§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That this House at its rising on Wednesday 25th July do adjourn till Tuesday 16th October.—[Mr. Prior.]
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I do not know whether I have already referred to this as the silly season, but I think that it is. If I have been out of order, I am glad to have been called back to order. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), who is always such a good guide in these matters.
The subject of Maplin has already been debated at great length and I am grateful to the Government for having given us so much time to debate it. I do not propose to go into it again. All I want to do is to leave the House the thought that Maplin hangs over us in the South-East as a subject of grave concern.
The Government know the feelings of the majority of people in the South-East on this question. The majority are against Maplin because it is an attack on the environment, especially by noise. On the other side of the estuary, in Essex, it is an attack on the environment on the surface by the great industrial development and the road development which will be necessary.
I have been worried in recent weeks by an apparent assumption by some people that the decision on Maplin is a foregone conclusion. The Port of London Authority already assumes that the seaport at Maplin will be developed and built. In fact, it is a matter to which we have given inadequate consideration. We have discussed whether there should be a third London airport. We know that the matter is being examined, and that expert evidence from the Civil Aviation Authority and others is being studied by the Government. We should have more time to express our anxieties about the development of a major seaport in the Thames Estuary, a seaport that would be both an oil landing port the size of Rotterdam and a container port probably bigger than Rotterdam. These are important economic considerations, but they are also of great national importance. It would probably be right to carry out such de- 754 velopments from the economic point of view, but they will have a catastrophic effect on the environment.
The Maplin Development Bill has not yet been passed, and we may have an opportunity to make a decision when we return after the recess. But alongside the possible developments at Maplin there is the decision that more oil refineries should be established in the estuary, on Canvey Island. I make no apology to my hon. Friends from Essex for taking an interest in their constituents' concern in the matter. I have been lobbied by them because I am a neighbour across the water. I am concerned that we are beginning to see industry not creeping but rushing into the South-East with an inevitability that is disturbing. We should have time to think about the environmental change that is taking place.
The other major project on which we have not had sufficient debate is the Channel Tunnel. We had a whole day's debate on a Friday, but because the Parliamentary Press was on strike at the time we had inadequate reporting. I do not think that HANSARD has yet appeared for 15th June when that debate took place. In consequence, notwithstanding the report of the debate in the national Press, on radio and television, there has been inadequate consideration and debate on the Channel Tunnel and its implications.
The Channel Tunnel project does not present a question of economic achievement versus damage to the environment. I have severe doubts about whether it has yet been proven that there is any economic advantage either in the short or the long term. I spoke in that debate and I did not say that I was wholeheartedly against the idea of the tunnel.
I recognise that we are trading with Europe, that we are a member of the EEC, that the European trade route is across the Channel, in one of several places, and that it could not be denied that there will be an increasing flow in traffic of people and freight in the years to come. It would have been irresponsible of me, in a national position, to have ignored the importance of the European connection and the European route.
But people in Kent feel that their views have not been sufficiently aired in the House of Commons, and I have been 755 asked to speak today to express their concern at the grave change that will occur in Kent if the tunnel is built. They are demanding protection for their way of life and environment.
They are not demanding that the tunnel should not be built. They are demanding to know whether it should be built and whether the economic case is proven. If that argument can be shown and expressed clearly by a majority in the House, they demand protection for their environment. As I see it, a tunnel can be built providing that we do not ignore its effect on all those who live around the tunnel portals and the routes to the tunnel.
I acknowledge that the Minister for Transport Industries has been generous with his time to the House, during Question Time and in that debate, and in meeting Members privately to hear their representations. I acknowledge that but I feel that we have never had sufficient opportunity for a full study of the problem. We seem to have been rather rushing into a decision on the tunnel. Earlier today I was glad to read that there was to be no decision before we went into recess about the next stage of financing the tunnel. At least the Government are giving themselves sufficient time to satisfy themselves that the financial arrangements are sound.
There are many people who want to be completely satisfied, first, that the tunnel will be a success and, secondly, that if it is decided in economic interests to be necessary there will be sufficient safeguards to protect us.
Those who argue for the tunnel—the Minister for Transport Industries has expressed this quite clearly—as planned, a rail tunnel, claim that it will prove to be the salvation of freight in this country. It will take freight of the road back on to the rail. That is a brave consideration and there is surely no one in this House who would be against such a proposition. I should like to stress again to my right hon. Friend that this argument requires a great deal of study, argument and presentation to make it clear, as far as possible, that there will be a transfer of freight from our roads. If this can be promised, I think the people of Kent will say that that is a promise which has 756 a benefit for the nation, not only economically, but environmentally. But we must be sure that this bonus is there and is in no way a doubtful one.
I would therefore plead that this is a matter for which we must have more time for consideration. If we have to go into recess as early as has been decided, it is to be hoped that after the recess we do not rush back into a quick debate. Facts must be presented to us. A one day's debate is not sufficient. We need a further Green Paper on this subject, not just another statement from British Rail, but real conviction that the tunnel will work.
The House will have noted that I have not once said that we should not afford this scheme. I have not once argued that the expenditure of £800 million or £1,000 million, split between this country and France, paid mainly by the private sector with Government backing, should not be undertaken. But I have said that we must be convinced and know exactly what it means before we embark on this major development, this major economic and transport decision, which will have such serious environmental effects. I believe that we have had insufficient time to consider it.
The whole question of what is likely to happen in the South-East in the next 20 years merits a great deal of thought by the House. The relationship of the South-East with the other regions must be considered. As we take such decisions, airport decisions and seaport decisions, with the concomitant industrial development which will follow as night follows day—as we turn Thameside into another greater Teesside, with greater wealth opportunities for everyone in the area, but with a changed environment—as we do these things, we change the balance between the South-East and the North-East, Scotland, the North-West. Wales and the South-West.
We must not forget that the decisions on the seaport and the airport and on communications across the Channel will all have the effect of creating a magnet to turn the South-East into a great industrial area.
I see with some dismay the creep of concrete into Kent. When I read—I believe that it was in an American report looking at this country, and sometimes people looking from the outside can see 757 what is happening more clearly than we can—that by the end of the century the South-East of England, and especially that little quarter that is essentially Kent, will be 50 per cent. covered in concrete, buildings and roads, I begin to worry.
One hundred and fifty years ago, when Frenchmen travelled across the Straits of Dover and landed at Dover, they were amazed at the change they saw on their 22-mile journey. They left a land in the Pas de Calais which was poorly farmed, without rich farm houses or cottages, and they came to rich farm country, with rich cottages, rich small houses and even bigger houses, all the way to London. The prospect on landing in England in those days for a Frenchman was one of delight, and England in the South-East, in Kent, truly had the garden of England at its front door. I must speak today for those who live in the garden of England and who are determined that that garden shall not be ruined.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I believe that the House should not adjourn without debating the freedom of the British Press. Yesterday's judgment by the House of Lords that the proposed article by The Sunday Times on the thalidomide affair would be a contempt of court has created an astonishing and intolerable situation.
But, first, the interpretation of the law by various judges has been bizarre, and it has, I believe, undermined confidence in the judicial process. By definition, one set of most distinguished judges has given a judgment wholly at variance with, or diametrically opposed to, justice. Because two different sets of judges have given opposite rulings. One set of judges, in the Court of Appeal, ruled unanimously, in effect, that black was black, whereas now the House of Lords has said that black is white. Or, alternatively, the Court of Appeal said, in effect, that black was white, and the House of Lords has said that black is black. Between them, therefore, our highest judges, I believe, have undermined public respect for the judiciary by that their diametric opposition on the basic question whether the proposed article was or was not in contempt of court. I should 758 have thought that the relevant law was a little clearer than that.
But the most astonishing and intolerable consequence of the latest judgment is that we are now faced with a series of ironic paradoxes—that British law, designed to ensure justice, creates injustice; that British law, designed to preserve free speech, restricts freedom of speech; that British law, designed to defend honesty, defends dishonesty.
The message from the House of Lords judgment is loud and clear to all those perpetrating injustice. If they issue a writ, or institute proceedings, they will be carefully and legally protected from exposure by the British Press. From yesterday, the Press of Britain is significantly censored, and, remarkably, the simple trigger mechanism which will spark off that censorship is available to any shyster who uses the law of contempt.
The odd thing is that, had yesterday's judgment been made before the initial article by The Sunday Times about thalidomide last September, the thalidomide children would have been condemned not only to a lifetime of disability but to a lifetime of penury. There can be no greater injustice than that.
As The Times pointed out today, the scandals of Mozambique and of My Lai, or any other scandal for that matter, could have been buried had that judgment been given earlier, because the British Press would not have been allowed to report those scandals if anyone had simply instituted proceedings or issued a writ. This is an unacceptable situation for the British Press, especially when the world Press is free to report these issues.
I believe that one mistake that the British Press makes is to say that the success of the thalidomide campaign and the better reward given to the children was due entirely to the Press and the parents. The Press and the parents were indispensable, but ultimately the decisive voice in the thalidomide campaign was the House of Commons and public opinion. It was these two which induced Distillers to raise its offer from £34. million to £26 million. There can be no doubt about that. I am convinced that on this issue of the law of contempt the decisive influence will be the will of 759 the House of Commons and public opinion.
No one is advocating trial by newspaper or interference in fair trial. Fair trial will be safeguarded if the Press is not allowed to comment once a case is set down for trial. But before and after the trial the Press should be allowed to comment. The issue of a writ, or the institution of proceedings, should not be allowed to prevent discussion. In a dormant case, such a procedure can continue for many years and stifle discussion.
The Government's failure to take urgent action on the law of contempt may create the impression that, while talking of open government, they favour closed minds. By the ill-advised initiative of the Attorney-General, an impression has been created that the Government do not favour freedom of the Press. That impression can be rectified in public only by the Government taking urgent and decisive action. The Prime Minister and his colleagues ought now to recognise that the Press of Britain is not as free as we thought and that the Press of Britain is not as free as it ought to be.
The Government must ensure that the Phillimore Committee reports at once and they must arrange a debate as soon as possible, not only on the Phillimore Report, but on wide-ranging issues affecting the law of contempt. Although the Leader of the House has said that there will be a debate, it should be brought forward as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, the Government should ensure that the House has the fullest information possible.
Yesterday's judgment, that the proposed article by The Sunday Times on thalidomide would be in contempt of court, was an astonishing judgment, and the time is now ripe for the Government to make it clear—by action, not words—. that they axe no longer prepared to tolerate a law which so grossly distorts and gags the British Press.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
There are two reasons why the House ought not to agree to the proposal for its recess without further consideration.
