§ 5.5 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
I beg to move,That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Tuesday 15th January 1974.As is the usual practice, Mr. Speaker, it may be for the conveniece of the 1644 House if I listen to the debate and reply at the end.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I hope that the House will not pass the motion until we have had an assurance about the position of the disabled and people in need of social services—those with problems of mental health, for example—as a result of the crisis in power, energy and the economy.
Recently we had a statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which went some way towards relieving the problem of mobility for the disabled. Unfortunately, it did not go far enough. Because of the way that petrol is being organised before rationing, the disabled who are getting about by using their own disablement vehicles or are being ferried by family and friends, will find mobility during the Christmas period more important than at other times, but may find themselves housebound because petrol stations will not be open.
If we are to rise without this matter being resolved, may I ask whether the Secretary of State will come to the House tomorrow and announce emergency plans for certain regional or district depots where those in need of transport because of their disablement can be assured of petrol supplies?
The Prime Minister announced that petrol rationing would not come in before 1st January. Therefore, I presume that if petrol rationing is to come in immediately after 1st January the House will be recalled. But we must resolve the uncertainty for local authority social service departments during the Christmas recess.
Unfortunately, the Government drew up their list of priorities from the 1959 list with the result that they made a bad judgment between social services organised by local authorities and those organised and run by voluntary organisations.
Form P.1 will enable voluntary associations with special schemes for the disabled and chronic sick to get extra petrol supplies. But the social service departments which, since the Seebohm reforms, have had a large number of additional statutory responsibilities placed upon them, are not entitled to apply for extra petrol on Form P.1. If this matter is 1645 not resolved before we recess for Christmas, directors of social service departments in many boroughs will be considerably concerned about their important statutory services should petrol rationing be introduced early in the New Year. Of especial importance is the liability upon local authorities for the mental health officer, who at weekends and after 5 p.m. has placed upon him statutory responsibilities in case of acute mental illness. He may then be, because of the crisis, unable to fulfil his obligations, with all the consequences that that may entail should a mental breakdown occur in those hours.
On the same theme I have had representations from the Brent Council of Social Service. Those representations have also been sent to the Department. I have had representations from the National Council of Social Service about the way in which it will be very difficult in the coming few months, if the present situation continues, for it to fulfil its obligations. The Jewish Board of Guardians, for example, may have to entirely step down from some of its very responsible social service work.
Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will deal with these matters so that the House can be satisfied or, alternatively, give an assurance that before the House rises some of these problems will be solved.
My last point is of great concern to us all. The Government's pronouncement of the three-day week, which will affect electricity and heating supplies, will have a tremendous effect upon the social services of local authorities for the elderly. If there is one time of the year when the elderly should receive maximum consideration it is over the Christmas period. A three-day week for the social services departments of local authorities, involving the whole problem of meals on wheels, home helps and the ancillary services for the elderly, will mean great difficulties. I am confident that they will brilliantly seek to overcome the difficulties and that in spite of the difficulties, somehow or other the meals will get through and the home helps will arrive, and that we shall not be faced with the problem of putting elderly people into geriatric wards of hospitals merely because the economic crisis does not permit the community to do its job.
1646 These are matters of urgency. If the House were to rise for the Christmas Recess without resolving these difficulties, we should be retiring for our own enjoyment but with a heavy responsibility on our hands for a large number of people who are in need, although a relatively small section of the community, being very much in the cold for a cold Christmas.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
I shall be brief, in order to keep the debate as short as possible. We are going on a Christmas Recess against one of the worst economic backgrounds that we have ever experienced. Firstly, there is a genuine anxiety among a number of small businessmen, shopkeepers and hairdressers about flexibility of hours and working and the allocation of electricity. It is up to my right hon. Friend and the Government to think very carefully as to how best these small businesses, shops and industries can be helped, simply by allowing a degree of flexibility in the orders.
Secondly, it is very difficult for people who run small businesses to know exactly what they ought and ought not to be doing. Many of us have received letters and delegations on this subject. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider very carefully the means of dissemination of information from the Government down to the ordinary shopkeeper. I know from experience that if a shopkeeper tries to obtain information over the telephone, he seldom gets a reply as the telephone line is engaged. He also has no means of checking whether he is acting within the framework of the law.
These are matters about which people want to know. First, they want to be allowed to give their views as to how they could run their business using the same amount of power but in a more practical and an economic and better way. Secondly, they want a system whereby they can rapidly get advice on what they ought to do and how best their ideas on flexibility could be met under the existing regulations.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
The House should not adjourn without considering the statement issued 1647 today by the Minister of Transport Industries on his reconsideration of the Greater Manchester passenger transport scheme.
The Leader of the House will be aware that throughout this Session hon. Members on both sides of the House, from the whole of the new Greater Manchester, have been pressing the Minister to make a statement on this vitally urgent matter. It is not simply a matter which affects my constituency. It affects 2 million people who live in what is the most populous conurbation outside London. For seven years the South-East Lancashire/North-East Cheshire Passenger Transport Executive has worked with the Ministry of Transport in preparing plans for the development of an efficient passenger transport service in the Greater Manchester area, which would include a tunnel linking the northern and southern railway termini of the city. The Minister accepted the cost-benefit analysis of the passenger transport authority. The grants for the research were made during the seven years. But in the summer the Minister announced that grant would not be available to start the work on the scheme in 1974–75, as had been anticipated.
There has been a tremendous outcry from the whole area, from industry, trade unions and local authorities. The Minister for Transport Industries met representatives of the Passenger Transport Executive and promised to reconsider the decision. Today I received a reply to a Written Question at 4.30 p.m., with a statement by the Minister in which he gives a very confused decision, a decision which he ought to have made more orderly so that questions could have been put upon it. He said:The appraisal of the scheme has taken many months. It is costly and the economic rate of return, particularly on the tunnel, is low.This planning has been taking place not simply by the SELNEC Passenger Transport Executive, the plans being then handed over to the Ministry during the summer. The planning, and the costbenelit analysis that went with it, has been worked out with the Ministry throughout the seven years. I deny that the cost-benefit is low, as I have no doubt that the Passenger Transport Executive will deny it tonight.
1648 The Minister went on to say,By the time a start could be made on such a project, however, the new system of transport grants proposed in the Local Government Bill should have been introduced It will then be for the Greater Manchester Council to consider what public transport investment should be included in the Transport Policy and Programme which they will have to submit as a basis for grant.The Minister also said thatthe merits of the scheme do not in themselves justify making additional resources available to Manchester".In view of the vast amount of information that the Minister has received and the almost unanimous support—I except the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Redmond) in this matter—of local authorities, Members of Parliament and business interests in the area, to the effect that this was necessary and urgent, I do not believe that the Minister's reply is acceptable.
§ Mr. Robert Redmond (Bolton, West)
The hon. Gentleman has referred to me. I must point out that, so far as the industry of Bolton is concerned, it would very much like the Pic-Vic line. If, however, it was given a choice between the Pic-Vic line or route 225, a most important link, it would choose route 225, which gives industry a very good method of getting goods to Liverpool. That is the view of local industry. I support what my right hon. Friend the Minister has done. He has put the decision in the hands of local authority, where it belongs.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. Before the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) continues, I should like to say to him and to other hon. Members that speeches on an occasion such as this ought to refer constantly to the motion why the House should not rise from tomorrow until 15th January. Hon. Members should argue their case around that matter rather than producing the merits of a case, because, after all, we might not consider that business anyhow between now and 15th January. It would be better to keep as near as possible to the terms of the motion, otherwise we may be engaged on this matter longer than the House would wish.
§ Mr. Marks
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for pointing that out. But there should be an oral statement 1649 by the Minister and a discussion of this question before the House rises. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Bolton, West referred to his community which is part of Greater Manchester, but he will agree that his point of view is an exceptional one in that area. Therefore, I should like to ask the Leader of the House to give us some assurance that, if it is not possible to debate this matter before the House rises, there will be an early opportunity to do so in the next Session.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
This is the first time since 1955 that I have risen to speak on the motion for the Adjournment of the House, and I do so now because I have been unable to discover what is to happen to the work of 12,000 men in my constituency. The defence budget is to be cut and, although I raised this matter in the debate the other day, I still do not know how many days they will be able to work, what work they will be given or even whether there will be any employment. I gave my right hon. Friend notice that I would ask for more information today, and since then two other matters have been brought to my attention.
There is a lot of light industry in my area, and unless it is given some consideration it may be finished, but it is very difficult to get a satisfactory answer in the House or the DTI. There are approximately seven factories in an area which have been told they must work on the last three days of the week, but the shops will be open on the first three days of the week. As most of these factories employ women, the managements are wondering how they will be able to keep their employees because the women will need time off at weekends. I have been in touch with the Department of Trade and Industry. I was told, to my astonishment, that it has no power over the rotas which are arranged by the electricity boards, which have said that the local people and the chambers of commerce should get together. That was done but without success, so I got in touch with the manager of the South-West Electricity Board who advised me that the order has not yet been published. But, strange to say, he added that in any case it is not possible to change the rota even though the order has not yet been published.
1650 Then there is the question of what happens if we die in the near future. I understand that undertakers have to work 24 hours a day seven days a week, but they are wondering what will happen if the coffins cannot be produced. There is a possibility that there will be hundreds of deceased persons and not enough coffins for them, with all the attendant complications. This is a very important matter, and unless there is an answer today it will be necessary to ask Parliament to be reconvened so that we do not have this very difficult problem among others on our hands. I hope that I shall get an answer on those points, and I hope that I shall be told what will happen to the people in the employment of the dockyard, what will happen about the factories and whether they will have a right of appeal which they do not have at the moment, and what will happen if we die between now and the time Parliament resumes.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
On the last motion we discussed some of the qualities of the House and the present debate is one of the three great safeguards in parliamentary procedure, the other two being consultation before legislation and no taxation before representation. We are now concerned with what is technically known as grievances before Adjournment, and I do not wish to support the motion now before the House until the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House has had an opportunity to reply to some points of which I have given notice.
