Motion made and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Friday, do adjourn till Monday 11th June.—[Mr. Prior.]
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)
I wish to oppose the motion that the House should adjourn on Friday. We should not adjourn until we have had an opportunity of discussing the inability of the Minister for Industrial Development to meet Merseyside Labour Members to discuss an important redundancy in my constituency. Following various meetings with shop stewards and management about the redundancy, I asked the Minister last week whether he would receive a delegation of Merseyside Labour Members. After some hesitation, he decided that he had not time to do so, despite the urgency of the matter.
Obviously the Minister is overloaded. He needs assistance and the House should have an opportunity of discussing the matter. After all, the Minister is claimed to have important responsibilities. The redundancies to which I refer take place at the end of the month. That is only in a few days' time. It was essential, if the discussions with the Minister were to have any purpose, that we should meet this week.
There were other reasons for us to want to have a discussion with the Minister. We have had discussions in the past, but there are immediate and important matters which my hon. Friends and I wish to raise with the Minister. For example, we wanted to raise the possibility of Merseyside being given the status of a special development area. It is admitted by Government Members from the Merseyside area that this part of the country, which is a development area, is not responding as it should to the Government's current economic measures. Unemployment is still very high. We would have wished to take the opportunity to discuss the recently published Booz-Allen Report which may have important implications for Merseyside and, in particular, for my constituency.
However the reason for its being vital and important that we should have an 224 urgent discussion with the Minister was made plain to him. There is an immediate redundancy which is threatening in my constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Members in the Merseyside area. That redundancy threatens about 200 people. It is a redundancy which follows many other redundancies which have taken place in the ship-repairing yard of Cammell Laird which we have discussed with the Minister in the past. We have asked him so do what he can to deal with the rapidly declining employment in the ship-repairing yard. We have drawn his attention to how redundancies in the yard are affecting not just young people but also older people. Some of the older people will find it very difficult to get further employment, given the present level of unemployment at Merseyside.
In this urgent situation, having discussed the matter with the shop stewards a fortnight ago and with the management last week, and having had from the management no satisfaction when we asked it whether it would withdraw its redundancy notices with a view to there being consultation, we took the final step open to us and asked the Minister to receive a delegation. That he refused to do.
It seems that if the Minister for Industrial Development is unable to find time to meet Members from Merseyside who have an important constituency problem, the Minister is either incapable of doing his job or he needs to reorganise his programme and to get his priorities right, or he needs further assistance. If we discussed this matter and deferred the Adjournment of the House we might be able to discover what it is about the Minister's programme which makes it impossible for him to discuss urgent constituency matters.
The name Cammell Laird—the ship-repairing yard is Cammell Laird Dry Docks—is the most important name and indeed an historic industrial name in my constituency. None of my constituents and nobody on Merseyside will take it well that when a group of hon. Members ask the Minister to receive them on an urgent matter, the Minister refuses and says that he has not time to do so. For those reasons I oppose the Adjournment of the House.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
Before we adjourn for the Whitsun Recess there are two matters which I wish to raise with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House regarding the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement yesterday which concern local government and the roads in East Anglia. I know that those are matters which are close to my right hon. Friend's heart.
First, when is the White Paper on local government finance to be published? When I heard the Chancellor's statement yesterday I noticed that there was quite a lot said about continuing the system of rate support grant. As I have continually said on the Floor of the House, I am disturbed that the present system of rate support grant causes extravagance in local government spending. I should like to hear an early statement before we rise for the recess. I hope that the Government will be able to give an indication that the motion on local government spending which I have on the Order Paper, with about 29 of my hon. Friends, will be encouragingly dealt with. As an hon. Member who has two important ports in his constituency in the haven ports, I should like an early statement from the Government about their policy towards the roads. I can understand some of the reasons that lead to the Chancellor's announcement. Nevertheless the Government have said that there is a priority for "trunking" the roads to our ports.
Last week I attended a meeting in the Ipswich area called to draw attention to the importance of the road from Felixstowe to the Midlands. I was not happy about the intention to improve the A45 because if only the A45 is improved it will not help the ports of Harwich Navy Yard and Parkeston. I am sure that the Government know of the increasing trade passing through the haven ports. At present it is approaching 15 million tons a year, which represents a considerable expansion in the last few years. In view of such expansion, are the Government giving sufficient priority to "trunking" the roads to the ports to ensure that the roads from the Midlands will be able to service those ports satisfactorily?
It is because of these facts that I should like a statement from the Government. 226 The announcement about the cuts in road spending is causing considerable anxiety in East Anglia. I hope that we may be assured this afternoon that the Government have no intention of changing their policy.
I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee under the excellent chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell). Since I raised the issue of the Chancellor's cuts, perhaps it is appropriate here to say that one thing which disturbs us as members of the Committee has been the way in which projects have been escalating in cost. For each subject that comes before us the story is the same. An estimate may be made of a cost of £5 million and the final cost is £10 million. With an estimate of £100 million the cost is ultimately found to be £200 million or £300 million. It is in this context that I should like an early announcement in view of the Chancellor's statement yesterday that the Government will make a study about the costing of projects. For example, what will be the cost of the seaport at Maplin? What will be the cost of the airport at Maplin? Is it possible to operate a seaport and airport at Maplin and to run them in conjunction with the Channel Tunnel?
We in the haven ports want to hear that these grandiose plans will not interfere with the vital communications and the "trunking" of the roads in our part of the world. The Maplin project will cause not only serious dislocation to our businesses but also serious disturbance to the amenities of those who live in the area.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
In opposing the motion I wish briefly to refer to the speech of the Prime Minister in Perth on 5th May. He made certain significant remarks about devolution to Scotland.
We realise that before the Government came to power in 1970 the present Foreign Secretary was entrusted with the chairmanship of a committee which looked into the question of Scottish devolution on behalf of the Conservative Party. However, the Prime Minister gave the impression that the Government have plans for devolution to Scotland before the rest of the United Kingdom. 227 Naturally, my hon. Friends and I are concerned with the Welsh aspect of the problem. It would be most unsatisfactory if there were firm proposals to introduce legislation and to give an element of devolution to Scotland before the rest of the United Kingdom because in 1969 my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who was then Home Secretary, set up a Royal Commission on the constitution, and its task was to study the possibilities of devolution throughout these islands, including Scotland, Wales, the regions of England, the Channel Islands and so on.
It would be wrong that the report should be anticipated. The Royal Commission has now been sitting for nearly four years and we in Wales would certainly resent any proposal to enable Scotland to jump the gun. We have advanced our argument as strongly as we could in this House that Wales should have parity with Scotland, apart from the considerations of the separate legal system in Scotland. I seek an assurance therefore that the Government have no plans to introduce separate legislation for Scotland. In the circumstances it would be appropriate for the Leader of the House to tell us when the Royal Commission on the constitution is to report. If I get satisfactory answers to those two questions I would not propose to oppose the motion.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I was interested in what the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) said and I hope that at some stage we shall be able to have a debate on devolution in Scotland and Wales. I was at the Perth conference and I heard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that all that was said was that proposals would be brought forward, probably in the form of a Green Paper, in the lifetime of this Parliament. As the Royal Commission on the constitution is, I understand, to report in June, we shall have sufficient time for discussion.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
The hon. Member referred to a Green Paper. Can he say whether the Green Paper is in- 228 tended for Scotland alone or whether it will cover Scotland and Wales, parts of England and other parts of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Taylor
The time has long since passed when I could speak on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If the right hon. Gentleman will ask my right hon. Friend that question I am sure that he will get a more satisfactory answer than I could give. I hope that if we have a debate on the subject the right hon. Gentleman will take part, because the people of Scotland and Wales will be interested to know the view of the Opposition on devolution. The information that I have is that the Welsh Labour Party is reasonably enthusiastic about devolution in some form whereas, as I am sure the hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Alexander Wilson) and Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) will confirm, the Scottish Labour Party has set its heart firmly against devolution along the lines suggested. It would be helpful to have an indication of the Government's view but it would also be helpful to have an indication of the Opposition's view, but there is no need for that before the Whitsun Recess.
The two-week Whitsun Recess came as a surprise to many, and I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will consider cutting it by two days. I should like those two days to be used for two purposes. On the first day I should like a debate on the Common Market regional policy. We have been grateful for the assurance that tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will make a statement on the discussions that have taken place. I am sure that, as always, my right hon. Friend will try to be extremely helpful. However, until the Council of Ministers decides, for example, on the designation of "central" and "non-central" areas and other matters, it will not be possible to have a meaningful discussion in this House.
It is one of the most dangerous and insidious aspects of the Common Market that decisions are being made and that the House of Commons subsequently discusses them, instead of the House conducting a full-scale debate to make its views known to Ministers before they go along to the discussions on these important issues. At least if the Government 229 make a policy decision the House of Commons can, if it is outraged, overturn that decision—and there have been one or two examples this year of changes being made. On the other hand, when the Council of Ministers makes a decision it is an almost insurmountable task for one elected assembly in one member State to change that policy.
The decisions on regional policy are crucial to Scotland and Wales and, indeed, to development areas in England, too. We have one very important decision about to come on REP. I think that, whether one is for REP or against it, what we are entitled to know and what we must know is whether, if the Government decide to continue REP after 1974 and to continue it in some form after 1978 at the end of the transition period, the Common Market will allow us to do this.
The second thing I think is crucial is that, before the Government agree with the Council of Ministers on which areas in England, Scotland and Wales should be designated central and non-central, they have the views of the House. We know that the number and extent of the areas designated in Britain for intermediate or development area status are much greater than the land designated as non-central in any other Common Market country. Obviously some parts of Britain will suffer, and I think we should have a discussion on that.
We also want a discussion on the regional fund because there have been wide-ranging estimates of the amount of cash involved. We know that the best estimates made are that after transition Britain will have to contribute about £400 million to £500 million per year to the Common Market. What can we get out of the regional fund if the total amount may be of the order of £100 million or £150 million for the whole of Europe?
These are all matters of debate, and I hope that the Government will arrange that before a final decision is made by the Council of Ministers on crucial questions affecting regional development we can have a one-day debate in the House of Commons, without a vote, without a motion, without an amendment, so that we can have a discussion in which hon. Members make their views clear 230 to the Government before they go to the Council of Ministers and arrive at a decision.
