§ 11.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I beg to move,That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.Shortly before the beginning of the 1970 Parliament an hon. Member with perhaps more sense than the hon. Member for Yarmouth—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—it always helps when hon. Members are so responsive—moved a motion which read as follows:That this House views with grave concern the continuing decline of moral standards and the increases of violence, hooliganism, drug taking and obscenity and the consequent undermining of family life; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to enlist the support of parents, religious leaders, school and university teachers, broadcasters and social workers to give help to those members of the rising generation who may be in need of adequate discipline and a better example."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May 1970; Vol. 801, c 38.]When I read that motion and look at Britain today, four years later, I do not see that the appeal in the motion had much effect upon the nation. All one can say is that if that debate had not taken place the nation might have been even worse and might have slid even further in its general attitude towards faith and morals.
Today's motion has one great advantage. First, whatever I say it will be difficult for Mr. Deputy Speaker to find 1600 any reason to rule me out of order, for the motion is so wide that it should give ample opportunity for any hon. Member to say what he likes about the Government of the day. The Order Paper reads:
§ "STATE OF THE NATION
Mr. Anthony Fell
To call attention to the state of the nation; and to move, That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.
This nation is a strange nation. This great and honourable House is a strange collection of people. Much honour though there is among them, there are times when it is difficult for the nation to understand just what is going on in Westminster. One thing that may have been difficult to understand was the reaction of the Patronage Secretary to the motion when it was tabled. His reaction was reported in the Financial Times, and I have no doubt that if misquote what he said in any way the right hon. Gentleman will correct me. The Financial Times reported:
The Government, however, are leaving nothing to chance. Mr. Robert Mellish, the Chief Whip, told the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party last night: 'We have no doubt that many Labour Members will wish to speak on the motion although not to vote on it.'
The meeting interpreted this as an invitation to 'talk out' Mr. Fell's proposal, which Mr. Mellish said should be treated with 'the contempt that it deserves'.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
Rather a good speech.
§ Mr. Fell
I am pleased that the Patronage Secretary admits that that is at least the sense of what he said.
That may strike some back bench Members as being an odd way in which to describe any motion which is tabled by an hon. Member. At least, I felt that it was an odd way to describe it. Of course, my own party is not perfect—no political party is perfect.
§ Mr. Mellish
I said that the motion should be treated with contempt because the Government have been in power only for one month and in that time the miners have returned to work, the country has returned to a five-day week, we have introduced the highest pensions ever known in the country, we are to repeal the obnoxious Industrial Relations Act 1601 and we are going to give the Price Commission more teeth. The Government deserve not contempt but respect.
§ Mr. Fell
The right hon. Gentleman's intervention shows the difficulty which back bench Members face. If they show any generosity in giving way advantage is taken of them. The right hon. Gentleman's little speech for his party was no doubt the secret weapon that he advised me of earlier this week. Personally I did not think that it was impressive.
The last time I had a first motion I raised the question of Rhodesia. When I look back at the HANSARD in which that motion was reported it is difficult to see where I was allowed to speak for more than two lines on the run. Throughout that debate I was interrupted. It has been my way always to give way to interruptions. However, if I am constantly interrupted it may make my contribution longer than it would otherwise have been and longer than I would wish.
No responsible hon. Member can table a motion in such strong terms as the motion before the House and not expect to have to prove his point. It is my job to try to tell the House why I think that the Government are a danger to the nation, a deep danger to the British people. I intend to try to do so under four headings. My first heading will be foreign and defence policies, the second heading will be redistribution of wealth, the third the socialisation of industry, and finally and most important—I have described the headings in ascending order of importance—the control of inflation.
It would be foolish of anyone to claim that after three weeks it is known precisely what a Government will do. At the same time we have known the Labour Party for a lot longer than a month. We knew it during the previous Labour Government's tragic period of office. We knew the foreign policy of that Government and we know roughly what their policy is now. It gives me cause for the greatest perturbation and worry to see that already the Government have decided on a sectarian foreign policy that is untenable for the British people.
What is the present situation? The Commonwealth as an entity has almost disappeared. Our ties with the Commonwealth have become weaker and weaker.
§ Mr. Fell
I fought against the Common Market for many years. It is a fact that the Commonwealth association is weak. It is logical to suppose that it is more important than ever that the friends which we have should remain our friends and that we should seek friends wherever we may find them. We should not seek only the Russians as friends and as a nation with which we shall trade. It does not mean only developing our relationships with China and Czechoslovakia. It means not losing friends that we already have, such as Greece, Chile, Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Rhodesia. It is monstrous that in four weeks a Government should have shown themselves willing to scatter their friends far and wide for partisan purposes.
If the nation has any future it is a future based on being a trading nation. The nation used to be called a nation of shopkeepers. In modern parlance it is a nation of traders. If we are not a nation of traders we are nothing. I shall not go into great detail on foreign policy because I have a lot more to say about other matters.
Where do the Government stand on the defence of the nation? The prime duty of any Government towards the British people is to attend to the defence of the nation. On 19th March in a debate on foreign affairs the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said:My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is in the process of reviewing the contents of the Labour Party manifesto on the matter of defence in order to reduce the level of our defence expenditure, and both he and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will shortly have more to say about the reductions which are to be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 870.]Does that mean what it says? Does it mean a reduction in the amount of money which the nation will spend on defence? If it does, that is the opposite of what Britain needs. Defence costs are bound to go up enormously and speedily under the present Government. It is not a question of spending less on defence. It is not a question of finding ways of cutting defence expenditure. There is an absolute necessity to increase our defence expenditure.
1603 Of course, defence expenditure like anything else cannot be undertaken unless we can find the money to do so. We shall not find the money if we have a second Budget this year on the lines of the first Budget which was recently introduced. I described that Budget as based on faith, hope and immorality. My wife asked "Where is the faith and where is the hope?" The faith is that the people are so used to enormously accelerating taxation whenever there is a Labour Government that the faith of the Chancellor was that they would not worry too much about taking increases in taxation. The hope is that by the time the Chancellor introduces his next Budget, which he has promised, the Labour Party will somehow be able to slide out of office, call a General Election and come back with a thumping majority. The immorality of this I will not mention, because it might be hurtful to some hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Fell
In the foreign affairs debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) said:However passionate our desire for peace—of all things, that is the situation in which this country flourishes"—he might have said "any country", for war is not a concomitant of prosperity—at least I never thought it was, except to arms dealers—we cannot allow ourselves to be diverted by the words of detente alone and we must look at the deeds.When we look at the deeds, the shortfall from the peace which we would desire is still very real. The hard fact of life is that, despite the most generous policy of Ostpolitik pursued by the Federal Republic of Germany, 20 years after the disarmament conference has been sitting in practically continuous session there have been no reductions in Soviet forces on Germany's eastern frontier. I will not elaborate on that at the moment, because the right hon. Gentleman knows the facts. Despite the fact that there are now 45 Soviet divisions facing the Chinese on the Chinese frontier, those facing NATO have in no way decreased. On the contrary, their numbers are up, their equipment is regularly renewed, and they stand in a constant state of readiness. There are on that front far more men, machines and guns than are necessary for a defensive shield."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 875.]1604 Does one really need to repeat the rest of that passage emphasising the prime need of the Government to look to the defences of Britain, for it is the prime need? Yet here we have the Foreign Secretary talking about how the Government are going to reduce expenditure on defence.
Of course it is dangerous to have a Labour Government in power. Of course it is necessary that they should go at the first possible moment. Of course it is extraordinarily difficult to understand how my Whips should be quoted as saying that they were going to do nothing to encourage my hon. Friends to support a Member who is trying to get rid of Her Majesty's benighted Government.
§ Mr. Fell
Of course it is. [Laughter.] One is used to this sort of lighthearted reaction when one is attempting from the Opposition to state a serious case, however wrong it may appear, to the Left wing sitting on the benches opposite this morning. It is easy for them to jeer and it is difficult to reason with any hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Is my hon. Friend aware that this is the first time I have ever seen a Whip blush in this Chamber? On the defence issue, is not a very serious and frightening aspect of Labour Party policy on defence that, on the one hand, the Government wish to remove from Great Britain the American Polaris bases and, on the other hand, are steadfastly hostile to a European, Anglo-French or effective British deterrent in the future?
§ Mr. Fell
Of course my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), as in all these matters of defence and foreign affairs, is as usual absolutely right. I am most grateful to him for his interjection. I am hoping that he may catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in order to speak on those subjects on which he is such an expert.
I come next briefly to the question of the socialisation of industry. On this aspect as well the Labour Government are a danger. They are an immediate danger for Britain from one aspect—that is, in case they should decide to go berserk on the question of North Sea oil, in 1605 case they should decide so to threaten the companies working to get North Sea oil out of the sea that a number of them should withdraw, as I would think highly probable if the Government carry out their plans for socialising North Sea oil.
The Labour Party's threat to the 28 companies, or whatever the number was—I never know what the figure is, because it is always changing—the threat of nationalisation of the biggest companies in the country, or a large number of the most important companies in the country, cannot be said to inspire confidence in the British people. The Government Chief Whip is mumbling about something. I am not sure what it is. It would be interesting to hear his views on the nationalisation of industry and see whether he could put them as well as the Secretary of State for Industry does.
§ Mr. Fell
I am delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman. That is exactly what I was hoping. But for hon. Members opposite to claim that they are the major party now must give little satisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman, who knows that 17 million people voted against the Labour Party at the last election. It must cause him little satisfaction to realise that Labour is a minority party attempting the enormously difficult job of a party with a rampant Left trying to run sensibly a nation in such conditions as this one now finds itself.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
We were under the impression that the hon. Gentleman had announced that he was not going to give way any more, and that may have been why my right lion. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury did not rise a second time. Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman 1606 that the idea of the nation taking hold of its own offshore oil resources is part of Britain's defences?
§ Mr. Fell
I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) will allow me to continue my speech in my own way.
I come to the next part of my speech. I wish now to refer to the redistribution of wealth. It would be strange if the Government did not recognise that the profit motive is the basis of the working of our society, for it is almost too obvious to state. I should like to quote from a letter that I have had from a constituent. She is worried about the Budget and says:The Budget has done nothing for industry, who now have to face increased taxation, electricity, postal services, oil and steel, which is the sole material for our bakery equipment machinery. On top of that the large overdrafts which are forced up with the loss of profits.We need to get back to normal strength and keep employed our 50 skilled employees"—hon. Members will see that this is only a small company—but the Government is doing everything to put industry out of business.We, the Guyhew Engineering Company, have been in business 30 years, manufacturing a complete cooking line…and we naturally feel very proud of it. Surely we have a right to some sort of compensation like the farmers, for instance, to keep producing.We do earnestly hope, Mr. Fell, you understand the plight of us small and medium businesses and the urgency to get something done now.Of course such firms are in a plight.
Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
Could not the plight of industry have been due to the economic state of the nation when the former administration was in power, when there was a three-day week and when people were being asked to "Switch off something"? Were there not also other problems as a result of that Government's policies?
§ Mr. Fell
If one is to go that far into history and discuss what brought about the terrible trials through which the country went during the time of the former Government, one would have to go back to the Socialist administration before that.
1607 The battle that the nation is fighting is the battle for survival, as to a greater or lesser extent it always is. In The Times on 2nd April there was a reference to the part played by the TUC. An article written by Innes Macbeath said:Because of the political and social history of Britain, the trade union movement is, of course, inextricably wrapped up with the political Labour movement. Occasionally leadership of important unions falls to men of great political fervour; but since anything political which union leaders wish to achieve has to be filtered through the TUC and the Labour Party conference (and even the Parliamentary Labour Party refuses to be bound by the resolutions of conference), one can almost say that the direct political influence of the trade union movement is small…".That is an extraordinary way of putting things. The truth is that the influence upon the present Government of the trade union movement is enormous, and hon. Members opposite are confirming that statement.