First, the House should know firmly that the Government propose to proceed as rapidly as possible with the building 760 of Maplin Airport in order to save my constituents from the growing nuisance of more and more aircraft noise over Hampstead—that is the major reason. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is not here to hear me contradict him, but in the interests of my constituents I want Maplin built swiftly to stop the nuisance to them.
§ Mr. Finsberg
If possible, yes.
Secondly, the House ought to do something about the deteriorating standard of postal deliveries, particularly in Greater London. The work of the House is suffering from the Post Office's failure to deliver first-class letters within one day of posting.
It may be amusing to one Opposition Member, who was not here earlier, but if the House were to be recalled and Members relied upon first-class mail, they would receive the letters after the House had been recalled. Thus, this matter should be considered.
Let me give my right hon. Friends one or two facts. A letter from Waterloo Bridge House, which is the headquarters of the Post Office Users National Council, was sent to me, as a member of the council, on 28th June by first-class mail. It told me of the Post Office's proposals for tariff increases. Waterloo House is across the bridge, in SE1. The letter did not get to the House of Commons in SW1 the next day. That is clear evidence that the postal service is deteriorating rapidly. The Leader of the House should be able to give us some sort of assurance in that respect.
The delivery of letters on a Saturday is becoming worse. The North-West London District Postmaster has confirmed that deliveries on Mondays include a significantly higher proportion of letters that should have been delivered on Saturday. He said:Four out of 29 First Class letters, and 19 out of 75, Second Class were so delayed. So it seems we do have a Saturday performance weakness to answer for.In the Christmas Recess Adjournment debate, I discussed the failure of the North Thames Gas Board to progress with conversions. As a result, I received a flood of letters and the board stopped 761 its conversion work. The chairman investigated matters and there has since been considerable improvement. People who use gas heating can switch to electricity, but if one uses the first-class letter post, one cannot do much by switching to pigeon post. Therefore, this subject should be looked at before the House rises.
A letter was sent from the House in a white envelope under official-paid first-class mail to a WI district. That letter posted at three o'clock on the 14th, did not arrive the following day, namely, Friday the 15th. The South Western District Postmaster said:The enquiries made have revealed that the delivery office concerned had acute staffing problems on 15th June, and unfortunately a certain amount of correspondence due for delivery on that day was delayed.The Leader of the House will be aware that the whole purpose of a two-tier mail system is that the Post Office guarantee delivery the next day for first-class mail. It is failing to do so and its figures and those produced by the Post Office Users National Council do not coincide.
The Post Office Users National Council has always considered that the Post Office is failing to carry out its duties. In certain circumstances, if it were private industry, it would be liable under the Trade Descriptions Act for failing to carry out its guarantee of delivery the next day.
The House would have a problem if a recall were necessary during the recess—and the famous special delivery letters that go out from both sides of the House frequently arrive after the normal first delivery the next day. A letter from the North-West London District Postmaster says:Overnight Friday 29th June to Saturday 30th June, my own District Office was short-staffed and did not clear all the mail due for Saturday delivery.The Leader of the House ought to tell his right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications that the situation is unsatisfactory. If one takes this matter up directly with the Chairman of the Post Office he shuffles it off on to one of his deputies, and sometimes he takes longer to reply than one or two Ministers! He should be shaken up. The replies that one receives from the North-West London District Postmaster are swift and courteous and I acquit him per- 762 sonally of any responsibility, because it is from higher up that this problem stems.
The major argument used by the Post Office is that it is short of labour. This recurs time and time again in its letters and excuses. One of the steps which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House could take, in consultation with his right hon. Friend, is to tell the Post Office that it is time it ended the cosy arrangement that has existed for too long with the Union of Post Office Workers—particularly in the London postal region—restricting the employment of female labour. There is no question of discrimination on pay. It is no use hon. Members opposite bleating. It is a fact. There is a restriction on the use of female labour until the establishment has fallen below a certain level. I maintain that the service should come first.
My right hon. Friend knows, I am sure, that when there have been debates in the House on anti-discrimination, none of the Bills so far introduced would have got anywhere had there not been bi-partisan support. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) knows that well, and he should not always claim sole responsibility for introducing those Bills. But if any Bill should become law, the Transport and General Workers Union, for example, will have to allow women bus drivers in London, which so far it has refused to do, as have its members.
My reason for raising this matter today is that I am extremely worried that my constituents are not receiving the service for which they have paid, and this House is not getting the service for which it has paid, namely, guaranteed delivery the next day of first-class mail.
When my right hon. Friend sums up on this somewhat strange collection of debates, I hope that he will give the House an assurance that this matter will not merely be taken on board by him or by his right hon. Friend but that something will be done. I hope that action will, if necessary, be taken in line with the recommendation of a CBI committee that the jobs of chairman and chief executive should not necessarily be held by the same man, as is the case now in the Post Office.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)
Like most hon. Members, I can think of 763 many reasons why the House should not adjourn, but I do not intend to give them unless I am pressed. I associate myself, however, with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). I agree that it would be wrong for the House to adjourn without giving hon. Members an opportunity to debate the implications of that most important judgment affecting the Press, that is, the judgment on the Sunday Times thalidomide article case. The Leader of the House has only to read this morning's newspapers to know that it makes the law of contempt much more rigid than it was previously thought to be.
I speak with some experience in the matter. When I was a lawyer in Fleet Street, I always understood—and most newspapers acted on this basis—that one would never publish an article which might prejudice the conduct of a trial or prejudice the possible outcome of a trial. But most newspapers did not act on the basis that an article could not be published at all, whether or not it was calculated or likely to prejudice the outcome of a trial or hearing. Unless we have misread the judgment from another place, that is what it asserts, that it does not matter whether an article is likely to prejudice the outcome of a hearing—it must not be published.
I do not expect the Leader of the House to go into the legal arguments today. We expect him to do many things, but that would not be fair. But he must realise, even as a layman, that the judgment is important to freedom of expression in publication and is a restriction. In a limited sense, it means that the public cannot know why that killer drug was marketed, because the article in the Sunday Times—which would have gone into the steps taken by the company and why the company decided to market the drug—can never be published until after the case has been settled.
The case has already gone on for 12 years. Settlement may be in sight. But it may take several months yet before a settlement is reached. In a narrow sense, the public are being denied the facts, and they are being denied the truth, because the truth cannot be printed.
764 In a wider sense, it means that any newspaper must carefully view whether it publishes an article in these circumstances. All that we need now is for a writ to be pursued vigorously, or, worse, issued maliciously, and an article cannot be published. It is impossible for an editor or for a lawyer advising an editor to know for certain whether a writ is issued genuinely because a person wants genuine redress, or whether the sole purpose of issuing the writ is to stop the facts from being given to the public—facts which the public have a right to know.
Even more important, the judgment of the Law Lords seems to suggest that one must not publish any article which may affect a possible settlement. How on earth can one tell whether one party or another is making a genuine attempt at a settlement, or whether the negotiations are purely a facade, as they may well be?
In those circumstances, when perhaps one party is opening negotiations purely in the hope that the matter will drag on and on and that ultimately the newspaper, the public or the other side will get bored with it and forget about it, if the Law Lords' judgment is correct, a newspaper will not be able to publish. That means that for years a subject involving fraud, some kind of malpractice, or a public scandal, could not be revealed. The House should know just how important this judgment is to freedom of publication and, the most basic freedom of all, freedom of speech.
The Leader of the House should inform the Attorney-General of the concern that the House must feel. I have already tabled a Question to the Attorney-General, which I hope he will answer on Monday.
It may well be that the Government ought to introduce legislation amending the law of contempt. The law of contempt has not been satisfactory for years. The criticism that was formerly made of it was that it was too vague and too imprecise. In making the law of contempt more precise, the Law Lords—though I am not criticising them; they have made a considered judgment and no doubt they thought that they were acting in the public interest—have made it difficult for a layman to understand how facts 765 are not able to be published when knowledge of those facts must be in the public interest.
During the election campaign the Government made great play with their desire to have a more open society, but they have sheltered behind committees. They have sheltered behind the Franks Committee, whose report, after a lot of pressing, was debated only on a Friday afternoon. They have sheltered behind two other committees—the Phillimore Committee, looking into contempt, and the committee looking into the law of libel. It is imperative that the Phillimore Committee report immediately, and certainly take on board this decision by the Law Lords.
I hope that the Attorney-General will shortly be able to assure the House that that has been done. In all the circumstances, I hope that the Leader of the House will take this matter seriously and that at the earliest oportunity we shall have a statement of the Government's intentions about the decision by the Law Lords.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
The advocacy of the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) loses nothing by its moderation and he has touched upon a subject which, I am certain, will pre-occupy the House increasingly over the coming months and which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler). It would provide a useful subject for debate in the House at the earliest moment when the executive has had a chance to reflect upon the Law Lords' decision. That is one reason why the House should not adjourn on Wednesday 25th July until Tuesday 16th October. However, I am opposed to the motion for other reasons. They are related to the development of the European Community during the period between July and October, while the House will be in recess, and will touch upon developments of intimate and vital concern to the House.
First, there is no doubt that our experience of Community membership itself is requiring a constant monitoring of the developing relationships between the law-making authorities on the Continent and the law-making authorities 766 here. A constant monitoring is required of the economic balance sheet of advantage and disadvantage in the experience of Community membership.
I do not make my remarks in any sense as a committed, hostile partisan to Community membership, because the arguments of yesteryear—though they may be helpful as a guide to the future—can perhaps be left to yesteryear. But the arguments we now have to consider have plenty of topicality.
The Shropshire Star, which is a rapidly growing provincial newspaper—[Laughter.] It is easy enough for hon. Members to laugh disparagingly, but I feel that it must be appreciative and not disparaging laughter, because it is precisely this kind of provincial newspaper which is displacing national dailies in many provincial areas.
The Shropshire Star carries a report—it has a good Lobby team serving the House—which says:Britain may be approaching a Common Market crisis if some Whitehall predictions turn out to be accurate. Senior Ministers say privately that the next six months will be critical. For Britain's representatives in Brussels it is likely to be one long dispute after another. Whatever the attempts to conceal it, the driving force, according to Ministers, is specific—Britain needs changes in EEC policy.The article goes on to some greater length, but the attribution is interesting, coming in a paper which is not known to be particularly partisan against the idea of Community membership and which cannot be assigned to one of the Beaverbrook stables. Therefore, I hope that neither my hon. Friends nor Labour Members will lightly dismiss the comments which have appeared in the Shropshire Star.