If we cut the recess short by two days, I should like the second day to be used for a discussion on crimes of violence and murder. Recently the House of Commons rejected substantially a Private Member's Ten-Minute Rule Bill which I put forward on the restoration of capital punishment. There is no doubt at all what the views of the House were on that occasion. A few months earlier, when I brought forward a Private Member's Bill on minimum sentences within life sentences, again the House, with the help of a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, rejected it. The House of Commons is entitled to take that view, but when we are having a dramatic escalation in murder and crimes of violence the least we should do, in all fairness to the people of Britain, is to discuss possible alternatives to help to curb the rise in crime.
Only the other day I asked the Home Secretary for the latest figures on crimes of violence by comparison with 1963, which was the year before Mr. Sydney Silverman introduced his Bill—and the rise was over 160 per cent. I have put down a Question today which will be answered on Thursday asking for the latest figures on murder and manslaughter, and I have no doubt that once again there will be a substantial increase.
I have had my say on capital punishment and on another suggestion and these have both been rejected, but I think the least we are entitled to is that the House of Commons and the Government should put forward suggestions as to the new measures which could be considered to curb the increase in violent crime and murder. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not withdraw this motion but will amend it so that we can have the recess reduced by two days to consider what I think are two very important issues.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The reason I wish to express my opposition to this Adjournment motion is connected with the Lonrho affair. It will be within the recollection of the House that last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Minister for Trade and 231 Industry was considering the question of the disclosure of directors' emoluments. The question I put concerned requiring companies registered in the United Kingdom to publish details of all directors' emoluments paid in the Cayman Islands or elsewhere outside the United Kingdom. That was on Wednesday, 16th May. The Government acted with a certain degree of dispatch because within two days—last Friday, to be precise—the Minister for Trade and Industry announced that there was to be an inquiry under the Companies Act into the affairs of Lonrho.
But why was that statement of the Government's intention not made on the Floor of the House? Why did the Government wait until Friday evening, when the House was not sitting, to make that announcement?
Another objection I have to the announcement is that apparently the inquiry into the Lonrho affair is to be secret. According to one newspaper, the affairs of Lonrho stink to high heaven and the only way effectively to remove the stench is to let fresh air circulate around it. The time has come for some fresh air to be brought into the affairs of companies such as Lonrho so that the general public may be protected against the kind of racket that has been operated by Lonrho for some considerable time past.
I am expressing no opinion as to the worthiness or the integrity or lack of integrity of the directors of Lonhro. They all strike me as belonging to the same class of avaricious people who, quite regardless of the public weal, are out to make as much money as they can for themselves, to the detriment and disadvantage of ordinary taxpayers who pay their income tax, of the ordinary worker, in whose case the Government make sure his income tax is paid by weekly deductions from his earnings.
I am very strongly of the opinion, first, that the Government ought to announce that this inquiry into the affairs of Lonhro will be conducted in public. Secondly, we want to know as quickly as possible who is to conduct this inquiry, because we do not yet know who the person or persons will be. Thirdly, we want an assurance that this inquiry will 232 be conducted with the utmost dispatch, because it is surely unfair to the shareholders of Lonhro that their situation should be subject to all kinds of doubts while this inquiry is going on. In order to remove these doubts, the inquiry should be conducted in the open and as expeditiously as possible.
The people who need protection are not the directors of Lonhro, who have been able to look after themselves fairly well up to now, but the general public. The general public are entitled to some protection against the kind of racket that has been operated in the board room of Lonhro for some considerable time past —and without doubt in the board rooms of quite a number of other companies in the City of London.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
My reason for expressing my concern about the Adjournment of the House is that we are approaching the holiday season—which is also the reason for the Adjournment—and we still have had no statement from the Department of the Environment as to what it is intending to do to alleviate the inevitably serious traffic congestion that will occur in my constituency and in neighbouring constituencies in the South-West.
Holiday time is a time of pleasure for most people in the country, but it is a time of extreme discomfort for my constituents in Highbridge, Bridgwater and North Petherton. The discomfort they feel is the discomfort of having the main road through their towns virtually totally blocked throughout the holiday period.
This is not simply a narrow constituency point. The discomfort is shared by an enormous number of visitors who try to travel through my constituency. I have been surprised by the number of hon. Members who have told me, "I was in your constituency last weekend." I expect to hear them say it in terms of pleasure, but it is apparent that many of them have spent two hours waiting in a traffic jam outside Bridgwater, and their memories of my constituency are less than entirely favourable.
There is an urgent need for the Department of the Environment to take steps to alleviate the situation, which has arisen as a result of the energetic and 233 active work carried out to improve the road system to the West Country. As is inevitable with such improvements, the system is not yet in balance.
The first event, which was undoubtedly welcome, was the construction of the M4, which now reaches right the way to the intersection with the M5 and beyond into Wales. This has led many people to believe that the clever and smart way to travel to the South-West, particularly from the London area, is to rush down the M4 to Bristol. They look at a map and see what looks like the broad red line of the A38 and say, "That must be a good road. That must be quicker than the A30 and the A303." They are in for a nasty shock. It is a trap that many hon. Members and a large number of the general public have fallen into. They perhaps do not realise how serious the traffic bottlenecks can be on the A38, and the delays that those bottlenecks occasion.
Yesterday I asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environmentwhether any traffic censuses have been done on the A30/A303 since the opening of the M4The answer was:…census figures are available only for limited sections of the A30/A303 for 1972. It is too early to determine whether any transfer of traffic to M4 has occurred."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May 1973; Vol. 857, c. 20–21]My guess, based on substantial evidence that I have received from a number of people in the West Country, is that there has been a substantial transfer of traffic from the A30–A303. As a matter of urgency, publicity should be given to encourage much of that traffic to return.
There is a mistaken impression that the M4 and A38 constitute a better route. Because of the amount of traffic on it and the fact that the M5 is not yet completed through my constituency, it is certainly the slower route. It results in disappointment for those using it and enormous congestion in my constituency and the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann).
I fail to see any great activity by the Department both to give publicity to the dangers of using the M4–A38 route and to encourage more traffic on to the A30–A303. There is as yet a refusal to put 234 up more signs on the M4, something that I pressed on the Department last year. I am anxious that it should put up the signs this year to encourage earlier diversions south so that people can find alternative routes.
Perhaps we would expect a Member of Parliament to know his way around his constituency. Like all other hon. Members, this weekend I shall have a number of engagements in my constituency and I shall have my surgeries. God willing—perhaps it is dangerous to make this boast—I shall be there on time in spite of the total congestion, because I know my way around. There are ways around, which people can find if they are signposted and properly indicated. There are holiday routes in the area which help to a certain extent, but the most important thing the Department can do is to give, far earlier even than Bristol, and much further back on the M4 and M5, warnings of the congestions that people will encounter on the A38 and encouragement to traffic to take alternative routes.
It is because I am concerned at the lack of publicity that I have used this opportunity to try to remedy the situation myself, in the interests not only of my constituents but of all those people who at this holiday period and throughout the year will wish to come to the South-West, and to ensure that they have as comfortable a journey as possible.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
There are a number of important issues I should like the House to debate before it adjourns, but I must accept that most of them can be debated after the recess and that there is no degree of urgency that requires us to forgo the recess for that reason. But there is one issue to which the Leader of the House should pay some attention. He should insist that the Home Secretary make a statement on it or, better still, that before any further executive action is taken on it there should be a debate in the House. If that is to be after the recess, the executive action should be postponed until then.
I refer to the treatment of illegal immigrants, some of whom are now in custody in Pentonville. About 20 are affected, but an unknown number might 235 be affected by a judgment of the other place in its judicial capacity, which might be given before the end of the recess. I do not want to go into the merits of the case, because it is sub judice. I take it on the basis of the Government's arguments in the other place, and I shall deal with the matter as if those arguments were correct.
The Government suggest that under paragraph 9 of Schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 they have a power to remove any immigrant who illegally entered this country between 1968 and the beginning of this year. They accept that they have no power to do so in respect of anyone who entered this country illegally before 1968 where the six months' limitation that then applied had expired, so that there are illegal immigrants who have immunity. But the Government say that that paragraph gives them the power now to remove other illegal immigrants.
The power is of removal and not of deportation. Therefore, those affected cannot appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. They have no redress save by a direct appeal to the Home Secretary to intervene. In fact, there is precious little chance of that, as the Home Secretary has already indicated his determination to see that as many illegal immigrants as possible are sent back.
Therefore, even if the power is seen by the other place to be a correct interpretation of the law, we must ask whether it is right that it should be used in relation to those who thought that they were entitled to immunity under the law that existed until the beginning of this year. The power, if it is correctly interpreted by the Government, is retrospective. It means that some citizens who believe that they have the right to stay here without further harassment are being denied that right by legislation passed long after they entered the country.
The House has always been extremely sensitive about retrospective legislation, and the other place has been even more sensitive. Therefore, we might expect that if any Government introduced such a power they would carefully explain it to the House during all the procedures in the course of legislation. At no stage during its passage did the Government 236 explain to the House or to the other place the implications of this part of the Bill. Nowhere was this part of the Bill discussed. It certainly was not discussed here. It was not discussed in Committee, and I understand that it was not discussed in the other place.
The position is that the Government have taken to themselves a power which is retrospective, to take away the rights of people to stay in this country after having entered and having been here longer than the period of immunity, often when they have settled down and become apparently completely wholesome citizens contributing by work and character to this country. This was said to be so in the Court of Appeal case. It may be right that the Government should take power to prohibit illegal immigrants from staying, as they did in the Immigration Bill. But that power must relate to future illegal immigrants and not to those who have acquired the status of British by virtue of the immunity which has arisen.
I submit that whatever views we take about the difficulty of this human problem, we ought to have a discussion in the House about it. So far there has been no such discussion. The Court of Appeal finished its hearings this morning and it has reserved judgment. The new term begins on 6th June, five days before this House resumes. If the court gives its judgment on the first day of the new term the Government will have the legal power to send out of this country a large number of people for whom in a sense we are responsible, without any intervention by this House or any consideration by us of the merits of their case.
Not only that, but there are three litigants in this current appeal. One of them was given bail by the Court of Appeal. This morning, at the end of the hearings and before judgment had been given, there was an attempt by the police to arrest that man inside the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, in complete denial of the terms of the bail. This shows the kind of expedition which the Home Office is prepared to apply to these cases. I have no confidence that if the Court of Appeal delivers judgment while this House is in recess the Home Secretary will not act immediately to send back all those people whom the 237 Home Office knows to be affected by the court's ruling. Often the Home Office knows about these people because they voluntarily gave the information to the authorities. This will happen before the House has returned and before the matter can be aired here.
