HC Deb 19 December 1974 vol 883 cc1831-93

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 13th January.— [Mr. Coleman.]

4.14 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

As we are debating whether we shall adjourn tomorrow for Christmas, may I suggest that we should not do so? My reason is, in the tradition of this House, not that I want to stay here over Christmas, as the Lord President will realise, but that there are several matters of importance to my constituents which I think must be decided before we adjourn.

The first specific issue to which I refer concerns the Secretary of State for the Environment. There is a tremendous backlog of decisions on planning consents as a result of appeals to the right hon. Gentleman. One which I have in mind is at a place called Carsington, where a reservoir is proposed.

It will be realised how difficult the situation becomes when an appeal hangs fire for 18 months. Land is sterilised. People in the area who farm or who live there and work elsewhere are not aware of what is to happen to them. In this case, the appeal has been waiting at least 18 months for a decision.

I know that there were two General Elections intervening which upset the issue completely. But there is a tremendous backlog of decisions waiting to be taken by the Secretary of State. I hope that the Lord President will ask his right hon. Friend to come to the House before we rise to announce these decisions which are causing so much difficulty. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do it tomorrow, perhaps we might sit on Monday, though God forbid, to enable him to do so.

There seems to be something wrong about the administration of matters of this kind. I cannot believe that it takes 18 months to decide whether there should be a reservoir at Carsington or to decide other planning appeals relating to houses here and estates there. Six years ago, after inspectors had heard the arguments on both sides, planning appeals were decided within six to eight months. Now they take 18 months and sometimes longer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be persuaded to keep us here for at least an extra day so that an announcement about these outstanding decisions can be made.

My second reason for suggesting that we do not rise tomorrow is a more fundamental one. It is the situation in agriculture, which at the moment is still in dire straits. Since the last election, we have been through an extraordinary period. At that time, sections of the farming industry, especially the livestock sector, were in a desperate state. For some unknown reason, the Minister of Agriculture refused to do anything about it. He did not take action to restore confidence. As a result, it declined even further, and we reached the situation where many farmers, especially in West Derbyshire, lost a great deal of money on every animal on their farms. Even our milk farmers were losing money. Belatedly, decisions were taken, and dairy farmers got an increase. But still nothing was done for the beef farmer.

The Minister pleaded every time that it was the fault of the EEC. That was far from the truth. However, we are to debate the EEC later today, so I shall not refer to it now. But the result of the right hon. Gentleman's special pleading, which was untrue, was that farmers in my constituency did not receive the help that they needed, and a very serious situation exists today.

There is a grave shortage of fodder. Nothing is being done. We have statements in this House from the Minister, but no money is forthcoming. There is also grave anxiety about milk and whether there will be enough for both the liquid market and the manufacturing market from 1st January next year. I doubt it very much. The Minister must say what he intends to do to restore confidence, otherwise we shall find heifers in calf being slaughtered.

The beef market has improved, it always does at Christmas. But it has not improved enough. The Minister told us that it was to have an increase of £18.50 a cwt. That has not happened. I hope that the Minister will say what measures he intends to take. He cannot plead that the situation is the fault of the EEC, because he has been given carte blanche to take whatever action he feels to be necessary.

My two reasons, therefore, for suggesting that we should not adjourn tomorrow are the delays in planning decisions, which are causing great distress in my constituency, and the failure of the Minister of Agriculture to restore confidence among our farmers, who face severe shortages of many basic commodities on which they depend. Unless the Minister does something in the near future, we shall be in dire straits in 1975. I hope that the Lord President will convey these thoughts to his colleagues. Until they come to this House with specific announcements about the matters to which I have referred, I hope that we shall not rise for the Christmas Recess.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

I, too, would like to submit that this is a rather inappropriate time to recess, given the figures published by the Department of the Environment last week on house building. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has spoken of the problems facing agriculture but similar problems of a far more serious nature, with far more serious implications for the future, are currently facing the building industry. The figures that were produced last week were dismal. On the one hand, we have had an 11 per cent. increase in public house-building in the third quarter of this year as compared with the same quarter of last year, and yet at the same time there has been a catastrophic collapse in the private house-building sector.

The figures show that in the third quarter of this year, compared with the same quarter of last year, there has been a drop of 51 per cent. in private house-building starts. I submit that that is a very serious situation which ought to be debated in this House before it adjourns for the Christmas Recess. There are many thousands of people who are homeless at the moment, and many thousands more will be homeless in the future unless action is taken now. It is no good at all for the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Environment to make numerous speeches throughout the country talking about different types of programmes and the different policies he has for temporary house building when at the end of every speech he says, "I have not yet made a decision; we have not yet come to any firm commitment".

We want a decision now. We want a commitment now, and unless we get that commitment now, and unless we get action now, we shall in the next two years be facing a horrifying prospect in relation to homelessness and lack of adequate housing unprecedented in this country.

The most important thing is the real collapse of house building in the private sector, but I would like to see that compensated for by an increase in house-building in the public sector. It is paradoxical, is it not, that at one and the same time we have a collapse in new starts for house building and we have many thousands of construction workers unemployed? There are, for example, 8,000 building workers unemployed on Merseyside, and, as many hon. Members will know, we have a stockpile of bricks throughout the country.

We have the men and we have the resources. Our problem is to put these together effectively. I would submit to the right hon. Gentleman that we should not adjourn until we have had an opportunity of debating in the House the current housing situation and of impressing upon the Secretary of State the importance of taking action now in order to protect ourselves from the possibility of a catastrophe in housing in a year's time.

4.24 p.m.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I share the view which I suspect most hon. Members who follow me will hold, that, horrible though the thought is, it is very unwise of us to say farewell to Ministers on the Front Bench opposite for as long as is proposed, because there are too many and too serious matters to which they should be attending. I do not believe we can rely upon them to get on with the tasks to which they should be devoting their energies unless they are under daily supervision in this House.

Having said that generally, I make one specific point which concerns the crisis which I believe is building up in the National Health Service. Anyone who has been following this in the Press—and the Press is covering the situation accurately, I believe—must have been very alarmed at the way in which junior hospital doctors now seem to have reached an impasse in their dealings with the Department, which has led them to tell the Minister that they no longer have faith in her officials and wish to deal personally with her. Anyone who considers the terrible fate which they are inviting thereby must wonder what has driven them to this, but at any rate it is something seriously to be reckoned with.

Again, and perhaps even more serious, there is the situation which has developed in the consultant field, where we have evidence from various parts of the country of such anxiety, unease and general distrust amongst consultants over the way in which the Government are dealing with the negotiations about their interests that they have started to work to rule. I have seen, as other hon. Members may have, a letter which has been sent to the Minister which explains the concern of the British Medical Association at what it regards as inexplicable delays, and which warns the Minister in terms of a grave risk of unprecedented disturbance to the National Health Service. This seems to me to be a matter of the greatest seriousness and one upon which the House should be informed at the earliest possible moment.

We know there are meetings due to take place tomorrow. It may not be possible for the House to be informed before we rise of the results of those meetings but I believe that a full statement should be made to the House at the earliest possible moment—that may be an argument for our returning earlier than planned— about the dealings between the Government and doctors, consultants, and junior doctors, and also about the general state of morale in the health service, where nurses are perplexed and distressed and administrators are terrified of the impact of the proposals put forward by the Secretary of State. The country as a whole must be gravely concerned at what is happening in a service in which we used, and rightly, to take great pride but which now seems in danger of something close to collapse. This is something which should concern the House, and the Minister must devote his energy to sorting out the problems, and we must have a statement at the earliest possible moment.

4.26 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

I feel it would not be right for the House to adjourn without my putting on record my thanks for the statement made by the Leader of the House today about the general concept of hon. Members' salaries and facilities for back benchers. While he was speaking I felt, from the questions that were raised on both sides of the House, that hon. Members had failed to notice the motion on today's Order Paper and an important part of the statement made by my right hon. Friend in relation to back-up services for hon. Members.

Speaking for many of my hon. Friends, I would tell my right hon. Friend that a good number of us have become increasingly embarrassed of late by letters we have received from our bank managers asking if we would not mind banking with their institution for a change, instead of their institutions banking with us. Though our constituents have every right to expect considerable sacrifice from their Members, for, after all, we are the ones who stand for election, they have not the right to ask us to make sacrifices for our children, and they are as entitled to share in the general increase in the existing standard of living and to be protected against any fall in that standard on the ground of the social contract as any other section of the community. It is right that my right hon. Friend should be congratulated on the way he took Questions today in view of the considerable difficulty he must have faced in trying to come to such a decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orms-kirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) made an important statement on housing. I would agree that we have had so many false starts, false booms and false promises in the field of housing that it is better that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment should be able to work out a coherent and sustainable plan to deal with this terrible problem than that he should come to this House and rush along, starting to make statements which again turn out later to be only false promises. The manifesto of the Parliamentary Labour Party is a very popular document at the present moment. I, too, believe in it, and I would point out to my right hon. Friend that one of its important parts is the statement on transport on page 20, stating that the energy crisis has undermined our objective to move as much traffic as possible from road to rail and water.

One of the things which have happened in my area is that Freightliners have decided to close down one of its services between Hull and Liverpool, which is going to put 10,000 additional loads on the roads in the course of the year—bad roads and congested roads. That is a most terrible decision, to save £60,000, on the figures we were given by Freight-liners.

Apparently, on 6th January, no matter what meetings my right hon. Friends may have with various people, this service will terminate. If it does, it will make nonsense of any claim to have an integrated transport service. It will increase congestion. It will cause worse effects upon the balance of payments, with increased demands for petrol and other types of motor fuel. It will result in a number of men becoming redundant. It will result in the virtual disappearance of an important service. Before the House rises, we should have a general Government statement about the various effects of nit-picking by nationalised industries, which are rightly seeking to balance their accounts—I do not blame them for that —and taking an overall view of the problems of transport and its integration and the effects on energy conservation and fuel imports.

I am secretary of the Parliamentary Group of the Transport and General Workers' Union. There is an industrial dispute at an establishment known as the Casonava Club. The management has said that it has dismissed people because they sought to take part in a trade union. The Gaming Board has refused to take any interest in the labour relations in that institution, although the board is responsible for the licensing of employees who work there as well as for the licensing of the establishment itself. If the board has the right to license a person to work in an establishment and to withdraw his or her licence, it has the further duty to ensure that that establishment is being properly run, that its employees may belong to a union, that the patrons are not put at risk in their gambling, and that there is no possibility of there being even a suspicion of criminality or bad supervision or anything of that nature in the institution.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House should have urgent talks, before the House rises, with the Home Secretary to see what exactly the board is up to in not looking at this trade dispute, which has important implications for the working of the board and of the industry, quite apart from the trade union issues involved. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should make a statement on it tomorrow.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I believe that the House should not go into recess until we have dealt with the problem of providing a system of compensation for those who suffer losses through terrorist activities. We have dealt with the problem on the criminal side through the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, but that leaves the civil side and it is becoming increasingly urgent to deal with it.

The position is quite different in Northern Ireland, which has legislation applying to the Province alone under which anyone who suffers damage to property may obtain a certificate from the appropriate police authority, testifying as to the cause of the explosion and those responsible, and entitling the holder to compensation for his losses. No such arrangements apply in Great Britain and they are becoming desperately and urgently needed.

The Home Secretary told me on 21st November that the Government did not propose to introduce legislation to provide compensation for uninsured losses caused by terrorist action in Great Britain. But about 25 bomb incidents have occurred since the first one at the Old Bailey in March last year. They have resulted in many deaths, many injuries and hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage to property.