The House must address itself to the immediate desirability of a debate on the Common Market and food prices, but not in a strictly narrow and partisan sense. I certainly have no wish to see a repetition of the atmosphere of yesterday's debate, which in some ways was more suitable for a Celtic-Rangers football match than for serious consideration of a major political issue.
What is without doubt developing, and quite properly should command our concern, is whether we will be enabled to retain zero rating of value added tax.
767 Zero rating of value added tax on food was a matter to which the Conservative Party committed itself in its election manifesto of 1970. It was in a sentence which I strongly recommend for re-inclusion in the "Better Tomorrow, Mark II", whenever that is to be published. It is the kind of guarantee that I should like to see in the face of developing evidence that Ministers are being approached in Brussels and from within the Community with a view to reconsidering the whole question of zero rating of value added tax and, above all, zero rating of value added tax on food.
Indeed, the Financial Times on 21st June stated:The European Commission will shortly have to make up its mind whether Britain should be allowed to have zero rates of Value Added Tax after 1975…. The problem is becoming acute, because M. Henri Simonet, the Commissioner in charge of tax harmonisation, plans to make initial proposals soon on harmonising the incidence of VAT in the nine member states. This has to be done by 1975.We know that there were discussions between M. Simonet and the Government. We know that parliamentary Questions were remarkably unsuccessful in eliciting very much of what had been concluded. As so often in these affairs, one has to turn to the Financial Times to inquire and elucidate exactly what is happening. On 21st June Mr. Reginald Dale, the Financial Times correspondent in Brussels, under the headingUK given temporary reprieve on VAT rates",said thatneither the United Kingdom nor any other member State would be able to introduce new zero rates in future … those countries that have them"—those countries which at the moment have zero rates—will be required to submit a report on their functioning and the continued need for them every two years.In answer to a Question of mine which was put down on 23rd May, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food indicated, on the specific and rather contentious issue of butter, that within the Community there was a VAT rate on butter on 7 per cent. in France, 51 per cent. in Germany, 4 per cent. in the Netherlands, 6 per cent. in Belgium, 5 per cent. in Luxembourg and in Italy, 768 which had just introduced a VAT on butter, 1 per cent.
Unless we are to be so pre-eminently successful at evangelising all the other Community countries to adjust their tax patterns to fit our practice, the indications are that economic and monetary union, with its concomitant of fiscal harmonisation, will result in a requirement on this country to apply VAT to foodstuffs.
That seems to be the clear and inescapable logic of the Community as now constructed and the commitment to economic and monetary union that has been undertaken. Therefore, in the months ahead and in the period covered by the recess, if this House is to be vigilant and perform its premier role, it should be seeking to elucidate from the executive far more information than has so far been made available on this subject.
But a debate on the Common Market and the price of food, not as it now is but as it is in prospect, would be incomplete without consideration of the common agricultural policy. Of course we are under immediate inhibition, because the proposed recess will eliminate agriculture Questions which would have been top of the list next Thursday. That opportunity is lost. Today a record of 15 Questions on Northern Ireland took 45 minutes, so that agriculture Questions which came second were not reached. That is life. But it is no consolation for many hon. Members who believe that the reformation of the common agricultural policy is one of the most important tasks that await any Government, and the present Government in particular.
Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) put a request to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that as soon as we return we should address ourselves to this problem. It is much more important, however, that we should know the Government's attitude in advance of the September meeting of the Council of Ministers. We do not know very much about the Government's attitude to the review of the common agricultural policy which, we are told, will take place this autumn, probably whilst the House is in recess.
We know from statements made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of 769 Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that he welcomes the review. However, he has given greater elaboration of his thinking on the review of the common agricultural policy to a conference on Europe's food and drink industry, convened by the Financial Times, than he has to this House. Indeed, so often are ministerial statements on the development of European policy being given at functions of that kind that one wonders how long it will be before the Fees Office will give us a season ticket to conferences organised by the Financial Times in order that we may be updated on ministerial thinking.
At the Financial Times conference my right hon. Friend said:So far as possible improvements in the common agricultural policy are concerned, the Commission is now engaged on a thorough review of the system, and we shall be making our full contribution to the search for solutions. I have no ready-made panacea to offer, but I will venture one or two lines of thought.Thereafter the thoughts followed. They can reasonably be summarised in the sentence in my right hon. Friend's speech in which he said:This suggests that some measure of support for producers could be diverted away from end prices into more direct aids that do not raise consumer prices.It seems that my right hon. Friend is beginning to question the very principles and mechanism by which the common agricultural policy operates. Certainly that seems to be the view of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. When my right hon. Friend answered a Question on 4th July in the context of the common agricultural policy, he said:Principles, mechanisms and systems can be reviewed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July 1973; Vol. 859, c. 507.]We might go away on 25th July reassured that a wide-ranging and critical reassessment of the common agricultural policy will be undertaken. I have reservations about the implied optimism of such reassurance.
My right hon. Friend is not the only agriculture Minister who is summoned by the Financial Times to grace its conferences. Another such Minister is M. Chirac. At the same Financial Times conference to which I have referred M. Chirac, the French Agricultural Minister, said: 770But CAP, as established, was not open to negotiation.M. Chirac stressed that neither the principles nor the machinery of the common agricultural policy should be negotiated. He said:It would be both a political and economic error to allow CAP to be challenged again. It would be a political error because the Policy was one of the most valuable of the Community's achievements.Against such conflicting evidence, and on a matter of such overwhelming importance and transcendental significance to the House and to Britain in its relationships with the Community—it does not matter whether one was a partisan for or against membership in times past—it is clear that decisions of such a character should not be proceeded with behind the back of the House. These are decisions which touch upon the viability of Britain being able to have happy and harmonious relations in partnership with sister States in Europe.
It is because I regard that as being of such central importance that I hope my right hon. Friend will feel that the House should be far more fully informed on these matters than hitherto. A start could be made by adjusting our proposed Adjournment to ensure that we have a full day's debate before the September meeting of the Council of Ministers.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
I have been following with great interest the remarks of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). The common agricultural policy is a subject which interests me greatly. I remember very well when the Labour Party last year published certain proposals, which were the outcome of an NEC sub-committee of which I was a member. They were proposals for the reform of the CAP. They also set out the Labour Party's renegotiating position. I remember the outcry from the media and from the National Farmers Union. I remember the attempt which was made to portray those proposals as being unrealistic and not to be taken seriously.
I read with great interest Nora Beloff's column in the Observer last Sunday. After Peregrine Worsthorne and Ronald Butt, she must be one of the three best-read opponents of democratic Socialism on a Sunday. Nora Beloff said that the Government were taking the reform of the 771 CAP very seriously. She said that Heath was taking a heavy line. I smiled when I thought of the things which the same Sunday Press had said a year ago about the Labour Party's proposals, which have been restated in its latest policy document.
The hon. Member for Oswestry is right to draw attention to the fact that major agricultural decisions are now being taken in Brussels. Of all the areas of government, there is none on which Whitehall has less say than agriculture. While listening to the hon. Gentleman I was reminded of the speeches which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) used to make from the Opposition Front Bench on the importance of parliamentary control. I hope my hon. Friend will not be offended if I say that while I tend to agree with him on most things, I used to have a sneaking suspicion when I listened to his speeches that his attitude on parliamentary control reflected to some extent his love of this institution and did not derive entirely from his strong views on the need for democratic control. I have changed my mind during the past year or so. I have changed it not just because of what has happened in Strasbourg and Brussels —that charade of democratic control—but because of the sort of things we see happening in this House.
I have come to believe that we should not cast aside the long-established practice in this country that, if there is to be a change in policy, a Minister must come to this House of Commons and justify it.
I believe that the House should definitely not adjourn before we have had a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland about his proposals for the reform of crofting tenure. These proposals are important for the Highlands. To the crofting communities they are absolutely vital. The future of those communities depends on what this Government or a subsequent Government decide on these matters. The Government's proposals were announced in reply to a planted Written Question of 4th August 1972. The proposals were presented in a rather vague form. They immediately posed a number of important questions. At the time I assumed that they would be followed by a fuller statement of the Government's intentions.
772 We did not have a fuller statement. However, a debate started in the Highlands. The Crofters Commission, which is appointed by the Government, began to take a leading part in the debate. I thought that the Government had decided to have a debate in the Highlands and that after a while they would give some substance to their proposals. I thought that they would provide answers to some of the fundamental questions which the proposals posed.
A debate went on for some time and the annual conference of the assessors to the Crofting Commission took place in Inverness earlier this year. I went to that conference to discuss these matters with the crofters because this is an issue to which the Labour Party attaches great importance.
I could not attend the actual conference sessions, but one of the crofters from Shetland kindly gave me a grubby typescript sheet which the delegates had been given, which gave more information about the proposals of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is supposed to have been produced—at least, this was what it said at the bottom of the page —by the Crofters Commission in March 1973. I was informed that the typescripts had been prepared by the Depart. ment of Agriculture for Scotland and were simply being issued by the Crofters Commission. It was said that that had to be the case because the proposals had emanated not from the Crofters Commission but from the Scottish Office.
I thought it was rather a sad reflection on the Department of Agriculture and on the junior Minister who is in charge of that Department that such a typescript should be allowed to emanate from his Department. That is assuming that my information is correct. That was some time ago. Since then a lot of things have been said and there has been a lot of coverage in the Highlands of this issue. It is a big issue in the Highlands.
One of the major questions is the price the crofter will have to pay for his croft. In order to understand the importance of that question, it must be remembered that in 1968 the commission published proposals for the reform of crofting tenure which would have given the crofter ownership of his croft on payment of not more than his annual rent, 773 which is virtually a nominal rent. He would have received his croft for an annuity.
The initial reaction of the crofters to those proposals was favourable because they expected to be able to buy their crofts at a price they could afford. From the outset many of us were concerned at the way the proposals were framed and we wondered whether that would be the case. It has become clearer as the debate has ensued that possibly very few crofters will be able to purchase their crofts under the Government's proposals.
If anyone is in doubt about that, let him read the last report of the Crofters Commission. In paragraph 5 this Government-appointed body states:In areas where land values have risen sharply because of the pressure of tourism or North Sea Oil it might well be impossible for crofters to purchase their crofts at all, but if we have interpreted the Secretary of State's intention correctly the price in many crofting areas should not differ greatly from the capitalised value of a current fair rent.Months after publication of the Government's original proposal, the Crofters Commission is saying that it is not sure whether it knows the Government's intentions. That implies a serious situation. I tabled 20 Questions on this issue last month and some of the answers were useful, but on the key issues—with the exception of one—I received virtually no information. On the key issue on which I received information I was told that the Government were not prepared to give crofters the greater security of tenure which they need in view of the recent "resumptions" by the landlords.