If it is impossible to debate this matter, as it probably is, until the other place has decided the legal issue, I ask that the Home Secretary at least makes a statement before the Adjournment saying that he will not take any action until this is debated by the House and that the debate will take place soon after the recess.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurance Reed (Bolton, East)
I do not think that we should adjourn for Whitsun until we have had a proper opportunity to debate our situation with regard to Iceland which grows more serious and in my opinion more damaging for the interests of this country every day. In the brief exchanges we have had on this issue all the running has been made by those hon. Members representing fishing ports. That is understandable. If we had a debate on the question now, those of us who do not have constituents with a vested interest in the Icelandic fishing grounds could consider this dispute more objectively and discuss some of the wider issues involved. Fish, after all, is only one of a number of interests that we have in the marine environment and support for one cannot necessarily be reconciled with the advance of another.
In this dispute the Government have stood very much on the letter of the law. In that we have the support of the International Court at The Hague. The law of the sea however is about to undergo radical change in response to new developments and ideas about what is just and equitable. My concern is not so much with the opinion of the International Court as with international public opinion. If we had a debate we might have a chance to discuss and consider the fact that Iceland's claim is not an isolated one.
It is part of a worldwide pattern of assertion of new rights over the sea and its resources. It is possible to cite Canada's claim to jurisdiction, for the purposes of pollution control, up to 100 238 miles from her shoreline. It is possible to cite the claim of Indonesia and Malaysia to control navigation in the Malacca Straits.
Above all we can cite the large number of poorer countries who are anxious to extend, and have already stated their intention of claiming, if they have not already claimed, jurisdiction over protein fish resources in some cases up to 200 miles from their shoreline.
It is of course regrettable that these countries should be acting unilaterally but the fact remains that every advance in the law of the sea has occurred in the past as a result of unilateral action by one country, with that country maintaining its claim until such time as its viewpoint has been accepted by the international community. This is true of claims to the territorial sea, contiguous zones, past fishing limits, and it is also true of claims to seabed resources.
Britain has not been averse to acting unilaterally when it suited her to do so. We had an example not many months ago when, by devious legal means, we claimed the seabed around Rockall and overnight acquired an additional 170,000 square miles of ocean territory. My concern is not with the law as it is but as it is developing. I fear that at the International Law of the Sea Conference less than a year away—another subject we have not had the chance to debate—we shall find ourselves isolated and completely out on a limb. If that is correct, then it means that present policy is unsound.
It is unsound becaue we are risking British prestige only to have it damaged in the end. It is unsound because we are helping to persuade our fishermen to believe that there is some ultimate prospect of success when there is not and when we ought to be helping them to adjust to a new situation. It is wrong, too, because we risk fouling up this conference by taking the line that we are taking and ensuring that on this question of the extension of fishing limits there is no international agreement.
This happened at the last conference more than 10 years ago, largely as a result of the view taken by the Foreign Office then. If we do not reach agreement on this occasion there will be a free-for-all in the oceans with the prospect of 239 widespread international conflict on a dimension far beyond that which we now have with Iceland.
There is one other reason why we should debate this matter. We should be considering whether it is not in our own interests to extend these limits seaward. Far from resisting someone else's claim to do so, we should be asserting our right to do so. Would this not allow us to provide a safer seaway in the Channel? Would it not allow us to control some sources of pollution which we cannot now control because they are beyond our limits? Would it not also allow us to provide more effective safety and security for our off-shore oilfields which are far more valuable than a few tons of fish off Iceland? Above all, would it not be beneficial to our near and middle-distance fishing interests?
In the last dispute we had with Iceland, which we lost, we accepted her claim to a 12-mile limit and extended our own to 12 miles. One of the great advantages of that was the benefit which accrued to our near-shore fishing industry. These are points which deserve our attention and which I believe we ought to debate.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)
Before the House adjourns for the Whitsun Recess, there is one matter of simple fact which I think the Secretary of State for Social Services needs at last to clear up, and particularly soon, because the Social Security Bill, which is involved, is today being considered in the Lords and will be considered in greater detail in the Lords shortly after the Whitsun Recess. In order that the Lords, and this House when the Bill comes back to it, may have a correct representation of the relevant facts, it is essential that the Secretary of State should put right what I think I shall be able to show was a false fact stated in the course of the Report stage of that Bill.
When the House was considering the proposal that contributions to the Reserve Pension Scheme proposed in that Bill should attract tax relief like all other pension contributions in the country, the Secretary of State made a statement which I think many people regarded as of some weight in reaching their deci- 240 sion on how they should vote on that amendment. That Government amendment, to knock out an amendment of mine which had been accepted in Standing Committee, was carried by only four votes, with at least 12, probably nearer 20, Conservatives either voting against the Government or consciously abstaining. The Secretary of State was therefore in one of those situations in which he knew that he might lose the vote. In that situation it was particularly important that he should have been scrupulous in his presentation of fact.
The erroneous statement of fact of which the Secretary of State was guilty, was this. He said that the split of contributions to the scheme, namely, 2½ per cent. from the employer and 1½ per cent. from the employee without tax relief, compared with 2 per cent. from each of them with tax relief, would have the effect of shifting from the shoulders of employees to the shoulders of employers a burden of £40 million. He put it this way:Assuming total contributions for the reserve scheme, on an estimate of 7 million members at any one time, of £300 million a year, the decision to divide the contributions unevenly will mean in effect each year a shift from what the employees would have paid of £40 million off the employees' shoulders on to the employers' shoulders."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 637]It was a quite specific and categoric statement.
The serious aspect of that statement is that it totally ignores the consequences of tax relief involved. I now have, in replies from the Minister of State, Treasury, facts which go directly contrary to those stated by the Secretary of State on that occasion. The first reply, which appears in yesterday's HANSARD, shows that the shift involves an addition to employers' burdens not of £40 million but of £20 million only. The second reply shows that of that £20 million, only a negligible amount operates to relieve employees and virtually the whole of it goes to relieve the Inland Revenue.
If the Secretary of State had said that, or something like it, on Report stage of the Bill, I believe that it is perfectly possible that two hon. Members opposite would have changed their votes. There was a majority of only four. It would have needed only four more abstentions 241 or two more positive votes to have changed that vote.
I regard it as scandalous that a Minister should stand convicted of having given not just misleading information but I should say inaccurate information to the House on any occasion, but above all ten minutes or so before a crucial vote in which he knew perfectly well that he might be defeated.
If any hon. Member is inclined to doubt the fact that I have just stated, he can look up the references, but he might also be convinced by the fact that in that debate the Secretary of State was obliged —very belatedly, I might say—to apologise for a similar misstatement of fact of which he had been guilty on Second Reading of the Bill last November. It took six months to get that apology out of him, but he then admitted that he had been wrong. It related to exactly the same point.
Nor do these two cases stand alone. In Standing Committee there were other occasions on which Ministers on less serious matters had to admit that they had brought forward amendments without putting the full facts to the House.
In the last few days only I have received from the Under-Secretary responsible for this subject a long letter explaining how on another matter he stated something in the course of Report stage which was, he has now discovered, untrue. That in my view is an extremely serious situation.
The House—and this applies particularly to Members of the Opposition—does not have access to the research facilities which would allow Members to challenge Ministers upon facts every time we wish to do so. It is right that hon. Members should take facts stated by Ministers on trust. We are obliged to do so. When it is shown that that trust has been misplaced, it is an extremely serious matter.
I wish to touch briefly upon two wider points involved in the matter. First, what has been done in this respect is to deny tax relief to 5 or 6 million people throughout the country for their pension contributions when we, as Members of the House, take tax relief on our contributions to our pension scheme. There are no differences between the pension schemes which would explain why we should deny to our constituents what we 242 give to ourselves. I have dealt with that matter on another occasion at greater length and only touch upon it now.
Moreover, hon. Members may have seen in the Daily Mirror of today a reference to the treatment of Ministers' houses regarding the taxation on the value of residences provided free to Ministers of the Crown. A contrast is drawn between the treatment of Ministers' houses for tax purposes and the treatment of Lord Stokes and other worthies who receive either free or subsidised accommodation from the companies of which they are directors. It is pointed out, for example, that the Inland Revenue regards the rent which Lord Stokes pays for his residence as not commercial. Therefore, the Inland Revenue taxes him upon the element of subsidy involved in letting Lord Stokes have the flat for £1,500 a year instead of the £3,000 a year or so that it could fetch upon the market. The Inland Revenue is of course absolutely right to do that.
The point I wish to raise is that if it is right to impute a value to Lord Stokes' flat for the purposes of taxation, how is it that we do not do the same with Ministers of the Crown? I understand that the theoretical justification for this situation is that Ministers are regarded as having to live in the residences with which they are supplied for the purposes of their duties.
I had a reply yesterday from the Minister of State, Treasury, which said:In general, where an employee is required for the proper performance of his duties to live in accommodation provided for him by his employer, he ranks for tax purposes as a representative occupier—whatever that is—of the accommodation, and is not taxable on its value. Ministers of the Crown are dealt with under the same rule."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May 1973; Vol. 857, c. 24.]I can very well see that Nos. 10, 11 and 12 Downing Street are special cases and that it is a requirement of the occupation of the posts concerned that the Ministers should reside in exactly those places. But I wonder about the flats in Admiralty House. I think that those flats and any similar residences provided free to Ministers constitute simply a remuneration. I do not think that residing in those flats is a requirement of the job. It seems to constitute simply an addition to salary. 243 If Lord Stokes is charged tax on his subsidised flat, why are Ministers not charged tax in respect of their free residences, except in the special cases of the Downing Street accommodation?
I raise this point not only as a matter which in its own right deserves to be discussed but because of its relevance to the matter I spoke about earlier. Today the newspapers are full of advertisements asking, "Are you getting your full share of tax relief?" and "You can cut down the amount of tax you pay". Hon. Members get tax relief which by a bare majority the Government refused for 5 million to 6 million people outside. Now we have Ministers not subject to tax on the value of residences which is in conflict with the rule I have quoted, in conflict with the treatment of company directors and others. These are matters which sometimes the House should consider. The Secretary of State for the Social Services ought to have taken an opportunity to correct the point of fact that I touched upon earlier in my speech.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I express the hope that, either on Wednesday or Thursday, the Prime Minister will give the House a full report of his meetings with President Pompidou, and in the course of that report tell us what has taken place between them and something on the subject of the French nuclear tests, which may well have started by the time we reassemble after the recess.