The job of the Prime Minister in the former Government was made well-nigh impossible by the attitude to that Government of the TUC. Ever since the Prime Minister of the Government before that, the Government until 1970, gave in to the trade unions, the trade unions have taken the bit between their teeth and it is now almost impossible to govern without their say-so on any matter.
The militants have been in the saddle from the 1970s. The militants were in control of the trade union movement until the advent of the Government a few weeks ago, and I do not think that anyone denies that. The result has been plain for all to see. It has been clear to everyone that the trade union movement has been led from the back by its militants, and the former Government found it almost impassible to make progress because of the actions of these militants.
§ Mr. John Ovenden (Gravesend)
Would the hon. Gentleman include in his wide-ranging description of militants the leaders of local authority employees and the leaders of ambulance men and firemen who were forced to take industrial action during the period of the former Government in an almost unprecedented fashion? If he would, can he name the militants within those trade unions?
§ Mr. Fell
It is not part of my job to inform the hon. Member about the militants in certain unions that he chooses to mention. What is undeniable is that the former Government tried time and again to get the support of the trade union movement for some sort of agreed policy of holding wages steady, and all through the TUC refused to co-operate with that Government. Far from the unions co-operating, time and again leading unions almost held the country to ransom.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that in the past few minutes he has probably done more damage to relationships in the trade union movement than have many previous speakers on the subject? He has indulged in some of the most mischievous distortion that we have so far heard in this horrible speech.
§ Mr. Fell
I am well aware of what I have been saying and I am well aware that the figure of the trade union movement looms large behind the Labour Party. I doubt whether the Labour Party would be allowed, without the say-so of the TUC and the trade union movement, to put forward any programme that might in any way conflict with trade union interests. I am interested to hear that there is agreement with this thesis. It is tragic for the future democracy of Britain to have it admitted by members of the Labour Party in the House that the party is, in fact, controlled by the trade union movement—
§ Mr. Mellish
I do not know how long we shall have to stand this nonsense. There is a partnership with the trade union movement, which represents 11 million people working in basic industries. It would be a foolish Government which did not make that partnership work and did not co-operate. That was one reason why the last Government were such an abject failure.
§ Mr. Fell
Let us look at that point for a moment, rather less cursorily than the way in which the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to put it. Surely, from the outset of the last Tory Government the TUC made quite clear that it was not 1609 going to co-operate with the Government from the word "go". The TUC on every possible occasion tried to bring the previous Government into run throughout the period of their office.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that what he has just said is absolutely untrue? Upon the formation of the previous Government the TUC General Council came forward with an offer to co-operate. The council said it was its job to co-operate with every Government, of whatever nature. It was only when the General Council's offers were thrown back into its teeth that the schism developed. It was the fault of the Government.
The hon. Gentleman said a little while ago that one of the reasons why we ought to have no confidence in the Government was that they have no right to be here because more people voted against them than for them at the election. But in the hon. Gentleman's own election in Yarmouth 24,000 people voted for him and 32,000 voted against him. What right has he to be here?—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. If the hon. Gentleman gives way I can do nothing to stop him, but as there are so many interventions I should remind the House that it is robbing itself of the advantage of hearing the hon. Gentleman's speech and its completion.
§ Mr. Fell
Remarks or resolutions may have been made at the start of the previous Government's office by the TUC, but such statements had hardly been issued before the TUC was bashing away at the Government. It continued to do so throughout the period of the Government's office.
However, I do not wish to develop this point. At the moment a peace exists between this Government and the trade 1610 union movement, but how long will it last? When the Labour Party was previously in power almost every major matter which it took up affecting trade unions had to be withdrawn because of TUC opposition. How long will it be before we again get to that position? Perhaps the truce will last until after the election is called, if it is possible for the TUC to keep its membership quiet until then, which is doubtful. But when the truce ends we shall have a Government being run not by their own minds, principles and thoughts, but by the minds, principles and thoughts of the TUC. This is the danger to democracy in this country—that there is only one party, the Tory Party, of which I am proud to be a member, which does in the main put forward its own views—
§ Mr. Fell
That interjection was unworthy. There was not one hon. Member in the previous Parliament who did not witness the great battle by my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister against the CBI and all manner of vested interest when he thought that things were happening or were being suggested which were not in the country's interests. Time and again my right hon. Friend fought the battle against vested interests of one sort or another. My complaint is that the present Government have not the power to do this. They are so in league with the TUC as to be inextricably held. They will have to do what they are told by their masters, the TUC. It may at one stage have been true of my party that it was too much in the hands of finance and big business, many years ago, but that has not been so for a long time.
The Labour Party is not a democratic party at all, but is completely in the hands of organised labour—in fact, in the hands of the TUC. This is bound to be unsettling for anyone who has the future democracy of the country at heart—
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Would my hon. Friend not agree that while the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury drew attention to the 10 million or 11 million people represented by trade unions, he did not say that there are about 15 million people who are not represented by trade unions? Is it not the case that successive Governments, both Conservative and Labour, have failed to recognise the importance of this large body of people? Likewise, have not successive Governments—I address this to my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell)—failed to recognise the importance of small businesses—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going beyond making an intervention. The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has the Floor and seems to have a flair for attracting interventions, but it would be better if he were allowed to continue and complete his speech.
§ Mr. Winterton
Would it not be good for any Government in this country frequently to open the doors of Downing Street to owners of small businesses and representatives of those working people who are not represented by powerful unions?
§ Mr. Fell
I wonder whether in the interests of brevity I could ask my hon. Friend to develop his remarks later if he is fortunate enough to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair.
The basis of my complaint is that the Labour Party is not fit to run the nation. I have tried to explain why. It is a party which is under the control of the Left wing, and the militant side of the TUC.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
I do not wish to delay the proceedings, but I was wondering, since the hon. Member is so distressed by the present Government, whether he intends describing their pre- 1612 decessors as the architects of British prosperity.
§ Mr. Fell
I apologise. I did not hear. It is not a question of the Reds being under the bed—they are in the bed. What is more the Labour Party gives the impression of thoroughly enjoying the whole business. This is the basis of my charge against the Government. They are not capable of running this nation's affairs. With them in charge we shall get into deeper and deeper trouble as the months pass.
I conclude by quoting a short verse.
§ Mr. Fell
It has been suggested that I should sing it. Had it been set to music, I would be quite willing to oblige. This is a verse from Milton, and it holds a warning, I think:But what more oft, in nations grown corrupt,And by their voices brought to servitude,Than to love bondage more than liberty,Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.That is our danger.
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)
I ask the indulgence of the House in making my maiden speech. I have been priviledged over the last 30 years frequently to listen to debates in this House from the Gallery. Although I had some tries at General Elections I never really expected to be standing in this Chamber today making a speech. It is a daunting prospect, although I must say that after the exhibition given by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) it is not quite as daunting as I expected.
I want to mention my predecessor, Tom Driberg. He will be much missed in Barking and in this House. He was first elected to Parliament in 1942 as the Member for Maldon and served in 1613 that constituency until 1955. For the next four years he was outside the House. So eloquent was he as a writer, broadcaster and politician that when he returned as Member for Barking in 1959 many hon. Members found it difficult to believe that he had ever been away. I am proud to have been elected as his successor.
Tom Driberg did a great deal for Barking and its constituents. I will try to serve them as he did. I cannot match his wit and his elegance with the English language. I shall try to follow his independence of mind and adherence to principles which have made him so widely respected in this House and the country. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement and good health to go with it.
I understand that it is the tradition of maiden speakers to be non-controversial. I am not quite sure what this means. I have listened with great care to the hon. Member for Yarmouth. His speech has made my mandate to be non-controversial more difficult because I so profoundly disagree with almost every word he said.
§ Miss Richardson
As has been pointed out, the hon. Member has chosen to berate a Government which in four weeks have settled the miners' strike, got Britain back on a five-day week, announced the introduction of some essential subsidies, increased pensions, and produced a Budget which has given significant help to the worst off in our community.
The hon. Member lays the blame for our difficult situation on the Government. But we inherited an appalling mess. The rate of inflation was largely of the previous Government's making. Our task has been made more difficult by inaction which allowed prices to rise so incredibly over the past couple of years and the apparent inability—or was it unwillingness?—of the previous Government to check this rise. Rents rose because of the Housing Finance Act. Wages were kept down through the introduction of counter-inflation measures. House-building ground almost to a halt.
1614 All of this has had a disastrous effect, particularly on conurbations like Greater London where public services are now threatened with a complete breakdown as a result of staff shortages. It is no longer possible to attract people to live in the big city. They cannot afford to live here in London. Unless an interim payment of the London weighting allowance is made very soon the situation will be impossible.
One of our principal worries in Barking, as in other London boroughs, is the teacher shortage. It is a source of anxiety to parent and teacher alike. We in Barking do not come within the Inner London Education Authority but our teachers receive the London weighting allowance of a miserable £118 a year. We have been fully comprehensive in Barking since 1970. We have nine maintained and two Catholic schools. Seven of the nine maintained schools and both Catholic schools are already affected. In one school all the first, second and third year pupils are losing four and a halt hours teaching a week—one-fifth of the total teaching time. Internal rearrangements have managed to keep the older pupils on full-time education—a tribute to the teachers who are trying to cope with examination responsibilities. The other two maintained schools in the borough, both comprehensive, will be affected to some degree next term when teachers' resignations will not have been replaced by new staff.
It is appalling that we should be applying the term "short time" to education and schoolchildren. It is a term commonly used in industry, but I never thought I should hear it applied in this way. Many children may like a short week—what kid does not?—but we all know that education missed now is rarely made up later, particularly in this crazy society where unqualified typists can be tempted into highly paid jobs while those who opt to be nurses and teachers are poorly rewarded. I do not begrudge anybody high pay; I just want others to have it too. Over the last few weeks I have been glad to find that most working people understand why teachers are operating sanctions and refusing to do the extra work caused by the shortage of teachers. They know that the blame lies with the Conservative Government, which brought about a shortage of 1615 accommodation and a high cost of living.
It does not seem to be understood that if teachers want to change their jobs and start elsewhere next term they must give notice by 31st May. Therefore, if we wait for the Pay Board's report in June it will be too late. This is the one respect in which the claim of the teachers is more urgent than the claim of other groups of workers whose case is as strong as that of the teachers. That is why I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will have another look at this matter. I understand his difficulty in anticipating the Pay Board's report, but I should have thought that the making of an interim increase was possible or, at the very least, that he would help the situation by making a statement of intent.
When comprehensive education was introduced my authority promised parents that all schools would be brought up to the same standards of building and equipment. Our building needs must be met from the allowance for minor capital works. Up to 1971–72 we were allowed £100,000, with 10 per cent. for inflation. After that year the figure fell until in the present year the authority was told that its allowance would be cut by half and would be a mere £50,000. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not found himself able to restore the cuts yet, but I am sure that he knows the difficulties under which local authorities suffered during the period of the Conservative Government, and I hope that he will consider restoring the allowances in his second Budget. The drop from £100,000 to £50,000 has been disastrous.
In addition, the local authority suffered from the Conservative Government's stop-go policy which froze building starts from October 1973 until there was a partial resumption in January this year. The extra cost of the administrative work caused by that freeze is estimated to be almost as much as the cuts and the deferment.