We debated this matter in the Scottish Grand Committee last week. The Minister had prior notice that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) would raise the matter. The Minister knows perfectly well what the key questions are. The people in the Highlands are crying out for answers but the Minister last week gave no answer but merely a brush-off. I hope I am wrong, but I am becoming very suspicious about the Government's intentions. I am worried that a Bill will be sprung upon us without adequate prior discussion on the basic contents of that Bill. We have not yet been told that we are to have a Bill next Session. I hope even at this late date that, if the Government intend to introduce legisla- 774 tion next Session, they will nevertheless be prepared to publish a White Paper on the subject so that we can thrash out the issues and arrive at proposals which are acceptable to the crofters.
I hope that my suspicions are wrong. When I originally saw the proposals I interpreted them as a sell out to the landlords. The situation in the Highlands is that there is immense pressure on land, not just from the wealthy people in the South-East who want holiday homes but above all because of North Sea oil. The oil can benefit the Highlands and the crofting communities, but the effects of the oil developments could also destroy those communities and it is important that there should be proper protection and control for them. I suspect that the Government might be tempted to put the interests of the land developers and speculators before the interests of the crofting communities. I hope I am wrong and that the Government will make a statement about these matters before we adjourn showing that I am wrong.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I want to take up one or two of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) before moving on to one specific reason why the House should not adjourn on Wednesday. I do not normally engage in these debates because, like other hon. Members, I am almost exhausted at this time of the year and I look forward to the relaxation. But, apart from what my hon. Friend said about the CAP and some of the critical decisions which are to be taken about it within the next few months, I have a special constituency reason why I should like the House to adjourn on 1st August. In that extra time we could have a couple of useful debates which would be of great value to hon. Members on both sides.
I, too, share the concern which my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry expressed so adequately about the workings of the CAP. Critical decisions are to be taken in the coming months while the House is in recess. I do not completely support his criticism of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food because I am sure that my right hon. Friend is seized of the urgent necessity for a reappraisal of the CAP. If we had another week we could 775 engage in a useful one- or two-day debate on the subject and we could express our views, which I am sure my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Minister of Agriculture would be interested to hear.
There are other matters concerning the CAP which my hon. Friend did not mention and they are the sort of things we should have been discussing. Very shortly a decision has to be taken by this country about our Christmas turkeys and poultry. According to the EEC regulations it is forbidden for us to sell our turkeys in the traditional way. They now have to be plucked with their guts removed and placed down their gullet. That is a hygienic way of doing it and unless we do something about it that is how we shall have to prepare our poultry.
§ Mr. Biffen
My hon. Friend says that that is the hygienic way of preparing poultry and I am sure that is so, but lest anyone thinks that the New York-dressed method gives cause for concern about hygiene may I put on record that replies to Questions which I have put down have revealed that no instances of salmonella were traced to New York dressing.
§ Mr. Farr
I am glad my hon. Friend has placed that on record.
Another point that we should be discussing in the next week or so is how we can reconcile the decisions taken in the House last week about the export of live cattle with the conditions under which we joined the EEC. We are forbidden under Community regulations to ban the export of live cattle, which the House has done recently on a temporary basis. A useful debate could have taken place next week to reconcile the decision to suspend the export of live cattle with the obligations we assumed when we joined the Community which took away our sovereignty in controlling the export of live or dead animals to other member nations in the Nine.
An important point in relation to the Common agricultural policy is the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. One of the arrangements reached by the Government before we joined was that after 1974 there would be continuing access to this country for 1.4 million tons of Commonwealth sugar from the underdeveloped countries of the Commonwealth. It is important 776 that the arrangement should be honoured and that this annual quantity of sugar should continue to come in from some of our less prosperous Commonwealth members, such as Mauritius and many of the West Indian countries.
There is no doubt from what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture said in the House yesterday that it is likely that the other members of the Nine will honour the agreement after 1974 and, although perhaps with reluctance on the part of France, will permit us to continue to honour our obligations to the Commonwealth in that way. What disturbs me, however, and why I believe that a debate would be useful, is that my right hon. Friend spoke yesterday of being able to secure for another year the cane sugar refiners' margin of £4 a ton. What will happen after that year has expired? If refiners need another £4 a ton to make the job economic now, surely they will continue to need that subsidy indefinitely.
Some of my hon. Friends and many Opposition Members never envisaged that the Commonwealth sugar quota to the Nine was to be tapered off or to expire. We regard it as an indefinite obligation of 1.4 million tons per annum. Those companies which refine Commonwealth sugar should be assured of the necessary financial margin to enable them to do so profitably.
My real reason for not wishing to adjourn, apart from wishing to join in any debate which my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry might be able to arrange next week, is that I should like to raise the question of a circular issued by the Department of Health and Social Security which reached my constituency on Monday of last week. I do not know whether it is a national circular or whether it is confined to Leicestershire, but it has caused a great deal of anguish in Leicester and in the county. It relates to the ban on the construction of new health centres. A health centre serves city areas and country areas alike. In country areas in particular it is a centre from which a number of doctors grouped together operate their practices. That is purpose-built for the housing of doctors, their staff and some, if not all, ancillary equipment which goes with a practice or practices.
777 For many years doctors have been managing with surgeries, not purpose-built but perhaps part of their house. In some parts of the country, particularly in fast-growing parts like the East Mid-lands, and certainly in Leicestershire, which has one of the fastest-growing populations in the country health centres have become an absolute necessity.
I have in my briefcase a letter from a doctor who has a practice in my constituency in a village called Countesthorpe, where five or six years ago he was able to provide single-handed the medical facilities and treatment for the village and its district. In the past five or six years the village has grown out of all recognition. So rapidly has it expanded, with a very large house-building programme, that the doctor has had to take on two partners. Now instead of, as formerly, managing the practice with his wife as part-time help and with one paid assistant, he has no fewer than 14 full-time and part-time staff and assistants to help him out. His house, which was formerly a family home, is turned into what might be called a factory or an office.
People in such positions in the rapidly growing parts of the country cannot be expected to continue without having a chance to have purpose-built health centres. A few years ago the Government recognised this and encouraged local county authorities to establish new health centres with the aid of Government financial assistance. Leicestershire did this, and has already constructed and completed quite a number. Eight centres remain uncompleted, with plans in an advanced state. Last Monday we had the circular saying that further progress in the construction of these much-needed centres had to be suspended until further notice. Througoht the usual channels I have put down Questions and I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. If we sat for another week I should definitely seek to raise the matter with him, as I suspect, would many of my colleagues.
I support the request for a further week or even two weeks so that matters of the type I have discussed, international affairs such as those my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry mentioned and, more important, local affairs such as the need for health centres in rapidly grow- 778 ing parts of the East Midlands, may be properly discussed.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)
The House has had a long and tiring year. Many hon. Members, including myself, look forward to the Summer Recess. However, I would be failing in my duty to my constituents if I did not seek to raise one local problem causing a great deal of concern, which will be very familiar to other hon. Members.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member started by saying that ha wants to discuss a matter before dealing with what he wants to discuss next week. Is it not an accepted principle that we may briefly indicate what we wish to discuss and that that is the reason why we wish the motion not to be passed?
§ Mr. Cox
I wish to refer to problems in my constituency and to say that we should not adjourn next week, because it would be of benefit not only to my constituents but to the constituents of many other hon. Members if adequate time were found during the proposed recess to discuss them.
The problem is the lack of road safety provisions. Despite all the attempts I have made in the House by Question, letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment and correspondence I have had with members and officials of the Greater London Council and the London borough of Wandsworth, there has been no improvement locally in the provision of either zebra crossings or traffic lights.
Consequently young mothers with children, disabled people and elderly people, of whom there is a large number in Wandsworth, face the almost impossible task at certain times of the day of crossing roads in safety. Such is the problem in part of my constituency, about which I have received no satisfaction from the Secretary of State, that mothers are now, week after week, demonstrating in an effort to get adequate safety provisions for their youngsters to cross the roads.
779 I am speaking particularly of the Bedford Hill area of Wandsworth, which takes traffic out of South London. Hon. Members familiar with that part of Wandsworth will be aware of the vast amount of traffic using this road every day. The mothers are forced to sit down in the roads week after week in order to stop traffic, running the risk of arrest, fine or imprisonment, simply because they are doing what we would all do—seeking to protect the safety of their children when they have to cross busy roads to go to school or to play on the local commons.
My point in objecting to the Summer Recess is that if we were able to debate this subject we could perhaps get the Minister for Transport Industries to explain who is ultimately responsible for giving approval for traffic lights or zebra crossings to be installed in areas with large volumes of traffic. In many of our large cities there is an ever-increasing volume of heavy motor vehicles and cars. I am sure that if we could debate the problem we would be able to clear it up, which would bring great satisfaction to my constituents, to the GLC and to many other local authorities which arc bewildered concerning their powers in deciding such problems.
Much as I should like to go into recess next week, as this is a matter of great importance to many people in my constituency 1 believe it to be my duty to try to secure a debate on the subject. I do not want to see anyone I represent sent to prison. I do not want to have to say to my constituents "There is nothing I can do for you until the middle of October because we are going into parliamentary recess. If you get into trouble while protesting against inadequate safety provisions for your youngsters, that it is too bad. As we are in recess, I shall have to wait until Parliament reassembles to do anything about it."
This highlights the point made by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that it is the duty of hon. Members to raise matters of great importance to their constituents. We discuss many important problems, but a matter such as this is of equal importance to rising prices or unemployment in other parts of the country. Week after week in my advice surgery 780 and my postbag I receive this kind of complaint, as I am sure other hon. Members do. One has only to consider the number of Questions put to the Department of the Environment. The vast majority of them centre on traffic problems.
To go into recess from next week until the middle of October is far too long when we have such problems to sort out. That is why I object to the motion. Time should be allocated for a debate, and I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us that he is prepared to recommend one.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Before deciding whether it is possible for me to change my mind and support the motion, I want to raise an issue which is of tremendous interest to my constituents, although I fully recognise that it is not one of the great issues of State, such as employment or education or the environment or inflation or immigration. It has to do with the Erroll Report. It has to do with the whole question of the future of licensed premises and licensing hours.
This subject, apart from these great issues of State, has brought to me the biggest amount of mail and the largest number of visitors to my house in my constituency since the report was published. It raises deep issues and divides people very greatly, irrespective of their political views. I am disappointed that although the report was printed some months ago my right hon. Friend has not found time for the House to debate it, although the other place has done so.