In particular I express the hope that the Prime Minister will give us an explanation on one narrow specific point. As reported in Hansard, in reply to the Leader of the Liberal Party the Prime Minister said:I should think that the right hon. Gentleman would have thought it right that we should find out what the facts are."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 1703.]Ever since January some of us have been getting answers from the Minister of State for Defence, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and by implication from the Foreign Secretary that of course there is nothing to worry about, there are no radiological hazards connected with the French tests and why were we going on and on nagging at this issue?
244 On Thursday what many of us suspected for a long time seemed to be confirmed. The truth is that we do not know —indeed no one knows—what the likely radiological hazards are in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. I am authorised to say, having visited the Australian High Commissioner this morning, that it is certainly the opinion of serious people in Australia that the results of these tests are not quantifiable. Therefore I hope that the explanation which the Prime Minister will give us will be how it comes about that there is this contrast between what he said on Thursday and what his Ministers have been saying ever since January. I leave it at that.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)
I am glad of this opportunity briefly to raise one or two matters which should be aired before the House goes into recess. I was to refer to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition last Friday, but in his absence and in view of the fact that I am still collecting information on certain facts made available to me in the last two days, I shall not do so.
I wish to concentrate on the situation which has arisen concerning the publication by the Civil Aviation Authority of its latest report and the certain difference that this must make to the proposals for and the need for a third airport. I am extremely concerned that we should be going into recess without the argument for the Channel Tunnel having been debated in this House. My concern about Foulness is that this is something which has "just happened". Any one can build an airport. No one denies that the Government are well able to take a decision, to find the funds and to build a huge new airport in the South-East of England. What concerns me is that as long as that airport is to be built while Heathrow and Gatwick Airports are still open, we are likely to build one of the quietest-ever airports because it will be so little used.
Anyone can build an airport, but making it successful is a very different matter. The Government do not possess powers to direct airlines to use particular airports. So long as the airlines have the choice of using Gatwick and Heathrow or another airport, there is no doubt that the major airlines will wish to continue to use Heathrow. We have only to look 245 back at what happened when Gatwick opened 15 years ago and to remember the pressures on airlines such as Air France, which were totally ineffectual, to realise that something has to be done if the Government are not to make fools of themselves and fools of the British taxpayers.
Anyone who has studied these matters knows that the major airlines rely to a very large degree on inter-line traffic and, that long-and short-haul carriers need to be in communication with each other using the same airport, if that airport is to be successful. If the Government are absolutely intent on going ahead with the airport at Foulness, they should take their courage in both hands and close Heathrow and Gatwick and replace the runway capacity there with the capacity at Foulness. It is noticeable that the French, in planning their new airport, have decided that once the airport at Roissy is in operation Le Bourget will be closed.
Related to Maplin is the question of the Channel Tunnel. I declare myself wholeheartedly in favour of this project. Unlike Foulness it cannot be said of the tunnel that it has "just happened". It has been under discussion for 100 years. I find it depressing that British Railways, which stands to benefit most, appears to have little support on the Opposition benches for this proposal. I believe that the advantage to British industry, with factories in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, of direct rail access to European markets has never been fully explained to the people of this country. I believe, further, that rail travel with fast trains using a Channel Tunnel would represent a far more civilised form of travel than any short-haul travel by air.
It was slightly ironic yesterday that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced, understandably and wisely, plans to curb public expenditure and reached a total of about £500 million of savings, whereas a decision could be taken bravely and boldly now not to proceed with building an airport at Maplin, or, in the alternative, to close Heathrow and Gatwick. Action on these lines would bring relief to sufferers from noise around Heathrow and Gatwick. To build an airport which airlines will not use is an ineffectual way of protecting from noise those who live around Heathrow and Gatwick.
246 If the Government are determined to proceed with Maplin, then they should announce that they are prepared in future to close Heathrow when the new airport become operational. I am sure that the funds raised by the Exchequer in pursuing such a course would pay for the development of the new airport. I plead with my right hon. Friend to find time to debate the two topics of the Channel Tunnel and Maplin Airport before we rise for the Whitsun Recess. The Government at least be prepared to have further thoughts about Maplin in view of the latest report from the Civil Aviation Authority.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I do not intend to detain the House long. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) that the House should not go into recess, until the Merseyside Members who have requested a meeting with the Minister are given an assurance that the Minister will meet us to discuss the Cammell Laird redundancies and the other issues which have been raised by my right hon. Friend.
I wish to raise another important issue, and that is the meeting which has taken place between representatives of the Engineering Employers Federation and Sir John Donaldson, President of the National Industrial Relations Court. I have attempted at Question Time to get some answer from the Government on this matter, but unfortunately on each occasion my Questions have not been in the appropriate place on the Order Paper to receive answers. It would be wrong to suggest that the Government have had any hand in the fact that those Questions have been at the back of the queue, but because of our methods in this House I have never yet been able to question a Minister on this matter.
We should be given some answers from the Government, before we go into recess, about what they think of a situation in which the President of the NIRC can enter into discussions on amendments to the Industrial Relations Act. What will be the effect of this action on the relationship between the judiciary and possible litigants who may come before the court? It is rather like calling in the Mafia to discuss the Gaming Act. 247 Perhaps in the United States the Mafia would be called in on such a matter, but we are not in the United States and that is not the way we operate in this country. It would be rather like calling in a group of murderers to discuss whether hanging should be reintroduced. That is not an issue to be discussed by judges of the High Court and litigants who come before them, but it is a matter to be determined by the House of Commons and by the parliamentary process.
I regard it as an absolute disgrace and scandal that the President of the NIRC should be able to enter into discussions with representatives of the Engineering Employers Federation to discuss amendments to the Act. That is our job in this House, and it is also the Government's job. If the Government wish to come forward with amendments to that legislation—and they would be wise to do so—it is a matter which they must decide. If they wish to enter into conversations with the President of the NIRC for his opinion, or with the TUC, or with the Engineering Employers Federation, or anybody else, that is a matter for the Government. But it is not right that the President of such a court should have discussions of this kind. This is a most serious occurrence in our legal set-up and it must be treated as such. However, nobody seems to be worrying about the situation—in fact, nobody seems to care. This is an absolutely disgraceful situation.
I understood that the National Industrial Relations Court was supposed to be a court in which in individual cases its President could have discussions with those concerned to try to reach agreement without the machinery of the Act being invoked. I understand that this was the attitude being taken by the Engineering Employers Federation. But I discover that that understanding is not correct. In this week's Tribune I found a copy of a document—a document which had not yet been officially published—which arose out of those discussions. It deals not with individual cases but with the whole question of the Industrial Relations Act and the amendments which were discussed by representatives of the Engineering Employers Federation and the Chairman of NIRC.
248 This is just not good enough. The House should not go into recess until we have had a clear answer from the Government on their attitude to this matter and whether they envisage this practice being extended to other courts.
When the concept of an industrial relations court was first raised, the Opposition said that it looked very much like a political court, and the sort of thing which is now taking place underlines the fact that it is a political court. Therefore, I want a clear answer from the Government about their view and the attitude they take. The National Industrial Relations Court has undoubtedly fallen into disrepute. In fact Sir John Donaldson might as well be made redundant at the earliest—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that it is the custom of this House in no way to reflect on a judge of the High Court.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
What my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has been criticising is the extra-curricula activities of Sir John Donaldson, and of course we can criticise his extra-curricula activities.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
As I understand it, the gentleman referred to is a judge of the High Court. That is my ruling on the last sentence of the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).
§ Mr. Heffer
I will repeat what I said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that you can understand what in fact I said. I did not reflect on Sir John Donaldson as such. I said that Sir John Donaldson may as well be redundant because the Industrial Relations Court has fallen into disrepute in the sense that nobody bothers to use it. The only way it is being used is primarily in terms of the unfair dismissal procedure, which was a matter contained in the legislation on this topic proposed by the Labour Government. The fact that the court is now being placed in a position of having to conduct extra-curricula discussions indicates that neither side of the industry is prepared to use the court. It is an absolute nonsense and might as well go out of existence.
249 I believe that we should have a debate on this matter before we go into recess. We want to know whether it is right for the President of that court or for any other High Court Judge to enter into discussions with people on an Act of Parliament in relation to whose terms those people may appear before that court as litigants. This is the important issue which I seek to raise.
Last year in The Sunday Times Lord Devlin wrote an article in which he clearly warned what could happen if the courts were to get mixed up with politics and the political situation. That is what has happened. That is why the Government have to give us an answer today, or at least to give us an assurance that we shall have a debate on this whole question at the earliest possible moment, if they cannot do it before we rise by the end of the week. It is a scandalous and dangerous situation. We have a right in this country to know precisely where we are going in respect of the relationship of the judiciary to the people of the country.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
I wish to raise a point similar to that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale).
When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced yesterday that there would be certain cutbacks in Government expenditure, the deferment of new schemes, and a reduction in maintenance schemes on roads, he specified that one scheme which would not be concerned is that for the roads necessary to support the Scottish oil development, because of their economic importance to the country. One fully sympathises with that. At the same time, I hope that before the House rises an assurance will be given that the equally vital network of new roads and road improvements linking the rest of the country with the haven ports will not be tampered with in any way.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, with his close and intimate knowledge of our joint county of Suffolk, will make representations to his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the absolutely vital nature of the roadworks now being put in train, for which neither the nation nor 250 the long-suffering people of Suffolk can afford to wait—the Ipswich bypass, the improvements on the A2 and the improvements which are now going ahead on the A45. I know I speak too for my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), who are not able to be here today.
I hope the assurance that we shall get from the Secretary of State for the Environment will be that these roadworks will not be treated as another road improvement scheme, but that a clear go-ahead to go on with them as quickly as possible will be given on the basis that they are close to the lifeblood of this country; and that if the haven ports go on developing in the way they are as the gateway into Europe, proper recognition will be given to this so that the whole commercial system of this country does not suffer.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
I wish briefly to suggest to the House that we should not adjourn for the Whitsun vacation unless and until we have had the benefit of a debate on the EEC Green Paper and its regional policy.
My few remarks are in the context of the effect of that policy, especially on Wales.
We appreciate—as indeed does the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), who has referred to this matter previously—that these matters are not really within the jurisdiction of this House. They will to decided by our masters at Brussels. Nevertheless, we urge our Ministers, if not to exercise the power of decision in this matter, at any rate to exercise the force of their advocacy in bettering the lot of the British people, and especially those who live in development areas.