I turn to consider another Tory policy which has created a chaotic situation. The date 1st April heralded the introduction of the new structure of the health service—something which it was too late 1616 for the present Government to stop. Apart from the fact that the majority of members of the new authorities and their subsidiary bodies are appointed from non-elected institutions—a step away from democracy which I deplore—responsibility for the greater part of the welfare services has been removed from the control of the health committees and hospital management committees and vested in the new remote and faceless authorities.
That has resulted in some anomalies which are little short of ludicrous. For example, the new Barking hospital, which was intended for the use of the people of Barking and was built on land specifically reserved for that purpose, has been taken out of the new area health authority of Barking and Havering and put into Redbridge. We now have the farcical situation in which Ilford, which has made no provision for geriatric accommodation is using Barking's geriatric wards while elderly people in Barking are sent out of Barking in precisely the opposite direction to Havering. One can imagine the difficulties which this causes in time and fares for the families of the patients; yet we have the accommodation on our own doorstep, in our own borough, but we cannot use it.
We have been agitating for a long time for a casualty department at Barking hospital. One may have a heart attack or be involved in a street accident right outside the front door of Barking hospital but one will be carted off to a hospital outside the borough.
Those are only two of the headaches which have been left to us by the Conservative Government, and it is too much to expect the present Government to have done anything to put them right by now.
I make one last point. An hon. Member who draws first place in the Ballot for Motions on a Private Members' Day is very lucky. He has the opportunity of five hours of parliamentary time—which, incidentally, must cost the taxpayer quite a bit of money. He has the opportunity of using that time for a useful discussion of matters of moment which could lead to helpful and constructive action. I am sorry, and I am sure that many other hon. Members will be sorry, that the hon. Member for Yarmouth has chosen to misuse the privilege which he obtained in the Ballot by initiating a debate which, if continued in his terms, 1617 will be nothing more than an exercise in facetiousness. I hope that I have contributed a little to frustrating that silly result, and I am sure that other hon. Members who speak will do much more.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
In view of my tenuous canine connections, it is ironic that I should be called upon to congratulate the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) on her maiden speech. It is perhaps wrong for someone as inexperienced in Parliament as I am to congratulate a person with as long a history in the public galleries as the hon. Lady. It is rather like asking a virgin to pay tribute to the mechanical expertise of a celibate. However, I thought that the hon. Lady's speech was interesting and excellent and, in view of the contentious nature of the speech of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), just the uncontroversial speech which we are all told to make as our maiden contribution.
I have some small acquaintanceship with the hon. Member for Yarmouth. We on this bench are the only Members who have been steadfast not only in our politics but in our geographical situation in the Chamber. Having previously seen the hon. Member sitting opposite, I am now privileged to sit in the position for getting the best of his contributions—just behind the back of his head. This is a privilege, because the previous incumbent of that position was the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The position of the Liberals has never been an easy one and we have advocated the setting up of a third House in which the hon. Members for Yarmouth and Bolsover would have considerable sway. Perhaps that third House could be presided over by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls)—but that may be beside the point.
It ill became the hon. Member for Yarmouth to comment on the manners of the members of Labour Party in not getting up to make their comment. In the nine months in which I have been in the House, of all the hon. Members who have shouted from a relaxed, reclining position the hon. Member for Yarmouth must be the one with most words to his credit, or debit, depending on one's idea of manners.
1618 I want to keep my speech short because an hon. Member who has had the good fortune to draw a motion in the Ballot and abuses his opportunity in speaking on it does not deserve a prolonged debate. Moreover, standing on the Order Paper is an excellent motion on the reduction and recycling of waste, which I hope we shall reach. There are so many subjects that can be debated on a private motion. There is much injustice in the country and there are so many other matters that could be brought to the attention of the nation. For example, in my constituency I am faced with the ill behaviour and the monopolistic attitudes of the London Brick Company. There are also prisoners who are campaigning to have their records straightened. There are many subjects which need to be discussed, some of which appear on the Order Paper and could be reached. For the hon. Member for Yarmouth to put down a motion on the state of the nation and to suggest that the House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government after one month of responsible and moderate government seems to me to be an abuse of parliamentary time.
In one month the Government have done an excellent job from their limited minority position. They have introduced a new element into the House, an element of open government, exemplified by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in his statement on Concorde and by the invective brilliance of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) in his memorable speech. We must all appreciate and recognise this new element, though one need not necessarily agree with all that the Government have done.
I was interested to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer outline his promise of retrospective legislation on the gift tax. Since then I have been playing ludo for money with my children, who are now well provided for.
Perhaps the number of Conservative Members who are here to support the hon. Member for Yarmouth is a fair indication of the way in which responsible hon. Members treat a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.
If I have any degree of no confidence in the Government, it is perhaps in being 1619 called immediately after the hon. Member for Barking in the same week as being appointed to my first Standing Committee, which is on the Rabies Bill. Otherwise we on the Liberal bench have as yet no complaints but rather a firm belief that the Government should be given a chance.
I do not wish to take up more of the Houses's time although, unlike the hon. Member for Barking, I do not think that it costs the taxpayers a great deal of money to have us standing up and talking. I should like to give way to the next motion and I hope that the House will agree with me. I will not finish with a song or a poem, but I hope that we shall be able to get on to discussing something worth while.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) said and it is important that he should declare his interest in the Rabies Bill right away. The master of my college at Cambridge who was Member of Parliament for the university served on Committees dealing with precisely two Bills in his 10 years here, one being the Bastardy Bill and the other the Blasphemy Bill. He said that, as a mathematician and rather remote from ordinary things, he found this place a broadening influence in his life.
Although it is not strictly appropriate, I too should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), not only formally but on what she said and the way in which she said it. I have a particular interest because I have campaigned with her in many by-elections helping other candidates.
The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) invited hon. Members to cover a wide variety of topics. If we are to make the best use of this debate that is the only way in which it can be handled. Since the election I have visited my constituency several times. I have found my constituents impressed and cheered by what the Government have done in one short month but critical of only one aspect of Government policy, and that is the rate support grant. That is the only criticism I have found.
The Conservative Government's scheme was bad enough because it took 1620 no account of Northamptonshire's rapid growth in population and the financial burden imposed on it by accepting under successive Governments the overspill from Birmingham and London. As a result of a series of Parliamentary Questions the injustice to Northamptonshire has been brought home. Two days ago I asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment the following supplementary question:When the Government review the rate support grants and finance generally, will they take account of the counties which suffer enormously from having a great financial burden as a result of overspill from cities, encouraged by successive Governments?The answer I received from the Minister was as follows:This is a problem that has been raised by many of the delegations I have seen. We hope to start the rate support grant negotiations for next year as soon as possible in order to have a much more sensitive formula than the present one. I hope that that will take into account some of the difficulties to which my right hon. Friend has referred."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April 1974; Vol. 871, c. 1241.]On that one aspect on which I found criticism in my constituency, at least the Government have undertaken to have a look at it.
While talking about the county council and the difficulties that it faces with the rate support grant, I must refer to the fact that from 1st April, only a few days ago, when we got rid of the goulash of 1,400 local authorities with the most extraordinary boundaries, there is an obvious danger which we as Members of Parliament must take into account. Our constituents, as ratepaying citizens, may feel that the local authority is so far away that they must come to us, because they know our names, instead of going to their county councillors or district councillors. We have an important part to play. The local authorities have a duty to advertise that they are willing to meet the citizens and to deal with their problems. That is especially so for county councils. We in this House have the other side of the duty in ensuring that local government is seen as a living, democratic system and not merely as an efficient form of administration.
Councils must be encouraged to carry out their responsibilities. I have just quoted a case in which a county council is in conflict with central Government. That is where a Member of Parliament 1621 should intervene. I have given an illustration. But it is not between the citizen and the council that the Member of Parliament should come in. I hope that over the next few months we in this House will do all we can to help the new authorities to get better established with their councillors better known.
I have said that the present Government, in their short month, have done well and I have supported them. In my constituency the two principal industries are steel and footwear. In the long run the prospects for steel in Corby are good and there is no change in the forecast made by the British Steel Corporation and the unions for the rest of this decade. The forecast is that Corby will make both tubes and iron. If we look beyond 1980, however, we find a factor in which our thinking has to be considered in the light of what has happened in the world outside. The price of overseas ore makes our local ore even more valuable. We have modern plant and a skilled workforce and with continuing and, indeed, increasing co-operation between the unions and the British Steel Corporation the future of the Corby steelworks looks bright. What my constituents now need is an updated version of the steel White Paper of February 1973, because so much has been overtaken by events.
The hon. Member for Yarmouth referred to us as a nation of shopkeepers. Of course we are. I am pleased with the figures published this morning for last year's expansion of exports in the footwear industry. There has been an enormous increase over 1972, particularly to our fellow countries in the European Community.
As I struggled to come to the House this morning I ran into a group of young people from France or perhaps Belgium—they were speaking French—and I saw many others. I was reminded that for several years some of us have been concerned with the concentration of tourists in the particularly attractive or important places in Britain, such as Bath, Cambridge, Canterbury, London, Oxford, York and so on. The tourist authorities are doing their best to spread the tourists over the country as a whole, but more must be done. We also have to set ourselves up to be ready to do more and to acknowledge that there are more people 1622 coming here who do not speak or read English. We must cater for them.
The tourism figures are fantastic. Last year we had 8 million visitors and they spent £700 million. We must spread this around. As I have been talking about my constituency in Northamptonshire, I should like to relate it to this matter. My constituency is in a beautiful part of the East Midlands, which is the only region in the country in which there was last year an increase in the proportion of empty beds. So there is room and there is plenty to see.
I make one last point because we are commenting on the state of the nation and I am worried about the BBC. The Government may find themselves committing a crime against the country unless they are careful about the external services of the British Broadcasting Corporation. In the 1960s I worked for several years in West Africa and then in East Africa. I formed a very high opinion of the work of the external service of the BBC, particularly the English language service. I have followed this and kept up with it. It has got to enormous proportions today because, with increasing education and the development of the cheap transistor radio, the audience is rising daily. We must take account of that. The Chinese and the Russians know this. They are increasing their English language broadcasts to that part of black Africa; and of course, the Americans are also doing so.
I am told that we are not even using the resources that we have on Ascension Island. They must be used. That is the least we must do before we start cutting back. Our language is the window on the world for black Africa and we should not contemplate any reduction. The triviality and bad taste of some of the BBC television domestic programmes must not be used to discredit the BBC when we consider its famous external English language service.
Three years ago I had the honour of leading an all-party parliamentary delegation to the People's Republic of Mongolia. We were astonished to find that one of the chief topics which the Mongolians continually raised was how much they were developing their English language broadcasting service to Asia. They would be amazed to think that we are even contemplating cutting down on 1623 our services. That would be an act of abdication, because we have so many things for which we are well known and deserve to be well known and admired, and one of these is the external service of the BBC.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Yarmouth for providing this opportunity, if not for a debate—he did not start it as a debate—at least for commenting on a variety of topics concerned with the state of the nation. I find that state to be pretty good.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) for having raised the subject of the state of the nation because it enables hon. Members who have some very important constituency points to make to raise various subjects.
In my speech in the Budget debate I said that I thought at present one did not want to have too much party politics bandied across the Floor of the House. I still have that opinion. I congratulate the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) on her slightly controversial maiden speech. My only disappointment was that there was a certain amount of party politics in it—but perhaps she was fanned into including party politics by my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth.
