§ 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 27th March, do adjourn till Monday 7th April.With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall merely move the motion now and reply later to any points that are made during the debate.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I start by congratulating the Leader of the House on having decided to hold this debate so far in advance of the Easter Recess. I hope that I shall be proved right, but I am basing my congratulations on the belief that the right hon. Gentleman has moved this motion today so that on Thursday when he announces the business of the House for next week he will be in a position to announce business concerned with the contents of this debate and he will be able, therefore, to design next week's business around this debate and on subjects which hon. Members are convinced matter, rather than on subjects which are of less relevance but with which the Government might be concerned.
I propose to deal with eggs and egg production. For much of last year United Kingdom egg producer prices were—as indeed they still are—below production costs. It may be said that the reason for that is over-production, and indeed it would be unrealistic to say otherwise. There is a problem of over-production of eggs.
The situation which faces this country and egg producers reflects the efficiency of the egg-producing industry, and I shall illustrate that. The recently published December agricultural returns showed that the egg laying flock was down by 5 per cent., and yet in January of this year packing station throughput was up by 6 per cent. I think the right hon. Gentleman might agree with me that if productivity had improved in other spheres as much as it has improved in the egg producing industry the country would not be in the mess and muddle in which it finds itself today.
Perhaps more important and relevant to what I am saying is the question of imports, because these are undoubtedly 1172 having an adverse effect on the egg producer. Although imports in January 1975 were down by 40 per cent. compared with 1974 their price this year is 30 per cent. below what it was in 1974. The effect of these imports has been to undermine still further the United Kingdom producers' price.
What, therefore, one has to ask, are the Government doing about the situation? The question can be answered in one word—nothing. And it is nothing in spite of the fact that the Government are not powerless. They have the opportunity to take action under EEC regulations in respect of imports from the EEC.
Producer organisations have passed to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reports and examples of irregularities concerned with EEC egg marketing regulations amongst eggs arriving from other EEC countries. The consequence of the alleged breach of these regulations is that consumers are sometimes intentionally and sometimes unwittingly sold imported eggs which they buy in the belief that they are home-produced eggs.
In addition to irregularities about the labelling of these eggs, there are allegations about stale eggs being brought in from France. There are also allegations about dumping and unfair competition. All these allegations can be dealt with perfectly well under EEC regulations, and yet the Government are taking no action.
One wonders, in passing, to what extent the Ministry of Agriculture has been consulting the Department for Prices and Consumer Protection about this matter, because I cannot believe that the latter Department can be happy about the allegations that are being made about stale eggs.
The situation for egg producers is very serious, and for many producers it will become disastrous, if it has not already done so. Again this emphasises the necessity of the Government's taking action in the very near future.
There are dangers not only for the producer but for the consumer, and these dangers for the future supply of eggs are growing. The Leader of the House may recall that on 6th March there was a mass meeting at Central Hall, Westminster, attended by a large number of small egg producers. On that occasion the 1173 situation was spelled out in considerable detail and although, unfortunately, for reasons best known to themselves, some Labour Members were unprepared to stay and listen to the whole meeting, they must have heard enough to realise the risks that were being taken.
Since that meeting, the producer price has improved. One might conclude that the danger had passed, but I do not think it has. The producer price has improved marginally because the packing station throughput of eggs is down. The reason is simple—that a large number of producers have culled their flocks very heavily. If that trend continued, it could create the likelihood, if not certainty, of a shortage of home-produced eggs and of much higher prices again.
Because of the increased price at the moment, the gap between our prices and prices in France is widening, so the French exporter has greater incentive to export to this country. But it is no use the Government pretending that this is an easy way out and that the import of relatively cheap French eggs will bring the situation under control. It will not. Whatever the difficulties for egg producers in this country, some of those difficulties face French producers. If the Government study egg production trends, not only in France but throughout the Community, in recent years, they will discover that there have been violent fluctuations both in the supply and in the price of eggs. It must be in the interests of producers and consumers in this country and throughout Europe to try to introduce greater stability.
I therefore hope that, when the Leader of the House announces business on Thursday, he will say that within the following few days the Minister of Agriculture will tell us not why he has done nothing so far but what he intends to do so that we may comment on his plans, hopefully to the greater advantage of the egg producer and the egg consumer.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
I should like to ask the Leader of the House one or two questions about the facilities and amenities of the House. It is exceptionally difficult to conduct business properly because of the gross misconduct of a small number of men whose behaviour must be obviated by the 1174 House, and very quickly. None of us has any copies of Hansard to help with Standing Committee work. I have here the only copy in the House, so I understand, of the Official Report of the Standing Committee last week on the Lotteries Bill, which we are to try to debate further tomorrow and Thursday. It will be impossible to conduct those debates properly because many involved points concern what happened last week.
This situation applies to all Standing Committees and arises from the gross dereliction of behaviour by a small number of men. I do not refer to those who are involved in unofficial or strike action in relation to this House. It appears that a few drivers of their own volition refuse to drive the vans of Her Majesty's Stationery Office which bring here the documents and parliamentary papers which we require for our work.
I do not intend to allow the House to be debased in this manner. I give notice that, with a lorry, I shall come in myself with the requisite papers for all my hon. Friends on both sides of the House to enable us to conduct our business. If any of these men who behave in this disgraceful fashion seek to stop me, they will be very surprised at the opposition they get, although I may be a war-disabled 90 per cent. pensioner.
It is a shocking state of affairs that a few of these bombastic bullies can interfere with the processes of work in Parliament and outside and that exactly the same situation should obtain in Glasgow. Apparently, in that city, a number of men can withdraw their labour and place in jeopardy the health of all the people in Glasgow and Scotland. Now this House cannot conduct its business because a few people who show absolutely no concern for others want to stop driving in here.
Taxi drivers have been coming in, but I hear that a number of people are not prepared to deliver the post. I am told that Tom Jackson has made it plain to the Union of Post Office Workers that the matter has nothing to do with them, so I fail to understand why those men do not bring in what they should.
The Government are showing a namby-pamby attitude. They do not stand up for anyone or anything—and nor does this House these days. I am reaching the end of my tether about the way in 1175 which these people are carrying on. If I do not receive a satisfactory statement today that we shall have all the papers we need for all the Standing Committees and so on, we shall see that they are brought in by Members of Parliament. We shall have to go to a great deal of trouble, but I do not intend that the House should be brought into disorder and rendered unable to conduct its business properly by the misbehaviour of a small group who call themselves trade unionists but who abuse the essence of everything that that movement stands for.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I commend what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davis) has said about the serious situation facing the House. There are three other matters which I hope that the Leader of the House can resolve before we agree to the Easter Recess.