What Ministers are fighting for—as we trust they are fighting—is not for a bonus, not for an uncovenanted windfall at all, but for basic safeguards, which we maintain are conditions precedent, for Wales and similar areas to have a chance of countering the serious and grave difficulties caused by the fact of our entry into the EEC.
No one who appreciates the conditions of Wales and other peripheral 251 areas would wish to minimise the tremendous effect which the centripetal forces of the EEC will have upon the economy of those regions. Last year the EEC sucked into its vortex some half a million people from the peripheral countries of Europe, mainly from the rural areas. This is not a question of the basic theology of the EEC, whether it was triumph or tragedy for us to enter that body, but a question of fact. So great are the forces drawing these people into the centre that some massive countervailing forces had to be be created to balance them.
It is against such a background that we in Wales look at the duties of Ministers in connection with regional policies. Alas, over the last two years the attitude of Welsh Office Ministers in this connection has been timid and complacent. Indeed, some of us may from time to time have felt some sense of embarrassment when we raised the question, such was the reaction of Ministers opposite. Whenever we asked the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of State what their policies were to combat any of the specific situations which we described, we met such an air of injured innocence or of frosty disdain as one would in asking a bishop what pornographic book he had read lately.
One felt—despite all the evidence which was adduced and given regularly to the Secretary of State on this matter—that there was an astral distance which existed between the bromidic assurance he gave sitting in the ivory castle of his own complacency and the harsh reality of the current situation in Wales.
This matter was brought to a head by the publication a fortnight ago of the EEC Green Paper on regional policy. In many respects, this 18-page document is attractive for those who have a keen interest in regional matters. I am sure that many of us, as far as the generalities of the statements are concerned, find a great deal that is encouraging. However, as we all know, the great religions and philosophies of this world, as far as generalities are concerned, are little separate from each other. It is in the small print of the application of those philosophies that the differences occur.
If we were to have a debate on this crucial matter, it would be possible for a 252 number of the fundamental weaknesses of this situation to be drawn to the attention of the House. In the first place, the guidelines set out in that Green Paper are set out without prejudice to the operation of Articles 92 to 94 of the Treaty of Rome. In other words, despite everything that is promised in that document it is clear that there is to be no relaxation whatsoever with regard to these provisions, which stultify, which cramp, which frustrate and which emasculate the regional initiatives which have been exercised in this country over the past few years.
Secondly, there does not appear to be, as far as the Common Market is concerned, any reckless hurry to adopt regional policies. Article 2 of the treaty called for continued and balanced expansion in member States. That was 16 years ago. Twelve years ago a conference was called on regional economy by the member States of the EEC, as then constituted. It is eight years since the EEC Commission sent its first memorandum on regional policies to the Council of Ministers.
Thirdly, we have very grave doubts whether the scale of assistance contemplated in the Green Paper is such as to have any real relevance to the problems which we face.
Some three or four years ago when the Six were contemplating a regional policy the scale mooted was of an expenditure of £20 million per annum or thereabouts. We appreciate that as regards the domestic policies of the other countries of the Common Market it is highly likely that at present we in Britain are spending on regional assistance more than that spent by all the other countries put together.
There is also the question of the threshold. That is all important. The threshold could be set at such a limit that hardly any assistance under the criteria spelt out in the Green Paper would be applicable to Britain.
We must always remember that poverty in the European context is very relative. There are some areas in the present EEC with an income per head five times as high as that of the poorer areas. Our own poorest areas compare very well with the richest areas in the Republic of Ireland, and the poorest areas 253 in the Republic of Ireland are infinitely richer than many of the areas in the southern and middle parts of Italy.
It is a question of where exactly the threshold is set. If it is set too high we shall be excluded completely. If it is set too low there will be so many claimants upon the bounty of that central fund as to dilute the assistance and make it utterly meaningless.
I appreciate that Welsh Office Ministers have not been asked to attend this debate. For that reason I do not comment on their absence. But I hope it will be conveyed to them that if we had a debate on the Green Paper I should ask them for four assurances.
The first is that in any negotiations with the EEC they should demand that the whole of Wales should be designated a peripheral area. We say that this is a matter of such crucial importance that the Secretary of State for Wales should be willing to stake his ministerial position on it, and that if he fails to discharge his high duties of trusteeship towards the Welsh people in this matter the only honourable course open to him is to resign.
Secondly, even if the whole of Wales is designated a peripheral area assurances should be obtained from the Council of Ministers that all the other regional assistances which have been practised in Britain over the past seven or eight years should remain available. I appreciate that this is the acid test of the good will and integrity of those who over the years have been telling us that it does not matter what the letter of the European law says and that the practice is always more benign than the strict grammatical interpretation of the articles of the Treaty of Rome. This matter is now being put to issue.
Thirdly, if Wales is to be designated a peripheral area there must be set up in Wales some body to disburse the aid which is channelled from the EEC. We say that that body should be under the jurisdiction of the Welsh Office rather than any other Government Department.
Lastly, we ask for what the Secretary of State for Wales has denied us for two years, and that is a White Paper spelling out the problems and the difficulties created by this wholly new situation of the United Kingdom being a member of 254 the EEC, translating the general problems into the particular context of Wales, and specifying in detail what bold policies Her Majesty's Government are willing to implement in order to counter the situation.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Brighouse and Spenborough)
The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) reminds me of my early days at school when I was learning history. History always stopped 50 or 100 years before my birth. The hon. Gentleman has been purporting to tell us what is happening about regional policies in Europe. He traced its history. But, like the schoolbooks, he stopped short of today. He should have gone on to tell us what is happening this year. We have joined Europe. Europe now has a European policy on the way—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) is about to relate his remarks to the motion under discussion.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
Most certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am afraid that I was led astray by the speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan. I appreciate that we are debating the motion for the Whitsuntide Adjournment, and I shall relate my remarks to it. It was the hon. Gentleman's speech which triggered off my line of thought since it was about regional policy. There is a regional policy now. A Member of this House is Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee in Europe.
I relate my remarks to the motion for this very reason. Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an announcement about some cut-backs in public expenditure. I am sure that my right hon. Friend was completely right to do that. However, I seek one assurance, and this is where regional policies come into what I am saying.
I feel that South Lancashire, Yorkshire and Humberside have a very important stake in the immediate future which should be borne in mind if there is to be any interference with road programmes. The M62—or, as I prefer to call it, the Central British Motorway—comes into 255 play and has significant economic consequences. I hope that the cuts of £100 million in our road expenditure will not affect that road. I hope also that there will be no hold-up in the bypass round the historic city of York and those round Tadcaster and Malton, because they have economic consequences for the communities in those parts of Britain.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I do not think that this House should rise for the Whitsun Recess without a statement from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on the present grave situation in Rhodesia.
Hon. Members will be aware of the serious riots in Harari Township which broke out two days ago, that a number of people were injured in those riots, and that they were perhaps a symptom of more than local discontents.
A comment which we should take most seriously is one saying:Africans are becoming increasingly embittered about such things as communal punishments and African bar curfews in urban areas. I doubt if this sort of thing will stop until we get this Government out.That was not said by one of the rioters, by an infiltrator from Zambia, or by one of those whom we in this House according to our persuasions on Rhodesia variously call "freedom fighters" or "terrorists". It was said by Mr. Allan Savory, whose wife and daughter had just been injured in the rioting in Harari Township, and who is a white Rhodesian Member of Parliament and founder of the Rhodesia Party.
I submit to the Leader of the House that the situation in Rhodesia is critical, and the regrettable events at Victoria Falls recently are evidence of a further increase in the mounting tension.
My specific reason for saying that we should have a statement from the Foreign Secretary before the recess concerns the hanging of three Rhodesian Africans last night in Salisbury Prison. The House will recollect that this was by any standards an illegal act. It was not a judicial act. The Rhodesian régime has no judicial standing in this capacity. It has a de facto right to dispose of these men's lives.
256 It appears from the total silence of Her Majesty's Government that it is accepted here that people can be tried, can have their appeals heard and can then be executed without their names being published, without details of the charges brought against them, and without details of the defence that they make or the grounds upon which their appeals are rejected being published. I submit that that is a scandalous state of affairs. These executions were political just as much as the executions in 1968 which led my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, then Prime Minister, to suggest that the Royal Prerogative should be used—alas, to no avail—for the three men who were then under sentence of death.
I submit that as there are other unnamed and unknown Rhodesian Africans awaiting execution at this moment the House should know, before the Whitsun Recess, the Government's attitude on this matter. The House ought to know why the Government, who were so ready—I applauded them at the time—to intervene in the matter of the journalist Mr. Peter Niesewand, who faced no such grave charge or the possibility of no such extreme penalty, have been totally and utterly silent on this matter. It is a scandal.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is next due to Answer Questions in this House on 13th June. It is not good enough to suggest that we can wait for the Government's attitude on these matters until we return.
Other matters are at stake. In addition to the lives of the other three men who have been sentenced and are awaiting execution, there is the fate of a hostage, a British national, who has been captured by the freedom fighters and is being held outside Rhodesia. I refer to Mr. Gerald Hawkesworth. African nationalist leaders have said that if their compatriots are executed in Salisbury, Mr. Hawkesworth will be executed as a reprisal. Again, in this matter we have a right to know what the Government are doing to secure information about the whereabouts of Mr. Hawkesworth and what can be done to save him. I submit that nothing can or will be done to save Mr. Hawkesworth's life if the Government are not prepared to intervene in any 257 way regarding these imprisoned Africans who are to be executed.
We, as an assembly, should be especially careful that our concern in these matters is not selective. Our concern was rightly expressed, and I applauded it for Mr. Peter Niesewand. Our concern has not been manifested equally effectively for other detainees. Indeed, from time to time the Foreign Secretary has appeared not to know the names of other detainees, who have not had the privilege of the kind of trial to which Mr. Niesewand was subjected, when the fate of these people was raised at Question Time in this House. The right hon. Gentleman has not appeared to know much about Mr. Ngcebetsha, Mr. Chadzingwa, and other people who are currently detained, principally because they have opposed attempts by stooges of the illegal Rhodesian Government to collect signatures for an approach ostensibly from African opinion in Rhodesia to the Government asking for the Pearce settlement proposals to be put before the two Governments again and for sanctions to be lifted.
Finally, I ask the Leader of the House to give us an undertaking that we shall hear something from his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary before we rise for the Whitsun Recess, to give us a further undertaking that there will be no meetings of any kind with the Smith regime before the House has had an opportunity to debate these matters more fully, and that the views expressed briefly today will be conveyed as forcefully as possible to the illegal Smith régime in Rhodesia.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I should like to follow the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) about the deteriorating situation in Southern Rhodesia. We should express our great concern that three people should have been hanged in Rhodesia yesterday as the result of a secret trial, with no information being made available as to the charges.