Much has been said about the difficulty in which Parliament finds itself. As a relative newcomer here, I feel that the machinery is less wanting than the way in which we sometimes use it, which is probably true of any human organisation. We always try to change the machinery when we ought really to look more frequently at the way we use it. I wish to draw the attention of the Lord President to three matters on which he should offer some explanation to the House.
For the last three or four weeks during business questions I have pressed points related to the general scheme of preferences and to the discussions going on about draft regulations of the EEC. Indeed, together with my hon. Friend the 1651 Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) and supported by 100 hon. Members, I have tabled Early Day Motion No. 88 on the subject. That motion asks that the Lord President should find time for a debate before a final decision is made, but I do not want to go into its merits now, because this afternoon I am concerned with procedure.
A fortnight ago, the Lord President kindly said that he would look into the matter and see whether it was physically possible for this House to have a debate before a final decision was taken. Last Thursday, he said, as reported at col. 666,As regards the improvements for the Community's generalised preference scheme, this is a continuing process with no final deadline."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December 1973; Vol. 866, c. 666.]But, as I think he knows, his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, replying to the debate last Monday, said quite specifically, as reported at col. 1081,The GSP scheme generally will come into force on 1st January."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December 1973; Vol. 866, c. 1081.]Furthermore, the Lord President will have heard his right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for European Affairs replying a few minutes ago to a question of mine. He said that the new scheme will come into force on 1st January and that final details are being ironed out, but that the main decisions have been made. In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West, he said that he did not think he would be dissatisfied with the result.
I feel that the Leader of the House should have been frank and admitted that we had no time for a debate, that the matter had already been decided elsewhere and that it was inappropriate for us to discuss it now. But instead of that he made a statement which was quite contrary to what we heard in this House on Monday, and to what his right hon. Friend said only a few moments ago. I am quite prepared to accept that there is a fault in my reasoning, but the onus is upon the Leader of the House to explain what has gone wrong. He read last week what I think was a prepared statement, and there may have been a mistake.
This is not the only time that there has been a difference of opinion between members of the Government in the state- 1652 ments which they have made in the House. Consistency in statements is of fundamental importance to the confidence which hon. Members have in each other and which the public has in this House. If we spend all our time checking what has been said by members of Governments, of whatever party, we shall be in grave difficulty. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture said in a debate on food prices earlier this monthNo tariffs on food items have yet been imposed or increased under the common external tariff as a result of EEC entry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December 1973; Vol 866 c. 99.]We are quite prepared to accept that, but a few days later we were told by the Under-Secretary of State to the Department of Trade and Industry that the present rate on beef was introduced on 30th April last. He went on:The reason for repeating the duties and many others in which there is no change is simply to have a complete consolidated order, but that does not affect the issue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December 1973; Vol. 866, c. 1084.]In other words he implied, and for all I know it is true, that food tariffs on beef already exist. That matter was not cleared up at the time.
This may seem a small matter, but tax on food, which was the subject of exchanges across the Floor of the House earlier today, is a matter of great importance to the British public. We shall be in considerable difficulties if Ministers make what appear to be conflicting statements and if a definitive statement, in this case made by the Parliamentary Secretary, is called into question by another Minister. I gave the Leader of the House notice about this matter and asked him to clear it up before we adjourn for the recess.
Some of the difficulties we have been experiencing over EEC matters partly arise because the House has not had time—or rather the Lord President has not seen fit to allow time—to debate the Select Committee report on procedure for EEC regulations. It is a year since we joined the Common Market, yet we have been unable so far to match our procedures with those of the EEC. My views about the EEC and the merits or otherwise of joining it are well known, but irrespective of any view we may take, it 1653 is the duty of the House to make sure that the necessary machinery is in position and ready. It should have been in position on 1st January 1973. Since we have not debated this Select Committee report and since we have not decided to take action, the machinery will not even be there on 1st January 1974. A year has passed and we have not even tried out some of the recommendations of the Select Committee. That means we shall be in increasing difficulty not only in connection with ministerial speeches but also on statements such as that made today.
Therefore we should not rise for the Christmas Recess until the Lord President has said why he has not found time for the subject. This sort of thing calls into question the efficiency and prestige of this House. It was quite rightly said during our discussion on the retirement of the Clerk of the House that we have one of the best systems of democracy in the world. It is not the system which is at fault but the way in which we use it. Unless the Leader of the House expedites debates on these procedures, history's verdict on him will be that he did not serve the best interests of the House and its democratic processes to which we pay tribute.
The good name of this House is bound up with this. Our procedure must not only be good, it must be seen to be good. The fact that we have not debated this matter, and the consequent difficulties of that, mean that we are not seen to be doing our job. I hope the Lord President will tell us what he intends to do about it.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Some of us feel that we should not rise at all for the recess and there are others, perhaps not in the House, who think that we should rise and never come back.
My views are not as extreme as that. Before the House rises, or if that is not possible, perhaps by coming back a few days early, we should try to fit in a two-day debate on the national energy situation. I appreciate that there was a debate on the fuel control Bill the other day. Also, there was a two-day debate this week. But the House has never done what the nation wants, which is to recognise that a new situation has developed 1654 in the Middle East and that as a nation we are likely to be desperately short of energy for a number of years.
It is of great importance to the nation that hon. Members, many of whom know a great deal about the subject, should have an opportunity of putting their ideas together and deciding what sort of policy we should be pursuing. This is not something we can put off until later on in 1974. It is a desperately urgent matter.
We should have had a two-day debate by now on the sort of priority we attach to North Sea oil exploration. That debate would have given us an opportunity of discussing whether it was feasible to derive oil from shale, as some people suggest, and whether it is possible to produce oil from coal. We should be able to find out whether the Government were considering doing what is already done in the Republic of Ireland on a large scale, which is to use peat for the generation of electricity. In the Republic half their electricity supply comes from turf.
Since the miners began their go-slow a new situation has developed abroad. The threat existed when the miners began their dispute, but since then it has materialised and as far as we can see we shall be pinched for overseas oil for many years, and we must discuss the sort of rôle we envisage for coal as a provider of our national energy requirements in the next five or ten years at least.
I would be prepared to come back at any time, possibly excluding Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but I should not like to come back on the date proposed—15th January—to find that in our absence the limits of phase 3 had been stretched, cracked or broken in the process of securing a settlement with the miners. So, while I should like to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment do his utmost to secure a peaceful solution to our industrial disputes, I should be most disappointed if this involved stretching in any way the framework of phase 3 and making a special case for the miners which the nation could never afford.
I should like the House to have more time this Session so that there can be clarification by debate or by a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the statement which he issued on Monday. The action which my right hon. Friend 1655 took, whilst less energetic than some of us expected, was a step in the right direction. My right hon. Friend said that he wanted to achieve economies totalling £1,000 million or £1,200 million by cutting back public expenditure. On Monday he said that he was looking to local authorities to achieve that reduction by a 20 per cent. cut in capital spending across the board.
My right hon. Friend, whom we admire so much in his present capacity, may decide that it will be possible to have such a debate before or after Christmas. If the Chancellor gives the House a little more detail on exactly how the cuts will fall on local authorities, I shall press him to give a clear undertaking that the freezing of the much-needed health centre programme shall not continue and shall not be involved in the 20 per cent. cut.
This summer a vigorous programme of new health centre construction, which was so vitally needed in rural areas, was suddenly and without warning frozen by the Government. That was a great disappointment. Many hon. Members accepted that the moratorium must continue until the end of the year. We were given an undertaking that the health centres which should have begun construction this autumn or winter would have priority the following year. I want an undertaking from the right hon. Friend that the 20 per cent. cut which he is asking local authorities to make will not apply to new health centre construction. For those reasons I should like the House to sit a day or two longer.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I take up one of the matters which has been put before the House in the hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can take action whilst the House is not sitting. I take up the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers)—namely, the hardship which small firms will suffer under the three-day working week. It is not my intention to debate whether a three-day week is or is not the right thing to do. There is no doubt that many small firms will suffer badly from the imposition of a three-day working week. Some of them will face bankruptcy as a result.
1656 The present situation is that a firm will receive a letter stating that the factory will be allowed to work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday or Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That has happened to a small firm in my constituency. The owner has built up a business from scratch. He employs 35 women. Nearly all of the women are married. They now work from Monday to Friday. He has been told that they must now work on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It is almost impossible for that staff to work on a Saturday because of the demands of their children and husbands.
To compound the felony, the businessman to whom I have referred has been told by the trade union that he will have to pay time and a half on a Saturday even if the women do not work. I plead for more flexibility. I ask that some organisation be set up immediately so that there shall be a court of appeal. A man faced with that situation should be able to put his case before a tribunal. He should be able to ask a tribunal to allow him to operate on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays rather than Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that the present situation cannot wait until 15th January. I hope that he will give an undertaking that he will mention the matter to the relevant Department, whether it is the Department of Trade and Industry or the Department of Employment, so that some machinery can be set up whereby the smaller firms, which will definitely suffer more than the large firms, shall have a court of appeal. There may be good reasons for their having to work on the days which have been chosen, but at present the position has not been explained to the people concerned. They are worried, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give an assurance that the Government, while the House is in recess, will consider the matter as one of extreme urgency.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
I support what the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) has said in opposing the motion. I have had numerous representations made to me by my constituents. They have been raising their voices in apprehension about the 1657 three-day working week. It cannot be doubted that the details so far disseminated by the Government have been obscure. I am bound to tell the Leader of the House that there is a widespread feeling in my constituency that the three-day working week is the creature of the obduracy of the Prime Minister. It is thought that it is designed to pillory the miners. As Dorothy Parker once said, he istrapped like a trap in a trap.".Many of my constituents have seen me or have written to me about the three-day week. They say that it will create just the sort of consequences, and particularly for the smaller firms and small factory owners, to which the hon. Member for Sevenoaks referred, and which have been postulated by some hon. Members. It is thought by my constituents that in its wake will follow substantial unemployment or at least short-time working for some considerable time to come. It will produce a terrible pressure on the wage packet of the ordinary worker.
