HC Deb 18 December 1975 vol 902 cc1663-715

4.3 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 tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 12th January. I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I did not make a speech at this point but contented myself with moving the motion.

4.4 p.m.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Walsall, North)

When, a few weeks ago, I raised with the Leader of the House the question of Early-Day Motion No. 7, on freedom of travel for Dr. Andrei Sakharov, he told me that I should have an opportunity to raise the subject on the motion for the Christmas Adjournment. That is why I refer to it now.

I also wish to refer to a number of other subjects, because I think that there are many foreign affairs questions that the House will want to consider and should be considering.

The House will be aware that the eminent scientist, Dr. Sakharov, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, having received an invitation was refused permission by the Soviet authorities to go to Oslo to collect it. Furthermore, he was not given any assurance that if he left the USSR he would be free to return to his own country.

This is a clear contravention of the Helsinki Declaration on the freedom of travel of individuals and ideas, and it is a matter of concern to this House that Ministers, in particular the Prime Minister, give great credit to themselves and to the other participants in the conference. We had a grandiloquent Press communiqué and statements about the success of the Helsinki conference, but when it comes to a crucial test of this kind, Dr. Sakharov is not allowed to leave the USSR.

Clearly, this House is not responsible for the ministerial actions of the Soviet authorities, but we are asking the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary why no protest has been made by the Government to the Soviet authorities on this clear breach of the Helsinki Declaration.

Are we to assume that the declaration was another example of cosmetics? We are having many examples of cosmetic statements by Ministers—they have been referred to today. Was the Helsinki Declaration another example to be forgotten when any crucial questions are raised?

It is significant that the motion has been signed by a large number of right hon. and hon. Members representing every party in the House, with the exception of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the sole member of which, in this House, is very infrequently here. It is significant that representatives of every political party in the United Kingdom, with that one exception, have signed the motion drawing attention to this question.

It is important that the Foreign Secreary should, at an early date, take an opportunity to advise the House of what he has done to ensure that the Helsinki Declaration is being made effective—otherwise the public will assume that it is another example of humbug in international affairs, which we would bitterly regret and resent.

This is not the only area in which we have recently seen some deplorable failures in foreign affairs. We had a great deal of fuss and bother about Britain's having a seat at the Paris conference, but we read today that the Foreign Secretary was only there for a short time and was unable to return to Paris because of a Division in this House, although he was expected back by his ministerial colleagues. That is a gross discourtesy to our ministerial friends abroad. I am convinced that if the Opposition had been asked to give a pair to the Foreign Secretary to enable him to return to Paris for these important talks they would have been agreeable to the proposal.

Is the Foreign Secretary's attendance as one Member of Parliament in a Division in this House more important than his attendance at an international conference after he and the Prime Minister have made such a fuss about attending it?

I am also very concerned that we have had unsatisfactory statements about the state of our relations with Iceland. We have had brushings off. Various hon. Members representing fishing constituencies have raised many questions about the state of our so-called "cod war" relations with Iceland. It is deplorable that the Government have allowed themselves to reach an incredible situation in which we are having almost a shooting war with Iceland.

Most people in this country recognise that the Icelanders have a legitimate point of view and, furthermore, we were told in a Committee Room upstairs by the Foreign Secretary himself that the Icelandic Government had proposed to the British Government that there could be an agreement on an annual catch of 65,000 tons of cod. So what are we arguing about? We are having a deplorable near-war with Iceland over a few thousand tons of cod.

The Icelanders were willing to allow an annual catch of 65,000 tons. They have reached an agreement with the West German Government. We could have reached an agreement with them also. It is an example of the arrogance and inflexibility of the Government that they have failed to reach an agreement with the Icelanders when the Icelanders had made this proposal to us.

I think that the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has conducted the negotiations with Iceland in a deplorable fashion. I do not condemn him as an individual. He went with a very bad brief. It is for the Cabinet to give the Minister of State a satisfactory brief, so that we can bring this ridiculous conflict to an end.

Early-Day Motion No. 20, dealing with South Africa's intervention in Angola, was put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), and it is supported by many hon. Members on the Government Benches. It draws attention to the fact that a serious war is going on in Angola. This area is threatening to become another Vietnam, with surrogate forces involved, yet we have not had any expression of view from the Foreign Secretary about the involvement of South Africa or, what is even more serious, the USSR in this struggle. What is happening there threatens to turn another part of that unhappy continent into a bloodbath and is delaying the evolution of Angola into a peaceful independent State. It is important that matters such as Angola are raised in the general context of a foreign affairs debate.

We have also had an interesting Early-Day Motion put down by the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) drawing attention to the remarkable series of expositions by the United States' representative at the United Nations. There have been refreshing expressions of view by Mr. Moynihan. He has said things which most people, including most Western diplomats, believe, but which most Western diplomats have not the courage to say openly, yet when he says them openly and is applauded by most people for doing so, our representative at the United Nations indicates his displeasure.

Mr. Moynihan drew attention to the situation in Uganda. I share his concern, as I know the country extremely well, having lived and worked there for many years. I believe that it is the responsibility of the United Nations and the representatives of various nation States there to speak frankly about the situation in that country, where tens of thousands of people have been brutally killed and where there are today many political prisoners who cannot communicate with the outside world.

I do not want to go any further than that, except to say that there are some hon. Members in this House who support Mr. Moynihan in his outspokenness, who welcome his attack on the cant and humbug in the United Nations, and who deplore the fact that the United Kingdom's representative at the United Nations has not only not associated himself with Mr. Moynihan's outspoken and frank comments but has found a way of condemning them. I should like an explanation from the Foreign Secretary of the situation.

I hope that when the House returns after the Christmas Recess, to which we shall presumably agree today, there will be an early debate on foreign affairs, so that those questions can be examined in more detail.

4.14 p.m.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

My intervention can be even shorter than I expected it to be, because the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) has raised two of the four points that I would have raised. I agree with the tenor and spirit of all four points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, including the two that I was not intending to raise.

I wish to raise one comparatively narrow but important aspect of an all-important question, namely, the continuing public unhappiness at the level of flagrant violence arising from the activities of the IRA and their akin gangs throughout the country. In two successive years, last year and the year before, when we debated the reintroduction of the death penalty for terrorism, I put down two amendments, one each year, which were supported by some of my hon. Friends, calling attention to the question which remains unanswered, namely, why should we not invoke the law of treason in appropriate cases? You, Mr. Speaker, in your absolute discretion, did not call those amendments, but the net result of their having been put on the Notice Paper is that I have received a large postbag from many members of the public, not belonging to any one political affiliation, who are equally curious about this matter.

At the moment, as I trace the law of treason—and I propose to make two small quotations from Halsbury—the offence of treason is the levying of war, and one part of the levying of war is constructive, as when there is a rising for some general public purpose so as to effect an alteration of the law. I think that to most laymen that is precisely what the IRA is attempting to achieve, namely, an alteration in the law of this country, to force Great Britain to abdicate her responsibility in Ulster and reduce the territorial integrity of this kingdom.

The second quotation is that a small number of persons may be guilty of levying war against the Sovereign if those persons are preparing to use violent measures in carrying out their purpose as, for example, by the use of explosives with a treasonable intent. I am not seeking to raise again debates that have already been held, but I think that we are entitled—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take it that I am sincere in raising the matter—to a statement either now or later—I am not pressing the right hon. Gentleman to make it today—on whether the reason for not invoking the law of treason is, first, that we are reluctant to do so because if someone is convicted of treason the death penalty is mandatory, or, secondly, that the Law Officers, in their wisdom, have decided that what has happened during the past couple of years has on no occasion amounted to treason.

There are two distinct questions to be answered, and the House and the country are entitled to know the answers, because nothing is worse for respect for law and order than to leave laws on the statute book and ignore them. If the law of treason is outdated, let us amend or repeal it. Let us not leave it on the statute book and pretend that it exists when, in fact, we are unwilling to invoke it. I know from my own experience that I am speaking for hundreds of thousands of people who simply cannot understand why, if people are behaving in a way which common sense dictates is treason, to force the Crown to do something that it does not want to do, the law of treason is not invoked, along with the law of murder, and the matter left to the jury and judge to decide of which crime those concerned are guilty.

That question is being asked not only in this House but far outside it, and all that I am asking the Leader of the House today—and I repeat this, without apology—is to say whether the reason why we are not invoking the law of treason is that we are fearful that a jury might convict, in which case the death penalty would become mandatory, or that in the judgment of the Law Officers, none of the crimes committed by the IRA during the past couple of years amounts to treason. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer those questions today I hope that he will ensure that in due course I get fair answers to fair questions.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I wish to raise the subject of the disabled. Many of us are dissatisfied with the attitude of the Minister responsible for the Disabled towards the disabled driver. I am sorry that the Minister is not in his place. I informed him through his secretary that I hoped to speak on this subject this afternoon. Are hon. Members aware that there are 10,300 old motor invalid tricycles on the road and 9,800 new model 70s? They have been condemned by the Ombudsman, Which?, Drive and Lady Sharp. I will quote what Lady Sharp said about the invalid tricycle: In a high wind it is obviously a murderous machine; it is more liable to skid and overturn than a four-wheeled car, and it must be very vulnerable to impact. This is the vehicle that we provide for people who cannot walk."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19th February 1975; Vol. 356, c. 289.] In a later letter which appeared in The Guardian of 21st August 1975, Lady Sharp said: The story of the invalid tricycle has been one of cowardice, ineptitude and suppression of truth by both Government and Opposition: Mr Graham Hill, the great racing driver, before he was killed was conducting a campaign to have these vehicles replaced by four-wheeled vehicles. In The Guardian of 28th January 1970, he made the following comment about invalid tricycles: I was dead scared. There is a basic lack of safety about it. The normal car will be much safer and ten times easier to drive. It looks like a freak car and you feel like a freak inside it. I was very apprehensive the whole time. In fact I was very frightened. And this from a great racing driver like Graham Hill.