The only provisions which exist in our law for compensating people who suffer are those contained in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which is restricted to compensation for victims of crimes of violence. It does not cover all forms of terrorism, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board said in its most recent report that relatively few of those entitled made claims. Since the incident at the Old Bailey on 8th March 1973 the total losses suffered, by individual private citizens especially but also by others, have escalated. In respect of that incident, however, many claims are still outstanding.

I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr), when he was Home Secretary, what he was going to do for people who in the Old Bailey incident lost property or suffered damage to their property and who were inadequately insured against loss, and for those who, although insured, suffered consequential loss. The then Minister of State, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) replied: The Government have no plans to make special provision for compensation for loss suffered on this occasion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July 1973; Vol. 859, c. 322.] Not all the claims in respect of that incident were settled, and those that were settled were not all settled in full. Many people were not insured at all and had to bear their own losses.

The question is, who should pay for the increasingly serious amount of damage being caused by terrorist incidents in this country? Insurance companies have been paying out and are continuing to do so, but they cannot be expected to do so indefinitely. It is inevitable—this is why the problem has become urgent—that sooner or later insurance companies will start tightening up their restrictions on this type of claim and will start refusing to pay. They have acted very honourably up to now, but we cannot expect them to continue as they have been behaving unless an adjustment is made in our law to make it similar to that which applies in Northern Ireland.

One reason why I think that the ordinary citizen of Great Britain will feel rather badly about this matter, quite apart from the announcement today of the £42,000 being paid in compensation to certain people in Northern Ireland, is that one exception has been allowed for those who suffer damage through terrorist action when uninsured. The only people whose uninsured losses are being paid for are Members of Parliament. On 2nd December the Leader of the House told me: Ex-gratia payments to Members in respect of compensation for uninsured losses have been made from the House of Commons Vote."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December 1974 ; Vol. 882, c. 326.] What is good for Members of the House of Commons is good for the average citizen who suffers uninsured loss through terrorist action.

4.38 p.m.

Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I endorse all that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has said. A possible solution would be to have something on the lines of the War Damage Insurance Act, with statutory responsibility in these matters. What the hon. Gentleman has said is timely and should commend itself to the Government.

The matter I seek to raise is a constituency matter, which is why I seek to resist the Adjournment of the House tomorow. It concerns also a number of other constituencies. If I say at once that it is an example of the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism, I do not think that when I have told my story my description will be regarded as tendentious or unreasonable. Indeed, I expect that many hon. Members would support my request to have the situation resolved.

Some time ago one or more organisations—I use no other description at the moment—decided to indulge in an extensive sales campaign in various parts of the Midlands. They did so by means of pyramid selling, an activity about which legislation has been introduced on a number of occasions, including one quite recently, in order to curb it, although not, it seems, with unqualified success.

A number of people with grandiloquent designations—"general manager", "captain" and so on—were employed to engage people for the purpose of licensing other individuals to sell low-quality goods. An organisation called Holiday Magic and another company decided to seize upon certain areas of the country and saturate them with licensees to sell low-grade cosmetics from their front parlours. Coincidentally with that, one of a number of finance companies came on the scene and offered finance to people who had been inveigled into beings licensees of Holiday Magis.

It has been suggested all along that these operation were entirely coincidental and not interconnected. I make no comment on that save to say that, on almost every occasion when Holiday Magic secured a new licensee, by the most extraordinary coincidence the same licensee was soon approached by representatives of a subsidiary of a large finance company and was advanced money on the strength of what inevitably turned out to be a second mortgage.

The money advanced was far in excess of any reasonable repayment capacity. It was advanced ostensibly for such purposes as house reconstruction or improvement, but invariably it found its way to being connected with the licensing operations of Holiday Magic and was used— and, I suggest, was accepted to be used —to help finance the unfortunate persons who were engaged as licensed sales people of Holiday Magic.

It was not long before a large number of people found themselves in a chronic state of indebtedness. From my investigations it appears that between 200 and 300 people at least in and around my constituency are victims of this system. I have reason to believe, but I have not had the opportunity personally to document this matter, that the total number of people all over the country who have been inveigled into what I can only describe as a singularly despicable and fraudulent enterprise is probably in the region of 5,000 or more.

Not all the people were involved with Holiday Magic. There is another company, equally disreputable, called Golden Chemicals which has also engaged in the business of profligate licensing of people who are quite incapable of carrying out the sales operations that they were licensed to pursue and, indeed, were never intended so to do.

I want to put on record, because this matter may get considerable publicity in the Midlands, that the principal finance house was Julian Hodge Ltd., whose subsidiaries were responsible for financing the operations. It is right to say, however, and I am happy to say, that—I do not know whether as a result of pressure that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden), myself and others have brought to bear, or because the companies decided of their own volition to face up to their responsibility—in many though not all cases these matters have been resolved inasmuch as the debts have been written off, and in other cases the debts have been written down and the scale of repayments made less repressive to the persons concerned.

But that is not the end of the story by a long chalk. There are other finance houses—at least three which I have in mind—which have financed operations of this kind and which have not so far committed themselves to repairing the damage they have done. I seek from the Government an assurance that appropriate pressures will be brought to bear to ensure that these companies face up to their responsibilities. It may be thought that this was perhaps a rather zany but basically honest operation, but I shall explain why I suggest that that is not the case.

First, the number of persons licensed to carry out this front-parlour salesmanship—which is perfectly permissible in itself and has been accepted for a long time, and can indeed provide useful pin money—in any given area far exceeded anything that could have any reasonable market expectation. So it was inevitable in the nature of things that persons engaged in these operations would find it impossible to sell the goods. The goods were low-grade cosmetics. Having seen them myself, although I am merely a male layman in such matters I would nevertheless say without hesitation that they were trash and could not reasonably be expected to be sold, even if there was a market expectation for them.

The company concerned engaged agents and sub-agents all the way down the line, all of whom would have their pick. A lot of people were inveigled into the scheme. In many cases wives were attracted to the scheme without telling their husbands, and got themselves committed to taking part. This has led to a great deal of family disruption and anguish. Most important of all, however, in an overwhelming number of cases the victims concerned have been humble members of the various immigrant communities. Between 80 and 90 per cent. of the people concerned are of West Indian or Asian origin, and nearly all are very humble people. They have been enveloped into this system by people who have deliberately exploited and traded on their ignorance.

The matter has been a source of considerable concern to the race relations comimttee in Birmingham, and representations have been made to me by a number of representatives of the immigrant communities in the Birmingham area about how offensive this has been. I am not saying that immigrants are the only people concerned—there have been others as well—but this aspect adds an additional piquancy to the situation.

It is perfectly clear to me, having examined the situation and lived with it during my time as a constituency Member, and indeed even before I was elected for the Handsworth constituency on 28th February this year, that this was nothing more or less than a way of getting possession of other people's property. I say this because in case after case people have defaulted on their debts and there have been questions of foreclosure. There have been a number of instances of people being dispossessed of their property, and in many other cases such a course of action has failed only through the intervention of myself and some of my hon. Friends and because of the publicity which I am pleased to say the Birmingham newspapers have given to this thoroughly disagreeable enterprise.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has no direct departmental responsibility, but he will accept that I warned him that I intended to raise the matter if given the opportunity. I seek from the Government an undertaking that the iniquitous Holiday Magic company should be wound up. There is provision for this under the Companies Act. [Interruption.] I am glad to have support from capitalists on the Opposition side of the House. I hope that hon. Members do not think this is a funny matter, because it is not funny for the people involved. [HON. MEMBERS: "TOO long."] I shall not take up much more time, but this is a matter of considerable importance. Several thousand people have been victims and there have been feelings of anguish. I do not claim that they have all been victims in equal measures. Some may have been victims through their own cupidity. It is, however, a despicable affair.

I seek from my right hon. Friend an asurance that the companies which have been responsible for lending capital in relation to those enterprises and which have not so far taken measures to put right the damage they have done shall do so.

There is provision under the Consumer Credit Act for the licensing of credit holders. Those powers are extensive and have a sting, because if the licence is withheld from the banks concerned they will find themselves out of business.

I seek specifically that the Holiday Magic company, which is obviously a fraud from start to finish—and which has been stigmatised as such by the Federal Trade Commission in the United States, where there have been comparable malpractices—shall be wound up and that anybody else who indulges in this disgraceful kind of enterprise shall receive short shrift from the Government.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

I wish to raise three matters, in about three sentences each, to suggest why the House should not rise tomorrow for the Christmas Recess.

The first is the serious absence of any statement by the Government, despite continuous requests from me and a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, about the proposed development land tax. In their White Paper on land in September, the Government announced that the development gains tax would be replaced by a development land tax. Since then there has been total paralysis in the land and housing market because builders and people with land to sell for building have no idea on what basis they will be taxed. Therefore, they are not bringing forward land for development. It is difficult to imagine anything more serious for the housing situation.

I raised the matter with the Leader of the House when he made his business statement last week, and I also raised it with the Paymaster-General at Question Time one day last week. One right hon. Gentleman said that there would be a statement shortly and the other said that I would have to bide my time in patience a little longer. The building industry cannot bide its time in patience much longer. It is a most important matter. We need a detailed statement on the development land tax before the House rises for the Christmas Recess.

The second matter I wish to raise is the right hon. Gentleman's answer to me this afternoon when I asked him about the important Prayer tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), the Shadow Minister for Housing and Construction, against the Building (Second Amendment) Regulations 1974. I understood the Leader of the House to say that he could not promise a debate on the matter before the order came into operation. The order comes into operation on 31st January 1975. It is of such importance that it should be debated tomorrow, and at the latest before 31st January.

The order concerns the Government's new proposals for the thermal insulation of houses. It arises out of the woefully inadequate statement made recently by the Secretary of State for Energy. One aspect is particularly serious, because many points have been raised in the building industry about the inability of the building block manufacturers to meet the requirements of the order. Those points are so important that the Government should be prepared to explain their views in answering my right hon. and hon. Friends in a debate on a Prayer concerning the order, if necessary tomorrow.

The third matter is more local. It relates to health services in Leicestershire. In a remarkable Adjournment debate about 10 days ago my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), supported by virtually all Leicestershire Members from both sides of the House, who spoke in the debate as a result of my hon. Friend's courtesy in giving them time, raised the extremely unsatisfactory state of health services in the country. We received a courteous but far from satisfactory reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, who said that the Secretary of State was prepared to receive a deputation from Leicestershire Members about the situation we described. I have learned from my hon. Friend that there have been serious difficulties in fixing an appointment with the right hon. Lady. However much they respect the Minister of State, Leicestershire Members want to see the right hon. Lady herself and they will not be satisfied with seeing anyone else.

I should be grateful for assurances from the Leader of the House that before the House rises for the recess the right hon. Lady will promise to see the delegation headed by Leicestershire Members of Parliament of both parties.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

In opposing the rising of the House tomorow, I wish to raise the question of Freightliners Ltd., which I understand has been dealt with from a local angle by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) but with which I wish to deal from a national angle.

Freightliners Ltd., a subsidiary of the National Freight Corporation, was set up under the Transport Act 1968, produced by the last but one Labour Government. Many of us who then worked in the railway industry were critical of some aspects of the Act although we welcomed other aspects. The weakness of the Act with regard to Freightliners and other subsidiary companies was that the Government hived off an integral part of the railway system, giving it to an organisation, the National Freight Corporation, primarily concerned with road transport and road haulage.