I have been asked whether the three-day week has been introduced to maximise inconvenience because of the haphazard and chaotic way in which the zoning has been undertaken. The Government seek to say that the Electricity Council is responsible. However, a number of my hon. Friends saw the Minister concerned. He said that he assumed responsibility for the situation. Whatever the position might be, my constituency and the borough in which it is situated—namely, Hackney—has been zoned for working on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) referred to working mothers. There are many women who work in my constituency during the week so as to make it possible for their families to live decently. They are now being asked to work on a Saturday, which they will find almost impossible to do.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
They will be able to have a holiday on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
§ Mr. Davis
In fact, they will be working very much less than at present. Further, there are a large number of Orthodox Jews in my constituency and 1658 throughout the borough, and especially in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). During the winter months they are unable to work beyond three o'clock on Fridays. They will not be able to work on Saturdays. For them there will be a one-and-a-half-day working week. I am told that the Moslem community is concerned about working on a Friday. I made these representations to the appropriate Minister and I received a somewhat brusque message from his Department yesterday—"Sorry, no relaxation". I was not asking for a relaxation but for flexibility and a variation of the hours. The Minister has fudged the issue.
What consideration has been given by the Department to local needs and priorities? So far as I can see, a totally haphazard situation prevails and in this respect the Minister has abdicated power. Adlai Stevenson said that while power corrupts, lack of power corrupts absolutely. The Minister might bear that in mind. By that token this Government are absolutely corrupt.
Local authorities have had totally inadequate guidance about the effect of the cuts, particularly in the health and social services. Boroughs like my own in stress areas suffer most. They are progressive local authorities which accept responsibility for the provision of decent social and welfare services. They spend a great deal of money on essential functions which provide the means whereby the lives of the poor, handicapped and deprived can be made a little more dignified and pleasant. These are the authorities that will be the first to be penalised.
Yesterday in his wind-up speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer was less than frank in dealing with local authorities. When he said:The rate support grant will be reduced only in line with the savings in expenditure and if, like the rest of the public sector, the local authorities reduce their current expenditure in accordance with the Government's request, that will not lead to one extra penny on the rates."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December 1973; Vol. 866, c. 1470.]That is a lot of rubbish. What about the vastly increased interest rates that local authorities have had to shoulder over the last few months? What about 1659 the ordinary effect of inflation? What about local government reorganisation that will impose enormous new burdens on local authorities? The choice that the Chancellor presents to local authorities is to cut back on the provision of essential services or to increase the rates. If local authorities increase the rates, the Chancellor says that the electorate will know who is responsible. The bluster and threat expressed by the Chancellor last night are no substitute for a clear direction to which the House is entitled before we adjourn.
Stress areas like mine cannot wait to obtain guidance and directions. Assurances are needed about dilapidated estates that require urgent refurbishing. For example, the GLC in my constituency is dedicated to the provision of £600,000 for the Kingsmead Estate. The work needs to be done, and the local authority needs assurances about it.
How shall we be able to recruit new social workers in the current climate of inordinate difficulties? Already there are tremendous shortages in all the social services departments, yet people are desperately in need of health and social workers. The Government have calculated that responsibility for their own misdeeds can be passed on to local authorities. That is discreditable, cheap and a tremendous injustice, but it is a characteristic of this monumentally stupid Government. I hope that the Leader of the House—although I very much doubt it—will give me some assurances on the critical questions I have raised.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
The House certainly should not rise until statements have been made on a number of subjects relating to electricity control procedures. I hope that on these urgent matters my right hon. Friend will either answer this afternoon or tell us that one of his right hon. or hon. Friends will answer tomorrow or before Christmas. These are matters which have been mentioned to me by individual constituents in connection with businesses. I also have to declare an interest as a director of a company that is concerned.
I wish to raise three major questions. The first two concern the division of the working week into two groups—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 1660 Friday, Saturday. Unlike the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis), who struck a carping attitude, I wish to congratulate the Department of Trade and Industry and the Southern Electricity Board office at Reading on the way they have handled the difficult emergency situation. The way in which the staff make decisions on the telephone, followed almost immediately by confirmation, and are neither discourteous nor muddled, is an example of what civil servants in contact with the public can do when they roll up their sleeves. I am glad that the Minister responsible for the Civil Service is present. He may take that as a bouquet for some of his officials who, no doubt, he will be seeing before Christmas.
I have received from the Rayners Lane Chamber of Commerce and the Pinner and Northwood Chamber of Trade in my constituency representations to the effect that they are extremely worried. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of all retail business is done on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Only about one-quarter or one-third of the business of a shop is done in the early part of the week. I was telephoned yesterday by a shopkeeper in a small shopping parade in my constituency who said that if the shopkeepers work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, using electricity all day, the parade will become a dead land. Once a shop or an area loses business, it is difficult to get it back.
I have spoken to Ministers about this and I know that it is under consideration, but a way must be found to make the division of the week fairer. This could be done by allowing some shops to open on six or seven days a week in the mornings and others to open on six or seven days a week in the afternoons. In that way the division of the week would be much more equitable. I ask my right hon. Friend, who is one of our grass roots Cabinet Ministers, to appreciate that this is a genuine worry to shopkeepers.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) said, we simply cannot wait until 15th January to learn whether rotation of the three-day working week will be allowed in industry. Most industrial undertakings have an arrangement with their employees that their working days are from Monday to Friday. An undertaking which works on Thursday, 1661 Friday and Saturday is under two major disadvantages. One is that Saturday is a voluntary working day and there might therefore be vast absenteeism on Saturdays.
Secondly, if people go to work on a Saturday they will probably have to be paid time-and-a-half until lunchtime and double time after lunch. This means that, if they are on a three-day week, they will have to be paid for four days. The electricity situation may cause employers to divide the week among various workers and factories, and the electricity boards will make cuts in areas which are not working on a certain day. If the emergency continues for, say, more than two weeks, the Government should change the situation to allow for two weeks' late turn and two weeks' early turn working. I do not think that such an arrangement would be too complicated for the switchgear equipment, but if the arrangement went on for more than two weeks workers on late turn would find themselves in a disadvantageous position.
Thirdly, I wish to refer to a matter which may not be as important as other matters in the present emergency but which I regard as a matter of some urgency. Since the Minister for the Civil Service is present, he may be able to put the situation right immediately by getting on the telephone and starting things moving. The Secretary of State for Employment yesterday spoke about reconciliation. What I am now seeking to do is to stop the anger and disgust that is felt in my constituency against the vindictive and callous attitude of the miners. Unless something is done about the situation, relations within various communities will be jeopardised.
I was telephoned this morning and was told that an order had been sent out to the effect that no Christmas parties should be held this year in the evenings at telephone exchanges and offices. In the South Harrow office the staff have arranged to have a party tomorrow night, with a band and all the rest of it. I checked the position with the electricity board officials, who told me that there was no reason why that sort of activity should not be regarded as recreational. I see nothing unpatriotic about holding a party in an office as against holding a party in an hotel.
1662 I have contacted my right hon. Friend the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications. I understand that the Post Office Board has considered the matter and sees no reason why office parties should not be held but has requested that, if possible, they should take place in daylight hours. In the London area—the same thing may have spread to other areas—this has been taken as a directive that parties should not be held. I hope that a decision has been made on this matter.
§ Mr. Prior
There is no regulation or rule on this matter. I imagine—I am now speaking off the cuff—that the Post Office is asking all its employees to cooperate in saving electricity, which is only to be expected. I repeat that there is no regulation on this point and that there is nothing to stop those parties going ahead. In view of the hard work carried out by the Post Office staff, they should be allowed to hold their parties, but I hope that they will save as much electricity as possible.
§ Mr. Page
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I shall pass on his remarks to the telephone manager's department and I am sure it will be helpful. I hope that before 15th January an announcement will be made about any possible change to Summer Time. I know that a decision in this respect might be unpopular in the North, but I believe that in the South of England there is everything to be gained by an extra hour's work in daylight.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
One of the problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) would have been solved if I had been given a more satisfactory reply to a Written Question I tabled to the Home Secretary on 29th November asking the Government to introduce Summer Time. That would have saved the hour to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I notice that the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) has tabled a motion on this subject, and I have no doubt that he will seek to refer to it if he has the opportunity to do so later in the debate.
The House finds itself in some difficulty in respect of the work now taking place in New Palace Yard. The Select 1663 Committee on House of Commons Services—of which I can see only one member present, namely the Leader of the House—finds itself in a difficult situation in terms of its last report. When that report came up for approval, it was rejected by the House. Consequently the surfacing of New Palace Yard is still in abeyance. Does the motion that we are now debating mean that the Select Committee cannot meet before the House resumes in order to come forward with a new and better recommendation than that which the House rejected—in my view rightly—a week or so ago?
There are many unsatisfactory features about the underground car park but I wish to refer to only one. A report submitted to the House a year or so ago stated that a car park would provide space for over 500 cars, at an estimated cost of £1.3 million. The last figure I have been able to elicit from the Government shows that the cost of the car park will be exactly double that figure, and indeed that that will not be the final figure. With all the delays that will occur, overtime and other difficulties which have been encountered, I should not be at all surprised if the eventual cost of this wretched project approached a figure of £3 million. At a time when the public are being asked to make all kinds of sacrifices, when local authorities are being asked to cut expenditure and when Government policy is aimed at saving petrol and dissuading car owners from bringing their cars into central London, we are spending anything up to £3 million for the purpose of attracting more cars into central London at a cost which has not yet been finalised.