Is it right that the Government should continue to turn a blind eye to these criticisms which have been levied against invalid tricycles? I acknowledge that I did receive a letter dated 4th December from my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for the Disabled in which he stated that a significant number of users would be unable to drive a four-wheeled car.

With great respect, my hon. Friend is incorrect. An article which appeared in The Sunday Times of 7th December confirmed that the Dutch Daf car is completely adapted for those with the severest form of disablement. The article reads as follows: A bright yellow Daf car sailed smoothly down Park Lane in Culemborg, Holland, turned right, parked outside a block of flats and neatly demolished a claim by Britain's Department of Health that many disabled people are too handicapped to drive a car. For the driver, 26–year-old Marjo Gerritsen, is paralysed from the chest down and the wasting muscles and joints of her hands can exert only the tiniest force—less than it takes to press a normal typewriter key. That article completely removes all justification for retaining the tricycle except for those people—a small number—who wish to continue with it.

I regret that a mobility allowance is not the answer. It provides no effective alternative for the tricycle driver who needs a vehicle to take him to work, to maintain independence in running a home and to provide a companionable life for his wife and children. I hope that my hon. Friend will never be disabled. I have been but, thank God, it is over. However, I know what a boon it is to a disabled driver to be able to get about with his wife beside him.

There is another anxiety. After 1st January next year help will no longer be extended to the less severely disabled people who need a vehicle for travelling to and from work. This will cause even more unemployment among the disabled The trouble is caused by a rigid interpretation of the phrase "virtually unable to work". Previously, the wording was as follows: suffering from a slightly less severe disability which limits walking to the extent that personal transport is needed to go to work and come home again. That definition allowed many disabled men and women to take and keep employment. If the new phrase is too rigidly interpreted those people, too, will be on the scrap heap.

We are grateful for the mobility allowance which brings in new categories of disabled persons, but the Minister seems to want to cut off disabled old-age pensioners from all life after 65 for men and 60 for women. Hon. Members probably do not realise that 8 per cent. of hon. Members of this House—52 in number—if disabled, would not qualify for the allowance because they are over age. Had they theoretically qualified for it in the past, it would have been stripped away from them on their 65th or 60th birthday. Are those people considered to be too old and too inactive to want to go anywhere outside their own sitting room? They wish to be part of the community, they want to go out and about and to enjoy life. For the disabled, that wish is to be ended when they reach 65 or 60, as the case may be.

With one hand we are encouraging local government, voluntary organisations and others to provide a fuller life for those who pass from a working life to active retirement. With that in view we support the provision of travel concessions, and the like. With the other hand we are taking away mobility from the disabled just as they reach that age. As a disabled young man recently said: It does not make sense. They need their heads examined. Why are the Government throwing disabled people on the scrap heap when they become old? Hon. Members may remember George Orwell's book "Animal Farm" in which the old horse after its useful working life is put into a cart and taken away to be killed. Labour's slogan in 1964 was: The party that cares about people. What has happened?

4.27 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

I wish to follow the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) in which he dealt with the law of treason. It is becoming vital to give the greatest possible support to the Army in Ulster and South Armagh. We are heading rapidly towards the day when we shall have to introduce a form of martial law and give real powers to the Army to enable it to carry into effect the military measures which are needed. The Army is inhibited from carrying out those measures now because of the mass media and the inability to conduct its affairs strictly along military lines.

The Law Commission is intent upon reforming and bringing up to date the law of treason, and I ask the Government to see that it does so as a matter of urgency. It is along the lines of the law of treason that terrorists should be indicted rather than for terrorist activities as such.

The Leader of the House this afternoon announced at last, following an Early-Day Motion in my name and the names of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that he is to re-establish the parliamentary Select Committee for Cyprus. There are several reasons why that is essential. It is a precedent to establish a parliamentary Select Committee in an area where we have sovereign bases and an absolute duty under the treaty to do what we can to secure and maintain peace in Cyprus. Too easily have those treaty obligations been for gotten. We are bound by the treaty today no less than when it was signed on our behalf by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). It is essential that we do our utmost to secure and obtain a continuance of peace, between Greece and Turkey. By doing that, we shall assist the re-establishment of the sovereign State in its proper condition in Cyprus.

There is no doubt that matters have dragged on far too long. The Select Committee is an all-party Committee of the House representing all shades of political opinion. If that Committee were reestablished it would come forward with a valuable consensus of parliamentary opinion, and not merely the opinion of Her Majesty's Government. It would be of the greatest value because its views could be considered in a wider context by the EEC countries and by the United States of America with the aim of establishing a joint policy to bring the necessary pressures to bear to secure a solution in Cyprus. I do not know whether the solution will be along the lines of bi-zonal territories, as seems likely, but it must be acceptable to the people of Cyprus and enable them to continue with their sovereignty.

It is equally essential that we should retain our sovereign bases on Cyprus because they give us some real power to maintain peace in the Middle East. The eyes and ears of the Middle East are fixed on Cyprus. From a base there, we can secure a just and lasting settlement in the area.

I leave that subject, because Her Majesty's Government have just announced that they propose to table the necessary motion for the re-establishment of the Select Committee, thus enabling it to report. I hope that it will receive the support of all hon. Members.

I turn to another matter which is of a totally different nature but which it is right to raise today. I am concerned about the future of our turkeys. This is a serious matter for everyone in the country. We must not forget that for the past 50 years we have produced our own turkeys and there has been virtually no complaint at any time of people being unduly sick of the turkey. It is the end result of other indulgences at Christmas that leads to sickness. I make a strong plea that all hand-plucked turkeys be excluded from any EEC directive which is likely to have such a terrible effect upon the future of our traditional turkey. I take that view for two reasons.

First, to everyone's astonishment we find that the EEC has decided to introduce a food processing factory for poultry and turkeys, which is really suitable only for a factory working all year round. The processing of turkeys is seasonal and takes perhaps a fortnight. It is no exagger-ration to say that there are no more than two or three home producers able to afford the immense cost necessary to introduce a food processing factory. The minimum cost is £100,000.

The figures show that small turkey farmers, who at present slaughter and hand-pluck turkeys in pole barns in the few weeks before Christmas and then sell them to the wholesale or retail markets, will be put out of business. There are upwards of 4,000 of these farmers and they produce between 2 million and 2.5 million traditional farm-fresh birds.

I have received a letter from a farmer in my constituency. He and his forebears have produced turkeys for the past 50 years. At the end of November, he wrote to me saying: This is now very urgent as breeder birds required to produce poults for 1977 will be hatched in April next, 1976 and will cost at least £10 each by 1977. This will be very serious if we are unable to afford the necessary alterations required by the EEC regulations, and no one seems to know exactly what these are. We could easily have to spend £100,000 to do the same job that we have been doing for the past 50 years. We have never had one complaint from our dressed bird section. If the small farmers have to give up there will be a few thousand more workers out of a job, wanting redundancy pay. I could not find a job for the 20 people employed the year round and for some 30 others who are part-time. He went on to say that regrettably there seemed to be much rejoicing in certain sections of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and more especially among the veterinary surgeons who seemed unable to recognise that these proposals were an unwarranted interference by officialdom with an area in which there was no complaint on health grounds. It is not suggested that we suffer because there have been complaints that our turkeys are not properly produced or that they have caused extensive illness.

I have considered some of the measures which are thought necessary. Among the requirements is: An adequately equipped, lockable room for the exclusive use of the veterinary surgeon. There must be tiled workrooms with adequate equipment. For example, taps must not be hand-operable: these facilities must have hot and cold running water (or mixed at a suitable temperature)". There must be Changing rooms, wash basins, showers and flush lavatories: the latter shall not open directly on to work rooms". There is a great deal of other paraphernalia mentioned which might be necessary for anyone working in, for example, a chemist's dispensary or a food-processing factory operating the whole year round.

The directive entails vast expenditure which will be possible for only two or three companies.

How did the regulations manage to reach their present position? I believe that two or three of the big multi-corporations, in their own interests, have pressed for an ever increasing flood of regulations which—once they have provided the necessary capital—are much to the benefit of the major concerns. The consequence for this country is that about 4,000 farmers who manage to produce and sell turkeys to the wholesale market will have to go out of business. The small producer who sells at the farm gate will remain.

In the example I quoted, the turnover of the principal turkey farmer in Thanet is more than £100,000 a year. He meets an immense need, and without complaint.

I urge Her Majesty's Government to reconsider the position. I know that there is considerable sympathy from the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who feels strongly about the matter. We have a champion who will at least do his best to ensure that we can succeed. I hope that he has the support of all quarters of the House on this matter.

It is merely through officialdom run riot that we are facing this totally needless intrusion into the production of hand-plucked turkeys. Turkeys are the traditional joy and pleasure at this time of year. I hope that an early decision will be made so that we ensure that these farmers are not put out of business in 1977.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), having raised a seasonal point, has also raised a matter which is always of interest to the public and, indeed, this House—namely, the formation of regulations which are imposed arbitrarily or otherwise on a long-suffering public. It is the duty of Parliament—it is particularly appropriate just before an Adjournment—to ensure that matters are brought to the attention of Ministers.

I wish to refer to how we are managing or not managing to look at EEC regulations in this House. I do not know whether the regulations to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred emanated from domestic legislation or from the EEC.

Mr. Rees-Davies

They are EEC regulations which have had the sanction of Parliament and, therefore, would have to be reintroduced and re-amended if pressure were exerted by the Government.

Mr. Spearing

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. That makes the point which I wish to make of even greater significance. I presume that the turkey regulations were before this House in some way previously but perhaps did not have the scrutiny they might have deserved.

How we process, scrutinise and let Ministers know what we think about EEC legislation which is incumbent upon the United Kingdom is a controversial matter. There was a proposal from the Select Committee on Procedure not long ago that we should remove such discussions from the Floor of the House and send them upstairs to a Committee. That proposal was generally welcomed—at least in principle.

