is the position I have taken on the Government's attitude and reaction to the problem created for them by the disgraceful behaviour of the President of Uganda in displacing people from his country to make them displaced in the world. This country lived up to its responsibilities, great history, tradition and name by saying that we would welcome to our shores such people so displaced. Notwithstanding the problems we face, both economically and socially, we said that we would close neither our doors nor our minds to our great history and tradition of behaviour when people are in distress anywhere in the world. My constituents absolutely and completely took this as their view, not mine, without any dissension.
That is all I want to say on this issue, as I have not risen to comment on the Gracious Speech on that point in particular.
The week before last we discussed in this House whether we should show ourselves to the public by the admission of the television camera and the radio to our proceedings, and we commented on what the public might see if they were to listen and watch our debates. What would they see this afternoon but spacious, empty green benches and empty benches in the Press Gallery, too, which is capable of holding 146 reporters? Where are they this afternoon? The right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) properly wrote in The Times some months ago that it was not only Members of Parliament who left their places at five o'clock to go to the tea room and elsewhere, but those who normally sit in this distinguished Press Gallery who left as well. What benefit has the public this afternoon and evening of hearing the deliberations of those of us here if those areas are so empty compared with the Public Gallery, which is so full? Therefore, I condemn the empty Press Gallery as much as I condemn the emptiness of these benches.
I turn particularly to the Front Benches. Just look at the Opposition Front Bench, the alternative Government today, at a time of crisis in this country when we have heard the legislation offered by the Government of the day, by the Prime Minister, through the Gracious Speech. Is there anybody on the Opposition Front Bench taking a note of what was said 77 by the hon. Member for Willesden, West or is being said by me? I know there is someone sitting below the Gangway who is capable of reporting to the Leader of the Opposition all that goes on here. But I am pointing to something of principle about this Chamber. It is not good enough that hon. Members should find so many other places to be in this great Palace, this great building, than in this Chamber.
I am not saying that the Chamber should be full because I am on my feet, or on my legs, as the phrase used to be. This afternoon we heard important speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler), the hon. Member for Willesden, West, and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). They raised points of great moment and interest, not only to their constituents, but to the public as a whole. The points they raised are of interest to the Government, and to the Shadow Government, too.
I cannot help feeling that what has happened on this day, which is often regarded as the day for not making a speech, or at least not making one after the Prime Minister has spoken, is a pitiful display of what has happened to the House of Commons. It is not only the Front Benches that are concerned. The thoughts, anxieties, concerns, views and constructive attitudes of back benchers should command the attention of the Government of the day and of the Opposition, too. It is no good saying that we must have a Leader of the House, or that we must reform the House and introduce new procedures, to help the back bencher to have a better position in the House. There is only one person who can help the back bencher to achieve that, and that is the back bencher himself.
Unless more speeches are made, just as I am trying to make one this afternoon, to show that back benchers will speak up, and even speak against their Government, that they will speak up for their constituents, for their principles and for the country as a whole if necessary, we shall not be able to make this again the great Chamber that it used to be before the Whips became all-powerful, a Chamber in which groups of Members became powerful even if only half a dozen of them grouped together. We may yet be approaching a situation in 78 which a group of Members in this House, on one side or the other, determine the future of a Government and the progress of our country.
My remarks so far are only a prelude to what I want to say about the Gracious Speech, because I view with dismay the emptiness of the benches on both sides of the House following the departure of the two Front Bench speakers.
§ Mr. Fowler
Might it not be that members of the Front Bench opposite are taking up the suggestion that the writ for the Lincoln by-election should be moved?
§ Mr. Crouch
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The suggestion made to the Opposition by some hon. Members, including myself, that that by-election should be held as soon as possible was received with dismay and silence. We hope that it will be held in the very near future, because the public are entitled to know whether one of the persons standing for election is truly a democratic member of the Labour interest, if not the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that if he is seeking to make a point about Parliament and about attendance in the Chamber he will carry greater weight if he does not make it in a partisan way?
§ Mr. Crouch
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to keep me within the broader bounds of parliamentary thought, principle and activity, rather than within the more narrow field of party activity, but this place is made the greater by party strife, activity and argument rather than by, in an amorphous, loose way, regarding everything as parliamentary. We are not such a body, and never have been, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not think that my small digression into what might or might not happen at Lincoln is not a good thing for this place and that that sort of intervention should not continue.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I know that the hon. Gentleman would wish to be fair. He knows that this debate takes a certain form. Different subjects are debated on different days until next Tuesday, when certain issues will be voted upon. During the major debates this week the various 79 points that are raised are dealt with by the responsible Minister. At the moment there is one junior Minister on the Government Front Bench and one of my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. The debate will be reported, and those who have to reply to it will have an opportunity to do their homework. Is it not right that that should be done?
§ Mr. Crouch
The hon. Gentleman has always been all things to all men, and in that short intervention he has illustrated very well the part that he plays.
I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is now on the Government Front Bench, but he is much more concerned with Concorde and things in the air than with the matters which I wish to raise, which are to do with the environment. I shall not talk about Concorde, but I hope that what I say will be reported by my hon. Friend to that other Department which he serves, apart from the Department of Trade and Industry. I propose to say something about the problems created by aircraft and aircraft noise, and I hope my hon. Friend will ensure that what I say gets to the Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow)
This matter is the direct responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry.
§ Mr. Crouch
I have often said that this is the most difficult debating Chamber in the world, and it is not made easier by interventions from one's own Front Bench, but one has to learn to live with that. My hon. Friend is right, and I shall therefore direct my remarks about Maplin to him.
The Gracious Speech says:A measure will be introduced to facilitate"—that is a terrifying word to some of us—the building of a Third London Airport at Maplin.My interest, as some hon. Members know, is that the border of my constituency is about 14 miles from where it is proposed to situate the runways at Maplin. A distance of 13 or 14 miles across the sea is a long way, but it is not a long way 80 when considered in terms of aircraft noise. Windsor is about 12 miles from the end of the Heathrow runways, yet the noise experienced at Windsor is extremely serious, as we know from various reports by people in that area, including the Town Clerk of Windsor. It is a densely-populated area in which the noise affects education. It makes it difficult for schoolchildren to hear their lessons. It makes it difficult for conversations to take place. Generally, it has been a most disturbing influence.
Noise is a modern form of pollution and one which we can avoid, at least in some degree. I am not saying that we are able to avoid all forms of pollution in a modern world, but I am saying that we are able to direct our efforts and energies towards controlling this aspect of it in some way. As we advance economically as a modern society and accept the problems produced by modern communication, so we must advance environmentally as well and accept our responsibility to protect the community, society and people against the problems which economic progress brings in its wake.
I know that the Government are aware of the problem, because there have been full-day debates on the third London airport. During those debates I have been entitled to have my say, and the Government have given careful consideration to the views expressed by hon. Members from Kent and Essex who are worried about what the building of this third London airport means. Here I speak not only for my constituents but also for those who live in North-East Kent and parts of Essex. There are about 100,000 people—much more than the number in my constituency—on the North-East coast of Kent who feel that the hon. Members representing Kent have let them down by allowing this airport to be built at Maplin. They want none of it. They are worried about the value of their properties. Farmers are worried about the situation of their farms, and holidaymakers and people who cater for the tourist trade are wondering whether Kent will continue to be an area to visit on holiday because of the noise that will arise from the airport in eight or ten years' time.
I have said—and the Government Front Bench know this quite clearly—that I accept the decision that this was 81 probably the best that could be done from a national point of view. To site the third London airport in the sea, off the coast of Essex and 12 or 13 miles from the coast of Kent is better than putting it on top of a village in the heart of the English countryside, in Buckinghamshire or Hertfordshire. This is the best place. It is better than having to displace people over several hundred acres, which would otherwise be necessary. Even so, I ask the Government to bear in mind that the problem of noise will continue, because once an aircraft has taken off it is where it goes that matters.
I am glad that the Government agreed some months ago that the siting of these runways should be as far out to sea as possible but I am still concerned that they should not forget, in spite of my acquiescence and the acquiescence of other members for North-East Kent to this decision, that we are still concerned to represent those constituents of ours on the North-East coast of Kent, and to protect them as far as possible from the adverse effects of this airport, and that we want the flight paths and the stacking areas to be over the sea—over the Thames Estuary. I hope that in the future planning and in the Measure that we are to have presented to us what I have said this afternoon will not be forgotten. I want to emphasise how strong feelings still are in North-East Kent. I must stress the fact that vigorous concern is still being felt, and I ask the Government to take note of that.
There is another matter concerning environment which I hope my hon. Friend will report to the Department. It properly falls within that Department.
§ Mr. Molloy
I agree very much with what the hon. Member has been saying about aircraft noise. I have similar problems in my constituency. Will he join me and other hon. Members on both sides of the House who are still campaigning to try to get some sense into the Department of Trade and Industry and get it to have a conference with local authorities? I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that local councillors are sometimes more intimate with these problems than are Members of Parliament. If they are consulted they can make a contribution towards solving this problem.
§ Mr. Crouch
I value that intervention. I believe that the Department of Trade and Industry wants such a contribution and would welcome it from local authorities which have a considerable depth of knowledge about the problem raised by the hon. Member. I am glad that he raised the point and I support what he has said, because this grass roots consultation is essential. We, in this place, and the Government, in their place in Whitehall, are thinking nationally about our economic requirements in terms of a third London airport. We understand their arguments, but the Government must know that hon. Members have constituents who are constantly referring to this problem and will have talked with local authorities which have studied the problems arising, and such knowledge and grass roots opinion must be valuable, to both the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry. I thank the hon. Member for that intervention.
I now touch upon another aspect mentioned further on in the Gracious Speech, to the effect that:My Government will take further positive action on the protection and improvement of the environment.The hon. Member for Dagenham mentioned the question of heavy lorries on our roads, and said that the Government should introduce legislation to ensure that such heavy vehicles were confined to motorways. I know that we have about 1,000 miles of motorway, but that is not enough to contain the number of heavy lorries in this country at the moment. I have a bee in my bonnet—it is no less than that—when I say that in my constituency we have a motorway which starts in the distinguished constituency of Bexley and ends precisely 20 miles north, or inland, of the port of Dover. It is the M2, and it ends in what I have always said is a ploughed field.
Why does it end 20 miles short of the busiest port not only in Britain or Europe but in the world? The M2 ends in a ploughed field. No doubt some would call it an orchard. It goes nowhere. I have been pressing the Government and the previous Administration for several years to see that the M2 is continued to the port of Dover. I have been told that 83 there is no case for this; that the motorway to the channel port will not be the M2 but the road that runs from London to Folkestone—the A20, which will be converted into the M20.
We still have a large proportion of traffic at the moment going to the port of Dover through my constituency and the ancient and great little city of Canterbury. It is on the A2, and in parts that road is only 18 feet wide. It is appallingly dangerous. What is more, it is absolutely ridiculous. There is not a foreign visitor to this country who believes that we are serious about entering the Common Market, whether he arrives at Dover with a caravan behind his car or driving a 30-ton TIR lorry, when he drives for 20 miles through the garden of England on a road that is only 20 feet wide and defiles pretty Kentish villages.
There have been fatal accidents, and the Department of the Environment and the Government are well aware of the problem. During the recent recess the Minister of State responsible for road development and local government took a whole day off and brought several members of his Ministry to see the situation and meet protesters. The protesters are not asking for the impossible; they are merely asking for the realistic. They are asking the Government to recognise that on 1st January we are linked with Europe, that the major route to Europe is still through the port of Dover, and that the road linking it, for 20 miles at least, is not up to the standard of the roads in the rest of Great Britain.
§ Mr. John Loveridge (Hornchurch)
Does my hon. Friend think that those responsible for the construction of our motorways are fully aware that we shall, in fact, join Europe and that this will greatly add to the volume of traffic?
§ Mr. Crouch
I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench are aware that we are going into Europe. But my hon. Friend has pointed to something very important that I wonder about. I am not sure about the civil servants or the bureaucracy behind the Ministers. The Government must begin to think about what is said in the House and by the people in the country who are represented through this House; they should 84 not merely listen to technical advice given to them in the Ministry, which is often based on a bureaucratic view that might have been correct many years ago. This applies to road development, and to the M2, which stops 20 miles short of Dover.
I see you nodding, Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether you are nodding in agreement or whether I have gone on for too long. I finish by referring to one other aspect of the Gracious Speech which has caught my attention.
A Bill is to be laid before us to reorganise the National Health Service. I want to comment not so much as a Member representing his constituents but as one who sits on a regional hospital board. As such, I have the opportunity to see something of the working of one aspect only of the Health Service—the hospital service.
Yesterday, because I was not so busy, I gave up a day to visit a hospital in the South-East region, although not in my constituency. It was built about 1860, and my experience yesterday reminded me of 1860. This hospital was properly described in those days as a "colony" —the term usually given then to mental asylums. They were places to which we sent people when they were no longer considered fit to live in the rest of society.
What I saw yesterday worried me considerably. Of course I saw great compassion by the nursing staff and the hospital administration for 1,500 persons, many of whom I met personally. But I was shaken to think that I was living in 1972 and could see people living in such conditions. I was shaken to think that we in this House still allow such conditions to continue, and shaken to realise the awful contrast between what we allow in our hospitals and what we are determined to see in our schools.