I hope that we shall have clarification of the situation from the Leader of the House so that he may set at rest some of the serious doubts felt by the general public about the whole project, which contradicts everything the Government are asking the general public to do. I apologise to the Leader of the House that because of a long-standing engagement I shall be unable to hear his reply, but I have no doubt that he will give this matter serious attention.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Burnaby Drayson (Skipton)
I am reluctant to agree to Parliament's rising for three weeks for the Christmas Recess without drawing attention to matters 1664 which affect my constituents and which I consider require immediate and urgent attention.
The first matter concerns the position of small garages in rural areas of my constituency in the Yorkshire dales. The garage owners obtain their petrol supplies in relatively small quantities of 1,000 gallons at a time. Although in the past they have been able to charge a slightly higher price for their petrol than that charged in towns and cities, they are not allowed under the present regulations to increase their price above 42½p.
I understand that in buying petrol in the small quantities in which garages of this type purchase it, they have to pay the supplying companies the maximum price, which is just a fraction under 41p. Many of them tell me that on a margin of that kind they will be forced to make a loss and that some of them will have to close their businesses. They perform a very important local service. If farmers and others living in rural areas are forced to go into nearby towns for supplies, they will use much more petrol than is necessary and they will not be saving fuel. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ask the appropriate Department to look into this problem and that it will be found possible to allow these small garages, where it is essential that they should stay in operation, to charge a premium above the price already fixed.
My second point relates to a matter to which I referred at the opening of this Session of Parliament—the position of our small dairy farmers and beef producers. They are having an extremely difficult time because of the increased costs of feeding stuffs. I know that the discussions on the Annual Farm Price Review have been brought forward and that we are likely to know the results sometime in February. In the meantime there is no firm assurance that farmers' incomes will not be cut. They have not even the assurance that in the new year they will have the increase of between 13 and 16 per cent. which has been offered to the miners.
We must not forget that the farming community is one which never contemplates strike action, and certainly farmers cannot work a three-day week, especially those who have to look after herds of dairy cows. Unlike the petrol companies, our milk producers cannot put up their 1665 prices, yet their costs have risen substantially in recent months. I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that we need all the production that we can get from our land.
The gravity of the situation as it affects the small farmer is very well set out in a letter which I received only yesterday from the wife of a farmer. When I look at her excellent handwriting and at the clarity of her figures, I have the feeling that she must be responsible for the farm accounts, so she is well aware of the problems.
The lady writes:There is another matter which I feel may not be fully appreciated by those who deal with agricultural matters and which may have considerable impact on future food supplies. This is that many small—5 cwt.—cattle are being sold for slaughter. Farmers would rather take a poor price—£60 to £70—now than pay out money to feed the cattle to the normal weights. On Thursday Gisburn Market "—which is one of the largest cattle markets in the North of England and is situated in my constituency—was full of this type of cattle and of dairy cows going for slaughter. The price of grain has risen again which threatens livestock farmers with another increase in feed costs. Is there any other industry which cannot increase the price of its products to cover costs and is regarded as behaving scandalously if it attempts to export?That is another point on which I hope we shall have an early reply from the Government—the ability of farmers to export cattle, especially culled dairy cows, to the continent of Europe, where the market for this type of cattle is so much better.
There should be a statement to reassure our farmers and to stop the premature slaughter of fat cattle and the reduction in the dairy herd due to forced sales because of the high cost of feeding stuffs.
I refer now to another matter which has been mentioned already. It concerns the possibility of flexibility in operating the three-day week. It applies especially where factories are on night shift. I am told that it will be far easier for them if they can start their working day at perhaps 7 a.m., go through the night and finish at 7 a.m. on Thursdays. The three-day working week should not be from midnight to midnight. There should be flexibility to take account of factories working night shifts or three 1666 shifts per day. When night workers are involved, in many cases firms have to arrange transport to carry them to and from work. If there could be flexibility about the hour at which the three-day week should start, it would be a great help.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I am glad to have an opportunity to say a very few words on the subject of the Christmas Adjournment. I am afraid that I did not have the privilege of listening to the many speeches which have been made already and to the many reasons why the Adjournment should not take place.
I am sure that it will appear monstrous to the general public, bearing in mind the state of affairs that we are in at the moment, that this House should contemplate adjourning for this considerable period. I know that many hon. Members, especially Government supporters, are tired, are exhausted and are looking forward to an opportunity to refresh their spirits. I have no doubt that even some of my hon. Friends are in that position. But at a time like this, with all the problems that the nation faces, surely this House should be in session. By all means let hon. Members get away for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day, but what about the rest of the time?
We ought to know what is happening. We are told of the terrible crisis that has occurred, yet here we are contemplating going away from this House with hon. Members taking no notice of what is happening. I have no doubt that the Government feel that, with hon. Members away from this place, they can do as they please without being questioned in the House.
I am afraid that I did not have the benefit of hearing what I am sure were the eloquent, important and lucid remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis). I understand, however, that he referred to a problem which exists in my constituency.
In the borough of Hackney there are many businesses carried on by orthodox Jews. During the winter months an orthodox Jew will close his business at 3 o'clock on a Friday afternoon and will not open it on Saturday. So devoid 1667 of understanding are the Government of the effect of what they ordain that they make an order which provides that in Hackney businesses shall be open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It means in effect that these businesses can be carried on not for three days but for only a day and a half. I am sure the Government must recognise that such a hardship should not exist. I have already made representations on this matter to the Minister and I hope that something will be done, even though we shall be unable to question the Minister about it during the recess.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
My hon. and learned Friend is incorrect in what he says about the zoning arrangements. The businesses are required to work Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The House has heard what my hon. Friend said. No doubt he has accentuated the point I was making.
I urge the Government to consider a point I wish to make about the miners' dispute. The Government have been told that the miners are not paid for their waiting time, which is considerable, before they go down the pit. In the dim and ancient past, when I was a young barrister, I undertook many cases under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. If a miner suffered an accident during his waiting time, he received compensation as the accident was regarded as arising out of and in the course of his employment. No doubt the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who is a member of the Bar, will acknowledge the correctness of what I am putting forward. If in those circumstances the waiting time was recognised as constituting part of a miner's employment, why on earth is there not a strong case for the Government attempting, within the ambit of phase 3, to increase the amount of money payable to the miners by paying for such waiting time and so provide an opportunity to settle the dispute?
There is a host of other problems which could be put before the House which would show the folly of the Christmas Adjournment. I hope in the circumstances that the Minister will recognise the importance of my remarks.
§ 6.22 p.m.
Mr. W. R. Rees-Davis (Isle of Thanet)
I have never before opposed an Adjournment at Christmas or any other time. We should have a full day tomorrow we should be here next Monday and we should return on 2nd January
My first reason concerns daylight saving. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is antipathetic to the argument because he is an eminent farmer, and the farming community has, understandably, always been against the idea of daylight saving. However, it took me only 10 minutes to collect the names of my colleagues who follow mine on my motion on the subject. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) is in full support of the motion, together with a large number of his colleagues, and I could have got many more hon. Members to add their names to it. They include many who voted to return to the present position. I have always favoured the previous position and I be-live that the clocks should now go forward one hour. That is necessary if we are to get the maximum amount of working time out of the day. Only the farming community would be opposed to this. There would be no opposition in the whole of commerce and industry.
Sports organisations also greatly favour the idea. It would be of great assistance to football. The present power restrictions will mean exceptional difficulty for football and other outdoor sports. Daylight saving would benefit those sports; its immediate introduction would be a boon. It should be introduced before Christmas so as to be of considerable assistance during the holiday period and into the new year. I hope that there will not be a negative statement and that the Government will give an undertaking, through my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that the matter will be considered at Cabinet level before Christmas and a favourable decision taken.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
I speak for myself on this occasion. The Government are considering the request of the football authorities to suspend the Sunday observance laws to help sport, particularly football, which is in an impossible position. Sunday observance is a matter for Parliament rather than for the Government, but the suggestion of the hon. Member for Is[...] 1669 of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) would mean that kick-offs could be at 3 o'clock for most games. This would go some way towards mitigating the disastrous financial situation of sports clubs. If suspension of the Sunday observance laws is not acceptable, the Government should consider the daylight saving proposal of putting the clocks forward one hour.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I entirely share the hon. Gentleman's view on that matter and on the Sunday Observance Acts. Emergency legislation would be needed to amend them and one or two other matters. It is no good waiting until the time when one hopes the emergency will be resolved. For that reason the House should return early in the new year.
I share the concern about the flexibility and clarity in the regulations. When they were introduced last Friday I was away in the north of England but I returned on Monday morning to find that bedlam had been let loose. I had inquiries from the horse racing industry, the greyhound racing industry, tractor drivers and a large number of constituents with factories, particularly those engaged in making cement and similar products. It is obvious that the Government had completely overlooked the fact that a large number of people have their own generators and have conserved their own fuel oil. I had meetings in the early part of the week at the Department of Trade and Industry and elsewhere about these grave problems.
Happily my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made a statement, but it was impossible to put questions to him. He made the statement, which covered many subjects, between 9.30 p.m. and 10 p.m., and as he had influenza he vanished to bed afterwards. Consequently the statement was not clear. However, my right hon. Friend said that generators could be used, with certain arrangements for fuel, except for sporting and recreational purposes. This compounded the confusion. First, the horse racing situation was not clear. Weatherby's has its own generator and had set aside its own fuel. Publication of the paper on which all the events depend is essential to horse racing.
