§ 4.34 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 on Thursday next do adjourn till Monday 13th October.It would perhaps be for the convenience of the House if I move the motion on the Order Paper formally and reply to any points raised at the end of the debate.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
Before we adjourn we should have more information about the state of the business of the House. This is a matter which I and other hon. Members have raised on many occasions, and indeed it was mentioned again at Question Time today. It is a most serious state of affairs. Not only is there lack of documentation, to which the Leader of the House referred this afternoon, but there is congestion and overloading of both Members of Parliament and all the services of the House. This has been the state of affairs for the past couple of months.
There have been occasions when half of the Members of Parliament have been sitting on Committees upstairs thereby totally disrupting the business in the main Chamber. I was a member of the Committee on the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-Lines Bill. The Government put down over 100 amendments during the couse of the sittings of the Committee and they were even putting them down after the guillotine had been brought in and right up to the last sitting. Indeed 90 per cent. of the amendments put down on Report were never debated. As hon. Members know, the debates went on by day and by night in a way which did the House of Commons no possible good in the eyes of the public.
There is no doubt what the cause of the situation was. Very little of this legislation, even on the Government's own argument, was urgent. The House was overloaded because too much legislation was introduced and most of it far too late. The Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-Lines Bill was at least several months late and either should have been brought in earlier or should have been postponed until the next Session.
2075 The Leader of the House has said that during the vacation, when he has time to think things over and especially his responsibilities to the House of Commons generally, he will give serious consideration to improving the production of papers. We should all welcome that. Will he also give consideration to reducing the weight of legislation, because that is one of the severest handicaps under which the country is suffering? Will he also consider improving our methods of considering legislation? I do not know whether this matter should be referred to a Committee, but it was noticeable on the Bill in respect of which I served on the Standing Committee that clearly consultation or preparation of the Bill was inadequate. That was the reason for the Government tabling over 100 amendments.
It is also apparent that many of the amendments to that Bill were tabled in the light of discussions with the industries concerned. I am not one of those who think that the House of Commons should surrender its primacy and that legislation should be largely drafted in private between the Government and industry or the trade unions. But I suggest that the present situation is unsatisfactory and leads to endless Second Reading speeches in Committee, because the whole matter has to be reopened. Could not there be more consultation in advance of legislation? Will the Leader of the House look at some pre-legislative procedure and will he give his attention to this matter during the recess?
I should like to mention the effect that such action as I have described will have on the country. We are piling on legislation which few people understand and there are not enough accountants or lawyers to deal with it. I have continually made the point that my constituents do not know what the law is and they cannot find out.
I am especially concerned about Scotland. The House is rising, but there having been only two sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee. There has been no general debate on the Floor of the House about the Scottish economy. The Leader of the House promised that we would have a debate, and I assume that this will happen in the resumed Sitting in the autumn. However, this is a vital year for Scotland. The economy demands 2076 attention. It is the year in which the final proposals for devolution will be drawn up.
I ask the Leader of the House to consider carefully whether it is an insult to Scotland, and highly undesirable for Parliament and the whole United Kingdom, that in this year of all years we should have had no general discussion of the Scottish economy and we should have truncated the sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee to only two. This was the year above all years when such a debate was necessary.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that this very night there can be an opportunity for a major debate on devolution?
§ Mr. Grimond
We can hardly have a debate tonight covering the four sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee to come. Although we may have the debate in the autumn, I suggest that that may be too late, for reasons to which I shall come.
Is the Scottish Office which is considering devolution also considering the legislation we are passing? Has the right hon. Gentleman considered, for instance, the Community Land Bill in relation to the Scottish Assembly. It will have most serious effects on some public bodies. I know that the Government are committed to introduce legislation next year or in the next Session for a Scottish Assembly. Many hon. Members, some of whom are present, have said that this is impossible. I am begining to take the view myself that it will be a botched up job unless we are very careful.
Moreover, next Session will, to some extent, also be truncated. We know that in this Session Bills were not introduced until March or April. If this happened next year it would be a total disaster for Scottish devolution. At lot of work must be done concerning the effects of devolution on the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-Lines Bill, on the development authority in Scotland, on the Community Land Bill and, indeed, many other Bills. Those Bills will not get the Royal Assent until October. Can the Leader of the House assure us that they will all be taken into account and that we shall have the Bill for a Scottish Assembly by the New Year, because that is the time by which we must have it. It must be properly considered and discussed with all 2077 the people affected and we must take into account the effects on England.
I do not think that the Government have begun to face up to this situation or indeed the situation in regard to England, Wales or Northern Ireland. What liaison is there between the various Ministries which are piling on these Bills and the unit which is considering devolution? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that whatever party we belong to, all hon. Members agree that the form of Scottish local government in advance of devolution has been a disaster and has led to incredible expense and difficulties. We must not repeat these mistakes.
Let us take, for example, the size of the public service in Scotland. It has grown out of anyone's control in expense and number. The Government will have to reduce the Civil Service in London when the Assemblies are set up. We have heard nothing about whether there will be a Scottish Civil Service, whether preparations have been made to transfer people to it—which will cause difficulties—or whether it is to be recruited. What will happen in the regions? They must be reduced or abolished. This is all in the air. We must have some indication from the Government about their thinking on this matter, bearing in mind that we have been promised a devolution Bill by the autumn of this year.
Finally, on top of all the troubles I have mentioned, there is the question of Europe. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the House to discuss the European matters which concern it? Has any thought been given how the Scottish Assembly will deal with Europe, be represented in Europe or discuss European matters? Is there any Government thinking on reducing the size of the public service as at any rate some decisions move from Westminster either to Edinburgh or to Brussels.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I certainly would not want to vote against the motion that we adjourn on Thursday next and come back some time in October. But before we accept the motion we ought to underline some of the problems referred to by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond).
I cannot recall a bigger shambles in July within the last quarter of a century than we have at this moment. This place 2078 is usually a madhouse in July anyhow, but it is more of a madhouse in 1975 than it has been since 1950.
It is arguable as to who is to blame. But we must do something about our procedure to prevent this situation happening again. The Government of the day and successive Governments have been to blame. They have repeatedly been over-ambitious with their legislative programmes.
The growth of the Select Committee principle—an idea of which I thoroughly approve—which investigates in depth problems which otherwise would not be considered by this House, has led to about 200 hon. Members at any one time attending Committees upstairs. With the best will in the world they cannot be in two places at once. But they have thereby been deprived of the opportunity of taking part in debates on the Floor of the House on important legislation which their constituents expect them to know about and to explain to them.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to important legislation concerning not only Scotland but the rest of the United Kingdom. The problems to which he referred do not relate exclusively to Scotland. The setting up of an Assembly in Edinburgh has serious implications for the rest of the United Kingdom. The other regions of the United Kingdom will not sit back and watch such an Assembly develop, with the enormous costs which will be involved, and accept that the South-East of England, or wherever else, will foot the bill for an Assembly in Edinburgh, an Assembly in Wales and possibly other assemblies throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. Other regions will request the same kind of devolution.
I am not sure what kind of devolution we are considering. The debate tonight will be on that very matter. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) sought to raise this precise matter and was told by the Officers of this House that he could not do so. I am just wondering how in those circumstances others apparently have got it. But that is another matter.
We are taking this opportunity now of trying to raise this matter. We had better not get into special arguments. If we were not to adjourn next Thursday—I 2079 put myself in order right away—we could have a debate for one or two days on this issue. It is important to know before embarking on this exercise of establishing these Assemblies what the precise cost will be bearing in mind the problems to which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred concerning the reorganisation of local government. That should be a red light warning to us. If we add another rung to the ladder of administration, we shall be the most governed country in the world with community councils, district councils, regional councils, the Assemblies, Westminster, Brussels and the United Nations. My goodness, we shall have a government for every 1 million of the population.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On the narrow point concerning what my hon. Friend said about myself and Officers of the House, to be fair I should point out that I put in for a particular title which was not acceptable. I understand that explanation. I did not have time to explain it to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I was not making any reflection on the Officers of the House. They do their jobs in as objective and impartial a way as we could possibly expect. There will be a debate on this matter later, but that is not a satisfactory alternative to what the right. hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was suggesting.
I have no doubt that during the course of the debate many hon. Members on both sides of the House could and will cite examples of subjects which we could and should debate in this House. But we are bogged down with what is no doubt important legislation. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will rightly say that we fought the General Election on the programme which we are now seeking to implement. I suggest that we seem to be trying to implement it all in one year. We have three or four years ahead of us. My right hon. Friend must appreciate that there is not a shred of opposition from the other side. None of my constituents has ever said "For God's sake, get out and let the Tories in", because the Tories do not have a clue on anything. They have never produced any alternative policies, so there is no danger 2080 of this Government going out in the next three years.
I suggest that we should come back in October, complete the Bills now outstanding—the Community Land Bill, and so on—by the end of November, and then have a short Session from November to the end of June next year. During that time we should produce the minimum of legislation and have the maximum number of debates on foreign affairs and other matters which involve not legislation but the very future of this country both nationally and internationally. I suggest that in the following two years we should then produce, at most, two or three of the major Bills which are included in our manifesto. For heaven's sake, let us not be too ambitious in the first year or two.
I would go further and suggest that in the short Session which I have proposed we might with advantage introduce no new law at all, but concentrate only on general debates on how to solve our economic problems, because they will be with us for the rest of this Parliament and possibly for the rest of this decade and the one after that.
Our economic problems have never been explained adequately by any leader in this House. The nearest that anyone came to it was the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the former Prime Minister, who had to be kicked out of office as Leader of the Opposition before he could make the kind of speech that we heard from him recently. If we sought to make this place less of a legislative and more of a debating Chamber on general problems on which people want the firm leadership which they are not getting, we should be held in higher esteem than we are at the moment.
