§ 4.24 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
I beg to move,That this House at its rising To-morrow do adjourn till Monday 10th June.Perhaps it would be convenient for the House if I contented myself with moving the motion formally at this stage and if I replied to the debate later.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Sir David Renton () Huntingdonshire
This is the first time ever, in many years, that I have ventured to speak on an Adjournment motion of this kind, and I must express my regrets to the House for spoiling such a good record. But I hope that in the course of my speech the House will feel that I am fully justified in having attempted to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
First of all, I should like to make it plain that I am in favour of the motion. Although we adjourned, almost without precedent as far as I know, for no less than a fortnight at Easter and it is only five weeks since we reassembled, I nevertheless think it right that we should adjourn again for a fortnight. I know that hon. Members will use the time well, as I shall attempt to do, after a few days break. I shall spend more time in my constituency than one can when the House is sitting—and I live there anyway. I shall get up to date in my reading of the mass of material which has been churned out even by this Government in their short period of office.
What I am much more concerned about is how Ministers will use their time during that fortnight. I have two serious and sincere suggestions to make requiring the Government to reconsider matters in which, in my opinion and that of the vast mass of my constituents, and certainly of all my hon. Friends, they have made two serious miscalculations. The first is the rate support grant and the question of rates generally, and the second relates to the serious situation which will affect consumers later in the year with regard to pig production and slaughtering.
One must declare one's interest in these matters. I must declare that I am a domestic ratepayer in my constituency. In view of the peculiar wording of one of 624 the motions passed by the House last night, I must also declare that, until about 10 years ago, I was an enthusiastic but not very successful producer of pigs.
I can best bring the mind of the House to the serious problem which arises on rates by pointing out that the new county of Cambridgeshire, formed of two older counties, is to receive £4 million less in rate support grant in this financial year than the two older counties received last financial year. That is in spite of the enormous increase in the costs of providing local government services—increases largely due to increased salaries, which we all think are right, of local authority servants, whether the higher paid or the lower paid, increases in teachers' and other salaries which some say have not been enough and should be more; and there are other salary increases yet to come.
There has been a general increase in costs, yet Parliament is placing upon our local authorities even greater obligations to provide these services, and they are expected to do so with less support from the Exchequer. That means much higher rates. The rates in my constituency have risen by the most swingeing amounts. This has been due, not entirely but for the most part, to the decision taken at the last minute by the Secretary of State for the Environment about the domestic relief element in the rate support grant. I had a letter from him on 22nd April, in reply to a letter of mine, in which he said that there was no hope of his doing anything to change this until the next financial year.
My constituents should not continue to bear this hardship until then. Therefore, I seriously suggest that the Secretary of State for the Environment should be asked to reconsider this matter. I did not give him notice that I would be raising the matter today, because I do not expect an answer now. All that I expect is an answer from the Leader of the House to the effect that he will draw his right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that, at any rate in Huntingdonshire and the whole of East Anglia, his decision has resulted in great hardship and is certain also to result in some deprivation of ratepayers in terms of reduction of services.
Before I leave the question of rates, I make a further point. There are many 625 ratepayers who are required under the present law and the present assessments to pay for services which they do not receive—indeed, they may in addition have to pay for these services themselves. Many of our village ratepayers—this also applies to myself—have septic tanks at their homes. Yet we have to pay for sewerage services which are enjoyed only by others. But the trouble does not end there. I hope that the House will forgive me for this revolting allusion. We also have to pay for our septic tanks to be emptied, so we are caught both ways.
I have given that as only one example. There is a further matter to be considered. I know of a village in which there is no sewerage, no street lighting, no road maintenance, no speed limit, no school, church or shop, and no public house. Yet the rates and the assessments are high, and the result of the increases this year has been swingeing. Surely, even with the economic difficulties of the times in which we live, which are brought about by inflation, no Government could contemplate allowing such a state of affairs to continue from near the beginning of this financial year right to the next financial year. It is not right.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I support absolutely my right hon. and learned Friend in everything that he has said. However, I have always understood that one's rateable value was supposed to be lower if one's house was not connected to main sewerage. I am not sure that everyone knew of this or received the special allowance when their rateable value was fixed.
§ Sir D. Renton
My hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right in relation to the law and the theory of the matter. But in practice owing to the way in which the assessments are made, nothing like due allowance is made by district valuers for this lack of services, with the result that a village such as I have described, with practically no amenities—I should have added that it is also without the advantage of a bus service—gets rating assessments which are only marginally less than those of a village which has all or most of those services, and others besides. Here is a serious case to be considered.
626 However, enough of that. I know that one should not speak for long on these occasions, and I want to come to the subject of pigs. There is an assumption —made mainly on the Government side of the House—that it is in the interests only of farmers that Members question what is happening to pig producers. But there could be no more blind or foolish assumption than that, because the truth is that at the rate at which pigs, including sows, are being slaughtered there will be such a shortage of home-produced pigmeat by the autumn that it is the consumer—all consumers, including those on the Government benches—who will suffer from this lack of a wise policy.
I do not blame the Minister of Agriculture for his original decision. He gave a little help—50p per score—until July or August, but it was not enough. What I do blame him for, however, is for saying that he should do nothing else. A miscalculation was made by the right hon. Gentleman—no doubt on advice. But I ask him to use the period of the recess in order to think out the matter again and to get his statisticians working to find out what is happening in our pig markets and to get the matter put right
I had a Question on the Order Paper today which, alas, was not reached, and I do not yet know the answer. The suggestion in that Question was that an immediate incentive should be offered to every pig producer who keeps his sows alive until August. It would have to be a fairly substantial concession—I shall not say how much—but it might do the trick and save the consumer from being desperately short of pigmeat and from having to pay enormous sums for it.
There is some hope that if we have a good harvest—conditions on the arable farms are not too bad at present—the price of feed might come down enough by August to save the situation. It cannot come down before then. Therefore, what we want is an incentive to farmers to keep their sows alive until then, when, perhaps, all will be well.
Those are my two constructive suggestions. I welcome the recess of a fortnight and I trust that it will be well used by Ministers in the way that I have suggested.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
I feel very uneasy about the Adjournment of the House unless we have an opportunity either of debating a certain matter or of an investigation being made into it, or unless I receive a reassuring statement from the Secretary of State through his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about the matter. I refer to the London weighting in connection with teachers and nurses in Watford and other places which are very near to London. The system is absolutely riddled with anomalies. I wonder whether the House knows that the whole of the private sector of employment in Watford is receiving what is known as an outer London allowance or a Watford allowance—one or the other —as is the public sector. But that does not apply—I repeat, "not"—to nurses or teachers.
I should like to give an example of the stupid way in which this whole thing is working. Employees of the British Waterways Board, in Church Road, Watford, which is almost in the centre of Watford, are receiving an outer London allowance, while teachers nearer London do not receive that allowance. Employees of the Department of Employment in Water Lane, in Watford, are also receiving an outer London allowance. Watford has a district council now, and it is also a borough. The district council employees receive a local weighting.
It is a sad fact that staff are leaving the colleges in Watford and that they cannot be replaced by staff of the same calibre. The colleges to which I refer are three: Cassio College, the Watford College of Technology, and George Stephenson College. From all of these, staff are leaving.
The metropolitan boundaries which the Government are using at present are based on boundaries decided upon years ago. The situation is ludicrous. If the London allowance is raised in London, staff will gravitate from Watford to London, again causing a lack of staff at the Watford colleges.
I might mention Potters Bar, miles further away from London than Watford, where the teachers have the London allowance. The George Stephenson College in Watford has two buildings. One is just in Watford, the other just outside it. Those teachers who are just within 628 Watford get the London allowance whereas those teachers who live just a few yards outside Watford do not get the London allowance at all. If, therefore, a teacher spends more than 50 per cent. of his or her time in the main building in Watford, that teacher loses the London allowance. The House can imagine that an alteration in a class may make all the difference. A teacher may find that having previously received the London allowance, when a class alteration occurs, that teacher has then to spend more than 50 per cent. of his or her time just a few yards within the Watford area and thus loses the London allowance.
I might inform the House that house prices in Watford are higher than, for example, in Wandsworth. People who are moved to Watford on promotion find themselves worse off than they were before they were promoted because they cannot stand the expense involved. One teacher I know shares a house with three others, all of whom get the allowance while this teacher does not. Yet this teacher's expenses are the same as those of the three other teachers with whom the house is shared. Furthermore, many people are forced to commute, adding to train congestion, because they cannot afford accommodation in Watford. I know some people who travel 40 miles to Watford and 40 miles back because they cannot afford the price of Watford accommodation. Should not teachers be on the same level as Members of Parliament? The office staff at the colleges do not get an allowance and the colleges are afraid of losing staff on the administration side if the allowance is not given to those people.
I will give one further example. Sir James Altham in South Oxhey is just outside Watford. It is short of seven members of its staff. They sometimes have to send about 100 students home because they cannot get the staff to work there, just outside Watford. May I remind the House that housing in the area of South Oxhey comes under Greater London. Why should it not come under Greater London as far as teaching is concerned? The boundaries they are using at the moment are based on the situation years ago. The boundary is rather like a star, with places at the outer points of the star getting the allowance while places within the points do not get it—and they 629 are much nearer to London than some outer points. A circle, rather than a star, should be used for the boundary.
I would urge upon my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that this matter must be considered as a matter of urgency. The boundaries simply must be redrawn. Can he give us an assurance before the House adjourns that this will be done?
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Captain L. P S. Orr (Down, South)
I believe the two hon. Gentlemen who have just spoken would certainly concede to me that the matters on which they have been addressing the House are not such as would demand the recall of Parliament if the House were to be in recess. Before we deal with this motion, I want to talk about the situation in Northern Ireland. I believe everybody would agree that if we were now in recess facing a general strike in Ireland of the magnitude and danger which exists, Parliament would immediately be recalled. Therefore, it will seem very odd to people in Ulster that the House of Commons should propose to take a fortnight's holiday without any clear indication of the Government's intentions on certain matters.
It is very important that we should measure our words with care because the general strike and the situation as it now exists in Ulster is but one step short of civil war. I do not think the House of Commons here in the calm of London can possibly conceive how high feeling is running there at the present moment. We have some degree of sympathy with the Secretary of State in the burdens he has to carry, and one can understand an hysterical outburst such as that with which he greeted my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). But such outbursts do not help. What is needed now is some kind of indication of sensible action in the situation.