In our schools we provide for the élite, not just those who are lucky enough to go to grammar school or to go on from secondary to higher education, but any child in this country above a certain IQ, who can get a primary education and can be treated as a normal human being. We give them every opportunity and vote the necessary money.
What so disturbed me yesterday was the realisation that we are not voting 85 enough money for the hospital service, particularly for the mentally handicapped. Money would put so much right. If only we spent as much money on the hospital capital building programme as we spend on building schools, perhaps I would not be telling the House of my concern. I was ashamed of what I saw yesterday—a building crumbling through lack of money, in which, in a five-storey block, there was only one nurse on duty at night to look after over 140 patients, 43 of whom were epileptics. Any one of those patients could create a problem in the night.
More money voted by the Government and greater priority could do so much to encourage the greater recruitment of nurses by producing the facilities which nurses require to join a hospital. More money could do so much to create the 1972 conditions to replace the 1860 conditions, with modern decoration and carpeting, proper wardrobes and decent beds, as well as good training facilities. Giving persons medical attention can do so much for mental illness, but they must also have the environmental opportunity to improve. Important though modern decoration is, this also means giving hope to a person who is ill. Training and opportunity to do constructive work is also very important—and it will all cost a great deal of money.
What concerns me is that the Chancellor's estimates in a White Paper published in November last year showed that, while the capital expenditure on education was £497 million, that on the National Health Service, for personal and social services, including hospital building, was nearly £260 million less—£239 million. This is getting our priorities wrong, looking after the élite, the small percentage, and ignoring those who require our greatest care in a scientific and compassionate age.
This is where such decisions can be reversed. We shall debate a reorganisation of the National Health Service which has to do with administration, with collecting the responsibility of the three sides into one central body. When that happens, we must direct our priorities from here and see that they are carried out by the administration of the National Health Service in all those areas for the benefit of those who need the help and 86 the special advance of money to allow them to enjoy life in 1972, as the rest of us believe is our entitlement.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) closely, because he spoke at some length and covered many subjects, and what he said can be left to stand on its own. What I want to deal with first is what the Prime Minister said today.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the two main achievements of this Government being a growth rate of 5 per cent. and entry to the Common Market. On the latter point, I would like to draw attention to the communiqué issued after the Summit:Economic expansion is not an end in itself. Its first aim should be to enable disparities in living conditions to be reduced."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1972; Vol. 843, c. 807.]If we are to examine this claim of a 5 per cent. growth rate, the Government must say for how long they have had it and how long they expect it to continue. But what is clear is that it has not benefited all parts of the country anything like equally, that the benefits have been most disparate.
The Gracious Speech is sadly deficient in its attention to this problem. It is true that it refers to the Government's intention to pursue measures to create confidence and stimulate employment in the assisted areas, but there is no recognition of the failure of the Government's policies throughout the last two and a half years to tackle the root causes of the prevailing imbalance in our national economy, no hint that new policies are being considered, no recognition of the scale of the problem with which we are faced.
The Government have been curiously coy about giving any measure of the problem to the House. Indeed, in their abandonment of all open economic planning we are forced to make some guesses at the nature and size of the problem of regional disparities within our economy. If we look at some of the ingredients of the problem we can realise that the measures which the Government have embarked upon are wholly inadequate.
87 First of all, we face the problem of those who are at present unemployed, a figure not far short of 900,000 at this time. Secondly, we face the problem of the low activity rates in the development areas, particularly for women. Thirdly, we face the problem of net migration out of these areas, the trend of which seems to have reversed from the time when the Labour Government had succeeded in checking this unfortunate trend. Fourthly, there is the question of the expected growth in the supply of labour over the years ahead. Fifthly, we face the problem of the anticipated decrease of jobs in such industries as steel, coal, textiles, shipbuilding and engineering. I think it reasonable to expect that there is likely to be a secular decline in most of these sectors in the years ahead. There has been virtually no recognition of this today in either the Gracious Speech or in the speech of the Prime Minister.
If these factors are all taken into account this Government—any Government—is faced with a monumental task in creating new employment in the regions, and I venture to suggest to the Government that the scale of the task is of the order of 100,000 jobs per annum if we are to achieve the full employment to which this party least is committed, that is if we are to reduce unemployment to the region of 1.5 per cent. If one looks at the record of what has been achieved in recent years, and particularly in the years when we had an effective regional policy, in the last years of the Labour Government, when we were creating some 30,000 new jobs per annum, one sees what a shortfall there is and how inadequate are the present Government's measures to tackle it.
The Government also, it seems, have failed even yet to recognise, even in their revised approach, which amounts to the abandonment of the attempt to cut public expenditure by starving the regions of development aid, the crucial importance of those sectors of the economy which have traditionally not received assistance to the same extent as the manufacturing industries. At this time some two-fifths of our jobs are in manufacturing industries. The prediction of economists, for example of the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge and the recently-publicised estimate by the National 88 Institute of Economic and Social Research, is that the jobs in the manufacturing industries will decline still further in the period up to 1975. A reduction of some 300,000 jobs is expected to have occurred in the manufacturing sector of industry, during the half decade ending in that year. That being a reasonable expectation, it seems important that the Government should endeavour to try to assist jobs in the other sectors, particularly the services sector, which may be mobile to move to the regions, and jobs in the distribution services and financial services and professional and scientific services. All of this ought to be looked at with much more sympathy by the Government as areas in which they could do more to help the growth of the regions.
Above all, the time has come, I think, for a completely new approach to the problem of decentralising central Government, because that, in itself, provides massive employment and this Government have not shown any commitment to move as far or as fast on this as they should. I would ask the Government to indicate during this debate what reply they have sent to the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Lord Provost Gray, who wrote to the Prime Minister calling for decentralisation of central Government services, and particularly to the west of Scotland.
We must also recognise that there is a possibility of attracting mobile international firms into the regions, but only if we offer incentives which are at least competitive with those offered by foreign countries. I believe that at the moment our incentives are, broadly, competitive.
Second, if we are to attract mobile industries there must be some stability in the incentives which we offer. I think the Government's policies have proved disastrous. Since they took office they have reversed themselves repeatedly, and left businessmen with a completely confused picture of what to expect. One incentive I would single out for particular mention is the regional employment premium, which the Government have indicated they intend to phase out by 1974. By so stating, the Government have, of course, seriously damaged the effectiveness of this tool, as it is now being regarded by industrialists as a benefit 89 which they cannot expect to remain. The Government would have done better to remain silent. I would also ask them now firmly to indicate what their intentions are about the subsidisation of labour costs. It seems to me imperative that we recognise the importance of the regional employment premium both in retaining employment in the developing areas and in its being, as it were, an offsetting factor which works, not unlike regional devaluation might, to keep the costs of industry down in the developing areas of this country.
The third area in which we ought to be assisting development of industry in the regions by attracting mobile industry is by substantially better overseas promotion than this Government have embarked upon up to this time. To take Scotland for example, it seems to me an indictment of the Government that it was the trade unions which, to deal with the position in John Brown's yard, had to go to Texas and contact the Marathon Company. That help was found by the efforts of Dan McGarvey and his colleagues, not by the efforts of the Government themselves. This is but symptomatic of the failures of the Government. We have had in Scotland much talk of the promotional activities of the so-called "Minister of Development", the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), in Germany. I am bound to say that nothing much appears to have happened as a result of these activities. Clearly, this job is one for experts, and the "Minister for Development", so-called, is certainly no expert, judging by the results.
A further positive suggestion I make to the Government is that they should now seriously consider how they can best assist the nationalised industries to play their proper rôle in providing employment in the regions. The Government should seek to remove all unreasonable restrictions upon the diversification of their activities. In our industrial society today, what is needed is flexibility and a readiness to diversify, and the kind of management expertise that has been built up within the nationalised industries could well be employed in new directions. In the face of the serious situation in the country, the doctrinaire refusal of the Government to countenance such 90 measures is something which they ought now to cease.
There are some fundamental questions which could reasonably be asked of the Government about their approach to regional policy. They have been singularly secretive about their "re-thinks". We are presented with the results but rarely with the reasoning behind them. Regarding the cost to the country of regional policies, what have the Government done to examine the resource costs of alternative methods of attracting and retaining industry in the regions? Nothing has been said publicly about this. We are left with the conclusion that they treat these Exchequer costs almost as though they were resource costs, not off-setting on the credit side the increased taxation and the reduced unemployment benefits, for example, which they would gain by a more healthy regional economy.
These general criticisms can be made of the Government's whole approach to medium-term economic planning. So far from having more open government, as the Government have promised, we have had more secretive government, with, for example, less readiness to present Select Committees of the House with the facts and figures and the projections they make upon which they base their policies. The Government must be more cooperative with the House. Here I take issue with the hon. Member for Canterbury. It is vitally important that we in the House should have the co-operation of the Government in making these projections available to us. This is vitally important if Parliament is to play its proper rôle.
The regional problem is not primarily due to geographical problems. Although areas such as my constituency are affected to some extent by factors such as transport costs when they are seeking to induce industry to come to them, it is broadly true that these are relatively minor factors in the decisions of industrialists on where to locate their industries. These are a relatively small factor in total costs.
In Britain we have faced economic, environmental and social decline in the regions for years, with each of these factors reinforcing each other, so that an area becomes increasingly unattractive for all these inter-locked self-reinforcing reasons. I fear that in their treatment 91 of the problem of regional imbalance the Government have shown little recognition of these factors.
Regional development cannot be a question solely of cash. It requires, clearly, a mix of different remedies, and the mixture varies from region to region. Consequently, the time has come to recognise that there must be a substantial devolution of decision-making in these matters. It is not good enough to simply operate these differential aids through central Government, the Department of Trade and Industry and its sub-offices in the regions.
I refer briefly to a specific area of regional development in which the Government appear hopelessly to have underestimated the important potential of the situation, and that is the oil industry in Scotland. It is now an almost universally agreed assessment of the Government's attitude that they have greatly under-estimated its value. Indeed, only last week the Secretary of State for Scotland in reply to a letter from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) indicated that he was unprepared to make predictions of any kind about the impact of the oil industry in Scotland. The situation, said the Secretary of State, was evolving. But that evolution is no excuse for inaction. Above all, it is no excuse for the Government's free hand to the oil companies in the developments and for the situation that has arisen as a result of their unpreparedness to back the servicing industries and industries providing equipment, whose value to our economy could reach immense proportions of about £2,500 million over the next 10 years.
The time has come for a fundamental change of policy with regard to oil. In granting exploration licences in past years it was understandable that successive Governments took the view that the important thing was to promote the most rapid exploration possible because of the benefits to the economy as a whole of the discovery of oil. But now stringent conditions must be attached to the grant of licences to ensure that participating companies seek to develop the local economy, particularly in their purchasing, to benefit British industry and particularly Scottish industry.
92 Furthermore, there must be new arrangements over the royalities. The need for speed in exploitation is apparent, but the extent of the oil resources has far exceeded what was originally expected. It is right that the oil companies should pay accordingly into the national exchequer. I also commend to the Government what is widely regarded as desirable in Scotland: the establishment of a special Scottish development agency to which some of the finance would be contributed by the oil industry.
At present we recognise that there is a great weakness in our regional planning procedures. There is a gap made worse by the uncertainties about the future shape of both local and central government. In Scotland we recognise that local government is to be reformed during the coming parliamentary year, as mentioned in the Gracious Speech. But the proposals may not have a profound impact upon economic developments, certainly not in the short term, because the functions of the new units of local government are not greatly altered from the existing functions of local government. It is unlikely that we shall see any fundamental alteration in the shape of central Government until the Commission headed now by Lord Kilbrandon reports. The importance of devolving responsibility to the regions for many major economic decisions should be recognised and we should not have to wait for years for this to come about. There is almost unanimity in Scotland about the need for this. The one dissentient appears to be the Government.
I turn in conclusion to the implications for regional development of the Paris summit meeting, in particular because of the Government's apparent belief, according to the Gracious Speech, thatthe county's full economic and industrial potentialwill be benefited by entry into the enlarged Community.
Much has been made of the Government's achievement in regional policy at the summit meeting. That achievement was very slight. It is true that it is now recognised within the Community that economic and monetary union will not be achieved without some kind of regional policy. What that is to be is far from clear. Nor is it given the absolute priority which it deserves.
93 The decision to set up a regional development fund is of only marginal importance. Community funds exist already which can be of benefit and assistance to the regions. What is clear is that within the Community the tension remains between those who regard its social objectives as prime and those who regard the removal of the distortions of international trade as prime—that is, those who are in favour of totally free competition. That continuing tension is given expression to under the different heads of the communiqué. This is a considerable battle which is still to be fought within the Community. Unless it is fought and won by those who see the significance of regional development to the Community, there can be little prospect of economic union occurring.
The summit meeting's greatest weakness was its failure to recognise that within the Community it is regional interests even more than national interests which require protection. The preponderant weight of the Council of Ministers to which the Prime Minister has repeatedly referred—he did so again this afternoon—in the Community's institutions may serve to protect the national interests broadly conceived, but the regional interests are not so recognised in the Community's institutional framework. They should be.