I come now to a question which might appear to be parochial, but which is important in the context of what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said when he referred to the reform of local government in Scotland. I suggest that the same problems applied in England. We are in the midst of that reform in Scotland because we are a year behind England. There are corn-plaints in the Scottish Press about enormously inflated salaries being paid to local officials who are doing the same 2081 jobs as they were doing before reorganisation took place.
But there is another side to this story which I want to put on record. I hope to develop this further next week on the Employment Protection Bill. It is argued in the Press that councillors are getting £10 a day out-of-pocket expenses. I want to refer to the other side of that coin. My unpaid agent is a councillor on the Kirkcaldy District Council. He was employed by Burroughs Machines, an American company, in Glenrothes. I was given specific undertakings by the management of Burroughs Machines that it wanted its employees to take part in local government and that my agent could get as much time off as he liked. Burroughs Machines does not believe in trade unions, and last March, after five years with the firm, my agent and lifelong friend, Jimmy Stevenson, sought to make it a trade union shop. The management called for him and said it was going to put him on a part-time contract for about £17 a week. It then called him at 4.20 p.m. on the day before he was due to leave for a fortnight's holiday and told him not to come back because he was being fired on the spot. Yesterday he came to the House and showed me his redundancy payment cheque based on his part-time employment from March.
I am going to give Burroughs Machines the most adverse publicity I can possibly give it. This kind of situation is intolerable in modern society. When hon. Members opposite and the Press criticise trade unions and men and women who are trying to engage in public service, they should look at the other side of the coin, and the Government should devote a little more time to these problems. The Employment Protection Bill goes a considerable way towards protecting people from this kind of abuse by management.
The problems of the motor cycle firm referred to in the House earlier today are another example of the bad management in this country, which bears a major responsibility for the serious economic problems we are facing. It is no good complaining about our productivity and saying that we cannot compete with Japanese motor bikes, cars or televisions or with German or Italian cars because of the restrictive practices of our workers. No doubt that is part of the problem—I 2082 would be the last to deny that—but a large part of the problem is shockingly bad management, and management must bear some of the responsibility as well.
I want to raise another matter which might appear parochial, but which I regard as very important. I hope my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is listening carefully and will pass on my comments to the Ministry of Defence. I have raised with the Minister responsible for the Army the case of a soldier, Private Davidson, who lost his life as a result of manslaughter in Colchester a few months ago. I know the case is sub judice, so I cannot say too much about it, but the soldier's parents, rightly or wrongly, believe their son lost his life because of negligence and incompetence in the medical treatment he received. It is six months since I gave notice to the Ministry of Defence that I wanted an answer about this case but I have not yet heard a single word. I understand that the Ministry sent Private Davidson's father a cheque for £138. I do not know what the intention was—whether it was to buy him off or persuade him to keep his mouth shut—and I am not interested in that. I want the people responsible for this man's death to be brought to account one way or the other. They should be either cleared or disciplined. I want some action on this matter.
The last point I wish to raise is that the present Committees on procedure and services in this House appear to be ineffectual. Perhaps we do not pay enough attention to their reports, but we do not seem to be making much progress in the reform of the parliamentary timetable and procedures. We need to look at our machinery and our timetable, and I hope that Governments, whatever their political colour, will not allow us to get choked up in the way we are at the moment. It is intolerable. It is an insult to the House and a gross affront to the people who sent us here.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Those hon. Members who are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be putting forward suggestions in the debate for making the lives of their constituents more bearable. We who represent Northern Ireland constituencies are concerned with a much 2083 more fundamental question—whether our constituents may have their lives taken from them before the House reassembles in October.
It is not only our constituents' lives that are in danger, but also the lives of other citizens, including those of neighbouring States, as we realise from last night's events. Citizens of a neighbouring State lost their lives while going about their lawful business, as did those United Kingdom citizens who were returning from a show in Cork a few weeks ago. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in condemning those who perpetrated this latest despicable deed.
In the debate on the Adjournment for the Spring Recess, my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South said:one of the besetting difficulties in Northern Ireland today is the prevalence on all sides of mutual suspicion".—[Official Report, 13th May 1975; Vol. 892, c. 256.]He went on to plead for a more open approach from the Government and the avoidance by them of any appearance of secret negotiations or arrangements with one or more of the groups who, on their own admission, employ terrorism as an instrument of policy. We are entitled to ask what heed the Government have paid to this request and to what extent suspicion has been dispelled. Regrettably, it appears that very little heed has been taken of our pleading for an end to rumour-making secret talks with at least one terrorist group. Any competent observer will conclude that, far from diminishing, suspicion has greatly increased in the past 10 weeks and so, too, have the fear and instability which inevitably go hand in hand with suspicion.
It is clear that the murder gangs have interpreted the Government's actions as meaning that they are prepared to bargain with and concede to terrorists what they deny and refuse to elected representatives. Whatever the justification for such views, it is very difficult to defend the practice of entering into arrangements and agreements, the content of which is withheld from hon. Members. The related issue of the so-called incident centres makes a sizeable contribution to 2084 instability especially as the exact nature of their functions is by no means clear to any of us. If someone is murdered and a Government representative telephones the incident centre to ask the IRA if they were responsible and is told either "Yes" or "No", in what way does that answer affect the actions of the Government, the RUC or any of the security forces?
Does the answer affect their determination to find the murderer, or does it have a bearing on any measures to prevent a repetition? The time has come to pull aside the veil of mystery which surrounds these novel so-called incident centres.
When the Secretary of State stated on 24th July his intention of ending detention by Christmas my colleagues and I set out our proposition within the hour. We said:The United Ulster Unionist Coalition has hitherto steadily, though not uncritically, supported the gradual and cautious running down by the Secretary of State of the numbers held in detention, since detention cannot be a permanent feature of security and law and order enforcement in Northern Ireland. We believe, however, that it was unwise and dangerous for the Secretary of State to announce a target date four months ahead for the ending of all detention, and particularly to choose the present time to make the announcement when such grave acts of renewed terrorism have been and are daily being committed. The effect can only be to add weight to the prevalent suspicion that, despite all denials, Her Majesty's Government are in reality continuing negotiations with terrorists and that an announcement of this kind is part of a process of which the true facts are being withheld from Parliament and the public.In the course of exchanges with the Secretary of State on that day I asked him what view he took of the recommendation in paragraph 170 of the Gardiner Report. There it states,We think that the risk of a sudden end to detention would be too great, since it would send back into the community, at one time and with their present organisation intact, a large number of men and some women who have devoted much of their time in detention to the study of methods of violence and whose bitter sense of alienation is unhealed.In the exchanges in the House that day I drew attention to what the report said, but the Secretary of State, perhaps mistakenly, quoted the second half of paragraph 170 which also rejects releases linked to the level of violence with the obvious injustice contained in the practice of treating those still interned as 2085 hostages for those still at large. The Secretary of State made what may have been a mistake and picked out the words "on the other hand" when Gardiner was in fact giving a second reason for delaying general release until the campaign had ended. In my view the words "on the other hand" should in this context, and in the context in which they are contained in the report, have been "hand in hand", because they reinforce the earlier part of the paragraph. We therefore have very real reservations about the Secretary of State's course of action.
I wish to draw attention to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South in the debate on 13th May when he said,the representatives of the Northern Ireland seats are the best friends in the Northern Ireland situation that Her Majesty's Government have."—[Official Report, 13th May 1975; Vol. 592, c. 262.]We remain cast in that role because we supply a line of communication between Her Majesty's Government and the people of Northern Ireland. Inevitably the difficulties of keeping that channel open during the recess are very much greater than when Parliament is sitting, but we are prepared to do our duty provided the Secretary of State, by word and deed, ensures that trust and confidence are maintained at the level at which they ought to exist between Government and people.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
In July the Leader of the House has a task of almost impossible difficulty. In view of what was said by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I must ask my right hon. Friend to reflect about the business situation which will arise next year and whether we shall get into similar difficulties over the length of time that the constitutional Bill on devolution will take on the Floor of the House.
I have an estimate from a very serious source—which I have not checked for attribution and therefore I will not attribute it—that it will take no fewer than 28 days for the Bill to go through Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading. I think that I am right in thinking that 58 days is all the time that is available for any Government for legislation. In these circumstances—perhaps 2086 not today but at some time—we should like an estimate from the Lord President of how long the Bill will take.
I reflect on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. I have just been reading the account by Janet Morgan of the failure of land reform. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is here and I think I know some of his views on devolution. I was the PPS to the Lord President during the passage of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. My guess is that we could have a situation where, since I understand that the Committee on the devolution Bill is to take place on the Floor of the House and where, because it is a constitutional Bill, there can be no guillotine, the right hon. Gentleman might take three or more days to himself.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Perhaps I might hope on that occasion to have the same collaboration from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) as I enjoyed the last time.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not want to venture into those difficult waters. There is a debate on the work of the devolution unit later and it would be wrong of me to trespass on that. However, as a matter of urgency, and since you might rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I raised it in that debate, there is another issue which I wish to raise today and which is perhaps more concerned with the Foreign Office. In the Scotsman of 28th July there was a banner headline which said:UK views not 'representative' EEC ponder a voice for Scotland".In the story Mr. Neal Ascherson says:Common Market officials are studying ways of giving Scotland a voice at Brussels. According to Commission sources, Scotland has a stronger case than the states of the West German Federation for special treatment.It is felt in Brussels that the United Kingdom Government is rather less representative of opinion in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales than the Bonn Government is in relation to opinion in the West German "Laender".The Laender maintain an "observer" at Brussels, who can sit with the West German delegation to the Council of Ministers but has no right to speak or vote there.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I do not want to interrupt the flow of the hon. Member's argument, but I should feel more comfortable if occasionally he related it to 2087 whether we should adjourn until 13th October.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Your comfort, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is my first concern. This is an urgent matter. We have to straighten out with the Commission the extent to which it talks freely on issues which are the internal business of the United Kingdom.