When the right hon. Gentleman produced his statement today he told the House of the decision of the Northern Ireland Executive to postpone certain parts of the Sunningdale Agreement until after the next General Election to the Assembly. I suppose that is something, but it is an absolutely inadequate 630 response to a situation where the Government appear to have embarked on a head-on collision with the whole of the majority population of Ulster. It is no use right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite trying to pretend that if only the people of Ulster were told the facts of the situation, and if they had the Sunningdale Agreement explained to them in simple words, they would then understand. I must tell the House that the average elector in Ulster has read the Sunningdale Agreement. He understands only too well what it is all about, and all the Government machinery and the use of Government information services to try to bamboozle him in the future will not have the remotest effect on the situation.
The House really must understand this. The situation is of the gravest at this minute. We want to hear from the Government, before we let this motion go through providing that the House of Commons should depart for a fortnight, first of all from the Leader of the House himself, who has a responsibility in this matter and is always courteous about these things. Would he be kind enough to tell the House what arrangements are to be made for the recall of the House if something does not happen in the very near future to resolve this highly inflammatory situation? Will he also tell the House whether it is the intention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to enter into discussion with people who do represent majority opinion in Ulster? What he said at the Dispatch Box today did not give us very much hope in the matter.
The Government must understand that the situation is now out of political control. No more dangerous situation can be imagined; and the only way to get it back into political control is for the Government of the day, who are the responsible authority, to talk with those who represent the majority in Ulster. There is no other way.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for giving way. Perhaps he shares the experience I have had since the General Election in my constituency, which returned 11 loyalists—I use that term with pride. We asked the people to 631 be patient and told them we would eventually get the Government to talk and see what changes could be brought about to make the constitutional arrangements acceptable to everybody in Northern Ireland. But as a result of the inflexible attitude of the Government, people now say that we are as important as other politicians and that they must, therefore, take the law into their own hands? Does not my hon. and gallant Friend find this is so?
§ Captain Orr
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. He has put his finger on the nub of the problem and on the reason for this ghastly general strike which is causing so much havoc and danger. The reason is that the Government of the day apparently have taken no notice of the General Election as it affected Northern Ireland. The majority of the people of Northern Ireland sent 11 representatives out of the 12 who came to this House to indicate their detestation of certain things being imposed upon them. The first action of the Secretary of State when he went to Ulster was to say that there would be no change in the policy in spite of the freely expressed wish of the majority of the people of Ulster. Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, imagine any more dangerous situation?
How can we ask people in that situation to be patient, particularly when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) endorsed that statement with a vehemence that even outdid the Government? There is no use the House of Commons seeking a confrontation with the majority of the Ulster people at this time. It is a gross folly that will lead to absolute disaster not only for Ulster but for the rest of the United Kingdom. It is an abject and dangerous situation into which to put our armed forces of whom we are so proud and whose courage, restraint and work in Ulster we have so much admired. To put them into that situation is nothing short of criminal folly. I hope that before we pass the motion and go away for a fortnight the Leader of the House will give some hope that the Government understand what the situation is all about.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry West (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I rise to request that during the Whitsun Recess this House should 632 send an all-party deputation to Northern Ireland to see for itself the realities of the situation there. I was appalled at the conduct of the Secretary of State today in the misleading information that he gave the House about a provisional Government of some sort and ration cards there were being prepared in Northern Ireland. It is disgraceful that the Minister should use the Dispatch Box to give out such information which we know to be false.
Conditions in Northern Ireland are extremely dangerous and the Province is likely to come to a halt this weekend. It is dangerous for the House to adjourn for the recess, leaving Northern Ireland in its present condition. The democratic voice of the people there, as expressed on 28th February, which spoke against the present system of Government in Northern Ireland, has not been heeded. We warned the Government of the danger of turning a deaf ear to that democratic voice on this issue. They ignored that voice and now the people have taken matters into their own hands.
This massive strike is supported by a wide section of the community all over Ireland, and the situation is most dangerous. It could be cured if the Secretary of State would humble himself and meet the men who want to speak to him —the power workers' union. The right hon. Gentleman says that he will not be coerced by gunmen and bombers, or something to that effect. That is highly irresponsible language.
These are highly responsible and decent men, the working class of Northern Ireland, and it seems strange that a Labour Government should, as it were, be grinding the working class of Northern Ireland into the ground on this issue. If the right hon. Gentleman says that he does not want to meet these men, I can quote precedents from the immediate past to show why he should. The first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), flew the IRA to London for a conference. They are certainly the gunmen. I understand that the present Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland even met the IRA in Dublin. Yet peaceful, decent men who have a grievance and who want to talk are turned down by the Secretary of State. It is most difficult for them to understand.
633 These men are keeping the essential services going. It was unfortunate that certain irresponsible statements earlier this week in the House by the Minister of State for Northern Ireland and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) inflamed the situation to such an extent that the power workers decided to place an embargo on oil. Oil has been cut off and electricity is in very restricted supply. The Province is coming to a halt. Something must be done. The power workers agreed to keep 60 per cent. of the current running through the grid in order to maintain essential services, but only on the condition that the electricity was not used for manufacturing industry. There was a move to use it for manufacturing industry and the 60 per cent. flow of current was reduced.
The essential services are being kept going and the men who are organising the strike are not unreasonable, as we found when we discussed with them certain steps necessary to keep the community going. My hon. Friends who represent Northern Ireland seats have held talks with the representatives of the workers, and we know that statements that Stormont Castle is organising supplies of feeding stuffs for the farmers' stock are untrue. Feeding stuffs were allowed out only because of our representations to the organisers of the strike, and it had nothing to do with anyone at Stormont Castle. Only this morning I had a request from a Government Department for help from the people who are controlling the strike to get supplies for certain of their services. It shows how chaotic the situation must be when a Government Department has to approach a body outside of Government in order to secure its supplies. The Government have lost control.
All the Northern Ireland community wants is the opportunity to determine its own future. We feel deeply aggrieved at this state of affairs. We are living in what we hope to be a democracy, but we have our doubts when we hear Northern Ireland Ministers thumping the table and stating arrogantly that Northern Ireland will have Sunningdale and that the Government will not alter their position. Such a dictatorship is repugnant to the people of Northern Ireland.
634 I can assure the Secretary of State that we will not have Sunningdale and that that is the determined will of the people in Northern Ireland. An admirable principle of British democratic practice is to allow people to determine their own future. That is being denied the people of Northern Ireland.
The House should ignore the misleading information given today and earlier in the week by Ministers. My appeal is for an all-party deputation to visit Northern Ireland during the recess to see the chaotic conditions there so that it may judge how the country is being mismanaged. We want the opportunity to express our will to get a proper structure of Government in Northern Ireland. Let the people speak; that is all we ask. We ask only for the right to vote, and that is not unreasonable.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I dispute what has been said by the hon Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West). He has accused my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of misleading the House. From my knowledge of the situation in Northern Ireland, I can say that the Secretary of State has spoken the exact truth. Indeed he has under stated the case.
§ Mr. Fitt
I have heard the views expressed by the Secretary of State not only today, but since the onset of the crisis. I have had many discussions with him and his advisers in recent days
I would agree with only one thing said by the two hon. Members who have spoken about Northern Ireland—that there is now a dangerous situation there Indeed, it is the most dangerous situation which has existed in Northern Ireland since its constitution in 1920.
A band of unelected people, people who have never had a single vote cast for them in the ballot box, people who misname themselves the Loyalist Ulster 635 Workers, are holding the entire community to ransom. There is more hardship and heartbreak in Northern Ireland today than I have ever known. Armed bands of thugs are blackmailing people, preventing people from coming out of their homes and estates, preventing people from going to their employment, preventing power workers from going to their work, preventing the shipyards employees from taking their rightful place in the shipyards, preventing old-age pensioners from receiving their retirement pensions—
§ Mr. Kilfedder rose—
§ Mr. Fitt
They are preventing mothers of young families from drawing their family allowances, and are preventing the milkman and the bread man from delivering milk and bread. There is only one answer in the present dangerous situation. Unless the Government face up to that answer, there could be absolute chaos in Northern Ireland over the next 24 hours.
Last year, there was an election in Northern Ireland, held under proportional representation, and a number of people were elected. Three of the major parties which emerged from that election decided that they would form an Executive, which had the support of the previous Government and the then Opposition, and which has the support of the present Government. Those people have tried to rectify many of the problems in Northern Ireland. That is why they all took part in the Sunningdale Agreement.
The Sunningdale Agreement may not have pleased everyone in Northern Ireland, but it was an honest attempt to erase some of the wrongs of the past and bring about a consensus situation which would enable Catholics and Protestants to live together in Northern Ireland and allow free movement between North and South. It was a courageous attempt. I have no hesitation in once again congratulating and commending the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. White-law) on what he did. I am glad that the bipartisan policy towards the agreement still holds.
But now a band of Fascist thugs is holding an entire community to ransom in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Kilfedder rose—
§ Mr. Fitt
We shall hear that it is an industrial strike. In fact, it is not a strike, according to accepted standards in these islands. It is not about wages and conditions of employment. It is not about the hours worked. All the people involved have been disowned by the legitimate trade union movement in Northern Ireland. The trades union movement there and the TUC in this country have stated clearly that those who call themselves the Ulster Workers' Council do not represent the views of the legitimate trade union movement.
It is only a few hours since I left Northern Ireland. Throughout Northern Ireland electricity supplies have been cut. Those concerned are harming in particular old people who have to depend on electricity for heating. Many old people are dying a slow death.
The oil situation has become very serious over the past 24 hours. hospitals are not being supplied with fuel oil. Many patients who need surgical operations are being denied those operations. My young daughter, who is a nurse, tells me that such patients are existing on pain-killing drugs because the operations cannot take place, because of the insecure electricity supply position.
The whole community is being held to ransom by people who are not representative of the authentic voice of the Northern Ireland people. Barricades have been put up to prevent people going to work, to prevent them leaving their own homes. They are told that they have to go to certain shops.