There are many ways in which this could be done. The most obvious is through direct election from regional constituencies to the European Parliament. The Prime Minister's total failure to give his support to this has cast a rather gloomy light over the broad commitment to the further democratisation of the European Economic Community, and it is in that area that we must continue to press the Government for further progress in the weeks and months ahead.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
I extend a very warm welcome to Her Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne and particularly to the comments that were addressed to it by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his underlining of the critical importance in our national economy of the level of growth and economic expansion.
The Prime Minister said that there were three considerations which were 94 uppermost in his mind in the principles enshrined in the present negotiations and which would remain paramount. The first of these was to sustain a continued high level of growth. The second was to deal with the problem of the low paid. The third was to settle, if possible by a generally acceptable formula, the problem of continuing cost-price inflation.
The Prime Minister summed all those up by saying that they showed some considerable progress, because at present he believed that the rate of economic growth was about 5 per cent. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) cast doubt upon that figure. The hon. Gentleman wanted to know to what period of time it related and asked various other questions. The fact is that it has generally been attributed to a period of the last five months. It is believed that the rate of growth up to next April will be at an average of 5 per cent, at least. That in our present circumstances is not sufficient, but it is considerably more than Governments in recent years have achieved.
The notorious omission from the Gracious Speech is any reference in direct terms to the fuel and power nationalised industries. The Prime Minister mentioned almost in passing that a sum of £200 million would be called in aid to subsidise prices, though he did not use the term "subsidise"—to keep prices at a lower level, an artificially lower level, than they would otherwise have been. The Prime Minister went on from there to say that the figure might well rise to £500 million in the foreseeable future.
I believe that the Prime Minister was guilty of a grave understatement when he mentioned those figures, because for the coal industry alone, which is the most important consideration in the year ahead, much more important than electricity, oil, natural gas or other fuels, I believe that a figure of approximately £700 million will be needed as a capital injection.
The reason I believe that that figure will be essential is that the industry lost last year £167 million and received £100 million as a temporary stipend or grant in aid, if you will, following the disastrous coal miners' strike earlier this year, 95 and its finances are generally in a deranged and very unsatisfactory condition. The industry is not paying its way. The foreseeable requirements up to 1975–76 are probably of the order of £1,000 million in all.
Where that money is to be derived from is questionable. I think that the State will have to provide the greater part of it and that prices will rise a good deal. Whatever are the contributory arguments, one thing that is certain is that the industry cannot afford at present to concede the miners' wage claim, which is approximately £7 a week. If the industry were to concede it, it would have to raise the price of coal by about £8 a ton if the industry were to stand any chance at all of breaking even. Likewise with electricity. Coal and electricity, of course, are intimately associated, as the bulk of our electric power is derived from coal as to about 70 per cent. In the case of the electricity industry about £5.50 is the amount of the wage claim from the power workers, and they are solid in their demands and have so far refused any form of negotiation.
This presents a formidable threat to the whole of the Prime Minister's negotiations. He cannot settle a formula for dealing with the cost-price inflation to which he alludes without making any advance arrangements generally to deal with fuel and power wages. He must deal with the coal miners' wage situation, as with the power workers' situation. He cannot settle in a form acceptable to the nation—and the great majority of the nation, as he rightly said this afternoon, want a settlement urgently to these tripartite negotiations—while leaving outside the settlement any consideration of coal miners' wages and power workers' wages.
It is significant that only this morning there arrived on my desk in the House from the National Union of Mineworkers an official document called "National Energy Policy." It was published 48 hours ago and will, no doubt, receive many allusions in debates in this House. It is very important because it underlines the importance of coal in the recovery of our nation and the fact that the coal industry has been run down too far and too fast by successive Govern- 96 ments of which the principal culprits were the late Labour Government, which shut down pits far faster than any earlier Government and, in fact, reduced the manpower in the pits from 455,000 to 280,000, at which figure it stands today.
§ Mr. Concannon
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that when he reads that document, which obviously he has not—I have had an advance copy—he will probably find that what he has just said is not borne out by what is in the document.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am sorry; I cannot enter into an argument with the Front Bench opposite. I have spent the day reading this document. I too have an advance copy of it, before it has generally been circulated. The National Union of Mineworkers always sends me an advance copy of its documents, especially when they are official documents.
The importance of this document is that it endeavours, perfectly properly in my judgment, to reassert the importance of coal in the future prosperity of the nation. It points out, for example, that the Americans, far from neglecting their coal mining potential, have actually raised their sights for the coal mining industry from a figure of 550 million tons —that is, short tons—in 1972 to a figure of 695 million short tons in 1976. I will not quote the whole of the passage. The document continues with these pregnant words for the coal industry:When a power station is to be located close to an industrial centre and close to a coalfield (and the two often coincide) then coal firing will be cheaper.That is, cheaper than other forms of fuel.This will be particularly so with new power stations, for as the CEGB extends its oil contracts, the new high price"—that is, of oil—will have to be paid. For security of supplies and for cost, coal will undoubtedly be the better fuel on which to base the nation's future.It was significant a few weeks ago that there was a reversal of energy policy, and for the first time for many years, I believe since 1967, a coal-fired power 97 station was authorised—Drax B—of a major character which I hope will lead on to many more coal-fired stations in the future.
I appeal to the Government to pronounce in the course of this important debate what their policy is for fuel, power and energy. The chairman of the Electricity Council estimates that electricity demand will grow at the rate of 5 per cent, per annum during the next quarter of the century. I want the Government to determine the amount of coal to be mined year by year for 10–15 years ahead and, derivative from that figure, to determine the amount of electricity which will be coal-generated. These are the essential figures and, as very large figures of finance underlie these computations, I claim that they are the most important figures in our national economy today.
It is valueless saying to coal miners "Yours is a dying industry. You can employ only 280,000 men", when manifestly the requirements of our country are vastly more than the coal which is being mined today—I say, as an aside, 140 million tons is all we are mining—and when I estimate that the figure five years from now will probably be of the order of 180 million tons, unless the Government which own the power stations, all the atomic energy establishments and all the coal mines are prepared realistically to determine what shall be the capital investment programmes of these two critically important industries, where the money is to come from and what is to be the recruiting policy for the pits.
Save only in the important context of fuel, power and energy needs, I extend a hearty welcome to Her Majesty's Gracious Speech and wish the measures that it foreshadows a speedy and effective passage through this House.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)
I think all hon. Members will agree with what is said on page 2 of the Gracious Speech and will support the efforts of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealh Affairs, who is now in China. I am sure we are all hopeful that good fortune will attend the right hon. Gentleman's efforts. The polarisation of various parts of the world has led to much of what we produce going in armaments and being destroyed in 98 wars. I am certain that my colleagues will join me in wishing the right hon. Gentleman good luck and good fortune in his negotiations.
My colleagues and I also agree with the mesures that might be taken to prevent any more hijacking in the air. I hope that the measures will be ruthless, thorough and effective. It is one of the worst features of our life today that terrorists can hijack an aeroplane and endanger the lives of innocent travellers in the process and get away with it.
I am sure that all my colleagues will wish the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland well in his efforts to bring peace to that troubled land.
I reinforce the plea of my hon. Friends the Members for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), and in particular, the regret expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham at the omission from the Queen's Speech of any reference to resources for sport and leisure activities. My hon. Friend struck a chord in my heart. In the west of Scotland there is a very successful harriers club, the Shettleston Harriers, which has won the Scottish championship and the British championship and was runner-up in the European championship. It is an excellent team. For its training facilities it has to share a field with cricketers, with footballers playing scratch games, with youngsters and their mothers out playing and with elderly gentlemen taking their dogs for a walk in the evening. They and others deserve much more.
The education departments of various cities are spending a lot of money in developing sports activities, but it is the responsibility of the Government, in cooperation with the local authorities, to stimulate after-school activities. In the whole of the west of Scotland there is not one single all-weather running track. Athletes in the west of Scotland must go to the sister city in the east to get some practice on an all-weather track. That is an omission which the Government should and can do something about. I heartily support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham that more money and resources should be spent on leisure and sports activities
99 My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West referred to the protection of the consumer. Whatever is in the pipeline to aid the consumer, it must be something with teeth. Toothless it is useless. I am sure the Government are regretting that they abolished the Consumer Council and the Prices and Incomes Board.
On page 3 of a Queen's Speech I read the following:At home My Government's first concern will be to strengthen the economy and curb inflation. … My Ministers attach the greatest importance to promoting full employment and an effective regional development policy. … My Government believe that vigorous competition is the best safeguard for the consumer. … My Ministers will pursue a vigorous housing policy. …If hon. Members are looking puzzled at what I am saying, I am quoting from the 1970 Queen's Speech. It is significant that two years later we are still grappling with the problem of inflation. The midnight oil is burning in No. 10 Downing Street and we hope that the problem will be cured.
We hope that a solution will be found to the problem of unemployment. If such a solution is not found the future of the country is bleak. But what has happened between 1970 and 1972? In 1970 the Queen's Speech contained the following words:My Ministers attach the greatest importance to promoting full employment and an effective regional development policy.I speak for Scotland, and Scotland is dissatisfied with the rate of unemployment in Scotland. There are school leavers, who left school in June, who are still looking for their first job. There are school leavers, eminently well qualified with O- and H-level qualifications —or A-level qualifications as they are known in England—still looking for their first job. There are graduates who are still looking for a job suitable to their qualifications, yet the 1970 Queen's Speech says:My Ministers attach the greatest importance to promoting full employment and an effective regional development policy.Where is it? The Government are still missing out quite miserably in that regard.
Last week Scotland received a body blow when the speculation was made 100 semi-public that the British Steel Corporation intends to cause redundancies involving some thousands of jobs. Scotland feels that it has possibly the greatest port in Europe awaiting development at Hunterston in Ayrshire. We make the case that we should have the steelworks at Hunterston, not because Hunterston is in Scotland but because it is one of the finest deep water ports in the whole of Europe. We think that any Government would be foolish to ignore the great possibilities that are at Hunterston. There is deep water with excellent scope for port development. There is land in abundance and labour in the area which is geared to the requirements of whatever industry one might bring to the area. The hinterland connections are excellent. There are rail and road connections to the centre of Scotland and thereafter to the south.
Regarding capital investment, the Government have already agreed that an ore-terminal be constructed at Hunterston. It seems that if there is to be an ore-terminal at Hunterston the Government should go the whole hog and ensure that a steel complex is built. Scotland has suffered in the past from half-planners. When the Ravenscraig steel strip mill was built, the Government of the day brought two motor car factories to Scotland, at Bathgate and Linwood. A third motor car factory would have attracted the ancillary industries which go with the motor car industry. But the half-planners won. We have two motor car factories, but they have attracted very little of the ancillary industries.
Hunterston is possibly the most ideal site in the whole of Britain, and Scotland looks to the Government to stimulate the British Steel Corporation to the importance of the site for the economy of the United Kingdom.
I reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) when he referred to the need for Civil Service jobs in Scotland, particularly the west of Scotland. Edinburgh, our sister city, has more than its fair share of Civil Service jobs. Glasgow, an area of heavy industry, upon which Scotland built its reputation over the last century and the beginning of this century, now sees heavy 101 industry on the wane and there is a crying need for other jobs to take up the slack. I hope that the Government will direct more Civil Service jobs to the west of Scotland. This is within their power and although we await the publication of the Hardman Report I hope that the Government will use the power that is theirs in this regard.
The only alternative to congestion and pollution of the environment is the transfer to the railways of much of the heavy loads that go on the roads. Many of us regret the Beeching cuts which took place in the early 1950s. Many of the cuts were necessary—we all admit that—but nowadays we are in the position of wshing that many of the railway lines had not been closed and that many of the rails were still here, instead of being uplifted and thrown into the scrap furnaces.
All Governments seem to have fixed their transport policy on roads. Much has been done in the construction of new roads and motorways, but this is not a transport policy. A transport policy embraces road, rail, canal and sea, and we have lagged far behind in devising a co-ordinated transport policy.
We need a transport system geared to the community rather than to a balance sheet, but it is the latter approach which has hitherto bedevilled the application of all our transport policies as to the railways. The railways are in the "red". Cuts have to take place. Men have to be paid off. Whoever heard of the closing of a bankrupt road? Is there a profit and loss account which could show whether a road was profitable or otherwise? Yet our railways are contemplating a reorganisation of their resources which will inevitably result in redundancies.
All this seems absolutely ridiculous. With the opening up of our communications with the Common Market, with the investigations taking place regarding a Channel Tunnel, we should be gearing our railway system to take much of the heavy load off the roads and put it where it belongs.
Many hon. Members on both sides have spoken of the danger to our towns and cities caused by the huge loads which now trundle around Britain and which will increasingly do so now that we are 102 entering the Common Market. Many believe that a great part of our road system is not suitable for that type of traffic. The Government should realise that there is a means by which these huge loads can be transported with the minimum of risk and the maximum of speed. namely, by British Rail.
I turn now to the paragraph in the Gracious Speech which refers toExtra help … for areas of special social need.My own city of Glasgow is an area of social need. Glasgow is not just an old city; it is an ancient city. Glasgow was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution which started in the West of Scotland. Many of its tenements are old, getting on for 120 or 150 years old. Glasgow's development plans have meant that many of these tenements are left deserted and derelict. The resources are just not available within the city to enable such a mammoth programme of construction and reconstruction to be undertaken.