The right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) spoke about rates particularly. I know what an important subject this is. I know of the strong feelings that exist about it because of what is happening over the rate support grant. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and many hon. Members realise that the fundamental cause of much of the trouble is the present system of local government finance. I hope that the Minister will clarify the Government's position about the reform of that finance and about some of the pledges that were given when he was in opposition that more of the education burden would be taken from local government and placed on the central Government. This is one of the solutions which must be reached if local government finance is to be reformed. Perhaps I can press the right hon. Member for Kettering, as I am speaking in a noncontroversial way, to sign my Early-Day 1624 Motion No. 16 on this subject, because I am sure that it is in the interests of his constituents that he should do so.
I have referred to local government finance and education. My reason for speaking in the debate is to raise a matter which to a degree affects the state of the nation, not only in north-east Essex but throughout the country. I refer particularly to the disturbances which have been taking place in Essex University, half of which is in my constituency. It is a disturbing situation. Members of Parliament who have universities in their constituencies have to be as tolerant as possible. I have been extremely tolerant for a long time, but there comes a moment when it is the duty of a Member of Parliament to raise in the House some of the problems that have arisen.
I particularly wish to refer to the disturbances that have taken place at Essex University. Fortunately, apart from the disturbances that are taking place—quite a number of students are taking part in them—the work of the students is excellent. I am able to visit the university, go into the library and discuss many of the problems with the students. I have had no trouble at all in this respect. Indeed last November, as back-bench Members, the present Secretary of State for Education and Science and I took part in a discussion at the university and we had no trouble. We went into the restaurant at the university and we had a considerable welcome from the students afterwards.
Nevertheless there is a small but significant number of students causing trouble in the universities. It is to this problem that I wish to draw attention and to ask the Government how they propose to deal with it. Admittedly these problems occur in other universities throughout the world. I know from personal experience that these difficulties take place in universities in Japan. Problems arise in universities in France and other countries.
As people responsible for finding the funds for students, can we stand idly by and allow the events which are taking place, with the police being called in to restore peace? Considerable damage is being done. Many of my constituents in north-east Essex feel strongly about what is happening because the funds for primary schools are being cut, yet they 1625 see the students wasting money. Order, order. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for saying "Order, order", but if Labour Members do not wish to listen to my speech perhaps they will leave the Chamber.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
There is great anxiety about what is happening. The extremists are playing on the fears of the moderate students because of the fall in the value of student grants. That has been the primary cause of the extremists playing on the fears of those students. Therefore, something should be done quickly to help students regarding grants.
I receive information from many reliable sources. People come to me and point out what is happening in the teaching of sociology. I do not wish to take up too strong a stance on this matter except to suggest that an inquiry in a broad general sense should be made to ascertain whether we are getting value for money in the teaching of sociology. It is said that much of the trouble is being caused in the sociology departments of universities.
In what form should an inquiry take place? I do not want to see the disciplinary action being taken by the universities undermined. That must be kept. But surely the Public Accounts Committee, which is responsible for the money supplied to the University Grants Committee, should consider whether we are getting value for money from the teaching of sociology in our universities. I am not suggesting that sociology should not be taught. Has the subject got too wide? Should we have more technical teaching to get value for money because we need so many technical people in industry?
§ Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the teaching of sociology involves a critical understanding of the nature of societal processes and an understanding of our society? Surely he, as a politician, recognises the enormous benefits to be derived from such an understanding.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I do not deny that. The point is whether this teaching has got too 1626 wide compared with other subjects being taught.
I think it is right, in view of the information that I have received and the disturbances that have taken place, that an inquiry of some kind, perhaps by a Select Committee, should be made into what is happening.
These troubles are not insignificant. We can turn a blind eye to the situation for some time, as I have done, but I felt that during this debate on the state of the nation I should draw it to the attention of the House and ask the Government what they are doing about it. Will they set up a special Select Committee to look into what is happening, particularly in the teaching of sociology?
§ Mr. Mellish
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The motion is a condemnation of Her Majesty's Government. I do not know whether you have been in the Chair all the time and have listened to everything that has been said, but it is an affront to the House that time should have been deployed in this way. I want to get on record that there is no Shadow Minister for the Opposition present who is to reply. Therefore, it would be a disgrace to ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department to reply to what is a quite nonsensical business. May I suggest that as the second motion deals with a very important subject, the reduction and recycling of waste, which is vital to the nation, it would be a good thing if we moved on to it?
§ Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a little unkind of the Chief Patronage Secretary to prejudge speeches which are still to come. Perhaps the Minister of State will be able to make a judgment when he has heard all the speeches and not only the few that have been made.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is true that I have just come in, but the Chief Patronage Secretary has been in the House long enough to know perfectly well that this is a Private Members' day. It has nothing to do with the Chief Patronage Secretary or the Government. It does not matter whether the Minister replies. The fact 1627 that there is no one on the Opposition Front Bench is irrelevant as we are discussing a Private Member's motion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I should like to reply to the right hon. Gentleman. I think he understands that his point of order is slightly out of order. However, I shall let that matter pass.
The Chair has certain courses open to it. If hon. Members continue to rise and catch my eye, I must call them. If no hon. Member rises to speak, I must put the Question. If the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) cares to do so, he can withdraw his motion.
There is another procedural point. The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), in whose name the second motion on the Order Paper appears, is not at this moment present in the Chamber. In the circumstances I suggest that we see how we get on. The Chair is impartial. However, comments have been made about the importance of these motions. If speeches are kept reasonably short it may be possible to move on to the next motion.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
I suggest to the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) that if he had so little sympathy from his own Whip he might have done better to resign, form his own party and become his own Whip.
In spite of the hon. Gentleman's comments about the desperate situation of Britain, the fact is that we are not so desperate that we need the friendship of the present Governments of Chile, South Africa, Rhodesia and Portugal. We can do without their friendship.
On the question of defence, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if he looks back not to the nineteenth century or to the first half of this century but to the last 20 years, he will find that more Governments are in peril because they failed to consider the social and economic 1628 conditions in their own countries than they are from outside attack. The hon. Gentleman would do well to remember that it is far better to spend money on good education services, good housing and good social services than to pour it down the drain on defence.
I suggest that the motion is cheek, because for three and a half years the hon. Gentleman more or less supported a Government who steadily ruined our economy, gave us our worst balance of payments deficit and cost the country more than £1,000 million in lost production with the three-day working week. It is utterly ridiculous for him to criticise a Government who in only five weeks have so successfully set about putting the mess to rights.
It is cheek to move such a motion after having had the opportunity twice in the last few weeks—during the debates on the Gracious Speech, and on the Budget—to bring down the Government, bearing in mind particularly that on one occasion Conservative Members were encouraged by the newspapers to predict that as a possibility, but then had to crawl away so ingloriously. The same arguments were gone over during the election campaign, following which the Conservative Party was so soundly beaten.
It is also cheek to waste the time of the House and the nation when there are so many other issues—possibly not of general economic concern—that are of particular concern to many people. At this time on a Friday such issues could properly be debated by the House.
Let me give one or two examples of what I have in mind. The first is the problem of many one-parent families in which the mother is divorced or separated from her husband and finds it difficult to get maintenance. For many of my constituents—and, I suspect, those of many other hon. Members—it would have been of much more use if today we had discussed the ways in which they could get their maintenance regularly. It is difficult enough for a mother to try to cope with two or three children, without having to wonder each week whether her income will reach her in due time.
It would be simple for the State to ensure that maintenance was paid once a week, to take over responsibility for collecting it and, if necessary, make good 1629 the deficit from the Social Security Fund. I know that the State can help a mother if she is claiming supplementary benefits, but the State does not help if the mother has the added problem of going out to work.
For at least one of my constituents it is a bitter choice of losing time at work and pay in order to appear in court to try, by means of a further court order, to get what the court has already said she ought to receive, knowing that because of the inefficiencies of the present law she will not even get back the amount that she has lost by taking time off work in spite of being owed hundreds of pounds in maintenance arrears.
Next, let us consider the problems of many council house tenants. Very often the problem is simply that of getting the local authority to carry out simple items of repair and maintenance. For a tenant the damaged tap, the broken window or the damp wall can quickly become the most important issue in the life of the family, yet it may remain of little or no consequence to the local authority on a job card in an office.
There are many ways in which one could improve the efficiency of local council housing departments, but one way—this is particularly important now that local councils have become even larger and more remote—would be to encourage local councils, or possibly even to make it compulsory for them, to set up advisory committees with a large tenant membership to ensure that the running of each estate or group of estates was done efficiently. In the previous Parliament Dick Leonard, who was then the hon. Member for Romford, made several attempts to get such a small Bill enacted. It would have been of much more use to council tenants if the House had debated that matter today rather than the ridiculous motion that is before us.
Another problem concerns the disabled. During the term of office of the previous Labour Government a Private Member's Bill was enacted which did a great deal to help the plight of the disabled, but that very legislation has in many cases highlighted the need for further measures. My own local authority in Stockport was extremely disappointed to find that when considering planning applications from bodies that were providing a service for 1630 the public—shops, cinemas and so on—those bodies could not be compelled to provide access facilities for the disabled. If a new building was involved the council could insist on the provision of such facilities, but if the application was merely for extensive alterations to an existing building the developer could not be compelled to provide them. We could more usefully today have spent our time trying to put right that small matter than discussing this motion.
Again, let us consider the Brodrick Report on the work of coroners, all 418 pages of which were published in November 1971. The report contained nothing very startling, but it made one or two simple recommendations which would make it very much easier for the relatives of those who die to he spared the difficulties of inquests. Very often inquests are totally unnecessary. There is a simple reason for the death, but because the deceased had not been visited by a doctor within a certain period before his death a formal inquest has to be held. I suggest that the House could have far better spent its time debating the recommendations of that report than debating the matter put forward by the hon. Member for Yarmouth.
I could go on to pick out a whole series of issues that are far more worthy of consideration than the matter before us. Another issue that springs to mind is that of television licences for the elderly. Most local authorities have got round to providing television licences at a nominal fee for those who are in sheltered housing, but those who live alone and perhaps need much more help still do not receive it.
We could go on to consider the costs of public inquiries, particularly the hard costs on many people, complaints about hospital and other local authority services, or the way in which local gas boards have been collecting their money. All those matters would have been far more suitable for debate today than the motion.
When we consider the state of the nation, we ought to realise that Parliament has an important rôle to play in creating a society that cares about people, that tries to produce compassionate laws, that feels that Mrs. X's damp wall is important, and that Mrs. Y ought not to 1631 have to spend all week worrying about whether she will get her maintenance, and making sure that inquests do not have to be held when they are unnecessary.
After three weeks spent on the General Election campaign, and after more than three weeks of general debate on the econonomic issues facing the nation, it would today have been much more appropriate to have discussed those and many less controversial but important issues relating to the state of the nation than this contemptuous motion.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)
I should like the Minister of State, Civil Service Department to take very seriously one matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Bennett). I refer to the question of television licences for the old. Whichever party has been in power, hon. Members on both sides of the House have pressed very hard for television licences to be free for old-age pensioners, or to be obtainable by them at a merely nominal charge. The argument has never been that they should have licences cheaper than anyone else. The quarrel has been over the fact that one section of old-age pensioners have their licences for a shilling and the other section have to pay the full amount. That seems to all old people to be very unfair. Those living in a home can have their licence for a shilling but those living on their own must pay the full amount. It is possible for such people to be five yards away from each other. That is obviously unfair.
I hope that the Minister will note that there is tremendous feeling in the House on the issue. It is one with which his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services could easily deal, at a time when—I say this with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell)—the country does not so much want to discuss the incompetence or ability of any Government but wants to see people working together to do the best they can for the country in our present situation.