I ask my right hon. Friend to give an assurance that, if he cannot find the time to debate the report next week on a revised time table, he will see that we debate it as soon as we return after the recess. It is certainly an issue that we should debate—the more so because it is in the minds of so many of our constituents. Indeed, if the report's recommendations were carried out it could change the social habits of so many of our constituents. I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance about a debate on this most important report.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
I do not think the House should adjourn 781 until a statement is made by the Home Secretary about the 36 cases of illegal immigrants which he is currently considering following our debate on immigration in June. The way in which he makes his determinations in these cases will be of considerable consequence to a substantial number of immigrants—those who came here illegally but were under the impression, now held by the House of Lords to be mistaken, that, having been here for a period of six months and escaped prosecution, they had achieved some immunity both from prosecution and deportation.
In the debate and in answer to a Private Notice Question I put before it, the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State spelled out the criteria which they said would guide the Home Office. It was stated that all the decisions affecting this category of illegal entrant would be made by a Minister. That in itself is helpful. In reply to the debate. the Under-Secretary of State said:We shall look, for example, at the length of time they have been here, at the strength of their connections here, at their domestic circumstances and their health records. We shall look at any special compassionate features there may be. We shall look particularly at any representations that may be received from Members of this House.He then said,Of course, it must be normal practice when someone has been found here illegally to send him away.The Under-Secretary of State explained that there would be a substantial measure of uncertainty as a result of this situation. I emphasise that I am dealing with this limited band of illegal immigrants who came here between 1968 and 1971. I am not seeking to assert that illegal immigration is a good thing or that it should be supported, but I feel that the way in which the Home Secretary has gone about this matter is wrong.
I am sorry that the Government opposed the amnesty proposal made by the Opposition for this group of immigrants. What the Government are saying is that the normal practice is that when a group of immigrants are found here illegally they must go home. It would have been far more compassionate and humane if the Government, in rejecting the amnesty proposal, had said, "We believe that this group of people in the normal event should be permitted to remain here provided that they have established them- 782 selves and their families and have shown a good work record as useful members of the community."
In other words, I believe that the burden should have been the other way round. That would have enabled illegal immigrants to have gone forward to the police and surrendered themselves with a greater measure of hope that they would be permitted to remain.
Although the Secretary of State said that there will be no witch hunt or harassment, the fact remains that a large number of these people must inevitably feel that to surrender themselves to the police would invite a return to the country of origin. If they have established themselves in the way I have indicated, this surely is not the correct way to deal with them. There is no doubt that those who are involved in community relations are expressing grave doubts and anxieties about the situation and the damage which the Government's interpretation of the judgment will do.
When the Secretary of State, whose good faith we accept, says, "There will be no witch hunt", he cannot speak for every police officer or for every official at the Department of Health and Social Security, to whom passports now have to be produced to obtain benefits. He may give certain instructions to senior police officers, but what is the duty of a police officer to be in these circumstances?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must try to relate what he is saying to why we should not rise on Wednesday. He will understand that there are a large number of people who are waiting to take part in this debate. I have waited for five minutes for him to come to the matter which we are supposed to be debating.
§ Mr. Davis
I said at the outset of my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps before you took the Chair, that I was adverting to the crisis which had arisen on this matter. I said that the matter was urgent and that the House should not adjourn until the Secretary of State has made a statement on the totality of the situation, and in particular on the case involving the 36 illegal immigrants. Perhaps with respect, Mr. Deputy 783 Speaker, you did not hear that, but that remark governs what I am saying.
I was saying to the House that despite what the Secretary of State said, there is a real risk in the minds of many of us that these people are still subject to the possibility of a witch hunt or harassment. A case was recently reported in The Guardian involving three people who were picked up by the authorities, one an illegal immigrant and the other two not. They were all detained and eventually two of them had to be released.
What is worrying people is the possibility of harassment and also of hideous mistakes. I ask the Leader of the House to give the House before we rise for the Summer Recess the assurance that there will be discussions with the Chairman of the Community Relations Commission and the Chairman of the Race Relations Board to ascertain their feelings. They have already expressed their views and anxieties, but perhaps it would be helpful if the Government would interest themselves in discussions of this nature, which they have always been unwilling to do on this issue throughout the passage of the Immigration Bill and later.
The Secretary of State said that there could be no amnesty. I hope before we rise for the recess he will consider the situation which has arisen in France, where the Minister of Labour Employment and Population announced in the National Assembly on 14th June,For humanitarian reasons and as an absolutely exceptional measure I have given prefects and local labour officials powers to regularise, case by case, the situation of immigrants who entered France before 1st June and whose situation is irregular. This operation must be completed by 30th September. Those who can produce a one-year work contract will in practice be given work residence permits whatever their skills and experience. Those not in work will be given three months' residence permits and will be able to use the services of labour exchanges to find a job so that a work residence permit may be issued on the lines I have indicated.If it is possible to do this in France, why is it not possible to have the same arrangement in this country?
I do not suggest that the French Government is a paragon of virtue—far from it—but the Government seem to imitate them in certain respects. The French Government have made a decisive 784 move in this matter. They have not condoned illegal immigration for the future, but are to be quite rigorous in stopping it. However, out of compassion, they have decided that it is right that illegal immigrants who are in France at present should be given some relief from their desperate anxiety. This is a view supported by many well-known and authoritative bodies, among them the British section of the International Commission of Jurists, who have urged the Home Secretary to allow considerations of humanity to override the strict requirements of the law in regard to those groups of illegal immigrants to whom I have referred.
I believe that it is incumbent on the Secretary of State to make a clear announcement to the House on these matters, and in particular about why he is unable to follow the example of the French Government. This would at least avoid some of the difficulties, confusion and anxiety which are besetting many people in the immigrant community, and this would be a most valuable thing to do before the Summer Recess.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
For many years I have heard this type of motion moved at this time of year. It has always occurred at a time of acute parliamentary pressure. The Government rightly have to weigh the good that Parliament does after a long and tiresome Session against the old principle, which is always applied, that the House should not adjourn until wrongs have been redressed.
The date 25th July must be one of the earliest dates I can recall, if not the earliest, for the adjournment of the House. Normally the House of Cormmons rises on the Wednesday, Thursday or Friday before the August Bank Holiday, which was the first Monday in August. By that calculation, we would be adjourning this Session on 2nd or 3rd August. This means that by this motion we are, quite voluntarily, giving up six or seven parliamentary days. I will not go into the argument on the matter which I wish to raise. I will not touch on it at all except to say that it is a matter which affects my constituents, and I intend to raise it very strongly at the earliest opportunity.
785 It will be seen from the Consolidated Fund Bill that 32 hon. Members have put down matters which they want to raise. This is a device, a rather ancient one, used to raise matters which hon. Members should have been able to raise in some other way. I applied for the Adjournment debate for this week and for the Adjournment debate on 25th July, but I have not been successful in either case. I cannot agree that without the redress of wrongs we should depart six or seven parliamentary days earlier than has been normal practice for many years, and I cannot assent to the motion.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I wish to raise three short points before the House is asked to approve the motion. The first concerns the implementation of Sections I and 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. We are expecting a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Services on the comparative progress made by local authorities in implementing these two important sections of the Act. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman for a definite assurance that we shall have this information from the Secretary of State before the House rises for the Summer Recess.
My second point concerns the mobility of severely disabled people. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that it was put to him last Thursday that serious concern had been voiced in the Press about the safety of the invalid tricycle. The right hon. Gentleman, in his reply, said:Certainly, I will talk to my right hon. Friend about this matter, which everyone in the House knows to be an important issue. It could perhaps form the subject of a short debate in the business for next week."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July 1973; c. 1794.]As we now know that there is not to be a short debate this week, will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House of the outcome of his discussions with the Secretary of State? He will know that the report from the School of Automotive Studies at the Cranfield Institute of Technology is deeply disturbing. The findings of the Cranfield Institute give the impression that the disabled driver is at considerable risk when driving the type of tricycle which is provided by the Government. I am informed that some of the test drivers refused to take this tricycle 786 through the gust test more than once. The right hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in these matters in previous sessions. I hope he will make a statement this evening about the outcome of his discussions with his right hon. Friend and that, before the House goes into recess, we shall have a full statement from the Department of Health and Social Security on the report of the Cranfield Institute.
My third point relates to the judgment made yesterday in the House of Lords on the thalidomide article involving the Sunday Times. My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) spoke in the language of moderation. Nevertheless, he made a very powerful speech. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make a constructive response to the points raised both by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington and earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent. South (Mr. Ashley). The right hon. Gentleman may know that I have been pressing the Attorney-General to advance the publication date of the Phillimore Report. This is a matter concerning the freedom of the Press. The right hon. Gentleman will not contest the importance of the submissions made by my two hon. Friends and I hope he will now reply constructively to the points they have raised.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I am almost disappointed to be called to speak for the second time just before a recess to urge that we should not go into recess. The last time was before the Whitsun Recess and my topic then was exactly the same as it is now.
The Government have announced cuts of £100 million in the road programme and I wish to make a constituency point about this and bring it to the notice of the Leader of the House. Many Questions have been tabled on the topic in the last few weeks. I wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw) for pressing for improvements to the A64. Since the last Adjournment it has been announced that the ancient city of York will be bypassed, but we in Yorkshire urgently need the Malton bypass which is 787 planned and should have started this December but was postponed to next April and is now in limbo. We need this route to the leisure areas on the Yorkshire coast.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment opened a central section of motorway with the result that there has been a dramatic reduction in traffic and an improvement in the environment. My constituents have been barred from the Yorkshire Coast and consequently they have been thrown into the hands of the enemy by being pushed to the Lancashire Coast by the M62 and to the Lake District, as both of these places are now within easy access. A party of constituents told me that they set out for the Yorkshire Coast from Brighouse and the journey took them five hours by bus to cover the 70 miles. The party were able to spend only an hour on the beach before they set off home. This is caused by congestion on the A64 at Tadcaster and Malton. I urge that before the House adjourns we should have a statement about the A64, with particular reference to the bypass around Malton.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I have sat in this House continuously from half past two, so I think that I have earned my place in the queue.
It is probably one of the most boring chores for any Leader of the House to sit through this kind of debate. It is even more boring for him than it is for back-bench Members such as me to have to wait five hours before being called.