On 3rd November we had a half-day debate in this House on how that proposal should be put into effect. There was a general welcome for the opportunity of Committee consideration of these documents other than that already carried out by the Scrutiny Committee. In Committee one can digest and clarify matters in a less formal way than on the Floor of the House. One can exhaust a subject, quite properly, with Ministers and hon. Members speaking on a number of occasions. There is also the opportunity to adjourn for a day or two so that matters can be clarified, instructions taken, and the Committee can come back and reach a conclusion. Such proceedings afford the opportunity of drawing to the attention of the House difficult matters which are apprehended in the course of those proceedings, because the Committee is able, by an amending or other motion, to report to the House.

The second requisite of such Committee proceedings is sufficient time. Without opening the door to obstruction, there should be sufficient time within the Committee's proceedings for matters to be properly aired and for the points made by hon. Members to be answered by Ministers.

Unfortunately, in the debate on 3rd November my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, whom I am glad to see here, did not favour giving freedom to the Committees to be masters of their own motions or time. He thought that the only motion suitable for Committees on EEC legislation was That the Committee have considered the documents. Indeed, that is what we do with our own domestic statutory instruments. Initially, at least, my right hon. Friend was reluctant to let the Committees sit beyond the times provided in Standing Order No. 73A for Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments. As a result of the debate in which nearly every speaker was unhappy about my right hon. Friend's proposal, the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, said: we undertake, if the House will pass it —that is, pass the motion before the Committee— to lay a further amendment in the near future to give effect to the general wish of those who have spoken in the debate."—[Official Report, 3rd November 1975; Vol. 899, c. 102.] The general wish of those who tool part in the debate was that the Committee should have more and adequate time. In that quotation the Minister was acceding not to the request for changing the motion—that was not agreed—but to the request for additional time.

Unfortunately, that motion was not laid shortly after 3rd November. In fact it has not been laid. I do not necessarily make any complaint about that in principle, because there are difficulties, to which I will come later.

The Lord President, when he tabled the first document to go upstairs to the Committee, amended the Standing Order so that it was possible to have a debate of two and a half hours instead of the usual one and a half hours. On the Order Paper for 26th November there was a motion that Commission Document No. S/1430/75 be allowed to be debated for two and a half hours. However, it did not specify that that document related to Cyprus sherry. Therefore, the House did not know what the subject was. I think that the Lord President may be considering adding the subject to such a motion in future. At least the Committee had two and a half hours to debate that document, so the spirit of the undertaking was discharged.

Another motion which was put before the House only last week on Commission Document No. R/2357/75 relating to sugar had no such additional instruction to the Committee included in it. The result was that yesterday the Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. had only one and a half hours to discuss a very complex and important matter concerning future supplies of sugar. Under Standing Orders the Committee could discuss that matter for only one and a half hours. Therefore, the slip or failure of the Lord President, or the office of the business managers, to provide that cover which had been acceded to on 3rd November made things very difficult.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the proceedings in that Committee. First, there were complaints by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who was able to speak for only eight minutes, referred to the grave lack of time we have to consider this regulation, which deals with a complex and difficult matter that back benchers should have adequate time to discuss. The Minister, in summing up, said: I ask the indulgence of hon. Members it I try to deal with questions very quickly in order to indicate some of the possible replies to the many questions hon. Members have posed this morning."—[Official Report, Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments. &c, 17th December 1975; c. 27–31.] I should have thought that on any count it is not satisfactory for any Minister of the Crown, either in Committee or in the House itself, to indicate some of the possible replies". There were many points which the Minister did not answer.

The documents concerned minimum sugar stocks to be held in future by manufacturers throughout the EEC. The proposal was for a minimum of 10 per cent. sugar stocks. That sounds a fairly simple matter, but it is extremely complicated. Everything about sugar is exceedingly complicated. The Minister said that the cost might be up to £18 per ton per year, which could mean £18 million to £30 million a year in addition to the retail cost of sugar to cover the extra cost of storage. We could not tell exactly what the amount would be, because we did not know how much was in the pipeline or in stores. The important point which the Minister did not clarify was whether the regulation applied only to sugar from sugar beet or to sugar from cane.

The largest sugar refinery in the country is situated in my constituency. Therefore, I asked for some information from Messrs. Tate & Lyle Ltd. Unfortunately, it reached me half-way through the discussion in Committee. I had no time either to speak again or to quote from the letter, despite that company's undoubted knowledge in this area. The company, in its letter to me, made the extraordinary statement that, as the document referred only to beet sugar, it was reserving its position. Yet it was clear from the Committee's proceedings that we were not sure whether it applied to beet, to cane, or to both.

I give that as an example of the difficulties facing the Committee. These were two of the major points which arose. We had no proper reply from the Minister, who had to sit down by twelve o'clock midday. Had there been another hour for discussion, we could have dealt with these matters in a more satisfactory way. This difficulty arose out of the non-implementation of a specific undertaking given by the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, to this House, and, indirectly, from a failure, at least, to see that the spirit of the undertaking was met by an interim order when the motion came before the House.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at the reasons for this lapse and see that it does not happen again in the interim period. My main request to him is to have another look at the Order Paper today, because at about eight o'clock tomorrow morning the document will come up for approval. In theory, those hon. Members who have doubts about it should roll up and vote against it, but we do not know what the document is proposing. Indeed, another document is on its way.

It is an extremely difficult situation because the matter was not cleared up in Committee. The Leader of the House should think twice about it and not proceed with the motion tomorrow morning. That would allow us a chance to clarify the position, at least by correspondence. I hope this will be possible, because I understand, informally, that the next meeting of the Council of Ministers in Brussels, when it will be discussed, will not be until the end of January. We would then be able to take the matter in the House after the recess. That would give Members of the Committee time to find out what it is all about, or at least to clarify the document with the Minister of Agriculture.

It is important to put on the record that all the things that some of us said during the debate on 3rd November have come to pass. We are totally dissatisfied with the present procedures for dealing with EEC matters. If matters such as this had been dealt with better, the point about turkeys made by the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West might not have had to be made. There should be a permanent amendment to Standing Orders to make it possible for these Orders to be properly considered. I know there are difficulties on that score, but mostly it is because the EEC is not giving us time to look properly at the documents. We must insist that Members have time to do that before the documents are discussed by the Council of Ministers. If time is not given, we cannot give instructions to Ministers and our ability to influence the regulations is diminished.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will give me some assurance about the motion on the Order Paper. Perhaps he will indicate that he will accept some future suggestions that will allow plenty of time in Committee to deal with the complex situation which usually arises in these complicated regulations.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stone-house) alluded to the catastrophe in Angola. Angola is a vast, rich territory in which I have travelled widely over the past 15 years, but where I have no interest other than that which we all share in the peace and prosperity of that country.

The retreat from the Empire to Europe seems to have made us very insular islanders. But it seems extraordinary that the House should be adjourning tomorrow without any statement or sign from the Government that they are treating seriously the bloody conflict in Angola where there are substantial British and allied interests. The right hon. Gentleman made a comparison with Vietnam, but we might also think of Spain in 1936 when it was feared that the Axis powers, by gaining lodgment in the Iberian Peninsula, would be able to close the Straits. That was averted by the astute nationalism of General Franco.

In Angola we have no assurance that the Soviet patronage of the MPLA will not endanger South Atlantic bases and facilities, the Western European tanker route and the line of communication round the Cape. I understand that the Soviet Union has already put into Angola T54 tanks, MIG 21 aircraft, 122mm rockets and SAM 7 missiles. There is a ferry service between Odessa and Luanda, of Antonov 22 transport aircraft, and ships bearing arms and supplies to the MPLA. I understand that Cuban mercenaries are engaged. That is the situation on one side. On the other side, that of the FNLA and UNITA, Pretoria's decision to extend the period of national service suggests that military intervention by South Africa has already gone further than the protection of the Cunene project. Troops from Zaire are active in the north of Angola, and these have evoked incursions of forces from Congo-Brazzaville to support the MPLA against the FLEC, a separatist movement in the Cabinda enclave where Standard Oil has been exploiting offshore petrolem. Despite the misgivings in Congress in the United States and what one might call senatorial defeatism, Dr. Kissinger has shown himself unwilling to allow the United States to cede predominance in Angola to the Soviet Union.

It is not a policy just to deplore the action of South Africa or the USSR. It is not enough for the Prime Minister to say that the United Kingdom wishes to do nothing, which is what he said. It is quite insufficient for the Foreign Secretary to say that we should leave it to the Council of the Organisation of African Unity. The treaty area of the Atlantic Alliance stops at the Tropic of Cancer, but its scope and interest go beyond. It is quite extraordinary that the Government should have nothing to say of any importance on this matter. They should be active with our allies in NATO trying to work out a policy in the interests of the West.

In these dangerous days we are told that the Government are under pressure to make still further defence cuts. The Lord President of the Council told us that no new defence cuts had been decided so far, but I ask him at least this—that before we assent to this motion we should be told that there will be no announcement of further defence cuts and no decision made while we are in recess and are thus deprived of any chance of expressing our detestation of such a ruinous policy.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, North)

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) raised an interesting point about turkeys. The Government should make a statement on this matter in view of the serious repercussions it will have on the poultry industry. It affects not only turkeys but chickens and ducks too.

The correct name for the type of bird my hon. and learned Friend had in mind is a "New York-dressed bird", and it is important to understand what that means. In the months to come New York-dressed birds will become an important issue in this House. Consumers in this country will have to fight hard to obtain the sort of bird they want. That does not mean that everyone is opposed to hygiene and cleanliness and the correct preparation of birds frozen before sale. However, we must allow the consumer to have a choice between an oven-ready bird which is frozen and a New York-dressed bird.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Can my hon. Friend enlighten the House why it is called a New York-dressed bird?

Mr. Mills

I was afraid that my hon. and learned Friend would ask that question because, unhappily, I do not know the answer. That is the term that has always been used, but I do not think that even the Ministry of Agriculture knows why. Perhaps the Leader of the House can bring his expert knowledge to bear on the matter when he winds up the debate. We should have some announcement from the Government that they are determined to ensure that consumers have a choice in the matter.