The country as a whole is now feeling that we should all try to get on and do something, that the House should be concentrating on doing its best, and that 1632 the days of just knocking each other for the sake of it should be put behind us. It is the nation that is in trouble, not the Labour Party or the Conservative Party. We should pull together to do the best we can for the country. When it seems that the Labour Party is no longer fit to govern, or that we are no longer fit to be such a big Opposition, the nation can decide. But let us now do the best we can for the country.
I should here like to say something about the Press. It would please some of us more, those of us who are junior and far from our own Front Benches, if the Press would also spend more time trying to help the nation rather than spend an immense amount of time covering matters which seem totally irrelevant to the state of the nation.
I congratulate the Government on having done something about a matter on which I fought very hard in the last Parliament—museum charges. I criticised my Government throughout that period for the decision to impose the charges, and I was delighted that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), in his new position as Minister for the Arts, felt able to remove them. But we on this side, who are so often accused of being dinosaurs, of having no love for the arts, appointed a Minister of State to be responsible for the matter, and we were greatly disappointed that the Labour Party did not take it as seriously as we did, but at the same time appointed a Minister for Sport who was a Minister of State. We think that the arts and sport are roughly equal. We are sure that sports should not be ahead of the arts, and were disappointed that the Minister of State level was given to sport and an Under-Secretaryship to the arts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth has spoken ably about defence cuts. Defence seems to be a bogy for a small section of the Labour Party. I have no desire to be clever on the matter; I realise that it is only a small section. That section would have defence cuts no matter what happened, without any thought of employment or the defence of our nation. They would put those cuts ahead of everything. It is an ideological view. But some of us represent constituencies for which defence provides a great deal of employment. There are 1633 seven RAF bases in my constituency, giving vast employment to the area and great hope of success for the area. I feel strongly that the glib, quick statement about defence can so easily be wrong.
We were delighted that only £50 million was cut from defence expenditure. But the Minister knows only too well, having been an economist, that, with increases in the cost of equipment and rises in the wages of Army, Navy and Royal Air Force personnel, that cut comes at a time when the total figure next year will need to be 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. higher than it would have been the year before. Therefore, the cut is far more than £50 million in real terms.
I am particularly worried about North Cotes in my constituency. The previous Government were to have made a statement about it a week after the election was called, but the Defence Department rightly felt unable to make a statement during the election campaign. We have all had to suffer from that kind of restraint in connection with many matters. But this is a matter in which employment is involved, and people are involved. They are genuinely worried.
I accept that a new Government cannot cover a wide range of matters in a very short time, but I hope that such decisions, held up because of the change of Government, will be quickly made. That hope relates particularly to North Cotes, where people are wondering what will happen to the empty houses, and staff at the post office and school are wondering whether their numbers will be run down or they will be allowed to continue. I hope that the Minister will pass on that message to the Secretary of State for Defence. I see that he is not surrounded by mandarins to make sure that all the messages are sent on, so I hope that I am not over-burdening him.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), I want to refer to rates. I have not fully understood the rate support grant, though everyone can tell me what has happened in his area. In Louth rates have risen by another 10p. My constituency has been divided in half, with the strong rateable value half going into what is now called Humberside. The weak rateable value half is the greater part of Lincolnshire, with all 1634 its farming area. I was surprised to find that it was in the weak half that rates went up, while they went down in the strong half. I do not claim the academic background or understanding of the Secretary of State for the Environment. My poor constituents do not understand how it has been possible for the weak half to go up by lop and the strong half to go down by 7p. Will the Minister pass on to his right hon. Friend, whom I suspect I see almost as much as he does, the thought that we are worried about the large rural areas which seem to be bearing a disproportionate rate burden?
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich also mentioned education. He dealt with it in an emotive way, and probably did not mean his treatment of the subject to be quite as emotive as it was. There is a case for saying that the finance spent on higher education might be better used in nursery and primary education. It is a wonderful thing that more people can go to university and have the benefit of other forms of higher education, but the decision on how finance is spent is ultimately based on a value judgment. Perhaps the money which is spent at university level would be better spent on nursery and primary education. I make that suggestion whilst in no way condemning students for Fascism or Communism. I am suggesting that the cake is only of a certain size and that the division of the cake should be carefully considered.
A discussion which is taking place throughout education is on the raising of the school leaving age to 16 years. It may be too early to say whether it has been a success or a failure. All I know, having had a look at it from the outside is that a hell of a lot of people are complaining about it. The subjects that arise in my surgery and in my discussions with constituents that stick at the top of my mind are undoubtedly those that arise again and again. I am not suggesting that the school leaving age should return immediately to 15 years. I am not saying that raising it to 16 years has been a failure. I am saying that the discussion needs to be reopened.
The idea to raise the limit to 16 years was brought forward by Lord Boyle. No one could have a greater respect for that man than that which I hold. He was one of the many reasons which led me 1635 to want to enter this House. He stood for the things for which I wanted to stand. He was discussing the issue of the school leaving age when I was 22 or 23. I believed in what he said and charged in with him when he proposed that higher education should continue until 16 years as it would benefit the child and the country.
I am now not totally convinced. I am not asking the Secretary of State for Education and Science to charge in and say that he will reduce the school leaving age to 15 years. I am asking him to reopen the discussion at a time when the Government are not spending a lot of time on Bills and controversial issues.
The previous Government made some great cut-backs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) made great cut-backs in the programme which was in front of the House in the previous Parliament. I have not yet had a reply on whether those cut-backs will include the bypass for Louth. Many people will consider that the bypass is a trivial issue which should not be mentioned in this debate. I accept that a genuine mistake was made by the previous Labour Government six years ago and was followed through by the Conservative Government in that it was not realised that Louth had been included in the top 10 most charming small towns in England. They had already attended to the top 60 before they considered Louth. We were left out.
Louth is a small market town with one of the most beautiful churches in England. The previous Member for Meriden, Mr. Speed, visited the place, and immediately the Department of the Environment realised that a genuine mistake had been made. Although there have been cut-backs and although a mistake has been made, I hope that the bypass for Louth will not be immediately thrown out.
I am fascinated by the programme which is in front of us for the next six months. We are now to do one more week's work. We had a one-line Whip last week which continued this week. We are about to have three weeks' holiday. It is glorious to be in Opposition. We are going on three weeks' holiday and then 1636 after three weeks at work we shall have another three weeks' holiday. I am told that we shall come back after that holiday for three weeks' work and shall then have 20 weeks' holiday. The schoolmasters will be envious of us and not us envious of schoolmasters. I presume that this is a tactic to take us through until 10th October so as to allow the Labour Party to be returned having done nothing at all. I point out that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have noticed what is happening and that we look forward to 10th October with immense confidence.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate and, unlike some hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) on enabling it to take place. The motion allows us to consider the performance of the Government so far and to compare it with the deeds of the Conservative Party while in government and their words in opposition. The motion allows a wide range of topics to be aired in what so far has been an interesting debate.
This should be a debate about political ideas. In it, I had hoped to be able to divine the processes of Conservative thought on the great national issues that face the country. In this Parliament I have closely followed the speeches made by Opposition right hon. and hon. Members so as to inform myself of the philosophical developments of the party which, as I understand it, is prepared, even deter-minded, to take on the mantle of government at the earliest opportunity. So far I have been disappointed.
I gather from the hon. Member for Yarmouth that he, unlike the previous Government, favours increased spending on armaments and the stripping of profits from North Sea oil by foreign companies. He has even detected some bed-ridden Reds.
From the history of the past three and a half years we can establish certain central characteristics of a contemporary Conservative administration. In the economic field there was the expansion of the money supply at an unprecedented rate. There was a profligate rush for growth which sucked in imports at a rate which caused monthly balance of payments figures which in former times would 1637 have been alarming for a whole year. There was a rate of inflation which undermined the living standards of millions of the poorest people in the country.
In the housing field the private house was put beyond the means of anybody earning under £3,000 a year and council house starts fell to a 14-year low. In the industrial field the provocation of conflict was on a scale which poisoned management-labour relations, cost £1,500 million in lost production during the three-day working week and put Britain at the top of the world league for industrial disputes.
In addition, I saw in the previous Government a dangerous tendency towards bureaucratic centralism which was exemplified by the loss of powers held by local authorities—some of them, such as Norwich, with an unexcelled record of good administration—and by the creation of a bureaucratic and insufficiently accountable health service. There was also a failure to fulfil the promise of open and accountable Government.
Against that record—and I could point to many other failures—we can set the record of the present administration. It is an administration which is faced with the most awesome economic problems. It was charged first and foremost with getting Britain working again. Britain is now working a five-day week. I assume that if the last administration had continued in office we would by now be working a two-or a one-day week. By now we would have become the most leisured and also the most bankrupt country in the Western world.
It was courageous and right that the Government immediately set in train an attack on rising prices by means of food subsidies, the tightest possible control of retail prices, the biggest ever increase in pensions, the rent freeze and the exemption from income tax of 1,500,000 low wage earners. There was also an expansion of the housing programme. These seemed to me to be the correct priorities.
The most serious omission from the measures which the Government have taken to care for the less-well-off is the failure to increase family allowances and to introduce allowances for the first child. I understand that the introduction of allowances for the first child poses the most serious administrative 1638 difficulty. However, I regard such allowances as an essential step towards the elimination of poverty in our community.
A recent family expenditure survey showed that one-third of working families in poverty have only one child. Many hon. Members must frequently meet the single-parent, single-child family in great financial distress. The great advantage of family allowances is that they are simple to claim and well understood. They are fair and effective and they put cash in the hands of the mother, who knows how best to use it.
Mothers of poor families are often driven to supplicate for increased housekeeping money from husbands who do not realise that the price of food and clothing has risen. If the family allowance, which has not been increased for nearly five years, had kept pace with the cost of living, it would today be £2 a child. I suspect that, in terms of the hard calculus of social cost benefit analysis, an increase in the family allowance and its introduction for the first child would have a bigger impact on poverty and deprivation than any other measure.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is alive to the problem and is preparing a new system of child cash allowances. I welcome this. It is a matter of the greatest urgency that the children who suffer fundamental economic deprivation should be helped and properly cared for. Such help could be paid for by a higher level of taxation on luxury goods and certainly by higher taxes on property speculation and on those who make windfalls as a result of high interest rates. Such transfers of wealth would not only be socially just but would save the State a lot of money in the long run.
When considering the question of confidence in the Government, the country realises that the Government are engaged on the most desperate rescue operation and first have to redress the balance which has been weighed so heavily in the recent past against low wage earners and their families. The country realises too that the Government are using all the weapons at their disposal to control inflation, the most insidious form of theft. I consider that given, first, the achievements of the Government so far and, secondly, the 1639 intellectual impoverishment and pusillanimity of the Opposition, the Government are entitled to the confidence and support of the national community.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) for giving me the opportunity of drawing to the attention of the House some of the matters I consider of the utmost importance to the nation at the present time. I am disappointed that the political parties did not heed the wishes of the electorate at the General Election. I believe that those wishes were for the formation of a national Government and that all parties should have worked together to solve the many problems which face the country. I believe that a coalition Government would have been the best way of achieving this objective.
The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) mentioned defence expenditure. I did not like the Budget, but I was delighted that the defence cuts were kept to £50 million, because the defence industry is not only a substantial employer of labour but a very valuable export potential. The country needs exports now more than perhaps it has ever done.
I shall be parochial here. On the edge of my constituency there is a large company, Hawker-Siddeley, involved in many defence projects and employing hundreds of my constituents. It manufactures the Nimrod and the Harrier and is involved in developing a maritime version of the Harrier. All these aircraft have big export potential which could be of tremendous use to the country. To suggest that we should reduce our defence expenditure even further shows both ignorance and irresponsibility.