I want to give three or four specific reasons why we should have three or four additional days for debate. If the Leader of the House succumbed to all the appeals made for various debates, we should have no recess at all. We have had requests for debates on Maplin, the Channel Tunnel, agricultural policy and some roads somewhere in the wastes of Yorkshire. We have had all kinds of demands for extra time, and the enemy of any Government is time—or it may be the friend.
Having either listened to this debate or read about it tomorrow people outside simply will not understand why we should go into recess for 11 weeks when there are so many pressing demands on our 788 time. It is entirely right to say that hon. Members deserve a holiday as much as anyone else. Of course they do. But they do not need 11 weeks. It is no good any of us pretending that we shall spend most of that time in our constituencies. I doubt very much whether there are many hon. Members who will spend the greater part—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am speaking for myself I hazard a guess—and it is no more—that the majority of hon. Members will spend a considerable part of the time outside their constituencies, no doubt doing important political work. But the Government have their own good reasons for having such a long recess, I suspect. It is well known—and it was said by members of the present Government when they were in Opposition—that in a recess of this kind the Government of the day can say and do anything without criticism on the Floor of the House, and the public opinion polls automatically swing in favour of the Government while this House is unable to challenge them.
That apart, I want, as I say, to give three or four good reasons why we should have some additional debates. The Leader of the House might consider the possibility of having a motion like the present one and then an addendum saying that we shall have another week of half-day debates for private Members which can be balloted for by back-bench Members, in the course of which they can bring up specific matters in which they are interested and which cannot be adequately dealt with in the course of half-hour Adjournment debates. If we had a week for that kind of debate, all those hon. Members who were not interested could depart and all those who were interested in this House or in those problems could take part in 10 half-day debates.
That brings me directly to the specific matters which I have in mind, to some of which reference has been made already. I make no apology for coming back to yesterday's judgment in the House of Lords. The effect of it will prevent the Sunday Times publishing an article on the testing of thalidomide before it was marketed. It is inconceivable that that 789 article could prejudge any court decision. Moreover, it is clearly in the public interest that people should know to what extent thalidomide was tested or any other drug is tested before making it available to the public.
While this judgment prevails, no newspaper dare publish an article about how adequately or inadequately any drug is tested before it is put on the market. However, if that judgment is to continue in existence until publication of the Phillimore Report, there is some redress. I can go along to The Sunday Times or any other newspaper which fears that it is in contempt, and I can be briefed by it with a view to coming back to this House and saying on the Floor of this House what the newspaper is frightened to say outside. I can do that because I have protection here which does not exist outside.
If this judgment is to remain as it is, that is a course of action in which 1 should be prepared to participate and about which I should feel no guilt.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Is it not also right that another most extraordinary subterfuge can be used, namely, that the newspaper can supply my hon. Friend with the article that it wishes to publish, my hon. Friend can read it as a speech, and then the newspaper will be allowed to publish it quite legally as an article provided that it quotes my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is the very point that I am making. If the judgment stands, that is the course of action which I recommend to the newspapers. If they are to be gagged in this way by a judgment in another place, that is how this House and the Press can come together to thwart that kind of judgment which is quite contrary to the public interest.
It is argued that neither The Sunday Times nor any other newspaper should be allowed to exert pressure on the Distillers Company. But that company has exerted great pressure on the parents of the children to accept the various settlements that it has offered them, settlements which have accelerated from £3.5 million to £26 million. The offers have increased steadily because of the courage of the newspapers and because of the courage and persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and public opinion has 790 been outraged by the treatment meted out by the company to those parents. We have to make sure that that is put right.
I do not make the suggestion in a frivolous kind of way. If we had a week of debates, this matter could be a very valuable half-day debate, and those hon. Members who were not interested could disappear.
Another matter which cannot afford to lie idle is a debate on the Report of the Page Committee, to which I referred in my speech in yesterday's debate on inflation. The Page Report on National Savings appears to have been deliberately swept under the carpet by the Government. It gave irrefutable evidence of the continuous robbery of the small saver by successive Governments since the end of the war by appealing to their patriotism to buy national savings stamps, certificates and the rest, the value of which has been steadily eroded by inflation.
The facts and figures are given in the report. To take an example from Table 13 on page 154, if anyone bought £100 worth of national savings certificates in 1951, the cash value at the end of 1971 would have been £200. That poor small saver would probably think that he had done very well since his £100 was now worth £200. But in fact the real value in 1951 terms is not £200 but £96. During the whole of that period of 20 years he has forfeited the right to spend that £100 and at the end of the period he is worse off to the tune of £4.
The Page Committee said that we should scrap the National Savings Movement and that we should scrap this nonsense of national savings stamps. The Government, so far as I know not in this House—certainly they did not make a statement which could be questioned and challenged—said that they would not do it and that they intended to go on robbing the small saver.
It is intolerable that we have not had an opportunity to debate that report. I remind hon. Members that inflation will continue while we are away for three months, during which time small savers will continue to be robbed by the edict of the Government.
The third question which concerns me —and the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) referred to it 791 is anti-discrimination. Whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not, the Bill was opposed by the Government on successive occasions, despite all-party back-bench support for it. Some Tory Members opposed it and talked it out. However, if the will had existed, we could have had legislation on this subject this Session, but the Government were determined that we should not have it, and it is doubtful whether we shall get it in the next Session. The Government say that they are having consultations with education authorities, the trade unions, the CBI, and so on. They say that they intend to produce a White Paper, goodness knows when. By the time this process has been gone through there will be an election.
I forecast that the Conservative Party's consultative document will be produced with great panache at its party conference in October. The Government will then announce the legislation in the run-up to the election. They will woo the housewives, who are now completely disillusioned about the cost of living. They will say, "We intend to produce a Bill to protect your rights, and it will be called the Sex Anti-Discrimination Bill".
I end with a matter which I have raised with the Department of the Environment over a period of months. It does not concern my constituency but it is of increasing concern outside my constituency. It concerns the question of corruption at local and national level. It refers to the sale by British Rail of Bembridge harbour, in the Isle of Wight. I gave notice to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) that I would raise this matter. He is not here at the moment. However, he is deeply involved in the manner in which the land surrounding Bembridge harbour railway site was sold to a syndicate of which he was a representative.
I demanded that the Secretary of State for the Environment set up an independent public inquiry to inquire into the circumstances of that case. It reeks of corruption and racketeering. The Department of the Environment has steadfastly refused to consider this matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) 792 both signed a letter which I sent to the Department of the Environment on this matter. I warn the Leader of the House that I shall persist with this matter. I shall take it to any lengths until we get to the truth of the matter. I can send the right hon. Gentleman full documentation about it. I want to give him an example of how this matter has been handled.
A fellow came to me some weeks ago purporting to be a Mr. F. Wood, a writer for The Sunday Times. He said that he was investigating the Bembridge harbour question. On the basis of that, I handed Mr. Wood the whole of my file on Bembridge harbour which has been supplied to me by a well-informed person on the Isle of Wight. Mr. Wood took my file away and I have not heard from him since. That was two months ago. I have telephoned him on successive days and successive weeks, but I have not been answered. I rang The Sunday Times a few hours before this debate started. I was told that Mr. Wood worked casually for it and had never been concerned with the Bembridge harbour matter at any time.
Despite undertakings given by Mr. Wood to me that he would not divulge the terms of my memorandum on Bern-bridge harbour to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, I have reason to believe that he did just that the day after he had seen me. He gave the evidence I had about the dealings of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight and my file was handed to him by the fellow who purported to come from The Sunday Times. I hope that the Leader of the House will take this on board with the Department of the Environment because I am determined to get to the bottom of it.
I have mentioned four matters on which I feel very strongly. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take them all seriously. I know the kind of answers we get at the end of these debates, although I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is very tired. He will give us the brush-off, saying "I will write" or "Have a good holiday". But I assure him that he has not heard the last of any of these matters. If we do not come back until after Christmas he will hear more about these problems even then. I could say much more, but as I have delayed other people who have been 793 waiting five hours to speak I had better sit down.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
I wish to raise what I believe to be the most important equipment procurement decision concerning the defence Services that the Government have had to take during the Session. No decision on this matter has been announced and it will be serious if it is not announced before the House rises on Wednesday.
The House should not rise on Wednesday unless a decision has been announced about the proposed equipping of the Royal Navy through-deck cruisers with a naval variant of the Harrier aeroplane. It is the most important procurement decision of the year. The through-deck cruisers already ordered—the first is HMS "Invincible"—will be only partly effective if VTOL—
§ Mr. Loughlin
On a point of order. I, together with many hon. Members, submited to Mr. Speaker an application to raise a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I have sat throughout this debate. There is a ballot for the Consolidated Fund Bill debates and we are lucky if we get to the top of the list, unlucky if we are at the bottom. I submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it is a gross abuse of the procedures of the House if hon. Members who have subjects selected for discussion on the Consolidated Fund Bill raise those subjects on the Summer Adjournment debate as the hon. Gentleman is doing now.
If that course is to be allowed, then, by virtue of having sat here for the whole of the debate, I shall take the right accorded to other hon. Members to raise my subject, which I shall have to raise possibly at 12 o'clock tonight. I submit that it is out of order for any hon. Member to pre-empt matters in this way, because it is not only an abuse but makes nonsense of Mr. Speaker's rulings relating to the Consolidated Fund Bill.
I am not quite sure to what the hon. Gentleman is referring. So far as I know, the hon. Member has not secured a place—
I am so sorry; I have made a mistake. The hon. Gentle- 794 man has secured a place, and I understand that is the subject he wishes to raise. It is rather an abuse of the House, although, strictly speaking, not out of order. If he has secured a place, he would stand well with the House if he desisted from talking about those matters now.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for that ruling. It was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) who secured the seventeenth debate in the ballot on the future of naval aviation, which is a wide subject. I do not—
§ Mr. Wilkinson rose—
§ Mr. Loughlin
The hon. Gentleman cannot stop my raising a point of order.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the list that has been exhibited. Three hon. Members have put their names to the issue to which I hope to speak later—my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) and myself. The hon. Member's name is attached to the subject of naval aviation. He has—HANSARD will confirm this—been talking about naval aviation. He is abusing the privilege of the House. If he persists, I shall stand up immediately he sits down and, by virtue of having been here so long—
§ Mr. Loughlin
Having been present in the Chamber so long, I shall ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to use your right to call me and I shall speak to the subject of the Bill.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we have a ballot, it is behaviour unbecoming an hon. Member who finds that he is placed low in the list of subjects to resort to this ungentlemanly stratagem. Surely this must be so, otherwise we could all make nonsense of the ballot and begin competing now to raise the subject on which we were willing to accept the result of Mr. Speaker's ballot.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We are in a somewhat difficult position. I cannot apply the rules of order strictly in this case because the hon. Gentleman is not, strictly speaking, out of order. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) was perfectly justified in raising the point, and he was supported by the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). I think that the hon. Member would do better to consider himself rather in the way of an hon. Member seeking to raise a matter on the Adjournment without a Minister present.