The first arises from the announcement by the Secretary of State for Scotland today that he has agreed to troops going into Glasgow to help to clear the rubbish. We in Glasgow have suffered from a series of strikes in the public services by sewerage workers, maintenance electricians, engineers and others. As we speak today, a number of my constituents and others in Glasgow, elderly people at the top of multi-storey blocks of flats, cannot go up or down because the lifts are not working. One lift in a multi-storey block called Waddell Court in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone), where many disabled and elderly people live, has not been working for a week and there is no sign of a settlement.
It is easy to say that labour relations are bad and that something should be done. but we appear to have a special problem in Glasgow and there is a strong case for an inquiry into what is going wrong with its public services. Having spent my life in industrial relations, I appreciate that faults can arise from lack of consultation and communication and that there can also be straight trouble makers, but there is a case, in fairness to the people of Glasgow, for an independent inquiry.
My second question relates to the cost of the Government's nationalisation schemes. I was shocked to hear the Sec- 1176 retary of State for Industry say today that he intended to nationalise not just shipbuilding, ship repairing and the aircraft industry but much more than we had ever thought in our worst moments. He is, for example, to nationalise Scottish Aviation, a very successful and profitable firm, which certainly does not want to be nationalised and which will benefit in no way from it.
It is appalling that the Government appear to have a great deal of money to spend on these unnecessary things, for example, nationalising a successful and profitable firm. I see that the junior Minister responsible for education in Scotland, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), has just entered the Chamber. I am glad about that because I want to put this matter to him also. He is one of those unfortunate people who, probably not because of himself but because of the Government's financial problems, has found—we were all shocked to hear it—that this year in Scotland we shall be able to afford only £39 million for new building starts in education. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, must know what our educational buildings are like in Scotland. There is a need for a new programme. Last year the value of new starts was £69 million.
The reason that has been given is that this drop in expenditure has occurred not because the Secretary of State has found difficulty in arguing the case in the Cabinet but simply because there is not enough money to go around. How can the Under-Secretary remain in his seat and not jump up in a very agitated fashion when he hears the Secretary of State for Industry saying that he will spend untold sums in nationalizing industries—which will not help anyway, as we have seen from those firms which have already been nationalised in the shipbuilding industry.
Before agreeing to the motion we should have a clear statement from the Government as to precisely how much they are to spend on this silly and wasteful scheme of nationalisation, particularly as they have announced their intention to nationalise Scottish Aviation, which will do great harm and in the long run—because of the rationalisation schemes which always come with nationalisation—will put many jobs at risk.
1177 Thirdly, before we agree to the motion 1 hope that the Government will say precisely what attempts are being made to discuss with the EEC the kind of alternative arrangements which might be agreed to by the EEC in the event of Britain deciding to leave the Common Market. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) has spoken of some of the problems of the egg producers. He has said that possibly there would be a way in which the problem which has been created by the importation of French eggs could be resolved satisfactorily through Common Market machinery. He is an expert in this matter. I am not. But all of us—whether we are egg producers, manufacturers of soap powder, farmers or consumers—will have many problems if we stay in the Common Market. Many people are saying "We do not like the Common Market. It will make a lot of trouble for many people. It will undermine living standards and cause much difficulty. But, on the other hand we do not want to be left isolated, abandoned and alone in the world". Many people believe that that is the situation which could arise.
I could give my point of view now, as could my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, but I am afraid that people would not be the wiser because we are not speaking on the basis of full information. I do not know to what arrangement the Common Market countries would agree were we to leave the Common Market. Would they look at associate status? Would they apply, at worst, the common external tariff? What would be the situation of our market for foodstuffs, which the Common Market is desperate to obtain because the Common Market wants to sell lots of food to us because it is advantageous?
In the great debate which is to come it would be helpful if the Government could have a quiet word with the countries of the Common Market to see what would be the likely outcome if Britain were to withdraw. I have been very disturbed to hear that it is not a question for us. I think that people have underestimated the loss of sovereignty. It is not enough to pass a Bill saying, "We are chucking all this Common Market business." Far from it. It seems that we would have to start a lengthy process of negotiating our way out of this com- 1178 plicated procedure, taking a great deal of time and trouble.
Therefore, before we adjourn for the Easter Recess I hope that the Government will be able to give us as clear a picture as possible about the likely alternative procedures which would be available to us in trade, in nationality, in commerce and so on, if we adopted the course of action which I believe some members of the Government will be recommending and which some of us on the back benches, of both major parties, will also be recommending.
I hope, therefore, that the Leader of the House will agree to what is, I believe, a reasonable request. That is that before the Easter Recess we should have, first, an inquiry into the Glasgow labour disputes; second, an estimate of the cost of the nationalisation which has been announced and third, a full explanation of the alternatives which might be adopted if we left the Common Market.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I wish to raise only two points out of about 1,001 which the Government ought to resolve before the House adjourns at Easter. The first relates to the glasshouse industry. The second relates to the egg industry. The matter of eggs was very ably put by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison).
I wonder whether the Government are aware of the critical situation affecting horticultural growers who have large acreages of glass houses. I should like to underline and illustrate this situation by one simple set of figures from a glasshouse grower in my constituency. In 1973 the cost of his oil was £8,336. In 1974 it was £10,747. In this current year £17,475 is his estimate of what he will have to pay to heat his glasshouses.
If one accepts those figures as correct, as I certainly do, this means that in 1975 he will face a 129 per cent. increase in his fuel bill, without the oil rebate that he received last year. In addition there are labour costs and the general costs of inflation in this country.
To illustrate this problem further, it will need an increase of at least 11p per pound on the cost of this grower's tomatoes in order to break even. I very much doubt that this will take place.
1179 However, the Lord President will accept that the horticulture industry in Scotland probably uses a larger amount of oil than the industry elsewhere in the country because of the marginally colder climate. For this reason the growers in the Lanarkshire area and down into Dumfriesshire are feeling the effects of the withdrawal of subsidies very seriously indeed. As the Lord President will also know, the EEC has approved subsidies to horticulture. I want to know before Easter why the Government have withdrawn their help and have not given any indication that they intend to bring in subsidies in the immediate future.
The Dutch horticulture industry is receiving help towards the costs of oil. It is up to the Lord President to ask the Minister of Agriculture—we have not seen much of him in recent weeks—to explain how horticulturists are to survive over the coming year in a particularly competitive industry. We must have an answer before Easter because this industry is in a desperate plight.
Second, I want to back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said about eggs, both on price and on the size of the importation from France. My hon. Friend explained to the Lord President just how critical the situation is. It is not so much the quantity of the importation as the value of it. This is having a most disastrous effect on the price of eggs to the British consumer. Feed, labour and transport costs have soared. At the end of the day, as with the muddle over beef that the Minister provided last autumn, the housewife is the person who will pay in the long run—although at the extreme cost of many egg producers going out of business in the next few months.