§ Mr. John Garrett
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the unexcelled engineering expertise of Hawker-Siddeley might better be used to produce goods for peaceful purposes, particularly those things which we are importing in such large quantities, such as machinery, electronic goods, telecommunications equipment and so on?
§ Mr. Winterton
It is a valid point but the fact remains that the expertise and technology of Hawker-Siddeley have been 1640 directed towards aviation for many years. One has to produce equipment which is required. Hawker-Siddeley is doing so; it is manufacturing equipment required throughout the world.
I want to speak particularly of the problems of small businesses. I am sure that the Solicitor-General will admit that lack of finance is by far the most important factor which undermines the ability of privately-owned business to meet home and overseas demand. I am one of those who, perhaps emotionally, still feel that small business is the backbone of the economy. But the high interest rates on bank deposits make it unattractive for people to risk their savings by investing in the equity of private companies. Corporation tax takes away so large a part of retained profits that insufficient is left in private companies to finance future expansion. Therefore, the only alternative open to privately-owned companies is to look to the banks for working capital to finance any increase in turnover.
I was pleased to read today that some of the special deposits called in by the Bank of England have been released and that this money might help small companies with their liquidity problems. I believe that industry as a whole has been harmed by the Budget. Profits are already subject to very strict control under the counter-inflation policy. The miners' industrial action, which lasted four months and forced the country on to a three-day week, added to the liquidity problems of many companies, particularly the smaller ones. In addition, the Government are to take more from industry through increased corporation tax and increased employers' national insurance contributions.
From my experience in small business, I believe that this situation can only mean less money for investment in factories and machinery and the threat of an increase in unemployment. Would it not be helpful if the recommendations of the Bolton Report could be implemented by the Government? Would not the Government consider appointing a Minister specially to deal with privately-owned business? It would then have a Minister to whom it could go to discuss its many problems and difficulties.
I want to refer now to British agriculture. Pig production is falling by 1641 about 2.5 million head, which is a serious situation. The March figures for milk production are likely to show a further substantial fall for the fifth month in succession. Beef production will be considerably reduced by the continuing high levels of slaughtering in the breeding herd. It is likely that many glasshouse growers will be forced out of business by the prohibitively high cost of fuel for heating.
British agriculture has a fine history. No industry has increased its production more since the war. But unless effective action is taken urgently supplies of home-produced food are likely to be jeopardised. This could mean consumers unnecessarily having to face both shortages of key foods and higher prices which would lead from those shortages. I believe that the Minister of Agriculture seems to be paying more attention to the prices for the housewife than he is to the needs of British agriculture. I hope that he will pay some attention to the crisis in the industry before it is too late.
I want to turn now to an issue which is very topical and important but is often not spoken about—family planning. Most of us have come to accept, in the light of the present moral—perhaps I should say immoral—climate, that birth control advice should be available to all who are over 18, whether they are married or not. But the fact that free contraception may now be given to children under 14 must strike an odd note in those families trying to bring up children with some standard of morals and discipline.
It is not enough for the Secretary of State for Social Services and others who are content with the permissive society to say that the immorality is already here, that they are seeking only to avoid unwanted babies. That is totally to ignore the atmosphere that the recently announced legislation will create. It ignores that it is illegal for young people under 16 to have sexual intercourse.
The many hundreds of thousands of pounds that will be devoted to the provision of free contraceptives could be better spent on the handicapped, the disabled and other important priorities in the nation. I hope that the Solicitor-General will pass on what may be a 1642 minority opinion to those who take decisions in these matters.
I want finally to refer to the imposition of value added tax on certain foods and to the problems that that has created in the retail trade. It is obvious to those who know anything about the retail trade that the fact that the stationery for invoicing with the necessary VAT prices is not available will create severe problems in the retail trade. Despite approaches made to him, the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses to delay the implementation of VAT on certain food items. Many companies that use computers will have to reprogramme the computers, and that will take time, but no time has been allowed by the Chancellor. New systems will be required for cash sales, and further staff will have to be trained, but no time has been allowed to the retail trade for that training. Vending machine owners will obviously have to bear the tax until changes in their machines can be made. Is that fair?
The debate is about the state of the nation. I have put a number of comments to the Government. I hope that they will he heeded and that action on them will be taken Failing a national Government—which I should have liked to see—we are looking for positive, constructive and moderate government, and I hope that the Government agree that they will look to the Opposition to provide positive, constructive and moderate opposition for the benefit of the country.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
Many of us will have come to the debate having read the motion and having drawn our own conclusions about what precisely was in the mind of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). I came to the debate prepared to comment on the state of the nation and to rebut the charge that the House had no confidence in the Government. It is nonsense and an impudence after the Government have been in office for only four or five weeks to say, in a judgment based on prejudice and a prejudging of the issues, that in returning the Government the people co miscalculated and were so deceived that they now have no confidence in the Government.
1643 We have heard from the hon. Member for Yarmouth his concept of the nation and the national interest. I fully understood his argument when he talked about the national interest beyond the confines of these islands. However, when I think of the nation and the national interest, I think primarily of the people who live in this island, the people I know, the people with whom I work, the people who are my neighbours and the people who are my constituents in Edmonton.
§ Mr. Graham
I would not disagree with the view that the welfare and well-being of the people depend on our ability to exist as a trading nation. I take my stand on the view that the state of the nation is primarily a matter of the welfare and well-being of the people of the nation as I know them in my constituency.
With a motion of this kind, we need to consider not only what the Government have achieved but the state of the nation bequeathed to them in February by the previous Government. The present Government have not failed the nation. The state of the nation is largely that left by the former Government in February. Whoever secured the confidence of the nation at the General Election, it was certainly not the party of the hon. Member for Yarmouth. Before the election that party was in office and in power; after the election it was out of office and out of power. This was a painful blow to the ego and pride of the hon. Member for Yarmouth and every member of his party, but the democratic process had been worked, and, as far as we were concerned, worked satisfactorily. With enemies like the hon. Member for Yarmouth, who needs friends?
What was the state of the nation that the former Government left? We inherited a nation thoroughly demoralised and depressed, if not completely hopeless, bitter about the unfairness of 1644 the kind of society that it could see being foisted upon it. In that kind of society one had to run as fast as one could and keep up as well as one could and not stumble if one was not to be trampled to death. I should like to give one or two examples of the kinds of crises bequeathed to the Government on 1st March.
I cite in evidence not matters that have since come to light but matters that were brought to the attention of the country by hon. Members opposite and by many journals. For instance, last November an article in New Society which was headed "London's Real Crisis" said:To the man on the Bradford omnibus news of London's crisis—even assuming it reaches him in the Northern papers—must seem slightly unreal. The average British city does not lack one in five of its bus drivers. Its firemen are still on regular call. Its children do not suffer part-time schooling. Its police force manages to keep law and order without cutting out rest days and stopping leave. Its citizens do not yet need £5,000 a year to buy a house.That was the state of the nation as seen by independent commentators three and a half years after the Conservative Party had come to power.
To discuss the welfare of the nation one needs to consider the record of the Conservative Party, and I turn first to housing. Whenever he meets constituents in monthly or weekly surgeries, every hon. Member will be as depressed as I am by the appallingly inadequate housing of his constituents. As a Member representing Edmonton, I am concerned with London's problems. In 1971 a census showed that 150,000 houses in Greater London were unoccupied. The six inner London boroughs in 1971—they were defined as Islington, Hackney, Lambeth, Brent, Hammersmith and Southwark—had a housing waiting list of 48,000. In 1973 19,000 council houses were built compared with 26,000 in 1970.
In the GLC area alone 1 million families live in inadequate dwellings. Such facts represent the state of the nation as I see it—the state that was bequeathed to the Government on 1st March. Bearing in mind the previous Government's housing record they ought to be thoroughly ashamed to say that the present Government, after only five weeks in office, have failed the nation.
1645 In 1963 public and private housing resulted in 298,000 houses being built. In 1968, under a Labour Government, 413,000 houses had been built and in 1937 293,000 houses had been built. Twenty years ago the Conservatives promised that they would build 300,000 houses, but the total has been less than that. In council house building their record is even worse. In 1963 the figure was 124,000 council houses, in 1968, under a Labour Government, it was 191,000 and in 1973 it was 107,000.
When one considers the state of the nation and our present problems we should not look to this side of the House, but to the Conservative Party, as it was responsible. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), in an excellent maiden speech, referred to the shortage, and The Guardian newspaper stated last week that this was the worst year for the recruitment of teachers that London had known.
A Mr. Jack Brown of Barnsley stated in a letter to The Guardian in February that seven years ago he was bringing home £35 a week as an M1 labourer, but was now bringing home £35 a week as a teacher nearer the top of his scale than the bottom. This is an example of the scandal of the cynical abandonment by the Conservatives when in power of the disparities which were being revealed in pay in the public services. Some schoolchildren are not getting a full week's teaching. Many secondary schools in Edmonton have to send children home with four, five or six hours less teaching than they should be getting. The children are being denied vital tuition for their 0 levels and CSE examinations. This puts enormous pressure on teachers and parents as well as the students.
Reference has been made in the debate to pressures on the public services. I received a letter this week from a lady constituent who writes:I would explain first that I have multiple sclerosis. I am not asking for sympathy, but I am going through a sticky patch at the moment, and my handwriting may not be all it should be.I recently broke my leg in one of my many accidents. As always, I was given excellent treatment at North Middlesex Hospital. However, I am appalled at the shortage of staff. It seems to me that if nursing and ancillary staff do not get a lot more pay soon, the NHS will grind to a halt. The radiographer 1646 was only working on Saturdays to help out due to the shortage of staff. He had given up the job regularly, and taken employment elsewhere because he could no longer manage on the pay.I had to wait ages in pain for the one plasterer on duty to plaster my leg. I then had to wait for about 2½ hours for an ambulance to bring me home. I spoke to the transport staff who are very distressed at this state of affairs.It is not the fault of the staff. There is no question about their devotion and integrity. The fault is the way in which the Conservatives when in Government allowed those employed in the public sector to slide so far behind other workers.
From inquiries I find that the North Middlesex Hospital has grave shortages in ancillary staff, nursing staff, orderlies and maintenance staff. Three wards, with 82 beds, have had to be closed because of insufficient nursing staff.
There is also a scandal over the need to employ in hospitals staff from nursing agencies. We have reached a stage where in London public services are in grave danger of breaking down. London Transport is short of 2,000 bus drivers, and there is a 12½ per cent. shortage of conductors. There is a shortage of 4,000 workers in postal services, and a shortage of 100 ambulancemen. In teaching there are 700 unfilled vacancies in Greater London.
Before coming to the House this morning I called on the public health inspector in Enfield. While we were discussing other matters he told me, in passing, that there was a shortage of eight in the public health inspectorate establishment of 24.
There is competition for workers between private enterprise and the public services. An example can be found in detective work. I recall last year seeing an advertisement by the Metropolitan Police—in which there is a shortage of 5,000 personnel at the moment—inviting young men to join the police, and offering a starting salary which worked out at about £26 a week. On the same page of the newspaper was an advertisement by a private detective firm, inviting applications from men of the same age and offering between £40 and £45 a week. Such a situation is quite serious.
The Government do not claim to be able to solve overnight all the problems 1647 bequeathed to them by the Conservatives. There is an enormous job to do. There is the big task ahead to make the nation proud of itself once more. But the Government have made a start with policies for the overwhelming majority of the people. Consumers, workers, tenants and house owners will all benefit from policies which have already started to work.