Glasgow needs the maximum help from the Government. If ever a city required the Government's help at this time to clear away many of its tottering tenements, to landscape unsightly areas and to clear sites ready for industry, Glasgow is that city, and I appeal to the Government to turn their most benevolent eye towards it.
Now, a word about law and order. It is a regrettable fact but the idea seems to have got about that, if enough people break the law, they can get away with it. This has put our police forces in an unenviable position. They are becoming the targets. I appeal to the Government to upgrade our police in status. Unfortunately, the policeman is fast becoming one of the most important members of the community. He always was an important member of the community, always the friend when in need and the friend indeed, always the one to whom one could go for assistance; but now he is in the front line of something which I, as a social democrat, greatly fear. We, as social democrats, have more to lose, I believe, than anyone else has if law and order is attacked and falls.
I want to see the police forces of this country receive all the resources they need, with the policeman given greater 103 status and a salary worthy of the job he does.
A word now about approved schools. It is here that many of our young children from junior, intermediate or senior school receive their first taste of punishment. Much more money is being spent on approved schools now than in the past, but they need all the help and all the staff that the Government can afford to give them. The staff in approved schools are the people who, given the resources, can do a real job of reclamation. They can turn a young fellow away from a career of petty crime leading to violent and more serious crime. The approved schools do a magnificent job, but too many of them have inadequate resources. As far as is humanly possible, the Government must go to the limits and give them all the help they need.
Now, the question of after-care. In one of our newspapers this morning—I think it was the Glasgow Herald—there was an article by one of the leader writers which spoke about the "insiders". It pointed out—most of us knew it already—that there is a sad lack of facilities in prisons for giving the prisoner a chance to look forward to something better than what he left behind him, to learn a trade or a craft and to be instructed in something to which he can go after he leaves prison. Our prisons are overcrowded and our after-care services are stretched to the limit. I appeal to the Government—this is very much a law and order matter—to stretch their resources to the limit in an effort to preserve law and order and to ensure that our lives in this country are made safe and that all we strive for and value is preserved.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Anyone reading this Gracious Speech, so beautifully delivered from the Throne in the other place this morning, might be forgiven for thinking that henceforward, at least in this Session, we were in for a period of agreement, amity and brotherly love across the Floor. After all, who could disagree with effortsto maintain and strengthen the North Atlantic Alliance … to sustain the Commonwealth association … to work for peace in the Middle East"?104 Who could disagree withco-operation within the United Nations",with endorsing the Montreal Convention or with standing up for British fishermen? Who, indeed, would disagree with ensuring that peopleexpelled from Uganda have the widest possible choice of countries in which to settle"?In spite of appearances, however, I fear that any optimistic suggestion that the forthcoming Session will be totally without political knives is likely to be confounded.
There is, however, one part of the Gracious Speech with which there must, I am sure, be virtually unanimous agreement, namely, the passage which tells us that the Governmentwill continue to search resolutely for peaceful and just solutions to the political, social and economic problems of Northern Ireland".I cannot imagine that there is any right hon. or hon. Member who would do other than wish well to all efforts to bring peace to the land of the four-leaf clover and the.22 rifle.
I take it that in the White Paper—it is white in colour but we are told that it is, in effect, a Green Paper, though it could not be green, for obvious reasons, any more than it could have been orange, I suppose—lie the seeds of the hope which is expressed in the Gracious Speech, and I wish to direct attention to certain aspects of that document. Obviously it will be effectual in bringing peace about, but I feel that there is need to express certain reservations about parts of it.
For example, I should have thought it went without saying that Northern Ireland would not be handed over to the South, but the repeated statements in the document that that will not happen against the wishes of the majority seem almost to indicate that such a decision is feasible, if not actually likely. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. I cannot see that there is the slightest likelihood of it happening. It is as likely that the Isle of Wight should opt to become part of France or that Scotland should opt to become part of Iceland. During a recent visit to Northern Ireland I was immensely impressed by the views expressed to me by people to whom I spoke anywhere and everywhere on the streets of Belfast and Londonderry. I found that if there is one 105 part of the United Kingdom where the British people are loyal and determined to stay British it is Ulster.
Time and time again the people to whom I spoke—Catholics and Protestants —said: "Britain will not abandon us, will it?" Time and again I assured them that Britain would not. I would have liked the Green Paper to recognise that vocal loyalty in Northern Ireland more clearly, and if it was thought necessary to say that Ireland would not be united against the wishes of the majority, perhaps one statement of that fact would have been sufficient. It is repeated again and again, and some people at least might sayThe lady doth protest too much, methinks.The document deals with the Catholic minority. How do the Government propose to give the Catholics an effective voice? Has some method other than the normal one of the ballot box been found? In page 4, paragraph 13, the document says:The unbroken dominance of the Northern Ireland House of Commons (and thus of the Government) by the Ulster Unionist Party was based upon an authentic electoral mandate. Although the franchise up to 1968 included provision for a business vote, and electoral boundaries of the Stormont constituencies were not reviewed for many years, neither of these factors had any major bearing on the balance of the parties in the Northern Ireland Parliament.Therefore, what has been happening in Northern Ireland has not been the result of any rigging and was the result only of a straightforward majority vote. What is the meaning of the hint about adopting the Swiss system therefore? I know two things about the Swiss electoral system. That country has proportional representation and constant referenda. Are the Government thinking in terms of the latter or the former? The hint is that they are leaning towards the latter. But if such a system were adopted for one part of Britain on religious or racial grounds it would be very difficult to deny the same thing to other parts of Britain which have religious or racial minorities. What about Liverpool, for instance? What about areas where there are large contingents of immigrants, such as Bradford or Birmingham. If it is thought right that some sort of a fiddle with the ballot box should be used in one part of Great Britain it is difficult to see how it could be denied to other parts.
106 Eleswhere the document points out in a reasonable way the anomalous position of Stormont. I recognise that it is difficult to justify one part of the United Kingdom having a special Parliament. But if it is difficult to justify that it is surely similarly difficult to justify a system of proportional representation or constant referenda in one part of Great Britain.
Paragraph 16 of the document says:There were, however, persistent protests on behalf of the Roman Catholic minority that they were being excluded by deliberate policy from their fair share of the benefits of increasing prosperity.But no one could have supported that. By the words "deliberate policy" I assume that the document means Government policy, because it is difficult to accuse the public in general of having a policy. The Green Paper says:some of these complaints were undoubtedly justified.I am a little concerned about that because I took the trouble to look up the first Report of the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. We all grew to know Sir Edmund Compton when he fulfilled that office in our Parliament and we all respect his judgment. In the report he says:I am pleased to report that my first years of office in Northern Ireland have not produced a single instance of culpable action in the organs of central government. In particular religious or sectarian discrimination has been suggested by the complainant in only two out of the 41 cases I have accepted for investigation and the suggestion has not been substantiated by my investigation of either of them.The Green Paper seems to be saying one thing and the Parliamentary Commissioner's report seems to indicate another.
Another point in the Green Paper which tends to worry me is the remark about the "Irish Dimension". I find it difficult to understand. The Green Paper says that any political settlementmust recognise Northern Ireland's position within Ireland as a whole.I do not know quite what that means. It was reported on the radio this morning that it meant that any solution must be acceptable to the Republic. I hope that is not so. The Republic of Ireland, although it is the land of leprechauns and of charm, is still a foreign country. It even opted out of dominion status of its 107 own will and it is no more part of Britain than Cuba is part of the United States. To suggest that there should be some concession to or agreement with a foreign country about what Britain does with a part of the United Kingdom is highly offensive to me.
Certainly, Ireland is an island. There is the factor of proximity, but if proximity of one country to another means that each country should have a say in how the other manages its affairs, that should apply to France, Holland and Belgium, which have got along so well for so long. They are members of the Common Market, as will be the Republic of Ireland. I do not welcome the suggestion that a solution should be referred to the Republic, and I do not believe that such a suggestion would be acceptable to many hon. Members.
We understand that when Stormont was prorogued in March a sticking point was the question of security. It was because it was not possible to have an agreement about the security of Ulster that Stormont was prorogued. Whatever is decided to be the best way in which to govern Ulster, would not it be possible to incorporate into it a means for local views on security to be expressed? Need the subject of security be a matter for bitterness? The citizens of Ulster are constantly bombed or fired upon and find their lives fraught with danger whether they are shopping, taking their children for a walk or going to business. When they find that all their normal life is so set around with danger, security is a matter of paramount importance to them, something very near their heart. Even if they had not the power to dictate means of security, would not it be possible to accept that they have a valid reason for being most concerned about security and that they should at least be allowed to put their points in whatever assembly is decided to be the best for Ulster?
Some people have a vested interest in keeping strife going in Ireland. This aspect of the matter must concern many of us who have worried about Ireland for so long. However, nobody wishes the suggestions in the Green Paper more success than I do. If it is possible to find from among all the suggestions solutions that will work, there are very few hon. Members who could possibly disagree.
108 The Leader of the Opposition suggested that behind the section of the Gracious Speech which heralds the reform of the National Insurance Scheme is the intention to stop family allowances going to the mother of the family and to change the method entirely. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at once rightly said that what was suggested was merely a matter of consultation, that there would be every opportunity for all views to be expressed and that all views would be heard. My right hon. Friend can look forward to a deluge of complaints on the matter from practically every women's organisation and many thousands of housewives, because in many homes the family allowance is the one certain bit of income that the mother has. I appreciate that many of my right hon. Friends treat their wives in a very different manner when it comes to money, but many men do not tell their wives how much they earn and they give them a very mean proportion on which to run the family budget. The family allowance is essential for the wife who is the mother of young children. I beg my right hon. Friend to realise that this question will be a very sore point. If he listens to the voices that will be raised, the suggestion that the Leader of the Opposition made this afternoon will certainly be proved unfounded.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) will forgive me if I do not follow the lines of her arguments. I propose to refer to the omission from the Gracious Speech of any proposal to extend our rail services or even to maintain them at their present level, since clearly the axeing of those services impinges on the social, economic and industrial life of the nation.
In view of the leakage from the Department of the Environment about proposed cuts, the omission is unforgiveable, particularly as regards the little country where I have the honour to have my parliamentary seat, Wales. Because of the hilly terrain, travel there does not mean going as the crow flies but often means going around a mountain. Therefore, the matter is of supreme importance to Wales in many ways.
109 There is no question but that the report making the proposals exists, and there is no question about its parentage, because on 17th October the Minister for Transport Industries said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) that the document was one of a series of studies undertaken by officials of his Department and by British Rail.
The document could not have received more publicity if it had been launched at a full-scale Government Press conference. In the Sunday Times of 8th October there appeared a detailed map showing how the railway services would be decimated by 1980. The Sunday Times said—and it has never been controverted—that the problem then would be to shunt off 250,000 passengers and 180,000 tons of freight per day. The map shows one line across the north of Wales to Holyhead and one other through my own city of Swansea to Fishguard in the west.
The document, commissioned by the Department and leaked by accident or design, has caused a great deal of heart-burning among my constituents and in all three rail unions in Wales. If implemented, the proposals would leave Wales a desert in terms of rail services, with Shrewsbury as the jumping-off point for mid-Wales. How stupid can a Government get?
Representations have been made to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) by members of the three rail unions and of the powerful union of which I am a member, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, about their apprehension over the deep implications of the report. The report suggests a cut in the United Kingdom railway system from 11,600 miles to 6,700 miles. That is paradoxical in view of the Gracious Speech, which says:In developing their policies for economic growth My Government will pursue their measures to create confidence and stimulate employment in the assisted areas.We are in a development area. What a way to run a railroad!
The report carries a threat of redundancy to many thousands of railwaymen and clerical staff. There has been a drop of many thousands in the numbers employed on the railways since the Beeching 110 era, including a reduction of many thousands in South Wales. Any change in rail policy would imperil 6,000 staff jobs in Wales alone.
The fact that the report exists suggests that the proposals have been and are being seriously considered by the Government. But I am not surprised at that. That we face a Government politically bankrupt is borne out by their performance.
It is no good the Department of the Environment saying that the options are closed. The fact is that the report exists and should be taken seriously. The Government have a clear duty to say whether they will kill this report. The Minister of Transport Industries should be asked to reply on this point. Many thousands of Welsh railwaymen and clerical staff require positive assurances that the proposals contained in the report will be dropped. They have a right to know that their employment will be safeguarded and the Government must give them this assurance. However, we all know that the Prime Minister does not go off to speak to the people of Wales but talks to the country in a wooden and unimaginative way in the harsh tones of a dalek. He certainly does not visit the Principality very often.
The assertion by the Government that the document is published out of context is in itself an admission that the report is a real one. It is valid and definitive in its proposals and, if carried out, will mean the closing of 123 railway stations. How on earth can be assist the developing areas if there is no railway to serve them? The closing of the Welsh lines carries with it more than a threat of redundancy to thousands of my fraternal brothers. It also presents a threat to stultify industrial development which will be disastrous in its social effect and incalculable in its cost in the Principality. Anybody who knows Wales knows this to be true. I have lived in Wales for many years, and I wonder how such proposals can even be entertained by the Government. The railways in Wales are a link in maintaining community life. The report's proposals would leave Wales a desert both socially and industrially and would materially assist in bringing about further depopulation. If modern families do not get the amenities they require, then they 111 will go to places in which they will find them.