§ Mr. Kilfedder rose—
§ Mr. Kilfedder
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make such inflammatory and totally erroneous remarks and then not give way? As the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is reported by the head of the Department of Finance as having been responsible—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the debate, which is on a very serious matter, can be conducted in as quiet and 637 as balanced a manner as possible. That was not a point of order. If the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) does not wish to give way, he must not be interrupted unduly.
§ Mr. Fitt
1 realise that this is a debate about whether we should adjourn for the recess and that many hon. Members wish to express their opinions on the subjects which most concern them, but it is right that I should tell the House the factual position in Northern Ireland as I see it.
Within hours there will be a complete shut-down of many places of employment, and hospitals will be particularly affected. Many lives could be lost because of the non-supply of energy to hospitals. Many farm animals are dying. Thousands of gallons of milk are being poured down the drains because they cannot be delivered, owing to the road blocks and the intimidation being meted out to those who want to keep up their employment. This is a deliberate attempt, by people who were not elected, to bring the Province of Northern Ireland to a standstill and to assert their demands over and above those of democracy.
A few of the hon. Members opposite from Northern Ireland are Members of the Stormont Assembly, yet they have said that they will not attend it. They are boycotting it because it does not suit their book to attend at present. Therefore, they are negating the whole process of democracy and taking their actions on to the streets and holding the whole community to ransom.
I say with all the seriousness at my command that there is only one answer, one which may not be well accepted by some of my hon. Friends. For 54 years, at various times throughout the history of Northern Ireland, we have had the bully boys and the thugs of the extreme sections of Unionism—and I differentiate the extreme sections. They have blackmailed successive British Governments. They have rightly believed that any British Government would be unwilling to enter into a direct confrontation with them.
But in the present situation, when so many innocent lives are at stake, that challenge must be accepted. The 638 Government will have to use whatever resources they have at their command, and I mean particularly the British Army. The Army must go into the power stations—there is no need for civil war —and generate the energy that is needed. It must take over the oil installations in Belfast within a very few hours, or there will be total economic chaos. It must also ensure that the essentials of life are made freely available to everyone in Northern Ireland.
It may be said that by that action the Army may be bringing on a civil war in Northern Ireland. We have heard that over the past 54 years. Such threats have been repeatedly made to the British people who are told, "Do things our way, or there will be civil war." The present situation is much too serious to heed such threats. If the British Government believe that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom—and under the Constitution Act it is abundantly clear that it is—
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher) rose—
§ Mr. Mather rose—
§ Mr. Fitt
I believe that the British Government must accept their responsibilities. I regret that it has to be a Socialist party that must face this position, but, knowing the men who compose the Government, and having known Labour back benchers for some years, I feel that the Government will show the courage that they undoubtedly have.
They must take on these people wherever they are to be found if there is to be a confrontation. They must take over the power stations and fuel supplies. They must ensure that normal life as we know it here is allowed to continue in Northern Ireland. If the Government do not show their courage—and it is vital that they should do so—I predict that there will ultimately be chaos in Northern Ireland.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
The three speeches that we have heard from hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies 639 have displayed to the House, if it did not know it already, the grave situation that now confronts the Government and the Parliament of the United Kingdom regarding their responsibilities in Northern Ireland. It was not my intention when I decided to take part in this Adjournment debate to speak on Northern Ireland, but even with great restraint I cannot forbear to say just a few words before I pass on to what I intended to make the subject of my contribution.
In view of the grave situation in Northern Ireland, I think that it is wrong that the House should be going into recess. That is particularly so now that we have heard the contributions of those who have come hot foot from Northern Ireland. If there is one thing that must be in operation in the present crucial situation it is the House of Commons. The House must operate so that we can test the Government's attitude and reaction to their responsibilities and the policies which they have in operation in Northern Ireland. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, if he cannot now withdraw his Adjournment motion, will at least give an undertaking that the House will be recalled the moment there is to be any substantial change in Government policy in Northern Ireland, or if British troops in Northern Ireland come into direct and bloody conflict with the Northern Ireland people.
There is one point of view that must be put to this Parliament if such a situation arises. The moment that one so-called loyalist waving the Union Jack shoots a British soldier, there will be British hon. Members who will be wanting to put forward the views, the feelings and the desires of the British people. With those few remarks on Northern Ireland I now turn to what I intended to make the subject of my contribution to the Whitsun Adjournment debate.
The House will recall that about a year ago a security commission was set up by the then Prime Minister, the present Leader of the Opposition, to inquire into certain matters that had arisen involving Her Majesty's Ministers. It is not my intention to dwell on the personalities or on the actions of those personalities in that unfortunate incident. However, 640 compassion cannot detract from what somebody may consider to be his duty when matters of security are involved.
When the report of the Security Commission, Cmnd. 5367, was published in July 1973,1, in conjunction with some of my hon. Friends, tabled an Early-Day Motion expressing our grave concern about the manner in which the commission had carried out its duties and stating our rejection of the report. Today there is an Early-Day Motion which again confirms the apprehensions of some hon. Members and their rejection of the commission's report.
I want to draw to the attention of the House four reasons for its being imperative that there should be either a further security commission inquiry into the matter, or a debate in the House. First, anyone who read the security commission's report could not have failed to notice, despite some severe strictures that the commissioners made of two national newspapers and in spite of the part that journalists employed by those newspapers had played in getting together the evidence which led to the final exposure of the security risk, that no representative of the two newspapers involved in the journalistic investigation was called to give either written or oral evidence before the commission. That is an omission which must cause genuine doubts to be felt about the effectiveness of the inquiry.
My second reason is that certain statements were made in the report about the standards expected of Ministers in respect of security arrangements within their Departments and in respect of personal conduct. The requirements laid down in the report are different from those required in the Civil Service and in the Armed Forces. It is unacceptable that there should be two standards of security requirements, namely, one for officials and another for Ministers, if the risks are the same. In fact, the risks are the same, as all mankind is exposed to the same temptations and suffers the same human frailties. The security criteria should be exactly the same.
Thirdly, because of the speed with which the commission conducted its work—it was set up by a letter from the then Prime Minister and dated 4th June 1973 and it reported on 5th July 1973 —it is clear that the investigation was inadequate. Without any doubt, it has 641 left a residual smouldering belief, both in Fleet Street and in the House, and to a degree among informed opinion throughout the country, that all is still not well and that all was not covered by the inquiry.
My fourth reason is based upon what I have just said. Continuing suggestions are being made in informed circles that the then political head of the security forces, namely, the Prime Minister of the day, was told 10 months before he instituted the inquiry that there were grave grounds for believing that there were incidents involving one of his Ministers which should be subject to further inquiry and investigation. There is now the uneasy feeling that the report was ignored by the then political head of the security forces.
I draw attention to paragraph 8 of Cmnd. Paper 5367. First, there is a reference to the categories of document as being "restricted", "confidential", "secret", and "top secret". Then the report goes on to say that in the case of one of the Ministers… we should have felt compelled to commend that he should be denied such access.That, of course, was access to secret and top secret documents.
There is an uneasy feeling and speculation that the right hon. Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath) had been told 10 months before April last year, that is, in July or August 1972, that there were grounds for concern for security in the behaviour of a Minister of his Government. The criteria enunciated by the Security Commission in its report must have applied then as they apply now.
In his reply tonight, or if we are recalled because of Northern Ireland, or when we resume on 10th June, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will make a statement making it clear whether the then head of the security services—the right hon. Member for Sidcup—knew of the situation and why, if the right hon. Gentleman did know on the basis of a report from the security services, no action was taken over a period of 10 months.
I do not believe that the situation can be left where it is. Either we must have the categorical statement, for which I ask, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is the present head of the 642 security services, or there must be an undertaking that the Security Commission will be called upon to carry out a further investigation of all the circumstances in the 18 months before 4lh June 1973. This House will then have an opportunity of studying the commission's report and, if we find it unsatisfactory, debating it.
It is not satisfactory that we should be left with the possibility of speculation in some quarters, both in Fleet Street and in the House of Commons, that there may have been a cover up, an attempt to avoid a political scandal. I hope that that is not true, but the only way in which it can be proved to be untrue is by the action I have suggested.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
There are a number of matters which the House should debate in the near future, although most of them can wait until after the recess. But two matters concerning my constituents cannot wait because by the time we return it may already be too late to save their jobs.
Two groups are concerned. Representatives of one group have just been to see me. They are pig and beef producers from the north of my constituency. They gave me horrifying figures of the plight of their industry. One of them has cut the number of his breeding sows from 100 to 35, while 14 others in the area have had to cut the numbers of their breeding sows in half since last year. They are losing £3 50 to £4 a pig, despite the subsidy. They told me that the price had fallen by a sum equivalent to the subsidy as soon as it was introduced, so that their losses had not been reduced by the subsidy. Soon they face increases in water and electricity charges which will cost about 30p a pig.
The simple fact is that their bank managers are running out of patience and they face the fact that, unless action is taken in the immediate future by the Government, they will become bankrupt. They will have to cease production and turn to a new way of life. We cannot drag this matter out for weeks on end until a decision is taken. The future of this part of the industry is at stake, and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. 643 Renton) has said, it means that in the not-too-distant future the prospects for the consumers, too, will be bleak.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the situation he is describing is the same in North-East Essex? That is why I join hands with him right across the countryside in hoping that the Government will take action.
§ Mr. Edwards
It is exactly for that reason that I thought it right to raise the issue. It is not purely local but applies to agriculture throughout the entire country.
This is also the last opportunity I shall have to make a plea to the Government to reconsider even at this eleventh hour the desperate plight of the Milford fishing industry. Six days before the General Election I was called to a meeting of the trawler owners to hear about the enormous increase in oil prices they had been confronted with in the early part of February. Immediately upon their appointment, the new Ministers concerned were informed of the facts. Their initial reaction was to refuse a meeting with the owners.
However, an attack which I made on the Ministers during a debate on Welsh affairs brought about an invitation next day to the owners to meet the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I need not spell out the situation in detail now. The figures were given to the Minister then and he was left in no doubt as to the immediacy of the crisis and the action which would have to be taken. All we asked—and it was a moderate enough demand—was for £70,000 to save over 400 jobs.