The Government have expressed in a mild form the view that they disagree with secret trials. Certainly when the case of the journalist Mr. Peter Niesewand was raised, the Government said that it was right and proper that trials 258 should be held in public with the information being made available. But this contrasts greatly with the view that they have apparently taken regarding people on trial, whether it is under the Law and Order Maintenance Act or other legislation that charges are brought against them. Therefore, we see a great lack of concern by the Government for Africans who are black whereas they appear to be concerned only for Africans who are white. The Government must surely act in this matter.
It is clear that guerrilla activity in Southern Rhodesia will increase and escalate. The Government cannot rest on their laurels and say, "We have tried to settle the position by negotiation. It is not our responsibility. If people die as a result of guerrilla activity, that is beyond our charge and responsibility."
The responsibility for every act of violence in Southern Rhodesia, whether carried out by freedom fighters or day-to-day by the Smith régime, rests with the Government, because they maintain that Southern Rhodesia is not an independent State and is still under the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Government. As long as they take that view, the responsibility for anything that happens in Southern Rhodesia rests with the Government.
There is no doubt in my mind that it this House rises without clear statements about the future of Southern Rhodesia we shall be encouraging Africans to believe that they have been totally sold out by the Government and that the only solution to their problems is one of violent revolution. The Foreign Secretary has made it plain that in his view the latest proposals which he negotiated with the Smith régime are still to be left on the table and can form the basis of a settlement even though they may be modified. That clearly is not the attitude of the African people of Southern Rhodesia. They have clearly said that these proposals are totally unacceptable. It is the feeling that the British Government are still not prepared to listen to their voice that breeds the sense of frustration and violence.
There was widespread comment in both the international and British Press that after the sanctions debate in November we had had the last of such sanctions debates. It is clear that we must have a statement from the Government 259 before the House rises that they are prepared to continue sanctions for as long as they are necessary. The gloom that has been spread deliberately by supporters of the Smith régime stating that the Government intend to let things drift and to allow the Smith régime to carry on as it is must be dispelled.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North said, the Government have made noises about Peter Niesewand, Garfield Todd and Judith Todd, but they have made absolutely no noises about many other African leaders, some of whom have been in detention for as long as 10 years. One thinks immediately of Mr. Joshua Nkomo and the Rev. Sithole. These people have been in prison for 10 years. Certainly the Rev. Sithole had a trial of sorts, but he has been imprisoned for political offences.
As long as the Government are not prepared to take any serious action, the people in Southern Rhodesia will say, "There is only one thing that we can do. We must have recourse to our own resources to get our freedom."
I agree that there is nothing that we can do today about the people who were hanged yesterday. That act of murder has taken place. We should condemn it as murder. It is not a judicial process. It is a clear act of murder. Unfortunately, we cannot do anything about those lives that have been taken. But we can take action to save the lives of the other three people who are due to be hanged in the next two to three days. Therefore, the Government must give us an assurance that they will take urgent action to save those three lives. If they can save those three lives, their credibility in Africa will rise to a tremendous extent.
At Question Time today an hon. Member said that he believed that the Government's stock with African countries was higher than it had ever been. I find that an incredible statement. The Government's stock is at an all-time low. If they want the co-operation of the whole of Africa on what is to happen in Southern Rhodesia, the Government must make every effort to save the lives of those three people at present in the death cell in Salisbury. That could do 260 a tremendous amount to change the future of Southern Rhodesia.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McElhone (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I would suggest that the House does not adjourn until we have had a statement from the Government about the Hardman Report. I support what has been said about the Rhodesian situation but want to deal with a problem of special significance to my area and the West of Scotland. The Leader of the House may think that this matter is becoming boring and repetitious, because several hon. Members have raised it before me, and I had an Adjournment debate on the subject.
In Glasgow alone, 2,000 school leavers are unemployed—many of them have been unemployed for a considerable period—and in the Glasgow travel-to-work area, there is 10 per cent. male unemployment. This is against the trend in many other areas. In Glasgow, we have about 400,000 square feet of empty new office accommodation, with another 500,000 to 600,000 square feet in the planning stage. We are therefore ready to accept a significant number of the jobs that are at present being discussed by the Cabinet.
The Hardman Report was supposed to come out at the beginning of this year. Then we were told that it was being considered by the Cabinet and that a statement would be issued shortly. The matter was raised again in the debate before the Easter Recess and, after my Adjournment debate, I received a courteous letter from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department which would have qualified for the Pulitzer Prize for ambiguity, if one were awarded. It was a two-page foolscap letter which said absolutely nothing. The Parliamentary Secretary has told me that he is always available for me to see him again.
It is regrettable that this has not been made a non-party issue. Labour Glasgow and West of Scotland Members who have been active in this campaign invited the Scottish Conservative Members for the West of Scotland to join us. It is a matter of deep regret to the people of Scotland that the Tory Members chose to refuse that invitation. We would not have set a precedent, since this happened when we made overtures about industrial development to a previous Government 261 some years ago. But we intend to press on as hard as humanly possible with the campaign so ably led by the Lord Provost and convenors of Glasgow, until the Government come out shortly with a statement on Hardman.
We do not underestimate the Government's difficulties in trying to disperse people from London, but the plan that I submitted to the Minister contained some inducements which, after discussion with Civil Service personnel, would have been readily accepted by many of the Civil Service people, particularly those expatriates who have had to leave Scotland to get jobs, many of them in London. This lack of decision is causing a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty in Scotland.
It is allied with cuts in Government expenditure. We have been assured in the Press that they will be minimal in Scotland, but we do not underestimate the threat that they represent to the jobs of many people. With well over 100,000 unemployed, we cannot afford any more, especially not among young people.
There has been a rise in emigration figures particularly since this Government came to power. When those figures rise, they mean that many of our best and most skilled young people are leaving Scotland. If regional policy is to mean anything—I do not doubt that the Government are sincere in this respect—there is no point in trying to invite private industry to Glasgow and the West of Scotland unless the skilled personnel are there. It would be to private industry a gesture of confidence in that area if the Government were to take the initiative by giving a substantial number of jobs, which could be created under Hardman, to that part of the world.
I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that any statement is not made during the recess but that hon. Members are able to question the Minister on this matter, and that a decision is made before the end of July. We cannot let this situation carry on indefinitely. The Government have been dragging their feet.
I do not wish to enumerate all the points I made in my earlier Adjournment debate, but I would ask the Minister to show some concern for the situation in my area. With rising unemployment and rocketing food prices, the economic 262 situation for many families is bleak. In Glasgow alone, the number of families who have absconded or who have been ejected from council houses because of rent arrears has doubled in the last two years. The social effects on those families, particularly the children, must be severe.
That situation will continue unless the Government provide a quick stimulus. A decision should be taken by the Cabinet on Hardman to ensure that Glasgow and the West of Scotland get a fair share—they are not asking for more than that—of the jobs that are being considered. If the Government are prepared to do that, they will boost confidence and the declining morale in that area. I hope that the Minister will say that the long overdue decision on Hardman will soon be made.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
Judging from the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members, it is obvious that this debate is being held in the context of a wide range of major national and international problems. But by far the most menacing and immediate is the state of our economy. I make no apology for returning to this subject and speaking about it again in terms similar to those I used during the Easter Recess.
In answering Questions for the Prime Minister today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he believed in open government, which he interpreted as giving the people information on which they could reach balanced judgments. That is what I am appealing for today—open government, information about the state of our economy.
I do so because, in the past few weeks, there has obviously been a massive public speaking campaign by Ministers to persuade the country that what we are enjoying is prosperity. In speech after speech, we hear about an unprecedented growth rate of 5 per cent. and upwards. If anyone doubts the claim, the 10 per cent. that appears on the bottom of all our bills now for VAT is an assurance that we are enjoying prosperity.
If we are to have open government, let us make it crystal clear to the people that this growth is being achieved simply by borrowing. I hope that the Leader of the House is listening. This year the 263 Government are borrowing £4,500 million in order to balance the Budget. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to deny that, I will sit down and allow him to do so. This year the Government will have to borrow anything from £600 million to £1,000 million to balance the books on our trading with other countries.
This kind of economic management requires no skill. All that it requires are the qualities of the gambler—irresponsibility and recklessness. Any fool can give himself temporary prosperity by borrowing. Any Government can create temporary prosperity by borrowing on this scale. In their early months we heard a great deal from the present Government about the debts that the Labour Government left. The debts that the Labour Government incurred in order to pay off the balance-of-payments deficit left by the Tory Government in 1964 were chicken feed compared with the borrowing that the present Government are now undertaking.
There is no assurance for our future in this kind of economic policy—not for full employment, for correcting regional imbalances, about which some of my hon. Friends have spoken, or for anything else. The kind of policy which is being pursued at present will produce, as it always has done, a short, hot, fool's summer, followed inevitably by a long, cold, hard winter of cut-back and unemployment.
The second thing that we ought to make clear if we are to have open government is the cause of the raging inflation that we have had since the present Government came to office. The inflation has been caused by two things: by the Government's borrowing requirements, plus the tax cuts for wealthy people. Those two factors together are the major cause of inflation. Wages have been only a very minor factor in the inflation which we have had in the last two years. We have now had six months of phase 1 and phase 2; complete freeze followed by severe restraint on wages—not on incomes, but on wages—but at the same time soaring food prices.
Surely the Leader of the House knows that this policy is bringing hardship to millions of people, to hundreds of thousands of families in which food accounts for 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. 264 of the weekly budget. I often wonder whether the Prime Minister ever goes shopping apart from buying new yachts. Does he ever buy the groceries? If he did, he would know that beef and bacon have disappeared from working-class homes and that pig meat is also on the way out. They are no longer bought.
Does the Prime Minister know that the old folk, the lower paid and people on fixed incomes are suffering because of his crazy policy? Does anyone in the Government know how working-class families live? Does the Prime Minister know how working-class families save up year after year so that they have a few hundred pounds in the bank when they retire? Over the last two years they have seen each £100 that they have in the bank reduced to £80 in value. There are no capital gains in the places where they put their money. Do the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister know about the heartbreak which young people are suffering today, because of the Government's policy, when trying to buy a house? Do they know of the even greater heartbreak of people who must rent a house, a heartbreak caused by the Government's policies?