We have had an authoritative statement—although not confirmed in any 1670 way—that horse racing can continue and that Weatherby's will be allowed to use its generator and fuel. It cannot be seriously contended that the Racing Calendar is not for sporting and recreational purposes, so it seems to me to be an exception to the statement, although it is true that a registered newspaper is a commercial newspaper.
I turn now to the astonishing situation affecting greyhound racing. The industry not only has 42 generators, one for each of the tracks, but has sufficient stocks of its own fuel set aside to enable it to use them. The important fact, which has not yet been stated, is that it was directly as a result of the request of the Department of Trade and Industry in 1972 that it should install generators in case there was a fuel emergency that the industry spent nearly £500,000 to do so. It is now paying high interest on over £200,000.
It is an unattractive argument to say that floodlighting should not be used because it might create impressions in people's minds that somebody else was getting something they were not getting. That is not acceptable to the British people. If they were told that any outdoor sport which continued to use flood-lighting was allowed to do so only if it generated its own electricity and already had its own fuel supplies, they would understand that no one suffered.
The Government must give way on this matter and see that an industry which they have asked to behave in a decent manner to ensure that there will be no difficulties about fuel in the future, and which carries out the suggestions which have been made, does not thereby suffer the economic ruin that it will suffer if it has to close altogether in the next few weeks.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The position is exactly as the hon. Gentleman has stated it, but it is even more incredible because only two weeks ago, when he announced the first ban on floodlighting, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the Minister for Sport, urged people to use generators. As a result several clubs bought generators. They included Tottenham Hotspur, which spent about £20,000 on a generator and the following week was banned from using it. This incredible situation is causing difficulty. I do not expect the Leader of the House 1671 to be able to give us an answer, but as Ministers have asked sporting bodies to use generators, and as sport is essential to our national life, I cannot see why, if they are not taking electricity from the grid system, those sporting bodies should not be allowed to use their own resources, as they have been urged to do.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I agree, but I am not sure that Tottenham has had time to obtain the necessary fuel reserves. I draw a distinction between the person who has both the generator and the fuel reserves and the person who has only the generator. But some allocation of fuel oil should reasonably be given to people with their own generators.
That point exactly illustrates why the House needs to continue. If we were not sitting, such matters could not be put. Nowadays Governments are rather glad to see the back of the House of Commons rather than receive constructive suggestions from Members.
I have one important point, which I have discussed with a number of people, on the mining situation. We must all try to come up with possible solutions to the miners' strike—
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
We must try to find a solution with regard to the miners' conduct.
The miners have been entitled to a 40-hour week since, I believe, 1947. They have a five-day week. Everything depends upon the maintenance of the pits during the weekend. A farmer with livestock has a seven-day week. Those in sport who play on their pitches five days a week must have someone to maintain those pitches at the weekend. A factory may work a five-day week, but it must be maintained over the weekend. I find it strange that nobody seems to have thought to negotiate with the miners that they should be prepared to give up the weekend to work, and should enter into a new contract. If they were invited to enter into a contract which included an obligation to work on Saturday or Sunday to maintain the pit, no one would dispute that they worked unsocial hours. That idea should be carefully considered.
1672 The miner has a hard working week of 40 hours in normal times. It may well be right to say that that is enough and that he should not have to do any overtime at the coalface. But no miner will say in all honesty that he does not owe a responsibility to see that the pit which is his livelihood—one might almost speak of the pit in which he lives—and the machinery he uses are kept in an honourable working state.
An hon. Member for a mining constituency said that the miners had not broken the law. I did not intervene, but I thought that there was something wrong. It was that none of us destroys the means of his livelihood. Although the miner may be doing nothing against the law, he is breaking something far more important to him. He is breaking down the very pit in which he earns his livelihood. When he does not take any action, but stays away, executive staff do the job that he should be doing. A matter of honour is involved, the honourable attitude of a working man who will always protect his pit and equipment and will see that he does his best.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Would the hon. Gentleman apply the same criterion to Members of Parliament, that of regular attendance and participation in the work of Parliament, so that we also may have an honourable outlook upon our work? Some hon. Members, far from playing a full part in maintaining their responsibility in the democratic parliamentary system, often absent themselves to obtain yet another living by another occupation.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
That is a very cheap crack. I was trying to make a constructive contribution. It is a cheap and dirty crack to suggest that everybody should be a full-time Member of Parliament. It is not the view of my constituents or of the majority in the country that all hon. Members should sit here all day long doing just one job. People believe that the brains and intelligence of all the professions and all industry should be represented. Some of the best contributions from the hon. Gentleman's side of the House this evening have come from those who have outside occupations. I should not have given way if I had realised that we should hear a thoroughly dirty crack of that kind. I had thought, wrongly, that we were on the ball.
1673 It is no criticism of the Chair when I say that I was unable to take part in the debate yesterday and the day before to make the suggestion that I have just made. I was unable to do so because so many hon. Members wanted to speak. We should return here at the beginning of January and have what my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) suggested, a two-day debate upon the energy situation. We should try to get together with a view to finding a way out of the miners' plight.
I have no intention or desire to suggest that there should be any whittling down of phase 3, but I believe that one day it will be necessary that when a miner signs an agreement, as he should do, setting out his working conditions, his working week—whether it be of 35 hours or of 40 hours—should incorporate a duty and responsibility to go in as and when required for purposes of maintenance.
To compensate a miner for that, he must be given a substantial increase in his emoluments, because he is thereby being asked to do as a permanent part of the terms of his employment something which it is reasonable to ask him to do only in return for a substantial reward. Along those lines an answer might be found.
Much the same is true in the case of the power workers, whom I regard as some of the best workers in the country. I have more sympathy for the power workers than for any other group of workers. In case of accident and emergency they have to be called out in the middle of the night. This is an unsocial aspect of their job and it should entitle them to something extra.
Next, what is to be done about ASLEF? This is the one union that everybody is against. Let the members stand up and be counted. We do not know who they are; we do not know their names and addresses. When we had an electricity strike in Kent, we found out who the people were and in a very short time the community persuaded them to return.
If the identity of these people were known, they would be unpopular. I believe that the men and their wives would recognise this, and in the national interest the men would return to work in the knowledge that they would achieve 1674 their purpose in due course. It is up to the national to act—to "Do unto others as you would they should do unto you."
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
I oppose the idea that we should adjourn for a recess of this length because of the remarks the Chancellor made in the course of his speech last night. His remarks about local government expenditure were alarming and showed that the Government still do not appreciate the chaotic problems which have been caused bw local government reorganisation. We appreciate that Ministers have much to occupy their minds at present, but these are problems that will affect the everyday lives of people, and the problems are getting worse day by day.
Appointments have been made at chief officer and principal officer level at salaries far higher than existing ones. In some cases these appointments have been made for the same or less work. Questions to the Pay Board bring no response. The Pay Board has not sufficient staff to cope with the matter, though it is concerned about it.
What is happening in local government reorganisation is not a good example when restraint is called for from others, particularly the manual workers. These appointments are being made constantly. The Government should be seized of the problem. The numbers of staff lost to existing authorities are growing day by day. The ring fence system among local authorities means that there is internal cannibalisation and the best of people in existing authorities are often lured away by higher salaries. The three-week delay which will result from the proposed Christmas Recess will make the situation much worse.
The reorganisation is leading to duplication of staff and of resources. I shall not weary the House with examples of departments which, although whole areas of responsibility have been shared, are only a few short of the complement they previously had. It looks as though there will be a great deal of waste and extravagance which we can ill afford.
Time is running out on another matter about which the Government have been pressed, namely, the way in which the cost of the new authorities is to be met. My own county of Avon is concerned in this, 1675 as are Humberside and Tyneside. In these areas entirely new authorities are having to be established from scratch, yet we still do not know what measure of support is to be given by the Government to help with the acquisition of new buildings, new administrative machinery and new equipment. These serious problems are causing a great deal of concern in my area and in other areas similarly affected.
Local government reorganisation will be with us for some time. Things are happening which the Government should provide time for thinking about. In a month or two's time it will be too late. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think again about the length of the recess and perhaps bring us back early, if necessary. Let us get to grips with these problems, because they will affect the lives of ordinary people just as much as they will be affected by other and more national issues which are taking place at this time. I am sure that other authorities, like my own, would overwhelmingly support the idea of the Government giving more time and thought to these matters.
§ 6.45 p.m.
Mr. Ivor Stan brook (Orpington)
I, too, have reservations about the wisdom of our rising tomorrow and not returning until 15th January for reasons some of which have already been advanced. One other reason is the problem of the status of engineers and their right to practise in Europe after the end of this month.
This is a problem which almost by definition is urgent, because the situation in which we are at present placed—I say "we", although I am not an engineer, either chartered or of any other kind—is that British engineers who are chartered at this moment may as from the beginning of the new year be entitled to practise in Europe. But the others—they are the majority—will not be so entitled unless a formula is devised to enable us to put forward the type of standard, qualifications and equivalents to the Community which will admit engineers other than those who are at present deemed to be chartered engineers.
No doubt the House is aware that my hon. Friend the Minister of Aerospace and Shipping has been in negotiation with the various institutions and bodies concerned—the Council of Engineering 1676 Institutions and some other engineering institutions outside the council which are very closely concerned with the problem.
Today my hon. Friend told me:I have agreed with the Council of Engineering Institutions that mutual recognition within the EEC should be sought for all adequately qualified engineers whether they are in membership of the institutions inside or outside the CEI. For this purpose it has been agreed with the CEI that there shall be an extended register of engineers having these qualifications… My officials are continuing urgent discussions with the interested parties to this end.That is all very well, but I believe that no further meeting is proposed of those officials with members of the institutions concerned before the end of the year.