The members of my union, the National Union of Railwaymen, now employed in Freightliners, have expressed great concern not only to me but to hon. Members on both sides of the House from a constituency point of view about the prospects of Freightliners. They have made the suggestion, now adopted by the officers and national executive committees of the various railway trade unions, that it should be returned to its rightful place within the umbrella of the British Railways Board.

The reason is that British Rail does not now regard Freightliners as part of the railway system generally. It treats it as it would treat virtually any other commercial organisation wishing to use its metals, and it imposes upon Freightliners heavy haulage charges for the privilege of using not only its metals but British Rail locomotives, rolling stock and train crews.

That is obviously nonsensical. When the idea of containerisation by rail was first put forward in the mid-1960s, it was hailed as the future method of moving freight by rail. But now Freightliners is in a grave financial position, one of the main causes being that the British Railways Board charges what Freightliners and the men employed in it consider to be extremely high haulage rates for the privilege of using its metals.

For the sake of not only the financial position of Freightliners but the morale of the staff working within it, who are deeply concerned about their employment prospects, I hope that my right hon. Friend will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and give assurances to these extremely worried men about their prospects.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

I very much agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) about the Prayer in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). The matter, which is of great interest to the nation, should be dealt with as a priority. I hope that the Leader of the House will find time for that to be done.

I had hoped to go away for Christmas confident that the country was being well looked after in the Government's hands, but having listened to the contribution of the Secretary of State for Employment in last night's debate I cannot go away so encouraged.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday put great emphasis on the need for encouraging exports and warned what would happen if we did not improve our export performance. We have questioned the Secretary of State for Trade many times about what he proposes by way of export incentives, yet at every Question Time all we hear from him is about the disadvantage of membership of the EEC and a campaign from the right hon. Gentleman against it.

We need concrete proposals on how we are to help exporters. We all have exporters in our constituencies and we are probably all asked by them what help the Government are planning to give. France, Saudi Arabia and Germany all help their export industries. All over the world incentives are given for exports, yet week after week we get only an anti-EEC attitude from the Secretary of State for Trade.

May I urge the Lord President to encourage the Secretary of State, since his Department will be answering Questions on the first day back after the recess, either to make a statement on export incentives tomorrow or to work out something during the holidays so that on 13th January he can give us positive answers.

I am also concerned about the position of Northampton Grammar School. A petition was taken to the Secretary of State for Education and Science last June and I tabled a Written Question to the right hon. Gentleman on the subject. When are we to be told what the future holds for the school? Headmasters, masters, boys and old boys are all waiting to hear the Secretary of State's pearls of wisdom. Surely we can be given an answer before Christmas.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I want to speak briefly against the Adjournment motion before the unsatisfactory position of secondary education generally and the position of the Burton Grammar School in particular is debated or a Government statement is made.

One of the irritants in the body of the nation at present is the question of the future of the grammar schools. At a time when the whole nation should be pulling together to exercise its best endeavours to stand firm against impending economic disaster, many people are being alienated by the Government's attitude towards the grammar schools. This ill feeling is totally unnecessary, and a wise Government would see that it did not continue.

I am concerned about the three Burton grammar schools, which are of proven worth—Burton Grammar School for Boys, Burton High School for Girls and Dove-cliffe Mixed. I invite the Secretary of State, if we are not to have a debate, at least to make a statement declaring that he has no intention in the immediate period to implement the Government's proposals to make them comprehensives. I appreciate that he might have difficulty in reversing the policy upon which his party fought the last election, namely, the total disolution of the grammar schools, but there is ample precedent for such a reversal.

Such a drastic step is, however, unnecessary. It would be necessary only for the right hon. Gentleman to postpone implementation of his policy. To do so would involve no more than facing up to three realities. The first is that the present economic climate means that there is simply not adequate money available to implement the proposals successfully. Secondly, the Education Act 1944 allows for parental choice to be taken into account. The plain fact is that the overwhelming majority of parents with children at or otherwise eligible for the Burton grammar schools do not choose to see the grammar schools disappear. Thirdly, the argument that the Burton grammar schools were providing more places than necessary is no longer valid, for local government reorganisation has supervened to allow a much wider catchment area which will more than adequately allow for the filling up of available places. So much is this so, that it is a positive scandal that 80 children this year and last who might have gone to the grammar schools have been forced against their will and that of their parents to go to comprehensive schools, since even before any legislation has been passed the Staffordshire local education authority has taken it upon itself to act as though this were the law.

I end by thanking the Secretary of State for Education and Science for upholding my appeals on behalf of a number of children in the Burton division who were wrongly forced into comprehensive schools, thus ensuring that they could go to grammar schools. May I warn him that feelings on the question of the Burton grammar schools are now running so high that it may well have been because of that issue alone that I held the Conservatives seat at the last election.

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Fareham)

Surely it was due to my hon. Friend's own great qualities.

Mr. Lawrence

I thank my hon. Friend for that observation.

I invite the Secretary of State to delay any decision against the grammar schools until the whole subject has been reviewed and thoroughly reconsidered and until the Government can afford to carry through their proposals properly. If that is not done, grave harm may accrue to the education of Burton children, and even I do not believe that that is what the Secretary of State or his Government really want.

5.7 p.m.

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Fareham)

Adding to the latter stages of a formidable list of complaints for which the Government are responsible, I should like to interpolate one which is not as specific as many I have heard but on which I should very much like to contribute because it is one of the many big problems with which we have all been concerned. I wish to put one question and seek an assurance.

It is now perhaps a couple of months since the polling day to which the Parliament owes its existence. At that time, I think, four-star petrol cost about 54p or 55p a gallon. Within a month there was a Government decision which increased it to about 63p a gallon. As from tomorrow, less than two months from polling day, it will be up to 72p a gallon. It will be nearly another month before we come back, and I seek an assurance that the Government will try to prevent its being 81p a gallon by that time.

This is a progressive encroachment on the private citizen. I would not attempt to speak on behalf of the so-called motorist, who is usually an ordinary private citizen in a particularly tigerish guise inside his tin can. But the private citizen should be protected from a policy which must have been connived at by the Government though it was not actually created by them. May we have an assurance that no further rises in fuel prices will be made before we return after the recess? I should like to resist the motion to adjourn until we get such an assurance.

5.9 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I rise to protest against the Adjournment of the House for two different but very important reasons which nevertheless are linked in a curious way. First, I object to Parliament rising before a proper Ministerial statement has been made about the recent World Food Conference held in Rome, the part played by the British Government in that conference and the contribution they are expected to make to one of the world's most serious and pressing problems. I know that my hon. Friends will not object if I say that this is a somewhat more important matter than some of those they have been raising.

Hon. Members may have heard me several times in the last few weeks trying to persuade Ministers of the importance of the subject. I have no doubt that the Minister of Overseas Development, who played an honourable and constructive rôle at that conference, feels that the subject is of major importance and would be delighted to be provided with an opportunity to make a statement in the House. She may well have asked to make such a statement and been refused because of the pressure of time.

The World Food Conference met to discuss world food problems over the next 15 years. It came up with a number of interesting proposals. What it did not do was to send out any real message of hope in respect of the next 15 months, during which, as anyone knowledgeable on the subject is aware, it is estimated that between 10 million and 40 million people will accordingly die of starvation. If that is not an important matter, I should like to know what is.

Some of us believe that the Government could do more than they have agreed to do. There are at least two points on which I am making separate representations to the Government. First, they could increase their commitment to finance immediate food aid, and secondly they could increase the supply of fertiliser. For the Government not to make a statement on this subject or to provide time for it to be debated indicates a lack of concern about one of the most important and pressing matters facing the human race.

Yet I am sure that that lack of concern does not reflect the feelings of hon. Members of both sides of the House. Indeed, there is deep concern among hon. Members. The Prime Minister twice in the last fortnight, in answer to me, has shown a sensitivity on the subject which I applaud. Yet it has not been found possible within the timetable for a ministerial statement to be made on it. I deplore the triviality of a great deal of what is discussed in the House and am profoundly disturbed that we cannot find time to discuss a matter so pressing, poignant and and fraught with danger for hundreds of millions of human beings as the world food shortage. I make no apology, there- fore, in asking hon. Members eager to be away from the House to consult their consciences.

My second reason for suggesting that the House should not adjourn lies nearer home. For a year or so wildcat action has disrupted the commuter lines of the South-East, particularly those in South Essex which serve the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and myself, causing considerable distress, inconvenience and hardship to hundreds of thousands of railway travellers who depend on the railways to get to work.

For some weeks past people in this area have been experiencing deliberately planned sporadic disruption of rail services. We are told that there will be similar disruption tomorrow and on Christmas Eve and that we may well have three days of it in the new year. I am not concerned with the merits of the dispute, nor would it be appropriate or proper for me in a debate of this sort in which speeches must be short to dwell on the question of disputes between union and union or between unions and employers, save to say one thing. The travelling public are wholly innocent of any involvement in this particular dispute. On the contrary they are being deprived —I measure my words very carefully— of the right to get to work, although they have paid for their transportation in full and in advance.

Do we get any sign of concern from the bunch of extinct volcanoes on the Government Front Bench? The Secretary of State for Employment, who always has a full House when he addresses us because of his skill in the use of words, has had to be pushed to say anything on this subject. I asked him last week to intervene. After all he has an instrument called the Conciliation and Arbitration Service. It was used, was it not, in the bakers' dispute? As a matter of fact, the reduction in consumption of the india rubber substitute for bread may well have done the nation a great deal of good. But is the right hon. Gentleman willing to intervene in a dispute which is preventing vast numbers of ordinary working people, including fellow trade unionists, and many who earn less than those on strike, from getting to work? No. His advice to the House last week was that if he intervened it might make matters worse. I can well believe that but not for the reason he gave.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

Does my hon. Friend agree that in a situation of this kind season ticket holders who are desperately inconvenienced should at least get a refund on the day their travel is disrupted?

Sir B. Braine

I entirely agree. That was the second of two propositions which I put to the Chairman of British Rail in a letter which I hope was on his desk first thing this morning. It is taking money under false pretences to accept money from people for a service and then finding oneself impotent to provide that service, especially in circumstances where people do not know in advance when disruption is to take place.

A few days after the Birmingham bomb incident, when people were naturally anxious and worried about the trend of events, there was one of the wildcat strikes to which I referred lasting an hour. It was sporadic, sudden and unannounced. The concourse of Fenchurch Street Station was packed with people who did not know what was happening. I am advised that had there been a bomb scare at that time the station staff and the police felt that a most serious situation could have occurred. People might have panicked and tried to get off the platforms. There might well have been injuries.

I telephoned the National Union of Railwaymen's offices and asked to speak to Sir Sidney Greene. I could not do so. He was attending the Labour Party conference. I asked whether I could speak to the next senior officer. He too was unavailable; he too was at the Labour Party conference. I asked the official to whom I spoke, who was most helpful, to pass on my message to the effect that an appeal should be made by the NUR to the strikers saying that their action was causing particular difficulty and hazard to innocent people at a time of national anxiety over the bombing. To this day I have had no answer.

Mr. Snape

Surely the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the General Secretary of my union, the NUR, has made repeated appeals to the strikers in various regions to go back to work. This is an unofficial dispute. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that any intervention by the Minister would be likely further to exacerbate the situation? His inflammatory statements will not help matters.