Two months passed. The crisis got worse. My letters were ignored. In the debate on agriculture, I told the House of the double disaster which faced two industries in my constituency—agriculture and fishing. I was told by the Secretary of State for Scotland in that debate—he is someone who is surely not over-familiar with the problems of West Wales —that I had painted too gloomy a picture.
But next day a letter was sent to me by hand. That letter must have been dictated before the Secretary of State for Scotland made his bland pronouncement. 644 The letter confirmed that the Government would take no action to save the Milford fishing industry. The Minister referred with facile optimism to the hope that the denial of the subsidy would not mean the end of the industry at Milford. He made that comment at a time when, despite assistance given by the local fish merchants, every trip was being made at a loss. His comment revealed as much ignorance of the facts and insensitivity to the nature of the crisis as the Secretary of State's comments.
The House is not due to return from the recess until 10th June, which is no more than three weeks from the time when the temporary assistance from the fish merchants will end. Last week I wrote to the Minister of State asking him to reconsider his decision. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales asking him to intervene. Socialists in Wales, appalled at the apparent indifference and financial shortsightedness of the Government, and perhaps thinking just a little of the possible political consequences, have joined belatedly in the fight.
I speak of financial shortsightedness because the cost of letting the industry down will be far more than the cost of enabling it to live. The cost in unemployment benefit and of the financial incentives to attract new jobs will be far in excess of the £70,000 for which we are asking. The cost in social terms is incalculable.
I hope that the Government, faced by these powerful facts and by the equally powerful representations by the owners and others, will have second thoughts. I hope that before the House rises the Government will do what they should have done weeks ago and what they have done for horticulturists in precisely similar circumstances—announce that they will give the Milford fishing industry the temporary help it needs. The Whitsun Recess may well see the trawlers tying up for the last time, the dole queues growing in Milford and the unemployment figure climbing to over 15 per cent.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
I wish to say a few words about Northern Ireland. I have never taken part in debates on Ulster, but, like many other people in the United Kingdom, especially those in my part, I view events in Ulster 645 with a deep apprehension. This apprehension is not only for the well being of the people of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, but for people in certain parts of the United Kingdom and for a number of people particularly on the west coast of Scotland.
The Ulster Unionists must clarify in their minds exactly where they stand in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom. I can understand and sympathise with a minority people who, in their claim for independence, argue that their electoral decision is supreme, but it is difficult to accept that argument if in the same breath they argue that they want to continue to be part of a bigger body. This is a contradiction which has emerged from one or two statements by Ulster Unionist Members today and which they must iron out in their minds before long, or the people in the United Kingdom may come to some decision about Ulster.
I say to the Ulster Unionists that if they are as loyal to the United Kingdom as they say they are, on occasions they will have to accept the argument from us that as United Kingdom Members we want Sunningdale, because Sunningdale is concerned with our foreign policy relationships with a neighbouring independent country. Surely we are entitled as ordinary citizens—
§ Mr. West
May I inform the hon. Gentleman that Sunningdale was not discussed in the House? It was not part of the Constitution Act. It was an afterthought.
§ Mr. Sillars
It was discussed. Even if what the right hon. Gentleman says is accurate, it does not invalidate my proposition for a minute. I believe that if the Sunningdale Agreement were voted upon this afternoon, it would get the overwhelming support of the House of Commons. [Interruption.] I am not going to enter into detailed argument. I have tried to state some of the difficulties which are inherent in the situation of Ulster Unionist Members in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom, and in relation to the House of Commons. If they argue that they are part of the United Kingdom, they have to accept the majority decision of the United Kingdom not on everything, but certainly in relation to foreign policy. No one who argues for devolution for Scotland, Wales, or any 646 other part of the United Kingdom ever argues that the devolved area is entitled to its own say on foreign policy, which has always been reserved for the Imperial Government—to use an old-fashioned term.
I shall not speak for long as I appreciate that other hon. Members have views to express. I want to concentrate for about five minutes on a Scottish matter, which will cheer up the Scottish Nationalists. Indeed, I might carry those Members with me. I wish to concentrate on the necessity for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to use the two weeks of the recess to study again, or to continue his study of, Hunter-ston, so that after the recess he can give us definitive decisions on the industrial applications now before him and in relation to certain planning questions relating to the British Steel Corporation.
I fully understand my right hon. Friend's difficulties and I recognise that he has been in office for about only 11 weeks and that he has difficult decisions to make about Hunterston. I also appreciate that Hunterston represents a complex situation, the complexity having been compounded by the number of new amendments which both Chevron ORSI and the Hunterston Development Corporation have placed on his desk in recent weeks. The situation in relation to applications is constantly changing.
On top of that there is the problem of the British Steel Corporation's interests in certain parts of the Hunterston Peninsula. We are all aware that we must be very careful about what decisions we make in relation to the British Steel Corporation, because a wrong decision would have an enormous effect not in the next 12 months, but, more importantly, in the next 12 years.
In recognising this I acknowledge that there must be a built-in hesitancy about a final decision. However, against that, to ensure a balanced and objective view of the current situation, we must recognise other factors. One of those factors is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is also the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and as such is my constituency neighbour, is not new to the post of Secretary of State; nor is he new to the problems of Hunterston. He is familiar with the pros and cons of 647 the argument, both in Government and in opposition. He is an Ayrshire MP and has an intimate knowledge of the important part which Hunterston plays in the industrial future of Ayrshire and west central Scotland. My right hon. Friend was never short of critical words when speaking about the former Conservative Secretary of State, Mr. Gordon Campbell, and about Mr. Campbell's hesitancy and slow approach to Hunterston. I leave in evidence—a phrase I have picked up from the lawyers on the Trade Unions and Labour Relations Bill—what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in 1972:Are we to get the Hunterston development? The Marco Polo of politics, the Secretary of State for Scotland, discovered Hunterston. He keeps telling us so. In the same year he discovered oil in the North Sea. But it is three years ago that he was telling us about Hunterston and saying that we must avoid unnecessary, long delays."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July 1972; Vol. 841, c. 2183.]That was criticism by my right hon. Friend of the then Secretary of State for Scotland.
A year later, during the traditional period when we debate Scottish affairs here—one day in the year when we get a debate on the Scottish economy—my right hon. Friend again spoke about the then Secretary of State and said:I wish to turn to the subject of steel. This is a story where a unique facility was discovered by the Secretary of State. 1 refer to Hunterston, which the right hon. Gentleman discovered during his Marco Polo activities in the Scottish Office."—the phraseology had not changed in a year—It is a story of delay, report after report, inquiry after inquiry, statements by the Clyde Port Authority, the Ministry of Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry, the British Steel Corporation—and even the Secretary of State occasionally makes a vapid remark or two. What does it all boil down to? It boils down to the fact that nothing is happening."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July 1973; Vol. 860, c. 40.]With the exception of the ore terminal, the phrase "nothing is happening" aptly describes Hunterston at present.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will convey my remarks to my right hon. Friend—indeed, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will read what I have had to say in HANSARD tomorrow. We 648 need a positive decision about development at Hunterston. That need has grown in urgency. There was a statement made a short time ago by a special study group dealing with west central Scotland. It produced a report, which we as MPs will probably get within the next fortnight, which has projected a sharp job loss because of the decline in certain basic industries in west central Scotland. This situation calls for a major response and a major initiative from the Government. The future of job opportunity initiative must lie in the Hunterston Peninsula and the future regenerative process of the Scottish economy in the west of Scotland must lie in the decision taken on Hunterston.
§ Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)
My hon. Friend is being unfair to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in blaming him for the delay. Is not my hon. Friend aware that the matter is more complex than he is making out and that there are two Ministers involved in the decision? Is he not further aware that even when the Secretary of State gives a planning decision the Secretary of State for Energy must give a subsequent decision on the need to build further refining capacity? Is not my hon. Friend further aware that the multi-national oil companies are at present putting pressure on the Labour Government to carry out the policy of the former Conservative Government and not to increase the capacity for oil refining in this country? I say to my hon. Friend that while we have been blaming our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, he is not the main culprit. The main culprit is another Minister, who is, unfortunately, an Englishman.
§ Mr. Sillars
When my right hon. Friend comes to read this debate in HANSARD tomorrow, as I know he will, I am sure he will be delighted to find that he has a new champion in my hon. Friend —especially bearing in mind the supplementary question my hon. Friend put to him on the last occasion we had Scottish Questions in the House, when he described my right hon. Friend as being only a caretaker Secretary of State.
I am not blaming the Secretary of State for the delay over Hunterston. It is perfectly reasonable, given the complexity of the situation and the importance of the 649 decisions, that he should take 11 to 14 weeks finally to make up his mind about what to do. My point is that by the time we come back after the recess he should have made up his mind and reached a decision. That is not an attack on him: it is a fair and objective observation on the sort of responsibility he has and the sort of policy which the Labour Party in Scotland wants him to carry out.
The people of Scotland, knowing all the background to Hunterston, knowing the degree of support which the Labour movement in Scotland has given to the Hunterston project since its inception and knowing the rôle my right hon. Friend has played in spearheading the Labour Party's attack on the Conservatives' attitude to industrial matters, are bound to expect us at an early date in the lifetime of this Government to come out with a positive decision in favour of developments at Hunterston. That is all I am asking the Leader of the House to convey to my right hon. Friend.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I want to make a few remarks on the grave situation in Northern Ireland. I take the point made by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars). He represents a constituency just across the Irish Sea from mine. This House has to face its responsibilities. Does it want Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom? We must face this. The 1973 Constitution Act left the decision on that vital matter in the hands of a majority—a majority not defined—of the people of Northern Ireland.
This House, in its wisdom or otherwise, said that that decision was to be left in the hands of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. The question of Sunningdale is not one of foreign affairs.
If this House had set up a Council of the United Kingdom and the South of Ireland and had controlled it in that way, there would have been no opposition from the people of Northern Ireland because it would have included the whole of the United Kingdom. Instead it set up a council in which it gave powers to Ministers of a foreign country to deliberate and make decisions about part of the United Kingdom. I put it to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that if 650 this Parliament set up a council involving Scotland and some other foreign country and did not allow the people of Scotland to vote on such a vital issue he would be the first person on his feet objecting and saying, "As this affects the people of Scotland and not the people of the United Kingdom or Wales we should have the final say." That is how the people of Northern Ireland view the present situation.