In view of the many other pressing issues which have arisen, the problem of minibuses seems to have been squeezed out, and it is for this reason that I oppose, though not very strongly, the Adjournment of the House. Minibuses are facing many problems, particularly in the rural areas. I realise that it would be difficult for the Government to do anything before the recess, but never the less I should be grateful if a statement were made.

The main problem has arisen over the interpretation of the Road Traffic Act 1960. I believe that Section 118 is the provision in question. The difficulties are created because of the interpretation of that section by the courts. The use of minibuses will also be affected by EEC regulations which I believe come into force on 1st January 1976, so that time is extremely short in this matter.

The interpretation of the 1960 Act has caused problems for schools, pensioners, handicapped children and youth clubs which have minibuses bought out of donations from the public. All sorts of methods have been devised to raise the money to provide these vehicles. Yet the organisations are being denied the use of their buses because of the Act. Something must be done as quickly as possible, and I believe that it may be necessary to amend the law.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that we should put aside all thoughts of safety. Of course, we must accept safety measures to provide properly maintained vehicles and properly trained drivers. But the law needs clarification.

I received a letter from the chairman of the governors of one of the special schools in Devon. It has a minibus. The letter says: As you may know, restrictions have recently been imposed on the use of mini-buses by schools, as a result of which a good deal of hardship has been caused. She goes on: It is not practicable to convert mini-buses into Public Service Vehicles. Difficulties arise over the licensing of drivers, the keeping of log books and drivers' rest periods, but mainly over the fact that the mini-buses can seldom be adapted to the required standard of comfort to be given a Public Service Vehicle Licence. She says that because of these restrictions The County Council has … no alternative but to prohibit the use of mini-buses for school trips or journeys of any kind unless the entire expense is borne by the Council". This is a sad state of affairs. The problem is more apparent in the rural areas. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who I believe will reply to the debate for the Opposition, comes from the West Country and knows the value of these minibuses and how they can solve problems in the rural areas. Petrol is very expensive, and to run a minibus helps to get over that. In transporting young people and the disabled into the towns they make life a lot easier than would otherwise be the case.

I will not press the Leader of the House too strongly about this matter, but I hope that he will say something of encouragement to minibus users, and I hope that the Department of the Environment will bear in mind what I have said.

5.7 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

I wish to reiterate and support very strongly the views expressed about Angola by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison). It seems completely wrong that the House should adjourn with no clear statement from the Government about their attitude on this important topic.

A related problem is that the Government have not made their promised statement on defence policy. The world situation is extremely dangerous, and the danger is growing every day. In those circumstances it would be wrong to adjourn without hearing the Government's statement. In answer to a question the Prime Minister said that any defence economies would be made in the tail rather than the teeth. If that is the gist of the defence statement the prospects for the country are poor.

The situation in Angola is of great importance. We have all been watching developments in the United States, where the House of Representatives is obviously reluctant to see America committed to a second Vietnam. In Vietnam, unlike the case of Korea 25 years ago, the Americans did not have the support of this country. Twenty years ago the Americans, of their own volition, resolved a dangerous crisis in Lebanon. We are now faced with two comparable situations. Again, there are dangerous developments in Lebanon, and things have flared up in Angola.

It is unrealistic to expect the Americans to go on dealing with these world crises when we are not prepared to give them even moral, let alone physical, support. The Government should come clean on this and say whether we are allies of the American people, and see what we can do to get the co-operation of the other European countries in a realistic Western policy towards these critical problems.

The Government should also make a clear statement about what we intend in terms of our obligations to NATO, particularly when we now face four threats from the Soviet Union—in nuclear, conventional, military, naval and air matters. We cannot sustain a nuclear effort on the same scale as the Americans can, but if we want American support we can surely at least make some financial contribution to the enormous burden they bear. In military affairs, the Government should say that we will honour our obligations to NATO, if necessary increasing our military presence on the Continent of Europe.

As for the Navy, some weeks ago there was a critical assessment from the Chief of the Naval Staff about the position we now face, particularly in submarine strength and warfare. Twice in the twentieth century we have had to face a submarine enemy, but it is wise to remember that in neither war was this so at the outbreak. The threat arose only during the war, when submarine building was quickly and effectively increased by our enemies. Although there is no war at the moment, the Soviet Union has an enormous submarine force.

Our interests in this respect are different from those of other European countries. We are totally vulnerable on the sea, in respect of our seaborne imports. It is essential to have a naval defence policy which, if necessary, is independent of Europe and linked to America.

The Leader of the House may have seen in the Press today an assessment by the Chief of the Air Staff of our situation in the air. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that nothing could be more alarming for this country. Russia is spending an enormous military budget every year, and the Chief of the Air Staff says that it is now building 1,700 military aircraft each year, of which 700 are of the most advanced type of high-performance combat aircraft in the world.

The Russians have supersonic aircraft carrying deadly stand-off weapons, with which 10 aircraft could wreak more damage and destruction than 1,000 aircraft could achieve only recently. What do we have to defend our own shores? The RAF now has only 75 home-based fighters, compared with about 800 in 1957. Altogether, it now has about 400 combat aircraft—that is, aircraft intended for attack, defence and reconnaissance. That is fewer than Poland or Czechoslovakia. Russia has a combat air force of 5,350. The Leader of the House will agree that those are fairly chilling figures and that the country needs to be told something at an early stage if we are to have any confidence in our future independence.

Summing up the situation, the Chief of the Air Staff said: Russia increased her military expenditure by between 3 per cent. and 5 per cent. in each of the last 10 years, and last year alone spent over 50 per cent. more in real terms than the United States. Russia is now spending more on research and development than the whole of the rest of the world. We know from the debates of the last two days that we are facing mass've unemployment in one of our leading industries—motor manufacture. Is this not the moment for the Government seriously to consider a massive redeployment of those unemployed people in the direction of our defence industries? Obviously, this is not a question on which we can expect a detailed statement before the recess, but we should at least have, in broad terms, a declaration by the Government that they intend this country to be adequately defended in the face of these enormous threats.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

I do not want to follow the valuable contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More). I want to raise a quite separate matter as a reason for the House not adjourning tomorrow, namely, the urgent need for a full-scale debate on the serious increase in Civil Service manpower. This is a matter on which I have been in correspondence with the Lord President, who wrote me a courteous letter a couple of days ago. When discussing whether time could be provided, he was kind enough to say that this was a matter of concern, but he added that he could not offer Government time in the;m-mediate future.

The facts are quite simple and are not in dispute. On 1st March 1974, when the Government took office, there were 697,059 civil servants in post. On 1st July 1975, there were 707,932—that is, an increase of 11,000 in the first 16 months of the Government's tenure of office. But on 1st October 1975, there were 719,145—or a further increase of 11,000 in three months, making 22,000 in the 19 months for which the latest figures are available.

Some of these increases are a matter of policy, but some of the explanations that I have received from Ministers whom I have been pursuing in Written Questions have been most unsatisfactory. For example, in an answer to me on 3rd December, the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, explaining why the staff of the Department of Employment had increased by 1,805 between 1st July and 1st October this year, said that this extraordinary increase was mainly to deal with the higher levels of unemployment."—[Official Report, 3rd December 1975; Vol. 901, c. 595.] I am sure that the House does not want to deal with our unemployment problem by substantial increases in public sector manpower.

I said that the main responsibility in this respect was policy. If the Civil Service expands, it is not the fault of individual civil servants. The fault lies solely with Ministers who bring forward new policies that require increases in the Civil Service to administer them.

I want to give two specific examples, one of which is particularly germane to the Lord President, since it deals directly with his responsibilities. I refer to the Constitution Unit of the Cabinet Office, which was set up on the formation of the Labour Government to advise the right hon. Gentleman on devolution policy. From questioning Ministers I have established that the unit employs 32 staff, at an annual cost to the taxpayer of £264,000. Of those 32, 22 were transferred from other Ministries, five were transferred from within the Cabinet Office and five were directly recruited. All but one of the 27 who had been transferred or seconded from other Departments have been or are being replaced in their previous positions. There is a net addition to the Civil Service of 26 people solely as a result of the Government's decision to set up a devolution unit in the Cabinet Office. That is a classic example of the way in which the Civil Service expands as a result of ministerial decisions.

The other case is also partly the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility. The Prime Minister explained to me that the reason for the increase in staff of the Cabinet Office from 599 on 1st March 1974 to 658 on 1st July 1975 was mainly due to the devolution unit, which I have mentioned, but—and I quote from a Written Answer that the Prime Minister gave me on 10th November: A contributing factor was some strengthening of the Central Statistical Office to improve the quality and speed of preparation of Government statistics."—[Official Report, 10th November 1975; Vol. 899, c. 383.] I subsequently asked the Prime Minister what the improvements were that necessitated the increase in staff. The Prime Minister replied as follows: … the reinforcement of computing facilities and programming support to speed up the provision of statistics in the general area of the national accounts and to improve the computing services for economic analysis and forecasting, and (b) the development of social statistics with particular regard to improving estimates and characteristics of income distribution."—[Official Report, 26th November 1975; Vol. 901, c. 155.] That was the picture on 1st July.

I am sorry to say that there has been a further increase of 23 in the staff of the Cabinet Office between 1st July this year and 1st October. The Prime Minister said that this was further to increase the particular improvements in the statistical service, which I mentioned a moment ago.

I have no doubt that improvements in statistical returns of this kind are interesting and perhaps useful. However, I do not believe that the House will be satisfied that they are essential at this time of severe economic stringency and at a time when, above all, it is desirable to restrain public sector manpower, or that simply to improve statistical returns is a reason for substantial increases in the staff of the Cabinet Office.