To be fair to the Commission, I have put down four Questions to Mr. Ortoli in my capacity as a member of the European Parliament. I have here a statement issued on the authority of Mr. Michael Lake, from the Commission which says,
The issue I want to raise is the extent to which those attached, at often fairly junior level, to the Press Office or to another department in the Commission are allowed to talk about highly sensitive issues involving nothing less than the possible break-up of the United Kingdom.
- "1. It is entirely up to Her Majesty's Government to decide how best the interests of the United Kingdom should be represented in Brussels.
- 2. The Commission has no position on this because it is not the concern of the Commission.
- 3. While the Commission staff may, in a personal capacity, have privately discussed the problems of representing regional interests in the Community, I can say that, in particular the suggestion that the UK delegation to the EEC (U.K. Rep.) does not adequately represent the interests of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales has no currency whatever and is quite novel."
I shall not continue against your wishes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to quote the Scotsman report in full. I simply ask the Government as a matter of urgency and at the highest level to raise with the Commission on what basis any member of the Commission's staff talks to British journalists about this particular issue and claims that he does so on the authority of the Commission, the Commissioners and the Council of Ministers.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)
Before this House rises for the Summer Recess we should give further consideration to the acute unemployment position that is now apparent in this country. The Secretary of State for Employment made a statement last week in which he told us that the July figure exceeded 1 million. 2088 All hon. Members will recognise that that is a real wastage of national resources.
There are three worrying trends inherent in this figure. First, the position will probably get worse before it gets better. There are firm indications of this and as we approach the autumn and then the winter, seasonal factors will accentuate this adverse trend.
Contained within this figure also is the position of school leavers. All hon. Members find this aspect especially worrying. Nothing could be more depressing than young people leaving our schools at the age of 16 or technical colleges at the age of 18 or 19 and having no job or career structure before them. It has serious long-term implications in a social context. The 16-to-20 age range is a crucial age group. Nothing could be worse for the future productive output of the country and for the whole fabric of our social structure as we know it today than for these people to be allowed to remain out of work for too long a period.
That is why I find particularly encouraging Early-Day Motion No. 593 which has been signed by 50 or so of my hon. Friends. It reads:That this House, conscious of the need to make special efforts to help school-leavers to find their first jobs, urges local councils to prepare and organise suitable work schemes in the community for them; and asks the Government to make available for the payment of workers in such schemes money which would otherwise have to be paid out in unemployment benefit.I am not suggesting that necessarily it should be local authorities or local councils which should do this. Voluntary organisations could well be the more suitable agencies. However, the principle, particularly at this time, is worth investigating. I hope that, between now and when we probably rise next week, we shall have time to inquire into these possibilities for young people.
The third point that I should like to raise about the current unemployment situation relates to the regional implications. As the House knows, I represent a constituency in the South-West. Five-sixths of my Bodmin constituency is within the South-West development area, the remaining one-sixth falling within the Plymouth intermediate area, which is also an assisted area.
2089 At the present time in the South-West development area, 8.4 per cent. of the population are unemployed and there are, within this umbrella figure, local variations, so that in part of my constituency the figure exceeds 12 per cent. The South-West differs from other development areas, in that it is not a long-established industrial region or a region in which the traditional industries have run down for one reason or another and they either need to be rejuvenated or replaced.
Our economy is based on primary economic activities such as agriculture, horticulture and fishing. Tourism is also important. Then there are the scattered light industries based on a large number of small market towns. Many of these light industries were attracted into the South-West during the course of the last decade as a result of regional development policies pursued by Governments of both parties. I welcome this. However, experience has shown that they tend largely to be what one might describe as branch-line factories in that they are either linked structurally to or dependent upon industrial units in other parts of the country.
Perhaps we can have the opportunity to examine whether this whole fabric of regional aid that we have at present is sufficiently flexible in its application to take account of the needs of these rural and mixed economies. When a factory closes in a small market town such as Saltash, Liskeard, Bodmin or Callington and 50 people are put out of work, those people in a small town's economy are the equivalent of a thousand, for example, in Scotland, South Wales or on Merseyside. One gets the impression that it is easier to extract from Governments of either party tens of millions of pounds to help other assisted areas than to get £20,000 to help a small company in a small market town in the South-West.
Likewise, I question whether our retraining facilities are suitably flexible and adjustable to meet the individual requirements of rural areas. I hope that when the Secretary of State for Employment makes a further statement, as I gather he may well do, he will give this aspect specific consideration. I hope that the Lord President of the Council will pass that on to his right hon. Friend.
2090 My final point concerns the location of the Small Firms Advisory Unit within the Department of Industry. This at present is based on Bristol to serve the South-West. Many hon. Members feel that as Bristol is nearer to London than it is to Bodmin, the unit should be located either in or near the South-West assisted area, and Plymouth is the obvious choice. All hon. Members will recognise that contact and identification is crucial when we are dealing with problems of this nature and if we wish to get the maximum return and output from these services provided by various Departments of State.
Many of these smaller business units in my area are experiencing serious difficulties. These reflect in part the overall economic position—the lack of cash, liquidity problems, lack of orders, and so on. But, in addition, some are in part a reflection of the policies being pursued by the Labour Party. One thinks, for example, of the pressure put on them by the increased rating burden, and the additional burdens on the self-employed. In the Bodmin parliamentary division 20 per cent. of the male work force are self-employed. That is the extent of the dependence of the local economy of South-East Cornwall on such people.
I hope, therefore, that before the House rises for the Summer Recess we shall have an announcement by the Government indicating how they intend to alleviate some of the serious difficulties faced by people operating businesses in the West Country. I appreciate that I represent a very attractive area scenically. I am very fortunate to represent such an area. However, I assure the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that we cannot live on the scenic attraction alone.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
Before the House rises for the Summer Recess, I should like to raise a matter which may be parochial but which affects not only my constituency but the constituencies of a number of my hon. Friends. The constituency of Erdington has within it the monstrosity which has acquired the name throughout the country of "Spaghetti Junction". I am raising today the question of the compensation which is being paid to house owners under the Land Compensation Act, how 2091 that is being administered and what the valuations are. No doubt it affects not only my constituents but those in other areas through which roadways run at present or will run in the future.
The people in this area have suffered not only from the monstrosity but, much more so, from the noise, dirt and pollution and the health hazards, for instance, of lead pollution, which have not yet been fully evaluated. Under the terms of the Land Compensation Act, they are entitled to full market value compensation resulting from the physical factors. In other words, they are entitled to compensation for loss or depreciation in value of their house from noise, dirt and pollution, but not for the loss of amenity value or the fact that they have an objection to the sight opposite their homes.
The view I expressed when that Act was being passed was that this was not adequate, because it is not merely a question of the inconvenience. Most of the people involved are ordinary working men. The house in which they live is their only asset. A depreciation in the value of that house means a serious loss to them. What is still more injurious, it means that they will have the greatest difficulty in selling their house in order to buy another house. That is the problem which concerns those involved. Therefore, they are concerned about the amount of compensation offered to them.
I accept that in present circumstances it may be somewhat difficult to persuade the Government to amend the original Act. However, I am wondering whether the Act is being properly administered, even in the terms of the Act or the parameters set out in Section 2, which defines the nature of the compensation. The offer which has been made in the majority of cases extends from about £100 to £300, and in a few cases to £400. That is on a house which may have a market value of between £7,000 and £11,000. That is a ridiculous amount of compensation, even under the terms of the Act as it is.
The working-class people of that area are more concerned with the physical factors than with the amenity value. I had no complaints whatsoever until the roadway was opened to traffic, but then they were entirely based on the noise 2092 and the physical factors. Therefore, the physical factors are undoubtedly the most important in assessing the depreciation.
It is true that under the terms of the regulations passed under the Act, noise insulation will be provided in the majority of cases. However, let me put this forward as a practical proposition: let us suppose that an hon. Member had his house encased in double glazing and could not open his windows or use his garden because of the roar of traffic outside, and was affected by the noise, dirt and pollution. Would he consider that he had been reasonably compensated by an amount of about £300? I should have thought on the face of it that that is nonsense. That is what the people in the area think.
I have had many representations made to me. The people there have been thinking of doing various things, such as blocking the roadway and bringing traffic to a halt, because the view they take is that they have been virtually robbed of the compensation to which they are entitled.
This is a serious matter. I hope that the Leader of the House will bring it to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment and, especially, the Minister for Transport, who has responsibility for it. I know that the terms of valuation under the Act are rather complicated. I am wondering whether the district valuers who make the valuations are receiving proper guidance from the Government, because I have spoken to the valuers in Birmingham and I find it difficult to comprehend the basis on which they make this offer of compensation, which seems absurd and ridiculous to me.
I hope that there will be a review of the operation of this legislation in order to give the people in my constituency, and others who are similarly affected, fair compensation for the damage they have suffered and the damage done to what in many cases is their only asset—the house in which they live. Even if the Act cannot be amended, the principles of the Act, at any rate, should be fairly operated according to the meaning that we understood the Act to have when it was passed.
2093 I shall detain the House no longer. I have made my point. I hope that some announcement can still be made before the House rises for the recess. If not, I hope that this matter will be brought to the attention of the Ministers concerned.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman because I realised that his argument was very important to him. However, we are in danger of having a series of Consolidated Fund debates for those who were unlucky in the Ballot. I do not say that the hon. Gentleman is one of those Members. I am referring to those drawn at the end of the list. In order to be fair to those who have been drawn late in the Ballot, I hope that this will be remembered by the House.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
I want to make three brief points and to ask the Leader of the House to consider the matters I raise before we agree to his motion. They are all House of Commons matters which I hope can be dealt with before the House rises for the Recess. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will tell me if you wish me to be repetitious and to keep on saying, "Before the House rises, will the Minister look into this matter?"