Sir B. Braine

I do not agree with any of the hon. Gentleman's propositions. I acknowledge that the NUR has been endeavouring to persuade the signalmen to go back to work. Let us be fair about that. British Rail, too, has been urgnfg them to go back to work, but its appeals have failed. If both the management and the union are impotent and are unable to do anything, someone must act in the public interest. Who is that? I do not blame Sir Sidney Greene or Mr. Richard Marsh. The responsibility rests squarely on the Secretary of State for Employment. He has the necessary powers. Last week he declined to use them.

My first proposition to British Rail and to the Secretary of State in the letter I sent them last night was that there was reason to believe that the signalmen would call off their unofficial action if an independent inquiry at which they were represented were set up straight away. That would be a start. If an undertaking were given to suspend the unofficial action in return for an inquiry into grievances, whether real or false, that surely would assist.

The continued silence of the Secretary of State for Employment causes, and should cause, Parliament grave concern. That is one reason why the House should not adjourn tomorrow. Why should Parliament adjourn on the very day when hundreds of thousands of decent working people will be prevented from getting to work at this time of acute economic difficulty for the nation? There is, as I have shown, a way out of the problem if only the Secretary of State for Employment would stir himself. Who can strengthen the resolution of the right hon. Gentleman? Who can stiffen his backbone? Only Parliament can do that. Only Parliament can control Ministers who have to answer to us for the power that for the time being they wield.

Before we adjourn, let that great debater and maker of fine phrases come to the Dispatch Box and tell the House why he is impotent to intervene in a situation which is causing maximum disruption to large numbers of my constituents and those of other hon. Members who represent the South-East. Let him come here to explain why he is not able to ensure the right of our constituents to get the service for which they have paid.

Parliamentary government is on trial everywhere in the world, and it is on trial here. It cannot long survive where those who govern refuse to redress the grievances of the governed. Either we show that we really care about important: matters or we shall forfeit all respect at home and abroad. I say, therefore, that: the House should not adjourn until the Government have shown their concern about the two matters I have mentioned.

5.22 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I support right hon. and hon. Members who oppose the rising of the House tomorrow for the Christmas Recess. I warmly congratulate the Lord President on his brave announcement about the remuneration of Members of Parliament and the assistance to be given to minor parties in the House. The Lord President's announcement is to the considerable benefit of democracy, and I warmly welcome what he said. I have discovered that there is never a right time to say anything that is controversial, but I believe that the Lord President has done right by the House and the country in making his announcement.

Will the Lord President tell me how the Select Committee which has been appointed to consider assistance to Members of Parliament has been selected? If I may be a little pointed, hon. Members belonging to the party which I have the honour to serve are mostly ex-Ministers, wealthy people or ex-members of the Research Department or of the Conservative Central Office. I would prefer the appointment to the Select Committee of an hon. Member who genuinely represents back benchers who have little or no income apart from their parliamentary salary and parliamentary expenses.

It is strange that we should be going into recess when our economy is in a more serious state than it has ever been in my lifetime or during any period in the last 100 years. We had a full debate on the economy yesterday, in which many excellent speeches from both sides of the House were made, but no speaker in that debate put forward positive solutions for overcoming the economic crisis. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made a superb speech which totally demolished the Government's policies. I regret that he did not devote sufficient time to putting forward what he considered to be the proper solution to those problems.

Whether or not the Leader of the House is prepared to admit it, a crisis exists in agriculture. During business questions I asked him this afternoon whether he would appoint a Select Committee on agriculture to consider the long-term problems of the industry and to ensure that it played its full part in our economy. A Select Committtee on this important industry would be a valuable asset to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) spoke of the fodder crisis, but he did not mention the sugar crisis. Early next year there will be a sugar shortage, and I ask the Lord President to direct his mind to that problem and tell us what actions the Government are taking to safeguard our sugar supplies.

I hope, too, that the right hon. Gentleman will have discussions with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the continuing problems of the livestock and beef sector of British agriculture. I recognise that the Minister of Agriculture has made one or two excellent moves in recent weeks to help the livestock sector, but a great deal still needs to be done. I hope that the Lord President will have a quiet word with some of his right hon. and hon. Friends prior to the debate on the O'Brien Report which we are to have shortly after we return from the Christmas Recess. The matters dealt with in that report are of considerable interest and concern to the British livestock farmer.

I turn to two constituency problems. During this Session I had an Adjournment debate about the non-commencement of the construction of the new Macclesfield district general hospital. This matter is still of deep concern to my constituents, not only to nurses, doctors and consultants—and, goodness knows, they have lobbied hard enough in expressing their dire concern. My concern is particularly for the lives of my constituents which are in jeopardy because of the totally inadequate conditions in the National Health Service in my constituency.

There has been a long delay in the full and proper implementation of the Halsbury recommendations on nurses' pay. Many representations have been made to me by nurses who have not yet received their proper award. Bearing in mind what has been said in the Press today about the teachers and the Houghton recommendations which will be implemented very quickly, why are the nurses having to wait so long for the money to which they are entitled?

Education is also of deep concern to me. A village not far outside Maccles-field called Rainow has for many years been promised a new primary school. Despite representations I have made to the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the replacement of two totally inadequate schools in that village, no progress has been made. The children in the meantime are suffering. One of the schools is situated on a dangerous road, and every day that passes when the schools are in session children's lives are in danger.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) is equally concerned with me about the tragic situation in Ethiopia. Will the Lord President assure us that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is doing everything he can to bring sense and reason into the happenings in Ethiopia? I am sure that the whole House shares the concern I am expressing about Haile Selassie, the ex-Emperor of Ethiopia, and his family and the many people who are in detention. I hope that proper standards and treatment are observed by those who are in power in Ethiopia. The eyes of the world are upon Ethiopia. The ex-Emperor of Ethiopia has set high standards of service not only to his country but to the world, and I hope that those who are in authority in that country will treat him as he should be treated, with respect, honour and decency.

I oppose the rising of this House for the reasons I have expressed. I hope that the Lord President will deal with the many points which we have raised.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I shall be brief and wish to raise only two matters since I do not wish the House to adjourn without giving consideration to them. I hope that the Leader of the House will convey my views on both matters to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

The first matter concerns the very real anxiety felt by people throughout the country now that they realise that there is to be no death penalty for terrorists. I have always been a retentionist, yet I am now prepared to accept that there should be no death penalty. But what is to happen to those people who are convicted of terrorism and of causing the death of many completely innocent people, both young and old, who have had nothing to do with Irish affairs? The nation needs reassurance that those people will be put in places where they can cause no more damage to this country or to any more innocent people.

I was once in a position where I was locked up for five years, and that also applies to my right hon. Friend who is now on the Opposition Front Bench, the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). People who find themselves in that position can lose all sense of civilisation. I believe that the people of this country need protection from terrorists. It may be said that my suggestions come from a Norfolk backwoodsman, but I think that we must have some action in this respect. I know that my ideas would be supported by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Walden) who made such a magnificent speech in defending the abolition of the death penalty.

I believe that we should have an island or a similar place, completely set apart, to accommodate terrorists of this nature. I suggest that terrorist prisoners should not mix with other prisoners and should be given some hard work, which men need in that situation. The nation should know that those people will never be allowed out again. We need reassurance on these matters, and I hope that we shall have a statement, if not before we rise for the Christmas Recess, certainly very soon after the House returns in January.

The other matter to which I want to refer, which has not been much in the public eye, concerns an organisation called the Children of God. One of my constituents has a grandchild aged 15 or 16 who has fallen under the influence of that organisation. She has been enticed away from her school and has signed papers making over any money which she may come into in the future. I do not know whether that legal matter can be overcome, and no doubt the lawyers in the House can tell me, but I believe that the Children of God is an evil organisation and that the Home Secretary should look into it to see whether its members, who come from America, can be persuaded to go home.

I have nothing more to add, except to comment that I believe the speeches in this debate drawing attention to our agricultural problems should be well noted by the Government. It is most important that a fair price should be obtained by those who grow sugar beet in this country. If a good price is not paid, we shall not get the contracts signed to enable us to have sufficient sugar next year—and it is next year to which we should now be looking. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer some of these points.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Before we adjourn for the Christmas Recess, I believe that the House should seriously consider debating the subject of transport. It is many months since we debated railway legislation, and on that occasion the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) entertained us for three and a half hours on the British Railways Bill, an obscure Private Bill. However, the whole matter has now come to a head because of the deteriorating energy situation.

I wish to emphasise the importance of making sure that people are attracted off the roads, and on to the railways, particularly for day travel to work. Although there is a tentative programme by British Rail to refurbish multiple units and the sort of units that carry thousands of people every day in the provinces, the fact is that those units are aged and tatty and unfortunately have a history of unreliability. If we are to attract people to go on the railways to their place of work, reliability is of the essence. There is a growing fear that we shall be faced with an increase in the size of lorries. Therefore, since we have an excellent railway network, we should ensure that the size of juggernauts is not allowed to increase without the nation knowing what is happening and that the railways are used to the full.

For example, in 1973 300 private sidings were closed, yet successive Transport Ministers have said that we must get more private sidings traffic on to the railways. It surely makes sense that we should follow such a course. Every hon. Member can give examples of private sidings which are closed, and it is obvious that that traffic has been transferred to the road. Therefore, we need urgent Government action and ministerial initiative to deal with this situation. I am pleased to see the former Minister of Transport Industries, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) on the Opposition Front Bench, and no doubt he will be pleased, as I am, at the announcement by the Minister of Transport that he hopes to persuade the top 100 firms to move their traffic from road on to rail. But the record in 1973 was not very encouraging.

With regard to the Aire Valley in my constituency, I have been heartened by the ministerial announcement that the Aire Valley motorway proposal has been ended and that consideration is to be given to an all-purpose trunk road. That is the kind of decision that needs to be taken in other areas. There are a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who face the possibility of the building of motorways, particularly urban motorways, which are highly expensive and which in future will bring diminishing returns.

The problem of transferring traffic from road to rail still exists. Certainly in the Aire Valley we ought to give earnest consideration to the refurbishing of equipment and rolling stock and to the opening up of new stations with park-and-ride facilities to attract people to a reliable, fast and smooth service.

We ought also to consider opening up our countryside by the use of railway stations which have long been closed. I have in mind the Settle-Carlisle railway, a picturesque and commanding line, the passenger stations of which served the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which is an important and beautiful area often inundated with motor cars. Yet going through the middle of that national park we have a silver ribbon of steel which could serve the people if those railway stations were opened for ramblers, hikers and people who love the countryside without the damaging effect of thousands of cars visiting the area at weekends. We should encourage such ideas by debating them in the House.

The second matter with which I want to deal briefly is of great importance. I suggest that the legislature should have the opportunity of scrutinising the executive. One matter that we ought to debate is the way that the executive is brought into close contact with the legislature in our parliamentary system.

We ought to debate the increase of 10p per gallon on petrol and the increased cost of school meals. We have not had debates on those matters because the announcements were made in Written Answers to Questions. I regret that, and I urge the Government not to extend that means of making announcements. I know that the previous administration did it, and I regret that too.

As an elected representative, I want the right to question Ministers on their decisions. I do not like a system which allows the Government to make decisions which I have no opportunity of debating either in the Parliamentary Labour Party or on the Floor of the House. If Ministers' decisions are valid, they should stand up to questioning by the Opposition. After all, that is what the Opposition are for. Therefore, we should not be prepared to allow announcements to be made in that way to avoid questioning.

I believe that as a matter of urgency the House ought to debate its modes and procedures to ensure that Parliament, which is very old and traditional, keeps pace with the executive which has control over a complicated and highly technological society. We should ensure that the elected representatives of the people have control in this House. The power to make decisions in tower blocks down the road by a Civil Service which, albeit very devoted and competent, is not accountable to the people, should be transferred to the Floor of the House.