The only reply of a specific nature that I have received so far from the Minister about what action the Government propose to take on this matter was on 28th November when I asked the Minister of State for the Civil Service Department whether he intends to impose cash limits, or numerical ceilings, upon Civil Service manpower and its related expenditure during the current financial year. The Minister replied: No. But strict control will continue to be exercised to restrict manpower and expenditure to the minimum necessary to meet the demands placed on the Civil Service by Parliament."—[Official Report, 28th November 1975; Vol. 901 c. 352.] If the Minister of State for the Civil Service Department believes that an increase of 11,000 in three months is strict control of public sector manpower, the taxpayer has a sad outlook indeed. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House considers this to be an important matter because he had the courtesy to say so in his letter to me. I hope that he will be able to provide some time for the Government to make a full statement on this matter before the House rises for the Christmas Recess.

5.22 p.m.

Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

I should like to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) has said about defence. The striking figures which he gave the House about combat aircraft should be more widely known across the country. I also support what he and my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said about the importance of Angola. There is no doubt that there is a massive Russian and Cuban build-up and the West should be showing much more vigour in its attitude towards that build-up.

Before we rose for the Christmas Recess I had hoped that the Foreign Secretary would make a statement about the Government's attitude, which would show solidarity with our European allies and more determination to support the United States in resisting what is clearly an effort by the Soviet Union to take over Angola—a key part of Africa—which is potentially very rich in minerals and in other ways.

The main topic that I want to raise is that of the glasshouse sector of the horticulture industry. Before the House rises for the recess the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should make a statement to the House indicating what policy, if any, the Government have towards that sector of the horticulture industry. We had a platitudinous statement last week from the Under-Secretary saying that the Government wish that sector to continue. It is desirable, of course, that the Government should say that but we should like to hear what the Government propose actually to do to ensure that the glasshouse sector continues.

Ever since the sudden increase in oil prices late in 1973 the glasshouse sector has faced a worrying time. The House will understand that this is because it is almost unique in the high percentage of its costs which are attributable to fuel oil. It is true that for one year-1974the Government provided a subsidy and the industry was grateful for it. However, the EEC, with which we discuss these matters, has authorised and indeed recommended its member countries to subsidise the fuel oil costs of the glasshouse sector for a longer period. According to my information Holland, Belgium and West Germany are now giving subsidies to their glasshouse growers to the full extent that has been agreed among the member countries of the Community.

It is true that, contrary to what many of them feared, most of our efficient growers have been able to get through the last year and survive. They have done so by skill, economy and modernisation of their methods, but largely by luck, because last winter and spring were milder than normal. The same cannot be said of this winter so far. This is a topical question because at this time of year the growers are planning, if they have not already planned, their programmes for the coming season.

Although the efficient growers have survived, it is also true that imports of tomatoes from Holland, which is our main competitor, increased during the summer by 51 per cent. Let us hope that that is not an indication of future trends. However, even the efficient growers do not have profits of a sufficient size put aside to carry them confidently through another year in the new circumstances which they now face. They are extremely anxious about the future. When I refer to the new circumstances I mean the increase in the cost of fuel oil which was announced a few weeks ago. This means that fuel oil will cost the growers between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. more than it did before the recent announcement. Depending on the type of oil the grower uses, that means between £1,700 and £3,250 extra per acre of glass simply for the cost of fuel. On top of the extra cost of fuel the grower is faced with the fact that next month he has to pay £6 a week more to his employees, and even more than an extra £6 a week to his female employees, if he has any, because of the introduction of equal pay.

What the growers want is the opportunity to compete on a fair basis with their main competitors on the Continent of Europe. According to the information given to me, the present position is that the British grower who is using fuel oil has to pay about £4,000 per acre per year more than his Dutch competitor. That is a situation with which even the most efficient growers in Britain will find it difficult to cope.

I am not saying that a new subsidy is the only way of dealing with this problem. If I were to go into the question of subsidies, I could suggest many areas of Government spending which could be appropriately cut in order to make way for the very small amount which would be required to provide a subsidy on the basis of that which was provided in 1974.

However, I am not now recommending a national subsidy and I should like to take this opportunity of repudiating a misrepresentation of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) that was made last week by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food when answering a Question on this subject. My hon. Friend was not recommending a national, British subsidy. What he and I were pressing for was that the Minister should, in Brussels with his Community partners, press for a common EEC approach to this question, because if it can be agreed between the nine member countries that they all approach this problem in the same way, it can be less expensive for them all. We can avoid a competition to raise the subsidies which each nation is giving to its own growers.

That is the approach that my hon. Friend and I should like the Government to adopt, but so far, regrettably, we see no sign that they are doing so. I hope that it will be possible for the Lord President to assure the House that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will press his colleagues along those lines when he next visits Brussels, because the alternative to some new arrangements by the Government, preferably on joint EEC lines, is that many of the growers, including the most efficient growers, will find that their livelihood is in danger.

This industry produces an output worth tens of millions of pounds a year. If our growers go out of business, it will mean for the housewife higher prices, because our competitors will be left in more of a monopoly position, and it will mean for Britain a burden on our balance of payments. I cannot think that either of those things is what the Government want.

5.32 p.m.

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

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) in his remarks. It is about time that the House had a debate on horticulture because it is such an important subject. My hon. Friend mentioned the extra cost of oil, and this also means extra transport costs.

We must realise that this is one of our industries which ought to be much more self-sufficient. Many of us go to the Royal Horticultural Show, which is held quite near the House, and to the Chelsea Flower Show. These indicate what ability we have as a nation to supply ourselves with flowers and food, and what a pity it is that we do not have the ability to give the industry more support. I do not necessarily ask for financial support by way of subsidy. My hon. Friend has referred to talks with the horticulture industry. All that it asks for is a fair deal and that if support is given by the other nations within the EEC, we should have the same.

We also need to consider much more deeply the question of diseases in the industry. We are hearing some very alarming reports at present about the spread of a new plum disease, one which even very sensible and considerate growers are worried about. If this disease, which causes a plum scab, continues to spread, it is likely that within the next five years we shall not be able to grow a single Victoria plum. As the plum is my particular fruit, I ask the Government to take up the matter quickly.

I was delighted to see on the Order Paper that a Statutory Instrument dealing with a grubbing-up grant for apples and pears is to be laid before the House. I hope that we shall debate that soon after the House returns.

This is not a time to delay the House as we have long hours ahead of us. However, there is one other subject with which I want to deal. It has already been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills). That is the question of rural transport. My hon. Friend developed the idea of the small minibus. I support that. We are having great trouble in my area in regard to transport for school children. When I tell the House that it is cheaper now to take children to school by taxi than it is by public transport, provided that one gets five children in a taxi, that will indicate the problem.

There is a particular case to which I want to draw the attention of the House. An enterprising taxi driver in my constituency recently had the idea that instead of picking up five children who had to walk to a central point and be collected there, in the winter it would be an excellent thing to pick them up outside the gates of their homes—as would any ordinary individual with a private car. The House may believe it or not, but for that public service he has been fined over £60. What an absurdity of our law it is that an enterprising taxi driver who tries to get children to school at a reasonable price with the greatest convenience to himself is met with a heavy fine.

The prosecution was introduced by the bus company because it could see that the greater efficiency of the private individual went against the nationalised buses.

Hon. Members will remember that we recently received a deputation of bus drivers in Kent, who are very concerned—I share their concern—that they will be put out of work because fares are running away with themselves. I asked them what would be their attitude towards each of them being given a minibus. They gladly agreed with the idea. That gave me one of the best examples of how nationalised industries have become really expensive.

I should like to raise one other point about horticulture. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South made special reference to the great increase in the cost of heating. Here again, North Sea gas is now an excellent medium for fuelling the heating systems of greenhouses, because it has a CO2 content which helps growth. What an opportunity! However, a number of commercial growers do not have gas laid on. Instead of wasting money producing motor cars that people do not want, should not we be producing more gas mains? If that is too uneconomical, would it not be possible to put skilled workers to work producing pressurised containers to supply growers with gas? We used to import methane gas from North Africa in pressurised containers. Surely it is not too much to ask that North Sea gas should be transported to our inland growers, who are growing our vegetables.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

In five and a half years as a Member of this House, I find it hard to think of any other occasion when there has been more reason why the House should not adjourn, in view of the problems that face this country.

We have a Secretary of State for Employment who is presiding over the creation of more workless. We have a Secretary of State for Defence who is intent on leaving this country defenceless. We have a Secretary of State for Social Services who looks like leaving the National Health Service doctorless. We have a Secretary of State for the Environment who has so far managed to increase the number of homeless significantly. We have a Prime Minister about whom the less that is said the better. We have a country that is beginning to despair of a Government who seem quite incapable of facing the country with the truth, with which sooner or later they will have to confront the country.

After hearing the Lord President at Question Time today, answering for the Prime Minister, saying that we had to rely on the United States and West Germany to reflate their economies, I think that I am entitled to suggest that it comes ill out of the mouth of a Socialist Government to call on capitalist countries to get them out of trouble. Why do they not ask their friends in Czechoslovakia, Poland or the Soviet Union, those great examples of Socialist paradises, to give them a helping hand?

I turn from those opening remarks, apologising if I have been controversial—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office (Mr. William Price)

No one takes any notice.

Mr. Adley

The hon. Gentleman says that no one takes any notice.

Mr. William Price

Not of you.

Mr. Adley

I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels proud of the remarks he has made, as usual from a sedentary position.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

Should not the hon. Gentleman apologise for being rather silly?

Mr. Adley

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a good judge of silliness. I should not like to debate that matter with him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. We have been going rather wide of the subject.

Mr. Adley

I wish to discuss the boating industry in my constituency, which employs many people in the manufacture, servicing, repair and sale of boats and ancillary equipment. I thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his action yesterday in removing some of the hire-purchase restrictions on the industry. It would be churlish not to recognise that that will go some way towards helping to repair the severe damage done to the boat manufacturing industry by the imposition of 25 per cent. VAT.