The three points are these. Is the Leader of the House able to say when time will be found for a debate upon the report of the Procedure Committee on European secondary legislation, a matter which is of very great importance and which, because the report is lying on the Table with no time found for debate, is beginning to clog up the whole machinery and the system. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to indicate that a debate will be held on this subject.
Second, I return to a subject I have raised with the right hon. Gentleman previously, which is the printing of reports of Committees of this House. There is an ever-growing backlog of documentation. The Leader of the House has been courteous in his correspondence with me. Today I received a letter from him in which he refers to two Select Committee reports. He says it is accepted that the pressure of work in the parliamentary Press precludes the publication of the reports before the recess and that 2094 priority should be given to the seventh report of the Expenditure Committee.
The printer says how much print time he has available. It is not right that Clerks of Select Committees and Standing Committees should have to argue the priority of their reports with the printer of the House documents. The Lord President said that he would look into the matter. I urge him to accept that there is no justification for forcing Select Committees to choose their order of priority, leaving the printer to say whether he can fit in reports before a certain time. This brings Parliament into contempt, as we are ruled by the printers and not by the will of the House. I say that in a constructive manner.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) commented on the length of the sittings. Had the printers done their job there would have been another report from the Select Committee on Procedure dealing with that point. That report is somewhere between the end of our deliberations, the printing press and the Table of the House. I do not see it lying on the Table at present. The Lord President could take up this point before we rise without using parliamentary time, in which case I should not find it necessary to suggest that we do not adopt this motion.
It is the ever-growing practice of Ministers of Governments of all parties to answer Written Questions by saying that they will write to the hon. Member concerned. That is not good enough. I have caused some research to be made to demonstrate this growing menace. I have taken the two-month period of May and June. In 1969, there were 24 answers in which it was said that the Minister would write to the hon. Member. In May and June of this year the figure rose to 73. If a Question is accepted by the Table Office, every Member of Parliament has the right to see the answer in the Official Report. It is not good enough for Ministers to reply, "I shall write to the hon. Member" or, when pressed, "I shall put the answer in the Library". That is not the right place. Members of Parliament ask Questions for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes organisations request Members of Parliament to ask Questions seeking clarification. They require answers. Some hon. Members may wish a debate to take 2095 place. If the answer does not appear in the Official Report, their purpose is frustrated.
Will the Lord President assure us that he will ask all his colleagues in the Government to refrain from giving answers which say, "I shall write to the hon. Member" and to do the House the courtesy of printing the answers in full?
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
I urge that before we rise for the Summer Recess consideration be given to the complex problems facing a number of minority immigrant groups being integrated into the community.
I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend to Early-Day Motion No. 510, which deals with one aspect of that problem, and which enjoys the support of nearly 50 hon. Members on all sides of the House. It refers to the problems faced by the Bangladeshi community in this country. I refer to the inadequate provision of programmes in the Bengali language by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
There is a regular Asian television programme broadcast by the BBC. It performs valuable functions in helping the process of integration and in supplying information to immigrant communities coming from the Indian sub-continent. It deals with matters of current concern and provides cultural programmes in Urdu and Hindi. None of those programmes is broadcast in the Bengali language.
There are well over 100,000 Bangladeshis in the United Kingdom. They form an important minority group within the community. They speak Bengali, which is a different language from either Hindi or Urdu. It is not good enough to say that those two languages are the lingua franca of the Indian sub-continent.
The committee which advises on these programmes comprises 13 members, of whom one is a Bangladeshi resident in the United Kingdom. The other Bangladeshi member of the Committee comes from the Bangladesh High Commission.
Representations on this matter have been made to the appropriate authorities within the BBC and to several members of the Government, although without success. The leaders of the Bangladeshi community made specific offers to the 2096 advisory committee. They suggested the names of persons who might participate in the programmes and lists of artists who could participate in the cultural programmes. Unfortunately those constructive offers have not been taken up.
There is also the question of the provisions of television and local radio time in the Bengali language. There are 10 local BBC radio stations which provide programmes in either Urdu, Hindi or both, but only three radio stations provide programmes in Bengali. I refer to the radio stations in Leeds, Sheffield and London. The radio stations in Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham, despite requests from the Bangladeshi community, do not provide programmes in Bengali.
This is a question of the integration of immigrant communities into the wider community.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
I am sure that there is much sympathy for the provision of programmes in minority languages. However, does the hon. Gentleman think that such programmes further integration? On the contrary, does not the provision of such programmes hinder integration?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Although this is an important subject, it is one for an Adjournment debate at the end of a day. Hon. Members must relate arguments to the recess, whether the House should rise, and for how long.
§ Mr. Clemitson
As a result of your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not follow that line.
The object of these radio programmes is not to preserve a separate ghetto mentality but to communicate information which will aid the process of integration and to preserve those cultural aspects of Bangladeshi or Pakistani life to enrich our community. This is one aspect of the much wider problem of the integration of minority communities. We have not spent much time on that subject during the past few months and I urge that we do so before the House rises for the recess.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
Before the House rises for the Summer Recess it is essential for me to raise two matters which affect the peace and the wellbeing of Northern Ireland.
2097 I wish first to express my heartfelt sympathy with those who have been bereaved as a result of terrorist activity in the early hours of this morning which I wholeheartedly condemn. During six years of violence in Northern Ireland many people have died and many have suffered the anguish of losing loved ones.
Expressions of grief are not of much comfort to the bereaved if that is all that is done. I understand that a Loyalist paramilitary organisation has claimed responsibility for the killings today. If that be so—and only time will tell—there is a duty on all politicians in Northern Ireland to state emphatically that there should be a break of any link, direct or indirect, formal or informal, with any paramilitary organisation in the Province. I used those words about two months ago in the Convention in appealing to political parties to break any links they had with paramilitary organisations. I repeat them in the light of this morning's atrocity.
As elected representatives of the people, while pressing the Government to take effective steps to defeat terrorism, it is our duty to do all in our power to heal the wounds which weaken our Province. What affects one section of the community affects all sections. The sooner that is realised the sooner will Northern Ireland return to normality, peace and prosperity.
Today in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe the Russian leader, Mr. Brezhnev, stated that the reduction of arms and forces in Central Europe was the priority goal of his foreign policy. That is his contribution to détente, as well as to the dismantlement of NATO, which he wants. No one wishes to denounce détente, and we all hope that it will progress, but we should be foolish if we were not alive to the danger of a policy which can lull people into a false sense of national safety.
The United Kingdom is an example of that, and I mention it in the hope that something will be said by the Prime Minister to the Russian leaders at Helsinki. Overtures are made by Communist countries such as Russia and, while many people in this country are breathing sighs of relief that all is becoming peaceful on the Continent, Communist Governments are interested in 2098 exploiting the situation in Northern Ireland, to their advantage either immediately or in the long run.
An attempt was made to get arms, allegedly from Czechoslovakia, into the hands of the Provisional IRA, but clearly the authority and the direction to send arms to the IRA terrorists come from the Russian Government. The Prime Minister should mention this and demand from Russian leaders an assurance that no more arms will be sent to the IRA. I fear that Communists have infiltrated nearly every paramilitary organisation in the Province.
The prospect is frightening. While we place so much faith in NATO, the day may come when the threat—to NATO countries, particularly to the United Kingdom, and also to the Irish Republic which is not in NATO—from Communists in Northern Ireland may materialise in open or covert manipulation of terrorists.
In six years of violence in Northern Ireland, 1,200 people have died. Each week more are dying violent deaths. We are told that a cease-fire is in operation in Northern Ireland, and that tends to give people in the rest of the United Kingdom a false impression. No one in Great Britain would tolerate the obscene killings which are inflicted on the long-suffering people of the Province for five years, for five months or even for five weeks.
The other matter to which I wish to refer is agriculture. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will in a later debate be talking about the green pound and the price differential between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, so I can deal with the matter briefly.
There is great concern among the farmers of North Down and throughout Northern Ireland that the meat farmers are not being given a fair price for their cattle and that the meat plants in Northern Ireland are making a mint of money. The farmers are getting something like 3p per pound less than at Smithfield. The farmers cannot afford to keep cattle until the beginning of next year. With the dry weather and the poor hay harvest, farmers are anxious to sell their cattle now. The meat plants have too many cattle. The announcement by the 2099 Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food after the Common Market—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to relate his argument to the length of the Adjournment and the date of the Adjournment.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I am grateful, as always, for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I raise this matter briefly because it is of grave urgency. We must have an answer from the Government before the House rises because it may be too late when the House meets again on 13th October.
Cattle are being brought from Eire into Northern Ireland for slaughter, to draw the slaughter premium, and they are then taken back into the Irish Republic. That is not the end of the saga of deceit, because animals are then exported to Great Britain where they draw another slaughter premium.
The final matter which I wish to raise with the Leader of the House concerns milk. The 2p per gallon announced by the Minister is insufficient to maintain milk production in the Province. It is possible that in the long run the United Kingdom will have to import milk. To encourage producers to stay in business and to expand, there should be an increase of 10p per gallon. For these reasons I urge the Leader of the House to take effective action for the farmers.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett)
Before the House rises for the recess, the Government should make a statement about British membership of the Central Rhine Commission. I hope that that statement will be to the effect that membership is to be ended.
I notice looks of puzzlement on the faces of hon. Members. I am not surprised, because I have found that hardly anyone knows that this country has appointed commissioners to that body since 1920, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and that twice a year our two commissioners attend meetings of the commission in Strasbourg. One of the things that we do not know is the timing of the meetings. I am taking the opportunity of raising the matter because I feel very strongly that it involves a waste of national resources, and that if there is to be a meeting of the commission during 2100 the recess, now is an opportune moment to raise the matter.