It was highly irresponsible of the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who was the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to stand up in the House today and to infer that I was quite happy with the Northern Ireland Constitution Act and with the White Paper. I opposed it right down the line, and the record of this House is clear about that. For the right hon. Gentleman to imply that I was happy with the constitutional arrangements and with the safeguard is ridiculous. I even voted against that so-called safeguard because I believe it is absolutely meaningless.
The people of Northern Ireland were told that the destiny of Northern Ireland was in the hands of the Parliament of Northern Ireland through the 1920 Act. In a few hours in this House that Act was replaced. The 1973 Constitution Act gives no guarantee, because this House can change it at any time. What is more, the members of the party to which the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) belongs have made it clear that the Sunningdale Agreement is the first step towards a united Ireland. That is why they back it. One of them has said that it will eventually bring about the unification of Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The majority of people in Northern Ireland are opposed to this Parliament setting Northern Ireland in the direction of unification with the South of Ireland. The Government can do what they like with the Sunningdale Agreement. They can feed it to the people in one or two teaspoonsful at a time but the people will definitely reject it.
I come to the present situation. I regret that the Secretary of State is not present. Today at the Dispatch Box he made a 651 most misleading and irresponsible statement. He said that hon. Members had set up a provisional government and were issuing ration books. When I challenged him, since he had the last reply, he made no answer whatever. I challenged him to name the hon. Members of this House involved. Let me say that if there is a provisional government in Northern Ireland, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to have that provisional government and those serving on it arrested because they are acting totally illegally. There is no foundation whatever in this remark, that goes to the ends of the earth and is a vile slander upon hon. Members in this House.
To say that we come here and draw salaries and are members of a provisional government elsewhere is a slander on the reputation of my hon. Friends. It is something that we totally and absolutely repudiate. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman name the persons concerned? Why cannot he name the place where the ration books are printed and name those who issue them? There are no ration books in Northern Ireland and there is no provisional government in Northern Ireland.
I come to the question of the strike. Let me say that the politicians in this House have made it clear that we thought the strike was untimely. Let me make it clear also that I resent and reject the vile insinuation of the hon. Member for Belfast, West that these workers are terrorist bully mobs. These are conveners of trade unions, leading shop stewards and respectable members of the community.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
What is more, these gentlemen have the support of all the workers of Northern Ireland, and not by intimidation. For the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress to tell the people of Northern Ireland that 8,000 strong-muscled shipyard workers could be intimidated and prevented from going to work by a lot of women is absolutely ridiculous and laughable. If the shipyard men want to go to work, they will go. They have proved their courage and stamina in the past and will prove it in future. Let it not be said in this House 652 today that this strike does not have the support of the overwhelming majority of the population of Northern Ireland.
Let me answer the insinuations and accusations made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West. He says that he has been told that people in the hospitals are dying. The Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health and Social Security said today in a broadcast that essential services to the hospitals were all being safeguarded, that the strikers have acted responsibly to get essential supplies to the hospitals, that no surgery case had to be held back because of the strike and that ample supplies were coming through to keep the hospitals going.
At a meeting between the Minister of State, the workers and some of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland, the Minister of State promised that his colleague the Secretary of State would meet the workers and discuss with them the issues that have brought about the strike. That meeting has not taken place. The Secretary of State said that he will not sit down with these men because they are not elected representatives, How often does he sit down with other people who are not elected representatives?
Whether the House likes it or not, these workers have the support of the vast majority of the community in Northern Ireland. The House should not blink the fact that the course suggested by the hon. Member for Belfast, West of using the Army against the majority population is a course of absolute disaster. Not one of us in the House would vote for such a course. That is why the House should not adjourn without an assurance from the Leader of the House that, if it is intended to take such action, the House will have an opportunity to discuss it and its ramifications.
Can the Army go in and man the power stations? It has the power to do that. Can the Army take over the distribution of oil? Every hon. Member knows that the Army can caretake but cannot run a country without the support of the majority of the population.
What are the demands of the men? They say they want to vote and they want a General Election. Why is the Executive so afraid to go to the country? Why does the Executive want to wait four years? This is no ordinary situation. The 653 Executive has never declared its policy and we have never had an opportunity to discuss it. Why do not the members of the Executive submit themselves to the electorate? If those whom I represent—the United Ulster Unionists—are defeated in an election, we shall be happy to be the constitutional Opposition in the Assembly, but if the Executive is defeated, its members have made it clear that they will not be the constitutional Opposition, they must be the Government of the country. A veto has been put into the hands of the minority.
The House has a decision to make. As I have said before, I should welcome a referendum throughout the whole United Kingdom on whether the people want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. I would gladly accept that, but I resent the innuendoes that we are Cinderellas, and I resent the Prime Minister saying to the shipyard, "We will withdraw your grant unless you go the way we want you to go." Let the House face the issue and say whether it wants Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Let there be a referendum of the whole of the United Kingdom. If Ulster has to go its own way, it will go it reluctantly, but it will never go into a United Ireland Republic.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
I hope that the House will not think that I do not appreciate the grave nature of the crisis in Northern Ireland if I choose not to speak about it. I hope that I shall be forgiven for not following what appears to be the new parliamentary practice of speaking a few words on Northern Ireland before moving to the main topic.
I find it inconceivable that the House should rise for the Whitsun Recess without first finding an opportunity to debate the serious problems facing the single homeless person. I make no apology for drawing attention to this small minority. I have a strong constituency interest in this subject, because one-third of all the lodging houses in Scotland are situated within my constituency.
This is not just another constituency matter. The problems facing the single homeless beg many questions of national policy. It must be of concern to every hon. Member that this pressing social 654 problem has been neglected for so long by both central and local authorities. It is vital that the House should debate this issue in the immediate future for two reasons.
First, there has been produced within the past fortnight a report by an urban aid project based in Edinburgh on the accommodation provided by each Scottish local authority for the single homeless. The picture that emerges from that remarkable report is a picture of systematic and cynical neglect of the single homeless, which is exemplified in three ways.
First, there is the neglect exemplified by buck passing by every social work department in the rural areas by dispatching the single homeless to lodging houses in the cities. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) is not present to hear my comments on his constituency —indeed there is no Liberal Member in the Chamber—but perhaps we may send him a copy of HANSARD tomorrow.
In the county of Roxburgh, the director of social work says that he makes no provision for the single homeless. The single homeless are referred to Edinburgh, three counties away. Selkirk County Council repeats that practice. The director there has the effrontery to say:Those of us in the backwoods are all too conscious of our debt to social workers in the cities, as we know so many of your homeless have originated from areas such as this.That illustrates clearly the buck passing that has gone on.
Secondly, neglect is exemplified by the failure to come to a realistic estimate of the scale of the problem. The social work director of Paisley was asked what provision was made for the single homeless and what was the estimate of the number of single homeless. The director tells us that Paisley provides a lodging house with 127 beds, and it is always full. His realistic estimate of the number of single homeless in the borough is 127 —how very convenient!
Lastly, we see the neglect of the problem exemplified by the fact that such accommodation as is provided is totally inappropriate. I refer here to Banff, where it was found that the only provision made for the single homeless, some of whom may be youngsters, is in an old people's home. I am sorry that all my illustrations 655 are drawn from Scotland—it was a Scottish survey. I am confident that the same picture of neglect and buck passing would be repeated in a survey of any region in either of the other two nations.
The second reason why I feel it vital to have an urgent debate on this matter is that we are clearly on the verge of an acute crisis in the provision of accommodation for the single homeless. There is an increase in the number of single homeless. There is a doss house in my constituency that rejoices in the apt title of the People's Palace. Last winter the People's Palace reported an increase of 20 per cent. in the number of people using it. The most discouraging feature is that the increase was largest among the youngest age group.
At a time when we are faced with an increase in demand, there has been a sharp drop in the supply of accommodation. This is true of many areas of Britain. I understand that within the last decade in Liverpool and in Cardiff the number of beds in lodging houses has dropped by 25 per cent. in Glasgow the number has dropped by 60 per cent. and in Manchester by a staggering total of 80 per cent. We do not need to look far for the reasons for this drop.
In the past week, an urgent situation has developed in my constituency. One major lodging house has been warned by the fire brigade that unless the necessary works are carried out immediately, it will be asked to close within a month. It is an old building and it will cost an estimated £70,000 to make the accommodation safe. We should not expect any voluntary organisation—in this case the Salvation Army—to make that kind of outlay.
The only organisation which can make that kind of expenditure is the Government, and it is urgent that both central and local authorities should accept their responsibilities. If we lose one further lodging house by closure, an intolerable burden will be placed on the single homeless as well as elsewhere on our social services.
To many people the image of a single homeless person is that of a footloose drifter. That image will be resented by many of my constituents who live in lodging houses and who are decent, ordinary, citizens holding down regular jobs. 656 Equally, this group of people contains a high incidence of social and medical problems. Study after study has shown that this group contains a higher incidence of alcoholism, drug abuse, personality disorders, epilepsy and tuberculosis than any comparable social group. Notoriously, Camberwell hostel contains more mentally ill people than do most State mental hospitals.
Despite the very clear problems of this group, it is still neglected by successive Governments, who seem to imagine that the single homeless will one day simply fade away. It is another example of the idea that the more one needs help, the weaker one is and the less able one is articulately to demand help, the less help one gets. I cannot believe that we are really prepared to accept that situation, and I hope that, whether or not we adjourn for Whitsun, we shall soon have an urgent debate on this topic.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
The principal reason that I wish to intervene in this debate is to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the pay of Government scientists. Before I do so, I wish to support the plea by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) for an early statement on Government action in regard to pig production. Several other Oxfordshire Members and I saw the Minister of State for Agriculture on Tuesday and he promised early action on this topic. May we be told how soon action will take place, since many pig producers, especially the small producers, are suffering considerably?
I have often raised in the House the dispute between the Civil Service Department and Government scientists, and I wish to do so again today. The last time I raised this topic was on a similar debate on an identical motion on 9th April. I then said that before the House rose for Easter we should consider the Pay Board report. This matter was considered by the Secretary of State for Employment who told the House on 6th May that he was prepared to intervene as necessary in the case of Government scientists.