We know that the negotiations with the EEC about the status of engineers will commence in the early days of the new year. It therefore seems to follow that the many perfectly well qualified engineers who are outside the Council of Engineering Institutions may lose their right to practise in Europe almost immediately the new year begins. This is a situation which I am sure the House does not desire. Therefore, it should surely be dealt with before long. The recess will not assist us in settling this problem.
I illustrate the problem by reference to one such institution which is not within the Council of Engineering Institutions and whose members, therefore, are not considered to be chartered engineers. I refer to the Institution of Heating and Ventilating Engineers. It has 6,429 members, 4.100 of whom are not eligible to be considered as chartered engineers and will not therefore be eligible to practise in Europe after the end of the year. It is one of the institutions outside the council. The council consists of 15 engineering institutions and at the moment they alone have the right to admit their members to the status of chartered engineer.
It would follow that the solution to the problem could be the admission of suitable institutions like the IHVE into the council on the same terms as those which are already admitted. But that is not the policy. The policy is to raise standards, as I understand it, and there is a sort of drawbridge which is being raised against engineers belonging to institutions outside the council. That is the way in which the dilemma 1677 arises for members of all such institutions—80 of them, comprising many institutions throughout engineering and many thousands of British engineers who are well qualified by any reasonable standard to be considered on the same level as chartered engineers.
What has been proposed so far by the council as the solution to the problem is that all those members of non-CEI institutions who already have chartered engineering status or a degree should be admitted. But the difficulty comes over the others, in the case of the Institution of Heating and Ventilating Engineers numbering over 4,000. It is suggested by the council that there should be a mature candidate's route. It proposes that those members of the institutions concerned who are over the age of 40 who have been more than 15 years in a responsible engineering job and can write a satisfactory thesis of 5,000 words up to degree standard should be eligible.
One does not need to examine such a proposition deeply to realise that it is an almost impossible requirement for any man over the age of 40, holding a responsible position, to attain a qualification of academic degree standard when he is already engaged full time in a job and has had great experience in his own industry without that basic academic degree qualification.
I ask my right hon. Friend to emphasise the urgency of the matter, because the solution surely is that adopted for the admission into the Council of Engineering Institutions of the Institute of Fuel, whose members were taken in as a whole by a screening procedure under which each one was able to register his experience and qualifications, a process which allowed membership of his own institution to be represented along with the representatives of the CEI itself, vetting each one for suitability and, if necessary, requiring, viva voce, some other form of test. Imposing a formula of the kind proposed seems to be another device for putting off the problem indefinitely and causing great injustice to many thousands of British engineers.
For that reason, I believe that it is wrong to adjourn unless this problem is considered in the urgent spirit which it demands.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I join the debate briefly to urge the Leader of the House to reconsider the dates he has proposed for the Christmas Adjournment. My first reason is the measures which the Government have taken to deal with the economic situation and the fact that those measures were taken without prior and proper consultation with industry, with the trade unions and, indeed, with this House. A huge number of difficulties have arisen and like most, if not all, hon. Members I have been inundated with telephone calls from worried employers and employees in my constituency who are concerned about the effect of the Government's regulations upon their livelihoods.
Already the regulations laid by the Government have been amended. Industry is bewildered at the flood of instructions and counter-instructions being issued. It is also concerned that, when it wishes to contact the Department of Trade and Industry, it finds it almost impossible to get a telephone line through to that Department. I have been informed that the Department itself is experiencing difficulty in contacting its own regional offices. If that is the situation, it is intolerable that the Government should be sending hon. Members away in the middle of this chaos. We ought to be able to be here to see Ministers across the Table of the House and put to them the very issues which are worrying our constituents.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) says "Not at Christmas", but I believe the situation in terms of employment and in terms of the economy of the country to be so grave that I should not be opposed to coming here on Christmas Day itself if I thought that that would be of assistance to my constituents who are suffering such misery. I shall not bore the House with repetition of the many points which constituents have put to me. I choose merely one of the simplest brought to my attention only this morning concerning the hairdressing trade. Although hairdressing is not an essential industry, it has a place in society in the morale of our womenfolk who will carry the bulk of the burdens which are being 1679 placed upon us. In my constituency hairdressers are being told that they may operate only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. But those are not the days upon which they normally do the bulk of their business. It is done towards the end of the week when hon. Members, like the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and others of her sex, wish to prepare themselves for whatever morale-building activities they will engage in in the latter part of the week. That is only a simple illustration of the chaotic situation that exists.
I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to say a word or two about the effect of the Government's regulations on the retail trade, and in particular the hairdressing trade.
One of the reasons that stung me into contributing to the debate was the speech by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I take grave exception to hon. Members coming to this House and sermonising to people who earn their living in a hard and arduous way in digging the coal from the bowels of the earth, men who are doing no more than confining themselves to a normal working week. It does not lie within the mouth of any hon. Member who is not playing a full-time part in the work of Parliament in any way to cast strictures or to sermonise those who face the sort of work that those in the mining industry face.
The other point I wish to challenge from the hon. Member's speech was his reference to announcing to the general public the names of those who are working a normal working week and banning overtime. I assume that the hon. Member hopes that the public might be so unwise as to terrorise them back to work. If we are to talk in terms of disclosing to the public all our interests, let us begin here and not go along with mealy-mouthed recommendations for other people which we have not the decency or courtesy to put in operation in respect of our own activities in Parliament.
One of the scandals, and therefore one of the reasons why we should not adjourn for the recess at this stage, is that the whole question of the declaration of Members' outside interests has not yet been dealt with by Parliament. It is a 1680 scandal that we do not have full declarations of all our interests. If we were to have such declarations, the public would be able the more adequately to judge our ability and our part in the democratic processes. Perhaps also it would deter some hon. Members from coming along with a lot of sanctimonious humbug about other people.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James Prior
One of the most fascinating aspects of debates of this kind is that some of the many hon. Members who say why we should not go into recess, giving copious reasons, disappear before the end of the debate or were not present at the beginning.
We have debated a number of matters of considerable importance to our constituents, and one recognises at once that we do so at a time of national crisis But I remind the House that we are resuming one weék earlier than usual, and, if the situation is such that the Government think it desirable to recall the House earlier, I have no doubt that the necessary arrangements will be made through Mr. Speaker.
If there are hon. Members who have problems about their constituents which they feel should be raised during the Christmas period, I shall be in my office on Thursday and Friday of next week. I shall welcome any hon. Member who telephones and makes an appointment if he comes to see me, and I shall see that the views of his constituents are put to my right hon. Friends. Ministers will be on duty next week and the week after that and the week after that to make certain that as many as possible of the problems are ironed out.
The task set for us by the problems of the energy and fuel crisis are enormous administratively—indeed, of a size the country has probably never had before. Of course there will be difficulties and very considerable problems. We all wish that they could fade away, and of course they could fade away if the miners and the railway workers went back to full work. Then, although we should still have the problem of oil shortage, we could manage it and deal with it. The problem over the price of oil is again one which we could deal with. But coal supplies 70 per cent. of our electricity demand, and at the moment the stocks 1681 at the power stations are running down at about 1 million tons a week while they are getting about 40 per cent. less than their normal expectation at this time of year.
There are those who say that it would be all right if the Government were reasonable. To them I point out that already nearly 3 million people have accepted agreements under phase 3. Are the Opposition suggesting that those 3 million people would be content to see the miners now breaking through phase 3? I do not believe they would. I think that it would grossly unfair to them, and only the other day a trade union leader said,We have accepted a phase 3 agreement, but of course if phase 3 is broken we shall be back tomorrow for more.That would result in inflation becoming rampant once more, as it did after the Wilberforce agreement last time, which resulted in the introducton of the statutory policy. The present policy will do more to improve the position of the miners relative to other people than perhaps any other form of incomes policy yet devised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) mentioned the unsocial hours provision. I assure him that in the offer made to the miners full advantage was taken of that provision. But I have noted what he said and I will see that his views are given immediately to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, together with any other views which may contribute towards a settlement of the dispute.
Settlement of the dispute is paramount in the interests of Britain and of all Members and their constituents who are worried about the effect of the three-day working week. Several hon. Members have raised specific points about the three-day working week. I will deal first with the general point that some firms are having to work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and some Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the inconvenience that this causes to those who have to work late on Friday afternoon or on Saturday—which is a particular problem to certain of the orthodox Jewish community and also affects those employing large numbers of women who do not want to 1682 work on Saturday because of their children. These are all very great difficulties with which the Government and the electricity boards have had to contend.
Some hon. Members have asked whether these three consecutive days could be rotated. It is necessary at present to specify the days on which electricity can be used in order to ensure that, if load cuts become necessary, industry and commerce can have three consecutive days with uninterrupted supply of electricity. This is what industry asked us to do. It wanted three consecutive days with uninterrupted supply rather than what happened on previous occasions, when there have been full weeks working but interruptions of supply during the course of each day. On the other hand, the three days do have the disadvantages I have mentioned. We shall certainly keep under review the whole situation and consider whether, if circumstances allow, it will be possible to rotate the days on which the use of electricity is permitted.
§ Mr. Drayson
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, by starting at 7 a.m. on Monday and going on to 7 a.m. on Thursday, with overnight working, one is using electricity not at a peak time?
§ Mr. Prior
I cannot deal with that problem off the cuff, but I will have it examined, and if my hon. Friend gets in touch with me I will see what I can do about it.
I turn now to the situation of the shops. I am happy to say that their position is rather better than some of my hon. Friends have feared, Food shops will be able to use electricity at any time and will be exempted from the provision of the order. Others shops will now be permitted to use electricity for part of every day, Monday to Friday, and all day on Saturday. In general terms, it means that they could use electricity during certain permitted hours either in the morning or the afternoon, Monday to Friday. However, if rota cuts have to be imposed they will fall in either the Monday to Wednesday or Thursday to Saturday periods, possibly during hours when shops are open. It is understood that many shops prefer that arrangement though it probably would not suit other users, such as industry. Shops which 1683 normally open on Sunday will be permitted to use electricity during certain hours. I think that is a help.