The commissioners are appointed for an indefinite term. There are no criteria for their selection. They discuss matters —and may well be discussing them during the coming recess, which would be undesirable—which are of only remote importance to this country. For example, in a recent Written Answer I was told that among the matters that they discuss are complaints arising from the application of the revised Convention for Rhine Navigation, which was signed at Mannheim in 1868, as amended in 1963, and the water level of the river. I was told that this is of benefit to British interests, although these are at present relatively small, but growing.
I have put further Questions to ascertain the extent of British interests. I also wonder how much they are likely to grow during the recess. I asked yesterday how many British barges had navigated the Rhine in the past 12 months and was told that none had done so. If British interests are as small as that after 55 years of assiduous membership of the Commission, how many more years will it be before they are of sufficient significance to justify all the expenditure during the first 55 years? That is relevant to the question how much they will grow during the recess.
I am told, again in a parliamentary answer, that the estimated cost of our membership in the current financial year is £26,705, 88 per cent. of which is for the salaries of three international civil servants and 14 locally recruited staff. I presume that they are staff recruited in Strasbourg, where the headquarters of the commission are situated.
I have also been told that we should continue our membership because within 10 years the River Rhine will be linked with the Danube. When I tried to find out the advantages of that, I was told that there would be new opportunities for trading, but that the advantages would depend on new conditions, which would be a matter for negotiation. I find that unacceptable. I do not think that the House can rise for the recess until we have had an explanation in greater depth.
That answer seems to me to weaken rather than strengthen the case for continued membership. On the basis of that 2101 thinking, there seems to be a stronger case for appointing German or French members to the Thames Water Authority or the Port of London Authority, because, in the present state of our economy, the indications appear to be that the growth of the flow of their goods on to the Thames and into London will be greater over the period in question than the growth of the flow of British goods on to the Rhine.
When the answers to the questions to which I have referred are put together in sequence they read rather like the story line of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. That is perhaps not inappropriate in this centenary year of the first great Gilbert and Sullivan success. Our membership of the commission is a nonsense. It is not related to the requirements of this country, and the expenditure of national resources on it is not justified. It is unnecessary expenditure, because it brings no advantage to this country that we should not gain anyway if we were not members. The House cannot adjourn until the Government announce the end of this expensive and profitless exercise.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I apologise to the Leader of the House if I am unable to be here for his reply, but I hope to meet some constituents tonight. However, I hope to be able to complete my engagements in the House and with my constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) spoke about unemployment. I should like to speak briefly about unemployment, inflation and the national situation. The House should not adjourn until we have had a further statement from the Government of their intention to try to control those matters.
You have chastised one or two hon. Members during the past few minutes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for raising issues that you consider might be more suitable for an Adjournment debate. Therefore, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I stick to one theme, which I believe to be crucial—nothing less than the survival of democracy in this country. The path on which the country is treading is very dangerous.
The time is approaching when the Government will need more than passive assistance from more Members than 2102 merely most of those who support them. They are not likely to obtain that necessary assistance until they are prepared to put the interests of the nation above the interests of the Labour Party and its manifesto at the last election. If the Government want to obtain from the Opposition the assistance that they say they need, which should start this week if possible, it is unreasonable of them not to recognise that they must consider dropping some of their proposals, which the Leader of the House has told us again this afternoon he is determined to ram down our throats before the Session is finished.
On the same subject, I want to put a point to the Leader of the House—again, I hope, in not to contentious a manner. We had from the Secretary of State for Industry this afternoon a statement on yet another situation in which the hopes of members of the public, working people, were raised by the statements and actions of the Government—not just the present Government, but successive Governments; and I accept the point made by the Secretary of State. Those people have been let down today with a monumental bump.
Millions of people now believe that the Government have introduced an effective counter-inflation policy. Again, there is a danger that in a few months' time the harsh realities of our situation will cause further massive disappointment and disillusionment among the people. It is essential that before the House rises for the Summer Recess the Government undertake a soul-searching exercise and face themselves and the people with the truth about our economic situation. We heard about NVT, today and yesterday we heard about Court Line. We have had discussions about unemployment. Yet this afternoon, in all the discussions about NVT and the Japanese motor cycle industry, I heard no hon. Member make the simple proposition that unless the people are prepared—if I may use a phrase used by a member of the Royal Family—to pull their collective finger out, the nation faces a desperate future.
Work is a four-letter word which seems to be used infrequently in examining our national problems. Unless the Government change their present complacent attitude towards inflation and unemployment, massive disillusionment will set in. The nation will be destroyed. Before we 2103 rise for the recess the Government must seriously consider taking practical steps to cut their tendentious programme. They must cut out the continuing attempts to fool themselves, the House and the public and instead get to grips with the task of providing the nation with a genuine programme of national recovery.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) except to say that I agree with him that work is an important four-letter word. The trouble is that many of my constituents canot find enough of it. In view of the serious unemployment problems currently affecting my constituents, I want to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend and the Government Front Bench generally the situation which is now facing the British car industry, upon which we ought to have a detailed and definitive statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade before the House rises for the recess.
In reply to a Parliamentary Question at the beginning of this week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade advised British people to buy British cars. He said that he was conscious of the fact that decisions to buy British cars were based upon thousands of individual and personal factors. The trouble is that those thousands of individual and personal factors and the decisions flowing from them have led to a situation when two out of every three private motorists are buying foreign cars. I leave to one side the fleet purchaser and the company car purchasers.
Because this is such a serious situation for the British car industry we ought to have a detailed statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or, if it will help—because I recognise the pressure on ministerial time—from the Secretary of State for Industry on the situation now confronting the British car industry.
At the beginning of the year many of us thought that the situation for our car manufacturers would improve. We thought that because we believed that there was not the non-availability problem from which manufacturers 2104 had suffered last year. We thought that, because most models produced in this country were at last available, British purchasers would have a genuine choice between buying British and buying foreign and would buy British. The supply situation in this country was much more adequate than it had previously been. Many of us also thought that since the Government were injecting large sums of fixed and working capital into British Leyland—our only domestically owned manufacturer—the situation could be expected to improve.
Despite the optimism of those of us representing car manufacturing constituencies, I have to say that the half-yearly figures recently released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders give us cause for a great deal of concern. We see that for the first six months of the year imports of foreign-produced cars have risen by 50 per cent. while exports of British-produced cars have risen by only 19 per cent. If we take the 12-monthly figures from June to June we find that imports have risen 19.4 per cent. this year compared with last year's figure whereas exports over the same period have dropped 22 per cent. Japanese imports are up this year by 80 per cent. I wonder whether, since Datsun has said that it did not foresee any growth of sales to this country, because it has already sold in the first six months of this year as many cars as it sold in the whole of last year, it will be sending no more cars to this country.
If the sales curve of Datsun, Toyota, Fiat and some of the other foreign manufacturers continues at the same level during the recess—and this is why I believe we ought to have a statement before the recess—we could reach a situation before the Houses reassembles for the overspill period, as it is fashionable to call it—when foreign manufacturers will be supplying between 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. of our domestic market. I am told that when the new "P" registration letter begins tomorrow there is every possibility, as a result of delayed purchases and so on, that foreign producers could show an import penetration into the domestic car market of about 40 per cent. Within that 40 per cent. it could be that Japanese producers have captured about 20 per cent. The position has certainly deteriorated since the 2105 beginning of the year and will almost certainly deteriorate further before the House reassembles.
It is not just the import situation which is affected. There is also the future of the Government's holdings in and policies for British Leyland. I say this meaning no personal reflection upon my right hon. Friends, but since we debated the injection of public money into British Leyland there seems to have been some kind of assumption that because we have made this declaration that we shall put public money into British Leyland, the situation will be OK.
I do not accept that, just because we have committed ourselves until 1982 to spend £3,000 million to provide fixed and working capital for British Leyland, the situation will be OK. We must have a statement enunciating Government policy. The situation has changed dramatically since the beginning of the year. All of the rosy conventional wisdom we heard about the future of the car industry then is now giving way to serious concern. If we are to believe reports by such people as Terry Dodsworth in The Financial Times—and I have every reason to suspect that his sources are accurate—we may reach the position in August when registrations will show that importers have captured 40 per cent. of the British domestic car market. I hope that my right hon. Friend will convey to the Ministers responsible my concern about this matter. We want to know what the Government intend to do in the light of changed trading circumstances.
The country, the House and those representing car manufacturing constituencies want to know what the Government intend to do bearing in mind the optimistic market predictions which have been made for British Leyland. Are we to assume that British Leyland will recover all its market? I would hate to find ourselves in two or three years' time facing a market collapse for British cars of the kind that we have been discussing in connection with NVT motor cycles in North America.
I recognise that one of the great difficulties which confronted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry was the near collapse—at least on a short-term basis—of the North American 2106 market for NVT motor cycles. I hope that a similar situation will not confront the smaller end of the range of British car manufacturers.
My constituents are very concerned about the present position. That concern is shared by those who represent car manufacturing constituencies. This is not a situation that will wait. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will convey to the Secretary of State for Trade and the Secretary of State for Industry that we should have a definitive, detailed statement of exactly what the Government intend to do in the light of the changed circumstances which I have enumerated. We want to know what the Government intend to do before we rise for the recess.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) are not in the Chamber as I want to back up what they said about the gross overloading of the programme of the House in recent months. It has been a scandalous overloading of our programme.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central said that he is unable to say who is to blame. I believe that it is perfectly clear who is to blame—the Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has allowed so much legislation to come forward that the House has been unable to debate matters of great importance to the country that it should have debated. One such matter which we customarily debate in Government time before the House rises for the Summer Recess is foreign affairs. We have not had a foreign affairs debate since March, and that debate was devoted mostly to a discussion on the Common Market negotiations. Therefore, other parts of the world received very little attention.