As the Lord President will be aware, there was recently a particularly impressive lobby of egg farmers to the House, supported and led by the National Farmers' Unions of England and of Scotland. This brought home to hon. Members on both sides of the House the fact that this is a matter not to be taken lightly—which is contrary to the only impression we can obtain at present from the Minister of Agriculture.
Therefore, I ask the Lord President not only to answer on the matter of what the Government intend to do about the 1180 egg industry and about horticulture before Easter but also to ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to make a statement to the House about both of these important commodities.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I think I can go along with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) in suggesting that it would be appropriate for the Government to announce before we adjourn their contingency plans in the event of Britain withdrawing from the Common Market, which is a course I should like to see followed.
Even if, unhappily, a majority of the Cabinet recommends that Britain should remain in, there is no guarantee that the country will endorse that recommendation in the ensuing referendum. Therefore, whatever the decision of the Cabinet, it is important that we should know what the alternative arrangements are. I do not suppose they need to be outlined in great detail, and perhaps the hon. Member for Cathcart exaggerated slightly the capacity of the Common Market to react out of pique. Our membership of the Market has been of far greater benefit to the other members than it has been to us, if, indeed, it has been of benefit to us at all.
Therefore, even if the other members were minded to react out of pique one would reasonably suppose that self-interest would be a conditioning factor and that the process of extrication, whilst it would present us with a number of difficulties in this House in terms of legislation, would not render us all that vulnerable to retaliatory action by the members from whom we would be disengaged.
My prime purpose in speaking today is to pursue an unpleasant task but one which is incumbent upon me as chairman of the West Midlands group of Labour Members, and that is to raise the question of the continuing hiatus which exists over the representation in this House of Walsall, North. When we were told that a Select Committee was to be set up to enquire into the status of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) it was insisted—certainly I was led to believe by the usual channels—that the Select Committee would be meeting and reporting 1181 very quickly, and that the question of the status of my right hon. Friend and the representation of his neglected constituents would be resolved in a very short time.
Unhappily, that has not proved to be the case. I do not wish to criticise the Select Committee. I have no doubt that it is setting about its unpleasant but important task with great care. Of course it was of prime constitutional importance that it should do so and that a difficult and possibly constitutionally dangerous situation should not be skimped in any way. However, the fact remains that there is growing concern and impatience over the situation that has arisen.
Perhaps I may remind the House of what would happen if no action were to be taken over the question of representation for that constituency. Several thousand people could well remain disfranchised for all practical purposes until October 1979 if this Parliament should pursue its full course. Admittedly, that does not happen often, but there have been Parliaments in recent years that have gone almost that length of time. The 1959 Parliament went up to its legal limit, and, although I do not suppose many people expect this Parliament to go that length of time, there were two General Elections within a very short period and it is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that, whatever the fortunes or difficulties of the Government, this Parliament is likely to last for a considerable time yet.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North has told the world repeatedly that he has no intention of returning to pursue his duties. Perhaps I should have prefaced my remarks by saying, in accordance with custom, that I have notified my right hon. Friend that I would be referring to him in disadvantageous terms. However, I am unable to discover him, and I am, therefore, unable to observe that parliamentary courtesy.
My right hon. Friend has told us in spectacular and lurid detail of a number of improprieties he has committed in relation to exit from this country and entry into another country. Suffice it to say that they reveal a prima facie commission of a number of criminal offences in relation to his conduct and that they 1182 can only bring discredit upon him and upon this House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. The hon. Member will, of course, be quite out of order if he casts reflections upon another hon. Member in debate in the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is mistaken. That is not at all his rôle this afternoon. We are discussing the Adjournment motion, and in any case this is not the occasion to discuss the merits or demerits of another right hon. Member.
§ Mr. Lee
Perhaps I am entitled to ask what the Government's intentions are about the representation of Walsall, North because at the moment, for all practical purposes, the constituency remains unrepresented. This is not brought about through any disability imposed upon a Member—who was elected as recently as 10th October last—as was the case of Captain Ramsay who during the war was detained under defence regulations in Brixton Prison and was therefore physically prevented from representing his constituents in Midlothian and Peebles, although, nevertheless, he used to send Written Questions to the House, and to that extent at least continued to represent his constituents.
I think we are entitled to ask the Lord President when the Select Committee may be expected to report. I give notice that if that Select Committee's report is not forthcoming very soon I shall take it upon my own shoulders to put down a motion demanding the attendance of the right hon. Member concerned or, in the alternative, that he shall be expelled from this House. There was a precedent for that in 1782. As far as I can see from the Journals of the House, an hon. Member was then demanded to attend the House forthwith. The records are scanty, as might one imagine, but that is a kind of precedent which might help to resolve what I think all of us would regard as a completely unsatisfactory and unhappy situation.
1183 Because of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not further enlarge upon the arguments of the case. Perhaps that is a good thing in any event because it is not a pleasant task to have to make this kind of speech, but it is important that the speech should be made. I do not think that these things can be left in the air for much longer because they will only harm us all in one way or another.
I have a different matter to raise and I do not expect an answer on it immediately. I hope that my right hon. Friend will, however, refer it to the Minister concerned. It concerns the growing unemployment in the West Midlands. For a long time my area has been complacently bracketed with the South-East of England as being a buoyant, fully-employed and affluent area. Unhappily, that is no longer the case. It is said that we are more vulnerable because employment in Birmingham and the surrounding areas depends on the one hand on a few very large firms and on the other on the existence of a very large number of small firms. The former are vulnerable when there is a faltering in demand for their products, which is the case in the motor industry. The latter are vulnerable because of the difficulties of obtaining credit, the problems arising from inflation and the pressures of liquidity.
This is not the occasion to enlarge further upon this matter. Labour Members, and possibly hon. Members in other parties, are becoming increasingly worried about the growth of unemployment in and around Birmingham. If we cannot have this debate soon, we shall demand one in the near future because many of us wish to bring to the Minister's attention a situation which has been growing progressively serious.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)
It is important that before the House rises for Easter the Minister of Agriculture should issue a statement about the future of agriculture. I understand that a White Paper is in the pipeline, in which case perhaps it might be possible to have a half-day debate on it.
I mention this not because I want to bore the House with agriculture but because the December returns for agricul- 1184 ture show that there has been a drop in production. It is the first time for a long period that the returns have shown fewer cattle and sheep. This is serious and highlights the need for a statement from the Minister that will restore confidence in the industry so that the decline in production can be halted.