We are trying to be flexible, but we must save electricity. We have to save over 20 per cent. of normal demand each day. Over half of that has to come from domestic use and just under half from industry and business. We cannot do this without causing a great deal of inconvenience and problems. But the problems that this will create, however severe in the short run, are nothing compared with the problems that this country will cause itself in the long run if it does not get a sensible incomes policy and control over inflation.
§ Mr. Spearing
The right hon. Gentleman will know that there are a large number of factories in Acton. He said that he wishes to save 20 per cent. of industrial and commercial use of electricity. Will he explain why he has not asked every unit of production to economise by 20 per cent., or more, and show that it has done so, rather than adopt the three-day solution which will have considerable industrial and social secondary effects and, from what I have heard in my constituency, will cause a reduction in production which would not otherwise take place?
§ Mr. Prior
No one regrets that more than the Government. The suggestion put forward by the hon. Gentleman could not be monitored and we would not get the saving. That is why we must take this action.
I must put the hon. Gentleman right on one matter. We are going for a reduction in industrial use of 10 per cent., not 20 per cent. That will affect some firms more than others, because many industries must keep going—food processing and manufacture, and so on—and there are many other essential users whom we cannot touch at all. Where continuous processing is going on, the reduction will be 65 per cent. of normal requirements. In other cases, it is three days out of five days normal working.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
The right hon. Gentleman is one of the nicest Members 1684 in this House. Therefore, I cannot accept that he believes in the claptrap that he is talking. What consultations took place to define the zoning areas? Were consultations undertaken with chambers of commerce in areas such as mine to determine whether there was a substantial orthodox Jewish or Muslim community that would be affected? What was done to define these issues?
§ Mr. Prior
The electricity boards have been assessing the situation since the last coal crisis. They thought that this was the best arrangement in the interests of the largest number of people. Of course, no system is perfect. This system is bound to mean an element of rough justice. Many people will be inconvenienced and will have to change their habits. We shall have to accept that situation during the emergency. It is no use people thinking that they can go on as usual. It is not "business as usual". Much as I regret it, the country will have to recognise that that is the situation.
§ Mr. Prior
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet asked about the decision that was taken on Summer Time. The Government have given most careful consideration to the balance of advantage and disadvantage in carrying out this change. The Electricity Council was marginally against making the change because it would increase the demand for electricity at the start of the day and add to the problems of power stations at that time in the morning. I think that, on the whole, industry had mixed feelings. It did not come down firmly one way or the other, but I think it was probably just in favour. I refer to industry south of the Midlands. Certainly north of that area no one wants the change to be made. Other industries, including agriculture, by no means considered it to be a major factor and did not want the change to be made. The construction industry certainly did not want the change to be made.
The Government had to decide whether the inconvenience and the problems associated with making the change would make a worthwhile improvement in electricity saving. We came to the conclusion, after giving the matter a great 1685 deal of thought, that the saving in electricity was so marginal as not to justify making the change.
My hon. Friend also drew attention to the effect on football clubs. Being a keen football spectator, I ought perhaps to have taken that aspect more into consideration than I did. The fact is that we reached the conclusion that we should not make the change. The change is due to be made on 17th March, and I think that it is right to stick to that date.
I turn now to the points raised by the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt). I realise that the fuel shortage poses special problems for the disabled. Garage owners have been asked to give priority to the disabled and other special categories. I understand that garages have been responsive to their needs. If individual disabled people are experiencing particular difficulties, I know that the DTI's emergency fuel office will make special efforts to resolve them. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman can contact me on Thursday or Friday of next week if there is further difficulty.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the meals-on-wheels service. If the cooking is done on commercial premises it qualifies as catering and is not affected by the three-day working rule and will be allowed electricity at any time. If the cooking is done on domestic premises, equally there is no limitation. I hope that the meals-on-wheels service will go ahead. The emergency provides an opportunity to large numbers of people to carry out voluntary work. I am sure that over the Christmas period and the time of the emergency people will carry out that voluntary work for which this country is properly renowned.
The hon. Member for Acton raised what I still think is a very complicated matter. Motion No. 88, in the name of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) and other hon. Members deals with the system of generalised preferences in the EEC. As the hon. Member for Acton will know, this scheme is in existence. It will bring substantial benefit to developing countries in 1974. Detailed implementation of it may, from time to time, require United Kingdom statutory instruments on EEC secondary legislation. The former can be dealt with 1686 in the usual way. A fully satisfactory way of dealing with the latter must await the consideration of the Foster Committee, as it has become known—the Select Committee on Secondary Legislation.
I hope very much that we can debate that matter very soon after our return. The hon. Gentleman will know—if he does not, I should like to tell him—that we were to have debated the matter this week, but because of the changing round of business to accommodate the two-day debate on energy and economic affairs, we put off the debate. We shall not debate it on the first week that we are back, but I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that unless something dramatic happens we shall be debating it on the second week that we are back. I hope that the House will be able to move to fairly quick decisions after that.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of tariffs on food items. No tariffs on food items have yet been imposed and there have been no increases under the common external tariff as a result of EEC entry. A change in the beef and veal duties is due at the beginning of the next beef marketing year, which starts probably on 1st April. So what my hon. Friends the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry have said is consistent. I have checked to see that it is consistent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) asked about the health centre programme. He has asked me about that previously during a debate on a similar motion. I am afraid that the cuts in public expenditure will apply right across the board, with very few exceptions. Much as we regret this, and although I shall ask my right hon. Friend to look again into my hon. Friend's particular problems in his constituency, these cuts will have to be indiscrimately applied right across the board, otherwise we shall not make the necessary reduction in Government expenditure.
§ Mr. Pavitt
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whereas the £69 million cut in the hospital programme will be put back eventually, a health centre requires the co-operation of general practitioners and if not started will be very often gone for all time in this situation? Therefore, in 1687 making the adjustments in the £111 million in relation to the National Health Service, will the right hon. Gentleman advise the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services to pay special attention to the points made by his hon. Friend the Member for Harborough?
§ Mr. Prior
I certainly shall. I know that it will be the wish of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that any cuts which have to be made as the result of this are put back as and when possible. What we are thinking of is much more a rolling forward of the programme rather than a direct cut.
§ Mr. Marks
Where there is a 20 per cent. cut, for instance, in educational building and there are exceptions, such as special schools—which exception has already been announced—does that mean that the cuts in the rest of school building for primary and secondary schools will be more than 20 per cent. to compensate for that?
§ Mr. Prior No, it means that my right hon. Friend is having to make a 20 per cent. cut, and if certain things are excluded other things may well be held back by more than 20 per cent. So that 20 per cent. is an overall cut.
§ The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) raised the matter of the SELNEC Passenger Transport Authority. I have noted what he said and that he is not entirely satisfied with the Answer that he received this afternoon, which was that provided such a total policy could be contained within acceptable estimates the Government would endorse it. What that means is that if, presumably, Manchester thinks that it is worth while spending the money on this scheme as opposed to other schemes, in time it will be able to do so. It will be up to Manchester to decide how to spend its money when transport investment is being considered, as it were, under the transport grant scheme that the Local Government Bill will introduce. I know the worry that exists in the Manchester area about this matter, but I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Redmond) had to say.
§ My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) was very worried about the position of the small dairy 1688 farmer and small beef producer, and about the premature sale of cattle. The livestock farmers are at present going through a difficult period. They are having to meet vast increases in the price of feedingstuffs, and the price of beef and of milk has not risen to compensate them for that. As my right hon. Friend has said, he will bring forward the date of the Price Review in order to help out as soon as he possibly can.
§ But I hope that my hon. Friend will convey this to his farming constituents. I believe that it would be the greatest folly if they did not hold on to their stock now. I am certain that the prospects for them are exceedingly good and that the prospects for farming are probably better now than they have been for a generation. Britain will need all the food that it can produce over the next 20 years or more. I hope that no farmer will be so foolish as to sell off breeding or other stock now which could be kept to provide more animals later.
§ My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) asked about the extended register of engineers for recognition in the EEC. I thought that the Written Answer that he received today went quite a long way towards the point that he had been pressing for some while. My hon. Friend then moved on to such a narrow point that I shall have to have that examined and get in touch with him about it.
§ The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) asked about the car park. The surface of New Palace Yard will now have to be reconsidered by the Services Committee. The hon. Gentleman said that it had been thrown out by the House. It was, but not by a very large majority or by a great many Members.
§ What always interests me is the number of times that I have been told that we must not have a debate on such an important matter as the car park late at night, because it is something which commands the great interest of hon. Members. But if one looks at the Division record one sees exactly how many hon. Members were prepared to attend the debate. I must declare an interest in that I was not present on that night, either.
§ Mr. John Page
I may have missed the point when my right hon. Friend was speaking, but will he say when the new 1689 arrangements about rotation for retail shops will be announced and whether they are to be effective from next Monday?
§ Mr. Prior
I suppose that I have announced quite a bit this afternoon, but my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will be making the order tonight. It will operate from 1st January. I shall have to seek further advice about what happens next week. I do not think that next week is a particularly serious problem, because the shops will not be wanting to open for all that amount of time next week. They have been more concerned with the period from 1st January onwards. My hon. Friend is hoping to make the order this evening, and he will give as full an explanation of the order as possible. If I may turn to one or two House of Commons points to end—
§ Mr. Michael Cocks
The last time I spoke on a motion for the Adjournment the right hon. Gentleman overlooked my question. I should be most grateful if he would reply this time.