It is not as if there is any shortage of important matters on the international scene for us to debate. The problem of Cyprus, for example, is of very great interest to this country. There are also the problems of Rhodesia and Southern Africa. The situation in Portugal, even closer to home, is of equal importance. If the Helsinki Conference means as much as the Prime Minister claims, we 2107 should be debating it next week instead of some of the Government's legislation. We have a crumbling situation on the whole of the southern flank of NATO. None of these matters have we had a chance to debate in a serious manner since March. Indeed, for the reason I have mentioned we have, in practice, had no opportunity to have such a debate during the whole of 1975.
The reason for this situation is that the Government, and notably the Leader of the House, have overloaded their programme. They give the impression that while they are prepared to take time to put through the legislation which they believe to be important—for example, the reorganisation of our domestic economy—they think that they can opt out of the world. That is a serious and dangerous error to make. I trust that the Lord President will be able to give the House an assurance that the lack of a foreign affairs debate this summer is to be no precedent for future years.
There is one particular matter on the foreign affairs front which I hope is cleared up before the House rises for the recess. Last Monday the Minister of State for Foreign and Comonwealth Affairs answered a Private Notice Question and gave the impression that he was in a state of considerable confusion about the situation of British subjects and British property in Angola. The right hon. Gentleman was unable to give the value of British property in Angola and was unable to say what country had assumed responsibility for our interests in that country. He promised a statement to the House before we rise—at least I hope he meant before the House rises.
By now the right hon. Gentleman should be able to say what country has assumed responsibility for the protection of British interests. I hope that when he speaks to the House he will be able to reassure us that the protection of British affairs and British persons' property overseas is in better hands than the impression he gave when he answered the Private Notice Question on Monday. It is possible that in the next two and a half months events will occur in other parts of the world endangering the safety of British subjects and British property.
2108 The second subject I wish to mention concerns the problems of the glasshouse sector of the horticulture industry. It is important that before the House rises we should have a statement from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about his policy towards the glasshouse sector. The glasshouse growers are seriously affected by the increase in the price of oil since 1973. I believe that they are more affected than any other industry although I realise that the fishing industry is seriously affected too.
§ Mr. Blaker
The glasshouse sector is worried about the future. It wants an assurance that it will be given conditions in which it can fairly compete with its opposite numbers in other Comon Market countries. So far it has not received that assurance. That is not because obstacles are being put in the way of the Government by the Community. Indeed, the Community has made it clear that it would like to see the British Government help the glasshouse growers as regards the price of oil. This could be done without any extra demands on public funds—namely, by reducing the subsidies on food and providing the modest sum that is necessary to give the glasshouse growers the assurance that their future is safe.
It is known that the Belgian Government are giving a subsidy to their growers. A recent answer from the Department discloses that the Dutch are supplying natural gas to their growers at a price substantially below that which is charged to industrial users. So it appears that there is a form of subsidy in Holland.
The glasshouse growers in this country want an assurance that, given the help that is being provided for their competitors in other Common Market countries the Government will put them in a position in which they can compete. They are not asking for a privileged position. What they want is fair competition. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will come to the House next week to make a statement that he accepts that proposition.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I rise to add my voice to the concern which has 2109 been expressed by other Northern Ireland Members about the proposed Adjournment and about what is liable to happen in the two months that the House is in recess. There is every possibility, although one hopes it will not be so, of a deteriorating political situation.
This afternoon many Northern Ireland Members, like myself, have been very anxious and concerned about the events which took place yesterday and in the early hours of this morning. I have been watching the tape and awaiting further developments. Many hon. Members appear to be more concerned with the cricket score.
Those Members of the House who will be most affected by the Adjournment will be the Members with Northern Irish constituencies. Throughout these days we shall be concerned about the safety of the lives and limbs of our constituents. I hope that any developments will be treated urgently by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There have been occasions in the past five or six years when it has been necessary to recall the House because of happenings in Northern Ireland. I hope that that will not be necessary on this occasion, but I urge the Secretary of State and those who support him in the Northern Ireland Office not to forget during the two months' recess that Northern Ireland is still in a fluid situation. I hope he will make whatever arrangements he can to ensure that at all times while the House is in recess there will be a Minister in Northern Ireland. It is essential that the lines of communication must be kept open.
I can assure the House, on behalf of colleagues and, indeed, political opponents, that Northern Ireland Members will not look forward to taking their holidays during the Summer Recess. The full responsibility for representing constituencies in Northern Ireland will devolve upon those of us who are Members of this House. We shall carry that responsibility throughout this perilous period.
In the past few days serious atrocities have occurred in Northern Ireland, at the cost of many innocent lives. Members of the RUC, the British Army and innocent citizens have lost their lives during this period. I hope that despite the conflict and tragedy the Secretary of State 2110 will still insist on carrying out his intention of bringing detention in Northern Ireland to an end as soon as possible.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has announced a Christmas deadline, and we hope that during the period of recess there will be further releases from detention in Northern Ireland. Even though horrible crimes have been committed in the past week, I suggest that this should in no way affect the Secretary of State in his objective of bringing detention to an end. In view of the tragedies that have occurred, I hope he will use every endeavour and all available resources to ensure that those responsible for the violence are brought before the courts. He must resist the temptation to resort to the signing of detention orders. In the past detention has proved to be a disaster. Even if we face escalating violence in Northern Ireland, the prospect of detention without trial will be no answer.
During the period of recess my constituents, on top of the violence and tragedy, will face a severe economic problem. We are well aware of the imminent closures in industries large and small in Northern Ireland. By the time the House returns many people will have lost their jobs and will have no prospect of obtaining other jobs in the foreseeable future.
I urge the Secretary of State during the period of recess to keep open his lines of communication to hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. The elected Members for Northern Ireland constituencies are entitled to the same priorities in respect of information as are now being given to members of the Provisional Sinn Fein in the secret talks which are now being held. In the final analysis it will be for the politically-elected representatives of Northern Ireland to use all their endeavours to bring back some hope of political stability and security in Northern Ireland. I urge the Secretary of State to listen to representations made by those elected Members and at all time to keep a close eye on developments in the situation, which we all hope will remain static until the House reassembles after the recess.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dunfries)
There are a thousand and one reasons why we 2111 should not adjourn for the Summer Recess, but in the few moments at my disposal I shall mention only two.
I should like to have debated the monumental mismanagement of business in the House this Session when the Government have pushed through far too much legislation—and it is legislation which is quite remote from our economic problems. I should not like the House to adjourn without asking for a further statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Employment on the serious unemployment situation. Every constituency can tell a tale in this respect. This certainly applies to Dumfries, where the unemployment figure in the last year is up by 500. That is an increase of 40 per cent. under a Labour Government in one year. It is unacceptable and it is important in regard to future confidence that the Secretary of State should take further steps. He should make a further statement in the House before we rise. He should do more to give encouragement to school leavers in the problems which face them.
When the Secretary of State announced that the unemployment figures had topped the million mark, there were few Members in the House who thought that his proposals went anything like far enough in present circumstances. I appreciate that an upturn in the general economy is probably the only hope. However, it will arrive only if there is a much firmer confidence in the future for industry. The Secretary of State has not given that confidence. It is only by announcing further steps that we shall achieve expansion and an increase in production which will bring down the unemployment rate. I hope that the Lord President will give the Secretary of State for Employment the message that we are deeply concerned with these matters.
The second point is to emphasise that the important debate which we held last week did not produce the results which the agriculture industry required from the Government Front Bench. Many views were put by hon. Members on both sides of the House and many were unanswered. When back benchers put points to Ministers in important debates, they should expect those points to be dealt with in Minister's replies to debates or at least in writing. I refer, for example, to the 2112 important issues of hill farming and to the sheep and lamb trade and the situation regarding slaughterhouses and France. Those matters should have been taken up much more energetically than has been the case during the past year.
People in agriculture are far from satisfied with the present position of livestock or of dairy farming areas. Therefore, before we adjourn, the Minister should make a further statement about how he sees the situation in the industry in the coming year. His White Paper has stated the position as he sees it but has given no financial encouragement to farmers, and there is a lack of confidence for the future. These are two points of grave concern which should be dealt with before we rise.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I very much hope that the Leader of the House will call the attention of his right hon Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the remarks which have just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and those made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). There is widespread concern and anxiety in our agriculture and horticulture industries. On the Opposition side we very much fear that the Government, in their short-term anxieties, will neglect the long-term importance of sustaining home food production and thus cutting down a wasteful and expensive import bill.
I am somewhat surprised that, after all the careful research done by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) into this country's continued membership of the Rhine Commission, and the importance of settling this matter before the recess, he is not in this place to hear what will no doubt be the very interesting, long and considered answer which the Leader of the House will be ready to extend to him. The hon. Member's conclusions that this country should forthwith leave the Rhine Commission are not one which I would support, but he is not the only one to engage in long and detailed study and then to reach the wrong conclusion. I now welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his place.
§ Mr. David Watkins
I apologise for my late arrival, and I am extremely sorry that I missed part of the right hon. 2113 Gentleman's speech, which I am sure was up to his usual standard.
§ Mr. Peyton
I am grateful for a splendid example of good manners and courtesy—not emulated by everybody else who has taken part in the debate—and I now gladly acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's presence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), who has already taken his place—a very distinguished thing to have done in this debate—raised three important points. First, he called attention to the report, which has been gathering dust too long in the archives of the Procedure Committee, about European secondary legislation. My hon. Friend, if I may say so, produced an excellent pattern for a speech in this Summer Adjournment debate by raising very shortly three points which ought to be settled. I hope that the Leader of the House will give his very serious attention to this matter, which is yet another of the disagreeable facets of parliamentary business at the moment and one which must be dealt with.