The problem is serious for the farmers and even more serious for the consumers. We produce only about 52 per cent. of our needs, and if we allow that figure to drop it will have serious consequences for consumers in this hungry world. It is not possible for us to buy all our requirements from abroad. It is vitally important that we produce more food and that we restore confidence so that British produce appears on the breakfast, lunch and dinner tables.
It is important that this uncertainty should be ended. The balance of payments has suffered enough because of the oil crisis. Why make it worse by a drop in home production of food? This does not seem to make sense. A long-term plan is needed for British agriculture. It is on the stocks and it is important that we debate it.
There is a mood of retrenchment in agriculture. Farmers feel that it would be better to cut their production slightly so that they receive better prices. As a nation we cannot afford this, and yet we cannot blame the farmers for their attitude. The House must realise that agriculture is a long-term business. To produce a bullock takes at least two-and-a-half years. It is not something that we can switch on and off at a touch. We cannot just say "We will now have more cattle, sheep or pigs". It is a question of confidence and planning for the future.
In my constituency this Government and the previous one have, quite rightly, set up plants for the manufacture of milk into cheese and butter. However, having given a grant and set up the factories, there is now not sufficient milk to produce the products we need.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) has mentioned eggs and horticulture. If we go into the Common Market it must be on a fair basis. The withdrawal of the oil subsidies from the tomato growers and the unfair competition experienced by egg producers should give rise to a statement by the 1185 Minister of Agriculture and a White Paper.
The Minister is a pleasant man but a bad Minister. We only have to look at the record for the past year to see the ups and downs, the steps forward and then the steps backward, and the chopping and changing which have created increasing uncertainty. First, there was the increased subsidy for calves, which was later withdrawn. Then there was a policy of nonintervention, which was later amended and replaced by a form of intervention. The past year has been a disaster Responsibility for this must be placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Minister of Agriculture.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
I rise to support some of the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and Devon, West (Mr. Mills). I agree with the hon. Member for Devon, West that there should be a statement and some assurances from the Minister before the House rises for Easter.
We are worried about the market situation for eggs. There has not been a prompt and vigorous Government response to the strong point of view expressed to many hon. Members by the farmers who visited us a few days ago.
I am concerned with the glasshouse sector, which in my constituency employs about 6,000 people. With the cancellation of the oil subsidies not only those jobs are at risk but the whole infrastructure of my constituency is gravely threatened.
I should like to take a constructive line. Later on tonight some of us may have an opportunity to raise this matter. However, because it is not yet clear how the capital structure and support of the industry may be debated later, I should like to offer four suggestions which I hope the Lord President will convey to the Minister of Agriculture. They are ways in which the Government could get themselves and the horticulaural industry out of the present mess.
There is clear evidence of a regresssive aid policy with respect to oil subsidies and subsidies generally in the horticultural industry in the EEC. If that is to 1186 be a feature in the second half of this year, and this must depend on the outcome of any referendum, surely the Government must see the case for continuing this aid temporarily until we move into that period when the whole EEC picture will be clearer.
It is important to show that we are trying to do something to help those in this sector of the industry. In the last full year for which figures are available, £70 million worth of horticultural products included £65 million worth of food products such as tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces. We are talking about a food problem and a possible increase in the cost of imported food. This would mean consequent increase for the housewife. I urge the Government to announce, as a gesture of assistance before Easter, that they will restrict import quotas, from third countries such as Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries, to help the glasshouse sector. Perhaps the Lord President would convey to the Minister of Agriculture the fact that credit facilities could be made easier if the Minister of Agriculture and the Lord President would jointly urge on the Government and the Bank of England the thought that commercial banks should take a lenient view towards those in the glasshouse sector who have credit problems.
I refer now to another broad issue in which I take a particular interest. It will be within the Lord President's knowledge that a week ago last Friday the Under-Secretary of State for Industry made it clear during an Adjournment debate, in response to questions I put to him, that the Government were committed to what he termed the restructuring of the special steel sector of the independent steel industry. I draw the Lord President's attention to this matter for two reasons. The first is that it has taken me exactly a year to raise this matter on the Floor of the House. I needed to have the good luck to come up in the ballot for the Adjournment before I was able to have the problem debated. I suggest that this bodes ill for those industries currently being considered as possible victims of the National Enterprise Board.
I hope that the Lord President will be able to give us an assurance, and not just before Easter, that better ways for 1187 us to discuss these matters can be considered. This situation brings into question the whole basis on which our Select Committee structure operates. As I understand it, the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has not had the chance to look at the steel industry for some years now. This is a continuing problem.
On the wider question I have raised, I hope that the Lord President can assure us today that the Government's intention to restructure the special steel industry is one that is likely to be reconsidered or at any rate debated on the Floor of the House. I can assure the Lord President that this situation has already caused grave disquiet in view of the history of the British Steel Corporation, with its plans for rationalisation and inevitable redundancies. This is a matter which particularly in Sheffield—I know this from my own family—has caused grave misgivings. I seek an assurance from the Lord President.
An issue which is both a constituency matter and one affecting a wider sector of our community concerns the problems faced by many pensioners and those on relatively small fixed incomes. I am entitled to suggest that this is a problem we should all understand, irrespective of party. I suggest that we shall all be pensioners, too, and perhaps experience what I am talking about. We shall all, perhaps, have to face the worries faced by many pensioners when they consider how they are to meet increasing rate demands. I ask the Lord President to tell me how I should advise my constituents who write to me and say "How shall I pay my rate demand?" How do they generate the necessary cash flow when we see on the one hand a lowering of investment income tax levels and on the other hand measures being enacted which in so many ways, directly or indirectly, bring about further inflation and rising prices?
This is a section of the community which is not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. It is a section whose main net worth is tied up in their homes. If it is the Government's view that this section of the community should be forced to sell their homes at a time when the market is not exactly propitious, the 1188 Lord President should say so. There is no other way in which these people can generate the cash they need to meet rising costs. These are matters which must be considered with great urgency, not only on behalf of my constituents but on behalf of all people throughout the country. The Lord President has a good opportunity today to set our minds at rest.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
I hope that the Lord President will give us an assurance that the House will not adjourn until we have had a statement by the Minister of Agriculture about the fate of a minority. That minority comprises the glasshouses growers. I do not think that the Government yet realise the dreadful state of mind they are now in as a result of what has happened in the past few months. These people are but a minority, a few thousand. It cannot be denied that they will be hundreds fewer before this summer is out unless Government action is taken. Minority though they may be, they are an important part of horticulture.
The Lord President should be aware that horticulture represents 10 per cent. of agriculture. A large part of that 10 per cent. involves glasshouse growing. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) has spoken of no fewer than 6,000 of his constituents engaged in the glasshouse industry. I think I can claim slightly more than that in parts of Holland. It is not only employers but employees who are at risk if hundreds of growers are driven out of business. Unfortunately, these people have already planted and so they cannot go back this year. What is certain is that unless something is done the crops will be produced this year at a considerable loss. The growers cannot bear such a loss.