§ Mr. Prior
Yes, I am sorry. The hon. Member for Bristol. South (Mr. Michael Cocks) spoke about local government reorganisation. I think we are finding that local government reorganisation is resulting in some local authorities greatly expanding the size of their bureaucracy. The Government take a pretty poor view of it, but that is as nothing to the view which my constituents take. I urge local authorities and local councillors to exercise the maximum amount of restraint in their new establishments. I know that my right hon. Friend is extremely worried about some of the establishments that he has heard about. The same remarks apply to some of the salaries granted for new jobs in local government, and, there again, I hope that local councillors will exercise responsibility at this time.
If the emergency situation persisted, we should have to ask the House to reconsider its sitting hours in order to economise in the use of electricity. I should wish to do this only after full consultation and a debate which would follow the laying of a motion. I would make a tentative suggestion that this would mean sitting in the mornings and rising in the early evenings. Naturally, we hope that the difficulties facing us all will be resolved by the time we return, 1690 but I thought that the House would like to have an early indication of the method which we are likely to recommend.
I should now like to say a brief word about Members' allowances. I have received representations during recent months from several quarters and have been pressed in the House to review the level of the various allowances which Members are able to claim. I undertook to give serious consideration to those representations, and that I have done in consultation with my colleagues. As the House knows, I am not unsympathetic in these matters and I fully appreciate that the cost to Members of spending a night away from home and, to an even greater degree, of secretarial expenses has increased sharply since the Boyle review. There is never a good time to consider these matters and the present is, unfortunately, singularly inappropriate. I am very sorry about this, but I must tell the House that we have decided it would not be right to raise the level of any allowances at the present time, nor indeed during this Parliament.
A number of suggestions have been put to me about salaries and there are others in a motion on the Order Paper. All of these lead me to the conclusion that the present system of payment and employment of secretaries needs reconsideration. I would suggest that the Boyle Committee be asked to look at this whole matter as part of its review in the next Parliament. I am afraid that that is not the sort of news I relish giving to the House just before Christmas, but I think it will be generally accepted as inevitable.
Perhaps I may mention another matter—supplementary petrol rations. Should it be necessary to introduce petrol rationing, arrangements will be made for Members to apply to the Fees Office for a supplementary petrol allowance for the purpose of carrying out their parliamentary duties. I will arrange for Members to have details of how to apply if this becomes necessary. Limits would have to be imposed, although what they would be I cannot say at this moment because they would depend on the basic allowance that was granted. In any case, I hope that hon. Members will use every opportunity to travel by train and so on whenever that is possible. Having said 1691 that, and having come to the point of departure—
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I asked my right hon. Friend a question about the dockyard, of which I gave him notice. There is to be a defence cut of £290 million. Is the dockyard to be allowed to go on working, or not? I asked that question the other day without getting an answer. I should also like an answer to my question about the coffins.
§ Mr. Prior
I apologise to my hon. Friend. It is a tremendous job to answer every question. The home dockyards will have to work a three-day week using electricity and two days without using electricity. The periods will have to be chosen in consultation with the local electricity board and may require working on Saturdays. I think my hon. Friend knows that. She will also know there are to be cuts in defence expenditure. I will talk to my right hon. Friend to see whether he can give further information as to how these cuts will fall on my hon. Friend's dockyard. I cannot say more on that point at the moment.
My hon. Friend also asked me about the supply of coffins. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anything that we have done because of the fuel shortage should affect the supply of coffins. Coffins are mostly supplied by very small firms who, up to this point at any rate, will not have been affected by cuts in electricity. Both this week and last week they have been allowed to work a normal week, so they should not yet have been affected. If problems arise I will have them looked into, and perhaps my hon. Friend will get in touch with me after the Christmas holiday is over. When I say that, I mean after Boxing Day is over.
That might be a suitable moment for me to end. It is usual at this time of the year for us to wish a happy Christmas to all the staff who serve the House so well. So I wish them a happy Christmas—I have already wished Members of Parliament a happy Christmas—and I wish us all a brighter New Year.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I sought to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, after the right hon. Gentleman had spoken only because he was kind enough to mention to me earlier that he 1692 would refer to new matters affecting the House of Commons, which he did in the last few minutes of his speech. I shall detain the House for only a few minutes, because there is no point in my ranging over the whole debate or the speech of the right hon. Gentleman.
Hon. Members are going away for Christmas under the most melancholy conditions that I can remember during my 25 years in the House of Commons, and there is naturally great anxiety and worry about many matters which will be raised by constituents in the coming weeks. Therefore, they have wanted reassurance and comfort on matters about which they feel uneasy. However, there are just one or two points which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned to which it would be appropriate for me to refer.
The Leader of the House has given us a hint of the possibility that the House may be asked to reconsider its hours of business. He was justified in doing that, though I am sure the whole House hopes that the conditions and circumstances which may give rise to any such proposals will be ended before the House returns on 15th January. We are looking forward to some movement towards conciliation and settlement of these industrial disputes. We are certainly not contemplating that the House and the country will have weeks and months of emergency, of deepening crisis, because of industrial difficulties which confront the nation at the present time. Nevertheless, the Leader of the House was justified in making that tentative reference to the possibility of changing the hours of business of the House.
The only caveat I would enter is that there should be no curtailment of the rights and privileges of the House. We are not asking for a reduction in either our hours of work or the amount of work we do. We must help to save electricity if conditions remain the same when we return. It is a little disturbing for the right hon. Gentleman to have his attention distracted by one of his hon. Friends at this moment. I was saying that we on this side could not agree to shortening the hours of Parliament at a time when the whole nation might be seeking redress for difficulties and grievances and wanting new measures to be taken to meet the difficulties which confront it. We must 1693 seek to save electricity, but we must preserve the full functioning of the House of Commons with its customary rights and privileges of debate. People may want the House of Commons to be working more rather than less during the difficulties of the next few weeks. The Leader of the House has promised consultation and a motion in due course, but there can be no three-day week for the House of Commons and this should be made very clear. After all, we are the Parliament of the Realm and we have an overriding public duty and responsibility to safeguard the democratic rights of the people and to be here to deal with problems and difficulties which may arise.
The Leader of the House referred to Members' allowances. This is a difficult matter. We are always diffident about discussing matters which relate to conditions and allowances for Members of Parliament. However, on behalf of the Parliamentary Labour Party I put to the right hon. Gentleman certain suggestions for the adjustment of Member's allowances which under the Boyle Report had their analogues in the structure of allowances payable to the Civil Service. I give one simple example. Members of Parliament who have a home and constituency outside London and who have accommodation in London during the Session are given a subsistence allowance which is related to a payment made in the Civil Service. That was clearly established in the Boyle Report. As from 1st January 1973 the Civil Service received an improvement of the London subsistence allowance from £5.25 to £5.75. We asked the Leader of the House to consent to a corresponding adjustment for the parallel allowance payable to Members of Parliament. I give that as one illustration. There is another relating to the provincial rate of subsistence.
Another problem which I raised with the right hon. Gentleman was the payment of London allowances and the area covered by them, which his predecessors said could be adjusted if they were then found to be inequitable. They have since been found to be inequitable and adjustment could clearly have been made. I am disappointed at what the right hon. Gentleman said, but we all understand 1694 that we cannot be furthering our interests at a time of grave national anxiety. I am bound to qualify that, however, to this extent. The country does not expect Members of Parliament in present conditions to worsen the basis of their efficiency and the performance of their duties. I do not believe that any member of the public would expect Members of Parliament to be placed at an acute disadvantage in relation to other servants of the State.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the allowance payable for secretaries. This is in an entirely different category. The Boyle Committee never thought that the allowance of £1,000 a year would be enough to pay for a full-time secretary. That was never contemplated. Now, of course, the allowance is even more inadequate, in view of current levls of remuneration, than when the Boyle Committee reported. Members of Parliament have not yet had the benefit of any of the stages of the counter-inflation policy. Nothing has happened to give them any additional resources out of which to pay for their secretaries under stage 1, 2 or 3. There is an early-day motion on the Order Paper which expresses the view of many hon. Members in that regard.
Not long ago the Government made sympathetic comments about the employment of secretaries. That was some time ago when we were debating the new Parliament building, construction of which is now to be deferred. Hon. Members are finding it increasingly difficult to retain the essential equipment for the performance of their duties in dealing with correspondence. They are unable to pay secretaries what is now regarded as reasonable remuneration for duties in the House which involve long hours, split duties and all sorts of uncertainties about their engagements and conditions of service.
The Leader of the House has reported the Government's judgment in this matter. The House has noted it. I must reserve the position of my right hon. and hon. Friends because I am not in a position to acquiesce in what the right hon. Gentleman just announced. I hope it will not be thought that I am intruding into a debate on grave matters with domestic issues of relative unimportance 1695 to the country, or that I am getting our debate out of perspective. This is the only opportunity I have of raising the matter, and had I spoken before the Leader of the House I should have been unable to comment on the matter.
For the rest, quite clearly we are rising in sombre circumstances. Whether public opinion and the pressure of events will bring us back earlier it is impossible to say. The Leader of the House may rest assured that the House would willingly come back at any date the Government thought right and proper to attend to our business before 15th January. We have quite rightly cut our recess short this year. We have the good news that the Leader of the House will be on duty in person, because many of us will be working in our constituencies and elsewhere and we shall be able to get in touch with him if we are in serious difficulty.
I believe that we face considerable disruption, chaos and confusion in the weeks ahead as a result of the new restrictions on the use of electricity. I sincerely hope that the social and industrial fabric will take the strain, but it will be a severe one. We therefore enter the new year facing a somewhat unpredictable future, but we sincerely hope that good sense will prevail and that the judgment of the Government and all those concerned with this grave situation will lead to a satisfactory settlement of the disputes which plague the economy and cause so much public inconvenience. I sincerely hope, too, that we shall return after the recess a much happier House of Commons than we leave it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising to-morrow do adjourn till Tuesday 15th January 1974.