A second interesting point raised by my hon. Friend concerned Written Answers and the growing practice of Ministers to answer a Written Question with the words "I shall write to the hon. Member". The intelligence of most Members of the House of Commons extends to the point that if they want an answer from a Minister they know that they can write to him, and usually, granted average civility and efficiency on the part of the Minister—one ought not to take these things for granted, I know—they can count upon getting a reply. I hope that the Leader of the House will use his not inconsiderable influence with his colleagues to check this rather scruffy and shabby habit to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), who is very much a bird of passage when it comes to debates of this kind—he comes in, makes his speech and goes away—asked about the motor car industry, which concerns all of us very much. He seemed to be asking what the Government will do to protect that industry from competition. The rough, cruel question that we all have to ask in this country, when we live by overseas trade, is how we are going to 2114 win. It is no good whining when we are worsted and asking that we should be protected by artificial means. If we pursue that course we shall soon find an increasing number of markets closed against us, and the woes of people like the hon. Member for Nuneaton will only be multiplied.
It will not have escaped the notice of the Leader of the House that two main points were raised in the debate. The first concerned Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) gave the House a poignant reminder of the situation in Northern Ireland when he said that though other hon. Members had raised matters which concerned the comfort of their constituents, he was concerned with the continued prospect of life of his constituents.
The effect of the hon. Member's speech was, very properly and rightly, to draw attention to the way in which we seem increasingly in this country to pay little attention to those matters which do not immediately affect us. I should only like to say, on behalf of those who sit on the Opposition side, that we share the misapprehensions, miseries and agonies of the hon. Member's constituents and hope that somehow common sense, decency and mercy will reassert themselves against the bullies, thugs and murderers who habitually use force and show nothing but contempt for those who use civilised argument.
I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to give to the hon. Member for Antrim, South—and also to the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)—some assurance that during the coming recess their problems will at least be in the mind of the Government.
The other subject of considerable importance raised in the debate was the overloading of the House of Commons. On certainly no less than 13 occasions in recent months—I have had some researches done lately—this has been a source of complaint on the Floor of the House. On many occasions it has been the source of complaint and high discontent in Standing Committees, the business of which has been grossly frustrated by the ineptitude with which business has been handled and by the lack of papers, without which it is virtually 2115 impossible to transact the business of a debating establishment.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) very rightly chose as an example a matter of which he had personal and painful experience. He referred to the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill—a messy measure, messily handled, but by no means the only measure deserving that sort of description. I ask the Leader of the House to give careful attention in future not just to the volume of legislation—which comes to us, as it were, by means of a tap that has got out of control—but also to the quality of the legislation.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the Renton Report and of his own undertaking, given in May, that we would have a debate on this subject. I hope we shall get back to it, because it is a very important subject. Increasingly the judiciary, the legal profession as a whole and the accountants—the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland drew attention to this—are facing an impossible task of attempting to assimilate and understand the meaning of legislation.
I can recall myself on a number of occasions standing at this Dispatch Box and reading at random little quotations from a Bill which was under consideration and asking the Minister handling the Bill whether he was capable of explaining what the words meant. Of course no Minister can stand that kind of challenge, because he is likely not to be a genius and is also likely to be virtually certain that the material is beyond comprehension.
We have been passing through this House legislation which does violence to the English language and which quarrels again and again with common sense as well as with justice—
§ Mr. Peyton
The hon. Gentleman's interventions from a sitting position do him full justice, but I think he would do well to refrain from making them.
One of the constant choruses sung here is the denunciation of management. We have had some of it this afternoon. The motor-cycle industry especially has been under the lash. But I wonder whether 'we cannot ask Ministers to exercise just 2116 this degree of imagination. When they put on paper their legislative wishes—no one can describe them as anything more precise than that—could they give just one or two minutes of thought and contemplation to the burden which they place upon those engaged in management who, at the same time as they are trying to run their businesses, have to understand these random hurdles and obstacles which what is described as government is putting in their way? I endorse wholeheartedly everything said by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.
Having said that, I pass to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). First, perhaps I might get one little matter out of the way. He suggested that the present Government were certain of survival because there was no serious competition from the Opposition. I realise entirely why the hon. Gentleman felt constrained to put that in: otherwise he would not get any prospect of saving himself from the embarrassment of my approval and endorsement. But so broadminded am I that a little thing like that will not stop me.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central said that he could not remember a bigger shambles in July in 25 years. I have been here only 24 years—sometimes I think that that is quite enough—but I, too, cannot remember a bigger shambles in July. The advice—
§ Mr. Peyton
I was just savouring the common sense and trenchancy of the hon. Gentleman's advice. He went on to say that the Government should not be overambitious in their legislative programme. Then he made the most astonishing rediscovery of recent parliamentary history. He announced that this was a debating Chamber and that it should be so employed. What a splendid idea! I do not think there is anyone among my right hon. and hon. Friends who will not endorse absolutely the idea that, at a time when the country faces dangers and perils which it most imperfectly understands, the House of Commons is denied the opportunity of performing what is perhaps its most important function, that of public discussion of these problems, dangers and perils. I hope very much that the Leader of the House listened 2117 with careful attention to the advice given to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central.
Tomorrow's Order Paper will carry an Early-Day Motion in the name of a number of Privy Councillors. It begins with the words:That this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government should so use its majority as to treat Parliament as no more than a servile instrument of the Executive.…It goes on to detail the counts of a fairly fierce indictment.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I said to him on the business statement earlier, that in his role as Leader of the House he stands between the ambitions of his colleagues and the House of Commons. In my view he has to put up a very much tougher defence against the intrusions and encroachments of the former. These men are greedy and ambitious. They are ruthless in their desire to put through divisive policies regardless of their expense. The right hon. Gentleman must use every atom of influence that he can command to save Parliament and the parliamentary institution from being literally suffocated by these people.
The complaint which we are making was not merely brought by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, representing the Liberal Party, and the hon. Member for Fife, Central, representing the Labour Party. It was referred to also by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries
If the Leader of the House were to conduct a careful, detailed personal inquiry throughout the ranks of the House of Commons, he would find a concern—even a disgust—which was unanimous and very deep about the way in which the House of Commons has been confounded by an excess and superfluity of ill-digested, ill-conceived and ill-thought-out legislation, the volume of which is large enough to match the evil of its quality.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short
I shall not attempt to reply to the ridiculous comments of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. 2118 Peyton)—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) has been absent for most of the debate, so please let us have no comments by him from a sedentary position.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) both referred to the business of the House. We heard a great deal about what was described as "a shambles". The plain truth is that the right hon. Gentleman has moved so far to the Right that he has become almost unrecognisable these days. The whole truth is that the right hon. Gentleman does not like the Labour Government's legislation.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil talked about the volume of legislation. Anyone would think that the Government had hogged all the parliamentary time this Session. Let me give him the facts. There have been 175 days in this Session. Of that total, 59 have been devoted to Government legislation. Exactly the same amount of time—59 days—has been devoted to Supply, which is entirely in the hands of the Opposition, and to back benchers' time. Exactly the same time as we have devoted to Government legislation has been given to the Opposition and to back benchers. I should have thought that that was generous and fair. In addition, there have been back-bench motions.
The hon. Member for Blackpool, South spoke about foreign affairs debates. How many foreign affairs debates have the Opposition had? There have been 29 whole parliamentary days for general debate in the hands of the Opposition, but as far as I can recollect not one has been devoted to foreign affairs.
§ Mr. Blaker
The right hon. Gentleman's recollection is very poor. Either this month or last month we had a debate on the security conference.
§ Mr. Short
Yes, but the hon. Gentleman is asking for a general debate on foreign affairs. The Government gave time, but the Opposition have not devoted any of the time they had available to foreign affairs. Let us have less humbug about this.
We have heard a great deal about Committee sittings. I shall compare 1972-73 with 1974-75, and to be fair I 2119 shall do so to 1st July of both years. In 1972-73 there were 271 sittings of Standing Committees. In 1974-75 there were 265 sittings of Standing Committees. Therefore, the number of sittings this year is less than when the Conservatives were in office. Let us have less nonsense and less humbug.
We are debating now a motion to enable hon. Members to go on two and a half months' holiday, and yet there has been talk about being overworked. I have never heard such nonsense in the whole of my life. What would the public say about this?
§ Mr. Peyton
As far as I recollect, the word "overworked" has never been used. What I and other hon. Members, on both sides of the House, have been complaining about is the congestion caused by the legislation and its very poor quality.
§ Mr. Lee
Although I dismiss contemptuously the nonsense that is coming from the Opposition because they do not like our legislation, I wonder whether the time has not come when we should have a more reasonable phasing of the sittings of the House. Why is it necessary for the House to sit bewitching hours of the night on so many occasions and then to adjourn for over two months?
§ Mr. Short
That is a very sensible point and exactly the kind of point I hope we shall consider at the beginning of the new Session when we make a radical survey of the way in which we carry out our business.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) raised the personal case of Private Davidson. I have made inquiries about this matter. I have discovered that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army wrote to my hon. Friend on 10th June and explained that the matter was sub judice. I understand that that is still the position, because the coroner's inquest which had stood adjourned pending the outcome of 2120 criminal proceedings has still not been reconvened. I can assure my hon. Friend that when these proceedings are completed the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army will immediately write to him.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
There are two different issues, the criminal and the medical. Will my right hon. Friend make inquiries about why the Minister has not kept me in touch? Can he also explain why a cheque for £138 has been sent to Mr. Davidson? What was it for? I do not know. Has any progress been made on the question of alleged medical negligence which led to the boy's death?