Today the Chancellor urged local authorities to sell council houses. As I said to the Chancellor today, to sell council houses where there is an acute shortage of housing shows utter irresponsibility. The Chancellor said that he disagreed with me. The Chancellor must, then, agree that it is all right to sell council houses in an area where there is an acute, tragic shortage of houses to rent.
Before we go away for two weeks holiday, what has the Leader of the House to say about the sheer, utter misery which the policy of his Government is causing for so many people? It is an affront to those people, certainly to those whom I represent, to carry on talking about growth and prosperity, when the people equate the present Government with hardship, difficulty in making ends meet, worry and deprivation.
Within the last week we have had the Lonhro disclosures. They simply heighten the sense of frustration, deprivation, worry and hardship caused by the Government's policy. May I say how much I and, I am sure, all my hon. Friends 265 agree with remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on this subject. When I hear the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry attacking my right hon. Friend, I know that my right hon. Friend has been on the right lines. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is the defender of all the sleazy aspects of capitalism in this country. I protest in the strongest terms about the fact that the Lonrho inquiry is to be in private. What the Government have done is to put it out of sight until after the next General Election. They know that the inquiry will continue until after the General Election and that no mere will be heard about it. This is simply a device to keep it quiet until after the General Election. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that.
A further point that I wish to raise concerns the Prime Minister's visit to Paris this week. He is there talking on our behalf. He is talking on my behalf and one everyone's behalf. If he is talking on my behalf, I want to know what he has been talking about. There are four issues which, I am sure, are being discussed this week with President Pompidou. The first is the pegging of the pound. What is the Prime Minister agreeing about that? If any agreement is reached about that, I want to know about it immediately, because it will affect all the people whom I represent in the House.
The second issue is the Channel Tunnel. Is that being discussed? I should regard it as outrageous that this colossal amount of public investment should take place for a project of this kind when this country suffers such terrible regional imbalances. If that kind of capital is available for use, clearly it should go to the development areas of Britain and not into a project of this kind.
Thirdly, we have heard some ominous remarks recently about the organisation of a European nuclear deterrent. If anything is being talked about in that respect, on our behalf, we certainly want to know about it.
Fourthly, we want to know what the Prime Minister is saying to the French President about the utterly immoral persistence of the French Government in their Pacific nuclear test. What is the 266 Prime Minister saying? He has refused to say anything about this matter in the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said today, we know that if these tests take place they will cause genetic damage to probably thousands of children who are yet unborn. The tests will take place against the wishes of all the neighbouring States and all the States around the Pacific. We want to know what the Prime Minister has said about this matter and what response he has had from the French President.
All these are extremely important topics. It is not right for the House to rise for two weeks for a spring holiday, which is not one of our traditional holidays, unless we get at least a very full report on all these issues.
There are also many subjects which we ought to be debating. One of the most important for millions of people is industrial safety. This affects millions of workers throughout the country. Yesterday we heard that the Government were accepting the Robens Report, but the workers in our factories, shipyards and pits want to be assured that their views on industrial safety are being put forward in this House. It is high time that we had a debate on that.
Those are some of the points. I am not at all sure that it is the right thing to go away for such a long holiday at a time like this, when there are so many pressing problems. I hope that the Leader of the House will try to answer all the points that have been put forward and to give us some assurances. If he is unable to assure us on a great many of the points raised, and at least about getting statements, I am not certain that we ought to approve the motion.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
Altogether 18 hon. Members have taken part in the debate. In recent times these debates have become important occasions on which hon. Members have a chance to raise subjects which at other times they might find difficult to raise. I shall deal with each hon. Member in turn and try to deal generally with the points which have been raised.
267 The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) raised the important question of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industrial Development meeting a deputation of Labour hon. Members from the North-West, and from Merseyside in particular, about redundancy. My right hon. Friend is prepared to meet a deputation. A meeting will have to be arranged at short notice. There are problems about ministerial engagements but I am certain that my right hon. Friend can fit in a meeting. If the right hon. Member for Birkenhead will make contact with my right hon. Friend's office a meeting will be fitted in.
§ Mr. Prior
It is disappointing that there has not been a greater fall in unemployment in Merseyside compared with the North-West region as a whole, where the numbers are down from 147,000 a year ago to 119,000 this year.
I turn to the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale). At the same time I shall deal with the point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money). Both my hon. Friends referred to the roads to the haven ports. Naturally, any cuts in Government expenditure on roads are bound to have some effect on development. My right hon. Friend expects to make substantial savings on maintenance, but some deferment will be necessary. The important point is that it will be in my right hon. Friend's discretion to decide which schemes should go ahead. We all recognise that there is a pressing need for improvements to be made to roads in East Anglia and, in particular, to roads to the haven ports. We all recognise that improvements are necessary to the roads to Harwich and Felixstowe. The haven ports have done an extremely good job in the last few years. I do not think that Governments have given enough attention to the roads to those ports and, perhaps, to East Anglia in general. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will bear that in mind when he makes his deferments, rather than cuts, during 1974–75.
268 My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich also asked me about the White Paper on local government finance. At the moment, I have nothing further to add to the statement which I gave him before the Easter Recess.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) asked me about the Government's attitude to devolution. It is well known that the Government's view is that powers should be more widely devolved. We think it right that people should be more involved with decisions that affect them. Precisely the way in which power should be devolved is under consideration. It is clear that firm decisions cannot be taken until we have received the report from the Royal Commission on the Constitution.
I turn to a matter which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). There is a firm commitment to publish a Green Paper on devolution in Scotland. He is absolutely right about that. I can assure the right hon. Member for Anglesey that the whole question of the devolution of powers is being considered carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart wanted a couple of days taken off the recess to debate regional policy and then the whole concept of law and order. My right hon. Friend will make a statement tomorrow on the outcome of the talks in which he has been actively engaged over the past few weeks about regional policy. We are confident of our ability to continue to give the regions the assistance which they need. We welcome the recent report which arises from the same commitment to accord regional policy high priority.
I listened to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) retailing the long period of years which it has taken the Common Market to come to decisions. I can tell him that we have been in the Common Market for four months and that we have already reached the stage at which decisions are about to be taken on regional development. I hope that instead of retailing to us his anti-Common Market speech he will in future give credit where credit is due. In fact, for the first time he welcomed something that has happened since we joined the Common Market. That is the first time I have known him do so. The 269 hon. Gentleman welcomed the EEC Green Paper and its regional policy. Gradually, like the rest of the Labour Party, the hon. Gentleman is being won over to the concept.
It is stated that the fund must be of a size related to the size of the problem which it has to tackle. We agree with that. The fund must be big enough at the outset to make a start in dealing with the real problems of regional imbalance. Further, it must be capable of growth. It should be noted that even if Britain's intermediate areas were not to be classified as peripheral in Community terms, the 20 per cent. figure which we would still be allowed to give on our own would far exceed the help being given at present in these areas. As I have said, we do not envisage that the EEC rules will lessen the incentives which Britain is able to offer under the Industry Act.
We have said that the regional employment premium scheme will be phased out over a period from September 1974. There will be no question of an abrupt termination. We are about to hold formal consultation with the CBI and the TUC about the right method of phasing-out the premium. We shall take into account the state of the economy and other relevant circumstances in reaching a decision.
§ Mr. Edward Short
What the right hon. Gentleman said is rather different from what has been said lately. I understand that the Government have been saying that they were prepared to have discussions on REP. The right hon. Gentleman now appears to be saying that there is a firm decision to phase it out. Is that so?
§ Mr. Prior
We have always made it perfectly plain that it was our policy to phase out REP. We have now said that we shall hold formal discussions with the CBI and the TUC about the right method of phasing it out. That is precisely and exactly the position which we have always taken. That has always been our policy.
I recognise that we shall need to have a general debate on law and order between now and the Summer Recess. I cannot promise a debate in the early weeks after we return.
270 The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) and the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) drew attention to Lonrho and complained about the type of inquiry which the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs has announced. The inquiry is under Section 165 of the Companies Act 1948. There is nothing new or special in the fact that the inquiry is being held in private. Under the alternative form of inquiry under Section 109 of the Companies Act 1969 we could not have published a report. However, reports of such investigations into public companies are usually published unless there is a special reason to the contrary, such as the imminence of legal proceedings. The inquiry will be the normal type of inquiry under Section 165 of the Companies Act 1948.
The hon. Member asked why a decision had not been first announced to Parliament. My right hon. Friend answered a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) on Thursday afternoon, saying that he was considering the case and would obviously make his decision known as soon as he could. After a series of meetings on Friday we announced our decision at the earliest possible moment. I would have thought it was much better for the House and the country to have that decision announced as quickly as possible rather than to wait until Monday for it to be announced in the House.
It was out of no discourtesy to the House that the statement was made on the Friday. We thought the sooner it was made the better.
§ Mr. Prior
It is an inquiry under Section 165 of the Act. Inquiries are usually conducted by an independent team of two inspectors, comprising an eminent lawyer and an accountant. Evidence is taken on oath and the inspectors can pursue their inquiries into the affairs of related companies. It is clear that a great deal of the inquiry would have to be held in private, and that is the way these matters are conducted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King) spoke about 271 traffic congestion in the South-West and expressed his concern about lack of publicity of the holiday routes. I shall convey to the appropriate Minister his remarks on the need for better signposting and so on, in view of the growing numbers taking their holidays in the South-West, in the hope that more publicity can be given.
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) raised the problem of the illegal immigrants who are caught under the terms of the 1971 Act. I shall report his comments to the Home Secretary and ask my right hon. Friend whether he can make a further statement or get in touch with the hon. Member. I do not have the information available to me at present to give him a satisfactory answer but I have carefully noted his point and I shall see that the Home Secretary is informed and gets in touch with the hon. Member.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed) and another hon. Member mentioned Iceland. Whatever may be said about the rights and wrongs of the Icelandic situation, no one can deny that the Icelandic Government have broken an agreement which they entered into with us and, consequently, when this was taken to the Court of International Justice they refused to accept the jurisdiction of that court. We all regret very much the action first taken by the Icelandic Government, and we regret the action that we have been compelled to take. We have a perfect right to protect our fishing industry and our fishermen, and to see that the rule of law is maintained. It must be the Government's duty to ensure that.
§ Mr. Laurance Reed
At least 30 countries in the world now claim fishing rights beyond 50 miles. If my right hon. Friend intends to protect the existing international law, does that mean that he is prepared to send gunboats into all these areas? Are there enough gunboats to go around, or are we to anticipate a crash naval building programme?