I understand that the Institution of Professional Civil Servants has since seen the Prime Minister and that it was promised that a settlement would be reached 657 as quickly as possible. I believe that the negotiations are drawing to a conclusion and I hope that, in view of the scientists' anxiety about their situation, the Leader of the House will tell us on what date a statement will be made to the House.
I should like to emphasise that I do not see how the case to which I am referring can be settled without a central agency to determine the anomalies which, I suggest, are at the core of all incomes policies. The Pay Board report has its deficiencies, but I believe that in future we shall need a central agency to iron out anomalies in the pay of professional people. I believe that in the long term for Government scientists there must be a review of pay research procedures, followed by a pay research exercise—an exercise which, I am told, could not be completed within 18 months.
For these reasons, scientists, who have fallen behind the administrative grades in the Civil Service—and I stress that they have fallen behind by as much as £1,000 a year since 1971—find themselves in serious difficulty. Therefore, an immediate award should be made as quickly as possible.
The long-term situation also needs to be examined. The Minister of State, Department of Employment, addressed the Institution of Professional Civil Servants at its Bournemouth conference yesterday and his speech was greatly welcomed—especially his statement that he was studying the long-term position of scientists in the Civil Service. Their status is extremely important, and I hope that in his reply the Leader of the House will be able to say what announcements will be made.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I shall not seek to take up the remarks of the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) or indeed to take up any of the points made so far in this debate— except to endorse everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) on the subject of the single homeless. There are in my constituency distressing examples reflecting that problem and it must be said that our social system does not seem to be able to cope very easily with the situation.
I wish to raise a substantive matter which falls within the province of my 658 right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council. A few weeks ago some of my hon. Friends, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), raised with him the question of the prerogative and the right of the Prime Minister to dissolve the House or seek a Dissolution from the Crown. My right hon. Friend will recollect that in his reply—a reply which caused a certain amount of disquiet—he said that there was no automatic right on the part of the Prime Minister to secure a Dissolution when he wants it. In any ordinary Parliament this would be an academic point, but we all recognise that the present Parliament finds itself in a peculiar situation. It is a Parliament that is unlikely to last very long and can be said to be prone to the disease of sudden death—or at least that is how many of my hon. Friends see the situation.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the advice he seems to have secured with regard to the Prime Minister's rights in these matters is somewhat suspect. In the last 30 years what little remained of the Royal Prerogative which might conceivably have been exercised independently of a Prime Minister has been completely eroded. The few instances one can point to when a Sovereign has sought to intervene by way of advice have not always been happy ones in recent times. I have in mind the advice of the late King George VI over a successor to Neville Chamberlain in 1940. We need not speculate on the disastrous consequences if that had been adhered to and we had been landed with Halifax rather than with Churchill at the gravest time of the war.
There was the somewhat unfortunate switch-over of Cabinet Ministers in the very first hour of the 1945 Labour Government, as a result of which we lost a Foreign Secretary who would have taken a stern line over de-Nazification and a Chancellor of the Exchequer who at that time could have carried with him the confidence of the trade union movement. That was an example of the advice of a Sovereign being heeded.
What is much more pertinent is whether the Crown can any longer exercise any independent power at all. I suggest that it cannot.
What has happened has been dramatically illustrated on two recent occasions. 659 The first was the way in which, in the reign of the present Sovereign, the Prime Minister was chosen in 1963. It will be remembered that that was the first time that the Conservative Party had chosen its leader by a process which might be described as democratic. At any rate, it laid the ground that ever thereafter the leader of a party was to be chosen in a democratic way. That was one point of departure.
More recently we had a situation which was in contradistinction with the actions of Her Majesty's grandfather when faced with a major constitutional change, for in 1910 King George V prevailed upon the Prime Minister of the day to have an election which he did not want before facilitating a major constitutional departure, namely, a change in the composition of the House of Lords. That Prime Minister was obliged to hearken to the Sovereign's advice. He held an election which he won and got his way. As a matter of political judgment, I think that most of my right hon. and hon. Friends would have said that that was a good thing. But the important aspect of that is not the political one. It was the fact that the Sovereign intervened.
However, two years ago when the much more radical and some would say irreversible decision was taken by way of constitutional change for the unilateral secession of the sovereignty of this country to the Common Market, either the Sovereign gave no advice to the then Prime Minister or, if that advice was given, it was ignored by the Prime Minister and no election was held in regard to the Common Market.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
The hon. Gentleman is quoting all sorts of precedents. Is it not true that precedents are used as a guide in an existing situation? As we have no idea what the situation will be, is not this pure speculation and an utter waste of time?
§ Mr. Lee
If the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) had been listening, he would have known that I had already pointed out that we all know that this Parliament is not likely to last very long and that this problem may have to be faced by Ministers of the Crown in the 660 next few months and possibly even in the next few weeks. In other words, it is not a hypothetical question.
If it were suspected by my right hon. and hon. Friends that forces were at work which denied to the Prime Minister of one party the same degree of constitutional freedom as might seem to have been exercised by another, it would be bound to plunge the Crown into a constitutional controversy—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) is on rather thin ice. What he has said so far is in order. But I hope that he will bear in mind the ruling on page 417 of Erskine May which says:Unless the discussion is based upon a substantive motion, drawn in proper terms, reflections must not be cast in debate upon the conduct of the sovereign, the heir to the throne, or other members of the royal family.I understand that the hon. Gentleman has not done so. It is in order, I believe, to discuss members of the Royal Family who are deceased. But it is not in order to discuss the present Sovereign in terms of political matters.
§ Mr. Lee
I accept your ruling entirely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I have not sought to impugn the Sovereign or any other member of the Royal Family. I was merely postulating a situation which at the moment may be hypothetical but which might suddenly acquire explosive political significance.
Every week that goes by brings the possibility of Dissolution closer, and it may be that by the time that this House is due to return after the recess it will have become one of acute relevance to my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Without pursuing the matter further, 1 would say that some Government supporters were extremely disquieted by the nature of the reply that my right hon. Friend the Lord President gave us, and we look forward to a much more cogent argument before we are prepared to accept what he has told us. It seems to be a matter of considerable doubt as well as one of considerable importance.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
I wish to raise briefly a matter which is of extreme concern to a very large number of 661 people, especially the 11 million pensioners of all kinds who expect an up-rating of their pensions on 22nd July of this year.
Everyone knows that there is a dispute between the Civil and Public Services Association and the Department of Health and Social Security over the claim of the civil servants for compensation for the large amount of additional work involved in bringing about this uprating so quickly after the passing of the Act.
The dispute has resulted in an overtime ban which has lasted for more than three weeks. From the latest Press statements, I understand that if the dispute lasts another week there is very little possibility of these uprated pensions being available on time. This is a serious matter and one on which this House should have a statement before we rise for Whitsun, and I hope that the Leader of the House will give us some hope that the recent offer by the Department is likely to be accepted next week, in time for the payment of these uprated pensions.
One of the saddest manifestations of inflation is that responsible groups of workers are so frustrated and exasperated by the effect of inflation on their standard of living that they find it essential in making a case for more pay or better conditions to damage the very people whom they are dedicated to serve. This is true of our nurses, it has been true of our ambulance workers, and now I am afraid that it is true of the responsible people in the Civil Service who by their dispute may damage 11 million pensioners. It is no surprise that they should take this action, having seen less responsible groups bring about great economic damage to the whole country and by doing so achieve higher pay and better conditions for themselves.
The situation today raises a number of important questions to which I should like answers by the Leader of the House. Is it true that the Secretary of State for Social Services failed to consult the CPSA before deciding the date on which these pensions should be uprated? If so —I should like reassurance that it is not —then the Government misled the House when they introduced the National Insurance Bill last month. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that if the dispute is stopped immediately, or as early as possible next week, the Department 662 will still be able to make those payments on the right date? Further, if they are unable to be paid on the right date, will he ensure that his right hon. Friend sees to it that the people most in need—those on supplementary benefits—are given priority? We want those who are in difficulties—for example, those who need their rents paying to prevent getting into arrears—to get the increase that they were promised on 22nd July.
I think that I speak for both sides of the House in expressing anxiety about and the hope that the dispute will be resolved as rapidly as possible. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to answer the serious questions that I have put to him, to make a statement on this matter before the House rises for the recess, and to do everything that he can to ensure that the pensioners get their payments on the appropriate date.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)
I shall be exceedingly brief as many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate. I am moved to speak because of representations that have been made to me by some of my constituents this very afternoon about an issue on which I think a great deal of sympathy will be forthcoming from the House.
The hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) criticised certain aspects of the Civil Service. I want to identify a group which I believed deserves attention. I refer to a group of people, 70 in all, who until now have been involved in the work of the Commission on Industrial Relations.
Hon. Members on this side of the House welcome the abolition of the Commission on Industrial Relations, tainted as it is with its role within the framework of the Industrial Relations Act. I played a small part in bringing pressure to bear to ensure that its abolition was carried out with the maximum speed. However, the Government should recognise their responsibility to their employees. Governments in recent years have often fallen far short of standards regarding pay for their employees, but at least they have a record of considerable concern and humanity in terms of employment and redeployment.
663 I maintain that this small group of people face a most invidious situation. Because of their specialist skills and specific rôles, many of them are forced at very short notice to seek employment with other organisations in what is an exceedingly tight market. One of my constituents represented to me today that one post in industrial relations offered by British Airways attracted 15 applicants, all of whom were facing redundancy from the Commission on Industrial Relations.
It will not come strange to the ears of hon. Members on this side of the House that the higher ranks of the Civil Service in the CIR are to be amply compensated for the rapid change in their situation. But the 70 civil servants of whom I am speaking, with a salary level of about £2,500 a year, are not getting such sympathetic or generous treatment.
On this basis I feel moved to bring the situation to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and to emphasise the necessity, as we are about to adjourn for the Whitsun Recess, of recognising that a significant group of people, who at this time may be looked upon as a flashpoint in relations between the Government and their employees and upon whom considerable strain will be imposed by the remarkable rapidity with which the Government propose to introduce new and controversial legislation, should be treated with considerable humanity and sympathy because of the difficulties they face. I thank the House for its indulgence.
§ Mr. John Tomlinson (Meriden)
Does my hon. Friend agree that while there is a serious problem relating to the staff of the CIR many of us are sickened by the hypocrisy of a number of Tory Members who talk about loss of talent and expertise but did not make similar noises of concern when the change in the basis of the CIR under the Industrial Relations Act created a similar effect?