We do not exaggerate when we say that this will mean bankruptcy for many growers unless something is done. I am not enamoured of the idea of subsidies but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will permit some time to be given to discussing what Government action can be taken, if it is not to be subsidy. We understand that COPA has an undertaking from the EEC that subsidies would be in order. We know that our main 1189 competitors, the Dutch, are in receipt of these subsidies until the end of June. It is rumoured that the subsidies may continue beyond that. We also understand that the French have taken unilateral action and gone ahead with aid to their growers regardless of what might be decided in Brussels.
There is apprehension among our growers who cannot understand the Government's attitude. They are driven to the view that the Government must be unaware of how close to bankruptcy so many of them are. The facts are available and can be produced by the NFU and other organisations. These facts will show how costs have risen for the glasshouse grower as a result of the fearful increase in the price of oil. The Minister of Agriculture must know how essential oil is to the grower. We should have an assurance about the fate of the glasshouse growers before the House rises for the recess.
Hon. Members have touched on the question of our possible withdrawal from the EEC. Again, there is apprehension among business men. I fear that it is those who read too seriously the Daily Telegraph and other newspapers who are driven to the view that if this country says "No" a fearful barrier will come down the following day and they will not be able to export to the Continent. I echo the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). Is it not possible for someone on behalf of the Government to give us appropriate information about the consequences of our withdrawal? If the country says "No" in June, nothing constitutionally will change the following day.
With the balance of payments situation as it is, and with easier access for continental exporters to this country, it would be very unwise to take any course which prevented that continuing access for their goods. Therefore, there must be a de facto free trade area in any event if we withdraw. This matter is of importance to exporters and business men who are anxious about their future. They must have confidence in their planning. They must know where they will stand in the event of our withdrawal.
I therefore invite the Leader of the House to ensure that time is available 1190 for this matter to be debated and for proper information to be given to us, and, therefore, to the country, about where we would stand if we were to withdraw. I ask him also to confirm, as I believe is the case, that nothing serious would happen to our exporters and business men if we were to withdraw and that there would be a de facto free trade area in any event.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) tempts me and it is the custom briefly to refer to what the previous speaker has said. In my opinion, if the British people say "No" in the referendum, the first thing which will collapse will be the pound. What will happen after that goodness alone knows.
My hon. Friends have highlighted the problems of horticulture. The Government seem singularly unaware of the problems faced by the people in it, and I hope that before the House rises for the Easter Recess the Government will find it in their hearts to say something, if not to do something, which will help these people who work hard and long hours. They have great imagination and they are import savers. By most people's criteria they are useful people, and I hope that the Government will find time to consider them before the House rises for the recess.
I wish to raise a more immediate matter because I am much concerned about the state of the country. We have arrived at the point where the troops must be called out to clear up the mess left as a result of an industrial dispute. Last week we in the House had to face deliberate provocation which Mr. Speaker decided was not a breach of privilege but which many of us feel was clearly and positively aimed at disrupting the work of the House. It was not only Glasgow which was confronted by piles of rubbish.
The attitude of the Leader of the House and of his right hon. Friends is totally complacent in the face of people who seek deliberately to disrupt our way of life and to prevent not only Parliament but decent, hard-working people from going about their business. It is incumbent on the Government to realise that if they do 1191 nothing, then, as Sir Robert Mark said in a speech this morning, others in the country will do something: they will deliberately and steadfastly bring this country to a grinding halt. The Government appear to be fall guys for anybody who cocks a snook at them. They must indicate clearly before the Easter Recess that they are prepared to stand firm in the face of provocation and trouble-making.
I wish to refer to another situation which is developing along serious lines due to the Government's policy; namely, the situation in the National Health Service. In my constituency numbers of doctors have stated that if they do not receive satisfaction from the Secretary of State for Social Services by 1st April in the form of a statement, for which they have asked, and thereafter in the form of a commitment by 14th April, they will withdraw from their contracts with the National Health Service.
The consultants' problems have perhaps tended to obscure the far more widespread disruption of the health service which the general practitioners' problems are creating and will create for the people. The Leader of the House is obliged to insist that the Secretary of State for Social Services should, at the earliest opportunity, and certainly before the recess, make a statement to the House which will allay the fears of the doctors and the millions of our constituents who will be deprived of free medical services in the face of, as they see it, the arrogance and intransigence of the right hon. Lady.
I believe that I am justified in demanding on behalf of my constituents some indication that the Government realise the path down which they are leading the country. In British Aircraft Corporation factories, some workers are occupying the telephone exchanges and preventing people from working. Anarchy is raising its ugly head, and if the Government do not set an example more and more people will take the law into their own hands. I hope that the Leader of the House recognises the problem and will do something about it before the recess.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I am opposed to the House rising for the Easter Recess because of the crisis facing the glasshouse industry. I do not 1192 know whether the Leader of the House is truly aware of the tragic situation in which the glasshouse producers find them selves, but if he talks to the Minister of Agriculture he will find that there is a desperate need for help.
I wish to put to the Leader of the House, whom I have always regarded as a very responsive person, a cry from the heart from the producers in Northern Ireland. I appeal to the Government to reconsider their decision on the oil subsidy for glasshouse owners and to continue it until 30th June. Thereafter, there is a good hope that the EEC will have a digressive subsidy. Therefore, the period for help is limited to only six months. It is not as if all the Common Market countries have abandoned the subsidy for their glasshouse growers. The Common Market countries have the authority to give help until the end of June. Some Governments, particularly those of the Republic of Ireland and Holland, decided, I think rightly, to give, and have been giving, financial assistance since 31st December. The Government of the Republic of Ireland give an oil subsidy of 2p per gallon. All I ask him is that the Northern Ireland glasshouse producers and mushroom growers should also receive assistance. We are in the extraordinary position that the glasshouse growers and mushroom growers, especially in Northern Ireland, face unfair competition from competitors on the doorstep of the United Kingdom. That does not make sense.
That is not the only advantage which the Irish Republic has over horticultural producers in Northern Ireland. The Irish Republic receives other EEC advantages; for instance, monetary compensation amounts of 38p per 12 lb tray of tomatoes for export to Northern Ireland in direct competition with the tomato growers in Northern Ireland. How can the Government hope to feed the people and keep prices down if they are damaging home producers and indirectly aiding producers outside the United Kingdom?
I am glad to see that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has arrived. I hope that he will sit beside the Leader of the House and join me in appealing for help for the glasshouse industry. I am sure that the Secretary of State knows the needs of the glasshouse producers, 1193 and I hope that he will speak directly to the Leader of the House.