We in Swansea want to know whether there is any truth in the rumour that Cardiff will be the railhead from London. The future prosperity of West Wales and Central Wales depends on using the excellent facilities which are routed into Swansea. This is important to that great city, part of which I represent, because the urban community can no longer be divorced from or independent of the rural community. The one is dependent on the other. If the railways are taken away from the small towns which lie around the great city, this will assist in bringing about industrial and social sterility. We want an assurance that near all huge urban communities there will be a prosperous hinterland served by an adequate railway system. This view is held by many industrialists in South Wales, and a serious situation may well arise if these proposals are ever implemented.
How can we hope to attract new industry to my constituency—an area in which an advance factory has been empty for months and in relation to which even the power and eloquence of the Secretary of State for Wales has not been enough to find a tenant—without an adequate rail network in the Principality as a whole? I believe that it cannot be done, and I regard any suggestion to decimate the railway network as foolhardy. Industrial life will suffer, and when people see no future in a community what will happen is that social life in the area will wither away.
The report suggests the offloading of rail traffic on to the roads. It is crass stupidity to put forward the idea that only 1 per cent. of traffic will be added to the roads, for everybody knows that the figure will be greater than that. I believe that only a Tory Government could think of such a suggestion. If these cuts, which are estimated to save £26 million, had been properly examined, the benefits to the nation would not have been seen to be so great.
It has been estimated that by 1981 the number of cars in the United Kingdom will have increased tremendously and the number of buses by some 600. But the amount of time which people would lose by taking a bus rather 112 than a train would vary between 15 minutes and an hour. It is folly to assert that if these proposals are carried into effect they would increase traffic on the roads by such a small amount. These suggestions about offloading traffic on to the roads must be weighed against the conclusion in the report that the railway system is an ideal form of transport since environmentally it is such a clean system.
The report declares that the net cost of saving that is likely to be achieved by withdrawing grant-aided services is not large in relation to the total rail operating costs. As I have said, the saving is estimated to be £26 million, but the report says that there is a quantifiable benefit amounting to £17 million. This will mean a net saving of £9 million—the same amount saved by the nation in taking milk from schoolchildren.
One cannot separate the social considerations and the interests of the employed population from the operations of the railways in the 20th century in any country in the world. Commercial interests are also involved, but it is a tripartite interest, and the interest of any one section should not be paramount to the interests of others. The operation of a railway system is only possible if this consideration is borne in mind. To suggest the ending of wagon load shipments and the consequent reduction of the number of trains in the marshalling yards —which is what will happen if the report is implemented—and to propose that such loads should be carried by lorry is a ludicrous proposition and ignores considerations of safety, speedy delivery, congestion and urban accessibility. The proposals would mean that every year heavy lorries would have to drive an additional 450 million miles in the United Kingdom. The resultant unemployment which would follow if the proposals in the report were carried through would in certain areas blight whole towns.
Industrialists have the right to know the Government's intentions for Brtish Rail, and, in my view, they have the right to know for at least a generation ahead. Furthermore, it is necessary for British Rail to have such knowledge if it is to maintain its traffic and keep equipment in first-class order and if it is to keep abreast of all developments in terms of a modern and competitive railway system.
113 We read a good deal about the large amount of money spent on the railways, but if we look at the amount spent on roads we see the great disparity of expenditure in favour of the roads. I understand that there is on show in Strasbourg a map showing the rationalisation of the railway system in the Community of Nine, into which we are being dragged unwillingly. Those proposals will cut railway services much more severely than will the proposals in the report. I wonder whether our new French masters have any hand in this. The President of France dangled the British Prime Minister like a puppet on a string. We are entitled to ask whether the plan was commissioned after consultation with other EEC people, and surely the Government must tell us whether this report is in line with EEC requirements. If the stories circulating in this House are true, we are entitled to ask whether this was the real reason for commissioning the report.
Then we come to last Thursday, 26th October, and an advertisement on behalf of the Department of the Environment headlined:Thee are the areas for expansion. They could be the chance of a lifetime for your firm.It shows all the development areas, and little Wales is almost wholly a development area. The advertisement speaks of rent-free factories:Government factories are available for rent or sale. You could qualify for a rent-free period of two years.If I were an industrialist, the question in my mind would be whether there was any guarantee of a rail service. It goes on:Other Government incentives available include grants for training new labour and free courses for supervisors and instructors.My question would be how they were to be persuaded to move. They want to go where there are rail services. It continues:The Industrial Expansion Teams—and how they can help you.That is good to know. Firms are advised to get in touch with the expansion team at the headquarters of the Department of Trade and Industry in London. That is fine. But has the Department the facts relating to the future of British Railways?
Is there any suggestion about the credence to be attached to this report? An 114 advertisement costing several thousand pounds deserves an affirmative reply to the question whether British Railways services will be maintained at their present level. When one considers that the whole question of this area of expansion and of industrial development is one in which Wales is vitally interested, it seems that the first rule of trade and commerce should be obeyed by the Department of the Environment; namely, that all factories should be sited as closely adjacent as possible to the point of manufacture or sale in order to cut overheads. Any businessman wants that. But nearly all Wales is covered by the terms of this advertisement, and, therefore, if there is any suggestion of denuding Wales of any of her rail services we expect a clear and unequivocal answer from the Minister.
Industrialists invariably look for guarantees prior to moving to new areas. They will want to know for how many years existing rail facilities will be provided. In a recent public opinion poll taken by the Sunday Times, several important facts emerged. One was that car ownership made no difference to the opinions expressed. People were asked whether they would like to see the rail network extended. The reply was "Yes" from 83 per cent. of those voting who owned cars and from 79 per cent. of non-car owners. In Wales, regular rail travellers favour the retention of the tax subsidies already given by the Government because many of the rail services have a high social value. Clearly, we are confronted by the realities of the position outlined in the Department of the Environment report. Not only the Welsh people but people in the United Kingdom generally favour cash injections on loss-making lines in order to maintain or improve services. I believe that they reject the imposition of a savage cutback in Welsh rail services such as that envisaged in the report commissioned by the Department of the Environment.
Previous rail closures in Wales in many areas left the Welsh people heavily dependent on bus services, and we find that research poll figures show that 63 per cent. of the Welsh people are of the opinion that the bus services have become worse. I think they are right. As a consequence, Wales, once very rich in her 115 rail services, has lost nearly three-quarters of them in the past 20 years. The people of Wales do not want to lose any more.
We are looking for industry. We want the people to stay there. People in the country in which I live want to live in the land of their birth and to work there. Any further loss of rail services will leave Wales crippled in terms of industry and employment and in social terms.
I should like to know the Government's future intentions in relation to the social network of Wales. I request that a firm assurance be given that existing rail services will be retained and extended as soon as possible. The report from the Department of the Environment has sown the seeds of doubt and fear in my home city and in the Principality in general. Wales looks to the Government to shoulder their responsibility and to declare that the report will not be implemented. Only then can the people of Wales look to the future with an expanding rail service, with the retention of employment and the consequent retention of social amenity, and the retention of that which is most important of all—community life. If they can look forward to all these, their minds will be settled and content.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington, South)
In this Parliament we have had two highly contentious and polemical Sessions. As a result of Her Majesty's Gracious Speech today, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House can look forward to a much calmer Session and to the consideration of Bills which will tend to unite the House rather than divide it. Certainly my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister can count upon having a united party behind him in carrying forward the programme of legislation outlined in the Gracious Speech.
As we have my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security with us, I want to begin my remarks by paying a warm tribute to all that the Government are doing by way of reforming personal taxation and the social services. I hope that due emphasis will be given to the monumental job which has been done by Mr. Arthur Cockfield in the preparatory work on the 116 Green Paper proposals for a tax credit system. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have believed for many years that a reform on the lines outlined specifically in the Green Paper would come in the end. Now, thanks to the work of Arthur Cockfield, we can express the confidence that this reform will be carried through sooner rather than later. Having some knowledge of the problems, I consider it proper to say that he has shown outstanding ingenuity and resourcefulness in solving one difficulty after another in an eminently practicable and reasonable way.
We are going through a time of rapid change in this country. If there is one omission in the Gracious Speech, it is that not enough attention is given to the necessity to reform the institutions, and particularly the constitution, of this country. During the recess I had the good fortune to spend a week in Washington where I visited the Senate and heard a debate and also the House of Representatives. When we were sitting in the Senate my guide, an American who studies politics extremely closely, said that I was looking at men who thought themselves the hundred most influential men in the world. I had to reflect that if one had an American in the House of Lords one would never think of saying to him that the Members of the House of Lords thought themselves to be the most influential men in the world, or even in Britain. It occurs to me that the American constitution, which has so many similarities to our own, also offers us some interesting comparisons.
I have also spent an extremely instructive week in Strasbourg in the capacity of Rapporteur-General for the Economic Committee. In Strasbourg there has been a great deal of informed discussion on the future of the European Parliament and the evolution of the Community institutions. British Members who take an active part in the committee work in Strasbourg know what it is to come under the pressure of a multi-national committee and to have to inform and adapt themselves on subjects which seem very different on the Continent from their appearance at Westminster.
During this Session—I believe before the end of the year—we are to have the long-awaited report on the constitution of this country, which was started 117 under the auspices of Lord Crowther and, I believe, is being completed under Lord Kilbrandon. I have never learned to hope for too much from Royal Commissions, and I hope that we shall not be disappointed in this one.
It seems that there are explosive forces in Britain today which have no proper constitutional outlet. I am thinking particularly of pressures for change and self-expression among the young and the industrial problems which are a major preoccupation at the moment.
The Prime Minister dwelt at length today, most appropriately, on the progress of the Downing Street negotiations with the CBI and the leaders of the trade unions. It is apparent that a dramatic change is taking place, unconsciously perhaps, in the British constitution in that these important representative bodies from outside our political life are being brought more into the area where they have to take responsibility and participate in policy-making and its implementation. We do not know whether these talks will end in failure or success, but there can be no going back on the offers which have been made by our political authorities—I am thinking not only of Westminster, but of Whitehall—to the powers which have established themselves in our industrial and commercial life. A new constitutional balance has been achieved which I think was long overdue.
The House of Lords no longer represents the interests in this country with real power. I believe that reform of the House of Lords ought to have appeared in the Queen's Speech today. I was allowed by the House to introduce a one-Clause Bill on Lords reform, and I shall seek the leave of the House to introduce it again this Session. I should like the character of the House of Lords transformed so that a place can be found in the heart of our constitution for people who have authority and responsibility in our society but do not correspond intimately with the Government or with Whitehall and have no means of direct expression of the kind that the constitution ought to provide.
I think, too, that we in this House must look to ourselves if we are to consider ourselves the primary legislative body of the country. In recent years the Commons has surrendered more and more power to the Civil Service. Tonight we 118 have the unusual experience of holding our debate without the presence in the Box of one of the real rulers of this country.
The Prime Minister placed emphasis on the extent to which the Gracious Speech includes measures for the protection of individual rights. I am sure that this will command the support or right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I hope that this Session there will be less pressure of controversial legislation and, indeed, of Government legislation altogether. That will give more scope for the much-needed expression of minority views in this House.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)
Before coming to the main section of my speech I should like to comment on one or two remarks by the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams).
First, the hon. Gentleman said that from looking at the Queen's Speech he did not think this year would be quite as difficult as last year and the year before. Perhaps that is indicative of the fact that there is not an awful lot in the Queen's Speech that will be controversial between the two sides of the House. I could not help thinking that that was not quite so and perhaps the hon. Gentleman was tempting providence. I remember when some of my colleagues and I were young town councillors and we looked at the day's agenda and said to ourselves "There is nothing much doing here". One could take it for granted that that was the sort of meeting that always ended in a blazing great row and lasted for a long time. I hope we shall not be tempted in this way.
The second point—I do not dismiss it—was the hon. Gentleman's reference to the reform of the House of Lords, a subject with which he has concerned himself for some time. I was in my constituency—no doubt all of us were in our constituencies—over the past few days talking to the people in the clubs and works about their problems, but I should be less than honest if I told the hon. Gentleman that the reform of the House of Lords was at the top of the list. In fact, I could not truthfully say that it was occupying every waking moment of the people of Rutherglen, much as I know it is dear to the hon. Member for Kensington, South.
§ Sir B. Rhys-Williams
Would not the hon. Gentleman's constituents have welcomed the suggestion that there should be much heavier representation of trade unionists, including active trade unionists, in the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Mackenzie
I must confess that I did not canvass the notion of reforming the House of Lords in my constituency. I suspect that if one were to canvass the average West of Scotland constituency the people would probably say that, whether we were to fill the other place with trade union leaders or anyone else, they would not want any part of it and, indeed, would be happy to see the Lords disappear. That is merely my guess.
The third point, based on the things we have all been talking about to our constituents in the last few days, concerns getting the problem of inflation and the difficulties associated with it in hand. I will not attempt to answer all the criticisms and counter-criticisms I have heard in the debate today, because finance is not one of my subjects. Quite a number of years ago I became the lowest form of animal life in the Government in that I was a Treasury PPS, and during the few years I worked in the Treasury I learned that I knew so little about finance that I had better keep my mouth shut on the subject for the rest of my life.