§ Mr. Davies
I accept that point entirely. I wish to emphasise that the Government must set high standards, higher than those that obtained with the previous administration.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas (Hendon South)
I intend to be brief because the House 664 will want to debate the important subject of National Health Service pay and I want to give the Leader of the House the opportunity to make a full reply to the many points that have been made.
It is traditional in debating whether to adjourn for a recess for right hon. and hon. Members to express their anxieties about different matters, and the opportunity has certainly been seized on this occasion. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken about problems in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is understandable that the situation in Northern Ireland should have loomed large in the debate.
I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us that there will be an early statement on, for example, pig production. He will have appreciated from the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and my hon. Friends the Members for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) that this is a matter of considerable concern and that any remarks about an early statement will be greatly appreciated.
In the same way, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay attention to what my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke said about the Milford fishing industry. I know from my experience as Secretary of State for Wales that that industry is extremely important to the area. As my hon. Friend said, a double disaster is facing that part of Wales in the context of the agriculture and fishing industries, and it would be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman could give an indication that the Government are thinking in terms of providing financial help. It appears that those sectors cannot wait too long for help, and there must be anxiety in that part of the world that the House will be in recess at a time when the fishing industry is suffering considerable hardship.
The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells are of considerable importance. The dispute between the Government and the Civil and Public Services Association means that the payment of pensions will be delayed, and I know that the House would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman said something about that issue.
I wish to refer to two matters in particular and I shall do so briefly. The first would have been referred to by my hon. 665 Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) had he been fortunate enough to be called to speak. It relates to a question which was put to the Leader of the House during business questions today about a report in the Daily Mirror to the effect that the Prime Minister had asked civil servants to plan legislation to stagger polling so that some constituencies would vote a week, or even a fortnight, after the remainder of Britain.
The Leader of the House will recollect that when the question was put to him earlier today by my hon. Friend he appeared to confirm that that report was correct and that the Prime Minister had asked officials to consider the possibilities of such a scheme. It would mean that if people were on holiday during wakes week an arrangement could be made for them to vote on a date subsequent to the normal polling day.
§ Mr. Mather
That related to wakes week. It was to be a special arrangement for industrial towns in the North of England affected by wakes week and, apparently, was to apply to no other town in the country.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I have not had the opportunity of reading the report in full, but the principle is the same.
It would help greatly if the Leader of the House took this opportunity to state precisely the meaning of his answer during business questions today. Is it intended that there should be discussions and consultations with the political parties? Is it intended that any proposals for electoral reform should go before a Speaker's Conference? If that is not the intention, it seems that we are moving away from a constitutional position that has long been hallowed. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are concerned about the answers given earlier today by the right hon. Gentleman and it is right that he should make the position clear.
I have been referred to what the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said when the House debated the Representation of the People (No. 2) Bill. The hon. Lady said that in this country we place value on discussions and consultations and that they are essential. She went on to say:There is also the general convention—it is, of course, no more than a convention, and I 666 know that there are exceptions—that proposals for electoral reform should be considered by a Speaker's Conference. I think and hope that most Members in this House support the existence of the Speaker's Conference and the objects which it is aiming to achieve."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May 1974; Vol. 873 c. 778.]I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make the position clear and say that there is no intention of undertaking electoral reform of the nature referred to in that newspaper until the matter has been considered by a Speaker's Conference and there has been the usual consultation that one expects in these matters.
§ Sir David Renton
I think I am right in saying that my right hon. and learned Friend's argument is reinforced by the fact that last year's Speaker's Conference considered the question of people on holiday being given special oportunities to vote and unanimously rejected that idea, with the support of all parties.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am sure that my right hon and learned Friend is right. I was not aware of that, but it reinforces the principles 1 have put before the House.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Before the wrong doctrine is established may I, as a former member of a Speaker's Conference, inform the House that that conference voted by 20 votes to 3 against giving the vote to young people at the age of 18 but that the Government nevertheless decided to change the law to allow people to vote at that age. There is, therefore, no doctrine behind the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton).
§ Mr. Thomas
That may be so. All I am doing is asking the Leader of the House to clarify the answer that he gave earlier today, and I hope he will do so because what he said is causing anxiety. I do not think that that anxiety is restricted to this side of the House.
My other question relates to something that appeared in the newspapers today. I told the right hon. Gentleman that I should raise the matter during this debate, and it was raised during business questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). There is a report in The Times today to the effect that the Secretary of State for Industry's 667 personal policy plans for State intervention in industry, including the setting up of a national enterprise board, have been circulated to senior Ministers and leading trade unionists, but industry, management, shareholders and people directly affected appear to have been left out, which may be another example of trade unionists formulating, if not dictating, major national policy.
What is even more serious, however, is that the detailed proposals, representing as they do the most drastic powers of State interference and take-over, have been leaked to the Press. Anybody who looks at page 20 of today's issue of The Times will find the matter set out in detail. The proposal has been leaked to the Press well in advance of any Green Paper. I submit that this is very much a matter of concern in this debate because Parliament has not only been conspicuously ignored by whoever leaked the report but has been treated, if not with arrogance, certainly with contempt.
That has happened on the very day we are debating whether the House should adjourn for 17 days. If the motion is passed, it will mean that for 17 days the House will be silenced. The Leader of the House, who presumably is one of the senior Ministers referred to, owes the House an explanation. When will the Green Paper be published? Meanwhile, before the Green Paper is published, are the details which have been published to be taken as Government policy, subject presumably to any changes by the trade unionists who are being consulted?
I do not claim to be an expert but I understand that the Secretary of State's proposals mean that the National Enterprise Board will have power to take over almost every firm in manufacturing industry. That is the threat posed by publication of the proposal. While Parliament is silent throughout the recess, while no official Government proposals have been made and while there has been no proper consultation, what in the Lord President's view will be the effect on the investment programmes of the threatened firms, which together produce half the nation's output?
These matters reflect very much on the attitude of whoever is responsible 668 towards Parliament. I hope that the - right hon. Gentleman will give us an I explanation of some of these points and 5 deal with the anxieties which have been i expressed.
§ Mr. Edward Short rose—
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
On point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask what your intentions are? A number of us on this side have sat throughout the debate. We have heard long speeches from both sides on Ireland, although very few of the speakers as far as I can see have had the courtesy to come to listen to the reply. In view of your well-known understanding and generosity in these matters, Mr. Speaker, when there is a sizeable body of hon. Members on one side or the other or on both sides who want to make points which have not been raised, I wonder whether it is your intention after the right hon Gentleman's speech to proceed with the debate and call other hon. Members who are not yet caught your eye.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is a hypothetical I question about what I will do in certain s circumstances. The House is in a difficulty. We have had business questions and an important statement and now this debate. There is an important debate still to come in which many hon. Members want to speak. I shall have regard to all the relevant factors; that is all I can promise the hon. Gentleman.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short
Many points have been made in the debate and I shall try to reply to them as concisely as I can.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) mentioned two reports in today's Press. I replied to questions about both of them during business questions today. I said nothing about wakes weeks in my reply about the report in the Dily Mirror. confirmed that the Prime Minister has set in motion a study of what would be involved in a July election—that and nothing more. Of course, any proposals that we decided to make would be discussed with the Opposition, and if we believe that a Speaker's Conference is necessary we would certainly refer it to a Speaker's Conference. But as I think you yourself, Mr. Speaker, have already said, there is no Speaker's Conference in 669 existence at present. However, I confirm that that study is taking place.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to a report in The Times about a document which was discussed at a meeting recently. Let me repeat that this is an internal Labour Party document. It was discussed at a tripartite meeting, one of a series involving the Labour Party, the TUC and the Government. I should have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have welcomed that kind of discussion.
The content of the document, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will see, is simply an elaboration of the Labour's Party's excellent manifesto at the election. When the Government have finalised their proposals they will certainly produce a Green Paper, I imagine before many weeks have passed, and this will be available to the House.
It was a bit much to accuse my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry of contempt of the House. No Minister in recent years has made more information available to the House and to the country than he has.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I did not accuse the Secretary of State in particular of contempt. I accused whoever leaked that document to the Press. It appears in the Press as an authoritative document and it gives the impression of being Government policy. It appears before the Green Paper and before Parliament has been given the opportunity to discuss the matter, before management has had consultations. I thought that that was gross discourtesy to the House and that whoever leaked it must inevitably have intended that discourtesy.
§ Mr. Short
I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made that clear. Certainly my right hon. Friend could not be accused of not making information available to the House.
The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) mentioned rates. The Government are well aware of the general concern about the sizeable rate increases affecting many people this year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is considering the problem and has 670 noted the motions put down by hon. Members. However, the House had a full debate on these issues when it approved the Rate Support Grant Order on 25th March.
Also, both sides of the House have acknowledged that over 80 per cent. of the grant to the local authorities is being distributed on exactly the same basis as the previous Government proposed. What the present Government did was to alter the domestic relief, adopting a flat rate rather than a variable rate. We found the variable rate arrangements when we took office and we thought that it was grossly unfair. We considered that a flat rate was much fairer. I agree that anomalies still exist, but we have considerably reduced the number of anomalies.
As to the causes of the rate increases, which in England and Wales average about 29 per cent. for domestic ratepayers this year, inflation of course is the essential reason. But local government reorganisation and increased water charges have also contributed, and Tory Members were presumably happy to share in responsibility for both.
This Government are considering how we can remedy the general situation that we have inherited. This will take time and careful study. An acceptable alternative to the system of rating has eluded successive Governments. However, the Secretary of State for the Environment has it in mind to look at the rating system and at local finance generally.
As for the question of paying for services that we do not receive, there has recently been an extended Adjournment debate about this. In both rating and taxation we have always paid for services that we do not receive personally. It is also true that the valuation of each property takes account of amenities, such as drainage and transport facilities, and there are adequate arrangements for appeal against valuation. However, the whole matter is certainly being considered.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the responsibility for the present situation is that of the last Conservative Government. Would he not agree that that Government, in allocating the variable domestic element, said forcibly that the figure was provisional and that they would act 671 if necesary to keep the increase down to about 10 per cent?