The boating industry has good labour relations. It has a good export record, and it does not require Government subsidies. The 25 per cent. VAT has been a severe handicap to it. I hope that the Lord President will be able to prevail on the Chancellor to consider taking a further step back towards giving the industry a chance to play its proper part in the economy by removing the 25 per cent. VAT, which, certainly in my constituency, has a direct bearing on jobs.

A number of the boat builders in my constituency have had no home market orders since the imposition of the increased rate of tax, which is entirely non-productive for the Treasury. It brings in no more revenue. Twenty-five per cent. of £10 is less than 10 per cent.—or 8 per cent.—of £100. That is the sort of mathematics which the Treasury must take into consideration following the Chancellor's action in increasing VAT.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) mentioned a situation in his constituency where the law was an ass. The VAT regulations on the importation of boats by foreign owners provide another example of the law being an ass. Until a few weeks ago Customs and Excise was in the habit of turning a blind eye to a particularly silly regulation, under which if a foreign boat owner brings his boat here to sell it, and thereafter to buy a British boat, the act of importation becomes the transaction upon which not only import duty but VAT must be paid. It is one thing to have in mind selling a boat or any other article, and another thing actually to sell it, for there is many a slip twixt cup and lip.

Whereas until now Customs and Excise has tacitly agreed that VAT was not due until a boat was sold, it has now started insisting, in view of the large sums of money involved with 25 per cent. VAT, on levying the tax on anyone who brings a boat here with the intention of selling it. That has the immediate effect of making sure that nobody will bring his boat here to try to sell it in order to buy a British boat from a British boatyard. This will have a particularly harsh effect on my constituency. I do not believe that the matter was given sufficient consideration by the Treasury when VAT was introduced. I am making no party point. It is not solely as a result of the 25 per cent.—

Mr. Edward Short

The hon. Gentleman has made party points before—why not now?

Mr. Adley

I like to be frank and fair. Sometimes when I am frank I may not please the right hon. Gentleman, but I try to be fair and to present the facts as my constituents see them.

I suspect that the present situation was never foreseen when VAT was introduced. When the rate was 10 per cent. Customs and Excise never felt it necesary precisely to implement the law. Now it is doing so, with a detrimental effect on my constituency and many others where there are boatyards, where people's jobs depend on building and selling boats. I should be grateful if the Lord President would pass this point on to the Chancellor.

I support what my hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow (Mr. More) and Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) said about defence. We have an opportunity not only to bolster our defence sales but to increase employment by being more imaginative in looking to certain countries to which we do not traditionally sell arms. I think particularly of the Harrier. I very much hope that the number of countries, particularly in Asia, which are on our barred list now may be reduced and that our restrictions on our arms sales may apply in future only to those countries which we consider a potential threat to the security of the United Kingdom.

5.46 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I mean no disrespect to right hon. or hon. Members on either side of the House who have spoken in the debate when I say that perhaps the most eloquent contributions have been the speeches which were not made. I refer to those right hon. and hon. Members who voted with their feet and went home, thus being eloquently in favour of the immediate adjournment of the House for Christmas, which they have anticipated. [Interruption.] Neither side of the House is particularly crowded. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me on that. I am not asking him to go too far in agreement with me.

I had better leave the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) and the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) to the tender mercies of their right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, although I should like to make two comments on what they said.

The right hon. Member for Walsall, North observed that his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs had conducted the Icelandic negotiations in a deplorable manner. He then produced the rather odd excuse that his right hon. Friend had been badly briefed.

Mr. Stonehouse

I am criticising the Government as a whole, not merely the Minister of State. I am criticising the Foreign Secretary in particular for not agreeing to the Icelandic proposal that the catch of cod should be restricted to 65,000 tons. With that agreement, a cod war could have been avoided. It was not merely the Minister of State who was at fault but Ministers as a whole.

Mr. Peyton

We are obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for clearing up the point, but he said—I am sure that he did not mean it—that his right hon. Friend had had a bad brief. I do not think that that would be an adequate ministerial excuse, but I leave the matter to the Leader of the House.

The hon. Member for Watford, who, sadly, is no longer present, expressed sentiments, with which I think we would all agree, sympathetic to those who are disabled, and spoke of their problems in getting about. At the end of his speech he asked "What has happened to this party?", referring to the party which rejoices in his support. It said much for the weariness or courtesy of my hon. Friends that he did not get a sharp answer. My hon. Friends are well known for their politeness and restraint, and on this occasion they were unable to find anything adequate to say.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), properly reminded the House that we had some residual responsibilities in Cyprus, and said that we should seek by all means in our power to foster peace between Greece and Turkey. Without in the least disagreeing, I wonder whether a Select Committee is the most desirable way of securing that end. I personally believe that a proliferation of Select Committees can have an adverse effect on the House of Commons, although Leaders of the House sometimes find it convenient to ensure that Members of Parliament are not in the Chamber but elsewhere.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West, who is not now in his place, made a plea concerning the requirements imposed upon turkey producers. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), who, sadly, is not in the Chamber either, also made an extended plea on behalf of all poultry producers. I give them my support. We are in danger of landing ourselves in a bureaucratic muddle with all kinds of fancy requirements which, if carried too far, would have the effect of putting the small producer out of business.

I am not familiar with the niceties of New York-dressed birds with which my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West threatened us. He said that New York-dressed birds will become quite a feature of the House of Commons. I am bound to say that one had to resist certain speculative fancies as to where we might end up.

My hon. Friend then mentioned minibuses. That subject was also taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). Bumbledom has gone crazy in its dealings with rural transport. A long time ago I raised a case which occurred in my constituency when some innocent housewives who took their daily way to work in a taxi were spied upon by an enterprising bus operator. At that point the whole machinery of bumbledom crept into action, and their innocent activity was stopped to their great inconvenience. The constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe has been visited with the full ferocity of the law and fined £60. All that he was doing was indulging in a profitable livelihood for himself and doing good for members of the public. I wish that some of those people responsible for such activities could from time to time see themselves in the mirror.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who, sadly enough, is not in his place, expressed his dissatisfaction with the way in which certain of his right hon. and hon. Friends conduct the business of the House. Again, I think it proper that I should leave the hon. Gentleman to the tender mercies of the Lord President.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who is also absent from his place—

Mr. Biggs-Davison

No, I am here.

Mr. Peyton

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I made almost an instinctive error. It is so nice to welcome him here and to invite him to listen to what I have to say about his contribution. My hon. Friend is to be distinguished in that he mentioned that this is a debate having something to do with the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess. I should be churlish if I did not congratulate him for making that observation. I also take note of his serious point about the non-peaceful Soviet activities in Angola and how little we hear about such matters in the House. There is the implication that we can afford to be blind to such matters. As he rightly said, the Government have little to say about the situation in Angola, although the subject of defence cuts is ever with us and ever green. It seems that in that area there are always new possibilities. One wonders what dire effect such cuts could ultimately have upon the nation's safety.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) very properly concentrated on the same theme. I believe that it is one to which we should return again and again in an attempt to elicit from the Government some satisfactory assurances regarding the safety of our country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) has been good enough to send me copies of his correspondence with the Lord President. My hon. Friend mentioned the expansion of the Civil Service. He acknowledged—it is not always done by those who speak on these lines— that the expansion of the Civil Service stems from Ministers and their activities. The Civil Service is not self-expanding. It does not expand except to serve the whims of Ministers, some of which are from time to time ridiculous and overweening. My hon. Friend quoted examples of gobbledegook which often adorn public utterances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) properly supported my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow. He also reiterated a plea that has been made in the House again and again in recent years—namely, to inquire what the Government are intending to do about the glasshouse industry. I entirely endorse what my hon. Friends have said. Unless we are careful we shall not have a glasshouse industry and we shall be left at the mercy of overseas competitors. Not only will our balance of payments suffer but we shall have the miserable experience of having inflicted serious, if not irreparable, loss upon a decent, hard-working and deserving section of the community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) had some strong words to say about the Administration. His comments were not really in the Christmas spirit. I am sure that he was not altogether surprised when there were one or two sharp reactions from the Government Front Bench. He made a most important and valuable point about the boating industry and the considerable blow that it has suffered as a result of the 25 per cent. VAT.

As it is Christmas and as we are contemplating leaving this place for a bit, may I indulge in expressing the wish that on such occasions as this we might have the presence of certain Ministers whom we would like to see having a festive meal of their own words? We should also like to have the presence of one or two Ministers who have said nothing at all. I mean no disrespect to the Lord President, to whom I wish unreservedly a happy Christmas, when I say that it would be rather nice to have the presence of his colleague the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who when the Opposition spokesman for transport used to say "Let us have a transport policy" whenever the opportunity arose. By some strange fate the right hon. Gentleman was wafted back to a post he had held at an earlier stage, returning to his customary silence. Now, rather oddly, the right hon. Gentleman has moved to education, but he does not seem able to say very much about the difficulties now facing the educational world. One wonders whether, had he been on the Opposition Benches in such circumstances, he might possibly have found the residue of a tongue.

Then there is the right hon. Gentleman one always misses in this House, the Secretary of State for Education—

Mr. William Price

He has already been dealt with.

Mr. Peyton

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office has a characteristic pose for interventions—feet on the table, hands in his pockets, totally relaxed, not particularly constructive or very original. If he wishes to make a proper intervention on his feet, I shall be glad to give way to him. I think that we have sufficient patience to endure it.

I meant to refer to the Secretary of State for Employment, who has a bigger meal of words to eat than anybody. He was at one time champion of the rights of free speech, the liberty of the individual, the rights of Parliament and all the rest of it. How sad it all seems now.

It must have been greatly satisfying to Mr. Kenneth Fleet, the distinguished correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, to find himself in yesterday's debate referred to with approval by the Secretary of State for Employment. I cannot resist the temptation of quoting Mr. Kenneth Fleet who comments sadly and bitterly in today's Daily Telegraph: The pork barrel is empty of meat let alone crackling. … It has to be admitted that those highly intelligent men at the heart of our affairs, together with the dross that makes up the Cabinet, are beginning to seem in disarray. Mr. Fleet looks for a curtailing of the enormous spending of central and local authorities, and he comments that it is just as important as the cessation of Labour's manic urge to control and interfere with every aspect of business life. He ends with the phrase Confidence is low; dispiritedness is high. It is very sad indeed that that should be the message to go out on this occasion. Although the Government and Ministers may be wholly unaware of the main source of that low confidence and dis-spiritedness, we are not unaware of it, nor is the nation.