§ Mr. Short
I cannot answer the second point raised by my hon. Friend. However, on the first matter I have asked specifically that my hon. Friend be informed about it.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) raised again the tragic question of Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement today on the latest appalling incident. The hon. Member for Antrim, South raised again the allegation about a commitment by the British Government concerning the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
With respect, I suggest that the Leader of the House may be confusing my remarks with some other contribution. To the best of my recollection I did not make such a statement.
§ Mr. Short
I understood that that was what the hon. Member for Antrim, South was saying. Perhaps he should read the beginning of his speech. However, if he did not say that, of course I apologise. I must make it absolutely plain that the Secretary of State has made it clear to Parliament on a number of occasions that his commitment is to the people of Northern Ireland. There has been no deal whatever with the Provisional IRA. The Government have repeatedly explained that Provisional Sinn Fein is free to pursue its political aims by peaceful and legitimate means.
The cease-fire in Northern Ireland continues despite sporadic incidents of Provisional IRA violence. Overall, so far this year there has been a substantial 2121 reduction in the violence attributable to the PIRA. However, it has not ceased completely. Particularly in South Armagh shooting and booby traps have continued, though less frequently and less successfully.
Despite the reduction in PIRA activity the violence has continued, but its nature has changed. Although there have been relatively few attacks on the security forces compared with recent years, sectarian and inter-factional murders have continued and at times increased. These have illustrated the great difficulties in eliminating violence altogether when it has become endemic among a population polarised by deep and conflicting loyalties and aspirations.
The level of violence and the policy of detention are related. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West raised the question of detention. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in reply to a Question on 24th July, said:Policy on detention will continue to be related to the level and nature of violence prevailing "—[Official Report, 24th July 1975; Vol. 896, c. 760.]He also said that although he could not commit himself to a specific date, he hoped that the situation would progress sufficiently to enable all the detainees to be out by Christmas. He went on to say that under the terms of the law he has to make a judgment on each individual case in the light of the right of the community to be protected as well as the need to consider the right of the individual to his freedom.
Since 22nd December 1974 the Secretary of State has released 305 detainees. During this period the commissioners and the appeal tribunal have released another 25, making 330 in all. There are now 246 detainees left. I repeat, especially in view of the specific question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West, that the policy will relate to and continue to he determined by the level and the nature of violence.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised again the question of devolution. Obviously I cannot say how long a Bill on devolution will take in terms of time on the Floor of the House. The Bill has not yet been published and, indeed, has not yet been drafted. It is quite impossible for me to 2122 say. It is correct that the Bill will be a constitutional Bill and that at any rate the greater part of it will be taken on the Floor of the House. Of course my hon. Friend has changed his views about devolution considerably, because he will recollect that only nine months ago he and I stood on the same platform in West Lothian advocating to a very enthusiastic audience the sensible devolution of Scotland. Therefore, he has changed his view on this matter. The White Paper will be published in about the second week of October and it will deal in great detail with the EEC matters that my hon. Friend raised. I agree that this is an important matter.
The Commission cannot be responsible for every comment by every official. The report which appeared in the Scotsman on 28th July is certainly not the considered view of the Commission. The Commission would undoubtedly say that it has no role whatever in advising member States on their national representation, but I give the undertaking that the White Paper will deal fully and in detail with this rather difficult question.
§ Mr. Powell
Did the right hon. Gentleman say that the Commission could not be held responsible for the public comments of its servants?
§ Mr. Short
I understand from the hurried inquiries I have made that this was likely to have been said by a very junior member of the commission. Technically I suppose that the commission can be held responsible, but it cannot impose censorship on every word uttered by every junior official to every reporter who talks to him.
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) called attention to unemployment, particularly in his constituency. I share his concern. As I pointed out recently, two factors are responsible. One is world recession and the other is the level of inflation in this country, and there is the uncertainty which flows from them. The best way of combating unemployment is to combat inflation. If we achieve the objectives in our anti-inflation policy and if the upturn in world trade which we expect next year takes place, we can look forward to a deceleration in the rise in unemployment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making a statement next week during the Report stage 2123 of the Employment Protection Bill on the temporary employment subsidy and will give details of how it will work. I hope that that will be of assistance to the hon. Gentleman and others. In the autumn, if necessary, my right hon. Friend will be announcing more comprehensive measures to assist in the fight against unemployment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman), who referred to the very human problem of people who live around Spaghetti Junction, raised the matter of compensation for the loss of value to house owners in his and other constituencies as a result of planning developments. Assessing compensation payable in any particular case is a complex process dependent on the rules embodied in the Land Compensation Acts of 1961 and 1973. I cannot comment on the particular claims mentioned by my hon. Friend. However, I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to what he said. All decisions about compensation under the Acts are subject to appeal to the Lands Tribunal, which is an independent body.
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) asked about a debate on the Select Committee on Procedure regarding European matters. Certainly there will be a debate, but not before the recess. I have already given an undertaking that there will be a debate in the spill-over Session.
I agree entirely about the development that has taken place regarding Written Answers. I shall try to ensure that that process is stopped. This wholly unwelcome development has been building up for some years. It is not new.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) raised the interesting question of the integration of immigrant groups into the community. He referred to programmes in their own languages on the BBC. I am sure that the BBC will take careful note of what he said. Indeed, I shall call its attention to my hon. Friend's comments. However, it is for the BBC, on the advice of its Asian Programmes Advisory Committee, to determine the priority to be accorded to programmes for immigrant communities bearing in mind available resources and broadcasting time.
2124 The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) made a number of points about Northern Ireland to which I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have already replied to two of those points.
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members raised the question of farming. On 24th July my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced a further reduction in the green pound. I referred to that matter on Tuesday. I know that many producers hoped for a larger reduction. Nevertheless, this was the third readjustment in less than a year. It means increased returns to producers estimated at about £100 million in a full year. That is a great amount of money. In the current situation, when curbing inflation must be of paramount importance, the Government's decision struck a fair and reasonable balance between the interests of both the producer and the consumer. We should remember that the consumer has an interest as well. The Government will continue to keep sterling's representative rate under review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) raised the enthralling question of the Rhine Commission, about which I learned a good deal a few months ago but had almost completely forgotten it. Perhaps I might enlighten the House on that matter. There are reasons why we feel that the United Kingdom should reserve its membership of the Central Rhine Commission. The Rhine Convention guarantees freedom of navigation and freedom from navigation charges. The reasons for the United Kingdom's involvement are primarily political, but they are also deeply rooted in maritime and trading traditions. The Central Rhine Commission, of which the United Kingdom is a member, is an intergovernmental organisation to ensure that the principles enshrined in the Rhine Convention are applied. My hon. Friend looked forward to the time when the Rhine would be linked with the Danube and, indeed, the Rhone. In looking forward to that time, however, it will be necessary for the countries concerned to work out the trading conditions on the enlarged European waterway network. It is certainly desirable that the United Kingdom should have a voice in the discussions between the Rhine and 2125 Danube Commissions on the lines proposed in a resolution on transport which will be the final resolution at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe which is now taking place in Helsinki. We believe that in view of these developments there are good grounds for Britain retaining its association with that body.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) mentioned his fears and those of other hon. Members about the situation in the car industry. Indeed, the figures for the last six months give some cause for concern. I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade the points made by my hon. Friend, and his specific point about British Leyland I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. I do not think that my hon. Friend would expect me to reply to those points today—indeed, he said that he did not expect me to do so—but I will pass them on.
The hon. Member for Blackpool, South asked about time for a debate on foreign affairs, to which I have already replied. Had the Opposition not frittered away their 29 whole days on trivia, we could have had a debate on foreign affairs. Indeed, it was only constant pressure from myself every Thursday which finally persuaded them to have a debate on agriculture. However, they have not had a debate on foreign affairs as such.
§ Mr. Peyton
The right hon. Gentleman has now described all the subjects chosen by the Opposition for their Supply Days as trivia. Will he particularise? Does he regard the self-employed as trivia? Does he regard the nationalised industries as trivia? Does he regard the teachers, the police and so on as trivia? The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that kind of blanket condemnation. He must be more particular.
§ Mr. Short
If the right hon. Gentleman looks through the list, he will see what I mean. There have been calls for major debates on agriculture and foreign affairs but none has been forthcoming from the Opposition, who have a responsibility in the matter. Parliament has put 29 whole days into their hands, but we have not had a single day devoted to a debate on foreign affairs. Indeed, it was only after great pressure from me that they had a debate on agriculture.
§ Mr. Blaker
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he saying that the Government have no obligation to provide time for a debate on foreign affairs? Are they not interested in the matter?
§ Mr. Short
The Government have given time for a debate on foreign affairs. All I am saying is that the Opposition have not. In our very restricted time we have given a day, but the Opposition, who also have an obligation in the matter, have not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West, to whom I have already referred, asked that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should not during the recess forget the serious situation in that Province. Knowing my right hon. Friend, I can say that there is no fear of that whatsoever. My hon. Friend asked whether at least one Minister would be on duty at all times during the recess. I can assure him that there will always be at least one and that more often than not all the Ministers will be on duty. The whole country will share his hope that this continuing tragedy will be brought to an end.
My hon. Friend also asked about detention in the light of the appalling incident we heard about this morning. I can only repeat what the Secretary of State has said on this matter: that his policy with regard to the ending of detention must be related to the level and nature of violence. I am sure the whole House shares my hon. Friend's hope that stability will return to this unhappy Province. We hope that from the Convention will emerge a viable system of government and that Northern Ireland will leave behind this unhappy chapter in its history and emerge into a chapter of stability and peace.
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household) rose in his place, and claimed to move. That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.2127
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that it is not normal for this debate to be closed until Members have had an opportunity to raise constituency matters such as aircraft noise.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Thursday next do adjourn till Monday 13th October.