§ Mr. Short
The hon. Member knows that the previous Government had no intention of doing that and could not do that.
The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire and the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) mentioned pigs. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture recognises the difficulties that pig producers have been facing in recent months. We recognise that in time all this is likely to affect supplies to consumers. The recently published livestock survey results show a decline in the breeding herd, although not as large a decline as some of the interests concerned have suggested.
As I said when I took part in a similar debate at Easter, the Government introduced a special payment to pig producers soon after taking office. Those special payments were due to be reduced in a few days' time. But my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture announced yesterday—only yesterday— that the rate of payment will not now be reduced as proposed. It will continue at 50p per score until the position can be discussed in the EEC Council of Ministers. This will not solve all the difficulties of pig producers, but it will certainly help.
There are now other signs of improvement. Feed prices are easing and should ease further fairly soon. Monetary compensation amounts on imports have recently been halved and market prospects should improve in the coming months. Producers who stay in pig production now should reap benefits later this year. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire and the hon. Member for Pembroke will not feel too pessimistic about this matter. There are very hopeful signs.
I turn now to the question of London allowance for teachers, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck). The teachers have made their case for an interim increase fully and emphatically to both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. My right hon. Friends fully understand 672 that the teachers have to proffer their resignations by 31st May if they intend to move. We have asked teachers and all those other workers who receive London allowance to await the report of the Pay Board at the end of June.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said in the House on 29th April:I do not believe it would be rational for teachers to hand in their resignation a few weeks before the Pay Board's report to take effect a few weeks after that report is published knowing that there will be a substantial increase as a result of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April 1974; Vol. 872, c. 901.]The teachers know quite well that they can negotiate on the report as soon as it is available and that there is no objection in principle to the negotiations covering the question of retrospection. Let me make that absolutely clear to my hon. Friend. I hope that teachers who are contemplating resigning will think again and continue to serve the cause of education in London.
My hon. Friend also referred to the problems of drawing a boundary line for the London allowance. Wherever the boundary is drawn, someone is always just outside it. It is always a difficult job, as we know as Members of Parliament, to draw a boundary. Wherever the boundary is drawn, there will be some unfortunate teacher who is just outside it. However, I am very happy to be able to tell my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will be making an extremely important announcement tomorrow about teachers' salaries in general. I hope that this matter can be looked at in that context.
I turn now to the extremely difficult and tragic problem of Northern Ireland. I see only two of the hon. Members from Northern Ireland who have spoken in the debate.
§ Captain Orr
May I make it plain on behalf of those of my colleagues who are no longer present that the last aeroplane to Belfast before Belfast airport closes because of the strike is leaving in about 10 minutes' time? Hence they are not present.
§ Mr. Short
I know that. We all have trains or planes to catch. However, those hon. Members spoke with such vehemence in the debate that I should have thought 673 they would have stayed until the end of it.
Everyone in the House recognises the gravity of the situation in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has today already made a statement in which he has indicated the way forward. Some hon. Members have suggested that the Government, by refusing to negotiate with those who are leading the strike in Northern Ireland, are refusing to negotiate with those who represent the majority there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has explained, elections were held for the Assembly in Northern Ireland, and an Executive was appointed representing those parties that were prepared to give effect to the constitutional arrangements passed by an overwhelming majority in this House. Her Majesty's Government have this afternoon welcomed the proposals put forward by the Executive.
Those who are leading the strike—if it can be called a strike; it is in no sense the kind of strike that we understand— have not been elected by the people of Northern Ireland. They are persons who have taken the law into their own hands. I am sure that the whole House will endorse the view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that there is no justification whatever for treating these people as representatives of the majority opinion in Northern Ireland.
I should like to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). It is not true that a Council of Ireland has been set up, as he said. It is not true that powers have been given to a Council of Ministers on a Council of Ireland.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. 1 think I can claim that I was not fortunate in catching your eye today.
§ Mr. Short
I am sorry—I meant to refer to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). It is not true that powers have been given to a Council of Ministers on a Council of Ireland. Before a council can be set up and powers can be devolved to it, the approval of the Assembly—that is, the elected forum of government in Northern Ireland—is required. The hon. Gentleman asked why 674 the Executive do not go to the country. I shall tell him. It was because this Parliament at Westminster decided that the life of the Assembly should be four years, and the Executive can hardly be expected to put its policies to the electorate after five months.
I make it clear once more, as it was made clear earlier today, that our purpose in Northern Ireland is to encourage and enable moderate people to stand up and be counted. I make it equally clear that we—I think that I speak for both sides of the House in this matter—will never surrender or allow ourselves to be coerced or bombed into surrender by the demands and actions of men of violence. There can be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people. Hon. Members from Northern Ireland know that quite well. Why do they not stand up and say so? In Ireland they are leaders, but they are standing aside and watching Northern Ireland degenerate into chaos, terror and hatred. Why do they not catch the plane, go back to Northern Ireland and lead the country towards peace and reconciliation?
I turn now to the question of the Security Commission which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). The Government will certainly consider any evidence that my hon. Friend may have on this matter. I have noted that in the last Session my hon. Friend had a motion on the Order Paper, No. 408, which expressed his anxiety. He has now asked the Prime Minister to look into these matters. I invite my hon. Friend to write to the Prime Minister immediately to tell him what he has in mind. I assure him that the Prime Minister will very carefully investigate all he has said about the Security Commission.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford also raised the question of the recall of Parliament. May I say, as I said on the previous occasion, that under Standing Order No. 122 the Government can ask Mr. Speaker to recall Parliament and that if the situation in Northern Ireland, or anything else, warranted that, we should certainly avail ourselves of the provisions of the Standing Order.
675 The hon. Member for Pembroke raised the question of the fishing industry there. The Government have given very careful consideration to the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman and the trawler owners at Milford on the position of the Milford Haven fishing industry. But we have had to conclude that we could not justify a request to Parliament to vote public money for a national subsidy on oil used by the fishing industry. That is what it boils down to. We regretfully also concluded that there were no reasons in relation to fishing to justify a local subsidy to the Milford Haven fishing industry. I cannot, therefore, add to the reply which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food sent to the hon. Gentleman earlier this month.
The hon. Gentleman, however, referred to the Secretary of State for Wales. I am aware of the representations for assistance which have been made to the Secretary of State on economic and social grounds. The Secretary of State for Wales and the other Ministers concerned are now considering the hon. Gentleman's representations. I am sorry that I cannot now say more than that they are considering them.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) raised the question of Hunterston. I recognise hon. Members' concern for securing the right kind and form of development for Hunters-ton. As the hon. Member knows quite well, that concern is shared by my right hon Friend the Secretary of State, who is at present considering the whole question in his rôle as planning Minister. As he said in the House on 15th May, there is a great deal more to Hunterston than merely oil refineries, and his consideration of the issues has been complicated by the very frequent changes in the nature of the oil companies' applications.
My hon. Friend will know also that there are extremely important proposals by the British Steel Corporation, although they are not very certain proposals. Therefore, it is a very complicated issue. But my right hon. Friend will take note of what has been said and I can assure the House that he is just as anxious as anybody else to secure the right decision as quickly as possible, but it is important to get the right decision.
676 My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) raised the question of single homeless persons. I believe that his speech was one of the most worth while in the whole debate. I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said because I have a very similar problem in my constituency. I believe he will know that this matter is being discussed by the Morris Committee on links between housing and social work. I will certainly refer to my right hon. Friend what my hon. Friend has said and we will see what we can do to help.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) raised, as he did last time, the question of scientists' pay. The Government have already demonstrated in a practical way their recognition of the quite exceptional circumstances of the scientists' case by the anouncement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment that he would be prepared to use his powers of consent in their case. I myself talked to the scientists at Dounreay a few weeks ago and I know just how strong that case is. The Government are now considering, in discussions with the IPCS, what immediate pay adjustments can be made in the light of the Pay Board's recommendations.
In response to representations made to him recently by officers of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Minister for the Civil Service informed them that he would carefully consider the points they had made and that the Government would make their decision in the light of that discussion. We expect to resume our discussions with the body concerned, the IPCS, very early next week and I feel sure that these discussions will lead to a speedy settlement of the dispute.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth, (Mr. Lee) raised the question of prerogative in relation to a letter which I wrote to him and a number of his friends. I do not think I have anything to add to the very carefully considered letter I sent. It was based on the best constitutional advice I could obtain, not merely from one source but from a number of sources. My hon. Friend may not agree with what I said or with the advice I got from those 677 sources, but that is no reason why he should allege that simply because he does not agree with it the advice I obtained is suspect.
This is a very complicated matter, complicated by two factors. First we have no written constitution in this country, and secondly there is the Royal Prerogative, which undoubtedly still exists and is enshrined both in our parliamentary practice and in our law. These factors not only complicate the matter but also import a degree of unpredictability into it, making any more precise reply to my hon. Friend's letter quite impossible. I am very much afraid, therefore, that I cannot add to what I said in my letter.
The hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) raised the question of the dispute relating to the implementation of the 1974 uprating of retirement pensions to £10 and £16. The pensions are due to be paid at the increased rates from the week beginning 22nd July. It is quite correct, as the hon. Gentleman said, that certain differences with the staff associations may lead to delay in paying the improved rates to some pensioners, and emergency arrangements are having to be made to continue payments at the old rate in the meantime.
The number involved will depend on how soon normal working is resumed. Negotiations are being actively pursued 678 and we very much hope that the differences will soon be resolved because this matter concerns the most needy section of the community. I should like to make it absolutely clear that if some payments are delayed after 22nd July no pensioner in the country will be out of pocket in the long run as a result of this dispute, a dispute we very much regret and which we hope will be settled very soon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) raised the question of people who will be made redundant by the winding up of the Commission on Industrial Relations. I understand that this matter was discussed this morning in Committee on the Trade Unions and Labour Relations Bill. My right hon. Friend gave an assurance that he would look into the matter to see what he could do to help. I assure my hon. Friend that we will look at this and try to mitigate in any way we can the problem of the people who are displaced through the winding up of this body, which I believe will not be lamented by anybody.
I hope that I have replied to all the points that have been raised. I think I have done so, and I hope that the House will now be able to reach a decision on the motion.
§ Question put and agreed to
That this House at its rising Tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 10th June.