We may not achieve great or swift strides towards removing the pimps and parasites from the backs of our people, but we on this side, and the Government, will not rest until we have restored to the people the belief that the Government care sufficiently to ensure not only that all workers are paid a living wage but that the consumer is protected and social enemies are dealt with.
When the people of this country make their choice yet again I have no doubt that my party's policies will be preferred to those of the Conservatives. I am prepared to wait and see, in the next Parliament, whether you will be over there and we shall we here.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
I support the remarks of hon. Members about the possibility of the House pulling together in view of the state of the nation. Perhaps in future we will not have any more irresponsible motions such as the one we are currently debating. That would be a good beginning. My hon. Friends the Members for Barking (Miss Richardson) and Edmonton (Mr. Graham) have raised a matter dear to my heart—the teacher shortage.
I have just come out of the classroom. Having spent many years in teaching I have for the first time had to take part in industrial action. I have had to tell the headmaster "I am sorry, I cannot go into that classroom. We are protesting against certain things which are happening." The "certain things" refers to the overwhelming teacher shortage in our schools. I am hoping that in the very near future, within the next few days, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will do something to convince teachers of the Government's good intentions.
1648 This debate is about the state of the nation. If the nation were not in the state that it is—and I put that down largely to the machinations of the previous Government—possibly I would not be here today. I have had an enforced period of absence from the House of about three and a half years. In going to the polls this year the electors of Ilford, South were determined that the nation should not have the sort of administration which had just left office. My constituents are anxious that the government of the country should be in capable hands, in the hands of a party which has put forward its propositions in its manifesto.
I do not suggest that I have consulted all sections of the nation about this issue. I have not travelled as widely as some hon. Members who claim to have knowledge of what is happening at the moment in every part of the country. I can, however, talk with a good deal of knowledge about what is happening in my constituency. My constituents are ordinary people, reflecting the feelings of most people in the country. I get around my constituency quite a lot. Confining myself to the reactions of ordinary people in the streets and on the doorsteps to the measure taken by the Government, I feel that I am in a position to talk about the state of the nation.
One thing I have noticed above all else is the sudden lifting of morale. Just before the election we were in the depths of despair. It was not just that there were darkened streets and shop windows and that there was a miners' strike. There was a general feeling of depression. People could scarcely be blamed for that after three and a half years of Tory rule. I have a large number of old-age pensioners in my constituency. If any section of the community is grateful to the Government, it is that section.
Even during the three and a half years of Tory Government we were doing something for those people. I give credit to my colleagues on Redbridge Borough Council, of which area my constituency forms part. Using the powers given to them by the previous Labour administration they were able to force a very unwilling Tory majority on the council to grant concessionary fares to old people. This was followed by the GLC action granting free travel to old people. Now 1649 there has been what is perhaps the greatest gift to the pensioners for some time, the increased pensions. It is an increase such as the country has not seen before. The pensioners are grateful not only because the pensions are being increased more than ever before but because the intention is that pensions should rise in step with the cost of living.
§ Mr. Shaw
Another subject of great interest to my constituents is rents. I have a large number of council tenants in my constituency and an equally large number of people who rent private tenancies. Over the last few years they have been constantly clobbered as a result of the workings of the iniquitous Housing Finance Act. These people welcome the move by the Government to freeze rents as a prelude to abolishing the Act.
A large number of people are renting furnished flats and bed-sitters in my constituency. They are looking forward to the time when the Government will fulfil their promise—I know that they will—to give such people the security of tenure which they have been denied for so long. The housing situation in my constituency has deteriorated beyond recognition. At present we have the largest council house waiting list ever, mainly due to the actions of the last Government. There are over 6,000 families on the waiting list, very few with any hope of getting accommodation. In the private sector there has been a hugh reduction in the number of houses being built. This is true also throughout the country.
It is becoming virtually impossible for young people to obtain a house in my part of Greater Landon. That is why there are so many old people in my area. The young cannot afford to live there. They welcome the Government's intention to pick the housing programme up from the floor. We have our shortages of teachers and other public servants because they cannot get houses.
It was in 1970, when the electors of Ilford, South believed the Leader of the Opposition when he said that he would bring down the cost of food, that I was defeated. There might have been other 1650 factors, but I am sure that that one had a tremendous influence. My constituents realised their mistake, and so again I became a Member. I am more than pleased to be back, even if it is only to listen to speeches such as that made by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell).
Everywhere in my constituency there is a looking forward—
§ Mr. Shaw
Yes, to the next election, when I am sure that my majority of 1,143 will be far greater as a result of the Government's actions. As a result of the action of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Brussels and the resolute attitude of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at the Council of Ministers, people will have the right to determine whether their future lies in the Common Market. That opportunity was denied to them by the Conservative Government.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Luton, West)
The whole House will wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) on having the courage of the convictions of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). As he is a member of a political party whose leader is perhaps best summed up in Churchill's description of Baldwin—decided to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful only to be impotent"—I can understand his concern at the lack of spine, spunk and spirit of the Opposition Front Bench. The pity is that so few hon. Members have joined the rebellion and that many of the combustible squire-archy on the Conservative benches have gone home to their grouse moors, trout streams and gout-ridden country houses.
Given that there are certain authentic rasping voices of Tory Britain on the benches opposite. I hope that my right 1651 hon. and hon. Friends will enable them today to have not only their say but their vote, because each vote in the Aye Lobby will represent a knife struck at the heart of the right hon. Member for Sidcup— an expression, as it were, of Tory backbenchers' loyalty to their leader.
It is possible to view the state of the nation in two ways. One can view it as an American investor in British Petroleum and note that 48.2 per cent. of the ordinary shares of that company were owned by the British people; that two Treasury directors on the board selected by the Prime Minister have the power of veto over the company's decisions and yet sat back year after year and saw that company pay no tax; that last year its profits rose fourfold, to £310 million; and that life is very good and that, with bonuses from the North Sea and the Exchequer determinedly keeping its hands off its profits, life will get better. That is part of the obscene dream of unacceptable capitalism. It is that which makes the workers angry and would make them even angrier if the half of it was explained to them.
One can look at the state of the nation from another angle—from the angle of reality. One would then see an industrial scene ever more dominated by foreign capital—today American, tomorrow Japanese. One would see millions of people living on or below the poverty line and for whom ambition goes no further than a roof over their heads, a square meal and an increase from the Supplementary Benefits Commission. One would see 9 million people living in dumps and seeing institutional temples destroying their lives and altering the scale and perspective of living and who will continue to live in dumps unless some Government find new answers to the housing and planning problems of the inner cities.
One would see 75 per cent. of the population getting a second-class education, be it in terms of care, facilities or resources. One would see 1 million old people who live life in total isolation and complete loneliness. One would see mental patients treated with such contempt by our affluent society that even the food which they eat is different from that which the rest of us eat when we go into hospital. One would see four 1652 out of five people who need meals on wheels but do not receive them, and five out of six people who want sheltered homes but go without. One would see women and immigrants treated as second-class citizens and women immigrants treated as third-class citizens as Home Secretary after Home Secretary plays the numbers game.
One would see the great mass of the people living in a cultural desert created by local and national leaders who through the ages have been characterised by meanness and philistinism. In England's "green and pleasant land", for many there is not much greenery and life is not very pleasant.
That is the state of the nation left by the Conservative Party. That is the state of the nation 200 years on into the Industrial Revolution as it enters the last quarter of the twentieth century in one of the richest countries the world has ever known. That will still be the state of the nation in a decade unless the present Labour Government and their successors introduce radical and Socialist change.
§ Mr. Cormack
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that it would be a good idea to have a sensible debate on the question of reclamation and get on with the next subject?
§ Mr. Sedgemore
That is why it is important to have a June election so that the people can elect a Labour Government with a solid majority and we can tell whether it has the political will and political steel to carry through the necessary change.
There has been one remarkable comment made during this Parliament on the state of the nation. It was made in the winding-up speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in the Budget debate. If he is to be the new leader of the Conservative Party, Selsdon Man is about to be overtaken by his neandertal predecessors.
I admired the honesty of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It was a restatement of the new Conservative philosophy. It was made on behalf of the Conservative and Unionist Party—a powerful political and philosophical plea for a new inequality. It spelled out what many of the right hon. Gentleman's 1653 colleagues felt but dare not say, that the working peeople are to be viewed as appendages to a production machine brilliantly devised by the middle classes and that the function of working people is to create conditions in which their superiors can thrive and with the unconscious realisation of effortless superiority. In return some of them, so the right hon. Gentleman says, will be allowed to join the middle class.
I analysed that speech and I found that nine times the right hon. Gentleman cried, and cried aloud for middle-class managerial Britain, but not once did he have it in his heart to say a word about working people. As I listened to his speech I wondered what the workers in my constituency—from Vauxhall, Chrysler, Electrolux, Skefco, Whitbread and a hundred smaller firms—were doing.
As for the poor, according to the right hon. Gentleman inequality is to be viewed as an incentive, a spur and a penance. He told us that the Conservative Britain of tomorrow will move back to the Victorian drawing rooms of yesteryear. He said:The middle classes have virtues … thrift, self-sacrifice, foresight, kindness."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April 1974; Vol. 871, c. 1000.]If he had substituted self-pity, over-indulgence in credit, a determined philistinism and a tendency to wife-swapping, I might understand the sort of people he had in mind.
We all know the sort of people the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. After a breathtaking week of initiatives and decisions—some of them taken at extended lunch hours—they come home at the weekend to sip their imitation claret and read the book reviews—the books are too difficult. They go on holiday to Yugoslavia and they read editorials in the Daily Telegraph about the evils of—yes —Yugoslavia. If those are the sort of people the Opposition are concerned to look after, it is no wonder they have no time for the working people.
The right hon. Gentleman said, as reported at column 998, that the middle class get ulcers. What about the working class? Whoever heard of a working class ulcer? According to Tory Britain that is absenteeism. The right hon. Gentleman said that the middle class were 1654 worthy people with exhausting jobs. How in the name of creation would he describe a Vauxhall worker who does a 40-hour week on the production line? The right hon. Gentleman said that tax will drive away the middle class from the United Kingdom.
The patriots of this world are for ever threatening to take themselves and their capital out of the country every time the going gets tough. They are apparently threatening to do so again. Did not Churchill talk aboutblood, toil, tears and sweat"?Who is supposed to offer all that in times of war, of peace, of prosperity and of depression? Apparently, not the people who are about to ship themselves off to the darkest corners of the earth with their capital.
I will spare the House further details of the remarkable new tomorrow described in the speech made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East. Surely he is fighting the wrong war. There is no war between the middle and working classes.
In the last Parliament the right hon. Member for Sidcup drummed home again and again that the real crisis was the confrontation between those who earned their living and those who lived through capital. Ninety-five per cent. of the people of this land, be they miners, doctors, architects, car workers, civil servants or engineers, have a common identity of interest. Their interest is opposed to that of the 5 per cent. who own, use and often abuse 80 per cent. of the capital wealth of the land.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he would make things difficult for Rachmanites, racketeers, asset strippers and usurers, but what we shall do with the usurers after his second Budget I do not know. Suffice to say that in Dante's "Inferno" the usurers were taken into Circle 7 and made to stand on hot sands beneath burning rains alongside the Sodomites. Perhaps Opposition right hon. and hon. Members should be allowed to join them. Government supporters will rest content with the words of Bernard Shaw:Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream dreams that never were and say, why not?
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Robert Sheldon)
The debate has been an unusual one, both for its title and for the contributions we have heard, and particularly unusual because of the absence of an Opposition Front Bench spokesman. We quite understand the Opposition's reluctance to come into the debate on the coat tails of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). We know that the Opposition Whips have done nothing to encourage hon. Members to take part in the debate.