It is not only financial madness for the Government to turn a deaf ear to this appeal, when they are, rightly, giving grants to glasshouse growers for the erection of glasshouses; it is also economic madness, as it strikes a blow at an important sector of the food-producing community. Glasshouse production in Northern Ireland is worth between £500,000 and £600,000 per year, which represents approximately 3,000 tons of produce. Mushroom production alone is worth £3 million and represents 14 million lbs of produce. There are 3,000 people employed in horticultural and direct trades, and I know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has unemployment very much in mind. He should have this grave crisis in mind.
The annual usage of glasshouse and mushroom production is 3 million gallons of oil. From 31st December to 30th June, the period for which help is asked, the usage would be 1½ million gallons at a cost of £60,000 at 4p per gallon. We must remember that the Government have put hundred of millions of pounds into subsidies for food. All I am asking for for the people of Northern Ireland is £60,000 to save the glasshouse producers and the mushroom producers from intolerably heavy financial losses and to prevent some from going out of business.
Many glasshouse producers have already planted and cannot now cut back on their production. Some of them have cut back, but they will not be making a profit at the end of the day. They will be suffering a great loss, but far less than they would have suffered if they had gone ahead with production.
In my constituency of Down, North I have not only the chairman of the horticultural section of the Ulster Farmers' Union; I have the names "Forsythe", which is synonymous with tomatoes in Northern Ireland, and "Monlough" which is synonymous with mushrooms. I appeal to the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to help these people, who are in grave financial difficulties. The only alternative for some of them is to go out of business, and I am sure that the Government would not wish that. I call upon the Government—which asked producers 1194 over the years to increase food production—now to help producers who responded to that appeal by helping them with the continuation of the subsidy on oil for heating glasshouses and for the production of mushrooms.
The milk subsidy—I do not quarrel with it costs £350 million a year. Yet the cost of the oil subsidy for the whole of the United Kingdom would be only £7 million, and the glasshouse producers supply us with food worth £80 million.
I appeal to the Leader of the House to help the glasshouse producers and the mushroom producers in the Province, and I ask him to call upon his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to meet me and the producers of Northern Ireland and to grant the subsidy until 30th June to these people who do such a good job in Northern Ireland.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
In this relatively short debate many of my hon. Friends have been concerned on behalf of a small minority of people, the glasshouse producers. I hope that their voices have not fallen on deaf ears. That is not to say that I think that the Leader of the House will not have listened attentively, but I hope that he will be able to convey a sharp message to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food concerning the anxiety of the people about whom my hon. Friend have spoken. My hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), Arundel (Mr. Marshall), Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) and Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kelfedder) have all made forceful pleas for the Government to take remedial action.
I do not want to introduce a note of controversy, but it is fatuous for the Government to withdraw this essential assistance to the industry. That would result in serious damage to the industry and. inevitably, in an increase in our import bills. For this state of affairs to be accompanied by the announcement this afternoon that the knavish man the Secretary of State for Industry has been given the money to take over Scottish Aviation is idiotic, and I echo the complaints made on that subject by my hon. Friend 1195 the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor).
I hope that the Minister of Agriculture can be persuaded to pack his bags and go back to Brussels to tell his colleagues there that he will restore the subsidy for the glasshouse growers in the way that it has been restored elsewhere in the Community, and that we cannot do without it. If he does that, the debate will at least have done some good.
We have been waiting too long for a debate on the public expenditure White Paper. I know that we do not want to hear too much from Treasury Ministers. I feel sorry for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in having to preside over endless discussion on endless Finance Bills. We do not want that again, but I think that Treasury Ministers should come to the House to explain their position on the expenditure White Paper.
I also quietly, and in as restrained a manner as I can, remind the Leader of the House that we have been without a White Paper on defence for over a year, which must be almost without precedent. I hope that the Government will put that right as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) spoke about eggs. I am sorry to have to send another message to the Minister of Agriculture, but I hope that it can be dinned into his head and his advisers' heads that merely to say that French eggs represent only 2 per cent. of our imports and that that is not a serious situation is entirely unconvincing to those who are trying to serve a market which is permanently overhung by these imports. More than enough can do a great deal of damage to prices. Those of my constituents who have recently been to see me on this matter have all shown consistent losses of several hundreds of pounds per week. That situation cannot continue.
I hope the Leader of the House will do his best to persuade the Minister of Agriculture that in this situation there must be some temporary control of imports until we can reach some stability for our own producers—otherwise, as in horticulture, we shall be without a home-producing industry of any strength at all.
I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston on the 1196 subject of the Common Market was a little unrealistic to ask for a member of the Government to come to the House and explain the consequences for this country if we were to withdraw from the Community. I do not wish now to join issue with him on the main subject, but I would point out how difficult it would be for a member of the Government to come to the House and explain the position. We should have to hear at least two members of the Government because they would have to explain the two views that prevail in Government. I think that might be too much. It would not advance us any further and I would respectfully counsel my hon. Friend against advocating that course.
§ Mr. Peyton
I said that I would not go into the substance of the argument. I said that to have two Ministers to explain completely opposing views to the House would not shed any light on our counsels. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with me on that point, if on nothing else.
I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills). Again the Minister of Agriculture was the target of his comments. I am somewhat sorry at that because we know that the right hon. Gentleman tries very hard. I, too, hope that the White Paper setting out long-term agricultural policy will make its appearance without too much delay. We believe that over the last year or so the farmers have had more than their share of misfortune to put up with, and that something must be done urgently to restore confidence in this important industry.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) raised the question of difficulties facing the House of Commons during the present dispute. I would endorse many, though not all, of his comments—comments echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Cathcart and Christchurch and Lymington.
I know very well the time-honoured phrase that one must not say things which will exacerbate feelings, but I feel that can be carried a little too far. I believe that the trouble makers have been having 1197 a field day in our country for too long. They have been pummelling the public without any fear of retribution or even condemnation by public opinion. They are often fawned upon by the media, to which they doubtless represent a fresh piece of news which will last for a day or a week or so. There are too many bullies about and they have been taking it out not of rich, powerful people, who can always manage to get away, but obscure people. My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart mentioned the elderly people who were marooned in tall buildings in Glasgow. We must remember that for old people there are great certainties in the present climate of disrespect for the law. They suffer great misery when they feel that they cannot rely on the essential services of life because somebody feels he is entitled to get something more and if he is not given it he will take it. That is a creed which most improperly and tragically has grown up in this country. I hope that nothing the Leader of the House says this afternoon will give countenance to a practice which I believe is loathsome.