6.4 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short

At least I can say one thing to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton)—and that is to reciprocate his good wishes for a happy Christmas. Since he spoke about a pork barrel, I might say that his speech contained no meat but a great deal of crackle.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the eating of words. I remind him of what I said on that subject to his right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) at Question Time. I would also remind the right hon. Member for Yeovil that he was Minister for Transport for a period of four years and presumably supported the then Government's policy. What has happened to that policy? The Conservatives are certainly now pursuing a completely different policy. I know that the right hon. Gentleman lost something. What about all the word-eating he has to go in for? He has something to answer for in his period of office. However, I have said sufficient on that score, because this is a season of good will.

Mr. Peyton

The point I made was that when the Conservatives were in office the then Labour Opposition made a great bleat about the lack of a White Paper on transport. When Labour reached office we expected them to provide such a document, but once again, as in a previous Parliament, they failed to do so. It does not lie in the right hon. Gentleman's mouth to complain about anything we did or about our relationships with the railways.

Mr. Short

The right hon. Gentleman is obviously sensitive on this matter. I repeat that he was Minister for Transport for a period of four years. In that time rural transport became more meagre and threw up a worse situation than even in the middle of the nineteenth century. But enough of that. I hope the right hon. Gentleman has a very happy Christmas.

The right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) raised the subject of Dr. Sakharov. It is a matter of great regret to Her Majesty's Government that he was not allowed to travel to Oslo to collect the Nobel Peace Prize. He had no passport. However, I do not think that it would be helpful for Her Majesty's Government to make formal representations on a matter in which we have no legal standing.

The CSCE negotiations recorded the determination of States participating in the talks to put into practice principles respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms and their intention to facilitate wider travel by citizens for personal and professional reasons.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in Helsinki on 30th July, it is desirable that all the signatories of the Final Act should fully implement all the provisions. We would regret any action that ran counter to them. The Final Act of the CSCE includes provisions for freedom of movement of individuals for short visits or permanent settlement. All the participating States declared their commitment to the implementation of the provisions. We shall abide by those provisions and we shall expect other States to do the same. It is still too early to assess the practical implications of the Final Act. I repeat that we very much regret that this gentleman was not allowed to travel.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of Icelandic fisheries. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs made a full statement on this subject in the House on 12th December and answered questions arising from that statement. Since then the matter has been raised in the United Nations Security Council, on 16th December, when statements were made by Iceland and the United Kingdom.

The British Government remain ready and willing to resume negotiations anywhere at any time, and we hope that the Icelandic Government will soon show that they are prepared to resume talks. I wish to repeat and emphasise that Her Majesty's Government are willing to resume negotiations at any time. But, on the other hand, we are determined to protect the reasonable interests of the fishing industry, in accordance with international law. I point out to the right hon. Member for Walsall, North that we have behind us two international decisions confirming that our view is correct.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is it not a fact that the Foreign Secretary has conceded that we had a proposed agreement with the Icelanders on a figure of 65,000 tons a year? Why did we not reach that agreement? Why are we continuing to go on with this confrontation?

Mr. Short

One can always reach agreement if one is prepared to give way all along the line. Every concession that we have made has been pocketed by the Icelanders, and they have then said "Thank you very much. What is the next concession?" If we are prepared to give away British interests all the time we can reach agreement, but we are not prepared to do so.

I turn to the question of Angola, which was raised by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and a number of others. I understand the concern on this subject. The Government's policy has been made clear on a number of occasions. For example there was a Written Answer on this matter on 26th November, reported in Hansard, in column 203. We deeply deplore outside intervention, from whatever source it comes. We believe that it should be for the Angolan people themselves, with help, if they wish it, from the OAU, to work out their own future. Her Majesty's Government have not recognised either of the rival groups. Neither meets our well-known criteria for recognition. We deplore intervention, from wherever it comes, and we hope that the Angolan people will be left free to decide their own future.

The hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) and the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies)—they have both gone now, and have sent me notes explaining why they had to leave—raised the question of the law of treason. The present law of treason is archaic in the extreme and, as was pointed out, it has been referred to the Law Commission for review as part of its programme of codification of the criminal law. To succeed in a charge of treason in a case concerning the activities of terrorists it would be necessary to show that the activity amounted to levying a war. There are, however, other relatively modern statutes under which charges can be brought, such as the Explosives Substances Act 1883 and the Firearms Act 1868. These are provisions which are more appropriate, the use of which is more likely to lead to successful prosecutions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck)—I am sorry that he is not in his place—made an utterly irresponsible speech. First, he raised the question of vehicles for disabled people. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in a recent speech to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, spoke at great length on the safety of the invalid tricycle. He made it clear, yet again, that he sees no reason to withdraw the tricycle on safety grounds. My hon. Friend has published a good deal more about the safety of the tricycle than all previous Ministers put together.

My hon. Friend also made some astounding claims about the mobility allowance for the disabled, saying, among other things, that we were withdrawing it from the over-65s. It is difficult to see how we could withdraw something that has never been paid. There has been no mobility allowance in the past. It is being phased in. We are trebling the expenditure on mobility for the disabled as compared with expenditure under the previous Government. A total of 100,000 people are being given help who had no help before. This figure includes 30,000 children. We are the first Government to offer any assistance to disabled persons who are too severer handicapped to drive.

I draw to the attention of the House the motion on the Order Paper signed by a good many hon. Members congratulating the Government on giving outdoor mobility help, for the first time ever, to an extra 100,000 severely disabled people who will now receive the new mobility allowance of £260 a year. When the hon. Gentleman was speaking I obtained a check-list of the things that my hon. Friend has done to help the disabled. It is a most impressive list, containing 30 or 40 concrete measures. Whatever criticisms may be made of the Government, this criticism is not one of them, and I reject it utterly. My hon. Friend was utterly irresponsible in his remarks.

The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West raised the subject of Cyprus and turkey—not the Turkey next to Cyprus; the other one. He spoke of the Cyprus Select Committee. I pointed out, during questions on the Business Statement today, that I am proposing to table a motion that will give the House an opportunity of deciding whether it wishes to reappoint a Select Committee on Cyprus. I believe that such a Committee should have a limited function. It has been to Cyprus and taken evidence, and it would be reasonable to appoint it for a limited time only, to enable it to complete its report. However, I shall put this on the Order Paper, and the House can make the decision.

I would like to say a word about Cyprus. The Government, in concert with our European partners and our American allies, are actively engaged in sustained diplomatic activity to try to bring about a resumption of negotiations. Continuing confidential exchanges—the most recent being directly between the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and the Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers in the margin of the NATO Council meeting in Brussels—hold out the best hope of achieving the flexibility necessary if progress is to be made. The Government earnestly hope that these efforts will soon bear fruit and that the negotiations will shortly be resumed. But these efforts are much better pursued in confidence. I see no advantage whatever in having a debate at present.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also raised the question of the availability of fresh poultry. Some recent Press reports have given the impression that from 1977 onwards fresh poultry will virtually disappear from our market and we shall be left with only the frozen variety. That is not so. There will certainly be a reduction in the quantity of poultry that is traded with the guts intact. We already have a substantial output of birds that are sold fresh after evisceration in a plant designed for that task. There is every reason to expect that the output of this type of fresh poultry, handled under proper conditions of hygiene, will, in the years ahead, expand to meet the demand.

The EEC directives on poultry hygiene require us to phase out the sale of un-eviscerated poultry—that is, New York-dressed poultry—which currently accounts for up to 25 per cent. of the Christmas turkey trade and much less of the all-year-round chicken trade. After August 1981 sales of New York-dressed poultry will be confined to consumer purchases from the farm. Between August 1977 and August 1981 birds may be sold additionally through local retail outlets or markets, provided that they are slaughtered and plucked in suitable premises. The impression fostered by the New York-dressed turkey lobby is that its poultry is the only type of fresh poultry available. That is incorrect. Several supermarkets chains now sell poultry that has been eviscerated under hygienic conditions in a poultry plant rather than a butcher's shop.

There is every reason to expect that the poultry processing industry, which is highly flexible, will meet the full demand for the unfrozen product in the years ahead. But for the Government's efforts in Brussels it would have been necessary to end the New York-dressed trade—other than farm-gate sales to consumers—by February 1976.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) raised once more the question of our procedures for scrutinising EEC documents. He referred to the amount of time to be allowed in the Merits Committee. What he said was correct. In the debate on the subject, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Privy Council Office promised that if the House passed the motion we would amend Standing Orders, after discussions, in a way that seemed convenient to most Members. All I can say is that we have not yet reached agreement. My hon. Friend has given me his views about this, but a number of other hon. Members have views, too. We looked at the motion for this week and decided that an hour and a half would be adequate. When a motion is tabled it is up to any hon. Member to make representations to me that the time is not adequate. I shall always be prepared to put more time into the motion.

As soon as we are able to reach some sort of consensus on the way in which the Standing Orders should be amended I shall take steps to have them amended—

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he said, but he has not mentioned the request that I made on the question whether this motion could be held over until after Christmas. Secondly, I am not aware of the other representations or the difficulties that will prevent the five sitting days, as long as the EEC Commission provides this House with documents in time for them to be considered before the meeting of the Council of Ministers, which I would have thought was a reasonable enough request.