My first duty is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) on her particularly distinguished maiden speech. The tribute she paid to her predecessor, Tom Driberg, whom we loved and respected over many years, was well taken by the House. Her comments on the London weighting allowance and the problems of the National Health Service in her area will be taken up with her by my right hon. Friends. My hon. Friend made a serious and valuable contribution, and we look forward to hearing more from her on these and other subjects.
It is customary—almost part of our standing orders—to congratulate the mover of a motion taken on a Friday on the choice of subject, but it will come as no surprise to the hon. Member for Yarmouth that such congratulation has not been available to him and I shall not present my encomium on this occasion.
It is clear that the hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted completely the mood of the House and the country. Whereas certain people's memories may be short, fortunately for our political life, the memory of the people is just a little longer. They are able to contrast the situation today with the situation of just over a month ago. They recall that not much more than a month ago we were on a three-day working week, whereas we are now working a five, six and seven day week trying to catch up. Not much more than a month ago unemployment was reaching the level of 1¼ million—a figure which it reached on 28th February, a date that we shall long remember. Not much more than a month ago the queues at our garages had reached lengths we have rarely seen. Not much more than a 1656 month ago we were adjured to brush our teeth in the dark, to save electricity, to restrict the level of lighting and heating. The consequences of that still have to be paid for. The cost of the shoplifting and the losses that occurred over that period still have to be reckoned.
Not much more than a month ago offices were on three-day lighting, which was deeply resented in parts of the country remote from London where in the winter there are fewer daylight hours than are enjoyed by the people who decide these matters. Not much more than a month ago old people were forced to restrict their heating to one room, and they did so because they form a large part of the patriotic element in our coutnry.
So the suffering that was general, large and looked likely to continue has at any rate been brought to an end in the short period since that time.
Anyone who can say that a Government who have been able to end the difficulties under which we were labouring for so long as well as to achieve the other matters to which we turned our attention have given an inadequate performance for a month must expect something in the way of miracles from a Government, miracles of a kind which are not likely to be achieved. But we have a great deal of pride in looking at what we have done.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
As my hon. Friend has ended that very important point, I wonder whether he would agree to let the House know that in the period of fuel shortage petrol was actually being exported from Britain and that large tankers filled with oil were being diverted from Britain?
§ Mr. Sheldon
Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that particular point to mind. It is one of a number of wrongs that were being executed during the closing weeks of the Conservative Government, when they seemed almost to have let things out of control.
The figure for the temporarily stopped, that is, those who were stopped from work because of the fuel shortage—which reached a level of 545,000, was down to 44,000 by 18th March, according to the latest figure that I have. Therefore, we present the picture of a country which 1657 has got back to work, which has overcome the appalling difficulties which were made by the previous Government, and which has overcome the wounds that were self-inflicted but have now been bandaged up and are starting to heal. We are now starting on the long road to recovery and improvement.
We do not believe that we have completely ended the disadvantages that were created for Britain by the actions of the previous Government. Four weeks is not enough time for that. But we have made the important starts to which we are committed and in which we rightly take very great pride. In those four weeks, apart from the ending of the restrictions to which I have drawn attention, we have had a Budget which has been fair, which has produced the largest increase in pensions which Britain has ever known, and which has for the first time given pensioners the chance to obtain the measure of payment that is their due and which the Government decided was their right.
We are bringing to an end some of the non-senses of the previous Government. We are examining the whole question of Maplin in a different context. We have started the European negotiations. Most important of all, in the respect that people feel this to be crucial to their standard of living, we are bringing some firm control over prices.
The prices element is something in which we can take great pride, because prices was the issue on which the previous Government won the 1970 election and it was the issue which featured so prominently in the recent election. We made it clear in opposition that, although we could not control world prices any more than could the Conservative Party, what we would do—and have lost no time in doing—was to reduce the impact of high prices on those least able to cope with them. We have proposed a programme involving food subsidies and maximum fair prices for key items in the family budget, and we have strengthened the price code.
We have taken decisive action on prices. We have wiped out the threatened increase in the price of bread. We have stopped the increase in the price of butter which would have resulted from the EEC price settlement. We have taken 18 per 1658 cent. off the price of milk. We shall deal with other important foods also. We shall be putting more money into the pockets of the lower paid through the tax changes made in the Budget.
The Prices Bill has been published and will be debated next week. That Bill sets out the steps which the Government intend to take to obtain the necessary powers to enable us to fulfil our pledge to set maximum fair prices for key items in the family budget. I do not go into this matter in any great detail because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making a number of important announcements during the course of that debate. But on this key issue we have acted. We have done what we said we could do. We have acted quickly.
The Tory manifesto is not a very happy piece of reading, but it set out a number of steps which the Tories wished to see taken. Perhaps I may mention some of those. The Tory manifesto mentioned repeatedly the need fora strong government, able to take firm measures in defence of the national interest.I have never understood what the Tories meant by "firm government", because so many times the Government acted firmly but so very wrongly. What was needed was not so much firm government but sensible government, which we lacked for so long during the period of the previous administration.
The Tory manifesto talks about "sacrifices equally shared." I should have thought that the Budget and the steps that the present Government have so far taken have meant a much greater share of the burden, especially through the steps to redistribute income through the ending of the enormous advantages which the previous Government gave to surtax payers and investment incomes.
The Tory manifesto talked of the settlement of the miners' dispute at the earliest possible moment. A few days was what we took to do that. That was about as early as possible a moment as we could have taken action. The Tory manifesto talked of the "morality of fairness". The morality of fairness was shown in the Budget proposals. The manifesto talked about the protection of the consumer from unnecessary price increases. On that we have acted promptly and fairly also.
1659 When the Tory manifesto talked aboutA Britain united in moderation, not divided by extremismI think it was pointing the finger to the one factor that made the previous Government so very much rejected by so many people in Britain. We all know in our hearts that we have suffered as a country a considerable decline over the past 10 or 15 years. We know that the wealth that we had at one stage is no longer ours, and that the power that we enjoyed as a country has long since gone. Our empire has had to be split up and dissolved. But, at any rate, at the end of the day we know that the thing in which we could retain pride was our reputation for moderation and for sensible co-operation. It was this that the previous Government attacked as one of the last legacies still remaining to us. One thing which we can say about the present Government is that we have been able to bring about a unity in moderation of a kind which has restored to our country the reputation which we have enjoyed for so many years.
These are only the first steps. But, of course, it is right that in a debate such as this the Government can be judged only by what we have done, by what these first steps have produced for the country. We have been in office for only four weeks. We have ended the miners' strike. We have got Britain back to full-time working. We have commenced the renegotiations in regard to Europe. We have frozen our rents. We have acted on prices. We have introduced increased pensions which are rightly for the pensioners to enjoy. We have ended the slide to disaster.
It is a start, and only a start. But it is a start of which the whole country has a right to be proud. The reason why the Opposition Front Bench is empty is that the country has confidence in the present Government. If that were not so, that Front Bench would be occupied. The fact is that the motion is belied both by the absence of an Opposition Front Bench spokesman and by the feeling in the country at large. The country has confidence in a Government who, in four weeks, have started very well. They have made a start that is earning them the right to continue to run the affairs of this country for many years to come.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Fell
I was going to take advantage of the kindness of the House in allowing me to wind up by saying very few words and ending by withdrawing my motion, having given an explanation for withdrawing it, and nothing more. However, some remarks have been made which should not go unanswered.
I should like to deal first with the speech made by the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore). He said the most scurrilous and disgraceful things about my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who while he was Secretary of State for Social Services earned the reputation of being the most humane of people, whatever his party politics, and of doing everything he possibly could, within the limits of money allowable, to help people of all types who were in difficulties. I think that this is generally agreed throughout the whole country. Therefore, the hon. Member for Luton, West made a some-what scurrilous speech.
§ Mr. Sedgemore
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the reality of his right hon. Friend's period as Secretary of State for Social Services was that he always considered poverty to be a fringe subject, whereas there are about 10 million people living on or below the poverty line and he never accepted that?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman invites me to comment. I must say that he is the most obliging Member in the House. He keeps sitting down when he might help if he did not sit down.
§ Mr. Fell
I realise that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there is an old tradition of courtesy in this House. On the whole, I do not think I have been slow in offering courtesy to other hon. Members.
On the matter of courtesy to other hon. Members, I should like to take this opportunity, which I could not take before, of congratulating the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) on getting through her first performance in this House. It is never an easy matter 1661 for any Member of Parliament. I am sure that we shall hear a great deal from her in future. The hon. Lady made her speech with great confidence, as though she had been here for many years. We all look forward to hearing her on future occasions.
I should like to thank all hon. Members who came to the House today to assist in the debate. I am extremely grateful for the generosity they have shown in sparing time to come and also for the good temper, although I could not agree with everything they said, with which they made their speeches.
I should like to comment on the speech made by the pleasant and always good-tempered Minister of State, Civil Service Department. It is a marked contrast that he should have come to answer this debate compared with the attitude shown by the Opposition Front Bench.
I am always astonished by the way that Members of Parliament, who on the whole are as independent-minded a group of people as there is in the nation, jump to the Whips' every little crack. I freely admit that I am disappointed that the Opposition benches are almost empty today. One does not have to look far for the reason. It would be the crassest stupidity to assume that right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House have absented themselves because they do not agree that they do not like the present Government. It would be nonsense to suggest that they had absented themselves because they did not wish to make speeches attacking the Government, because that passes my belief. It would be nonsense to say anything other than that it was the slight pop or crack of the whip sounded in the Financial Times last Friday week announcing that the Tory Whips would not encourage people to stand up for this motion that did the trick.
With the exception of one or two of my good old friends, who were kind enough to come in, and one or two right hon. Gentlemen who feel as strongly as I do, that is the reason for these benches being almost denuded throughout the debate. That is no advertisement for the democracy of this nation.
§ Mr. Fell
Or for the Tory Party, I agree. However, when the hon. Gentleman has been here a little longer he will find that in the main I do not mince my words or withhold my punches.
I shall ask leave to withdraw the motion for the reason I have just given. Patently and obviously, there is not sufficient support amongst the Opposition to put this motion to any test. Clearly they have other ideas about the time when the Government should be attacked.
I remember well the tactical talks that have gone on during the four weeks that the Government—I do not want to upset them—have been in power. All kinds of tactical conferences have been taking place between the tacticians and leaders on this side of the House. However, I do not recall that they have been enormously successful for the Conservative Party.
I feel that I must answer some of the points so courteously made by the Minister, but that is nothing new, unlike the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who made one of his typically kindly, funny, charming, urbane and generous speeches in which he did nothing but pay compliments to the hon. Member for Yarmouth. I was deeply touched by the fact that he managed to bring himself to the House to make some funny jokes.
I am in no way trying to rouse the temper of the House or of the Minister, who in any case is very well in control of himself and his temper. However, I was a little surprised that in replying to the debate he did not answer the charge I had made about defence, which is enormously serious for the nation. He did not answer my charge that the Labour Party has got itself into the ridiculous position of being under the thumb of the TUC. He did not in any satisfactory way explain the claim that our prices difficulties had been overcome by the Government in three or four weeks. I thought that was a most incredible claim. However, the hon. Gentleman did his best to give a catalogue of the measures that the Government have already taken, which the whole House well understands. We all know that every speech made from the Government benches from now until June will in one way or another be a General Election speech.
1663 For the reason I gave earlier—to wit, the lack of support by the Tories for a motion criticising Her Majesty's Government—I beg to ask leave to withdrawn the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.