If we canvass the notion of dealing with inflation and talk to our constituents about prices and incomes, we have to accept that trade union leaders have a difficult task in carrying their members with them. Let us not make any mistake about that. If one talks to people in my constituency, and in the constituencies of some of my colleagues, about prices and incomes and about plans for dealing with inflation, they say that their rents are going up, and going up steeply, and it is difficult to convince them that we ought to tackle other problems without first sorting out theirs. The same thing applies to prices. When the housewife asks her husband for more money to enable her to pay the family bills, it is difficult for him to stand aside from the problem.
It is also exceedingly difficult to tell the unemployed that there ought to be fairness in a matter of this kind, because what they want is to have their problem solved, and solved quickly. Their problem is to get a job. This is what occupies 120 the minds of the majority of the people from your country and mine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and we want to know what the Government have in mind to deal with unemployment. We want to know that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and those who are unemployed want to be given some hope for the future.
When the unemployment figures drop by even a limited amount Government Minister tell us how good that is. The unemployment figure in Scotland is now about 147,000. If that figure drops by a couple of thousand, people think that things are getting better and that the government are dealing with the problem. Ten years ago, if the unemployment figure exceeded 100,000 people regarded that as a crisis in the land, but now if the unemployment figure drops from 140,000 to 130,000 they say that things are looking up and cannot get much blacker.
I make no apology for dealing with the problem as it affects my constituency. That is what I am here to do tonight. We want positive action by the Government. We do not want sympathy. We want action, because the number of people remaining unemployed for long periods is increasing all the time and they do not want to be told that things will get better in perhaps two or three years' time. They think that emergency action ought to be taken now. Some of my hon. Friends have suggested that the Government might take positive action by ensuring that some Civil Service jobs go to Scotland. That is one positive step that could be taken, and taken fairly soon.
What troubles hon. Members from Scotland, as I am sure it troubles my Welsh colleagues, is that this is the third Queen's Speech during the present Government's tenure of office and in each of them there has been a degree of uncertainty which does not help the people we represent. This is an extremely uncertain Government, though they were certain when they first took office. There were aggressive speeches from the Dispatch Box about lame ducks and about people standing on their own two feet, and other exaggerated expressions were used, but then there was a bit of going back. There has always been an element of indecision by the Government and this troubles working people, just as it troubles employers and industrialists who want to know exactly where they stand.
121 Many of us think that the Government are indecisive in their actions and do not give a proper lead, and nowhere have they been more indecisive than in their policy for the steelworks in Scotland. I feel sure that my Welsh colleagues will tell the House that the speculation that has gone on about the steel industry in Wales has done no good either for steelmaking as a whole or for the people who have given their lives to the industry.
There has been—and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has said it —a great deal of speculation. Of course there has. Rumours build upon rumours. One week we hear that 10,000 people are to be thrown out of work. The following week we hear that the figure has risen to 17,000. We want the speculation to end and the Government—not the British Steel Corporation —to say precisely what is to happen about the Scottish steelworks. We want to know what is to happen to them in both the short and the long term.
I am sorry that I have to address my remarks to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security. I should have much preferred to have addressed one of the Scottish Ministers. During the last few days I have read in the newspapers what Lord Melchett, the Chairman of the BSC, is reported to have said to the Scottish TUC and others about the future of a green field development. The Minister knows that for a long time we have been arguing the case for a green field development at Hunterston on the River Clyde. We believe that such a development, though it would not necessarily be the salvation of the Scottish industry, would certainly make a substantial contribution to it and to steelmaking throughout the United Kingdom.
I shall not argue, as I have in the past, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) and others have done, the whole Hunterston case. Suffice it to say that we would like the Under-Secretary of State to convey to his senior colleagues our strong desire for an end to all this speculation. Some Government members say very little about future developments of Scottish steel, while others have a lot to say about it. The Chairman of the Con- 122 servative Party in Scotland is no mean figure. I am sure that he is a man of some influence in these matters. He said that the discovery of oil in the North Sea would give a great fillip to the making of Scottish steel and that the place of Scottish steel would be much better assured by the oil findings. If that is so, the Government ought to be doing something in preparation for it.
The Secretary of State for Scotland said that all is not yet finished, that the battle for Hunterston is not yet lost and that the fight is continuing. Quite properly the BSC makes the plans, bases its decisions on the economic case and considers the social factors involved in any project, but we all know that at the end of the day the decision on a major development of this kind will have to be taken at Cabinet level. I am arguing the case for Hunterston not on social grounds but on good economic grounds, and we feel that the Cabinet ought to make known its views very soon.
I do not remember any other time in Lanarkshire or Ayrshire when there has been so much bitterness about any one decision. It is perhaps the most controversial decision affecting Scotland that will have to be taken by this Government. We have been waiting a long time for the answer. We hope that the Government will take a firm stand and bear in mind that the whole future of Scottish steelmaking depends on decisions being taken quickly. They must also remember that those decisions affect not only the lives of our Scottish steelmakers, but of car makers, shipyard workers and others associated with heavy industry.
I make one final point and a plea to the Government. Our bitterness is deep-rooted on an issue of this kind because the constituencies that we represent depend almost 100 per cent. on steel for their jobs. When a steelworks goes it is not just a question of losing a few jobs in an area. Eventually almost all the jobs in the area disappear and the whole community is killed. We feel very strongly about this.
To hear Government Ministers saying that this is a job loss that will be taken up by natural wastage is all very well, until we ask the ordinary question: "What happens to the sons and grandsons of those who have worked in this industry all their lives, and what is to happen 123 to the young fellows who are growing up in the constituency now who will not find jobs in the steelworks or anything associated with it?"
That is one of the questions I want to put to the Government. I stress our anxiety about Scottish steelmaking in general and about Hunterston in particular. We hope that the Under-Secretary will tell the Secretary of State that we regard this as a matter of the utmost importance. We want him to end the speculation and rumours. It is good neither for the steelmakers nor for the people who work in the industry.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester)
I am fortunate to have caught your eye on this occasion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it gives me an opportunity to extend a warm welcome especially to that part of the Gracious Speech that contains proposals for measures in the interests of consumers. Although I cannot anticipate the exact nature of those measures, I hazard an uninformed guess that they will include a Monopolies Bill, a Bill for the implementation of the Crowther Report on consumer credit and an amendment to the Sale of Goods Act in relation to exclusion clauses, in guarantees and warranties.
One could hope that the measures might also include the appointment of a Minister to co-ordinate consumer affairs, but at any rate it is a very good augury that it is once again a Conservative Government that is taking this interest in consumers. The record of successive Conservative Governments in terms of legislation and initiatives in the interests of consumers is second to none. The Prime Minister has been responsible for one of the most important pieces of legislation in the interests of consumers since the war—the abolition of resale price maintenance. The Conservative Government now propose new measures in the interests of consumers. It was a Conservative back-bench committee that studied the problem and made proposals to help consumers, while for the past 2½ years all that we have had from hon. Members opposite is carping criticism. They have offered nothing new and nothing constructive.
124 I am pleased that the measures foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech recognise increasing public concern in consumer affairs. They highlight what has become a major issue, one that we cannot afford to disregard any more than we can afford to disregard the pressing needs of consumer affairs today or the complexity of the problems facing consumers today. I remember when the environment was considered to be a secondary issue. It has now won its rightful place in the scheme of things.
No doubt the Government measures will deal in a comprehensive way with many outstanding consumer issues. Inevitably there will be a number of other priorities, which it is hoped will be dealt with soon, and high on that list will be the question of the labelling regulations that are necessary to keep the public adequately informed and warned—regulations that have already been introduced very successfully in many other countries.
I am not one of those who thinks that the British housewife is a rather wet and pathetic creature who needs her hand held every time she goes shopping. In my opinion she is as keen and astute a shopper as any housewife in the world. But she does not want to have to go into battle or to have to indulge in higher mathematics every time she does the family shopping. She is having to shop in an ever wider and more sophisticated market place, and the time has come to prune the high street jungle and let the daylight in. In today's supermarket world, where competition is very fierce, although this is the best protection that consumers can have tricks of the trade are practised which are misleading and confusing—practices such as double pricing, loss leaders and new sized packets which often mean less contents for more money.
A point has been reached when shoppers find it difficult to detect price rises and to compare values effectively. They need to be informed by unit pricing of the real cost that they are being asked to pay in easily recognisable units, so that they can compare values effectively. They need to be informed by date-stamping of the freshness of the goods that they are buying and, by means of care labelling, of the best way to care 125 for garments that they buy for themselves and their children in order to preserve them for as long as possible.
Shoppers need to be warned of potential dangers to themselves and their children not only from obviously harmful but seemingly harmless household and garden products. They need to be protected from unnecessary confusion by standard packaging wherever possible and, most important, they need to be protected from double-pricing abuses of the Trade Descriptions Act by much stricter labelling regulations. When metrication becomes mandatory very careful and informative labelling and standard packaging will be necessary to avoid confusion in the early stages and to make sure that it is not used as another excuse for concealed price rises. Until all these regulations have been introduced people will not be able to enjoy the benefits of a more efficient and competitive market place than we have ever had in this country.
Of course, consumer affairs are not the special preserve of the housewife. We are all consumers of goods and services, and all too often it is the less well off who are in the most need of protection but who, because they may be less articulate or literate, get the least. People do not know their existing rights, so they do not demand them.
Another very high priority must be the provision of easily accessible consumer advice and education. In addition to the legislation and regulations that I have mentioned I should like to see an amendment to the Trade Descriptions Act to include a description of homes in house advertisements. This legislation is urgently needed.
But it is not just regulations and legislation that are necessary. One of the commonest consumer complaints concerns after-sales services, particularly in electrical and gas appliances and motor cars. Delays are frequent, and costs are high, not only in money terms but in terms of wasted time and irritation. People are too often left with the impression that once a sale has been effected neither the retailer nor the manufacturer care less. We have a right to demand much more efficient and cheaper services from industry than we get today, while in the nationalised industries much more effec- 126 tive and independent consumer representation is necessary.
Another common consumer complaint relates to misleading advertisements. Although careful vigilance is needed in advertising standards, I do not altogether accept Nader's demand that advertisements should avoid all exaggerated or unprovable claims. Admirable though this may be in its motivation, it is not entirely without difficulty in its implementation.
One is immediately reminded of a breach of this criterion in that charming television beer commercial which appears regularly on our screens, in which a handsome hero rescues a damsel in distress in a series of highly improbable adventures outdone in their improbability only by the claims of the advertisement itself, thatIt's Tankard that helps you excel; After one you do anything well.The mind boggles a the thought of the disappointment that this must engender in the breasts of those simple enough to believe it.
Few people would deny a little poetic licence to advertisements with so much entertainment value. On the other hand, there are advertisements of a far less amusing nature, ranging from beer to finance companies, which come near to fraudulent misrepresentation, and we should be able to act swiftly when they do.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) pointed out in last year's debate on the Gracious Speech, another urgent priority is the provision of a cheap, informal and easily accessible procedure for redress of grievance under the law. At the moment, people do not take advantage of their rights under the law to sue for compensation or damages for faulty goods—sometimes because they are intimidated by the formality of the courts, more often because it does not pay to press for small claims.
I have touched briefly on only a few of the outstanding consumer issues of the day. In addition to the legislation which they may be about to introduce, I hope that the Government will make time available in this Session or the next for as much implementation of "Square Deal 127 for Consumers" as possible. The Consumer Council, although it did a valuable job in researching and campaigning on consumer issues, was completely unable to provide any sort of local complaints service or effectively to introduce legislation.
This is proved by the fact that the council received about 5,000 individual complaints in a year, while there were 120,000 to the Inspectorate of Weights and Measures. This shows that the council was not the right body, within its own terms of reference, to deal with these complaints—and even that people were unaware of its existence. Probably, the number of complaints to the Inspectorate of Weights and Measures, if all its functions were well known to the public, would have been tripled, and would have overwhelmed it.
In an excellent Annual Report, the Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures in the City of Gloucester has said:Many people who have been directed to the Department with a particular complaint frequently express their surprise that this or that function should be the responsibility of a Weights and Measures Inspector. The growing interest in the field of consumer protection and the reorganisation which is about to take place in local government provide an ideal opportunity for a change of title.I believe that they provide an ideal opportunity for more than that; they provide an opportunity for setting up the consumer advice centres that we have proposed in "Square Deal", which would provide a comprehensive and easily accessible service and, I would hope, a widely publicised one.
My hon. Friends and I who served on the working party set up by the Conservative Consumer Protection Committee concluded that no one body could possibly answer all these needs in consumer affairs. That is why we have proposed a comprehensive three-tier structure to deal with consumer affairs at local, national and Government level, to coordinate and extend existing services, to initiate new services, to research, to report, to advance legislation where necessary.
In the EEC, members of the European Commission are calling for a powerful body to represent consumer interests at Community level. In North America and 128 Australasia these already exist. I do not believe that we in this country can any longer ignore the need for a comprehensive consumer service. It is a duty that no Government should try to opt out of, and it is one that I do not believe a Conservative Government intend to shirk.