I wish to refer to comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel, one of those who spoke so eloquently on behalf of the glasshouse growers. My hon. Friend also made a point which should be given particular attention at present when Parliament is in the middle of considering the Industry Bill. We are frequently told by the right hon. Member the Secretary of State for Industry that he will be answerable to Parliament for all activities of the industries which he takes over and for which the National Enterprise Board is responsible. But the nationalised industries occupy a remarkably small fraction of parliamentary time and consideration. Those industries attract a certain amount of Government attention and are regularly pushed around by the Treasury, their investment programme being adjusted up and down at quite short notice. I believe that is a most unsatisfactory situation for an industry to have to face.
My hon. Friend rightly said that the steel industry has not been discussed for a long time in the House and it should be so discussed. Enormous sums of public money are paid out in investment, and indeed the industries were purchased by the taxpayer. But the attention given by the House to the enormous proportion 1198 of the national wealth which is invested in those industries is practically nil. The situation is quite disgraceful. Far too many of these industries are an open drain on national resources, and far to often—and I am not excusing Governments of either political complexion—they are treated as pawns in Government policy, which ought not to happen. I know nothing more improper than to yield to this temptation, for reasons which are quite extraneous to the industry, to modify and change the Government's approach.
§ Mr. Adley
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the event of nationalisation seems to ensure that the industry is shuffled back into a position where this House is unable to discuss neither its problems nor its costs? For example, although today the Post Office has put people in a position where they have to save up to send a letter, that organisation cannot be examined by this House because it is not now a Government Department?
§ Mr. Peyton
I have had a number of opportunities to observe such matters, but I am obliged to my hon. Friend for reminding me.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) made some comments about his right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse). I do not intend to follow him in any detail, except to say, on behalf of my colleagues on the Select Committee which is investigating this painful affair, that we are grateful for his assurance that he will not chastise us overmuch.
There are piles of rubbish lying around the corridors of this place. I am not in any way complaining about—[Interruption.] Has the hon. Gentleman got anything to say?
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Denis Howell)
Nothing worth hearing.
§ Mr. Peyton
I believe that. The piles of rubbish lying around this place are serious, but not because they are an inconvenience to hon. Members or even to the staff. They are serious—so it seems to me—because they are a gross reflection upon the indignity to which the country's government is now being subjected.
1199 I am not making a party point. I have genuine sympathy with the Leader of the House in dealing with a very difficult problem. However, I believe that those piles of rubbish will serve one useful purpose if they remind us all of that growing contempt which is being shown by troublemakers for the convenience, comfort and health of the community as a whole.
§ Mr. Peyton
The hon. Member for Handsworth is always noticeable by his interventions. I am not talking about consultants. I am talking about people who knock the community. I am not identifying anyone. The piles of rubbish which are littering the corridors will serve a purpose if they remind the House that it has responsibilities not merely to sympathise with troublemakers, but to protect the community, which is infinitely vulnerable.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short
I shall try to reply to all the points which have been raised.
Many hon. Members have talked about agriculture. The hon. Members for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and Dumfries (Mr. Monro) raised the question of eggs. We are well aware of the present difficulties facing our egg industry and, in particular, the problem of imports from France, which was the main point raised. However, a unilateral embargo on imports without adequate justification would not be in the national interest.
We are not complacent about the situation. We are not doing nothing as the hon. Member for Devizes suggested. Ministers have discussed the situation with representatives of the industry, and the information which they have provided about imports from France is being considered. We want to have further discussions about the longer-term situation. There have been discussions with the French Government, and it is hoped that it will be possible to arrange meetings between representatives of our two industries. Discussions are also being arranged with the French authorities on the problems of the implementation of Community rules on the labelling of eggs. It is hoped that the ban which the French maintain on imports of eggs from this 1200 country can be brought to an early and satisfactory conclusion.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and the hon. Members for Dumfries, Arundel (Mr. Marshall), Holland with Boston (Mr. Body); Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) raised the question of the glasshouse industry. Certainly this is a matter which is troubling us.
The Government reached the decision not to reintroduce the temporary fuel oil subsidy for growers of protected crops after exhaustive deliberation. The future of the subsidy was discussed in an Adjournment debate on 20th December 1974, and the views then expressed were taken fully into account before Ministers took the decision announced on 20th February. The subsidy had run its course throughout 1974 at a cost of £7 million. It had certainly served its purpose in providing a breathing space.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will study what has been said in the debate. I shall refer the matter to him, but I can hold out no hope that the decision will be reversed.
On the basis of information available, the aid we have given for fuel oil compares favourably with that given by other EEC member states. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston said that it was otherwise, but that is the information I have.
The EEC recently agreed significant increases in reference prices for the main glasshouse food products. These should provide adequate protection against third-country imports, because they act effectively as minimum import prices.
I turn to the question of credit facilities for glasshouse growers. The Agricultural Credit Corporation provides facilities for guaranteeing bank loans to growers as well as farmers. I do not believe that creditworthy growers will be unable to get credit.
The hon. Member for Down, North referred to the Government of the Irish Republic. That Government started to give an oil subsidy six months after the start of the subsidy given by the United Kingdom Government. It will amount on average to significantly less per gallon 1201 of oil used than the United Kingdom subsidy.
The hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), as well as the right hon Gentleman, referred to the agricultural industry generally. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture made a long statement in the House on 17th February, dealing with the beef regime, common price levels, less favoured areas—including hill farming—and guaranteed price determination. I believe that there has been a tremendous return of confidence in the industry.
My right hon. Friend began discussions last year with representatives of farmers, workers, landowners and the food and drink industries about the longer-term prospects and objectives for agriculture. These discussions have been fruitful, and we certainly hope that a consensus of views can be achieved. My right hon. Friend hopes to make available, probably at an early date after Easter, the Government conclusions from these discussions. The discussions with the industry so far have been mainly concerned with the economic case for higher output of food from our own resources, and with the projections of possible production levels and priorities to the early 1980s. These are important issues, and the industry will wish to consider carefully the Government's conclusions.
The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) and the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington, as well as the right hon. Gentleman, referred to the strike of maintenance workers in the House and other Government buildings. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington said that we were being very complacent and that the strikers were being arrogant. It is interesting to note that when he spoke about the GPs and consultants he put it the other way round: they were acting quite properly, but it was the Minister who was being arrogant.
§ Mr. Short
The hon. Gentleman would be much more convincing if he would condemn the doctors in the same terms 1202 as those in which he condemns the strikers here.