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend has a point of view on this, which he has given me. I have discussed it with him. It is different from the points of view of others. All I am trying to do is to reach agreement between the contending points of view. I may not succeed. In that case I shall put something on the Order Paper and it will have to take its chance. In the meantime, I am quite happy, when one of these motions is referred to the Merits Committee, to discuss with my hon. Friend or anyone else how much time should be allowed. If we need to amend the Standing Order requirement about one and a half hours I should be very happy to do that.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) raised the question of Angola, to which I have already referred. He wanted an assurance that no defence cuts would be announced during the recess. I can give him that assurance. There will be no cuts and no announcement of cuts before the House resumes.

The hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), who has apologised for having to leave the debate, raised the question of rural transport. I am well aware of the widespread concern and the transport problems experienced by those living in rural areas. When I was Postmaster-General, I introduced the post bus. I am sorry that it has not caught on. We introduced six experiments in different parts of the country. I have always felt that if that were pursued, in some areas a good deal more use could be made of Post Office facilities for carrying passengers, as happens in other countries in Europe.

The issues are complex. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport announced, on 3rd December, the conclusions of a study on rural transport over the past 18 months which involved wide-ranging discussions with interested bodies. The study revealed that there was no agreed solution to the problems, which can vary widely from one area to another. As my hon. Friend said, the Government intend to promote a number of experimental schemes in Britain to test, on the ground, what can be done to help rural communities within the public service vehicle licensing code and a modest relaxation of licensing for a limited period within the areas of the schemes. It is hoped that these schemes will provide the evidence, which has so far been lacking, of how to meet rural transport needs effectively while safeguarding the essential interests of public transport operators and their staffs.

A special problem arises with minibuses, when they are owned by education establishments and other bodies and operated for hire or reward as defined in the Road Traffic Act 1960—that is, when payment is made in consideration of a right to be carried, or any matters that include carriage. There has been a misunderstanding of the extent to which current operations are legal. The Department has been trying to clarify this with Age Concern and other bodies, in order to assist their operations. However, amending the law on hire or reward is an issue with profound implications, since public service vehicle licensing underpins the road passenger transport system, but the Government are actively considering all the issues involved in this matter. I must say it was a bit much for the right hon. Member for Yeovil to raise this matter. He was Minister for Transport for four years and did nothing to improve road transport services.

Mr. Peyton

The right hon. Gentleman must understand the burden of my complaint. The last Labour Government did nothing while it was in office, and when we were in office Labour Members complained constantly about the lack of a White Paper, completely forgetting all the difficulties involved. Since they have been back in office, they have again done nothing. I am not ignoring the difficulties—far from it—but it is very strange that only in opposition is the Labour Party eloquent.

Mr. Short

The right hon. Gentleman was the responsible Minister for four years, and he did nothing. He has confirmed that fact. I was not Minister of Transport, but I did something by starting the post bus scheme. At least I tried something. The right hon. Gentleman did not try anything at all.

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) spoke about defence. I have nothing to add to what has already been said on this subject. I assure him that no cuts will be made that impair our contribution to NATO. We are still spending on defence a higher percentage of our gross domestic product than are all our principal allies in Europe. It is the policy of this Government, on which we were elected, that, in GDP terms, our contribution should be roughly equivalent to that of our principal allies. That was the policy on which we fought the last election and on which we got 1 million more votes and 42 more seats than did the Conservative Party. That objective was included in our manifesto and we are working towards it. We can claim that this has the assent of the electorate. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ask them again."] We shall ask them again, and my guess is that Opposition Members will still be sitting on that side of the Chamber.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be possible to silence the London Welshman on the Front Bench opposite who keeps interrupting the Leader of the House from a sedentary position.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

I hesitate to say whether the hon. Gentleman in question is a London Welshman, but I am willing to do my best on the other part of the question.

Mr. Short

The hon. Member for Ludlow asked for increased expenditure on defence. He indicates his assent. But his party is always talking about the need for cuts in public expenditure. As I said in a previous debate, the Opposition talk cuts and act expenditure. They shout their heads off about the need for cuts and then ask for increased expenditure. The hon. Member for Ludlow did just that.

The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) spoke about the number of civil servants—a matter in which he takes an intelligent and constructive interest and on which we have already had some correspondence. The Civil Service has to be staffed to carry out the work given to it not only by Ministers but by Parliament. We shall need more staff to implement benefit and taxation policies, and the demand for existing services—the hon. Member mentioned unemployment for instance—is likely to go on increasing. I assure the House that any addition to the Civil Service will be the absolute minimum necessary for efficient working. It will be subject to strict controls.

Mr. Stonehouse


Mr. Short

The right hon. Gentleman is an expert on rubbish.

Mr. Stonehouse

The jibes about my being absent have gone too far. I have been accused of being a "runaway MP" but in the last few weeks we have seen so many stay away Members of Parliament that they should forget these jibes against me. Is it not a fact that the non-industrial Civil Service has increased by 30 per cent. in the past 12 years? Nobody could argue that the Civil Service has been given 30 per cent. more work. What the nation needs is more efficient cost effectiveness in the jobs they are doing. They would not then be allowed to grow in the way they are growing.

Mr. Short

The hon. Member for Melton said that the devolution unit was a classic example of what he was talking about, but that unit employs only 32 civil servants out of a total force of 719,000. If any exercise in Government is being done economically, it is this one. I know the hours that these 32 people have worked.

Mr. Michael Latham

I was not suggesting that the devolution unit was the sole reason for the increase in Government staff. It is an example of the way in which policies produce extra manpower for the Civil Service.

Mr. Short

But this is the policy of the hon. Member's party as well. In the last election all parties except the Unionists campaigned with a policy for establishing a directly-elected Assembly in Scotland. This is being done with 32 civil servants dealing with devolution and any constitutional matters which come up in Government. The figure of 32 is the entire staff, right down to the typists, and the cost quoted by the hon. Member is not just for salaries but for the whole exercise, right down to heating and rent.

The hon. Member asked what action was being taken to reduce waste. There is a regular programme of staff inspection and a system of management reviews. We intend to see where future scope exists for increasing efficiency or achieving economies in administration. This process is going on all the time, and is being intensified. It is an ongoing review, and we shall implement changes as it proceeds. However, there is no question of publishing a final report, because it is going on all the time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that we are very much aware of the problem that he raised and are watching it at every single point.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) asked about the glasshouse sector of agriculture. This has been an old favourite in Adjournment debates for some years. I appreciate the concern of glasshouse growers about the recently announced oil price increases. However, the Government's decision not to reintroduce the temporary subsidy paid to growers in 1974 was made in the light of national financial and energy policies, and at present there is no prospect of that decision being changed.

The subsidy was paid in 1974 to help the glasshouse growers adapt to the suddent increase in fuel oil prices which occurred when their cropping plans were already made. In April of this year, the EEC Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Lardinois, announced an extension to the Commission's guidelines on fuel oil subsidies to permit a subsidy of not more than one-third of the rise in prices between 1st September 1973 and when the measure was decided for oil consumed between 1st July 1975 and 30th June 1976.

The condition was that the price of natural gas should be equalised with the subsidised price of oil. Only the Dutch and Belgians have taken advantage of this. Since about three-quarters of the Dutch industry uses natural gas, the overall cost of increased gas prices will more than offset the oil subsidy and thus reduce the overall competitive position of the Dutch and eventually cancel it out.

On 2nd and 3rd December 1975, all the major oil companies in the United Kingdom announced increases in the price of fuel oils of about 3p a gallon for heavy oils, which are those mainly used by horticulturists, and about 6p a gallon for gas and diesel oils. In part, this rise is due to the 10 per cent. OPEC increase in crude oil prices on 1st October. But other important factors have been sterling devaluation and general inflation.

These increases naturally led to demands for the reintroduction of the oil subsidy, but when the United Kingdom subsidy was announced in 1974, it was clear that there was no question of insulating growers against the effects of higher energy costs in the longer term. In line with national policies, I am afraid that growers have to come to terms with higher energy costs, like all other uses. All the available evidence suggests—I have inquired about this again today—that growers this year have generally been able to recoup these higher costs from the market. There are also indications that they are using their fuel a good deal more sparingly than in the past, and this is to be welcomed.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, South also suggested that we should try to get some agreement between EEC countries on this matter. I shall pass his request to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

As I said just now, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe also asked about horticulture.

The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) was a little offensive in his opening remarks, and I think that it would be as well for an older Member to advise the hon. Gentleman that his behaviour reduces his effectiveness as a Member. He would be much more effective if he could discuss matters objectively, without giving offence to people.

The hon. Gentleman talked about me today as a Socialist Minister who invited capitalist countries to reflate. I might point out to him that West Germany has a Labour Government almost identical, in philosophy, policy and outlook, to the British Labour Party. The West German party is one with which the British Labour Party has closer contacts than with any other Labour Party anywhere in the world. We are similar, almost identical parties.

Mr. Adley

What industries have the German Government nationalised?

Mr. Short

I am saying that the Socialist Government in Germany have very close links with the Labour Party and the Labour Government here. To say that they are a capitalist Government and that we are a Communist Government, which is what the hon. Member said, is not only stupid but highly offensive.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the effect of VAT on the boat builders in his constituency. I hope that he will tell his boat builders that what he complained about was introduced by his own Government.

Mr. Peyton

That is not true.

Mr. Short

It is absolutely true. What is more, if an hon. Member chooses to start off on this footing, he gets that kind of reply, and the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington must understand that—[interruption.] We seem to be having a demonstration of very good manners from the Opposition Front Bench. All the time they sit there mumbling, but they have not the courage or guts to get to their feet.

Having said that to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington, I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the hon. Member's question whether any possible relief can be given. I think that the hon. Gentleman is making a valid point. Of course, some relief was given yesterday. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to that. But I shall pass his point to my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.]

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Since the right hon. Gentleman is handing out admonitions all round, perhaps he will persuade his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office not to interrupt in such a rude fashion from a sedentary position.

Mr. William Price

I have been provoked.

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend is normally as good as gold unless provoked.

I hope that I have answered all the matters raised by hon. Members and that the House will now be able to resolve the Question that we all go off for Christmas. I wish right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House a happy Christmas.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 12th January.