I suggest that we need an urgent debate on our procedures, on the way we conduct our business and on the way the executive is brought into this Chamber and makes announcements. We may have to consider starting Question Time at 1.30 p.m. to allow for more statements to be made. I should have no objection to that. I should welcome an extension of the opportunities for back benchers to discuss these items of great importance. I think that we should discuss these urgent and important matters. I hope that the Leader of the House has some useful and relevant views on them.

5.44 p.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

There is much force in the observations made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). The matters to which he last referred have been under discussion and consideration in this House for many years, though without producing any ideal result. The search for better procedures must continue.

I wish to make the briefest of interventions to support certain views which have been vouchsafed in the debate.

First, I support the argument put forward so forcefully and persuasively by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) about the problems of commuters in the South-East because of the troubles on the railways. There is a large number of commuters in my constituency. Commuters from the South-East go into Fenchurch Street station, whereas commuters from my constituency go into Liverpool Street station. I imagine that those two stations compete for the unenviable distinction of being the least attractive and comfortable of stations at the best of times. Therefore, commuting is not an agreeable circumstance in any event, but recent happenings have made travel particularly disagreeable and difficult.

I share my hon. Friend's desire that the Government should take a quicker and more effective initiative in this matter, should show whether the Conciliation and Arbitration Service is capable of workng, and should indicate what hope can be held out to our constituents that there will be an early respite from the difficulties that they face. If rail travel is difficult and travel by private transport is increasingly difficult and expensive, the need for improvement in our public transport system in the rural areas is even more important. I hope that urgent attention will be given to that matter.

I now wish to emphasise the agricultural aspect, which has already been stressed, and to support the position of the horticulture industry, a considerable section of which is based in my constituency. Horticulturists have suffered from the Government's decision on the oil subsidy and are likely to suffer even more from the increasing price of oil, which is vital to their operations.

I support what has been said about the troubles in the National Health Service. As one who formerly had some responsibility in these matters, it is sad for me to see the trouble and dislocation at present threatening the service.

Finally, I support what was said about the urgency of the housing situation, notably in the private sector. I agree that this could be made good by a further concentration in the public sector, but the economics of the matter, apart from public demand, make a revival in the private sector urgent and important. I know that the Secretary of State has this matter in mind, but, like the other matters to which I have referred, it is of the greatest urgency.

5.48 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

It is quite wrong that the House should adjourn until we have had a clear statement by the Government on a number of points that are still outstanding on the case that has come to be known as the "Shrewsbury pickets".

The first statement that ought to be made by the Government in justice to my constituents and to the people of Shropshire is that the so-called Shrewsbury pickets have nothing to do with Shrewsbury or with Shropshire.

Mr. John Tomlinson (Meriden)

Where was the hon. Gentleman at Question Time?

Mr. More

I am coming to that. Wait for it.

People in Shropshire are hard-working, God-fearing and peaceable. The so-called Shrewsbury pickets were hooligans imported from places like Liverpool and Wrexham who attacked workers on building sites in Shrewsbury, next to my con- stituency, and at Telford, which was in my constituency until a short time ago.

What we had at Question Time, to which the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Tomlinson) has just referred, was a brave, clear statement by the Home Secretary that he did not intend to interfere in that case by way of clemency in his capacity as Home Secretary. As has been emphasised by the Prime Minister on a number of occasions, that question is one reserved personally to the Home Secretary.

What I am concerned about is what has been happening in other quarters in the Labour Party and in the Government. I am entitled to say that two things have been happening, quite independent of the Home Secretary. First, I understand that a meeting was held yesterday of the Parliamentary Labour Party. This fact came to my knowledge because I found a piece of paper in the Members' lavatory headed—

Mr. Winterton

"Government property".

Mr. More

—"House of Commons", and it was signed by a gentleman called Barlow. It announced that there was to be a meeting of the PLP in one of the Committee Rooms to discuss this topic.

I do not know from which faction in the Labour Party this piece of paper emanated, or who it was who thought the Members' lavatory was the right place for it, but whoever brought it there clearly did not think it was important. I agree that there are powerful arguments for having literature provided in lavatories—

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

This is the House of Commons.

Mr. More

I am talking about the House of Commons. If the Government or the Labour Party are thinking on these lines, could we perhaps have "The Labour Government 1964–70: A Personal Record" or something of that kind?

Mr. Tomlinson

Why does not the hon. Gentleman sit down?

Mr. More

Because I have another thing of equal importance to say.

I want to know the position of the Prime Minister in this matter. Was he at this meeting? Who is Mr. Barlow who summoned the meeting? I know of no hon. Member called Barlow. What was said by the Prime Minister when he met the TUC, and what are the Government's plans now in regard to this so-called case of the Shrewsbury pickets?

One matter on which we want to be assured is that there is no question of engineering anything by way of parole for these gentlemen. I should like an assurance before the House adjourns for the recess that there will be no intervention of that kind inspired in any way by the Government.

Another thing we want to know is that the Government have no intention of trying to alter the law. Complaints have been made by some members of the Labour Party—

Mr. Cryer

That is what Parliament is for.

Mr. More

I am referring to the two cases that have been decided under a particular law, and I am concerned to know that this law will not be altered on account of those cases. The law in question was passed in 1875, and it is the law of conspiracy. Therefore, we are entitled to know from the Government what the Prime Minister said to the TUC and what the Government's intentions are. We want an assurance that no further intervention will be made from the Government side in this matter and that these two hooligans will be left to serve the sentences they so richly deserve.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

So many subjects have been raised by hon. Members that one could be forgiven for thinking we were talking about the Easter Adjournment and not about the fact that we are to adjourn tomorrow.

Several points have been made that I had intended to raise, and I shall refer only briefly to two of them. The first point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). We in the Folkestone and Hythe area are suffering in much the same way as the people of Essex, and I make one special plea on this matter. I know that signalmen have their own views on this, but they are good family men. They have, in effect, inflicted a three-day working week upon commuters from Folkestone and Hythe, but do they realise the number of people who are looking forward to family reunions this Christmas?

I have received a number of letters from elderly constituents saying, in effect, "Our families are coming to see us at Christmas. As we have not seen them for the last 12 months, can you assure us that the trains will run?" I cannot give them that assurance, and it is necessary for the Minister to make a special appeal so that these families can enjoy their reunions.

The other matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), and this is about the use of thermal blocks in the building industry. I have a factory in my constituency that is most anxious to get a decision on this matter. It employs 80 men, and it will go out of business if a decision is not made. It is important that the matter is settled as a matter of urgency.

Last Thursday I raised with the Leader of the House the matter of the Channel Tunnel and received an unsatisfactory reply. We were led to believe that a treaty would be signed on 1st January next year to deal with this matter, but we are still awaiting a decision on it. The House has debated this issue, and a Bill was to have been brought in but so far we have not seen it. I have written to the Secretary of State for the Environment, but I have not been able to make much progress.

I have a number of constituents whose houses are in jeopardy because they cannot sell them, and they do not know what to do with them. This matter started at the time when the right hon. Lady the present Secretary of State for Social Services was Minister of Transport, and one can judge how long ago that is.

I receive letter after letter saying "Will 1st January be the date on which this matter is settled?" It should be settled by then, according to all the treaty arrangements. The Bill should either be pushed through or dropped. Will the Leader of the House please give me a decision, which I cannot claim from the Secretary of State for the Environment? What is the position about my constituents? Shall we break the treaty, renegotiate it, or are we in the position that the Government will not make up their minds? We must have a decision, but we shall not be able to get it before 1st January if the House adjourns tomorrow. May we please have a decision on this?

5.58 p.m.

Mr. John Tomlinson (Meriden)

I support some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) about the need for a general debate on transport.

I am particularly concerned that the Government's decision about the increase in petrol prices was made known by means of a Written Answer. I deplore the use of that method, and I deplore also the increase in petrol prices because of the increased rate of VAT announced in the Budget.

These increases are logical only if they reduce the consumption of petrol, and if that happens it is imperative that we debate the implications for other predetermined transport programmes. If we are to reduce the consumption of petrol it is absurd to continue with a motorway programme that is based on transport expectations in 1968, when there was no immediate petrol crisis.

In my constituency, a proposed motorway will do considerable environmental damage to some of my constituents, particularly those in the village of Water Orton. They will be surrounded on three sides by a motorway box, but it will be a box to carry transport which I do not think will live up to the predictions in 1968 when the decisions were taken.

At the same time as we are building motorways like the M42 in my constituency there is a deplorable rundown in public transport in many rural areas. We should be debating transport priorities so that we can consider railway lines like the Birmingham-Nuneaton line, which serves vast parts of rural Warwickshire but has no local stations for commuters. They have to use the roads, and because they use the roads the argument grows for more motorways. This circular argument must be resolved, particularly in the light of the energy crisis.

The whole inter-urban motorway programme should also be reviewed in the light of our wish to achieve a self-sufficient agriculture. One of the side effects of the motorway programme is that over the last 10 years we have taken from agriculture valuable land equivalent in size to Oxfordshire. This is not a matter just of damage to the environment and to energy conservation but also of damage to our agriculture.

While a projected motorway is in doubt, people who live anywhere near the line suffer blight for as far ahead as 1990. Uncertainty brings incredible problems of this kind. I hope that my right hon. Friend will sympathetically consider the need for an urgent debate not only on immediate transport problems but on the interrelationship of transport policies.

I had not intended to speak about the Shrewsbury pickets, but the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) would have done much more credit to the real arguments if he had not sought to trivialise. It is well known that Mr. Barlow is the Secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party. There is no reason to complain about a matter being discussed in the PLP which will be, and has been, discussed in the House. Matters of public concern should be discussed in party groups as well as in the Chamber. I hope the hon. Gentleman warmly welcomes the Home Secretary's statement, as I do, since it is realistic in all the circumstances. Rather than try to score cheap party points, he and the whole House should applaud that statement before we adjourn.

6.4 p.m.

Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)

I am not alone in suspecting that this disgracefully incompetent Government are inviting Parliament to take three weeks' leave so that Ministers can turn their backs for that period on the looming economic crisis. As the country progresses towards the catastrophe, the Government continue to pretend that there is no problem, in case they have to take some action.

With their shilly-shallying on the issue of whether we stay in Europe, with rising inflation, a complete breakdown of confidence in industry, rising unemployment and the worst-ever balance of payments, what do the Government do? In the economic debate yesterday, they were continually challenged to tell the country that the problem existed and to get on with a programme for survival. Yet they do nothing. We are now asked to adjourn for three weeks so that Ministers can pretend that the problem does not exist.

This crisis is the most important problem we have, but I want to deal with only one aspect of it, where the Government could have done something. That is an energy conservation programme, which would at least have saved a few hundred million pounds on the balance of payments. After weeks of delay, we were finally presented with a package of inconsequential measures which will save practically nothing and which revealed that the Government have spent 10 months not even thinking about the problem. We should now be implementing a massive import-substitution programme. Instead of running down the food industry, we should be building it up, and we should have a major energy conservation programme.

Countries which can well afford to be more wasteful than we can are implementing major savings. The United States today applied a 55 mph speed limit. European countries have already this year saved between 15 and 25 per cent. of oil imports. We have had 10 months of dithering, and now, after continuous pressure from the Opposition, we are presented with a package programme consisting mainly of proposals to start discussions and programmes of investigation and research, plus only one or two piddling measures—nothing constructive—to save a little energy.