One knows that Mr. Speaker has many times deplored the fact that an hon. Member should raise a matter on the Adjournment without a Minister being present. But Mr. Speaker cannot stop a Member doing that, and neither can I. I may appeal to the hon. Gentleman to heed the sense of the House and to stay up all night, as we in the Chair have to stay up, and take his turn.
§ Mr. Biffen
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you take the opportunity of discussing with Mr. Speaker the whole question of the interpretation by the Chair of the disciplines contained within the motion?
It is within my recollection that, certainly under Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster, one was much more obliged to relate one's arguments to the necessity of Parliament either not rising on 25th July or else returning earlier than 16th October. I fancy that there has been a degree of elasticity in that interpretation which has, perhaps, proceeded unnoticed but which has not reached the point where it is nearly absurd.
What is not acceptable is to have one set of rules for the interpretation of the Adjournment debate if it is to be followed by the Consolidated Fund Bill debate and another set of rules if it is not followed by the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. I am wondering, therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you would take the opportunity of considering this matter in consultation with Mr. Speaker for future interpretation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I shall certainly consider what he has said. I have been somewhat uneasy in the Chair since I have been here because I find it difficult 796 to relate what hon. Members have been saying to the question of whether we should adjourn. There seems to be a tendency to prolong this debate and to raise matters which perhaps should be raised in the debate which is to follow. I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman and I shall discuss it with Mr. Speaker in due course.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your advice. It is because I wish to relate my remarks strictly to the motion and because my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is present that I wish to make these remarks now. If I had wanted to discuss naval strategy, the future re-equipment programme of the Fleet Air Arm, the Russian submarine threat or anything else, I would have raised it in the Consolidated Fund debate later.
I wish to get an assurance from my right hon. Friend—it is a matter of great importance to the Royal Navy and the other Services—that the appropriate Minister, either the Minister of State for Defence or the Under-Secretary for the Navy, will make a statement to the House about equipping the Fleet Air Arm with the Harrier. The Times yesterday suggested that the Secretary of State, instead of making his statement in another place, should make his statement at a Press conference.
§ Mr. Willey
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is insensitive to the feeling of the House and is persisting. How can this be relevant to whether the House continues sitting after Wednesday when the hon. Gentleman, because he has been successful in the ballot, has the opportunity of discussing his subject today?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It would be relevant only if the hon. Gentleman continued to show repeatedly that it was relevant to whether we rose on Wednesday. If he does that, he will be in order.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
Further to that point of order. I believe that the House is about to get itself into a silly mess. The debate has ranged widely. Hon. Members are now coming into the House who have not 797 sat through the debate. Seeing the chance to get something off their chests, they are promptly doing so.
It is not often that we have an Adjournment debate followed by a Consolidated Fund debate. I hope that the good sense of the House will prevail so that we can now bring this debate to a speedy conclusion and hon. Members who have succeeded in the ballot will be able to raise their subjects on the Consolidated Fund. Otherwise we are in danger of abusing private Member's time.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I fully accept my right hon. Friend's advice. I certainly did not want to detain the House. I should not have welcomed those interruptions if they merely prolonged proceedings. I am asking my right hon. Friend to give an assurance that, before the House rises for the recess, a Minister from the Defence Department will make a statement on the Harrier programme, because it is of immense importance to the Royal Navy.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
I should like to apologise to the Lord President of the Council for placing him at some personal inconvenience. I privately advised him yesterday that I would be raising a subject on this motion and he was good enough, in the light of that notice, to look into the matter and to prepare a reply to me on that basis. In view of a legal judgment made yesterday, it would have been inappropriate for me to raise the subject, as it was a matter dealing with the tenants of private landlords' houses in clearance areas. There was an important legal judgment in Nottingham yesterday about the Public Health Act which it made it unsuitable for me to raise the subject at this time.
That being so, and as I have not been able to be present throughout the debate, I raise one specific subject with the right hon. Gentleman because the House is adjourning on Wednesday rather than Thursday.
I had a Question to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for answer on Thursday, but a reply is not now possible. Although it has some jocose overtones it is a matter about which many people would like a Government statement before the House rises.
798 My Question was to ask the Minister whether he would resist any attempt from the European Economic Community to lay down standards for vinegar which will deprive British fish and chip eaters of that traditional condiment. I put down the Question and I am anxious to have a statement from the Government before the House rises next week because we are now told that it has been announced in the Press that the French Government have proposed to the Common Market that there should be a new Common Market standard for vinegar, with more wine content. That would help the French to use up their surplus wine production, but it would change the traditional taste of the vinegar that we use in this country on our fish and chips.
It may sound a humorous matter, but we are traditionally a nation of fish and chip eaters. It is one of our national dishes. In my constituency, we have large numbers of fish and chip shops which are well patronised because they provide extremely good fish and chips. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) is no doubt proud of his fish and chip shops—we are all proud of the fish and chips that are fried in our own constituencies.
I say to the hon. Member for Ipswich and other hon. Members that one of the reasons why we all enjoy those fish and chips is the vinegar that can be sprinkled on them. We are asked, "Do you want salt and vinegar on them? "and many of us like these condiments.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) says that it is better with French dressing. Unless the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food puts his foot down, we shall get a variant of French dressing on our fish and chips.
I quote Mr. Harry Margray, the President of the Bradford and District Fish Fryers' Association, who has been interviewed on this matter:If some Continental bureaucrat, who has never had a bagful of decent fish and chips in his life, thinks he can tell us what to do, he has another think coming. We make the best fish and chips in the world. We do not want anyone from over the Channel telling us how to serve them.He went on—and this is important, because it is relevant to the attempt by 799 the French to invade our national cuisine:Wine vinegar has no bite to it. It spoils fish and chips. There would be a rumpus if we began using it over here.Over the next few weeks my constituents will be going on holiday. They work hard and they have a right to go on holiday to Blackpool. [HON. MEMBERS: "And France."] They certainly cannot afford to go to France even if they want to go. They will be going to Blackpool, to Scarborough, to other seaside resorts in this country. Quite rightly, they will be wanting their fish and chips and they will want the assurance that they can have on their fish and chips the vinegar that this country has enjoyed for 100 years.
The French are going to try to interfere with it, and I want an assurance from the Government that they will not have that at any price. The French, with their messy sauces, believe that they have some secret about how to eat. We in this country—I am a Yorkshireman who sits for a Lancashire constituency—have the secret of fish and chips in a way that no other country has been able to perfect. The perfection depends on having the right vinegar. The Minister of Agriculture ought to ensure that we have the right vinegar and not this silly French mess of pottage that the French are attempting to foist upon us.
As the Minister of Agriculture will be prevented by the early rising of the House next week from answering my Question on Thursday, I shall be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman—a distinguished ex-Minister of Agriculture with an interest in fish in his own constituency—if he will make a statement now or promise a statement next week to say that everything possible will be done to resist this Gallic invasion of our national culinary heritage.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
The debate has ranged far and wide. We started with a description of the beauties of the Kent countryside and have ended hearing of the fish and chips sold in Ardwick. I always thought that it was the newspaper that gave fish and chips their peculiarly provincial taste. If the constituents of 800 the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) continue to wrap up their fish and chips in The Guardian, they are bound to have a different taste from those wrapped in the Daily Telegraph or The Times.
The hon. Member's fears about the attitude of the French to one of our traditional foods are probably unfounded. I will ask my right hon. Friend to answer a Written Question on this subject, but I am certain that those of the hon. Member's constituents who go to Scarborough or Blackpool will find—at any rate this year—that they can have vinegar exactly as they have had it for the past 100 years; and perhaps those who go to France—I expect that there will be many who will go to France, or the Costa Brava, or some other place in the next few months—will be able to reflect on the benefits that Tory prosperity has brought to them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) started the debate by describing the beauties of the Kent countryside and the worry he would feel on environmental grounds if Maplin were built. I do not follow his argument one iota. The building of a third London airport at Maplin will prove a great environmental gain for Britain. There are good reasons for getting on with it as soon as possible.
The first is safety. Safety means that we cannot afford to have over-congested air corridors and overloaded landing facilities based merely on Heathrow and Gatwick. Increased air activity should be spaced out, not concentrated in two areas. There must be safety for those on the ground as well as for those in the air. Horrible at is may be to contemplate, the risk of accident will be greater with so many more flights and three times as many passengers landing and taking off.
Future aircraft must, as far as possible, be kept away from highly populated areas. Tens of thousands of people in their homes around Heathrow and Gatwick already regard the noise caused by aircraft as intolerable. In up to a million other homes the noise is judged to be a serious nuisance, and that is without the extra traffic. Therefore, I do not agree with the hon. Member's views.
801 With three times as many passengers, London's handling facilities will have to be three times as good to cope, even at the present often unsatisfactory level.
Finally, Maplin will enable stricter limits to be imposed on air traffic movement at Heathrow and Gatwick and will also enable the use of Luton, Stansted and Southend to be stopped or severely restricted. This will benefit many thousands of people around those five airports.
It is not possible in a modern society to build an international airport anywhere except on the coast. The Government have taken the right decision and it will help my hon. Friend's constituents.
I have announced today that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries will—probably on Tuesday—make an oral statement regarding the Channel Tunnel. My hon. Friend will then be able to question him on the next stages. It is important that the House should have full opportunities to debate the Channel Tunnel. We published a Green Paper in April, and we have had a debate. I hope that the HANSARD report of the debate will shortly be available. The printing is now up to 13th June for that missing period. My right hon. Friend has been publishing a great deal of information on the subject. He will tell the House on Tuesday that he has a White Paper in preparation that he intends to publish during the recess so that we shall be in a position to discuss the matter when we return.
Meanwhile, I recommend to my hon. Friend that those of his constituents who are worried should take advantage of the Channel Tunnel Company's presentation, which it is prepared to give to councillors and Members of Parliament. This will show that, far from increasing road traffic in the area of Dover and Folkestone, the tunnel could do a great deal to diminish it. I agree that it is important to get freight off the roads and on to the railways, but the longer the rail distance, the greater the possibilities there are of transferring freight from road to rail, and I am certain that the Channel Tunnel can make a contribution to this.
The hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), for Accrington (Mr. 802 Arthur Davidson), and for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) mentioned the recent decision in the House of Lords on The Sunday Times case, and I have been asked to give an opinion on when the Phillimore Committee will be reporting. The Phillimore Committee was set up in 1971 and it followed a good deal of work that Conservative Members carried out in Opposition. It was set up in recognition of an undertaking given by my party in Opposition that there should be a full inquiry into what has become a matter of great public importance. It was a matter of public importance before, but it has been highlighted by The Sunday Times case.
I am certain that the Committee will give full attention to the case which has been mentioned today. The Committee is due to report towards the end of the year. 1 will discuss it with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor to see whether it is possible, in view of the great interest both public and in this House, for Lord Justice Phillimore to expedite his report.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the emphasis he has placed on the importance of the matter. Can he go further and say that there will be a statement before the House rises for the Summer Recess?
§ Mr. Prior
I will certainly see whether there is some way in which my right hon. Friend can give further information to the House on this matter. I am the last person to want to see hon. Members and the House denied information, or, for that matter, the Press denied access either to information or to the ability to give news on matters of public importance. If anything further can be said about the Phillimore Committee in the next few days, I shall certainly make a note and talk to my right hon. and learned Friend about it.
§ Mr. Ashley
I am most grateful to the Leader of the House for saying that he will take steps as far as possible, but can he answer two questions now? First, do the Government accept that the existing law of contempt is highly unsatisfactory, in the light of this judgment? Second, will he assure us that the Phillimore Report will, if at all possible, be in the hands of hon. Members 803 before the end of the Summer Recess so that, after the recess, we may debate the matter with full knowledge of what Lord Justice Phillimore says?
§ Mr. Prior
I cannot give that undertaking, because I do not know how quickly Lord Justice Phillimore will be able to produce his report. We must make inquiries about that. It may be that he will take a bit longer as a result of the need to examine the latest Sunday Times judgment. As regards the hon. Gentleman's other comment, it must be clear that the Government are worried about the state of the law relating to contempt, otherwise they would not have set up the committee. But I do not think it would be wise or suitable for me to go further than I have this afternoon.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
I appreciate what the Leader of the House has said, and I do not want to put him in a difficult position, but will he bear in mind that the Attorney-General will be answering Oral Questions on Monday? Without going into detail about what the Government propose to do on the law relating to contempt—we could not expect to be told that—perhaps the Attorney-General might make a statement of the Government's intentions and give the House a more detailed answer about when we may expect the Phillimore Report.
§ Mr. Prior
I have noted the hon. Gentleman's question.
I turn now to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), who is worried about postal deliveries in central London, especially in the south-west area. There is an admission that the postal service has not been as good as it ought to be. I understand that since the beginning of April there have been 20 bomb scares, one actually involving a bomb. All necessitated the evacuation and searching of sorting offices. Most of these threats were in London, two being made to the south-western district office. Undoubtedly this has not helped the smooth running of the Post Office.
My hon. Friend is saying, in effect, that the Post Office is short of manpower and that it is up to the Post Office to remedy 804 that. All I can tell him is that one must recognise that, the more manpower employed, the higher the wages bill, and therefore the more will the cost of the postal service increase. It is a labour-intensive business which quickly reflects the cost of increased wages and so on. We have to balance the need for an efficient service against the need to keep that service as cheap as possible. If we compare the record of the British postal service with that of other countries, in both cost and efficiency, we come out of it pretty well on the whole. I shall have further inquiries made, however, on behalf of my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friends the Members for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and for Harborough (Mr. Farr) asked me a number of questions concerning the common agricultural policy. I only hope that the Shropshire Star will be as generous to my reply as it plainly is to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry.
We have been working for the reform of the common agricultural policy, and I believe that some hon. Members are tending to get this slightly out of proportion. Many of the high prices which we used to criticise as ruling under the common agricultural policy have been overtaken by world prices. Now, with the possible exception of butter and milk products, prices in the Common Market ruling under the common agricultural policy are lower than world prices.
People must try to understand, although it is not easy to get it right, that milk production—and, therefore, butter production—is tied up with the production of beef. It is not easy to step up the production of one without increasing the production of the other. However, the Government share the view that the common agricultural policy needs reform.
As a member of the Community, we are able to play a significant part in bringing about such reforms. It is significant that the attitude has changed since we became a member of the EEC, with the pressure which we are now able to bring to bear on these issues. The common agricultural policy will have to take into account more than it has hitherto the various ways of growing protein, particularly vegetable protein, a subject to which insufficient consideration has been given.
805 My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough asked about the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and the 1.4 million tons. I confirm what my right hon. Friend said:The important thing is that the Commission has said clearly that 1.4 million tons should be allocated for Commonwealth countries, and 1 am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July 1973; Vol. 860, c. 487.]We have always said that there must be room for this 1.4 million tons of Commonwealth sugar, and we have every intention of seeing that that is carried out.
My hon. Friend asked also about the problem of New York-dressed turkeys and chickens. I shall ask my right hon. Friend to talk to him about that.
Next, my hon. Friend raised the problem of the new health centres in Leicestershire and elsewhere. I have not been able to establish the facts of the particular case to which he referred. It is true, however, that the construction of some health centres is having to be postponed for public expenditure reasons. I stress that, provided the schemes are considered satisfactory, this is a postponement, not a cancellation. My hon. Friend may like to know that annual capital expenditure on health centres is now higher in real terms than ever before.
§ Mr. Biffen
The Shropshire Star will have noticed that my right hon. Friend has not responded to my assertion that we were under pressure to harmonise the value added tax which would inveitably be levied on food.
§ Mr. Prior
I hope that the Shropshire Star will also do me the courtesy of realising that I am trying to get through as quickly as I can. My hon. Friend will have noticed the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary on 5th July in which he made it clear that there could be no question of the Community agreeing on a harmonised VAT, whether or not it involved the ending of zero-rating, without a unanimous vote of all the members. That position is unchanged, and I hope that the Shropshire Star will duly report that it would require a unanimous vote, and that the British Government have no intention for the moment to change from a zero-rating for food—
§ Mr. Prior
It would certainly seem very unlikely, at a time when we are seeking to make changes in the common agricultural policy and to keep down prices of food, that we should agree to VAT on food. At least, we have been to a good deal more trouble to try to reduce taxation on food than hon. Members opposite ever did.
The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Thomas Cox) was worried about his constituents not being able to cross roads safely. It is for the local authority to seek approval from the Department of the Environment for new pedestrian crossings and traffic signals. I cannot go into the details of his case, but I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) was concerned about the whole problem of illegal immigrants, and particularly the 36 who are at present detained. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering every case personally and hopes to announce a decision soon. I shall bring the views of the House to the attention of my right hon. Friend, and, if he has anything to say before the recess, I shall ask him to bring it forward if he possibly can.
The hon. Member for Fife, West asked me several questions. He wants to change the procedure so that there are extra days, and I have some sympathy with him in wanting days for Members to raise their own topics, although I would not necessarily agree on the topics which he wishes to raise.
As for what the hon. Gentleman said about anti-discrimination legislation, if he had produced a good and sensible Bill it might have had more chance of getting through than the one he did produce. All I can tell him is that, perhaps, after the efforts of the Select Committee and after the Government have produced their White Paper, we shall have an anti-discrimination Bill which will be workable. If the hon. Gentleman will send me details of the case involving 807 Bembridge harbour, I shall study it carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) seems to have had rather more constituents worrying him about the Erroll Report than I have had, or than other hon. Members have had, as I sensed the general feeling of the House this afternoon. It is a subject which we ought to debate in due course, but it has not been a subject on which I have been pressed as strongly as I have been on some others on Thursday afternoons.
I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) that a statement on the matter he raised is expected early in the week. My right hon. Friend will make a statement to the House before it rises.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) asked about the possibility of crofters' legislation and the Government's attitude towards the crofting situation. The Government will not respond to the crofters in the way he suggests. I am having the matter looked into. Either my right hon. Friend will write to the hon. Member or, if there is an opportunity, make a statement or answer a Question before the House adjourns for the recess.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe asked about progress under certain sections of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. The information he requested will be looked into and, if it is possible for a Question to be answered, I shall see that it is.
As regards the safety of invalid tricycles the hon. Gentleman will know that Baroness Sharp is in process of writing her report. My right hon. Friend would much prefer to await Lady Sharp's report before having a debate.
Despite all the unkind remarks being made about the tricycle, I hope that hon. Members will not carry this argument too far. I had a big group of disabled people over to my farm last Saturday, and they said that, while the tricycle may have certain disadvantages, they had been grateful for it over the years, and they were grateful also for the wider categories who may now have the tricycle. Although we want to move on to better and safer vehicles, 808 I hope that we shall not denigrate too much what has already been done.
§ Mr. Money
In the light of the serious safety implications of the Cranfield report, will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State to ask Lady Sharp to be as quick as possible with her report? Second, will he ask the Secretary of State to consider not issuing any more three-wheeled vehicles until the report has been received?
§ Mr. Prior
I shall discuss that with my right hon. Friend. However, I believe that it would be a great mistake to stop the issue of these tricycles. They have been greatly appreciated by an enormous number of disabled persons, as I know from having discussed the matter personally with them. I shall ask my right hon. Friend whether Lady Sharp's report can be brought forward, especially in view of what the Cranfield report said, as reported in The Sunday Times.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
Has the Cranfield Institute's report gone to Lady Sharp? Is she in possession of it?
§ Mr. Prior
I shall be very surprised if she is not, but I shall have that checked. Knowing Lady Sharp, I imagine that she would get hold of any relevant report very quickly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) complained that we were having much too long a recess, and said that we should not adjourn as proposed. In fact, the length of the recess will be about the average of the last 10 years. The 25th is not by any means the earliest date in July at which we have adjourned. We adjourned on Friday 24th July in 1970, on 25th July in 1969, and on 26th July in 1968.
People outside the House sometimes think we have long holidays. I believe that most Members of Parliament spend a great deal of their holiday time working in their constituencies. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Fife, West. I shall be in my constituency for the whole of the summer holiday, and I know that a great many other right hon. and hon. Members will be in their constituencies, too.
We have had a long Session. We have covered a great deal of business. It has been a not too bad-tempered Session, and 809 I wish to pay tribute to Mr. Speaker, Mr. Deputy Speaker and those who have presided over our business. I thank all the Officers of the House, in whatever category they may serve us, for the service which they have given. I wish hon. Members—if they pass the Motion—a happy holiday and a good recess, with a lot of work for their constituents during the next three months.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House at its rising on Wednesday 25th July do adjourn till Tuesday 16th October.