§ Mr. Prior
My hon. Friend knows well enough that matters concerning fishing limits will come to be settled at the Law of the Sea Conference next year. That is the right time for these problems to be settled, just as they had to be settled in that manner the last time there 272 was a dispute. That will be the time for the countries to argue whether they should extend their limits to 12 miles, 50 miles, 200 miles, or even, in the case of one country, 600 miles. That is the right way to conduct these negotiations—not by a unilateral threat against the country and against fishermen who have traditionally fished these grounds for many years. Such action should certainly not be based on the spurious grounds of conservation. It can hardly be called conservation when the Icelandic fishing fleet is increasing at its present rate merely to take up the slack left when we phased out, as they wished us to agree to do.
The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) raised what I found to be a complicated point about the Social Security Bill and the provision for the setting up of the State reserve pension. I believe that he is mistaken in finding any conflict in the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the information subsequently provided by the Treasury. My right hon. Friend's statement, to which the hon. Member's motion refers, was designed merely to illustrate the effect of splitting the reserve scheme contribution unequally in the employee's favour in terms of payment towards the employee's pension. My right hon. Friend did not claim that splitting the reserve scheme contribution unequally gave a net advantage to the generality of employees compared with splitting the contribution equally—2 per cent. per side —and giving tax relief on the employee's share. If the hon. Member had read the statement he would have seen that my right hon. Friend said:Let me put the same point another way. Leaving aside the contribution which the employers will be paying anyway, the result of what the Government propose is that for each pound of an employee's contribution he will secure about £1.30 of benefit not by way of tax deduction as in an occupational scheme but by way of extra provided deliberately from the employer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May 1973 Vol. 856, c. 637.]I do not see how the hon. Member justifies the accusation he made against my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
I understand, as the right hon. Gentleman has made clear, that he has found it difficult to follow this matter. The Secretary of State explicitly said that he was shifting 273 £40 million from the employees' shoulders to the employers' shoulders and the reply from the Treasury explicitly states—and we knew it would before we got the reply, but I sought the reply because no one would believe it from me—as followsOn the figures quoted the total net cost to employees is very approximately £120 million under each system."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May 1973; Vol. 857, c. 23.]The situation is perfectly clear. There is a negligible net transfer from employers to employees of £2.3 million compared with a £40 million transfer as claimed by the Secretary of State. I maintain that that is falsification of the facts.
§ Mr. Prior
It seems quite clear that the Secretary of State was not claiming a net advantage for the employee under one system compared with the other and as such this was entirely consistent with the written reply by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury which said:The total net cost to employees is very approximately £120 million under each system. —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May 1973; Vol. 857, c. 23.]I have examined the matter with some care and I cannot see any inconsistency. My right hon. Friend made perfectly clear in the second part of his speech what the intention was. There is no question of this being misleading.
§ Mr. Cunningham
In that case, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what was the point of the Secretary of State's reference to this? Surely the purpose was to say that a benefit had been given to employees. What was the point of the statement, if it is admitted that a negligible net transfer is involved?
§ Mr. Prior
The whole point was to explain to the House—and to some of my hon. Friends who were worried about this—the effect of transferring more from the employer to the employee in this case. But I will read this little exchange carefully, and also what the hon. Gentleman said, and will tell my right hon. Friend about it. I think the hon. Gentleman will see that there was no inconsistency.
I turn now to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and other hon. Members who mentioned the question of the French nuclear tests. One or two hon. and right hon. Gentlemen told me that they had to leave before the 274 end of the debate, including the hon. Member for West Lothian, who is always most courteous on these occasions.
I must tell the House—as the Prime Minister reminded us on Thursday, 10th May—that the French Government are and have long been well aware of our views. We hope that they will in due course accede to the partial test-ban treaty of 1963, which prohibits nuclear testing in the atmosphere. I cannot go further than that today.
§ Mr. Edward Short
The trouble is that we do not know what the Government's views are about these tests. The Prime Minister says that the French Government are aware of them, but we are not. What are the Government's views on these Pacific tests?
§ Mr. Prior
The Government have always made their views clear on these Pacific tests. They have always made it clear that they very much hope that the French Government will accede to the test-ban agreement. It must follow that the Government would much prefer these tests to be conducted within the terms of the test-ban agreement. I would have thought that that was an abundantly clear position.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) raised the question of Maplin and the Channel tunnel. He suggested that if we had cancelled Maplin it would have resulted in a saving in excess of what my right hon. Friend announced yesterday. I must tell him that there would have been no saving at all in the year 1974–75. Turning for a minute to the question of the Channel tunnel, I hope to arrange a debate on the subject shortly after the Whitsun Recess.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) raised the question of the contacts between the National Industrial Relations Court and outside bodies. The NIRC is not answerable to the Government for the way in which it conducts its business. At the opening of the court in December 1971 the President of the court made it plain that it would welcome informed and constructive criticism from any quarter. If this involves informal exchanges with bodies representing either side of industry about the general working of the Industrial Relations Act, that is a matter which it is proper to leave to the court's discretion. 275 I think that is a very clear statement of the position and I hope the hon. Member will accept it in the spirit in which it is given. It seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable point of view.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman is confusing something. There is surely no objection to anyone's going along to the court and talking in general terms, but this is about specific discussions in relation to amendments to an Act which was passed by this House. This, surely, is a procedure which cannot be tolerated by this House or by anyone who is concerned about the relationship of the judiciary with the general public, particularly when these people could be litigants who would come before that court at a certain stage. Surely that is a most disgraceful situation.
§ Mr. Prior
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think it is perfectly reasonable that informal discussions and exchanges should go on in this matter about the general workings of the Industrial Relations Act. I would have thought that, on the whole, the hon. Gentleman would have been one of the first to say that this is a matter which is properly left to the court's discretion, and that it is quite a reasonable thing to happen.
I come now to the questions on Rhodesia raised by the hon. Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes). There have been many Parliamentary Questions about Rhodesia recently, and the Government's policy on this problem has been made quite clear by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. In relation to the present position, my right hon. Friend said in answer to a Question on 17th May that he thought it wasessential that there should be discussions between Mr. Smith and representatives of other races in Rhodesia in a further attempt to get a settlement.He went on:I am certain that if those discussions take place the question of the detainees is bound to be raised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 1698.]Certainly I can inform the hon. Gentleman that we have raised the problem of detainees with the Rhodesian authori- 276 ties but unfortunately have not had any success.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of Mr. Hawkesworth. Again I can tell him that we have made inquiries about Mr. Hawkesworth from the Zambian, Tanzanian and Mozambique authorities but so far have obtained no information about his whereabouts.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the other point which my hon. Friend and I raised—that it is not a matter of detainees but of three men who have been hanged and others who will be hanged in the next few days? What is the Secretary of State going to do about those men who await the death sentence?
§ Mr. Prior
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman will have to realise that we have no power to control these events, just as we had no power to control them in 1968 when nothing we were able to do prevented the same thing happening. So I am afraid there is no action further to the action we have already taken that is possible in these circumstances. However regrettable it may be, there is nothing that we are actually able to do.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) asked me—
§ Mr. Robert Hughes rose—
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
There are lives at stake. It is too important for the right hon. Gentleman to say he will not give way.
§ Mr. Prior
Very well, I will give way when I have finished this answer.
Coming to the question the hon. Member for Glasgow, Gorbals asked me, the Hardman Report will be published after the recess and announcements will be made at that time in both Houses of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman need have no fear of going away for the recess and the report coming out during the recess. I hope that will be some consolation to him.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. 277 This is a matter that concerns people who are at the moment waiting to be taken from their cells to the gallows. Will the right hon. Gentleman not say that the Government will make a clear declaration that they regard the hanging of these men as murder? Will he not tell the Smith régime that if they proceed with the hanging of the three men at present under sentence, all the proposals for settlement will from that moment be totally withdrawn, that a wholly different position will apply in relation to the Smith régime from that moment on?
§ Mr. Prior
I am not prepared to do that because I do not believe it would be in the interests of trying to reach a settlement between the races in Rhodesia, which in the long run is the only way of preventing the unfortunate and very regrettable things which are now going on. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must realise that we feel equally strongly about these matters, but we are unable to take any more action now than their Government were able to take when they were in office. That is the situation which, regrettably, we have to accept.
I turn now to the speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short), which I found very engaging, coming as it does before we adjourn for a recess.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Government's prosperity being engineered on borrowing. At least it is borrowing within our country and not overseas. We have repaid the £1,500 million debt that was left when we came to office. What is more, we have almost doubled our reserves in the past two and a half years.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about inflation. We all recognise that we have severe problems of rising prices. There is no one who is not fully aware of that, and who does not regret it immensely. But during stage 1 the costs of imported raw materials and fuel for manufacturers rose by 15 per cent. whereas their prices went up by only 1½ per cent. For food manufacturers the cost of raw materials went up by over 16 per cent., whereas their prices rose by only 2 per cent. These figures show how stringent were the price controls, and they indicate the degree to which cost increases have been absorbed.
278 At the end of last November our rate of inflation was perhaps the fastest in the western world, and now it is just about the slowest. Therefore, I think we can say that in the past few months we have achieved a great deal.
We have done something else. We have shown that this country can sustain a 5 per cent. a year economic expansion, over twice as fast as under Labour. The Sun, commenting on yesterday's expenditure deferments, said today:It makes sense now that Britain is booming and unemployment is falling. … It makes sense, too, to plan ahead for continued growth.It is always quite useful to consider some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man), who has said:The ironical fact is that in that period—when the previous Labour Government were in office—we indefatigably went on increasing our public expenditure section despite the lack of growth and therefore had to tax the worker in ways which probably lost us the Election.In other words, the Labour Government went for high taxation, low growth and greater Government expenditure—[An HON. MEMBER: "And stable prices."] Come off it. Anyone who wants a return to high taxation and stagnation—[Interruption.]—We are taxed £3,000 million a year less than we were taxed three years ago, and most of that reduction has gone to the lower wage-earners, as the hon. Gentleman knows only too well.
What would a future Labour Government do? We should have the dreary old business of more nationalisation of many of our successful companies. We should have stagnation again, higher taxation, no growth and no prosperity. We are now set on a path that this country has not known for many years. Thank heavens, we at last have a chance to break out of the problems of stop-go.
I know how worried the Opposition are. I hope that they will go away in the Whitsun Recess and find out just what their constituents are saying.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Friday, do adjourn till Monday 11th June.