This is not the time for detailed proposals of what the Government could have done, but at least we should have had a debate on those measures in which proposals could have been made and the Government's inaction challenged. There is no shortage of energy in this country or the world if we only use it more efficiently, and there is no need for us to suffer a declining standard of living because of price increases if we get down to some sensible conservation programmes, short term, medium term and long term.

I am therefore extremely critical of the Government for not having acted in this one respect. However minor, something could have been done here to defer the economic catastrophe into which they are rapidly leading us. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) will rub the Government's noses not only in their messy mismanagement of the whole economy but in their complacency and inaction in energy con- servation. Ministers are far more likely to listen to him than they seem to be prepared to listen to me.

I hope that at least the country will realise the gravity of the situation. If the Government will not tell the country, it is time that some of us persuaded the Government more aggressively to face up to these problems and propose a programme of economic survival.

6.9 p.m.

Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale)

There is a need before we adjourn for a debate on the problems of the North-West—a substantial area, with over 80 Members of Parliament and a considerable proportion of the population and industry, which at the moment is undergoing close examination. There have been proposals over the past few years which could bring radical changes to that area. We have, for example, the changes recommended in the North-West Strategic Plan. That plan suggests that development should take place very largely along the Mersey Liverpool-to-Manchester axis. I should like to assure the House that there are other parts of the North-West. There will be considerable differences of opinion among hon. Members of both major parties who have constituencies there as to how that plan should be implemented. But it is very important that this matter is debated.

Alongside the strategic plan we also have the question of the Central Lancashire new town. This is a growth area situated very close to one of the oldest industrial parts of this country—North-East Lancashire, where my constituency of Rossendale happens to be. When the Central Lancashire new town was proposed, we were given assurances that North-East Lancashire would consistently have preferential treatment in terms of Government assistance until it was able to stand on its own feet. With the changing policy of the previous Conservative administration and the extension of intermediate area status to the whole of the North-West, that preferential treatment has now gone.

We have a situation in North-East Lancashire, therefore, in which we can no longer afford to offer inducements over and above those offered by areas such as that of the Central Lancashire new town. Yet we have the considerable problems of a decaying industrial environment. We have problems of the highest mortality rates and of some of the poorest schools, as well as problems of industries in serious decline, such as the footwear and textile industries.

Therefore, we should have a debate on this subject. In that debate we should not hesitate to recommend that the kind of aid which areas need—not only areas such as North-East Lancashire—should not consist of jam spread very thinly but of specific aid for specific industries or companies, aid of the kind recommended in planning agreements and through the National Enterprise Board. The problems in the North-West are severe. The people of the area expect them to be considered in the House. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to give serious consideration to this matter.

6.12 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)

Hill farming and market gardening are two sectors of agriculture which face very serious difficulties at present and require early attention by the Government. Both groups may be relatively small in number but both make an important contribution to the domestic output of British agriculture. They not only assist our balance of payments situation but in the context of the local economies, make a real contribution in terms of employment and the level of money in circulation.

The fundamental reason for the grower's problems is the rapid and steep rise in the price of oil used to heat his glasshouses. Over the past year that price has trebled from £73 to £208 per 1,000 gallons. The Government have assisted with an oil subsidy, but that terminates at the end of December this year. Regrettably, so far the Government have remained totally opposed to any suggestion either that this subsidy should continue or that some alternative method of assistance should be substituted.

I want to remind the House of two facts. First, the grower is entirely dependent upon the market price he receives for his products. There is no guaranteed or intervention price. Secondly, fuel amounts to over half of a grower's costs. Regrettably, there is every likelihood that the price of oil will continue to rise.

The majority of growers in Cornwall and in the Tamar Valley, which forms part of my constituency—and there are over 150 such units—have between a quarter and a half acre under glass. They thus form largely an industry of self-employed persons, who work hard and for long hours and make a significant contribution to the local community in both an economic and a social context. The loss of this subsidy will, in general terms, mean an increase in their costs of between £750 and £1,500 per annum. This situation will lead many of them seriously to consider whether they can afford to stay in business at all and particularly whether they can continue growing with heat.

There are three aspects of this matter which we must consider. The loss of the use of heat would mean a lack of local fresh produce early in the season. The Tamar Valley is a leading area for the production of lettuces, tomatoes and strawberries. Possibly excesses at the height of the growing season would also result. This, clearly, would be good neither for the grower nor for the consumer. I believe that there would be a shortfall in the domestic output in Britain of fruit and vegetables. There would in-inevitably be a rise in the level of prices to the consumer at times of the year other than the peak season.

The third point we should remember is that many of the glasshouses which have been constructed within the past five years have involved considerable amounts of investment by the Government and individual growers. It would be quite ludicrous to waste these valuable resources, particularly at present. Therefore, I ask the Government to reconsider their position on the oil subsidy. It is in the interests of the country as a whole as well as the local Tamar Valley community. I understand that there are no EEC objections. Indeed, most of our EEC partners will continue to aid their own growers until June 1975. Belgium gives a VAT rebate on oil. Holland subsidises the natural gas used. Denmark for example, gives low-interest bank loans. Therefore, if our partners in Europe, who are also our competitors, can do this, I believe that we also should help our our domestic producers.

I turn briefly to the current situation of our hill farmers, and specifically to the farming on Bodmin Moor. As the House will know, it is areas such as this which are the source of our young cattle. Therefore, such areas play an essential part in the pattern of production of our livestock industry. To a certain extent the Government have recognised the problems which agriculture has faced this year. It has not been a good year. The short-term difficulty for hill farmers concerns the availability and the price of fodder. The Minister of Agriculture made a statement on 11th December this year. However, I believe—this is also the view of hill farmers—that the measures then announced are both inadequate and impractical.

It is estimated that in Britain there are about 46,000 farm units which draw hill livestock subsidies, of which 10,000 are in England and 12,000 in Wales. In his statement the Minister indicated that the cost of the fodder scheme would amount to about £150,000 in total. In other words, the average amount of capital injection into each hill farm will be £3.20—two bales of hay. There are 900,000 hill cows in the United Kingdom. There is to be assistance to move of £15 per head. If we take the ceiling of £150,000 which the Minister mentioned, this means that just 10,000 cows will be moved. That is just over 1 per cent. of all hill cows. If we relate this to Cornwall and to the hill farming area of Bodmin Moor, again this means that about 115 cows will be moved, on a pro rata basis. That is just over 1 per cent. I suggest that, however well-intentioned the Minister of Agriculture may have been, this scheme is neither adequate nor practical. Health risks are also involved. I cannot see the scheme working.

Before the House adjourns, the Minister of Agriculture should reconsider and elaborate upon this scheme, to make it more meaningful, for the sake of the future of our livestock industry.

6.20 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I am sure that the Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the very hard-worked staff of the House will agree that there are many reasons why the Christmas Recess should start immediately. However, there are many reasons why it should not, to one of which I should like to draw attention. I refer to the Government's housing policy and the position of furnished tenants.

Judging by the storm clouds supposed to be gathering over us with regard to economic matters, it is surprising that there seems to be plenty of money in the High Street and that the nation is doing its Christmas shopping with unabated zeal, even if only on the basis of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

One section of the population, mercifully a small section, will not enjoy their Christmas under any circumstances. These are people who have no home, who have no roof over their heads for themselves and their families. There is no worse predicament for any man. He cannot be happy about anything if he has no shelter for himself and his family.

The Government gave security of tenure to furnished tenants. For the purposes of this debate, I give the Government the credit for thinking such a step would improve the situation and of having good intentions in what they did: but the effect of what they have done has been the very opposite of what they intended, which was to make more accommodation available for letting. This applies to the rural areas and especially to my constituents in Winchester.

May I put two individual constituency cases to the Leader of the House? I know of a widow living in Winchester whose husband recently died. She is quite elderly and owns a large house. Her family have left home, and she now has to sell the house to pay estate duty. Being kindly people, the family had allowed some friends to occupy a furnished flat at the top of the house. The friends now cannot or will not leave. They cannot be removed. That elderly lady is now unable to sell her house to pay the estate duty. She finds herself between the devil and the deep blue sea. That is a genuine case, details of which I shall be happy to send to the Minister.

The second case is a remarkable one. I know a man who runs a small private nursing home in Winchester. His daughter, who is an State Registered Nurse, and a good girl, lives with him and helps to look after the patients. They own a small lodge situated at the entrance to the drive leading to the nursing home. Over many years, their cook, who was required to cook the special diets for the patients, lived in the lodge. Recently that cook had to leave. The daughter said "Never mind, daddy, I shall cook the patients' meals for a few months until the new cook moves into the lodge." That was a fine arrangement. The daughter stayed at home and commenced cooking the suppers. The father went to the public house and met an old friend who had nowhere to live. The father said "You may come to live in my lodge for a few weeks, which will be just a temporary arrangement." The friend moved in to the lodge. Of course, when the cook arrived, the friend could or would not leave, and there was nowhere else for the cook to live. Consequently the nursing home, which provides a valuable service, will have to close.

Those are two examples from a mass of cases which have arisen in my constituency as a result of the very wrong-headed measure to give security of tenure to furnished tenants. The measure is wrong, and it should be changed.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

The fact that we have heard so many speeches, most of which have been short, provides a good reason for holding more debates such as this. This debate contrasts very happily with the wearisome, laborious process or ritual of the Consolidated Fund debate, stretching far into the night and inflicting misery upon Ministers and untold hardships on the staff of the House. Perhaps at some future time we may even drag ourselves up to date.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) drew attention to the real problems facing the agricultural community, including the dairy farmers and the plight of the beef producers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go to the aid of the Minister of Agriculture in the Cabinet and say that we must have sensible long-term assurances for this industry. This is not a question of Conservative Members becoming emotional about their farming constituents. It is a question of this country safeguarding its food supplies for the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) sup- ported my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West. I refer to him especially because he mentioned the fact that I had been locked up with him for five years. As my hon. Friend did not then go on to add that we were locked up together as prisoners of war I felt I should clear my own reputation from any cloud that his remarks might have left.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said that he could not rely upon Ministers to work in his absence. I am not sure that I agree with my hon. Friend. I suffer from schizophrenia where Ministers are concerned. I often wish that the busy Ministers would leave matters alone, whereas I am constantly urging those who do nothing to get on with things. I find it very difficult to give any clear instructions or advice to the Government on this subject. I think I would opt on balance— but it is a very fine balance—for inaction, because I think that busy Ministers are very dangerous.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking referred to conditions in the National Health Service, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham). I ask that the Leader of the House should invite the attention of the Secretary of State for Social Services to the request that she see a deputation which Members of Parliament wish to bring to her. We all know that some Ministers are more helpful and more accessible than others. The accessibility of Ministers does not usually depend simply on whether they are asked to receive members of their own parties. It would be very wrong if it did. I hope that the Leader of the House will commend to the Secretary of State that she should receive Members of Parliament who wish to put to her points on behalf of their constituents concerning conditions in the health service.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

The right hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience in these matters. I am sure that he will agree that Ministers will always see hon. Members. I understood that the request was to see an outside deputation led by hon. Members, which is rather different. No Minister can ever agree to see every deputation even when it is led by hon. Members.