It appears that in this Session we are to be served with some delectable tidbits in the way of a first course. I hope that before this Parliament is ended we shall be served with the rest of the meal and that it will prove to be a banquet. We should not be content with merely drawing level with the rest of the world. We should be, in this as in all other matters, striving to put Britain ahead.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I hope I shall not appear discourteous to the hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) if I do not follow at great length what she has just said. I certainly admit that her speech dwelt on a very topical and important phase of our life. I withhold judgment on the merits of the case she has stated till one can see and hear more about the proposals which will be forthcoming.
However, it would be difficult, despite the hon. Lady's attempted justification, in her remarks and by the excerpt which she read, for the country to accept the claim that the Conservative Government have an excellent record in the matter of consumer protection. She may claim that they have, but it would be difficult so to persuade the thousands of people who know how the Conservative Government disbanded the Consumer Council and, just as important, particularly in the context of the present controversy about trade unions, wages and prices, disbanded the Prices and Incomes Board. That, too, was a very important organisation, and the hon. Lady will recall that its chairman was a former Minister and a member of her own party.
Having said that, let me turn to those other parts of the Gracious Speech about which I particularly want to speak. I refer first to that sentence which says that the Government propose toseek a positive improvement in East-West relations and are preparing in co-operation with 129 their allies for a conference on security and co-operation in Europe".I welcome that, personally. I have always held the view that there was much more to the formation of the EEC and our joining it than merely economic considerations and that there was the establishing of further friendly, co-operative feelings with those other countries, and, instead, as so many do, of kicking our prospective friends in the teeth, seeking to establish friendly relations. When I was associated with the Council of Europe in 1962, 1963 and 1964 efforts were made, as I recall clearly, to establish these relations with Rumania and Poland in particular, as a first step in establishing firmer relations in education and the arts.
Now let me pass to what I want to dwell on in detail, and I make no apology to the Minister for doing so. I refer to the sentence in the Gracious Speech:Extra help will continue to be provided for areas of special social need.I do so not in any spirit of a mendicant coming to plead the case for the city of Glasgow, but I do so because it is a matter in which the Government have direct responsibility in making decisions on allocating industry to such areas so that they can lift themselves up by their own efforts and by their own boot straps.
On 27th July this year I had the privilege of adressing this House on the city of Glasgow's unemployment situation, which is peculiar both in its nature and in its duration. On that occasion I confined my remarks to analysing the unemployment situation, dealing with the figures and trying to direct the appropriate Government Departments' attention to the problem. I did not do so then and I do not now in any parochial sense, but on the general premise that a successful, high rate of industrial activity and of employment, of growth in industry and commerce, in the city of Glasgow would be the basis of improvement in the areas contiguous to it—in Lanarkshire, Dumbartonshire and Renfrewshire. The decline of the older industries, coal, shipbuilding and steel, have hit Glasgow and the west of Scotland extremely hard in the past years. But in addition, many of Glasgow's smaller industries and businesses have voluntarily overspilled into the new towns which are being developed. Many have also, perforce, moved out 130 because of the courageous, exciting and challenging programme of physical reconstruction at present taking place there. There is no comparable project in Europe. There are 29 comprehensive development areas in the city, and an inner ring road linked with some six express ways will ensure quick passenger and industrial transport within and through the city.
The overspill of these smaller industries and busineses to the new towns has aggravated the existing heavy rate of unemployment within the city and has attenuated the job opportunities for young people. I shall not go into great detail on the figures. I hope that the Government will realise that there is a hard core of unemployment here, even above the rate in Scotland generally. Despite the slight improvement in the national and Glasgow figures last month compared with September, 1972, the Glasgow figures are still higher than they were a year ago.
One disturbing aspect is that this unemployment is arising among white collar workers and in the new growth industries. I stress that, in view of what I shall say later. The total of wholly unemployed in Glasgow in October, 1971, was 34,533. This year it is 35,238. The total of wholly unemployed males last year was 29,700. This year it is 30,306. The same applies to female labour. One significant feature is that wholly unemployed males in 1971 formed 10.7 per cent. of the work force in Glasgow and in 1972 they form 11.8 per cent. That is more than one person in ten.
Another significant feature is that unemployed under-18s last year totalled 3,180, and this year the figure is 3,718. There are about 4,000 young people, at the most impressionable years of their lives, coming out of schools but finding themselves unemployed, and many of them well equipped with "O" level certificates of education. One quarter of the women unemployed in Glasgow are under the age of 18.
White collar workers are not being employed to the full extent of their ability. A plentiful supply of young labour makes it obvious that when the Hardman Committee's report is being considered by the Government, Glasgow almost automatically suggests itself as one of the places to which we would 131 expect, if the figures are correct, that 20,000 Civil Service jobs should come.
The figures I have quoted are deplorable by any standard and certainly provide evidence of the false prospectus on which the present Government were elected, when in their Scottish manifesto they said:Scotland will get moving again. No part of Britain has more to gain from Tory policies.Is it any wonder that there is a sense of frustration, disillusionment and cynicism among the 4,000 young people in Glasgow who are unemployed and entering the adult world? It is a criminal waste of youthful hopes and aspirations.
There is an urgent need for speedy action by the Government to redress the situation, if they have any social conscience left. I hope that they have sufficient scruples left from their recent harsh experiences with Rolls-Royce and Upper Clyde Shipbuilders to remember that there is much more to be considered than accountants' ledgers when considering the replacement of old industries and the siting of new ones.
The case for the establishment of the proposed steel complex at Hunterston was admirably stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie). I endorse every word my hon. Friend said. In the view of all Scottish Labour Members, and I think I speak for some hon. Members opposite, the case for the establishment of the steel complex at Hunterston is unassailable. The Scottish Council for Development Industry, the Scottish TUC and the Scottish CBI are united in their representations for a favourable decision.
There is no point in the Government palavering about with nice phrases of this kind in the Gracious Speech. Political decisions can overcome so-called technical decisions which are presented to the Government, as happened in the case of Ravenscraig and in the case of the Post Office Savings Bank. I ask that the same consideration be given by the Government, as a political decision, on the question of the steel complex.
Moreover, I ask for a political decision in respect of the allocation of Civil Service jobs. The White Paper on the Reorganisation of Central Government 132 enunciated two criteria. The first was the efficiency and economy of operations. The second was regional policies. On both grounds Glasgow is eminently suitable.
In respect of the first, the Glasgow area has always been a major recruitment centre for the Civil Service but, unfortunately, for other parts of the United Kingdom. Applicants have been told recently that if they are selected they will need to go to England. It is a nonsense to recruit people in Glasgow and send them down to Bath or Cheltenham or even to Newcastle. We must stop the drift of people going to the jobs and start bringing the jobs to the people. The over-concentration of posts in the South means that to remain in Scotland as a civil servant is to be denied promotion opportunities to the higher echelons. There is a need to create a permanent system of career development in the West of Scotland. This would facilitate young people remaining there.
In any case, there are already two large centres at East Kilbride and Cowglen where there are computer complexes. More of these are needed which could result in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland having a high degree of expertise, leading to inevitable expansion in computer work over the next decade.
Glasgow is fortunately placed for transport. Civil servants who want to come from Glasgow to London can do so easily. My hon. Friends who make the journey will tell such civil servants that it takes only an hour's flight and only three hours from home to Whitehall. There are four or five planes in the morning and four return flights, in the evening. It takes only 40 minutes to go from Glasgow to St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh. While they are there, civil servants may want to go to the Festival or to some of the museums or galleries. We are all aware not so much of the views of the civil servants but of the power behind the throne in the form of the wives wondering about education facilities, for example, and amenities.
If they want proof, let them consult those who have already come from the South to the Post Office Savings Bank at Cowglen. I remember only too well the silent demonstration in the Gallery the night that this question was being 133 debated, by the civil servants who felt that their jobs were being threatened. This is why I reiterate that the Civil servants if asked will say "No, we are not going." The Government will have to make the decision. I hope that they will make it in the way that I have indicated.
Office accommodation is available now. Sites are now available in the city of Glasgow, and they are much cheaper than in the South. I do not want to go into the details of something that has happened at Tottenham Court Road recently, but I can say that the cost of the provision of 10 times the area for the Post Office Savings Bank in Glasgow is approximately the same as the cost of the development at Tottenham Court Road.
White-collarworkers find it increasingly difficult to get alternative employment, and a large, dramatic, imaginative decision to transfer large sections of Civil Service work to Glasgow would go a long way to improving morale and prospects in that area.
As for education, what I am about to say is a statement of fact and not a matter of opinion. The quality of education, whether at the local public schools, in the further education facilities, or in the higher echelons of education, whether at Glasgow's new college of technology or at the universities, cannot be bettered anywhere in the United Kingdom.
Good quality housing for owner-occupiers is available within a reasonable distance of Glasgow. Certainly there is much shorter commuter travelling there than in London.
As for amenities, there are the Scottish Orchestra, opera, museums in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, and within one hour one can be out on the beautiful bonnie banks of Loch Lomond enjoying the countryside. As a salesman, I cannot offer better facilities than these.
I should like to know why priority was not given to the refurbishing of the low-level line in Glasgow in order to complete the travel facilities within the city. Something must be done there, and a decision is called for.
I intend to send to the Secretary of State for Scotland a list of proposals submitted by the Glasgow local authority, necessitating small, piddling decisions 134 which have been delayed in some instances for 16 months. These decisions are vital to allow the local authority to get on with building in spaces which are at present scars because of the reconstruction work that is taking place there. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) referred to this matter.
The criticism is this. The scars are being revealed because the old buildings are being brought down, and the local authority cannot get on with the building of houses in an integrated fashion in the redevelopment areas because of the lack of decision from St. Andrew's House, which is all the more remarkable since 29 redevelopment areas have already been approved. Why it should take weeks to implement a proposal to close a street of 170 yards nobody knows. If that street were closed to traffic, the local authority could get on with the job. Therefore, when this evidence is submitted I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is not present in the Chamber—I make no complaint about that—will put a fire under somebody's tail to get on with the job.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
Like others of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I welcome the outline of the measures in the Gracious Speech. I do so not least because specifically these measures show themselves to be deeply concerned with the individual in terms of education, social services and his relationship with the machine of government.
There is, however, one issue that as a constituency Member and as an East Anglian Member I am concerned to see is not dealt with in the terms of the legislation outlined. That is a matter which I, together with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stain-ton), have been deeply concerned about. During the last year—this matter relates to two of the matters contained in the Gracious Speech—there has been a development of the opportunities which membership of the European Economic Community will bring and the need for the protection and improvement of the environment. There is no specific legislation to deal with the carriage of toxic and corrosive loads through many of the 135 most heavily populated areas of our constituencies. We have been grousing for some considerable time about the traffic in such loads from the Haven ports through Suffolk. But it is more than a grouse; it is a question with which our constituents are deeply concerned.
We know that we have had a sympathetic hearing from the Department of the Environment and, I should add straight away, as my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is present, with the Home Office. None the less, it is a matter which continues to haunt those of us who see these lorries carrying heavy loads of chemicals coming through our constituencies. I do not mean to be alarmist but I am duty bound, with the sort of recommendations which I have had from the Ipswich and Suffolk Fire Service, to say that as things stand there is the risk of a major Aberfan type of disaster arising if a tanker carrying chemicals through the towns and villages of the Eastern counties should come seriously amiss.
I hope that during this Session it will be possible for the Government to carry forward the type of recommendations which they have been earnestly considering and to co-ordinate the type of agreement which they have had from the chemical industry in order to produce a firm legislative code. This is particularly important in the light of the possibility of far larger loads of chemicals being carried from the Haven ports. The risk is present the whole time. Although such spillages as there have been on the A45 and Al2 have been comparatively minimal, that has been the result of good fortune rather than of any immediate control.
The presence of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State gives me the opportunity to welcome the fact that Her Majesty's Government will now approach the basic problem of crime and punishment in what is probably the most far-reaching way that any Government have done since the war. I hope that one of the things which will be reflected is the dichotomy of the problem of dealing with the vicious long-term offender on the one hand and, on the other hand, the many people who are in prison who should not be there at all, who are there 136 only because there is no alternative way of dealing with them.
I very much hope that the far-sighted approach being adopted by Home Office Ministers on this question will help to solve one of the problems which has greatly troubled all those of us involved in the courts over the past few years. The difficulty is that we are constantly confronted by a false economic argument. To imprison someone in fact costs about £25 a week. Adequate provision for an offender to be dealt with through the probation service costs between £2.50 and £3 a week. There are simply not enough probation officers available to meet the present situation.
Now, however, with the Government's forward-looking approach to matters of penal reform, I hope that we may reach a stage at which our prisons are given the opportunity to tackle their major problems, while the large number of persons who are at present shut up in prison—almost on an old-age pensioner approach because there is nothing else one can do with them—can be coped with on a long-term basis by other means. In this way, not only will the taxpayer be saved vast sums of money but people whose lives are at present being wasted away as recidivist prisoners may be given more humane treatment and a more decent opportunity to cope with their own problems.
I turn now to two other matters which have been of deep concern to my constituents. Many of the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. William Hannan) struck a warmly responsive note in my mind, for I hope that the Government, in considering the problems of East Anglia, will look favourably on the possibility of making the Ipswich and East Suffolk area an intermediate area. I urge that this be borne carefully in mind over the next year, especially in the light of the difficulties created by the proposed closure of the Ransome and Rapiers works.