We are having difficulties, which the right hon. Gentleman recognised, but on the whole the House has kept functioning remarkably well. This is due to the fact that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have accepted the undoubted but minor invconveniences. The heating and lighting are normal. All essential papers have been provided, although sometimes not on time and not in the numbers we should like.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I am prepared to sit here in my duffel coat, and I do not mind whether I have anything to eat and drink, but we must have papers ready by tomorrow morning to enable us to do our Standing Committee work. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that I have the only copy of the Hansard of the Standing Committee considering the Lotteries Bill, which is due for discussion tomorrow morning? I am advised that there is no other copy. The right hon. Gentleman is apparently not willing to see that the drivers who work for Her Majesty's Stationery Office carry out their responsibilities and bring in the papers that we need. Will he do that, or shall I and my colleagues go to the St. Stephen's Press and collect copies and bring them here? Which is to be? Will the right hon. Gentleman organise it, or shall we?
§ Mr. Michael Marshall
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not seeking to mislead the House, but I had great difficulty this morning because I could not obtain papers for use in the Standing Committee considering the Industry Bill. Not even the amendments were available. We are to meet tomorrow, and there are no papers in the Vote Office. I should be obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would take that on board.
§ Mr. Short
I shall look into it, but I am told that all the papers for that Committee and all the other Committees will be available.
Questions were asked last week about the Sex Discrimination Bill. I said in 1203 reply to business questions that I understood that 40 to 50 copies were available. They were, but, unfortunately, the Vote Office had kept them locked up. As soon as I inquired after the Business Statement they were made available, and now 370 copies of the Bill are available.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I am serving on the Committee considering the Lotteries Bill. Is the Leader of the House satisfied that hon. Members are receiving their mail? I know that representations about what is happening in the Committee have been sent to me through the post, not all of which have yet come to hand. Failure to receive mail will affect the efficiency of hon. Members on both sides of the House in dealing with the Bill.
§ Mr. Short
I discussed the matter with the Postmaster and the Serjeant at Arms this morning, and I am told that the post, both in and out, is now functioning normally.
The catering is greatly improved, and I think that things generally have improved today, largely due to the willingness of hon. Members on both sides of the House to co-operate.
§ Mr. Peyton
The right hon. Gentleman will oblige the House if he will thank those members of the staff who have kept essential services going.
§ Mr. Short
I am pleased to associate myself with what the right hon. Gentleman says. A great deal of overtime has been put in, and sometimes there has been all-night working here by many people, especially girls, under very difficult circumstances.
My object is to keep the House going at all costs, whatever happens. I hope that it is the determination of us all not to allow this place to be closed down by anybody at any time. That may mean some inconvenience, but we shall try to reduce it to the absolute minimum.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) referred to the stoppage of the lifts in Glasgow. I much regret this inconvenience, especially to old people and disabled people living in high blocks of flats. They have enough problems at any time, without having this further difficulty imposed upon them. However, I understand that the strike has now been made official.
1204 The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been involved, but has not succeeded in ending the dispute. I believe that industrial action has been stepped up, and we much regret that. The ACAS still stands ready to give every assistance towards resolving the dispute. We shall watch the situation carefully.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about school building in Scotland. He referred to what I think he described as savage cuts in the amount of school building, which local authorities in Scotland can start in 1975–76. While the new programme announced for that year is smaller than the building programme for 1974–75, the amount of school building that can be started by education authorities in the financial year 1975–76 is much greater than the amount of the new programme. That is because of an overlap of three months between tile two programme years.
The hon. Gentleman will recall how it happened. It is because of the moratorium imposed by the previous Government from October to December 1973. That resulted in the 1974–75 programme running three months later than normal. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has restored the ground thus lost. As a result, it will be open to education authorities to start in the 1975–76 financial year both the last quarter's work under the 1974–75 programme and the whole of the 1975–76 programme. Therefore, the amount of starts in the year will be much bigger. We shall have caught up the lag left behind by the previous Government.
The hon. Gentleman referred to alternatives to the EEC, as did a number of other hon. Members. We are to have an extended debate on the renegotiated terms, and that is the sort of question lie will be able to raise then.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) mentioned the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse). I understand the concern of my hon. Friend and his colleagues from the area. I understand that the Select Committee has made its report, and I hope that it will be printed towards the end of this week or the beginning of next week. There are printing difficulties, but I shall do 1205 my best to see that it is printed as quickly as possible.
There was no pressure on the Select Committee to expedite its work. Any kind of pressure would have been improper. Its deliberations concerned a right hon. Member in respect of whom, whatever he may or may not have done, there was at least prima facie evidence of some illness. Therefore, it was right that a Committee of the House should look into all the facts and report to the House. I hope that we shall await the report, and then see where we go from there.
§ Mr. Short
I am afraid not. I think that it will take us all our time to get the report into the hands of hon. Members before then. I hope that we shall study it carefully and then decide what to do.
My hon. Friend also spoke of unemployment in the Midlands. I understand his great concern very well, because I come from the Northern Region, which has the highest unemployment figure in the country. Unemployment in Britain as a whole is far too high—approaching the 800,000 mark—but it is the lowest in the Western world. Our object is to control inflation without causing high unemployment. We are not complacent. We are watching the situation very carefully, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will bear it in mind.
The hon. Member for Arundel referred to the restructuring of the special steel industry. I cannot reply today, but I shall pass on his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to pensioners. This Government, in the one year they have been in office, have done more for pensioners than any other Government in recent years. Pensioners will be given a further increase in their pension next month, and another towards the end of the year. One of the many things we have done to help them has been to persuade British Rail recently to introduce a cheap travel scheme for pensioners, and, of course, we have intro- 1206 duced an inflation-proof savings scheme for pensioners. It will be a major preoccupation of the Government to protect pensioners, and others who are at risk, against inflation.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil referred to the debate which was promised on the White Paper on Public Expenditure. Although we are coming up to the Budget after Easter, I still hope to arrange it. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the White Paper on defence. That will be published, I am pleased to say, on Wednesday of this week; copies will be available in the Library on Wednesday.
The right hon. Gentleman also talked about nationalised industries. He said that little attention was paid by the House of Commons to the nationalised industries. I agree. I think that the House pays too little attention to the nationalised industries. The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries is one of our most successful Committees. It is a very well organised Select Committee. It keeps all the nationalised industries constantly under review.
The right hon. Gentleman wound up by talking about the piles of rubbish in the House. Very few such piles are now left. Almost all the rubbish and kitchen garbage were removed during the weekend. I think that a few small sacks remain. The right hon. Gentleman saw the rubbish as a symbol of the indignity to which Parliament is being subjected. I know that the right hon. Gentleman was not making a party point, but I could point to the time, exactly one year ago, when the whole country was subjected to a three-day working week, when this building was lit by Calor gas lamps. That was a major inconvenience and, I should have thought, was a symbol as well. None the less, I do not take this matter lightly. I take it extremely seriously, and I shall do everything that I can to minimise the effect of it on the working of the House. I hope that all hon. Members will join me in my determination to keep Parliament functioning at all costs.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Thursday 27th March, do adjourn till Monday 7th April.