Mr. Peyton

Even to see hon. Members, some Ministers are much more willing than others. I do not wish to go further or to be unfair, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pass my comments on to the Secretary of State for Social Services, with, of course, my good wishes for a happy Christmas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) raised a difficult question which should be considered concerning the action which should be taken to compensate people in this country for injury or damage to themselves or their property as a result of terrorist activity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Melton made two other points which deserve attention. He called for early clarification of the Government's proposals for a development land tax, and he raised the subject of housing insulation, which has been woefully neglected by successive Governments for many years and should receive urgent attention now that we are in this terrible new phase of energy shortage.

I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) showed a blissful degree of optimism when he said that he hoped to go away feeling that matters were being well managed [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I suppose that he has gone away to recover from the wave of disillusionment which must have hit him immediately after uttering such an ill-founded hope.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), in a forceful speech, demonstrated his concern about the future of grammar schools in Burton. The Leader of the House has a great deal of experience in education. It is important to avoid dogmatic attitudes which, however right they may seem to us, simply annoy and infuriate the public.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Dr. Bennett) referred to the rocketing price of petrol. This is not a matter for which we can blame the Government. However, I blame the Government for the matter raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Tomlinson) about Written Questions being used as a vehicle for giving bad news. I should welcome an assurance from the Leader of the House that tomorrow we shall not have the publication of a whole bevy of thinly coated, nasty pills wrapped up in the form of Written Answers. It is a bad habit. Admittedly, it has been practised by other administrations. But that does not make it any better, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use his considerable influence to discourage his colleagues from it. The first that most of us heard about the increase in the price of petrol was when we read the evening papers the other day referring to a Written Answer. A matter of this kind is important enough to receive more public attention.

Before I leave the speeches of the hon. Member for Keighley and the hon. Member for Meriden, perhaps I might refer to their comments on the relationship between the executive and Parliament. I have long felt that there is a great deal here which needs looking at carefully. It would be very useful if we could get away from partisan attitudes dictated just by where we sit in this Chamber. Those of us who are not presently in office must face the fact that Parliament loses points to the executive simply by being noisy, disruptive, bad-mannered and obstructive. The House of Commons has ample opportunities to force the Government to strip themselves of some of their camouflage from time to time and to explain what they are up to. It is our own fault that we do not take full advantage of those opportunities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), supported by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), was rightly concerned about the repeated agony caused to constituents by unofficial disruptions on commuter lines. I have long felt that there is wholly inadequate appreciation on the part of the Government machine of the misery that these unfortunate commuters suffer. I was myself Minister of Transport for a number of years, and one of the most frustrating parts of that job was the realisation of how little could be done to ensure that the avoidable and horrid occurrences did not take place.

Sir Bernard Braine

I do not wish to make a flippant remark, but Ministers are singularly insulated from the experience of their constituents because they travel everywhere in black limousines.

Mr. Peyton

I am sorry that my hon. Friend found it necessary to say that. I was at that moment trying to say that when I myself was a Minister I found myself most frustrated by my inability to take effective action to deal with these monstrous frustrations dished out for no reason at all to people who do this daily slog over long and uncomfortable journeys to work and back home.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe also referred to the Channel Tunnel. I have no doubt that the Leader of the House will give him total satisfaction on that.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertforshire, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) both spoke about the horticulture industry and its dependence upon the oil subsidy, the arrangements for which are due to expire at the end of this month. I cannot stress too much the importance to this industry of clearing up the position and giving an affirmative answer as soon as possible. To take the props out from under the horticulture industry will only be self-defeating in the end, in that it will force us to go for supplies to expensive markets overseas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) was concerned about the Shrewsbury pickets. Whereas I have no wish to take up every detail of his remarks, perhaps I might draw attention to some remarks made by the Solicitor-General in Oldham the other day. The hon. and learned Gentleman said: The law is no substitute for justice. The general line that he took gave the impression that he adopted a rather relaxed view of the law and the way that it should be enforced. It is all very well for ordinary Members to make remarks of that kind, but I believe that Law Officers should think carefully before making such comments in public. I am not at all sure that we would not want, when the House reassembles, to afford to the Solicitor-General some opportunity to explain exactly what he meant on a very important matter, because—let us be quite clear about this—the law is fundamental to the liberty of all of us, and if, even by accident, Law Officers of the Crown were to appear to take a rather informal view of the law that would really be very unwelcome and dangerous.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South East (Mr. Rost) referred again, as he did earlier this afternoon, to the need for energy conservation. In the reply to him and to myself earlier this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House appeared to defend what seemed to me to be the inadequate measures which the Government have taken so far in this field, and taken very slowly and late in the day. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will convey to his right hon. Friend not only the clear statement that we shall wish to debate this matter as early as possible after the Christmas Recess but that we take the view that the Government have been far too much influenced by short-term considerations in this field and it is high time they protected our wretched balance of payments position by taking much more effective action to conserve energy.

I do not want to revive memories of the speech made yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I would like to end my remarks on this note: I would remind the Government that it is not a question of who is to blame for what. Many people may be culpable for all kinds of things today. It may be there is a measure of blame shared right throughout the community. It is not really a question, either, of what the Opposition would do. It is a Labour Government which, unhappily in our view, is in office, it is true with less than 40 per cent. of the votes. What we had hoped they would do yesterday was to give the House and the country some indication that they really understood the dimensions of the crisis into which we are drifting, and what measures they intended to take against it. Therefore, it is with regret that I say to the right hon. Gentleman, part if we must at this stage for the Christmas Adjournment but my good wishes to him personally must be intermingled with a profound regret that the Government should so far have failed to have discharged their high responsibility.

6.43 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

My Christmas good wishes to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) are not intermingled with anything. I wish him a happy Christmas. He congratulated the House on an excellent debate with a number of short speeches. Mine will be short as well; all mine are. It has been an excellent debate. We should do this kind of thing more often. Speeches have been all the better because they have been short, and, on the whole, constituency speeches. The House is at its best when we have serious, well-prepared constituency speeches. I will try as briefly and concisely as I can to reply to the points that have been made.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has now left the House. He told me why he had to go. He raised the question of milk. Recently, milk producers have received an award that is to be worth over £100 million in the second half of the year. This was specifically designed to deal with the main problems facing producers—the fall in returns on calves and cull cows, the high cost of feedstuffs in winter months and the rise in agricultural wages. This should give the industry new confidence, reverse the decline in milk production which is still evident and put dairy farmers in a position to expand production. Supplies of milk for liquid consumption are not at risk. Marginal production on liquid demand is, of course, liable to fluctuation but remains substantial.

The hon. Gentleman and a number of others, in particular the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), raised the question of fodder. I am well aware of the concern among hon. Members, particularly those from rural constituencies, at the effect of the weather on the hay crop this year, but our cereal harvest has been substantially higher this year than last, and that should help.

The Government have taken major steps in recent weeks both to improve the cash flow of livestock producers and to give specific help on fodder. First, the measures to improve cash flow include a new floor for beef producers, an increase in the hill sheep subsidy and an advancement of the 1975 payment of the beef and hill cow subsidies. These measures on beef and hill cows and the hill sheep subsidy have improved the cash flow by about £44 million, or will have done, by March 1975. Secondly, my right hon. Friend announced on 11th December a series of measures to deal specifically with the problems of fodder shortages. These include special provision for farmers to obtain guarantees for loans, with a relaxation of the normal conditions relating to cash guarantees. The Government have suspended various charges for analytical tests, which again we hope will assist farmers in difficulty at this time.

The Government have introduced a special scheme to help hill farmers winter their cows on farms where the fodder shortage is less serious. A payment of £15 a cow is available to help farmers with the cost of this operation provided the animals are held off the hills for a period of at least two months. If I may add a comment on the beef situation raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West, prices throughout the beef industry are responding to the increased confidence engendered by the measures announced by my right hon. Friend on the 21st November. Producers now have an assurance of reasonably increased returns over the period to the end of January. It is the Government's firm intention to ensure that the common agricultural policy arrangements for next year will provide equivalent support, and we have very good reason for believing this will be so.

I would point out that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) congratulated my right hon. Friend on a number of excellent moves he said he had made. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) raised the question of houses, as did a number of other hon. Members. It is a problem in which I myself am extremely interested because I have a very badly housed constituency. He and a number of others raised the question of the extent to which a public building programme might well substitute and compensate for the drop in the private building programme. Let me say at once that the present position on house building is highly unsatisfactory. However, this needs to be seen in the context of the position that this Government inherited in February of this year, one of the worst ever—a rapid downturn in the private sector which had started in the second half of 1973 and a very low level of public sector building over the previous three years.

The Government's initiatives have brought about encouraging improvements in the public sector. Let me give the House one or two figures. Between January and October of this year there have been 128,637 housing starts in the public sector. This compares with 96,637 starts in the same period of last year, an increase of 33 per cent. That is not bad. The number of public sector dwellings approved has also increased in the same period by 32 per cent. Unfortunately, these increases have not yet compensated for the significant drop in private sector starts, which have fallen from 189,000 in the same period to 92,000.

Private sector performance is still very low but more building society funds are available following the £500 million loan scheme, and the Secretary of State for the Environment is urgently considering what further initiatives he can take in housing.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) referred to the National Health Service. I can confirm that a meeting of the joint working party on the new consultant contract has been arranged for tomorrow. I have no doubt that a statement will be made after the meeting. That is a matter for the negotiators, but the working party is well aware of the public interest in the matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is aware also of the views expressed by the junior hospital doctors. Negotiations on the lengthy and detailed proposals for changes in the contract for junior hospital doctors and dentists are continuing, although firm agreement on a number of points has already been reached.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) made some kind remarks about my statement earlier today. I am grateful for them. He also spoke about housing, about which I have already said something. He referred also to the question of the Freightliner service between Hull and Liverpool. There is one train a day Freightliner service between Hull and Liverpool, going via Sheffield and Manchester. The National Freight Corporation proposes to withdraw the service on 6th January, as it is making a heavy loss. The decision was a matter for the management, and for the management alone.

There will be very few redundancies— fewer than 20, according to the corporation's estimate. There are high hopes that most of the redundant workers can be absorbed by British Railways locally. We estimate that the additional road traffic will be no more than 30 lorries a day, three per working hour each day.

It remains the Government's policy that as much freight as possible should go by rail rather than road. We believe that it makes sense to do so on economic, social and environmental grounds. But that cannot mean that every single ton now on rail must stay there evermore, irrespective of changes in demand. We want to see a net movement from road to rail, but that does not mean that there can never be marginal changes in the opposite direction for appropriate freight.

The distance between Hull and Manchester is 90 miles and between Hull and Liverpool 120. The quality of the road links available, mostly on the M62, make this route unsuitable for Freightliner operations, which are not normally competitive under 150 miles. The chairman of the corporation has agreed to meet local Members of Parliament who are concerned about the Government's policy, and he will be happy to do so before the decision is implemented.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) raised the wider question of Freightliner services. He will not expect me to comment on it now, but I will refer what he said to my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport, especially the employment aspects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central also raised the question of the Casanova Club in Hull. I will have inquiries made, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment, met representatives of the Transport and General Workers' Union about the matter last night and is at present considering their representations to him.

Mr. McNamara

We have no Casanova Club in Hull. It is in London. I raised the matter in my capacity as Secretary of the Parliamentary Group of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Mr. Short

I am sorry to hear that there is no Casanova Club in Hull. I am interested to know that there is one in London.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) raised the question of compensation for the victims of terrorism. He rightly said that it had been highlighted by the announcement today of the award of £42,000 in Northern Ireland. I would remind him of the reply of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this matter. The general principle is that it is for the individual himself to take whatever protection he thinks appropriate against damage to his property by insuring it. That applies to damage from terrorist attacks just as much as it applies to damage from other causes.