Next, I have a matter to put to the Government arising out of the proposals for the reorganisation of the National Health Service. My constituents have been very anxious about the possible removal of the radiotherapy department of their hospital. This is of basic concern to many people in the area, especially to cancer patients. I very much 137 hope that the possibility of the closure of this unit and its transfer to Colchester will be looked at most carefully by the Department of Health and Social Security. Administratively it might be tidier, but I am convinced that the results would be disastrous for the good of my constituents and disastrous, too, for the morale of the Ipswich and Suffolk Hospital.
I come now to two matters, one referred to in the Gracious Speech and one not. To take first the one to which a reference is made, I hope that the House will look carefully at the proposals for the reform of local government finance in one particular respect. For many years it has been open to local authorities to charge a 6d. rate for the arts. I hope that this will not now be left open for such a variegated selection as has been available in the past but that some sort of guideline will be laid down. Indeed, I go so far as to suggest that the Government should introduce some form of statutory arrangement so that those concerned with the arts may know exactly where they stand, avoiding the present inconsistency or incompatability between what one local authority provides as compared with another. There could be a great opportunity here which local authorities generally, and the larger local authorities in particular, could take up.
Now, I come to the matter which is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. In the past year two major reports on industrial safety have appeared, the Robens Report and the report directed specifically to the effects of noise in relation to industrial safety. It is still a matter of great concern in this country that as many days are lost because of industrial injury as are lost through industrial stoppages. I hope that during the Session the Government will find time to introduce legislation directly to deal with the effects of noise and with the whole problem of industrial safety, introducing legislation to save the danger and possibly death which is still inherent in the situation for many of our constituents.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)
I do not intend to detain the House, and I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for 138 Ipswich (Mr. Money) will forgive me if I do not take up some of the points he has raised. It is by coincidence that I should follow him in the debate because I hold a season ticket for Everton Football Club and he, I suspect, holds one for Ipswich. Only today we have learned that there has been an exchange of centre forwards between our respective teams.
§ Mr. Jones
I was there to watch that sorry tale, and I regret as an Opposition Member that we gave away two goals in the second half when we did not deserve to do so. In the Gracious Speech the Government say that they wish to raise confidence and stimulate employment in the assisted areas. In North-East Wales they have created a climate of no confidence and appear to be preparing to create massive redundancies.
I regret that there is no mention in detail in the speech of steel. We are to join the EEC soon, and as a representative of a constituency which is largely based on steel I would have liked to be told of Measures to be taken to safeguard the British steel industry. I would like to know, for example, whether plants in the North and West of Britain will be at a disadvantage in that transportation costs might price them out of the Continental market. Many steelworkers are now asking me what kind of redundancy payments would be available to those who were unfortunate enough to lose their jobs. Answers to questions like that would be appreciated.
I would like to know whether the Europeans with their large Channel-based steel plants could steal the home market of the British Steel Corporation. I wish to urge the Government—I see no mention of it in the Gracious Speech—to go for wholesale steel growth with a view to aiding the balance of payments and protecting the home market while enlarging the industry's export potential. Consequently, I would recommend a target of 36 million tons to 40 million tons a year instead of a target of 28 million tons.
In any assessment of policy for steel in the 1980s I should like to see special and important consideration given to the social implications of rationalisation 139 measures brought in by the Steel Corporation. That leads me to what Lord Melchett said in an extraordinary conference with the Scottish TUC recently. He indicated where he expected to see large-scale steel development in the 1980s, and even before that. He named five centres, but I saw no mention of the North Wales steel industry.
The Gracious Speech is the Government's signpost for the year ahead. I am sorry that it contains no mention of their plans for the steel industry. It is a staggering omission, because such plans are of crucial relevance to all of Wales, since the British Steel Corporation is now our largest employer of labour. Therefore, will the Government please tell my very worried constituents and the whole Welsh steel industry their plans for the 13,000 employees at the Shotton works? We fear very strongly that the work force is to be halved, that by the 1980s or earlier Shotton will no longer make its own steel and that we shall receive steel from South Wales, transported to Shotton for finishing processes only. If that is true my constituency will be decimated, devastated, destroyed. It has been calculated reliably that over 6,000 steel workers will lose their jobs and that another 2,500 jobs will be indirectly jeopardised. If the corporation's computers and planners have their way, over 30,000 people will be affected by a brutal policy of downgrading a famous and still consistently profitable steel works.
Will the Prime Minister receive a deputation of local authority members and steel workers to hear their views on the future of Shotton steelworks? We on Dee-side believe that a meeting with the Prime Minister is of the utmost urgency if we are to prevent the members of our magnificent work force from meeting themselves in the dole queue.
We have heard often enough that the Government want to help the regions. Indeed, they have stooped to a Socialist Measure, the Industry Act, to do so. If they decide to end steelmaking at Shotton and eliminate some 8,000 jobs, the Minister for Industrial Development may as well come to my constituency and live with us to be on the spot to sort out the mess.
Of the political consequences of closing the furnaces at Shotton and not re- 140 placing them the Government should have no illusions. The consequences will be severe. Have the Government considered that it will be a grave and humiliating blow to the standing of the Welsh Office if Shotton is downgraded? The whole economy of North Wales is balanced on the fortunes of Shotton. The North Walian economy would tumble down like a disturbed pack of cards if Shotton were downgraded in the way predicted.
The position of the Secretary of State for Wales would be untenable. I do not think he would ever be able to return to his native North Wales with his head held high. He would be regarded as a political disaster, the man who failed to protect the very foundation of the economy of North Wales. He could be humiliated and discredited as Secretary of State. I have no pleasure or malice in making that statement.
I do not wish to dwell on these matters, but I had hoped that the Gracious Speech would end the uncertainty for Shotton. The record of the steelmen of Shotton is magnificent, and they deserve only the very best from the corporation. All of us on Deeside in particular know that with the stroke of a pen the Government could save the jobs of thousands of my constituents simply by investing in new steelmaking facilities.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) has ably and courageously outlined the problems which confront his constituency, and we all know the concern that is felt for those who are undergoing the processes of industrial change.
The debate on the Gracious Speech has in the past been described as the grand inquest by the nation. Therefore, it is a little unfortunate that on this opening day we have covered so little ground. I wish to refer to three or four major issues.
Having heard the speech made this afternoon by the Prime Minister, I can only say that in my 12 years' experience in the House I have seldom heard a speech on the Address on the Gracious Speech delivered by a Front Bench Government spokesman which has revealed so little understanding of the real issues confronting the nation.
141 My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East rightly drew attention to Britain's entry into the EEC. The Gracious Speech refers to the Government'soverriding concern as Britain enters the European Communities …and then goes on to deal with the question of economic growth, the provision of increasing employment and rising living standards. I have no wish to go over the debates which have taken place in the last 10 years on the subject of the EEC except perhaps to draw attention to two or three factors.
We were told about the high hopes for the regions of Britain which would result from the summit conference negotiations because of a deal which the Prime Minister was able to pull off at that conference. Before this debate concludes, we shall need to have a lot more evidence from the Prime Minister and his Government colleagues about what exactly is the future of the development areas of Britain. Already some disturbing sounds have been heard from the Continent on the impact which the economic policy of the EEC will have on development areas such as Wales, the North-East and Scotland.
One argument in terms of regional policy which was advanced during the many debates on our entry into the Common Market was that Italy has benefited greatly from the Community's regional policy. If the Community's regional policy was so soundly based at the time when we applied to enter the Community, why is it now necessary for the Prime Minister to hail as a triumph the fact that he has extracted promises with a view to some new regional policy? Italy was paraded before us as an example of how the Six could help each other in the economic and industrial difficulties with which they were confronted.
It was rather alarming to read last week in connection with the Dunlop-Pirelli merger that the Italian company of Pirelli had sustained a loss of between £30 million and £40 million which could well react against the interests of its British partner. I raise this point not only because of the Dunlop-Pirelli merger but because we have Dunlop subsidiaries in my constituency and we must be concerned about its impact on their future.
142 If we look at the Gracious Speech a little more closely we see references, backed up by the comments of the Prime Minister earlier today, to the negotiations at present being carried on between the CBI, the Government and the TUC. The Prime Minister talked about the wage increase offer which had been made in the package deal which may emerge. He also referred to the wages council trades. For too long in this House we have listened to Government spokesmen talking about wage increases being almost the sole cause of inflation. But it was very interesting to note in the business columns of the national Press over the last two or three weeks a list of the top 500 companies in Europe in terms of profitability. Of the British companies in that list of 500, 61 per cent. were at the top of the profitability league. The evidence from that list is that British firms are either exceeding the profitability rate of their European counterparts at the expense of the workers in the industries concerned or someone is not telling us the truth about inflation. If the cause of inflation is as the Prime Minister argues, the responsibility of the trade union movement and those seeking wage increases, why is it necessary for him to talk today about the wages council trades and the very lowly-paid industries?
Even if the package deal which comes out of the Downing Street negotiations exceeds the £2 wage increase on which the negotiations started, many people will be well below a wage of £20 a week and considerably below it in terms of take-home pay.
There are two factors arising from the Gracious Speech that the Government would do well to consider. One is the abolition of wages councils. They have long since ceased to be a protection to wage earners and have been used merely by the more unscrupulous employers to keep wage rates at a deplorably low level, because the legislation applying to the wages councils has fixed the minimum wage and because too often that minimum wage has been the maximum as well.
If we are to consider this matter in terms of improving living standards amongst our people, as the Gracious Speech says, we have to look closely at the introduction of a national minimum wage and of wage rates which are more 143 in keeping with the price increases that have occurred during the last 18 months or two years. So the Gracious Speech, in referring to rising living standards, needs some direct application by the Government on this matter.
What is also required in relation to improvements in living standards is an immediate increase in payments to old-age pensioners; not some kind of lump sum bonus at Christmas. Pensioners should be given the opportunity throughout the year to prepare for Christmas, as other people do, rather than talking to them in terms of a Christmas hand-out which would to some extent conceal the real poverty of old-age pensions and old-aged pensioners.
I turn briefly to the desire or the viewpoint expressed in the Gracious Speech for reformingcertain aspects of local government finance in England and Wales; and to establish machinery for investigating complaints of maladministration in local government.This measure is long overdue. We would be prepared to support the Government if they decided to introduce a measure to provide an ombudsman for local government. Excellent though most local authority departments are throughout the country, there has been too little machinery available to maintain that standard in certain areas and too little assistance given to Members of Parliament and others in dealing with this important problem.
We are belatedly told in the Gracious Speech of measures to protect the consumer. Over the years some hon. Members have introduced Measures into this House to protect the consumer over a wide area. I have made a close examination of the travel trade in this country and the protection of the holidaymaker against some of its worst aspects. We have agreed that the majority of people operating in the travel trade give the customer the kind of deal that he or she should have. However, all too often, not only in the travel trade but in other sections of consumer industry, we have the rogue elephants who are prepared to take advantage of the absence of legislation in the activities they pursue.
The Government talk of consumer protection. They have told us that the Trade Descriptions Act—we have seen 144 and heard of one or two prosecutions—goes quite a long way in protecting the interests of travellers overseas. However, in the main it does not protect those people who suffer from the misdemeanours of travel firms which step out of line. A firm may be fined and be able to pay the fine without noticing any impact on its income.
What is important to remember is that the prosecution of a firm in the travel trade, or in any other section of the consumer industry, does not provide any redress for the person who has suffered damage. Fines may be a deterrent, but we want to see a greater measure of protection for the shopper and the holidaymaker. We want to see a greater measure of payment in return for what the shopper or holidaymaker has suffered when he receives goods or services which fall below the standard offered. Protecting the consumer must be done not only by punishing the people who commit the misdemeanours—be it over-charging, supplying shoddy goods, indulging in misleading advertising or cleverly worded legal agreements and so on—but also by providing redress for the people who have suffered.
One of the first acts of the Government on taking office was to close the Consumer Council. They now realise that they made a mistake in doing that and they propose to do something about it. Tinkering with the problem will not be sufficient. A lot more must be done. The Prime Minister spoke today about not going back to the wartime Utility situation and wartime controls. No one wants to return to wartime conditions as it applied to the consumer, but the Government must realise that very often the need for control is greater when there is an abundance of materials and commodities than when there is a scarcity.
Many of the people who lived through that period of controls and Utility goods would, I am sure, welcome a return to those standards when they look at some of the shoddy furniture, footwear and items of clothing available to the public now. We are living in a time of abundance, with fast-rising consumer demand, and one of the greatest punishments for those who step out of line on standards would be to tell them that they ought not to be in this industry and that the quicker they get out the better. The best 145 way to get the rogue elephants out of the consumer industry is to lay down high standards for its products.
Many people who will be affected by the increases resulting from the imposition of VAT on such articles as children's clothes, footwear and school uniforms, will welcome the announcement in the Queen's Speech. But they will welcome it only if it is not some pious declaration and is followed by the appropriate legislation.
The Gracious Speech has been described as the grand inquest of the Nation. There is sufficient material in it to cover a much wider field than we have covered tonight. I sincerely hope and trust that in their legislation the Government will live up to the standards set in the Gracious Speech and will not depart from them in the way that they have departed from their election promises since June, 1970.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Murton.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.