It is a fact, which the whole House regrets and deplores, that bomb attacks have continued for nearly two years in Great Britain and have caused a great deal of damage to property as well as a number of tragic deaths and injuries. Nevertheless—and the hon. Gentleman did not claim that we had—we have not reached the point where the risk of damage to property from terrorist activities is so great in Great Britain that it is no longer possible to obtain insurance cover. The scale of terrorist outrage is much greater in Northern Ireland, where insurance cover is therefore difficult to obtain. The case for compensation in Northern Ireland at public expense is quite different.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is well aware of the situation, and he would undoubtedly consider what action he should take if the situation deteriorated to the point where the balance of argument shifted in favour of a greater measure of State acceptance of liability to damage for property. That has not happened yet. Let us hope that it will not do so.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the ex-gratia payments to hon. Members who lost their property when we had the bomb damage here. I felt it right that we should give them ex-gratia payments. In assessing the payments, we used Civil Service rules. All hon. Members in- volved, except perhaps one, were satisfied with the compensation they received.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) talked about pyramid selling in the Birmingham area. As he knows, measures to outlaw pyramid selling were included in the Fair Trading Act 1973. Its provisions, and the regulations made under them, were designed to protect people from the objectionable features of such trading schemes. The legislation appears to have been effective, because there has been little evidence of abuse since it came into law. It was not, however, retrospective and is, therefore, unlikely to help people who invested unsuccessfully in pyramid schemes before the Act came into force.

Many people who became engaged in pyramid selling took out second mortgages on their homes to obtain the necessary finance, and the applications for loan were usually made to a broker, who apparently had no link with the financier, and the applicants almost invariably stated that the loan would be for home improvements. As far as the financier was concerned, the applications were straightforward and apparently concerned routine cases. Over the past few weeks, as my hon. Friend has said, mainly as a result of an action group set up in Birmingham, the matter of the financial hardships of such people has come to public attention, and several hon. Members have been approached. I cannot answer about the Magic Holiday company, but I will have inquiries made and will write to my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) raised a very important point about the development land tax. I agree that there is a problem, but I think he overstated it. I fully recognise the great urgency of legislating to implement the tax. I regret that tonight I can go no further than to say that this very complex Bill will be introduced as soon as humanly possible. I can say, however, that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General will have a very important announcement to make on the matter early in the new year.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil and others raised the question of the Prayer on the building regulations of 1974. The order attracts the negative procedure. It does not require an affirmative resolution. That is so under an Act passed by the House under a previous Conservative Government. I know that it is a very important matter, and there will be no difficulty at all in arranging for it to be debated in the Merits Committee when we return after Christmas if that is the general wish of the House. I would be pleased to arrange for that to be done. If it is the general wish of the House that the Prayer should be debated in the Chamber itself, however, I will try to find time for it.

The hon. Member for Melton also raised the question of the Leicestershire delegation. I can only repeat what I said when I intervened earlier. I have never known a case of a Minister refusing to see a Member of Parliament, but a Minister will not commit himself to see a deputation from outside led by a Member of Parliament. It would be impossible to give an assurance on this matter to cover all cases, but I shall talk to my right hon. Friend about this. I think that she has already written, or is to write, to the hon. Gentleman about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East raised the matter of Freightliners, with which I have already dealt. The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) spoke about improving exports, and I agree with all he said about the cardinal importance of the matter. He also raised the question of Northampton Grammar School. As he knows, proposals regarding this have been published and are under consideration by the Department. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as he is able to do so.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Brain) spoke about the World Food Conference. I appreciate that he has taken an intense interest in this matter ever since becoming a Member of the House, and he and I have been Members for about the same period. I pay tribute to the interest he has always shown. I do not complain that he should get a little hot under the collar, because this is the sort of thing we ought to get concerned about. I very much regret that it has not been possible to have a debate on this, but I shall bear the matter in mind and see if anything can be done. How- ever, I reject entirely his allegation that the Government are not concerned about this. He might have paid tribute to what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development has achieved in Brussels. We are often told that the renegotiation is a myth, but an enormous amount has been achieved in the renegotiation of our terms—

Sir Bernard Braine

The right hon. Gentleman would not wish to be unfair to me. I went out of my way to say that the Minister of Overseas Development had made a constructive contribution to the Rome conference, and I have said this previously in the House. On this occasion I also said that the Prime Minister was sensitive to the argument. I have no doubt about what the Minister has done. I was regretting—I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give an answer on this—that no time had been found to discuss a matter of such importance.

Mr. Short

That does not indicate lack of concern on the Government's part. It is simply a matter of shortage of parliamentary time, but I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said. I note what he said about my right hon. Friend, and I am grateful, but he might have paid a word of tribute to the magnificent achievement in Brussels, in the new arrangements that she has been able to negotiate there.

The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members also raised the topic of disruption of commuter rail services. I have a great deal of sympathy with this point. But the hon. Gentleman must remember that his Government in their few years in office—two years and a bit—reduced industrial relations in this country to the lowest level ever known, and it will take some years to restore good industrial relations.

With regard to the signalmen's dispute, British Railways are concerned about this. It is an unofficial dispute and has been condemned by the union concerned. It would not, in the circumstances, be right for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or the CAS to intervene. The Secretary of State does not believe that it would help bring an end to the dispute for him to intervene. Indeed, it would probably be counterproductive and cause greater difficulties if he did. The right hon. Member for Yeovil realises the problems in this sort of dispute. We have a great deal of sympathy with the public who suffer so much inconvenience because of unofficial disputes of this kind.

A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), raised the question of parliamentary announcements. There is no question of avoiding parliamentary accountability. There are so many announcements from Government sources that it is not possible to make all of them in parliamentary statements, and some are made in Written Answers—

Mr. Peyton

As we are on this subject, would the Leader of the House suggest to some of his right hon. Friends that they would be very welcome to make statements if the statements were a bit shorter?

Mr. Short

I agree about that. I was a culprit today. I try as hard as I can to cut down statements, and I scrutinise them. I always insist on brevity, but I am afraid that this insistence is sometimes not successful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said that the House should have the right to question Ministers on such matters as increases in petrol prices, but hon. Members already have that right. They can question Ministers at any time, and Ministers are accountable to Parliament for all their actions, for what they do and for what they fail to do. We had an economic debate yesterday when the sort of question to which my hon. Friend referred could have been raised. It is fundamental to our democracy that Ministers should be answerable to Parliament at all times.

My hon. Friend also asked questions about transport in rural areas, and I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said. He will recall that I spoke for him in both the recent election and the previous election, in both of which he won. I am aware of the shortcomings of rural transport in his area. The Government are also well aware of this. My hon. Friend spoke about making more use of the railways. We fully accept that the British Railways Board is doing all it can to seek economic business, and, for their part, the Government now have power under the Railways Act 1974 to give grant assistance to expenditure on facilities for freight haulage by rail, but it is too early to say what level of expenditure will be involved.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) spoke about terrorism and violence in our society, and I fully share his concern. I also realise that the public are concerned. The hon. Gentleman made a number of important points. He said that the country needs protection—and, indeed, it does. But this House, and all of us who are concerned about this matter, should try to diagnose the causes of violence and lawlessness in our society. My own theory is that such causes are to be found in the fact that today there is no clear demarcation between right and wrong so far as young people are concerned. A previous generation referred to a code of behaviour which told them what was right and what was wrong. But there is nothing today to indicate what is right and what is wrong. Young people have to decide moral issues from their own resources. We must in our education system pay much more attention to moral training and example for young people.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the organisation called the Children of God. which has been causing us some concern. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary at the Home Office stated in a Written Answer today: In view of the report on the activities of the movement published earlier this year by the Attorney General of New York, we asked the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to make certain inquiries. These are still in progress and it would be premature for my right hon. Friend to make any statement at present. The hon. Member for Macclesfield spoke about sugar supplies and suggested that there would be a severe shortage of sugar early next year. We must recognise that sugar beet crops in this country and elsewhere in Europe have been extremely poor and consequently further imports will be needed. But substantial quantities have already been contracted from the Continent. Negotiations with the Commonwealth sugar suppliers are continuing, and we hope to reach an agreement satisfactory to all the parties early in the new year. The EEC has committed itself to make up the remaining deficit by subsidising imports from world markets, and yesterday the EEC Commission accepted tenders for 105,000 tons of imports. That included about 90,000 tons of raw sugar which will come to this country.

We fully expect that terms for an agreement can be found which will satisfy both producers and consumers next year. Supplies which will reach the United Kingdom during January and February 1975 under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement will be unaffected by the delay in settling a long-term agreement. There is every reason to suppose that supplies could be under way quickly as soon as a final agreement is reached.

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) raised the question of the "Shrewsbury Two", and told us that he obtained his information by scavenging around among the waste paper in one of the lavatories in the House of Commons. Representations for the early release of the men are for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider. He answered many Questions on the matter today, quite clearly, with no ambiguity.

I am aware of the motions in the names of the hon. Members for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) and others and the hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett). I repeat what I have already said twice in the House, that the discussions of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister with the TUC related to various general matters arising from the case. The trade unions have to consider its implications. I do not believe that this has necessarily carried any constitutional implications, nor that it represents any political intrusion into the judicial processes. It is well understood—and I explained it in the House recently—that advice on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy remains the sole responsibility of my right hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) complained that the Government did not put their policy yesterday. The Opposition's behaviour in the debate last night was disgraceful. Nobody shouted louder than the hon. Gentleman in trying to prevent my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment putting the Government's case. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot, with hand on heart, plead with the Government to put their case and then, when they try to do so, shout down the Minister, which is what the hon. Gentleman did. I observed him last night. He is the best argument I know for televising Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) made an important and constructive speech about North-East Lancashire. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to what he said. My hon. Friend rightly referred to the Industry Bill, which will be published shortly. It will enable the planning agreement system to be started and the National Enterprise Board to be created. It will have a significant contribution to make in areas of the kind of which my hon. Friend spoke. I shall bear in mind his request for a debate.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) raised the important question of homelessness. He was the only Member to say that we should have a recess, and I am glad that he did. The hon. and gallant Gentleman paid tribute to the Government's efforts in the question of furnished lettings. We have heard before the point he raised, and the Government have examined it. I have been concerned in that examination. Our information is that what has been done has helped a great deal. There may be one or two cases, such as those the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised, where problems have arisen, but on the whole we believe that it has helped enormously. However, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman sends me any points that he has, I shall be happy to have them examined.

I hope that I have covered most of the matters raised. I apologise if I have missed any. I hope that the House will now feel able to pass the motion.

Mr. Lawrence

May we assume from the right hon. Gentleman's failure to reply to my excellent speech—I think the only excellent speech to which he failed to reply—that he does not disagree with my suggestion that one of the best things the Government can do is to stop their relentless drive towards the destruction of our grammar schools?

Mr. Short

I did not reply to that point, although I answered a specific point about a grammar school. The hon. Gentleman raised the question generally, and I do not at all agree with what he said. He said that the matter was one of the most destructive influences in Britain today. I believe that the 11-plus is one of the great remaining social injustices, and the sooner we get rid of it the better. The only way is by having comprehensive, common secondary schools. It is impossible—it is a contradiction in terms —for comprehensive schools and grammar schools to co-exist in the same areas.

The hon. Gentleman is way behind. The argument has been won throughout the country, even in the hon. Gentleman's own party, by and large. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider the matter. If he would like to come and discuss it with me one evening, I would be happy to talk to him about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 13th January.